Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Mystery Behind the Mask

People seem to love to have a reason to wear a costume. A few weeks ago, our High School for Environmental Studies held its annual Purim parade. Students dressed up in costumes and built floats out of recycled material. Thousands of people made it down to this small oasis in the desert to cheer them on. Purim is perhaps one of the most joyous of Jewish holidays, although still keeping to the typical Jewish holiday recipe: "They persecuted us, we beat them, let's eat!"

Some people compare Purim to Halloween, mainly because of the costumes. But while Israeli schools are putting on elaborate parades and acting out the history of the Purim holiday, children on Halloween go from door to door shouting "trick and treat" and filling up on candy. And the adults, in both holidays, get to party, often drinking a little too much, but having the luxury of hiding behind the anonymity of their costume.

Who among us does not wear a mask? Some masks make us faceless in a crowd. Other masks seductively reveal just enough of ourselves to have people asking for more. Would Romeo and Juliet have ever found the courage to meet, had it not been for the mask?

But it is not just at masked parties and events, such as Purim and Halloween that people adorn costumes. People like to dress up every day, from the moment they get up, until they go to bed. Clothes: clothes for the occasion, clothes for the mood; colorful makeup, stylized haircuts, dangling jewellery and hot tattoos.

Much of this is imitation, something that begins already early in our childhood years, where children mimic their parents by putting on their shoes and clothes. Later it often becomes a means of protest, as rebellious teenagers dress in stark contrast to their parents' appearance. And much later, it is a feeble attempt to regain lost youth, in our denial of getting old.

Such are the costumes we wear, and the people we want to be. When was the last time you made that leap of faith? Did you succeed?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The art of not turning 60.

I'm not here to talk about turning 60. I know that many of you expect me to write a blog on this subject, since I came face to face with the BIG 6 0 this month. But no, it is not a matter on which I desire to dwell. "Leave it behind!" I say. I have looked into the eye of my own mortality and it is time to move on.

So there will be no blogs from me about turning sixty. Nothing about the mental anguish, dramatic build up, or trauma in pulling myself out of bed that fatal morning. Nothing about a world which has slowly lost its lustre and colour. I won't even introduce quotes on the subject, such as the one by Albert Einstein:
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."

They say that 60 is the new 40, so I could write about forty instead. Many of you claimed that 40 was the beginning of the best years of your life at the time. How did that work out for you? No, if I were to go back, it would have to be back to the great divide: thirty. 30 was the first real ball breaker. We, the post-war ME generation, grew up believing that anybody over the age of thirty was over the hill. They ceased to be relevant to our own existence. So upon reaching thirty, I experienced a trauma that was totally new to me. I was getting old.

Yes, I know, we would all kill to be 30 again. Even 40 doesn't look that bad once you reach 60.

Not that the feeling of alienation is all that new. For a long time, I appeared to be the youngest in the group - whether it were professional, social, or otherwise. And then at some time in the past, people around me suddenly appeared younger than me. And I imagine that they looked at me as I had once looked at older people at that age. Which couldn't help me but feel... wait for it ... drum roll ... irrelevant.

When Adva and I got married, her relatives - even at the wedding reception - asked about when we planned to have baby. I didn't know that it was a package deal at the time. I mean... I knew that we would have a child at some time, but it still seemed far off.
There were echoes of this when I turned 60.
"Aren't you looking forward to retirement?" they asked.
"Just shoot me," I wanted to answer, but I attempted one of my now infamous strained smiles.
Can't be avoided, I guess.

A good friend of mine decided on a big birthday bash with friends to celebrate her 60th. While drinking a glass of wine with her to quietly celebrate my own passing, I told her:
"I'm not like you. I don't see what there is to celebrate in turning sixty. I just want it to quietly come and go so that I can ignore it as much as possible."
She was strangely quiet when I said this, which I later realized was because she knew what was coming.

My wife and children threw me a surprise birthday party. They invited me for a small party gathering at a Irish pub. When I got there, I received a boisterous welcome from extended family and good friends. Caught me by surprise, as I stood there rooted to the spot, not knowing how to react at being suddenly thrown into the centre of attention. But once it was affirmed that I still had a pulse, it was quite nice. They had come, at least at this time, not to bury me, but to praise me. My daughter Nicole, the mastermind behind such operations, had put together a touching presentation, and now - instead of mourning years that had passed - I could enjoy in their celebration. And suddenly it all seemed that much easier.  Nicole had even included a quote of mine from a previous blog post, at the top of the special menus they had created:
"In many ways my life has turned upside down, but friends and family stay with me, and keep me from fading away."

My grandson, almost eight months old, was there also. Watching him take in everything with glee and great interest allowed me to once again marvel at things forgotten, and I realized that there were still mysteries to be explored. And a short time later my daughter told me that she had become engaged. And although one of my initial reactions was to get out an old  copy of Father of the Bride with Spencer Tracy, mourning the loss of a daughter to a man much younger than myself, all in all I was truly happy for them. Another beginning, which would hopefully lead to big and beautiful things.

And it wasn't so bad then - turning 60. But that isn't what this blog is about.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

When I find myself fading

"When I find myself fading, I close my eyes and realize my friends are my energy." 
~ anonymous

I have many things to complain about, but I also have many more to be thankful for. I have been blessed with true friends. Friends who help carry me forward during the toughest of times, just by knowing that they are there.


It is said that you can count your true friends on one hand. I find this to be true for me. Even in the age of Facebook, where we have friendship lists that often measure in the hundreds, sometimes even in the thousands. And even I have a friendship list of 644. How does this adhere to my concept of friends


I think it was Thomas Moore who once said: "I have many acquaintances, but very few friends." - a distinction which Facebook once completely ignored, serving to belittle relationships rather than mirror reality. Until one day when Facebook decided to make amends, allowing us to differentiate between friends, close friends and acquaintances. And by doing so, our Facebook access to our closer friends increased considerably.


"Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend." 

~ anonymous

What defines a true friend? Is there some secret formula? True friends do not have agendas. If they did, we'd all be in trouble. For a true friend knows many of our darkest secrets. They are our confessor, but do not carry judgement. They could write our explosive biography, but would do so only with our permission, before or after we die. 



“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.” 
~ Richard Bach

I come from a small Canadian family, and try to return each year during the holiday season to visit my mother, sister, and two close friends. These two friends are family also, for although we grew up under different roofs, we also shared each other's homes. And despite the distance and years that passed without seeing each other, each time we meet, we carry on as if no time has passed since we saw each other last. For our respect and joy in each other's lives surpasses all else.


I know that many families become increasingly dysfunctional over time, something that is magnified especially during holiday season. Maybe my family is too small to be dysfunctional, or I am not in Canada enough days of the year, but we seem to get on quite well. Not only that, but each visit is of great importance to all of us.


With family, as with friends, I have been extremely fortunate. And not just with my Canadian family, but with my Israeli family as well. My Israeli family consists of my Israeli born wife and three children (all born in Israel on a kibbutz), and my in-laws. I know that many people (perhaps most), don't get on well with their in-laws. But, despite my coming from a different background, language and culture, I was accepted with open arms by Adva's parents. My test wasn't the baggage that I brought with me, but how I treated their daughter. Which I was made well aware of when my mother-in-law casually informed me that she kept an Uzi sub-machine gun under her bed and knew how to use it (she had been an officer in the Palmach and not someone to mess around with). Fortunately she never found reason to use it, or thought that Adva could do worse. I have always gotten on well with my brother and sisters-in-law also. My brother-in-law hosts family and extended family each major holiday at his house on the kibbutz. Nothing dysfunctional there, either, unless you count my slipping out after the dinner festivities to check my email at my father-in-law's house.


Family and friends cannot really be measured in numbers, defined by blood relations, or categorized by time and place. They are the people who touch our inner core, for whom we would fly across continents, make our way up from the desert by train to Molly Blooms, meet for coffee or wine after a hard day's work, or join in extended noisy family holiday celebrations. In many ways my life has turned upside down, but friends and family stay with me, and keep me from fading away.






Sunday, January 5, 2014

Frozen wonderland without borders

"Do you have any ice salt?" I asked the woman at the Canadian Tire store.
"No, all out."
"When will you have more?"
"Don't know. Going to take some time. The truck is coming direct from Montreal, eh?"

When travelling for my annual Canadian winter visit, I never expected ice salt to become the most sought after commodity during the Christmas season. But people were searching all over Toronto for at least a bag or two.

"I hear you have ice salt," I said to the man in the long black coat hiding behind the Canadian Tire store.
"Shh, not so loud," he said. "Sure, I can sell you a few bags."
"How much?"
"Twenty-five dollars a bag."
"Twenty-five dollars! That's five times the list price!"
"You want it or not?"
"Sure, I'll take two bags."

I should have expected something when a rare snow blizzard hit Jerusalem, closing the city down completely for two days. It rarely snowed in Jerusalem, and when it did, it was nothing like this. Not only was the power knocked out in many places, but the roads were closed and cars stranded all over. The people of Jerusalem felt quite helpless. "Where is the government?" they asked. "Why didn't they prepare for this? You never hear about this happening in a civilized nation!"

Even when I landed in Canada a couple of days later during a blizzard, I still didn't expect anything extremely out of the ordinary.
"We Canadians aren't stopped by such things," I bragged to my Israeli wife and children in an email after completing the perilous drive from the Pearson International Airport to my mother's house in Scarborough. "We drive right through it."

And shovelling snow at five the next morning to battle jet lag didn't dampen my enthusiasm.
"Good to experience a real Canadian winter for once," I thought, remembering my visits of Christmases past when little snow was on the ground.

The weather reports did nothing to prepare us for what was to come, either.
"The end of the week may be a little tricky," the weatherman announced, "with a mixture of rain and snow."

Then the first ice storm hit. It, in itself, wasn't that irregular. We were used to having to avoid ice covered sidewalks at times, forced to find traction through snow laden lawns instead. But it was a small taste of what was to come.

"Another, quite bigger ice storm in on the way," we were told.
They still didn't use the term epic, although they would soon. Nor did they say that this was the mother of all ice storms, although this was hinted at in many different ways over the days to follow. Most of the weathermen had become increasingly gun shy after making too many wrong predictions over the previous weeks and didn't want to take the chance of being open to further ridicule.

I don't know what we really expected to happen, as most of us were about to experience something for the first time. What did happen is that we woke up to a winter wonderland: a wonderland of ice. Trees, cars, buildings... everything was covered by a thick layer of ice. Events were cancelled, people were told not to go outside. And the only ones who dared venture outside were mostly kids on skates, skating over frozen streets and lawns, setting up makeshift hockey rinks wherever they desired.

It was then that we began to take notice of an ominous cracking noise, which seemed to come from almost every direction. Soon trees began to fall under the weight of the ice, branches breaking off onto power lines, through the ceilings of houses, and crushing the tops of cars. Soon the estimates came in: over 300,000 households and establishments without power. Many people no longer concentrated on Christmas, but were concerned mostly with just how to survive the bitter cold until the power came back on. And it slowly became evident that this wouldn't be for days.

And as the days went by without power, food thrown out because there was no way to refrigerate it, and people having no way to heat their houses in the -15 degree weather (celcius) - people began to ask: "Where is the government? Why weren't they prepared for such a thing?"

In the end, they got everyone hooked up again to the power... until the next time. Some people had gone without power for more than seven days.

And for those of us who thought we could drive through anything, we had now acquired a much greater respect for the winter, and were in much greater awe of a Mother Nature who could so easily humble and bring us to our knees at a moment's notice. For, despite all of our technologies, it only took one really bad storm to send us temporarily back to the Stone Age. And it didn't matter whether you were in Canada, Israel or the Arctic Circle. Mother Nature has a very long reach.

So, the next time you have something to say about Mother Nature, you had better be nice, or be ready for the outcome.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ramblings of a disturbed mind

Flying back and forth, year after year, one might ask me what I find, or what I leave behind. There is a certain compulsion in moving, just as there is in being rooted to the same spot. Once I thought that movement would enable me to reinvent myself, and I suppose it did. Reinvent, but not re-imagine. There are people along the way, and people almost forgotten. At times, I wake up calling their name and they do not respond. Have I become this old?

I do not know which way is backward and which is forward anymore. People look at me and wonder why I am standing still.
"It is not me," I say.
But they claim the world isn't spinning. I will not see where it begins and ends by standing still.

We want to be loved, but it is difficult when people don't have anything to hold onto. I look at the literary greats and all that they seem to want to do is to chase out the voice. So that the clamour will stop.

Is that what we really want? Solitude and quiet? Others must know that we exist, though. Else the solitude is lost. It starts with one person, and then a few, and then we want the whole world to hear. How do we make ourselves heard? How do we separate ourselves from the echoes?

It is comforting to know that people believe me to be disturbed. It is the only way I can fit in - the only door left open to me. I fly from side to side, from place to place, backwards and forwards. Without moving, but ending up somewhere I have never been.

"But no," you say. "You are returning from whence you came."
"I have nowhere else to go. The problem is, it isn't really there."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Rob Ford - Making Canada proud?

You've got to give the guy credit. Not since the marital and post-marital antics of Margaret Trudeau has a Canadian managed to star in leading news broadcasts, late night show monologues, and of course - have someone play a caricature of him on Saturday Night Live. But no caricature of him can do the man justice. If you want to really witness the depths of chaotic comic absurdity that the man is capable of -  simply watch Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto, at a press conference.

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.
"Yes."
"How did that happen?"
"Don't ask."

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

Does sunshine on your shoulder really make you happy?

It is the middle of November and I am still in short-sleeves and sandal mode.
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?"
"Me? What?"
"This aversion to things of a sunny nature."
"It's  not a question of aversion. It is a question of what really inspires me."
"Like 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?"
"Could you?"
"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.