Living in Interesting Times

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

And Also

In reference to my last post see this article by one of my favourite writers, David Grossman. He says exactly what I was trying to say, though he expresses it somewhat better. Don't read the feedback however. That is just too depressing.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Why I Am Now Wearing Orange and Blue

Today I put on two coloured wrist bands; one orange and one blue. I want to explain why.

First some background. I am in favour of disengagement - albeit with many doubts and a heavy heart. But ultimately I support Sharon's plan and abhor many of the anti-democratic acts and rhetoric of the anti-camp. I want to feel compassion for those who are being moved from their homes against their will - but I have to admit that they are making it very hard for me.

But - today is Tisha B'Av. There is less than half an hour now before the fast ends. Like many previous years I have spent the day considering the meaning of 'sinat hinam' baseless hatred. It was for this reason we are taught the Second Temple was destroyed. The commentators go on to say that the Temple will be rebuilt because of 'ahavat hinam' (baseless love).

Today - one day from the Government deadline, at the end of 18 months of impassioned, even violent debate the lesson of sinat hinam has more resonance than ever. In the blue-orange dichotomy of our streets I have often found myself hating the other side. When they block roads, intimidate soldiers, and preach democracy whilst undermining I have become more and more radicalised towards a position that I am not totally comfortable with.

So today I choose to step outside. I choose to put on two wristbands. I choose to say I will love - even when I have little cause to. I will feel compassion for the suffering of others, how ever much I disagree with them. I will mourn with them the loss of their homes as I mourn the loss of the Temple 2000 years ago.

I do not find this easy. It is a real test of ahavat hinam. May we merit to see the rebuilding of the Temple in our days and may we learn to love each other, even when there is no reason at all.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Making a change

I just had to post after something unprecedented happened to me today.

I had a good experience at the bank!

I know! It has never actually happened to me in Israel before. When I first arrived I joined a local bank based mainly on the fact that most of my friends chose the same one. It all seemed simple enough, but I was in for a shock. Little did I realise that my bank (lets call them 'The Workers' Bank’) would make it their mission to be as uncooperative as possible, charge me as much as possible and make my cry every time I went into the branch.

For years (all of which time, I should point out, I was working and earning a salary) they refused me an overdraft - never mind that the entire country lives in the red. I wasn't permitted any cushion whatsoever. My account manager helpfully told me I could have an overdraft if I would put down a 10,000 shekel deposit. If I had 10,000 nis I would hardly need an overdraft! They also inexplicably refused to give me a proper credit card - every 18 year-old-soldier gets one, but I am not considered credit worthy enough. All this despite the fact that I was consistently in the black.

After three years and a half years I had enough and took the radical step of closing my bank and opening a new one. Now I have opened a new account at a new bank (lets call them the National Bank). Today I went in (after just two and half months) to ask for a credit card. No problem. A few buttons pushed and I was told it would be in next week. The account manager was helpful and friendly. (We discussed Harry Potter as she is in the middle of latest book.) It is a whole new world.

I just felt the need to share - although this is probably of very little interest to anyone but myself. My message is this. If your bank (or any other provider for that matter) is horrible and unhelpful - change! Don't feel like you are stuck where you are, or it isn't worth the hassle, or they are probably all the same anyway. That is how people get away with delivering bad service. As immigrants we easily put off from doing things we would quickly do in our native country. I would never have put up with such bad service for so long before moving to Israel.

I am glad I finally found the time, effort and confidence to make the change. Now I only need to apply this to other parts of my life.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

One Man's Terrorist is what exactly?

When suicide bombers kill innocent people on buses in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem the media often questions what terrible circumstances and oppression in their lives had led these people to take such extreme action. How dreadful the occupation by Israelis must be to cause people to choose death in such a way. I wonder if the same questions will be asked after the bombings in London, now that we know the terrorists were British. How dreadful must have been the lives of these British young men. How oppressed were they, living in free democratic England. Or maybe we can finally acknowledge that suicide bombers (or terrorists of any kind) are simply evil whether they blow up Londoners or Israelis.

But probably not, as this article illustrates, even after the London attacks, one man's terrorist is still the BBC's activist/militant/lets not be too judgemental/bland neutral non-loaded term/alleged fighter!

p.s. Thanks to those who inquired. My family and friends are all well and safe.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


Heat Magazine has a regular feature called 'Spotted' which I always found somewhat ridiculous. It is an entire page filled with things like "David Beckham in Waitrose supermarket" and "Gwyneth Paltrow walking down the High Street." As if it is big news that celebrities eat and walk like the rest of us. However I was forced to rethink my opinion this week when I experienced my very own 'Spotted!'

Now those of you who know me, will know how obsessed I am with The West Wing, so you can just imagine my excitement when one of the cast came to shul this week. Joshua Malina (or Josh as he said I should call him) and his dad came to my shul on Friday night and Shabbat morning.

We get quite a few celebrities, as we seem to have become one of the official tourist destinations in Jerusalem. US Ambassador Dan Kurtzer often comes and minor Israeli politicians have been known to put in an appearance. Once Dr. Ruth was there - which got everyone excited, but for me, Josh beats them all. Not only does he star in the West Wing, he was also in another favourite show of mine 'Sports Night'. He always plays these smart, slightly nerdy guys in glasses - which is exactly the type I go for.

We had a brief chat and I indulged myself in the fantasy where he falls instantly in love and makes aliyah to Jerusalem to be with me (whilst still commuting to LA to film WW of course). Unfortunately his wedding ring makes that scenario unlikely. In any event it was certainly an exciting Shabbat and I finally I understand the allure of 'Spotted'. It is exciting when someone famous appears in your everyday life.

Friday, May 27, 2005

On Einstein Mathematics

I just got back from the wedding of two very close friends. They got married in Tiberius on Lag BaOmer. The wedding was both beautiful and fun. I caught up with many friends that I haven’t seen for ages. Generally a great event and I couldn’t be happier for M and D. Mazal Tov to them both. There was just one thing that niggled at me. In his speech the groom quoted Albert Einstein “One plus one equals one, two minus one is nothing”. Now this is a lovely sentiment of partnership for a newly married couple, but what does it say to those of us who are single? That we are nothing? I know this was not what the groom intended (M and D couldn’t be further from Bridget Jones’ ‘smug marrieds’) but it is out there.

Single people – not all, but many – live with this sense of incompleteness – that they are somehow not really worth anything as long as they are single. Often we blame the ‘smug marrieds’, our parents, or society in general for placing this pressure upon us. But I think in truth that many of us collude in it. It isn’t others who say we are not worth anything – we believe it ourselves. In my case I have fulfilled my ambition in moving away from my home and family to Israel, and making my life here. Making a good life here. This is no small thing. I put myself through a demanding professional course, paying my own way and now I have a job that I love and that I am good at. A job that fulfils me. I work in my chosen field and am a professional success. I have a good home situation, an apartment I love, and good friends…and yet…and yet…

There is something missing. When I compare myself to old school friends who have got married I feel in some ways like a failure. I know not all singles feel this way – but I also don’t think I am alone. I am proud of what I have achieved but I am also lonely and – well lets face it – incomplete.

I guess I resent M’s statement in his wedding speech because it taps into a fear that I have about myself. As long as I am single am I really nothing? I know that isn’t true but the fear is always there. On the way up to the wedding a friend and I were discussing Yehuda Amichai’s famous poem ‘Tourists’. In it he criticises the insensitive tourists who see stones and not people. Her comment was that despite this Amichai somehow colludes with them. His criticism masks his envy.
Like many single people I deeply resent comments like ‘two minus one is nothing’ because I am not nothing – and yet I can’t help colluding with the sentiment. I too want to be a ‘two’ - and being a ‘one’ doesn’t seem to be enough.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

From the inside looking in

It is hard to come up with anything original to say about Yom HaZikaron, our memorial day to our fallen. It has all been said before. That not withstanding I am going to try to express some thoughts I have on this day - a day which demands reflection.

Today we recall 20,368 soldiers fallen since the War of Independence. 21,954 in total including the pre-state period. 169 of those are new since last year. Even this year, which has been far more quiet than last, we are still losing a soldier ever 48 hours on average. Israel has no unknown soldier - no unremembered soldier. We don't round up our figures to make the easier to remember. Each life is individual, each name is recalled.

Remembrance Day in England never felt like this to me. Perhaps it does feel the same to people of a certain age. But to younger people, born after the Second World War it is all very detached. A soldier is a soldier. In Israel a soldier is a friend, a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a parent. With our national conscription, not to mention our continuing state of war, a soldier is not someone else - he is everyone, everywhere. He becomes real and human - not merely a uniform.

Yom HaZikaron is the day in the year when I feel most Israeli. It wasn't always like this. When I first arrived. I felt like an intruder on someone else’s grief. I was sad - but what right did I have to my sadness. Did I know anyone who had died? Did any one in my family fall? Is there anyone from my class at school whose name will be read out at some tekkes somewhere? Yom HaZikaron used to be the day that separated me from other Israelis. But somewhere in the last three years things changed. I still (thank God) don't know any fallen, but somehow I no longer feel like an outsider on this day. The grief is my grief too. I also have lived through difficult times here - times of fear and loss. My future is entwined with this country - and that stands on the backs of the 21,954 who we remember today.

Last night I walked though Emek Refaim as stores and restaurants were closing. It felt like erev Yom Kippur. Everyone was getting ready for something. I attended a community tekkus in my neighbourhood. After the songs poems and readings were over, after we all stood silent as the siren wailed I did the most Israeli thing of all. I went to Shira B'Tzibbur. Hundreds of people, of all ages, crammed into a large community hall, all singing along together songs to remember the fallen. We had another tekkus this morning at work. I stood there today surrounded by all the people there. All people working in Jewish education, working for the Jewish people and I thought how lucky I am. To be living where I am, and doing what I do. To have achieved the goals I set for myself and to be a part of this country in both its mourning and its joy.