Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Hiking by Kibbutz Be'eri

I seem to be hiking monthly these days. Spring is here, which means there's a few weeks of erratic, schizo weather before it turns scorchingly hot and I won't want to hike anywhere.

Jerusalem Mosaic hiking club were doing this rather easy hike, along gentle hills near Kibbutz Be'eri (a kibbutz founded in 1946), which is 3 miles from Gaza. The British built roads here pre-State-of-Israel and stored their ammunition here, as well as having a sulphur factory. The scenery was quite different from one moment to the next.

So let's get to the photos:

There were several German Shepherd dogs guarding the premises at the Kibbutz. Why? I asked the guide. His explanation was that the Kibbutz was just 3 miles from Gaza and this was to prevent infiltrators. BUT - then I hear Israel's biggest printing press is behind the barbed wire. And this is where the bills from the electric company, the phone company and other major sources of annoyances come from. No wonder they need security dogs.

Wild horses couldn't drag me away....lovely to see this in the middle of nowhere, eh?

Hiking along the sand dunes...

The old British sulphur factor

I'm happy to report that we hiked much faster than this snail on the grass.

- seems to be a ruin of an Arab village or home here

- the homes of Gaza in the distance. This rural area of Gaza seems quite pastoral, unlike the inner cities where chaos seems to reign.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Landlord Blues

I've been renting in Israel for over 11 years. There have been recent articles in Haaretz on the pros and cons of renting vs. buying. But let me tell you, renting in Israel is the absolute, absolute pit of the pits. There's nothing more horrible and unsettling and nerveracking than this. Most apartments are owned privately and these private owners occasionally rent out their property to tenants for leases - 1 year at a time. We have had landlords from hell - our first landlord - where we rented an old dump with an overgrown, unattended-to, giant garden. We deposited security money with him and nearing the end of our one-year lease, he complained of "damages to the garden". This is a ploy to try and keep your security deposit. We learned fast. Fortunately, hubby is handy at lawnmowing from those lush lawns in Toronto and we proved him wrong by planting grass seeds and watering the new grass and were fortunate to have before and after photos which showed his words to be foolish talk.

The 2nd apartment we rented was from a family from the foreign ministry who were overseas for two years. We were like "WOW! What stability. We can actually stay in one place for more than one year...YIPPEEEE!" They had 2 children and we had 5. We thought we did a decent job of cleaning their home after we moved out, but they muttered that they had to "really clean" up after we moved out and why did we shut off the electricity? I had no idea you just transfer it back to the owners, I just thought you cancel your account and close it up. So they had to contend with the messiness of opening up the electricity once more.

The 3rd apartment we rented was miraculously also for 2 years - but the layout was horrible that we had our livingroom on the 2nd floor. But his brother wanted our place so we had to move out.

The 4th apartment we rented was from a builder whose office said they'd Never Ever sell it. That was 5 years ago. We were in renter's heaven. We were free, we were stable, our family could get their shit together and we didn't have to be saddled with high mortgages, etc. But in August they called and said they wanted to sell. We were mortified and pleaded with them. We even offered them higher rent but to no avail. We had to re-rent.

Alas, there are hardly any 4 bedroom apartments in our neighborhood to rent. I shared this ordeal with you, I am sure, on some previous nightmarish post. So we decided to go for the plunge and buy. Which we did and we cannot wait to move into a place of our own - where we can be as messy, or as clean, or as noisy, as we'd like, and where we can stay until the messiah comes. It sounds too good to be true.

But meanwhile, we had to rent apartment #5 until our own place is ready. This was a lease for 4 months. This has to be the craziest of all places I've ever rented. She's not quick to fix anything and every time we turn the hot water switch on, the fuse blows. She asked for all her rent up front too and charged us a fortune because we needed a place for a few months and not a full year. She wanted all her bills paid even before the due date. She's a pain in the ass landlady.

This landlady wants to rent her apartment after we move out and she wants to sell it too. So she or an agent or a potential renter/buyer is calling me up nearly every day wanting to see the place. Sometimes they show up and sometimes they don't - and this is when my kids feel - "why did I have to clean this place up for nothing". But at least I get to have a clean house. Last night an agent called me and brought us 5 South American people traipsing through the house at dinnertime. Everything was "mucho bueno." Hubby was sitting in front of the telly saying "Shouldn't we put a limit on these people coming to our house at all hours?" He's having many a "house invasion" moment.

But I'm feeling so lethargic about the whole thing and don't mind the daily showings of the house - it's not that disruptive for me. Because I'll be moving out soon, to a permanent place - and will be pitying the renter that has to rent one year at a time.

Monday, March 26, 2007

teen interfaith

Thanks to Esra'a from Middle East Youth for sending me this link .

Anyone interested in joining or having their kids join? Unfortunately, my kids aren't interested right now in repairing the world type of thing. They want to get up late, earn money, buy clothing, go to parties, go to clubs - but to sit and actually discuss worthwhile things? Nah.... Maybe when they're older. Much older.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

From Bethlehem to Jerusalem

There was an interfaith gathering this past Thursday evening at the charming Austrian Hospice on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. We had planned to meet with the people of the Hope Flowers School in El Khader/Bethlehem to discuss the very pleasant (to me anyways) and expansive subject of food in our traditions. This was supposed to be an overnight thing with the retreat ending on Friday noon. But I had already booked myself for a hike in the Negev the following day so Thursday night was the only night I could join.

Sure enough, 10 minutes before I was due to leave work, my boss calls me from the US chattering away, but lucky for me, and by the good Grace of God, the phone connection went dead about 2 minutes into the phone call. I tried calling her back on her cellphone, the good soldier that I am, which was disconnected. For those that don't believe, let me tell you, there really is a God. I was thus able to leave at 4:00 to get me to Jaffa Gate by 4:30, where I met a fellow Jewish interfaith participant. We walked through the busy market on David Street, then through the Christian quarter admiring things we hadn't noticed before even though we've been there millions of times, which led the shopkeepers to believe we were tourists.

The meeting was supposed to begin at 4:00 pm and it was already 4:45 pm. We were uncomfortably late and went up to the salon at the 2nd floor to join our meeting, as it's usually held there and walked in on about 100 teens. Ooops. Wrong meeting. They were obviously European/Austrian because you could hear a pin drop in there - not so a case when you put even 10 Israeli teens together.

Finally a small contingent from Bethlehem came in after 5:00 pm. They had trouble at the checkpoints - the usual story. However 7 more people were supposed to arrive and although the office of our interfaith group got permits for them to come to Jerusalem through the Bet El army (North of Jerusalem) which is the main place to obtain permits for Palestinians to come through, these guys had to come through the Gush Etzion checkpoint which is South of Jerusalem which gets the orders from the Bet El office. The group had waited from 10:00 am - 2:00 pm patiently and no permit had come through for them from Bet El. Even though phone calls were made back and forth, they were turned away after waiting four hours for a permit that had been gotten for them. We all felt terrible about this. Here are people coming through for a dialogue with Israelis and they get turned away. We were told by the Palestinians it all depends on who is at the checkpoint that day. They may not have even checked if permits were given at all and just played around with them and made them wait for 4 hours. Turns out the ones who did make it through were one big family who all had long-term permits already and didn't have to get new ones. Their contingent was a husband/wife/mother-in-law/3 children who were the lucky ones to be allowed in. But even though they had permits, they were valid for 12 hours during the day and past 7:00 pm at night they could not wander around Jerusalem. They were put up at the hostel for free.

After going around the table introducing ourselves and listening to the checkpoint ordeal, it was time to eat at the Hospice cafeteria. The woman from Bethlehem had 3 small kids, was pregnant and her 1 year old was screaming. The kid was putting his fist in his mouth. A universal sign of teething. His mother thought he had an ear infection and I knew he was teething. In any case, the stern-faced Austrians and guests at the cafeteria were not pleased with the kid screaming and looked terribly uncomfortable. What a difference between us and them and I don't mean Jews and Arabs. When a child screams in agony, you'll have us Middle-Easterners meddling in trying to see what's wrong and what can be done to help. But the Europeans didn't really seem to want to mix in and were noticeably annoyed at screaming ruining their meal. We (the Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs) shrugged our shoulders, offered to hold her kid and then let him scream until he fell asleep. I had seen and felt another commonality with my Palestinian sister and a much deeper difference with the European ones.

My friend on the other hand, was flipped out and uncomfortable over a statue of Jesus facing her and asked me to switch places with her.

"Oh stop that" I teased her. "He's Jewish!!"

We grouped together afterwards and heard about stuff we already knew - Moslems and Jews don't eat pork, we can eat giraffes and deer (but who would), they can eat strange game meat too as long as it's not a predator animal like a lion or tiger. We can't eat shellfish, they can. We can't eat milk and meat together. They can. But it didn't matter if I already knew this stuff. It was good to be together and strengthen our bonds.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Beware The Broom Burglar of Nachlaot

There have been a rash of home burglaries over the past couple of months in central Jerusalem - so much so that the police have set up a special task force to investigate what has been happening and hoping to catch a thief or two or a few, if they're lucky.

Jerusalem email listings have nearly daily reports of homes that have been burglarized and shrewd enterpreneurs are popping up in the same email lists - listing their security alarm services.

I'm comfortably ensconced in a suburb of Jerusalem where maybe a burglary happens maybe once a month - not several a day. But when I visited a friend in Jerusalem this afternoon she related to me her experience the night before.

"So I was woken up by this noise at 3:00 in the morning and saw a broom hovering over my bed trying to unplug something. I totally freaked out."

"Oh my God. What did you do?"

"I slammed the window shut and yelled 'what the HELL do you think you're doing?!!' but he had already gotten the broom out."

I tried to think of witty things she could have yelled at him like "I'm not hiring for Passover cleaning until tomorrow morning, jerk!"

I told her - "Jeez, you have absolutely nothing in this place. What could he have wanted?"

I looked in her room and saw a few books and clothing. There was underwear on the top shelf.

"Maybe he was a pervert and wanted to steal your undies."

"I think he just wanted to 'clean' me out with his broom"

We laughed at the spectacle of this broom sneaking in through her window. Like those cartoons I used to see of electrical razors chasing people. Her dog was at a friend's and I thought he would have protected my friend with his barks.

"Nah, he's afraid of brooms. He would have just hidden under my bed"

Saturday, March 10, 2007


At work my boss held a viewing of "The Devil Wears Prada" during a staff lunch. Hubby was certain it was gonna be my final day at work since I did make a comparison a while back to the difficult Miranda character and perhaps she was onto me. Either she read my blog or saw the movie and saw the similarities herself - who knows. But anyhow, after the film we chatted about my previous glamor job at Sire Records in New York City and the feeling one had about being caught up in the whirlwind of glamorous parties, free tickets to everything cool and being on every New York City guest list. It was a glorious few years for me too in the late 1970s, early 1980s, when NYC was at its decadent party best. Ms. boss told me she also felt she had a glamor job at the beginning - but I can't see how you can compare being glamourous in academia with the entertainment industry. No way can they be in the same league.

But in the movie, Miranda talks about "choices". You make the choices which get you to where you want to go. Fair enough. I've done that often.

Yesterday morning I was reading the papers about Sean Lennon (son of John for those not in the know) coming to Israel for a Saturday night gig at Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv. In fact, Friday morning, as I was reading the papers at 9:00 am, he was already here and set to do a book signing at the Third Ear record store in Tel Aviv at 1:00 pm. Ahh choices. Should I go? Should I not go? If someone would have been my partner-in-crime and carted me off with them, there would have been no question, but to have to get dressed and maneuver my way through Tel Aviv - not an easy feat for a Jerusalemite - is energy burning.

And you might ask - why would I care so much about seeing a young man, whose music I never heard, who is the son of a legend?

Well, there's history behind all this. Before my glamor job, I spent the summer of 1970 doing my Beatles thing. I was 14 years old and told my folks I wanted to stay home that summer and not go to sleepaway camp. I'm sure they were miserable with my choice being that they had carted me away to summer sleepaway camps since I was 8 years old. And now I was back home and that left them with, well, a teenager to deal with. So much for THEIR summer vacation.

I had been Beatle mad since 1968 and collected everything about them. In the summer of 1970 (or was it 1971?) before John and Yoko moved into the Dakota apartment building, the couple stayed at the Plaza Hotel for a few months. I found out about this through older friends of mine. The girls were about 18 - 21 years old and I had "proven" myself to them when I happened to find out where Paul McCartney was recording the album Ram at CBS recording studios. I had cut school and sauntered over there in the freezing weather to see him walk in and out of the studio and watch him be gruff with his few fans that were there (between 2-6 of them). None of us wanted to bother him with photo-taking and autographs. We felt that if we didn't act like nuisances, he might, well, talk to us, invite us into the studio, have pity on us because we were freezing, etc. None of that did happen, but since I acted like the rest of the girls hanging outside, not taking photographs, not getting autographs, not yelling "OMG IT'S HIM!!!!", I was allowed entry into their exclusive clique. And that meant more to me than getting a useless autograph.

Throughout that year and the next and the next - I would get calls that one of the Beatles (even though they had already broken up by that time) had arrived in New York, with their whereabouts and I would choose whether I'd want to hang around there or not. I remember the fans being too shy to approach any of these guys, but I wasn't. One of the girls handed me a Beatles t-shirt circa 1964 and told me to give it to John. He walked out of his hotel - and I handed him the t-shirt. I told him "I know the Beatles are dead and all that - but you can have the myth". He laughed and gave me a warm 'thank you'. Another friend of mine gave him a Dr. Seuss book which we saw him reading in his limo. We had read his books "In His Own Write" and "A Spaniard in the Works" and thought his writing was so cleverly written, and similar to Dr. Seuss books in a way, but of course more clever and wittier than Dr. Seuss. Once Yoko had her driver buy us all milkshakes and I, of course, was eternally grateful. She had been in my good books ever since.

In 1975, when Sean was born, one of my closest friends was a nurse at the ICU unit where he was and gave me hourly updates on what was happening and who she saw and how cute the baby was, etc.

So these are some of my memories of my teenage summers in NYC and there are lots more. I had some photos that people had taken through those years (not me - I didn't take the photos - remember - I was trying to act 'cool') and thought of digging them out and giving them to Sean. I didn't think anyone else in Tel Aviv would have given him such a meaningful gift as I would have. My mind started drifting. He's a handsome 31 year old and I thought of bringing with me some of my hot daughters so that he would fall in love with them and stay in Israel. But I chose to take it easy that Friday and just stay put where I was. Had I been younger and had more energy, I might have taken the other choice. But maybe Hubby will chauffer me to Tel Aviv tonight, let me hear what this young whippersnapper of a man sounds like and maybe I'll hand him that envelope of photos of his dad. Maybe. Or maybe not.