Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Government Office Adventure - Kiryat Yam

Every Israeli has experienced how ridiculous the bureaucracy is in this country.  My experience has improved a lot in the last 12 years. Any trip to a Government office always runs the risk of needing to come back and possibly other tasks that need to be completed in the interim.

As it has been a number of years, it was time for Peri and I to go on a Government Office Adventure. Shlomo will be going to school in Kiryat Yam (2 km from our home) next year. As the school is outside of the Haifa municipal boundaries we need to get authorization and pay an extra fee for Shlomo to have permission to attend the school. Our task was simple. We already had the document giving us permission to transfer from the City of Haifa. We just needed to bring the document to the Kiryat Yam office, pay for the transfer and bring the forms back to the school.

The first task was locating the Kiryat Yam City Hall. I knew approximately where it was. As I parked next to the Mayor's car. I was pretty confident that we were in the right area.  As we walked there we realized there were two possible buildings of where the office was. One building had a sign 'Municipality of Kiryat Yam' and the other said 'Library'.  The obvious answer was to head to the library. However, the building was locked. So, we went back to the other building. The guard sent us back to the first building with some very unclear instructions of exactly where we needed to be. 

There was a small office next to the entrance to the library office. We eventually were able to get someone's attention to help guide us. They unlocked the door for us, told us to go upstairs and find what we needed from there. We found the right person on the first shot. It turned out the transfer fee was also cheaper than we were originally quoted. She gave us the documents we needed. We had to take the documents and pay the fee at the water office. In order to get to the water office, we had to walk out the door we came in, then circle the building. The entrance was on the opposite side. 

By the time we got to the water office, it was just after 12:00. They closed at 12:00. Peri played dumb and they allowed her to enter to take care of the bill. They made me wait outside. 

A few minutes later, we were back to at the entrance to the locked building. As per instructions, we knocked on the door and the administrator assisting us met us. She went and photocopied some ID, while we waited at the bottom of the stairs.  Peri was concerned that we were still missing a document. In the end the administrator contacted the secretary of the school directly. She told us that she would work directly with the secretary to make sure everything was in order. We would not need to take the documents to the school. 

We started our mission treating it as an adventure. That way, we didn't get frustrated or stressed with any of the road blocks we knew we would encounter. It took us less than half an hour to get everything in order.  In the end, the level of service was excellent.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

It's December 31st

 For the passed few days or so, I have been emotionally unstable. This is the one time of year, I have to accept those emotions unconditionally. My body knows that December 31st is coming.  My heart knows that it has been 8 years since Rachel's passing. It still seems like everything in my life is marked as either before or after day. 

2020 has been a horrible year for the world. There were a lot of struggles for me and my family along with everything else. If I look back objectively, there have been a lot of highlights. 

When Peri and I were deciding if we should date, I was faced with the question of deciding if her 3 dogs would be a deal breaker. In the end I decided to accept Rocky, Bo and Snuggles and everything that went along with being a dog owner. When Rocky and Bo passed, I was hesitant to add another dog. One day we went to Tel Aviv to check out a dog. It was a bad match from a rescue that is dishonest and should be avoided. Instead of heading home, I decided that we should check out Tsar Baal Chaim in Tel Aviv. It was a great experience. In February, Bailey joined our family. It was my push that resulted in adopting him. 

Purim fell out a week before the entire country locked down.  We attended a Bat Mitzvah in the evening and a wonderful seudah in the afternoon. My parent's were visiting. They were able to celebrate a fun holiday with us. 

Just before Pesach we completed the purchase of our apartment. I thought it was a dream I would never be able to fulfill in my lifetime. The previous owners didn't want to move out for another 2 months. We had reluctantly agreed to allow them to rent from us for the extra two months. The move ended up being a real windfall for us. Most importantly, our moving day ended up being after the initial lockdown. We were able to have the freedom of movement to do all the renovations and preparations needed for a proper move. We have really been enjoying the benefits of owning our own home and so has our credit rating. 

I used to travel an hour and a quarter to Holon to play hockey on a tiny rink. A new full sized rink is now open in Tnuvot. All of the Anglo hockey has been moved to the new rink. My 75+ minute commute has been reduced to under an hour. The best part is those I look forward to spending time with every week are still playing in the same time slot. As soon as we have an end to these constant lockdowns, I can start playing on a consistent basis.

Last month I had eye surgery. Aside from not wearing glasses anymore, it has made a huge change in my life. I no longer fear my eyes blowing out on their own. I no longer fear closing my eyes without ointment in them. I can even be in the same room as onions being chopped without having them blow out.  My vision isn't quite where I want it to be. My eyes are healing and my vision is still improving.

My mental health is the best it has been since I started being treated for my PTSD and depression. Just as the calendar will flip to 2021, this week's emotional struggle will start fading away in the coming days. Life has been really hard. I can still see the positives that have happened throughout the year. 

For the past 8 years, I have viewed my life as Pre-December 31st, 2012 and Post-December 31st, 2012. For forever it seemed that most of my life had to be divided on one side or the other. I am starting to come to terms with that thought. Perhaps by this time next year, that wall will have fallen down, the same way it did for Gabi. 

Note: Rachel's Yahrzeit is this Shabbat.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Eye had Enough

 It started 9 years ago on the morning of the second day of Rosh HaShannah. I woke up with a pain in my left eye like something was stuck in it. I couldn't make the pain ago away. I was given a Clonex that knocked me out for the rest of the morning. In the afternoon, I went to the Arab doctor who gave me a prescription for something. Of course it was Yom Tov, so I couldn't get it filled. 

The next day I found an optometrist. My cornea had blown out. It took medicine and a few days to heal. That has been the pattern ever since. I would put ointment in my eye whenever  I went to sleep. I had eye gel that I could use, if my eye was irritated during the day. From time to time my cornea would blow out. I would find a way to see my optometrist same day and begin the treatment cycle again. The day I was preparing for my wife's funeral, I went to see my ophthalmologist. We came up with a plan avoid a blowout during shiva that included trying to avoid crying with tears. 

When we moved north, I found someone able to follow the same patterns of monitoring and treatment. That also included finding alternatives when the ointment was discontinued and finding a way to fill scripts properly for an alternative that was added to the health basket, imported from Canada. 

Earlier this year, the cornea blowouts started happening in my second eye as well. A few days before Rosh HaShannah my cornea blew out again. For the first time, I had a second blow out before the healing process had been completed. My ophthalmologist suggested that I see a Cornea Specialist, with the intention of having laser surgery.

About a month later, my eye blew out again. For the first time in 9 years, my ophthalmologist was not available to take care of it. Maccabi found us a doctor who works out of a hotel in Haifa. He said that he had been examining eyes since before I was born. I believe that it was true and that did not offer me any comfort. He told me that the pain I was experiencing was the worst possible type of pain. He also said that I didn't need any pain relief or treatment. Let everything heal on it's own. 

The next day I was still in agony. I went to my ophthalmologist who treated it and put in a contact lens. She didn't want to do too much, because the appointment with the cornea specialist was that evening. The lens didn't hold very well but made it until that evening. The specialist replaced the lens with a therapeutic lens and said it would not come out until I had surgery. I asked how long that would be. He answered 'tomorrow.' He made a phone call and had a slot for me at Assuta Hospital in Tel Aviv for PKT surgery. 

I was in so much pain in the morning, I insisted on leaving more than 2 hours earlier than planned. As the surgeon doesn't show up before a certain time, arriving early didn't help. They tried to take the pictures needed for the surgery shortly after arriving. Unfortunately, my eye was not in good enough shape to be able to take the pictures. We then had the regular waiting time plus an additional two hours. 

The surgeon finally arrived. He had a very calming bedside manner and easily gained my trust and confidence. He agreed that I should have the surgery but not on that day. I needed my eyes to be healthy for a period of 2 weeks before the surgery. He also recommended that they do a PRK at the same time. There was no additional risk and it would correct my vision to the point of not needing glasses. We made an appointment for 3 weeks later. We also made sure that he would be the surgeon performing the surgery.

My eye healed and I was given approval for the surgery. During the 3 weeks, I was afraid my eye would blow out again and paranoid that I could be stuck in bidud (quarantine). The day of the surgery arrived without any need for delays. 

First up were the pictures. I still had trouble opening my eyes wide enough, but they were able to get the images they needed.  Next up was the optometrist. It was a fairly rigorous exam, as they needed to make sure they got everything just right. At one point I was asked "Do you see 5 or 6 objects?' I answered 'I see 4 objects.' I proceeded to name identify them all to make sure everything was correct.

After all the preliminary exams, it was time to see the surgeon. He was happy with all the results and approved the surgery. I wasn't worried but it was still a moment of relief. I signed the waiver and was ready to go. They even made sure that we would get a English copy of the waiver.

We then went to pay the bill and get the detailed instructions for post-op, including lots of eye drops, activity restrictions, follow up appointments and the need to wear sunglasses for 6 months whenever in the sun. We were than directed to a corner in the clinic, to pick up a pair of sunglasses before heading to the pharmacy, followed by the waiting room for the actual surgery. 

At the beginning, I said I wanted to buy myself a pair of sunglasses without a prescription. In the corner there were 4 shelves filled with all kinds of different styles of sunglasses. I would say there were between 60 - 80 in total. As they are now the most expensive sunglasses I will ever own, it will be a while before I buy another pair. 

I am not going to describe the surgery. Suffice it to say that the doctor did a great job, guiding me through the procedure. It was just after he told me that he had finished the first section on my first eye that I realized, that I probably should have had my SOS anti-anxiety medication on board. When I walked out of surgery, I could see perfectly for about 60% of the field in front of me. About half an hour later the blurriness set in, as the healing process began.

I am now 10 days post-op. The recovery time is a lot slower and challenging than than I originally expected. I am making progress and learning to return to regular life step by step. I no longer have to put ointment in my eyes in order to sleep or fear that my eye is going to blow out at anytime. There are a lot of things I am looking forward to doing without glasses, including playing hockey. There are a lot more things to look forward to.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Uman - The Spiritual Crisis

 I was disturbed by the news stories today about the 1000 chasidim trapped in no mans land on the border between the Ukraine and Belarus. The Red Cross had to deliver humanitarian aid to those trapped by their own actions.  One report said that the people had refused to return to Belarus out of fear of being placed in mandatory quarantine guaranteeing they would not reach their destination on time. There are reported to be 2500 chasidim in total who made there way to Belarus unable to cross into the Ukraine by any means necessary. All this to spend Rosh HaShannah at the grave of Rebbe Nachman. 

 Like many of my friends, I am rather baffled by the entire situation. After giving it some thought, maybe I am not as baffled as I would like to be. I can't speak for those who made the journey, but I have had influences in my life that could of/or did put me in equally baffling situations. 

When I was in Yeshiva, we went to the Aish HaTorah Bible Codes seminar. While most of the program is devoted to preparation and understanding of the context and significance of the codes, the inability to use them to predict the future etc... the cool part is the codes. 

The next morning one guy walks into our pre-morning seder shiur, talking about all the cool codes. Our Rebbe wasn't impressed. So he told him another and another. Still not impressed. Finally, our Rebbe stops to explain his position. One day there is going to be a code that doesn't work as expected. If these codes are the foundation of your beliefs, your entire belief system is going to crumble with it. 

When I came back from Yeshiva, I didn't feel I was in a position to be an advisor in NCSY. I didn't have enough belief in myself. Years later, we tried to be actively involved in NCSY again. As we were not wealthy, we thought being role models through Shabbat guests would be a great way to be involved. Despite putting on pressure to be accepted, we were never approved. On one occasion trying to understand the reasons for being rejected, the comment was made that perhaps we wouldn't tell a kid to go to Israel. I am long past being emotionally attached to that statement, but it has given me reason to pause and reflect.

I believe in Hashem, Torah, mitzvot and the Jewish People. For me that belief is anchored in truth. There have been many role models that have turned out to not be as righteous as people would think they were.  There are people who live the religious life while not thinking or acting in a religious way. While my faith has been shaken many times over the years, the acts of an individual acting inappropriately has not crushed my spirits. At the end of the day, people are people.

What happens if the foundation of everything you believe in is anchored into one person? What if everything you believe in down to your very core, beliefs that you have to be in Uman on Rosh HaShannah. Having that taken away from you, could be overwhelming at a level that I can't even imagine. Perhaps for some the only alternative to receiving Red Cross aid in no mans land, is a spiritual crisis at the very core of everything they believe. People will do anything to avoid such a crisis. 

For some in the Haredi world it is inconceivable that the State of Israel would be established by non-religious Jews.  Yet, here we are. The world doesn't always work in the way we think we should. I believe that our belief in Hashem has to stay strong, when he shows us that the world is not what his plan is. Did anyone living at the time of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash really believe it was going to be destroyed. The mishna in Nedarim deals with cases of vows made that required the Beit HaMikdash only to discover it wasn't there anymore. 

For some, not being able to make it to Uman poses a heart breaking crisis of belief. I can't relate to that line of thinking. Perhaps the ability to blame others for failure to reach Uman is the only way for them to stay true to the person they are.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Mr Pretzels

 From time to time we end up spending a short period of time in Modiin. On those rare visits we have developed a tradition of meeting up with friends at Mr. Pretzels. I was really excited when I found out that Mr. Pretzels was opening at the Grand Canyon in Haifa. 

When it finally did open, I was disappointed to discover that they had decided to open without a teudat kashrut. I was even more disappointed when we found out more details from the store. The ingredients are the same across the entire chain, making the ingredients kosher. Despite the mall being open, Mr. Pretzel was closed on Shabbat. They just didn't want to pay for the supervision. Each and every time, we would walk by, I would give them a mean look in protest. Of course it didn't make a difference to them, especially since nobody would notice. Most of the time, if we were there, we wouldn't be in that part of the mall.

Before going back to school, we found ourselves in the Grand Canyon mall. As we were already there, we decided to check out a back to school promotion. The lines were huge. We ended up going in completely the opposite direction to avoid the crowds. All of a sudden I found that we were in front of 014Mr. Pretzels. I started to give them a mean glare. My eyes slowly shifted until they landed on the sign at the front. It was a teudat kashrut. They are now kosher. I was so excited. We were not able to stop and enjoy on that trip. It is something to look forward to on a future trip to the mall.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Birthday at Rosh HaNikra

It was my birthday, earlier in the week. I just wanted to get out of the apartment and do something that didn't involve walking around a shopping mall. We decided that it was a perfect day to take the 40 minute drive to the Lebanese border to witness 'a love story between the rock and the sea.'  At least that is what the signs said. After years of keeping it on our family to do list, we visited Rosh HaNikra.

We called ahead to make sure it would be family friendly and Corona safe. Although they said it was best to wait until the end of the day, we decided that we would go with enough time to enjoy our day and still be home at a reasonable hour. 

We arrived to find the parking lot closed. Cars were scattered up and down the roads. We took a short drive up the road, just past the sign warning that the border was up ahead. We were able to find parking that wasn't to far away from the entrance to the parking lot. 

View of parking lot from our car


We knew which direction to walk. We eventually found our way to the area for purchasing tickets for the cable car. We also decided to upgrade our tickets for an extra activity quasi off the beaten path. We were told that the cable car would be limited to 7 passengers and that it would be an hour wait to get to the bottom. So we headed over to the line, which was staggered into 3 sections. Staff walked through the line at regular intervals to make sure that everyone was still wearing their masks. We also saw some police officers who would have had the authority to issue the 500 NIS fine for not wearing them correctly.

The view while waiting in line

They were not joking about the wait times. We eventually made it onto the cable car, down to our destination. By that point it was lunch time and we were all really hot. We bought a few cold drinks and found a nice quiet spot, on astroturf with umbrellas to offer us shade. 

After lunch it was time to go into the grottoes.  They were absolutely breathtaking. The only issue I had was that there were way too many people who thought they were super models. Their efforts to take the perfect picture, inconvenienced everyone else. It was well worth it. 

After we finished in the grottoes, we walked through a tunnel. The tunnel was built by the British in 1942 to connect Beirut and Haifa, to allow the transfer of military supplies. It was blown up in 1947 to prevent Arab fighters from being able to reach Haifa. 

Shlomo spent the walk telling Hoodie and anyone who would listen that trains used to be here and then they turned it into a museum.

At the other end of the tunnel, our chariot was waiting for us. OK, it wasn't a chariot, it was a golf cart. We had rented it for 45 minutes as something fun and different to do. We were allowed to drive it as far as the nearby beach.  Peri and I took turns driving around and the kids also had fun checking out the area in our slow moving vehicle. Did you know that Israel has trailer parks? We also saw a tent, set up in the kids park, near the beach. I wonder what the story was there. 

From there it was back into the much shorter line up the cable car. We stopped for ice cream at the top. We then headed back to the car to pack it in for the day.  We made it home in time for dinner. 

I had a really great birthday. It was a really fun family tiyul.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Food Distribution - Shlomo the Forklift Operator

The local Food Gemach takes care of families that struggle to provide themselves with the basics. They operate out of the local Bnei Akiva snif. They provide weekly food basics for families in Kiryat Shmuel and Kiryat Chaim. Funding is provided by the city of Haifa. All those receiving a basket are approved by the city social worker. The size of the baskets vary based on family size. Families are supposed to pay a nominal fee for the baskets. I have learned from the few times I have done deliveries that the fee is either waved or payment is delayed. 

There are multiple steps in the preparation and distribution of the baskets.  There are various shifts over a period of two days to take all the steps to pack and deliver the baskets. Normally Shlomo volunteers for the afternoon shift after Gan. His shift involves packing items that are added to the baskets at the very end. He also takes pride in bringing the empty boxes out to the dumpster. When the country went into lockdown, his volunteering temporarily stopped. 

Peri's role with the gemach is to pick up certain food items for the main distribution centre for the Haifa area. Shlomo has been waiting to help out his Eema. However, today was the first time he had an opening in his busy schedule. 

Shlomo was very busy, learning about how the facilities work and the important job they do. He was not afraid to help pitch in. He drove the forklift to empty the garbage bins. After a hard morning work, he was given a fresh peach to cool off on a hot day.