Thursday, August 23, 2012

I love it here

Today at a random shop in Tel Aviv, a very chiloni looking guy behind the counter was so excited when my daughter bought a Popsicle, he did not let us pay for it before encouraging her to start eating it so "she is a dati girl she can a beautiful shehakol and he could answer 'Amen'". HE made me do it also before I could pay for my drink. There are times where I really, really love living here.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Freindly Tax Collector

An important part of my job is making sure my Keurig machine is used regularily.  It helps me keep my product knowledge and I have managed to pick up a taste for coffee. Every so often I send in my boss a request for 4 boxes K-Cups. I receive the customs note in our mail box. I pick it up at the local post office.  If the shipment makes it to Israel, I have never had any problems. The last time I placed my request, my boss said there was a problem.  I would now have to order 12 boxes, as it would be more economical in the long run.

On Wednesday I received a note that I had a package in the Postal Tax Office in Jerusalem.  I was a little bit concerned as it had instructions for all kinds of documents that would be required under different scenarios.  It didn't say how much tax I would need to pay.

On Thursday, I went down to the Post Office.  I brought the form to the front desk and said I had no idea what the form was about.  They told me to go to the warehouse in the back to get the package.  They pulled out a huge box and said I needed the customs agent to come back to see it.  They asked me what was inside.  I explained it was coffee.  They opened the box and saw I was right. Since I put in my request we began carrying 6 flavors of Starbucks which I need to try plus a box of Iced Coffee that I really want.  I also started a second job with a company that has 9 flavors on the market.  It has been interesting advising customers without ever trying them before.  It looks like he may have shipped me 16 boxes of coffee. That would be more than 300 cups of coffee/tea.

First I had to explain that the coffee was for personal consumption.  Then I had to explain that I didn't have an invoice because I didn't pay for it.  Finally she decided that she is going to charge me taxes based on the $160 declared value on the shipment.  She begins processing it and I pull out my credit card.  They only take cash or check.  Due to difficulties earlier in the week, I would not have access to cash until the next day.  She starts making phone calls trying to figure out what to do.

Agent #2 jumps in asking about my Hebrew skills.  Agent #1 jumps in with "He speaks some Hebrew, I speak some English.  We understand each other."  Agent #2 says "Don't you learn Gemara?"  This lead into a discussion on where I went to Yeshiva and where it was located.  I drew a blank on the neighbourhood of new location. Agent #3 asks me what street it is on. In the back of my head, I am thinking that something is not quite adding up 100% on the line of questions.

Agent #2 (who is not wearing a Kippah) goes to the cooler and gets me a cup of water.  He asks me to say Bracha that they can all answer to.  He then notices the wedding ring, which blew them all away, especially when I through in it has been 14 years and I have an 8 year old.  We made some more small talk as Agent #1 still does not know what to do.  "The computer won't let her go forward"

I told them that if I had to come back, I would come back another time. Agent #1 didn't want me to do that because I might get a different agent.  The implications was who knew what they would charge me or other problems I would have with the package.  In the end she decided to send it to my local post office.  I would pay the taxes when I picked it up.

The office could have very easily just turned me away until I had what they needed to clear my package.  Instead they thought of me as a person that they did not want to inconvenience.  It is something you expect from friends and family, not a person holding  a rubber stamp.  It is just another of many examples, of where living in Israel really feels like home.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Day the World Ended

For the first 2.5 years after we made Aliyah our lives just seemed to fall into place. Our Rabbi never comforts bad news with "It's for the best." We just simply don't know what is in store for us and it might not turn out better. For us we had our challenges and worries but everything just seemed to work itself out perfectly. After coming back from Toronto, Rachel getting pregnant was a tremendous gift and just another step of life falling into place. It was a difficult pregnancy with Rachel having multiple appointments at the Kuppah every week, even before she was put on bed rest. As difficult as it was, she never complained and always handled each difficult day with a smile.

When we hit the "safe zone" (gestationally farther along then Channah was). Rachel and I celebrated and bought a stroller. A few days later, a year ago today, our lives were shattered forever. We were in the ambulance sirens blaring on the way to the hospital. I still didn't even realize what that meant. I began mentally preparing for either another hospital stay or possible a preemie born that day. It was beyond anything I could have believed that such a precious miracle gift would be taken away just like that. A knot in her umbilical cord ended her life. A "freak accident", that will forever cast doubts in the what could have been done to save her life. Aside from the "could be" there will always been the "should have been", where I did not react to my little girl's life being in danger fast enough. Even if it is true that she couldn't have been saved, I didn't do enough to try.

The past year has been a nightmare. Rachel had a nervous breakdown, on top of a number of serious regular medical issues. To top things off she also lost her father to brain cancer. The strain it has placed on our relationship has been at time almost unbearable. We have lost a lot many friends, some that have been around for decades. Yesterday, Channah came home from school crying. There are still songs that she can't listen to because they remind her of Gabi. She started crying and some of her friends couldn't understand why. They said that it is not the first time it happened.Although the friends she counted on last year and the Ethiopian kids did understand. She responded that they don't know what it is like to be an only child and how much she was looking forward to having a sister.

We have had people who believe Gabi's life wasn't worth anything and that we are taking too long to get over it. What these people don't realize is that Gabi was gestationally older, bigger, had a high APGAR score than when Channah was born (with the exception of not breathing and no heart beat). If there had been a way for her to be born before the knot tightened she would have had a better start to life than Channah. We all know how wonderful Channah turned out.

On the plus side, it has been incredible the people who have stepped up and been there for us this year. Their support has been incredibly meaningful and a few people can take credit for literally saving Rachel's life. The kindness we received from true friends and real baalei chesed can never be repaid.

A person's name is supposed to capture the essence of who they are:

Gabriella - came from my Mother's parents last name Gabriellow. My grandmother had her husband and child wiped out in the holocoust. My grandfather was the cook in the Russian Army that liberated her concentration camp. He took care of her and brought her back to health. My Mom was born in a DP camp before they eventually made their was to Canada.

My Grandmother's friends ran to report her when the Nazi's came to their village. She too had to learn the lesson of who her real friends are. The flip side is she was able to rebuild her life after such a terrible tragedy. She kept a picture of her son on her wall and quietly carried his memory with her. I hope that we can move forward in life but Gabi will always be an important member even if she was also denied the opportunity of growing up.

Galit - translates as waves. She was named after Rachel's Grandfather who love sailing and was never afraid to cause waves to make the world a better place. In WWII he was an engineer with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was dishonourably discharged after refusing a superiors orders to approve a plane for flight. The plane never returned from it's flight.

Gabi has made waves without even being born. A tremendous amount of mitzvot, chesed, learning have all been done because of her. She was well loved and will always be remembered by those who cared. We are in the process of adding a kids library in our shul, so that her memory can inspire other children to learn and grow. It is unbelievable the amount of people who have decided that they want to be a part of this project.

A few weeks ago we visited Kever Rochel. Rochel Emeinu is given a hard time by many meforishim, for her efforts to try to have children. "Give me children or give me death." Yet, she was the one who was willing to allow her sister to be a rival wife with the man she loved. She was the one who was buried by the side of the road, after being denied the chance of raising the son she had just given birth to. However it is her kever that the Jews stopped at on the way to Galut. It was her merit that brought the promise that her children will return. It is my family that is living that promise.

As we were not with a tour, I took the time to daven Mincha. I asked her to, just as she went to plead before God on behalf of the Jewish people to take my Gabi with her and plead to Hashem. We had to sacrifice our Gabi, please give us the strength to rebuild our family, both in size and emotional and spiritual strength.

We hope that the nightmare year is now over. Tomorrow begins a new page, where we can carry forward Gabi's family and rebuild our lives and be successful similar to what we had before losing Gabi. I just hope God is willing to go along with this plan.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Bringing Stereotypes to Life

There are many stereotypes about Israelis. Most of the time, I just assume that they are exagerations or misinformation about the local culture. It is truly amazing when you see the stereotype come to life. I am currently playing for one of the Toronto teams the ice hockey tournament in Metulah this week. The following conversation took place this morning between Ziv the only true born and bread Israeli and the rest of our team.

Ziv: Do you like Hummus? Have you been the the Hummusia?
Teammates: You mean all they have is Hummus?
Ziv: No. They also have chicken shnitzel.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Beit Shemesh Fault Line

6 days a week, I wake up in the morning and walk my daughter to school. There are only crossing gaurds on one side of the street, so she needs me to help her cross the other street before she is under the care of the crossing guards (who happen to be Grade 6 students). When the school day ends, I meet her at the park near the crossing guards. In a little more than a year, she will be 9 years old and able to do this walk all by herself.

About a 10 minute drive on the other side of town. Orot, a similar religous girls school opened moved into their new building at the beginning of the school year. Their experience is completely different. It is located near the border between the Chearedi Neighbourhood RBS B and the edges of 3 Datei Leumi communities. A group of men calling themselves the Sikirm (bearing the same name as the group who's zealousness to force the Jewish to fight the Roman's lead to the destruction of the second Beith HaMikdash) come out to intimidate the girls (Grade 1 - 6). Name calling, spitting and occasionally throwing rocks and bricks are all par for the course. Parents (and at certain points members of the community) have been escorting the children through the group of thugs to protect their safety. Last week a news crew filmed a scared 8 year old girl, as her mother tried to walk her to school. The image has inspired the country to take action.

The State does have a history of mistreating religious Jews. The Charedi community reaction to the backlash has been t0 fall back to being victims of Charedi bashing and everyone being against them. Most cannot even imagine that this is a direct backlash to their long tradition of using violence and political power to force their life style on others. When I was in Yeshiva, I was a block away from where they protested to have Bar Illan street closed on Shabbat. I saw wrongs on both sides. One night when a police car was hit with a rock, an arrest was made. They spent the night calling the soldiers Nazis, which in their world is a term for anyone who doesn't agree with them. The Nazi imagery that they used Saturday night should not have been a surprise to anybody.

In order to solve the problem at Orot, it is important to look at the real root of the problem. Most importantly this is a turf war. The Sikirm want the school for themselves and to expand the borders of their community and sphere of influence.

Moshe Abutbul was elected under the mantra of a Mayor for everyone. His actions have been anything but as he tries to cater to the Charedi community. In RBS A, the Mikvaot was split between those who wanted a "Mehdarin" experience and those who wanted to have the same standards applied by Jewish communities around the world. He tried to hand them over to the Charedi community and was only stopped by the backlash from the Datei Leumi community and leadership. He has been working to close the only secular school in RBS A, while telling parents he was trying to keep it open. Eventually the Minister of Education stepped in to declare that he will use his powers to guarantee the school stays open. The year my daughter entered Grade 1, school registration was delayed, waiting for the final decision of the school to be made.

When the Sikirm protested the opening of Orot in their new building, the Mayor tried to solve the problem by not allowing the school to open. Once again the Minister of Education threatened to step in, to make sure it opened. The Mayor falsely claimed that he was just trying to listen to the advice from the police.

In order to make peace it will be necessary to remove the political power wielded by the trouble makers in the Charedi community. This can be done both from a policy of not tolerating violence and limiting the dispoportional political power.

- Police should not be afraid to arrest those who are causing violence.
- There has to be a way to enforce a restraining order preventing, such ugly protests so close to the school.
- Following the lead of other democracies and raising the minimum threshold to obtain seats in the Knesset from 2% to 5%. This will allow knock out some of the extremist parties and cause the smaller parties to carry political weight more proportionate to their size.
- Eliminate vote sharing agreements and party mergers during election campaigns. These agreements allow parties with little support to leverage their votes and advertising allotments to in exchange for political favours.

It should be noted that the Charedi fighting does not spread to the communities of Bnei Brak, Beitar Illit, Kiryat Sefar and only seem to be limited to Meah Sharim and Beit Shemesh. The Beit Shemesh Charedi community is made up of a lot of people that cannot afford to stay in Mea Sharim. Mea Sharim is such an insulated community that they just cannot handle the idea that the rest of the world is not like them. Once you think your way is the only way, anything can be justified in the name of your beliefs.

Beit Shemesh will be getting a new Police Chief this week. Hopefully, he will have the skills and if necessary force to make it safe for the Orot girls to go to school. Once that is done, the Charedi community can start worrying about repairing their reputation and getting along as peaceful neighbours. The choice is theirs.

If the Sikirim had been stopped at the beginning of the school year, there would have been no need to bring in the media. Something that should be considered before starting the next turf war. Hopefully, my friends who's daughters go to Orot can let their daughters walk to school without worry just like I can.