I love a parade!

Israel doesn’t generally do parades in the American style, but this year we had a special treat. Ok, it wasn’t Macy’s (that was a rumor that got blown out of proportion). Still, there were balloons and floats, and the American flair of classic cars and marching bands!

And we start with the Nutcracker!

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Going US style with US Ambassador David Friedman!

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Smurfy!

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Awesome classic cars!

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And a little red corvette!

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Compilation of the bands!

 

ANIMAL!!!

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Work it, Dragon!

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Wait. We’re in Israel, right? Do you see some Israeli heroes?

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If you will it, it is no dream!

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Chanukah: A light in the darkness

Man, if I was a Grinch last week, you don’t even want to know about this week. So annoyed! My ceiling is leaking and I’m camping in the living room. But there was one thing that made me feel better …

This is AMAZING!! I love a cappella to begin with and then bring in Queen, well, Chanukah doesn’t get better than that!

Cultural notes

As an American and Israeli, I noticed that this was a great cultural mix.

  1. Note the hard ch (Antiochus, Chanukah, Chai) but Mattathius.
  2. Israeli Chanukah treats (sufganiot – filled donuts) and American Chanukah food (latkes – potato pancakes). If Israelis make latkes in Israel they are called levivot (hearts – I don’t know why) and are never served with applesauce (I know, right?). And sour cream? Fuggedaboutit. Maybe gvina levana.
  3. Sevivon as well as dreidle and gelt (Israelis don’t actually know the rules to the dreidle game; they just know there’s a top and it spins).
  4. Sevivon, sov, sov, sov, as well as a clay dreidle (you gotta know your Chanukah songs for this one).
  5. Chanukiahs, but not a menorah to be found.
  6. Aba, Ema, but Bubbe (surprisingly not many grandmas are called bubbe here).
  7. Ah, but where was the miracle? Nes gadol haya po. It was here, not there (sham). We’re in Israel! (Even if Six13 are New York-based.)

So after singing this at the top of my lungs (many times), which hopefully bothers the neighbors whose fault it is that my ceiling is leaking, I’ve decided: Dammit all, I’m going to be a freaking light in the darkness.

Happy Chanukah Everybody!

Even The Dude might not abide

It was Thanksgiving this week and Israel doesn’t do Thanksgiving, so we Americans do what we can for ourselves. My family tradition is to go around the table saying what we’re thankful for and I have to admit, my thankfulness was clouded by the annoying week I had. In general, I have a lot of blessings and I’m truly thankful, but this post is a little bit of a rant.

 

Black Friday

For some reason, Israel has really embraced Black Friday. It’s especially weird since Thanksgiving is not a national holiday and “the day after Thanksgiving to kick off the Christmas shopping season” doesn’t exist. It’s not a kickoff for Chanukah shopping either – just to be clear. I’m mostly annoyed because if you are going to take something “Christmassy” from America, why would you take greedy materialism? It’s not even balanced by popularizing How the Grinch Stole Christmas or A Christmas Carol. There are no friends and family values as we find in It’s a Wonderful Life.

The weirdest part of Black Friday is that this year it’s mostly written in English. There were ads a year or two ago that gave us shishi shachor the literal translation into Hebrew of Black Friday. Since no one knew exactly what that meant, they switched to English so that everyone would understand it’s a big sale weekend (just like in America!). And because there is no Thanksgiving, Black Friday is a week long. Because that makes sense.

black fridayTraditional. Nothing says Black Friday like balloons.

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Because blue is so much more festive.

Pink Friday 2

Guess what’s for sale? Make-up and beauty products. I’m not convinced this is better.

Bowling league

I was channeling Walter at the bowling alley at the work league match this week. I’m not a great bowler, but I do enjoy it and usually the games are fun. Not everyone is Walter-serious about the matches, but the other offices participate with good sportsmanship and a sense of camaraderie among all the players.

This week we were playing against the municipality. That was probably the first strike against them. No one likes the municipality in real life, so we aren’t going to change our opinions even if it is a league game.

Their team was a rooster surrounded by hens – one was a grandmother who thought it was a good idea to bring her grandson, surely he could bowl a few turns, right?

I should mention here that bowling in Israel would horrify even The Dude. You don’t have to rent shoes; we just play in sneakers. No one follows any bowler etiquette. Thankfully the scoring is automated, otherwise who knows what would happen.

Some players are new to bowling, but obviously these people have had no guidance at all. These hens picked up a ball using their thumb, index finger, and second finger; walked up to the foul line (often over the line); started swinging the ball (and-a one, and-a two, and-a three); let go with no follow-through causing the ball to plonk on the lane and miraculously roll its way toward the pins. The worst part was that it worked sometimes – usually when I was looking. (I did manage to calm myself down by looking at their total scores; they weren’t that successful.)

I confirmed that the unusual hold is used in bowling, but it’s not standard. The swing and plonk method is ridiculous. I tried to be an example using the 4-step release, and they even noticed, but somehow didn’t realize that their bowling style was the equivalent of toddlers who need gutter-guards.

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Correct form

One might forgive the lack of skill and knowledge, but to top it off they were rude bowlers. They were constantly in the way. They took over all the chairs with themselves and their stuff – they had more than 4 people on their team, to allow them to switch out in different games (which is legal), but they didn’t care that there was another team there.

But worst of all was the attitude that they couldn’t understand why we were annoyed. It’s like the bully in the schoolyard who pushes you to your limit and then says, “Why are you getting so upset?”

At this point, even The Dude can’t smooth it over by saying, “It’s just a game, man.”

I wanted to show the Walter “over the line” video, but it had too many f-bombs in it and I don’t want to encourage threats of gun violence. Better the dulcet tones of The Stranger reminding us to take ‘er easy while we sip a White Russian with The Dude.

Israel is not the 51st state

Sure, there’s turkey and fixings for Thanksgiving (Chag HaHodaya – Hebrew for Holiday of Thanks), there’s bowling and everyone knows about The Big Lebowski, and it was just announced that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade floats are coming to Jerusalem for the first night of Chanukah. But no matter how American Israel might think it is, it’s still in the Middle East.

Hunkering down

While I’m sure other stuff has been happening around the world, the last couple of weeks in Israel and the United States have been crazy.

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How we deal with it at my house

In the US, we had a blue wave in the House, more firings in the White House, CNN had a stand-off with the president, the president popped over to France, and major elections had recounts.

In Israel, the apathy of the citizens of Jerusalem was staggering – the new mayor won by about 6,500 votes in a city with a population of 865,000 with only 30% of eligible voters voting. Israel is defending its citizens against attacks by Gazan rockets (460 rockets over several days from Gaza into Israel), but now there is a cease-fire. However, the defense minister stepped down, which rocked the delicate coalition, and that may bring about national elections.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“Truth is stranger than fiction.”

Yeah? I’ll have some of that fiction now, please.

The nice thing about fiction is that it’s clean and all the boring unimportant bits are taken out. You don’t have to waste your time on details that don’t push the story along. Real life has just too much stuff going on and you don’t know what’s really important or which way to look.

I’m a fan of thrillers, mysteries, police procedurals, and I’m not averse to vigilantes with strict internal moral codes. At the moment, my fictional world is making a lot more sense than real life. But I do need fiction that makes me think. I need a theory or a particular worldview to chew on.

A few weeks ago, a British show called Strangers caught my attention. A few of the main characters are British, but it was filmed in Hong Kong with Chinese actors speaking Chinese (scenes with subtitles!). My original thought about reviewing this series was to point out that Britain is now getting in on the Asian drama wave. But I’m going to take it in a different direction.

What I loved about this show was that it was filled with twists and turns I didn’t see coming. I know the usual tropes, so I really appreciate a show that keeps you guessing. For instance, here is a synopsis of the first fifteen minutes: A woman is driving while crying on the phone. She’s hit by a truck. A self-satisfied professor starts his lecture and is pulled out of the lecture hall to be told his wife has died in a car accident. He’s afraid of flying, but goes to Hong Kong to identify his wife’s body and bring her back to England. He sees a man holding a picture of his wife. Who is this man? None other than her Chinese husband who she’s been married to for the past 20 years.

Say what? I’m hooked. And it goes on like that for eight episodes: an unexpected twist every fifteen minutes or so.

I won’t spoil it for you. The unraveling of the mystery is very well done; I enjoyed the meandering pace.

What made me think, though, was a nearly throwaway line in the first minutes of the show. The smug professor wrote a book called Do Nations Exist? The brown-nosing student says “Nations are imagined; they only exist in our minds.” The professor answers, “Surely a group of people claiming to be a cohesive whole is, at best, a lie agreed upon.”

You can watch the whole show without ever thinking about this line ever again. However, given the events of real life, you might see that the story shows you the answer. Our professor leaves his ivory tower and arrives in a dirty, dark, smoggy Hong Kong. He finds that everything he thinks is true is not, everything he expects in the world is upside-down, and all of his British cultural touchstones have no meaning in Hong Kong. He expects the police to help, they don’t. He expects the British consular officers to help, they don’t. He thinks the Chinese husband is working against him, he isn’t. Then there’s the journalist, the university friend, the activist, the refugee, the Triad gangster, the conglomerate owner, the British consul, the hotel manager – no one is who they appear to be. And what about the elections in Hong Kong? There are protests and the usual rumors and power plays. But how does it fit in? (As I mentioned, nothing is introduced that isn’t important. It’s clean and we know where to look, even if it might be misdirection on the part of the writer.)

It’s possible that the important bit of the line is “a lie agreed upon.” When you hold up the mirror of fiction to real life, you might find that everything you think is true isn’t. All your expectations are baseless. Your interactions in the world go awry because you are a stranger in a strange land.

But then why throw in nations at all? Do they exist? Well, I suppose it depends on who you ask. If you are inside, then they don’t – or don’t have to. If you are outside, then they most assuredly do.

As for me, for the moment, I prefer to stay in my fictional world that makes some kind of sense. Real life is just too crazy right now.

Here’s the opening of Strangers

And a quick teaser

Review – Bohemian Rhapsody

Short Review

Bohemian Rhapsody is a celebration of Queen’s music featuring a loving tribute to Freddie Mercury. Don’t expect a documentary or a traditional biography. This is a perfectly cast love letter to Queen fans around the world. And if you ever liked any Queen songs, you’ll enjoy this movie. I give it two thumbs up!

(Really) Long Review

Spoilers below the trailer

***

The first Queen song I ever heard was “Another One Bites the Dust.” I was 9 and my Mormon best friend warned me that we shouldn’t listen to it because it was about drugs. Not being one to just blindly ban music, I listened carefully to the lyrics and decided that it was about gangsters, and the more I listened, the more I liked it. How could something with such a slick bass line be bad?

I wouldn’t consider myself a Queen fan, but Queen was definitely part of the soundtrack of my life. I know most of the songs, but they are interspersed among Big-Hair-Bands of the 1980s, the oldies played by 94.5 KATS FM, the new and shiny videos on MTV back in the day when they played music 24/7, and British New Wave Bands.

Queen showed up again at my high school pep rallies. Stomp. Stomp. Clap. Stomp. Stomp. Clap. As we shook the bleachers, we solemnly vowed to rock our opponents. And when we won, we were the champions with no time for losers. We were the champions of the world!

It was Wayne’s World that finally brought “Bohemian Rhapsody” into my consciousness.

Even now, when I finish a big project, I play “We are the Champions!” and march around the living room with my fists in the air. When I’m frustrated and need some inspiration, “I Want to Break Free!” When a series of projects gets finished, “Another One Bites the Dust.”

I saw Bohemian Rhapsody on opening night. It wasn’t my plan, it just worked out that way. Almost every Israeli I’ve spoken to is a big Queen fan, which explains why the movie is playing on three screens in one theater.

This movie is a celebration of Queen’s music and a way to introduce it to a new generation of fans. Interspersed with the story of the music is the story of Freddie Mercury, a complex person who was much more than the stage persona. The movie is called Bohemian Rhapsody and when you put all the pieces together you can understand why.

Definition of rhapsody 

4a musical composition of irregular form having an improvisatory character

Every role in this film is perfectly cast. Rami Malek plays Freddie – well, he doesn’t just play him, he becomes him. Brian May’s wife came on set and was apparently shocked by how much Gwilym Lee looked like Brian at that age. Joe Mazzello called his mother to confirm his parentage because he looked so much like John Deacon. And Roger Taylor could be Ben Hardy’s uncle.

queen-1989-billboard-1548BH actorsIn case you’re confused, the bottom picture is from the film. 🙂

Somewhere along the way, you are perfectly cast in the film too. You aren’t an observer of the film, you’re a participant in the story. Two notes and one chord in, you know the song. You laugh along with the band and their jokes. You hang out at the parties. You’re in the audience when the spectacle of Queen is on stage.

More than that, we are with Freddie at his highs and his lows. The saddest moment in the film, and one of the most powerful, is when Freddie gets his diagnosis. He goes alone to the clinic and we see the doctor reflected in Freddie’s mirrored sunglasses. We don’t hear what he’s saying, but we know. And then the reflection shows the floor. That split second was probably more devastating than hearing the diagnosis and seeing a reaction. As Freddie walks out, a fan – obviously sick – recognizes him and softly sings: “Ey Oh!” And Freddie answers back: “Ey Oh!” He was alone and yet we were all there with him.

Superfans will rankle at the fact that Freddie didn’t actually get his diagnosis until 1987 and this is meant to be 1985. Superfans might be annoyed by many details in this movie. (Rami’s eyes aren’t brown!)

But we have to acknowledge that this movie is not a lot of things.

It’s not a Hero’s Journey. Disney is the master for heroes on a journey. Freddie was Freddie and nothing more or less.

It’s not a documentary. There’s plenty of footage on Youtube if you want that.

It’s not a biography. Freddie didn’t write all the songs and he wasn’t alone in the band. He was larger than life on stage, but this story is not exactly about him. He is interwoven in the music.

It’s not a story of coming to terms with one’s sexual orientation, or redemption, or a son finally earning the approval of his father. It’s all there, but none of that is the story.

It’s not a reenactment of a rock-and-roll lifestyle.
(Attention parents who want to share their love of Queen with their kids: It has a PG-13 rating; much of the darkness and hedonism is softened. There are hints, though.)

It’s not a finely crafted, manicured storyline. (See the definition of rhapsody above.) It’s kind of a mess that has a more or less linear timeline. Kind-of like life. And that’s what makes it feel real.

It’s not … well, true. Lots of things are accurate to the smallest detail, but a lot of things are written off to “poetic license.” If anyone believes that in the same afternoon Freddie found his final life partner after visiting every Jim Hutton in the whole London telephone book, introduced him to his family, reconciled with his father, and then played Live Aid, well, clearly that person lives in an awesome fantasyland.

Fun Points:

The Live Aid concert was filmed note for note, step for step. Watching the Live Aid footage afterwards, I was stunned at how accurate it was.

Mike Myers is in the movie playing the record exec refusing to promote “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Says he: “No one will ever be driving in their car banging their heads to this song.” HA!

In the press interviews, it’s clear that all the actors took their roles extremely seriously and will carry their characters with them. This was a special experience for them and you see it on the screen, and more importantly, you feel it. The actors also carry the burden of responsibility for the message that they want the movie to send:

Be who you are.

Embrace all your idiosyncrasies and imperfections.

You are not alone.

Listen to Queen

In answer to the question: Is this a good movie?

The answer is a resounding YES.

If a movie stays with you for days afterwards, if you are scouring the internet looking for more and more and more information, if you find yourself suddenly a Queen superfan, then there’s no question it’s a good movie.

Go see it!

Civic duty

This past week Israel held municipal elections around the country. We had a government-endorsed vacation day to encourage voting. Businesses that stayed open were required to pay employees 200% (as if they worked on a holiday).

I went to my neighborhood polling station and found about 10 people outside promoting their candidates. They completely ignored me as I walked by. Did I project an aura of “I’ve already made up my mind, so don’t even”?

I expected to have to wait to vote. But there was not another voter in the whole building. It was just me at 1 o’clock in the afternoon doing my civic duty.

People often take pictures of themselves voting and post them on Facebook. Taking pictures of the voting process is perfectly fine. But I didn’t do it because the voting system is frankly a bit ridiculous.

In Jerusalem, you vote for a party list and you have a separate vote for the mayor. You don’t mark a ballot or vote on any particular issues.  Personally, I feel like a kindergartner voting for class president.

When you walk in, you give the registrar your ID card and you receive two envelopes: a yellow one for the mayor, a white one for the party. You walk behind a cardboard partition and you’re faced with a divided tray filled with slips of paper. There are 21 parties each with their own letter (that may or may not obviously relate to the party name) and 5 mayoral candidates. You can also write in candidates.

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One slip of paper in each envelope, seal them, and drop them into the locked cardboard box.

Pick up your ID and go on your merry way having completed your civic duty.

Seriously, Jerusalem? WTF?

The next morning we find that we will have a run-off election because no mayoral candidate passed the 40% majority threshold.

Not among the two left standing is the candidate who was endorsed by the outgoing mayor, the prime minister, the Likud party, and other candidates who stepped out of the running. Well, there was a report that he had loan guarantees provided by quite a few Russian oligarchs.  And there was a weird text message campaign against him. I kept receiving anonymous messages saying that Gargamel doesn’t love the Smurfs and he doesn’t love Jerusalem either.

The young, secular guy who is left in the race was not endorsed by any major players and hasn’t raised as much money – although there is a rumor that he has money coming in that doesn’t have to be reported. On the down side, he has no management experience, he hasn’t worked with the Knesset, and he has a reputation for not getting along with colleagues.

But the worst thing is that even though there was a campaign to increase voter turnout and it was a holiday, Jerusalem’s voter turnout went DOWN from the last election. Last time it was 39% and this time it was 35%.

As I was walking to the voting station, I overheard a conversation:

“Are you going to vote?”

“Nah. I don’t like any of the candidates.”

You might think that Jerusalem was any old village in a far-flung corner of Nowheresville, not the home of 3 monotheistic religions, the crossroads of 3 continents, a flashpoint of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Center of the Universe, and the capital of the State of Israel.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem are encouraged to boycott the elections (as a method of not recognizing Israel), so you can understand why they didn’t vote. But all of the 65% of eligible voters who didn’t vote pretty much thumbed their noses at the future of this city with a hearty “Whatever, losers!” and went to the beach.

The run-off is on November 13 and it’s not a holiday. I have a sinking feeling that Apathy will be the winner on that day too.

A sore thumb in Abilene

I ran across an article this week about the Abilene Paradox, which admittedly sounds like the title of a Big Bang Theory episode. Apparently it is a social phenomenon in which a group of people come to a decision that none of them wants. The back story is that four people decide to go to dinner in Abilene and have a terrible time only to find out later that none of them actually wanted to go.

The author stated that this would never happen in Israel because everyone is so vocal about their opinion and that this sounded like a phenomenon “in a society of very polite gentiles.”

The point of the article was not a comment on society, but rather how to encourage teens to follow their own hearts and not bow to peer pressure.

In that moment, I was transported to my childhood – I grew up in a small town in the US, in those days “a society of very polite gentiles.”

My best friend – a Mormon, who was probably my best friend because there were no other kids our age in the neighborhood – told me that she was worried about me. Apparently she had spoken to her mother about my weird behaviors: walking out of music class when it was time for Christmas carols, skipping the Christmas pageant, being altogether different.

Her mother’s sage advice, which my friend shared with me, was: “If she wants to stick out like a sore thumb, then let her.”

Me? A sore thumb?

Listen, without being too full of myself, I was adorable and everyone liked me. Even if they thought my immortal soul was going straight to hell because I was Jewish, they wholeheartedly prayed for me and hoped that I would see the light because it would be such a shame for a sweetie like me to rot in hell for eternity. But a sore thumb? I don’t think so.

It was one of those transformative moments in life that you only recognize in retrospect. I could have been sad that I was a sore anything and was different. But the truth is that your hand functions best with a thumb, sore or not. And if I’m going to be a thumb, then by golly, I’m going to be a great one!

So with all due respect to Abilene, I’m not going. But if you want to go, I’m not going to stop you.

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Even stock photos agree: Thumbs are Awesome!