Real life beyond the headlines

Headline alert: “IDF kills Islamic Jihad leader Abu al Ata.”

Hmm. Ok. I have a deadline today. I can’t really look into it…

Message from the office: Dear Staff, please remember that the secure area in the building is the auditorium. When there is a siren, we have 2 minutes to get there. Please help visitors in the building who may not know where to go.

Hold on. What?!?!

When I arrived at the office on Tuesday morning, a few of the staff had brought their kids in because school was cancelled in the center of the country (they commute from targeted areas).

Rockets were shot at Israeli citizens and the Israel Defense Forces were hitting Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza. Even without a finalized government, Israel knows what to do and we know the army and Iron Dome will protect us.

A colleague had to go to to Tel Aviv on Tuesday afternoon and found the city shut down. The six-lane highway was nearly empty. The stores were all closed in Azrieli Mall. Clearly this was pretty serious.

My Jerusalem neighborhood on Tuesday night was silent. Usually I hear children playing in the park behind my building. But on Tuesday night I heard absolutely nothing – no voices, no cars, no cats, no neighbors. I heard fighter jets once or twice.

On Wednesday morning, a few parents were late because schools were delayed. But the kids went to school. Traffic was pretty light in Jerusalem. Wednesday night was quiet – a few voices, a few cars, a few cats, a few neighbors. Again, I heard fighter jets.


This image is from the IDF Facebook page of November 13. Source.

On Thursday, I did my weekly grocery shopping. No shortages, no panicky stock-ups. That evening the neighborhood had a huge, noisy gathering for kids. Lots of cheering. Lots of music. An MC getting the crowd all excited. Business as usual.

On Friday, there was a big birthday party in the park. It was like a mini-rave for 5-year-olds. Actors in a live show, games, music, shouts and laughter of little kids. Then it suddenly stopped. It had started to rain – regular, ordinary wet droplets.

And tonight the park was the noisiest it’s been for a while. Probably 50-75 kids were out there singing at the top of their lungs, call and response. They were playing, shouting, laughing. I shut my windows, but it was no use. Their enthusiasm was too much for my double-paned windows.

Children and their parents near the Gaza Strip don’t have the luxury of going to parks and enjoying the freedom to laugh and sing right now. But they will. Twenty-one babies were born in Ashkelon during the barrages. Babies being born is ultimately hopeful; the fact that there were so many had to do with the stress of sirens and rockets inducing labor.

But that’s Israel. We trust our army to protect us. Our incredibly flawed government will not let us down when we are under attack. And we will not be afraid.

We choose life and we celebrate it. Always.

*This post was updated to reflect the correct days of the week.

Actual Fake News

While I was busy with the Slug Wars (update: 2 nights of hunting and I haven’t seen any more slugs. Yay!), I missed a Fake News story relevant to me. The Times of Israel did an exposé on how the Ministry of Absorption was posting fake aliyah stories on social media using stock photos and made up quotes.

The ministry shoved the blame onto a third-party external vendor and took down all the posts revealed to be made up. In short, sloppy and lazy work.

The main joke making the rounds was that they just couldn’t find any happy immigrants in Israel. The thing is that we are a complain-y people, so there’s probably some truth to that. (Best example is the Israelites freed from slavery who still have plenty to complain about and want to go back to slavery because it’s easier.)

Israel has dumb bureaucracy, corruption at the highest levels of government, bad drivers, poor customer service, low incomes with a high cost of living, a revived-from-the-dead zombie language written with no vowels, and mean neighbors.

And yet. Some of us would still rather be here than anywhere else.

Israel was originally revived as a shelter for Jews with no where else to go. Jews kicked around Europe or out of Arab countries and victims of persecution around the world could finally come home.

You have some Jews who live in Israel to fulfill their part of the contract God made with Abraham. The contract has been handed down for thousands of years as a scroll and every week small sections are read until you get through the whole thing and then start over. It’s commonly referred to as the Torah. Talk about carefully reading through your contract!

For decades, the country was built, brick by brick, idea by idea, until it became a start-up nation, a defensive force protecting all the Jews of the world, and a helping hand for all people struggling after natural disasters.

Today aliyah is called “Aliyah by Choice.” Yes. Living in Israel is hard, but I like the rhythms of life here. Take a break from the world once a week. Take the Jewish holidays off without having to use personal days and explaining why Yom Kippur is important to you even if you don’t fast.

Your nosy neighbor isn’t just a busybody (well, maybe), but he or she cares about the neighborhood and everyone in it. Everyone shares joys. Everyone shares sorrows.

History is embedded in the earth and everywhere you step has some story behind it – a story that could be thousands of years old, a few decades old, or a funny anecdote from last week.

Personally, I don’t think you can market aliyah. Every person’s aliyah story is unique and meaningful, but may not inspire someone else. And the reasons may not be instagram-able. As long as the reasons still resonate, each immigrant continues to choose to be here.

Ministry of Absorption, why did you have to lie? It makes all of us look bad.



Winter is coming

Chilly evenings. Clouds and sometimes rain. Winter is coming to Jerusalem. I had to pull out a few sweaters this week. Even with the extra blankets on the bed, cats snuggling in is a good way to keep warm at night.

Winter also brings unwelcome outside visitors. To defend my home against these intruders, I was forced to become a killer.

*squeamish readers may wish to skip this post*

Along came a spider

I’m not afraid of spiders, but I prefer they stay outside. This week a 3-inch black furry cousin of the tarantula found its way into my house. Even my cats didn’t want to engage – and they love going after creepy-crawlies.

“Kill it, Kitties!”

*they stare at me with an “are you kidding me right now?” look*

“Ok, then.” Gulp. “I’m sorry Spider!”

I pick up my flip-flop and bash the stuffing right out of that spider. It took a few blows. And then a few extra, due to the adrenaline probably.

Wikipedia told me afterward that they are generally harmless, but their bites can be annoying. Um, yeah. No regrets.

My only worry now is if the spider’s partner is on a mission for revenge.

Slugfest 2019

Did you know that if you warmheartedly feed neighborhood cats the dry food attracts both cats and slugs? I guess I didn’t really know how bad the problem had gotten until it rained. Maybe there was a little denial too. There’s snail essence in my Korean beauty products (and it works too!). Maybe I was thinking about harvesting it?

My patio is tiled and it can be slippery in the rain. I knew it was a little dirty out there, but it hadn’t rained, so I thought the rain would give it a good wash. Once it rained, I can tell you with certainty that slug goo is dirty, slimy, slippery, and an all-around gross hazard.

“Hey Google! How do you get rid of slugs?”

Some things are not easily found in Israel and I wanted to be kind to the slugs.

“Hey Google! What are some household products to deter slugs?”

Coffee? Well, whaddayaknow! So I made some cold brew coffee, which provided me with a lot of grounds and actual coffee. I spread the grounds all around the worst area.

Turns out Israeli slugs LOVE coffee. You can see the glittery silver slug goo trails all over the coffee grounds. I poured coffee directly on them. Nothing. Toxic to slugs? Ha!

Egg shells? Salt? I need something drastic. So I became a slug hunter.

Latex disposable gloves. Check. Bucket. Check. Soapy water. Check.

Every time I checked outside last night there were slugs. Smooshy, sticky, wiggly blobs. Ew! They were unceremoniously drowned. Turns out they can’t swim.

Problem: I got a bucket with about two dozen dead slugs. What am I supposed to do with bodies? Shallow grave?

Bonus round

My cats chase after most bugs, so I see maybe one or two cockroaches a year.

After this week’s killing spree, this morning I found a cockroach had committed suicide in my cats’ water bowl. Is that some kind of protest?

Prepared for battle

I will do whatever it takes to protect my home from these invaders. If that means more killing sprees, swathes of scorched earth, or a nuclear option, I am ready!


Fall Back

Philosophical optimist: I’ve been given the beautiful gift of an extra hour today! What glorious creative things will I do with it? Result: [paralyzed by too many options, does nothing]

Overthinking pessimist: What do I need with this extra hour? I’m just going to lose it again in spring! Result: [ignores all options, does nothing]

Grateful realist: Yes! An extra hour of sleep! Result: [overjoyed by gratitude, stays up late doing fun stuff, doesn’t sleep an extra hour]


Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

For those of you gaining an hour today,
may it be everything you hope for!


Movie Review: Blinded by the Light

“Hey! What’s with these softball topics?” you might be asking.

It’s the holidays, Israel doesn’t have a government, everything in the world is happening so fast my head is spinning, and, to be honest, not a single panicky headline has affected my day-to-day life. What’s a girl to do but go to the movies?

Short review

It’s a sweet coming-of-age movie: a Pakistani teen in Luton (UK) is inspired by the music of Bruce Springsteen to chase his dreams. It’s a universal story, but if you grew up in the 1980s, well, it’ll be a trip down memory lane (cassettes, LPs, music, and “fashion”).

Two Thumbs Up!


Long review

I wasn’t sure I wanted to see this movie, but it was the backstory for the making of the movie that drew me in. The movie is based on a memoir written by Sarfraz Manzoor called Greetings from Bury Park. Long story short: Bruce read the book, liked it, gave the green light to make the movie, and let them use his music for free.

In one interview, Sarfraz says that the movie works because of what the audience brings to their understanding of it. And that was exactly my experience with this film. My dad gave me the cassette of Born in the USA. I didn’t grow up in an industrial town, and I went to an extremely white high school where most people’s parents were doctors, lawyers, well-off somebody or others who had probably never heard the words “laid off” or “factory closing” in their lives. But Bruce’s lyrics were powerful and told familiar stories.

“My Hometown” always struck a chord with me.

A dad drives with his child through town saying “this is your hometown.” “Your hometown” isn’t a place, it’s a feeling of nostalgia, connection, who you are in the depth of your soul.

This was probably also the time I developed my warped sense of humor .

Seeing the movie in an Israeli theater was an interesting experience. In the movie, the main character’s father tells him to “follow the Jews! They are a successful people!” Laughs throughout the audience, of course. And when the main character confesses to liking the music of Bruce Springsteen, his father asks if Springsteen is a Jew. More laughs from the audience. I’m pretty sure most other audiences wouldn’t have picked up on those lines in quite the same way – it was an “only in Israel” moment.

Having gone to high school in the 1980s, seeing the clothes, set, music, and everything else, was fun. Here too, though, I brought my own experience to the film. I wasn’t a visible minority (immigrant Jew isn’t tattooed on my forehead), but watching a sixteen-year-old Pakistani with his turban-wearing Sikh friend in a mostly white high school in Thatcher’s UK with neo-Nazis marching through the neighborhood reminded me that I felt different from my peers in those days. My friends didn’t care, but I found out later I was shunned by the popular kids because of it. Luckily for me, I couldn’t have cared less because like the main character, I planned to get out as soon as possible.

The main character’s struggle against his father and all he represents is the main story. In one scene, we see that in this traditional household, all money earned is given to the father to help pay the bills. Later the father is laid off and everyone has to work harder. How will our main character spread his wings and fly if he is chained to the nest where every life choice is determined by his father? The details might be different, but it is a universal story of a younger generation in conflict with the traditions of an older generation.

You also have the question of where “home” is. For an older immigrant who remembers the old country, home might be there. But for a younger immigrant who knows no other place, home is here, but echoes of a home come from there. It’s doubly confusing if your neighbors tell you to “go home” when you thought you already were home.

This movie adds to the conversation about today’s political climate. Unfortunately, it reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun and history does repeat itself. And yet, if a Pakistani kid in Luton can be inspired by the songs of a white guy from New Jersey maybe, just maybe, we can also be reminded that in these kinds of universal stories we can find our humanity, learn from history, and make our little corners of the world better.

For me personally, I got a chance to remember my dad who introduced me to The Boss, remember with fondness my high school years, and happily know that my “Glory Days” were still ahead of me.


2 Stories for Yom Kippur: Unexpected Bus Magic

I don’t know how it is where you are, but in Israel most buses have several places where seats face each other. I’m not sure if there is a special name for them. Quad-seats? There are usually two quad-seats in the front reserved for the elderly, and in the newer bus designs, there are several more in the back.

This past week I saw two episodes of Unexpected Magic. (To be honest, I wanted to write something optimistic. I mean, sheesh, are we going to have a government in Israel or a third election in a year? But I digress.)

On the Eve of Rosh Hashana

The #15 bus is crammed with people and their suitcases. Everyone needs to catch the last bus to wherever they’re going for the long holiday. After squeezing my way through the crowds, I find some breathing room at the back and a good place to stand. A few stops later, a seat opens up, and I’m all set.

At the next stop, a kid – 17-18 years old – gets on, and he looks rough. Not dirty exactly, but massively torn jeans, pierced nose, hair shaved on the sides of his head in a kind of messy, flat, dishwater blonde mohawk. He asks the older lady if he could sit by the window, but she points to her giant suitcase taking up two seats facing each other, plus her and another guy in the quad-seat. What could she do? He mumbles, “Why did you even put it there?” I can hear he has a slight Russian accent (maybe Ukrainian). I hope this isn’t the start of something unpleasant.

I see this kid take the suitcase – one-handed – from its perch on two seats, everyone shuffles around and the suitcase is now in the aisle. He takes his seat, pulls out the handle of the suitcase, and sticks his arm through it so it won’t roll away. Then he pulls out a pair of Chinese Medicine Balls and starts a calming clockwise rotation.

chinese medicine balls

I know what they are because I have a set too

The lady asks what they are and he answers that they are a tool to help him stop smoking.

“Oh, but you’re so young! It’s good that you’re stopping now.”

“Yeah, I have this great doctor and he recommended them. They help a lot.”

And the conversation continues from there for a good ten minutes until the end of the ride. He was quite respectful and she was genuinely curious.  It was the best way to ride into Rosh Hashana – the New Year.

And yes, he took her giant suitcase off the bus for her.

Morning Commute

The morning commute is filled with people ignoring each other by being deeply interested in their phones. This morning, there is a woman in the quad-seat at the back of the bus on her own. No one would sit next to her. She looks hostile, and at one point, she jumps out of her seat to open the window and use her newspaper to swat the seats in front of her.

At one stop, as the bus gets more crowded, a woman makes a move to sit in the nearly empty quad-seat, gives the woman sitting there one look, and moves to another seat.

Everyone gives the hostile woman and this quad-seat a wide berth. Mentally ill? Drugs? We don’t know and all we are interested in is our phones.

Then a Haredi lady gets on the bus trying to wrangle two kids (they look like twins about 3-4 years old), she has a baby in a carriage that needs to get strapped into the carriage area. And all this has to happen on a moving bus.

The only seats available are in the quad-seat.

She hasn’t seen all that happened before, so she directs her kids to the back-facing seats. And the woman everyone has avoided carefully picks up each kid and puts them into the seats. When the slightly stressed mother carrying her infant comes to join her kids, the woman moves to the window seat, shuts her eyes and leans hard into the window. But the Haredi mother thanks her, blesses her, and tells her what a big help she is. The poor woman, who is probably not well, has a hard time with this, but knows she did the right thing.

What I Learned

If you look, you’ll find beautiful things happening all around you. You just have to pay attention and celebrate the Unexpected Magic that presents itself to you.

Headlines are just click bait. What really matters is the everyday encounters that remind us the world is not all that bad.

And that is a great way to start the Jewish New Year! May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life!

Shana Tova u’Metuka!

With the Jewish New Year just around the corner (it starts Sunday night!), I try to be a little reflective and think about how next year could be better.

Israel doesn’t seem to have a government. The US has its stuff going on. I even turned to the news in the UK and while it wasn’t any better than anywhere else, I find the British accent, dry humor, and lack of emotion kind of calming.

Then I dove into a YouTube vortex of stand-up comedy and reminded myself that headlines are only headlines and in day-to-day life, we can always choose to see the good.

And with that …

Wishing you all a Shana Tova u’Metuka!

May the next year be full of good health, many joyful events,

and more fish heads than fish tails!
(I’m paraphrasing)

May the good in your life be as abundant as the seeds of a pomegranate!
(that someone else lovingly peeled and broke up for you)