A little light in the darkness

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice – the day with the fewest hours of daylight in the northern hemisphere. It’s also the first night of Chanukah. In the spirit of adding a little light in the darkest time of the year, here’s some good news!

(As I typed that I realized that I was being hemisphere-ist. In the southern hemisphere, tomorrow is the day with the most daylight hours. Sorry, Southerners!)

We’ve got Christmas in Jerusalem!




 “Jerusalem Santa” (Photo by Muammar Awad/Xinhua) SOURCE

This lovely guy brings Christmas cheer to the Old City by dressing up as Santa Claus and handing out Christmas trees provided for free by the municipality of Jerusalem.


The Christmas tree in St. James Convent in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter
(Photo: Vince PhotographySOURCE

You can always count on a Christmas tree outside the YMCA, but this year, the Armenian Quarter in the Old City is dressing up for Christmas.

James Corden’s Chanukah song

Need I say more?

LadBaby wins Christmas #1 AGAIN

This is an utterly silly song, but the story is absolutely heartwarming and sweet. LadBaby is a social media family who make hilarious videos, have fun, make each other laugh with a lot of British-style teasing, and have lots of followers like me around the world.

Last Christmas, LadBaby did a novelty song – “We Built This City (on Sausage Rolls)” – won Christmas #1 in the UK, and donated all the profits to The Trussell Trust. They were able to provide 70,000 emergency food packages for people in need in the UK.

So this year, they decided to try again. And they won Christmas #1 AGAIN! All profits will go to The Tressell Trust to provide food for those in need. Well done, LadBaby! (*Bonus Fun Fact: The only other groups to have back to back Christmas #1s are The Beatles and the Spice Girls!)

So whether you are celebrating Chanukah, Solstice,
Christmas, Kwanza, the New Year, or all of the above

May it be joyful and full of light!




News through an Israeli lens

Like any other country, Israel looks at world news through its own lens.

UK Election: Thank God that anti-Semite party wasn’t elected! Although if the Jews no longer felt welcome in Britain, they are definitely welcome here.

US Impeachment Hearings: What’s an impeachment?

At White House Chanukah Party, Trump signs Executive Order to Punish Campuses for Allowing Anti-Semitism: Whadda guy! Although the guest list was kind-of ^eye-roll^

Shooting in New Jersey: We are watching.

The Reimann family (owners of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, among other well-known brands)  committed to righting its Nazi sympathizer past and will track down people who were forced to work for them during the Holocaust to give them compensation. They are also committing EUR 25 million annually for Holocaust education: ^Nods of approval^

Finland’s Prime Minister is a 34-year-old Woman: ^crickets^

Meanwhile, here in Israel, we have our own issues.

On the way to a third election within a year: Seriously?!?!?!?

Netanyahu will not step down: Likud is having another leadership election. Netanyahu is trying to get support for direct elections for prime minister. Netanyahu keeps using the terms “witch hunt,” “attempted coup,” and “fake news.” (I wonder where he got the idea?)

And finally, watching American TV through my own Israeli lens.

An Israeli philosopher was mentioned on Chuck Lorre’s vanity card after Young Sheldon.

chuck lorre



Cat Condos and White (Cat) Privilege

Winter is coming. The forecast was for rain and I started to worry about the neighborhood cats. I have a couple of regular visitors. I feed and water them, but they are a little too street for my spoiled lazy cats.

Kitler was king of the yard before I moved here – my neighbor says ten years at least. He was a meany and he has a little half-mustache. It took a year and a half before he allowed me to pat his head. Now when he hears the door open, he comes running for his daily pat. These days he’s a roly-poly grump who tolerates the rest of us. He’s recently been attempting to look cute. But he’s stuck with the name. Sorry, Kitler, old pal! He had a cold (Kitler sneezing!) and that’s what spurred me into Cat Condo action.

Susanna is a vocal, needy, and slightly annoying cat. I feel bad for her because she had a blind, sick kitten. The vet made a house call, but we couldn’t save the kitten. A few weeks later, I managed to get her into a carrier and a friend took her in to get spayed (that was a drama and a half!). I named her after an annoying Susanna song – not “Oh Susanna” (although that’s also plenty annoying), this one.


Susanna and Kitler


Kitler coming in for a pat trying to look cute


Susanna finally sits still after 20 picture attempts

Kitler would be ok, but this will be Susanna’s first winter. I found a few videos on YouTube and came up with an Israeli version of a Cat Condo.

Front view and top view (How-To below)

I made one the first day. Brave Susanna gave it a go and loved it!


I snapped this after she’d been in there for an hour or so.

Normally, my white cats (Catski-Doodle and Kit-Kat Monster) look like this in winter.



After I put out both Cat Condos, these two white entitled little brats demanded to go outside in the rain (it was pouring!) and spent the whole night in the Cat Condos! I couldn’t get them to come in. One finally scratched at the door at 4am. Guess why? To use the litter box!!! ARGH!! Seriously? The whole world is your toilet, but you’re coming in to make sure I clean it up for you! The second one came in at 6am like nothing had happened. That is some White Cat Privilege right there. No thought whatsoever that the Cat Condos could be for other cats. My black cat (Psycho Kitty) has no interest in being out in the rain and she couldn’t care less about the Condos.

The second night, when it wasn’t raining, everyone stayed inside and snuggled on the bed like they are supposed to.


So you want to build a Cat Condo

60 liter storage box with lid
Outdoor seat cushion
Blanket scrap
Throw rug scrap
Tarp big enough to cover the box
cardboard (for insulation)
Duct tape

The most difficult and time-consuming part of the project is cutting a hole in the storage box – took me about an hour with a box cutter. You have to be sure that the hole is big enough for the cat but not too low allowing water to get in. Cover the sharp edges with duct tape to protect the cat. (If you crack the box while cutting like I did, duct tape it. One video recommended Rubbermaid, which would probably be easier to cut, but not available in Israel.)

I cut the cardboard so that I had a long piece to go around three sides and another piece on the bottom. I’m debating about gluing some cardboard and blankets to the lid, but it seems to me that the tarp works like a tent and it should retain some heat. (I’d be happy to hear some input on that in the comments.)

I used the throw rug for the curtain doors. It would also help to retain heat. I duct taped it above the door and cut it in the middle so the cats would know it was an entrance. I saw the cats pulling them closed when they were inside. They also feel safe.

The cushion takes up most of the floor space (soft, but also insulation). I covered all of it with a microfleece blanket. I have a few in the house and my cats LOVE them. The scrap was big enough to go over the sides of the cardboard.

The storage boxes that were the right size had lids that opened at the half-way point. Not very protective against the rain. That’s why I got the tarp. I didn’t want to close the box completely because the point of the lid is to be able to easily get in there and, if needed, clean the space or replace elements. So I duct taped the tarp on one side of the box and cut it so that it would tuck in on the other side.

Placement: I didn’t want to put it directly on the tiles of the patio, so one is placed on a pallet in the yard and I lifted the other one on two wooden slats. Not being a heating engineer, I hope this works. Also, I put a big rock on the top to weigh the box down.

Susanna seemed to like the space and I’ve found her in one box or the other (when my cats weren’t exercising their privilege). I have yet to see Kitler get in one. He’s sly, so we’ll see how it goes. Now I just have to make sure Louie, Pumpkin, Evil Snoopy, and the others don’t take them over. I don’t really want a Cat Colony in the yard.

The War on Thanksgiving

Yes, Readers, there is indeed a war on Thanksgiving. I’m not referring to that  Friendsgiving business. Your guess is as good as mine about what Trump meant.

Now I could get on board with a revised narrative about the Pilgrims, but let’s leave politics aside for now.

The enemy of Thanksgiving is Black Friday. When I was growing up, Black Friday was the Friday after Thanksgiving when Christmas shopping officially began. It was called Black Friday because it was terrible! It was crowded. People pushed, shoved, and injured others to buy stuff. In later years, people died in these stampedes. My friend from Germany told me he heard that Black Friday was called Black Friday because it’s the day when retailers who have been in the red all year finally get into the black. Maybe. But I’ve got some nice swampland in Florida for sale too.

Black Friday is now a global phenomenon. The “Friday after Thanksgiving” is now “celebrated” all over the world, and especially on international online shopping sites. The fact that they don’t even have Thanksgiving is apparently irrelevant.

Israel has Black Friday sales – they spell it in English or spell it phonetically in Hebrew (it’s not actually translated). Now it’s “Black Friday Week”!

We don’t even have Christmas shopping in Israel! No candy canes. No jingle bells. No chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But we have “Black Friday Week”? What kind of grammatical nonsense is that?

Black friday

I noticed that Chanukah sufganiot (fried donuts) have been on sale in bakeries in Israel for the past couple of weeks. My first thought was: “It’s not even Thanksgiving!”

The other enemy of Thanksgiving is “Christmas creep.” It would be a different matter if “Christmas in July” meant “peace on Earth, goodwill toward men (and women and everyone on the spectrum) all year round.” But it doesn’t. It’s just more shopping.

No. Instead of taking a non-religious festival of giving thanks and making it a global phenomenon of being grateful, the world chose to take the chaotic and dangerous shopping day after as its model.

My lone voice in the wilderness won’t change much. But at least I’m standing up for Thanksgiving.

I think need some online shopping therapy to calm down. Have you seen these sales? Let me just say how truly grateful I am for a 70-85% off sale. And thankfully I still have time. Black Friday Week isn’t over yet.

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!