Israel Stories

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Traveler

He looked like any other religious Jew. He had the standard white beard, black hat and looked a bit shabby in his weekday clothes. We chatted about a great many things as I drove him and his wife to Jerusalem. The mountain root from Bet Shemesh, for the uninitiated is a bit of a rollercoaster ride, but they hung on and didn’t look over the side of the mountain.

They had lived in Toronto before making Aliyah but their accent wasn’t Canadian. I asked him where he was from originally. His wife sighed and told me that was the wrong question to ask. I am from Calcutta, in India, you know, she declared with a lot of pride, but I detected some sadness. My mind started racing what did she mean ‘the wrong question’? Who was this man really? Had I opened a Pandora’s box, was I about to embarrass him? He smiled as he saw the fear on my face. Well young man he said, it’s a long story. Oh save us, his wife whispered next to me. Just look at the view and leave the talking to the men, he whispered back.

I am originally from Afghanistan, he began, but when I was in the British army I transferred to the Indian sub-continent. After the war I was on the wrong side of the partition and ended up living in East Pakistan. From there I managed to get to India and met my wife in Calcutta. We decided to move to Canada where we lived for many years before making aliyah to Israel.

Wow, we all said together, I feeling continentally inadequate, them seeing the car seemingly come within inches of the mountains edge, that’s quite a journey; Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Canada and now Israel.

I can cook any dish from any of those countries you know, but wait for it, his wife said, it’s not over yet.

Oh your right dear, he replied, with a twinkle in his eye, did I tell you that I was actually of Hungarian descent and their ancestors came from Spain and Rome before that and of course originally the Land of Israel. Oh, save us, his wife said again, you missed out Egypt, Canaan, Ur and the Garden of Eden

When we were spread to the four corners of the Earth I didn’t realize it applied literally to individuals, I said. Well it may apply to us as well if you don’t drive slower, his wife half joked.
Anyway, there’s no African in him, his wife said, so we’ve reached the end of the road. His dark skin creased under his eyes, the corners of his mouth elevated and with a chuckle an in a very Hungarian, Afghani, Indian accent declared, but I do a good impression of a Yemenite Jew.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


The carwash itself was dirty, only rivaled by the unwashed Russian, sponge in hand, who seemed to prefer the company of flies to humans. How my car was to end up sparkly clean, as the advert promised, was anybodies guess. Also in the advert was the promise of a free coffee and croissant with every 40 shekel spent.

The coffee machine was even dirtier than the Russian. I watched as he rested his wet sponge on the shelf above the peculator and the dirty soapy water leaked out, dripping into the black abyss of coffee below.

Maybe Nescafe would be interested in this unique way of flavoring coffee. Who knows, if rotting meat used to be the secret ingredient to flavor beer in the old days maybe car wash sponges filled with a hundred types of oil, effluent and general grime could be the new coffee. Just think, Swiss chocolate, vanilla, walnut and carwash sponge.

Needless to say coffee was off the menu. Unfortunately so were the croissants which lay in ‘sponge gravy’ next to the coffee machine.

Amazed by my refusal of free food and drink the Russian went to work on my car.

I suppose I could have decided before it was too late to tell the guy I had changed my mind but he looked like he had just come to Israel after his 25 year forced conscription in mother Russia’s army. Tattooed from head to foot, I assume even the parts of his body not exposed were likewise decorated, reeking of Chechnya and Afghanistan and thoroughly discontent with his life, his face didn’t even crack once even after my jokes about the cleaning fluid dissolving the car door, he set to work. I was scared of him and didn’t want to upset him.

Methodically, he began to clean my car and when I say methodically I mean methodically. This guy was an expert. He started polishing the head lights worked his way around the sides then up and over the top before vacuuming and polishing every inch of the interior. The guy knew his business. This guy was an expert, probably had an degree in car washing.

When he was finished, with a look of pride on his face he offered me the car for inspection. It felt very military, him standing to attention as I inspected the car, nearly chocking from the air freshener I over zealously agreed to allow him to spray.

Then, with an article in mind, asked him about himself. For years this guy washed and polished officer’s cars in the Russian army. That was his only job. So I can safely say that my car was washed by the same hands that washed some of Russia’s most elite military officers.

He can’t really speak Ivrit, he smells like something’s died in his trousers, but boy can he clean a car.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Smoking Man

If you want experience Israeli society to the maximum, Petach Tikva is the place to be. The first of Israel’s modern cities, Petach Tikva has representatives from all sectors of Israeli society. Every nationality, every level of religious observance and every type of Israeli characteristic parade the streets in one small city. This is middle Israel.

The smoker, an old bearded man, lit another cigarette, his ninth in as many minutes, not that I was counting, but I had nothing better to do. Curiously he never finished a cigarette. He got half way through and then smoked another. Luckily the person he was with asked the questions that I really wanted to ask, why don’t you finish your cigarettes? His reply was pure Israeli logic. He had read a report that said that a good way to try and give up smoking was to wean your self off the nicotine by cutting down slowly, so instead of smoking a full cigarette he smoked them in halves. Luckily I only laughed inwardly but the incredulous look his friends face said it all.

Israeli logic is basically a deadly mixture of the following; Talmudic logic, 6,700,000 Israelis who all think they’re right all their mothers who would disagree and pointless jobs-worths who work in pointless government offices doing pointless jobs like stamping pointless forms for pointless reasons and I still don’t get my post delivered to my house – sorry about the rant but I have to get it off my chest.

Classic Israeli logic dictates that if something does not sell well in the supermarket, put the price up. And while we are in the supermarket, the more customers there are the fewer checkouts seem to be open. I asked a worker in the supermarket where to find the peanut butter, he told me if I came here more often I would know, and then walked off.

Israeli logic dictates that if you don’t know we aren’t going to tell you. So you could return to that same pointless government office a hundred times and waste the pointless jobs-worth’s precious time because he wont tell you what the right thing to do is, until you find out you’re actually in the wrong building talking to the wrong person about the wrong matter – its been a long day.

There is a road the round behind Ramat Bet Shemesh which was used for a few years until somebody decided that the road had never received permission from the police to be opened (something like that anyway). The road was closed to all traffic until somebody pointed out that this road is the only rout to a quarry, so the road reopened just for quarry vehicles. Then somebody pointed out that there is a Kibbutz which relies on this road to reach the outside world. So that section of the road is now open. In fact only about 1 kilometers of the road is actually closed, but we have to make a ten minute diversion because of it.

Anyway, the smoking man was now on cigarette number twelve. The incredulous look on his friends face had stuck and they had begun arguing about the logical thought process that was so obviously fraught with many obstacles in the smoking mans head.

A coffee arrived for smoking man. Why have you only ordered half a cup, his friend asked. Smoking man looked up opened his mouth to answer, but then the second half cup arrived and well, you can figure out the rest.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Simple Answers

I asked my 5 year old what she knew about Gush Katif and the Jewish towns, moshavim and farms in Gaza. She told me the following; when I am naughty you don’t give me presents so why do we have to give our homes to people who are naughty?

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Shorts Incident…..

My shul has in the past few years been tied up in quite a heated debate regarding appropriate clothing, especially during the summer months. In London there is no doubt as to the official dress code, suite or jacket, tie and smart shoes. Even in the heat of the summer, when it happens, people attend shul in all their finery. But when the temperature is nearing 100o the last thing you want to be wearing is a jacket and tie. But where does it end. The standard dress for national religious Jews is blue or black trousers and a white shirt. In my shul this is complimented with either shoes or sandals. On my brothers kibbutz, where anything seems to go, if you are wearing clothes that’s good enough, although, the more religious members do wear the national religious uniform.

The argument in my shul is whether at Shabbat mincha one is allowed to wear shorts and if so is he allowed to be the chazzan. The argument for the shorts is the fact that Ramat Bet Shemesh is so hot that its makes perfect sense. The Jews in the desert didn’t wear suits and ties, or streimals and long black coats. Needs must and in the heat of summer less is more. On the other side of the coin is the fact that our community is over 70% immigrant and as we are all used to dressing smarter we should maintain those standards. Which brings me to, what is rapidly becoming known as, the ‘shorts incident’.

One very, very hot summer afternoon, when even the sun was considering calling it a day, a friend of mine entered shul wearing shorts, albeit smart shorts, but nevertheless, shorts. There was the usual comments from the anti-shorts brigade and the unusual commendation from the short-wearers association. My friend, we’ll call him Ilan for want of a better name, sat himself down next to a chassid who had strayed off the street to catch mincha. Picture this the clash of all clashes, a match not even the WBA would consider for fear of too much mental anguish, the holy and the profane, the dark and the light, the ultimate clash of the titans the streimal meets the shorts where there only is one winner. And sure enough as we watched Ilan and chassid began to chat, the chat became more animated with ever wave of the hand, hands went down signifying ‘what are you talking about?’, fingers drawn together at the tips signifying ‘just wait and listen to me’, and then the pointing, mainly at Ilans shorts.

After the service and rather baffled and drawn Ilan shook the chassids hand and they parted at which point we descended on him. Ilan looked up to his silent audience and began to relate his conversation:

“Nice shorts” said the Chassid, “where did you buy them?”
“Oh, thanks, er, at HaMashbir.”
“You know there may be a problem with your shorts.”
“Look if your going to tell me I can’t wear them for shul forget it.”
“No, no, you wear what you like, if you think its smart enough to stand before your maker, fine.”
“So, what then?”
“Do you know what they are made from?”
“Yes, linen, and they don’t half crease badly.”
“Well my brother-in-law works as a tailor in a factory in Petach Tikva that makes shorts for HaMashbir, and he says they have a wool and linen mix.”

At that moment we started to laugh, not concerned with why or where he was wearing the shorts, the chassid was concerned with grass roots halacha and the negative command of wearing garments with a wool and linen mix, shatnez.

If only all religious differences could be solved by seeking the root of the problem and correcting the situation rather taking things at face value.

… shall not cut the corners of your hair

… shall not cut the corners of your hair

As I sat having my pre-Pesach, pre Omer haircut, when my barber started to tell me about a recent client.

During his army service, my barber, Ron, was stationed with the Northern command where he befriended a Druze soldier. After there mandatory three year conscription was up they stayed in contact and visited each other whenever possible. Ron lives in Bet Shemesh and his family has been there since the 60’s when it was no more than a small immigrant back water. His Druze friend, I think his name was Salim, advised him to stay put because one day Bet Shemesh would grow into a large city. They decided at some point to train as barbers and went into partnership, Salim opening his shop in Majdal Shams at the foot of Mount Hermon, and Ron opening his shop in Bet Shemesh.

Through Salim’s connections, in the days and years prior to the intefada, many Arabs would visit Rons shop coming into Bet Shemesh to work, from Bethlehem, Hebron and the neighboring villages. Salim had two close friends who lived in East Jerusalem, one an Muslim Arab and the other a Catholic Arab. Both these men would frequent Rons shop either for business or just pleasure sitting on the steps outside drinking coffee or tea and ‘schmoozing’.

When the intefada started Rons customers almost halved. He had a hard time attracting new customers. There was a tremendous stigma attached to Rons establishment. He was friends with the enemy and every time a bus was blown op or a suicide bomber detonated himself in a club or bar fewer customers came to his shop. His walls were daubed with graffiti and even his windows were smashed.

As time went on, though, people’s attitudes changed and thanks to some loyal customers and good PR Ron was back in business. He was very philosophical about the damage to his shop and understood that feelings were running very, very high.

During the last four years Ron had only seen Salim twice. Even though Salim was a Druze, fought for Israel and in some ways was more patriotic than some of the Jewish doves, he was also under tremendous peer pressure to keep a low profile.

Last week Salim turned up on Rons doorstep with a very strange request. A good friend of his in Jerusalem had just lost a son. They wanted to give the son a proper Catholic burial and needed to prepare the body correctly. Ron of course new the catholic from the ‘old’days and was shocked to hear that his young son had died. The friend’s grandmother, the matriarch of the family, had insisted that Ron cut the boys hair. She wouldn’t let anybody else near the boy. Ron went to east Jerusalem and in very broken Hebrew listened as the grandmother explained that there was a tradition in their family that a Jewish barber should prepare their hair before burial. They new how to cut hair properly. Very nice, thought Ron, but what do you men properly. The grandmother rose and asked him how he cuts the hair of the ultra-orthodox Jews. What do they insist is never touched.? Instantly Ron understood, don’t shave or cut the hair on the sides of the head. Don’t cut his pe’irs (sidelocks). Ron was very taken aback by this tradition. The whole thing was decidedly very odd and demanded more explanation.

The date was sometime around 1920. A young British officer had befriended an Arab family living near Latrun about 20 kilometers west of Jerusalem. In secret and against all regulations, both army and religious, this officer began to date one of the daughters from this family. It was not long before they had a child, a baby boy. The girl disappeared with child. She was taken in by a catholic family while the baby was adopted by a Jewish couple. The soldier never heard from either again.

As the years went by the baby grew and, when he was considered old enough, was told that he was adopted and his roots are reluctantly revealed to him. As soon as the boy had the opportunity he set out to discover his real mother. Never veering from his adopted faith he searched in vain until one day he heard of a Catholic mission that gave shelter and protected Arab girls who in other circumstances would have met with a terrible fate. It was not long before he was reunited with his real mother, now married and living in East Jerusalem.

As Ron looked he realized that the boys mother was in fact the Grandmother standing before him. So fierce was her attachment to her son that she had introduced many Jewish customs into the household. They bought Matza on Pesach, lit a candle on Chanukah and never ate non-kosher animals. Salims Catholic friend was the boys half brother, who was now burying his own, 9 year old, son.

Ron was visibly shaken as he finished telling me what happened. So many questions were bursting in my head. I think that in an age where religious intolerance is accepted in so many societies this Jewish, Muslim, Catholic family serves as a lesson to us all.

To Give or Not to Give

Another night and another knock at my door. Three bearded men, long coats and black house, lay siege to my house. Living in a house makes me easy pray for the collectors. I wonder what it’s for this time. Maybe I should give them a form to complete so they don’t have to waste time mumbling their rhetoric about a family with no food, a family that wants to raise money to make a simcha, or a community trying to support a school, yeshivah or build a shul. My philosophy is charity is charity, it’s a mitzvah. Don’t turn away someone who is collecting. It’s not for you to judge whether they really need it or not. Let a higher court decide. So I give them some coins, they mumble they’re gratitude and Tizku L’mitzvot.

Now some of my friends are quite anti-ultra orthodox. Generally, it seems, it is the uninformed people, who have no contact with the ultra-orthodox, who perpetuate the hatred . They say we shouldn’t give money to any of them, they’re leaches on society, don’t pay taxes, don’t do military service, don’t even believe or respect the idea of the State of Israel.

I wanted to be more informed about these accusations so I started to investigate. You see I think it’s just a few bad apples that spoil it for everybody else. What really, really upsets me is the may that uninformed Jews can stand up and point their figures at their fellow Jews in such a vicious way. These charedi (ultra-orthodox) Jews, always in the papers for tax fraud, benefit fraud and money laundering. Quality newspapers like the JC love to stoke the fire like some cheap tabloid headline. We escaped the Holocaust thinking we’d left behind the hatred only to find in our own ranks some of us mock insult and actively demonize sections of our own people.

Nobody condemns the non-religious Israelis who refuse to serve in the army. Suddenly they are conscientious objectors. It’s immoral to serve in Gaza, its immoral to serve in Judah and Samariah, it’s an immoral army and we cannot accept its authority. As opposed to the charedim who say that the army is immoral full stop. But there is a charedi unit in the army. They have been in many dangerous situations and some of them are decorated heroes.

There is no doubt in my mind that if the charedim had not been so steadfast and obstinate Judaism as we know would have disappeared. Do you think the United Synagogue or Young Isreal could have perpetuated Judaism before during and after the war. I’m sorry but it wouldn’t have happened. The fact is that the charedi population are responsible for the continuity of Judaism as a religion.

Question; my community are trying to build a shul. We have 100 members and have grown out of our current premises. We have a very active fundraising committee who do everything they can to increase our building fund. Rabbi Yitchak, and young Rabbi in Bet Shemesh, has a long beard, wears a striemal on Shabbat, and learns all day in Kollel. His community desperately needs a new shul. They have a hundred members and have grown out of their current premises. Who are you going to give money to? In the late 1940’s Southgate Shul needed to be built. People had to collect money from somewhere. Why criticize ultra-orthodox Jews for collecting for a shul?

The holocaust left our nation so depleted in numbers it was only by a significant miracle we were not lost forever. As the sun set in one place the sun rose in another. We are a tiny nation. In the UK more people have an affiliation to the Jedi Knights than Judaism.
Some charedim have the philosophy that it is a duty to repopulate our numbers at any cost. So I approached my wife to see if she would be prepared, in the fullness of time, to have 14 children. I would like to print her reply but to describe the look I got would take pages. Numbers are important to us. In Israel with the Arab birthrate being so high it is in our interest to have large families. In my street of seven houses there are 41 children. We have two and one on the way and feel a bit overwhelmed. Not a charedi neighbour amongst them, by the way. Now we could say if you can’t afford them don’t have them. But one thing really has nothing to do with the other. In, what I would term as the ultimate irony, a survey revealed that people trusted an untra-orthodox collector more than a national-religious or irreligious one.

The truth is that Tzeddaka, charity, is a huge obligation on all of us. But very rarely do people have a chance to fulfill this mitzvah. Its only when some bearded man knocks at the door do you get the chance to reach for you wallet or purse. We should thank these, often very dedicated people, for spending their entire week giving us the opportunity to do this mitzvah. Sounds a bit naïve? Well as Jews we are champions at raising funds. It’s in out nature to give. It’s in out nature to fill those blue UJIA boxes, build schools, and support the poor in our own communities. According to a BBC survey the British public gives an average of a $150 a year to charity. But 58% of people give less than a pound a year.

We shun these charedi Jews who invade our privacy collecting for starving families in Jerusalem, families who are so poor they cant afford 400 shekels for a Kiddush to celebrate a bar-mitzvah, communities who need schools and shuls. Why, because we hate having these things forced on us or we have better causes that we also never give to. I’ll give when I want and to whom I want. The trouble is most of us never do.

Even if you are not religious it’s still your moral obligation to give charity especially to your FELLOW Jew. You don’t have to give to a chardei Jew.

I am not chardei and not due any kick-backs from this article. Give because it is your obligation and don’t think why and for what. Put your prejudice aside and know you are doing something that is natural to Jews.

As for me, my nightly routine will continue to be Eastenders, a knock at the door, a few mumbled words, the sound of a few coins and Tizku L’mitzvot.

The Curious Incident of the Nuns Teeth

The UN is infamous for its anti-Israel stance. It is notorious for its bias against the Jews and its absolute and unflinching grasp of everything but reality and the truth. This dysfunctional family of nations has been a world stage for diplomatic anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism since the day it was created. As you may have figured out I am not a great fan of the UN and its not just because of Israel. It’s the appalling way it dealt with Rwanda and Bosnia and anything it seems to put its hand to.

However the UN did shine once, many years ago in the 1950’s not far from the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem in the curious incident of the nun’s teeth.

There is an amazing story, well documented and absolutely true, although several versions of the same story exist, about a nun who was traveling on a bus near no-mans land by the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1950’s. The window by her head was open and she suddenly felt the need to sneeze. Being polite she turned her head to the window and sneezed a very un-ladylike sneeze sending her false teeth careering out of the bus window, over the road, through the barbed wire and into no-mans land. You can imagine that in the 50’s with tensions riding high on both sides of the border, with snipers just waiting for the opportunity for someone from the Israeli side to venture into no-mans land and for the Israelis having better things to worry about, this incident would have been forgotten. Well as you probably guessed this wasn’t the case. Just like the English and German soldiers of the first world war leaving their trenches to play football on Xmas, a deal was brokered by the UN to let a search and rescue team enter unmolested into no-mans land to retrieve the dentures. The Jordanians agreed to call of the snipers and a UN representative, holding a white flag, led a Jordanian officer, Israeli officers and a number of men and women into no-mans land. For some of these people it was the closets they had ever got to the holy city. Amazingly, among all the rubble, the dentures were eventually found. Some of the teeth had melted in the sun, but the nun was happy and the hostilities resumed.

What I love about this story is that I believe this is the first and last time the UN played a positive role in Israel. They managed to bring together three religions in a unified effort. Each group set aside its religious and cultural differences and worked together. The old newspaper pictures show all sides smiling. For one brief moment the war was forgotten, the snipers took a break, Jews approached the Old City unhindered and some semblance of order prevailed. Cooperation and understanding reigned in place of war and destruction.

This story, in my opinion, is worthy of inclusion in all history books even if just to highlight its surreal nature. It shows the Jordanian army being ordered not fire at nuns and the war torn Jews in the shadow of the holocaust, the birth of the State of Israel and the war if independence actually giving a stuff about some nuns teeth.

Of course this incident also shows the absolute depths of insanity the UN can plunge to. The efforts and negotiations involved, the diplomacy, the resources spent to retrieve the nuns dentures only confirms my personal view of the UN as a total waist of time and money. The UNs top priority seems to be anything but trying to understand the real situation, rather concentrating on pointless efforts

Maybe it reflects the wicked son in the Haggadah who sits dutifully at the seder table. The other sons want to learn of be educated but the wicked son just sits there, cynically, stirring trouble through his acidic and accusing questions and his refusal to accept the truth.

Open your Haggadah and see what we are commanded to do to him.

To Tree or Not To Tree

Jews in general, but especially Israelis are always fond of a ‘metziah’ that great deal, the two for one offer, the extra 50% and the all encompassing end of season sale. They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but to an Israeli that expression is as alien as ‘thank you’ or ‘excuses me’.

To an Israeli if its not locked up its probably free. Leaning against a newsstand an Israeli will have no problem picking up a paper, read it and replace it when he’s finished. Supermarkets lose thousands of shekels because of shoppers munching on fruit and vegetables (especially dried fruit and nuts). When stopped and questioned a shopper will generally reply, “you don’t expect me to but this without tasting it first”, as the last chicken bone falls from his mouth.

When questioned, some Israelis believed that buses were free. For years they were entering the bus through the rear door and never passing the driver, consequently they were never asked to pay. One old man was arrested for shoplifting. He thought it illogical that after all the blood and sweat he spilt in establishing the State, fighting in countless wars and skirmishes and paying such huge taxes, he should now be asked to pay for food. “They should be paying me”, he shouted.

Of course not all Israelis are shoplifters and petty criminals, but there is an inherent ‘you owe it to me’ attitude, especially to the Sabra (born and bread Israelis) as opposed to the Anglo community. The secret to success in this country is not to be a ‘frier”. Frier is a hard word to translate it means someone who allows themselves to be ‘taken for a ride’. The general rule is - never assume and always ask.

Each Xmas eve the Israeli people are tested in the cruelest way. The government supplies the Christian community with free Xmas trees. Yes, there’s that word - FREE.
The Israeli public goes mad. Why doesn’t the government supply free olive oil, candles and channukiot (menorah). Why doesn’t the government supply free Matzot and cheesecake?

I am sure Mr. Netanyahu did his sums when deciding the annual budget and realized that a few thousand trees was a more economically sound option than millions of boxes of matzah. But the Israeli people beg to differ. I am willing to bet that more Israelis have Xmas trees than Christians have burning channukiot.

The papers carried a story of Tamir. Tamir was one such Israeli who journeyed to Jerusalem to collect his tree. The man in charge of Xmas tree distribution questioned his Christian authenticity. What do you want me to do, Mr. Torquemada? How would you like me to prove I’m Christian. Tamir then proceeded to unzip his trousers, much to the concern of the genuine Christian crowd. That wont be necessary, cried the man. So, can I have a tree or not, shouted Tamir. Show me your ID. Tamir produced his ID. It stated his religion as Jewish. What, a Jew can’t celebrate Xmas? What sort of a country is this? What about my human rights? Sir, what will you be using the tree for? For Xmas of course. Yes I realize that but what are you going to do with it. Tamir was silent. Picked up his mobile phone, dialed a number, spoke briefly and then hung. Tamir looked up and with a big smile answered, eat it of course.


In Israel, as in every civilized country, and use the word civilized very loosely, it is mandatory to have an MOT and Tax disk. In Israel there are only a handful of garage test centers that can issue you with an MOT and at the same time your new Tax disk or sticker.

The MOT is very simple; they test lights, breaks, tires, steering and electronic windows. The first four I can understand, but electronic windows sounds a bit strange. I asked the mechanic about it and he told me if there was crash you may need to climb out the window. A bit strange I thought. They don’t test doors and that’s an easier way of exiting a car.

My problem was, my front window wasn’t working and as I didn’t want to mortgage the house the pay for the repair, left it. “Sorry mate”, said the mechanic (in Hebrew) “but I can’t pass your car if the window doesn’t work.” “But you did last year”, I exclaimed. “I didn’t know it broken last year.” Problem was, because I couldn’t hear him shouting instruction about turning my lights on and off while he tested them, I opened the door. That was my downfall. “Why didn’t you open the window?” he barked, “I don’t know, just wanted to.” To late, he was in for the kill and before I knew it he was testing all my windows.

“Sorry mate, get them sorted and come back”. I immediately phoned my cousin, who is in the police and asked him if this was law. He told me he didn’t know but thanks for telling him what happened, forewarned in forearmed. Great!

I went across to my repairman, and asked him to deal with my car, it didn’t matter if my children starve or my wife gave up shopping for a week, I gad to have the window fixed.

I continued my investigation into this strange and obscure window law. No one had heard of it, police, lawyers even the garage mechanic. Then I found the answer. Imagine this scenario; you are queuing in traffic to enter the airport, an armed guard wants to check your car and asks you to wind down the window. He has his Uzi pointing down but ready. Instead of winding down the window you open the door. He jumps back, and in a flash you’re history. Now that may sound extreme but when you are at an army checkpoint going across the green line, it really could make a difference. You’re nervous, they’re nervous, its not worth upsetting anybody by making them skip a heartbeat.

Answer found, I grudgingly got my window fixed. As I returned to the test center I noticed that the mechanic was not testing anybodies windows. Angrily I asked what not. Because sir we don’t usually bother but as we saw your window wasn’t working we failed you.

I left the garage thinking, what a sad law this was. What a reflection of the times we live in, when the only reason my window had to be working was to stop an already nervous security guard or soldier become even more nervous.

Maybe we should add a special prayer in our davening hoping that one day this law will be abolished forever.

Yom Ha’atzmaut 5765

Yom Ha’atzmaut 5765

The episode of the spies in the book of Bamidbar left such irreversible damage to the nation of the Exodus that almost the entire generation that witnessed the plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, the revelation at Sinai and the miraculous desert battles did not enter the land of Israel. Their sin according to our commentaries was speaking evil of the Promised Land. The rabbis say we are constantly in all generations, punished for this offence. Not only was this an affront to the Almighty but an opportunity missed. 40 wasted years wondering in the desert waiting to die so the next generation could enter and establish Israel.

Sound familiar, seems to be the path of Jewish history. Four fifths of our people never left Egypt, never got off the starting mark to follow Moses. Did we really refuse to return from Babylon to Israel when we had the chance? Ezra pleaded with us to return but we were too comfortable in exile and so only thousands and not hundreds of thousands followed him to the Promised Land.

Did we really ignore the calls for settlement over the next 2000 years? In every generation visionaries rose up and tried to convince us to leave the Diaspora and settle on the Holy Land. We never listened favoring pogroms, inquisition, blood libels and Holocaust.

And then, when not just a generation but a whole world had been wiped out we returned. Unbelievably even after the darkness, after praying for a return to Zion (are they real prayers or just empty words) after singing the Hatikva (The Hope) our return was not the triumphant march back to sovereignty, but for many a necessity, an escape.

So we chose exile over sovereignty. We chose anti-Semitism over religious freedom and we chose to turn our backs once again on Israel.

Well I didn’t. You see I can walk wherever I like in Israel and wear my kippa. I don’t have to worry about going home early on Friday afternoons or asking the boss for Jewish holidays. I can walk into my local shopping center and know that 99% of people are Jewish. I know that all the food in my local supermarkets is kosher. My police are Jews, my army is Jewish. My judges, bakers, petrol attendants, train drivers, farmers, computer programmers, taxi drivers, doctors, bin men and lawyers are all Jews. I pay taxes and national insurance to support a Jewish country. My gas, water and electricity are all provided by Jews. My house was built by Jews, my garden is tended by a Jewish gardener and any repairs or decorating is done by Jews. On Succot every balcony and garden around me has a Succah, on Chanuka every window and doorway shines with candles, on Purim every child in the area wears fancy dress, I can wave flags and dance in the street on Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) with no fear or feeling self conscious.

I live under the Star of David, not the Cross of St George. I live in a country where the Jewish people decide their fate for better or worse. I feel safe and secure regardless of the current situation. I feel liberated and free knowing that I live in the Promised Land.

I have beaten the system. I have forced my way out of 2000 years of exile. The ultimate redemption may still be just around the corner but as we read in Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) “The buds can be seen in the land, the time of singing has arrived and the voice of the turtle dove can be heard throughout our land.”

It’s time to come home.


My Tuesday morning drive to work has to be timed very carefully. In fact I can imagine that our forefathers had the same problem traveling to and fro as I do in Tuesdays. The problem is that living in the Land of the Bible comes with added problems that were not applicable in London and certainly not preconceived at the time of my Aliyah. So to the point, Sheep. Not one or two but maybe 100 or 200 sheep descend from the surrounding mountains on Tuesday mornings together with their Bedouin shepherds and cross the road, my road, my rout to work. When it comes to crossing roads, sheep are not the most intelligent of animals and they are certainly oblivious to the traffic, the hooting, the angry shouting and the threats of mint source or sh’wama.

So, one day as I sat at the front of a long queue of cars waiting for the sheep to cross the road I started thinking how similar these sheep really are to my fellow citizens. For a start they are totally oblivious to the traffic. Some of the sheep can’t walk a few meters without having something to eat, stopping for a chat or barging in on other conversations. And are they stubborn. I see the shepherds trying to control their flock, but unlike English sheep that follow each other around like, er, sheep, Israeli sheep have their own agenda. Some want to go left, some right, some back and some forward, a bit like the Children of Israel at the Red Sea.

Then you have the taxi driver sheep that wait until, the last minute to cross the road normally chasing behind a ewe or two, and the Israeli shopper sheep, eating as much as they can on their way across. The shop assistant sheep to busy chatting to take any notice of what’s going on and the MK sheep with their tails between their legs. The Chasidic sheep with their black bodies and white legs, the life-guards with their brown legs and white bodies and the kibbutz sheep with white bodies and brown heads. All of Israeli society reduced to a flock of sheep.

Well they say we are what we eat, maybe one to many kebabs, shishliks or sh’wamas have turned our people into what they are today.

Our people have been compared to many things, the stars in the heavens, the dust of the earth and the fish in the sea. Somehow no one ever got round to comparing us to the sheep of the number 10 road.

G-D, Jerusalem

G-d, Jerusalem is the only address you need if you want to send a letter to be posted into one of the ancient crevices of the Kotel (Western Wall).

Don’t believe me? Try it. All letters addressed to G-D, Jeruslem or the Western / Wailing Wall Jerusalem are forwarded to a Post Office on Jaffa Street, Jerusalem. A postman then delivers sacks of mail to the Kotel staff that place all the letters into the Kotel.

Bet you didn’t know that. The majority of the mail comes from America, no surprise there. The mail has to be screened to make sure it is appropriate.

Why am I telling you this? Well one such letter made the newspapers a few years back.

A postman was read a heart-wrenching letter from a man, in America, desperate for money. He needed $1,700 to keep his head above water. The postman was so moved by the letter he decided to organize a whip round, and between them they raised $1,400, just $300 shy of the requested amount. They put the cash in an envelope and sent it to back to America.

A few weeks later, the postman opened another letter from the same man. He wrote how eternally grateful he was that his prayers had been answered and how his faith had been restored, however, the letter concluded, ‘Almighty please in future send me cheques, I think you postal workers stole $300 from the envelope.’

Palestinians, Virgins and other Myths

Palestinians, Virgins and other Myths

Some years ago I read a most unusual article in the Guardian Newspaper. It was unusual form two perspectives, firstly the content and nature of the article led me to believe it must have taken much courage for the editor to print and number two it came very close to sympathizing with Israel.

The history of the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has been riddled by twisted facts and distorted histories. Many questions have been purposely left unanswered, for example, where is the Palestinian State, who are the Palestinian people, when did they ever have autonomy. The list goes on. Funny thing is, if you trace the ownership of the currently disputed territories there is no mention of a Palestinian people. But you know all of that.

Our Rabbis may have been accused, over time, by the unlearned of twisting our history or religion to suite themselves but the Guardian Newspaper brought to my attention a very interesting fact: The Koran forbids suicide of any kind. Hamas have legitimized it by saying that it is martyrdom in the name of a jihad (holy war) that is totally acceptable. There is, however no mention, in the Koran of a 72 virgin reward.

This naturally leads me tell you about, what the Guardian Newspaper considers, the most fascinating book ever written on the language of the Koran, and if proved to be correct in its main thesis, probably the most important book ever written on the Koran. Christoph Luxenberg's book, Die Syro-Aramaische Lesart des Koran, available only in German, received an enthusiastic reception, particularly among those scholars with a knowledge of several Semitic languages at Princeton, Yale, Berlin, Potsdam, Erlangen, Aix-en-Provence, and the Oriental Institute in Beirut.

Luxenberg tries to show that many obscurities of the Koran disappear if we read certain words as being Syriac and not Arabic. I cannot go into the technical details of his methodology but it allows Luxenberg, to the probable horror of all Muslim males dreaming of bliss in the Muslim hereafter, to conjure away the wide-eyed houris promised to the faithful in suras XLIV.54; LII.20, LV.72, and LVI.22. Luxenberg 's new analysis, leaning on the Hymns of Ephrem the Syrian, yields "white raisins" of "crystal clarity" rather than doe-eyed, and ever willing virgins - the houris. Luxenberg claims that the context makes it clear that it is food and drink that is being offerred, and not unsullied maidens or houris.

In Syriac, the word hur is a feminine plural adjective meaning white, with the word "raisin" understood implicitly. Similarly, the immortal, pearl-like ephebes or youths of suras such as LXXVI.19 are really a misreading of a Syriac expression meaning chilled raisins (or drinks) that the just will have the pleasure of tasting in contrast to the boiling drinks promised the unfaithful and damned.

The Guardian article goes on to ask the question if the ‘Shahidim’ (‘martyrs’) of September eleventh and those ever willing bombers in Israel would think twice if they knew their reward would be a bowl raisons instead of 72 maidens.

The Ramat Bet Shemesh E-mail List

The area where I live, like many areas in Israel, has an e-mail list allowing residents to share information, buy and sell items and vent. I was discussing with my friends why we subscribe to this list and the common consensus was it is a constant source of amusement.

I have collated my top 20 messages. Some of these will make you laugh (I hope) and some will just leave you puzzled.

Looking for a strong Philipino helper, preferably male, to help my mothers bad blood circulation.

Looking to start a minyan on the 7:46 train. We will be meeting in the last carriage and aim to finish dovening before we get to Lod where the train takes a few curves not conducive with dovening the amidah.

I am looking for people to sign-up for our charities mailing list so we can send you updates and standing order forms.

If anybody is flying to Brooklyn in the next few days please can they take my mother-in-law.
Children for sale. We have eight sets.
Sorry, children’s clothes for sale. We have eight sets. We also have eight children, baruch Hashem.

Looking to sell a 2-piece suit. The jacket is from a blue suit and the trousers are from a gray suit.

I am available to wash, trim or reshape your sheitals / wigs. Please remember once its cut its cut and the management does not bear any responsibility.

Please learn mishnayos for -----------ben-------- who we think passed away in Teaneck, New Jersey. If he didn’t, we are sorry for the wrong information.
Sorry, we know he died, just not where he died.

Yom Kippur this year will be in the 10th of Tishrai.

Sopher Stam (scribe for Sefer torah, tefilin, mezuzot etc) available for immediate work. Previous jobs include teacher in Yeshivat Keren Yisrael and Microsoft.

Residents of Bet Shemesh please be aware that due to cut backs in the city council budget Harel street will now only be one way.

For sale, one bookshelf with no shelves.

I am available during the week to tie Tzitzit and babysit.

If anybody is flying to Brooklyn in the next few days please can they take my wife.

If anyone is driving to Tel Aviv, I need a lift to Jerusalem. (note - Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are in opposite directions to Bet Shemseh, JC)

I would like to start a healthy and harmonious dialog between members of the Charedi (ultra orthodox) community and the national religious members of the community. Lets bridge the gap and bury of differences once and for all. The first discussion group will be titled – ‘Charedim, a drain our economy’. (needless to say he was banned from the list, JC)

Can someone please tell me if Netanya is by the sea.

And finally: Please save all your spare change. My son is currently doing a project on money. If you have any spare money, even notes, please bring it to this address……..

Eruv Rav – A Mixed Multitude

My first job in Israel was for a software development company. To this day I still haven’t worked out what the product really was, and I suspect nor did most of the people I used to work with, which is why two years after I started, the company crashed. Actually, thinking about it, I believe that three of the programmers understood the product.

I shared a room with two of them, with their colleague next door. My first day in the office I was introduced to the twenty something staff. My boss showed me to my computer and introduced me to my room mates. “This is Boris”, he announced, “and this is Boris as well”. “Who is in the room next door?” I asked, “oh, that’s Boris as well”. Now I have nothing against Russians, but my Ivrit was a little rusaty and my Russian no existent. What was I going to say, how was I going to integrate into a company where my closest colleagues were not only Russian but all called Boris!?!.

After some time I established from the human resources department that to avoid confusion, the three Borides had been given different names. With a sigh of relief I asked what their pseudonyms were. “Well the Boris to your right is called Boris Aleph, to your left is called Boris Bet and next door is Boris Gimmel.” She saw the look on my face and said, “as you’re new in Israel you can call them Boris A, Boris B and Boris C.” Great, I thought, I’ve made Aliyah to Leningrad.

The Borises and I got on famously, they were all very good company, shame the company wasn’t a very good company. As my Hebrew improved from pigeon to sparrow I began to understand some of their conversations. We talked politics, culture and how amazing it was that in one small company so many Diaspora communities were represented. Moscow, Leningdrad, Kiev, London, Bagdad, some obscure Yemeni town and an even more obscure Albanian village. What a melting pot of Jews.

One day I entered our room to be met with rapturous laughter. The three Borises were sitting, a small bottle of vodka lay empty on the floor and empty shot glasses rested on top of the computer monitors, lined up like some fairground game. It was Boris B or Bets birthday. I large semi demolished chocolate cake lay melting by the window and chocolate covered finger prints replaced the lettering on my computer.

“Ahh”, a collective wail rose, “Jeremy, shev, shev, (sit, sit)”. Boris A stood up, “I Chav joke for you”, “two Russians on street in Moscow, one enquires ov friend, tell comrade, vat vatch chav you, da friend tells comrade, oh so you study English in Leningrad to”! “Its much funny, no?” “very funny Boris, tell me where did you learn your English?” Boris looked down and whispered, “In Leningrad”.

Two years to the day, and I remember because we celebrated Borises birthday again, the whole company assembled in the boardroom. Boris B stood up and announced he had a joke he wanted to tell us in English. Everyone sat attentively, I braced myself as Boris began his joke. “Two men meet in Moscow, one asks the other what the time is, the other man says, oh, so you also learnt English in Leningrad.” Absolute silence. Some have blamed the company’s demise solely on Boris’s joke, but in the melting pot that is Israel we are all in it together.


The warehouse was dark, the atmosphere musky the fumes from polish stung our eyes and the smell of little Sephardi man eating garlic overwhelming. This was not Ikea, this was a furniture shop, Israeli style.

I blame my parents for the saga of our furniture, if I had be born a year later, then I would have been married a year later and made aliyah a year later and Ikea would have been open. But alas I wasn’t and it wasn’t.

Our shopping list comprised of the following:

1 Sideboard
1 cabinet
1 Dining Room Table 3m extended
10 Dining Room Chairs
1 Coffee Table
1 Unit for the TV plus draws
3 Sofas

Big order, eh? A salesman’s dream. Something that would command good treatment, attention, service, you’d think, but this is Israel, and all Israeli’s are equal. They all receive the same treatment unless you are a relative or a relative of a relative or the friend of a relative of a relative. We have no Moroccan relatives or friends, but at that time we would have gladly hired a few.

We were young, naïve, wet behind the ears, innocents abroad. We presented our list. Mistake number one, we expected a positive response. Wait here, we were told. So we waited and waited after a number of circuits of the warehouse we eventually found comfortable sofa and relaxed, only to be told to get off the sofa, this wasn’t a hotel! We decided to leave. Our Moroccan friend ran up to us, apologetic, said he was alone today apart from some of the shleppers (technical term). Ok, he got the benefit of the doubt. We of course forgot to use our trump card, the baby. Ora was only a few months old, and looking back the obvious asset. Ora was going nuts in her stroller so we let her crawl around a bit. Suddenly all the female staff materialized. Everyone became a mother or grandmother to Ora. We became the center of attention. In no time we were being waited on hand and foot. We were served coffee and cakes. Ora crawled on the forbidden sofa and everybody laughed and shepped nachos.

So we chose the designs the wood and the material. Agreed a price and left. A few weeks later were back at the warehouse without Ora, mistake number two. We were practically ignored. When eventually we were seen to we were told that while they were well on their way to completing our furniture it transpires they haven’t started making it yet. We thought, mistake number three, that when we agreed and left a deposit, they would at least make a start.

The day of the big furniture delivery, a large articulated lorry pulls up in front of our house, two months late.

You’ve probably already guessed the next bit. The wood was wrong the material was wrong and the table and cabinet were chipped. Phone calls, hair pulling, threats and accusations filled the next month.

Eventually almost everything was put right.

The table was still chipped and despite repeated repairs it still looked odd. When the manger came to inspect, I suspect he wasn’t really the manager, he accused us of having tried to repair the table and botching it. That was the final straw. It was the small claims court for them. I calmly told them that unless they made my table perfect we would sue.

A few days later the manager phoned us in a panic, I’m sorry you’ve had problems, there’s no need to sue us we’ll come up with the perfect solution, just give me an hour.

And what was this perfect solution?

A free table cloth.

Food for the Soul

A wise man once said give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, give him religion and he’ll starve praying for fish.

I have just joined a gym, thought it was time I started to reawaken those muscles that have lain dormant since my very formative years. You know what they say healthy body, healthy mind, well I’m in training so my mind can be as quick as my 3 and 5 year old daughters.

My target is not so much a new weight as seeing if I can fit into my wedding suit and seeing if can run upstairs in my house without needing a lie down. Along with my new exercise regime is a diet consisting of everything my wife thinks is good for me. Everything I think is good for me is now hidden in the car.

Shabbat has always been a problem, too many temptations and no gym. I feel obligated to eat as much food as my wife cooks, trouble is I get into trouble whatever I do. If I eat too much I get reminded of my exercise and diet regime, if I don’t eat so much I get the old ‘what’s wrong with my food?”.

So moderation is the name of the game. I moderately diet, I moderately exercise and I more than moderately eat.

Our religion is built around food. Nowhere in our vast literature, for example, does it mention any festive customs related to exercise. Its all eat, eat, eat. We don’t have to do ten sit ups in memory of the ten plagues, run on the treadmill for 40 minutes in memory of the 40 years wondering in the desert and I haven’t found a reference to spinning related to the laws of Succot.

My favorite reference, which I quote quite often to my wife is regarding Kashrut. There is no reason given for eating kosher food. It may have subsequently been proven to be healthier but the fact remains it’s a Chok, a law with a hidden reason. But I heard from a reliable source that keeping kosher is not so much a physical exercise but a spiritual exercise. Keeping kosher is good for the soul and our spirituality. So I reckon the more kosher food you eat the more spiritual you’ll become. Needless to say my doctor wife is not impressed with that hypothesis.

About a month ago we attended a large Kiddush. It was a double simcha, a new baby and a bar mitzvah. There were hundreds of people their including a lot of the areas dignitaries and some famous Rabbonim. One Rabbi actually is a member of my gym, so I went over to talk to him and introduce my wife, Tanya..

After a few minutes of chatting we turned to a nearby table to refill our plates, yes it was that type of Kiddush. Before he filled a plate of cholent for himself he took my plate. Slightly embarrassed I turned to Tanya who was giving me disapproving looks. He must have noticed and turned to Tanya, “I have it on very good authority that on Shabbat you don’t put on weight, eating on Shabbat is good for the soul.”

Who am I to refuse the words of a Rabbi.

A Journey to the Promised Land – Pesach 5765 - 2005

“Why are we leaving”, Shimon pleaded, “its nice here, bit hot in the summer but we have shelter, food, water, in fact we have everything”. “Look,” his wife replied, “were leaving because my parents said it was a good idea”. “Look love, do we have to do everything your parents say, we should be able to make our own decisions.” “What did you say about my parents,” she shouted. “Nothing, its just”, he stopped to think, he was losing and he new his next words could be his last, “I like to make the decisions, but its an excellent idea of your parents, I mean, leave safety and shelter to follow some old man into the desert to find the promised land, great idea, masterful.” “Well that’s settled then, we leave tomorrow, but tonight we have to prepare something to eat. My Dads cooking a lamb and has invited us and all our family.” “Our family”, Shimon said slyly, “or your family?” “You like my family, don’t you?” she glared at her husband. “Love them all,” he replied diplomatically. “My mother said before leaving we should spruce the place up a bit, make sure the new occupants won’t get the wrong impression of us.” “I know what we can do,” Shimon mumbled “splash a bit of blood on the door, that’ll give then the right impression”. “I heard that!” his wife hissed.

The meal was more pleasant than Shimon expected. The food was good, even his joke about blowing up his house after they vacated was met with rapturous laughter, except he wasn’t joking. If he was leaving his house to cross the desert to the Promised Land he was doing it with the knowledge that all his hard work, blood, sweat and tears was not for some Egyptian to enjoy.

Shimon’s youngest son suddenly piped up,”Daddy, can I ask you a question?”, “of course son,” “Daddy why is this night different from all other nights?” The room went silent. Shimon looked at his son and replied “son, our people have always been traveling, just when we seem settled something happens and we’re on the move again. It seems that until we settle in our own land and not somebody else’s, that’s the way it’s going to be. Tomorrow we leave here to cross the desert. When we reach the Promised Land we’ll be safe and secure, nobody will be able to tell us to leave or force us to move again.”

The following morning the sun rose high over the desert as they prepared to leave. As soon as the family was away from the house, Shimon returned and blew it up. He was depressed as he crossed the Sinai desert; he hoped the future would be better.

His wife, knowing her husbands mood, tried to comfort him. “Shimon, don’t be sad we’re going to a better place, where we’ll be happier”. “I know, love”, he replied “but I’m really going to miss our town, Yamit was such a lovely place.”

They arrived in the Promised Land but Shimon was inconsolable. Yamit was his life, his ideology everything he believed in. Suddenly his wife burst through the door, “darling I have some fantastic news”, she cried “the government want to relocate us in a beautiful spot by the sea. The land is good for agriculture, the view is magnificent, and it’s away from the cities”. “Sounds fantastic,” Shimon replied enthusiastically,” what’s the name of the place?”

“Gush Katif!”

Note: Yamit was one of the Israeli settlements in the Sinai vacated as part of the Begin - Sadat Israel -Egypt peace deal at the end of the 70’s. Some of Jewish Gaza, was settled by people from Yamit and the Sinai.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Yom Ha'atzmaut 56

Just got back from the UK. Amazing view over Tel Aviv as we were landing, fireworks everywhere, nice of them to welcome me home! Or maybe it was because of Yom Ha'atzmaut eve.

A flurry of activity, check we have enough flags, enough charcoal for the bar-b-q, check what time shul is. Does everyone have a clean white top. Eliana's going mad because she wants choco-milk and she cant because Tanya wants to keep her top white for just five minutes if possible.

Now we're in the car, who can tell me about Yom Ha'atzmaut, what did they tell you in gan?
Well, Abba, Ora said, the Jewish people didn't always live in Israel. Some lived in very cold countries where the people didn’t like them. Mr Herzl was a very good man who wanted all the Jews to live in a safe place which was Israel. Oh by the way, Daddy, did you know the flag of Israel is supposed to be a Tallit? So, the Jewish people ran away from the cold countries a started living in Israel, but there were bad people even in Israel who didn’t want the Jewish people to live here, not even in Netanya where Saba and Savta live! The naughty people tried to fight the Jewish people and a lot of Jewish soldiers were hurt and it was very sad, some were even dead, but its Ok because Hashem looks after them now, but we have to be quiet and remember them. Then, the Jewish people won the fighting and they were very happy and waved flags. Even though the naughty people were still there, they didn’t care because now Israel belonged to the Jewish people again.

Life is so simple when you're 4.

Chag Atzmaut Sameach

The Butterfly Affect

A young soldier stood patrolling a side street in Hebron when out of nowhere a Palestinian rushed at him with a knife, stabbed him and left him bleeding to death on the pavement. Sometime later he was found by a Jewish teenager who immediately administered first aid, stemmed the flow of blood and called emergency services for an ambulance. The ambulance took them to Hadassah, and after the boy was certain the soldier was in good hands, returned to his home in Hebron.

The soldier survived and made a full recovery. Overjoyed, the parents of the soldier questioned him about the person who saved him. But, through loss of blood he was virtually unconscious and couldn’t remember a thing. The Parents were not satisfied to leave it, they wanted to find their sons savior and posted messages all over to try and jog somebody’s memory. The Parents of the boy owned a grocery in Jerusalem and they hung a large poster asking for help in finding this mystery person.

Time went by and one day a woman entered the shop and saw the poster. She spoke to the owner and claimed that this sounded like her son. He had mentioned that there had been an incident and while she was very proud of him, he was very modest and said it was what anybody would have done. She left it at that.

The women returned to Hebron and asked her son if he would agree to meet the soldier and his parents at a little party to celebrate the soldier’s recovery. He agreed and they left for Jerusalem.

After the party the two mothers were washing up when the mother of the teenager (Rachel) told the mother of the soldier (Sara) that this wasn’t the first time she had been to their grocery.

Years ago Rachel was in Jerusalem and decided she needed a drink. The owner of the grocery, Sara, was concerned that Rachel was looking quite ill and invited her into the back room for a cup of tea. Rachel said that Sara showed so much compassion that she opened her heart to them and in floods of tears told them her story. Rachel was pregnant and the father had run off leaving her to fend for herself. She was very ill with the pregnancy and thought the only option was to have an abortion. Sara and her husband sat with her for hours as they talked through all her options and instilled a confidence in Rachel she had never known. Rachel left and decided to have the baby.

The baby of course turned out to be the teenager that had saved the soldiers life.

Our actions have butterfly affect on our destinies. Divided though we may seem, religiously, financially and politically, history has proven that from the heights of Solomon to the depths of the concentration camps, at our core there is an immense longing to help each other with kindness and gratitude that is the envy of the nations.

26 Ways to Drive you Crazy

Not many people know this and even fewer actually believe that according to Israeli law drivers must take 26 lessons and pass a test before receiving their full license.

What these lessons consist of nobody knows but there are many theories. Below is a list, compiled by myself and members of my carpool, we have called the Rules of the Road, or Survival of the Fittest:

Etiquette and courtesy: It is important to remember that mutual respect for your fellow drivers is paramount when venturing onto the highways and byways of Israel. This also means that people will have to respect you. When pulling out, therefore expect other drivers to be aware of your presence, the indicator, as you will learn in later lessons, is optional. One tip we would suggest slamming your foot down on the accelerator in case another driver claims right of way, also discussed in a future lesson.
Traffic lights: One of the first obstacles and potential hazards you will encounter is the traffic light. The traffic has two sequences of lights, Red, Amber and Green and Flashing Green, Amber and Red. If you approach a traffic light that has just turned Red remember you still have four seconds to get across the junction before the other lights turn amber. At all times keep your foot on the accelerator. Hoot, discussed in a later lesson, if necessary when you anticipate the Red light will turn amber, thus alerting fellow drivers to get a move on. Always accelerate towards a flashing green, amber or Red light.
Indicators: On each of the four corners of your care you will find orange lights that flash. These are your indicators. They are added feature of your car and optional to use, please do not be alarmed if people look surprised when you do not use them.
Right of Way: Right of way is always yours.
Round-a-bouts: There are several ways to traverse a round-a bout, clockwise, anticlockwise or over. Nobody has quite understood the point of round-a-bouts but the general theory is they are something to do with the airforce.
Breaking: At all times and for no reason whatsoever use your breaks. These should also be used in an emergency and at the last possible moment. If you are too late and crash into the back of the car in front, do not panic. Simply explain to the driver that he was driving too slowly and thus a hazard on the road.
Full Beams: Full beams may be kept on permanently or flashed at will. Use your full beams when driving on unlit roads. Should another car approach you, do not worry, he has the option of slowing down, closing his eyes or averting his head to one side. Should a car approach you with full beams on, flash you beams insanely at him until he has passed. Also flash your full beams behind a driver you feel is not driving the regulatory 30 KMH faster than the speed limit, discussed later.
Hazard Lights: Believe it or not you have a button, that when pushed ignites all the lights on your car causing them to flash. Its quite neat and generally used for saying hello to people in from or behind. They are caused hazard lights because as you drive down the highway, oblivious to them flashing, people will get out the way.
Speedometer: This indicator has a round face with 0 to between 180 and 240. This dial is linked to your accelerator. The object is to press the accelerator and try to make the dial hit as close to 240 as possible.
Accelerator: use this to make your speedometer hit as higher score as possible.
REV Counter: Do not confuse this with your speedometer, you cannot drive at 100,000 KMH but you are welcome to try.
Horn: The use of your horn should be restricted between the hours of 1am to 7am. Use your horn as warning that traffic lights are changing colour (any colour), when you are in a long queue of traffic, when you a street away from picking someone up and you want to signal in advance that you are arriving.
Radio: Your radio is essential in many ways. It helps to retain concentration on your driving and ignore what is happening on the road, dull out the sounds that may potentially distract you like police and ambulance sirens and announce your arrival from at least 3 kilometers. If you have a from loading tape deck or CD, remember to lower the steering wheel so you can read the back of the CD with one hand, load it with other and drive with your knees, also see Mobile Phones.
Police: Police also drive on the roads. They drive in white cars, with blue and red flashing lights. Before leaving home on a journey make sure you have researched you family history and can claim to be related to a policeman and or know one or no somebody who knows one. This information is vital if you are ever asked to pull over. Not having this information could result in a fine.
Accidents on the Road – Part 1: Never admit responsibility. Even if the other driver was still filling up with petrol.
Accidents on the Road - Part 2: If you happen to pass an accident on the road, slow down, have a good look, offer you advice but do not get out your car.
Hard Shoulders and Emergency / Security Vehicle Lanes: The only time you may drive on a hard shoulder is if you are in traffic and in a great hurry. Stopping on the hard shoulder to use as a toilet is allowed at your own risk. Beware of other vehicles using this lane in the event of a traffic jam. Unique to Israel is a Emergency / Security Vehicle Lane, which runs down the middle of most major highways. Only use this if you need to change a CD, light a cigarette or dial a number.
Mobile Phones: It is your democratic right to free speech, unfortunately at 3 shekels a minute its not so free, ideally you should always leave one hand free to steer with when using a mobile phone. If you possess to phones use your knees to steer with, ask your instructor for additional lessons, or ask a passenger to steer for the duration of you call.
One way Streets: Ensure at all time you only drive one way down a street.
Speed Limit: You will occasionally see round red signs with a number written in black, this is the minimum speed a driver must drive.
No Entry Signs: These signs are to ensure the cars do not enter a street from both directions. In this unique circumstance, wait and if you are certain no cars are traveling in the opposite direction, you may pass the No Entry sign.
Parking: This is not the same as stopping. When you park you must leave your vehicle. Use your hazard lights if necessary to warn other divers you have left your car, for instance on a round-a-bout of in a traffic cue. Parallel parking is parking parallel to another car, sometimes called double parking. This creates twice the number of potential parking spaces for your fellow drivers. Sometimes car parks have designated spaces separated with white lines, ignore these, they are just for decoration.
Changing Lanes: Remember the old saying that whatever lane you’re in is the slowest, well it is suggested that you constantly change lanes, try to push in front of other drivers and remember to keep a cars distance (the length of your car) between yourself and the space in front of the car you are cutting up so as not to cause damage to either car.
Zebra Crossing: If you look carefully at certain points along your journey you will notice black and white lines painted the entire width of the road. It is suggested to keep you eyes ahead of you as looking for these lines can cause accidents. Beware of pedestrians trying to cross the roads at these points, swerve around them if necessary. Any sudden braking may cause accidents. Always use your lights or horn to warn unwitting pedestrians that you in fact have right of way.
Bus Drivers: Don’t let small cars get in your way.
Taxi Drivers: Remember you are a law unto yourselves.

George and the Dragon

Israel is a place that never ceases to amaze me. Everyone who has ever visited Israel has an amusing or surreal story. Living in this tiny Mediterranean strip is like stepping into the twilight zone or a page from the X Files.

After many months absence I recently returned to one of my favorite cities in Israel, Jaffa, and in particular the Old City. I love exploring the antique shops that line the labyrinth or roads leading up to the cities walls. Once in the city, which has been redeveloped to rival the Jerusalem's Jewish quarter, there is an overwhelming sense of calm as you leave the hustle of the city behind you and wander the narrow streets and artists galleries on one side, the sea on the other.

On this particular occasion I had an hour to kill between meetings so I headed to Jaffa for lunch. I found a nice restaurant, chose a table outside and ordered my food.

This is when my particular X File experience occurred. I saw it creeping toward my table, sheepishly at first, wrapping itself around table legs, edging ever closer, the occasional meow announcing its presents, a Jaffa cat. You've heard of Jaffa oranges, well this was a Jaffa cat, ironically orange in colour, but I am assured not as tasty. Jaffa cats, rivaled only by Netanya cats, are the boldest, most chutzpadik cats in the country (I 'm assured) and this cat was trying to prove it to me.

My first plan of action was to make a sudden movement, so I pushed my chair back a few inches. It had the desired affect and the cat backed off, well it stopped for a second and then continued to stalk me and my plate.

This cat wasn’t a fool. It had 4000 years of experience, passed down from kitten to cat. His family had probably seen Jonah run away, stolen food from the Crusaders and slept in Napoleons cannons. I was on his turf and he wanted my steak.

My next move was to try and build a barrier so he couldn’t get to me, and, to the amusement of the Arab cleaner, I started moving chairs around so the cat couldn’t get to me. The waiter and I both new a barrier wasn’t a total solution. Now if I was Ariel Sharon, I'd leave the restaurant and give my steak to the cat. No way, I thought. I can't negotiate, it doesn't speak my language, and even if it could it only once one thing, my lunch.

The owner of the restaurant came out to see what was happening. He saw me, saw my lunch, saw the security barrier and saw the cat. George, he shouted to the waiter, get rid of the cat. George? Funny name for an Arab. George stood up and shouted at the cat in Arabic, nothing happened. Then he shouted in Hebrew, the cat just stood there trying to understand what the man was shouting. Then in very heavily accented English the Arab shouted, Go Dragon. As I sat unable to comprehend what was going on the cat turned around and walked off. The Arab smiled at me, I just stared at him.

As I paid for lunch I asked the owner why George calls the cat "the dragon". It turns out that one of the traditional burial places of the original dragon slayer is near Jaffa, where the cat has made his home. Everyday he makes his way into the old city and everyday George sees him off. How did he get a name like George, then realized rather stupidly what I'd just asked.. Even George laughed at the question, as he lifted his broom for another joust with the dragon.

Of Babies and Queues

Government offices are one of the ten trials of a new Oleh (immigrant). The bureaucracy, the petty jobs-worth, the lack of air conditioning and most of all the queues. Most offices have a queue and ticket system. You queue at the door of the office, take a ticket and watch to see when you number comes up and then sit behind a desk and are promptly ignored while the clerk sips her coffee, reads the paper talks to her mother or just disappears. But it’s the queuing that is the major problem. People pushing, complaining and pushers-in claiming they were next but had to go and get something to eat.

Then one day I made an important discovery. This discovery revolutionized standing in queues. In Latin I call it Pacifixia Removus. This remarkable discovery was made on a particularly hot and humid day as I waited in the Ministry of the Interior, well not much in but out and halfway down the stairs. I needed to hand in passport papers for my eldest daughter Ora. She was only a few months old at the time. She sat very calmly and quietly in her stroller and then without warning, as they say in bible, she let out an almighty roar. She hadn’t lost her birthright, just her pacifier.

All the people in front of me turned to see what the commotion was about. A kind man said I could go in front of him, then women in front of him said I could take her place. So we skipped couple of places. I had a theory I wanted to test. Carefully and with the utmost stealth I whipped out Ora’s pacifier, the roar went up and we moved forward, this time four places. The office was now in site. I waited a few more minutes and then the roar went up again and before we knew it we were being seen to.

Eliana was next and now Nitzan has now taken the coveted position of queue abuser. She is for hire and is certainly an asset to have when queuing up in any situation. Its all to do with slight of hand and knowing your environment. The supermarket is a perfect place. My favorite bit is the sympathetic smiles and the knowing looks as Nitzan bawls her head off in short five second bursts every few minutes.

Do I feel guilty that somehow I am abusing the system, turning my back on my English heritage, rejecting my in built desire to queue peacefully and patiently?

Are you mad, this is Israel!

A World of Difference.

There is an old joke told many different ways about a British Airways plane that was just taxing off the runway at Heathrow on a cold December day. The captain flicks on the com-link and announces “welcome to Heathrow Airport, for all those of you celebrating Christmas, have very Merry Christmas and happy new year, for those of you celebrating Chanukah, would you please sit down until the plane has come to a total stop and the seat belt sign has been turned off. Or the other version, “to all those sitting down merry Christmas and to all those standing up, happy Chanukah.”

It’s Israeli culture to break the civilized worlds’ rules and regulations. Etiquette, the art nurtured for thousands of years by the Europeans, never really filtered to our tiny country on the eastern Mediterranean. To the Israeli’s the word ‘please’ is someone who stops you on the highway for speeding and the word ‘thanks’ is something you use to defend your northern border with.

Contrary to popular belief Israelis do use the word ‘sorry’. Generally its ‘sorry America, please can we have our loan guarantees’ and ‘sorry UN for trying to defend ourselves’!

Talking of the UN, did you know they are the body for standardizing all traffic symbols like the ‘no entry’ sign or the ‘one way street’? The Israelis, as with everything else the UN does, are the body who ignores all these signs. I think the Israeli incapacity to grasp standard instructions like traffic lights, for example, must be a result of the all the wars we have fought. Code red means mobilize, code green means return, or red means go and green means stop, simple really.

Israelis, and Jews, for that matter, are not just instructionally challenged but they are challenged by global normality, the accepted ways of the world. In the autumn the whole of the Northern Hemisphere stays inside awaiting winter, even the animals seek shelter, hibernate or simply dig in. What do we do, build rickety huts, make sure the roof leaks and live in them for 7 days. In the summer when everyone else is preparing for their summer holidays what do we do, declare three weeks of mourning with two fasts, the second being the saddest day of the year.

It’s in our very genes to be different. That’s how we’ve survived. We have never fitted in; if we had we would have disappeared long ago, assimilated into the nations, our history and culture would have been long abandoned, long forgotten like the Philistines or the Hittites.

So what if we stand up when we’re supposed sit, so what if we make a noise when we are supposed to be quiet (unless its during the Rabbis sermon), so what if we say white when the world says black and so what if we try to survive when the world tells us not to.

Communication – Loses a lot in Translation

My First Job in Israel - Jan 2000

Sitting at my desk looking out onto the citrus fields dividing Tel Aviv from Kvish Geah I realized that I hadn’t understood a single word Boris had said to me. I understood the technical terms like database, interface and deadline, but I’m sure there was plenty of additional material I missed.

Its not just my inadequate Ivrit, its also my bad Russian and Boris’s bad Ivrit and English that’s makes our meeting a real, how should I put it, challenge.

Between us we speak the new Hi Tech language of Israel, Ivengian, Ivrit, English and Russian. The problem is that all the Israelis want to practice their English, the Russians their English and Ivrit and I just want to get the job done. I bet they don’t have theses problems in the UN. In fact the main difference between the UN and my office is one has solid polices they cannot articulate and the other is the UN.

I should mention at this stage that I share an office with three Boris’s. Each one from a different part of Russia, with a different accent. Delightful people to work with, almost European in their office etiquette, but do I understand a single word they are saying, absolutely not.

Now, before I get hate mail I should point out the fault obviously lies with me. Their Ivrit is better than mine, they shouldn’t have to speak English and if anything I should at least learn a few Russian phrases. The trouble is that it is standard practice for everything in HI tech to be in English. With only 11% of the world speaking English as a first language maybe everything should be in Chinese, which it might as well be sometimes.

So the three Boris’s and I sit together and they try to describe the nuts and bolts of our products and I try to translate what they say into some sort of specification. The specification is then verbally re-translated from English to Russian for the programmers benefit and is finally translated in to Ivrit for the benefit of some of the team leaders and QA.

You wonder why 95% of start-ups fail in the first year, they have an English writer, Israeli marketing manager, Russian programmer, French tester and American CEO. Now you may ask that at least the writer and CEO speak the same language, well let me quote my CEO “The English and Americans, two great nations divided by a common language.”

Communication within the office environment is essential to the success of any company. Communication in an Israeli office takes on a different dimension. It seems that nobody wants to speak his or her native languages. Instead of three people talking three different languages fluently to each other, you get a major headache as broken teeth and frustration spill over into what was formally a peaceful environment.

A few months ago Boris ‘three’ approached me and in his best English says “Der wis a Chechen, Muscovite ant Siberian all in plane, nearly to crash….” I’ve heard it Boris, thanks. Boris ‘two’ continues “so dey must to make the aircraft lighter more” It’s OK Boris I’ve heard it. Boris ‘one’ finishes the joke with the Chechen falling to his death. “Iss mush funny in Kiev, but we no laugh, iss sad, much sadness”.
Another occasion Boris ‘one’ sidles up to my desk “what watch you have” You mean what time is it, I answer, “Shalosh V’chetzi”. Boris ‘two’ shouts across something in Russian and Boris ‘three’ corrects me with “Shalosh V’rova” don’t you mean Reva I ask, Kin Ma Sh’Armarti, Rova” and so it goes on.

My wife’s smart, she’s a doctor. All day long she has to talk and work in Ivrit. I have to work in three languages and am rapidly forgetting one of them and not making much progress in the other two.

To be a good technical communicator, and by that I cover writing, marketing and some product management, you need to communicate effectively with your colleagues. Thinking that ‘all hi tech is in English ‘so I don’t need Ivrit’, is a dangerous way to live. At some point you’ll want to progress in your company and that will, to a certain extent, depend on your Ivrit. No one wants to have to repeat everything in a meeting for your benefit or translate office memos and minutes. There is also the social aspect. Going out to lunch and sitting in silence because you can’t follow the conversation is hard.

The language of Hi Tech maybe English, but the language of your country is definitely Ivrit.

A Time To Cry

Traditionally this quote from Kohelet refers to Tisha B'Av. On Tisha B'Av we mourn the destruction of both temples and all subsequent Jewish tragedies, including expulsions, pogroms, mass killings and of course the ultimate in human darkness, the holocaust. Now I consider myself a religious Jew, a committed Jew and a Jew who understands the implications of our people losing sovereignty of Israel and the subsequent exile the majority of our people find themselves in today. Some in comfortable exile, prospering and assimilating in the most cultured nations of the world, and some in countries where they undergo daily suffering because of their religion, their shuls being firebombed and their cemeteries being vandalized. Even their governments remaining silent while in Parliament anti-Semitism is politically acceptable. Despite the fact that the world around us hasn’t changed in 2000 years, despite the fact that another holocaust could happen, and don't anybody dare say it couldn’t happen again, I have never cried on Tisha B'Av.

Its hard to cry. After a visit to Yad Vashem it gets easier. After visiting Poland you feel obligated. But we shouldn’t need these outside stimulants. Why can't we internalize what’s happened, and is happening, and genuinely cry.

So I'll tell when I cried, when it all suddenly became clear. When for the first time I understood Tisha B'av, Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Remembrance Day). Last year on Yom Hazikaron I found myself in the Old City of Jerusalem with my eldest daughter Ora. Ora was then 3 years old, if you asked her she would have told you tell you 3 years, 4 months and a few days.

Standing vigil by the Kotel (Western Wall) stood two soldiers either side of a flame of remembrance, a flag behind them stood at half mast. Ora is exceptionally observant, a genius her Saba and Savta (on both sides) would say. Ora asked me why the flag wasn’t at the top of the pole. She asked me why there was a fire and why the soldiers were standing, not moving and looking very serious. I started to explain to her that this was a very special day. A very sad day, when we remember all those people, who are no longer here but helped to create our country. I said the flag was very sad as well and couldn’t stand up properly and the soldiers were there to remind people that although lots of people were lost, there are people here who remember them take their places. She asked me how many people are not here anymore. I told her to start counting the stones on the Kotel. We got to about 20, then I said she would have to count all the stones on the wall and then all the stones on the other wall behind us, then all the stones on all the buildings. When she got to 21, 000 she could take a break, that’s how many soldiers, police and ordinary people are not here anymore. That’s how many were lost so we could stand here together and count all those stones. I told her she couldn’t stop at 21000 because we have to remember all the people who wished to be here and couldn’t come. She asked me how many, so I said every stone in Jerusalem, every stone in Israel is there to help us remember another person. Then she asked me a final question, Daddy why are you crying?

Blue Suede Jews

Blue Suede Jews

A man was arrested a few weeks ago outside the Jerusalem’s Old City trying to crucify himself. Claiming he was the incarnation of the messiah, he wished to die to save the world. Luckily he was unable to drive the nails through his hands and as one Policeman put it – he couldn’t nail a picture up let alone himself. The latest sufferer of the infamous Jerusalem Syndrome was led away for psychoanalysis.

So what is Jerusalem Syndrome? Well in short, next time you’re at the Kotel and man swans over to you with a sky blue towel on his head, strumming a harp and claims to be King David, you know you’ve had your first experience of JS.

Surprisingly, a study has shown that the majority of people who have JS have no prior mental illness. Sufferers include would-be messiahs, misfits, the misguided and self professed spiritualists. Their preferred dress is generally white robes because most of them choose to identify themselves with a character from the New or Old Testament.

Its something in the air, in the very makeup of Jerusalem that propels people to the bounds of insanity declaring themselves the savior or the incarnation of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The most popular character is the Messiah. I suppose it’s the easiest one to get away with. No one knows what he looks like and it’s easy to tell everyone to beat their swords into ploughshares.

Interestingly enough the majority of confirmed JS sufferers seem to be non-Jewish tourists. Suddenly they are whisked back two millennia to the time of Herod and the Roman occupation. They see the Western Wall, the Temple plaza and walk the Via Delarosa. Boarder guards become Roman legions and tourists become pilgrims. The smell of the spice markets, the textures of the ancient buildings, the sounds of prayer, the taste of middle-eastern food overwhelm their senses. This is where is all happened and this is where they feel they belong. Even the most discerning tourist cannot escape Jerusalem’s intoxicating atmosphere. For most Jews it’s the epicenter of our religion. Every shul faces towards this city; we mention the city at every opportunity in our prayers. It is our holy city and so we feel spiritually connected. Yet even the sanest visitor can be drawn in too deep until another messiah emerges like a butterfly from a cocoon. I suppose, said Dr Udi Stern, if you enter the Old City searching for spirituality and enlightenment and don’t find it you create it yourself and that can be a very dangerous thing. It’s easy to convince yourself of anything just to block out reality and Mr. X the lawyer from New York suddenly becomes Bar Kochbah or King David wearing robes and brandishing a spear or a harp.

Most sufferers are harmless but some end up in psychiatric hospitals. Kfar Shaul Hospital, Jerusalem, where my wife worked for a while, is the place where JS patients are treated. Some of them need a ‘drying out’ period and are sent home, some of them are treated with medication. Dr. Bar El was the man who first coined the phrase, Jerusalem Syndrome. The stories he tells run into volumes but one that sticks out is the classic face off between the Messiah in the left corner and the Messiah in the right. One of them must be wrong, he says, but which? In the end they decided to hail each other as the Messiah and agree to split the responsibility of saving the world.

The Messianic Elvis Society is the embodiment of the JS. Their platform is the claim the Elvis is the messiah, he died for the sins of the world and has been resurrected. He chooses only to reveal himself to a select few. When I was in Yeshiva I decided to meet a friend for lunch in the Old City. We dovened Mincha at the Kotel and as we turned to leave we were dazzled, in the afternoon sun, by five men all dressed in white flares, greased back hair, medallions and big sunglasses. People politely stared as the Elvis’s marched down to Kotel singing Amazing Grace as only Elvis could. Lunch was postponed; I wasn’t missing this for anything. We followed the Elvis’s as they approached the Kotel, where they all donned cardboard kippot. The police were more than interested in this group, and shortly a small throng of people gathered around them.

Their spokesman then delivered a short speech, cut even shorter by angry worshippers, about the messianic message of the King (Elvis, that is). Enough was enough and as they broke into a chorus of Glory, Glory Halleluyah, three border guards told them they were causing a disturbance and asked them to move on. Clearly disappointed one of them shouted ‘Elvis has left the Temple’. Despondent they walked away as my friend, in fits of laughter, started his own rendition of Heartbreak Kotel.

A Job for a Nice Jewish Boy

Of all the old cinema heroes, Humphrey Bogart is certainly my favorite. I must have watched The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and Key Largo a hundred times. There is nothing particularly Jewish about Bogart and you could never imagine him standing before you on a Shabbat morning in shul giving the drasha, but then you don’t live in Israel.

Almost every Shabbat as I walk to shul, striding purposefully in the other direction is Yitzchak. We pass each other, quickly nod an acknowledgment as there is no time for talking. I am invariably late for shul and he is rushing home from the early service to relieve his wife of the kids. There is nothing special about Yitzchak, he’s an average sort of guy. Always wears the same blue blazer for shul summer or winter. Always wears the same big white kippa and always has a smile on his face. But Yitzchak has a secret, he’s a private detective. Actually its not such a secret because his wife also knows and if his wife knows then, well you get the picture. His main business is tracking people down who are due money through inheritance or wills. He doesn’t have a glass door on his office, he doesn’t wear a hat, smoke and his wife isn’t Ingrid Bergman, that’s for sure.

But that’s not his only secret. Yitzchak is a Rabbi. He has s’micha (ordination) from Yeshivah University and from a top yeshivah. Rabbi Yitzchak the private eye, will very often get up in shul to give the drasha, give shiurim during the week and basically conduct his life as a rabbi should. This combination has produced the most surreal, yet absolutely serious, set of articles I have ever seen; the Halachos (Laws) of being a Private Eye.

Shalom, on the other hand, is studying to be a Rabbi. Very nice, if that’s what he wants to do. He spends his nights learning in a yeshivah in Jerusalem, often to one or two in the morning. To look at Shalom you wouldn’t think he was rabbi material. His shirts are very often torn and he wears ripped jeans. Some days he wears a badly knitted kippa others a frayed black velvet kippa.

During the day, Shalom has a job washing cars in a local garage. He cannot find another job. Shalom is an immigrant from Ethiopia. He came to this country penniless. He has absolutely no prospects. But he doesn’t care. He claims he is rich. He says that his goal of becoming a Rabbi is his gold and silver. His drive and ambition is amazing. The other boys at his yeshivah (mainly American) hold him in great awe. They tell me he arrives at about six in the afternoon, still in his work clothes, which incidentally are the only clothes he has, and learns all night, absorbing everything, practically devouring book after book after book. One day, they told me, he arrived late and was inconsolable because of the high value he put on his time spent learning.

And finally there’s Tamir. Tamir is a taxi driver. We spent approximately ten minutes together. As drove through the ultra religious neighborhood in Bet Shemesh, he began naming all the Chassidim he saw. That’s Rav Shlomo, and that’s Rav Noach the mohel, he did me my father and my son (a bit too much information for me). There is Rav Yehudah Cohen, he is in property and there’s Pinchus, he’s in kolel. He told me he has to work on Shabbat, doesn’t keep kosher and wants to marry a non-Jewish woman. As we left the charedi neighborhood he turned to me, everyone’s a Rabbi in this neighborhood and one day I will be a Rabbi to.

A Game of Two Worlds

You may remember that 2001 was when Hapoel Tel Aviv FC took Europe by storm, most famously for beating Chelsea. I was lucky enough to go to all their European home matches in the world famous Bloomfield Stadium in Holon. Ok, so its not so world famous and you probably don’t know where Holon is, so If I say it’s a small stadium just south of Tel Aviv you get the picture. To an HTAFC supporter its hallowed turf, and you just have to smile and agree, not wanting to mention that Copthal Stadium, where we had our school sports days, is bigger!

One particular game I went to summed up for me of what Israel is all about. As we entered the stadium the atmosphere was electric. Dressed in our red Hapoel shirts, scarves and wooly hats, the Israelis stared at the mad Brits, wrapped up on a sweltering spring evening. But hey, thats football. We found our seats and delegated one of our group to go and buy some drinks and food. Great, I thought, I’m at a football match where for once I’ll be able to buy a hotdog or a hamburger and not worry about the kashrut. What would you like, my friend asked, Corenetto or garinim (sunflower seeds). We laughed at his obvious joke, but when he shrugged and said that’s all there was our faces dropped. Two packets of garinim and 5 cornetoes later we waited with eager anticipation for kick off.

The hard-core supporters were behind the goal at the opposite end of the pitch. Scarves tied around their heads, no shirts and banging drums, they really looked the part. The only thing I noticed was they had their backs to the pitch. “They only come for the singing”, an old man told me, “they’re not really into football, they don’t even watch the game but the atmosphere would be dead without them”!

Behind us a family had turned up with a picnic basket and small table which they balanced on the seats in front of them. The matriarch of the family proceeded to peel cucumbers and chop tomatoes. Staggered or just culture shocked, I’d thought I’d seen it all until some kids started handing out song sheets. Now I was in the twilight zone.

The game started and almost immediately the referee made a ridiculous decision. In true English style, we started letting our feelings for the ref be known, through highly inventive and imaginative song. One of our friends got into an argument with a supporter. Turned out he was the refs brother-in-law and was at pains to prove the refs parentage. Of all the people to sit next to! But that’s Israel, where everyone’s related somehow.

But the best was yet to come.

Two Hapoel supporters started having an argument in front of us. Being English and at a football match, there was only one course of action for us, we encouraged it. Then Hapoel scored, the crowd went mad, the drums banged and the hardcore supporters increased the volume, we found the place on our song sheets, and there was general merriment. But the argument in front of us continued to rage. Someone tried to calm the situation. “I don’t care if they scored, he forgot the garinim”. The argument continued, twenty minutes later, Hapoel scored again. The crowd went mad again etc. “You missed another goal”, someone called. “Stay out of this argument”, the man screamed. Another 7 or 8 minutes passed and Hapoel scored a third. The argument continued.

Extra time, 91st minute, Hapoel were now winning 3 – 1. The arguing couple were still at it. The ref put the whistle to his lips, they think its all over, it is now. The crowd cheered and sang, people hugged each other, and the stadium started to empty out.

Suddenly there was an almighty roar. One of the men started jumping up and down and cheering. A bit of delayed reaction we thought, but we started encouraging him, singing our improvised songs, like Three Falafels on my Shirt and Hapoel are on their way to Wembly. We started shouting, we won, we won. The man stopped and looked at us. “So what if we won”, he shouted, “I found the garinim, I was right all along!”