Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring is for the birds

I've mentioned the two hummingbird pairs that come regularly to our patio.

Here is another interesting bird with a long tuft of feathers off the back of it's head, which has shown up this spring.  It has stripes on the body, and it pecks at the ground for bugs.  I've seen them in lawns around the city, including at Ulpan.

On highway 1, out toward Jerusalem, there is a radar station.  It's for monitoring the half a billion European birds that are migrating through Israel every spring and fall to get to Africa in the winter.  Birding is one of the most common reasons tourists visit here (I suppose religion still beats birding, but it's not far behind).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bomb explodes in central Jerusalem; 1 dead, at least 30 hurt - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

Bomb explodes in central Jerusalem; 1 dead, at least 30 hurt - Haaretz Daily Newspaper Israel News

Just heard about this on the BBC, after getting the Tel Aviv US Embassy Warden's email. Wouldn't have noticed anything different here in Tel Aviv otherwise. It is ironic that it happened at the same time I was sharing the Tufts University article. It is a sad reminder of why Israeli's are so focused on security. It's like America after 9/11 but on crack. Security is the defining principle of policy making here. I think it shows what America could be like if we don't recognize that security is largely an illusion. And the best way to mitigate it is to learn about each other, work together, and through that, build relationships and trust. Metal detectors and men with guns are a short-term trade-off limited to addressing symptoms of larger human community and resource issues. In the long run, they tend to breed fear, misunderstanding, resentment, and negative reaction.

On Hold in Israel

My sister forwarded this article from the Tufts University news about an Israeli visiting professor's take on the current situation in the middle east. It resonates with exactly what I've been hearing here.

On Hold in Israel

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Kids in costumes - but it's not Halloween

Last week began with anticipation.  At least for the kids who knew Purim was coming.  As I was walking up to Ulpan on Wednesday morning, March 16th, it occured to me that it might just be the day that Ulpan Gordon was planning it's holiday celebration.  Sure enough, the one day of last week that I could actually attend, was the one day we didn't do any real studying.  But it was still interesting, as you can see from the top photo, all the classes were brought together for a kind of talent show and party.

The week prior, we prepared for Purim by reading the story of the Scroll of Ester in Hebrew.  The Jewish kids had a leg up on me, as they knew the story and could thereby deduce the meaning of many of the new words in it (not to mention they new the names of all the characters).  Thanks to a friendly Canadian friend in class (aren't all Canadian's friendly?)  I got the English translation, which, afterwards, made re-reading the Hebrew version much easier. 

It goes like this - there was a King, and there were the Jews.  The King got rid of his first wife.  He threw a party to find a second wife.  Mordachi, uncle to Ester, told her to go and woo the King, but don't tell him she's a Jew.  She did.  They married.  Then one day Mordechi didn't show the King's advisor, Haman, appropriate respect.  Haman told the King to kill the Jews, starting with Mordechi as the example.  Ester heard and told the King he'd have to kill her too because she was Jewish.  He didn't like the idea.  So he killed Haman instead. 

So to celebrate, every year on Purim, kids dress up in costume, and they eat triangle-shaped cookies by a name that translates into Haman's Ears.  This goes on for nearly a week.  Kids have been out in costume since last Wednesday.  They had Sunday and Monday off school this week as well.  The bottom photo is a class group I saw yesterday morning.  The middle photo is from a street party over the weekend.  It's a big deal here.  Probably the most boisterous holiday I've seen here yet. 

I've asked what the connection is between the costume parties and the Scroll of Ester.  No one seems to know, although someone told me it might be that the King's wife-recruitment party may have been a costume ball.  Or it may represent the mascarade/deception required by Ester, which saved the Jews.  Every Jewish story I have heard so far follows a theme of saving the Jews.  I don't know much about religion, honestly, so I can't say whether other religions are focused on this theme of "saving our people."  I don't recall Native American stories including much of this.  But maybe I only got the elementary school version.  What does the inclusion/omission of this topic in folklore say about cultures? 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ministry of the Interior, take two

After our attempt to get my B1 Israeli Work Visa (requires renewal every 6 months) converted to an A5 Temporary Resident Visa (requires renewal once per year, and makes me eligible not only to work, but to access Israeli healthcare) at our meeting with the Ministry of the Interior on February 27th, we went back yesterday.

The reason they didn't upgrade me on the spot last time, was that they said they were waiting for the additional document they asked for in August.  They wanted a document stating that I have no prior marriages or children (the only document in the US which says this is the marriage license, and mine said right on there no prior marriages.)  So I went in September to the US Embassy and paid $50 for the notary on a letter I wrote saying I have never been previously married nor do I have any children.  But the lawyers said we'd just bring this to the 6 month renewal meeting, where we'd likely get the A5 upgrade with teodat zehut (Israeli ID #, like a social security #).  When we got there in February, the MOI rep said they had booked a meeting to receive the documents, but not to do our interviews, so we would have to come back, and their next available appointment wasn't until May.  This led to general Israeli arguing between the MOI reps, the lawyers, and Dan.  It worked.  We got our interviews scheduled for yesterday, March 17.

I wore green to the interview (it was St. Patrick's Day afterall, a big holiday in my family, because it's my sister's birthday!).  I was interviewed first, and the rep began by asking about Dan's trip to Dubai, and why I went with him, and how he got there in the first place (Israeli's can't go to Dubai, but American's can.)  She asked me who cleans our apartment, if I like cooking, what I cook for Dan (pretty sexist if you ask me), what I got him for his last birthday (to which my answer was, I think nothing.  geeze, are we married or what?).  She asked where we lived before, how we met, what my hobbies are, etc.  I warmed her up when I explained that I was attending Ulpan (hebrew lessons), and used a little on her.  Meanwhile, Dan and the lawyers (yes, two of them came with us this time) were wondering why it was taking so long.  When I was done, I explained to them that I had to rephrase a lot due to her less than fluent English skills (but who can blame her, at least she was willing to do it in English or I would have been up a creek.)

Dan was up next.  When he was done, the MOI rep said we'd have to come back in 2 weeks for a decision.  This led to an additional argument, some speaking with the manager, and then a response of, "we never make exceptions like this,"  which according to the lawyers was a load of B.S.  Oh, and the additional paperwork they asked for on Feb 28th, 12 additional months of paystubs and bank statements, weren't necessary this time.  The rules are made.  Then they are changed.  Why?  The agent's mood, the weather, who knows.  This is Israeli (maybe middle east) culture.  It's not exact or precise.  There's a guidebook.  But it's just a suggestion.  More often than not, it will change, as quickly as an Israeli's mood.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

CSRwire Talkback - Grossly Distorted Picture: GDP Still Misleading Governments, Banks and Investors by Omitting Asset Accounts

CSRwire Talkback - Grossly Distorted Picture: GDP Still Misleading Governments, Banks and Investors by Omitting Asset Accounts

Money is a means to an end. So what "end" do we want? Is it stuff or is it experiences? What creates quality of life, and how is it different for different people? I'm not convinced that it is possible to "measure" quality of life (how do you put a number on the value of an afternoon picnic in the Olympic National Forest with a 360 degree view of your surroundings?), but it is a step in the right direction to recognize that financial metrics won't get us there.

Monday, March 14, 2011

CSRwire Talkback - The Next Great Reconstruction

CSRwire Talkback - The Next Great Reconstruction

There seem to be a lot of 10 point plans to improve the U.S. economy. I believe I saw one by Michael Moore, among many others. But here is one by a guy who has been the CEO of a sustainable business for the last 20+ years, Jeffery Hollander, previously of Seventh Generation. I've seen other articles recently that include refocusing our military spending on climate crisis management (in addition to cutting overall military spending). There's a lot to consider in his 10 points, but worth a read, and worth considering it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fits and Starts

It's called Holmes Place.  It's a bit too mainstream for my tastes, but it is conveniently located 2 blocks from home.  I had tried to find something like my Jazzercise studio in Royal Oak, MI here, but they don't have fitness center's dedicated to aerobic dance.  They have dance studios (I found one that had a lot of class options, but it's a 40 minute walk from home, most of the classes were after 8pm, and they wanted about $15 per 1 hour class, which at 3x/week gets expensive).  The alternative I found in Tel Aviv is aerobic dance classes offered at some of the gyms, like Holmes Place.  So zumba and energy dance at the gym it is for me.  Since I have the membership now, I'm planning to try out other classes too, just for balance and curiosity, like yoga, pilates, and maybe belly dancing.  When in the middle east, right? 

Getting my membership began with the usual thinly veiled hard sell from a gym rep.  They called relentlessly to follow up.  And I hmm'd and haa'd over it until I got them to eliminate the registration fee (about $100), lower the early cancellation fee (from $100 to about $50), and take my payments in two installments (whereby I gave them a temporary limited credit card # on the first payment, so I'm really not locked into the one year contract if I don't want to be).  Now they call me regularly but don't leave messages.  And they text me in Hebrew (which I can read about 1/10th of - I thought that was pretty impressive).  However, I discovered the hard way, when I showed up for my "free" nutritionist appointment earlier this week (that unbenounced to me, was cancelled), that the rep who sold me the membership forgot to write "English" on my file, which explains some of the miscommunication. 

As with everything around here, I don't fit the mold, so anything new comes in fits and starts. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Religion at work

On a networking/job board I read in Israel, the below question was recently posted which fueled a hot debate as to the interpretation/intent of both the question and the employer in question:

I have a question. A friend's place of employment is requiring workers to sign a declaration that they are "religious/shabat observant" and for that reason can not work Shabat. If at any time, someone that has signed the declaration is "caught" not observing the Sabbath, they can possibly lose their job.
The management has not answered the following:
1 - who decides what is Shabat observant?
2 - who is checking?
3 - how is it documented?
4 - Can this be legal?
The responses posted ranged from a comparison of Israel to Iran (which not surprisingly made some readers defensive), to the belief that this company is probably observant and just wants to be sure their employees don't do any work on their behalf during the holiday. 
As a citizen of a country that separates church and state (well, is supposed to), this obviously wouldn't fly.  But in a country where the religion is central to it's very existence, I can see where this must become an issue on a regular basis.  For instance, I wonder if all government / corporate cafeteria's have to abide by kosher laws?  There is strong pressure for businesses that serve/sell food to observe. But some have done a cost-benefit analysis and decided to pay the penalty fees levied by local and state goverment because they still come out ahead by being open on Shabat, and/or offering non-kosher options. 
I can't imagine working anywhere that would impose their religious beliefs on me.  I've seen job postings that I would be an excellent candidate for here in non-profit, but most have a religious purpose or tone, thus taking me out of the running. 

I know Israel is not the only country in which church and state are intertwined, but I wonder whether there are any others where religion equals culture and it can't be separated from the fundamental establishment of the state?  There are many Israeli's who don't believe it should be this way, but there are not enough of them in positions of power.  Interestingly, statistical models show that Israel's Jewish population will become a minority within the next decade.  If the country wants to hold onto it's claim of of democracy, will this lead to a shift in leadership to represent the new mix? 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

All cities should have this

Bicycle sharing.  It's like ZipCar for bicycles (with a much lower cost of entry).  Except that you don't have to return your bike to the same location.  You can pick up and drop off at any of the stations around town.  So no more worries about your bike being stolen. 

We fell in love with the system in Paris (I took the top picture here of Dan and my mom, Charolette, last September).  Dan has used bike-sharing in Montreal.  And now it is coming to Tel Aviv!  According to the bike-sharing blog, Vancouver, Canada and Seattle, WA are studying the possibility of adding a system.  Portland, OR is implementing a plan.  And Denver, CO already has it.  Washington, D.C. does as well, and Boston, MA was supposed to get it last year (not sure if it is operational).

Just one more reason you should come visit us here (besides the fact that I planted my tomato seeds outside this afternoon, in shorts and a tank top.)