18
Jun

Post 16 - The Just Post One Year Post 

THE JUST POST ONE-YEAR POST

June 18, 2013 – PART 1 HIGHLIGHTS

One year plus 3 days…

The last few days have felt like a microcosm of my entire year…

 

Friday after school we went to the local Jerusalem pool in our neighborhood.  While sitting poolside, I pulled out Shayna’s first tooth (lower front) which was already pretty wiggly. We called my orthodontist father in Queens to mark the occasion.  Then we had a Shabbat dinner with wonderful Israeli friends who we had Shabbat dinner with exactly one year before  - only a few hours after we landed in Israel for the first time on June 15th, 2012.   Lev still didn’t eat.

 

Saturday we celebrated Sunday’s Father’s Day holiday which felt just about right because American holidays aren’t exactly such a big deal here anyway.  After Jodi and the kids made me breakfast in bed (okay that is not typical of my first year here), I got some cute cards and then pulled another one of Shayna’s teeth while she sat on the toilet and I hoped that this wouldn’t be an every day experience.  It was beautiful weather as we headed out to shabbat lunch with friends, then to the after-shabbat party at the salon/home of other dear friends, the Silverman-Abramowitzs, with whom we’ve probably spent at least 50% of Saturdays with this year.  We owe them more challah than we could ever bake.

 

My Sunday started off the way it has for several months - a breakfast with a group of rabbis and comedians (I’m decidedly NOT a rabbi).  Organized by my friend Susan Silverman (Rabbi) - and based on her idea - every week several of us meet to go over that week’s story from the Torah.  Dissect it, parse its meanings or in my case, make some snarky observations.   Over the course of the many months we’ve been meeting, I’ve learned a lot I didn’t know including how overwhelming the interpretations of our history can be.  I don’t mean to sound naïve - and if I am so be it - however, I’ve never sat down and studied the torah.   I know some of the stories to be sure, but I’ve never gotten into the deeper meanings behind the stories.  I consider myself more spiritual than religious. 

 

These Sunday morning get-togethers though where we’re discussing the history of the Jewish people as told through the stories of the Torah - informally, over coffee (or in my case orange juice), and with people who are not proselytizing, but instead are open-minded, devoted and curious, have been that microcosm of my life here this past year.  A mixture of learning new things, meeting new people and having some of the best conversations over breakfast. By the way, there is a breakfast culture here unlike what I’ve experienced before.

 

After breakfast I walked down the block to a café called Itizik’s (where I have a weekly WEDNESDAY breakfast).   Some of my photographs had been hanging for the last month or so there and I had to pick them up (Itzik had a new exhibit installed, but it was nice to get a little exposure for my photography).   Later on Sunday, I bought a present for the twins’ teacher, picked up the kids after Hebrew school, went to a playdate, then had to leave for the opening night of a sketch/improv comedy show I directed. The show went very well, if I can say so myself.  On the way home, I called my Dad and brother who were together at a family Father’s Day event in New Jersey to send my love….And then I made it home exhausted.

 

Monday included doing a bunch of housework plus laundry, shopping and picking up the kids.   Jodi came home and cooked a great dinner (Taco Night!!) but then she had to go to work… there was bath time, bed time – with some time spent during the day checking in and out with social media and a bunch of e-mails congratulating me (us) on the show.  I also did some long-distance coordinating on some furniture I’m designing for a client back in NY.  I did some e-mailing around about a special showcase performance of my play; “So, I Killed A Few People” –that will be done by my friend Mark Sutton for one night only in NY on June 28th (e-mail me if you want more details).   Mark did a great job in a revival of the show over the last couple of months at The Annoyance in Chicago.  We’ll see where the future takes us on that show, but I’m happy to see it happening again. (side, yet related note – a theater company in Biloxi, Mississippi just did the show for 3 nights last week there to apparently a great response).

Monday night ended - as many of our nights do (sadly, I know) with Jodi and I in our reclining chairs falling asleep to re-runs of The West Wing (one of the best things about our cable in Israel!).  I think Zoe was about to be kidnapped, but quite frankly we were tired.


That last image is just so you don’t think things here are TOO adventurous.

 

And now I’m doing this.  Writing to you.  Well, really I’m writing for myself or rather for the future me, but I’m happy to fill the present you in on the state of the present and recent past me. Okay, I’m dropping that tricky wordplay because I’m getting a headache, but here’s the semi-buried lead:  I’ve had a great first year in Israel.


I’m trying to do a lot - first and foremost as a Dad and support to Jodi (they call us “Trailing Spouses” here), but also keep my creative juices flowing with theater and writing here, designing back in NY and learning more about Israel in general and specific.

Granted… There have been some tough times – I wasn’t so excited while Jodi was covering the war in Gaza, but she did an incredible job under difficult decisions, so my worry was constantly accompanied by my pride in her.    Every day here, no matter how great it was, the inability to fully converse in Hebrew (or even partially most of the time) weighs on me and makes me feel a bit like a schmuck.  (by the way, knowing the word “schmuck” doesn’t count as knowing Hebrew).  Towards the top of my list of goals for year two is getting better at Hebrew.  Also on that list is not letting Israeli parking decisions affect my blood pressure and pumping my own gas without feeling like an idiot for not knowing which button to press.

 

But, when I take the long picture of the year I don’t let that override the fact that thanks to my lovely, talented (“impressive and talented” according to a prominent Haaretz newspaper columnist), hard-working, wife’s career opportunity, I’ve also been given a chance for a life with new experiences at the ripe old age of 50. (49 ½ when I landed here!)

 

I thought I’d muse a bit about some of the events of the last year.  A few of which I’ve touched on in previous posts, a few which I haven’t and even after all this,  there is still the feeling that I’m not quite capturing it all.

 

 

 

HIGHLIGHTS…

Shortly after we arrived last year, we went to the Jerusalem Film Festival – opening night was Woody Allen’s TO ROME WITH LOVE movie (with a host of stars including David Pasquesi)… it was an evening screening outdoors at the Sultan’s Pool near the Old City on a 5-story high inflatable blow-up screen… beautiful weather and if I remember correctly no popcorn.  I also got to shake hands with famed Israeli/Canadain architect Moshe Safdie.  Saw some great films at the festival as well – the Jerusalem Cinemateque is a world-class theater complex.  Thanks to the Boston Globe for credentialing me (I have written a few pieces for their movie section).

 

One day we traveled to a music studio in East Jerusalem and met Israeli pop singer David Broza – who couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming to us (the kids got to be in a video they were shooting there that day).

 

A few weeks later, a real highlight of our entire year – we went to David’s “Sunrise At Masada” concert… we left at midnight and drove to the base of Masada, where David does his annual Tu’bav concert beginning at 3:30 am and going through to 6:30 am – sunrise… he sings in Hebrew and Spanish – I didn’t understand more than 2 words, but it was an incredible show and in a place to rival any of the 50 plus Springsteen concerts I’ve seen.  If at some point I lose my mind, I hope one of the last images in there is the sun rising over Masada as David sings.

 

The summer marked a settling in of sorts – the kids went to camp, Jodi was working hard and I was trying to keep up in my ulpan, Hebrew school and solve the every day mysteries of finding every day things in a still-mysterious city…. But there was a routine and we began hanging out at with some other families we met through the camps – the after camp Popsicle Posse was formed then.

 

We also had some visitors from Brooklyn and Newton, Mass that helped us ease into our life here while still staying connected.

 

Speaking of connected, I’m pretty sure that Facebook traffic in Israel started to spike upon my arrival as I realized what a great way it is to keep in touch and post pictures of the kids and places we were going…. And keep up with friends and family in the States as well.  I’m not getting any money for this Facebook endorsement.

 

We celebrated July 4th at an intimate party for 2000 people at the Ambassador’s house in Herzilya – no barbeque, but still a few franchises to keep my memories of American food alive… and a beautiful sunset, just like the First Continental Congress saw I imagine.

 

I would say that by the end of our first summer – that first hot summer - I had officially gone to swimming pools and beaches more than any summer since camp.

The kids charmed the life guards and I tried not to feel too embarrassed every time my insufficient Hebrew was being tested every time I tried to get the kids’ ice cream (glida) at the pool concession stand.

 

School started in mid-August for the twins.  No, they weren’t matriculating in college with such an early start, but rather starting kindergarten at JAIS, the Jerusalem American International School.  Writing this now at the end of the kindergarten year, I can’t tell you how happy and impressed I am with the twins first year in school.  They had a dream teacher and made progress on many fronts – reading, writing, projects, organization, etc.  The one thing they really didn’t do was learn Hebrew.  This is a sticking point with Jodi more than it is with me because if they don’t learn it while we are here it will feel like a wasted opportunity of quite a high order.  I was concerned that their adjustment period would be too tough in an Israeli school – which everyone says is true for the first few months, but then they “get it.”   I was also concerned about my own inabilities in dealing with their teacher and the school to be truthful.   We’re going to make some adjustments in this second year to help.  On the plus side as far as I’m concerned, it was great that there was a strong International population in the school – Lev & Shayna had kids/friends from Australia, Canada, Germany, Haiti, Kashmir, the UK and even New Jersey in their class so they learned about other cultures… they learned about other religious holidays and rituals.

Our goal of having the twins become little citizens of the world is ongoing.

 

The fall brought the start of the Jewish New Year and we felt so very fortunate to have invitations around town for the various holidays – I saw more sukkot than I’ve ever seen and was humbled by their ever presence in the city.  I’m still considering trying to design a sukkah for our terrace (it will look good on my architecture resume along with the reception desk I designed out of high school lockers).

 

Around Hannukah (or Chanukah or Channukah or Hanukah), Jodi’s parents came for a relatively short, but sweet visit that included a trip to the Ambassador’s house for one of the nights of the holiday. 

 

We spent the end of the year and the beginning of 2013 in Egypt.  First time for that.

It was incredibly interesting being there.  I’m not sure the twins got the most out of the experience, but my hope is that some of it sunk in there somewhere.

We were in Cairo for a day and a half and then took an overnight train down to Luxor to a resort.  Jodi pointed out, fairly rightly, that while the overnight train seems cool, it’s a bit dopey because you leave at night and get there just at the crack of dawn so you barely get to see any of the country side as you travel since it’s night and you’re sleeping… possibly my favorite part though was getting out of the train in the morning with all the other tourists doing the same train version of the ‘walk of shame’ having not showered or changed clothes as they left.

 

Cairo is a big hot mess of a city from what we saw of it – which was granted not that much.   While driving around you see scores if not hundreds of buildings that are half-finished with concrete columns stubbed up awaiting a new floor – if it comes at all.  There is a story that the buildings aren’t finished on purpose for two reasons – one, because once a building is finished, the people who live there need to start paying property taxes; and two, when they build, they don’t secure a loan to build the whole building, so when the money runs out they stop building and then go get more money.

 

We stayed at a nice hotel, saw the pyramids, saw the sphinx, and were amazed by it all.  Also amazing were the number of people trying to sell you items– or give them to you, only to follow up and insist on money.  We had an Egyptian female tour guide in Cairo who I was very impressed by even though she told me she was obsessed by Farmville.   We ate at a McDonald’s, just past the barbed wire around Tahir Square, passing up the opportunity to eat at a KFC right on Tahir Square.  Some might have thought it was scary to walk through this public place which had been the flashpoint of the Egyptian revolution, but it seemed like a bit of the East Village in Manhattan and I felt safe.

 

Luxor was a mix of the resort life and the tourist life.  We were staying at a very nice family friendly place with several pools and the two words most important in my traveling life as a parent: “Kids Club”

We took excursions to see ruins and burial plazas built by ancient Egyptians.  The Valleys of the Kings and Queens in particular were fascinating.  For me, the amount of time, energy and ingenuity spent on celebrating the after-life of ancient Egyptians was particularly astounding and I wondered what if that energy and talent had been put towards progress and invention.  Our tour guide conveniently brought us to an alabaster shop where we got free water and the hard sell to buy alabaster souveniors. (we did).

 

We went on an early morning balloon ride (the same exact balloon company that had a tragic accident several months after we were there)… that morning was pretty comical as we woke up late, hurried, but still made people wait for us at the bus from the hotel, which then made us late to go to the Nile boats filled with Chinese tourists – all of us headed to buses that would take us to the balloon fields for a ride at sunrise (boy they like to do stuff at sunrise in the Middle East).  On the boats at 5:45 AM there was coffee and individually wrapped Twinkies with Arabic writing (but Hostess graphics)

 

All told in Egypt, we went on the following types of transportation:  plane, bus, train, car, tour bus, mini-bus, camel, donkey, cart-pulled-by-donkey, horse, carriage-pulled-by-horse, boat, ferry boat, hot-air balloon.

I’m fairly certain that in each of those modes of transportation I was annoyed by errant flies (yes, even inside the airplane).

 

We went to a gala New Years Eve celebration at our hotel, which was over the top in performances ranging from a Dixieland band made up of Germans to a string of belly dancers to a guy doing amazing things with fabrics to a disco beat.  There was an out of control buffet with lots of food in animal shapes including swans made up of butter pallets.  International buffet and Egypt be damned, we still kept up our streak, which we’ve had since the beginning of parenthood, of falling asleep before midnight New Year’s Eve 2013.

 

We went back to Cairo for one might before flying back and stayed at a hotel right next to the airport.  We fell asleep shortly after the kids did, but woke up about 11 pm and once again, proving that we are made for each other, Jodi and I both decided going to the hotel’s small basement casino was a good idea at that time.  We were the only ones there.  It was the saddest casino I’ve been to – topping even the Indian Casino in New Mexico that had a $5 MAX bet… I believe that we should be congratulated on donating a couple of hundred dollars to the Egyptian economy that night.

 

As I finish up this Part 1 re-cap of my first year, I had to take a break to help our Ethiopian house cleaner fix his Apple ID for his itunes account on his iPhone… Proving yet again, that yep, I’m not in Brooklyn anymore.

 

END OF PART 1 OF THE YEAR’S RE-CAP…MORE TO COME SOON…SOON!


25
Feb

SPECIAL EDITION POST! OSCAR IN MY UNDERWEAR! 

BEST FOREIGN WATCHING AWARD
February 25, 2013, the morning after The Academy Awards telecast LIVE from Hollywood.

This is not the first Academy Awards ceremony I’ve watched in my underwear.

It is the first time I had to set my alarm for 2:30 AM, hit the snooze button 3 times, force myself out of bed in the aforementioned underwear and quietly sneak out of my bedroom to go upstairs to watch the Academy Awards though.

Welcome to watching American Cultural Institutions on TV in Israel!

For the US Election results, my wife and the kids and I went over to a friend’s house at 5:30 AM to see the tally and (in my case at least) celebrate President Obama’s re-election.

For the Superbowl, I set my DVR, went to sleep and maintained an internet/information blackout (no pun intended) until I could see the exciting game to its dramatic conclusion (including a 34 minute blackout – that’s why I wrote that “no pun intended” comment). The only real sad part was that I didn’t get to see any of the vaunted Superbowl ads because the station here in Israel doesn’t care so much for the dreams of nerds and the sentimental relationships of Clydesdales.

The Golden Globes I also DVR’d, but, much like the serious prognosticators in Hollywood, I tried not to make a big deal out of them (although I still would have liked more Amy & Tina).

BUT for the Oscars, I couldn’t wait. Normally, living here in Israel, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to be pegged as an American. Usually, I can just open my mouth to speak broken Hebrnglish or my wear my XXL LEGO t-shirt and people have me eating apple pie, but last night I decided I was going to go above and beyond my image to keep an American tradition alive that has supported me culturally over lo these many years.  I was going to watch the Oscars live!

I usually like to go to a party to watch the Oscars with a bunch of like-minded people ready to be sentimental and cynical all at the same time. Yes, it bugs me that they talk over the presenters or the speeches, but I do like having that group spirit and I’ve won my share of Oscar party pools before. One year my wife and I threw a party with food thematically tied to the nominated movies. A great idea, but maybe now not so great because I can’t remember what the foods were, but let’s just agree that they were incredibly wittily-conceived and leave it at that. This year I’m sure we would have made a Life of Pi Pie or some EscARGOt and people would have laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

Back to the underwear.

After rolling off my bed without waking Jodi, I went upstairs and did a quick look at the DVR to make sure it was recording the Red Carpet show (okay, okay, I don’t know why I cared about that really, but I’ll eventually fast forward through it). I was recording the shows of course, because even though I went to bed early at 9:30, I wouldn’t have bet on me actually waking up at 2:30, so I was covering my bases.

I made some microwave popcorn that we got out of a Purim basket yesterday, grabbed a Diet Coke, a blanket and went to get comfy in one of the faux-lazy-boys in our TV area.

By the way, I did have options - I had been invited over to a 3:30 AM watching party at friends’ house – another ex-pat, now living in Jerusalem – who were big movie enthusiasts, but I had cancelled earlier because I didn’t trust that I would get up or that my sinuses would stop attacking me long enough to be good company. I hope they had a good time.

I admit, I had a pretty okay time, although it was weird. Weird watching it at 3:30 AM alone. Weird watching it live which meant I also had to watch the commercials in Hebrew. Weird because this was the first year in who-knows-how-long that I hadn’t seen all the Best Picture nominees. And speaking of weird, there was Seth MacFarlane opening the show.

At first he was just doing some straight up, typical, mildly amusing inside-hollywood jokes.  He seemed to be making fun of hosts, but without actually being funny about it. Then he brings down a screen for a very long bit with William Shatner in a StarTrek uniform (there’s a good chance that Shatner has a tailor on call 24/7 to let out that uniform as needed). That’s when MacFarlane opened it up to be the “edgy” guy that I think the producers thought they were hiring in order to secure that the 3.2 Million Family Guy regulars were for sure watching along with the 1 Billion people they estimated to be watching around the world.

Okay, let’s talk about that 1 Billion thing. My completely unscientific survey - which included posting a survey question on my facebook page asking Israelis if they were staying up/waking up to watch the Oscar telecast live - has led me to conclude that their statement, even if factually correct is greatly skewed. I believe that outside the 45 Million people who will watch the show in the US live, a good 98% of the rest of the 955 Million people are actually recording the show and watching it over the next couple of days while their kids are at school, or their wives are out working as a foreign correspondent. I considered myself in the exclusive 2% of people that cared about experiencing the highs or even potentially Rob Lowes live, so as to be “in on the conversation.” Listen, I don’t consider myself a hero for going to bed early and waking up on the middle of the night to watch a lot of beautiful people congratulate themselves, but you can think of me that way if you want.

So MacFarlane finally got edgy, that is of course if you consider gay men’s chorus song celebrating boobs “edgy” (no salute to side boob??)… and i think they thought that allowed him license later to do some mean-spirited-tinged and easy jokes (that Lincoln joke, really? Lincoln + Theater + Actors = Shooting jokes in a barrel) and MacFarlane possibly added about 20 minutes to the always-overlong show anyway, by laughing at his own jokes or calling out the audience for not laughing at his jokes or both.

Here are some of my takes on the 2013 Oscar telecast as forwarded and humbly viewed by your bleary-eyed, underwear’d, friend while sitting in a faux-lazy-boy in a dark room in Jerusalem, Israel:

• I didn’t see Life of Pi, but it looks beautiful and poetic and I have absolutely no idea what it’s about except there’s a tiger, an Indian boy and a lot of water. Can’t wait to see it though for its award winning direction, cinematography and visual effects.

• The big fashion winner of the evening was “Incredibly Long Blonde Man Hair!” (see sound effects editing winners)

• I noticed more dresses with long trains than usual, which sparked the same thought I’ve had for over 35 years – how do you go to the bathroom in that Jennifer Aniston??

• I also haven’t seen Django Unchained yet, which is kind of criminal for me, but I’m somehow glad it won. I also appreciate that at some point Quentin Tarantino possibly thought about tying his tie.

• I am still in line with everyone else who wants to be George Clooney when they grow-up.

• Daniel Day Lewis gave the funniest speech partly because you don’t expect Daniel Day Lewis to be that funny. He was great in Lincoln as Lincoln and he should get props just for making it to the theater (sorry, Seth MacFarlane wrote that one).

• Jennifer Lawrence is beautiful all by herself, but more articulate when she says words other people have written for her.

• Ann Hathaway has the widest mouth of any nominee since Mary Tyler Moore.

• I don’t want to be Hugh Jackman when I grow up because I would spend too much time singing and high-fiving myself for being me.

• Barbra without an extra ‘a’ ,was wonderful and I’m not just saying that because I am a Jew from Brooklyn.

• Salma Hayek looked so serious!

• Since he brought his son as his date, I’m sure Phil Seymour Hoffman is happy that they didn’t show the handjob scene from The Master for his nomination clip.

• There seemed to be a lot of relatives sitting up in the balcony this year.

• I hope everyone’s kids finally got to bed!

• Is it just me, or did you also think that more people had died this year? For some reason the memorium felt short. Special shout out to Jack Klugman, the most personally influential dead celebrity for me this year.

• The stage was beautiful but distracting. The ultra-shiny floor made me feel like everyone was handing off and accepting awards in a glittery pond.

• Dustin Hoffman and Charlize Theron. Whose idea was that?

• Ted presenting really classed up the affair. Please, someone, tell me that that was a contractual obligation that Seth made them sign. All that said, I’m still amazed how they fucking did that.

• I thought Argo was great – even more so because it was a true story that I hadn’t heard about before. It also made me realize that I can’t see enough of John Goodman. Ben’s speech at the end was very moving and genuine and seeing him up there with everyone else in the production reminded me just how tall that guy is.

• Fact that snuck up on me: Daniel Day Lewis is the only person to have won Best Actor three times.

• Another year with my dream unfilled. That dream is that during the show all the camera cutaways for the entire evening are of the same actor.

• New favorite name: Hawk Koch (and that camera hog Harvey Weinstein just had to be getting late back to his seat to ruin Hawk’s big moment)

• Follow-up: I had to look up that it was “Hawk” and not “Huck”

• Yeah, that closing song about losers, you didn’t need that.

Towards the end of the show – it was about 7 AM Israel time – my son came up and didn’t care so much if it was Argo or Lincoln. He asked to play with my iphone. As my parenting skills were distracted by the artistic tension, I let him do it. And that’s how I got to hear Ben Affleck’s heartfelt acceptance speech while the soundtrack to Power Rangers’ Samurai Warriors blared from the other faux-lazy-boy next to me.

Okay, I’m tired and now I have to go to a Purim carnival with kids, but, just for today I will pretend that I’m really going to the Governor’s Ball – with my dates, Karate Girl and Ninja Spiderman.

“…And lastly I’d like to thank my kids, Lev & Shayna – you can wake up now!”

Shalom,
Gary

30
Jan

Post 15 - Welcome to Alaska! - Part 1 

WELCOME TO ALASKA!

 January 29, 2013  - PART 1

This title is actually is inspired by our trip to Egypt (more on that later), but may also now apply to one of the other big events of the last month here in Israel: SNOWMAGGEDON! 

 

LET’S JUST JUMP RIGHT INTO THE SNOW!

Yes, for pretty much one, not-so-brief, not-so-shining moment(a day), Jerusalem was buried in snow worthy of a below-average-snow day in Chicago or Brooklyn!

School was even canceled!

As a matter of fact the day before the freakish winter droppings, the school had an early closing at noon – even though there was no snow at that time, but… IT. COULD. START. AT. ANY. TIME.   Well, it didn’t really start till after midnight, but by morning, it was in fact almost 5” or so and then went on to being maybe as much as 8 inches!  I use exclamation points here, but it was an exclamation point kind of experience here in Israel.

 I will get back to our week-long trip to Egypt in a moment, which actually preceded the snow, but like a kid frolicking amongst the flakes, I’m having some fun describing our first frost of winter in the desert of the Middle East.

 I had heard the stories of the chaos of winter here of course.  Jerusalem has no snow plows…  Drivers don’t know what to do when they slip n’ slide on the ice (truth be told, they are not typically starting from “excellently intuitive driver”-status as far as I’m concerned anyway)…  Just one flake of snow would shut the whole city down… The inevitable conflicts between Jewish and Palestinian snow men…

 (After hearing all this chatter from friends, I posited that if Hamas really wanted to strike at Israel and paralyze the country they should take all that bomb and tunnel money and develop a massive snow machine pointed towards Israel.)

 So, just to break down the storm: we had one early snow-afternoon, one legitimate snow-day from school, and then a precautionary no-school-even-though-the-snow-is-melting day off from school.  It all forced me to scramble - shuffling gears and arranging some play dates as well as figuring out what the saturation point was for how many times I could let Lev & Shayna watch “The LEGO Adventure of Clutch Powers!” or all three of the Chipmunks movies before Jerusalem child services would come knocking at our door (only if they had snow tires though! So there!).

 The big bummer for me actually was that my directorial debut in Israel with a comedy group called HaHaFuch was the same night as the big storm shut-down so we had to re-schedule. (it was sold out though!)

 Back to the snow fun!

 Intrepid explorers that we are, we took to the streets to see what was happening.  Well, first we had to get over the trauma of having only one pair of snowveralls for the twins, which Shayna got to wear.  Jodi fashioned a pair of MacGyver-like waterproof pants for Lev out of sweat pants, duct tape and a garbage bag.  It was one of the most moments where you send your kid out in public looking ridiculous, but say to yourself; “well, we’re only living in this country for a few years anyway…”

 It was very good packing snow, so the kids immediately wrapped their awkwardly sized mittens around a bunch of snow and started pelting me.  All fun. All good.  Okay, well not ‘ALL’ good… I’ve lived in snow capitols Chicago, NY and Syracuse, but here in Jerusalem, Israel on their big snow day, was the first time that the snow caused a tree branch to break and fall on our car and break the side-view mirror. 

 We romped for a bit at our house, but also drove around the city.  Jerusalem was a quite beautiful white blanket (24-hours later it was a ticking timebomb of icky melting slush).  We saw snow on palm trees and shtriemels with Jodi, the reporter, jumping out a couple of times to talk to people who were making snow men or snow rabbis.  We also were lucky enough to participate in an apparently Israeli snow tradition where people throw snowballs at cars as if passing through a snowball gauntlet! (We were the ones in the car getting hit).

 End of story… snow melted pretty quickly, weatherysteria calmed down and in reflection I felt a little closer to our life in America.  It was fun and gave us entre’ into the world of crazy climate change conversations that we had been lacking throughout a consistently consistent summer and fall. 

 Plus our sold-out, snowed-out show got re-scheduled for two more dates.

 

WELCOME TO ALASKA – Or Egypt As It Said On The Ticket

 In case you forgot the title of this post after reading that snow saga… “Welcome To Alaska” was the odd phrase that several of the guys trying to hustle postcards to tourists around the Pyramids of Giza would say to me when I told them that I was from America. (they asked by the way, I didn’t just walk around spouting off).  Our guide didn’t really know why they would say that.   If you’re from Alaska though, I’m sure you’re oddly proud.

 So at the end of December, we took a breather and went to Egypt for 6 days.  We had never been.  As a reference, last December we took a breather at the end of the year and went to the Great Wolf Lodge Indoor Waterpark in upstate NY… so, yeah, this was different.

 

 CAIRO HAS 22 MILLION PEOPLE… AND THEY ALL DRIVE CRAZY.

 It’s easy to fly to Egypt.  It’s about an hour from Tel Aviv to Cairo by plane and it was probably the most hassle-free airport experience we’ve had in awhile.

I realize that we were supposed to be in one of the most volatile areas in the world (I know this because almost everyone I spoke to said with wide eyes; “You’re going to Egypt for vacation??”) but since I didn’t have to take my shoes off at security, I will deem it less crazy than La Guardia for now. (self-ed. note: what a difference a month makes if you read the news of the last few days)

We had booked with a travel agency, which on the one hand made it easier to get through parts of the process, but the guy who met us – who shall remain nameless – was not exactly the best fit for us.  We discovered – as with other guides as well- that you throw them off their game when you ask questions or bring children along.  There were frustrations to be sure, but overall we had a great trip.

We spent the first day and half in Cairo and I was struck by two things in my initial impression of the country.  The first is that after seeing only some of the monuments to ancient Egypt – the pyramids, the Egyptian museum, the temples – I realized the scale of the efforts that the ancient Egyptians dedicated to celebration of death and the idea that the next life is the best life was beyond incredible.  The second is that the sheer number of half-built buildings is astonishing.  I’ve been told that they don’t finish buildings in Egypt because then they have to pay property taxes.  The result being that you see buildings built up to several floors with openings for windows and columns for future floors sticking up, but on the lower floors you’ll see windows installed.  People are occupying half-built buildings to avoid paying property taxes?  Maddening as an architect and well, a person.

 

ONE OF THE SEVEN WONDERS…

We went on our first night to a light and sound show at the Great Pyramids and I’m pretty sure we were the only ones who ate a Pizza Hut pie as we listened to Shakespearean actors deliver the story of the Sphynx in a monotone while history was illuminated before our eyes.  Not bad, but also not the best choice for 5-year olds (or 50-year olds) at night, but we did get to see our first camels up close (outside the Pizza Hut).  The story of why the kids had to eat pizza at the show is a whole other blog post, believe me.

 We were staying at Mena House in Giza, which was very elegant hotel behind a compound wall and after the kids were in bed we had a visit from Jodi’s opposite number in Egypt, David, who is doing an incredible job as far as we’re concerned.  He told us that it just so happens our hotel has the best Indian food in Cairo.  So we left the sleeping kids alone in the hotel room and went and had the best Indian food in Cairo for dinner (please grandparents ignore that last line).

 The next day we were happy to get going with our new guide, who shall be named – Selwa – because we liked her.  Cliché as it may be we were off to see the Pyramids. 

 When you, meaning me in this case, go to the Great Pyramids of Giza to see these magnificent structures –one of the Seven Wonders Of The World (although I think some people threw a few more on the list a couple of years ago) – you marvel at the construction, the 3 million stones averaging over 2 tons per stone, the exact 53% angle on the slope of the Pyramid… and if you’re me, you also marvel at the number of cigarette butts, empty soda cans and general litter that surrounds these structures.   I was amazed at the scale of both the construction and the destruction.

 Okay, I called them “magnificent” and on architectural and engineering levels they are, but then you realize the reality of the pyramids which is that they are huge tombs built by slave labor for a despotic ruler who believed that the after-life was better than his current life.

 But they’re there, so you take it all in.  Jodi and I went up inside the pyramid, walking up and down a steeply sloped series of narrow planks with raised pieces of wood nailed every couple of feet.  It just might be that there is no Egyptian words for “Life Safety Code.”  We made it to the top, shrugged because it was just a little room with a fluorescent plug-in strip light and went back down.

My real fascination with they Pyramids was how they were built.  Selwa told us that they built a series of ramps around the entire structure and then dragged all the stones up the ramps.  When they were at the top, they dismantled the ramps as they were going back down, cleaning and shaping/polishing the stones as they backed out.

After some awkward negotiating, we took a horse carriage ride (me and Shayna) and a horse (Jodi and Lev) around the Pyramids.  Horses, donkeys and camels sharing a dirt road with cars and tour buses.  I remember there was only one moment when I felt my life WASN’T in danger from our horse being sideswiped by a speeding van.  At one point we stopped for some Kodak-moment-picture-taking with the pyramid backdrop and the horse that Jodi and Shayna (switch at the break!) were on was spooked by a donkey guy who we turned away and they fell off – scary, but they were okay.  It was also at that moment that we realized that that donkey probably did not have insurance. 

The rest of our trip in Cairo featured a short tour through the antiquities of the Egyptian Museum (there are no long tours with 5-year olds) and a stroll through Tahrir Square, which was the flashpoint site of the Egyptian revolution the year before.  Shut down to most traffic, the square featured a mini-tent city that had recently re-emerged in the battle over the new constitution.  Scores of empty plastic chairs and small coffee stands outside the tents bore witness.  Some people thought we were a little crazy to have brought the kids through that area, but I didn’t feel unsafe actually.  There is an incredible mural that stretches around a corner of the square depicting some of the heroes of the revolution.  I don’t know who they are, but I just like that graffiti artists are on the front lines of history here.

For dinner for the kids, we met it through the crowds and bypassed the KFC to go to McDonalds.  Easy peasy, revolution squeezy.

 CHOO CHOO

The next step on our adventure took us to the train station in Cairo to board an overnight sleeping car to Luxor which is in the southern part of the country on the Nile.  Jodi thought initially – and she wasn’t totally wrong – that it seemed a little dopey to spend all this time on a train at night when you can’t see anything out the windows.  We squeezed into two cabins, the kids had fun in the bunkbeds and somehow we all survived.  According to the conductor, the train was due to arrive at “5 am, but maybe also 6 or 7 am” – not quite Germany folks.   I hadn’t slept on a train since I had a Eurorail pass in college, but I liked it.  Also, everyone else who was getting off the train when it arrived (I think after 7 actually) was wearing the same clothes from the night before – except Lev and Shayna got to wear their pajamas off the train.  It felt like the tourist version of the college walk of shame the next morning.

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 - LUXOR AND BEYOND!!

16
Dec

Post 14 - Of Hanukah and Hugging… 

OF HANUKAH AND HUGGING

 December 16, 2012 – Peace Everywhere, Pretty Please 

 I know it’s been awhile.  Jodi came home from Gaza, her parents came here from Newton, Mass.  Celebrations have come and gone since I last wrote.

 I actually started this update earlier in the week, after a fun week with Jodi’s parents in town for Hanukah and with hopes of sending it out Friday night, but spent that evening learning about the incredible tragedy in Newtown, Ct. and, well, just didn’t feel like finishing a story about some of the joys we’ve been experiencing here.

More on the mix of feelings later.

 Backward we go…

 JODI

I’d like to think that my last blog update called WIFE DURING WARTIME was circulated amongst the Hamas leaders as well as Netanyahu’s cabinet and was the final piece of the push for a cease-fire.  “For God (or Allah)’s sake, let’s get this Rudoren woman home to her husband and kids before his head explodes!”

If only.

As many of you know, the cease-fire did happen not too long after I wrote that piece, but even then Jodi didn’t come home right away.  Sure, she was there to cover a war (Is anyone calling it “The Two-Week War” yet?), but the fact of it is that there has been so much action ongoing for so long on both sides of the border, that her stories didn’t end with a “cease-fire.”   She stayed several days after to cover the reaction, the people, the way of life in the aftermath.  My worry and pride continued, but with worry taking a backseat.  Mainly, of course, I just wanted to know when she was coming home so I could hurry up and clean the house before she got back.

 The kids and I made a “Welcome Home Mom” banner.  Turned out great, but like any important piece of art, it had a belabored creative process.

 I’m sure that the twins and I will continue to collaborate on more art works in the future, but doing this project made me, in some small way, realize why Van Gogh went crazy and cut off his ear.   I had to keep in perspective the bigger picture of the tragedies of war when the arguments about what colors to use in the bubble letters of the “W” escalated.  I ended up having to divide up who got to color which letter and then took it upon myself to dig out the appropriately joyous SpongeBob SquarePants stickers to use for emphasis on the sign (none of them with him panicking over a crabby patty melting for example).

 The kids were excited that Mommy was coming home.  I was hoping for the kind of revelation (and revolution) one sees in family film montages where the kids band together to clean the whole house (Shayna on broom, Lev on dustpan!) and put away their clothes and their toys all while smiling and laughing and cooperating.  There’s the cute dad-in-an-apron-cooking dinner scenes where the kids stare at a picture of Mommy on an iPad and dedicate their vegetable eating to her.

And the montage ends with the kids and I horsing around having a big tension-releasing pillow fight just as Mommy bursts through the door wearing her Kevlar vest and helmet and yells “I’m home from writing about the war!”

 Alas, montages aren’t real, so I had to settle for the pure joy of her coming through the door on a Sunday morning giving me a big hug and kiss and then having to go pee. (self-ed. Note:  if memory serves, the “peeing” part of this story might not have actually happened, but I’ve included it because it’s a funny kicker if it did).   The kids loved seeing her and all was right with the world.  Well, not the world of course, but at least our foyer was a happy place to be.

 THANKSGIVING

I spent a lot of Thanksgivings in Chicago away from my family, but almost always with my Chicago family of friends – almost all of us were “orphans” who came together to cook a great meal and laugh.  My friend Ellen Stoneking and I had a grand tradition for many years where I would drive her around to pick up the turkey from the butcher and then we’d go shopping (I had a car!) for a lot of the incidentals – I always loved those “dates.”

Thanksgiving is not so big a deal here in Jerusalem owing primarily to a distinct lack of historical context – so no football games, no parades, no 4-story balloon characters… audible sigh.  This year though it was mostly no Jodi that was the difference.

Luckily, we were so fortunate to have been embraced by many ex-pats here and I juggled two different Thanksgiving dinners one with the kids at a new friends’ apartment stuffed with kids, food (Ilene made salmon!) and other wonderful new friends.  The other dinner (sans kids) was at the beautiful home of our gracious friends, the Snyders, who have made Thanksgiving their BIG holiday celebration every year.  I was so happy to be included.  Jodi of course was a big topic of conversation.

 I did manage to watch some football late at night.  The pain is no less even when you are 6,000 miles away fellow Jets fans.  Angry sigh.

 Oh, wait, how could I forget the kids’ Thanksgiving “pageant!”

I spent a lot of time rehearsing Lev and Shayna’s parts with them as both Native Americans, (okay, the script said “Indians” actually) and Pilgrims – and I think my stage-dadding paid off as Shayna’s reading of the line about corn – “it gives me gas” – got the appropriate laugh from the audience.   Truth be told, most of the kids in their kindergarten production celebrating the beginnings of America had no connection to America – they have 18 kids in the class and maybe 5 are from the states (um, colonies).  Funny when you think about the other kids being forced to acknowledge the history of a country they have nothing to do with except for the exporting of our pop culture to ruin their lives.

SHOUT OUT

Just another shout out to the many, many people who we’ve met here in Israel who expressed their genuine concern for Jodi and for me and the kids while Jodi was away working.  We had playdates near and far including a mini-break I got from our wonderful rabbi and his wife who took the kids for an afternoon and who I believe I disappointed by coming back to get them.

AH, THE THEATAH… two quick stories…

So, I started directing an English-speaking improv/sketch group here in Jerusalem and we’ve got a show in early January (look for the Facebook plug soon!).  The group is called HaHaFuch and we’ve been connecting pretty well so far.  I’ve been looking for an opportunity to direct and work with a good group, so I’m optimistic… There is not much English-speaking comedy in this country, so who knows where it all goes.

 While rehearsing with this new group though, I also accepted a very prestigious invitation to be one of only two parents assisting the director of the kids’ school winter show extravaganza… don’t worry, I checked my ego at the door.   Mr. B, the school’s music teacher had it all under control with a script about two aliens from the planet Eggo (okay, the script was a little dated) who come to Earth to discover why earth people are so nice to each other in the month of December.  Directing 76 kindergarten thru 4th graders isn’t like herding cats as much as it is trying to direct 76 cats to sing, dance, and stand still.  Video of kindergartners all standing still while being in control of their facial expressions are not only rare, but I believe impossible to create with human kindergartners.    There were a plethora of Christmas songs, Hanukah songs, winter songs, latin songs and even a chorus of Jingle Bells translated into Arabic.  The kids wore red, the parents wore smiles.

 I went to rehearsals with Mr. B and the kids once a week and then just the other day we had the big show, which came off great even if with the overwhelming number of mama & papa-razzi, the kids held it together.  Lev had a featured role as Rudolph, the you know what and Shayna got to hold up a sign that said “Jokes” as she ran across the stage.  It was a lot of fun for me and thoughts are dancing in my head of pitching an improv class as an elective next year for the kids in the upper grades at the school.  Stay tuned.

HANUKAH, OH, HANNUKAH, OH CHANUKAH, OH CHANNUKAH, OH, FORGET IT.

For all of you gringos:  You know how 2 seconds after the first Thanksgiving special is announced in a penny-saver, it seems like all the highway light poles are decorated with colored lights, tinsel, huge glitter balls and light-up reindeers & santas?  Well, in Israel, not so much.   However, it made me smile to notice that so many of the light poles as you drive around the city now are decorated with light-up Hannukiot (Menorahs, as we used to call them wrongly apparently).  It’s kinda cool, Jewish-wise.

The kids were excited about Jodi’s parents, Nana & Poppa Wilgoren visiting for a week during Hanukah (btw, this spelling is my chosen variation for this posting).

Overall, the holiday was a wonderful 8 crazy days and nights with a few different parties including our own, continuing our Brooklyn tradition.  We had several families over and everyone got to light their own hanukiot that were spread throughout our living / dining area.  Latkes were consumed. Gelt was gifted.

We also had a long trek to our friends the Fisher-Shapiros for a special lighting that was well worth the looong journey to get there.

The Wilgorens, I think had a great time and due to some good birth timing, were also here for a trip up north for a bris – the grandson of dear friends from Newton.  It was the first bris I’ve ever been to in an old train station that featured tracks about 20’ from the cutting, a busy mohel on speed and some of the best baked ziti I’ve had since Brooklyn.  A great hip crowd that felt like they were flown in from Williamsburg with lots of babies strapped to chests.   Lev had a seat up front for the actual ceremony and I was in the back. (eyeing the ziti)… when I asked Lev what happened he said that “there was some blood near the baby’s penis and then they all punched him.”   Perhaps Lev should not follow in his mother’s footsteps of reporting because it feels like that isn’t quite what actually happened.  The only sad part for me was that I completely forgot to tell my favorite bris joke (“Yeah, my own bris was horrible!  Afterwards, I couldn’t walk for like a year!”)

JOKES

By the way… Speaking of which, I have officially started telling the “1001 (blank) walk into a bar” jokes here in Israel… and am hoping to set new standards of groaners for the folks here… starting with the 7 and 9 year old boys of friends of ours who are embracing the format if not adhering to the actual number.  Shayna also likes to get in on this action and I spend much of my time correcting her from saying “googleplex (blank) walk into a diner” – although I’m starting to weaken and might just take her version and run with it.

NO JOKES

Although it’s been a pretty good month overall, on a very personal note, the only downer is that I have been having some pain in my joints and have gotten a preliminary diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.  Still finding out some of the particulars, but let’s just say stairs are my knees’ nemesis.  I will probably reach out to you friends and family in coming days for references or thoughts from those who have or know others who have dealt with this challenge, but right now I’m making it a side note in this message, but trying to figure out the right course of action with the doctors here.

FREAKY FRIDAY

Jokes aside.

I first heard about the tragedy in Newtown from someone’s Facebook post Friday evening.  Jodi and I went to watch the coverage unfold on CNN and Fox including viewing President Obama’s incredibly emotional speech.

I’d like to think that I would be just as torn emotionally about this horrific event if I was single, but it’s hard to imagine feeling more vulnerable than I feel as a dad of 5-year old twins who could have been in that same school, that same classroom.  My heart tears for those parents and the families of the teachers and school workers.  I won’t go on a soapblog about the need for gun control because I want to see all the talk, all the rhetoric, all the petitions end and real action begin.

 It’s all just madness.  That there are even people who dismiss this for absurd reasons(I’m talking to you Mike Huckabee) is beyond me.  And until people just understand – and teach THEIR children -  the absolute unacceptability of the violence mindset, sadly I think we’ll have more days like that.  God I hope not.

 Please keep them all in your thoughts as I will.

 One last thought on this…

 At 9:40 local time here in Jerusalem, the kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders in our school were on stage rehearsing - laughing and singing about aliens who had come down to earth to try to figure out why earthlings who were so rude to each other the rest of the year, yet somehow came together in brotherhood in the month of December.

 At 9:40 Eastern Standard Time in Newtown, Connecticut, the kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders in Sandy Hook Elementary were being slaughtered for no reason.

 I’m glad the aliens didn’t see them or they would have cried too.

I probably won’t write again until the new year, so to all reading this… thanks and my best wishes and hopes for a joyous and peaceful new year for you and your family.  Hold them all closer.

 Peace and love,

Gary

20
Nov

Post 13 - Wife During Wartime 


OF GAS MASKS AND GUM:  WIFE DURING WARTIME

November 19 2012 –Dispatch from the Back Lines

Last week, my wife Jodi was sent to Jordan to cover the potentially escalating riots there when she got a call from her editors telling her to head to Gaza where the action escalation had gone beyond “potentially.”

She told me she would be home the next morning and then have to re-pack and head out right away.  I started to get anxious because I had seen the early reports about the missiles flying each way in this conflict in Gaza and much of the southern part of Israel.  The next morning, I asked Jodi if there was anything she needed.  Anything I could get for her.

“Find the gas mask and get me gum” was what she wrote.

An hour later she was home. Twenty minutes after that she was in a cab with a bigger bag to carry her bullet-proof vest, helmet and the newly-found gas mask (along with 3 different flavor packets of Orbit gum).

That was Wednesday, about 6 days ago, but at the risk of the cliché’, it feels so much longer than that.

This is not going to be the funniest update I’ve ever issued, but I hope to convey to you what’s been bouncing around in my head during these heady times.  Some of it has come through in tweets and Facebook updates, but at a certain point (no offense Dick Costolo) 140 characters doesn’t cut it.

WAR, HUH…

There is a war going on in this country, but with the exception of one siren, we here in Jerusalem haven’t been physically touched by it – not in the horrific way those in southern Israel have or even the scary and inconvenient way many in Tel Aviv have.

I feel blessed to have fairly typically self-absorbed 5-year olds who have no idea about the war or that Mommy hasn’t been able to sleep a lot because of the sounds of bombs not-too-far from her hotel room in Gaza.  I admit that, if this weren’t the case – if my kids were older and smart enough to be scared – that this would be a whole different situation.  I should remember how fortunate I am when I’m merely frustrated because they won’t finish their breakfast.

For now though, their iPad usage is spiking because I’m not being the awesome-color-with-me-please-right-now Dad that I aspire to be as much as I am the Dad trolling for stories and updates about the war.  I’m not ignoring them, I’m just worried about Jodi and I know that if I can feel calmer with more info about her and what’s going on with the situation, then I will feel better able to answer their questions if they arise.  (For the record, our discussion of the siren was pretty limited and I explained that it just meant that they wanted us to find a safer place – in our saferoom-less apartment, I told the twins that we would go into the bathroom if it happened again)

Lev and Shayna certainly want their Mom back, but I believe they also understand - to the extent they can understand – and share my pride in her when I tell them that “Mommy is doing a very important job and she loves you and wants to come back as soon as she can.”

They say “okay” and then go back to playing Angry Birds – irony, duly noted.

MY HEAD

We’ve been in Israel for 5 months now.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that we have thanks to Jodi’s hard work and talent.   That she is adding “war” correspondent to her illustrious resume, unfortunately doesn’t surprise me. 

While I’ve never lived here, I’m aware of some of the history of the conflict, so, sadly it’s been in my head since the beginning that at some point over our planned four year excursion,  there would be a need for her to cover a situation. That sounds smart and all, except, “aaah, I thought so” wasn’t in my head as I was lugging a bag with my wife’s Kevlar vest (that felt like it weighed more than she does) down the stairs to a cab.  Instead my thoughts turned to the evil-“what ifs” of life.

For the record, “what if” are probably my two favorite words.  As someone who prides themselves on having an imagination, there can be exciting and exhilarating endings to sentences that start with “what if.”  I live for those stories.

In this case I’ve found myself over this last week fighting off the “what ifs” in my head that all ended in tragedy.  I won’t even spell them out for you.  If you love someone, as I do, you can fill in those awful blanks.

We talk every day, but oddly, or perhaps not so oddly in this day of the iAge, Jodi also talks to me (and the world) through her pieces in the paper chronicling what is happening on the scene.  As I read all of her facebook posts, links and tweets I realize that she is not only surviving, but thriving. (hey, we’re talkin’ war here, I’m gonna throw in some cliché’s!).   She is expressing herself emotionally sometimes in these posts, but still professionally.  I know she’s nervous, but I don’t ever get the sense that she’s scared for herself.  Perhaps she’s sparing me that so I don’t worry even more, but…  She wants to write the great story.  Paint the pictures that need to be painted for her readers.  I see where she gets criticized, but also in more than equal measure there are those who make a point of telling her how much they appreciate her postings.  My pride and worry fight it out in my head and heart.

“HERO”

I mentioned clichés, so here’s one I’d like to explode, albeit in a cliché’-filled way.      As wonderfully thoughtful and dear as so many of you are who have reached out to ask about our safety and call us heroes, it’s an unfortunate use of that word.  I am merely shouldering a burden as a single dad (geez-for a whole week!) and trying to get them to gymnastics after school on time.  We’re fine.  And we’re so fortunate to have a support system here ranging from new friends to the NYTimes staff and editors who help us in many ways.

I will consider Jodi my own hero for doing the hardest thing she’s ever done and being an example to our family of dedication to responsibility, but I believe even she would say that she doesn’t like others throwing the word “hero” around about her.  Here’s the cliché’…but wait for it… because cliché’s come from common truths – the real heroes are those who are putting their lives on the line in the military and by extension their families are heroic for sharing their loved ones with us all for the sake of what they believe in.  Actually, it’s the “what they believe in” part where it gets unusual, because not every soldier here is a gung-ho G.I.Joe (or even an IDF Yakov).  I’m sure that many who serve have doubts, but they serve.    If you don’t know, in Israel, everyone has to join the army at 18. Have to. (With some exceptions in the ultra-orthodox community, which has been the source of lots of controversy and tension, but I won’t get into that here and now).  Imagine if in the United States, every son and daughter had to serve time without exception.  The country would explode.    Israel is a large, dysfunctional family, to be sure, but for it’s overwhelming majority, all politics aside, I would describe the people of Israel as uniquely invested in their country in a way Americans can’t even imagine.

I have the utmost respect for the military families in the USA, but we are such a large and diverse nation, for those who literally don’t have skin in the game, it is often incredibly hard to relate to those that do.  It’s a fact and, a sad one at that.

So when the word “hero” is thrown out there, my first thoughts go to these kids who are put in harm’s way for their country.  My second thoughts though, are to Jodi and her colleagues throughout the war zone who are doing their job so that we can get the truth.  That they don’t think of themselves as “heroic” is my last cliché, but you can decide for yourself.  I’ve made my decision about Jodi.

…AND IN THE END…

I’m not going to discuss the decades-old elephant in the country.  I’ve been here 5 months and it would be arrogant of me to say I’ve got this conflict all figured out.  I don’t believe though that anything will ever be resolved as long as each side has openly declared they desire the total annihilation of the other. 

I will say that I am sick of the hate that I continue to read.   The worst of it is the personal of course - those who have lambasted my wife on the internet or through e-mail for her reporting (or even more stupidly superficial reasons) and at the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I want to just reach through the internet and slap them around.  Or do worse to the cretin who chose to mention our children in a rant.  

The internet and social media, while helpful for everything from the spread of viral "kittens-doing-whaaat?" videos to the toppling of regimes has also made people insane.   I’ve said this before, so I won’t go on any further, but the vitriol of the recent American campaign season can only be topped by the intense hatred expressed –on both sides – about this conflict in Israel.  And that’s a lot of hate-typing. 

I don’t know the solution for sure and I don’t know anyone that does, but I believe it can only happen if people can get past the hate.  I really don’t care if you think that sounds too simplistic or naïve’, but the truth isn’t always that complicated.

SO….

I got a bit astray from my main topic of my wife, but although she has earned her way into most of my head, I have to same room for some other stuff (don’t even get me started on what I’m missing on TV this season!).

I guess the simple tweet version of this whole post might translate into: 

“The kids and I are fine.  We miss Jodi terribly, but with equal measures of love, pride and worry we know she’s kicking ass and hope she’s home soon. Oh, also, stop hating everybody.”(exactly 140 characters Dick)

WHICH REMINDS ME…

The last couple of days Lev & Shayna have loved lowering the windows as we drive around and shouting “Shalom” to anyone they see.  Over and over again. Smiling and laughing all the while. 

I don’t know about you universe, but that seems like a pretty good start.

Peace and love,

Gary

8
Nov

Post 12 - Post-Sandy/Pre-Election Madness 

“I’M WORKING ON NOT TUCKING IN MY SHIRT” – Shayna Rudoren

November 5, 2012 –The Night Before The End Of The World

I said it when I asked Jodi to marry me.  I said it when I announced our move to Israel and I’ve said it many times since, but now I find myself in the odd position of feeling like I am both on the aforementioned roller coaster, while also being one of those people on a long line at the amusement park watching as one of the other rides literally goes off the rail.  

There have been highs here over the last two weeks as well as incedible lows for our family and friends back home.  I started this to keep a travelogue of our adventures here in Israel, but there’s no escaping the surrealness that I see on my TV screen, internet postings and in the pleas of those back home in NY, NJ and elsewhere whose world has been rocked by the hurricane.

 I ask your indulgence while I recount (God, I hope the word ‘recount’ doesn’t pop up this week in other places) the good times that we had traveling to the south and then some thoughts on being an ex-pat at a time of national tragedy – both the hurricane and in a different way, the election process.

OKAY, SO LET’S START WITH THE GOOD STUFF

Thanks to the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, there was no school for 2 days, so we decided to take a long weekend… a mini-vacation as it were.  The destination was the very south tip of Israel, the resort city of Eilat – which was about a 4-hour plus drive from Jerusalem.  We sought advice from folks, heard tales of woe and pleasure and navigated the hell that is TripAdvisor.  It was really a first break for Jodi from work, so I was especially excited for her.  The kids continued to be 5-years old and were most excited about the prospect of watching a movie in the car.

 

But this is not a 4-hour trip like driving from Brooklyn to Newton, Mass and trying to figure out which McDonalds at which rest stop on the Pike we should stop at.   It was like driving through a series of huge postcard shots of wind-formed mountains and eons of rock formations that had been dropped in front of me.  I admit to being a little bit like a simple-minded naïf as we got outside the hills of Jerusalem to start experiencing the drive through the hills of most everything outside of Israel.  This is a truly magnificent country and it doesn’t take too long outside the city to realize that you are on a slight road that has been carved out of an ancient landscape.   (some post soon I’m going to dedicate my rant on the amazing infrastructure in this country to the heroic civil engineers of Israel).

 Jodi had a great plan to stop about halfway at the Makhtesh Ramon – the Ramon Crater – which is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen.  Other-worldly.  And we drove through it.  (Another infrastructure thought diversion: For a long time, some people were able to say, when asked what they did, “Well, I’m putting a road through a crater… you?”).

Our first stop was the visitor’s center in Mitspe Ramon, which is an interestingly modernist building perched on one edge of the crater.   As you start to walk around the building, the massiveness of the crater reveals itself to you spectacularly – again, almost as if it wasn’t a real thing.

Unfortunately, our moment there was somewhat “Vacation”-like in its brevity because in the face of this geological wonder,  we needed to get lunch.  The place at the Visitor’s Center was closed, but we eventually found a pizza place (and salad for mommy) that calmed the savages.

 Next stop was, logically, an alpaca farm.  Or in Hebrew, “Alpacot”.  We drove on a small winding road through the hills and desert, ending up at the Alpacot.  But wait! Not only alpacas, but also horses, ponies, llamas, dogs, rams, goats and at least one pig!  And apparently the animals are trained to escape their pens and mosey on up to you begging for food.  Lev was not so happy about an animal 3 times bigger than him with teeth as big as his nose getting in his face.  Understandable.  (Trivia question:  Tell me the connection between alpaca farming and The West Wing)

 We had a good time, but after awhile of feeling like Dr. Doolittle’s Jewish cousins, we left, without any alpaca sweaters, for my favorite part of the trip – driving through the crater.

 There are a couple of different ways to get to Eilat and on the way down there, since, heck, we’re already at the crater, why not drive through.  If you’ve never driven through a crater, it deserves to be on your bucket list.

 

 EILAT MEET MIAMI, MIAMI MEET EILAT

It took a little longer negotiating the twists and turns with some neck-craning views, but we ended up in Eilat just before dinner time.

 We decided only a couple of weeks before to make this trip.  So, after scouring TripAdvisor reviews, sorting through website deals and confusing hotel pricing, I finally settled on a very nice hotel called Herods – possibly too nice and a tad too expensive, but I had my rationalizations.  After some tension at the check-in desk (the booking hadn’t quite picked up on my note about us needing a room for 2 adults AND 2 kids), we settled in.  The first impression was that it felt very American-ized (ala’ Miami), but I wasn’t scared of it.

 The hotel had a great buffet, a great horizon pool (complete with concrete cat sculptures spewing arcs of water at the pools edge) and an especially great location on the Promenade and the beach as well.  At first it seemed more for grown-ups, but that fell away after the first night – they also had a Kids Club.  If you’ve been to a family resort hotel with a Kids Club, then you know that the invention of the Kids Club ranks as one of the most sanity-saving creations of the late 20th/early 21st century.  Oddly, the kids loved being inside coloring and making challah as opposed to being outside in the warm sun with us.  We were, naturally, devastated, but got over it with the help of massages and diet cokes delivered to us on beach lounge chairs.

 It was a great mix of relaxation and family time.  The kids did love the pool and we are excited at how they are getting more confident in the water all the time.  We ate one night at a restaurant called The Last Refug (okay, it’s really called The Last Refuge, but the neon “e” was out) – a seaside place south of Eilat featuring a dish called a “Very Nervous Salad” and delicious seafood.

 At the hotel that night, the kids saw an evening musical production of Pinocchio in Hebrew that featured women dressed in short-skirted school girl outfits taunting Pinocchio for not being a real boy.  The production values might be straight out of some porn fetishist film, but the kids liked the toe-tapping songs, so I didn’t express my outrage to them.   Outrage is probably not the right word, but let’s just say I didn’t ask them how they liked “Pornocchio.”

 On our last day in Eilat we went to the Aquarium which had heard a lot about, but was a bit underwhelming for us – although they have a cool structure that let’s you go underwater and see the fish.  I also happened to turn over my iphone camera to Shayna to take pictures and amongst the 500 shots she clicked off there are actually a few of fish.  The aquarium was good, the beach was great, but the single best thing in all of Eilat for Lev & Shayna was the king-size bed in our room that was perfect for jumping on.  I shit you not.

 On the ride back we stopped briefly to dip our toes – literally – in the Dead Sea and, just to confirm our patriotic nature, ate at McDonalds – or rather the kids did… I look forward to going back to the Dead Sea and floating while reading my iPad.

 All in all, a wonderful getaway… next stop, we go north in Israel!

 

 “Oh, Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us. This pier lights our carnival life on the water…”Bruce Springsteen

 On the other end of the spectrum of life, was Hurricane Sandy.  As of this writing on November 5th and 6th, my sister still doesn’t have power out on Long Island.  Luckily my folks are doing okay and my brother just got power back yesterday.  I can’t stop thinking of them and numerous friends affected by this historical event.  Is there a psychological phrase for the kind of survivor guilt I feel for not being there to help or commiserate with my friends and family?  I know that sounds bizarre, but I’m just being honest here.

 And I say this all from 80 degree and sunny Israel where I sit glued to facebook updates, links to videos and any number of news outlets spreading the visuals and stories of this devastation.  I know that there are people reading this who live in Chicago, Los Angeles, Israel, etc. and I wonder how you feel about seeing what seems like a Hollywood disaster movie on your screen.  I still remember being in my office in Chicago early on September 11th, 2001 and watching the tower burn on the tiny security monitor that our office manager had converted to carry a news channel as well.  4 or 5 of us huddled around a 12” x 12” screen as if we were watching a satellite feed or a video game.  You feel detached and anxious and helpless.

 We’ve donated and we are especially proud of our community and temple in Brooklyn that have been tirelessly reaching out to help.  They are inspiring.

 I remain optimistic that there will be something to come out of this from a karmic sense.  I think you just have to or you’ll go nuts.

 THE NIGHT OF THE DAY WHEN IT WILL ALL CHANGE

Or hopefully it won’t.  I started this blog update on November 5th, but I’m sending it out from here before the election results are in on November 6th (or the morning of the 7th here in 7-hours-ahead-of-EST Israel)

 If you’ve been alive during this last year, I don’t need to explain the political climate to you, but I will just say that I can’t ever remember the vitriolic hate during a campaign before.  As optimistic as I am that the disaster of Hurricane Sandy can remind people that we are in fact one country, one community of people who care not only about what they have in their pocket, but whether their neighbors can charge their phones – I am as pessimistic that the politics of hate and obstruction will rule the day no matter who wins.  I hope not.  I truly do.

 I’m a supporter of President Obama and I’m not at all happy with Romney or the Republican party’s ideas, but my God, what the hell is happening to us??  When the civility levee breaks where people feel it is appropriate to call the President of our country the kind of hateful and disrespectful names that I see on Facebook, Fox, comments to editorials, etc… I can’t believe it.  The hate comes from both sides, but quite frankly, it started on the first day of his Presidency before he even sharpened a pencil at his desk.  Madness.

 It’s no secret that the internet has made people brave, but it’s also made many of them insane as well.

 I’m going to stop my rant here with the sincere hope that President Obama wins and then just says to the nation; cut it out, willya? Start respecting each other, start respecting our institutions or work to change them, not insult them.

 Okay, stepping off the soap box.

 FIDDY SHEKELS

Tomorrow, November 7th,  I turn 50.   Big deal? Oh, I don’t know… I don’t feel the dignity of having reached the milestone of 50 years old every time I respond to one child or the other asking me to wipe their ass. 

 Parts of my body though are aching and I have lately been feeling like a car who knows its mileage and its parts start breaking down before the warranty is up. 

 

I’m not sure I ever thought before, well, by the time I’m 50, I will have done “x, y, z…” – at least not consciously.   And I’m certainly not done, but I will say with all humility, that when I look back at my life thus far, I feel incredibly lucky and thankful to the family and friends who have supported me and inspired me.   And I can’t say enough about Jodi’s love and support this last decade (yes I met her 2 months after I turned 40!)… and now I get to experiment with my tiny, adorable, often-irrational, often-surprisingly bright, twins who drive to madness and maddeningly delight in equal measure (I look forward to the balance shifting).  Lucky me.

 I also would like to unhumbly thank whatever little voice I’ve had in my head that, over the years, has put the confidence in me to create and pursue my love of creating – in many forms.  I’m not putting together a list of my achievements and I’m not putting together a bucket list.  So I’m saying that 50 is the new “in-between” – I got lots of stuff to do.

 I remember years ago seeing the architect Frank Gehry at a lecture in Chicago.  He had a slide show of his work and in almost every description of his unique work, he ended up saying; “Why did I make it look like that?  I don’t know, I guess I thought it would look good that way.”  I like to think that as hitting 50, I’ve gotten more confident in trusting what I create – THAT trust is what I hope I don’t lose as the parts fall apart. We’ll see, stay tuned.

 Okay, okay… I made it to 50, BFD some of you are saying, been there, thought that… understood… and anyway, now I’ve got to end writing this thing because my wrist is killing me.

 

WHAT DOES THAT TITLE MEAN BY THE WAY?

Oh, yeah… Shayna said that the other day.  She is a kid who likes to tuck her shirts in to her shorts.  She’s beyond cute, but, yeah, it looks a little dorky.  Not because of anything we said, but now she has decided to start shaking it up and expand her horizons by un-tucking her shirts more often.  I couldn’t be more proud.

 As always, but even more so given the last two weeks, I hope you’re doing well.… And as always, thanks to you all for reading down this far.

 Peace and love,

Gary


18
Oct

Post 11 - When Gary Met Hiking 

LIKE FINDING A RING IN A NATIONAL PARK

October 18, 2012 – But we made it through the holidays!

Okay, I’m not going to be coy here and bury the lead.

Normally the big news of the last two weeks or so would be that we went hiking on two separate days in two separate beautiful areas of Israel thus, and most importantly, forcing me to get exercise.  Big news.

However, sadly, the bigger news, and the only real downside to those two otherwise incredible experiences, is that I did indeed lose my wedding ring somewhere on the trails or in the waterfall pools of En Gedi, the expansive national park adjacent to the Dead Sea (if I had lost it in the Dead Sea, it might just float at the top).

I discovered the loss when we got home, so I guess there is a chance that it is somewhere else besides En Gedi – perhaps near the gas station where we investigated getting a camel ride for the kids but deemed the guys’ prices outrageous??

I should have been more cautious.  The ring had been slipping a little bit of late because I have lost some weight (thank you, dysentery!) and with the trickle down effects of the barrage of diarrhea, I believe I lost some finger weight.

Luckily, Jodi handled my screw-up well, isn’t divorcing me and, we’re still here for another 4 years ago, so who knows, it might turn up. (#stupidlyoptimistic)

New ring options are being investigated and I’m avoiding bars where my lack of a wedding ring, dysentery-aided waistline, and new “balder-than-ever” haircut would obviously make me an incredibly tempting catch.

Onward. Strike that, reverse it.

AFTER THE HOLIDAYS…

When I last wrote, we were in the beginning of Sukkot, a quite festive holiday, but we had yet to still visit several sukkahs or sukkot rather.  Actually, we’ve noticed that here they spell it “Succot”- thus maintaining the naming tradition that I’m sure started with Hanukah, Chanukah, or Hannukah.

All-in-all we were lucky enough to be invited to 8 sukkot over the holidays and had a generous amount of food and a great time.  We met a variety of new people and I believe that we will now be known as “the family that brings bucky balls© with them to amuse their children”.   We did go to one lovely evening (blee kids) at the American Embassy for a special Sukkot, sorry Succot, celebration featuring ‘young leaders’ in Israel.  (I brought a long a toupee just to blend in).

The kids also got to see a variety of succot construction and design.  Windows/no windows? Amount of Schaech(sp?) for the roof?  Wall designs – and what to put up on the walls?  One great example, we got a tour of the artwork on the sukkah walls of the Ferzigers sukkah, by their kids.  It was a lovely history of their family including trips and traditions with paintings, pictures and creativity.  There was one plaque hanging that just read “OMG” which was both confusing and inspiring at the same time.

I’m chalking the whole thing up to research because next year, I intend to design and build the first Rudoren Sukkah on our mir peset (terrace) here in Jerusalem.  I’ve got a little time to think about it, but have already been sufficiently warned by my boss (Jodi) that I can’t wait till the last minute to submit my designs for approval.

By the way… “blee” means “without.”

YES, GARY WENT HIKING.

So, I don’t come from a hiking family.  There I said it.  I love my mother and father, but it was never their first instinct to take us on hikes in the wilderness.  Or even a state park with electrical outlets mounted to trees.  Once we stayed in the Madonna Inn in San Louis Obispo, California in a room we dubbed “The Flintstones” room because all the walls were made of rocks (or actually “rocks” more aptly) and when you took a shower water trickled down over the rock walls of the shower, which of course made us feel like we were ‘roughing it’.   I believe my parents stayed in a room decorated as if they were an American colonial orthodontist and his wife.  I’m not a wuss, and all summer camp experiences in bunks aside, I’ve just never been one of those big outdoor Jews.

In one of the many ways my life has improved by meeting Jodi, she has done a great job of expanding my horizons (as evidenced by the kidnapping to Israel) and experiences.  So, I gamely went along with her desire for a hiking expedition down south to the En Gedi National Park, which is truly beautiful and quite unlike the Brooklyn of my recent youth.

We were loaded down with bottles of water as us experienced hikers would be, and thanks to Jodi, we also had lots of snacks and peanut butter sandwiches in hopes that the kids – and me – would eat whilst exploiting nature.  You drive quite awhile to get to En Gedi, much of it on fairly sparsely driven highways that cut through spectacular scenery of mountains that seem like you are in a car commercial where the camera will pull back to see our car traveling through the hills of a huge sand-filled hourglass.  But then you arrive at the site to a full parking lot with tour buses which makes the place seem all the more like an oasis by the Dead Sea.

We were already in our bathing suits in anticipation of the waterfalls and they did not disappoint.  It seemed fairly crowded, but still, it’s quite a wonder to walk through.  You are inside this fascinating piece of nature where the rocks and the water live along with precariously implanted man-made steel pipe rails every so often up and down the paths.  The kids had a blast.  It started off with some meltdowns before we entered, but after the first waterfall, they were like pigs in, well, waterfalls.  We ended up spending time in I think 4 different pool/waterfall areas every 20 minutes or so, which is where I also realized that the average Israeli who forgets his/her bathing suit, is not so self-conscious that they don’t mind letting everyone else see them in wet underwear.  I didn’t get a picture, but let’s just say the young girl wearing pink panties with “TEXT ME” written on the butt, stands out in my memory.

I really had a good time – better than I thought I would – and I’m glad we went (remember at this point in the story I still think I’m wearing a wedding ring).  The scenery was beautiful and I especially want to thank Jodi for pushing this train along,  she’s right, we’re in a country where hiking is a major activity as well as a major opportunity to have experiences you might not have anywhere else.   As pie-in-the-sky wonderful as I’m making it all seem, I had an earthbound moment when I took a break and sat down on a bench next to an older couple, who thought I might be Australian because I used the phrase “no worries.”   When they found out I was American, the old woman said to me, in her South African accent; “You’re not going to vote for that awful Obama are you?”   I told her I was and then things got frosty despite the hot sun. 

YES, MORE HIKING!

So, our new friends Alon and Revaya – who have been wonderful to us and the kids from literally day one (we spent our first dinner at their house) – invited us on a hiking trip with them and a group of families who meet every month to go on hikes and explore.

I won’t go on and on again about the beautiful country we’re now living in, but we are.  This hike was a bit different for me because it including some stretches where we had to walk very close to a cliff edge.  My fear of heights kicked in along with a Dead Zone-esque vision of seeing myself tumble off that cliff in the future, so basically I was a bit anxious.  The first part of the day started in a park that featured 3 olive trees on top of 3 huge Doric columns.  A huge sculpture to mark the spot.  Shayna called them the “President’s olive trees” because it was “on top of a sculpture for a president.”  Of course, what was I thinking.

All the families seemed very nice – mostly talking it up in Hebrew, but some engaging with us in English.  Our first big stop past the cliff-hangers was “the biggest cave in Israel.”  We went as a group into the first part of the cave, where apparently monks had lived many many years ago.  I decided not to go through the second part of the spelunking which went deeper into the cave and through increasingly smaller openings. (The Dysentery Weight Loss Diet had not brought me down to cave-fighting weight).  I wasn’t the only one though, which made me feel less inadequate as a man and a father.  After awhile we hung around outside on the landing by the cave entrance.  That’s where I got to meet some fine folks from the Bethlehem Barber School waiting to get in and there was a group behind them featuring a plethora of elderly folks, some of whom were walking with walking sticks for the hike and all of whom made me feel more inadequate as a man and a father.

After awhile, the kids and Jodi came out from part 2 of the cave hike and were very excited.  Shayna: “that was awesome Daddy, you would never have fit through any of the holes!”  Even Jodi said it was best I didn’t come and as I sometimes learn, it is good then to agree with my wife.

We then hiked back to an area to have some lunch – oh, forgot to mention… so I left my wedding ring in En Gedi, and on this hike I left my dignity as I pulled over to the side of the hiking trail to help Lev negotiate a poop on the side of the mountain.  Jealous, now??

The first part of this hike also included several people including Jodi and the kids dropping down through a concrete tube to an underground swimming pool.  Pretty much it looked like a scene from The Great Escape when they were making the, well, the escape part through the tunnels and popping up in the forest (or shy of the forest to be precise for those of you movie buffs reading this).  The only difference of course was the distinct lack of Nazi guards potentially shooting at us for emerging from the underground swimming hole.  For the record, more guys in wet underwear.

The second part of this hike took us to a touristy destination that was  more about the antiquity and history of this place, than merely a nature walk.  We visited Herodion, a king-made hill and palace community of the ancient King Herod.  Our very funky guide (a woman) got dressed up in a costume of an old man and delivered the tour as King Herod’s main engineer, talking up how the building included the world’s first dome and how the ruins were used and organized.  This is at least what I got from Alon’s translation, but nonetheless, it was pretty fascinating. 

At the end of the day there was a wonderful pot-luck lunchish/dinnerish meal at some picnic tables, where Lev sat nearby in a pile of pebbles making little mini-mountains.  I’d like to say that this action was inspired by everything he had just seen and heard about King Herod’s creation, but it was more about him enjoying sitting in dirt and not wanting to eat.

WHEW!

Okay, so there are the two hiking stories for prosperities sake – hopefully there will be more as the adventures continue here.

Briefly in other thoughts…

I’ve noticed now at 3 different supermarkets, several people bring along plastic bags and as they load up their cart, they put the items into the bags instead of just thrown into the cart.  At checkout, the cashier just opens the bag enough to scan the bar code and then, viola’ (I have no idea what the Hebrew translation of that might be), they already have their item bagged!  This seems to be something borne out of necessity because many markets here don’t bag your items and it can be a pain in the tuchas to do it yourself.  I won’t say that this was the most brilliant thing I’ve seen since moving here a scant 4 months ago, but it’s up there.

The kids are doing well in school and are even getting enthusiastic about their once a week Hebrew class (well, Shayna is at least)… after explaining shabbat to the kids, Shayna at some point turned to Lev and said; “Lev, on Shabbat, can we not turn on any lights in our room?”  - I’m somewhat paraphrasing here, but the bottom line is that we’re now thinking Shayna might want to shift from her current aspiration of being a professional baseball player to being a rabbi.  (that noise you hear is grandparents clapping).

I went through a bit of architectural drafting trauma as I searched throughout this ancient land for a t-square (hoping for a Mayline parallel was too much to imagine) and I finally found one in a small art store in Tel Aviv… a store run by a guy who told me his dream was to go to NY and visit Dick Blick Art Materials because he had heard the store there was “huge” (which it is).

Trying to do some writing… making some progress, I believe, and will look forward to sharing some of it with you at a later date.

Doing some architectural work (thus the need for the t-square), but just  sketching at this point for some projects back in NY… but not talking about that yet in any real way just so that I don’t jinx it.

I’ve just realized that I’m about 3 weeks away from turning 50 years old and, as per that last sentence, I apparently still believe in the concept of jinxing something by mere mention.

Other things I have realized about myself and my new life here as I march towards 50.

·      I have tucked my shirt in once in the last 4 months.  I feel like a member of the Knesset!

·      I don’t wear socks much at all and no one else seems to mind.

·      I have seen 3 movies in the theaters in the last 4 months and yet somehow I’m okay with that.

·      I get laughs whenever I refer to myself as “incredibly incredibly old.”

·      I drive a car with scratched up bumpers that are about to fall off, and I’m not worried.

·      I don’t feel 50.  If you’re reading this and you’re already 50, or past it, please let me know what I should be feeling.

·       

There’s more stuff, but I’m so old I’ve forgotten… given me another chance later.

ONE LAST THING

So, I believe that I have voted by absentee ballot.  I say “believe” because I have no faith in the Israeli postal system based on current observation, but let’s keep our fingers crossed.  I stayed up to pull an all-nighter and watch the VP and 2nd Presidential debates.  At the risk of bragging, but losing sleep is I believe the purist form of patriotism.  (It wasn’t too hard, I got caught up on old The Good Wife re-runs til 3 AM when the verbal fisticuffs started).   I wish I was from a state that mattered electoral-majority wise, but the important thing to do is vote!   The election is the day before the aforementioned 50th birthday on November 7th, so if you were thinking about getting me anything, just vote instead.  Or a sweater vest.  Something light though, who knows what kind of winter it will be here. 

Til next time, I hope you’re doing well.…And as always, thanks to you all for reading down this far.

Peace and love,

Gary

3
Oct

Post 10 - “Oh, That’s Justin Roberts Playing God” 

“OH, THAT’S JUST JUSTIN ROBERTS PLAYING GOD.”

 October 3, 2012 – Towards the end of the holidays

 First I can start with the excuses:

·      Lev was sick and Jodi was in London, so I had both kids to take care of.

·      I was sick myself and didn’t want to send out an update whilst sitting on the toilet… and then I kept being sick.

·      The holidays take up all your time!

 The fact is I feel like I owe an apology, but it’s been exactly a month since I posted my latest weekly update, thus now (and possibly forever) blowing any real semblance of order for this blog thing out the window.

 Excuses aside…

Since are celebrating the Chagim (holidays) here, which includes Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of atonement, I thought an apology was the best way to really kick off this posting.  I apologize for my tardiness in updating you all on the adventures here.  Savor the apology though because if Mitt Romney happens to win this election, I’m sure the first thing he’ll do is outlaw apologizing as well as make the game SORRY illegal.  I will now awaken from that nightmare thought.

(Tonight is the first debate though and I’m thinking about taking a nap, so I can get up all refreshed at 2 AM and catch it live on Al Jazeera News (English language).)

 But let’s move backward…

In brief, this last month in Jerusalem has been the epitome of the rollercoaster…

HAPPY BIRTHDAY(S)!

Since I last wrote, Lev & Shayna had a birthday party in the park  (a few days before their real birthday)… melting cupcakes aside, Jodi did a kick-ass job putting so much of it together.  On their actual birthday, September 10th, I got a call from school to come pick up Lev because he had a high fever, which turned into more of a virus infection – so during that week I played hooky from my last week of Ulpan (getting updates from Maria from Finland, Christina from the Ukraine or Karla from Costa Rica) and stayed home with Lev – he was a tiny little permanently-pajama’d sick boy with a thankfully short bout of diarrhea, but a solid case of the tireds.

 Jodi was in London for a “Hostile Environment Training” session – worthwhile, but perhaps small potatoes compared to the hostile environment of taking care of two little kids by yourself.   As much as I love Lev, he was not the best patient in the world and I believe that if he knew about the ‘bell system’ for getting what you want, would have insisted that he have a bell by his bed in order to order me around.

 We had some good daddy-son bonding time though (bright side!) and by the end of the week he was definitely much better.

 In the end, the twins had a great party at school the next week where they were the center of attention, new cupcakes were eaten, homage was paid in marker and creative spelling… they were very happy – plus Jodi was back and able to go.

 The month of September is also highlighted by the birthdays of our nephew Jake who turned 15 and entered high school, Gale Wilgoren had a Yom Kippur birthday and my dad Howard turned 87 on September 29th.  In typical fashion it was FANTASTIC!

 If everyone  in this family worked in the same office, I’m guessing we’d just get one “September” cake with everyone’s name on it and call people together on a Friday afternoon for some mediocre singing.

THE CHAGIM

I don’t pretend to be new in this observation, but it is quite a thing to be in a community of people – a nearly WHOLE community of people – who worship the Jewish holidays at the same time.  The city, the country, shuts down.  Plans are constantly being discussed for “After the Chagim.”

 We’ve joined a very lovely shul, Kol Haneshima, and have met especially welcoming people of all ages, including a rabbi we adore.  Although we are new, the twins have established themselves as the boldly cute (or is it cutely bold?) kids who will go up to the bimah and hang out with Rabbi Levi (with his gracious permission).   The holiday services themselves were incredibly packed, but for us it was a chance to get a bigger picture view of the congregation beyond the distraction of how many fire codes were broken.

 On Yom Kippur, no one drives – NO ONE – and the kids are riding bikes and scooters in the street.  In the afternoon between services that day we relaxed with Dan Shapiro, Julie Fisher and their girls (Lev and Shayna especially have a big girl crush on their 12-year old Liat)… Dan is the US Ambassador and as nice a guy as you’ll meet – he also read the story of Jonah from the bimah during the service proving he’s got the voice chops as well.

 We went to a break fast at some new friends’ home – beautiful home, beautiful spread, large and interactive crowd… we really felt it was like the place to be.  Lev spent a good portion of the time avoiding the dog that was bigger than him.

 Jodi started taking the kids around just before Sukkot started so that the kids could spot all the sukkahs around town – in yards, on balconies, on decks, at restaurants, etc…it’s truly a Sukkah City.

 Our wonderful neighbors invited on the first night of Sukkot to come down stairs to their beautiful Sukkah for a dinner with some friends, including triplet girls (22 years old)… our kids got to put up some directions and yours truly strung some popcorn together for hanging… appropriate for the celebration of the harvest, yet I still felt a little like I was making a hanging for a Christmas tree.  (btw, as we head into the winter, I’m anticipating a much more down-scale Christmas decoration season here in Jerusalem – not quite Macy’s windows everywhere).

As I write this, we’ve visited gracious new friends in various sukkahs and there has been no shortage of interesting people and good food.  One of our new friends, Raquel Ukeles and Mark Glassman – whose kids quickly became fun wrestling and puzzle partners with the twins – invited us to their folks house for a wonderful sukkot lunch…her Mom is a unique artist who had just gotten back from an art festival in Japan where she had presented one of her commissioned pieces which was a choreographed display of snow removal tractors in this small village in Japan – fascinating!  (Plus she once dated Sheldon Patinkin!).

THAT THING ABOUT ME BEING SICK…

Yeah, so I have spent a good part of the last month – amidst all the fun of the holidays and the birthdays – feeling not myself.  I will spare you all the gory details, but it was a mild case of dysentery.  Poor Jodi was a rock star partner in taking care of me and the twins.   And, quite frankly, I was very touched by the number of people – relatively new to me – who inquired about my health and offered to help.

 AS of this writing, I’m on the upswing – I better be!

 WHAT ELSE!

This past month also saw my first attendance at an Israeli Soccer game – which was a lot of fun.  Invited by our friend Alon, I wore the team color red as I was told and went with him and his kids to the first game of the season.  It’s basically a semi-pro game, but I thought the quality of play was pretty good.  The games – as almost all games in any league – was at Teddy’s Stadium (named after famed former Mayor/Mountain Mover Teddy Kollek) which, I think it’s a very cool architectural statement.  They’ve also made a large scale colorful pattern out of the seats throughout.  The stadium holds about 18,000 people, but they are expanding it.  The team, Hapoleim Katamon, gets about 2, 000 supports, and everyone is seated on one side of the stadium, so you’re seeing the game against a back-drop of empty seats, but it wasn’t disconcerting.  The team’s main sponsor seems to be MeatBurger by the way!

HOUSE

We love our living situation – and we have more room than Brooklyn, which is great.  What we don’t have here is walls that I can just put nails or hangers into in order to hang my pictures or our art.  It is a unique form of male impotency to have to depend upon a contractor to show up to hang our artwork  by drilling into the concrete and plaster walls.   It will happen eventually, but it’s frustrating.

 We also have a few light fixtures (over the stairwell for example) where I can’t change the bulbs myself – (see “manhood, slap in face of my” in the index when I write this book)… so the semi-unreliable contractor working on the house gets some more work…yay!

 Okay, I got that off my manly chest, now I’ll shut up.

 OTHER STUFF…

Other than the enormous effort it took to avoid writing this latest update over the last few weeks, I’ve been fortunate enough to find some non-sickness, non-holiday, non-kid related activities… mostly making connections, but I’m optimistic about keeping busy here.

I’m looking forward to working on some architecture projects in NY (will stay hush-hush just now) and am making in-roads talking to more comedy and improv people here and in Tel Aviv.  I hope to be teaching and writing more with that community.  I’ve also moved my book idea called WHAT IF EVERYONE DIDN’T POOP?  to the top of my writing list.

OH, THAT JUSTIN ROBERTS THING AT THE TOP….

So, the kids have been incredibly interested in bible stories because of the holidays and one of our favorite CDs is a series of songs about characters from the Bible, by Justin Roberts (our favorite!) and it’s called WHY NOT SEA MONSTERS? (we highly recommend it).

The other night on the way home from a dinner with friends, we were playing the CD and one of our favorite songs, WHERE WERE YOU? was on… we parked the car, but the kids still wanted to listen to the rest of the song, so we sat there in the car, singing and smiling and after the song was over, Shayna said; “Oh, that’s just Justin Roberts being God.”   It struck me that these songs and the stories they tell are a wonderful way to engage the kids.  Plus, we too often think Justin is God.

 DONE

I probably missed some stuff, but I’ll leave it all at that right now – vague, but optimistic and coming off the tail end of a real rollercoaster ride this month.

 My 50th Birthday is in about a month on November 7th, so, I’m giving you fair warning that future posts in the next month might mix in updates on how cute the twins are with overly complicated musings about the meaning of my entire existence.

…And as always, thanks to you all for reading down this far.

Peace and love,

Gary

4
Sep

Post 9 - BART BEN HOMER 

Week 9 plus – BART BEN HOMER (בארט בן הומר)

September 3, 2012 – Labor Day in USA, Monday in Israel

Ah, the end of summer!

Traditionally, I’m used to a summer that ends with a leaving work  on a special half-day Friday to begin the holiday weekend and then the inevitable Monday off to mix n’ mingle with family n’ friends, but this year has been different.

Half-day Friday here in Israel is not so special since it the start of the Shabbat weekend and Mondays are not so much about barbeques or car sales as much as they are about it just being Monday like every other Monday.  The most unusual thing about the holiday this year is that Jodi is Gaza (not barbequeing there either I assume).

I call attention to this time period first because I would say we’ve hit a bit of a milestone in two ways; one, it’s the “end” of our first summer in Israel, and two, routine is setting in and it really is feeling like we live here.

Shalom indeed.

“IS IT MY BIRTHDAY YET??” – LEV, SHAYNA AND THE NEW SCHOOL DEAL

Isn’t it so darn cute that when kids get older, they can tell you when their birthday day is?  Lev and Shayna know that their birthday is September 10th, however, what they still seem unsure of – on any given day (or maybe every given day) – is how much longer it is til there birthday, so why not ask a lot?.  I exaggerate only slightly, but bottom line is they will be 5 in one week and they are very excited… as anyone who’s breathing would imagine  5 year old(s) would be about their birthday(s).

It’s a rule at their new school that you have to invite the whole kindergarten class to your party, so we are guaranteed to have some munchkin madness!  (It also means that we are guaranteed to be invited to 18 birthday parties this year!  And buy 18 presents! Oh wait, I think we’re buying 36 presents because of the whole twin thing… I’m not sure of all the math).

We have a few other non-school friends coming to the party-in-the-park, but we’re still feeling out our kids’ social circle… which is fine and to be expected at this stage of course… we’ve yet to establish a real after-school-play-posse yet, except the one where it’s Daddy/Lev/Shayna, which is our special time of course, but I realize is also a bit lame for them. 

This past weekend we started after school activities, so their schedule is going to be crazy – there’s a cooking class, gymnastics (we’re fairly convinced that Lev is a future parallel bars Olympian), drama and something called “playball.”  We are also pleased that the school was able to offer a once-a-week Hebrew class on Sundays.  I fully expect them to pass me in fluency by the beginning of the year.

Having re-read the above paragraphs, I believe, that except for the Hebrew stuff, I could have written this to you describing their new life in a Brooklyn kindergarten, but I will say this about being in Israel:  When you walk through the main gate of the beautiful American International School campus where they are going to school, you pass a garden a few yards in with an inscribed rock dedicating that garden to a young girl who died in the Holocaust.   We’re not in Brooklyn.  We’re just not, and as much as we want them to learn the fundamentals, I believe – and I know Jodi does even more so – that we owe it to them and our family to help the twins realize that they have a special opportunity to learn about the culture and history of another country that they are connected to. 

We’re really just starting this journey – yeah, I just introduced the word ‘journey’ to a diary, who’da thought – but we are hopeful that we can get them to recognize the specialness of these few years.  We see it a little bit sometimes already in their observations, so who knows.  Then again Lev wants macaroni-n-cheese for lunch every day, which I believe would happen no matter what time zone we lived in.

KITA ALEF – THE HOME STRETCH

“Kita Alef” refers to my beginning class at ulpan.  Kita is classroom and Alef is the first letter in the alef bet, so it’s how they designate the people starting from scratch. Actually, the textbook we use is called HEBREW FROM SCRATCH which feels right for the typically blunt Israelis to use.

If you’ve been reading these postings, you might have the impression that although I’m learning a bit, I linger in confusion over Hebrew.  You would still be right and as I look back on 7 plus weeks of class (with 2 weeks to go), I remain humbled by what I don’t know.

I guess there’s not a science lab with a continuous investigation into different, more effective methods to teach Hebrew very year, so our teachers seem to be sticking to a tried n’ true curriculum… which is fine.   Although, there are billboards, flyers, etc. around town from various sources promising to teach you Hebrew “in a week!” or “two weeks!” (exclamation points mine).   I don’t know how to say ‘scam’ in Hebrew, but that’s sort of what it feels like… or like when you’re in a small town and they have a sign in the window of a diner that says “best hamburgers in the world” (my questions start with why the quote marks and end with “prove it”).  I think that in a week in these conversational classes I might MIGHT learn enough to recognize when the clerks at McDonalds mutter in Hebrew; “Hey, it’s that guy again.”… but not much more.

Their teaching methods are fun and Yanna and Shelly throw in some games like charades and Hebrew color-tag for learning… This past week, in order to teach us the different names for family members (Safta is Grandma! Sabba is Grandpa!), our teachers brought out a big poster of The Simpsons, which was especially nice because Selma and Patty got their due (Dodah is Aunt!).  Bart ben Homer means “Bart, son of Homer” – ironically there was no talk of Rabbi Krustovsky.   Other teaching tools and references they use though seem mired in history.  To learn about the days of the week and the Hebrew words for telling time, the teachers used a flyer showing a weekly television schedule from the 90s with Melrose Place, McGyver and Beverly Hills 90210 amongst others… also, more than once they’ve used phrases or words associated with Monica Lewinsky – although, I still don’t know the Hebrew phrase for “semen-stained blue dress”, but we still have two more weeks of school to go.

It’s stressful learning and I feel like a dope a chunk of the time, but I’m hanging in there.  I recently met some people who have lived here for several years without being able to speak, read, write the language and I couldn’t see being someone like that.  I’ll figure it out a bit more at my own pace – and will keep you posted when I can lay claim to a conversation where I don’t feel like I have to point or act out what I need.

POKER PARTY AND THE SCARIEST ROAD I’VE EVER BEEN ON

Briefly… got invited to a poker party last week with a bunch of guys who have maintained the game for over 30 years – it’s always fun to hear the side banter button pushing of guys that old.  It was fun evening, despite my significant donation to all these chaps, but a little frustrating as they play a bunch of different odd games almost all with high-low winners and confusing rules.  Btw, Jodi was„ apparently, the first woman to play in this game ( back when she was in Israel in April/May), so kudos to my wife breaking the glass deck…  the most stressful part of the evening though was driving to this house (which was beautiful) on a road that felt part road and part parody of a road.  We were very close to a cliff and I’m lucky I was just a passenger, because driving might have induced a heart attack.  Yes, the previous sentences prove that I’m a wuss, but I’m not exaggerating the narrowness of this barely-passable road adjacent to a guard-rail-less edge of a cliff.

I HEARD THE REPUBLICANS GOT TOGETHER…

I’m not going to babble on here with snarky partisan comments about this week’s Republican Party nomination convention – that’s why Facebook was invented.  I will say this though; being detached from the American culture in this way has been a bit discomfiting (by the way, that might be the first time I’ve ever used or typed in the word ‘discomfiting’ but it’s the first one that came to mind).  I found myself recording the speeches, but still wanting to watch them at about 4 AM my time, just so that I didn’t have to read all the aforementioned snarky/partisan/or possibly even accurate reflections on the events from others before I could judge them for myself.  This will be happening again this week with the Democrats and then the Emmys are coming up and I’m not even sure I can see them here… and football season has started, so 1 pm and 4 pm EST games are 8 pm and 11 pm Israel time-zone games – and I know I don’t get all those games either… basically, my sleep is going to be fucked up for awhile if I want to maintain my previous attachments with American culture – arts, sports, politics, etc.  This disruption won’t be a surprise to my old nemesis sleep though, we’ve been on shaky ground for many years.

Maybe next year I won’t care so much, but for now…

This also highlights the good/bad cop that is Facebook.  I have a lot of friends who like to post the same links to political items for example – which is all well and good and sometimes enlightening, but I’m starting to feel like all these links are the descendant of the mass-forwarded pun joke.  I’ve got to figure out a way to filter some stuff, but the bottom line is that I’d like to see things for myself as much as I could before getting everyone else’s version.  This was pointed up most specifically the other day, when I logged on and started to read some mysterious chair plus Clint Eastwood status updates on Facebook, but had no idea what they were referring to…

LASTLY, YES, LASTLY…

As I’ve said, routine is settling in… we have a regular schedule with the kids activities… we went swimming a couple of times and the kids didn’t drown… Jodi and I had our first commercial movie date-night (we saw the David Frankel movie HOPE SPRINGS which was well-acted and, yet, horrifyingly sad sometimes)… but mostly the big news in routineville this past week was that we started hanging some of our art work and photography here – including our treasured chuppah cover quilt (made by Jodi and dear friends) and my huge SO, I KILLED A FEW PEOPLE poster of Dave Summers in my office.  I hope to post pictures soon of our place, but the point is, it’s starting to look like “our place.”

Okay, it’s late and sleep keeps trying me, but as usual, I ignore its texts. 

Til next week my friends.

…And thanks to you all for reading down this far.

Peace and love,

Gary

22
Aug

Post 8 - BALABASTA BALAGAN 


Week 8 plus  – BALABASTA BALAGAN

August 22, 2012

Ma nish ma?  (How are you? What’s happening?)

ULPAN UPDATE!

Things are picking up at ulpan and the last couple of weeks have seen an increase in the speed of our teachers  speaking to us completely in Hebrew and an attrition in attendance of our little UN of a class.  China is gone.  France is gone.  Ukraine is getting spotty.  Poland and Costa Rica have gotten very friendly, but seem to be late a lot.  Italy is down one. India is still strong, but Jordan is MIA.  Finland is holding, but having babysitter issues.  I like to think I’m representing the USA proudly, but sadly, I am consistently out of medal contention.

See previous sentence for segue into the Olympics…

STAR OF DAVID

I got my first piece of mail from my Mom, which was a NY Post issue with the headline “Star of David” about Jewish-American gymnast Aly Raisman’s triumph on the floor exercise.  I’m sure you read all about it or even saw her do her routine to the traditional bar mitzvah dance tune; “Hava Nagila.”  I didn’t get to see the routine live because the TV coverage here was so spotty and inconsistent (what gold medal woman’s soccer game??) but I imagine that having all her older cousins come out onto the mat and put her up in a chair charmed the judges enough for a gold medal score.  The press in Israel LOVE Aly and she got more pub here than most of their home-grown athletes.

Admittedly, we did watch some of the events – first time ever I was able to focus on women’s shot put.  However, it was the first Olympics that I can remember not remembering so much.  I set the DVR for the opening and closing ceremonies, but through some time difference mix-up, didn’t get the whole thing recorded.  There was the Israeli coverage and Eurosport, which had a decidedly British jingoism to its coverage, which of course was a refreshing change from NBC’s decidedly American jingoism.  I miss some of the personal history videos – archers who gave up their jobs at a Walgreen’s pharmacy to focus on their events despite not getting funding from the National Bow & Arrow Association (think any Republicans will suggest cutting funding to Olympic athletes to help the deficit?)… sappy bios, but actually I’ve always thought they were pretty inspiring.  I guess I’m a sap.   And here in Israel, I am operating under a sap deficit.

Honestly, it’s watching some of these small events that makes me love both the Olympics and the idea of the Olympics.  I like that somewhere, some little kid will be inspired to learn and hone their rhythmic gymnastic skills with either a ball, a hula hoop or a stick with a ribbon… and for all I know that little kid could be Lev.

I did think the opening and closing productions were spectacular.  However, after Bejing and now London, is it possible to ban the Rio opening ceremony from having the huge-towers-rising-from-the-ground bit?   Been there, “ooh’d” that.  In Hebrew there is a word ‘balagan’ which means chaos, and that’s how I’d describe what went on in the stadium, but in, you know, an artsy way.  However, the director in me kept wondering how they scheduled rehearsals with what seemed like 30,000 people… talk about your phone trees.  I’ve always loved directing solo performances mostly for the ease of scheduling.

TALK ABOUT YOUR BALAGAN…

I saw two movies in the last couple of weeks.  Shortly after we moved I saw  films at an art house cinema called the Cinemateque in Jerusalem, but that was for a film festival and while the films were often inventive you couldn’t even eat in the theater lest you stain the carpet.

However, this was my first adventure into the world of multi-plexdom in Israel.

First up… BRAVE.

I had taken the twins on a day in Talpiyot to “Extreme Mini-Golf” (emphasis, theirs) which was on a roof deck on top of a mall with a bowling alley on the floor below and a go-kart track on the 4th level underground. Fun city.  Sadly, we got to the Extreme Mini-Golf (outdoor) place to find that no one else was there and it was on a roof, which, if my education serves me right, puts us even closer to the broiling Israeli sun.  We bailed.

We went bowling instead, which, along with the snack bar food lunch, made for an “awesome” time for Lev & Shayna (according to them).  If you don’t have little kids, you might not be aware of one of the greatest advances in child self-esteem since the 12th place trophy.   And that my friends are the optional lane bumpers.  Never a gutterball!  Lev got a 96 one game and due to the slow nature of many of the balls he rolled, often got an assortment of 7-3-8-10 splits that would be impossible for anyone else to achieve – a talent that he didn’t quite grasp. 

Shayna, for the record is a classic drop-n-bounce bowler who held her own.

Also for the record, I kicked both their little asses in two games.

So, due to the change-up in the afternoon I decided to add on this movie adventure at a nearby multi-plex in Talpiyot.  I had looked up the movies playing there and it seemed like in the listing that movies which had (Hebrew) after them were in, well, Hebrew and the others were in English.

We get to the theater after finding a parking space (I can see balagan is going to be a theme here) and after waiting in line got to the ticket window only to be told that BRAVE was only in Hebrew.   The kids though were very excited to see the movie in Hebrew, so I bit the bullet and we got tix.  Oh, but not before the ticket seller asked me in broken English if I was a senior citizen.  Great.

BUT we got popcorn… popcorn!  I hadn’t had movie-theater popcorn in 2 months, which could be a Rudoren (and even formerly Ruderman) record.  We went in to the theater and sat in our assigned seats (yes, if you don’t know, in Israel – and Europe too I believe – most theaters will assign you seats and you don’t seem to have much choice)… the kids, to their credit were pretty awesome.  Not too many questions – they just sat their munching their popcorn being both confused and amazed at the same time.  Sadly we didn’t make it all the way through because of some scary bear and a witch and a… actually I have no idea what the movie is about really, but it sure looked pretty.

THE DARK KNIGHT ROSE…

My second movie adventure just happened the other night.  We were on our way back from a really lovely afternoon in Herzilya Petuach with the Fisher-Shapiros.  Dan is the US Ambassador to Israel and he and Julie have 3 lovely daughters who got along really well with the twins, and also, they um, live in an ambassador-sized house/compound.  We had previously been there for a huge July 3rd celebration, so it was refreshing to see the grounds sans McDonalds, Dominoes or a bar built over the pool.  More importantly than being a diplomatic family, they are also great friends of Jodi’s sister Debbi and her family in Washington.  All in all, a wonderful day and we headed back to Jerusalem kind of late.

On the way back, when we hit Jeru Jodi was nice enough to drop me at a multi-plex (different one) that was having an 8:30 showing of DARK KNIGHT RISES.  When I got there at 7:45, the doors were locked and the gate was down and no one else was around.  Welcome to Shabbat. After a brief panic, it became obvious that the theatre would open after sundown.

I waited along with a lot of others and we eventually formed a mini-mob when the doors opened.

That mob moved, similarly to the group hug in the last episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, towards the ticket box office.  Did I say ‘box office?” I’m sorry, I meant counter.  It was here I discovered a universal truth.  Israelis don’t know how to stay in line.  They are great at a great many things, but lining up is not one of them.  After finally getting a ticket, I went to get popcorn.  I didn’t have to go far because the concession stand – I mean, counter – was parallel to the box counter and the “lines” or “mobs” for both points-of-purchase just mashed into each other.  There was no order to the concession stand.  Trying to get the workers attention for popcorn was like, I’m sure, being an ugly guy trying to get a drink at Studio 54 in 1975.

I finally got into see the show only to discover that my seat was way in the back and at the end of a trapped row.  I decided to take my chances and move towards the front – not because I might be the first one shot in some tragic event as much as I needed the leg room.   I liked the movie, although, I’m suspicious of any city that can have all its cops in one place at the same time (anyone else reminded of Braveheart or The Patriot during the scenes where two large groups of warriors – in this case cops vs. homeless henchman – just run at each other and the two protagonists then seek each other out amidst the chaos (balagon!) to have their own personal duel??).

Here’s the other thing though… right at an important moment in the plot, the screen goes black and instead of yelling at the projectionist (American Response 101), everyone just gets up and leaves for a smoke… yes, fuck you Chris Nolan, we’re putting an intermission in your half-hour-too-long movie!

THE KIDS AND THE SCHOOL AND THE ROUTINE OF LIFE

So, Kindergarten started last week.  Although it was more of an easing in with only half-days, so I went most days from ulpan which ends at 12 to pick up the kids at 12:30.  Jodi drops them off in the morning (thank you Jodi!).  The kids are at the Jerusalem American International School and so far seem very excited.  Their teacher seems great and so far I have a pretty good impression of the place.  We are still trying to work out a plan to have them in Hebrew classes on Sunday and take after school programs outside the school so they get more exposure to Hebrew.  The school is all in English, but from the accents I’ve heard from parents hanging around to pick up their kids, not everyone is American or has English as a first language.

We’ll see, but so far I feel like it’s been a good start… the roller coaster ride begins, but the best part might be that they don’t hate the concept of school, plus they have cool backpacks.

IN BRIEF…As with the Fisher-Shapiros (Shishers, perhaps?), we’ve had some really nice encounters / get togethers with people who were previously only virtual friends on the web or facebook, but who either live in Israel or are here for an extended period of time (that means you Dahlia Lithwick and Aaron Fein!)… we’re optimistic that these will turn into real friendships (except for the being asked to move stuff part).

I will highlight one of those special events… we went to a morning welcoming party for friends of the Wilgorens from Newton who have come to live in Israel and make aliyah.   The Schulman family has three kids and over the last 15 years or so, they’ve all made the move to Israel.  Naturally – and it seems natural for this wonderfully close family – the parents have made the move from Newton to Jerusalem to be closer to their kids and grandkids.  It was incredibly touching watching all the grandkids welcome them at this little affair and be so excited about the chance to spend more time with their sabba and safta.  Jodi wrote a piece (not about the Schulmans though) about the arrival of the latest Nefesh B’Nefesh group of Americans coming to Israel. (check out the NY Times piece - http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/15/world/middleeast/lone-soldiers-arrive-in-israel-to-serve-in-its-military.html?_r=1).  We wish them all the best.

BALABASTA BALAGAN

We had two special evenings at the Shuk, which is the legendary Jerusalem market place.  A place where you can get anything.  A place where everyone – young, old, rich, poor, strollered, non-strollered – will go to shop.  However on these special Sundays during the summer there is an event called “Balabasta” (which I think means “come to the market stall”) the place explodes not only with shopping, but music, performance art, puppetry, dancing, street clowns, you name it.  What there isn’t is often space to walk. 

We first went to – sort of fell into it really – a dinner on a rooftop overlooking the balabasta balagan and got both great food and some relief from the madness.  We did venture down with friends and tour guides to see and meet some of the special people there including a photographer who displays all his work in window frames from buildings that have been torn down in Jerusalem. 

We went back the next Sunday a little earlier with the kids to seek out the more kid-friendly fare… and we weren’t the only ones… it was often like a human car wash with aggressive strollering.  The kids I think had a great time and were wide-eyed at everything around them.  Lev especially seemed into two women who were acting as laundresses  on balconies above the crowd.  We also got to see 20’ high puppets dancing.  Cool.

AND IN THE END, THE LOVE YOU MAKE…

As a follow-up from last week’s piece about the 25th Anniversary of The Annoyance… the big weekend celebration was this past weekend and by all accounts via e-mails and facebook postings, it was a huge success… I couldn’t be happier or more proud (except, of course, if I had been there)… kudos to all.

Sorry it’s been almost two weeks, and I sincerely hope you weren’t sitting around the computer cursing me and my lack of productivity… it’s been… in a word… balagan.

And thanks as always for reading down this far.

Peace and love,

Gary