Thursday, March 27, 2008

Top 10 Lists!

In honor of my 1-Year Aliyah Anniversary, I offer the following “Top Tens”:

Top 10 Quality of Life Improvements in Israel in the last 30-Something Years*

* “30-Something” is a period of time reckoned from 1974, the year I came to Israel for the first time with a Jewish Federation kibbutz Ulpan summer program. “The 70’s” refer to that trip as well as my next visit in 1976, during which I lived in Ramat Eshkol (north Jerusalem) with an Israeli family for 6 months between High School and College.

1) Toilet Paper – almost everywhere! Plus, the quality of the paper itself – massively upgraded, almost American-quality as opposed to the green or purple crepe paper featured in 90% of Israeli bathrooms during the ‘70’s. Just yesterday I was in the King David Hotel, reminiscing about how I used to steal toilet paper from their bathrooms and hide it in my backpack about twice a week when I lived here in 1976. Now, pretty good toilet paper is so…everywhere, I needn’t resort to theft or subterfuge.
2) No smoking in movie theaters anymore. Used to be that going to the movies in Israel was a 2-hour second-hand smoke-fest, punctuated only by an intermission during which everyone would – you guessed it, smoke.
3) Almost no “Garanim” (Sunflower seeds) spitting on the streets. Perhaps somewhere along the way a law was passed forbidding this used-to-be-ubiquitous activity. As a matter of fact, no Garanim spitting in movie theaters either – wow, without the smoking and without the Garanim-spitting, it’s almost no fun to go to the movies anymore here.
4) Ulpan Teachers no longer allowed to beat students. Apparently corporal punishment during Kitah Aleph Ulpan (“First grade Hebrew school”) was also outlawed along the way, along with Garanim spitting. “Raging Rivka,” my first Ulpan teacher at Kibbutz Ein HaShofet during the summer of 1974 used to smack us on the back of our heads with a rolled-up copy of HaAretz whenever we made a mistake, which pretty much meant almost every time I was called upon to speak. I still flinch whenever I see a copy of HaAretz.
5) Israelis now issued cell phones at birth instead of packs of cigarettes. Fact: 6.2 million Israelis, including children and elderly. Fact: 8.2 million cell phones currently in use in Israel. You do the math. Plus, very few Israeli children can smoke and talk on the cell phone at the same time, especially while holding a bottle or suckling a breast.
6) At least a passing concern for environmentalism. Although not necessarily widely practiced among Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) households whose use of plastic plates, utensils, cups, tablecloths and packaging (especially on Shabbat) is staggering, Israelis in general are growing in awareness of environmentalism and all things “green.” Unfortunate that “green,” a concept I support, is also the color of the “Green Line,” a concept I abhor.
7) The Hybrid Israeli Man. Truly a stunning evolution from the 70’s, when one’s choice was either / or (i.e., either a skinny, nerdy, clumsy Yeshiva boy or a handsome, charming hiloni (non-Religious) Kibbutznick.) Now we have “Religious Zionist Guy,” who is either a Yeshiva Boucher with both balls and guns, or a Bal Teshuva Kibbutznick-turned-Talmudeem Chacham. Either way, it works- the best of both worlds in one cool, hot package! Which brings us to the next great thing….
8) Israeli Soldiers: Still the Best! I smile whenever I see them, and I see them everywhere. Thanks for the memories. And to the more demographically appropriate Reservists...thanks for still being here.
9) Torah Learning Now Available in English, Women Often Welcome! Thankfully, Orthodox Torah teachers such as Rabbi Chaim Brovender and Rabbi Sholom Brodt as well as women’s learning institutions such as Nishmat have opened Torah, Talmud and Gemarah learning up for women in English. Kabbalah, Zohar, Gematria and Chassidut learning opportunities also abound, as well as Chumash, TaNaCh and Parsha Shavuot. B”H, something for everybody, almost 24/7 here in Jerusalem …or 24/6, as the case may be.
10) Roads: Sometimes Even Paved AND Marked! Driving is much more fun with paved, well-lit roads featuring clearly demarcated lanes, visible signs and the occasional rest stop. There are several of those kinds of highways here now, like Highway 1, Highway 4, some of Highways 60 and most of Highway 90…and especially the new high-tech toll road, Highway 6. For nostalgia one can always drive through the road systems now under the municipal jurisdiction of the PA. If you enjoy road conditions condemned by all known international standards and potholes as abundant as bullet holes in the ceiling of an Arab wedding hall, you’ll love a drive down Highway 449 in Samaria from Taibe to Ofra!

Top 10 “Room for Improvement” Suggestions:

1) Launch public awareness campaign about the proper use of toilet seat covers. Regarding public bathrooms of all sorts and the device known as a toilet seat cover: they are to sit upon, never to stand upon or heaven forefend, remove. Preferably they should be used with a flushable sanitary paper toilet seat cover, but I realize this is probably too much to ask of a largely immigrant population who came from countries and cultures where squatting over fetid holes was a normal everyday activity. If the Ministry of Absorption took a moment to educate immigrants from the former Soviet Union countries about toilet seat basics, a little effort could go a long way.
2) The “Asher Yatzar” Beracha is NOT a substitute for soap and warm water. Note to my fellow Religious, Observant, Frum-From-Birth and Baal Teshuva brothers and sisters: after using the bathroom it is important to use BOTH soap and water to actually WASH one’s entire hands, preferably with warm water (if available) and up to the wrists. Making the “Asher Yatzar” Beracha while pouring a soupcon of cold water over the backs of one’s hands from the knuckles down may indeed destroy spiritual impurities, but it does NOT kill germs. If unsure as to whether to perform Asher Yatzar before or after washing with soap and water, consult your customary halachic expert or local rabbi.
3) Revoke the Drivers Licenses of ALL Sabras (native-born Israelis). Require them all to attend anger management classes, and upon graduation, undergo personal exams to demonstrate temper control before allowing them to drive again. This could save hundreds of lives every year, and millions of shekels in health care costs such as high blood pressure medicine, etc.
4) Israeli Waiters and Waitresses: Don’t look shocked when asked for ice in water. In fact, stop acting like we’ve asked for the blood of your firstborn child when asked “May I get ice with my water, please?” Ice machines, ice-cube trays and bags of ice are now common items, we no longer have to send our best runners up to the snowy top of Mount Hermon to fetch the pleasant cooling substance for our drinks.
5) Cell Phone Etiquette: Learn It! Don’t make or receive phone calls at the Kotel. Your fellow Egged bus passengers don’t need to hear every “he said / she said” word about your in-laws latest fight. Cell phone conversations reviewing grocery lists while in OB/GYN stirrups are also strongly discouraged. Also, why shout “Allo!” into a ringing phone when a pleasant “hello?” would do? “Allo” is not a word in ANY language, while “hello” clearly is. Do yourselves a favor: add an “H” to “Allo” and we’ll all be happy.
6) Pick up after Dog Doo, ESPECIALLY in Jerusalem! How is it possible that Jews can allow their animals to defecate upon the streets of the Holy City and just…leave it there???? Incomprehensible.
7) Hire a Copy Editor for ANY written English item – menus, signs, pamphlets, posters, business cards, promotional materials, whatever. Don’t allow a non-“Mother-tounge” English-speaker to write any collateral materials or you will be spending money on mistakes, and correcting mistakes with more mistakes. If I had just 10 Agarot for every English spelling and grammar mistake I see, I could fly first-class on El Al during the height of tourist season for free.
8) Food Service Workers: Stop Smoking on the Job! Nothing kills the appetite like watching the guy serving you in the food line drop his ash into your spaghetti, and calmly hand you the plate. Note: tobacco is not a food item, a flavoring or a seasoning. Keep it away from my food.
9) Stop Transliterating English words into Hebrew on signs! The rule should be: if it’s a transliterated word it must be in a different font. I shouldn’t have to stand in front of a sign for half an hour trying to figure out what Hebrew verb root works with what ends up being a name like “Party Girl” - Pey Resh Tet Yud, Gimel Resh Lamed! Not even Rashi could figure that out!
10) Check, Please! The Israeli economy could benefit by an estimated 22 billion shekels per year if restaurant operators understood the concept of “turning tables.” However, the custom here is to seat guests, make them wait forever to order, bring them food and then ignore them for as long as possible or until confronted face-to-face, demanding a check. Best solution so far is simply to utilize the universally understood hand gesture that says, “Bring me the check, please!” It’s all in the wrist action.

Top 10 Most Shocking Changes in the last 30-Something Years:

1) Demoralization. How the general Israeli public has gone from strong and proud to beaten down and discouraged. It’s horrible and it’s got to stop, and it’s up to us New Olim to bring hope and sanity to our fellow Jews who have been on the ground here taking it for us all along. We show up with our Anglo culture, money and lifestyle and expect them to be grateful? We should be thanking them for holding down the fort and asking what we can do for them.
2) Fat. Israelis NEVER used to be fat. In fact, calisthenics were featured every morning on Israel’s state TV station (in glorious black and white) when I was here in the 70’s. Fast food was unknown and the concept of waste was frowned upon. Beautiful, healthy bodies were ubiquitous. Now McDonalds, Burger King and other international corporate fast-food brands have invaded the country, and “super-sized” portions are commonly served at restaurants. Fast food is more dangerous than Hamas to the short and long-term health and well-being of Israeli society.
3) Drugs: everyone is on them. And I do mean everyone. Used to be (‘70’s again), Israeli teenagers had contempt for … let’s say, American pot-smoking teenagers from California … and were proud of their drug-free status. How many times did my Israeli teenager friends tell me the reason the Arabs always lost the wars was because they were all stoned? Now the commonest thing in the world in every strata of society including the Religiously observant is hash (which some call “hashballah” after the supposed importer of all that smoke Hezballah). But it’s not the hash that bothers me – it’s the prescription drugs, freely given to a society strung out on the stress and strain of living under the constant threat of extinction. And in fairness to the Haradi (Ultra-Orthodox) stoners I know, they all have their own personal pipes or smoking devices which they don’t share with women. Because that would be immodest, after all.
4) Arab Shuk – too clean! What happened? In the olden days if you wandered down the wrong alley off King David Street in the Old City’s Arab Shuk, you’d find yourselves kicking bloody goats hooves out of the way while swatting flies and squeezing past veiled women screaming for bloody bags of fly-specked meat from Arab butches. Did I use the word “bloody” enough in the previous sentence? Now it’s all clean and polite, sanitized and almost … retail. I heard they moved the bloody butchers, swarming flies and screaming veiled women zone to East Jerusalem, outside of Damascus Gate.
5) Far Less Land Mass and Confusing Travel Restrictions. In 1974 one could (and in my case, did) travel freely from Rosh Hanikra on the border of Lebanon in the north to Sharm-el-Shechk at the tip of the Sinai in the south. Now the Sinai is considered “Egypt,” and patchwork-quilt “Area A,” “Area B” and so-forth kind of restricted or even forbidden zones are scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. And of course there’s Gaza, never a garden spot or a vacation zone, but now a deadly neighborhood whose poison spills out daily in Kassams and the occasional Katusha rocket.
6) Unauthorized (by me) Changing of Hebrew Words. Stop changing words and phrases without prior permission from the Court of World Opinion and/or me. Worst offender: “Sherutim” (“Services”) is now the word used for “Beit Shamush” (which is what we used to call the bathroom – literally, house of flushing, a.k.a. “water closet”). “Efo ha Beit Shamush?” (“Where is the bathroom?”) was the very first Hebrew phrase I learned in 1974 and it still holds a dear place in my heart for sentimental reasons. “Efo ha Sherutim?” just doesn’t cut it for me.
7) Invasion of Corporate American Brands. McDonalds. Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Burger King. At least the Israelis had the good sense to drive Starbucks forever from our shores. Why can’t we do the same thing to Hamas?
8) My Brain vies-a-vie Learning Hebrew: 30-Something Years Older and 30-Something Percent Less Absorbent! I’d like to use “peri-Menopause” as an excuse as to why I’m still struggling at first-grade level with learning the Hebrew language, but my doctor says I have the hormones of a 16 year old (I believe the word she used while reviewing my blood labs was “disgusting”), so I guess I can’t. I CAN say that at the age of 50 that my brain is so full of accumulated wisdom gained at the School of Hard Knocks (where I earned a PhD or two) that there just isn’t very much room for Hebrew. Plus there’s all that “damaged” area from the Grateful Dead concerts and accompanying psychedelics. On X-Rays it looks less like gray matter than tie-dyed matter. I’m hoping some of that can be reclaimed and re-forested, so to speak, with Hebrew verbs, conjugation patterns and vocabulary words.
9) Million-dollar apartments in Jerusalem standing empty most of the year. The real estate boom is an atom bomb, and the fallout is that hundreds of lavish overpriced apartments built and owed by rich Anglo and French Jews who only come for “The Holidays” (Purim / Pesach / Shavuot in the Spring and Rosh HaShannah, Yom Kippur / Sukkot in the Autumn) stand empty most of the year while poor Jerusalemites crowd 15-deep in squalid apartments built for two to four inhabitants. Jerusalem is a “pilgrim city.” No one here should be homeless, and no homes here should stand cold and empty while their owners party it up in the Galut. Either let poor Israelis live there while you are away, or pay a “luxury tax” we could use to house the poor!
10) Shocking Over-Use of Spandex, Spangles and Glitter. While many (including myself) might argue that the use of any of the above-mentioned items constitutes over-use (except of course on Purim), the influx of Euro-trash fashion that accompanied emigrating Soviet Jewry out of Russia and onto our streets, our malls, our busses, is truly cause for dismay. Especially on wedding dresses. “Cheap trashy slut” is simply not a good look for a bride.

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