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From Nation's Capital to Nation's Capital: The Azza Street Spy
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in efratti's LiveJournal:

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Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
10:02 pm
I Still Have a Blog?
It's been 4 months of mentally composing blog entries that never got written, and two months of completely forgetting that I have a blog.

Quick updates:

FEBRUARY: My third election in four months: Israel national government following the two November elections, US President and MD Congressional Representative and Jerualem Mayoral and City Council.  I was too busy and not passionate for any political party (note that the other elections involved voting for individuals and not parties) to join a campaign effort.  However, I did spend election day working as a Poll Station Observer, a title that I have re-named Defender of Democracy.  Representing the Likud political party, I made sure there was no funny business while counting the votes in a precinct near my home.

MARCH: For Purim this year I dressed up like my blog title: The Azza St Spy.  The costume involved looking like a detective with a trenchcoat, binoculars, pipe, pencil and pad of paper, and a sign taped to the back of the coat:  Azza St.  I also co-hosted the third annual Purim Seudah brunch in which ~60 guests came to share Seudat Purim.

APRIL: Following the Obama Inauguration Party, I was pursued by the Chair of the Democrats Abroad-Israel country committee to be the Coordinator for the Jerusalem Region, making me a a de facto officer of the Executive Committee.  Can someone say overextended?

MAY:  Who can even remember May?

JUNE:  The Friday night following Shavuot (but still Shavuot for Jews all over the world not inside Israel) I celebrated a "two-day holiday" by hosting an oneg.  I hit my all-time record turnout: 65 people.  Not only have I never singly hosted an event with 65 people showing up, I had genuine crashers, a real milestone.  Some of my guests broght their dinner company, which does not count as crashing.  Others just walked in unaccompanied by invited guests.  Wacky.

JULY: 11-day trip to Malta!!  Yeah!!  The primary purpose of the trip was to present research at and attend the annual conference of ISPA, International School Psychology Association.  While Malta is close to Israel and should not be more than a two-hour flight, the lack of direct flights makes it quite the arduous journey.  Regardless, this was not only business, but pleasure, too.  I spent an extra week with friends of the conference (arranged before) to go touring.

Highlights of Malta: All tourist attractions (ancient ruins, temples, museums, etc.) managed by Heritage Malta are a must-see.  This is an independent agency that works to protect and develop tourist sites, and they do an excellent job.  By restricting yourself to the sites they manage, you can see the cross-section that Malta has to offer at Grade A quality.  Examples of great sites under their auspices: The Hypogeum, the oldest stone structure in the world, 5,000 years old and still intact b.c it was built underground; other ancient temples and ruins; Catacombs built in medieval times; the Archaeology Museum and the WWII museum.  St. John's Co-Cathedral is another major highlight.  Malta is apparently the Isle of MTV, which means that my trip overlapped with the free MTV concert where the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga performed.  I felt like I won the lottery.  I never go to rock concerts and it was my second time seeing the BEP perform!  I was also tickled to discover how much the Maltese language has in common with Hebrew.  In short, a great trip!

AVOID: Malta Assist.  They are fraudulent operators who pretend to reserve tickets for you, but really just steal your money.  The Hypogeum is an amazing site that requires ticket reservations months in advance.  It is a 5,000 year-old structure that requires careful climate control so that it doesn't get spoiled.  After you buy your plane ticket, reserve your ticket online via Heritage Malta.  Malta Assist are a bunch of crooks who are known to the local police for stealing unsuspecting tourists' money.  Spoiler: We were victims of their fraudulent activity, but still got in anyway.

Where is this blog going?

Back to the title of the entry, after the distractors of my 6-month update.  My blog fatigue is sufficiently apparent, it requires no additional description.  On Yom HaAtsmaut, Israel Independence Day, I was thinking about my blog, why I've stopped writing, why has the fatigue totally taken over, etc.  The following analogy occurred to me and seemed on target:

When entering a new relationship, one may consult with friends for purposes of sharing and getting feedback.  What do you think of him?  What do you think of this comment he made?  But, as the relationship develops and begins to stand on its own legs, the friends take a less active role.  The communication becomes more comfortable and more direct.  Rather than asking friends for opinions and advice, matters requiring attention can be discussed openly between the two individuals.  Not only is it more efficient, it's also logical and appropriate.  It's not that the friends fade, but their role becomes secondary as the target relationship is more developed.

I believe that this is how my aliyah has evolved, and impacted my phases of blogging.  When writing, I would always have the imaginary audience of friends living in the US reading my blog.  I wrote the entries when feeling inspired and when I was in the mood to share.  Writing the blog, which helped maintain my English-language writing skills, served the therapeutic purpose of helping me process and reflect what was going on around me.  The writing exercise and the sharing inherent to it, was a way to cope with aliyah. 

Then I realized on Indepence Day of this year that I've graduated.  The therapeutic value in writing the blog has diminished, because I reached the next phase in living here.  Sharing with others via blog entries doesn't really matter anymore.

This is all too bad, because I am convinced that my stories get better as I live here longer, not more ordinary and mundane.  But, I have no incentive to take the time out to write about them, if I am no longer getting benefit out of it, too.  If I were another person, I would shift my style to frequent, brief entries.  But that, too, would be forced and artificial.  I can seem to only do the essay thing.

And, so, the end of an era.  I hope a new phase arrives and I'm re-inspired to start blogging again.  But, until then, the effort is too extensive and too forced.  I can communicate with Israel directly about how things are going, without informing everyone else.

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009
10:20 pm
Big Fish, Little Pond
While Americans stateside were celebrating the Inauguration of our new President, I am residing overseas.  Friends have been posting their Day at the Mall pictures and other Inauguration activities and festivities on facebook, making me homesick. 

Walking out of Mike's Place after the election was called, 6:30 am local time, I began to fantasize about an Inauguration Party.  As the Master Party Planner, this was definitely cause for such celebration.

It was a combination of this anticipated and actualized homesickness and my recent involvement in Democrats Abroad that assured me the position of Democrats Abroad-Israel, Inauguration Event Planning Committee Chair.  If going to a party is important to you, then you will throw the party to ensure that there is one to attend.  I traveled to Tel Aviv in mid-December to the DA internal elections as a way to learn more about the organization and I came home as the Event Planner. 

Party Planning Begins

Things started off rocky, leading me to doubt that the party would happen.  My supposed partner was no longer available/willing to co-plan the event.  If I couldn't replace her in a few days, the event would not be.  An acquaintance and fellow J-m resident appeared out of the woodwork, expressing interest in co-chairing with me.  Unlike me, she was a long-time Obama supporter; like me, she could not imagine that there would not be an Inauguration Event. 

We got to work really fast.  We determined that we had to secure a location in less than one week in order to have time for publicity and other preparations.  We identified the critical features and the desirable features in a possible venue, and then brainstormed places that would fit our stated criteria.  Multiple TV screens was critical; kosher food was desired.  Of the three places, two were already reserved for private parties that same night.  We visited a fourth due to its proximity to my home (nixed: Only one TV screen, not kosher food, and they would require an advance deposit).  The remaining place had their phone off the hook, not a good sign.  En route to the place with its phone off the hook, a waiter tried to entice us to eat in his restaurant.  We were not looking for dinner, but we got a tour of the facility and their capacity to host our event.

After some more scouting and negotiating, we decide to go with the venue that didn't make it onto our initial list, Zollis in Nahalat Shiva.  They had many TV screens, a kosher, mehadrin meat menu (who knew that pubs were Mehadrin?), and the bar consisted of 6 separate rooms.  This enabled us to reserve one room for our private party, but would not require the pub to close for us.  Hence, no deposit.  Without the deposit, they didn't want to do cash bar, because they wanted to guarantee income from the event.  We negotiated that we would charge a cover that would include dinner and drink; all payments would be cash at the door.  This arrangement guaranteed the pub a per head sum, we don't have to lay out any money in advance, and we don't have to be bothered with arranging payment prior to the event. 

The Planning Continues

Now that the basics were resolved, we could start advertising: Where, When, How Much, etc.  An email message was sent out to the DA-Jerusalem list seeking volunteers.  There is no budget, so all advertising is on email listservs, facebook, and home-printed signs.  The DA Chair sends out a press release to her media list.  We are also confronted with conforming to FEC regulations, as an official arm of the Democratic Party.  Proposed solution meets the approval of our legal counsel, who is incoming DA-Internation Treasurer.

I could expand this section, but it would be boring.

The Event Is Only 48 Hours Away!

By Sunday, 18 Jan the RSVP was exploding beyond expectation.  The first negotiated room could sit 50 people.  More than 180 advance RSVPs were registered and in classic Jerusalem fashion, we were expecting a sizeable group of walk-ins.  Among the RSVPs, 7 media networks had confirmed attendance.  A problem, but the kind you love to have.  The Obama banner that originated in Washington and was being mailed from DA-Spain had not arrived.  Calling Plan B on the decorations! 

FYI, the market for party decorations in Israel (Jerusalem?) is hopelessly underdeveloped.  Any oleh or entepreneur looking for a niche- highly recommended.  There is no Hebrew word for streamers, b.c there are no streamers.  There are no Mylar balloons that don't say Happy Birthday, It's a Boy/Girl!, or I Love You.  How about some generic Congratulations, or just festive looking without words?

I went to a hobby store and bought red, silver, and blue tinsel; I found a floral shop to arrange red-white-blue balloon bouquets; someone guided me to a website with a file of an Obama poster in Hebrew. 

On Monday evening I went back to the pub to do a check-in.  We told them the week before that we were growing and needed to occupy more space.  This time I told them that we needed the whole bar.  Interestingly, the adult daughter of the flower store owner said that she knew the venue and was buddies with the manager- a name I did not recognize.  When I got to the bar, the manager said he only had a few minutes, at which point another guy said, "I'll talk to her; I'm handling the party, anyway."  Apparently, this second guy is the one who the flower store owner's daughter knows, and he is the one we should have been talking to the whole time.  I had to tell him what we agreed to with his partner and the changes we wanted.  He did not realize that he promised us the whole menu, not merely the hamburgers, or that we grew past the initial 50-70.  I told him to expect between 250-300 guests, predicting that the nearly 200 RSVPs would become a 250 turnout.  He started plotting with another manager increasing the food order before the next day, retrieving additional screens from storage to hang, and other early preparations.  One word: Phew!  Had I merely arrived 2 hours before the event like planned, I would have been stuck...

The Big Day

I wake up giddy with excitement!  When leaving my house, en route to work, I notice a media truck parked in front of my building.  I approach the gentlemen and ask if they are attending my party.  They identify themselves as AP-Israel (I hadn't realized that AP was also television) and they interview me; I doubt that my interview made it past the cutting room floor.  I hand them one of my last fliers, but they don't commit to coming.  They explain that they get sent on assignments, they don't choose them.  But, they assure me in apologetic tones that their boss is likely to think my party is newsworthy.

As the day progresses, I get additional inquiries from media asking for information about the event.  I leave work early; have a fashion crisis- the dress I planned to wear looked better on me a few pounds ago; get to the pub at 4:20 and doors open at 5:30.  Showtime- 7 pm local time.  When the manager tells me in disbelief, you won't believe the media interest we are getting, I point out that all phone calls he's been getting from media are due to my giving out his phone number.  The truck from Israel Channel One (Arutz Ehad) is already parked nearby and other TV media are trickling in, securing good spots for their equipment.

The volunteer team came earler than the requested 4:30 arrival time, due to obvious excitment and enthusiasm.  I went straight into managing mode, and began giving orders as pleasantly as I knew how.  We were scrambling to get the space in order, when the first guests started arriving at 5:10.  Egads!  Why are they so early?  For the same reason the volunteers came early and I was jittery all day- this a big deal!  I was convinced that people would not start coming to 6 pm; guess I was wrong.  Some of the early-early birds were put to volunteer tasks and others were herded into one room so that their early arrival would not mess up our check-in system.  We were not yet prepared to take their money.

There were two entrances with two people registering guests.  Arrivals were checked against the RSVP list, walk-ins had to supply their names, all were asked if they were US citizens (as per the FEC compliance issue), and they paid in cash the early bird or the regular rate.  Guests were then given two stubs: one good for a drink and one for dinner.  Both stubs had Obama's face and a notation that service was not included.  Since they paid for their food with the stubs, when it was time to leave there was no reminder that they needed to pay tip :(  Media were waived out of the cover charge, and had to pay for all food out of pocket.  This way they were given more flexible entry, but not on our tab.

Once the doors were officially open, I was in even more intense manager mode: checking on the entrances, getting small money to make change, and referring comments to the managers and the sound guy as necessary, etc.  And then the moment arrived.  It was 7 pm, all six rooms were filled and Biden already took his oath.  No ordering was allowed during Obama's oath or speech, which gave me the opportunity to sit and enjoy the cause that brought all of the assembled strangers together.

Let me note here that 17 media networks were in attendance.  They were:
Israel: English HaAretz, Hebrew HaAretz (different staffers), Arutz Ehad (Israel Channel One- said they were doing a live broadcast, but I don't think it happened), Kol Yisrael (Israel public radio), Ynet, the internet edition of Yediot Ahronot and they did a great video;
American: CNN, AP-Israel, ABC (radio), Palm Beach Post, an Atlanta-based news service;
International: BBC, Russian television (I think for Russia, not the Israeli Russian channel), French broadcast, French print, Brazilian television, International Jewish Press (are they really international or just American?), and drumroll-- Al Jazeera in English.

Amazing!  Just amazing.  Since I don't read or see many of these, it's hard to gauge how far the coverage actually reached.  Here are some indications: the LA Times bought the AP-Israel photo.  I think there was no accompanying story- just the photo.  The Colbert Report has a segment in which he screens a news service's broadcast of our party before delivering a joke.  I wonder who else picked up our story and photos beyond those who were there. 

The crowd dispersed on the early side, and the co-chair and I were there counting the money and paying people.  Our internal photographer had burned nearly 350 photos onto a CD and brought it to the pub. 

I went home euphoric, but staring to crash.  The party was a success, by all indications: the mood and atmosphere, the effusive thank yous, and the gracious acknowledgements.  However, I was working the whole night and and not relishing in the historic moment.  When reading the summaries and watching the playbacks, it did not look familiar to me.  I was watching the oath, the benediction, W fly to AAFB?  How did I miss these things?  Instead of enjoying the night, like those photographed, I was in business-efficiency mode.  Many of the guests, especially those with the strategic seating, gave multiple media interviews; I gave none.  If I had inserted myself, I'm sure it would have been easy to be interviewed.  I was wearing a name tag that said "Organizer."  But, the media were content organizing the guests.  I spent the whole night running around, as documented by our internal photographer, and the media were content talking to the other 175 people there.

After getting over the disappointment of not being interviewed, I relished in the euphoria of the night, the compliments, and the post-event media coverage.  Given our no-budget advertising, we drew a large crowd, the media interest conveyed that this was The Event, in short, I am a Community Organizer.  This satisfaction soothed my non-interview status.

As a Community Organizer, I wish Obama the strength and wisdom to actualize the dreams that he and all Americans have for our beloved country.  I also wish that Israel could produce a political leader that generates the same level of enthusiasm for government and hope for change.


I went back to the pub a few days later to tie up loose ends.  I got a hero's welcome.  They are in love with me (and my co-chair).  They profited handsomely on an early Tuesday evening- like free money; they had 200 new people come to their establishment, and hopefully become repeat business; the media was all over the the place, giving them an extra boost.  I felt like I was Norm at Cheers.

Friday, January 16th, 2009
1:56 pm
With Direct Orders from Washington...
...how else would I be able to plan an FEC-compliant event overseas?

For those who have been sleeping for the last two months, President-Elect Obama will become President Obama on Tues 20 January. Israel is joining the ranks of other countries around the world and hosting an Inauguration Celebration, under the auspices of Democrats Abroad. More precisely, Israel is hosting an Inauguration Event while the other countries are hosting Inauguration Celebrations. Ours is an Event out of sensitivity to the war in Gaza.

The party is officially being organized by the Jerusalem Branch of DA-Israel, also known as me. Of course, I do not get all the credit. I have a competent and resourceful co-chair and volunteers; the support from the DA-Israel Chair and the sponsorship from the larger organization is giving this party more status and a farther reach. Nonetheless, a bunch of names in a database tied to Jerusalem addresses is not the same as a "Jerusalem branch." If I had not left the DA-Israel Internal Elections in mid-December committing to organize the event, 200 people would be watching the action on their television, not together at an Event.

Event Info:

The Jerusalem branch of Democrats Abroad-Israel invites all Americans, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, and friends of Americans to celebrate the inauguration of our next President.

Where? At the kosher Zollis Pub in Nachalat Shiva.

When? View the inauguration live Tues January 20th at 19:00 Israel time, doors open at 17:30.

How much? RSVP after January 13 and entrance at the door is 65 NIS. Entrance fee includes dinner and beverage, snacks, music and lots of fun!

RSVP and inquiries to OBAMArsvp2009@gmail.com.

Hosting an FEC-Compliant Event:

Back to the Washington directives, Democrats Abroad is an official arm of the U.S. Democratic Party and is subsequently subject to all regulations imposed on political parties. One example, membership to DA is restricted to citizens and free.  In the US, only citizens can vote and joining political parties, which enables primary voting, is free because otherwise it would be a barrier to the right to vote.  (Israel, please take note.)

Ironically, it is the McCain-Feingold law that is imposing rules on our Event. The law is ultimately an anti-corruption measure that does not allow foreign entities to contribute money to US political parties.  Sounds reasonable.  I don't want the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to give any political party millions of dollars. However, why is the logical extension that non-citizens cannot pay to attend my Event?  I am confident that no corruption in the US government will result from Israelis, Brits, and others, attending an Inauguration Event held in downtown Jerusalem.  I believe this is the first election cycle since the law was passed.

The essential FEC restrictions: 1) This cannot be an income-generating event and 2) DA cannot accept payment from non-citizens. First restriction is easy to manage.  We are not aiming to generate funds and if we are faced with a surplus, we'll just give the wait staff generous tips.  The second restriction is a little trickier.  We sought legal counsel explaining our our proposed solutions and we passed.  Non-citizens are now allowed to ay and attend; we will be careful with our record keeping to demonstrate our compliance.  I'm not going to FEC jail...

Party Planning Updates:

So far, the planning is going really well and I'm getting really excited. We have more than 130 advance RSVPs, which is totally exceeding my expectations. I was speculating a total attendance of 100, with 50 advance and 50 at the door. While the final attendance count remains to be seen, we have definitely created an event that is in demand. Beyond numbers, we also have RSVPs from international and local media, and while the Jerusalem Mayor is not coming (boo-hoo), he is sending a representative from his office.

The Mayor is apparently wise enough to realize that one does not completely blow off an invitation to an Event hosted by politically active Americans. In order to give the Mayor pause and encourage him to re-think his response, I informed the aide who works in the Media and Foreign Relations Office (I'm assuming this is a recent creation; our last mayor was not classy enough to have one of those) that we have confirmations from foreign media. I also commented that as someone who worked in a significant position on his campaign, "it would have been my honor to host the Mayor in another political context." The subsequent email from the aide hinted that Barkat may come after all.

In summary, we have great space, things are coming along, and all the cool people want to come.

Personal Reflections

On a personal note, this is giving me such a high: I'm hobnobbing with the important people. Most likely every Western immigrant who moves to Israel by choice has significant adjusting to do. Recreating your life and reclaiming any former glory left behind in the Old Country is not easy. Often, I've used my parties as a benchmark for adjustment. If I could host cool parties that meet my standards in terms of menu, turnout, etc., then I am achieving my goal of reclaiming glory. This party is breaking all records and turning out to be significantly cooler than my standard living room gig. It is also rivaling my graduation party held at the Watergate Hotel, and may even exceed it. 

Foreign media! Local politicians! More than 100 people in attendance!  Getting irritating orders from Washington!  Seeking follow-up counsel in order to ensure compliance with the law!  A right-wing nut posting the Event info on his blog so that other right-wing nuts can show up and protest!  (Really guys, just stay home and cry in your beer.)  I'm definitely arriving.

On an ambivalent note, there is a war going on in Gaza. It's tough to be coping with an exciting historical event, my personal excitement at the party's success, the ongoing terror being committed against my country, and being concerned for the well-being of those engaged in my country's self-defense.  (I'm also sad for the loss of innocent Palestinian life, of course.  However, there won't be real progress in peace utnil the Hamas leadership decides that it, too, is sad.  I can't be any more sad than they are.)  A friend who does amateur photography agreed to work the event, assuming that he does not get called up for reserve duty before Tuesday.

The Event is definitely helping me disconnect from the horrible news. Unclear if that is good. With all of the turmoil and transitions surrounding us, we can only hope they get resolved in a way that guarantees peace and security for all residents of the region.
Tuesday, December 16th, 2008
12:59 am
Thoroughly Modern Millie
This week has been a tough one, and it is only Monday. Yesterday evening I was feeling like Thoroughly Modern Millie, although I don't know how far to develop the analogy. (She is ultimately a gold digger whose purpose is to marry wealthy.)

The day started with an early rising so that I could be on the express J-m to Haifa bus, in motion by 8:00 am. I boarded the bus without too many elbows jabbing my sides, and despite all of the soldiers engaged in their Sunday morning travel, only three passengers had to endure the 2 hour ride without a seat. The passenger to my right, with an aisle between us, was the son of the pizza place owner across the street :) Pleasant surprise and Evidence A that Jerusalem is really a village and not a city.

We chatted a bit, the woman next to me offered me gum and I declined; I explained that I fully intended to fall asleep within minutes. At which point I did and did not wake up until the bus pulled into the Haifa bus station two hours later, completely on schedule. Evidence B that having a car is overrated.

After killing some time in the bus station, I successfully managed to board the correct local bus and traveled for 40 minutes to my destination within Haifa. Evidence C that a bus driver cannot accurately estimate the travel time to one's destination, as he said it would be 20 minutes and there was no significant traffic.

I reached my destination, an employment training and support center for adults with Asperger Syndrome. I am the lead investigator of a research study evaluating the program in its three locations: Tel Aviv, J-m, and Haifa. To hear more about the program and my research study-- contact me offline.

All went well at the center, and then it was time to get home.

I walk back to the bus stop, board the bus, go to the back where there is an open seat and ride the remainder of the bus route, 30 min, with my bag on my lap, save for one brief moment that proved to be the error of my ways. I arrived at the central bus station, and went to open the pockets of my backpack for inspection by security. However, the pocket that houses my wallet was already open and there was no wallet inside. Egads! Did my wallet fall out? How would it fall if I zipped the pocket closed?

RECONSTRUCTION OF EVENTS: I found my seat, put my change and bus receipt in my wallet, and the sole passenger behind me was obviously observing the placement of my wallet. When the woman on my right needed to get out to alight, I stepped out of my seat to give her room. I suppose I did feel my bag jerk, but I adjusted it on my shoulder not suspecting that someone was retrieving my wallet for me. After she stepped away, I sat down again, bringing the bag back to my lap suspecting nothing.

Amusingly, during the ride I was noticing the scenery thinking that I don't get out of J-m enough and should visit more parts of Israel.

BACK TO SEQUENCE OF EVENTS: I walked to the bus depot looking for my bus. Perhaps my wallet was still there. I could not find my bus, and the security guard told me how to find the bus company's office upstairs. The man at reception called the driver for me, who did not come acrss my wallet. Are we surprised?

I just started crying. I had a round trip bus ticket, ~500 NIS of cash, my credit card, and assorted other items. My first concern: How would I get home? Without a bus ticket, cash, or any way to get cash, I was out of ideas. Had this happened in J-m I would walk home, call a friend who would spot me cash, etc. What would I do in a strange city in the bus station at the edge of town nowhere near where my meeting took place, esp when all of those staff people have already gone home?

One staff person suggested that he escort me to the J-m bus and talk to the driver. I had already pre-paid for my return trip, after all. Another staffer was convinced that it would not work. He opened his wallet, pulled out two 50 NIS bills, and wrote his name and worker ID number for me. He explained that once I had access to my money, I should go to the J-m Bus Station and return the money through the driver of the J-m Haifa express bus. A generous man, indeed.

The staffer who loaned me money then became concerned that I had not yet canceled my credit card. He walked me to the office space, called information off of his cell phone, and helped me place the call to my credit card company to cancel the card.

There were no charges on the card since I withdrew cash on Friday, which didn't really surprise me. The card had been stolen for less than one hour.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Don't travel to Haifa. Just like Millie, I left my small town to visit the big city. Millie was mugged, albeit nonviolently. Nonetheless, they took her hat, shoes, and purse. ("Who needs a hat? Who needs purse? Who needs you, whoever you are?") My wallet was merely pickpocketed, without any direct contact. My ID, cell phone, MP3 player and other objects of value were not stolen. I wasn't wearing a hat and nor did I have a purse.

However, unlike Mille who is committed to being a "pioneer woman" and making it in NYC, I'll stick with my provincial, insular lifestyle in the village that is J-m.

Two other rays of light: I removed the paycheck issued by the Barkat campaign from my wallet prior to my journey to the big city, so it is still in my sock drawer. Phew. I made a friend on the bus ride back who lives around the corner from me. Yeah, neighbors.

EPILOGUE: I've been told that I've been spared much grief by not having my National ID card stolen. Filing a police report is now optional and I don't have to use vacation time to spend the morning at the Ministry of Interior, a sure combination to make anyone significantly more bitter and hostile. However, having lost a wad of cash, my J-m bus pass, the bus receipts I needed in order to apply for travel reimbursement from my employer, and the fees associated with replacing stolen cards, I'm chalking it up to an 800 NIS loss. Losing a wallet can get really expensive.
Wednesday, November 12th, 2008
4:45 pm
Everyone Is a Winner!
Nir Barkat won the mayor's seat in Jerusalem last night.  As a campaign staffer, I am thrilled on a personal, professional, citizen, and activist level.  I'm both floating with euphoria and dragging from the total exhaustion involved in the last days of a campaign. 

To Barkat's credit, he did not want to celebrate his victory until the election was officially called.  There was a reported turnout of 220,000 voters, representing more than 50% of the voting population.  Considering that the Arab population represents 1/3 of the city and they primarily boycotted the election as a statement of disenfranchisement, the turnout should represent 72% of eligible Jewish voters.  Since the ballots are only counted after the polls close at 10:00 pm, the election was called at 3:30 am.  If my Tuesday started out at 6:30 with early morning voting (I was the 7th voter in my precinct!), it ended at 5 am Wednesday after I got home from the official election party.  This was days after sleeping half-nights.

There is so much to say.  So, we'll make do with a preview as I have a day job that requires my attention, as well.  As Barkat said in his victory speech, "Tonight, Jerusalem won!"  Indeed, a Barkat victory makes everyone a winner, including those who supported rival candidates.  All J-m residents, all Israeli citizens who care about their capital, and all Jewish and Gentile tourists who care about the capital of Israel and the Jewish people benefit from the outcome of this election.

We all won!  Yeah!

(More sophisticated pontificating in upcoming entries.)
Friday, October 31st, 2008
12:10 am
Election Madness: Seeking a Qualified Mayor for J-m
I've been working with the Nir Barkat for Mayor of J-m campaign for nearly two months.  Below is an essay that was published in the October edition of the Shiur Times, an English-language magazine that targets the observant community in Jerusalem and the rest of Israel.  It explains how I came to work for him and what I think of our elections on a more general level.

This essay was written in response to a posting on janglo soliciting "political rants."  While I was intrigued by the request, since I was leaving the next day for Armenia, I wasn't sure if I could make the deadline, which was less than two days away.  The next day I was sitting at Ben Gurion airport composing the essay, edited it while waiting for my connecting flight in Vienna, and typed it and emailed it off from my friends' home in Yerevan, Armenia.  A multi-national essay written in snippets of free time.

Some more mini-drama: Shortly after sending off the article, I realized that submitting an election-related essay for publication was a violation of my work contract with the Barkat campaign.  I signed that I would not talk to the media.  While the essay like a personal story and I am not being a mouthpiece for the campaign, I realized that I might be fired for insubordination.  But, alas, this is Israel where everyone is informal.  I called my team leader on the campaign (who is also on the list for city council) a few hours before Rosh HaShanah stressed out.  I couldn't go through the holiday without a resolution.  We had a great conversation and he approved the essay without reading it.  My job was safe.  I sent him a copy, and he was extremely pleased.  Phew.  Everyone wins!  Now we just need Barkat to win... 


It was in June that I first became aware that Jerusalem and other Israeli cities would be holding municipal elections this November.  I had been invited to a parlor meeting in which Nir Barkat, Jerusalem mayoral hopeful, presented his platform and entertained questions.  Caught off guard by the upcoming elections, it took me a week to digest his message.  Afterwards, I committed to becoming his supporter and I currently work for his campaign.  My initial reaction: How can I choose one candidate without researching the others? 

            While my political leanings would put me in the camp of the secular, Zionist mayoral candidate (i.e., not ultra-Orthodox), that is not why Barkat has my vote.  I support him because I believe he that will be a good mayor, period.  To me, Barkat represents the "Doctors Without Borders" candidate.  Just as doctors can drastically improve the standard of public health in rural African communities with antiseptic, gauze bandages, and sterile equipment, Barkat's platforms are elegant in their simplicity, coherence, and direct response to the needs of this broken city.  He is a native Jerusalemite with experience in business and civil service.  He has his finger on the pulse of this city and can articulate a long-term vision as well as concrete, short-term steps to actualize his vision. 

My support for Barkat, however, comes with a twinge of disappointment.  I wish that his opponents were courting me with competing visions and tempting me to cast my vote with them.  Elections are a healthy phase of the democratic process in which candidates propose ideas and residents debate their needs and most suitable solutions.  In an ordinary city, the current election would serve as a referendum on the light rail.  The city is paralyzed by the endless poorly-planned and poorly-coordinated construction, yet Barkat's opponents have not articulated any type of transportation reform.  His opponents have also not publicized to the general voting populous their solutions to the city's job and affordable housing shortages.  While Barkat has housing, employment, education, and transportation platforms, his opponents are still engaging in back-room, power-leveraging negotiations.  As a city resident, I want a mayor who is committed to the city's growth, not someone who wants the job for purposes of bragging rights or a stepping stone to future political glory.

Barkat would be strengthened if he had a bona fide opponent who is capable of debating his policies.  The absence of public discourse on the city's most pressing needs is a disservice to all.  Voting on the ethnic, religious, or charisma card is a gesture of loyalty that happens in high schools and tribal-voting countries like Zimbabwe.  Running the country's capital city requires competence, vision, and leadership. 

            We need Barkat to win the mayor's seat, increase the public's involvement during his five years in office, and elevate the level of discourse.  By the next election cycle, perhaps we can have a true race and not one candidate with ideas and the others seeking votes based on tribal loyalty.

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008
4:27 pm
Debating the Elections in J-m
American Israelis have two major elections coming up: On Tues 4 Nov is the US Presidential election, in which voters who care have already sent off their absentee ballots, and the following Tues, 11 Nov, are Israeli municipal elections, in which cities elect new mayors and city councils.  (As a part-time, paid staffer with the Nir Barkat for J-m mayor campaign, I plan to devote more than one post to that issue.)

My political identity has always been that of a centrist Democrat, and not a liberal.  However, moving from DC to J-m taught me that I have been instantly transformed into a liberal.  A friend with a comedy club in downtown J-m decided that his club would host a political debate, Obama vs. McCain and J-m mayoral candidates.  He tapped me as the pro-Obama and pro-Barkat representative.  I consented to be on the panel but noted that others could definitely represent Obama better than me.  He pointed out that he doesn't know anyone else in our social circle and conservative city who is out of the closet with their support for Obama.  It dawned on me: He's right.  As the outspoken Obama supporter, friends have approached me and whispered our shared position to me.  However, these are obviously not going to be the public debaters. 

While I support Obama and educated myself about the candidates to reach my voting decision, my research was not comprehensive enough to enable me to publicly debate the points.  Especially if my opponents would be any good.  A friend suggested that I contaced Democrats Abroad for talking points and tips.  A great idea!  I was sent material from the WDC office of Democrats Abroad and the Israel chapter.  I printed out at least 30 pages and had my shabbat reading set.  In addition, the head of the Israel chapter announced my debate in the newsletter!  It was starting to feel serious...

I had fun and enjoyed engaging in political discourse.  Maybe there will be another political evening: The Mayor's First 100 Days in Office.  Maybe I'll be onstage that night offering political commentary...  Remember, I'm the one who was voted onto her workplace's social committee without any awareness that I was running...

Below is the re-cap I sent to the head of the Israel chapter, as per her request and out of gratitude for her enabling me to not look like an awkward fool.

The turnout was quite modest (10 people; I knew half of them), but lively.  The presidential debate lasted about an hour and J-m mayoral 20 min.  The moderator, host of the comedy club, started out with serious questions sprinkled with jokes and ended with humorous questions (i.e., Who would you prefer as a guest at your shabbat table? Who would you rather date?)
It seemed that everyone in the audience who would be voting already had.  It also felt like a pro-McCain crowd, but overall politically mild.
The panel consisted of four members: A J-m resident who used to work as a lawyer for the RNC, me, a right wing nut who would embarrass any thinking Republican with his drivel, and an Obama supporter who jumped out of the audience in order to even out the panel.  While he clearly had not prepared for the debate and was not nearly as wacky as the right wing nut, he supplied nearly as many jokes as substantive responses.  However, he did offer a clear explanation of the process of uranium enrichment and building nuclear weapons.
As per the feedback from a friend in the audience, the RNC lawyer and I maintained poise, offered thoughtful, substantive replies and made our respective candidates look good.  The moderator thanked us and said that he learned about the candidates due to our performance.
I don't feel like anyone "won" the debate.  But given the support McCain has in J-m and the audience in particular, I'm not sure how many were prepared to be persuaded.  Rather, I believe that I succeeded in presenting Obama as worthy of office and more palatable/acceptable to those who voted McCain. 
Friday, October 17th, 2008
9:52 am
To Build a Sukkah...
...is to buy your friends.  Or as a friend paraphrased the passage from Pirkei Avot [Ethics of Our Fathers], "Aseh likha sukkah, knei likha haver-- make yourself a sukkah and acquire for yourself a friend."  How else can I explain my soaring popularity ratings of late?

Although, seriously, building a sukkah in an urban area is really a community service.  Many in cities do not have the resources or capacity to build a kosher one, unlike those in suburban and rural areas.  It is not a coincidence that I found 30 guests for 4 meals one week before the holiday started.  Regrettably, I had to turn away some late responders b.c I was already at capacity.

If only I hadn't discovered early afternoon before the holiday started that my schach had been stolen... :(

A post-show analysis will be posted in a few days.
Sunday, August 31st, 2008
11:17 am
Friday was Like My Birthday...
Another aliyah milestone: Receiving the last of my personal effects.

After the first 4 suitcases made their way to Israel, and other isolated objects through my and others' travels, I still had ~14 boxes of possessions that I was not parting with but had not managed to bring.

My sister took the leap this summer and along with her spouse and three cutie children moved to Israel.  The 14 boxes traveled with her possessions on a boat and reached my home on Monday.  The boxes contained books, wall hangings, and personal, sentimental objects.  While opening the smaller objects, I had the glee of a birthday girl who received lots of great gifts.  The objects were well-wrapped and I couldn't identify them from the outside.  But, I knew that I was going to love what was inside.  It was already mine and passed the earlier purgings.  None of the mixed feelings when you have to fake liking the birthday gift.

I now have all of my photo albums, figurines acquired from different travel destinations, and other personal items that brought a wash of nostalgia when unwrapping them.  Somehow, I'm feeling a little more whole now.
Thursday, August 28th, 2008
12:09 am
Just Call Me Ezra
--said the big, burly, shirtless man with a tattoo.

The apartment next door had some major flood and I came home this evening to find said Ezra getting rid of the water and cleaning the stairs.  I noticed that he was not our usual stair cleaner and wasn't sure why there would be a sub if it's not the normal stair cleaning day anyway.  (They get cleaned on Thurs and it was Wed). 

Anyway, in an effort to figure out who this guy is, I am the president of the condo association, after all, I introduced myself.  That his name is Ezra brought a smile to my face.  If he were Yossi or Guy, I wouldn't give it a second thought.  But burly, shirtless and with tattoos, AND his name is Ezra...  To me, Ezra is a religious name only, not a cultural, Hebrew one.  But, this is a land where anything is possible, including large, blue-collar type men with religious first names. 
Sunday, August 24th, 2008
8:58 pm
Can Volunteer Social Justice Initiatives Cure Workplace Evils?
In the last day I read two friends' blog entries and one friend's Facebook comment regarding the meat plant scandal in Postville, Iowa.  I refer you to the blog posts, which are fairly eloquent, and a recent NYT article.


(The first person to teach me the elegant hyperlinks wins!)

As a friend asks, why the opposition to a social justice stamp?  Why does it seem that those affiliated with the Conservative movement endorse this type of approval on their food, and the Orthodox folks are resistant?  There is much to ponder here and I think that separate issues are getting co-mingled here (kil'ayim, anyone?). 

Given the seriousness of the allegations against the meat plant, the investigation belongs in the hands of U.S. law enforcement agencies. While law enforcement is not flawless, I do not see how a volunteer ethics committee is capable of investigating whether immigration papers are fraudulent or not, whether paychecks are paid on time or not, and whether employees are assaulted-- by anyone in the workplace. All of these are prosecutable offenses and belong in the court system. To assume that US agents can't catch these violations but a volunteer group, with limited resources, can is stretching my imagination.

Also, I'm not clear what items will be on the ethics committee's checklist that is outside the purview of US law. What would they be violating by the standards of the social justice group while complying with US law?

Assuming agreement can be established that US law and law enforcement have a legitimate role in this scandal, should a social justice standard be adopted? Sure.  Why not? I support such a development.  However, as the resident of a city (country?) that uses one, and find its impact to be limited and disappointing.

In J-m I encounter the the "Tav Hevrati" which is very similar to what is being proposed. To the best of my understanding, eateries that meet the standards of the social justice group are awarded a label of approval that they can hang in their window, brag about, and use to promote themselves.  I think the standards including paying workers at least minimum wage, paying them on time, and having restrooms that are handicapped accessible. By the way, I have a habit of inquiring in eateries if they are on the approved list.

Guess what: Nearly all of the coffee shops meet the standard and none of the restaurants do. I guess at restaurants where the menus are more expensive, management expect wait staff to make their earnings off of tips. With no restaurant bearing the symbol of approval and no restaurant publicly known to exploit its workers, will the public realistically "boycott" these establishments?  Is it even considered a boycott when it's all food establishments of a comparable caliber?  I wonder if some of the coffee shops improved their practices toward workers in order to get on the list. If so, that's great and I'd love to hear about it (and any other corrections regarding my understanding of the operations of the Tav Hevrati).

One coffee shop near my house does not have the stamp b.c other than the outdoor seating section, all indoor seating, kitchen, etc. is one and two landings below the street entrance. (This city is a series of hills.) Therefore, their restroom is not wheelchair accessible. However, the guy in charge of Tav HaHevrati reportedly frequents there.

Basically, I support the Tav Hevrati on its fundamental level.  I hope that it can exert more power and social pressure in due time. But, given what I see as its limited impact, I find the American community's enthusiasm to be exaggerated.  Go ahead, establish one.  But, check out existing models and be realistic regarding its power and impact, as it may not solve the social ills it aims to address.
1:15 am
The Voter Constituency That Will Determine the US Election...
... is (drumroll): Make up your minds!

This descriptor has been applied to too many groups, making it overused and tired.  According to Kerry's former campaign manager, the Catholics will determine the outcome of the US presidential election.  Ergo, Biden is a good VP choice and an asset to the Democratic ticket.  If so, what happened to the disgruntled, white, working class voters?  Or, the Latino voters?  Or was it the women voters?  I didn't even mention "the Jews."

The dumbest suggestion of all was posted on janglo, Jerusalem's Craig's List.  A poster declared that expats in Israel would be the determining vote and he was urging readers to vote for McCain.  While the stateside groups named are plausibly the determining constituency, they are also mutually exclusive.  Pick one!  However, it is not possible for any expat group to have that kind of power in the current electoral voting system (if they are lucky enough to get their votes counted).  Israeli expats cannot "make a statement" like individual states can, b.c there is currently no mechanism to know how the expat populous in Israel or any other country votes.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that my vote will not carry much influence in Maryland's vote.

(Although the Democratic Global Primary did introduce a change in the world of the Democratic primary.  As best I recall, Obama had a sweep throughout countries and Clinton won in Israel and the DR, only.)

Finally, I have mixed feelings about "Get Out the Vote" campaigns abroad.  Personally, I already applied for my absentee ballot.  I read the International Herald Tribune's US Election page (usually page 6) daily, read Washington Post Online, etc.  I feel like I'm an informed voter and my vote is legitimate.  I also think "get out the vote" and "rock the vote" initiatives are important for citizens living stateside.  However, this logic does not apply to American citizens who choose to live abroad.  Only those who remain active and engaged should be participating in a US election. 

To clarify, I think absentee ballots should be readily available for all who apply and absentee votes should certainly be counted.  I just don't think citizens living overseas should be courted as potential voters when they're not paying attention to the elections.
Tuesday, August 19th, 2008
7:01 pm
Will the Israeli Rosa Parks Please Stand Up, Or Rather Sit in the Front of the Bus?
For some reason, gender discrimination under certain circumstances is legal in this country.  Namely, there are certain bus lines in which women are expected/forced to sit in the back of the bus.  While most Americans are appropriately embarrassed by our Jim Crow past, why are Israelis actively pursuing and expanding this form of discrimination?

In order to prevent mixed dancing and other social ills, "Mehadrin" bus lines have emerged that require women to sit in the back.  These lines used to only belong to private bus companies and generally serve exclusively ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and communities.  While I find all forms of discrimination abhorrent, I am comforted when it is at least not publicly-financed discrimination.  The local Egged bus lines and new Jerusalem-Tsfat Mehadrin lines should be shot down by the Supreme Court as a misuse of public funds.

(See my post-Pesach 2007 entry when males were unwilling to sit next to me on the Swiss Air and Lufthansa flights.  Find your own seating buddy and leave me alone!)

While many complain that the modern Orthodox community is moving to the right, the ultra-Orthodox is running to the right.  The private bus company that serves the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit due South of Jerusalem instituted that women are now expected to board the bus at the rear door as well.  Is there any limit to this madness?  Let us ponder the many layers of its foolishness.

1) If men and women are really to sit separately, the women should get the front half of the bus, not the back.  Given the high fertility rate, most women are pregnant or nursing and prone to nausea.  Looking out the front windshield and sitting closer to the engine often makes for a more comfortable ride.  However, when engaging in discrimination, it is the preferred group that gets to sit up front.  Hence, the women are relegated to the back.

2) There has never been any reported violence on the Beitar buses for violation of the separate seating, enforced via social norms (?).  Two stories involving violence that received major media attention involved a woman sitting up front on an early morning, local Jerusalem bus and a mixed-gender couple sitting together on the Beit Shemesh bus.  Violence is never acceptable.  I'm assuming these standards are social norms and enforced through social pressure, perhaps violence, too.  I don't believe any passenger can be issued a ticket for sitting in the wrong seat.

3) I'm assuming that the Beitar folks are a more mellow bunch given their history of non-violence and known episodes of non-comforming. I have personally observed married couples sitting together in the middle section of the bus and disenfranchised male youth (at least by appearance) sitting in the back of the bus (i.e., in the "women's section).  While I don't like rowdy or disruptive passengers, I have no personal objection to males sitting in the back row of the bus.  If these episodes can pass peacefully, then why can't I choose my own seat?  I promise to not mixed dance with any of the smelly, overdressed male passengers on the bus.

4) Because Beitar is a settlement, the buses have bulletproof windows, which means the glass is not transparent and it is not all that easy to see the scenery.  If a woman visitor is traveling to Beitar, sitting in the back of the bus is a real liability.  On normal bus lines, one can sit near the driver and ask for help in getting off at the right bus stop, sit up front and look out the front windshield, etc.  A woman who is unfamiliar with the route, cannot see landmarks or read street and road signs clearly from the translucent side windows.  How unwelcoming.  Perhaps the community of Beitar does not want female visitors... 

5) Boarding in the back of the bus is an absolute violation of a passenger's dignity.  Why is this an improvement?  However, assuming that I'm sitting in the back, it is to my advantage to board with the other women in order to increase my chances of getting a seat.  If I insist on boarding at the front and the bus is crowded, there may be no seats left.

The first time I rode the bus with the separate boarding, I boarded in the back with my sister so that we could get better seats.  I then marched up to the front of the bus so that I could buy a 5-ride bus ticket and returned to my seat.  The new, rear-door boarding system had me walking through the "men's section" twice instead of once.

The driver sold me the ticket and punched a single ride for me.  After reaching my seat, I self-punched a second ride for my sister using the puncher chained to the handrail by the rear door.  Truthfully, I entertained the idea of not punching the second ride, those sleazy jerks.  But, their sleaziness and jerkiness aside, not paying for a bus ride is theft.

When we reached the last bus stop inside the city, a modern Orthodox-looking man boarded the bus in the rear.  How unusual, I thought.  Might he be my savior, acting as a reverse Rosa Parks?  Alas, no.  He was the inspector checking to see that no woman acted on the impulse of not paying for the ride.  (He inspected the bus tickets of women passengers, only.)

My return trip back to Jerusalem had a few additional quirks.  The bus approached its stop, should have been Jerusalem-bound, but it's display was broken.  My sister and I were the only passengers at the stop and the driver opened the rear doors only.  I walked toward the front of the bus, to speak with the driver.  A local resident walking by proclaimed to me, "You are supposed to board in the rear."  I ignored her.

Me: Are you going to Jerusalem?

Bus Driver: Yes.

Why would I ever board a bus without verifying its destination first?  Since I was already standing next to an open bus door, albeit front door, I boarded right there.  Egads!  Bizarrely, as the bus continued to pick up passengers, women would board in the back and ask sitting passengers my same question: Is this really the bus I want?  Why aren't these women empowered enough to insist on boarding in the front and asking *the driver* their question?

A man-woman pair boarded the bus at their respective doors, met in the middle and sat together.  They can sit together, but must board separately??  And then there are the disenfranchised youth.  A group of four teenagers boarded at the rear, two males and two females.  They sat in the back together.  The male then went all the way to the front to pay for his ride, and came all the way back.

None of this makes sense!  By honoring the mandate of boarding separately, women are asking other passengers that I would only ask a bus driver.  Couples are boarding separately to sit together, and males and females end up walking through the "other" section additional times in order to pay and sit.  All four rides on the bus involved an inspector checking only the women's tickets.  The loopholes and policy of enforcement only highlight its absurdity.

Will the Israeli Rosa Parks please stand up?  Or, Will the Israeli Rosa Parks please sit in the front of the bus?
Sunday, August 10th, 2008
2:53 pm
More Fame and Glory, New Venue
Self-published blogs not included, I've received a fair amount of attention from the media lately.  The most recent bout* began with a pre-aliyah interview and color photograph in the Washington Jewish Week in July 2005.  (The photograph was a picture of me performing wedding shtick that involved tap dancing while wearing a Broadway-style costume hat and my DC Taxation Without Representation t-shirt .)  The aliyah-related publicity continued with a published letter to the editor and an interview with AngloFile, both of HaAretz newspaper, relating to my struggles of obtaining Israeli certification as a psychologist. 

My next step in stardom: an interview with the Shiur Times.  While not as classy or snobby as HaAretz, I got another color photograph.  This photograph is a more classic one in which I simply smile at the camera.  Behind me is the Mediterranean Sea, as viewed when one is at the beach in Tunis, Tunisia.

The magazine is issued monthly and about a year old.  Their target audience is English speaking, religiously-identifying Israel dwellers.  In preparation for the August issue that has an aliyah theme, in late June the editors were soliciting self-identifying "successful olim."  I replied to the e-mail ad with a few lines about myself offering to be interviewed.  Due to the timing, I could not even include that I won the Social Committee elections at my workplace without any effort (or interest).  Wouldn't that be the all-time indication of a successful aliyah?

They contacted me a few days later asking to schedule an interview.  The rest, as they say, is history.  The link to my article is here: http://issuu.com/shiurtimes/docs/august2008/29?mode=embed&documentId =080804101842-dc7e0ee9d240

Again, sorry for the hideous-looking hyperlink.

For my loyal blog readers, I don't know if anything in the article is new to you.  It's only two paragraphs and I believe everything mentioned in there has been noted here, too. 

As one loyal blog reader noted, the article paints things a bit rosier than the blog entries.  While he is of course correct, I would like to clarify that the segment in question addresses the relevant, meaningful jobs I've held since arriving in Israel.  This does not contradict the grief the Board of Psychologists or Overseas Degree Recognition Committee have wielded against me that gets so much air time in this blog.  However, the hiring psychologists never cared that some power-hungry committee didn't recognize my psychology training and certifications.  Similarly, the research firm that employs me full-time and the college where I hold an adjunct position never cared that the Degree Recognition Committe was doubting my PhD and putting me through the wringer.  My degree was totally acceptable to them.  While I still resent all of the pointless exercises inflicted upon me by the government agencies, they never created any true, practical, job-related repercussions for me.

*To be precise, my first moment of fame involved being quoted in The Washington Times in a presidential election article in 2000.  I attended a speech Al Gore gave on the Maryland campus addressing his higher education initiative.  Although, I think my fame really began when I was 4 and the lemonade stand I was running with my sister and neighbor [read: they were running] got a photograph in the local paper.
Thursday, August 7th, 2008
3:44 pm
Nephew Story: Best Excuse Ever
I was talking to my sister, and heard my 5 year-old nephew playing in the background.  I asked her if he would come to the phone.

Sister: N, you have a phone call.

N: I can't come to the phone now. I'm making the grass grow.

Excuse me? He was in the wading pool in the backyard and spilling water onto the grass, hence he was "growing it." If anyone else gave me that excuse to not come to the phone, I would be highly miffed... Good thing he is so cute.
Tuesday, July 29th, 2008
12:47 pm
More Power, But This Time an Elected Position

For those who were thinking that I am under-active, do not have enough responsibility, and simply usurp power when it is convenient, I can now prove that this is not true.  The director of HR at my workplace just called me to tell me that I won the Social/Sunshine Committee elections. 

The committee is literally called, The Workers Committee (Va'ad Ovdim).  However, we are not a union or a committee with any power.  Our role involves selecting 5 or so gifts at the holiday seasons, Rosh HaShanah and Passover, from which staff members can choose one.  Up until last year the committee also distributed chocolate on birthdays, but that was discontinued due to lack of funds.  The funding source for these gifts is workers' dues, 15 NIS/month (~$4.32).  So, really the "free" holiday gifts are pre-paid by the recipients.  In addition, the committee organizes a "Worker's Day" (yom oved), which is an organization-wide field trip.  This past year the field trip was at Ein Yael, but I missed it b.c it was held on the 10th day of Pesach.  I was en route back to Israel after spending the holiday in the US with my family.  To the best of my recollection, there was no "workers' day"/field trip the year prior.  Gifts for life cycle events and other special occasions are organized by the individual departments.  

The Sunshine Committee's elections were held last week.  They involved the previous committee exaggerating the greatness and importance of the committee, and encouraging all eligible voters to participate in the elections via email messages.  Voting slips were placed in the mailboxes of eligible voters, i.e., not administration, secretaries, temps, and three days were alloted for voting for any two or so staff persons of choice.  Personally, I did not actually understand the Hebrew-language voting directions.  I thought a nomination process was underway, had no clue who to nominate, and decided that I would vote once the real elections were underway.  I didn't realize that it was a one-stage election in which the direct elections were in progress.  However, during the voting window, my lunch buddy told me that she had voted for me!  I canceled my plans to abstain, opted for revenge, and voted for her.  

Point: I did not actively run and until her leak I did not suspect that anyone would vote for me. 

The director of HR called me to tell me that I won.  I simply burst out laughing.  What could be funnier?  Really?  Maybe that the committee even exists in the first place... 

Then I thought to ask how many votes I received.  Assuming there are ~100 eligible voters, I can't fathom turnout exceeded 50%, based on all of the empty voting slips left untouched in mailboxes.  How many ballots does it take to win a majority if no one actually votes?  And, shouldn't they cancel the committee if voter turnout is too low?  I was expecting him to tell me that I won with three votes.  However, he told me that I obtained between 11 and 12 votes.  How wild!  Of course this makes me curious regarding the actual turnout.  Did 20% of all voters really vote for me?  Maybe turnout and total votes cast was higher than my estimate.  Three of my closer friends at work each told me they abstained.  So who on earth voted for me?  Perhaps my reputation as fabulous President of the Condo Association is getting around...

[Edit: I have since been privy to the election results.  As I best recall, there were ~40 voters who cast ~115 votes.  The individual with the most votes, 11, is leaving at the end of the month.  The three committee members won 10, 9 and 8 votes respectively.]

To my pleasure, my friend and victim of my revenge also won.  There is a third, male member of the committee.  Our first order of business is to have a transitional meeting with the outgoing committee along with the HR director in order to start preparing the Rosh HaShanah gifts.  The holiday is only two months away...

Monday, July 28th, 2008
1:25 pm
Executive Decision Making by the Condo Board President--

--who happens to be me, for those who have not yet heard.  

As the Queen and Dictator of my residential apartment building (rosh va'ad ha-bayit), I have many responsibilities.  They include collecting monthly payments from all residents, depositing them in person at Bank Non-Discount, paying the stair cleaners, paying the gardener, ordering the oil for the communal heat in the winter, buying the building's annual insurance policy, among other things.  As the person in charge, additional odds and ends fall in my lap.  One day, I will write the expanded version of how I ascended to power and a fuller description of my responsibilities.

However, this week there was a slightly unusual one, which we are hoping will never recur:

I walked out of my apartment building yesterday morning hurrying to the bus, hoping that I hadn't missed it.  At the entrance to the building, I notice there is fresh animal excrement.  Given its amorphous shape and size, I identify it as cat vomit.

Whose job is it to take care of this?

While I am the proud president of the condo association, I coordinate, organize, and handle sums of money.  I am no more responsible to clean up this putrid, although contained, mess than any other resident of the building.  While dashing to the bus, I promptly forgot about the morning present.

Around mid-day, my sister who was staying at my place called to report the present to me.  She called me in the late afternoon to tell me that it was still there and starting to smell horrible.  Clearly, no concerned resident saw it and was inspired to take care of it.

My executive decision?

I called the building's stair cleaners.  They are an elderly, immigrant couple from Eastern Europe who live nowhere near J-m, the wife speaks no Hebrew, and they strike me as destitute.  (I did not find them; they were cleaning the stairs before I assumed my esteemed position.)  I first verified if either would be in J-m the next day.  The wife expected to be.  I explained the situation to the husband and said that I would pay 50 NIS (~$14.41) in exchange for the one-time cleaning job.  They accepted.  The husband also called me this morning asking that I leave bleach for his wife to use.  I told him that I since laid newspaper over the mess to prevent excess smelling and flies.


Well, I certainly did not want to take care of it.  The job is probably about 10 min, max 15.  But, it is so disgusting.  And, I don't feel more ownership or responsibility than any other resident.  Besides, as of this morning no resident adjusted the carefully placed newspaper.  Either, they walked past it not caring or knew what was underneath and chose to leave it there.  Certainly, if I were a homeowner, I would suck it up and just clean it.  But, as President, Queen, etc. I have a discretionary budget and this seemed like a worthy cause.  Certainly the cleaners are pleased.  They get paid 300NIS/month for cleaning the stairs.  In contrast to a weekly payment of 75 NIS for all public spaces in and around the building, they are getting 50 NIS for a 10 min job.

Additional thoughts?

What if they had said no?  What if they would not be in J-m til Thurs.?  Does that make the clean up my responsibility due to my role?  Can I pay myself the 50 NIS?

Thoughts and replies welcome.

Sunday, July 27th, 2008
2:41 pm
Land for Peace, according to Eldan Rental Car Company
In anticipation of the upcoming US elections, journalists are bemoaning the underinvolvement of Americans in the political process.  In contrast, one can argue that Israelis are overly engaged in politics.  This is somewhat logical, given the stakes of the issues and the exposure and vulnerability regular citizens feel toward the outcomes.  However, I really never expected a car rental company to have their own Land for Peace platform.  On second thought, it makes sense that a car rental place would care where their car is being driven.

Last week I had the need to rent a car, the first such opportunity while I am ~7 weeks shy of my three-year aliyah anniversary.  I did some comparison shopping via rental car websites, soclitied a recommendation from a friend, and placed a reservation via phone with Eldan car rental.  

Need for car: My younger sister is in Israel on a study abroad program and wanted to visit Masada, something she has not managed to do on her previous visits to Israel.  Given the limited bus service and our job/summer school schedules, renting a car was the only viable option.  The hike up Masada was planned for post-sunrise Fri am, with the expectation that we would return to J-m after the car rental place closes at 13:00 and would miss the last buses to our shabbat destination, Beitar Illit, a settlement due South of Jerusalem.  Alas, the car would take us where we needed to go.

When retrieving the car, I had to fill out forms and sign a waiver that I would not drive on Highway 6, the toll road that photographs the car's license plates and mail's a bill to the car owner's home.  Rental cars are charged a higher toll and the rental company adds a 50 NIS fee (~$14.33) in exchange for the nuisance of tracking down the car driver two months after returning the rented car.

I then recalled that in addition to indicating whether I would be driving on Highway 6, the website wanted to me to check a box if I planned to cross the Green Line (i.e., post-1967 Israeli borders).  I asked the attendant about crossing the Green Line.  

Lady Attendant: No, not in this car.

Me: But that's so restrictive and ridiculous.  And, I need the car to reach my shabbat destination.

Lady: I'm sorry, but this car does not have the extra level of insurance need to cross the line.  Arabs will see that you're driving a rental and they might stone you.  We can't protect you.

Man Attendant: Where do you want to go to?

Me: Beitar Illit.

MA: Oh, that's not a real settlement.  That's a well-populated, well-established city [that is very close to the J-m city limits].  Beitar doesn't count.

LA: I thought you wanted to travel to Arab cities, like Bethlehem or Ramallah.  No one will stone you if you drive to Beitar (on the Jewish road that is protected by the separation fence).

Me: Phew, what a relief.  So, when you refer to "crossing the Green Line" [a well-defined border], you are really referring to entering Area A, land controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

Moral: One can debate the future of the settlements, whether they are really "inside" or "outside" of Israel, but the Green Line itself is pretty straightforward.  It is an identifiable border and you know when you have or have not crossed it.  For Eldan to tell me that driving outside of Israel's '67 borders to a well-established settlement does not constitute crossing the Green Line is a revisionist-nationalist policy towards Israel's borders.

Who ever thought that a rental car company would take such a bold stance on politics?  I bet the mayor of Beitar would love to hear that he is now inside the Green Line.  I think the US Foreign Service would be less pleased.
Saturday, June 28th, 2008
9:47 pm
Self-Worship in Jerusalem
For those who have not heard the latest buzz in Israel's entertainment industry, there is a new drama series called "Srugim" [i.e., the crotched kippot worn by men affiliated with Modern Orthodox Judaism].  The series follows five religious singles living in Katamon, a popular residential neighborhood among this crowd. 

The show is produced and broadcast by the "Yes" satellite channel, which I don't have.  However, any Israel-dweller who counts has seen the first episode-- the only one aired so far-- primarily by viewing it on the channel's website. 

Some explanation and commentary: The show is in Hebrew with Hebrew closed-captioning.  The major actors are professional, hence secular, the directing is quality, and the script is authentic.  (Note: the token American *is* a professional actress.  Edit due to correction by esteemed actress herself.)  The director is a graduate of Jerusalem's religious film school, Ma'ale (http://www.maale.co.il/default_en.asp), is reputed to be living in Jerusalem as a bachelor (edited as per comment below), and is directing  a show with a universal theme but with the social trappings of a religious community.

In addition to finding the show highly authentic, I liked the subtle acting: the glances, once-overs, and smirks.  I also liked the richness of detail, how the characters drink tea and read their newspapers late Friday night, and of course I was amused by the male characters being so much more flawed than the female characters.

Enough commentary.  For those with moderate to proficient Hebrew, enjoy the show!


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Tuesday, June 24th, 2008
8:23 pm
Defender of US Democracy
Last week the Circuit Court in Montgomery County, Maryland summoned me for jury duty in July.  Even though I've been a registered voter since 1996, this is the first summons I've received.  They were bound to find me sometime... 

I called the number on the summons form to report that I am overseas and unable to serve.  Since I do not have definite return date and do not plan to be back in the US this calendar year, I received a two-year deferral. 

But, how did they find me?  The woman answering the phone said that my name was pulled up because I had filled out a questionnaire in April.  I have no recollection of filling out any questionnaire, but I did perform my favorite civic duty while visiting my family in April: I voted!  Coinciding with me three-week visit in Maryland, there was a special primary election for a county council seat that vacated mid-term.  Marilyn Praisner, who represented District 4 of Montgomery County, for nearly twenty years passed away.  Apparently, she wasn't that sick, but quickly took a turn for the worse.

Due to the vacant seat, a primary election was held to determining who would run in the general election to replace her.  As is the case in many districts dominated by one party, the primary determines the winner.  Marilyn's widower won the democratic primary and went on to win the general election. 

As someone on vacation with no bona fide conflicts, there was no way that I would not vote.  When living in the US, I voted in all elections, big and small.  In truth, this election was less glamorous than the others, and it kind of reminded me of voting in Israel: There was only one contest on the ticket.  At least, this contest involved voting for candidates and not parties.  Voting for individual candidates is so much better than casting a vote for a party.  I exited the voting polls with the standard bilingual English-Spanish "I Voted" sticker and felt very proud.

Given that it was a special election and a primary, turnout was very low.  It was something like 11% county-wide.  Supposedly, my jurisdiction has disproportionately higher turnout than others, but there was no per-jurisdiction reporting.  Hence, the low turnout means that my vote carried even more weight.  For those who are suspicious of overseas voters flying in for elections or stateside voters who turn up at the polls uninformed, fear not.  I researched the respective candidates before I cast my ballot and cast an informed vote.

In summary, in April I performed an act of civic engagement by participating the a special primary election.  This democratic act lead to my being summoned by the circuit court for jury duty.  I suppose there is a limit to my civic activism in Montgomery County given my current location.  Nonetheless, I count myself to be among the Defenders of Democracy.

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