Monday, July 31, 2006

And now for something a little different

This war is making me ill.

The Lebanese civilians dying makes me ill.

The rockets on Israeli schools, hosptials and apartment buildings makes me ill.

The media not giving people the context they need to understand why so many Lebanese are dying (hello, Hezballah is attacking Israel from within suburbs!) and so few Israelis (hello, Israel invested millions of dollars into early-warning systems, and bomb shelters, and the North has emptied out, creating hundreds of thousands of Israeli Internally Displaced Persons) is making me ill.

The people who do not understand that, from Israel's perspective, this is NOT an Israel-Lebanon war, but rather an Israel-Hezballah war, make me ill.

The fact that it is Israeli weapons that have killed so many innocent people -- even though we have no choice -- makes me ill. The fact that there are some Israelis -- including, apparently, some army spokespeople-- who don't understand that just because you warn people to leave an area, doesn't mean they all can, makes me ill.

The people in the West who do not understand that if Israel does not decisively castrate Hezballah, the entire Western world will be experiencing terrorist attacks for a long, long time, makes me ill. If you are sitting in Paris or Madrid or Berkley, and you think that Israel should just cut their losses and quit now because the war is taking too long and too many Lebanese civilians are suffering, I have news for you: Hezballah is not fighting against Israel. Hezballah wants to take down the entire non-Muslim-- that is, the Western-- world. Israel is fighting this war not just for our own sakes, but also for yours. If Israel does not cut down Hezballah like crushed watermelons now, then for the next many, many years, a lot of Islamist terrorists are going to be copying Hezballah's MO right in your neighborhood. And then, in order for any government, anywhere, to take down the bad guys, the civilians they'll unavoidably hit might be you. Since you don't want to help us win this war, understandably, because that would cause World War III, you have a choice: Either shut up and let Israel do what it needs to do, or get ready for the missile launchers to arrive in the park across your street, and the terrorist cells to move in to the apartment upstairs.

Hezballah are like bacteria. When you take antibiotics, you have to take it for the whole course. You have to wipe out all traces of the germs. If you stop taking the antibiotic before it has finished doing its job, you are creating a greater likelihood that the bacteria will come back -- and stronger next time.

Hezballah, like bacteria, make me ill.

The fact that I'm going North tomorrow . . . making me ill.

I am a bundle of nerves. I am having a nervous breakdown. I am sick, sick, sick of reading, writing, and thinking about this war.

So you know what we're gonna do instead?

We're gonna look at pictures of guinea pigs.

Awww . . . so cute . . .

Guinea pigs are nice . . . much nicer than a war . . .

This little boy from the 1970's is brushing his guinea pig's hair with a toothbrush.

I had two pet guinea pigs. I bet Nasrallah's parents never let him have one.

Don't Tell My Mom

I am writing this with the utmost confidence in my knowledge that no matter how often I invite, nay beg, my parents to read my blog, they never do. (I know, go figure.) So, assuming those of you who know my parents can keep a secret, this blog post is just between us, OK? You, me, and the 430 or so strangers who will read this today.

Some time in the next very few days, I'm scheduled to go to Tzfat (Safed) on a work assignment. Ironically, this is not even for a journalism assignment, but rather a PR assignment for an organization that is doing humanitarian efforts in the north. I'll be driving around Safed with their "peeps," going from bomb shelter to bomb shelter, watching them giving out meals and spreading some cheer (and, I hope, spreading some cheer myself). Normally I would not endanger my life for a PR job, but I must admit that all the instincts I developed in those Journalism School classes are kicking in, and I'm very curious to go up North myself and see what's happening with my own eyes (and, of course, to blog about it). I'm taking a friend's suggestion and bringing a change of clothing, in case for some reason I can't get out once I'm in. And,of course, my camera and a notebook.

While I consider myself a successful freelance journalist and writer, this is the first time I'll ever have deliberately entered a danger zone for my work. When Professor Blood, my Reporting I and II instructor, offered to sit shiva for me after I win my Pulitzer Prize, I decided that I'd rather stick to more mundane and happy topics, and stay alive long enough to see my work in print. I am more than happy to watch reporters braver than myself earn their Pulitzers. So, I must admit that last night and this morning I had a bit of a panic attack about these plans I've made. But then I realized that:

a) More than half the time I'll be in bomb shelters.

b) When I'm on the road, if a rocket comes our way, we'll get a bit of warning and can duck into a shelter (I hope)

c) Ergo, I can put "dying in Safed" in the same "freak incident" category in my brain as "being hit by an Egged bus in Jerusalem" or "having a brick fall on my head in Manhattan." Not for lack of Hezballah's TRYING to kill me, you understand, but because, Thank God, Safed has a sophisticated and expensive early warning system and plenty of bomb shelters.

At least, this is what I am telling myself so that I will not have more panic attacks.

Anyhow, the reason I'm telling you this is so that those of you live in or near Jerusalem can feel free to bring me toys, books, and magazines to bring up North. Please drop off all donations on MONDAY (that is, TODAY). You can send me an email at chayyeisarah at yahoo dot com and we'll arrange a pick-up place for this afternoon/evening. If I don't know you personally, then I'll have you meet me someplace public with tight security.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Wartime Ice-Breakers

So this past Shabbat (sabbath) the religious singles community in Katamon, Jerusalem hosted about 10 or 20 of our peers from northern Israel. It was a chance to give them a little respite, and a chance for all of us to meet new people.

The first thing I want to say about this weekend is that, despite my notorious "Shabbaton From Hell" series of 2 years ago (link to come when I get around to it), the singles events I attend in Israel are MUCH nicer than the ones I attended in New York. The people tend (with the exeption of those at that infamous Shabbaton in Tiberias) to be very normal, very nice, and very friendly. Unlike the events I attended in America, the singles events here tend to have an even number of men and women, more or less; men will talk to the women even if they are not interested, because they are being friendly; and there isn't a sense of competition between the women to be the most well-coifed, the most well-dressed, the best manicured, the skinniest, etc. There's an undercurrent of cruelty at Orthodox singles events in the States (and perhaps those of other communities as well, but I couldn't say), and that edge is lacking here. The atmosphere is much more relaxed and just, well, friendly. It may not lead to any more dates, but whereas in the States I almost always came back from singles Shabbatons feeling worthless and unlovable, I come home from the Shabbatons here (again, with that one horrible exception) feeling that there is hope in the world for finding someone - but this time just wasn't my time. It's still disappointing, but not as emotionally brutal.

My guest this weekend was a lovely 31-year-old woman from Acco (Acre), S. Her family has refused to leave town during the constant attacks, and until recently she refused to leave her family, so she's spent most of this crisis in and out of bomb shelters, losing her mind. Since the war started, she's been able to go to work only twice. (A man at the Shabbaton, from Haifa, said that his office was open only two days; the second day, a rocket hit the building next door, at which point the boss said "that's it. Everybody go home.") A few days ago S. decided to spend a few days in Rehovot with a friend, then come to this Shabbaton. As of last night, she was planning to go back to Rehovot for another few days and then return to Acco. I loaned her a John Grisham novel and three Agatha Christies (her English is fluent enough), since she said the worst thing about the bomb shelters is that it is so incredibly boring.

Friday night, all the guests and hosts ate together in the social hall of a local synagogue. One of the organizers got up and thanked everyone for coming. He thanked the woman who had arranged the housing, and everyone clapped. He thanked the woman who had arranged the catering, and everyone clapped. He thanked the man who would be hosting "seudat shlishit" (um, sort of a traditional Saturday afternoon meal) at his home the next day, and everyone clapped. He thanked the synagogue for allowing us to rent the social hall for free, and everyone clapped. Then he said "there is one more person we have to thank for bringing us together this weekend . . . "

Someone called out "Nasrallah!" to scattered laughter, and a little bit of people looking at each other trying to decide whether it was OK to laugh.

(Gallows humor, people, it's gallows humor, laughing at our tragedies has kept the Jews alive for thousands of years, so please do not flame me. Thank you.)

During dinner, I managed to follow the conversation even though I was the only English-speaker at the table. For most of the evening, the conversation was typical singles -events fare, but I noticed two things that were unusual:

Just before the meal started, someone dropped a box with something heavy, such as silverware, and it came down with a crash. Everyone from the north jumped about six feet. Talk about being on edge. I felt so bad for them.

Then, as the meal began . . . well, normally the conversation between singles goes like this:
What's your name?
Where do you live?
What do you do?

But this time, it was:
What's your name?
Where do you live?
How many rockets have you been getting?
How many minutes of warning do you get?

Talk about surreal.

Anyway, S. and I went for lunch on Saturday to some friends of mine, who were hosting S.'s friend, but the whole group got together again, like I said, for seudat shlishit. It was all so nice. I met a brother and sister from Tzfat (Safed) who were just the sweetest people ever. I looked around at one point, observing everyone talking and eating and milling, wondering whether someone might get a "shidduch" out of this after all, and knowing that I got a lot more out of this weekend than any "help with the war effort" I put in by hosting S.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Shabbat Guest

This weekend there is a very nice program going on in my neighborhood: ten or fifteen singles who live in Northern Israel, and are now wandering refugees, are staying with singles in Jerusalem's Katamon area. All the guests and hosts, plus other singles from my area who volunteered to host but didn't end up being assigned a guest, will have dinner together tonight and tomorrow evening, and are sets of guests/hosts are eating in each other's homes for lunch tomorrow.

So I have a woman from Acco (Acre in English?), which is smack between Haifa and Nahariya, coming to spend Shabbat with me. I'll be helping a refugee, meeting new people from the North and from my own neighborhood, improving my Hebrew, and best of all, I don't have to cook for Shabbat at all. Sweet!

It's too bad more people aren't coming from the North. The organizers said that they checked Dosidate, and just on that site are 300 religious single Jews in their late 20's, 30's, and early 40's who live in Northern Israel. But between the fact that this program came about just in the last 9-10 days, and that what with people having left their homes it's a bit difficult to find them now, only a handful of the eligible refugees are coming. Still, the organizers decided early on that this program will go on even if only one person comes, and I think they deserve a round of applause for putting this together.

In other news, after spending all day yesterday deeply depressed and anxiety-ridden about the war, I found this site and spent a couple of hours last night practically busting a gut from laughing so hard. It's a site where people post things they used to believe when they were children. I recommend going category by category, and clicking on "highest-rated beliefs first." I was laughing so hard I had tears rolling down my cheeks. I really needed that.

To those readers for whom this is meaningful: Have a Shabbat Shalom.
To all my readers: Have a restful and peaceful weekend.


A reader points out that, technically, an Israeli who has fled the north and is seeking refuge in, say, Jerusalem, is not a refugee but an IDP - an Internally Displaced Person, since they did not have to leave the country, rather they are seeking refuge from war/disaster in other areas of their own country. I looked it up, and there is a discrepancy between the dictionary definition of "refugee," and the way the word is generally used by the media, the UN, etc (except that American media called the people displaced by Hurricane Katrina "refugees," so it's not all that clear-cut).

Anyway, it's fine with me if you prefer "IDP" to "refugee" in this case. Either way, they had to flee their homes and find safety elsewhere. As long as we all agree that that is bad, I'm not gonna split hairs over the terminology.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Via Sandmonkey, who has a MUCH better sense of humor than some of the trolls coming here from his blog, I present to you: "Swearing to Success."
So this is what it feels like to be Allison or Lisa!

I've been interviewed at Iraqi Blogger Central. Thanks to the proprietor, "Mister Ghost," for contacting me and giving me a platform on his website. And for the highly evocative art he placed with the post.

PS, the interview before mine is by Amechad.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

How's THIS for a surprise?

Hezballah: poke-poke-poke

Israel: Cut it out!

Hezballah: poke-poke-poke

Israel: I'm serious, cut it out!

Hezballah: poke-poke-poke

[Israel slaps Hezballah]

Hezballah to Lebanon: Mom! He hit me!

Lebanon: Stop whining. I have other things to deal with.

Hezballah: poke-poke-poke

[Israel slaps Hezballah again]

Hezballah: You wanna piece of me? Come and get it.

America: Stop that fighting back there! Hezballah, try to stop poking, OK? You're bothering your mum. And you, Israel, keep your hands to yourself.

Israel: Yes, dad.

Hezballah: poke-poke-poke

[Israel slaps Hezballah again]

Hezballah: Mom! He hit me again!

Lebanon [distracted]: mm hmm

Hezballah: poke-poke-poke

[Israel punches Hezballah in the face, drawing blood]

Hezballah, touching his nose and then staring at the blood: Oh Sh*t! What did you do that for?


A note about this post:

Thanks to all the bloggers who have linked here, and to the commenters.

I very much appreciate that so many people find the post funny. I, too, laughed grimly when I read the Yahoo article that my post “interprets.”

However, I do recognize that the “mom” in this post is getting badly hurt, too. And I recognize that, while many, if not most, of the parties/countries/entities in the Middle East have the personalities of disturbed children, they are children with very powerful and deadly weapons, and ultimately this is not a laughing matter.

As an Israeli, I pray for the innocent Israelis AND Lebanese who are being injured, killed, or just stressed out by the situation we have now, and I very much hope that somehow, someday, this will all lead to a Lebanon that is powerful enough, strong enough, and neighborly enough to deal SWIFTLY AND FIRMLY with the “child who pokes,” and an Israel that knows how to WISELY stop the poking (though, it’s difficult for me to see what choice we had at this point, given that nothing else has worked, and that Hezballah bunkers out in the middle of civilian residential neighborhoods. Damn, damn, damn Hezballah for attacking us! And damn them again for forcing us to kill innocent people! As Golda Meir wisely said, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children, but we cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill theirs.”)



Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nice To Know

As some of you may recall, I have a temporary position as the (THE one and only) writer for a series of English-language magazines for Israeli children and teens who are learning the language. I wrote two versions of the Summer issue, one for older kids with better English, one for beginning younger kids, and am now working on four versions of the September issue, which is given out in schools.

For the "soft news" section, I decided to write a short blurb about a topic that caught my eye in an American paper recently: that of foreign diplomats in New York (that is, consulars and UN diplomats) who do not pay their parking tickets. It used to be that diplomats who did not pay their parking fines were costing New York City millions of dollars every year - they knew that the city would not tow cars that have diplomatic plates. New York has been cracking down on these foreign governments, taking the unpaid fines out of aid packages (for the last three years) and, more recently, towing cars whether they have diplomatic plates or not.

Since this is a magazine for Israeli children, I had to find out where Israel falls on the spectrum of parking-ticket negligence. For the record, the (native Israeli) editor and graphic designer were absolutely convinced that Israel must be one of the worst perpetrators, that of course our diplomats are embarrassing us, right?

Well, wrong. Yesterday I called the Mayor's office of the City of New York, and a spokesperson there told me that Israel is one of the best countries in terms of paying parking fines, and always has been. He said that even before the city started cracking down on parking scofflaws, Israel had "hardly any" unpaid tickets, and now is "pretty much down to zero."

For those who want more details, here are some interesting things I found out from the Mayor's office:

  • It has always been the case that the more closely allied a country is with America, the more likely their embassies and consulates are to pay their parking tickets.
  • The City of New York does not keep records on which countries receive the most tickets, only on which ones have the most outstanding unpaid fines. So they do not know whether Israeli diplomats (or any other diplomats) tend more to park legally, or whether they violate parking rules a lot but virtually always pay up when caught.
  • Three years ago, the Senators of New York passed through a bill in Washington to the effect that whatever unpaid parking fines a country has in New York City or Washington, D.C. will automatically be deducted from that country's aid package at the rate of 110 percent. After that, the spokesman said, unpaid parking tickets became much less of a problem.
  • So . . . . the countries that most outlandishly flaunt their parking fines and never pay up tend to be those who are neither allied with America, nor receive US aid. The spokesman said "you can make your own deductions from that."

If you have not been following Allison's war blogging, get yourself over there right now, and read as many of the most recent posts as you can.

The Chayyei hath spoken.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Little Update

Nothing much new to report, but I know that some of my friends (and some of my "virtual" friends") abroad are worried about me, so I'm just checking in.


(This reminds me of one of my favorite books, which includes two postcards one can mail out to an ex-boyfriend. The first says "not thinking about you." The other says "STILL not thinking about you."

That is one of the best books ever.)

I very much wish I lived in a place big enough for me to host a couple or family from the north. I have been told by people who work there that there is a "tent city" on the coast, near Ashkelon, where 2,000 -- count 'em-- people from northern Israel are living in tents. I wonder how close they are to the Gaza evacuees who, last I heard, are still there too. Crazy stuff, crazy stuff.

By the way, my landlady changed her mind, and is raising my rent after all. However, she's still installing a new air conditioner, after about a year of my fighting for one. I did some research and concluded that the new, higher, rent is still worth it. In fact, I'm now signing a two-year lease. My goal is to stay where I am for a while and save up money to buy an apartment. If I rent a bigger place, I'll be more comfortable but a)I'll have to move, and moving is awful and b) all that rent money I could be saving toward a down payment will be going out the window.

David just wrote a post about how the war is affecting his vacation plans. Me too, David! I'd been hoping to go up north in a couple of weeks . . . now it seems I'll be heading south instead, or maybe to the southern coast. Luckily, there is this wonderful site, to help me choose a cute place to stay, with a pool. Is it self-absorbed to go on a vacation when there is a war going on? Well, what else should I do? How would it help anyone if I stay in Jerusalem, feeling claustrophobic, hot, and dusty? How does my staying stressed help anyone? I'll give blood, maybe I'll let someone stay in my apartment while I'm away, I'll keep thinking about all the people in Israel and in Lebanon who are being hurt . . . . but I just gotta get out of here. I feel very grateful to God that I have the financial resources and freedom to take a vacation when I want to. It's a privilege, one I do not take for granted.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Great for a Laugh

Here is Odd Todd's audio critique of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

Necessary background:
Odd Todd's movie reviews always begin with an announcement of what food he smuggled into the theater.
If you think he's poking fun at himself . . . he is.
Sneak preview: He gives this movie 2 and a half fudge striped cookies, out of 5.
Stick around to the end of the criticism for one of the best movie-critique lines ever!
There are three types of Jews:

Those who are happy Israel is bombing Lebanon. (Right-wing weirdos)

Those who are sad that we have to - that is, grimly determined.

And those who don't think we should be. (Left-wing weirdos)

Guess which one I am?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Negotiator

Even with all the crazy stuff going on, life continues. Just a couple updates, not nearly as exciting as a war, but remember: we don't talk about the war. It's like Fight Club, OK? We don't talk about Fight Club.

My landlady told me a couple of weeks ago that she is raising my rent by about 5 percent (my lease is up at the end of July).

Meanwhile, as my loyal readers know, my air conditioner is kaput and she refuses to replace it.

The idea of paying more money for less apartment just galls me. Particularly since, at the rate she wants me to pay, I could get an aparment about 50 percent bigger for just $50 or $100 more per month. Maybe it wouldn't be as nice-looking, and maybe it wouldn't have an a/c either, but it would have a living room and maybe even a porch.

Anyhow, she's been out of the country since that conversation, vacationing in Ireland, and only returned a couple of days ago. Today I called her and said that it's outrageous to raise my rent, and we need to work out some deal about a new a/c that is better than her offer of a ceiling fan and small electric radiator.

We discussed it for 15 minutes or so, and she was not budging, so I finally played my wild card: I said "well, then give me a couple of days before we sign the new lease, because I want to look into finding a new place to live." She said "you really think you'll find something better?" and I said "Well, I don't know, but it's sounding like it's worth it for me to do some research and find out."

End result: The rent stays the same, and she is paying 3,000 of the 3,800 shekels it will cost to remove the old a/c, fix the wall, and install a brand new one in a more convenient location.


In other news -- and I hope it's not unseemly to talk about something so relatively trivial when you are probably expecting a blogger whose country is at war to talk about, oh, say, the war -- I recently finished reading The Great Gatsby for the first time. What a perfectly depressing book. Yes, yes, masterfully written, engrossing, etc. But depressing! I'm glad I read it just so I can say I have, but I can't say I loved it. I'd say it's an exceptionally worthy book, but not an enjoyable one.

I also recently read A Raisin in the Sun. Wowee! Now that is an awesome play! I must rent me the movie! Wow.

(I'm realizing now that my taste in books leans strongly toward those on 10th-grade English reading lists. Things that make you go "hm.")

Um, OK, we can all go back to not thinking about the war now.
War (since we must) and inner peace (when you can get it)

You know, throwing oneself into one's work in order to avoid thinking about the war (and also, not incidentally, in order to meet deadlines) is amazing for one's productivity. I've spent the last three days, and a fortune in money and calories, in cafes. Cafes are incredibly conducive to concentration. Especially after midnight, when almost everyone else has left.

Also good for one's peace of mind: reading the news exactly twice a day, once in the morning, and once in the evening. Not twenty times, just twice.

And finally, for lowering one's blood pressure, I highly recommend not reading blogs, except maybe for Allison's, at the same time that you are checking out the news. In fact, I give you permission not to check my blog, either, if my blog in any way causes you stress. Believe me, I understand.

So, the war. The war that we are not talking about. The war I don't want to blog about in any meaningful way, because talking about politics or military operations always leads to inflammatory comments, and I hate that. I deal with it, but I hate it.

So, I just have these things to say:

1. The operation in Lebanon and the operation in Gaza, while in certain tenuous ways related because they both involve a conflict with neighboring Arabs, are not the same situation. One cannot extrapolate from one very much about Israel's plan or MO in the other.

2. The idea of innocent civilians, people who truly just want to live productive lives and leave Israel alone, dying because of the conflicts in which Israel is mired always makes me sad. It always bothers me. It does not mean that I think Israel necessarily has other options -- though sometimes I wonder -- but even when Israel is clearly justified in all it does, it makes me sad. I would hope that most people would have room in their hearts to both support Israel and be sad sometimes about the loss of innocent lives on both sides - just as, at the Pesach Seder, we take a moment to remember the spilt blood of the Egyptians. It really takes just a moment. If more people took that one moment, I wouldn't feel it necessary to take two moments on my blog.

2. On Israel's disproportionate actions in Lebanon: Of course Israel is being disproportionate. That's what happens in a war: One side uses more force than the other, and that's how they win.


I don't understand what some people expect Israel to do, say "oh, they killed x of our people, so we'll stop at x of theirs, even though there are still missiles pointed on our sovereign land"? That's not a war, that's tit for tat. The object is to castrate Hezbollah (and I choose that word for all its connotations), not slap them on the wrist.

War is hell. I pray for the everyday Joe Lebanese, the hardworking people who just want to live productive lives and leave Israel alone, that they manage to stay safe. (Yes, those people do exist; I've read their blogs.)

This is about a lot more than Hezbollah; it's about the Lebanese government not getting their act together, and it's about Syria and Iran, also. To avoid a regional war, Israel is sending a clear message: you mess with us, we'll kick your butts. I am truly sorry that innocent people are dying, but sometimes, to nip something in the bud, you have to take a pair of scissors and cut off the bud!

(Pause while I stop to think about all the, uh, circumcision imagery in this post, and Lisa's idea that all of this conflict in the Middle East can be explained with the question "whose is bigger?" . . . . ::pause:: . . . . well, whatever, we can deal with that some other time.)

OK, I'm going back to work now. Please keep comments civil, and remember that I'm trying to balance my desire to speak my mind with my desire not to have a coronary, OK?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Update on me

Well, I'm mostly doing better than I was on Thursday. My week has begun with me throwing myself into my work, of which, thank God, I have a lot. As soon as Shabbat was over I took my computer to a cafe -- I didn't even bother changing clothes -- and was working working working until 1 am. Then I came home and tried to wind down, but couldn't. I lay in bed all night, my mind racing, unable to stop thinking about Israel and Lebanon and stupid media people and really annoying bloggers, so annoying that I place the blame for my lost night of sleep squarely on their shoulders! :-P Finally at 5 am I called a friend in the US and we shmoozed for about 45 minutes. At 6 am I got out of bed, washed up, and started my Sunday.

Thank God, an appointment in Holon today was cancelled in the last minute, so after getting dressed and ready to leave, I was able to turn back around and sleep for 2 hours. Now I've been back in a cafe, working steadily for the last 5 hours. You can't think about the war when you are creating activities about similes for Israeli 12-year-olds, and composing an article about a treatment for Parkinsons' disease, and trying frantically to reach people on the phone for a time-sensitive story (the war, actually) that one's boss wants to file very soon - even then, I'm not focused on the war, just on when will these people call me back? I have a deadline! (And this is what makes reporters so darn lovable.)

The fact that I have deliberately avoided reading any news since 6 am has significantly improved my stress level. Please do NOT tell me what is going on with the war unless it is good news. I'll check again in the morning. Once every 24 hours is enough for me. I'm not covering the war, I'm living near it. Too near it. So I don't need to be masochistic about it.

(This reminds me of the time that Professor Richard Blood at the NYU Journalism department looked at me fondly and said "Sarah, you should be a reporter in Israel [to cover the conflict]. You could win a Pulitzer Prize. And I'd sit shiva for you!"Um, thanks, Professor Blood. Thanks . . . I think . . . )

I'm going to try to find out where my nearest air-raid shelter is, just in case. Besides that, my plan is to
a) work, work, and work some more, to keep my mind focused on something else (and meet deadlines. And earn money). I'll splurge on the cost and calories and work in cafes, so I'm not locked up alone at home.
b) NOT read the news
c) I've scheduled a couple of outings to see friends this week.
That's it.

I'm hoping that my lost night of sleep will help me get back to a normal pattern in which I sleep from, say, 11 pm to 6 am, rather than from 2 am until 11 am. Wish me luck.

Thanks to everyone who emailed me or left messages of support. I'm glad you are in my life.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Whistling in the Dark

There are certain times that living alone is very lonely.

When your country is at war is one of those times.

I really wish I was living with someone right now.

I also really wish I had television service. Reading the news online just doesn't cut it at a time like this. I wished I had TV during the disengagement, too. I might really consider getting cable, now.

This is the first time I've ever been in Israel during a "proper" war. I was here in the months preceding and following the Persian Gulf War in 1991, but not during the war itself. I came here on the tail end of the intifada in 2003, but shortly after I got here the attacks ceased to be successful, and we felt we'd turned a corner. Things got very dramatic and heated in the weeks prior to the Gaza disengagement, and there was fear of a civil war, and it was hard to live here, but thank God an all-out war didn't happen. I've been living with a low-key fear of an Iranian nuclear bomb dropping on my head, but thank God that has not materialized (poo poo poo). And then there were Kassams on Sderot, but the situation with the Palestinians is different from the one with Lebanon, and though everyone knows that Israel is in a perpetual state of war with the Arab world, there is war, and then there is war. One could ask "what's in a name?" but I guess the point is what level of war is "our normal," and at what point something happened that was "abnormal."

It was only tonight that I realized that we'd crossed the line from "tensions" and "crisis" to "war." I hadn't wanted to believe it before then. It's a strange thing. Nothing in my neighborhood in Jerusalem is different. If I didn't read the news, I wouldn't know anything is happening. Today, to get out a little, I went to the new park behind my house, where dog owners have a daily "dog park" from 6-7 pm, and no one brought up Lebanon at all. We just talked about the dogs, and watched a family playing baseball on the grass.

But we are at war. I don't really know what to make of that, now that I'm here. I'm usually pretty good at absorbing information that I need to absorb, and compartmentalizing what I need to compartmentalize.

But I'm stymied now. My head doesn't know what to do with this information. Is there something I should do? Should I find out where the nearest bomb shelter is? Get TV service? Live as usual? Be scared? Try not to think about it? Think about it all the time because that's more patriotic? I . . . I'm so confused.
A little diversion

Since thinking about the actual important stuff going on right now, like, oh, say, war with Lebanon, is too depressing to think about, I'm going to pretend not to be thinking about it, OK? And you are welcome to come along and pretend with me. We'll all pretend together to be oblivious, OK?

Now. Here is what I'm posting about. Most of the 300 or so people who come to this blog every day do so either because they already knew about it, or they were following a link from another blog. But many come because they were Googling something, and were directed here. You might think they find Chayyei Sarah when they are searching for information about daily life in Israel. Well, you might think wrong. I've got a list here of the most common Google search terms that lead people to my humble blog. These terms indicate which issues are on the minds of a lot of people, or at least so much on the mind of one person that he or she Googles it over and over again.


1. ugly wedding cake or ugliest wedding or some variation thereof. It is unbelievable to me just how many people out there are choosing to waste their time by looking for pictures of ugly wedding cakes or ugly bridesmaid dresses.

2. Gali girls. Remember my post about the little-girl Jewish dolls? That post brings me at least 1-2 readers every day.

3. My sister Sarah Beth's hot best friend. I'm not going near this one. Either there is just one 13-year-old boy somewhere who is very persistent about stalking a particuluar girl, whose name he doesn't even know, or else there are a lot of folks with a sister named Sarah Beth, whose best friend is hot.

4. Natalie Portman diet. Well, I'd guess she's on one. She's vegetarian, we know that much. And she looks like she eats nothing but celery. Why are so many people interested in this?

5. dating men in their 30's or dating men in their 40's or men in their 40's who date women in their 20's or creepy men in their 50's dating or women in their 30's can't get a date etc etc. This post was controversial, but it's sure paid off.

6. erotic massage Israel. If you came looking for something, uh, a little more, I'm sorry you were directed here.

7. shlomi Israel. I'm #2 in the Google results! Read all about my short visit to Shlomi, here! You'd think Shlomi is a major tourist center!

8. I have no idea how they found it, but a lot of Orlando Bloom fans are intent on seeing this picture. I can't blame them. Mmm. Yummy.

9. meaningful thoughts. Believe it or not, my blog comes up as the #2 result on Google. What does that mean?


OK, enough meaningful thoughts for today then.

Time to go back to worrying. Cheers.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Positive vibes

As the blogosphere turns its eye toward this morning's news, I thought I'd post something a little positive -- not to suggest that this morning's news is not happening, or is not post-worthy, but rather to balance today's negative energy with something a little more happy. Call it the Fiddler on the Roof syndrome; no joy is complete without remembering our sorrow (eg, breaking a glass at a wedding), and no acts of war should continue without having some reason to smile.

So, for those of you who are outside Israel, and are right now very worried about us, I bring you these photos:

The Bamba Baby

This baby is synonymous with Bamba, the peanut butter air-filled snack beloved by Israeli children and children-at-heart. I once saw a child about 18 months old waddle over to this display, tilt her head all the way back so she could see the bags of her favorite food, and say "Baaaaambaaaaa" with awe and love.

Kosher Marshmallows

Those of you who do not keep kosher may not appreciate how incredible it is to be able to find kosher marshmallows in my local grocery store, without having to go to a specialty kosher shop.

Mind you, I don't usually eat marshmallows. But knowing they are there, a short trip around the corner, just warms my heart.

Rock Sculptures

One block over from my house is a beautiful, newly-renovated park and playground. During the day I can enjoy the sun and the quiet on the shaded benches, but in the afternoons these swings and slides are full of little children:

And here are the rock sculptures:


Past the park, I take this shortcut toward Emek Refaim street:

And then, I head on to one of my favorite cafes. It was bombed shortly after I immigrated here, but no one can keep Israelis from their food. It's almost always bustling.

Here are some Ethiopian-Israeli girls celebrating their bat mitzvah

Keep Smiling

It's Israel

All photos are under the copyright of this blogger. Please do not reprint or repost without permission.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Desperate Measures

[In this space there WAS a post about my search for interviewees for an article I was working on. But we're scratching that, because after a conversation with the editor, we're changing the angle of the story completely. I'll post again if I need help. Otherwise, link to the finished, published story to come. Thanks for your indulgence.]

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mazal tov to fellow blogger . . .

Beth, and her husband Simcha, and big siblings Neshama, Eli, and Sophia, on the birth of a new baby boy last night!

Beth called this morning to let me know the happy news. She sounds like she's doing great.
Misguided Elite Packaging


I've entered 1950's-era Pleasantville

There is a very well-known food company here in Israel called Elite. They are best known for their chocolate bars, but they manufacture other culinary and confectionary goods as well. Their products are not highest-quality -- this is Israeli chocolate, not Belgian-- but it suffices for satisfying a sweet tooth, the way Reese's or Entenmann's would do in the States.

They recently introduced a new line of packaged cakes, convenient and passably tasty, but unfortunately not as good as my beloved Entenmann's cakes of old.

Anyway, someone in their branding division should lose his or her job, because . . . well . . . here is the display at my local grocery store. See for yourself.

In case you can't really see what I'm talking about, here are closeups:

This is the packaging for the "English cake," which is a vanilla cake with some sort of fruit bits or chips inside . . .

And here is the marble cake . . .

Coffee-chocolate brownies . . .

And, the coup-de-grace, rich chocolate brownies . . .

When I first saw them, I didn't know whether to be aghast or just laugh. I took up a package of brownies to the native-Israeli owner of the store, with whom I have a friendly relationship. I said "this would never fly in America. Over there, you'd have newspaper articles written about it, and people boycotting the product."

His puzzled answer: "Why? What's the problem?"

I pointed out how the colors of the "models" match the color of the cake, and how that is "not progressive." (I don't know how to say "politically correct" in Hebrew. For all I know, there is no such term in Hebrew.)

He paused for a moment and then said "Sarah . . . you know, you're right. I never would have thought of that, but you're right.

"I'll be more aware of those things from now on. Thanks for pointing that out."


One small step at a time, folks. One small step at a time.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Happy Aliyanniversary To Me!

Three years ago today, on July 9, 2003, I stepped aboard an El Al flight in JFK International aiport, bound for Israel on a one-way ticket.

According to anecdotal evidence, the fact that I've stayed for three years means that today my chances of staying for good increased exponentially.

More quantitatively, I now no longer ever have to pay back to Nefesh B'Nefesh the start-up money they so kindly loaned me. Unofficially, the money was a grant, but officially it was a loan, which gets waived after one has stayed in Israel for three years. Whew! I'm off the hook!

After three years, I can still honestly say that making aliyah was one of the best things I ever did. Yes, it's often very hard to live here. Very hard. But the quality of my life has increased beyond compare, indeed in part because of the hardships and the sacrifices. And, thank God, in many ways I've had to make fewer sacrifices than most people, and suffer fewer hardships. I have my own apartment, and work I love, and good friends.

Life is good.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Just Saying "Hi."

Nothing much new to report.

Sandy and Mark T. came to Israel and took me out to dinner at Tmol Shilshom. I love that place, and I love Sandy and Mark! It was really great to see them.

My mom is really busy with doctors appointments and stuff, and her arm is not really so functional, but her voice sounds good on the phone. You can always tell from someone's voice (well, usually), and she sounds a lot better.

I've been feeling very "under the weather" lately myself. No fever, just tired all the time. Not sure what it is. Maybe iron deficiency?

The summer issue(s) of the kids' magazine I've been working on has gone to print, and I'm quite proud of it. If you want to see a pdf file, send me an email letting me know if you want to see the one for grades 4-7, or 8-12. I can only send it to people I know personally and long-time commenters, as it's not for any commercial use - just for you to see and enjoy yourself. You have to promise to read it and then tear it up and eat the pieces. :-) Now on to the fall issues . . . after which point the woman I'm covering for (who is on maternity leave) may come back. Or maybe not. We'll see. She had twins.

I was interviewed by a Dutch magazine, also for kids, about my thoughts on Israel's re-entering Gaza. Yes, I followed my own advice and made the reporter promise to call me before it went to print, reading back my quotations to me (which he did). I understand that he interviewed Lisa and David as well (and quoted them much more than he did me!), as well as a few Palestinians. I hope it comes out alright. The reporter sounded decent about it on the phone. But, you know, I don't trust reporters. ::insert ironic smile::

My first cousin got (or is getting? not sure) a Ph.D. in molecular biology, and he recently accepted a job at some prestigious fancy-pants lab where he'll be working alongside some Nobel prize winners. Way to go, cousin! We're all very proud of you!

My alma mater, Nishmat, is moving to the Pat (pronounced paht) neighborhood, which is only a 40-minute or so walk from me! I'm very excited about that. B'H, I'll be registering to learn there next year, for 6 hours a week (2 mornings, 3 hours each time). I really enjoyed learning at Pardes this past year, but the class I'd be in next year there is 13 hours a week, and I just can't devote that kind of time from my work. Plus, the atmosphere at Nishmat is different, and a change of scenery would be good for me. What scares me is that if I go there, I'll be studying Gemara in a class full of Israelis, and the lecture will be in Hebrew. Yup, I'll be trying to understand a text in Aramaic, with explanations and discussions in Hebrew. I'm petrified. But also excited. This will be great!

Well, I guess I did have stuff to report, eh?

To all my readers: Have a wonderful weekend.

To all my readers for whom this is meaningful: Have a Shabbat shalom.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Gilad's war

Just a few fragmented thoughts about current events:

I read the criticisms by other countries against Israel, saying that the response to the killing of two soldiers and the kidnapping of a third has been out of proportion. And I have a few responses to that:

a. I can see how, from thousands of miles away in Europe or the US, the launching of a new war in order to save one soldier seems a bit, shall we say, extreme.

b. We all know this isn't just about Gilad. It's about a lot of things before Gilad. What do you expect Israel to do, after all the Qassams on Sderot, and the audacity of Palestinian "militants" to smuggle themselves into the pre-1967 borders, kill 2 soldiers, wound a third, and kidnap a fourth? Hello? What else do you propose? Negotiations? With whom? Hamas? Hamas, who won't even utter the word "Israel," who keep referring to us as "the Zionist enemy"? Should we just sit back and smile wearily while they drop rockets on us and kidnap our soldiers from inside our sovereign lines?

c. So, what's extreme? As far as I've read, so far there have been no Palestinian civilian deaths since Israel re-entered Gaza. What "extreme" actions are they talking about, exactly?

d. I do understand that having hundreds of thousands of relatively innocent people be without electricity is a tremendous hardship, especially in the summer. No fans, no air conditioning, no refrigeration, no radios . . . and I hate to think what's going on in their hospitals. I hope they have generators.

So, if I were living in Gaza right now, I might be saying that it's ludicrous to make so many people uncomfortable in order to find and save one 19-year-old corporal.

But that would be coming from the perspective of a culture that sends children into Israel with bombs strapped around their waists. From my perspective, it absolutely is justified to make a lot of people uncomfortable in order to save the life of one. And, for the record, if there was a non-terrorism-involved Palestinian whose life could be saved by my giving up electricity for a while, I would do it. Would they?

e. I keep thinking about a statement made by the Arab founder of a Holocaust museum in Nazareth, who said "if you want to understand Israel, you have to understand the Holocaust." He's right. We Jews have a lot of complexes, borne in no small meausure by the anti-Semitism we experienced in Europe for many hundreds of years. And after what happened 60 years ago, you don't f*** with us, you understand? Nobody f***s with us.

Neurotic? Maybe. But now I'm reminded of the topic of a debate at Columbia's Philolexian Society during my Barnard years: "Resolved: Your paranoia is justified."

And I also think of the story -- perhaps an urban legend-- of the Israeli government minister who was speaking to an international body of some kind, whose European members were accusing him and Israel of being "like Nazis." To which he responded "I don't know what it means to be 'like Nazis,' but I do know this: Your parents, your countries . . . you were the Nazis." And then left.

So, yeah, I can take a little criticism from the US. But from the EU? Talk to the hand.

f. Regarding the Qassams on Sderot, and the audacious attack on June 25th, and now the Qassam on Ashkelon, I am reminded of the following conversation I had with a friend:

We were talking about couples with bad marriages, couples in which one member is "the yeller." That is, one member is known in the home as having a short temper, flying off the handle, having no control over his/her anger, getting disproportionately angry over small things, etc.

It's easy to hate that person and blame all the problems of the marriage on them. It's easy to see the other member of the couple as a victim. But if you look closely, my friend pointed out, often (not always) the other member of the marriage is what she calls "the poker."

The Poker will poke . . . poke . . . poke . . . repeating exactly the behavior that she/he knows sets off The Yeller's temper, playing out the same script over and over again for years, doing the very things that The Yeller hates - often for good reasons . . . and then crying and feeling victimized when The Yeller explodes.

This is clearly an unhealthy relationship. And yes, The Yellers of the world need to learn to take a deep breath and calm down. But at the same time, one can legitimately ask what it is, exactly, that The Poker is doing, acting as if he/she wants a blowup, going out of his/her way to do exactly the things that will definitely lead to one.

I think that lately the Palestinians have been poking Israel. Israel mostly leaves Gaza, and now the Palestinians there are looking around and saying "now what?" And they have no leaders who are truly interested in leading them to productivity. The leaders are interested in keeping their power. And their power is based on everyone hating Israel. So they launch Qassams . . . poke . . . and when that doesn't work, they kill and kidnap soldiers . . . poke! poke! poke! poke! poke!

And finally Israel explodes. Classic Yeller response.

Like I said, it's easy to see the Poker as the victim. But you have to wonder: why are they repeating this script, unless being the victim is somehow advantageous to them?

e. Regarding the extremely vague "ultimatum" that recently passed, I strongly recommend reading this thought-provoking and all-too-possibly-true post over at Treppenwitz. Since the post is long, I'll summarize: David hypothesizes that since the Palestinians have not produced a video of Gilad, and no objective third party has seen him, and the ultimatum did not promise he'd be delivered alive, chances are great that Gilad is already dead. For the sake of the Shalit family, I hope David is wrong (and David does, too).

f. Regarding the "to negotiate or not to negotiate" question, Jameel here transcribes two interesting interviews from Israeli media: One with the mother of Eliyahu Asheri (the 18-year-old who was killed last week by Palestinians), and one with Binyamin Netanyahu. (via Orthomom)

May we live to see saner, more peaceful times.
David Reloaded

I think some of you are sleeping on the job.

Otherwise, why would only three people (other than my sister) have commented to this post, exclaiming over the utter adorableness of my newest nephew?

So, for those of you who missed it, here he is again:


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy 4th

I wish all my readers who have ever benefitted from the freedoms offered by the United States of America a happy Fourth of July holiday.

Yesterady I attended the annual July 4th celebration hosted by the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. It was held at Kraft Stadium (which is not really a stadium, more of a very large, astroturf-covered, playing field, with bleachers and a few grassy areas next to it). It was a really nice event. On one grassy area there was a crafts fair; another grassy area held the AACI annual Yard Sale, where families were selling clothes, videotapes, toys, and housewares. I bought a copy of The Great Gatsby for 3 shekels (about 70 cents). In between, Jerusalem's Burger's Bar restaurant had set up a stand where one could buy hamburgers, hot dogs, pareve ice cream, and drinks. Nearby someone was selling cotton candy.

There were a LOT of people. Lots of pushing and squeezing to get through the food area. The smell of grilling meat wafted through the hot July air. "Mommy, I want ice cream!" "Abba, can I have cotton candy?" "Stay close to me. Don't get lost." On the field, teenagers were playing flag football on one end, and the little kids had story hour on the other. Red, white and blue balloons waved in the air from strings tied to children's wrists. Most of the people were American and Canadian, but I did hear a surprisingly significant amount of native-spoken Hebrew, perhaps by Israelis who saw the balloons and heard the marching band and decided to stop and see what was happening.

My hamburger was too big for me and I went home feeling rather full and sick, but happy to have gotten out and had a barbecue on a July evening. It felt rather surreal to have a traditional Fourth of July event in Israel, though truthfully I think most people were there just having a good time, not really thinking much about American independence . . . probably just as we all would have been doing had we stayed in the States.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Two more small updates

1- My mother is now home, after being in the hospital for two months. First she had an FMF attack. Then she broke her shoulder. While she was in the hospital dealing with those things, she got a massive infection (you know, because hospitals are full of germs; she frequently gets massive infections when she's in already in the hospital). After a week of that, she theoretically could have gone home, except that the antibiotics she was on can only be administered through IV, and she couldn't do that herself, because she can't move one arm very well.

But now she's home, and she sounds like she's doing OK. Still can't raise her arm very high, but hopefully the physical therapy will help with that. Her orthopedists (2 opinions) were a bit pessimistic about the chances that she'll ever regain full movement in her right arm. We'll just have to wait and see how much the arm improves.

2- I bought a new printer today! After many months of not having a functional printer, I'm back in the game. You know, because it's a little hard for a professional writer to live without a printer. It's very pretty. Has a flatbed scanner and fax machine, too. I'm so happy.