Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Trump to the rescue?

The mayor of the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, which was hit by a suicide bombing recently, said that billionaire Donald Trump is planning to help build a huge beachfront hotel complex there.

According to the mayor, Miriam Fireberg-Ikar, a top Trump business associate visited the city three times on his private jet and was planning to build a number of hotels on 38 acres of empty seaside real estate.
We are talking about 2,500 rooms in several three, four and five-star hotels at the southern end of Netanya's beach, next to an 8-mile promenade.

The Trump associate, Michael Dezer, claims that there are plans for a $500 million hotel complex, despite the recent a suicide bomber who killed himself and five others at the city's main mall.
Dezer came up with the hotel idea six months ago when Fireberg-Ikar was visiting Miami. He said he contacted Trump, who agreed to join the project.

Netanya was actually named after the philanthropist Nathan Straus, the owner of Macy's department store in New York at the turn of the century. The city is located 20 miles north of Tel Aviv and boasts some of Israel's best beaches.
Netanya has been among the Israeli cities hardest hit by terrorism, severely damaging its tourism industry.
According to Israeli-born Dezer, “Bombings are a part of life in Israel. We are used to it, and it doesn't change a thing."

Needless to say, the Israeli media jumped on this story.
The leading Israeli daily Maariv ran a front-page headline reading:

"Coming Soon: Trump Hotels in Netanya."

However, Trump spokeswoman Norma Foerderer would not confirm the involvement of the star of NBC's hit reality show "The Apprentice", saying it was "premature" to talk about the Netanya project.

That makes me wonder…is it a clever PR trick of Fireberg-Ikar to boost the image of her city? Time will tell, but in the mean time, linking her own and the city’s name to the Trumpster is not a bad move at all….

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

No matter how much the economy suffers, the wedding & bar/t mitzvah industry still flourishes.
Following the lead from the USA, each event has to be grandiose and outshine all the previous ones.
Hence, weddings were the bride changes her wedding gown half way through, a transsexual perform a “wedding dance” as entertainment and more booze than the average UK pub.
And I am pretty sure that some Israeli zillionaire will find a way to top the
“obermitzvah” that took place in NY.
Long Island teen Elizabeth Brook, daughter of defense industry tycoon David Brooks, had the bat mitzvah to top all bat mitzvahs.
I t took place at two floors of New York hot spot The Rainbow Room at a price tag estimated at just over $10 million.
The 300 guests sampled hors d'oeuvres to the strains of Kenny G's soprano sax.
The main entertainment featured The Eagles' Don Henley and Joe Walsh, rap diva Ciara, Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Aerosmith and 50 cent.
The goody bags were not too shabby either – each one included a video iPod and a digital camera.

Obviously, the costs of throwing a bar/t mitzvah party are increasing rapidly.
Before the Brookfest, Amber Ridinger's Miami bat mitzvah in November 2005 topped the list. Her bat mitzvah featured performances by rap and hip-hop artists Ashanti, Ja Rule and Marques Houston and set her parents an estimated $500,000 back.
On the other side of the United States, in Los Angeles, Etti Rabb has spent over a year preparing a bat mitzvah for her daughter, Natalie.

The minimum cost for throwing a bottom-of-the-line party is $20,000 – not include the service itself, which costs another $6,000.

But there is one big difference between having a party in the US or in Israel.
In Israel, the guests pay for it themselves, since they hand over a check as a gift.

The sad thing is: the “keeping up with the Joneses” has taken over. The core of the celebration, the religious ceremony, is now a minor detail – food, presents and entertainment is the focus.
And I wonder – who will look at the video and photos in another 5+ years?
May be it’s time to get back to the basics – and make it a memorable and touching celebration again (sans fireworks and circus acts).

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Iran is at it again...

Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on 14 December 2005 that the
Holocaust is a "myth" that Europeans have used to create a Jewish state in the heart of the Islamic world.
Correct me if I am wrong, but there has been a Jewish state (Kingdom), way before
Mohammed was even born.
He justifies his “theory” by stating that the Europeans committed crimes against the Jews and that they (the United States or Canada), should give part of their land to the Jews to establish a state.
He is helpful enough to propose the following:
"give a part of your own land in Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to them (Jews) so that the Jews can establish their country."
He went on to say:
"if you (Europeans) committed this big crime, then why should the oppressed Palestinian nation pay the price?"
As far as I know, the Palestinians never contributed to any Holocaust survival fund or Holocaust museum. (And they don’t compensate their terror victims as well).

Obviously, the Iranian president is not going to transfer any money soon:
"You (Europeans) have to pay the compensation yourself” as he publicly announced.
Mr. President needs a history lesson – or is he peeved that not enough American and European funds are flooding his way?

Ahmadinejad also suggested the week before that Israel should be transferred to Europe.
Now that is an interesting viewpoint, considering the percentage of Muslims in Europe.

By his own logic, if the Israelis don’t belong in the Middle East, Muslims don’t belong in the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Obviously, Mahmoud is not a great fan of Israel in October 2005, he called it a "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map" .
Considering that Israel is the only democracy in the whole Middle East and has a great track record of products and inventions (Israel won the Nobel Prize for economy in 2005), it is clear that he is talking drivel.

Ahmadinejad also said that the West had harmed Muslims, invaded their countries, and plundered their wealth.
In all fairness, it is true that the colonial powers sometimes treated their colonials disgracefully, but to say that they plundered their wealth is ridiculous.
(don’t forget, this was all before the oil boom).

"If your civilization consists of aggression, making oppressed people homeless, suffocating the voices of justice and bringing poverty to a majority of the World’s people, we say loudly that we hate your hollow civilization," he said.
Funny, that is exactly the point why so many in the Western world hate Muslims and why the war in Iraq started…

They say that each country gets the leader its deserves.
In that case, I feel sorry for the Iranian people who used to have the political moderate
Mohammad Khatami as head of state.
He used to call for a dialogue among civilizations and promote a low-key understanding with the United States that stopped short of diplomatic relations.

If any of you want to give Mr. Ahmadinejad a holiday present that he would really like – there might still be a copy of the Elders of Zion around…….

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Anyone seen the King of the Jungle?

We all know that the Gaza is not exactly the most sophisticated place on the planet.
It they would ever twin, I would suggest doing it with Afghanistan or Iraq.
There is not much law and a lot of disorder (an idea for a new reality show? “Outlaw and Disorder”? Oops, forgot, we already have that in the form of incursions in Iraq….)
It seems that not only humans are unsafe – our animal friends are also in danger.
Mid November, four masked gunmen armed with Kalashnikov rifles raided the only zoo in the Gaza Strip.
After they handcuffed the guard and locked him up in the cafeteria, the thieves first stole two white and grey parrots that speak a few words in Arabic.
That is in itself a Good Thing - if they would speak Hebrew, they would for sure be bird pie by now.
Then, the thieves moved on to grab two lions. They were successful with one; the other violently resisted and was left alone.

The zoo’s manager Saud al-Shawwa announced a $1,000 reward for anyone who provides information that could help find the lion and parrots.
"Thousands of people visit the zoo and they will miss these animals, especially the lion," he said.
"We have different species of animals here and we urge the Palestinian security forces to help us find the stolen animals."
(I wouldn't hold my breath if were him - the Palestinian security force is not exactly known for its efficient operations).
"The whole operation lasted less than 30 minutes," Shawwa added.
"The thieves must have visited the zoo before to examine the place. The zoo was officially opened two months ago."

To me, it looks like an animal abduction gang that was filling an order – the black market for lions is non-existent.
Apart from an attitude problem (lions don’t take very kindly to anything that interrupts their daily routine), they are also expensive in the upkeep.
An adult will easily eat more than 3 kilos meat a day, and we are not talking hamburgers, but prime stuff.
So somewhere in Gaza, Jordan or Egypt, there is a Fat Cat stroking the head of this lion….
I don’t think that the announced reward will bring in any leads – the Fat Cat will for sure multiply this amount as hush money if necessary.
Let’s hope that our lion gets a good treatment; if not, it can always cross the bother and enjoy matzot during Pesach in an Israeli zoo…..

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Job Interview from Hell

We all had them – job interview from hell that leaves you drained, upset and second guessing yourself.
Once you land a job, you are too busy recalling what you went through.

So for all you (potential) jobseekers, when you feel like you had the worst interview in history – read the following stories and smile. And whatever you do, don’t doubt yourself!

In 2004, I went for my third job interview at an Israeli biotech company in New Jersey.

I met their female, Chinese Vice President half a year ago, and she told me then that they were looking for someone like me. “Bingo!” I thought.

I went on my second interview a month before, but was turned away from the office since the VP (aptly named “Asia”) was out of the country on business.

I double-checked this time, and was informed that they were waiting for me. So far, so good….

My b-f drove me to my job interview and told me not to worry about him and take as much time as I needed. (A prince among men, non?)

I went in at 11 am and stumbled out at 12.30am. The interview was a disaster.

Asia started by informing me that she is an excellent boss who never stabs people in the back.

Furthermore, when she is unhappy, she will give her employees hell, but not in front of others.

“I am very loyal to my people, you see” she said.

Needless to say, I did not see; my laser eye correction in 2000 must be less successful than I thought…

She told me that the present position is for a Director, but that she will appoint him/her as a manager, so she “can place another person over his/her head if I am unhappy”…

She also told me: “you are single, no kids? Excellent! You can work long hours!”

She went on telling me that I have to work “at least twice as hard as I did before”.

Since I work an average of 10 hours a day, it would mean that I have to forfeit sleep, eat and other such unnecessary activities to meet her demands……

I asked about the financial situation of her company. The investment round only generated $1M. which is peanuts for a technology-driven company . They are under pressure to be commercial ASAP.

We did not discus salary, but she told me that all employees received a salary cut of 20%….She said that nobody left the company, despite the salary cuts.

I wondered if that was because they are chained to the wall and cannot physically leave….I decided not the ask.

When asking “where I see myself in 2 years” she informed me that she loves to hear a candidate telling her that he/she wants her job. I looked at her nose, expecting it to grow like Pinocchio’s, but no such luck.

She also talked about the Israeli CEO as a “wonderful, caring, honest man” in a dreamy voice, looking at the ceiling with a smile around her lips - which gave me some clue about the dynamics in this company.

Her plan is simple: appoint a tandem consisting of a Marketing Director and a Business Development Director. Their successes are hers, the failures are theirs (and “off with their heads” as the Queen said in Alice in Wonderland).

She then went on criticizing and second guessing all my qualifications, wondering if I was really “up to the job” and that she had “some reservations” about my being able to write materials.

This did not stop her from making notes of all my suggestions and opinions that I am pretty sure she happily implemented afterwards.

She polished it off my informing me that she had given me 1,5 hours (and not the standard 30 minutes) since I came in vain the previous time, thus nifty making me feel responsible for it.

Her parting shot was the best: “I am interviewing 30 other people, but keep in touch, I expect questions from you by email”. (Sure, and please hold your breath until I do!)

I stumble out of the building, emotionally drained. B-f was very supportive (he always is!) and gave some colorful feedback harboring on character assassination. (Asia’s, not mine).

B-f knows me well, so he treated me to a wonderful lunch (salmon in a cream/mushroom sauce on a bed of wild rise with cooked asparagus + a glass of excellent dry white wine) to cheer me up. Guess what? It did the trick!

Needless to say, I never heard anything back, not even a polite “thank you, no thank you” email........

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Do you speak Peretzenglish?

Israel’s newly elected
Labor Party Chairman, Amir Peretz, delivered his first speech in English. Recipients were donors of the Rabin Center.
Peretz fumbled his way through the speech, unable to pronounce several words.
In the end, he skipped complicated sentences.

For his lack of English, Peretz has been harshly attacked in the media.
In itself, this is grossly unfair.
Union leader (yes, only in Israel can you be the leader of one of the biggest political parties and potentially prime minister and still serve as the powerful chairman of the Union) worked his way up from a poor immigrant background to the powerhouse he is today.
I definitely do not agree with his views (I strongly believe that he will be disastrous as a PM), but I give him a lot of credit for that.

“How can a guy like that talk to the President of the USA?” his critics asked.
Well, easily, I would think.

Let's face it -
George W. Bush makes a habit of slaughtering his native tongue.
They even coined a phrase for his many gaffes: Bushlexia.

A loyal Bush Watcher coined this phrase describing it as “a combination of dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, apraxia, illiteracy, ignorance, laziness, passive-aggressiveness, inappropriate humor, and an arrogant attitude of privilege.”
So I don’t see why Amir and Georgie cannot communicate in simple basic English sentences.

So what if Amir misuses a word or doesn’t know how to pronounce it?
Just look at the following quote of the current Prez:
"Israel has got responsibilities," Mr. Bush said.
"Israel must deal with the settlements.
Israel must make sure there's a continuous territory that Palestinians call home."
(The White House, which late in the day produced a transcript of Mr. Bush's remarks, put the word "contiguous" in parentheses after "continuous," to indicate that "contiguous" was what Mr. Bush had meant.) --
New York Times, 06.04.03

This is not the only "
misquote" of GWB - what to think of the following?
"Too many good docs are getting out of the business.
Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." —Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004

You see my point? Let’s first wait for a US president with proper language skills before we criticize non-Anglo politicians….
And at least Peretz is fluent in two languages (Hebrew and Moroccan Arabic), in contrast to the
43rd President of the USA who personifies the old joke: “what do you call someone who only speaks one language? American!”

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Et tu, Hila?

Hila Cohen is a judge who was convicted in the summer of 2005 for tampering with court documents. She forged minutes of meetings with defense counsel that never took place and also destroyed court documents. Instead of firing her on the spot, the court sentenced her to be reassigned to another court and to a severe reprimand.
This created an uproar, and Cohen was asked to resign, which she flatly refused.
Proceedings to dismiss Cohen were submitted to the judges selection committee to make the lady leave. The committee is expected to do just that on December 1.
But Hila is not a woman to avoid a good fight, so she announced that she wants to launch a counter investigation of Justice Minister Tsipi Livni.
She wrote a letter to Livni , asking to question the Justice Ministry and other senior officials, including the Justice Ministry commissioner for complaints against judges.

She also demands that "defense witnesses" will be heard and that she can "counter investigate."
She justified this as follows:
"in a legal inquiry it is inappropriate that a judge who is being asked to conclude her tenure cannot investigate the people who have proposed her dismissal."

OK, so if this flies, we can all start investigating the performance of our bosses when we are being laid-off……
I don’t know how Hila Cohen got appointed and I haven’t got a clue what her credentials are, but she is for sure creative!

She is not the only one taking creative licenses with the law.
Omri Sharon, son of PM
Ariel Sharon, was convicted of falsifying corporate documents and perjury, among other offenses, which in the overwhelming majority of cases constitute crimes of moral turpitude. This is relevant, since Omri is a Member of Knesset (MK).
According to the Basic Law on
The Knesset, an MK may not continue to serve in his position if his final conviction pertains to crimes of moral turpitude.
A court hearing a MK’s case - at its own initiative, or in keeping with a request from the attorney general - can determine whether the offenses in question constitute crimes of moral turpitude.
In the case of Omri (who struck a plea bargain) that part has not been finalized.
Obviously, being convicted is not as important as gluing yourself to your parliamentary seat.
The State Prosecution will ask the court to rule that the offenses for which Sharon was convicted do indeed constitute crimes of moral turpitude.
But even when successful, Omri has the right to appeal that part of the verdict, effectively dragging it on for years and calmly remaining an active MK member, representing the people of Israel.

Oh irony –
Israel has a wonderful political and court system with too many unscrupulous people abusing it.
It makes you almost pine for the times of
King Solomon…Oh Shlomo, were are thou?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Esther is coming to town

Madonna, the poster girl for Berg’s version of Kabbalah, is planning to visit Israel during the Hanukkah holiday.
Madonna, who refers to herself as "Esther" is planning to visit Israel during the upcoming Chanukkah holiday.
She wants to seek the blessing of Israel's leading Kabbalist -
Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri.
(First off, considering her new name, it would be more fitting for her to visit Israel during
This is the second time that Madonna asked to be blessed; the previous time (in 2004) the rabbi refused even to meet her.

This time around, Madonna’s managers apparently also contacted the rabbi's associates, including the rav’s grandson Yossi Kaduri, to try and set up a meeting between the pop singer and the rabbi.
You see, mother-of-two Madonna wants to have another child but first wants to receive Kaduri’s blessing.
(I am not sure what that has to do with the price of tea in China, but I applaud her motherly instincts).

All in all, I am quite puzzled.
For starters, it just doesn’t make sense.
Madonna is Catholic, so it would make more sense for her to visit the
(The new one seems like a decent bloke, so give it a shot, Madge).
Furthermore, someone has to explain to her that just using the name Esther doesn’t make her Jewish. If I would get a dollar for every non-Jewish girl called Esther, I could buy myself some serious real estate. (
The Hamptons spring to mind).
It’s nice that she has a spiritual life, but her version of Kabbalah is not exactly mainstream.
I cannot blame organizations such as the
International Society for Sephardic Progress to go into a hissy fit and urge Kaduri to shun her.

And our Madge doesn’t exactly have what we call neshamah.
Remarks such as "It would be less controversial if I joined the Nazi Party (instead of the Kabbalah Center)," only show that she doesn’t have an inking about Jewish sensitivities.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire Madonna for the marketing genius she is, but I would like to suggest the following.
Once in Israel, I would like her to give a concert, free of charge, and invite her fans and admirers from both sides of the (security) fence.
Let Israelis and Palestinians together belt out songs and make dance moves.
It might not be a Kabbalah blessing, but it would for sure be a true

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

JAP meets Sabra

For those of you watching the dating/reality show “
Of all the girls in the world” the best episode up till now was the one broadcasted last Sunday on Channel 3.
It showed us all the difference between the Israeli and JAP lifestyle.
To update you - the elimination race is still going on. The three finalists were flown to New York to meet the parents.
First we have Neta, a sweet Israeli girl who, IMHO, would be desperately unhappy outside of Israel.
Then there is Marie, a 21-year old perky Canadian, who comes across as a diva in the making. Last but not least – Bulgarian Maria.
Non-Jewish Maria (Jewish father, Catholic mother) is very much a woman, statuesque, with an air of mystery about her.
In New York, the girls are staying in bachelor Ari’s not-so-impressive- apartment.
I would have put my foot down and asked for a single room in the
Millennium Hotel.
They were whisked off to an olam to meet the family. Oy!
All of them made a good impression: the mother liked Marie, the father Maria and the sister Neta. So much for consensus. Ari’s family came across as slightly dysfunctional.
Ari’s father was blatantly fawning over Maria gushing what a beautiful woman she is.
The mother announced that she is the perfect mother-in-law, because "I keep my mouth zipped shut and my wallet zipped open." Mmmm, so much for the Jewish Values that Ari keeps bringing up. Sister Charlene knows how to act for the cameras. She plays the vixen part with relish and could give Joan Collins a run for her money.
Charlene invited each girl to her place for a separate check session.
The first victim was sweet Neta, who was schlepped to a manicure/pedicure place.
When Charlene found out that she never had a pedicure before, she nearly fainted and drowned in her footbath.
She asked Neta about working, emphasizing that she herself is a stay-at-home Mum.
Neta answered truthfully that she would like to work and cut down on it once she has children. Charlene looked shocked.
Obviously, she doesn’t get two things:
a) staying home with the kids is a luxury Israeli women don’t have (except for the affluent ones);
b) educated women like to work in their chosen field of expertise. I wonder if Charl Dear ever visited Israel or has any Israeli friends.
After summing up the visit, Charlene informed Ari that she had a problem with Neta not being "a traditional woman such as Mum and myself."
Marie was the second victim, and was cordially invited to step into the high design kitchen to make "sesame schnitzels with noodles."
"Noodles" in the States is called "pasta" in Canada and Europe (being a collective noun), so Marie asked if she was talking about spaghetti. Charlene gave her an affirmative nod with a "don’t try my patience" look.
Marie did her best, honestly saying that she didn’t know if she was heading for the chuppah yet. "I see myself having a serious relationship that might lead to marriage," she said, which in my book is a very mature and sensible statement for a 21-year old.
Charlene kept emphasizing to Marie and Ari that she (Marie) is very young, and that there is a 13-year-old age gap with 34-year old Ari.
The last victim was Maria, who had a really tough time.
Charlene took her to a boutique were she tried on her outfit for her son’s Bar Mitsva.
It consisted of a knee length black frock with a short sleeved glittery jacket – not exactly a proper outfit for an Orthodox shul. Maria said that she liked the outfit.
Charlene changed into a white evening halter dress with a slit halfway up her tights.
Charl posed "
Alexis Carrington of Dynasty"- style and asked poor Maria (who lied through her teeth that she liked this outfit as well) what she would wear at an Orthodox Jewish wedding.
"A dress" she answered, "with sleeves."
Charlene was not happy about this answer and told Ari that she didn’t think that Maria has any neshomme. Ari promptly dumped Maria stating: "I have a problem with your honesty."
Considering how he is portrayed in the show, this gives new meaning to the world chutzpa.
So now we are down to two: sweet Sabra Neta and perky JAP Marie.
Who will win? I predict neither.
No matter who will be chosen, Ari will not settle down with anyone.
His best option: let Charl select a woman for him, and marry her after the approval of the parent unit.
It’s a pity Charlene doesn’t work – she has the makings of a great

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Want to drink some Kabbalah?

Forget about Red Bull. If you want to be trendy (the Madonna/Britney/Demi way), your beverage of choice must be Kabbalah Energy Drink.
It's a heady combination of medieval Jewish mysticism, a fizzy strawberry-flavored drink loaded with vitamins and a splash of holy water – so how can you say no?
Follow the hip, the curious and the thirsty crowd and fork out $2 for a can of sweetened, carbonated, caffeinated, vitamin-charged water to which some Canadian mountain spring water blessed by a rabbi is added.
Believe it or not, the US distributor XL Beverage is located in (hold on to your seat) Bethlehem.
“I would not think there would be any actual spiritual benefit to drink this. The true teachings of Kabbalah have nothing to do with energy drinks,” deadpanned one Kabbalah scholar.
I bet that in order to get the maximum benefits, the soft drink producer will tell you that it can only be consumed while wearing one of the red Kabbalah strings (at $ 26 a piece) around your wrist.
Who came up with this New Age energy drink brainchild?
Darin Ezra, the director of Kabbalah Enterprises in Los Angeles, is the beverage distributor. He was approached by the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles to distribute their bottled Kabbalah water, another trendy product (
Madonna has been known to drink it).
Ezra saw the huge amount of synergy between the Kabbalah brand, energy drinks and the kind of consumers interested in both - namely, the 18- to 35-year-old set.
Kabbalah Energy Drink's success has snowballed ever since Ezra tested the market by sending out 10,000 cans in January 2005 to stores in west Los Angeles.
Energy drinks, which also cross over into what the industry calls the ''New Age'' drink category, generally contain high caffeine and sugar content, as well as loads of vitamins, such as taurine, an amino acid, and B vitamins. ''I think one reason the category is so successful is, that the products actually work,'' Hemphill says.
Healthy? I don’t think so – the Kabbalah Energy Drink contains a warning:
“consume responsibly. Limit to 24 ounces per 24-hour period. Not recommended for children, pregnant women or people sensitive to caffeine.”
And it's not Kosher for Passover. Mmm, I wonder how that happened? May be because marketing-savvy Ezra plans to launch Kabbalah cookies and Kabbalah cereal?
Before asking
Tempo when it will be available in Israel, I strongly suggest that you try a great beverage that has been around for a few hundred years: coffee. The caffeine and sugar content is optional.
It will give you the same buzz without the chemicals – trust me. Coffeelah, anyone?

Friday, October 14, 2005

A cheesy experience

Two things are impossible in Israel: to be bored and to die of hunger.
No matter where you are, there is always food - Salads, burekas, pitas, chocolates, ice cream and (of course) the #1 snack:
For those of you who were never exposed to this culinary treat (lucky you!) it’s a snack made from peanuts. It’s a – to phrase it politely – acquired taste.
Israelis grew up on it and love it. Oliem have a tougher time to appreciate it. It’s one of the strongest brands in Israel and boasts a happy baby as its image.
Israelis are obsessed with food, diets etc. The average Israeli m/f is overweight, although obesity is not as widespread as in the US.
The Jewish holidays and Shabbat don’t help as well to keep a slim waistline.
I arrange my fitness schedule around the Israeli eating pattern.
Sundays and the first day after a Hag are the worse to go to your fitness center and work out. It’s packed with guilt-ridden people trying to loose the few pounds they packed on by indulging the day before. The best time to workout is during lunchtime. You have the
fitness center including swimming pool to yourself.
Israelis are not only obsessed with their own food, they happily interfere with others as well.
This happened to me some time ago.
The woman in front of me in the supermarket looked into my trolley and said: “What is the fat percentage?” I saw her staring at the cheese in my shopping basket and answered truthfully: ”No idea”.
I love cheese, and buy it a lot for its taste; the percentage fat and salt is of no interest to me what so ever.
“More than 35%”, gloated the woman operating the cash register in a heavy Russian accent.
(Cash register operators here in Israel have a social mission to fulfill; they comment on everything you buy, ask for recipes, inquire about the taste of the people in your country of origin and try to sell you all kinds of useless debit cards.
Still, I like them a lot; especially since I am a living nightmare by checking my shopping bill in depth. In 80% of the cases, there are mistakes, almost never to my benefit. I also make a big issue out of getting correct change; if my bill ends at .95, I insist on receiving my 5 agarot. I start arguing that it’s not my fault that they do not have 5 agarot coins change; I keep this up until they finally give me my 5 (or 10) agarot change. It’s a matter of principle; they pull this trick on all their customers, and make heaps of extra money!)
“So much fat?!” the woman shrieked. “That’s very unhealthy. Why don’t you buy Tal HaEmek? (for the innocent reader: Tal HaEmek is a sort of imitation cheese that resembles Emmenthal. Please note the clever translation from Yiddish to Hebrew – great marketing!)
She continued to lecture me on fat (in cheeses), blood pressure (mine), cholesterol levels (also mine) and healthy eating patterns (hers).
I listened impatiently. (Even after years in this country, I do not have the skill to pinpoint the optimal momentum to rudely interrupt my speaking partners. I am working on it, so there is still hope!)

After she finished her lecture (more or less) she glared at me and said: ”Nu?!”
I scanned her up and down and saw a woman of my age, at least two dress sizes bigger with a bulging stomach and belly, squeezed in good Israeli fashion in a too tight tiger print top, skin tight black pants and half a pound of silver jewelry.
In one hand she clasped a mobile and a huge bunch of keys (how are they able to acquire so many keys?! I only have my car key, house key, office room key and mailbox key) and a wallet almost bursting at the seams with post-its, travel cards, shopping cards, saving cards, frequent flyer cards and all other credit/debit cards that the Israeli economy can come up with.
I replied (rather viciously) that I do not have any problems with keeping my figure and never needed to go on a diet in my life. Needless to say, she did not take kindly to this remark. She started preaching me about the Evils of Cheese. If you believed her, it was a matter of minutes before I would collapse with a cardiac arrest.
I peered into her shopping basket and remarked: “you really think that bambas, potato chips, ice-cream and yogurts full of artificial colorants are healthy?”
Wrong remark of course, she started shouting that 1) bambas are very healthy since they are made out of peanuts; 2) ice-cream is healthy because it is ice-cream (do not try to understand the logic), that’s why all Israelis are eating it; 3) potato chips are for the kids; 4) the yoghurts are 0% fat, so that’s OK.
In short, “You don’t understand”. I hear that a lot and I translate it into “You are correct”.
While I was paying, a guy standing in line remarked that he has always been a great cheese lover and that I definitely did not need to go on diet.
Another guy happily joined the conversation, remarking that he visited France many times, indulging in a wide variety of cheeses. “We Israelis do not know how to make cheese”, he ended on a final note.
“Mah Pitom,” said another, “we make great soft white cheeses that are a lot healthier than the yellow ones”.
The woman who started it all nodded her head approvingly.
The woman at the cash register decided it was time to put in her two cents and remarked that in Russia, French people are known for their cheese consumption. I did not dare to enlighten her that I am not French.
After paying (“No, I pay cash; no, I don’t want to buy saving stamps; no, I don’t want to buy a CD with army songs, no, I do not need batteries, even when they are cheap; no, I do not need sweets, washing powder, detergents, chocolate, or toilet soap that is on sale, and NO, I do not want a debit card!”) I could finally collect my shopping items and leave.
A week or so later, I bought another piece of Emmenthal cheese. An elderly lady behind me started asking about my cheese. I was mentally preparing myself for a repeat performance, when she completely took me off guard by saying: “good for you buying the original and not the Israeli imitation. I am French and I know a thing or two about cheese”. I nearly hugged her.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Touchy, touchy

You may have noticed as well – Israelis are touchy.
I am not only referring to their state of mind, but the “their-hand-on-you-body” kind.
They mean well, they just want to emphasize a point by touching you.
Personally, I like my space and only want to touch and be touched by people
a) I am close to and b) I like.
Unfortunately for me, Israel is filled with touchy people. While I am trying to keep my distance, they want to “enter my bloodstream” as they call it here.
It's an endless battle – the more reserved I become, the more curious is my environment.
Once I was cornered by a neighbor, who asked if I had a new boyfriend.
When I looked puzzled, he happily told me that they (the neighbors) discussed the fact that there was a new car in my personal parking. They came to the conclusion that it must be related to a new guy in my life. It never crossed their minds that I might have changed jobs and got therefore a different company car. When I gave neighbor-dear one of my non-answers, he looked peeved and snapped that I am too damn secretive. Touchy, touchy!

In my previous company, I had the pleasure to work with a nice Argentinean colleague. Being Latin American, he kept standing close to me – too close for my peace of mind. So I used to step back a bit, which led to him stepping forwards again. In order not to cross the whole length of the office building, I stepped slightly sideways, so we ended up full circle. It looked like we were dancing. He never had a clue.

In the USA and Western Europe, people get into overcrowded public transport and elevators, bending backwards (pun intended) to avoid body contact. Not so in this country. They not only lean against you, but also start a personal conversation, commenting on your appearance or the book or article you are reading. Once you bite (I counsel you never to do that!) they happily ask you questions such as: are you married, do you have kids, where do you live, what is your rent/mortgage and how much you make. If you refuse to answer, they are hurt.
So I solve it by rapidly firing all kind of questions at them. You see, it is a one-way street – they can ask you but you can’t ask them. They are touchy when it comes to their private sphere.

Don't be surprised when complete strangers or people you just met happily drape an arm around your shoulder, touch your arm, shoulder or hair and even hug you.
Employers are worse. Not that they touch you – the laws here are very strict and they know you can sue their pants off. No, they created something even more horrid: a Hugging Day.
Yes, really, that’s what it's called (and tax deductible). It’s their way of ensuring that their employees bond.
Now, I have nothing against bonds, as long as they are the equivalent of stocks, if you get my drift. I don’t see any reason to spend my free time with a whole bunch of people that I didn’t select to be my friends in the first place. Don’t get me wrong – I like my colleagues but I don’t want to spend my sparsely free time with them.

The day itself is a nightmare for a nerd like me – it consists of outdoorsy stuff. I like nature – I watch it a lot on National Geographic for which privilege I pay handsomely to the cable company anyway. So why should I rough it out, get sunburn and have to eat junk food? The planned activities are of the “let’s have fun together” kind: driving around in jeeps (not the way I want to spend my last hour on earth), karting (which is nice for kids under the age of 8), climbing through nets (what the hell is the point of that?!), shooting bows and arrows (hitting management isn’t allowed), sing along (I had my fill of music lessons, thank you very much) and walks, loooooong walks.

I didn’t like all the above when I was a kid and I didn’t acquire a taste for it since.
The head of my current company’s cultural committee is a tall, chubby and sweet guy who somehow made it his mission in life to drag me to one of those Hugging Things.
He cleverly asked me what would make me happy. I answered truthfully that I would like a day filled with a) fitness and b) Spa activities in a 4 to 5 star Spa resort with a state-of-the-art fitness center. He smiled, told me that it was too expensive for the company and guess what? Hugged me!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

A miffed terrorist – life is stranger than fiction.

Steven Spielberg is currently shooting the movie “
Munich” about the 1972 Munich Olympics attack, in which 11 Israeli athletes died.
“Munich” is a thriller chronicling not only the massacre but also the Israeli revenge assassinations that followed.
The source of the movie is contraversial – it is (at least partly) based on “Vengeance”, a book on the reprisals campaign that has been widely criticized.
“I am surprised that a director like Spielberg has chosen, out of all the sources, to rely on this particular book,” retired Mossad chief Zvi Zamir told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in July 2005.
The ex-spook is not the only one that read “Vengence”.
“I read it,” announced Mohammad Daoud, “It’s full of mistakes.”
Mr. Daoud is the mastermind of “Black September”, a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) splinter group. He is the one that sent terrorists to abduct Israeli athletes at the 1972 Games. Two hostages were killed in the raid, and another nine during the botched rescue by German police.
Reeling from the loss of its countrymen - particularly on what had been the staging ground for the Holocaust - Israel retaliated with shootings, booby-trap bombings and commando operations that killed at least 10 PLO men and drove their comrades into hiding.
The weird thing is, that this Palestinian terrorist is miffed – big time.
“I know nothing about this film,” Daoud told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location in the Middle East.
“If someone really wanted to tell the truth about what happened, he should talk to the people involved, people who know the truth. Were I contacted, I would tell the truth.”
Yeah, sure, and I am a supermodel.

Truth from the mouths of terrorists?! Just is case you wonder, according to Daoud, it’s not the PLO which is to blame for the deaths, but Israel and West Germany.
Our innocent lamb survived a 1981 gun attack in Poland which the PLO blamed on the Mossad. But then, the Mossad has been blamed for a lot, including the death of Princess Diana.

Spielberg, not wanting to shake the money tree, has vowed that “Munich” will be sensitive to all sides.
I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait not to see this movie!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

For those of you who are fed up with news about the disengagement, corruption scandals and balancing your checkbook, here is your chance to put some romance and glamour back in your life.
I am referring to the cheesy reality show “of all the girls in the world”.
New York businessman Ari Goldman (34) is the male star aka the object of desire.
He is a slightly chubby bachelor who lives in Manhattan, where he runs a (supposedly) highly successful vintage comics enterprise.
According to the visuals, he drives a really cool car, has a powerboat and a nice house with a terrace overlooking the water. Mmmm, not bad at all! So why do I have the sneaky suspicion that all those worldly goods are not his? And why does he want to meet 17 Jewish Cinderellas aged 21-34 in Israel? Is he desperate, or does he want to improve his business? If the latter is the case, I applaud him – free worldwide marketing & PR is something only A-list actors enjoy.

The ladies in question come from diverse backgrounds, and were born in Estonia, Bulgaria, Canada, the US, Ethiopia and Israel. All (but one) have at least a BA, as the producer happily pointed out. (No idea why that is relevant, but who am I?).
According to the producer, they are “the type of girl that any Jewish mother would want for her son”. Yeah, sure, every mother-in-law just loves her son to marry a woman who made a fool of herself on international TV for a worldwide audience.
Goldman doesn't speak Hebrew, so a large part of the program is in English. Some of the girls don’t speak English well, and use one of their competitors as a translator. Talking about shooting yourself in the foot!
The producer justifies the lack of English skills with: “We didn't pick them for their fluency in English; love is an international language”. He added that language and culture obstacles will add spice to the show.
Except for the significant fact that he doesn't live in Israel, Goldman travels on Shabbat, but has his Friday night dinner with his family. He eats only kosher, dons a kippa when he sits down to eat and studies with a rabbi every two weeks. We can therefore safely assume that he will not make alyah, so his bride will be whisked away to NYC. I am sure that’s a huge incentive to participate in this show.
Some of the young women he meets are fully Sabbath observant, some just eat kosher but don't observe the Sabbath, and others are barely observant at all.
As we all know, that’s already a breaking point in any date, so good luck to all of them.
No show without a twist, so there it comes: an 18th contestant is watching all the episodes except the last from the comfort of her living room, who can also join the rat race if she considers herself superior. Of course she will – but isn’t that unfair towards our poor bachelor, who never even saw the wench?
Toward the end, Goldman will take the four women who appeal to him most back to New York, where family and friends will help him narrow the choice to one.
The rewards? A $ 200,000 engagement ring, a car, and a rent-free apartment for one year.
The catch? He has to settle in Israel (Talking about pressure!).
I am not the only one being cynical about this all - Goldman's own mother doesn't think the show will bring her a daughter-in-law. What I don’t get: New York is full of intelligent, gorgeous single women, so what is Goldman’s problem?
Especially NYC is the ultimate ethnic melting pot, so why shop afar when you can do it right on your doorstep?
Does the show work? Yes and now. The chances that Ari will find a bride whom he can whisk away to Manhattan are as high as any of us winning the lottery. Are we being entertained? For sure!
The styling of this program is excellent – no money was spared on locations, outfits, hair & makeup.
In the first episode, the candidates arrived in brand new identical cars (that were obviously not theirs), wearing white outfits that complimented one another. During the episodes shown, all the girls have nice clothes, beautiful makeup, and every hair in place. I would love to see them in their own feathers, so to speak.
Needless to say, the program is heavily sponsored. In contrast to American shows, where sponsors get subtle acknowledgements, in this one an aggressive male voice interrupts the show rattling off the products and its benefits, while stills of the products in question are shown.

The tasks that the girls have to perform are rather weird – one received 4,000 NIS to spend in 2 hours. This would be a good test to see which one to eliminate!
Ari’s only comment was that he didn’t get anything. Makes you wonder about the spending habits of this mother and sister.
Some girls had to play golf; others had to sing in Casarea's amphitheatre. It looked more like an “Apprentice” episode than a dating show.
There is one shot of Ari reclining on his hotel bed, looking bewildered.
The gift of one of the girls tells it all: she gave him a fish tank with a fish, so he wouldn’t feel lonely. It only emphasized that he looked like a fish out of water…

Monday, September 05, 2005

It all started with an invitation for a marketing writing course that I received about a month ago. I got the invitation via a PR network, so I should have been warned…. It was organized by a company (let’s call them X-team), which specializes in technical writing. Since the current economic situation is bad, such companies have a tough time surviving. Due to the unemployment rate among marketing and technical writers (45%), companies prefer to hire laid-off writers that are dirt cheap, very experienced and are paid per hour. X-team invited me to join their course that took place on August, 2nd from 6pm-8pm. It consisted of two parts – the first part “what is marketing writing” and the second part “how to write killer marketing material”.

Since I always want to improve myself, I thought it was a good idea to go. The costs were also OK, 40 NIS. (I did not even contemplated to ask this amount from my employer).

So I registered…and did not get a confirmation. So I emailed twice, to make sure I had a place. Finally, I got the confirmation with a map how to drive there. And then the fun started….

That whole day, Ibby (my boss) kept throwing work at me. When I told him that I had to leave that day at 5.30pm (I start at 8am, mind you), the reaction was 1) why so early 2) what for.
I was stupid enough to tell him. He replied it would be a waste of time. I was finally able to leave armed with the map that X-team had faxed me. I don’t have the greatest sense of directions, but I was quite confident that I would find it. The map clearly showed that I had to turn right at the fifth traffic light on the main road into Rehov Habaniem, so that would be easy enough, correct?
So I drove off…..already being tired and stressed.

All went well, and I turned right at the fifth traffic light. Wrong street name, so I parked, and went to ask directions. I asked the proprietress of a small kiosk that sells milk, cigarettes, snacks, and newspapers and also serves coffee. She did not know, but her customer sitting outside budded in, took my map, and started to analyze it. Not very successfully, since he kept turning it around. After some minutes, I took the map back, and said I would ask at the petrol station. The guy looked insulted and said that he would have figured it out eventually. Yeah, sure, and I am a super model. The petrol station guy at the end of the street was very nice and helpful, and told me that he knew were Habaniem was. I just
had to turn left at the next traffic light. By that time, it was 6.10 pm, so it was cutting it close, but what the hack, I was almost there, right? Wrong!
I went back to my car (feeling hot and sweaty) and turned left at the traffic light as instructed. Lo and behold, the correct street name! Found a nice parking place, parked and saw that a high tech guy (pony tail, end 20s, must therefore be a software engineer) was getting into the car next to me. I thought that double checking would be a good idea, so I showed my map again, and he assured me that I was in the right place. He recognized all the streets, and pointed into the different directions to indicate them. I was very impressed and relieved. So, I went looking for X-team at Habaniem 1… that turned out to be a Chinese Restaurant. By that time, I was confused and nervous. I decided to ask a mother with a small child walking towards me – those ladies normally know all the streets. She was very nice and looked at my map. She told me that I was in the right street, but in the wrong kfar! Of course, I thought to myself, that explains a lot! She told me that I had to turn back to the main road, go to the left, 3 traffic lights and then to the right.
Bt that time, it was already 6.30pm, so I wondered if it was worth while to go. But since I am extremely stubborn, I could not give up. By that time, my feet were also hurting and I started to get hungry (Did not have anything to eat since my salad at noon).
So I drove off again. By that time, I was smack in the middle of rush hour, so I had to move with the speed of a snail, a heavily medicated, doped out snail. Finally, I arrived at the third traffic light and turned right. Guess what? The right street, but in the middle of a cluster of buildings. It resembled a kibbutz.
I parked my car, took my map and walked into the first small building I saw – a small high tech firm. I asked the two young guys there if they could help me. They looked at the map and told me that X-team should be in a building somewhere behind them. They did not know for sure, and happily informed me “nobody can find us as well”. This sentence was delivered with a big smile, so I wondered why they didn’t relocate.
I walked around amongst several clusters of small buildings. I suddenly saw an old sign with X-team on it, so I followed it…and ended up in a playground! Looking around, I noticed this tiny sign “X-team” on a building dwarfed by huge signs of other companies. Go figure. By that time, it was 6.45pm…..But, in for a penny, in for a pound, so I went into the building. Nobody to be found, so I first looked for the restrooms since I drank lots of water on the way. I walked around, and finally a guy talking loudly on his mobile came out of his office and demanded to know what I wanted. I answered that I was looking for the course. He pointed were it was and added “You must be very polite when you go in”. I informed him that I am always polite. At that moment, a young guy came rushing towards me and told me he was also late. We decided to go in together.
So I opened the door to slip in…. and nearly fainted.
It was a small meeting room, packed with 40 people sitting (shoulder to shoulder, knee to back) and another 10+ standing…without air-conditioning!
By that time, the idea of standing for two hours or so, having to pay for that privilege, and no possibility to make notes was enough to freak me out. I made a hasty retreat and drove home. By 7.30pm, I was finally home and thought this whole exercise over.

My first lesson: never trust maps sent to you by companies.
My second lesson: People are friendly and helpful, but not always reliable
My third lesson: X-team has a good idea – if implemented correctly

Their concept is great:

  • you let your own employees teach – no costs involved
  • in your own offices – no costs involved
  • 50 invitees = 2,000 NIS tax free
  • 5%-10% might turn into customers (hack, even 1 customer out of it makes it all worth while!)

But what upsets me most……Ibby was right!