Monday, February 10, 2014

Restoring my faith in mankind...

I received an interesting phone call a few days ago that really made my day.  I was attempting to get things organized before teaching my afternoon piano lessons and I was trying to load the dishwasher while simultaneously making myself a cup of coffee when the phone rang.  I really had no patience to take any call, but picked it up anyways.  The minute I heard the woman rambling in fast-paced Hebrew, my brain just froze.  "Whoa, slow down for a minute," I said in Hebrew and requested that she speak slowly.  She slowed down, but I still had no idea what she was talking about.  She said something about a reciept from Fox, the Israeli version of Old Navy, and money and points.  I honestly had no idea what she was talking about.  I told her that I hadn't been to Fox in a while and didn't make any purchases - I thought for a moment that she worked at Fox and was trying to tell me about an upcoming sale.  She took a deep breath and started from the beginning.  This was the story:

She told me that she had gone into Fox to return a purchase and then, in turn, exchange it for something else.  The item she wanted to exchange it for was more money so she had to pay the excess amount in cash but the Fox employee asked her if she wanted to use her Isracard (credit card) points instead and she agreed.  Apparently - and I don't know how this happened -  by accident, the Fox employee used MY points and gave them to this woman.  I don't know why they couldn't redo the entire bill from scratch, but instead they gave this woman my phone number.  (We won't discuss how unprofessional that was...) She told me about the points that she had that were really mine.  I use my points whenever I have them, so I was unsure of what to do about this.  She said that she would mail me the shekel equivalent which is one shekel per point.  I thought about it for a minute and then said that that would be okay. I then asked her how many of my points she'd been given.  She responded 6.  

I was flabbergasted.  This entire phone call was about 6 shekel.  Basically, less than $2.  I couldn't believe that she went to all this trouble over 6 shekel.  I thanked her for calling and told her to put the money into the tzedakah (charity) box.  She asked me several times if I was sure that's okay and I put her worries to rest, thanked her and got off the phone.  I was honestly speechless.  

I've discovered over the years that people are divided into two distinct groups.  You are either an optomist or you're a pessimist.  You're either the kind of person who looks for that silver lining on that dark cloud, and recognizes that their cup is half full of water as opposed to those who bring with their umbrella on that clear and sunny day and perpetually see their glass as half empty.  I'm one of those optomists.  My husband loosely translates my optimism as gullibility.  And he would argue that there are three distinct groups and not two.  And that he is neither an optomist or a pessimist, but rather a card-carrying member of this third group: a realist.  (I think realists are just pessimists in disguise...) When we were dating I received some letter in the mail about a free trip to some tropical destination and all we needed to do was sit in on some real estate conference about a new condo going up by Lake Ontario.  I was all ready to clear my schedule and go down there when he just sadly shook his head wondering how he ended up with a gullible girl like me... I admittedly buy lottery tickets every once in a while believing in my sixth sense that this will be the week we will become millionaires.  He takes the air out of my balloon as he explains the ridiculous odds of my winning.  And while I lose most of the time, I have won up to 200 shekel in the past.  And while, long term, I spend more on the lottery tickets than I take in winnings, I still feel like a winner.  When I told my husband of this phone call, he made a face and then said that he hoped I didn't give her my address.  I assured him that I hadn't, but didn't understand why he was worried.  He said he didn't believe a word of it and maybe the woman was trying to get my address for another reason.  That maybe she was up to something more sinister than trying to return my 6 shekel.  

Being the optomist that I am, I've chosen to believe that she was honest and had done something remarkable.  She was following her conscience and wanted to do the right thing - and it was really never about the amount of money but about the principle of returning something that belonged to someone else.  It reminded me about a Friends episode where Pheobe suddenly discovered that the bank had inadvertently deposited $500 into her account, and while her friends came up with all sorts of ideas of how to spend the money, she couldn't bring herself to keep it.  What was even more comedic was when she telephoned the bank and told them about their mistake, they apologized and the next day Pheobe discovered another $500 added to her already inflated account.  Rachel told her to just accept the gift and buy new boots, but Pheobe said that she couldn't wear a pair of boots bought with that money - that with every step she took she would hear the boots clicking, "not mine, not mine, not mine."  She ended up giving the money to a homeless woman.  I would never have known (or cared) about the missing 6 shekel and the loss of those few shekels would have had zero impact on my life, but she clearly didn't want to benefit from using my 6 shekel without my permission.  I have had instances in the past where I'd been give the wrong change - to my benefit - from shop owners.  I could have walked away and pocketed the extra cash, but I've always been unfailingly honest about things like that and have always returned the correct amount.  But this was the first time I was on the receiving end of such honesty.  It put a smile on my face and it's moments like these that restore my faith in mankind.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Happy Aliyah Anniversary....

Just last week was our 19th Aliyah anniversary.  Although it might not be a nice round number, like the 20th or an important numerical Hebrew anniversary like the 18th (chai), I felt it was an important one.  Firstly, as you know, the Hebrew and English calendar coincide every 19 years making the English and Hebrew date exactly the same.  So this past week, our English Aliyah anniversary landed on exactly the same date as our Hebrew Aliyah anniversary and I felt that alone was reason enough to commemorate the date.  But this year, also felt like a monumental one as it marked the year our daughter was inducted into the army, making us - her parents - feel like full-fledged Israelis in a way I personally have not felt like before.
So, I thought I would jot down 19 personal reasons why I love living in this country....

1.  Food shopping.  No hunting for a kosher symbol on food anymore.  Walk into any supermarket and everything is at your fingertips.... My pantry is filled with hundreds of gourmet kosher food both made here and imported from around the world.  It's like a kosher food expo every time I do my grocery shopping.

2.  Weather.  After the CRAZY 40-below-0 degree winter that North America and Europe had this past winter, (and even we had our five day knee deep snow in Jerusalem) you can't beat living in a country where it's relatively warm for 8 months out of the year.

3.  Israeli chutzpah/kindness. This seems like an odd one, but while encountering tremendous chutzpah on a daily basis (read my previous blog about fraiers) you will encounter tremendous kindness in almost equal doses.  Those same people who will refuse to let you go ahead of them in the  supermarket because you have three items to their buggy-full of groceries, will help you change your tire if you discover you have a flat in the supermarket parking lot.

4.  Holidays.  If it's one thing this country knows how to do, it's to celebrate the holidays.  As much as I used to enjoy the vibe of the holiday season in North America, it's a relief to walk in the mall and not encounter Santa Claus with a line-up of kids wanting to sit on his lap (slightly creepy, if you ask me...), loud Christmas carols blasting from speakers and a huge Christmas tree with flashing lights in front of City Hall.  We've got sukkah decorations, gourmet donuts and hamentaschen and an enormous chanukiyah in front of our City Hall.  And no need to explain to your boss why you need to take time off work for the Feast of the Tabernacles....

5.  Nature.  This tiny country boasts amazing nature trails and natural wonders at every turn.  Despite its size, we have snow-capped mountains where you can ski during the winters, warm tropical beaches, natural waterfalls, the largest natural crater in the world and miles of endess desert.

6.  My community.  I love where I live.  Most of us, having made Aliyah alone and without our family nearby have made our community our family.  We care for one another and count on one another in ways that you don't normally find in other communities in North America.  

7.  Being the majority.  Growing up as a small minority in Toronto, Canada, it's nice for once to really and truly belong - to be part of a growing majority of Jewish people living in a Jewish country.

8.  Yom Ha'atzma'ut.  If you want to see true patriotism, stick around for our Independence Day.  Situated right after our Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), we appropriately mourn and remember our heroes who sacrificed themselves for the future of Israel.  And then the next day we celebrate our independence.  The country is inundated with flags, and families and friends from all over the country get together for hikes, picnics and BBQs.

9.  Living in the shadow of our history.  It's an amazing thing to be able to visit the Old City and touch the actual walls that were built around our temple, or to walk along the ramparts built by King David.  Our schools trips are not only to theme parks and science centers, but to historical archeological sites and ancient ruins of Jewish civilization that once lived here thousands of years ago.  You can't get that anywhere else....

10.  Restaurants.  Maybe with the exception of New York City, no other place in the world has the choice and creativity when it comes to kosher dining.  And these restaurants are open late, not closed by 8PM... (Hope you're listening, Toronto...)

11.  Safety.  I know many of you are snorting right now.  Yes, while there are still rockets occasionally being fired from the Gaza Strip into Sderot and other yishuvim in the south, our country is relatively a safe place to live.  Our army protects us in ways we couldn't possibly imagine, but I guess you have to live here to understand that....

12.  Bilingual.  While my Hebrew is not great by any stretch of the imagination (I understand almost everything, but I can't conjugate verbs if my life depended on it....), my kids are truly bilingual.  It's a gift that my moving here has given them.

13.  My tropical trees.  My husband and I went to Florida (to DisneyWorld) for our honeymoon and from the moment I got off the plane, I decided that one day I wanted palm trees in my backyard.  I knew that I couldn't stay in Toronto for that, and once we decided to make Aliyah, I knew that one day I would get my palm trees.  After three years of living in Jerusalem, we bought a house and had a gardener come to give us a quote.  I told him that he could do whatever he wanted with the garden, but that it had to have palm trees.  I have three.  I've also got a lemon tree with juicy succulent lemons at my fingertips and gorgeous birds of paradise that reach my shoulder.

14.   Quiet streets on Shabbat.  I love Shabbat - the food, the socializing, the reconnection with friends and family - but one of the things I love most is the quiet.  You don't get that in cities in Israel, but living in a yishuv like I do, the minute you light candles on Shabbat, there is a calmness, a stillness and a sense of serenity that takes over.  Men, women and children start pouring out onto the streets and the overall vibe changes.

15.   The view from my living room window.  While there is a large border-wall across the hill from my house, there are no houses.  I have an unobstructed view of hills, olive groves, trees and the odd donkey or deer roaming across the valley.  On a clear day, you can see straight to Tel Aviv and after a good rainshower, the rainbows that stretch out over the valley are breathtaking.

16.  Personal Independence.  There's something very healthy about leaving your hometown and your community and moving far far away.  I moved at the young age of 23 with just my husband and my infant daughter.  There's a lot of personal growth, independence and maturity going on when you're essentially on your own and I doubt I'd be the same person had I stayed in Toronto. 

17.  Weddings.  I love weddings here - not such a big fan of them there.  Anyone who's been to a chupah here in Israel knows that the minute the groom says, "harei at mikudeshet li...", everyone bursts out into song, cheering the newly married couple.  I guess being in Israel so long, I had forgotten what a somber and almost funereal event a chupah is back at home.  I started clapping and singing the minute my brother said those words under the chupah and my sister-in-law grabbed my hands to stop me from clapping and shushed me while my sister looked at me quizzically.  No clapping, singing or cheering there.  And to me, it doesn't feel like a celebration.  I love chupahs here and I'm glad that one day, G-d willing, my children will get married here where I can clap and sing along with everyone else without feeling like a freak.

18.  Supermarket checkout ladies.  This seems like a weird one, but it's true.  I love my supermarket checkout ladies.  I see them regularly and they greet me like an old friend.  They don't just pass your items under the scanner and tell you how much you owe, but they occasionally pick up something and say, "what do you use this for?"  And then they grab a piece of paper and jot down your comments.  A few weeks ago, I bought a frozen corned beef in Mega and the checkout lady said she always wanted to buy it but had no idea what to do with it.  I told her how to prepare it and she grabbed a piece of paper and began to write down the recipe.  I've known Vicky, the multi-pierced, multi-hair colored checkout lady from Mega for over 15 years.  She's seen my kids grow up, she's met my parents who've gone shopping with me in the past and she's helped me with my Hebrew while I've helped her with her English.  You know you have a relationship with your checkout lady when it's a week before Thanksgiving and she reminds you to order your turkey....

19.  The Law of Return.  Being the granddaughter of holocaust survivors, this law means so much to me.  To know that no matter what, Israel will automatically welcome all Jews is what is one of the reasons that makes this country a great one.

While these might not be your average reasons for liking where you live, they are mine....
What are yours?