Showing posts from 2010

Cheap electrical kettles and rabbis.

If you live in Tel-Aviv and like to hang out in electrical stores and take an interest in cheap electric kettles, then you have probably heard of "Kennedy" a firm whose cheap kettles are in all the major hardware stores and have a remarkable capacity for lasting only slightly longer then the guarantee. My habit of buying cheap kettles and toasters means I am always buying new ones when the last cheapo disintegrates. Kennedy rule the cheapo market and are even advertised on the rear ends of buses. My last one I bought in a petrol-station (gas-station if you're American) where for 100 shekels I got a kettle, a toaster and an waffle maker.
The kettle unexpectedly sprang a leak before its guarantee had expired and every effort to make a cup of tea was accompanied by a small puddle round the bottom, so I decided to take it to be repaired. The petrol station directed me to a shop in Haredi Bnei Brak which provides the maintenance for Kennedy, so I put the kettle in my bicycl…

Shani's first birthday

Today is Shani's first birthday.
She now knows five words, all of them in Hebrew. Kova (hat) which she uses not just for hats but also for items of clothing (most of them will go on your head if you try) and bottle tops. Kadoor (ball)which she uses for anything round, including fruit and vegetables. Or (light) she uses for lights, light switches, ceiling fans, the sun and the moon. Hav Hav (Hebrew for woof woof) means dog and any animal. This morning she pointed at a pigeon and said "hav hav". She can also identify images of hav havs and kadoors and says kadoor when when seeing basketball or football on the TV.

Abba (father) she uses for me and (not sure how this happened) for mobile phones.

We spent the last ten days in Italy where she produced a new word, her first verb: Havi (bring / give). She doesn't conjugate it properly but there is no doubt about the meaning. She'll finish hr bottle and then point at it and say "Havi!" sending me scuttling to the k…

Call the post office and order four gas masks.

A couple of days ago I came home from work tired after a long day and flopped in front of the TV. When I do this I normally spend about fifteen minutes flicking through some twenty stations and don't find anything I want to see. I than do a re-run, flicking through the same twenty stations for another fifteen minutes before realizing there is just nothing I want to watch and giving up. On this occasion I found something. It was an American film about Auschwitz and I landed on the channel showing it, just as they were showing in graphic detail the work of the dreaded Sonder-commandos. The Sonder-commandos cleaned the gas-chambers and loaded the bodies into the crematoria. They also guided the Jews into the "showers" while reassuring them that they were just showers and later sorted through their possessions. In return for this despicable work, they got fantastic food, good wine and a little bit of grace coupled with the certain knowledge that the Nazis would never l…

Noam playing the congas at an end-of-school party

Noam and Nir at kita vav 1 end party.MP4 Noam has officially finished primary school and his class held a celebration party at which the children staged performances.  The last to appear were Noam and Nir, Noam is playing the congas and Nir singing. They will be continuing in the same school next year as the school includes a 'middle school'.
There is a second clip below of a different song, Noam is only just visible. I guess drummers stay in the background. Noam and nir and Shir kita vav1.MP4

How I won and lost a global scoop

The Internet editing work at the Jerusalem Post is shift work and once a week, most weeks, I have to do a night shift.
I volunteered for the Friday night shift which struck me as the least disruptive to my life though I am now having second thoughts about it.   On Friday I drove to Jerusalem and when I arrived was told that a ship called the 'Rachel Corrie' was due to try and break the blockade on Gaza the following morning.   We were still in the midst of the international crisis brought on by the unfortunate effort to seize a Turkish ship by lowering commandos on ropes which had first led to commandos being captured by the Turks and then to nine Turks being killed as other commandos rushed to rescue them.  At least that's what I think happened.  Apart from a security guard, I was the only person in the Jerusalem Post building and keeping the site going alone. Part of the internet editing job is checking the "talkbacks", the comments readers leave on articles an…

The Tel-Aviv Post: Breaking news editor at the Jerusalem Post

I have got a job as a "breaking news editor" at the Jerusalem Post.  Twenty years ago this would have been my dream job and it still goes quite a long way. Basically you spend all day listening to, and watching the news and then post it on the website.  Some of the material is just feeds from Associated Press, and others are articles by Jerusalem Post staff which you post to the website, but a certain amount needs to be written by the editors and a lot of the AP stuff needs adjusting to reflect Israeli interests. also the editors decide what goes where and how important things are.  Oh and you get to approve the talkbacks.

At the moment the Post offices are in Jerusalem, and boy are they filthy. They've had the same offices since 1932 (when they were called the Palestine Post).  Outside there are loading bays which I assume were where once the paper would have gone onto lorries (trucks) every day for delivery round Israel.  But times have changed and t…

Religion and Socialism in the Middle East conflict

It used to be, that when Arabs and Jews went to war, socialist Jews would fight socialist Arabs. Kibbutzniks were disproportionately represented among the commanders of the Israel Defence Forces, PLO factions were all called the Popular Front and the parties which ruled the Arab world described themselves as socialist. Israel was totally under the thumb of the Labour party and in the Six Day War it was socialist Nasser against the Kibbutznik Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.  
Now that Middle East socialism seems to be in terminal decline, the religious have taken over.  Israeli officers facing Sunni fundamentalists in Gaza or Shia fundamentalists in Southern Lebanon are likely to live on the West-Bank and share a devout belief in a single invisible deity with their bitter enemies. However there are differences, for whereas the Islamists are likely to represent the most fanatical Moslems of their respective peoples, the most fanatical of Jews - The Haredis - steer clear of military service.�…

Am I using the right site?

There is a small visitor counter on this blog which you can see lower down the page on the right hand side.  At the moment its been viewed about 320 times in a couple of months which is hardly a very impressive statistic.  So I've started thinking about trying to promote it and am wondering if I should change the blog's location. In the mean time is pretty easy to use and I don't want to start moving around without a good reason.
I've registered with who want this code in the blog: 2C6XKHE5EY5D  So there it is guys.   Lets see if I can't find a few more readers...

Shani at seven months


The Journey of a Lifetime: my grandmother's escape on the Trans-Siberian railway

I had a chat with my sister yesterday. She lives in Rome, and tells me that a friend of hers read about my grandmother's passport (I have a copy of her Nazi-issued passport) and volunteered to help me translate the German. That inspired me to do a bout of research into my father's childhood in the Weimar republic. If you read my earlier post (my other passport is with Mossad) then you will know my father, who grew up in Nuremburg, only just got out of Germany thanks to a parliamentary question and a forged passport.
My grandmother, Betty Lowenstein (maiden name Ehrlich), caught one of the last Trans-Siberian trains before the Nazi invasion of Russia. Family legend has it that as she caught the train to leave Germany, a woman handed her a baby to take with her.
I should add that her husband committed suicide in 1932. Though there may be some question marks over exactly how that happened to him. I have his death certificate here.
Max Lowenstein death certificate
My father lef…

Traffic Jams and Motorbikes

A few days ago I took my motorbike down to south Tel-Aviv today to get my seat repaired after someone slashed it.  There is a motorcycle upholsterer down there.  It would never have ocurred to me that such a person existed if I hadn't passed him by at some point.   His name is Sasson and he is one of the old school Russian immigrants. The new school came in the nineties, wear designer clothing and are ultra-cool but Sasson belongs to the generation that arrived in the seventies and grew up revering Stalin, wearing design-free clothes and thought gold teeth were the ultimate in cool. I once worked with a systems analyst from Bukhara (a city in Uzbekistan).  He was a charming man with a mouth full of gold teeth and we told him that if he got them replaced it would benefit his career, but he refused.  Apparently he felt taking ones perfectly good gold teeth out was too vain or something.  Anyway Sasson has a glass eye, gold teeth and motorcycle seats in various states of repair hangin…

A fine democracy: Why Israel shouldn't change its voting system

Attack the Israeli political system and no one will disagree with you. While all but a few loonies agree that democracy (pretty much any democracy) is preferable to dictatorship  (of any sort) most people who bother to voice an opinion will tell you that the Israeli proprtional representation system is flawed. All political systems are flawed, presumably because human beings are flawed, and democracies, whichever mechanism they use to take decisions, have flaws that reflect the different methods they use.
In ancient Athens everyone gathered in a stadium and the majority of decisions were taken using a one man one vote system.  If you ignore the fact that women, slaves and children didn't vote it was still problematic because large groups of people are prone to behave like football fans and get over excited or follow demagogues.  This way makes it hard to take quick decisions or deal with the kind of society where everybody has to work: you need slaves and wives who can free you to s…

Spring cleaning for Passover: Ancient Bnei-Brak

Passover is nearly here, and in Israel that means two things: first everybody is spring cleaning and secondly everyone is planning a holiday. Orthodox Jews thoroughly clean out  their homes and then burn any bread.  When I lived in an orthodox neighbourhood of Tel-Aviv every passover there were small bonfires all over the place where people burnt their bread. The entire nation's supply of bread and bread shops are sold to an Arab in a town called Abu-Gosh (famed for its Pitta and Humous). He then sells it back one (bread free) week later.

The other thing that happens is that the price of a cleaning woman goes through the roof: everybody is trying to hire one.  My cleaner last year simply disappeared for three weeks as she could make much more money working for other people.  Presumably the garbage collectors have more work too. Tel-Aviv's garbage used to go to Hiriya Hiria  which is a dump just outside the city. In the nineties when Israel made peace with Jordan I read an accou…

Life on two wheels: Motorcycle tyres and Rabbis in Tel-Aviv

Monday morning I had to go to the dentist to have my teeth cleaned. At 8:40 AM I got on my bicycle and cycled 15-20 minutes to the dentists.  They injected one half of my jaw with anaesthetic and then cleaned it with what felt like a wire brush.When I emerged slightly staggering and with no sensation in half my jaw, I realized that I had left my mobile phone at home so I cycled home (total time: 35 minutes cycling). After checking my e-mail and making sure no one had tried to rewrite my Wikipedia "history of Israel" I got back on my bicycle and cycled to the "employment office" (1 hour cycling). They should really be called the unemployment office because except for the clerks everyone there is unemployed. To get in you undergo a quick security check where they make sure you're not a bomber and then go up two escalators where they check you more thoroughly and use a metal detector. It makes for a lot of queueing and I met Neta (my partner) in the queue.  She wa…

My other passport is with Mossad

My daughter just got her first passport and now I am faced with the decision of whether I should try and get her a British passport too.  My son has three passports: British, US and Israeli (his mother is American).  It's fine as long as they don't all start requiring compulsory military service or taxes.  At this stage he's too young for the Mossad to send his doubles (or in his case trebles) to Dubai.  I somehow avoided this fate, probably because my surname "Lowenstein" is too obviously Jewish (it isn't Jewish). 
Passports are a big deal here in Israel.  Our passports won't get you into many places.  My British passport enables me to freely trek or work round Europe and, no less importantly, it gives me visaless entry to the USA. An Israeli wanting to travel to the USA has to queue for hours at the US Embassy where each applicant is personally interviewed to check they are neither a terrorist or someone trying to illegally emigrate. On my occasional jaun…

The Olympics: The World'r foremost nationalist pagent

There are too many Olympic sports. I mean why is shooting an Olympic sport? If shooting is a sport then why not knife throwing, darts or firing a cannon?  And why is horse riding an Olympic sport but not sheep dog trials?  Why on earth is synchronized swimming an Olympic sport?  I know it looked good in the 1950s Hollywood movies but does that justify it becoming an Olympic sport?  Olympic sports should reflect what people actually do.
It used to drive me mad that the Triathlon was not a sport while horse jumping was (horse jumping but not horse racing... what's the difference?).  Triathlon has since got in.    But what about Snooker?  And why oh why is walking a sport?  It makes more sense to have a funny walks competition.  Chess is an Olympic sport but not Backgammon, Bridge has applied (to the Winter Olympics!) so why not Poker?
The Olympics have got way too big.  The so called Olympic village is now a small town and the facilities... At the end of an Olympics the host city ge…

Facebook and statistics - On the internet not everything is what it seems

According to official Facebook statistics there are over 400 million users of Facebook. And it continues to grow.  Google are sufficiently freaked to have launched the rival Buzz service without properly figuring out the implications
People are talking about the fact that soon most internet activity will take place through Facebook and apparently Facebook users tend to stay online within Facebook longer so the company has huge influence over the internet.A lot is being said about it. However I have noticed a problem with Facebook statistics.
Facebook has a policy barring children under 13 from opening an account but in fact a large percentage of  primary school children in Israel have Facebook accounts - and they are all under 13.  How do they do it?  They lie about their age.  If you ask the children how old they are on Facebook you get some very amusing answers, raging from just over 13 to over 100.  How many of Israeli Facebook users are underage?  Nobody knows. Official Statistics…

Babatunde Olatunji

Babatunde Olatunji (here playing the west-African Djembe) is one of the most important drummers of the 20th century. Babatunde Djembe performance.

The Mufti - My part in his downfall

An ex-girl friend of mine spends her life sending e-mails to millions of people providing details of the latest Israeli academic who is voicing excessive support for the Palestinians or recommending that the institution that pays his wages etc. be boycotted. I get about two of these mails every day. So it was with a certain sense of irony that I went to a symposium at Tel-Aviv University about the psychological impact of the "Nakba" (catastrophe) on the Palestinians, organized by "Psychoactive - Mental health professionals for Human Rights".  I'm curious to see if it makes her mail.
I went because my partner Neta's best friend, organized the event and because a former neighbour and friend, Dr. Hillel Cohen was going to be speaking.  Hillel is a Communist and a Zionist, at least that's what he told me five years ago, whose grandparents (well some of them anyway) emigrated from Afghanistan.  By the way did you know that the Jews were expelled from Afghanis…

Earthquake Fears in Tel-Aviv

The recent quake in Haiti has set off alarm bells here in Israel. Historically Israel gets an earthquake every century and the last one was in 1927 so our due date is coming up.  The first result was  that all the school children in the country practised getting under their tables.  No doubt that will really make a difference should anything happen.The good news is that most earthquakes happen along the Dead Sea's "rift valley" which is, of course, the lowest point on earth (one would expect it to be earthquake prone) and most of us live along the coast on the other side of the country. The bad news is that  Ramle which is 30 kilometers from Tel-Aviv gets devastated every 500 years or so, although it must be said that they aren't due for a devastation for another four hundred years. To be honest, with the exception of the Tomb of St. George (in nearby Lod), most of Ramle would benefit from a major rebuilding.
To encourage buildings to get earthquake protection the gov…