All’s Fair in Dogs and War

Little did I expect a story about cats and dogs– however cute they might be – to receive over 16,000 unique page views and garner thousands of negative comments, even venomous death threats against me, from a slew of angry surfers safeguarded by the relative anonymity of the Internet.

A puppy (hopefully no longer) in need of an owner at Tel Aviv’s SPCA a few weeks ago.

On Monday, November 20, in the midst of the ongoing Operation Pillar of Defense, I sought to cover my normal topics of expertise – environment, energy, agriculture, animal issues, water, infrastructure. The day before, I had written a story on all of the southern agriculture jeopardized by the heat of the rockets in southern Israel, and that Monday morning I received an assignment to take a look at the effects on some of the country’s other residents – its domestic animals.

As is typical when quickly seeking on-the-ground responses for a story, I immediately went to Facebook and Twitter to find some of the people – and their animals – most affected. While I received very helpful responses from people on Facebook, through friends of friends, what followed on Twitter was a deluge of people claiming that I cared more about Israeli puppies than massacred Palestinian babies. As I wrote in a comment about the experience, that could not have been farther from the truth.

While you cannot compare children’s deaths or even wartime anxiety to a canine’s jitters, exploring how Israel’s dogs and cats are faring unveils a slice of life on the home front. As a reporter who regularly covers animal issues, looking at their situation during troublesome times seemed fitting, and still does.

The Tweets and Facebook messages that I received following my initial Tweet and some of my follow-ups was unreal. Oddly enough, the same BBC reporter who had posted a photograph of a wounded Syrian child and labeled it a Palestinian casualty was one of the most vehement trash-talkers behind my back. Someone went on to create a fake Twitter account called “IDFSpokesPet” to parody my story, and much more disturbingly, there were many curses and death wishes along the way.

Some highlights, with the cursing a bit censored:

  • “How u can post something like this @ twitter? i hope your kids will be disabled,if u have kids,i wish 4 them a painful die and the same for you”
  • “You f***in b***h if I get my hands on you I will f***in cut you up into shish kebab meat . If you ever call the children of Gaza animals again I will put a rocket up your f***ing ass.”
  • “You f***in snake just wait the time is very near for you all to be get f***ed and Inshallah we will take the revenge of all palestinians.”
  • “@sharonudasin #killurself”
  • “Jesus Christ! Check out this utterly f***ing useless specimen of a human being.I hope you fucking rot ya f***ing ya c**t!”
  • “you ma’am, are a classical example of a horsefaced b***h”
  • “you Must be The B***ARD CHILD OF A Swastika and Star of David”
  • “you are right to worry about the animal coz you are a sow yourself so natural to worry about other animal, by the way sow is a female hog, in case a barbaric Jewess like yourself didnt know”

And to think, those were just a few samples…

Among the many media outlets to write about the situation and how it unfolded was my former place of employment as a reporter in New York, The Jewish Week. Theirs was a neutral report of what had occurred, and was the only publication that took the time to interview me before posting a story. One thing I told The Jewish Week that I find particularly important is the internal debate I will have when contemplating crowd-sourcing for stories on Twitter in the future:

Going forward, I may be a little bit more cautious on Twitter because you are opening up yourself to an entire world as your audience, including those who may take your comments differently than you intended.

While this subject of cats and dogs was just skimming the surface of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I have learned that anything that even touches on these issues can potentially create a sounding board for people who want their voices heard — even if their comments are irrelevant to the subject at hand, as occurred in this case.

I still don’t have the answer as to what I will do the next time – I guess it depends on the individual case at hand.

In case you are interested, here is a list of all the press generated by the story that I have come across.

The positive ones backing me:

The pretty much neutral mentions:

The negative ones:

This has been a long week on my personal social media front, but luckily, now it seems to be dwindling down to a straggling few haters. Let’s hope it stays that way.






Van Gogh: our feral feline friend

I’ve been having quite some trouble getting into our apartment lately, all due to a strikingly peculiar feline that seems to have become, over the past few months, a permanent resident of our building. About two months or so ago, Ravid and I first took note of the sluggish, haggard creature, clad in disheveled fur and slumped over top of the building’s doorstep. Due to his one-and-a-half ears, we immediately named him Van Gogh.

Van Gogh on Nov. 28, drooling, and seemingly quite ill.

Until recently, Van Gogh would sit idly on the building entrance’s welcome mat, curled into a ball and not making a sound – while drool often seeped out of his mouth. You could step right over him and he wouldn’t know the difference. For a while, I suspected he had rabies, but at this point I’m doubting that assessment, as he most definitely could not still be alive if that was the case.

In the past week or so, however, rather than further embracing his familiarly sluggish state, Van Gogh has taken to following us, as soon as we enter the building. So much so that he chases us downstairs to our front door, blocking the entrance. The only way to get into the apartment sometimes is if we quickly scare him off by a noise like that of dangling keychains, and then slipping inside before he can notice the trick. Right after, however, Van Gogh crouches at the foot of our door and moans loudly for about 45 minutes time, until I suppose he moves back up to his building entrance stance.

Van Gogh two weeks ago, still rather lifeless.

I’m not quite sure what to do about our new feral feline friend, as he could most certainly be diseased, but calling animal control would presumably result in his death. I mean, I know wild cats are pretty much the norm in Jerusalem, but when they moan and circle you and try to get inside your apartment, that’s somewhat of a different story.

On the eve of 2012…

On the eve of my second birthday in Israel, I’ve realized that tomorrow will be my first birthday ever that will occur on either a school or work day (last year, my birthday fell on Shabbat). Around me in Jerusalem, I see no signs of midnight celebrations or champagne toasts that we were all so accustomed to growing up — and no lingering Christmas decorations, the smell of pine and holly still fresh from the week before’s festivities. That is, of course, excluding the hummus eateries in the old city of Yaffo, which are still boasting giant blow-up Santa figures and fake-snowing plastic trees, an oddity and even wonder to an Israeli eye but a mundane lawn decoration to a family in New Jersey.

It is this time of year that I truly see — and even embrace — the differences between the two cultures, the two nationalities of which I am a part, and I remember how lucky I am to have this opportunity, to be able to be a citizen of two different worlds and still love both. As my boyfriend Ravid pointed out, in the just over one-and-a-half years I’ve been here, I have been able to accomplish much more than I expected, and have immersed myself in exciting work and cultivated lasting relationships. But even still, I have not foregone the old, and am grateful to Skype and Google Chat for maintaining my American friendships and family bonds. Though I am the first to admit that there are some people I with whom I’d like to keep in much better touch.

I really hope that 2012 proves to be an amazing year as well, an exciting beginning to the 28th year of my life (that’s what happens when you turn 27, technically) in which I hope there will continue to be mostly happy times to share. And to Israel: despite my occasional — or not so occasional — digs at the ridiculousness of your bureaucracy, transportation system and quirky mannerisms, I thank you for making me still feel welcome in my now not-so-new home.

Happy New Year!

A complete guide to converting your license

Now that I’m through, and actually had a very positive encounter during my final (for now) visit to the Misrad Harishui (Licensing Office) – here’s a complete guide on converting your American/foreign driver’s license to an Israeli one, with some help from the Nefesh B’Nefesh guide.

1.) Visit an optician to get your “tofes yarok” (green form), which is literally a green form. The optician must be affiliated with Marmanet or Tel Dor, because like everything in this country, somebody has a monopoly on the driver’s license eyesight market. I chose Roim Shesh-Shesh, which is on the corner of King George and Ben Yehuda in downtown Jerusalem. Tell the salespeople that you need your tofes yarok, and they will quickly give you an eye examination, take your photograph and charge you NIS 40. The owners of Shesh-Shesh also gave me a sizable coupon to their store to use in the future, which is actually convenient since I need a new pair of glasses regardless. Make sure, as always, to have your teudat zehut with you, and also bring your glasses or contact lenses.

2.) Both you and your physician must fill out and sign the health section of the tofes yarok. As you may have read if you have visited this  blog before, this can lead to you getting royally screwed, as you may then be delayed weeks or months if “Rachel” in the back of the Misrad Harishui sends your form to the ministry doctor for additional screenings.

3.) After visiting your physician, take your tofes yarok to Misrad Harishui, where they will either give you a stamp of approval and yet another form for your driving instructor, or they’ll send you to the back with Rachel. In Jerusalem, Misrad Harishui hours are Sunday through Thursday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m., and the office is located at HaTnufa 17. REMEMBER TO NOT ONLY BRING YOUR TEUDAT ZEHEUT, BUT ALSO YOUR TEUDAT OLEH AND FOREIGN DRIVER’S LICENSE. I, naturally, forgot my teudat oleh the first time and had to go back once again.

4.) Schedule a driving lesson. If you’re a relatively decent driver, you will likely only need one 40-minute lesson, after which your instructor will schedule your road test for you. I really liked the driving instructor I chose, whom I heard about through friends of friends on Facebook. Eyal Ben Harush speaks both Hebrew and English clearly and is experienced teaching both native Israelis and immigrants converting their licenses. He charges NIS 150 for the lesson, plus NIS 500 to use his car for the road test (which you MUST do – you CANNOT use a private vehicle), which although is slightly pricey, I found to be quite worth it. You can pay him the NIS 650 total at test day.

5.) Upon completion of your lesson, your driving instructor will take your tofes yarok from you and give you a new, small form, which you must take to the postal bank and pay NIS 65. Make sure you receive a receipt.

6.) Test day. You will either be picked up by your instructor or told to meet him at the Talpiyot facility as I did. Naturally, me being me, I got tremendously lost finding the place, so leave yourself plenty of time getting there. Now that I know this, the testing location is at (approximately) HaUman 3, but you’ll see it from there. As I arrived at the test center, sweating from sprinting and with about two minutes to spare, I noticed that two other students of my instructor were there at the same time as me. Apparently, you take your test with other students in the car. Interesting. We chose an order – I was going to be second – and the first driver pulled out of the testing center with us in the backseat and the test up front. Each of us drove for about five minutes total, turning right, crossing traffic to turn left and some simply circles around southeastern Jerusalem, until one person was told to pull over and the next person took the driver’s seat. You are NOT taking the regular Israeli driving test that Israeli 17 year olds must take; rather, you have the heartily slimmed down “mivchan shlita” (control test – literally, to test that you can control an automobile). The only advice I can give you for these five minutes: make sure you pull down the parking break at the beginning and pull it back up at the end of your turn, watch out for one-way street signs, and just drive as you normally would.

7.) About two hours after you take the test, call your instructor and find out if you passed.

8.) Congratulations, you passed! Now wait a few days and head down to Misrad Harishui again to pick up your temporary license – your permanent one will be mailed to you several months later apparently. DO NOT go wait on the long line inside. If you want to wait on a line, go to the small information booth line right where you enter the facility. But as I found out from the really nice teller who left the information booth and personally assisted me with acquiring my license, if you have an IsraCart – basically a debit or credit card from any Israeli bank – you can print your temporary license by machine. You will see the machine as soon as you walk through the metal detector in the Misrad Harishui – all you have to do is stand on the platform (don’t get off, or some motion sensor system cancels your order), type in your teudat zeheut number, and swipe your IsraeCart to pay NIS 385.

Many days, hours and NIS 1,140 later… you’re DONE.

A little Jersey in the air

The smell of autumn has begun to seep into the Jerusalem air – and with my nose still automatically clings to pumpkin fields and jack-o-lantern carving, fall soccer tournaments with unripened orange wedges at halftime and, years later, the seemingly merciless dictates of the marching band director after six hours of Saturday practice.

This Saturday, I sit not in East Brunswick, New Jersey, but in Jerusalem. And while the leaves aren’t morphing into the yellows, reds and oranges that I grew up with, there is a certain chill pervading this quiet but beautiful Shabbat day. And with that, and the long Simchat Torah weekend I’ve had to catch up on my personal chores, I’ve finally decided to do what I’ve now been procrastinating for two months – writing a post about my August trip to the United States with Ravid, which was my first major return home since moving here (aside from a quick weekend stint for a friend’s wedding) and his first trip ever to the country that so many Israelis yearn to be in.

One of the first things I still hear Ravid mentioning to all his friends is his excitement over the greenness of New Jersey. Surprise I know, for the world’s Jersey haters, but in Ravid’s eyes even the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway were impressive in the amount of greenery that lines their shoulders. An outside view makes your appreciate your birthplace, which many view as simply an industry-lined wedge between Washington, D.C. and New York City, a whole lot more.

While the trip started out with double and triple security checks for us Israeli document holders at Ataturk International Airport – yes, we flew Turkish Airlines, only weeks before the strip searches of Israelis began – the flights were smooth an uneventful and dropped us off at JFK just in time. After a first night of heavy sleep, after which I immediately woke up to a morning dentist’s appointment, we spent Monday exploring East Brunswick with my mom and my friend Emily – which, essentially meant, lunching at Panera Bread, spending a couple of hours browsing Target and enjoying my dad’s famous steak dinner.

The following three days, we immediately took to the city via NJ Transit and stepped out into Manhattan from the always bustling and urine-perfumed Penn Station. Carrying a sleeping bag, we toted our luggage crosstown and then onto Ravid’s first subway ride (the #6 train) up to Grammy and Pop-Pop’s apartment on the Upper East Side, where we’d be staying for a few nights. The next three days were packed with friends and adventures: a Metropolitan Museum of Art tour and initial walk through Central Park with my friend Jess D.; delectable tea with my friend Randi; a visit to The Jewish Week; traditional sushi, Brooklyn Bridge galavanting, Staten Island Ferry ride, Shake Shack lunch and a visit to the Cloisters with my friend Jess P.; a Broadway show experience seeing Jersey Boys with Grandma and my cousin Eric; and a genuine Chinese dinner in Chinatown with Jess D. and my friend Eric, where the waiters spoke no English and delivered us pork in place of the vegetarian spring rolls we had ordered.

Aside from the musical instruments section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ravid’s favorite museum by far was the Museum of Natural History, which we initially explored that first Thursday in New York. Interested in seeing all the exhibits, we bought tickets to all the side exhibitions, but unfortunately didn’t realize that viewing them all would literally take the entire day – and we had plans with Jess P. at Shake Shack and the Cloisters that afternoon. But lucky for us, the museum staff had some mercy. Approaching a manager, I told her that we were visiting from outside the US and only had this afternoon to meet with my good friend before she headed back to Boston. Barely having to plead our case, I immediately received sympathy from said manager, who handed us free replacement tickets for any other day of our choice. And people say New Yorkers are rude!

Sandwiched between this visit to New York and the next a week later was a day at the beach, a near-death experience on the part of my father and a trip to Washington, D.C., among other things.

We spent a relaxing Friday morning at the Jersey Shore in Asbury Park with my mom, our friend Leslie and my friend Kristin and her sister Kim – in which Ravid and I accidentally stumbled upon a veritable “Pinball Museum,” where we negotiated our entrance fee Israeli-style. The waves were much stronger than those that lap the shores of the Mediterranean coast, Ravid noted, as I tumbled head first into the sand. At the day’s end, we were able to spend quality time eating Japanese food and sipping Shirley Temples with my best friend since sixth grade, Amanda, who is now a medical resident. We had so much catching up to do that we were at that restaurant till closing time, when the chefs and wait staff were eating the dinner leftovers. I hope that Ravid enjoyed the incessant giggling that always occurs between myself and Amanda.

In Washington, D.C., not only did we get to spend an evening with my friend Tracey and her fiance Dan and explored the Wright Brothers exhibit at the Air and Space Museum, but we also got an in-depth tour of the Capitol Building from my friend Jake who works there. This was among Ravid’s favorite experiences of the entire trip, as we were guided through the congressmen’s tunnels and into the huge Capitol dome and learned information about the American governmental system from so many different angles – including from Eric Cantor’s private office balcony. Jake- if we can ever do the same for you in Jerusalem, you are always welcome!

What was dually impressive during our D.C. trip was the fact that my brother’s hybrid Honda Civic took us there and back (250-some-odd miles each way) on one tank of gas. Oh, and, the double-rainbow we saw on a rainy NJ Turnpike on the way back.

Now, onto my father – the invincible Gary who never gets sick, aside from diabetes and cancer, and the man who with three hours of exercise daily, claims he will be “the healthiest person in the morgue.” The second Thursday of our visit, we had plans to go to a Yankees game with said dad, followed by an evening at our favorite restaurant, Italianissimo, but my dad’s body dictated otherwise – and we had to go without him. For about a week-and-a-half, basically since the evening we arrived to the US, my dad had been experiencing high fever, chills and no other symptoms. For that week-and-a-half, we had been incessantly telling him to go to the doctor – and eventually to the hospital – but a stubbornness gene seems to run in my family. And only that Thursday morning, when the fever got so high and he could literally feel something projecting out of his abdomen did my dad actually agree to go to hospital, rather than face organ sepsis from what started out as a simple infection. Nothing that some heavy antibiotics couldn’t take care of – so please, dad, for next time, listen to our pleas.

Despite this incident, and although disappointed my dad couldn’t come with us, we thoroughly enjoyed the baseball game, and surprisingly, Ravid was not at all bored by it. While he definitely liked the game itself, he particularly enjoyed the seventh-inning-stretch YMCA routine performed by the field sweepers. And we topped that night off with an Italianissimo dinner with my friend Stephanie, followed by back-row tickets to The Phantom of the Opera. The rest of the weekend’s experiences included a wonderful Shabbat dinner at my friends Motti and Shterni’s, a trip to Grandma’s in Queens, a 2 a.m. foray to the top of the Empire State Building, a fantastic trip to the Bronx Zoo, and a return to the Natural History Museum. Our last evening in the city, which began with a family dinner at Grammy and Pop-Pop’s, concluded with roundtable frozen yogurt consumption with Stephanie and Jess D. at the new Upper East Side location of 16 Handles.

While amazing, this frozen yogurt could neither be topped by Tasti D-Lite, which we had many a time naturally, Princeton’s Thomas Sweet’s, Asbury Park boardwalk deliciousness, nor the ice cream cake purchased for us by Aunt Bonnie and the Newville family during our visit to Long Island for a family barbecue.

Leaving Grammy’s and 16 Handles still in rain-soaked shoes, we headed to Penn Station for our goodbye to New York City, and returned to New Jersey for the last two days of our trip. Despite continuing heavy rains, on Monday we were able to finally fit in the hike we had planned, and we ventured to Sourland Mountain in Montgomery, where we were greeted with on-and-off rains but beautiful winding paths beneath the tall deciduous trees known to the East Coast. At one point, we even saw a fox leap through the woods, similar to the way we ran during the last two kilometers of the trail, when lightning was striking nearby amid roars of thunder and pouring rains.

Monday was our last full night in the US, and with my entire nuclear family we gathered for a steak dinner once again, and then finished up odds-and-ends of errands with my mom during the day on Tuesday and of course, me being me, regretted not seeing several people during the two-and-a-half weeks. After such a wonderful trip, I do admit that it was a bit difficult to get back on the plane(s) again and return from vacationing in the land of my former routine life to resuming my routine in the land of my former vacation life. But despite any lingering sadness and nostalgia at once again leaving my birthplace behind, I was looking forward to the new things that would greet me upon our return – namely, an exciting new apartment, a new neighborhood and a slightly new take on myself.

Just another day – sex offender removed from our inter-city bus

And I thought that meeting a gun-toting,  88-year-old working journalist and Kindertransport survivor amid massive amounts of cow feces was fascinating last week.

Yesterday topped even that.

After a day spent covering the Beduin protests against government relocation in Beersheba – and realizing that one should not dress for Jerusalem October weather in the desert – I headed to the university rail station to catch  the train to Tel Aviv, for my friend Becky’s aliyah party. Little did I know that despite reading on the website that the train runs every 20 minutes, it actually only runs once an hour, and a train had just departed minutes before.

“The Internet is always wrong,” the ticket sales clerk informed me, positively annoyed that I had even approached her booth. How dare I ask her a question.

But eventually I made it on the train, and Ravid and I had a great time celebrating with Becky – and her wonderfully warm family and friends. Afterwards, we were even able to get a ride back to the Arlozorov bus station. Once there, naturally we were among the last to board the bus, and I was lucky to find THE last place on the vehicle where we could sit together. Having successfully scored the seat, I waved Ravid over to me, but not without exchanging a strange glance with a very large man standing in the aisle.

As Ravid said down next to me, the couple across the row from us stared at the large man – and then at us – rather inquisitively. Somewhat puzzled, I dismissed the glances. Then, however, the man took out his cell phone and reached across the aisle to show an SMS to the young woman sitting in the window-seat directly in front of me. She read the message, nodded, and got up to move to another seat.

Immediately, the pink-faced, buzz-cut young man sitting next to her also got up – but was stopped by the large gentleman.

“Why are you changing your seat?” the larger man asked. “You were already sitting there – there’s no reason to change places.”

“What’s it to you? Who are you?” the younger man responded, refusing to cooperate with the other man’s orders for him to stay seated in the row in front of us, by himself.

Having failed to achieve his goals in this more subdued manner, the large man – who by now we all suspected to be an undercover cop – stood up and addressed the whole bus, gesturing to the young man:

“This man touches women during bus rides,” he explained to everyone. “No woman should sit next to him. The police are already on their way.”

With that – and quite visibly disgruntled – the young man disembarked the bus with the large man, and the driver immediately switched the idling engine into gear toward Jerusalem.

One step closer to getting behind the wheel

Much to my readership’s chagrin (hi Dad!), I have once again been absent from the face of this blog for all too long. And while I’m currently also drafting a post about my two-and-a-half week August trip to the US, as well as my forgotten aliyah-versary, what better way to jump back into the blog but with a dose of good ole Israeli bureaucracy.

On June 30 (I think that was the date), I headed down to Misrad HaRishui (read: Motor Vehicles), all my trusty documents in hand thanks to the very helpful guide on Nefesh B’Nefesh’s website to take part in what I thought would be a relatively simple process. Turns out, however, that because my physician was honest and properly noted a very insignificant medication I’ve taken for quite some time, my “tofes yarok” (the “green form” that goes from eye exam to physician to Motor Vehicles and contains your lifetime medical history) needed a stamp – or not – from the office’s head doctor, who would neither examine me nor speak to me.

Makes perfect sense.

Here we go, I thought, I won’t be driving in this country for years – even though in the US, I have been doing so for 10. And doing so quite well, my dad might agree.

No, a woman named Rachel whose voice echoed of 57 years worth of cigarettes told me, you will receive an answer by telephone in one month or less.

Slightly promising, I decided, although Rachel would give me neither her last name nor any mode of contacting her.

A month passed, and I heard nothing, naturally. I went to the US for two-and-a-half weeks. I got back. Ravid and I moved into a new apartment. A few weeks went by. And finally, this morning, I hauled my ass down to the Talpiyot neighborhood – and believe me, it’s an hour-long bus ride each way haul – to the venerable Misrad HaRishui.

Instantly recognizing Rachel in the back-room, I managed to get up to her pretty quickly, and lo and behold, I found out that I had been approved. Not only had I been approved, but I had been approved on, ladies and gentlemen, July 10. Needless to say there was no phone call to that effect, though Rachel did manage to yell at me for not having received their non-existent call and non-existent message, which she promised came through.

Happy to have my approval, however, and unsuccessful at displaying my wrath to Rachel, I moved to the larger waiting room where you must bring said “green form” to another counter where you can submit that form in exchange for another, which gives you the ability to take the two driving lessons and driving exam necessary to convert your foreign license.

A nice man next to me even handed me an extra waiting number (every Israeli government office has those triangular shaped number tickets from New Jersey delis circa 1987), so I moved down from #562 to #539.

But when I got to my destination – a pleasant woman in her 60s – I was asked, “Can I have your teudat oleh (immigration certificate, essentially)?”

Too bad that was still in my desk drawer.

'Driving' yourself insane

Every morning this week, I have planned on waking up early before work to go the the Misrad HaRishui (License Ministry) to get one step closer to acquiring that Israeli driver’s license that I oh so crave – meaning, I can only drive with my American license in this country until August 31.

However, the office is all the way in Talpiot – a neighborhood on the opposite side of the city – and it opens at 8 a.m., meaning I’d need to leave my house by 7 a.m. to factor in the debacle that is inevitably Jerusalem public transportation. And trust me, when you’re dealing with a government office in this country, you want to get there as soon as – if not before – it opens. But alas, my body has gotten the better of me and allowed me to sleep through this 7 a.m. wakeup goal  for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

I think more than that, I am just dreading the process of converting my license. I have been driving for 10 years – trained by my father on the equally haphazard roads of NJ and NY that certainly rival those of Israel – and yet, I must trudge down to this office, take two lessons, pay about NIS 1,000 and then….take a road test. This is of course after the country has allowed me to drive on its roads for an entire year on a foreign license. Makes sense? I think not.

The next question is – to buy a car or not to buy a car. While extremely expensive, having a vehicle would save me a ton of time and would also allow me to attend events that I might otherwise have to miss due to lack of transportation. But again, gas prices are astronomical here, even if you use your new immigrant discount to buy a hybrid car. But I guess there’s no point in even pondering this question until I find out if I’ve passed the phantom Israeli road test, which, I hear, is not a joy ride.

But all this does bring me back 9.5 years (almost exactly), when my dad made me arrive about 45 minutes early to my road test in Edison, NJ, in January weather – which gave me time to become so nervous that I had to run to the adjacent Port-O-Potty (Sharons NEVER use Port-O-Potties) and I also had the opportunity to test with the well-known “mean lady.” In the end, however, despite barking at me about whether I had a “medical condition” – because I was looking back and forth a lot to emphasize that I was checking side streets for cars – she passed me. However, she wouldn’t do so without also yelling at my dad of course, for not instructing me to use the “hand-over-hand” method when turning the vehicle.

Oh what a morning that was. But I got to show up to my junior year high school classes that day knowing that I could now, ahead of most people in my grade, drive a car. Thanks dad!

It's high time to be blogging again

As I recently pledged to my father, I will now recommence blogging semi-regularly again, after a monthlong hiatus. I have now been on the job as The Jerusalem Post’s environment-energy-innovation-etc. reporter for exactly three months (from yesterday) and I am getting adjusted to the new and exciting insanities that have become part of my life here. In just three months, I have gotten to know such amazing people who are leading Israel’s hopeful transformation into a Middle East capital of renewable energy, and I can’t wait to see what the coming months of interviews and travels will bring.

But enough about my work.

Last week I played host to my little brother – alright, he’s not that little; he’s 24 years old and about six feet tall – for his first visit to Israel, and thanks to a couple rental cars and thereby the financial generosity of my parents, I was able to shepherd him around the country while handing in multiple articles per day all the while. As expected, eight full days with a close family member cannot pass without a few fistfights (OK, I’m exaggerating – just some minor bickering) but overall the time together was very successful and much needed.

My brother and me in Ramat HaNadiv woods after lunch at Kerem Zeitim and a visit to Carmel Winery

Over the week, I took my brother to Zichron Yaakov’s Carmel Winery, Masada, Ein Gedi, the Dead Sea, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Safed, Har Bental and the Yehudiya Nature Reserve, while he enjoyed the official Jewlicious Jerusalem Old City tour as well as several solo forays around the capital city while I worked. Although he spent the most time in Jerusalem, in the end he deemed the city rather “depressing” and definitely preferred many of our journeys elsewhere to the capital itself. I understand his feelings, as Jerusalem lacks water and sea-salt smell of Tel Aviv and Haifa, but it somewhat surprised me that the historical value – he’s a real history buff – didn’t override the darkness. But as he said, and said quite correctly, you can’t turn a corner in this city without finding a monument to someone’s death. Unfortunately, that is the story of the Jews, I suppose.

I think my brother’s favorite destination was our trip to Zichron Yaakov, where thanks to my good friend and wine expert Stephanie, we were able to have a personal tour of the entire place, as well as numerous tastings. What a beautiful town that place is – while I definitely enjoyed our time at the winery, another bonus was lunching with friends at the Ramat HaNadiv restaurant Kerem Zeitim, nestled cozily in the woods.

So I thank my brother for coming, and hope that he really had as much fun as I did. I have to say, however, that renting a car for a few days here most definitely spoiled me, as I now see just how much easier travel around this country is with one, rather than without one.