Month: August 2017

So Why The Hell Am I Here?

why israelWhy am I in Israel?

I could only imagine that someone who has even glanced through my last several posts can’t help but wonder why I am living in this country. Clearly I have a problem with the systems, behavior, and attitudes. And clearly I had every reason to feel bitterness from my history here and to believe nothing would be different this time around.

To complicate matters further, if you had met me a year ago (in the States), you would have seen a completely different person. I loved my apartment and my lifestyle. I loved my community and friends. Yes, I struggled post-divorce with figuring out how to have a fulfilling social life, but successfully pieced it all together, and I maintained a very active life with fun, friends, volunteering, physical activities, and more.

In addition to a change in my marital status, I decided to switch careers as well. And there I was, in my late 30s with over a decade of experience as a teacher, trying to worm my way into a tech career. The tech industry is one that favors the young and those who’ve been immersed in the field for years, but I was determined, and despite many challenges, I was able to find work, learn a ton, and taste a good amount of early success.

Finally, after nearly four decades, I found a community that I loved. The Overland Park, Kansas, Jewish community is remarkable. I was alone, far from everything and everyone I knew and loved, going through some traumatically hard times, and my community opened its arms and welcomed me into the family with unimaginable warmth.

In fact, this was the first time in my life I ever left a community not wanting to.

So why?

Why would I give all of this up? Why would I uproot myself from a clearly very fulfilling and successful life? And why would I put all of that behind me, when everything is moving along so smoothly.

Well, let’s talk about success for a moment.

If you ask the average person on the street to define success, they would talk primarily about careers. Society at large has, sadly, embraced an unfortunate idea that we are what we do for a living. If you succeed in the workplace, you are successful.

I couldn’t disagree more.

I remember many years ago sitting in a lecture about how to be a good teacher. The leader emphatically recommended a movie to the group. “Every teacher in the world should be required to see this movie,” she said. I was sitting there ready to jump out of my seat. I had seen the movie and was incensed by her statement. Finally, I raised my hand and exclaimed:

“Why would you tell teachers to watch this movie? By the end of the film, the main character had to work two full time jobs just to barely pay the bills, had thrown herself into her teaching career at the expense of everybody and everything else in her life, and her husband left her. Yes, she was technically successful in her classroom. But at what cost? She was a complete failure at everything else in her life! She sacrificed everything for her job. How could you imply to a bunch of teachers that this is what’s needed to be successful in the classroom? The message is horrible, and hopefully incorrect.”

What is success?

Success is not a simple idea. But one thing is for certain: In order to be successful, there are multiple types of successes you must experience. Professional success is just one. One must be successful professionally, financially, socially, personally, and most importantly, one must be successful with ones family. Remove any piece of that equation, and you cannot call a person successful.

And there I was. Living the good life in Kansas. I was able to find decent jobs with decent salaries. My friends were amazing. My life was fun and fulfilling. I was growing personally, spiritually, and emotionally. Successes abounded!

But my four precious children–objectively the four most important things in the entire world–had been living in another country for a little over a year. And one absolutely cannot be a successful parent to small children living that far away. So despite all of the successes, all of the smiles, all of the personal growth, I was completely empty inside. And I was wildly unsuccessful.

And I couldn’t be apart from my children any longer.

Now I’m back in Israel, trying to make things work in a system that seems designed for failure, filled with countless chasms I’m prone to falling into.

My children are worth more to me than everything else I’ve mentioned. And they’re worth the troubles and hardships I knew were coming when I moved here.

I know a thorough and complete success in Israel is unlikely. However, the stakes are too high. I need to succeed–to fight back against a system that does not want me to–in order to give my children the father they deserve.

 

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, 0 comments

5 Things People Say in Israel that Prevent Growth and Change

things people say

Things People Say

Ever since I returned to Israel, I’ve been observing every detail. Trying to figure out how so many things could be so dysfunctional. Trying to figure out how to make things work for me here. Listening to things people say. And trying to figure out why I loved it so much the first time. And trying to figure out why people stay so long despite the difficulties.

I haven’t answered all (or any) of these questions. Some might not even have answers. However, I have come to understand that Israel’s often backwards ways and lack of real progress since I left in part stems from the attitudes so many of us have had over the years, attitudes that prevent or at least slow progress. They dull the drive toward meaningful change. They blind us and prevent us from seeing the society’s weaknesses; without the awareness of illness, it will never be cured.

Over these almost ten months I’ve heard some version of these five phrases over and over again. They don’t reflect anything bad about the one saying them. In fact, they might even be high-powered defense mechanisms to keep people sane when Israel’s craziness hits its peaks. But the fact still is: Say any of these too often, and you will never be the catalyst to real progress in Israel.

1. “It’s like this everywhere.”

I’m apartment hunting. Again. It’s a grueling, frustrating, and overly time-consuming process. And there are few guarantees that you will not find yourself in a bind, and forced to do the whole thing over again the following year. (Hey. At least the apartments are small and really expensive…)

I wanted to know if there were any systems in place to make the process easier. Is there any way to set a move-in date in advance? Are there any standard prices? Is there any way to check if your landlord is a decent human being in advance, or do you just have to wait until they ignore your fifth phone call as your roof caves in on you?

I asked these questions on a Facebook group, and got a reply that sounded like this:

Doofy Facebook responder: There’s really no way to do any of that. It’s hard, but it eventually works out. Why would you expect it would be different? It’s like this everywhere.

Is it true?

My paraphrased incredulous response: That’s odd. I just moved here from Kansas. There I was able to search multiple apartment complexes and decide which one was right for me. I was able to read online reviews of each place and compare prices. Ultimately, I found a place that was big and beautiful, dirt cheap, and loaded with amenities. All maintenance requests were taken care of same day. And I was able to choose my move-in date.

Doofy Facebook responder: Yeah, but it’s hard. And it is like this everywhere.

In one ear and out the other. It’s simply not true. We’ve got problems. Many of them. The idea that Israel is just another place, and all of it’s issues are just extensions of a damaged society at large, is both patently false, and stifles the urge to actually seek a better future for us all.

There are many great aspects to living in this country. But it does contain glaring flaws. Don’t choose blindness, when opening your eyes could be the first step to actually improving things. Some of these problems have been solved by other nations, and it’s imperative that we solve them as well.

2. “Think of what we’ve accomplished in just 70 years.”

This statement is usually part of a long comparison between Israel and the US, with such quasi-accurate points as “when the US was 70 years old there were still slaves and women couldn’t vote”.

The fact is, this is not a point of praise for Israel; it’s an excuse for why Israel hasn’t progressed further. You might find it following questions like these: Why do Israelis still throw their trash all over the floor? Why does it take months for online deliveries to arrive, if ever? Why haven’t people woken up and learned about the dangers of excessive smoking?

Yes, Israel has progressed tremendously. We have quite a tech industry. We’re certainly no longer emptying swamps. And we no longer have to line up to use the one village phone. But have we really progressed as far as we should have?

Yes, America had issues with human rights 70 years in. But it was very much a different time in history, and it was a problem all over the world. We can’t say with any degree of certainty that if the State of Israel existed at that time that it would have been any different.

This statement is an emotional reaction to a deep-seated feeling so many of us have: We’ve come a very long way. But really, we should have come a lot further.

3. “But it’s the Holy Land.”

There is a long standing law in Judaism—going all the way back to the Bible—that we are not supposed to criticize the Land of Israel. People will often reference this notion when others criticize Israel and any of its flaws.

This will go hand in hand with other well-known Jewish concepts such as “Yisrael koneh b’yissurim” (Israel is acquired with suffering), meaning that we are assured that no matter what, we will suffer in the process of living in Israel.

I don’t have a problem with people quoting either idea in the right context. Nor do I have any problem with the need to work—extra hard—to survive the Israel experience. You will never see me writing a post about the harsh summers in Israel or the occasional droughts. Nor did the threat of wars or the ever-present terrorism dissuade me from moving here.

These are all far beyond our control. I accept that a certain amount of pain will accompany the process of moving to Israel. In fact, in many ways Israel’s existential threat motivates me to be here. I should suffer alongside my brethren, and if the time should arise, I hope I have the strength and stamina to help protect my homeland and comfort those in pain.

However, these Torah concepts do not excuse repellent behaviors or apathy to effect positive change. Perhaps we may not criticize the Land of Israel; however, we damn well better criticize a society that continuously allows dishonest landlords to harm its citizens. Israel may need to be acquired through suffering; however, this suffering should be that which is beyond our control, not that which we choose to overlook.

4. “It’s so much better than when you left.”

I lived in Israel for eight years and then left for eleven. I spoke to many people about what to expect when I returned, and I enthusiastically admit there have been several improvements in Jerusalem since I left. The light rail is amazing. The night life in the marketplace is remarkable. And, in all honesty, few things seem to have gone backwards.

However, I had a whole laundry list of concerns as I returned, everything from hellishly long and tedious experiences at government offices and banks to concerns about high calcium levels in the water. Some tried to convince me that Israel had made unbelievable leaps forward in solving these problems. I knew enough to be skeptical, and I’m glad I was. Government offices and banks are just as miserable as they’ve always been… and those little flakes I sometimes find myself spitting out when I drink coffee are certainly not preferable to creamer.

I don’t think anyone lied to me. I do, however, think some of them may be continuously lying to themselves. We cannot grow, and we do not move forward as a society, if we don’t recognize that our problems exist, they are real, and outside of mere capitulation, we have no excuse why we haven’t progressed quicker.

5. “I’m so much happier than when I was in (insert random location).”

I learned a major lesson in my two attempts to move to Israel: Moving here is infinitely easier if you are dissatisfied with your community and/or life situation before you come here.

The first time I moved to Israel, I moved here from New York. New York is infamous for expensive, puny apartments, and pushy and aggressive people. Moving from there to Israel is not much of a stretch.

My more recent move, I came from Kansas. Where I lived you could have endless space for minimal cost, and everyone’s nice and friendly. It’s jarring to go from a lifestyle like that to the one waiting for you on the other side of the ocean.

But that’s just the beginning. When I moved to Israel the first time, I was 20 (quasi-relevant Louis CK on 20-year-olds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gv8-Xtll3l8). At that time, I was very unnerved by my life and experiences in the States, I was on an intense spiritual journey, and I was very unaware of very much of anything in the world. My second time moving to Israel, I was leaving a community of kind and caring people who had become a second family to me. I had tasted personal and professional success. I was returning with countless life experiences that colored my perspectives and greatly impacted on my enthusiasm and motivation while returning to Israel.

Your misery in New Jersey or Toronto or New Zealand or wherever is not only completely irrelevant to my success in transitioning to Israel; in the grand scheme of life, it might be completely irrelevant to your own success as well. You may just not have lived enough life to make a healthy comparison.

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, opinion, 1 comment

15 People in Israel I Could Do Without

People in Israel

People in Israel

My list of people in Israel is not exhaustive. It could be 20, 30, maybe even 50 people (What sane person wants to read that!?). These are just some (hopefully) comical observations I’ve made since my big return to the Holy Land nine months ago. Some of the titles could use work. Please offer suggestions. For people I left off the list as well.

And without further ado, I present fifteen people in Israel I Could Really Do Without:

1) The Line Cutter

Anyone who’s been here for any amount of time has had this experience. You’ve been standing in line at the store or bank or wherever for what seems like a week, and just before you get to that glorious moment of finally arriving at the clerk, someone pops in out of nowhere and adamantly exclaims that the spot right in front of you is theirs.

That guy. I could really do without that guy.

And speaking of clerks…

2) The Clerk

Oh the mighty Israeli clerk, so very disinterested in the fact that a customer is standing right in front of them. Please understand, my need to purchase a product from you is more important than your phone call, and your propensity to completely ignore me is not looked upon favorably. I have a secret for you: I’m going to give you money in exchange for the items I’m holding. And you will develop a reputation for being caring and attentive to your customers in a world where it’s not all that common.

It truly is a win-win. So please put down your phone and at least pretend like I matter to you.

And then you try and leave the store, likely to encounter…

3) The Doorway Stander

Israelis tend to perch themselves in doorways and narrow passageways. I haven’t quite grasped the benefit of doing so, and they haven’t quite grasped that they’re unnecessarily blocking foot traffic and forcing others to collide with them. You are pretty much guaranteed that wherever you go you will be slowed by a Doorway Stander, and you will be perplexed why they couldn’t just move five feet and stand completely out of everyone’s way.

Of course, you wouldn’t be out of the woods just yet…

4) The Slow Walker

I needed to move to Israel in order to discover one of the most brilliant American concepts embedded in my mind from my earliest days: Always keep to the right. (Trust me, not a political comment.)

When a society understands this principle, walking can be a true pleasure. There’s a beautiful synergy. Barring large crowds, obstructions, or the few who just never figured things out, you just get to move freely wherever you go.

Israelis never learn to walk. They don’t keep right. They don’t really seem to have a goal of not colliding with others. Streets have tons of people just walking at one another. No system, just chaos. (Where’s Fezzik when you need him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Redc8bv8NOk?)

But there are some who take this inability to walk among others to a whole new level. They walk slowly—extremely slowly—and regardless of body girth, they manage to take up an entire sidewalk. Don’t even try to walk around them. Their keen homing beacon senses someone trying to get from point A to point B, and with a slight lean left or right, they render the breach impossible.

But if you find your way around, you still might not be safe, for lying in wait is…

5) Rolling Thunder

I understand the benefits of rolling carts for carrying groceries home. Things get heavy, few of us have cars. The only way to make it home at any reasonable speed without your arms in violent pain, is these silly, little carts.

However, as mentioned earlier, that’s all fine and good in a society that stresses walking skills and the awareness of others around you. But a walk through the market here is a series of near falls, crushed toes, and bruised shins.

But the bruises build character, as does…

6) Dr. Smokes Over My Food

I could (and might) write a post just about smoking in Israel. The omnipresent stench of cigarette smoke might top off my list of reasons I did not want to move back here. But that’s not for this post. Smoking, as repulsive a habit as it might be, serves a purpose in Israel. A tense society needs simple outlets for stress reduction, and until someone finds a suitable replacement, I’m afraid cigarettes are not going anywhere.

Nor am I writing about the people I see sitting next to their small children smoking, or even the pregnant women I’ve seen smoking. There’s no excuse for what they do. Prison is not good enough. Bludgeoning? Maybe.

No, this is about that guy in the market, selling nuts or spices or pita or whatever, with that cigarette nonchalantly dangling from his mouth. Smoke later. Smoke elsewhere. Use a friggin’ ashtray. Do something differently. But please please do not make we walk away from your shop conjuring up images of eating dried fruit with a hint of cigarette ash.

Luckily, once you’ve gotten around the slow guy and survived the carts and ash ingestion, your walk will be quiet and pleasant…

7) The Honker

Recent studies have showed conclusively that the average lag time between when a light turns green and the average Israeli driver starts slamming on their horn is 0.63 seconds. And when one horn starts, the herd follows.

If you’re lucky, after a long period of living in the city, you’ll learn to tune out the cacophony.

And now we’re almost at our destination… 

8) The Ignorant Directions Giver

Oh this guy. He’s so sweet, and so well intentioned. At least I hope and assume.

It’s fairly common to walk down the street and get this reply when asking for directions: “I don’t know”

A perfectly respectable answer. It’s honest, it’s concise…

However, it never ends there. It’s followed by 3-5 minutes of speculative directions, a chunk of time better spent on almost anything, for it adds nothing to the aforementioned “I don’t know”.

Yeah, I could do without that.

Alright, you’re almost at home sweet home. What could go wrong in your own neighborhood?

9) The Litterer

I hope—I passionately hope—that the day comes when Israel as a society realizes how revolting it is to throw its trash on the ground. I understand that it’s not part of the education, nor is it frowned upon by the society at large. And for certain there are not nearly enough trashcans.

However, at some point there’s simply no excuse. I recently watched a teenager fling the cap of his beverage into a tree display, about five feet away from a trashcan. It mesmerized me. Why? No further effort, no inconvenience to his life at all, but I guess he still couldn’t bring himself to make the most minimal effort to keep his city clean.

I’m not a wildly spiritual person, but come on. This is Jerusalem! Jews waited nearly 2,000 years to gain control of this land again. Half the world thinks it’s the holiest place in the universe. Pick up your damn trash!

And to dispel some common myths: Your cigarette butts, leftover food, and your dogs’ waste absolutely DO count as littering.

10) The Cat Feeder

Cats are a phenomenon in Israel. They are everywhere. And they are not the friendly, cuddly little fellas who snuggle up on American couches across the country. They are aggressive and leap out of dumpsters when you throw out your trash.

I understand that it’s wonderful to be caring and compassionate to animals. However, if you’ve had the misfortune of living near one of the many who place food outside for the cats to swarm upon, you know that you will daily be trudging through a veritable forest of little, mangy felines every time you walk up your street.

Really want to be compassionate? Open the door and let them live with you. Seriously. I don’t want to trip on any more cats!

11) The Public Urinator

The top of my street smells like pee. I avoid it at all costs, and I’m embarrassed when someone comes to visit, because it’s pretty much inevitable they’re going to walk right past that vile little spot.

I’ve caught the culprits a handful of times, unabashedly urinating right behind the dumpster up my street. I’ve confronted them. Nothing. No reaction. For some in this country, dropping ones pants and going whenever and wherever is just their way of life.

And a few more folk you might bump into before the day is out…

12) The Laughs at American Accent Guy

There exists a fella amongst Israeli society who needs to explore the world more. He’s stoic, almost absent a sense of humor. That is, of course, until he finds the one thing that truly tickles him: An American speaking Hebrew.

All others get a free pass on their inauthentic accents, but the American supplies humor without limits.

It’s hard moving to a foreign society and learning another language. I salute the rare helpful Israeli who overlooks the odd accent and comical mistakes, and respects our daily challenges and chooses to assist us rather than mock us. You might not know it, but we really, really like you.

13) The Five-Minute Warning

The words “five minutes” have very little meaning to people in Israel. It’s not uncommon to be told something will take five minutes, only to be left waiting for hours or even to not hear back until the next day.

I don’t like meaningless phrases. We all need to get stuff done. Please please please give me a proper estimate of how long it will actually take!

14) The Unnecessary Beggar

Walking down the streets of Jerusalem is like walking through a carnival of people shaking coins at you, pouring all sorts of guilt on everyone trying to get them to fork over their cash.

Yes, I’m aware that life can be very challenging, and that there are many circumstances in life that render people unable to work or pay for basic necessities. And some are certainly more fortunate than others.

What I can’t seem to understand is this: Equally as ubiquitous as beggars in Jerusalem are signs on shops saying they are looking for workers. And yes, I’m aware that the jobs are less than thrilling. And I’m aware that the wages are terribly low, and very likely less than what’s made by harassing each unsuspecting pedestrian.

But don’t you think life would be better if you earned your money? Don’t you think there would be less stress and more pride if your paycheck were consistent? Your life improves, stores run more efficiently, and walking down the street is more pleasant. Win win win!

And finally…

15) The Opinion Sharer

There’s no opinion too big or small for residents of this wild country not to share. Giving unsolicited opinions is one of Israelis favorite pastimes.

This really came to the fore for me after my recent dog purchase. I’m certainly out and about a lot more often. And I can’t walk ten feet without someone commenting on how I walk my dog.

When I first got him, there was a moment when his harness came off. I had to run after him and hold him down to attach the leash to his collar. As I was doing this—frantically—a girl walking by and shouted at me in horror, “What are you doing to him!?” I started explaining myself, bumbling through my words as I wrestled with my dog, until I finally eked out some form of, “Go away. This has nothing to do with you!”

I hope to, as the days go by, learn to just ignore the barrage of opinions flying my way. Hey, it’ll free me up to hear more of the sweet sounds of horns honking.

* * *

And now that I’ve alienated 90% of the people in Israel, my country of residence, I’ll go home and work on my own patience, and my tolerance of the wildly inane. (The sequel!)

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Posted by jaffeworld in humor, Israel, 1 comment

7 Holes I Fell into in Israel, Part 2

Israel

Continuing from my previous article about the first three holes I fell into in Israel:

#4 “The Infamous Israel Apartment Experience”

Sadly, in nine accumulated years of living in Israel, I have never had a positive experience as a renter.

The laws in Israel have historically been designed to benefit and protect owners, leaving the renter at the mercy to what some might say are the worst human beings living in the country.

One of my first apartments was a piece of garbage.

It had every problem you could think of, and some that were so oddly awful, one might even call them “creatively bad”.

Yes, we had the classic ant and cockroach problems (and for those who don’t know, Israeli cockroaches are about the size of hamsters). The place was filthy and needed days of cleaning. The electricity was constantly going out. The bathroom was constantly flooding. All the appliances broke quickly and repeatedly. And the landlord was always extremely slow to fix anything.

In addition, our oven only had one temperature: Really, really, excessively and uncontrollably lava hot. And whenever the oven was on, you would receive little shocks when touching the kitchen sink across the room.

We tolerated this hellhole for a period, until we just couldn’t take it anymore. Luckily, our landlord was a sweetheart. We approached him with our concerns, and he verbally agreed—with a smile—to allow us to get out of our contract and move elsewhere.

And we did. And we were mildly content.

But…

Until the day we received a letter in the mail from small claims court. Our old landlord was trying to force us to pay the rent for the months after we left the apartment. Oh sure, we stated our claims. The refrigerator broke three times, all of our food went bad, and each time it would take him weeks to address the issue.

But we had no documentation.

And this unpleasant bastard had a binder of information about the apartment documenting everything he had done for us. We’d say it took two weeks, he’d say he fixed it the same day of the request. He had proof of the repairs; we had no proof of the requests.

And when all the smoke cleared, we were forced to pay all the back rent, plus interest, plus half the court fees. We discovered later that this was the fifth time he had done this! And the legal “system” continuously let him take advantage of young, unsuspecting immigrants. I can’t fathom a reason why.

#5 “And speaking of insurance…”

This one still perplexes me. It combines the misery of driving in Israel with the inevitable hardships of a system that hasn’t really been well thought through.

To make a long and confusing story short: My ex was rear ended by a less than diligent driver.

While all the insurance blah blah was being worked out, we needed to provide a check for the amount of the damage, with a solemn promise from the insurance company that the check would not be cashed. (Please don’t ask me why; I can’t fathom an explanation.)

All I know is, one day we received a bank notification that one of our checks had bounced. It made no sense, since we had more than enough to cover the bill. However, upon checking our account we discovered that the insurance check had been cashed, completely depleting our account. Check after check started coming back to us. Late fees, bank fines, and endless phone calls to sort everything out now dominated our lives.

And the stress was off the charts.

#6 “Luck and Timing are Everything”

And if it isn’t bad systems that get in the way, sometimes it’s bad luck.

Timing seems to be a wildly important factor in making things work in this country. Not precision timing like one might use in athletics, but rather just dumb luck.

A great example for me would be the creation of the organization Nefesh b’Nefesh. I moved to Israel in 1997 and officially became a citizen (aliyah) in 1999. At that point in history, the process was challenging and time consuming, and you were very much on your own. There was no reliable advice available, no support system, and it was especially complex if your Hebrew was not up to speed.

Out of nowhere, an organization appeared in 2002 that would hopefully change all of that. No more waiting in lines in dingy offices. No more cluelessness. There was someone available to help with everything from housing to jobs to everyday advice. What a great fortune… that is, of course, if you’re timing was good. I missed them by a teeny bit, and despite the fact that the organization’s been in existence now for fifteen years, and I could still use help and support, they absolutely and adamantly refuse to assist me, simply because I moved here before they existed. The best they can offer is a halfhearted, “Check the website.”

And this is a small taste of how it’s been for me since I arrived. Whether it’s a new law with great benefits, a new program designed to offer great housing benefits, or pretty much anything, I’m almost guaranteed the timing will leave me excluded, out in the pouring rain with no protection.

Not a pleasant feeling knowing your efforts and hard work take a backseat to the stars happening to align that week…

#7 “What’s the Rush?”

And the final hole (this time in the culture): Israel in general, and Jerusalem and the settlements in particular, are obsessed with marriage. Israel is a fantastic place to be young and single, and a pretty good place to be married with children; however, anyone outside of those categories is a second-class citizen.

I’ll never forget the greatest example of this borderline discrimination when I was living on my own in a settlement. I was told from day one that I would be removed from my home if a family wanted to move there and needed the space. I just assumed they wouldn’t actually act upon it. And there I was, days before a major holiday, forced to leave my home for another, far inferior one. And I realized how little worth I had as a single person living in that location.

That’s a fairly extreme example of the practical difficulties. But the spiritual and emotional difficulties of the overall attitude are oppressive. I can’t go a day without someone trying to set me up with someone. Trust me, I appreciate the gesture. What I don’t appreciate is the implication in every corner of this city that I’m somehow incomplete or less worthy as long as I remain single.

The Pressure in Israel

The pressure is ubiquitous and overpowering, and after not too long, and watching all your friends get married, the greatest pressure starts to come from within. I believe this pressure results in people getting married too young and too quickly, and not really thinking things through. They enjoy the excitement and euphoria surrounding being newly engaged. But do they really grasp the hard work that lies ahead of them? Have they really considered whether or not the person before them is someone with whom they want to and are capable of spending the rest of their lives?

There’s something wonderful about a community of people who wish to set each other up. However, there’s something even more wonderful about teaching others how to both date correctly, and be comfortable with who they are, regardless of marital status. They can learn to enjoy the presence of the person in front of them, rather than participate in a goal-oriented interrogation. And they can walk away from a failed date feeling whole, fully capable of enjoying their continued time as a completely normal single.

Single and divorced men and women are capable of being just as fantastic as everyone else. And marriage can be a nightmare. To imply otherwise, intentionally or inadvertently, does nothing to make the world a better place.

* * *

I wrote these last two posts (sadly, with more to come) with an uncomfortable feeling. Nobody likes to be around a complainer. And despite the fact that I’m a born cynic (a pleasant cynic, according to a friend), I struggle daily to break through this. I desperately want to be a more positive person.

Nevertheless, I feel a powerful need to tell my stories and offer my opinions, for several reasons. First, they’re a part of my identity. These experiences, for better or for worse, have made me who I am. I cannot run away from them. Rather I need to learn to embrace and deal with them.

Second, my entire purpose in blogging is the emotional release I get from writing about what I’ve been through. Please keep reading. I enjoy your kind words and encouragement. However, putting my thoughts into words is a deeply personal experience, one that benefits me even if no one else is paying attention. And for that reason, I can’t afford to hold back.

And finally, believe it or not, my words are laden with hope. Just like a person cannot grow without acknowledgement of his personal shortcomings, Israel as a society cannot move forward without acknowledgment of its flaws and inadequacies. Maybe if we start the dialogue, real change can happen. (See Part 1)

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, personal story, 0 comments

7 Holes I Fell into in Israel, Part 1

Israel

Israel, Then and Now

When I came to Israel twenty years ago, it wasn’t before long that I completely fell in love with the country. I couldn’t imagine myself living anywhere but Israel. Everything was beautiful to me. Every relationship seemed to be so much stronger, so much deeper. And even when I finally did leave, I did so with a heavy heart and full intention to return within one to two years.

Eleven years later I found myself forced to return to Israel, and it felt like every year I was gone, with constant reflection, my love of Israel morphed into a near bitter revulsion.

How? Why? What happened to me? What exactly is this place I once loved?

I could write about this for dozens of posts, but for the time being, in the next few posts I’m going to explore several aspects about the development of these feelings.

There is no perfect place in the world, and Israel is by no means an exception. The “system” is loaded with holes. Gaping, terrifying holes. And it seemed that no matter what I did, I kept on falling into them. In this post I will explore three of seven of the holes I plummeted into, holes within the system and culture of this country, this country I aim to love once again.

#1 “The IDF might not be what you think it is.”

Please don’t get me wrong. I support the Israeli Army, and I encourage everyone to join. But with one major caveat: Please, please do not be a non-combat soldier.

I showed up to the Israeli army so excited to serve my country. So enthused to be a part of the magical backbone that makes this place so great. And what do they say to a 23-year old, starry-eyed American boy, enthralled to finally be a part of all this?

What are doing here? Why did you do this? We’re born stuck into this. What’s wrong with you!?

Person after person criticized my decision. They whined and complained about their own circumstances, and disparaged my choices as foolish. Sadly, it wasn’t before long that I agreed with them.

What does a non-combat soldier do?

Non-combat soldiers are supposed to be given choices as to how they’ll serve their country. I had a lot of hopes and ideas for what I could do for my homeland; however, my interview never came. I banged on every door I could find throughout my basic training. No matter what I did, my protestations went nowhere. I finally received my assignment, and that’s when I discovered I was very intentionally not given my interview. Why? They took everyone in my group with a yarmulke on their head and tossed them willy-nilly into the Rabbanut (very loosely, a chaplaincy position).

Whereas chaplaincy could be an amazing role in some militaries, I had heard that this was the last place I wanted to be. And after mustering up the highest levels of obnoxiousness I could find, I successfully got myself transferred. I was placed in the education division… where I served my beloved country for the next 14 months as a recreational computer room supervisor. I used my keen mind, my college education, and my powerful motivation for… mostly kicking out soldiers for looking at porn and telling others how to switch the computer to Hebrew… for fourteen hours a day. In between I would have such heartwarming experiences as getting fined with a group of soldiers because I happened to be standing nearby when a few of them damaged some avocados while loading a truck.

After fifteen total months of service—where I felt useless and bored—my passionate Zionism had been squeezed out of me.

And trust me, living in Israel is worlds easier when you are an ardent Zionist.

#2 “So you think you’re a lone now.”

When I served, I was what’s known as a chayal boded (lone soldier). A lone soldier is a soldier who does not have immediate family in Israel. The assumption is that when a normal soldier is on leave, they will go back to their parent’s home. For however long they are home, mom will cook for them and do their laundry. And throughout the entire experience their parents will serve as their emotional support.

So as a wonderful gesture toward the lone soldiers of Israel, who lack all of this, the country gives them certain benefits and privileges. The primary benefits include an increased salary (as well as rental assistance), a day off every month, and up to a month off every year to visit family living abroad. In addition, when soldiers leave the military, the country gives a small amount of money for each month of service. The lone soldier’s stipend is a little more.

For certain, no amount of money or time off can replace the benefits of having nearby, supportive family; nevertheless, it is certainly helpful and appreciated.

But…

That is, of course, unless you’re me, and you are talented at finding and falling into every hole in the system. I got married about a year into my service. What I did not realize, and for sure no one bothered to mention, was that there was a status of a “lone soldier” and that of a “married soldier”, but there was no combination of the two. I was officially no longer a lone soldier, despite my continued lack of parents in the country. They slashed my salary in half. I lost my day off every month and my month off every year. And not only did I not get the lone soldier compensation when I left the army, but they retroactively treated me as if I had never been a lone soldier in the first place!

But at least I had my health?

#3 “The folly of Israel’s health care system.”

Don’t misunderstand me. The healthcare system here certainly has its advantages. And as someone who spent my last two years in America with no insurance (because I couldn’t afford it) and received a fine of several hundred dollars for being uninsured, I can’t help but think that maybe another country has figured out a better way to do things.

And please note that I think the general and emergency care in Israel are exceptional. It was here that I was diagnosed with reflux, after decades of doctors in the States scratching their heads at my rare and complex (heaping globs of sarcasm) condition… that could be mitigated by Tums and was essentially cured by weight loss.

But none of that excuses the blunders that I witnessed up close.

The Blunders I Witnessed

It does not excuse when my ex-wife was given a complicated dental procedure, all the time complaining to deaf ears that she wanted a different dentist. Ultimately post-procedure she returned because of continued severe pains, only to have a cemented-in cap removed from her mouth without warning or anesthesia… only to be told that because of their policies she was required to start over again and must remain with the original dentist who screwed up everything in the first place!

Nor does it excuse when I had an endoscopy (a tube is inserted into your mouth down to your stomach to observe what’s going on down there). If the procedure were done correctly, I would have fallen asleep shortly beforehand and woken up to newfound knowledge of what was ailing me. Instead I writhed in agony, gagging uncontrollably throughout the entire procedure. They escorted me to a waiting room. There I fell asleep in a chair about a half hour too late, thanks to my poorly administered anesthesia.

So, basically I simply prefer to avoid doctors in both countries: In the US because of lack of finances and confidence, and here from sheer terror.

And for some reason I wasn’t ready to move back to Israel.

And I still have four more holes I fell into…

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Posted by jaffeworld in Israel, 0 comments

Separate Paths to Nowhere

MarriageHumbled by a Failed Marriage

When I returned to Israel, I joined several Facebook groups for divorcees. It was a lot of witty banter, some filled with pain, some filled with hope, and most with a great deal of levity. At first I really like and appreciated the groups. But as time went by, I left each group one at a time. It’s not because I don’t need a place to express my thoughts or frustrations about both marriage and divorce. And it’s not because I don’t need camaraderie. Fact is: I strongly need both.

No, I left because the groups made me uncomfortable after I realized many vocal members were not humbled by their experiences.

Nobody sets out to get divorced and nobody is proud of being divorced. But everyone who suffers through the experience is absolutely obligated to be reflective, to be humbled, to be just a shred more educated than they were before, and to be worlds smarter about how they approach future attempts at a life of matrimony.

A Facebook Debate

I usually don’t get involved in Facebook debates. For the most part, they are a waste of time, and they pull out of people the worst human interactions imaginable (just beneath YouTube comments as the lowest form of civil discourse).

But this one time I was compelled to speak up. Someone asked a question about who comes first, your children from your previous marriage or your new spouse. Now, first of all, the question was inherently flawed. Life is never that simple. Nothing is ever black and white, and there can be countless variables and nuances that could change the way one might approach that question. And what’s right now could be wrong in five minutes.

Nevertheless, and against better judgment, I got involved. And, as much as this amazes me to even say it, I was highly criticized for stating that the children come first. Some attacks were rude. Some were downright mean. Many accused me of not being ready to marry again. And whereas that is very likely to be true, this was hardly the evidence to prove their point, nor an appropriate thing to say to a perfect stranger.

But the Real Kicker

The simplicity of my divorced comrades’ statements was heartbreaking. Many mentioned pithy quotes and paraphrases, and stated confidently that these were “the secret to a good marriage.” Really? The only one you’ve ever been in is over, and you claim to know the secret? Gosh, if only someone had just managed to get to you beforehand and said, “All you need is to put God first,” you could have avoided this whole mess?

Where was the real reflection? Where was the deep knowledge? And where in the world was what should have been inevitable and overwhelming humility?

So I stepped away and I’m unlikely to return.

The Only Marriage Advice I Ever Give

Now, a surprisingly large amount of people have asked me for marriage advice over the years. I find the request bizarre, since I would think I’d be the last person to know how to make a marriage work. And generally I only feel comfortable giving these three simple words:

Separate. Toothpaste. Tubes.

This is both a giant metaphor, and also wildly literal.

You see, the toothpaste tube is something that people have been using their whole life, multiple times a day. They’ve become accustomed to a certain way of using it, and they are by no means ready to change their habits. Some squeeze from the bottom, some from the middle. Some throw it out when it’s near empty, some will manage to eke out of there a whole extra week. And some close the cap like they want to permanently trap the toothpaste, and others are annoyed that a stupid cap is slowing them down all the time.

Then they marry. And they share. But they never speak up, because who cares about a stupid toothpaste tube? And as time goes by, resentment builds in the smallest doses, until this one dumb thing results in a full-blown fight. And it all could have been prevented by having separate tubes!

The simple message: Small things matter. They just take longer to be real problems. And it’s downright silly to let small things get out of control when prevention is so utterly simple.

But I digress.

Separate Paths 

After years of reflection about what went wrong in my marriage, I think I can finally say I understand what happened. My ex and I are both strong-minded and ambitious people. We’re both constantly growing and evolving. The problem was, we didn’t do it together. We weren’t a team. We kept on moving forward, and one day two strangers were looking at each other.

I got married when I was 24, divorced when I was 37. Those are pretty important years of one’s life. If you are not a completely different person after those 13 years have passed, something went drastically wrong. So if you’re not on the same page, and you grow as two individual units, what will happen is inevitable.

The Same Team

I am not saying to sacrifice individuality. Nor am I saying one party must capitulate to the will of the other. God forbid. Both parties must retain what makes them special and unique. But they need to be on the same team. There needs to be common goals. There needs to be synergistic participation in major life choices and decisions. A couple needs to grow side by side, so that 13 years later they’ve only grown to love and care about each other more.

This is not simple. It takes constant reflection and constant communication. With the right effort and the right perspective, a couple can walk down the same road to endless destinations. Or they can take separate paths to nowhere.

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Posted by jaffeworld in divorce, opinion, 0 comments