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"מונית הכסף" ["Money Taxi"] and "Chaim" Kafka

I joined a gym here in December, in an attempt to maintain physical and mental health. It was not a decision I made lightly, since it is quite expensive. It's kind of a rip-off. It costs about what a nice gym on the Upper West Side of Manhattan costs (between $75-$80/month, depending on the exchange rate, which is only a little bit less than I paid for the New York Sports Club, circa 2004-2007, when I belonged), and has worse machines, facilities, and service.

It has only one branch, no towels are provided, and there is only one toilet in the women's changing room, which also lacks paper towels. A man knocks on the door periodically to ask if he can come in to clean it, since they only employ one cleaning person and he is male. Since it is almost always in use, he rarely comes in, and it doesn't get cleaned very often. They often play very loud, bass-heavy music in the cardio room. It's very thumpy, and sometimes hurts my head. (I ask them to turn the music down about once a week.) When the weather is decent, there is often someone smoking on the patio, and the door to the cardio room is sometimes left open, which means that I am sucking in secondhand cigarette smoke as I run. (Someone usually tries to close the door, which sometimes stays closed. It still smells like cigarette smoke, though.)

There are elliptical machines, but only the kind with pedal-like foot things and arm things, not the kind on which you can change the angle or even the resistance, as far as I can tell. One of the treadmills produces electrical shocks every time you touch it, or continuously if you have earbuds in your ears while you run on it. The stationary bikes, a relatively new addition, do not have individual televisions. The only non-bike, non-elliptical machine, non-treadmill is usually either broken or its television is broken.

I joined this gym, instead of a slightly cheaper one, because it seems to have decent ventilation, nice showers, and an individual TV by most of the cardio machines. It also has enough elliptical machines that I can get one almost every every time I go (weeknight evenings) without waiting.

Anyway, so now I watch Israeli TV about three times a week. One of my regular shows (besides Friends, ER, and Ugly Betty) is "מונית הכסף" ["Money Taxi"]. Apparently (I didn't have a TV in the US and therefore didn't know), this is like an American show. Unsuspecting Israelis hail a taxi, get into it, and are shocked to find out that they're on a quiz show on national television. It has flashing lights inside and you have to reach your destination without getting three wrong answers in order to win your grand prize of the money you've accumulated by answering questions correctly. If you need help, you can call someone on your cell phone or lean out the window and ask someone on the street.

The questions are a mixture of Israeli politics, popular music, literature, and some basic world history. There is also a smattering of basic Jewish questions ("What are the names of the four sons at the seder?" "For what sin were Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden?"). To my pleasure, most contestants seem to get the Jewish questions right, as well as the Israeli politics and general sports questions, which I couldn't answer in a million years ("What is the nickname of MK Yossi Cohen?" "Which soccer player is known as 'the bomb'?"). One question that neither I nor the contestants could answer last night was "Which Israeli highway goes from Metulla to Eilat"? I guessed 1, the contestants guessed 4, the answer was 90. Sometimes, there are questions that I wouldn't expect them to be able to answer: "What was Elvis Presley's middle name?" The answer is Aaron, which sounded familiar to me once it was revealed, and which was mentioned in the subtitles (there are always subtitles on at the gym) as "Aharon," i.e. אהרון.

However, last night, there was a question that elicited a humorous response, in my eyes. The question, "What was the author Kafka's first name?" The contestants weren't sure, and threw around Yossi or Moshe as possibilities. "Wait," one of them asked, "was he even Israeli?" None of them knew. They called one of their sisters, who said, "Maybe Chaim?" so that's what they went with. When the correct answer was revealed as "Franz," they cursed the Ashkenazim who they said rig these games to be biased towards Ashkenazim!

I found the assumption that he must be Israeli and therefore must have a name like "Yossi," "Moshe," or "Chaim," sort of sad. I wonder if it reflects a larger problem in Israel of non-exposure to classic Western art and literature. I also found the immediate dig at Ashkenazim, once the name was revealed as "Franz," to be amusing, but also sad (outrageous?) that so many years after most Mizrachi Jews arrived in Israel, they still feel like they don't have the same educational background as their fellow Ashkenazi citizens. What's sad and outrageous is that they probably don't. (After Obama was elected I asked a few people if a Mizrachi Israeli had ever been a serious contender for Prime Minister, and the answer was no. Please let me know if you know otherwise.)

In general, I find the show interesting, both for the questions that contestants can and can't answer, and for the banter between the driver/questioner and the contestants, and between the contestants. There are some dati/chiloni [religious/secular] jokes, and some Ashkenazi/Mizrachi jokes. I don't think I've heard a single question referring to Arab culture or history, unless you count a question about the birth country of a famous Egyptian singer (who I had never heard of). There aren't usually questions about current events.

Anyway, just another slice of Israeli life. Now that the days are longer and the weather is better, I may be giving up my posh gym membership, since I really can't afford it.

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Chol HaMoed Pesach in Rosh Pina

I went to Caesarea on Sunday, but didn't take any videos. Maybe I'll share some photos at some other time. It was beautiful, although the traffic getting there was pretty horrendous.

On Monday, I went to Tzfat and Rosh Pina with my parents. There is a great little stream and beautiful open, green space right outside Rosh Pina, where the images for this little film were taken. This one just under a minute, and a little less exciting than the Netanya one, but has more cool "Ken Burns" effects. Enjoy!

You can hear the stream in the background, and also the melodious tweeting of birds. Once again, I used iMovie to make it. I was wondering if there is some way to extend the lovely background from the movie parts to the stills, which are silent.

Before we went to Rosh Pina yesterday, we spent some time in Tzfat, visiting a friend of my parents' who was staying with her daughter, who is a year younger than I am and has four kids, the three youngest of whom are 4, 2, and 3 months old. She is also rather chareidi. (I felt kind of out of place wearing jeans and a t-shirt and sneakers, but nobody there seemed to mind.)

It is always somewhat shocking to me that if my life were different (very different), I could have four kids, too. I mean, I could have become chareidi and gotten married and had a succession of children. I can't imagine that I would have been happy that way, but who knows? Sometimes the idea of not having to make choices all of the time is quite appealing! Most of the time, though, I wouldn't exchange my present life, tumultuous and unfulfilling as it is at the moment, with one attached to four small, needy children. That is not to say that I don't, one day soon, want to be busy with small children, but I'm just glad that that, at 28, I didn't have four children.

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Chol HaMoed Pesach in Netanya

I went to Netanya on Friday and enjoyed the afternoon on the beach and the midrachov (How do you say that in English? Pedestrian walkway or something clunky like that?) while the lucky ducks in the Diaspora were suffering through enjoying their second day of a "three day yom tov." I took some video clips, so I decided to learn how to use iMovie and turn it into something other than a rather static five clips totally 1 minute and 52 seconds. This is the result (one minute total):

I thought that the result was more fun than a few still photos, but I hardly ever take the time to watch videos on anyone else's blog, so I won't take it personally if you don't.

The distinct thwakking sound that you hear in the background is people playing with a ball and paddles (like ping pong but without the table). There was a really nice mix of people on the beach--yeshivish types (black velvet kippot, white shirts, and black pants on the men, sheitels, long sleeves, long skirts, closed-toe shoes on the women, many children), Arabs, secular Israelis, modern Orthodox types, French-speakers, Russian-speakers, Hebrew-speakers, Arabic-speakers, English-speakers (both British and American). Here, for example, is a photo of a man buttoning his shirt up over his tzitzit while an Arab woman stands nearby:

Enjoy the rest of Pesach or any other holiday you may be celebrating in this springtime season!

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Breaking radio silence to report on Birkat HaChama

I went to one gathering at 7:45 am in Raanana, and passed two more after that. It was nice, but I think it only felt special because it's something that we do once every 28 years. If we said a bracha over the sun every time we appreciated it (like when it comes out after a few cloudy or rainy days; or when it's shining while we are dragging lots of luggage to the LIRR from our brother's apartment in Queens), it wouldn't be a big deal.

And here it is!

The one thing that was really nice was what Rabbi Seth Farber said before we began the blessing and Psalms that surround it. He noted that Passover is about a particularistic national redemption, while blessing the creator of the sun transcends nationality and is about what we all share as inhabitants of the same planet. He said that this Pesach, while celebrating our particularistic redemption from slavery we Egypt, we ought to keep in mind the rest of the world, and hope for its redemption from slavery and suffering to freedom, as well. I thought that the contrast between the particularism of Pesach and the generality of blessing God for creating the sun was a nice touch, and one I hadn't heard before.

Here are some recent New York Times articles on the subject--oh, how I miss my New York Times! (Despite this, which one of my friends was complaining about, and rightly so.)

"A Jewish Holiday, Once Every 28 Years," by Samuel G. Freedman (NYT, April 3, 2009)

"For Jews, Another 28 Years, Another Blessing of the Sun," by Joyce Cohen (NYT, April 6, 2009)

I also need to take a minute to complain about chametz-burning here in Israel. What is it with people throwing plastic bags into the fire? Don't they know that it's bad for the environment, it stinks, and it doesn't burn well? Also, that it's halachically entirely unnecessary?

People also burn all kinds of things that don't need to be burned or even thrown out or given away (rice noodles?!). I saw someone throw chametz inside a plastic peanut butter jar into the fire--why? A woman came by and shouted at the chametz-and-plastic-burners, but only about all of the smoke they were making--איזה חוצפה! she shouted--to be making these fires on an empty lot after everyone in the nearby houses had worked so hard cleaning their houses for Pesach. She had a good point. We live several blocks away and it smelled bad this morning. The fires would be much smaller and less ghastly if they consisted of: wood and chametz. Okay, and a few dried up old lulavs if you want. But because they are poorly constructed (bread is underneath; burning newspaper and cardboard boxes on top), they also contain piles of burning plastic bags and mountains of newspapers and cardboard boxes. Most of the bread was getting toasted, at best.

Some photos of Birkat HaChama gatherings in Raanana this morning are below.

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