Tag Archives: Mediterranean

Almond Fields Forever

5 Sep
Galilee almond tree at full winter bloom

Almond tree at full winter bloom

Okay, the title of this post doesn’t have the same ring as the famous Beatles song, but here, in Galilee, almond fields are eternal.  Originally from China, almond trees made their way to the Mediterranean region.  At first the wild almond trees were poisonous and full of cyanide to ward off the leathery tongues of goats.  In time, man domesticated the tree, and the almonds, a cousin of the peach and cherry, became man’s best friend on the road.  In biblical times, during the great famine, Patriarch Jacob sent his sons to Egypt stocked with almonds.  During Roman times, horsemen and mercenaries lived on almonds as the ultimate Trail Mix.  When attending a wedding, guests showered the newlywed couple with almonds for good luck.

Liora at the controls

Liora at the controls

Recently I too was in luck.  It was mid-August, the height of the almond harvest in Galilee.  Liora, a third-generation woman farmer and friend of ours offered to give me a private tour of “the business.”  So I get in my car and drive thirty minutes to Kibbutz Geva to meet her.

The first thing I see are stretches of flat land extending in very direction.  At one end, there’s a makeshift camp covered with tarp. Under it, all-terrain vehicles are at the ready.  Several semi-trailer trucks appear, sending clouds of red dust into the air.  They’re loaded with un-shelled almonds.  Liora stands like General Patton and gives out orders into her two-way radio. The drivers inside the trucks come to a halt, swerve, and follow her every command.

Almonds drying in the sun

Almonds drying in the sun

She waves to me to come and join her under the tarp.  I obey.

“So this is where we scatter the almonds to dry,” she says and gestures in a sweeping motion.  “Tons and tons and tons of them.”  We step out from under the shade.  I cast a flat hand over my eyes and scan the endless rows of drying almonds in the sun.  I ask her a city-slicker question: “Why don’t you let the almonds dry at the foot of the trees where you shook them off the branches?”

Her face, brown from too much sun, caked with dust, becomes quizzical.  She declares the obvious: “What do you think, we live in your California, huh?  If I leave the almonds on the ground for more than one day, they’ll be gone the next!”  I help her out.  “Thieves,” I say.  Liora chuckles and says, “Definitely not goats.”

And so begins a massive month-long operation where tons of almonds are harvested at the source, loaded on containers that are loaded onto big trucks that drive to Kibbutz Geva.  There, the almonds in their shells are left to dry for days, tossed and re-tossed, collected into bins and delivered to the almond almonds 3mill just one kilometer away.  At the mill the millions of almonds are crushed, the shell extracted. Then they’re sorted by size, grade and quality by Italian-made machinery.  The shells ultimately will become feed for cattle.  The almonds will be packed and sold to a nuts merchant.  Israel’s almond fields are large but they’re dwarfed by California’s (100 times larger!); the world’s number 1 grower and exporter.

Reporting from Galilee

Reporting from Galilee

Liora and her husband Allon who’d taken me on an olive tour a couple of years ago make a good living off the land.  Unlike California’s Central Valley that relies on rainwater and sporadic drilling, the almond trees in Israel rely on delivered irrigation as well, making them less vulnerable to nature’s whims.  But there are other problems: pests, excessive heat, and the bees.  “Bees?” I ask Liora.  “I thought they’re the good guys that pollinate the blossoms.”  Liora speaks of the bees and the trees as if they were her wayward children, worthy of an occasional spanking. She says, “Almond trees are just dumb.  They’re stupid!  All fruit trees blossom in April.  Almonds do it in February, at the peak of winter.  Now you show me a bee that wants to freeze its butt off buzzing from one flower to the next?”

Homemade almond milk

Homemade almond milk

I nod, trying to imagine a swarm of bees with frozen butts.

Almonds grown in Israel meet most of the local demand.  The rest is imported from California. Whereas California almonds are smaller, rounder, Galilee almonds are longer, meatier, more crunchy. Israel sells almonds to Jordan through a land-bridge and from there to the rest of the Arab world.  A prince sitting on a bunch of pillows in the Emirates of the Persian Gulf could be sipping dark, strong tea and not know he’s munching on Israeli almonds.

At home, other than to add a splash to my morning coffee, I gave up on milk several years ago. Instead, we drink homemade almond milk.  Its nutrient value is high, it tastes good and it’s easier on the stomach.  If it was good enough for Jacob and the Romans, it’s good enough for me.

Enjoy.

—————————————————————————————————————

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Maurice-Labi/e/B00A9H4XEI

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

The (young) Old Man and the Sea

8 Nov

Israel.  1978.  Winter.  Tel Aviv municipal airport.  I’m sitting inside a 4-seater Cessna airplane on a wet runway.  The propeller spins.  My boss, Shimon Wilner, owner of Mediterranean Tours, is next to me.  In the front, the “business man” takes the passenger seat.  The pilot puts away the maps and eases the plane for a take off.

Cessna airplane

Cessna airplane

Minutes later I’m in the clouds.  We’re off to the Island of Rhodes, Greece.  The “business man” is from Kibbutz Ga’ash near Tel Aviv.  The kibbutz manufacturers outdoor lighting fixtures.  He wants to sell them to the beach hotels on the island.  Shimon, the money man, arranged for the airplane, the pilot, and for me.  My role?  To translate the three mens’ Hebrew into English, in the hope the Greek men in Rhodes will understand.

A storm hits.  Lighting.  Thunder.  Water hits the windows.  Visibility: Zero.  The plane sinks and rises in air pockets, as does my stomach.  My toes are frozen.  We all want to pee.  The pilot unzips his pants and pisses into a plastic tube.  He then passes it to the back like an Indian peace pipe.  My boss refuses.  I refuse.

Synangogue in Rhodes, Greece

synagogue in Rhodes, Greece

What is normally a 70 minute flight for a jet plane takes 4 hours on this noisy bumblebee.  Finally, we see land in the distance.  The pilot lowers the Cessna, approaches the runway.  A sudden gust of wind smacks the wing and tilts it sideways.  My face hits the glass.  Shimon, a 250 pound mass-of-a-man, leans into me.  The engine screams.  So do we.  The pilot barely is able to right the plane and we come in for a hard landing.  The doors fly open.  We take in the air.  We exhale steam.  We survived.

To celebrate our good fortune we stand on the wings of the Cessna and piss on the runway in a beautiful arc.

Police.  Sirens.

The Greek border patrol surrounds us with Jeeps.  They yell in Greek, visibly disturbed on how we, primitive Israelis, had desecrated their land with our urine.  We jump off the wings and apologize.  Ten times.

We’re escorted to the terminal, our passports are stamped with a loud thud and we’re shown to the door.  Outside, it rains.  In the hotel lobby later that night I help the “businessman” with his outdoor lights presentation.

Two days later we’re on the runway again.  It’s sunny.  The pilot starts the engine.  The propeller spins.  Shimon hears something suspicious.  “Stop,” he tells the pilot.  The pilot steps out, then waves to us to do the same.  It turns out, the blade of the propeller had hit the purple emergency light on the runway.  The propeller is bent like a banana.  The pilot says: “We’re lucky as hell.  Had we taken off, we would have crashed into the ground.”

Young Jews in Rhodes before World War II

Young Jews in Rhodes before World War II

Back to the terminal we go…

Those were the heydays of the seventies.  In the summer I escorted a number of groups to tour the Greek island; I tanned in the sun, frolicked in the clear blue water, feasted my stomach on Moussaka and Feta cheese, and feasted my eyes on topless Swedish girls.

Roll tape, please.  To October, 2014.

I’m on board EL-AL Airlines to Rhodes with my wife Pnina for a 4 day vacation. Once we settle at our hotel, we venture to the Old City, the Medieval City of Rhodes, the city walls dating back to the Crusaders.  This time, I’m in search of history.  Down the cobbled-stone alleys we walk until we reach the one remaining synagogue on the island.  It’s now a museum.  The Jews had come to Rhodes by way of Spain, then to North Africa, then Italy.  They lived on the island for generations, spoke Ladino, a Judaeo-Spanish language.  Whenever they sensed trouble was brewing, they reverted from Greek to Ladino, “Lashon de tu padre” – the language of your father.  They dealt in commerce; many of them worked at the fish market.

Surviving Rhodes Jews in Seattle, Washington

Surviving Rhodes Jews in Seattle, Washington

Then the Germans came.  During World War II they rounded up almost 1500 Jews and sent them to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the same camp my father was sent to.  Few survived.  After the war, their property was confiscated.  Inside the synagogue we meet one of the survivor’s children.  “Do you live here?” I ask.  “No,” he says.  “My family immigrated to the Belgian Congo.  Years later we moved to South Africa.”

An old(er) me in Rhodes, Greece

An old(er) me in Rhodes, Greece

Other survivors made to America.  Five years ago, I travelled to Seattle, Washington.  In the famous Pike Market I came across Jewish fish mongers.  The “Lost Greeks” stand over the beds of ice and arrange the crabs, the shrimp, the fish.

They’re a long way from Rhodes.

I leave the synagogue, remembering my days as a young man in Rhodes.  My wife and I go near the water and see the fishing boats.

The waves come and go, come and go.

—————————————————————————————————–

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

Beware, Lifeguard on Duty

8 Jun
Lifeguard Station in Bat-Yam closed for the evening

Lifeguard Station in Bat-Yam closed for the evening

Ask most people what’s their favorite vacation choice and most will say: the beach.  What is it about the beach that people love?  The powder-white sand, the salty air, the blue waters, the warm sun on your skin are all ingredients for a good, relaxing time.

But would you ever add a lifeguard to the mix?

I spent my young adult life 1/2 a mile from the Mediterranean.  I spent many years in my hometown Bat-Yam, literally translating into Daughter of the Sea, in Hebrew, or, more simply: Mermaid.

Growing up, the beach was part of our everyday lives.  It was just there, for the taking.  I could see the blue waters from the kitchen window, almost see sailboats near the horizon.

"Hasake" Life Boat

“Hasake” Life Boat

Some three decades later, I return to Bat Yam, to visit my aging parents, my sister, the beach.

And the lifeguards.

The lifeguards I knew as a child are long retired or they’re swimming with the fish in another universe.  The lifeguards in Bat Yam are a breed all of their own.  They hand over the whistle, the life vest and the hard-core training to the next generation.  They command the waters.  They rely on good eyesight, instinct, muscles, experience.   They rely on their “Hasake,” a giant, heavy surfboard with extra-long paddles to navigate the rough waters.

They’re perched like birds in their wooden lifeguard station at the water’s edge.  They peer into their binoculars to see who’s in trouble in the water.  They take turns eating.  And since they work long shifts, from early morning until evening, they take turns napping.

Bat Yam beach and skyline

Bat Yam beach and skyline

They’re family.

June is the kick-off month for summer in Israel.  Everyone’s itching to work on a bronze tan, to order coffee or a cold beer from the kiosk, to dig into a watermelon, to snooze to the sound of rushing waves.

But if you’re itching to get into the water, you’d better listen to the Bat Yam lifeguards, or else!

I’m lying on a lounge chair.  It’s almost 6 in the evening.  In a few minutes, the lifeguards will be off-duty.  This is what I hear on the LOUD-SPEAKER, much the same as I did more than 30 years ago:

ALLO!  ALLO!  Yes, you there in the red swim trunks – what do you think you’re doing?!

Sunset at Bat Yam Beach

Sunset at Bat Yam Beach

DUDE, yes, you, you, you, with the red swim trunks – What? you want to drown?

How many times have you heard me calling that the sea is very dangerous today?!

You, you, kid, KID, KID, – where’s your father?  Your mother?  What, you want to die?  Get out of the water. Now!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re closing shop.  We’re pulling the black flags from the water in five minutes.  No one’s going to watch over you.

ALLO!  Yes, yes, you with that funny green hat.  Didn’t you hear me?

Enjoying my childhood beach in Bat Yam

Enjoying my childhood beach in Bat Yam

Get out of the water.  Yes, yes.  What? You’re going deeper in the water as I’m talking to you?  YOU!  Don’t go macho on me.  I want to go home.  We all want to go home.  Come out of the water now.  After 6, when I’m home, you can go in all you want for all I care.  You, you – get out.

Lady, lady with the one-piece bathing suit with the polka dots, yes, yes you:  You found a great time to give swimming lessons to your boy.  Didn’t you hear?  The sea is rough.  D-A-N-G-E-R-O-U-S.  What don’t understand, lady with the polka dots?

Last warning, I’m going home.  I wanna go home.

OUT OF THE WATER.  THE SEA IS CLOSED!

The lifeguard’s “singing” is music to my ears.  I fold my towel, admire the setting sun.  Nothing’s changed.

Bat Yam lifeguards rule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Live to age 100 in Galilee

15 Sep

If the promising title prompted you to open the blog and read, you’re not alone.  Most people wish to live longer.  Just a couple of hundred years ago, newborns were lucky to survive childbirth; they were lucky to make it to age 40 or 50. WHO (World Health Organization) ranks 200 nations around the world for life expectancy.  Americans are ranked 36 in the world, average lifespan is 78.

Israel, among other Mediterranean countries, is ranked in  the top 10.  Average lifespan is 82.

Conclusion?  Americans should move to Israel and collect 4 more years of social security.

Dan Buettner

Dan Buettner

Dan Buettner, an explorer and writer, wrote an amusing article last year in the New York Times titled “The Island Where People Forget to Die.”  He’s best known for identifying and describing the “Blue Zones,” distinct areas in the world where life expectancy surpasses 100.

One such place is the Greek island of Ikaria, some 30 miles off the coast of Turkey.

Greek Island of Ikaria in the Mediterranean

Greek Island of Ikaria in the Mediterranean

As a researcher, he wanted to find out why these villagers live longer. Running on the treadmill and doing push-ups does not help.  But keeping busy does.  Go mend a fence, clear stones from your vegetable garden, pick fruit off trees, knead dough, tend to sheep (or grandchildren), climb hills – all these will add years to your life and life to your years.

According to the centenarians in Ikaria, a glass or two of wine will help too.  So will an afternoon nap.  So will organically grown vegetables, herbs, legumes.  A lively discussion or talk among friends and family late into the night will help.  And so will a good roll-in-the-hay with a lover.

Ikaria Village

Ikaria Village

Living in Israel, I thought of swimming to Ikaria – it’s 600 miles in a straight line. I figured if Dan Buettner had biked 15,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina (world-record holder), the least I could do is jump into Mediterranean and take a look at wrinkly old faces in Ikaria.

But then I realized, I could look at wrinkly old people outside my front door in Galilee.

That saved me plenty on airfare, boat fare, swim trunks and goggles…

Galilee is rural; it’s full of almond orchards, olive groves, figs, vineyards.  But at the end of the day, these crops will be produced industrially like many Western countries.  People here might take up gardening, plant tomatoes, eggplants, mint, herbs, basil, soak up better olive oil, but they get most (processed) food at the supermarket.  Therefore, the food eaten here is not the reason why people in Galilee reach into their 80s and 90s.  Working hard on the farm is not it, either.  The farmers rely on hired help (Vietnamese, Thai) to pick almonds off the trees, and the Arabs to pick tomatoes and greens in the fields.

And as for the people of Galilee having a great time in bed when the lights are out – I don’t know – I was thrown out of a couple of bedrooms trying to find out.

Which leads to the one key ingredient why Galilee people live longer.  They talk.  Boy, do they talk.

Which is wonderful!

People here do wash their laundry in public.  Tide detergent sells by the truckload in Galilee.  Everyone knows everyone in Kfar Tavor, my village, at least the old timers. They know who had back surgery, who built an addition for the in-laws, who married three times, why olive oil will cost more this season, why the incumbent mayor will win again in the local elections, whose turn it is to host Passover dinner this year (they all virtual Rolodexes in their heads), who sold his house and for how much, who made money, who lost money, who lost a kidney, which pill is best for fighting cholesterol, which salad dressing is low-calorie, how to cool the house, how to save on water, how to fight the Syrians, how to (not) negotiate with the Arabs, and what to whisper in Obama’s big ears.

And that’s only on Tuesday.

So people in Galilee are tightly knit (and tight), and they give and receive advice; they kiss, hug, love, cry together.  A sense of community and common purpose all add to a feeling of belonging.  And this, according to Buettner, adds years.

So check with me in a few years.  We might climb from number 10 to number 1.

But don’t come to Galilee all at once.  

I can spare only one extra bedroom.

Question?

If you could choose a number, to which age would you like to live?

Why?

 ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

Second Year’s Report Card from Galilee

17 Aug

This week marks our second year anniversary since we returned to Galilee, Israel after having lived in California for many, many years.  My First Year Report Card spoke of mad drivers in Israel, of crazy road signs, of great coffee, of great people, delicious hummus, and of not so great dust storms, of oppressive summer heat.

Our second year is no longer characterized by shock, but more like getting used to things, liking or disliking things, or just putting up.  It may remind you of your spouse when on the first date he/she burped or picked his/her nose in public.  It wasn’t endearing, but in time it became familiar.

Here are some samples:

Cross-talking: Ten people are sitting at someone’s house.  Everyone’s in good spirits.

The Art of Talking all at once

The Art of Talking all at Once

Coffee and pastry is served.  A juicy watermelon is sliced and diced.  Nuts.  Olives.  Crackers.  Diet Sprite is passed around (everyone carries a gut), sealed beer bottles sweat on tables (very few drink the stuff).  Noise level: High, High, High.  Ten mouths chew.  Then ten mouths talk.  The ears are just mounted on the sides of heads for show.  They don’t work.  “Did you hear about the air-conditioning special at Home Center?”  “Pnina, what did you put in the cake?”  “I almost fell off the bike today.”  “My granddaughter got her first tooth this week.”  “What are your taking for high blood-pressure?”  “Whole chickens are sold out for the holidays.”  “Our water bill killed us last month.”  “Our Toyota gets 16 kilometers to the liter.”  “Moti sold his land to developers at full price.”  “Found a flight to Greece for next to nothing.”

Pass the watermelon, please.

Fruit: Unlike the U.S, where produce has to be trucked across hundreds of miles, here the fruit and vegetables are grown nearby.  Plums, apricots, grapes stay on the vine longer so they arrive at the market ripe and sweet.  Bite into a peach and it squirts.  Tomatoes ooze, cucumbers snap, lettuce crunch.  But bananas are bad.  I really miss American bananas, and how they added zest to my morning cereal.  They were always perfectly shaped and sized.  They ripened so perfectly.  Here the bananas are grown in the Jordan Valley and the Coastal Plain.  They’re finger-size, odd-shaped, odd-colored, either too hard or too soft, bruised; they go from rock-hard to rotten in one day.

Pass the Chiquita, please.

Made in China (For Israel):  China is the world’s factory.  It manufacturers to order.  It produces high quality for the U.S. and Europe and inferior products for the rest of the world.  HoseAt first glance, the products here appear the same, but at closer inspection and use, they’re downright cheap.  Toasters trap bread slices and release pieces of charcoal.  Desk fans spread more noise than air.  Garden hoses twist in knots, pee a few droplets.  Refrigerator doors don’t stay shut.  Beach chairs collapse after one use.  Plastic cups crumble.  Dinner plates chip.  Sunglasses bend.  Shirts shrink.  Buttons pop.  Zippers fall off the track.  Shoes pinch.  But you could pay more for American-designed, Chinese-made jeans ($120), shirts ($70), shoes ($200).

Paper-Size:  Coming to Israel, I brought reams and reams of paper from the U.S. — all letter-size, 8 1/2 by 11, known here as Imperial Standard (think King of England).  

European A4   Vs. U.S. Letter-Size

European A4 Vs. U.S. Letter-Size

Americans are still in love with inches and feet.  Everyone else is on Metric.  Last month I ran out of paper.  Had to go and buy what they sell here: European A4.  The dimensions are different.  The paper is narrower at the hips (8.2) and it has longer legs (11.7).  You don’t realize how weird it looks until you hold one.  Makes a manuscript read like the Magna Carta.

Newspaper Headlines:  

ALL CAPS TO GRAB YOUR ATTENTION

ALL CAPS TO GRAB YOUR ATTENTION

Sensationalism takes center stage.  Headlines take up 1/3 of the newspaper page followed by a giant photograph image to back up the obvious headline, followed by eye-popping font.  In the past, the main newspapers were more restrained, respectable.  Now they have to compete with the free, flashy newspapers handed at grocery stores, gas stations, bus terminals.  “BLOODSHED IN CAIRO.”  “INFANT DIES IN SEALED CAR”  “HOUSING PRICES AT RECORD LEVEL”  It’s Noise wherever you turn.

Restaurants:  Tel Aviv is a long way off.  But even here in Galilee, restaurant food quality is a pleasant surprise.  Israeli RestaurantThe decor is airy, bright.  Tables and chairs are of high quality (Made in Italy), the silverware is top-notch even at modestly priced restaurants, and the service is impeccable.  The food arrives fresh, in large quantities and in large varieties.  The prices?  Breakfast: eggs, great salads, cheeses, tuna, dips. freshly baked bread, great cup of coffee, fruit juice — $12.  Falafel on the go — $4.  Shawarma — $6  Hummus — $7.  Sit down luncheon: $16.  Dinner: $20.  Consider that Israelis make less than 1/2 of Americans and eating out takes a big bite…

Gas Prices and Cars: After two years in Israel and it’s still a shocker at $8 per gallon.  

Gas Prices in Shekels per Liter

Gas Prices in Shekels per Liter

This explains why most cars on the road resemble washing machines on wheels.  They’re small, noisy, unattractive.  And expensive.  A simple Toyota Corolla will cost you $36,000.  The Koreans and Japanese, lifting a page from the Chinese operating manual, manufacture the most basic cars and with the least frills.  Floor mats are a joke.  windshield wipers struggle.  Car seats send you to the chiropractor.  Yet these sluggish car engines sip gasoline with a straw.  Five people pile into a tiny Hyundai (with their camping gear).  Taking your legs along for the ride – optional.  We chose to “export” our American-made Toyota Camry to Israel.  That was a mistake.  I sweat every time I fill up the tank.  I break into hives every time I have to navigate this “limo” in Tel Aviv’s alleys.  Parking? Forgetaboutit

Israelis: In my youth, living in Israel, in a Tel-Aviv bedroom community, I believed there were mostly two kinds of Israelis: 1.  Those that came from many lands (my parents included), and 2.  Those that were “true” Israelis, the native-born Sabras.  Decades later I find Israel to be more complex.  They include the Tel Aviv hipsters, the High-Tech wizards and darlings of Wall Street, the tycoons who control much of Israel’s money, the after-the-army-service-I’m-going-to-India-Thialand-Bolivia-Peru and-I’m-going-to-smoke-pot-till-I-drop crowd, the Ultra-Orthodox, the knitted-kippa, the Sephardi Jews, the Ashkenazi, the Israeli-Arabs in the big cities, in the villages, the farmers, the ex-kibbutzniks who cherish old kibbutz life and those who detest it, the million-plus Russian immigrants who added spice to an already overly spiced country, the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who’d come from the former Soviet Bloc, and from war-torn Africa.  It’s eight million Israelis wedged between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River and they all want to swim, eat, pray, love, vacation – while Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and the West Bank around us go up in smoke.

So I decided to conduct an unscientific survey of my family.  “After 2 years in Israel, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you say you adjusted?

I'm doing great.  How about you?

I’m doing great. How about you?

Pnina:     6

Maurice:    6

Maya, age 14:   6

Romy, age 14:   6

Max, our American dog: 10+

Pass the Kibbles, please.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=mauricelabi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

a Seashell in search of a Summer Story

4 Jul

I’m seated on a lounge chair at Caesarea beach, an ancient Roman seaport, an hour’s drive from Galilee.  It’s a weekday and the sandy white beach is mostly deserted.  The blue-green water sparkles in the sun.  There’s a seashell resting at my feet.  It’s not terribly remarkable but I reach down and pick it up.  It’s white, curled, folded onto itself.  A few orange specs adorn its back.  The crown at the tip of the shell swirls like an ice cream cone.  On its front side there’s a long, narrow slit, its insides hidden from view and from my probing fingers.  I suspect at one time a creature must have used it as its home.  Now the shell just rolls back and forth in my hand.

Seashell on Caesarea Beach, Israel

Seashell on Caesarea Beach, Israel

How long has the seashell existed?

When did it start life?

How?

What did it “see” during its lifetime before settling on the sand?

The Roman aqueduct ruins of Caesarea are behind me, a massive structure of stone arches that are buried up to their ankles in powdery sand.  Two thousand years ago the aqueduct carried water to the Roman port.

Did the seashell exist then?

Did it witness the Roman legions, did it “meet” King Herod the Great?

Was the shell born here, a native, or was it swept here by currents and waves from

Caesarea Aqueduct

Caesarea Aqueduct

distant lands around the Mediterranean?

If so, it must have witnessed sea voyages, sailors, slaves, ships, battles, triumphs and defeats.

Now it’s content to just lie on the beach, to take a well-deserved rest from the pages of history.

Near the water’s edge there’s a woman in a straw hat and a bathing suit.  It hard to tell her age.  She bends over the shallow water, her hands searching in the wet sand.  She scoops a handful of seashells, shakes off the excess water and dumps them in a clear plastic bag.

Her catch of the day.

I hear a cry.  For a moment I imagine the shells had cried, refusing to leave their centuries-old home.  But it turns out the cry came from a child’s mouth, refusing to go into the water with his mother.

Caesaria Aqueduct

Caesaria Aqueduct

The woman with the shells shakes the bag a couple of times, as if to weigh its contents, to determine if she’d picked enough.  She continues to follow the contours of the shoreline until her image fades.

What if every man, woman and child carried off twenty, fifty, a hundred shells to decorate their homes with, to build a miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower, to string “exotic” necklaces, to hang them on the wall, collect them in a jar like unwanted pennies, or use them as a conversation piece at a dinner party, to show them off as “vacation souvenirs,” to make up a story as to how rare and exquisite they are.

cesaria aquaduct 2

Roman Aqueduct

If that were to happen (and it does), there won’t be any seashells left on the shore.  They’ll become “extinct.”  Later generations will no longer find them on the beach, discover the lost relics in a kitchen drawer someplace.

“Wow, those were lovely things, once.”

I fondle the icy-white seashell in my hands one last time.  I then release it to the sand at my feet.

It can’t speak, yet, somehow, I hear it.  And the rushing waves to the shore.

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teen-age daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com or BN.com.

Is that Big Brother in your Pocket?

8 Mar

Your neighbor’s raking in millions and you’re struggling to come up with mortgage or rent money.  You drive to work in a beat-up Volkswagen and your boss pulls into his reserved parking space with a shiny BMW.bmw

I ask you: Is that fair?

The handyman who fixed your toilet last month just got back from a week’s vacation in Italy.  Sorry, you can’t step into the elevator with him because it’s taken up with his three Gucci suitcases.

You’re fuming.  You kick the elevator door.  You’re mad.  But then what?

If you’re in Israel, don’t get mad.  Get even.

How?

If you suspect the neighbor, the boss, the handyman is not paying his fair share of taxes — just snitch on him to the authorities and watch him boil in hot (olive) oil.

This is all thanks to Israel’s Tax Authority and its  latest initiative to raise 20 billion shekels (5 billion dollars) in uncollected taxes over the next four years.  Israel, a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean country, wants to model its moral code, according to its fiance minister, after the “honest” countries of Northern Europe (Sweden, Norway).

Good luck.

This tax-collection drive is the latest wrinkle in today’s “share the burden” phenomenon.  The scenario goes something like this:  The Middle Class is being wrongfully squeezed.  It shares the majority of the burden; it pays more in income tax, serves in the military while the well-connected, the Orthodox Jews, and the Arabs get a free ride.

It’s time to level the playing field.

"Justice Hotline"

“Justice Hotline”

The informants are encouraged to call the “Justice Hotline” anonymously and report the cheaters.  Since the “Justice Hotline” was first launched a few weeks ago, thousands of calls came pouring in.  The informants rat on plumbers, repairmen who give a small discount in exchange for getting cash.  No receipts, no invoices, thank-you-very-much.  They snitch on cab drivers who don’t care to turn on the meter.  They inform of dentists who drill a hole in your tooth and in your pocket, of piano teachers who sing all the way to the bank, of  landlords who act like lords, of math tutors who add their own numbers.

Cheaters unable to sleep at night are counting sheep.  And Shekels.

Big Brother is watching.

Greed and jealousy are what drives most calls.  It’s neighbor against neighbor.  Family members who have a score to settle.  On a recent news program the 5 staff members sitting at the Tax Authority switchboard were overwhelmed with calls.

Opponents are quick to criticize the campaign.  “It will collect pennies on the dollar,” they say, while the Fat Cats, Israel’s multi-national corporations (Teva, Osem, etc) use the loopholes to pay little or no taxes.  They say it’s all a smoke screen to divert attention from other pressing problems: housing, education, the political stalemate.

In a sense, the government has turned the average Yossi into its tax-collector.

How?

The original 1.0 Version has been upgraded.

Informants that come forward and identify themselves can share in the loot.  If the tax-evader is found guilty and is told to pay up, the snitcher collects 15% of the total.

Ka-Ching!  Ka-Ching!  Cash registers are ringing from Galilee to Tel-Aviv to Eilat.

It’s doubtful the taxman will be able to collect the monies they’re projecting.  If anything, it’s a powerful deterrent.  People might think twice before they settle for cash only.

Recently hundreds of private tutors received a text message on their cell-phones.  It warned them to report ALL transactions, or else.  It later turned out to be a clever hoax.

Or was it?

As for me, I plan to wire my few Shekels to Switzerland.  After all, it’s pretty close to Northern Europe.

Below is a campaign from the Tax Authority to all citizens to do their “civic duty” for the benefit of all.

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teen-age daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com or BN.com.