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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Nicht gewuenscht

Nicht gewuenscht

It did not create a stir: It created an outcry.

When the media informed of the letter, no one was surprised, or disappointed. In fact, it was the second letter of its kind.

It all started with a letter by 100 priests, asking the public not to rent rooms to Jews. The Jewish population was outraged, however the public in general, tired of the Jews, Israel and all these headlines and threats, moved on to read an article on the bad weather. Then the second letter came, again by priests, warning good Christian girls not to marry Jewish men. Or even go out with them. Nor to be seen by them.

Now the world woke up: politicians held fierce speeches on discrimination, the media gave full coverage on the subject, interviewing heads of state, more politicians and celebrities, who all condemned this low hearted action. Demonstrations started in capitals around the world and the demand for the Pope to resign became a global item……

Did I bore you?

Apologies! Of course, such a thing would never happen. It cannot happen in this modern world of ours.

Do I still bore you? Then I have to disappoint you:

It DID happen. Only the other way around: in my country, some rabbis decided to publish a letter advising their believers not to rent rooms to Arabs. Of course, some politicians got upset, as this subject can always add a few votes. Even our prime minister spoke up against it, but already having prostituted himself to religious and ultra-right fanatics, he tempered his tone, dried his crocodile tears and checked in a mirror how he looked.

As this was not enough, a group of female rabbis published a letter, warning that good Jewish girls are not allowed to marry Arabs. The Israeli media gave it a small spot on page 4 and went on reporting on the low-cut décolleté of a TV personality.

Our political balance made it possible for splinter parties, representing good-for-nothings, weirdoes, outsiders and voodoo-specialists, to become influential and dictate our national agenda. Although the election results in 2009 did not favor Mr. Netanyahu, he wiggled his way into the Prime Minister's office and brought his gang of nitwits along.

Lately, the general public grew tired of Mr. Netanyahu and started to ask questions. Netanyahu, ever the media expert, now created a wave of bigotry across the country. It keeps his pals busy and off his neck, while the public can roam the streets shouting "Death to Arabs". Give the people food and games, said the Romans. Well, food for the needy is supplied here by the public, since the government lacks any ambition to care about its citizens, while games are supplied by our PM on a daily basis: from uproar in his office, where people resign, come and go at a dazzling speed, to cameras in a helicopter flying our PM trying to look good during a fire that killed 40 brave men and women, only because he lacked to provide the funds for firefighters to be well equipped – leave it Bibi to provide games and action for the people in the street.

In our rich history we read of rabbis, sages and wise men who all, besides studying, had a job. Even if you drive around in our beautiful country you will find signs to places where these people studied and worked.

Not today. Today rabbis 'get money', religious students 'get money', religious families, and religious watchamacallits – everyone 'gets money'. Not because they deserve it, because our PM decided that, in order to stay in power, he will use our tax money instead of brains and wits.

So today we live in a country half strangled by little politicians and rabbis. Whether we like it or not, it is our reality. And then we are told not to rent rooms or marry Arabs.

I live in Haifa. We make a point of living together with Druze, Muslims, Christians and Bahai under the flag of Israel. We are all Israelis. When in 2006 Russian and French rockets landed on our city – 500 of them, sponsored by the EU, thank you very much! – they did not chose to land on Jewish houses only. When buses and restaurants exploded by drugged suicide terrorists, they did not differ between Jews and non-Jews as victims.

In fact, right now we celebrate the Festival of Festivals in our city: we celebrate Ramadan, Christmas, Hanukah and New Year in one go and enjoy each other's company.

We leave the hatred to rabbis and narrow minded politicians.

©Simon Soesan

Monday, December 27, 2010

Israel's got talent!

Israel's got talent

The stakes are high and all of us in Israel are waiting anxiously for the final results: what will it be?

Our 120 members of our parliament, the Knesset, will take a vote and make a historic decision these days: an iPone-4 o a Blackberry? What will it be? And, of course: will it be for free or a gift? Clearly, whatever it will be: we, the taxpayers (a small percentage of this country does pay tax and serves in the army, as we are not religious and are not connected to the maniacal right-wing coalition that was not elected but still is in power), will also pay for this important instrument.

Our 120 members of this very illustrious club, the Knesset, need these phones. They stated it will help them stay in touch with their constituents. And, of course it will create more jobs, as they just cannot do their job with just a PR consultant, a political advisor, a personal assistant, a secretary, a media advisor and a coffeemaker. No, they will need someone to handle these Smartphones as they are too busy flying abroad, have not time to Tweet or update their Facebook page and, to be honest, they simply do not have the brains to understand how these things work at all.

Israel's got talent! Yes Sir, yes Ma'am: our prime minister has now officially obtained the status as the most unreliable politician in the area, our minister of foreign affairs has established himself as the neighborhood Rottweiler and our minister of the interior has single handedly created his own image as a corrupt lowlife. You have to admit: it takes talent to turn all your friends against you in less than 18 months!

Our minister of defense, once a heralded hero, seems so obsessed by himself that he has lost all touch with reality, our minster of education is so busy cleaning up the mess left behind after the horror regime of one of his predecessors, Limor Livnat (her reign of terror crippled our educational system for years to come), that none of his good intentions can be realized for the time being, while our minister of environment is making deals with the big polluters in order to avoid attacking them. Yes, Israel's got talent!

Our so-called government completely forgot its sworn oath and duty to bring captured soldiers home – we have one boy held for over 4 years by Hamas terrorists – and frankly does not give a damn whether this boy lives or dies – although sometimes I have the feeling that our PM would be very happy if he would just simply die.

Yes, Israel's got talent: in his rush to satisfy minorities that pressure him and can disrupt the political balance that keeps him in power, our PM has simply given so much money to these good-for-nothings like religious schools (that refuse to adapt or recognize our national education laws and programs), colonists (which refuse to recognize any political or legal power besides their own: THEY are the law – and our governments lets them do as they please…), rabbis and other voodoo imbeciles, that there is no money left for luxuries like police, emergency services, care for the sick and elder, education and oh, yes: food and shelter for the poor.

Yes, Israel's got talent: our opposition has joint the Monastery of Silence, and we, the quiet majority, act as spoiled and insulted brats that even refuse to vote out of sheer laziness, read the paper on our latest gadget, add "like" to columns like these and check who has done what with whom in the villa of the Big Brother, broadcasted nonstop on your TV, internet or…yes…Smartphone.

Knowing what is wrong, bitching about it, saying how mad you are about it and then return to your Twitter to inform the world you just took a crap may prove you are not full of shit and yes: it takes talent.

© Simon Soesan

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Never mind

Never mind

Just suppose. Suppose you have a political party which represents a minority. Suppose this minority has no social, economical or scientific contribution for your country, does not pay taxes, does not serve in your army, but suddenly politicians need you in order to stay in power, to tip the balance in their favor.

Suppose there is this little politician, a smooth talker with no agenda but with this urge and greed to rule. This is when you hit jackpot! You can ask for anything, do anything you want, because the fool wants to rule at any price!

So you create a school system, as if the country does not have one. And you teach stuff not recognized by the government you belong to, but never mind! You sell religion and who can top God? So you inflate the number of pupils to get more funds and you create jobs to get your voters more income. Where better than in a school of your own? What do they need to know to work there, besides the fact that YOU arranged it?

Suppose you then get greedy too and you ask for more, you take some more, you lie, cheat, steal and all in the name of God? You take a senile rabbi with a great name and make him speak in the name of God. Who dares to argue with God? You make sure the senile rabbi drives around in an expensive car and then you take over a ministry, let's say Interior.

You still need to give jobs and money to many of your followers, so you make a list, because when you study God, you cannot just work anywhere: you can't do manual labor, because that is tiring. You can't do any work connected to a profession, because you have no diploma besides religious school. So, being Minister of the Interior, you take away budgets from all those organizations that are not of interest to you, as they have no jobs to offer for your good-for-nothing followers: hospitals, kindergartens..

Hey! Even the fire brigade! Who needs a fire brigade? Who cares? So you funnel away funds and concentrate on your voters and followers as you act in the name of God, right?

And this greedy politician, who thinks he rules, is convinced you are right, otherwise you can make him stop ruling!

Never mind the non-believers. God doesn't mind, so why should you? And whenever there is a calamity, you let the senile rabbi utter some words of profound wisdom ("a sixteen year old boy died in the fire because he did not observe the Shabbat", "a man walking between two women is like walking between to donkeys"), and off you go.

Never mind that the country is now on the verge of collapse as health services, education, care for the elderly and emergency services are completely ruined, as you systematically over the years stole their budgets. Never mind what these infidels say! What do they know!

And if asked, you look into the camera with a straight face and say: "I did not do it, it was THEM!"

Never mind. There will always be another political nitwit in need of your party.

©Simon Soesan

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Alle Menschen wirden brüder

Alle Menschen wirden brüder

“All men will be brothers”, a Beethoven symphony claims.

I look from my window in astonishment as tens of planes fight the fire which will go into history as The Great Mount Carmel Fire.

Who would have dreamed to see Turkish and Greek planes fighting a fire together? Or Jordanian and Egyptian planes joining forces over Israeli skies for an act of peace? Planes from Russia, Cyprus, Spain, Britain and even the US, all fighting this calamity shoulder to shoulder? I look at the skies and wonder. So maybe it IS true, maybe it IS possible and maybe there is a way for all of us to live in peace soon.

Besides the smoke and smell of burned forestry, our skies are now filled with the noise of diving planes delivering their cargo of water. The fire is still about 3 miles away from our house, but we watch it. Months of drought and a treacherous wind are the perfect playground for a heartless fire to go anywhere it pleases.

Our municipality learned its lesson from the more than 500 rockets that landed on our city in 2006 (with the compliments of the EU), and is perfectly organized. Our northern neighbors are dancing in the streets, praising Allah for their good fortune now that the Zionist cancer is on fire. And still, we remain calm, as we believe in Divine deliverance.

Friends from all over the world keep calling and writing, sending us their prayers and blessings, while outside some sane nations reacted immediately and help us fight this fire hand in hand.

We have made it a point to help any country where disaster strikes. This time we needed help and some countries responded within hours. “My” Holland, always the thinker, needed time to think it over and will send choppers after the weekend, which will be like mustard after the meal.

Still, we are grateful. For what we see now, enemies joining hands and fighting this fire, proves that indeed, all men will be brothers.

Even if it takes a calamity to prove it.

©Simon Soesan

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Smelly business

Smelly business

"Enough is enough!", said Bassam while he closed the window. He walked over to the wall and started the air conditioner. It was one of those days: 40 degrees Celsius outside, humidity over 80% and the hot wind bringing us the sour smell of the petrochemical industries near Haifa bay. It was really smelly, which explains Bassam's actions.

"I am going to call the municipality!", said my friend determined. He walked over to the phone and called 106, the municipal service center. While listen to the music until his call was answered, he quickly grabbed three cookies and ate them quickly, without losing even one crumb. Suddenly he looked at me and pressed the loudspeaker button on the phone, so I could listen in. suddenly a lady answered.

"Municipality", said the lady.

"Good Morning", said Bassam, surprisingly polite.

"Good morning to you too, Sir."

"Look, it really smells here…."

"Where does it smell?"

"Outside."

"Where, outside?"

"Outside my house."

"And where is your house?"

"Well, here in Haifa."

"And you address is?"

Bassam gave her the address.

"And what does it smell like?"

"Sour. Like petrol."

"Really now. One moment please."

Again music. After a few minutes she came back to us.

"I'll connect you with the ministry of environment."

Again music. We looked at each other. The ministry! Not bad at all!

"Ministry!", said an important-sounding person on the other side of the line.

"Hey good morning to you! We called the municipality because of the smell outside.", said Bassam quickly.

"Yes, so I heard. Are you asthmatic?"

"Me? Not at al."

"Are you sensitive to smells?"

"If I am…what are you talking about???"

"Sir, just answer the question with a yes or no, it will go much faster this way."

Bassam shrugged. "No."

"So why are you calling?"

"Because it smell terrible outside."

"Bu you just said that you are not sensitive to smells."

"No..I said….excuse me, where is this conversation leading to?"

"Sir, that's not what you just said."

"No, but I mean…."

"Sir, you just claimed it smells outside?"

"Yes."

"And you are outside."

"No, we are inside."

"And it still smells?"

"Yes!" Bassam was turning read and I started to enjoy this.

"Outside?"

"Yes!!"

"But you are inside?"

"I just said so!"

"And your windows are open or closed?"

"Closed!"
"Sir, what are you complaining about? The smell is supposedly outside, you are inside, with the windows closed and you claim not to be sensitive to smells!"

Bassam looked with big eyes at the phone and then at me. I shrugged. This was his problem and not mine and I was enjoying this.

"Sir I am telling you there is a terrible smell outside!"

"Yes, well, I cannot solve that and you are inside with the windows closed."

"And what about the smell outside?"

"I would advise you to stay inside."

"That's a big help, thank you!"

"I hope so. Satisfied citizens are our main goal, you know."

"But I am not satisfied!! And it stinks outside!!"

"So what do you want me to do about it? Come over and blow it away?"

Bassam's eyes went wide open. His face went purple.

"The gull of you public servants!!"

"You think so?"

"I demand to speak to your superior! Immediately!"

"Well I am the superior. When is your wife coming home?"

"What on earth has my wife to do with this?"

"Well, do you think she will notice the smell?"

"What..what….", Bassam was dumbfounded.

"I think she must be used to the smell, no? I mean, she is married to you for 27 years, right?"

Basam gave me an incredible look. I looked at the ceiling.

"What…who…who is this?"

"Bassam, you fool! It is me, you cousin Mussa! Did you forget I work at the ministry? The moment I heard it was you, I asked to handle the call myself, you donkey!"

Bassam hit himself on the forehead.

A while later we were outside, in the street. The smell was still there.

"What a smell.", said Bassam. "What can we do about it?"

"Take a shower!", said a passerby while lifting his nose.


©Simon Soesan

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Simon Caun, one of the six million


Simon Caun – one of the six million

For years he was a sad and short story in our family: Simon Caun, the brother of my mother. Born on March 20, 1926 and disappeared in 1942. I was born on March 20, 1956: it will not surprise you that my name is Simon.

Just sixteen years old, Simon Caun got an official call up to apply for a work camp. There was little known what was actually happening in the oh so cultural Germany, but nobody was happy. The night before he quickly made a picture, neatly in his suit because he thought the next day he wouldgo to work somewhere. In good faith and fear in the heart on July 20, 1942 he went to Westerbork. Since then nothing was heard from him except a laconic postcard of the o, so human Germans, who after a few months informed the family that Simon Caun had good arrived safely in the camp. Over the years there were flashes of rumors: Sobibor, Birkenau, and Auschwitz. We never actually learned anything, there never was anything conclusive.

I know my mom a bit. Except one of the sweetest, she is also one of the smartest women I know. And although itI was almost forty since I lived in the Netherlands, we have enough contact for me to know that her brother is not forgotten. In fact, her time stopped on July 20, 1942, when her brother left her with fear in his heart.
A few years ago, my first book,
Pita with Sprinkles was published. To do something for Simon Caun, the book is dedicated to him, so his name really is registered, and nobody, certainly not the oh so accurate Germans can deny that he existed, that he was on this earth has walked around, had dreams, had plans, all of which was swept away by the oh so human German people.

I had not enough. A few months ago I decided to start a project. Through contacts, I was able to dig very deep into the past of the oh so accurate Germans, who, with eager volunteers in the oh so pastoral Poland, tried to eradicate the Jewish People. My starting point was the administration. Netherlands, the country where the largest percentage of Jews were killed (more than 90%) using the majority of the cowardly cooperating Dutch people, have a great bureaucracy, but the oh so precise Germans surpass that of course.
The search faced a lot of obstacles.
The fact that the Germans cannot deny that they massacred millions of Jews, does not mean they are ready to help prove it. Many archives were not opened in the beginning, many emails were not answered and I will save you the specific comments on the phone. But I can tell you that I now, after searching, I am more than ever convinced that the Poles, Latvians, Ukrainians and oh, so, good Germans learned from this well planned genocide, which we call in Israel Holocaust, one thing only: never get caught again..

But back to my quest: I wanted to know what happened to my uncle, and refused to accept a "no" as an answer. A few days back, the phone rang with me. A Mr. Kowlaski from Poland. Deputy director of the Auschwitz Museum. He told me that my stubbornness had turned up something and if he could send me first a mail, after which he would give an explanation over the phone. Of course emotions ran high for me and a moment later came a mail.
"Our research tells Simon Caun, born March 20, 1926, was put on transport from Westerbork to Auschwitz on July 21.
We know that this transport consisted of 931 Jewish men; women and children and arrived in Auschwitz Camp on July 22, 1942 in the evening. After selecting, 479 men were admitted to the camp and they received numbers 50403-50881. 297 women were also allowed into the camp and were registered with numbers 9880-10176. It is important to note that deportees who were sent directly to their death on arrival, did not receive a number and were not registered. Your uncle had no number and was not registered."
I reread the notice a lump in my throat: here he was: my uncle!

The phone rang and Mr. Kowalski commented on his mail. "You should assume that probably was sick or crying upon arrival. Maybe he was dehydrated and hungry from the long journey. He was alone, I understand from the list. "

My hard stopped.

List? There was a list? And Mr. Kowlaski from Poland sent me a page. Neatly typed by an officer in Westerbork. A list of names. With birth dates. And one comment that married women had their maiden name mentioned.The list goes about the transport from Westerbork on 21 July 1942. In the middle of this list is Simon Caun. Suddenly there is a sign of him. His last sign of life! A neat officer of the NS or the Dutch police put even a pencil with 'V' sign next to his name, as if to say that also this Jew he sent to his death. Then the officer probably went home, to mother the wife, to enjoy some food. Maybe his wife said a few years ago in a documentary NCRV (Dutch TV) that " 5 minutes after the war the Jew already sell you something", who knows.

But here was my uncle, just sixteen years old, on the list. As if I could touch him for a moment. He then disappeared into the lorry, and after two long days arrived at Auschwitz, scared, hungry and thirsty, to be marched straight to the gas chamber. We have a date to remember him. Anyone who wants can now say a prayer for him, light a candle, as he was murdered on July 22, 1942 by oh, so nice German people, using the oh so hard working Polish people. The laconic red postcard, received by the parents of Simon Caun a few months later, is another proof of how efficient the Germans are.

I have sent information to my parents. And to my brothers and sisters. And their children. I asked them to tell this story to tell their children and make sure that their grandchildren will know it by heart and get the same mission: tell it on.

Somewhere in the ground to Auschwitz are the ashes of my uncle. Extradited by the Dutch people, where my family lives for almost 400 years.

Killed by Germans and Poles.

The reader may think that the search is over for me now. The opposite is true. I am now trying to figure out who these good Dutch people are: the one that neatly typed the list, other who neatly made a "V" beside the name of Simon Caun on July 21, 1942 and put him on the train to his death This story wil continue. Believe me, I will find them. It's easy: They documented everything so well.

They were proud of their work.

Simon Soesan

In Memory of Simon Caun, 'yehiyeh zichro baruch' – may his memory be of blessing

(The author is the fifth child of holocaust survivors, who were hidden and saved by the Snelle family in Sevenum, Limburg, the Netherlands. His parents bore 5 children, who bore 13 grandchildren and – up to 2010, 17 great-grand children. And the story goes on.)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The conspiracy

The conspiracy

Finally, the big day had come! After talking about it for months, and despite the rumors that maybe they were 'wrong' during the Second World War, we decided, just like thousands of Israeli's before us, to visit the Scandinavian furniture warehouse. Israel used to have just one branch, lately we have 2 branches but still, if you don't get there early, you won't even find a parking spot, let alone being allowed to enter the Walhalla of furniture. So we got there early, Still, 30 minutes before opening, about fifty thousand people (eh…more or less…) were all standing in front of us…

At 9 sharp the doors opened and the crowd pushed and pushed until we were all inside. Thousands were running around to see the simple furniture you have to put together yourself. Of course, we just could not leave without buying a little something, so we bought a bag of knickknacks for the kids and two book cupboards we needed anyway. While paying we were told that the products would be delivered to our home by the next day and indeed, the next day we received the boxes holding the cupboards. And yes, we were permitted to put it together by ourselves.

Under the watchful eyes of wife, children, friends and neighbors (I should have sold entry tickets!) I opened the first package and found the manual. I found a bag with screw, nails, and inserts and put it aside. Mission number one was to find a piece of wood named G, which looked much like piece Q and even resembled piece A, just a bit shorter. Of course, the little Scandinavian devils did not name the piece of wood: we were allowed to guess ourselves. After half an hour we recognized all pieces of wood. It was time to work with key H, which looked much like key K, and screw screws A3 via the B5 rings, into piece of wood G, in a way that it would catch piece A, too.

Bravely I tried to remember the sequence, but the screaming of the audience around me did not help much. Shelf S refused to get together with part W via ring R and shelf B simply did not exist.

Slowly but surely I started to sweat. But I would not give in! We are though ones, the Soesans and we never ever give up! Here, I found shelf B, but who screwed it into the floor for heaven's sake? Here was the side of piece P, where shelves S and B would connect, alongside others. I got it! Proudly I looked at the audience, who for one reason or another were laughing. Must have been something on the TV: I was giving a good example: never give up!

Although we started to work at 2 p.m., it was already after 6 pm and I did not finish even one cupboard, let alone two!

"Let us…", tried my wife, but I would not let her of course. Our son wanted to help but I threatened him with a shelf and he backed off. I am the man in the house – I shall succeed! I started from the beginning. Where was shelf G? Which idiot screwed it into piece T?? By 8 pm I was willing to take a break, but I would not allow a soul nearby. Sweaty and tires I took a bottle of water and a sandwich, but I never left my spot. No-one would steal this job from me! On page three of the manual they mentioned nails and a back wall called C. Happily I started to hammer away. By 10 the neighbor knocked at our door, requesting I stop the racket at this late hour. But when he saw me sweating, panting and with a hammer in my hand, he smiled sweetly and ran away.

By 11, I stopped too. A guy needs to rest, isn't it? But to ensure no-one would run away with my job, I slept, despite protests from wife and laughing from my own flesh and blood, on the floor, near my cupboard – or what would become soon enough a cupboard.

I did not give up and by 6 in the morning I was at it again, which created angry reactions from family and neighbors, but hey, I never ever give up! By noon I could see the beginnings of a cupboard, although I could not find sidewall Z. The shelves, too, did not sit well, but I could swear I saw a cupboard in the making,

My wife hugged me and told me that I was right and that I succeeded in getting the job done. She led me to our bed (bought ready-made, praise the Lord!) and helped me to lay down a bit. I fell asleep immediately, proud that I had made it. From afar I heard the sound of footsteps running to the cupboard. I dozed off.

A while later I woke up in a shock. It was quiet in the house, besides the soft sound of my family talking in the living room. I got up and went over, to see two cupboards all assembled and perfectly filled with our books.

I looked at my wife.

"Your son and the friends of your daughter went to work and had everything assembled in no time, unbelievable!", she said. I looked at the traitors one by one. "Ah, so you think I did not do it right?", I asked insulted. Our son came up to me with some pictures taken with our digital camera. An abstract piece of art made out wood. My masterpiece.

Guests come by and praise our beautiful cupboards. I say nothing, keep quiet and play dumb. I just know these Scandinavians were wrong during the Second World War and their manuals are an international conspiracy against blokes like me.

Trust me, I know.

© Simon Soesan

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Anything else?

Anything else?

Pietsie, our little poodle of eight years old, did not feel well. Her nose was cold and dry, her eyes were sad and she wanted nothing, but to lay around. As she is the only dog in Israel that takes a weekly bath and has her behind wiped on a daily basis with a special wet towel, she is allowed to sleep inside any bed, under the covers. And as she is very little, it is sometimes very difficult locating her inside a bed. On top of it she got a bad stomach, so the situation was…. running…. out of hand.

But even sleep and rest did not help her: the vet said it would take a few days.

A family council was gathered, which included our daughter on the phone from her army base, with my son, other daughter, their mother and myself around our dinner table, to discuss the emergency situation. After looking at options we decided to help her. She still wanted the warmth and comfort of a bed, any bed, but… let’s say we could not trust her to be clean. And thus I got elected by the ‘Pietsie-commission’, to go out in the rain and buy diapers for our little dog.

It was already late in the evening and I found a pharmacy, where of course the queue was long: we Israelis love medicine, even if we do not need it.

Finally, it was my turn.

“Good evening, may I help you?”, asked the pharmacist polite.

“I need some diapers.”, I replied.

“Size?”, he asked.

“Oh, the smallest.”, I said.

“Ah, a newcomer!”, cried the pharmacist happily. I heard polite wishes of ‘mazal tov’ all around.

“Well, actually…”, I started, but the pharmacist was faster. “Here we have the smallest and softest diapers in the world. A bit pricey, but I am sure you are willing to purchase only the best.”

“Well, I am in fact looking for something really cheap.”, I said. “And quality is not the issue.”

The whole pharmacy went quiet. People in the queue stopped mumbling and everyone was giving me a cold stare.

“You understand, it is just for a few days and then she won’t need the stuff anymore.”, was I explaining.

“I understand!”, said the pharmacist coldly. “Next thing you’ll want the old fashioned cotton diapers!”

“Even better!”, I answered with a smile. As long as the bed does not get dirty, I am fine with anything!”

The pharmacist gave me an angry look. “Well we do not have old fashioned stuff. We offer only the best for the little ones. To be honest I can’t understand how you can be so cruel and heartless to you little one.”

The mumbling around me started again. It sounded as if everyone was agreeing.

“Saving money on little ones, a hutzpah!”, someone behind me whispered.

“Baby-hater!”, I heard from near the entry door.

“Well, just give me the cheapest and smallest diapers and I’ll be on my way.”, I said. I just wanted to be away from there.

“Do you need any crème or lotion?”, the pharmacist asked.

“We are doing fine without.”, I answered politely.

I heard sighs of unbelief around me. And decided to have some fun.

“In any case, if she really has to go, we take her out in the streets and let her do it there.”, I said, while people around me were rolling their eyes.

“Sir, I simply do not believe you.”, the pharmacist said, close to a fit.

“Really,”, I continued with a serious face. “You really do not think that we would let her dirty our house? If she needs to go, then in the streets it is, whatever weather it may be.”

I got the bill and paid. On my way out, a lady stopped me. She had tears in her eyes. “You heartless barbarian!”, she uttered dramatically and turned around.

Back at home we helped Pietsie with her diaper and put her under the covers. Two days later she was back on her feet and feeling fine. I was with my eldest daughter shopping, near the pharmacy where I bought the diapers. I went inside. I had to. The pharmacist turned recognised me and gave me a cold look.

“I have a question.”, I said politely. “Those diapers I bought some days ago, we only used three of them. Can I get a refund for the remaining package?”

“Out! OUT!”, shouted the pharmacist.

© Simon Soesan

Friday, July 23, 2010

God is great

It’s the sixth year in a row and we keep doing it.

I know: journalists don’t like it. When we call the international media to announce the yearly event, nobody comes. I guess it is not interesting and maybe even annoying and disappointing to see Jews and Muslims having breakfast and just enjoy each other’s company. Many bloggers will be out of a job, and the “great leaders”, from Nasrallah (the hero who entered his fifth year in hiding..) up to Achmeddinnerjacket, will have no more filth to spread. Whatever.

In Haifa we make a point of living together. Yes, we have problems, but we confront them. Druze, Muslims, Christian, Jews, Messianic Jews – from orthodox to conservative, we all live together. Many of our children go to mixed schools, because we believe that the key for a better future lies in the hands of our children. Let them be friends, let them play, let them be Israelis.

So our Muslim friends opened their Mosque for the sixth year in a row. Our mayor gave a speech and the Emir himself have a baffling lecture on religion in general, that made us all think. Of course, the food was great en the coffee perfect, while the view from the Mosque on the Carmel Mountain to the sea was breathtaking.

Just a few hours of citizens of the same town hanging out with each other, trying to get to know each other. Because the violence has to stop and we need to start somewhere.

So this is not my usual story. Just a few lines on real life.

With religious zealots popping up everywhere, and reporters full of hate writing how bloody the conflict between Jews and Muslims is, I thought to let you all know that it is not so bad. Not everyone is as crazy as the bloggers and journalists would like you to think. I know: it sells.

But the reality is quite different.

©Simon Soesan

Monday, July 19, 2010

Where is Menachem?

Where is Menahem?

No one in the Israeli business environment could have foreseen the amazing impact of the mobile phones. Not this kind of size and scope. Everyone, and I really mean everyone, has at least one and sometimes people have a few of them, so you look more interesting. I even saw people with cars that had 4 mobile phone antennae – but I found out it was just for show.

Of course, once you have one of those things, you can't imagine life without it, especially now the smart phones (they really call them like that!) that do almost everything besides scratching your back or making coffee.

In our Jewish State we can come up with enough reasons to own a mobile phone and even buy some for the kids: you want to know where they are, what they are doing, if they arrived ok and, after every bomb that still explodes in our country, you want to know that everyone is ok. We have kids and fathers in the army and this list goes on and on.

Of course, with 5 suppliers for a country of 7 million people, trouble is never far away. Typically for Israeli's, the management of the suppliers were so busy counting their profits, that they forgot to take care of the infrastructure. In the most unpredictable places one will find no coverage, and I do not mean the desert: simply in towns or on main highways. This offers opportunities to have fun. For instance when there is a wrong connection.

One does not answer the phone in Israel they way one answers in the USA or Europe. There, people answer the phone saying who they are or wishing you a good day. In Israel, whether you call or are being called, you simply say "AAALLO!" this magical word means everything from "Simon speaking, good morning", to "Law offices, how may I help you?". This "AAALLO!" is something I do not appreciate at all. In fact: I hate it! Still again, it does give opportunities to have some fun on the line.

A few days back I was driving with our son on the car, when the phone rang. My son pressed the button to receive the call.

"AAALLOO Menachem!!", shouted someone on the other side of the line.

"No, Sir,", was my answer, "this is not Menachem."

He quoted a number, which indeed was mine, and ask if he dialed correctly.

"Yes Sir, the number is correct, but it is mine and not Menachem's.

"Why not?", was the answer. "And where is Menachem?"

"I have no idea, Sir, maybe he gave you the wrong number?", I tried.

"Menachem is not stupid! Maybe you stole his mobile phone?"

My son and I looked at each other. This was the moment of opportunity!

"OK. You got me. This is Menachem, I was messing with you.", I said.

"I knew it, I knew it! You are always pulling my leg!", replied the caller relieved. "Look Menachem, Shlomo gave me the money, exactly one hundred thousand as agreed, but I forgot the details of your bank account. I am on my way to the bank to transfer the money to you."

My partner in crime and I looked at each other with a nasty smile. Sure we could give him a bank account number….

We heard another phone ring on the line and our guy started to talk on another phone.

"AAALLO!!!" Who? Menachem? I am talking to you on the other line! What do you mean 'no'? Not true? Are you trying to drive me crazy? Who is this?"

"AAALLO! Who is this, Menachem?", was my contribution to the discussion.

Suddenly it was quiet on the line.

"But…but…but…", tried the man n vain.

"Menachem!", was my reply, "Menachem, is it you? How are tricks? Did you get the account information yet?"

"I am not Menachem!", shouted they guy. "You idiot! …..no, not you Menachem, I am on the line with Mena…uh, with some lunatic!"

"AAALLO<>

But he guy never answered.

Must have been a wrong number.

©Simon Soesan

Hag Samei'ah

It happens twice a year in Israel: with Passover and Rosh Hashanah it is a custom to send presents to business relations. That can be anything from bottles of wine, a tray of fruit, sweets to bags and radios.

It sounds very nice, but in fact: it is a waste of money. Everyone sends everyone more or less the same stuff and although it is a healthy habit for our economy, I personally see it as something unnecessary. Many times I have given most of the presents I received, to employees. How much can one take home, anyway?

This year I came up with a genius idea: I would beat the system. Together with some assistants I had a meeting only on this subject, because twice a year the 'commission for holidays and culture' (otherwise known as my secretary) needed to choose the presents.

But I had an idea: we delay the shipment of the presents with two weeks. By that time we would have received a lot of presents. We make a list of who sent us what and we send a free present back from this stock! Fantastic idea! Israeli recycling!

And so we started. Some weeks ago the presents started to arrive: boxes of chocolate, plates with apples and honey (how original!), candies and bottles of wine. The meeting room was turned into a temporary storage room. Employees took a break just to have a look at all the presents. I was playing with the idea to sell entry tickets to the meeting room, but my secretary made it very clear there is a limit to Dutch Stinginess (where do people get that silly idea?).

Every present got a small memo, so we could remember who sent it. The cellophane wrappings around the presents were not opened, so the presents remained authentic. We also made a list to whom we should send presents. Cards with "Hag Samei'ach" were bought and I made personal notes on each of them, before we stuck them on the presents. Genius or not?

Time came to send the presents. Hand delivered by our driver, of course. A day later the phone calls started to come in. Not anyone thanking us. Many sarcastic remarks on Dutch Stinginess. I was wondering who the traitor amongst us may be, who could be so cruel and tell our clients of our secret. Pretty soon it became apparent that I was the guilty one.

In most of the presents, under the cellophane wrappings, were cards from the clients who sent us the presents originally…..

I have instructed my secretary to start purchasing the presents for Passover. One never knows….

© Simon Soesan

Shomer

The current situation made it very clear that a new trend was on its way in Israel. It started quietly, but more and more people overcame their shyness and are willing to show that they are 'in', too: a shomer! This word comes from the Hebrew word "shmirah" (to guard), and even the Torah mentions that "those guarding over Israel will not slumber nor sleep", which is true even today.

Everyone wants one and there are simply not enough of them. This results is shomrim working day and night. No, we are not talking about our soldiers or the police in our Jewish State, who, in any case, do not know the difference anymore between day and night due to their hard work, no, we are talking about the private firms and the private shomrim.

You have a funeral? Bring two shomrim. You have a coffee-shop? At least one at the entrance is mandatory. A wedding? One at every entrance and at least two among the guests. Party at home, because it is scary to go out? Have one at your door! All this because we may look stupid, but we are not crazy! The only country in the world with lots of unique stuff, but this tops the list: which country do you know that has every school, kindergarten, supermarket, cinema or café guarded with armed shomrim? Only us!

Some of our friends went a bit further and took a shomer into their service. Well, 'a' shomer would be wrong to say, because a day has 24 hours, so if you want to do this the right way, you take 2 or 3, so they may rest also. But because our buses are not that safe, you don't send your children to school in a bus. And since we are all so busy working, the shomer can drive them to school. A car must be rented for this purpose and while we're at it, the shomer can go to the supermarket, which is a risky thing anyway. And when the kids get home, the shomer can cook up a meal for them. Quality has no function here. Which kid will say "I won't eat that" to an armed guard? Added value! And if your sweet daughter goes to vist her friends (because out to a public place is out of the question) and you want her home on time? The shomer! More and more Israelis find the shomer answering all of their needs. Get the mail, take the car to service, banking and walking the dog…who said something about unemployment in Israel?

More and more I see people on the streets looking at others. Once it was because of their car. They would look and envy. Now you hear them say: "Gee, did you see that shomer? What a gun! What a neat earpiece!"

Last week our son went top a birthday-party. 14 kids brought their own shomer. Among the kids were talks about which shomer had the biggest gun. Our sweet child came home pretty depressed. We have no shomer. Too expensive. We did rent two for his Bar Mitswah party.

Not because we are so concerned.

But you look stupid, without.

© Simon Soesan

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bar-b-que

I have no idea who invented the word, but I am much aware of the meaning of it. And since the art of barbeque-ing is, after terrible driving and the cutting each other in queues, a national hobby in Israel, my turn had come again to throw some meat on the coals for my friends and family.

When our children were still young and had no count of time, I used to get the right amount of respect for my labor, although I must confess that I have absolutely no talent for it. Whenever we started a barbeque, our neighbors would the proud owners of a nice fire within fifteen minutes, while mine would not even burn. By the time I was ready to throw some meat on the coals, the children would either be fast asleep or their hunger would have passed. I have been contemplating for quite a while to find a course on the subject, but I never found one and when I asked friends about where to find one, I got pitying looks.

Since then, our children have grown up and got wiser. They know that it is far from normal to wait ninety minutes before any fire gets going. Neither do they believe that the wind or wet leaves are to blame. Their Dad simply can't barbeque. They are grateful that I do not have to provide my family barbeque-ing. "Dad will barbeque" is a good reason for jokes and friends, family and yes, even the love of my life, make fun of me.

This year it was my turn. Rosh Hashanah is a wonderful opportunity to visit the beautiful Carmel-mountains for a pick-nick. We had found a great spot and while the women prepared the table, I was sent to get the grill going. I had planned everything in advance: a big bag of charcoal, old papers and as secret weapon a little bottle with fuel. I'd show them!

Like a true professional I started to put paper in the grill. My daughters and son came to watch me. They brought the children of our friends along, so they all could see how little I understood of what I was doing. I was aware that their parents were watching me from around the table. But I was very sure of myself this time. I was smiling inside myself: they probably placed bets how long it would take me this time. Well, they all had a surprise coming!

I threw the charcoal over the props of paper and with an important look on my face took the bottle with fuel in my hands. Turned around to the kids, who were joined by their parents and opened the bottle. Emptied the bottle over the charcoal and the paper. Took a dramatic step back. Lit a match. Grinned at all the bad people behind me and threw the match on the charcoal and… nothing… Turned around and looked at sixteen people, grown-ups and children, who were trying not to laugh and were turning blue. I turned around and decided not to give up. Another burning match on the charcoal. Again: nothing!

The love of my life, at least, so I thought, came up to me and while everybody started to laugh loudly, gave me a kiss and a small bottle.

"It works better with fuel, plain water simply won't do the job.", she said, trying not to laugh.

Which the others did.

© Simon Soesan