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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

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The List

The list

I had to see the doctor with our youngest daughter. This is a whole operation by itself as, since the great Allyah in the 1980's of Russians, most personnel of our National Health Fund speak Russian only. Another problem with this institute is that you have to get there very early in line. Doors open at eight? And you wanted to be out of there by nine? Come early, very early. And so, our little princess and I found ourselves at seven in the morning close to the Health Fund. She had small, sleepy eyes, something very common among the eighteen-year-olds. I brought her a sandwich and chocolate milk, so the waiting in line would be a bit pleasant for her.

We saw that three people were already waiting at the door and they were in the middle of some argument in Russian. I winked at my child and whispered that they were probably arguing about who was first in line. She nodded with sleepy eyes and took a bite from her sandwich. After fifteen minutes we were already twelve people. I started to understand what the argument was about: someone put a piece of paper on the door and wrote on it: "List for today, and it had quite a lot of names on it. There were three problems with this, as far as I was concerned: many names were in Russian, a lot of people with their name on the list were not even present and our name was not on it.

I went over to the door, to put our name on the list, but a lady stopped me, saying "Not to pushink, not to pushink!". "I just want to put our name on the list", I explained. To which I got a loud reaction from all sides: "Not on list? You go to back of line!".

"But we are here since seven…", I tried, but suddenly everyone blocked us. "Not list, not line." was what were heard and people gave us hard looks.

My sweet eighteen stopped chewing and looked at me. I hugged her and whispered: "Go to the car and call my cell-phone from the car-phone". She gave me a strange look but did what I said ( a rare moment!).

I looked around quietly while the queue became longer. It was almost eight, so there was little time left. My cell-phone rang. With a serious face I answered. Of course it was my daughter.

"What???", I shouted into the phone and looked around me. No reaction yet. "What??", I continued. "What do you mean: strike? I need to see a doctor, now!" I looked around and I saw I had everyone's attention. "What kind of country is this anyway?", I went on acting, "My kid needs a doctor and they strike? I demand a doctor! I refuse to accept that the Fund will be closed today!. I was shouting. And it seemed to have an effect.

People around me started to explain in Russian what they understood from my shouting… and started to argue among themselves how bad life in Israel is and walk over to telephone booths to make calls..

I walked over to the door, took off the list..

The door opened and I was inside, with my daughter.

Suddenly everyone came back and started to shout in Russian.

But by that time we were sitting with the doctor.

© Simon Soesan

Monday, July 12, 2010

Super

Super

My partner in life finally succeeded: I joined her to the supermarket. She mostly goes alone, as I have little patience for these institutes. But she seduced me by promising a cup of coffee at our favorite café afterwards, so off we went to the super, after the 'normal' security checks at the entrance of the parking, the entrance of the mall, the elevator and the entrance of the super.

She had a list of things to buy and my task was simple: push the cart and pay at the end.

As we were strolling along the rows of products I smelled that wonderful smell of grilled meat. At a corner I saw this lady behind a table offering pieces of grilled meat to clients, so they could taste it. Of course, I just had to try it myself. The love of my life came back just as I was chewing and asked what I was eating. "Nothing.", I said innocently. She threw some products in the cart and walked away. At the corner of the next row I saw another lady behind another table. She offered cookies. As I happened to like cookies and this was another test, I volunteered to try five different cookies. Of course my other half came with stuff for the cart and asked me again what I was eating. "Nothing!", I said again to her, almost insulted. She gave me a hard look and walked off with her list. I pushed the cart around the corner and there was this gentleman offering sausage. Of course I just finished a nice piece as my partner came back with more stuff for the cart, asking me if I was stuffing myself with something. "Absolutely not!", I told her angrily.

One half hour and five 'tests' later we were at the cash-register, where some ladies were handing out small ice-creams for tasting. As I am always willing to help people, I took one. "And now?", asked my sweetheart. "Mitswah!", I cried, "she asked for help!"

She looked at me accusingly, but at that moment a lady behind us asked: "Can I please pay before you? You have so much in your cart and I am in a hurry…"

"My husband is busy with important tests, so please go ahead.", said my darling while giving me the eye.

The woman behind us was fast and before we knew it, she passed us with a cart as full as ours.

"Lady,", I said, "that is not what you said!"

The woman looked at me and answered: "Hutspah!, the woman next to you said it was all right!". She turned around and started to unload her cart.

I looked at my wife.

"Someone over there is offering free cheese,", she said, "did you skip that one?"

© Simon Soesan

The air-condition-war

Look, I'll always be a Dutchman. And that also means that warm weather can be nice, but as its limits for me. That is why a fully integrated air-conditioning was one of our biggest investments in our house . Cool in the summer, warm in the winter, said the technician. And so it is. But we do have one small problem: the love of my life and our children are born Israelis and do not mind the heat that much. In fact, they love it. Of course, air-condition can be nice now and then, but how much does an Israeli need it, on top of the Carmel mountain? The first year it was still a novelty and everyone had fun turning it on and off. Of course, having the house heated in the winter was a bonus.

I have no idea when it started, but my partner in life arranged a secret conspiracy. And a clever one, at that. It happens that, when I come home, during the warm summer evenings, I close all the windows and turn on the air-conditioning. In just a few minutes the house is cool: what a way to live! I had no notion of the secret glances that would go among my family and would go to take a quick shower to freshen up and not notice the open windows upon my return to the living room. Neither would I notice that the air-condition would be off. I make long days and am tired in the evenings, so only after one hour or so, feeling my own sweat, I would catch on. At first they would all deny the fact that I switched on the air-conditioning. They also tried "it just stopped", but I am not buying that, of course.

Since I am not a complete fool, I decided to hit back. One can understand that this is not an easy task without any help. But I returned again from work, closed all the windows, activated the air-conditioning, walked into the bathroom, and like a real James Bond, opened the door again, only to find the love of my life with her finger on the switch of the air-conditioning. "And what is this then?", I asked very cleverly. "Dust.", she answered innocently and walked away. I decided to announce that I would shower with the bathroom opened, but the enemy had retired for the evening.

Back in the living-room I found my family wearing jogging-suits… ninety degrees outside they dress up warmly! But I acted as if was the most normal thing in the world. By the time we went to sleep I found my sweetheart in bed, covered with two blankets. I said nothing and went to sleep, only to wake up two hours later, sweating as if I had a fever, but I quickly understood that the windows were open and the air-conditioning was off… the enemy had beat me to it! And the enemy was next to me in our bed, pretending to be asleep and trying not to smile.

I have tried everything, even offered our children money! But they are unbreakable….. just ganging up on me with their mother!

This week I will sleep in my car: I will put the air-condition on fifty, maybe even forty and lock the doors! See what they can do then…

© Simon Soesan

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Father knows best

Father Knows Best

The way our front door was slammed shut, already told us that something was wrong. Expectantly my partner in life and myself looked at the entrance of our living room, to see who came in and what was wrong. It was our eldest: no lenses in, the glasses of her spectacles all steamed up…. I looked at her mother. We already understood: a broken heart!

“It’s over, over!”, she cried dramatically while settling herself on the couch, between her mother and I. My wife gave her a big hug and held her. Her sister, just back from her army base, came out of her room, took a look at the situation and ran over to the couch, to hug her elder sister, too. I looked at our son and he looked at me. “Are they stupid or are we stupid?”, was the unasked question in our eyes.

Next to me, on the couch, the drama continued. Our eldest was crying her eyes out while being held by her mom and sister. Her head came up and she looked at me. It was my turn now. “Daddy…”, she started and cried on. As I am an expert, I hugged her tightly and stroked her long curls. “Leave it, sweetie,”, said I wisely, “you are worth much more than him.” My wife shook her head at me. No good – I can take a hint. I thought quickly. What kind of wisdom could I say to her now? “Just remember your father loves you very much”, I said full of love. Her sister looked at me with great disappointment. The love of my life gave a deep sigh. And our daughter, in my arms, kept at it.

Our son, expert-in-training for these situations, put his finger on his mouth. “Just be quiet, dad!”, was what he was trying to say.

She got a glass of water from her sister. It helped. Her mother brought some tissues. That helped to bring down the level of humidity in our home. Her head came up from my arms and she looked at me. Eyes red from crying, a red nose and very sad. I suddenly remembered that this is how she always looked after she cried. Sweet.

My train of thought was rudely disturbed by my spouse, who informed me that our eldest needed to go to powder her nose now. Her sister went along.

“You are so clumsy with crying women!”, she said accusingly. “I think I am doing fine, thank you.”, was my defense. “Dad,”, interfered our son, “when women cry they mostly want some quiet and an arm around them.” Said my flesh and blood, the traitor, while his mom looked at him proudly. “As if you have any experience.”, I countered. His mother came to his defense. “I think you also lack experience.”, she said. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”, I asked concerned.

“Well, let’s say that you have given me little reason to cry.”, said the sweetest woman in the world. We gave each other the eye, but the moment was rudely broken by our daughters, who returned.

“Better now?”, I asked. Our eldest nodded quietly.

“Just think: if he does not want you, you deserve someone much better.” Four pairs of eyes looked tired at me. Of course I did not get the hint and I went on. “Believe me, there are many more fish in the sea.”, I added pretty dumb.

She looked at me. “Dad, you are so sweet, but you simply got it wrong as usual.”

He mom, sister and brother nodded in agreement.

“I ended it, Daddy, it was enough for me.”, she said. “But then why are you crying?”, I asked dumbfounded. My family sighed as one. As if I was a lost case.

“Dad,”, started our 13-year old expert. “Women are like that. They just need to cry now and then, it gives them release.” I nodded as if I understood. And kept quiet.

Everyone now is very happy I understood.

The truth is I have no clue.

But you don’t need to spread that around

© Simon Soesan

The Survivor

The survivor

“How sweet, thank you so much.”, said Rivka quietly.

Her old, wrinkled hands touched the box with food ware that we just put on her table. Over twenty pounds of vegetables, fruit, meat, bread, sweets and beverages. Now that it is clear that the Israeli government, between criminal investigations by the police and state commissions of inquiry, will have no time to run our country and certainly will not lend a hand to end the poverty of the Holocaust survivors, we the people, decided to step in.

In our town of Haifa we are pretty occupied with the Holocaust. Students, in their last year at high school, go to Poland to visit some of the worst death camps. A survivor, who tells the story of his of her life, joins them. We also send our children to visit the survivors living in our city. This enabled us to, without much effort, collect all the addresses of those who survived and live in dreadful circumstances.

Rivka is 84 years old.

At seventeen, she was caught by surprise by the war and was sent to a concentration camp within a few months. The infamous Mengele chose her for his horrific experiments, which resulted in her inability to give birth. After surviving six camps, she was smuggled to Israel, only to be arrested by English soldiers who sent her to another camp, this time in Cyprus. By the time she finally arrived in Israel, the Jewish State was a few weeks old.

She worked as a cleaner until her retirement in 1998, fifty years after arriving in Israel. As our pension plan is not really helping much, Rivka receives around two hundred and fifty dollars per month, which is called welfare. The Israeli government also negotiated compensation from the German authorities for her. She gets around one hundred dollars for her suffering in the Nazi camps.

Rivka never complained.

“We were ashamed to tell about what happened to us in the camps. People here blamed us for letting the Nazi’s do this to us without us fighting back. In the summer I used to go around in long sleeves, so no-one could see the number on my arm.”, she told me.

She has a one-room apartment, Rivka. It was probably painted fifty years ago for the last time. She rents it from some government cooperation that never promised maintenance. The stairways are clean, but broken and are dangerous for anyone, let alone someone of her age. Her apartment is clean, but a mess. When we met her for the first time last winter, her water supply was off. She could not remember for how long. She got a bucket of water each day from her neighbor. That served her for washing, drinking and toilet.

We send a class to her home. They worked for two months in shifts and fixed the apartment. Her water was running within five minutes and her toilet was back in service one hour later. The flat was painted, repaired, people brought second hand furniture and we even found a refrigerator and a small stove for her. The first days Rivka stared quietly at all the commotion, but after some days she started to smile and we heard her humming a song. The youngsters asked her to teach them the song and after a few days children from Haifa, Jewish, Christian, Druze and Muslim children, were all singing a Polish song during their labor.

Rivka got light and our power company came up with a special plan for Holocaust survivors, which turned out to be a symbolic amount of a few dollars per month. Rivka got clothes and a dentist volunteered to arrange her teeth. Suddenly everyone woke up and the few hundred Holocaust survivors in our city saw a change in their lives. Because we, the people, can do things that politicians refuse to do.

“Hunger was never a problem”, Rivka told me. “I have gone through famine and I can handle that. And the cold in the winter I can handle. Maybe here the winter is less cold than in Europe, but it is mean. And the state of my house… oh well…I have known worse in my life. I can survive anything.”

Suddenly I saw tears in her eyes.

I waited patiently.

“But what I got never used to is the shame. Not because of being a survivor, but because I was treated like a dog in our own country, Israel. For years, no one helped us."

I did not have a reply.

“And now look: I got all this!” She pointed at the box with goodies and at her freshly painted apartment. “And you tell me that I will get a box like this every week and that my pension plan will improve?”

I nodded.

“Can’t wait.”, she said quietly while taking an orange out of the box. She smelled at it.

“Could not afford one of those for years.”, she whispered.

Just a few days later I was called at work. Rivka had passed away in her sleep. A clerk who was going to explain her new income to her found her. She died peacefully, he said, with a smile on her face and an orange in her hand.

Rivka had no family. The same class that fixed her apartment came to her funeral. Together they all sang once more the song Rivka taught them just weeks before.

Just about forty people gave Rivka her last honors.

Because we cannot and will not forget her and all the Holocaust survivors.

© Simon Soesan

Feast of all Feasts

When you go down our Carmel Mountain in the direction of the old city of Haifa, you will arrive in Vadi NissNass, a mishmash of narrow streets built ages ago. Every year in December we celebrate in Haifa the Feast of all Feasts, meaning we celebrate Ramadan, Christmas, Hanukkah and New year at the same time. Four weekends in a row the Vadi is turned into one big shuk where many things happen at the same time. Thousands come from all over the country to experience this. I myself joined my wife and Bassam and Zhida, our friends, whom we have known for years. We parked our car near the Muslim-Jewish-Christian center, Beit Hageffen, and strolled into the shuk.

“You’ve got to come with me!”, Bassam pleaded. “My brother is Santa Claus here!” I nodded in agreement and we walked the narrow street, while magicians made shawls appear out of nowhere and street musicians sang something that reminded “Jingle Bells” in Arabic.

“Don’t stuff yourselves this year with humus, please!”, warned Zhida both of us.

“But to be here and not taste the humus…”, I started.

“…is like going to swim without jumping into the water!”, tried my friend to help me. We both love humus and in the Vadi the humus is outstanding.

“Sorry, we are all having lunch at Chaled’s restaurant, all the children will be there waiting for us later on.” , said the love of my life while Zhida nodded in agreement.

“Here is my brother!”, shouted Bassam and he hugged Santa Claus…who got very angry. “Are you meshugge? “ shouted Father Christmas angrily. “Don’t touch me!”

Bassam looked confused at Santa. “But you really look like my brother…”, he said seriously. Santa made a sign with his hand not really fitting the Christmas Man and walked on.

“Have you bought your candles for Hanukah?”, asked Zhida while pointing at a stand with candles. My partner in life nodded. “There he is! Ziyad, Ziyad!”, shouted Bassam while running to another Santa and hugging him wholeheartedly. But this Father Christmas got angry too. “Pervert!”, shouted the jolly man at my friend and ran off. Bassam look with disappointment at the man in the red-white suit walking angrily away and mumbled “I swear it could have been my brother…” I threw my arm over his broad shoulder and on we went. Bands played music, from every second store people offered us coffee, a magician pulled a rose from the ear of my wife…as usual the Feasts of Feasts was perfect.

We saw quite a lot of police and security personnel as the concern for a fanatic wanting to do something bad is always there. When our wives stopped at a stand, Bassam and I gave each other a fast look. We quilky accepted a free cup of fantastic black coffee and the sweetest baklava on the side. We had to be quick, as our wives have sensors for us doing this. Indeed, they joined us and my wife just shook her head. “You guys really can’t be left alone for a moment.”, she said while cleaning some crumbs away from around my mouth. I decided wisely not to say a thing.

“Ziyad!”, shouted Bassam suddenly. I guess the rumor of a crazy giant weighing 130 kilo was around, as Father Christmas opened his eyes wide and started to run away.

A bit later at lunch with our children, Zhida told the story of Bassam and Santa, which made everyone laugh.

“But I swear, he really looked like my brother!”, tried Bassam once more. This time it was Zhida who got him silent, with the help of sweet baklava.

©Simon Soesan

Crazy Dog

It really wasn’t a big bite. But Danielle, our neighbor, was very concerned. On her way home she passed a man with a dog who bit her suddenly. The dog. Not the man. Not deep, but enough to create a small wound. She shouted, more out of fear than pain and asked the man if the dog was inoculated for rabies. “None of your business!’, said the man and walked away. Just as I was parking my car I saw her sitting on the ground near the park which is close to our home. I went over to see what was up and she told me what happened.

I suggested we go to the Health Fund and helped into my car. We arrived within a few minutes and luckily our family doctor was still there. He looked at Danielle’s leg and then at me. “Did this Dutchman bite you?” he asked dryly. Despite her condition Danielle started to laugh. The good doctor prepared a syringe and gave her a shot against anything that can go wrong. He told her not to worry about the leg, but to worry about getting home with me driving. As I know our doc for over 20 years, I just let it slide. Just as we were about to leave, he gave her a small card. “Ministry of Health. You should report it, really.” , he suggested.

On our way home we had bad traffic. I asked my neighbor of she wanted to use my phone to call the ministry and she agreed. She dialed and pretty quick someone answered.

“Health.”, said a voice with an heavy Russian accent.

“Hello , my name is Danielle and I was bitten by a dog.”, said my neighbor.

“Which dog?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“I don’t know.”

“We need to know the name of the dog and that of the owner, you know.”, said the woman with great authority.

“But the dog bit me and the owner walked away with the dog.”

“And you could not ask for the name of the dog?”

“No, because the dog bit me.”

“And the owner?”

“The owner did not bite me.”

Silence on the line. A deep sigh.

“Do you know who owns the dog?”

“No.”

“You couldn’t just even ask?

“He just walked away.”

“Who, the owner or the dog?”

“Both.”

Another great sigh on the other side of the line.

“Look without the dog we cannot act, you understand.”

“Ma’am. I just was bitten by a dog, got some stuff injected to me by a doctor, I am in pain and do not feel so good. What do you suggest I do?”

“Rest, maybe?”

“But the doctor said to call you.”

“Nice, but without the name of the dog there is nothing we can do.”

“But I was bitten!” Daniela was getting upset.

“Bitten…really… ..you sound fine to me.”, was the cold answer.

Daniela looked shocked. I made a gesture and winked at her. She nodded. Being my neighbor she already knew where I was going.

“Excuse me, I am the neighbor and maybe I can help?” I said sweetly.

“Oh really…”, was the answer of Health.

“Yes I saw it all.”

“And you know the dog?”

“An evil Rottweiler!”, I answered slowly.

The other side went quiet.

“And I know the owner!”, I added for tension.

“You have a name?” asked Mrs. Health now happily.

“Oh yes I do!”, I answered happily too while making faces at Daniela.

“Can you give the name to me please?”

“ Of course: Mordechai Kishmantuches! But I have no idea where he lives…” I looked at Daniela and said the surname slowly. She started to laugh.

“Is the patient okay there?”, asked Health.

“Excellent!”, I said.

“Sir thank you so much, we will find the suspect. We work national and international and will apprehend the dog soon. Thank you and shalom!”

I looked at my neighbor who started to feel better.

If ever you hear about a Mr. Kishmantuches being looked for by the authorities, at least you know about the crazy dog that made that happen.

©Simon Soesan