Riding on the wheels of love

By Steve Zerobnick, associate director, Keshet

The excitement was electric as 700 cyclists climbed the steep ascent from Ein Kerem to Jerusalem last week. We were part of the annual “Wheels of Love” bike ride, the largest fundraising sporting event in Israel, whose purpose is to raise much-needed funds for Alyn Hospital, one of the world’s leading rehabilitative facilities for youth.

Alyn riders

The ride is proof-positive of the power of the individual. In September of 2000, eight riders and I made our way from Jerusalem to Eilat. We were due to take part in a ride to support a hospital in England which held an annual ride in Israel. Because of the outbreak of the intifada, however, the British hospital cancelled their ride, leaving us Israeli riders stranded. We were given two choices: Ride with the British hospital’s rescheduled ride in Spain, or cancel our participation. Fortunately, we thought of a third option – riding for Alyn Hospital.

As one of the would-be riders I offered to use my experience in running Israel tours for over 15 years to organize our own ride. The other riders accepted my proposal and the rest is history. That year our small group raised over $65,000 for the hospital and founded a committee which started the second “annual ride”. Since that modest beginning the ride has raised over $20 million, benefiting children who are the victims of terror attacks, car or other accidents, congenital defects and more.

This year two young men, one age 14 ½ and one age 17, both former patients at Alyn, rode with us as their way of giving back to the hospital. Keshet CEO Yitzhak Sokoloff and I were proud to be a part of this.

FOMO at the Dead Sea

FOMO or not, the kids had a great time at the Dead Sea

When I was ten, my parents planned a trip for the family to Disneyland. But a few days before we were set to leave, my father got sick – it was a cold or a flu, nothing serious, but still, the trip was cancelled. I was devastated and, since then, I have tried to never miss out on any kind of experience, big or small. Understandably, this creates a lot of anxiety – I mean, which exciting activity should I choose? What if I choose the wrong one? And if I choose not to go at all, will I be filled with regret?

It turns out there’s a name for this – it’s called “Fear of Missing Out” (or FOMO for short).

Now, citing my missed Disneyland experience is a bit flip – by itself it wouldn’t qualify as the sole cause of my FOMO (for that, I’d need a regular series of dashed expectations that built up over my childhood). But today, the FOMO persists and lately, it’s been causing more distress than the actual missing out.

FOMO was in full bloom this past weekend. Our community was having a Shabbaton at the Ein Gedi Youth Hostel. On the way, we wanted to stop at the Dead Sea. The kids were excited to lather up with Dead Sea mud; I had heard from David Brinn in a post on Israelity about a nature reserve at Einot Tzukim that was supposed to be beautiful. The site also has a number of crystal clear spring-fed swimming pools and mud to boot (or so I thought).

We got a late start leaving Jerusalem. When we called Einot Tzukim, we were told that you can only get into the nature reserve part of the site on a guided tour. The last tour left at noon. We were passing Ma’aleh Adumim and had only 20 minutes to get there. I floored the accelerator and we arrived, miraculously at the gate at exactly 12:00 PM.

I jumped out of the car and cried, “let’s go.” But the kids didn’t want to hike and I hadn’t really considered their needs (mud, of which there turned out to be none) – my FOMO was so much in overdrive. I threw our daughter Merav the car keys and said, “The pools are that way. Imma and I will be back in an hour.” She looked perplexed and not a little bit cross.

As we toured the marshlands (gorgeous, by the way and highly recommended), I kept thinking about how I’d treated the kids and didn’t really enjoy myself. I vowed to make it up.

“Let’s go to the mud!” I announced.

And off we went again, racing towards Mineral Beach (only a few minutes from Einot Tzukim). But it was getting late and Shabbat was coming up quickly. My wife Jody was now the one who was upset. “We’ll only have 45 minutes. It’s not worth the NIS 220 to get into the beach.”

But FOMO raised its ugly head again. And so into the beach it was. The kids were delighted. Me – I couldn’t enjoy myself because, this time, I was disappointing my wife.

I had checked off both experience boxes in order to not succumb to FOMO and yet, I was desperately unhappy. This double whammy, driven home by the negative effect I’d had on the people I love the most, was the proverbial straw that perhaps, finally, would serve to break the FOMO camel’s back (a fitting cliché given our travels through the dromedarian Judean desert). My hope and aim is that, the next time I feel the FOMO rising like some unwelcome bitter bile, I’ll be able to draw on this weekend’s painful memory to keep it at bay.

Or maybe I should keep in mind one person who has it even worse. A friend at the Shabbaton shared with me that, whenever he’s at a buffet meal, he suffers from FOMOFF: “Fear of Missing Out on Free Food.”

Fortunately for him, the limp meat and cold schnitzel served at the Ein Gedi Youth Hostel was a fitting antidote.

The medical system is broken after all

I have often bragged about how great the medical system here is in Israel. There’s no problem with people not being able to get insurance and care is on a very high level. For regular doctor visits, I’ve never had to wait more than a day or two for an appointment, and there are drop in hours every morning at the clinic where my physician works.

All that efficiency was for routine care, however. When you need to see a specialist, that’s when trouble sets in. And, recently, we’ve run quite afoul of the system.

My daughter, Merav, fell over the summer and hurt her knee. Her family doctor thought it was an inflammation and sent her for physical therapy. But the first appointment she could get through Maccabi, our HMO, wasn’t for two months. And going privately is upwards of $100 a session, so not a good long-term option.

Over the course of the waiting for physical therapy, her knee grew steadily worse. She went back to her family doctor who, this time, gave her a referral to an orthopedist. She got in there pretty quickly – only two weeks this time – and he sent her for a bone scan which determined that she had a torn meniscus which needed surgery.

But first she had to go back to the orthopedist to get a referral to a knee specialist. Problem: he was busy and Merav’s knee was really hurting now and also preventing her from participating in activities at her mechina (see my previous post on what that is).

The next available appointment with a knee specialist at Hadassah Hospital (which works tightly with our HMO): another two months. So we called around and found an appointment sooner at a different hospital. They needed a bunch of paperwork from the HMO, which can only be done by fax (hey – medical institutions: ever hear of the Internet?)

But we did it and arrived at Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital for an 8:20 AM appointment. We figured it was one of the first of the day so we should be out pretty quickly. But the knee doctor wasn’t there yet. “I don’t know why they book these appointments so early,” the secretary said with unsurprisingly Israeli brusqueness. “They always do their rounds at this time.”

But after an hour of waiting, I was getting concerned so I braved the secretary’s scorn and asked again. Turns out that the doctor was called into emergency surgery. They were waiting for a replacement. It would have been nice if they had told us (especially since now the waiting room was now quite full). When would the replacement arrive? No one had any idea.


Train construction ahead

The fast train tunnel under construction

When our kids were young, we had a videotape they used to love called “Road Construction Ahead” which was all about, well, road construction. It featured hard hats, tractors and lots of concrete.

The truth is, I loved it too – I’m a nut when it comes to anything in the stages of being built – highways, bridges, airports. So, when the annual Jerusalem-area “Houses from Within” event featured a tour of one of the tunnels currently being dug out for the fast train line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, there was no question I’d be there.

Houses from Within began in 2007 with the aim of allowing Jerusalemites to peek inside beautiful houses that would normally be for the enjoyment of their owners only. The two-day event has expanded to include more than 100 homes as well public facilities (you can tour City Hall or the Jewish Agency), educational institutions (check out Beit Avi Chai or the Mormon Center on the Mount of Olives), museums, churches, hotels (a boutique inn in Ein Kerem, the half built Palace Hotel) and now, apparently, train tunnels (that fits the description of “within” though they’re not exactly a house).

The fast train, which will zip between Israel’s two largest cities in an astounding 28 minutes (compare that with the current train which clocks in at nearly two hours), has been an engineering challenge to say the least, and includes five tunnels in total. We were allowed entrance to Tunnel 3A, the second to last tunnel on the way into Jerusalem.

9-11 Memorial outside Jerusalem

The tunnel is located adjacent to a little known monument memorializing the 9/11 attacks in New York, perched on a hill in the middle of nowhere (the murky directions towards the site called for us to go “straight at the T Junction”).

Once inside the construction fence, we walked into one of two 820-meter long tunnels. The ground was still rough (the rails won’t be laid until much later) and the makeshift fluorescent lights on either side reminded me of a Dr. Who episode that scared the dickens out of me when I was ten.

There are two tunnels to handle trains going in each direction. Why not save money and bore only a single tunnel? Two tunnels make it safer in case of a disaster and would allow the trains to keep running, our engineer and tour guide Sagi told us. While he explained that he was referring to a fire, living in Israel, it was hard not to think about the possibility of a terror attack as well.

Another Israeli aspect to the tour: the Houses from Within program stated that only 20 people would be let into the tunnels at a time, and they’d have to wear hard hats and reflective vests. But Sagi took about 50 of us in and there were two similarly sized groups already inside. No helmets, vests or waivers in case a boulder fell on someone’s head (none did).

Near the end of the tour, one of the participants asked whether the fast train’s construction (due to be completed in 2017) would be finished before the still-delayed Jerusalem light rail is fully functional. “Without a doubt,” Sagi quipped.

Whether that turns out to be the case, I’ll be the first in line to book my ticket. And when we pass through Tunnel 3A, I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren I was there.


Toilets here and there

Fortunately in Israel, we have nicer bathrooms than this one in Nepal

Abby Leichman has written one of the most off-beat and yet voyeuristically engaging Top Ten Lists I’ve read in a while on Israel21c. It’s a compilation of the best public toilets in Jerusalem. Now, while such a grouping is necessarily gender subjective at best (after all, Abby couldn’t visit the men’s side of her chosen bathrooms), it still represents an alternative eye into Israeli society.

I have to admit that moving to Israel has brought up my own fascination with public facilities. On the one hand, it’s the often-lacking comparison with the luxury of North America. I remember a month back, when my mother came to visit Israel for the first time, she was decidedly less than enamored of the old school gas station toilets (the ones out back, around the side of the station, not the newer “lavish” facilities inside the mini-mart).

Still, she has nothing to complain about. A few years ago, I was driving with the family from San Diego to Los Angeles at 3:00 AM to catch an early morning flight from LAX back to Israel. We needed to use the restroom, so we stopped at a gas station. “Sorry, it’s out of order,” the not particularly interested clerk mumbled. We got back on the highway but the next station we pulled into also had a toilet that mysteriously was “being cleaned” (there were no cleaning supplies nearby). After the same thing happened another couple of times, I got the message and found a bush in back of a Denny’s (which apparently wasn’t one of the 24-7 restaurants I remember from my youth). Bottom line: I’ll take stinky Israel over non-available America any day.

An outdoor bathroom in the Serengeti

It’s also hard not to appreciate the lowly Israeli facility after traveling in the third world. Most Israeli toilets flush; they usually have seats (other than a few in the Old City, squatters are a rarity in Israel); any bad smells tend more to the urine spectrum (don’t even think about the other side!); and these days you can even find toilet paper and soap.

Here’s one more praise for the Israeli restroom: very frequently, the walls for your stall go all the way to the floor, so that you’re actually in your own separate room. Nearly uniformly (and especially at hotels and airports), North American public toilets have short knee-length dividers between stalls so that you are forced to see your neighbor’s shiny shoes wiggling around (not to mention the uncomfortable audio feedback).

So, thanks Abby, for bringing to light the unseen heroes of the Israeli toilet. If you want to go even deeper into the bowels of the public facilities, visit the user-generated toilet site, which has literally thousands of photos of the fabled stand up facility from all over the world (I particularly liked the one from the Mir Space Station).