Canadian Cop

Toronto's Pearson Airport

The woman at the rental car agency desk at Toronto’s Pearson Airport eyed my Israeli driver’s license suspiciously. She looked at the laminated card, then up at me, then back and forth several times.

“You’re going to have a problem if a policeman pulls you over,” she finally said, explaining her hesitation. “There’s no English on this.”

I pointed to my name and birthday in clear English. “I don’t see it,” she assured me with confidence.

“I’ll take my chances,” I replied and, a few minutes later, we were walking to our rented minivan for the week. “Anyway, since when have I ever been stopped by a cop,” I sniggered to myself.

Imagine, then, my surprise when I was flagged down by an officer just a day later while returning to the very same airport to pick up some late arriving family members who were attending the wedding that had brought us to the Great White North.

“What’s your hurry?” the policeman asked. His tone was less aggressive than conversational, in that agreeably polite Canadian way.

“We’re picking up my wife’s 93-year-old grandmother,” I replied, which was true. She was waiting inside the terminal.

“You know you were going 60 in a 30 kilometer zone,” he said. Courteous, just a simple statement of fact, right? Nevertheless, he took my license. As he held it in his hand, I saw him trying to make out the writing. “This isn’t in English,” he said. Wouldn’t you know – the rental car clerk’s premonition had come to fruition. Without fully thinking through the consequences, I pointed out my name and birthday. “Thanks,” he said, almost jovially.

But rather than giving me my license back and graciously wishing me a good day, he sauntered back to his car. For the first time, I started to worry (while trying not to curse). Would the fine I now imagined as a viable possibility be more than the rental cost of the vehicle? Would I have to appear in Canadian traffic court? Should we have taken the bus?

Now, if this were in Israel, my polite policeman would have been replaced by a 20-something snarly Israeli girl cop who would have ignored any attempts at charm. She would then sit in her vehicle for a good 30 minutes with no explanation.

It’s happened to me before, just for a random check, and I’ve never understood what takes so long. Do they have to run my name by the Interpol database using the same sporadic Internet connectivity that plagues my home computer? Are they just sitting and drinking coffee for fun? Are they actually ordering coffee?

The Canadian cop still kept us waiting, but for only half the time (it probably was even less, but time slows down when you’re watching your bank account virtually drain). When he walked back to my car, the long rectangular paper in his hand did not bode well.

Fortunately, my nerves were for naught: the paper was just a warning. Wow – either Canadians really are nicer, or issuing a ticket to a foreigner with a driver’s license in a language with squiggly lines, with the added high chance I would skip town without depositing a check (which would undoubtedly have been written with even more squiggles) was simply too much complication.

As it turns out, I had to circle the airport while Grandma made her way to the curb. As I returned, I drove at the proscribed 30 km/hour. Do you have any idea how slow 30 km/hour really is? And yet, all the other cars I saw were following the rules and crawling along. My thoughts returned to Israel again: no way an Israeli driver would go that slow – even a ticket would be better than being a freier.

For the rest of the trip, I stuck to the speed limit. I probably would have gotten another free pass if I were stopped again, but I wasn’t taking any chances – squiggly Israeli driver’s license or not.



Snowtubing in Israel next?

We were all ready for snow in Jerusalem a couple of weeks back, but there was none in the end. Now snow is back in the weather for Friday, and I’ve already seen a few flurries today.

But, after a week in Toronto, where we just were for a family wedding, I’ve seen more snow than the average Israeli will experience in a lifetime. And it’s given me a business idea (since I really can’t stand cold weather, I offer it up here at no cost to any budding entrepreneurs).

Forget about skiing on the Hermon. Welcome to “snow-tubing.”

Snow-tubing is like one of those water slides where you zip down in a big inflatable inner tube…except that it’s in the snow.

We took a few hours to enjoy this hi-tech update of tobogganing during our Canada trip and had a blast. The white stuff was coming down pretty hard the day we went – a real treat for the kids who grew up in Israel and have never really experienced serious snow.

The thing that’s great about snow-tubing is that it’s so simple. All you need is a big hill (ours was essentially a ten story drop) and some tubes. The “chair lift” is just a rope with a hook that connects to the handles on the tube. Once you get to the top, you can slide down individually, or link the handles to go down up to five as a time (see the picture).

The ride is fast – no more than 20-30 seconds and there’s no telling which way you might spin (it’s nice to face front so you can see where you’re going, but you get a lot more snow in your eyes that way). The wind can be intense, too – I thought my cap was secure but it blew off and had to be retrieved by a somewhat surly snow staffer.

Snow-tubing is safer than skiing (no real chance of breaking a leg) and requires no training. There’s only one downside to bringing this “sport” to Israel. In Canada, there was a single queue and everyone waited their turn nicely. After a few visits to various water parks in Israel, it’s hard for me to imagine Israelis not attempting to cut in line or to return after a long hot chocolate break to announce “I was after her.” You try arguing with an Israeli teenager 0r – even scarier – a soldier on break, when there’s ample material to fashion a truly injurious round of snowballs!

Coexistence,Israel in the Spotlight,Religion

Whitney Houston’s Israel connection

After Houston’s death, local media recalled the six-day visit, in which Houston and Brown met with the Black Hebrew community in Dimona, traveled to Eilat and the Galilee to a baptism spot and later met with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, telling him that she felt at home in the country.

According to The Jerusalem Post’s account, Wearing bright red African clothing, Brown and Houston – who was then 39 – told Sharon they planned to come back and record a Christmas television special here – a promise she never fulfilled.

There were also reports that Houston was going to record an album with the Black Hebrews, who first settled in Israel in 1969 and became known for its gospel choirs and singing groups.

After Houston’s death, Ben Ammi Ben-Israel, the leader of the 2,500-strong Black Hebrews said on TV that he considered Houston his “spiritual daughter.” Ben-Israel said Houston was a source of pride for his community. He said he recently invited her back to Israel “to help her overcome her problem.”

However, that never took place either. And instead, all the Black Hebrews and the rest of Houston’s multitude of fans are left with is her rich catalogue of music and their memories of her.

Trying some Magisto magic with my home videos

Magisto…not just for cats

Over the course of the last 20 years, we have amassed nearly 100 hours of family videos – clips of the kids when they were little, trips, bar mitzvahs, every single school event (hey, remember pre-school graduation!)

True, a lot of this footage is boring, but some brings back nearly forgotten memories of a time when our kids weren’t yet surly teenagers or brave army patriots.

The problem is that all those memories are recorded on three different types of media: VHS, Hi8 and Mini-DV. The latter is digital so I can import it into my Mac, run it through iMovie and cut out all those extraneous shots of feet and the insides of backpacks. But my VHS player broke years ago and someday soon my Hi8 camcorder will be un-repairable too.

So, like many parents I know, I sent all that footage to a service that digitizes it for you, turning it into DVDs and movie files you can stream on your computer or post to YouTube. Sounds great, right? Except that I still have 100 hours of video (taking up half a terabyte of space on my home server). Will I ever find time to watch it all?

Which is why I was intrigued about a new Israeli startup called Magisto, which I wrote about recently for our sister publication, Israel21c. The company lets you upload clips to their site, then Magisto somehow magically chooses the best shots, adds a smattering of special effects (wipes, swirls, split screens), selects music that you post (or you can use their licensed library of pop tunes), and even ducks the soundtrack down when your two-year-old is saying his or her first words.

The result is a two-minute, fast moving, professionally produced video suitable for uploading to YouTube or, even more importantly, attaching to various key milestones along your Facebook Timeline.

There are certain limitations – you can only post a maximum of 16 clips or 600 MB – and all your Magisto-created videos will have a certain similarity to them. I also found that the audio ducking wasn’t perfect and having a robot choose for you gives you lots of close-ups and action shots, but those might not be what you want. Still, Magisto is here to stay: the company has raised over $7 million.

Ultimately, there’s no substitute for editing on your own, but Magisto’s founders say that no one has the time to do that. And they’re right. It took me weeks to properly edit the footage from our family trip last year to Nepal. On the other hand, my 13-year-old son is less exacting with the videos of his friends jumping off walls and has been having a grand time playing with Magisto.

Note: since my article was published on Israel21c, Magisto has launched an iPhone version, which allows you to easily convert the already-digital video you have on your phone into a Magisto movie. With video capture rapidly shifting to smart phones, that sounds like a killer app to me. Oh, and if I didn’t mention it already, Magisto is free.


Hasidim and sex – Haaretz spices it up

The "Beis Yisroel" with his entourage vacationing in Europe.

They say that nothing sells newspapers like sex and Haaretz had a doozy last week: the second part in an expose (OK, just a spicy research study) on the sex lives of a particular group of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel – the Gur Hasidim. The article was the talk of our table this past Shabbat.

As too often happens, stories in the media aim to titillate first; present the facts only secondary. But this article seems to have some meat to it. It’s based on the doctoral dissertation of Nava Wasserman, who conducted her research under the guidance of Prof. Kimmy Caplan, at Bar-Ilan University.

A central part of the study quoted in the Haaretz article focused mainly around the wedding night. Wasserman describes how Gur members are taught that sex – and any sexual thoughts – are a sin and how young men in the sect by and large know nothing of the subject…until two hours before the wedding.

At that point, a Gur “counselor” reveals to the groom what he must do on his wedding night. “There are grooms who throw up or faint when they hear these things,” Haaretz quotes Wasserman as saying. She cites an interview she conducted with a young Gur man who related that, “I saw black circles in front of my eyes and all of a sudden I found myself on the sofa.”

Wasserman explains that “the sect is willing to pay this price, to receive the benefit of sanctity.” Girls, by the way, receive more extensive counseling, a few weeks before the wedding.

The rules of sex in the Gur society apparently stem from the late Rabbi Israel Alter (also known as the “Beis Yisroel”), who led Gur from 1948 to 1977, and wanted to unify the sect by distancing it from Western society which, Wasserman notes, Alter felt “blew sexuality out of its natural and necessary proportions.”

“When my goals are spiritual, I must do everything to reduce my natural desires,” Wasserman continues in the article. “Gur Hasidim contend that it is possible to control sexual urges. When a Gur Hasid walks down the street, he will direct his gaze downward. On a bus, he might remove his glasses.”

With this in mind, it’s not too hard to understand how we’ve come to the separation of men and women on buses.

Wasserman is clear to emphasize that the Gur are a small group within the greater ulra-Orthodox community and that stereotyping an entire population is unfair and incorrect. That was certainly the response at our Shabbat table where the kids didn’t want to hear from Abba’s presumably bigoted pontifications. In response, I sent them the articles to read after Shabbat.

Now you can too. Part one is here. And here’s a link to part two. You can draw your own conclusions.