Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Car Blanc

I know a lot about cars, man. I can look at any car's headlights and tell you exactly which way it's coming.
- Mitch Hedberg

I have been driving a car since I was 16 years of age (five years ago). I got my license in the dead of an Old Country winter. I was assured that, if I could pass the test under those conditions, I would have no problem driving under any conditions, which has proved to be more or less true.


Beer Sheva’s winter is not a shadow of a shadow of an Old Country winter; though sandstorms are dirtier than snowstorms, you still never have to plug in your car.

I am the main driver in our family. I take the car daily to work, do most of the errands, and chauffeur those who need chauffeuring. The husband uses it occasionally in the evenings and on Fridays, when he fills the car with gas. They used to give out free newspapers with a fill-up so he would wait for Fridays to get the bigger weekend paper for free. They stopped giving the papers out for free, but the custom remains, much to my delight.

You see, I don’t much like driving. “Just close your eyes and drive”, my friend D once advised me, which is more or less what I do. But my dislike for driving is NOTHING compared to my dislike of actually taking care of the car; much like comparing Beer Sheva and Old Country winters.

And so, it was with a certain amount of dread that, this morning, I took the family car in for its annual test.

I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but here in the Holy Land, every motor vehicle is required to be tested for road worthiness once a year. The test includes checking window wipers, lights, brakes, the steering system, and gas emission. (They used to check to make sure you had some sort of receptacle for garbage, but they don’t anymore. That was the only part of the test I aced.)

I can’t imagine what the roads would be like if the cars weren’t tested.

The whole thing takes about 15 minutes, not including registration, payment, the clerk’s conversation with her grandkid, the tester’s cigarette breaks, the other tester’s meeting with his friend from back home whom he hasn’t – apparently – seen in decades, the guy who cuts in because he’s REALLY IMPORTANT, and waiting in the wrong line.

I drove into the test area at precisely 7:42 AM. I figured that if I went early, I would have less of a wait. There is, obviously, no parking lot there (you're supposed to test the car, not park it!) so I left the car next to a mound of mud, took the necessary papers with me and went to register and pay for the test. That done, including the requisite oohing and ahhing over the cute grandkid, I deftly maneuvered the car around the pile of mud (maybe that was part of the test?) and drove slowly to the area of the first platform.

Unfortunately, they had moved the platform. I sat in my car waiting to be noticed but, in reality, was actively ignored. Eventually, some other customer took pity on me and waved me into the correct line. A few minutes later, the tester began barking orders at me. This first part was to check that the lights and wipers all work properly. I’ve done the test many times and know the words in Hebrew. I was fairly confident that I would handle this part easily.

"Visherim"[1]!! he yelled. I obediently switched the window wipers on and off. They worked. "Vinker"[2]! came the next command. I switched on the left-turn signal. "NO! the other one! I'm standing here!" I quickly clicked the windshield wiper. Then I put on the headlights. Then the wipers again, and finally hit the right-turn signal. He waited patiently. Nodding at my right-turn blinker, he crossed to the other side of the car. "Vinker", he hollered. On went the wipers, followed by the right-turn blinker. "I can do this", I said to myself, took a deep breath and switched off the air conditioner I had erroneously switched on, and then, finally hit the correct light. I've always had trouble telling my left hand from my right. 

He went to the back of the car. "Breksim[3]!!!" I stood on the brakes. That one I could handle. "Rrrrreverrrs[4]!" I switched to reverse. The lights, thankfully, were all working.

One more command then came at me from nowhere. "Tzofarr[5]!" And then it happened. My brain completely froze and refused to translate his heavily accented word into anything comprehensible. I blinked. "Tzofarrrrr!" he shouted again. I blinked again. He smiled slightly. "Beep beep", he said more softly. Ah. A slight thaw, and I merrily tooted my horn, and headed off to the next platform.

This next platform was to check the brakes. The testee (me) is required to drive onto two planks suspended over a pit, in which a man stands. This is the part of the test that absolutely gives me the heebie jeebies. I am positive that, one day, I will cause my car to fall off the planks and plummet onto the head of man beneath.

The tester (who stood on solid ground) beckoned me with his hand. "Od, od, od (More, more, more)", he urged, as I crept forward inch by inch. Finally, he signaled enough and I slammed on the brakes. "Nootrul"[6], he shouted at me. I switched from drive to neutral. "Bli (without) breksim!" Terrified the car would plunge into the bottomless pit beneath me, I slowly eased my foot off the breksim, er, brakes, as requested.

A minute later, came the command "hendbreks"[7]! I grabbed the handbrakes, but the stick slipped out of my hand. I grabbed again, still careful not to move too much so the car wouldn't descend into the depths, crushing the man waiting patiently underneath my car. I managed to hold onto the brakes, but it wouldn't engage correctly. Another deep breath, and third time lucky. "Ok", said the tester, beckoning me to creep forward a meter. The man in the pit beneath stood waiting for me. I released the hendbreks slowly, and, careful not to move my body in any direction, eased the car forward.

The tester, observing my pale face, clammy hands, and frozen brain, finally felt sorry for me. He reached in the car and grabbed the steering wheel, jerking it first to the right and then to the left, quite hard. The first thought I had was "the man below is going to die", and the second thought was "he must think I'm an idiot". I was half right. In the meantime the man below was checking something under the car, I suppose the bekeksl[8] or maybe it was the bekeksl kidmi[9].

The final segment of the test was for gas emission. After waiting for the guy to finish talking to his long-lost landsman, my car was hooked up to some machine, which measured stuff. I just had to sit there with my foot on the gas pedal, and, lucky for me, not move.

Test over, and passing with flying colors, I reparked the car next to the mound of mud, and went back to the office to exchange the test papers for a diploma.

The whole thing took 35 minutes; 35 minutes of my life, which I will not get back again.

Finally arriving at work a half an hour late and explaining why, every single other woman - every. single. one. - said, "oh, I make the husband take the test. I never go."

I didn't really understand that. After all, they are all native Hebrew speakers, so the language wasn't a problem for them.

Of course, they never learned to drive in an Old Country winter. Everything comes easy after that.

[1] Visher is a bastardized rendition of the English word ‘washer’, which is what window wipers are for (Visherim is the plural form).
[2] Vinker is a bastardized rendition of the English word ‘blinker’. In Hebrew, the B sound and the V sound are made by the same letter (bet ב) and are interchangeable. The L is left out because it’s almost impossible to say an L after a V. Vinkerim is the plural form.
[3] The plural form of Hebrew nouns is 'im'. So breksim, in fact, is the plural of the plural and means brakeses.
[4] Reverse in English, but only used in the context of vehicle. You would never use the word rrrreverrrz in a sentence such as “the reverse is also true”. There, you would say HaHefech.
[5] I actually knew this word. Tzofar is a bastardized rendition of the Hebrew word shofar (ram’s horn) – the thing we blow on Rosh HaShana.
[6] Nootrul has morphed from being a word used only in the context of gears, to being a verb used in the context of law enforcement and is a verb, i.e., the terrorist has been neutralized – or in Hebrew – me’nootral.
[7] Logically, the Hebrew should be Hendbreksim, but, strangely enough, it's not.
[8] bekeksl - in case the reader hadn't figured it out - is a bastardized rendition of the English word back axle.
[9] Kidmi is the Hebrew word for front. Therefore, bekeksl kidmi means the front back axle.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Points to Ponder

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
-Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

This Shabbat, we will begin to read the book of Exodus (Shmot שמות)—the second book of the Chumash. Shmot begins the story of the Jewish nation, from their slavery in Egypt, to their redemption and their travels through the desert. There have always been discussions, debates, arguments, disputes, altercations, and even – to our dismay – fist fights over the relevance of Biblical stories to our lives today, in the 21st century.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reading of slavery, suffering, obstinance, leadership, and heroism. Below, are a few facts and explanations, which seem to be very relevant to our situation today. I'm just going to relate the points to ponder, and I'll let you make whatever connections you like.

Point to ponder #1:

The book of Shmot starts with the story of the Children of Israel coming into Egypt and the first recorded case of anti-Semitism.

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph. And he said to his people, Behold, the people of the children of Yisrael are more and mightier than we: come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it comes to pass, that when any war should chance, they also join our enemies, and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.” Shmot 1:8

There is nothing at all in the literature to indicate that the Children of Israel were thinking of taking over Egypt, or fighting the Egyptians. This is all pure “the Jews have taken over international financing in order to conquer the world” stuff. Protocols of the elders of Zion, Egyptian style.

Pharoah first instructs Shifra and Puah, the Israelite midwives (commonly belived to be Miriam and Yocheved), to kill all the Hebrew babies. Yet, Pharaoh realizes that this is not suffiicient. At this point, Pharoah's astrologers have seen that the saviour of the slaves will soon be born, but they cannot see if he is to be Hebrew, or Egyptian. They also see something about water, but they are a little fuzzy on this point. And so, Pharaoh, in his great wisdom and mercy, decrees that ALL baby boys, when born, are to be thrown into the river, Hebrew or Egyptian. The fear and hatred of the Jews is great enough to sacrifice their own babies.

Point to ponder #2.

"And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi." Shmot 2:1. We know that this is Amram and Yocheved, but at this point neither is named. Yocheved is named as one of the 70 souls entering Egypt with Yaakov. She was born just as they arrive. Our sages have calculated that at this point in the story, she is 130 years old. When Sarah gives birth to Yitzchak she is 90 years old, and much is made of the miracle of his birth, and how an old women was able to give birth. Yocheved, on the other hand, is not even named. No mention of any miracles, no mention of her appearance, or how she reacted to the news of being pregnant. Why is that? One explanation is that there were so many miracles going on at that time amongst the Israelites that giving birth at 130 was not such a big deal. Many women were giving birth at advanced ages. Women, in awful conditions, were giving birth – according to the Midrash – to six babies at a time. Shifra and Puah were credited not only for not killing newborn babies, but also in resuscitating those who had died from natural causes. From this we learn that it is easy to overlook miracles when there are so many occurring all around. Sometimes we take things for granted, especially when everything is going well. You don’t notice the babies who DON’T die.

The trick, the hard part, is to see the miracles as they occur, and for what they are, G-d's proof of His love for us. Which brings me to:

Point to ponder #3.

G-d, being omnipotent, could have simply taken the Children of Israel out of Egypt with a snap of His fingers. But He didn’t. He first had to impose the ten plagues on the people of Egypt. He began by turning the water to blood. Why was blood the first plague? There are many explanations of this, not the least of which is that the river was considered holy; G-d wanted the Egyptians to understand that He and only He was the true G-d. Along with this explanation, however, it is also suggested that the river was chosen for the plague because of its very lack of change. The river was always there. It could always be depended upon. It was not at the mercy of rainfall. The river was never changing. And the people took it completely for granted. It was only when it changed that they realized how much they depended on it, and how lucky they were to have it. The next plague, frogs, emphasizes this even more. Frogs are totally innocuous. They don’t harm, and they don’t help. They are just kind of there. And nobody ever notices frogs, until they take over. This was one of G-d’s purposes in the plagues; to make people aware of G-d, not only in times of trouble, but to understand that a lack of trouble is also G-d’s work.

Point to Ponder #4

The slavery of the Jews in Egypt was not a personal slavery like those of the blacks in southern America 150 years ago. Individual households did not have slaves to work in their fields. Rather, the slaves were owned by Pharaoh himself, and were used to build cities, and storage facilities.

Nonetheless, the plagues were visited upon the whole population. When the river turned to blood, it wasn’t only Pharaoh and his court who went thirsty. It was the whole populace who suffered. The frogs tormented everyone, down to the last child, and the locusts and hail destroyed not only the king’s cattle and crops but every last person’s field. And of course the killing of the first born affected even the animals. This is to show us that a society that supports evil, or does not fight against evil, even when they don’t directly benefit from it, must be destroyed.

Today, the media would call this Disproportional response.

Point to Ponder #5 

At the Passover Seder (16 weeks from today!!!!!), we drink 4 cups of wine to remember the four affirmations of redemption.

I will bring you out ..... and
I will deliver you out ..... and
I will redeem you with an outstretched arm ..... and
I will take you to me for a people. Exodus 6:6

Most people stop there, but if you continue to read just a bit further G-d goes on to say:

And I will bring you into the Land, which I swore to give to Avraham, Yizchak and to Yaakov, and I will give it to you for a heritage. Exodus 6:8

G-d brought us out, and delivered us, and redeemed us, and took us in order to bring us to the Land. Something we must never forget. The miracles He performed/s for us were/are in order for us, as a people, to live in our Land, and follow His mitzvot.

The Haggada of Pesach was first compiled in Babylon, in exile, and it didn’t seem fitting to remember and celebrate the Land, which had been lost. Later, when so many Jews remained outside the Land, it still did not seem appropriate to add the 5th cup.

We are back in our Land. The exile seems to be coming to an end as Jews stream to Israel from the four corners of the globe. Miracles are taking place at a heart stopping rate.

Maybe it’s time to add the fifth cup?