I haven't written very much the past few months. I think my last few articles were reviews of different books about Bibi (both of which were actually quite interesting). I have been back and forth a few times and I am now back in Ra'anana for some period of time. So I thought I would write about a few things that come to mind as we conclude 2021.
Since my blog is not the most regular blog out there, I try not to make it a news service generally, other than when there is an election or some other really big event. Otherwise, it is more likely to be observational commentary or discussion of different topics that have caught my attention.
Israeli Politics - a few short comments
First of all, I might as well hit on Israeli politics. I don't have that much to say at this point (very surprising I'm sure for those who know me well). In general, the current government under the leadership of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is continuing to remain in power and looks to be reasonably likely to do so for at least the next several months. As you may know, it is a government made up of some very divergent voices. It includes members of the fairly far right and members of the fairly far left as well as some centrists and an Arab nationalist party. It is actually incredible that this group has been able to hold things together but in my view, there is a general shared commitment to trying to do things that will benefit the country and the people living in it.
The government has presented and passed several pieces of legislation and is intent on bringing about refreshing reforms in a wide range of areas including some issues that involve religion and the state. No government is perfect (or even close) and certainly this government has made several mistakes. But so far, it seems to be holding on to the support that it had and probably represents, cumulatively, just over 50% of the Israeli voting population. It will be interesting to see whether the government goes ahead with the planned rotation and turns power over to Yair Lapid, as scheduled, in July 2022. I am not the only one with doubts that this will occur but it seems likely that we will avoid an election at least until some time after that date.
Meanwhile, the trial of former Prime Minister Netanyahu continues (on various charges of bribery, breach of public trust and related issues). It is hard to say how that is going though it certainly hasn't "collapsed" as Netanyahu predicted it would. Legal commentators that I have heard have suggested that it is not going particularly well for Netanyahu. For what it is worth, I maintain that he will cut a deal at some point in time before a verdict though it is hard to say when that will be.
As you may have read, the leader of the ultra-religious Shas party, Aryeh Deri, a formerly convicted fraudster, has apparently agreed on a plea bargain deal to address his current criminal charges. Interestingly, he will only be required to pay back some of the money that he allegedly acquired (improperly). He will also stay on as leader of the Shas party for now, though he will do so from outside the Knesset. Apparently that is a thing. This way he can earn money from different sources and not face the constricting reporting rules of the Knesset, which bar work that might create conflicts of interest.
The leader of the other ultra-orthodox party, Litzman, is also rumoured to be negotiating a plea bargain deal for his pending criminal charges though nothing has been finalized yet.
Of course once we have completed these plea bargain deals, Israel will be totally free of corrupt politicians....Sarcasm aside, it is a start. We, in Israel, take comfort these days in comparing what is now going on here to what has been going on the U.S. (and many other parts of the world) the past few years and really don't feel as badly as we used to.
December Holidays, here and there
I happened to be in Toronto for a chunk of November and December, which reinforced my minority status in Toronto and reminded me of one of the great benefits of being in Israel.
For example, I enjoy grabbing a coffee at the Second Cup (Wilson location) before heading to my office. I guess they decided to turn their radio to CHFI and start playing Christmas music right after Halloween. So for the entire months of November and December, it was Christmas music all the time. I guess the equivalent in Israel is seeing donuts appear in the bakeries about two months before Chanukah each year.
I have nothing against Christmas music and I am glad that people enjoy it. But I wonder whether even people that enjoy the music want to hear it non-stop for two full months.
It seemed to me there were more articles than usual this year on the North American Jewish tradition of ordering Chinese food on December 24th or 25th, which supposedly started in New York. I guess Jewish and Chinese places were the only types of places open on Dec 24th and 25th, so the Jewish community developed a "tradition" of having Chinese food on these days.
In Israel that is not really a tradition of any kind. In fact, for most people in Israel, Christmas is a regular work day. Everything is open, there are few decorations and although we have many "pan-Asian" retaurants (mostly stir free dishes and sushi), there are very few strictly Chinese restaurants, so there is no tradition of ordering Chinese food on Christmas.
There are areas with significant Christian populations - in Haifa, Nazareth and other places. And there are certainly Israelis, even Israeli Jews, who go to take photos in front of the trees and the beautiful Christmas decorations. But for the most part, in Ra'anana and so many other cities across Israel, Christmas is one of those times where Jews genuinely feel at home in contrast to the experience in so many other parts of the world.
Certainly there are a large number of expatriate Russians celebrating "Novigod" and putting up trees, christmas decorations etc., More so in some cities than in others. But to this point, it is still very much a minority practice.
As you might know, Canada and the U.S. have been classified as "red" countries now by Israel which means that Israelis are officially forbidden from travelling to those places without special permission. Israelis who were out of the country before the ban came into place can travel back to the country.
So for now, this also means that non-Israelis cannot come to Israel without special permission. And Israelis cannot leave to go to "red" countries.
I have many friends planning trips to Israel for festive occasions or other reasons and it looks like all of those plans will be up in the air for now. Hopefully we will soon see a big change though it is impossible to predict when that will happen.
In order to come back to Israel this time, I had to make sure to have lots of ducks in a row.
Air Canada cancelled all of its direct flights so I was routed through Frankfurt.
First on the agenda is making sure to complete the Israeli entry form - within 48 hours of departure from the connecting city. In other words, it had to be within 48 hours of the connection time in Frankfurt not the Toronto departure. We had a two hour delay in Toronto because some dufus was refusing to comply with the mask wearing requirement. He was removed from the plane by security but we were two hours late. So I had to redo the form in Frankfurt before Lufthansa would allow me to board the plane.
Next, I had to arrange a Covid test. If you have been vaccinated three times (or received your second dose within the past six months), you can get a rapid antigen test within 24 hours of the flight time (the time of the flight leaving Toronto, even if you are transiting). Now just a couple of months ago, these tests were going for $25-$35 in contrast to the PCR tests which are about $120 in Toronto. So I thought I would save quite a bit. But many of the Toronto labs have raised the costs to about $60-$65. Still cheaper but the gap is closing.
I also had to arrange (pre-pay for) a PCR test on landing in Israel. That was 80 Shekels (about $32Cdn). If you don't pre-pay, I believe it is about 120 Shekels when you land at the airport ($48Cdn).
After all that, on landing in Israel from a "red" country, you must stay in isolation for 7 days. If you test negative on day 1 and day 7, you can get released on the 7th day once you receive back test results. If you don't do the second test, you have to remain in isolation for 14 days.
The airport was quite empty. Israeli customs uses a random inspection self-declaration system, much like many places in Europe. So as you pass Israeli customs, they randomly pull over people and put their luggage into an x-ray machine to look for any improperly imported or undeclared items. Since I often have a decent amount of luggage, I am pulled over with some frequency. This time since the aiport was quite quiet, I was probably a pretty enticing target with my overloaded baggage cart. But even though I was pulled over, had my bags put through the x-ray machine and underwent an additional manual inspection, the disappointed customs officers still couldn't find anything that was problematic. And I was released and left to repack my violated luggage.
As I understand it, they are mainly looking for fruits and vegetables, drugs, undeclared electronics and undeclared commercial goods. And alcohol that is over the limit. Overall, it was simply a minor inconvenience and not a problem of any kind. But if you do bring something into Israel that you were supposed to declare but didn't, you can face a fine equal to double the duty/tax on the item. So for example, someone caught smuggling a $1,000 cell phone could have to pay about $360 if caught and possibly as much as $540. People tend to try and negotiate these fines with varying degrees of success. Generally, I do my best to avoid these problems.
So here I am in "isolation" in Ra'anana. The police have been sending me automated "check-in" messages several times a day to verify that the phone and the person in isolation are both where they are supposed to be. I am not overly concerned about this "invasion of my privacy" if that is what it takes to try and control the spread of the virus.
In animal news, we were in Haifa last month and actually saw familes of wild boars wandering the streets in residential areas. They were very large. I am not sure that I have the pictures - I will look for them but it was quite a site.
As you may have read recently, Israeli is facing a huge bird flu problem which has killed thousands of European cranes. Israeli farmers have also had to cull more than 600,000 chickens. So we may see an egg shortage in the coming months. Hopefully this won't continue to develop into something more complicated.
As I have written on other occasions, I am not really a follower of any Israeli sports except for international competitions. As a Canadian, hockey is the number one sport, though I also enjoy NFL football.
With NHL hockey, while in Israel, that usually means watching between 2 and 5 a.m. or similar hours. NFL games are mostly more reasonable since they start at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. EST on Sundays which means being able to watch at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. here.
NHL hockey is facing all kinds of challenges with Covid as you may know and has suspended several games. The world junior hockey tournament (which is one of my favourite sports events in any calendar year) was cancelled after only a few nights of games since there was such a wide spread of the virus So I am not sure when I will be back to watching hockey and I am not as excited in any event about the regular season. I really enjoy the playoffs.
That leaves NFL which seems to be determined to finish its season no matter what. For geographic reasons, primarily, my team is the Buffalo Bills and they are poised to make a playoff run. So the next several weeks should see some really exciting football games. It will mean staying up very late on Sunday nights - and some Saturday nights - but NFL playoff football is worth it for me. Not sure that I have many others to watch with so I might have to text and email my friends and family members while watching.
In case you are wondering, the weather forecast is about 15-20C for most days over the next few weeks. I like spending time here in January where I can get a 25-35 degree temperature differential. I do enjoy some nice winter weather but -20 to -30C is not that fun. Between 0 and -10 can be quite nice, especially if it is sunny, though that might be something that only a true Canadian would say.
So that is my round up for the end of 2021. I am grateful to have spent some time this year with friends and family on both sides of the ocean - and hope that 2022 will be a healthy, joyous and happy year for everyone. Hopefully we will all soon see some semblence of a return to normalcy.