Sunday, October 17, 2010

Poker in Tel Aviv

I've written a blog entry about poker in Tel Aviv, but I'd rather not post in on my public blog. If you are interested and did not receive it from me by email, please let me know, and I'll be happy to email it to you if I know and trust you.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

15 Simple Facts and Observations in Israel

1. There are cats everywhere. Theories I've heard as to why range from the need to control viper snakes to dealing with rats and mice. Regardless of the reason, you see stray cats everywhere. They are mostly not too afraid of people and usually expect food from you. On Yom Kippur, they seemed especially vocal and pushy, probably because there were not as many scraps to be had. Israelis seem very friendly to the cats. One of our neighbors regularly feeds the cats that hang out by our building. The cats appear to favor a particular location, and I've become familiar with some specific cats that hang out in various spots around town. But most of the cats here also carry diseases, and we've instructed the kids to look but not touch them.
This poor cat is injured. He hangs out next to my car most of the time.
Here he is by the back door of our building.

This is my favorite cat by the office. I see him just about every day.

2. Cash is more common than in the US, and credit cards are eschewed in many places. But, don't try paying for something small with a big bill. They prefer small bills. The largest bill is 200 shekels, worth about $50, and most vendors complain if you pay for something small with such a large bill.

3. The food tends to be fresher here. People have smaller refrigerators that they refill more often. Most people seem to shop several times a week, buying less than we do in the States. Fruits are locally grown and only available in season. I have not ever seen canned vegetables or fruit served in a restaurant, on pizza or anywhere else, and even the corner tiny restaurant served homemade pasta when I ordered a bowl of penne. We've been to a couple of unbelievable restaurants here, and even the cheap corner falafel stand can be counted on for culinary satisfaction. Israel is way ahead of the States in the food department. Hands down winner. Bucking the trend and not nearly as good here are beef (not enough to graze on in the desert?), broccoli (so much for my favorite stir fry dish), and corn on the cob (we're spoiled by locally grown corn on the cob in Owings Mills). We have not found skim milk here and few reduced fat foods, although Israelis on average appear thinner than Americans.

4. You cannot buy a wireless router in Israel. I know. I tried. The WiFi router in our house is so weak, that I can't get the signal in the room around the corner. I'm having my cousin bring me an 802.11n router (time capsule, actually) when she visits.

5. It is not that easy for an adult to find a soccer team in Tel Aviv. You can go to the Yarkon park on Friday afternoons, but you may have trouble getting into a game. After 5 weeks of trying, I finally made it onto a team, and proceeded to injure my foot within 40 minutes. Now I'm on injured reserve.

6. It seems impossible to find a live poker game in Tel Aviv. I had a few close calls, but none of them panned out. Still trying ...

7. Watch your step! There is dog poop everywhere. I'm not kidding. If you are not vigilant you will step in it. Israelis love their dogs, but many do not pick up after them. Dog poop is an unfortunate trademark of sidewalks all over the place in Israel. I'll resist the temptation to include a relevant photograph.

8. Traffic lights operate slightly differently here. When the light is green, it flashes a few times before turning yellow. When the light is red, the yellow comes on along with the red before the light turns green. For those of you who do not speak the language, a simultaneous red and yellow traffic light means "floor it!" in Hebrew.
The yellow light turns on before the red turns to green.
9. It did not rain for the first 52 days we were in Israel. On the 53rd day, we had bad thunderstorms for half an hour, and then the sun came out.

10. Israelis give extremely high priority to elderly, to babies and to the infirm. Here's an example. At the post office, you take a number and typical wait about 20-30 minutes to be served, and you cannot avoid visiting the post office - that's how you pay bills, add credit to the cell phone SIM card and handle various other details. I've learned to bring reading material. The other day, there was a particularly long line ahead of me when an elderly woman with a walker came in. She had difficulty getting a number out of the dispenser because her hand was shaking. One of the women in line walked up to the window and said something to the postal worker who proceeded to drop the current customer, handle the older woman, and then return to the original customer. Nobody complained. This type of catering to weaker people is commonplace, and I've seen it numerous times. A parent with a small baby will almost always be moved to the front of any line, especially if the baby is screaming. On one occasion, I was tempted to ask our kids to try to misbehave a little louder because I was quite certain we would be advanced in line, but looking around at the other Israeli children, I did not think we could compete.

11. At the supermarket, the shopping carts are linked to each other with small metal chains. To extract a cart, you insert a 5 shekel coin into a slot on the cart thus releasing it, and that coin remains in the cart while you shop. To recover your coin, you must attach the cart back to the other carts. It's an ingenious system that ensures that people will put carts away and that Americans who are new to the system will realize they left the 5 shekels in the cart as soon as they get home.

12. There is recycling in Israel, but it takes a real effort. Scattered around town are these large metal cages with holes just big enough to stick in plastic bottles. Those who care to recycle have to collect their plastics and then carry them a block or two to these recycling cages to dispose of them. Apparently, much of the recycling operation in Israel is controlled by organized crime.

13. Keys are different here. On most standard house keys, the key is more of a female than keys in the US. The grooves are on the inside of the key, whereas a standard house key in the US is male and bares its grooves on the outside.
Our house key.
14. There has been no real estate downturn in Tel Aviv. Prices only go up.

15. Sunday is a regular workday here. The kids have school on Fridays, but everyone else is off; the university is closed, and there is no mail delivery. One of my colleagues at the university told me that Friday morning school is the best Israeli invention, as the parents get to hang out for brunch, there's no work, and you get a 4 hour break from the kids, who get home around noon that day.

Friday, October 01, 2010

My uncle Asher, may he rest in peace

My father is the youngest of five boys. This week marked the end of an era with the passing of one of his brothers. We are all extremely saddened. My father and his remaining three brothers, Emanuel, Mordecai, and Yussel wrote the following obituary. Asher was incredibly accomplished and loved his family very much. I had a great relationship with him, and I already miss him dearly.


Asher Rubin, a retired Deputy Attorney General for the State of California and a devoted husband and father, died peacefully at his home in Marin County on Wednesday, September 29.

Asher was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on November 9, 1936, to Sophie (née Greenberg) and Jacob Rubin, a teacher of Hebrew. In the company of four accomplished brothers, Emanuel, Mordecai, Joseph, and Abba, and a mother who threatened to trade him for one of Eddie Cantor’s daughters, Asher early in life developed an outspoken personality mixed with humor. When Asher was eleven, the family moved to the town of Liberty, in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where he went to high school. He honed his sense of humor while working for six summers as a busboy at the famed Grossingers resort hotel.

Asher graduated from Columbia College in 1958 and then entered Harvard Law School, where he graduated in 1961. His younger brother Joseph was also a student at Harvard while he was there. Asher’s most notable achievement at Harvard was, at a public gathering, telling the feared and formidable professor of law, James Casner from the stage, that his younger brother Joseph was “bitterly disappointed that he was not being called on enough in class.” After graduation, he moved to California to serve as a clerk to Justice Thomas P. White of the California Supreme Court. He joined the office of Attorney General Stanley Mosk in 1963, where he remained until 2001, except for a brief interlude in the Office of the General Counsel of the Peace Corps and on the public relations staff of The Weizmann Institute in Israel.

As a Deputy Attorney General, Asher represented various officials and agencies in appellate and trial litigation involving many of the important political and social issues confronting California from 1962 through his retirement in 2001. He appeared before the United States Supreme Court in two cases, Honig v. Doe and California Human Resources Dept. v. Java, which settled significant disputes regarding special education and unemployment insurance. He appeared before the California Supreme Court in controversial cases that affected reproductive rights, unemployment insurance, industrial safety, and health care benefits. He represented President S.I. Hayakawa during the bitter student strike in 1968–69 at San Francisco State University.

Asher was known for his sense of humor and could not restrain himself, even in court. During the student strike, when Judge Ira Brown asked him whether President Hayakawa would comply with an order of the court, Asher replied that Hayakawa would probably move the campus to San Mateo County. When an attorney for the appellants applied to the Court of Appeal for the second time to file a brief over the page limit allowed by the rules, Asher filed a short reply: “The appellants think it not nifty to have their brief reduced to fifty.” When a federal court judge asked him whether he should recuse himself, he replied, “Right here in front of everybody?” And when he asked another federal judge for extra time to file his brief when George Deukmejian was Attorney General, the judge was reluctant, commenting: “What do you people in the Attorney General’s Office do all day?” Asher replied: “Well, we spend most of our time trying to spell Deukmejian.” The judge granted him a forty-five–day extension.

Asher was active beyond his professional life. At the Attorney General’s Office, he wrote, appeared and sang in holiday skits and wrote poems in honor of innumerable deputies at their retirements (“Do not go gentle into that little cubicle.”). With Morris Bobrow, he wrote musical reviews such as If You’re from Milwaukee, You Must Know Bernie and Premises, Premises. He was also a member of the Tiburon Theater Troupe. His community achievements were many. He was a past president of the Tiburon Peninsula Club, a feature writer for the Nob Hill Gazette, on the board of directors of the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, chairman of the Tiburon Art Festival and a board member of Image for Success.

How would Asher’s many friends describe him? He was a New Yorker. Although of long tenure here, he never assimilated the relaxed rhythms of a Californian. For him, right now was too late, impatience was a virtue, and observing the 90-degree rule on a golf course was for the other guy. In golf as in life, he took it straight from tee to green as fast as he could go. He was always a good friend, helpful and supportive, a strong tennis player on the Tiburon Peninsula Club team, and a delightful poker player and golf partner, although he described his golf game as “painfully average.”

The center of Asher’s life was his family. He is survived by his wife Diane and their two children, Jacob, a student at Stanford Business School, and Shaina, a student at Brooklyn Law School. He was very proud of their accomplishments and he loved them very much.

We are saddened by his passing and we will miss him.