It doesn’t turn back into a tree again

It started with one person in a difficult situation doing her best but also consciously leaving her problems in somebody else’s lap.

I left home.

You’re reading this blog because I left home.

But before I left home, I had to get rid of my stuff, stuff accumulated over a lifetime, some of it, and some of accumulated over the 18 months I’ve been in this apartment.

The thing about your stuff is that nobody wants it but you. It can be totally great stuff, stuff someone could use for another 10 years easily, but nobody wants it but you.

Part 1: Planting seeds and the ripple effect

I was fortunate to get a call from a woman who was recently divorced and whose husband had taken everything. She came over and declared “I need everything.” I said, that’s great, but I need your promise you really take everything. I have a flight the next day, so if you aren’t going to take everything, I’ll need to have someone come in and take the rest.

She assured me she would.

I guess I don’t need to tell you what happened next.

All this went to the trash

All this went to the trash

The worst part of it was that she wasn’t even going to tell me. It wasn’t until she was walking out the door, my apartment completely a mess, with half of it out and half of it in, that I asked her when she was coming for the rest, and her friends, who had come to help her move, looked at me in shock. Not one of them knew that was the promise. They were professional movers but they’d brought  vans, not a moving truck. “If I’d known…” they said, they’d have brought a truck. “If I’d known… “ I said, I would have helped you pay for a mover. Now I need to pay for a mover myself.

“Why don’t you just leave it?” one of them said. “You’re leaving the country anyway.”

“Because that’s not how it works, that if someone screws me, I screw the next guy. I don’t want to plant those kinds of seeds that will grow into trees,” I answered.

The next 30 hours were a blur, but somehow, 30 hours later, I was on a plane. My apartment was empty, cleaned and freshly painted for the next resident. I thought, isn’t it funny how this cost me 1500 shekels, exactly 100 times what she told me that her husband had screwed her for in the courts? I am left with the small bill, because I cleaned up my mess the moment it happened.

Even so, there was a huge ripple effect. I’m going to list what was visible to me for one reason: you can see how one small act creates dozens of small effects on dozens of people. We don’t like to look at the consequences of our actions, but it’s useful to take something so small like this: 30 hours and 1500 shekels (approximately $380) – a small thing – and just take it apart for a minute. You might not want to read the whole list, just skim, but it’s fascinating to see how big the effect is of one action.

  • 7 people who came to do a good deed for a friend left the site feeling horrible about screwing a total stranger.
  • 4 of those people were children / teens who watched the shocked look on their parents’ faces and mine as they saw how they left me. I hope they didn’t learn not to help a friend, instead of learning to help a friend.
  • I never found the key she had borrowed from us, and I keep wondering if she lied about that and is going to rob the people who are moving in next, since she lied about other things.
  • At 10 pm at night, a moving company made tons of calls to find people to help with the move in the morning, to no avail.
  • At 10 am the next day, the owner of the moving company (a guy about 30 years old) showed up at my door, alone, and single-handedly decimated every item that was too big to fit into the elevator and dragged it all out to the street for the city to pick up. (Part 2 talks about the decimated furniture aspect of all this.)
  • My landlord had to pull strings at the municipality to get them to pick up on a non-trash day, and presumably the drivers and trash guys had extra work.
  • The mover, who was supposed to have the day off, had one of the hardest days of work possible, right before a day where he has two jobs in front of him. Presumably, he came home tired and hungry instead of full of energy and ready to spend time with his two-year-old.
  • Two parking spaces near the center of town were taken up by trash on the busiest shopping day of the week, so numerous people ended up driving around looking for spaces.
  • Because of the panic there were a number of small things that ended up my ex-husband’s problem instead of mine. I gave him the wrong key to the storage unit, left him with some bags I’d forgotten to pack, had him deal with the phone roaming, etc.
  • I spent a good part of the day lifting and helping him, which was good, because, obviously, I didn’t get to the gym. I also didn’t get the time to buy any gifts for my friends and family who I am visiting.
  • My good friends who wanted to have time to say goodbye on the phone with me found me stressed and preoccupied and unable to speak to them for five minutes that last day.
  • The storage company was worried I didn’t show up until the last minute with the few things I wanted to store and called me several times during the day.
  • I postponed or cancelled my call with my best friend several times during the day, and he was left worried and unable to support me because I was so stressed.
  • I fielded about 100 calls and messages from people who wanted the sudden free furniture I offered online, and everyone ended up disappointed (everything ended up in the trash). I’ll write more about that below in Part 2.
  • My daughter had to deal with moving her cat alone because I was preoccupied.
  • The house didn’t get as clean as I would have liked so the next resident was left with extra work.
  • I didn’t get to spend any time with my children that last day, except for the time they were helping around the house. I left my daughter for at least 3 months without properly having a nice meal with her on my last day.
  • I slept 3 hours over 2 nights.
  • I ate 1 proper meal over 2 days and just managed with fruit or whatever I could grab.
  • A number of phone calls for a client were postponed to the following week, further delaying a website project.
  • We cancelled a meeting about the Voice of Humanity Branding, meaning we are another few days late in starting to raise money for an amazing cause.
  • 3 days later I found out that someone who had put something out back for herself to pick up later didn’t and the house residents had to deal with additional trash.
  • The mirror in the elevator was damaged because the mover didn’t have the staff or equipment to properly protect everything.
  • The stairways and the elevator were left dirty because I didn’t have the time to clean up after everyone.
  • My landlord ended up dealing with one giant cabinet I didn’t have the heart to destroy or to make the lone mover carry down the stairs. (Hopefully he at least found someone to take it free so someone could enjoy it.)
  • We got to the airport an hour later than we wanted, our luggage didn’t get on the plane, and we spent 5 days without our luggage, costing the airline a good $700 and allowing us a new wardrobe.

Nothing tragic. No human lives. And all of this is just what I saw. Who knows what else was affected because the person in charge of the building got upset and was grouchy all day, because the mover was with me and not somewhere else, because I could have spent that money elsewhere, because the trash went to a landfill, because the bed went to the trash instead of a family who needed it? We’ll never know how much damage there was.

Part 2: Planting trash and our disdain for stuff

Stuff has no value anymore. I just bought a used car, which, for some reason has some value, but when you look on the road, you know that 99% of cars as old as this one don’t.

Throwing out so much stuff pained me. I wanted it to go to someone who needed it, someone who wouldn’t cherish it as much as I did, but who would use it. But stuff is less valuable than convenience. Used stuff for sure.

Two guys came in to take my cabinet, but all they took was one look and decided it was too much trouble to take it apart and put it back together. At retail, they’d spend $2000 to get something this nice. But convenience is more important, so maybe they found something else for free, or maybe they didn’t. Who knows?

All that stuff, it doesn’t become a tree again. It doesn’t go back to earth like our bodies or our excrement. It becomes junk on the earth. All the toys we got our children and all the books we used to read, all the cassette tapes, and all the fridges that no longer work. All the concrete that used to be a building and all the fiberglass that used to be cars. A little of it gets recycled, once, maybe twice. But most of it just becomes junk on the earth.

I’m not saying anything you don’t know.

I just had the horror of witnessing half of the contents of my apartment filling up 2 parking spots and being picked up by the municipality.

Almost all of my stuff was already second hand, some of it more. It had, by most people’s standards, been recycled more than the average number of lifetimes. None of that makes it take up less than 2 parking spaces.

Everything I own is now either with me where I travel, or in storage in 4 cubic meters somewhere, and the only things I kept were the art work my family painted, sculpted or drew, all the physical written letters anyone has ever sent me, and a few personal items. Nothing with any money value.

And so it goes. What has value can’t be bought with money. So why do we own so much stuff?


I am ashamed

I am ashamed.

“I hate that you say that whenever the Holocaust comes up,” she says.candle

I am ashamed.

“You shouldn’t say that.”

I shouldn’t say that. There were a lot of people who didn’t say things they shouldn’t say then. Weren’t there?

Then there were the people who did say what they shouldn’t have said. They didn’t fare so well.

Which one am I?

I’m ashamed, because most of the time I’m among those who didn’t speak.

Or maybe it’s the other way around.

Maybe it is easier not to say it, because then I can pretend I don’t know it. It makes it easier if I pretend, like we all pretend, that we don’t know.

But I know it. I know just what I am ashamed of.

“We should remember on this day. What, do you think we should forget?” she asks.

We remember, but we forgot why we should remember.

We should remember.

Why should we remember?

“We should remember so that it can never happen again.”

It’s happening again.

Have you noticed that it’s happening again?

“… so that we will never allow it to happen again.”

We are allowing it to happen again. We are doing worse. We are pretending it is not happening. We are pretending it is not our problem. We are pretending it is not our promise.

I am ashamed.

I am ashamed that in Congo, in Sudan, in Syria and in Myanmar, it is happening. I am ashamed that it is happening in Ethiopia, Somalia, Pakistan, in North Korea and in Afghanistan. I am ashamed that it took me all of 90 seconds to look up where the genocides in the world are happening today and they are happening in 9 countries.

I am ashamed that I don’t really care. Well, if I really cared, I would be ashamed. Maybe I don’t even care enough to be ashamed. Maybe if I think about it for more than 90 seconds and the problem is so big, I’m too small to even wrap my mind around it.

Let me start small. Let me start with the country that is supposed to remember, with Israel.

I am ashamed that my country has closed its borders to refugees from Sudan and Eritrea.

I am ashamed that we changed the law and that now we don’t call them refugees. We call them “Infiltrators.”

I saw a campaign poster in the January elections for parliament. It took full credit, it boasted, that it had succeeded in stopping infiltrators.

I am ashamed that my countrymen voted into power the party that is proud of its achievement of turning away refugees at the border. In every city a billboard. “We turn away refugees. Vote for us.” Not in those words. Because we changed the vocabulary, you see. I am ashamed.

We were once refugees.

It is Holocaust remembrance day.

We should remember.

Why should we remember?

So it won’t happen again.

I am ashamed that my country jails hundred and thousands of refugees, called infiltrators, with no right to legal representation, no name, no number, not even – not even – not even proper winter clothing for cold nights. Even in jail, the prisoners get clothes. Not these ones.

I am ashamed.

I am ashamed that at my country’s borders, my sons and sons of my neighbors sit and watch as the refugees reach the border and my soldiers, my sons, it is their job to watch and wait for the Egyptian soldiers to take the refugees away.

I am ashamed my soldiers are following orders. They are following orders to give the refugees some water and chat them up, and give them hope until the Egyptian soldiers come to get them, and I don’t know what the Egyptians will do with them.

Yes I do.

And they do.

And every. Single. One. Of those boys. Should recognize the phrase:

“I was only following orders.”

I am ashamed that I and my countrymen are not up in arms about this. At least one day a year. At least on this day. Holocaust remembrance day.

We should remember.

We were once slaves in Egypt.

We should remember.

We should be ashamed.

“You shouldn’t say ‘we’,” she says. “It’s wrong to generalize. You say it like you are blaming others.”

I am ashamed.

It is happening again.

I am allowing it to happen.

It is happening again.

I am doing nothing about it.

I am ashamed.

Confessions of a Revolution Addict

I remember when I said I would never go to a protest again. It was in 1986 or 1987.  I was a sophomore in college and I had the privilege of seeing police violence against my fellow students. It wasn’t even horrible violence.

You say you want a revolution?

You say you want a revolution?

It was enough violence for you to understand that seeing violence on TV does not prepare you for seeing violence in real  life. It was enough violence for me to say I would never go to a protest again.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t protest or take action. I just didn’t go to those gatherings called protests. Every now and again, though, I get sucked in. It’s like this insidious addiction. It’s a form of persistent and irrational belief. An insidious and irrational belief, that indeed, things can change. That indeed, those few crazies will make a difference somehow.

Tonight I went to a protest.

It wasn’t a big or loud protest and it wasn’t a violent protest. It was a weird protest, in fact, because these loonies are running for parliament.

Since when do revolutionaries run for parliament?

The funny thing is the protests look the same as ever. I strolled down the boulevard in Tel Aviv to see those same washed-out signs, long-haired stringy-bodied guys in ripped jeans, tables with printed papers, alternative band playing music, people sitting on the floor, and smoking. Smoking! In 2013, the revolutionaries are still sitting cross-legged in a circle and smoking tobacco. They’re still choosing slangy slogans with double entendre inappropriate for polite company.

It was fun. It was familiar. They used the R word a lot. (Revolution. Remember, that’s what this article is about.)

I thought about how far we have come. These revolutionaries are talking about breaking the bonds between big business and politicians, between money and the media, between capital and capitol. We weren’t talking about that 30 years ago. We were fighting to even have a nation. We’ve come a long way.

When I see these revolutionaries, I’m glad. I think of Abba Eben. I think of his wish that we would become a “normal” nation, like all the other nations.

We have become such a nation. Our economy is like those of our Western colleagues, with a growing gap between rich and poor. Our government has become layered with unnecessary spending that doesn’t result in better services for our citizens. Our educational system is failing us. We suffer from internal violence and drunk driving deaths more than wars or terrorism.

And we have those same revolutionaries as they have all over the world, protesting those same things, talking about social justice. We have the same protests. The same breed of people thinking that they will get together in our boulevards, our plazas, and ultimately our capitol city, and make a difference. We had a million of them out in the summer of 2012. A million. Our population is only 7 million. A million of us are angry enough to show up and protest, at least once.

“We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt,” they might say. “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check–a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind [our nation] of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.” Yes, they might say that.

Martin Luther King

Happy Martin Luther King day, to the revolutionaries, and to all who have revolution in their heart if not in their feet or on our lips. Happy Election Day to all of us, and may us all vote with our hearts and not with our fears or even our logic.

Let us, the voters be so bold tomorrow as to remember that it is us, not the pollsters, who determine the outcome of our elections.

Godspeed to us all. Let freedom ring.

Refugees: What We All Agree On

November 1st, I visited the sites where they are building detention centers for refugees and other types of “infiltrators” to Israel. The trip was organized by a few of the human rights organizations, and altogether some 50 journalists, activists and other interested parties were invited. It was fascinating and there are so many facets to this issue that it will take me several blog posts to cover everything.

What struck me most is that the issue is not controversial. In fact, pretty much everyone agrees on the following:

  1. It is wrong to jail innocent people.
  2. Our country needs to grant refugee status and work permits to people who are legitimate refugees. It is in our interest to provide health services and education to them as well.
  3. It is a good idea to find places to work and housing for these people throughout the country rather than just letting them congregate in the worst neighborhoods of Tel Aviv.
  4. The main concern for Israel and Israelis is what would happen if, due to our treating them like human beings, more refugees came to our border. Africa is big. Really big. We are a small country.

Depending who you talk to, people will give different interpretations and hues of these four points, for example, the people who live in the nearby Tel Aviv neighborhoods will stress moving them out of the city, whereas the human rights groups will emphasize giving them legal status and health care.

Regardless of the emphasis, though, everyone with familiarity with the situation agrees on these points. Ok, let me take that back. There are specific people in our government who do not agree on these points, specifically, the people making the decisions.

But if you ask the average citizen, they will agree with these points. Unfortunately, most of them will start with point 4, which is a testament to the government’s sweeping success in its propaganda campaign against the refugees.

So let me start with that. What if the rest of Africa comes to stay in Israel, because we allowed refugees to have a decent life here? OK, that is a stupid way to start. That’s the one question I don’t have an answer for. Ok, I have an answer. My answer is “so what”.

So what?

I don’t mean “so what” in a flippant way. I just mean, the fact that other refugees may want to come here is simply not a justification for throwing 20,000-60,000 innocent people in jail. Right now some of our jails hold the people who came across the border and are too weak to handle being thrown on the street in Tel Aviv. Our government decided to just leave them in the jails near the Southern border. I’ve certainly heard people say to me “Well, what would you have us do?” Not having any better plan isn’t a good enough reason to keep them in jail, either.

The current problem is manageable. We are talking about fewer than 60,000 people. It is not a threat to our nation’s identity as a Jewish state.

The right thing to do is agreed upon. Give people work permits. Whether you should do more than that is a question of self-interest. I would argue that it is in our self-interest to subsidize their learning English or Hebrew, and giving them work training.

I’ll go deeper into each of the issues, and more, in future posts.