Israeli neuroscientist Dr. Ilan Dinstein was in Vancouver last month to talk about autism research. (photo by Adele Lewin)
Neuroscientist Dr. Ilan Dinstein was in Vancouver last month to share research and expand knowledge on best practices internationally. An associate professor of psychology and cognitive and brain sciences at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), Dinstein is the director of the new National Autism Research Centre (NAC) in Israel.
David Berson, executive director of the Canadian Associates of BGU for British Columbia and Alberta, told the Independent: “CABGU was delighted to be a part of hosting Dr Ilan Dinstein in Metro Vancouver. This visit was spearheaded by Dr. Grace Iarocci, Dr. Elina Birmingham and Dr. Sam Doesburg from SFU [Simon Fraser University] and Dr. Tim Oberlander from B.C. Children’s Hospital.
“Ilan Dinstein is a true reflection of the pioneering spirit that is unique to the Negev region of Israel, where, over the past five years, clinicians from Soroka University Medical Centre and researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have organically come together to collaborate for the betterment of all of the residents with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] in the region.”
Dinstein spoke with the Independent about the new centre and the purpose of his visit to Canada.
“We started the centre five years ago, to try to understand different causes of autism,” he said. “Autism is not one disorder. There are different sub-types of autism, with different possible roots and risk factors. Some of those factors are biological or genetic; others might be environmental. For example, a premature birth might be a risk factor in the child developing autism. Or the age of the parents – a child of older parents might have a higher risk of autism diagnosis than if the same parents were younger. We at the centre are trying to discover how the combination of genetic and environmental issues affects autism development.”
According to Dinstein, one of the reasons for the creation of the centre was the way science is funded in Israel. “The funding usually comes for one specific question,” he explained, “but autism is a complex, systematic disorder and it needs many facets of study, measurement and research; it needs collaboration and sharing of information. At the centre, we are able to combine different fields of study with the clinical applications, as we work together with the Soroka medical centre.”
The scientists of the NAC study autistic patients from different multidisciplinary angles: neuroscience and cellular biology, language pathology and motor tracking, even facial features.
“The truly unique thing is that we do all our studies inside the hospital,” Dinstein said. “Parents come in with their children, usually when the children are about 3 years old and the parents and the children’s teachers notice the kids’ uncommon behavioural patterns. The diagnosis of autism usually takes four visits. During those visits, we work in collaboration with the doctors, measuring various characteristics of the child’s development to arrive at the right diagnosis.
“We also started a database of all our patients, so we have a centralized well of knowledge about how various biological, cultural and social factors might contribute to autism development.”
Of course, not all of the parents agree to have their child added to the database, but Dinstein said that their recruitment rate is about 80%.
After the diagnosis, the scientists participate in determining a personalized treatment program, based on their research. “Such a program might include teaching the children useful behavioural habits, helping them with language acquisition or providing occupational therapy,” explained Dinstein. “Some autistic kids are very agitated and certain motions, like spinning, might calm them down. Sometimes, autistic children need to learn basic skills: how to dress themselves or brush their teeth.”
Pharmaceuticals can also help children cope with autism, but Dinstein said that only about 10% of patients use medications.
At the NAC, the scientists don’t treat patients, but rather study and make recommendations, develop new technologies and new methods of dealing with the disorder. Working together with clinical professionals, they hope to contribute to a higher rate of success in treatment.
One of the most important aspects of Dinstein’s and his colleagues’ work is an annual follow-up on the patients in the database. Families are required to come back once a year after the initial diagnosis, so the service providers can see their progress, determine what worked and what didn’t, and adjust their recommendations accordingly.
“We are still in the process of enlarging this project,” said Dinstein. “We want to open other locations in Israel, make our database to cover the entire state of Israel.”
The centre’s autism research, in particular its database of patients with autism, inspired interest locally, from scientists and clinicians to families and service providers. The invitation for Dinstein to visit Vancouver came from a range of people.
“Your researchers want to create a similar database to ours, Canada-wide,” said Dinstein about his presentation at the Children’s Hospital. “I met with scientists from UBC [University of British Columbia] and SFU, even some from Victoria. I also met medical professionals, parents, some service providers and stakeholders. I see these meetings as the beginning of a close relationship between autism research in Israel and in Canada. There are similarities there, but there are differences, too. Both countries have different ethnic maps, cultural traditions and genetic variations. We all want to know how such diversity affects autism.”
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Want to make a difference in the lives of Israeli teens? Consider joining Israel Connect, a program where local volunteers connect online, one-on-one, via Zoom (a video conferencing app), with Israeli high school students who want to improve their English conversation and reading skills. The program starts at the end of October and is sponsored by Chabad Richmond. It entails a half-hour per week commitment.
“We’re looking for volunteer retirees, seniors or adults with flexible schedules. No previous tutoring experience is necessary and the curriculum is provided,” said Shelley Civkin, local coordinator of the program.
“We’re looking for Jewish adults who are fluent English speakers, have basic computer skills and own a computer with a camera,” said Civkin. Volunteers can do this from home and technical support is available if needed. Time preferences of volunteers will be coordinated beforehand and sessions take place in the morning between 7 and 11 a.m. any day from Sunday to Thursday. Volunteers will be trained in how to download and use Zoom.
“It’s a very meaningful, practical way for community members to support Israel,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman of Chabad Richmond. “You’ll be doing a mitzvah, while investing in Israel and its young people. Plus, good English skills will give them an advantage in accessing post-secondary education and getting better jobs.
“English proficiency is crucial to Israeli students, since it accounts for a third of their entrance exam marks for university,” he added. “Partnering with the Israeli Ministry of Education, the Israel Connect program targets teens from disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Israel. The tutoring sessions are vital to students’ upward mobility in terms of education and jobs, which is why this program is so vital.”
“Most volunteers really enjoy helping their Israeli students and make great connections with them. It often goes beyond simply tutoring the curriculum and turns into friendship and mentorship,” said Civkin. “This kind of one-on-one tutoring makes a significant difference in their lives, both educationally and personally. It’s hard to estimate the impact of this tutoring on Israeli youth, but we know it’s significant. And it’s incredibly satisfying to know that you’re doing something concrete to help Israeli students improve their lives. Several tutors have visited their students on trips to Israel, and keep in touch beyond just the school year. Building relationships is an integral and highly satisfying part of this program.”
Inbal Arieli recently published the book Chutzpah: Why Israel is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. (photo by Micha Loubaton)
Inbal Arieli has always been fascinated by what motivates and drives people, as well as what blocks their paths. “Throughout my career, which was mainly as a business executive, I always kept an eye on the human factor,” Arieli told the Independent. “And so, the businesses I started were somehow all related to that.”
Arieli, who is also a lawyer, is the owner and co-chief executive officer of Israeli start-up accelerator Synthesis. The company provides leadership assessment, as well as business training and development, in Israel, Canada and the United States.
“It is about the effect of the most critical skills that I think anyone should have today,” said Arieli about her recently published book Chutzpah: Why Israel is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “These are, according to the World Economic Forum, the skills which are required in the future, for anyone, regardless of your profession or future position. These are basic life skills – of critical thinking, decision-making, taking on initiative, etc., etc. There’s a long list of soft skills. The book is about these skills.
“What’s still interesting to me is, when looking at these skills, thinking about the future – the future of my kids, the future of the entrepreneurs here in Israel, the future of the job market in the world – about how can one practise these skills.
“The book shows the journey of a typical Israeli child from a very young age, as young as 3 or 4, until after military [age], young adult.”
In Chutzpah, Arieli shows how, in the five stages of childhood – infancy, childhood, adolescence, military service and then the big trip after the military – Israeli culture and society have produced principles, a framework and settings to foster these skills.
The book is not about Israel in and of itself. It is designed to help readers develop their own set of skills using the Israeli experience as an analogy.
Chutzpah (audacity), an ingrained trait, is very much nurtured in Israeli kids from a young age, said Arieli.
“From a very young age, chutzpah comes into play everywhere and anywhere,” she said. “Most of those skills, Israeli education and mindset … I think of them like muscles we all possess … only here, in Israel, we have access to the best gyms to practise these muscles.
“When you play at the playground, at age 3 or 4, the fact that you stand for your own opinion and find your own way of using the slide – an example I give in the book – that, in a sense, is a little bit of chutzpah. You don’t necessarily follow guidelines or practices. You bring your own personality [into your decisions and actions] at a very, very young age. So, it starts then, and then it fills up as we grow up here.”
Arieli sees Israeli society as being very open to giving freedom to everyone’s chutzpah – encouraging kids to exercise their chutzpah muscle, to be risk-takers, to stand out from the crowd, encouraging individualism along with a strong sense of collectivism. “Definitely, the framework that exists here, the environment, so many social structures are helping the muscles to remain developed and strong,” she said.
Chutzpah can be viewed as either negative or positive, and can be used in a positive or negative way. In Hebrew, one can differentiate between the two, depending on where the accent is placed. Arieli does not think it is important to differentiate between the two concepts of chutzpah. Rather, she contends that, just like any other muscle, the use of it needs to be calculated.
“Chutzpah is not a button you can press on or off,” she said. “It’s a mindset. In the context of innovation or entrepreneurship, I think it’s a very positive thing. And so are the other skills, ideas or principles spoken about in the book. I think it’s all a matter of finding the right balance between using them or not using them, and when to use them. What’s right for certain stages is less relevant for other stages.
“More than anything, I think it’s the combination of having these skills along with other skills is what’s optimal. But, I also think it’s very challenging to create an innovative society or an innovative team or group of people without allowing them to have a little bit of chutzpah.”
According to Arieli, just teaching kids how to work in today’s job market is a recipe for failure, as we have little knowledge of what work will even look like in their generation. The one and only thing we know for sure is that the future job market is uncertain. As such, the only way to prepare children is to equip them with the ability to be highly innovative and creative thinkers, capable of taking on initiatives by shaking things up and changing things.
“I wish for my kids that they will have as much chutzpah as possible when thinking about their future,” said Arieli. “They’ll have to reinvent themselves during their career several times and I want them to be proactive in that.”
Another trait Arieli talks about in Chutzpah is balagan (mess or chaos).
“Anyone who has visited Israel knows what I’m talking about – be it traffic, on the playground, in restaurants – everything is really chaotic here,” said Arieli. “But, that chaos, balagan, propels us toward new order, allowing us to rise every time from that balagan.”
Another factor Arieli discusses in her book is teamwork and “how Israeli society, while sometimes divided, at its core, has a galvanizing mechanism rooted in survival, through our culture … what we endured as a people and our mandatory army service … all of which unite us like no other nation on earth.”
ראש ממשלת קנדה לשעבר מנסה לעשות עסקים בישראל – חלק ג’
מכלהלקוחותוהפעילויותשאנימעורבבהן, אוליאיןדברטוביותרמאשרשילובכמהתחומיענייןשהיולי. קודםכלהקרבהשלהממשלהשלנולישראלבזמןכהונתי, שניתהענייןשלנובטכנולוגיהוחדשנות – השקענוזמןרבבקידוםתוכניותקנדיותובנוסף, בתחוםהמסחרחלקמהמשימהשליבתפקידהייתהלהרחיבאתרשתהמסחרשלקנדה. כך מציין ראש ממשלת קנדה לשעבר, סטיבן הרפר, שביקר בישראל לאחרונה. הוא רואיין לעיתון “גלובס”. כשנכנסתילתפקידהיולקנדהרקחמישההסכמיסחר, אחדמהםעםישראל, וכשעזבתיאתהתפקידכברהיולנוחמישיםואחדהסכמים. אבלגםההסכםעםישראלהיהמיושןוכללרקמגווןצרשלסחורות, ולכןעדכנואתההסכםהזה.
אחד הדברים שהטרידו אותי במהלך הכהונה היה שזרם הסחר, השירותים וההשקעות בין קנדה וישראל עדיין קטן. זאת למרות המאפיינים של הכלכלה הישראלית ובפרט ההובלה הטכנולוגית שלה, ולמרות המאפיינים של הכלכלה הקנדית והעובדה ששתיהן מתקדמות ובשתיהן יש קהילה יהודית גדולה והסכמי סחר. לכן עדכנו את ההסכם למודרני יותר כדי לסייע לתקן את זה. אבל כמובן שגם חיפשנו הזדמנויות כדי להגדיל באמת את הסחר והפעילות העסקית בינינו ובמיוחד לנצל את ההתקדמות של ישראל בתחום הטכנולוגי.
אני רוצה לראות טכנולוגיה ישראלית מגיעה לקנדה ואני רוצה שקנדים ינצלו את הזדמנויות הרווח בתחום הזה. גם בישראל רוצים למצוא הזדמנויות לגדול ולהיכנס לשווקים חדשים בצפון אמריקה. דרך אגב אני חייב לציין שבזמן כהונתי עודדתי שיתוף פעולה צבאי מוגבר עם ישראל – מן הסתם מטעמים של מדיניות חוץ – אבל הדבר בנה הרבה מהגשרים הללו. שיתופי הפעולה היו יותר בצד המודיעיני, וכמובן צוותים שהחליפו ביניהם מידע ושיטות עבודה.
התוצאה הכי טובה שיכולה להיות לכל הדברים האלה היא מערכת שווקים גלובלית שבאמת משולבים זה בזה, והפריה הדדית ברחבי העולם. אם נשאיר בצד את הדמויות הספציפיות, את המדיניות ואת הממשלות, המציאות היא שזהו אזור שבו סביר שיקרה תהליך שברמה מסוימת תהיה התפצלות לשניים.
אנחנו מדברים על התחום הביטחוני, שהוא אינטרס של העולם הסיני והעולם האמריקאי, אבל אנחנו חברות חופשיות ודמוקרטיות ואנחנו יודעים עד כמה הציבור מודאג מעניינים של הפרת פרטיות ושימוש לרעה בדאטה. אפילו בהקשר של הטכנולוגיות המסחריות הקיימות – סין היא מדינת מעקב, וזה לא שהיא לא מציעה מוצרים מסחריים – אבל כל מהלך ההצטיידות של מגזר הטכנולוגיה שלה הוא לכיוון מעקב, במסגרת האינטרס של ביטחון המדינה.
לכן יש בעצם שני מודלים. אנחנו לומדים מהצבא ומהמודיעין ומהיכולות של ביטחון לאומי, ומבצעים התאמה למטרות תאגידיות מסחריות. אלה מטרות הגנתיות באופן טהור, יש להדגיש, אף פעם לא התקפיות, לחלוטין במסגרת החוק ובמסגרת מה שאנו מחשיבים הגנה נורמלית של הפרטיות. אלה שני מודלים שונים וקשה מאוד לשלב ביניהם. אנחנו רוצים לוודא שכל דבר שמפותח ייעשה במסגרת של חברה דמוקרטית וחופשית ובמסגרת של שימוש מסחרי. זה האינטרס של חברות דמוקרטיות וחופשיות כמו קנדה וכמו ישראל.
הרפר ושות’ היא חברה קטנה אך בעלת פעילות גלובלית. אנו עושים עסקים בעולם ואנו עושים עסקים גם בסין, אך אנו עושים זאת בזהירות. זה חשוב שיהיו קשרים כלכליים ומסחריים עם סין, זה טוב לעולם בטווח הארוך. אז אמנם מדובר על קשרים עסקיים, אך כאלה שנעשים למטרות שעולות בקנה אחד עם האינטרס הלאומי הרחב.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu places his vote on election day. (photo by Haim Zach/IGPO from Ashernet)
Unless something dramatic happens between when we write this and when you read this, the future of Israel’s government remains uncertain. To avert a third election in a year, the most viable option for a stable government would appear to be a “national unity” or “centrist coalition” involving both major parties, Likud and Blue and White.
This was the subject of face-to-face discussions between leaders and President Reuven Rivlin, but no agreement was reached. So Binyamin Netanyahu, the incumbent prime minister, has a few weeks to try to cobble something together. If he fails, Rivlin will probably call on Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to give it a go. Some bets are that, if it comes to that, there will be enough Knesset members desperate enough to avoid a return to the polls that some accommodation will be made. Perhaps the likeliest possibility is a Likud-Blue and White unity government without Netanyahu. (This scenario would become likelier if Netanyahu officially faces criminal charges in the next few days.)
Any broad coalition of this sort would lead to a degree of progress on some fronts – if far-right and religious parties are excluded, some policies and legislation that appeal to the secular majority are likely to advance – while progress on some other fronts would likely stall.
One example is the peace process – although there is, basically, no progress to stall at this point. There is great divergence in Israel over what the next steps should be vis-à-vis the Palestinians. In a broad-based coalition government, that uncertainty would define government policy, probably leading to inaction.
During the recent election, Netanyahu went further than previous leaders, promising to annex chunks of the West Bank to Israel. Gantz and the centre-left in Israel have been confounded by the reality that, while they seek a two-state solution and recognize a one-state situation as demographically unsustainable, until Israel sees a benefit to ending the occupation and can be certain that an independent Palestine in the West Bank will not be a launch pad for terror, independence will not come and the occupation will not end. Without that, no peace, no Palestine.
As a result, we will likely see more of the status quo, until some force acts to alter it. While Netanyahu’s provocative promise to annex areas would have altered the status quo for the worse, a precipitous end to the occupation that left a vacuum to be filled by those wishing to do Israel harm would likewise be a change for the worse. The tense status quo Israelis and Palestinians have now is definitely not great, especially for Palestinians, but it is better than outright war.
An old tale has the rabbi of a medieval Jewish community visiting the duke who has threatened to throw the Jews from his realm. The rabbi returns to his community and tells his people, “I convinced the duke to let us stay – if I can teach his dog to talk within five years.” The Jewish community is dumbfounded. “What a promise? It’s impossible!” The rabbi says, “Relax. I’ve got five years. The dog could die. The duke could die. I could die. Meanwhile, I bought us five years.”
The occupation, the statelessness of the Palestinian people, the recurring missile attacks from Gaza and the violence against civilians are not things we should understate or dismiss. But neither should we believe that any change is necessarily an improvement. The status quo is better than war and it is better than the dissolution of the Jewish state. The status quo is not ideal, but it may be better than currently available alternatives.
Tamar on a visit to Canada. (photo from Victor Neuman)
In this eight-part series, the author recounts his life in Israel around the time of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The events and people described are real but, for reasons of privacy, the names are fictitious.
Part 3: Dating, Israeli Style
After our kibbutz commander, Gidon, had given everybody their marching orders, Tamar and I went back to her flat and started hanging black plastic on all the windows. It was late afternoon. Darkness was on its way and it was going to be our first night of wartime blackout. I didn’t bother hanging plastic in the shack I was originally assigned. Days before the war, Tamar and I had begun living together at her place. I got the girl of my dreams and a room upgrade all at the same time.
As a kibbutz volunteer from abroad, I was on the lowest rung of the accommodation ladder. All such volunteers were given a room of their own but it was in a sreef (shack), which was no more than an old wooden cabin left over from the first days of the kibbutz. These were the slap-dash shacks occupied by the kibbutz founders, intended for shelter only until the kibbutz was able to get on its feet. Once crops were sold and the money was flowing, housing was built out of concrete and tile. Who got into the new units was purely a matter of seniority. You could hold the highest position in the hierarchy (kibbutz secretary) but you’d still live in a shack until it was your turn to upgrade.
Our kibbutz had around 250 members and all the members had newer homes that were on the small side, but clean, solid and agreeable. None of them had a tub. Too much of a waste of water and space. Instead, there were narrow-stall kerosene showers for those who preferred not to use the communal hot showers down the path. Tamar had one of these. You would start a kerosene fire at the base of the water tank and go away for 20 minutes while your water heated. Then you’d come back, turn off the kerosene and enjoy your three minutes of hot water. If you wanted to push it, you could leave the kerosene burner on while you showered and squeeze a couple of more minutes out of the hot water supply. There was a down side to that, however. Though the burner was screened from the shower water, things could go wrong. During one of my showers, water got into my kerosene burner. It overflowed and I had the disconcerting experience of washing my upper end while flaming drops of kerosene landed around my feet.
The evening we were hanging the black plastic, Lev, the banana boss, came by to tell me he was being called up to the war and I would have to do everything I could to maintain irrigation on my own. The rains hadn’t come yet and the bananas wouldn’t recover if an irrigation cycle was skipped. He was going to try to get an exemption from the army on the grounds that the all-important banana crop stood in danger of being devastated in his absence, but he was not sure if it would come through. It wasn’t a cop-out. It was true. Lev was a banana guru and he was single-handedly responsible for the establishment of the kibbutz’s most important cash crop. Without him, there was nobody to be the banana whisperer and make the damn things thrive the way he did. I could do irrigation on my own but, for the rest, I always looked to Lev for direction.
Irrigation was done around the clock. With several fields to supply and only enough pressure for one field at a time, I would have to be changing taps, cleaning filters and dumping fertilizer at various times of day and night. I would have to catnap between sessions and try to be awake enough to stay on top of the schedule. I told Lev I could do it and he went away satisfied. Tamar looked at me as if I was crazy to agree but she was an Israeli, she understood. Then Lev came back and told me I could use the Willis and I was much happier. The jeep would get me to the fields a lot faster than the tractor. More time to rest. More time to sleep.
But not that night. The war was edging closer to our ordinary lives and, all night long, vehicles of all kinds were coming and going. There was the noise of a truck pulling up, the sound of boots pounding past our window, loud voices giving orders, the truck driving away, then silence. The same sequence repeated over and over again.
By morning, the kibbutz wasn’t the same place. All our trucks and buses were gone and so were all the young men and some of the young women. Why not all the young women? Because, while the Israeli army gave weapons training to both sexes, there were still some traditional attitudes toward women in war. The women all knew how to handle weapons but, somehow, when push came to shove, they never ended up on the front lines or in tanks or in planes. In war – at that point in time – their duties were confined to nursing, communications and secretarial work. Most of the young women reservists, like Tamar, remained on the kibbutz, along with the older folks. With them was a ragtag bunch of hapless tourist-volunteers wishing they had picked another time to experience life on a kibbutz. And then there was me: a volunteer worker who had become a candidate for kibbutz membership. And now we were running the show.
Gidon dropped by to talk to me.
“Are you going to the fields after dark?” he asked.
“Yes, I have to change the taps.”
“Two things then. First thing. You have to sign out when you leave and sign in when you come back. Second thing. You have no weapons training, so you have to take Tamar with you as your guard. Are we understanding?”
Conversations with Gidon were never anything but straight to the point and businesslike. He never had much of a sense of humour at the best of times and he now had the safety of 250 people in his hands. He felt the weight of it deeply and I wasn’t about to make his job any harder.
The next night, Tamar and I signed ourselves out and headed for the fields. I drove. She sat next to me with her Uzi resting on her lap. When I got to the irrigation pipes, I got out and, in the glare of the jeep’s headlights, I cleaned the filters, dumped sacks of fertilizer into the tanks, reset the flow timers and hopped back into the vehicle. All the while, Tamar kept her weapon at the ready and scanned the shadows of the banana trees for trouble.
There was a beautiful full moon out. A lover’s moon, just for the three of us. A guy, a gal and her Uzi. This was dating, Israeli style.
Victor Neuman was born in the former Soviet Union, where his family sought refuge after fleeing Poland during the Second World War. The family immigrated to Canada in 1948 and Neuman grew up in the Greater Vancouver area. He attended the University of British Columbia and obtained a BA and MA with majors in English literature and creative writing. Between 1968 and 1974, he made two trips to Israel, one of which landed him on a kibbutz at the time of the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Upon his return to Canada, he studied Survey Technology at BCIT and went on to a career of designing highways for the Province of British Columbia. When he retired, he reconnected with his roots in creative writing and began writing scripts for Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir concerts and articles for the Jewish Independent. Neuman and his wife, Tammy, live in southeast Vancouver and enjoy the company of friends, their extensive extended family and their four sons.
ראש ממשלת קנדה לשעבר סטיבן הרפר, 2011. (flickr.com)
ראש ממשלת קנדה לשעבר מנסה לעשות עסקים בישראל – חלק ב’
ראש ממשלת קנדה לשעבר סטיבן הרפר מציע לתת מענה לזרמים שהעלו את טראמפ לשלטון – חוסר הביטחון התעסוקתי והחשש מהגירה – כך שכדי לזכות בבחירות, המפלגה הרפובליקנית לא תהיה תלויה במועמדותו של כוכב טלוויזיה מגלומן. הרפר שביקר לאחרונה בישראל רואיין לעיתון “גלובס”.
הספר שכתבתי לאחרונה הוא בדיוק על כך. אנו חיים בתקופה שנקראת עידן השיבוש. בין אם זה שיבוש טכנולוגי כפי שאנו עושים כאן בקרן ובין אם זה שיבוש פוליטי רחב יותר או שינוי של ערכים חברתיים, ויש הרבה ממה להיות מודאגים, אבל אני מאמין גדול שאנו חיים בזמנים הכי טובים בהיסטוריה ואנו חיים בקנדה ובישראל שהם שניים מהמקומות שהכי טוב לחיות בהם. ועדיין אני חושב שיש כל סיבה להאמין שלמרות הלחצים, הסכנות והסיכונים לילדים שלנו, להם יהיו הרבה יותר אפשרויות וחיים הרבה יותר טובים מאשר שלנו – שהם כבר חיים טובים למדי.
היכן זה נוגע לטכנולוגיה? הרבה אנשים לא יודעים זאת אך לפני זמן רב מאוד הייתי מתכנת. החינוך הפורמלי שלי היה ככלכלן אבל לימדתי את עצמי תכנות. אחד הנושאים שעולים בשיחות על טכנולוגיה זה כל התחזיות על הדברים הנוראים שעלולים לקרות, כולל מיליונים שיאבדו את מקומות עבודתם. ביליתי זמן רב בלימוד ההיסטוריה של הכלכלה והמחשבה הכלכלית. משחר קיומה של המערכת הקפיטליסטית בסוף המאה השמונה עשרה, בכל דור ודור, כמה מהמוחות הטובים ביותר חזו שהגל הבא של הטכנולוגיה יהרוס את האנושות ויגרום לכולם לאבד את עבודתם. דרך אגב, את אחת התחזיות הללו השמיע ג’ון מיינארד קיינס, שסבר בתחילה שהמיתון הוא תוצאה של שינוי טכנולוגי, ואני יכול להמשיך עם הרשימה הזאת. כולם באיזשהו שלב טענו כך.
ההוכחה האנקדוטלית שלי לכל אותם אנשים שמודאגים מאיבוד מקומות העבודה – הביטו על כל תחומי הכלכלה, על כל המקומות בעולם שבהם החדשנות הטכנולוגית נמצאת בחזית – אלה המקומות שבהם מקומות עבודה חדשים נוצרים, ובאופן כמעט בלתי נמנע בכל המקומות הללו נוצר מחסור עצום בעובדים. היכן שאין חדשנות או שקיימת התנגדות לחדשנות – יש אבטלה עצומה. כל האפשרויות שעומדות בפנינו, גם בתחום העבודה אבל גם בתחום איכות החיים, כולן ניצבות לצד החדשנות הטכנולוגית. שם טמון העתיד – לא רק של המסחר אלא גם של הכוחות הדיפלומטיים והצבאיים.
עם זאת, האם קיים תסריט שבו הטכנולוגיה יכולה לגלוש למקומות לא רצויים? בהחלט. אבל אין סיבה שהדבר יקרה בהכרח. אין סיבה שלא להאמין שאם ננהג אפילו חצי בהגיון, אזי לא רק שהגל הבא של הטכנולוגיה יהפוך את חיינו לטובים יותר – אלא שהוא גם ייצור מיליוני מקומות עבודה חדשים שלא היו קיימים קודם לכן. אגב, וורן באפט אמר שזה שטכנולוגיה מצליחה מסחרית, לא אומר שמישהו מרוויח ממנה הרבה כסף. לכן הסיבה שחברתי לאנשים החכמים הללו מהקרן שהיא לא רק שאנחנו רוצים לרכוב על הטרנד, אלא שמשקיעים גם יוכלו לשים כסף בבנק.
הרפר מסביר איך זה משתלב עם עסקיו האחרים: אחרי שעזבתי את הפרלמנט לפני כשלוש שנים, אני וקבוצה מהסגל שלי ניסינו לחשוב מה יהיה הצעד הבא ואילו דברים נרצה לעשות. הייתי בר מזל שרבים מהבכירים שליוו אותי הצטרפו אליי במיזם הזה. מה שהחלטנו שאנו רוצים לעשות זה לשלב את הניסיון שלנו ואת רשת הקשרים הגלובלית כדי לסייע ללקוחות – לאו דווקא קנדיים – למצוא מיזמים רווחיים.
The author was in the banana fields, working on the irrigation system, when the war started. (photo from Victor Neuman)
In this eight-part series, the author recounts his life in Israel around the time of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The events and people described are real but, for reasons of privacy, the names are fictitious.
Part 2: The War Begins
Sometimes, war begins with a whimper and not a bang. It was Oct. 6, 1973. I was back on the kibbutz that I had been on with Suzanne, except Suzanne had never returned from Paris.
I was in the banana fields, working alone on the irrigation system, when I began to feel a strangeness in the air. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on what was different. I was alone – just me and my tractor – but that was nothing new. The bananas were not ready for harvesting, so no one else was supposed to be around. The pruning of new shoots was over with and the stripping of dead leaves had been done a couple of weeks before.
Not being able to determine what was bothering me in that moment, I went back to pondering the meaning of my life. I had been to Israel on a previous trip, spent a year or so on three different kibbutzim, done archeology in the Negev at a site called Tel Beersheva, worked on construction of a chemical pipeline near Arad, gone back to Canada to get my master’s in English literature, and now I was back in Israel, at the age of 28. I still had no clue as to what I wanted to do. Go back to Canada? Teach English at the University of British Columbia? Stay in Israel? Become a member of the kibbutz?
Skewing my thought process was my relationship with a kibbutz Sabra named Tamar. By all I hold dear, Tamar was the most beautiful creature I had ever laid eyes on. When I met her, I was gob-smacked and smitten. When I found out she kept an Uzi in her flat, I was gob-smacked, smitten – and careful. She had become an officer during her two years of military service. On her bookcase, there was a photo of her looking rather sternly at her platoon. They were standing stiffly at attention while she inspected their weapons. Definitely not a gal to be trifled with.
Complicating things more was the fact that Tamar was 26 and the first child born on the kibbutz after it was founded in 1949. She was the darling of the kibbutz and, at the same time, a big concern to everybody. After all, she was already 26 and, by the standards of the day, she was on the cusp of becoming an elderly single. She had a problem common to many kibbutz youths. Who was there to get it on with? Our kibbutz, like many others, had what’s called a beit yeladim (children’s house). All babies that are weaned are taken and put in the children’s house; there, they are raised until they are of high school age. They visit with their parents frequently but, at the end of the day, they return to their communal home to sleep and live. The result is that they grow up feeling that their peers are like their brothers and sisters. Romantic feelings are hard to come by and their best chance of finding a partner is to match up with somebody from outside the kibbutz.
The kibbutzniks liked me. I worked hard. I had a university education. I always volunteered when extra work needed doing and I had applied for membership. Everybody was pulling for me and Tamar. I told my kibbutz friend Aaron that my dating Tamar was still a thing in its early stages. He was having none of it. To make his point more emphatic, he switched to English and called me by my kibbutz nickname, Kanadi. “No, no, no, Kanadi. You marry 26!” It was a romance in a goldfish bowl but I didn’t mind. She was gold to me.
When my mind returned to what was happening in the banana fields, it hit me. The constant hum of traffic on the Afula road was missing. This road was a major corridor just below our fields and it was constantly abuzz with trucks, tractors and cars. Israelis called it the “Ruler Road.” As they put it, “It is straight as any school ruler and it even has a hole in the end – Afula.” (There was never much respect for the town of Afula.) But now the road was silent. I drove the tractor to the top of a hill to get a better look and was surprised to see the road deserted. Something was going on.
Suddenly, there was a horrific racket from above. A helicopter gunship roared overhead, heading straight up the Afula road at just above treetop level. It was so close I could see the barrels of guns bristling from every port on its side. In another second, it was gone. Then, a second gunship barreled through. Same height and same direction. I started to worry.
I hopped on my tractor and booted it back to the kibbutz. Same story all along the way. No traffic on the roads. Nobody working any of the fields. Nobody walking around. Just me. As I drove into the parking lot, the roads and walkways were deserted. It was as if a mysterious virus had devastated the earth and I was the only one left. I was starting to feel like I was living in an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Then, I heard voices coming from the dining hall, so I walked in that direction. When I entered, everyone was there. The voices had dropped off and now there was only one voice dominating. It was Gidon, our designated commander.
Gidon was a recent immigrant and a South African Jew. It never surprised me that he would be in charge of our defence. Every South African immigrant I met in Israel was trained in the military. Not by Israel but by South Africa. The British won the Boer War but the Afrikaners were running the show and they were determined to never let the blacks get the upper hand. It seemed that most South Africans knew one end of a gun from the other, even the many who were disgusted with the brutality of apartheid and had left the country. So, while most Jews immigrating to Israel were novices when it came to the art of war and had to be extensively trained, the South African Jews I met had come prepared.
Gidon’s voice wasn’t the loudest I’d ever heard but, in the hush of that room, it was loud enough. Thankfully, his Hebrew was as far along as mine and I understood everything he said: “… and there will be no more swimming in the pool. The swimming pool is now our emergency drinking water supply. All tractors and vehicles are to be filled up with fuel and oil. All tractors and vehicles are to be scattered around the kibbutz and not parked in one place. The bomb shelters are no longer discothèques. The kids have to clear out all the records, strobe lights and disco stuff.
“Before the day is over, I want white lines painted on all the shelter pathways. We are blacking out the kibbutz and we have to be able to find our way to the shelters in the dark. No lights on after dark in the rooms unless there is black plastic taped to the windows. Patrols by the shomer leila [night guard] around the kibbutz perimeter are to be carried out seriously. I don’t want to hear of any guards hanging out in the kitchen having food and coffee. They can pack their lunches and eat them as they do their rounds. No, we can’t double the patrols. They’ll just end up shooting one another. That is all. We are at war. Are we understanding? Then go do your jobs.”
I looked across the room at Tamar. She looked back and her expression was serious. We were at war.
Victor Neumanwas born in the former Soviet Union, where his family sought refuge after fleeing Poland during the Second World War. The family immigrated to Canada in 1948 and Neuman grew up in the Greater Vancouver area. He attended the University of British Columbia and obtained a BA and MA with majors in English literature and creative writing. Between 1968 and 1974, he made two trips to Israel, one of which landed him on a kibbutz at the time of the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Upon his return to Canada, he studied Survey Technology at BCIT and went on to a career of designing highways for the Province of British Columbia. When he retired, he reconnected with his roots in creative writing and began writing scripts for Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir concerts and articles for the Jewish Independent. Neuman and his wife, Tammy, live in southeast Vancouver and enjoy the company of friends, their extensive extended family and their four sons.
Harriet Frost performs at Jacob’s Ladder Festival in Israel last May. (photo from Harriet Frost)
How best to describe Harriet Frost’s music? “Impressionistic poetry, witty wordplay, music that is intimate and universal,” is what CBC Radio had to say. “Folk rock with a jazz funk twist,” read another recent write-up ahead of a performance at the renowned Jacob’s Ladder Festival in Israel this May.
“My music explores personal, topical, political and spiritual landscapes. They can be humorous, joyful, painful, ironic, beautiful and not so beautiful. It’s poetry, folk, jazz, rock, spoken word, ancient and postmodern,” she says in her own words.
What is not open to interpretation is that the Vancouver singer, songwriter and musician has had a busy spring and summer. In addition to her Israeli performance, she has been organizing local house concerts in town and working on a new album.
Music is an integral part of what she does outside of being on stage or in a studio, as well. Her work at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital has shown the therapeutic effects music has on people regardless of their age. “You can reach people, even those in deep states of dementia, through music,” she said. Frost also teaches Judaic studies, trains youth and adults to chant from Torah, and has been exploring cantorial music.
The Israel connection
Jacob’s Ladder is more than a music festival to Frost – it is the title of a song she wrote and dedicated to her father, who escaped Nazi Germany for Palestine in 1939. He witnessed the birth of the Israeli state in his decade living there. The song is featured in the Lucy McCauly documentary film Facing the Nazi Era.
Canada ultimately became home for the Frost family, yet the connection with Israel remained. When it was time for university, Harriet chose four years at Hebrew University in Jerusalem – a student by day and a musician playing in the cafés at night. She was the musical director of the groundbreaking theatre troupe, the Gypsies, made up of Palestinian, Israeli and North American artists who performed peace-themed musicals for Israeli and Palestinian youth. Her personal musical biography is so resonant with Israeli content that when a friend told her last year about Jacob’s Ladder and urged her to look into it, she couldn’t resist. The invitation from its organizers came a few months later.
Founded in 1976, Jacob’s Ladder is the longest and most established music festival in Israel, featuring a wide selection of folk genres and international music presented each spring and fall. Located in the north, on the Sea of Galilee, Frost said her first feeling upon arrival was like being at the Vancouver Folk Festival at Jericho Beach Park, due to the proximity to the water.
“It was 45 degrees,” she recalled. “I had no idea what to expect. When I was first introduced as a Vancouverite and the only Canadian performing at the festival this year, people started cheering. It was so welcoming and fantastic.”
She played in an air-conditioned 250-seat hall filled to capacity with an audience comprised of Americans, Israelis, Europeans, Canadians and fellow musicians “of all ages,” she said, “teenagers, families with kids, millennials, a full arc of generations.”
At the Ginosar Kibbutz and Hotel, which hosts the famous event, she met numerous performers who had come to the festival and were playing music in the hotel lobby between their own sets. It was an extraordinary opportunity to connect with some of the country’s most notable folk musicians, she said.
Concerts and album
Through November and beyond, along with other venues, Frost is organizing a series of house concerts, given the positive response to one she held in April in advance of her Jacob’s Ladder appearance. As the name suggests these are concerts hosted in someone’s home, where, according to Frost, “musicians have an opportunity to present their original material in a concert situation, unlike in a café or club where folks may be eating, drinking and socializing.
“There is an intimate concert vibe that is created in the home. You have the freedom to play a full night’s worth of material and really connect with a small audience (between 30 and 50). People attend specifically to listen to new music.” Currently, Frost has been collaborating at these concerts with Vancouver multi-instrumentalist Martin Gotfrit.
And a new album is in the works. Working title: Jacob’s Ladder.
For more information about the album and upcoming concerts, visit harrietfrost.com.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
The author took refuge from the perils of the streets by joining a kibbutz as a volunteer. (photo from Victor Neuman)
In this eight-part series, the author recounts his life in Israel around the time of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The events and people described are real but, for reasons of privacy, the names are fictitious.
Before the War: Part 1
“The bomb shelters can no longer be used as discotheques.”
It was Oct. 6, 1973. Gidon, our kibbutz commander, was announcing that we were under attack and giving us our preparation instructions, including the immediate clearing out of bomb shelters for use in the event of air attack.
Syria had overrun the Golan defences and Egypt was pouring into the Sinai. I was in disbelief over the whole thing. Last year, I was writing my master’s thesis, analyzing Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Now I could be writing something more like Warfare: A Tourist’s Guide. How had my life gone so abruptly from pondering literature to pondering existence?
There’s an expression Israelis use: “I could sell you.” In other words, you are ripe for the plucking and I could easily take advantage.
When I arrived in Israel on my first trip, in 1968, I was totally pluckable. No knowledge of Hebrew. No knowledge of the country. No tour group guide to protect me. All I had was my curiosity about this country that had recently achieved a stunning victory in the Six Day War. I think that event had caught the attention of many like myself, and there was a huge influx of tourists and volunteers to visit this remarkable place.
I was bought and sold in the streets of Tel Aviv. Simply buying a prickly pear fruit was fraught with fraud.
“One-and-a-half lira please,” the street vendor told me. I paid him and started walking away. Then an Israeli stepped up to the stand.
“One-and-a-half lira please.”
This time, the buyer was having none of it. “Yes, one-and-a-half lira, but you’ll take 75 grush.” Leaving no opportunity for a response, he paid what he wanted and took the fruit. I had just paid double for the same thing.
At another time, I tried to be smarter. I needed to change my German marks into Israeli money. I was aware there was a black market for foreign currency and the street usually offered better rates than the bank. It didn’t take long to find a dealer. They can smell a tourist a mile away. One came up to me asking if I had foreign currency to change. I asked him what rate he was offering for German marks. He gave me a number that sounded pretty good and we agreed on a transaction. I handed over the Deutschmarks – he could have bolted but he was an older guy and I figured I could outrun him if I had to.
He took my money and began counting out Israeli currency. I thought there was something odd about the way he wrapped the money around one finger as he flipped the bills and counted them out to me. Later, when he was long gone, I recounted what he gave me and found I was several bills short. He had flipped the bills so that he had ended up counting the same ones twice and giving me less than we had agreed upon. In the end, I was “sold” again and had even less than I would have gotten at the bank.
You never really lose at these things because they always come with lessons. In most cases, you win some and you learn some. The only time you really lose is when misfortune befalls you and you’re sleeping through class.
I took refuge from the perils of the streets by joining a kibbutz near Haifa as a volunteer. Kibbutzim are basically communal societies where all wealth, housing and equipment are owned by the collective. Material perks like TVs or stereos are doled out on a seniority basis. No one – even those running the place – has any real power over others or more wealth than others. The top jobs are considered something to be avoided. You have all the responsibility and headaches of administering the mess without any particular rewards. In my experience, a kibbutznik generally takes the top job when it is their turn in the rotation and they simply can’t get out of it. Socialism in its purest form and no commissar overlords.
Kibbutz life was good. Nobody tried to rob me and, in return for picking grapefruit and oranges, I got accommodation, food, Hebrew lessons and free tours of the countryside. Sometimes, on my days off, I went further afield.
One of those forays was particularly memorable. My girlfriend, Suzanne, was a kibbutz volunteer from Paris and together we decided to attend Independence Day celebrations in Jerusalem. We booked a hotel room in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and thought about our plans for the evening. The debated options were hanging out in the room or going to the cinema to take in a movie that was a modern American take on Romeo and Juliet. Romance won the day and we left for the movie. The movie was mediocre. Things back at the hotel were less so.
When we got back, we were met by police and the hotel manager. The manager apologized for the inconvenience but we were being moved to another room and could we please collect our luggage from the original room. The sight of our old room was amazing. It was all sparkly. The windows were gone and every horizontal surface was covered with dust. Someone had set off a bomb in the alleyway outside our room.
You might think that a bomb blast would send great shards of glass flying across the room. A blast close by doesn’t. Instead, it pulverizes the glass into a fine dust and that’s what is blown across the room. Objectively speaking, the room looked beautiful – like a fantasy bed chamber decorated in fine diamonds. In reality, we were shaken, as we carefully swept the glass from our bags and began hauling them to our new room on the opposite side of the hotel. It was nice. It had windows.
And the movie? We upgraded its rating from mediocre to fantastic.
Suzanne and I had different travel plans and, after Jerusalem, she traveled to be with friends on a kibbutz north of Hadera. I was concerned that I didn’t have enough money to fly home if the need arose. I was also learning very little Hebrew from the kibbutz we had been on and it was getting annoying needing Suzanne to translate for me wherever we went. When we parted, I headed south to find work in Arad, hoping I could make some serious money and learn Hebrew by some kind of immersion method.
The immersion was profound. I was plunked down in an environment where nobody spoke English. The Arad employment office put me on a crew building a pipeline that would take Dead Sea chemicals to a refinery in Tishlovet. The crew consisted of central European Jews, Israeli Arabs, some local Bedouins and an assortment of thieves, bastards and criminals who were probably one step ahead of an Israeli SWAT team. One of them stole my camera (a beautiful Zeiss Ikon that my father had gifted me) and an assortment of items from all of the crew. We were put up in a motel and, the day the thief quit, he still had the key to the motel room. He made the most of it.
On the job, I was low man in the pecking order. I had to fetch tools when yelled at and woe to me if I didn’t understand what was being asked for. With this bunch, everybody knew only enough English to swear, and little more. I was sworn at in English, Arabic, Romanian, Hungarian, Polish and Hebrew. It was somewhat typical of what I heard in other parts of the country. Israelis have a knack for adopting the choicest insults from all the languages they encounter. Understandable when you come down to it. Spoken Hebrew was basically invented by linguistic scholars around the time the state was created. They had the difficult task of updating ancient Hebrew to cover things like helicopters and toaster ovens. They didn’t spend a lot of time thinking up swear words. Israelis had to improvise and they did a fine job of it.
The upshot was that, in two months on the pipeline, I learned more Hebrew than in a year of kibbutz Hebrew school. I was getting pretty fluent and I had a good ear for the accent. I began to find that, when I spoke, I was often being mistaken for a Sabra. And, as a bonus, I could swear like a sailor.
* * *
Living in Arad, I now had a decent amount of money rolling in from my work. I decided to take an offer from a guy I’ll call Bad Lennie. Bad Lennie was a South African Jew who had immigrated to Israel with his brother, Good Lennie. Good Lennie lived in one part of Arad with his girlfriend; Bad Lennie had his own apartment. When the two of them were in the same room, I noticed Good Lennie seemed somewhat embarrassed around his brother and often cringed when his brother rambled on about his life in South Africa. In time, I found out that he had good reason to be embarrassed.
Bad Lennie was between jobs and needed money, so he offered me a chance to share his flat if I split the rent with him. I couldn’t pass up the chance to leave behind the den of thieves that were my pipeline crew, so I moved in with Bad Lennie.
Bad Lennie had some disturbing fantasies. He had undergone some military training in his home country. He had a lot of stories to tell me about his time in the military. According to him, he was a top-notch officer in command of hundreds of blacks. His favourite story was of the day one of his men questioned his authority in front of the others. Bad Lennie calmly walked up to the offending black soldier and put a bullet in his head. After that he never had trouble with the others. He told me many stories with pretty much the same theme. The den of thieves was starting to look better to me.
Bad Lennie had a revolver. I found out about it one day when he had this huge grin on his face and told me to feel under his arm. I wanted to pass but he grabbed my hand and stuck it in his armpit.
“What do you think? It’s a gun!” What did I really think? He was wearing a holstered gun under a turtleneck sweater! Not a bad James Bond look except that his turtleneck quick draw was going to need some work. I knew he was an idiot but now I was beginning to wonder how dangerous a one.
Bad Lennie pestered me to get him a job on the pipeline so I did. He lasted three days. On the third day, he came up to me and said, “Watch this.” Then he proceeded to go up to our Arab foreman and swear a blue streak at him in English. He turned back to me with that same stupid grin on his face. “It’s OK. The bugger hasn’t a clue what I’m saying.”
I had been on the pipeline long enough to know different. Everybody in this bunch was fluent in Swearese. Bad Lennie was fired. He still seemed confused about why but he was a goner nevertheless. And his problem became my problem. Bad Lennie was getting half the rent money from me but it was not enough and he started borrowing my money. I saw no chance of getting repaid because Bad Lennie now had no job. He spent most of his time hitting on his brother for money and going to the cinema in Beersheva to watch the latest Western. After coughing up a fair amount of cash, I cut him off. Then he offered to sell me some of his coffee table books on Israel. Truth be told, they were beautiful books but I was still living out of a backpack and couldn’t see myself schlepping all that weight.
I said, “No thanks.” He looked pissed but I didn’t care.
One day, I returned from work and walked through the door of our flat. There was Bad Lennie standing kitty-corner across the room with his gun pointed straight at my head. I just froze. I felt a powerful urge to say something but nothing came to mind. Then he pulled the trigger and there was this loud “snap.”
“It’s empty,” and he was grinning again. “I’m just kidding around. I wasn’t really going to shoot you.”
I decided then and there that I had made enough money and my Hebrew would suffice. Bad Lennie’s gun was empty but I was sure he kept bullets somewhere. It was time to get out of Dodge. On the day I decided to leave, I left the job site early and headed for the apartment. I knew Lennie wasn’t around because they were playing a new Western at the cinema. I grabbed all my things and stuffed them in my bag. There was a little room left, so I grabbed Bad Lennie’s books and stuffed them in my bag as well.
Lastly, I wrote him a note: “Hi Lennie, I’m leaving town to go to a kibbutz in the north. Take care and best of luck. P.S. I’ve changed my mind about your books. I’ll buy them after all. Just deduct what they are worth from the money you owe me and we’ll call it even. Cheers.” Then I headed for the nearest road out of Arad and started hitchhiking north. It was a bit nerve-wracking. I wasn’t sure who would show up first – my ride or Bad Lennie. I was in luck. My ride came first and I was on my way to join Suzanne.
As I mentioned, Suzanne and I had met at our previous kibbutz, near Haifa. She was Jewish and, like me, had come to Israel to check it out and become a volunteer. She was a huge fan of Leonard Cohen and, as a consequence, had a real thing for dark, brooding, handsome Canadians. All I had going for me was the Canadian thing and, happily, she settled for that. For me, the trigger was her incredibly sexy French accent. It was like listening to music.
She also spoke her mind entirely with nothing held back. Tears or laughter came at the drop of a hat and you were never in doubt about what she thought or how she felt. It was a raw honesty of emotion that took some getting used to but, once you did, it was exciting in a scary kind of way. The ride was bumpy but never ever dull. And nothing frustrated her more than people suppressing their feelings. Once, when I was being particularly uncommunicative, she booted me in the rear to try to get me past it. I don’t recall if it worked but, after that, if I felt withdrawn, I made sure I was sitting down.
Suzanne worked in the children’s house and I had a steady job in the banana fields with a guy named Lev as my boss. Banana life was good but there came a time when I worried that I was spinning my wheels. I wasn’t sure I wanted kibbutz life forever and I thought I had the beginning of a career back in Canada. I had a BA in English literature, after all. It had to mean something. I felt I needed to return to Canada and see what I could make of my life there. I was in a dark, who-am-I kind of mood. When I told Suzanne I was going home, she was angry.
“I won’t be the one left behind,” she told me.
Before I knew it, she was on a plane bound for Paris and I was sitting in the middle of a very empty room. Worse than empty. The life had gone out of it. To my surprise, I actually wept. I never realized until then how much I would miss her. Typical of me. Why not save steps? Burn the bloody bridge while you’re still standing on it.
I couldn’t bear that empty room and so, in the time I had left before going home, I joined an archeological dig in the Negev near Beersheva. The work was hot, dirty and finicky. We had to move a lot of dirt to get down to the Iron Age town we were looking for and, at that point, the work had to be much more careful. Every find was scraped, brushed clean, surveyed for location, photographed and, finally, removed to our storage room at the base of the hill.
I was particularly proud of finding an intact Iron Age kiln, circa 700-600 BCE – basically, a three-foot-wide, clay-walled cylinder standing on its end. I carefully brushed and excavated the kiln to its base, always careful to leave the dirt in the centre as support for the walls. After three days of clearing the outside of the kiln and the floor around it, I was told it was time to take it down and go deeper. It had been photographed, measured and catalogued and now it had to be removed. Strangely, my fellow volunteers had all dropped their tools to come and watch me take a pickaxe to the kiln. Not sure what was going on, I swung the pickaxe and buried it in the centre of the kiln. There was a horrible sound of glass breaking.
“Crap!” I thought. “I’ve just destroyed some 2,600-year-old glass artifact that was situated in the middle of my kiln.” Everybody who had gathered round gasped loudly in horror. Feeling disgraced, I dejectedly began pulling out bits of glass. But there was something peculiar. The glass had a colour that was unlike any ancient glass I had ever seen. In fact, it looked a lot like.… “Alright,” I said, “Who buried the frigging beer bottle in my kiln?”
Aside from the pranks, we did a lot of good work and, by the end of the season, I was standing on the streets of ancient Beersheva where Abraham once walked.
When the dig ended for the summer, it was time to go home. My first trip to Israel was over. I returned to Canada in 1970, got an MA in English literature by May 1972 and, damn me, I still didn’t want to teach. I was no further ahead in knowing what I wanted to do. Also, I missed the kibbutz. I decided to go back to Israel later that year. My thinking was that I’d spend some quiet time there deciding about my future. I didn’t realize that I’d have to do my contemplating in the middle of a war.
Victor Neumanwas born in the former Soviet Union, where his family sought refuge after fleeing Poland during the Second World War. The family immigrated to Canada in 1948 and Neuman grew up in the Greater Vancouver area. He attended the University of British Columbia and obtained a BA and MA with majors in English literature and creative writing. Between 1968 and 1974, he made two trips to Israel, one of which landed him on a kibbutz at the time of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Upon his return to Canada, he studied survey technology at BCIT and went on to a career of designing highways for the Province of British Columbia. When he retired, he reconnected with his roots in creative writing and began writing scripts for Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir concerts and articles for the Jewish Independent. Neuman and his wife, Tammy, live in southeast Vancouver and enjoy the company of friends, their extensive extended family and their four sons.