Friday, January 27, 2012

What your car says about you

A 2009 Forbes article claims that the car you drive says a lot about who you are. Besides the obvious wealth-wheels relationship, your choice of vehicle supposedly reveals your character.

In the USA, for example, apparently 13% of Chevy owners don't use the Web, while only 3% of Honda owners are not tech-savvy. According to the San Diego-based study, Mini Coopers are a sign of sophistication, Toyotas of practicality and Bentleys of, well, nothing really- other than money.

Many people don't buy a car as a status symbol, but simply to get the best vroom for their buck. We all know that a car is a depreciating asset that will drain your wallet each time you fill it. 200 000km or six years down the line (the US average) you'll be ready for a new set of wheels (and won't expect to get too much for your old model).

Whatever it says about you, your car says you will spend on an item you know cannot provide lasting value.

Now, on a Jewish note, what do your Tefillin say about you? Do you own a worn-out, hand-me-down pair from your Zaida or do you wear the compact-but-shiny-new pair that seemed reasonable at "only" R2500. Perhaps you've taken the flashy "4x4" option, large and symmetrical, with top-class parchments inside.

An expensive pair can set you back up to R10 000. It will also require a maintenance plan (annual service at the sofer), but won't cost much more to run. You can expect to replace parts maybe once in twenty years. Other than that, if you're not negligent, your pair should last you a lifetime. Your car might get you to your office, the shops or even Cape Town, but your Tefillin will take you to Heaven and back daily. A good pair is a solid investment.

What, then, do your Tefillin say about you? Perhaps they say "time for an upgrade (or, at least a check-
up)." Maybe your Tefillin say "here's a man who appreciates real-lasting value" or "this man believes spiritual assets are important". Tefillin are a worthwhile investment that offers perks like good health and peace of mind, which outpace ABS, Park-Assist or run-flat tyres.

Next time you put yours on, plan to have your Tefillin assessed to ensure they are kosher. If they look undersized or are growing shabby, it's probably time to invest in a new model.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

This is Israel

W.R., a member of our community, sent me this hot-off-the-press story today that I just have to share with you.
Her brother and his family have just returned from a visit to Israel. While there, they lost their camera on a street in Petach Tikvah. I'm going out on a limb here, but Joburgers have long become cynical of every finding something they had lost in a public space. So, I'm not judging Wendy's brother, but I imagine he assumed he had seen the last of his camera. 
Well, Israel is different. Considerably different. 
Today W's brother received an unbelievable email. Apparently, a young student at a yeshivah in Petach Tikvah found a camera lying on the pavement. Not seeing a name on the camera, the concerned student became creative in his quest to track down the owner and perform the mitzvah of "Hashavas Aveida", returning lost objects.  
He scrolled through the photos until he noticed one of a young boy holding a Primary School diploma. The diploma had the boy's name and the name of his school- King David Linksfield. So, together with his rabbi, the young student set out to discover where in the world this school was. Then they emailed the school office to ask if they had a student called so-and-so, the boy in the picture. The school forwarded the message to W's brother this morning and he will soon get his camera (and Israel holiday memories) back.
That's the real Israel. 
Don't believe the media's portrayal of division and derision. Sure, there is a fringe Haredi group that publicly humiliates ostensibly "immodest" women. Yes, there are secular Israelis who spit anti-religious vitriol whenever the opportunity arises. But, the real Israel is an over-sized family of diverse siblings who squabble constantly, but genuinely care about each other. 
Moshe himself was castigated by G-d in this week's Parsha for speaking unfavourably of his fellow Jews. With agenda-fueled negative reporting of our family back in Israel, we need to remind ourselves who those people really are. Every one of them a brother or sister who cares about us as we should care about them.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Grow up and start acting like a baby!

Israeli society isn't playing by the rules at the moment. The "rules" say that, when faced with an external threat, you put your differences aside and pull together. 

Yet, at the same time that Gazan rockets intermittently pound Israeli towns, the Muslim Brotherhood seems poised to control Egypt and Ahmadinejad continues his war rhetoric, Israelis are bickering like never before. 

Charedi fringe elements attack IDF bases, attack little girls for dressing "immodestly" and then don concentration camp uniforms while they condemn the government. The media ramps up the frenzy, tainting all religious Israelis with the same "segregation" brush and warn of a "Taliban-style" takeover of the country by extremists. Various shades of religious Israelis slander each other and the secular majority's intolerance of religious extremists is Code Red.

The same diverse society that shared a common lump-in-the-throat when Gilad Shalit came home is mud-slinging at full throttle. Secular and religious Israelis have clashed many times before, but the current spat seems more bitter- and more public- than what we've seen in the past.

Honestly, I've barely checked the unfolding events and have only stitched together a picture from glances at email headlines and talk overhead on the street (or, more accurately, in Shul). Instead, I have spent the last week with dear friends who have just tragically buried their eighteen-month-old daughter. Through the week of shiva a constant stream of Charedi, Mizrachi, secular and Chabad Jews have shared tears and stories, as they have marveled at the stubborn faith of a young couple and the global legacy their baby left behind. Without speaking, Baby Noa touched thousands around the globe and galvanized them into a common goal of prayer and optimism, of staring down obstacles and reclaiming faith. I saw strangers pray for her recovery in New York, Los Angeles, Sydney and Melbourne- and there were certainly dozens more such locations. 

Baby Noa hadn't yet learned the dark art of judgement, so nobody judged her. Nobody judges a baby. The thousands who davened for her didn't need to know her family's last name, her mother's profession or which shul her father attended. They just cared. Instinctively. As anyone cares for a child.

I only wish Noa's legacy could touch and unite Israeli society as it did all those thousands of Jewish un-strangers who've shared the bond of caring for her well-being over the last months. Someone needs to remind Israelis that each of us is called a child of G-d. It's time to grow up and act like one.