Sunday, August 15, 2010

It isn't legal, is it?

Recently I posted on my Facebook page that of all the things that keep me awake during the night or awaken me in the early morning, i preferred the wonderful smell of challah on boker yom shishi (friday morning) over the sound of pounding and hammering (in this case breaking up a sidewalk) that started at 5:45 am that morning ...right outside my window!

A friend wrote and asked..." isn't even legal to pound and hammer at 5:45, is it?"

..ehhh.. legal?...

My first thought was she was trying to be funny (we have a joke about missing each other's jokes)...and i laughed, cause it was indeed funny...but then i realized......omg...i've come a long way, baby, because legal never entered my mind. i vaguely remember asking that question about something once in the early years of living here, but ..... to be honest, it never occurred to me to ask that question now...nor does it to most Israelis.

It's not that we are lawless!! Far from it...and yes, one could make a lot of jokes about Israeli culture and society but the truth is that our neck of the woods is in the Middle East... nuuu?...... so, we have different ways of looking at things...and our own rules..which by the way, are very strictly followed... sort of.

...let me explain.

You see, there is a huge difference between "legal" and practical reality...or between "legal" and cultural expectation. For example, it is probably not legal to make a u-turn in the middle of a busy street in the middle of busy traffic, but the cultural expectation is that if you have to turn around and go the other direction, you just do it. Lama lo? (why not?). It is simply expected and the cultural expectation becomes the practical reality (at least for the u-turner). If you SEE the driver turning around it almost never elicits honking...other drivers simply wait. HOWEVER, if you are down the line and can't SEE why traffic is held up, well, that's a different story.

And the pounding and hammering at 5:45 am.? Ya, i suppose it is illegal, but the practical reality is: 1) it was erev Shabbat morning, and my neighbors had to finish as much as possible before Shabbat came in and 2) it is so @#$%^ hot here right now, that 5:45 am was possibly the only time to do the work without heat stroke. so...that was it!...a bit annoying, but...totally understandable. Practical Reality.

It goes deeper than that. These examples might be unpleasant or irritating..and for two different reasons, but let me give you some other examples...of a happy sort.

It's probably illegal for a taxi driver to grab a passenger from the street, race through traffic at high speed and purposely cut off or block the bus that is a few blocks down the road so that the passenger in the taxi could board the bus. But the sweet Israeli reality is that the taxi driver probably couldn't handle one more rude bus driver leaving a passenger in the dust at the curb, so he took matters into his own hands, and assisted a frustrated bus rider to get to his destination. must be illegal for the Breslov boys to stop their van in the middle of traffic and with music blaring, jump out of the van dancing with hasidic joy...But the practical reality is that whenever and wherever the Breslov boys dance with their music, the energy of the street where they are dancing becomes positively charged and hearts become lighter (and more holy they would probably say)....and there's no way to define this in legal vs. illegal terms.

On the other side of the coin, it is perfectly LEGAL to drive on Yom Kipper, the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar...but almost no one does. Jewish expectations!

Sometimes this practical reality is difficult...especially at the national level. For instance, it is perfectly LEGAL for us to defend ourselves against hostile aggression, (e.g. Cast Lead war in Gaza, or more recently the flotilla attempt to break our LEGAL defensive blockade) but the reality is that for some reason our leaders think they must bow to (mistaken) world opinion, and do all kinds of things which actually endanger us, and certainly endanger our soldiers.

Or even more tragically, was it legal or illegal or simply immoral to encourage our People to settle the areas of Gaza (Gush Katif) and make the desert bloom, and then destroy all the homes, farms and communities they built, along with their livelihoods and lives, and then give the Land to terrorists who want to destroy us? [which btw, caused the necessity for the Cast Lead war, and allowed the flotilla aggression!] While they may have passed a "law" saying it could be done, the not-so-practical reality (in this case) was that our government wasn't strong enough to stand for morality and wisdom, let alone compassion. But that's the government and that's another story.

At the personal level, life on the street, this adherence to Rules of Reality, and Cultural Expectation as opposed to legal or illegal can be frustrating or rewarding...annoying or charming...funny or maddening...or all of the above.

One thing is certain. Once you've lived this's mamash difficult to think of living any other way. It just wouldn't make sense.


  1. I'm sorry to say that I disagree. life here in Israel and especially in Jlem has it's advantages, disobeying the law isn't one of them.

    Most of the times cab drivers endanger people by reckless driving and bus drivers are usually good drivers who won't leave a passenger behind, I have no idea when this thing you described happened but if it did, it is very rare.

    The amount of accidents and people killed in Israel because of this illegal and absolutely immoral behavior is devastating, think about raising kids here, it's scary.

    About your neighbor making noise at 5:45AM, you've reacted in a very good and calm way, I know many who need to work on Friday, they would just go out and start a fight, potentially a bloody one with knives, after that you hear it on the news :) If I were you in that same situation I would have just called the police, I did it before, they come in ~5-10 minutes and stop the noise until it's legal (7AM) - you would have done a favor to other neighbors who suffered just like you did, and teach that guy not to do it again (it will probably cost him money... that extra hours)

    I think that we are a civilized country, a democracy with a government and Knesset and rules and not a very bad police force, and yes, people here are very warm, but we do not need to encourage illegal behavior, nor to claim it's part of that warmth, we need to fix it in order to be better.

    That's just what I think. take care.

  2. hi shmulik! thanks for commenting and i love it that you have a different idea about it. i of course don't want anarchy, and understand that certain laws must be on the books, and for the most part given credence by a society. But i believe there is a wiser way of life than living by the letter of the law.. laws that are often arbitrary or simply someone's idea of "legality" or laws that lined pockets and not necessarily practical or wise...That better way of living is living by the heart...and yes, i do find it part of the warmth of Israeli life.

    As to the bus drivers..omg...i can only attest to their behavior in the last 5 years, but i ride the bus 4 or more hours a day/on at least 4 different lines, and believe me, i can only say i have seen a handful - maybe 2-3 drivers whom i could commend. Quite frankly the total disrespect for the passengers and disregard for their safety is a horror story. i know it's a hard job, but 95% of these drivers need to find another kind of employment.

    Shmulik, I would have loved with all my heart to been able to raise my kids here.

    Please comment on my reply if you wish. Like i said, i am really happy to have your comment and respect and enjoy your opinions. All the best.

  3. Hi Marcia.

    I do agree that some laws are not wise, I can count several political or impractical or just plain stupid laws, however, I think that in order to stabilize, enrich and evolve our society we should still keep the law and order, there is just no other way. I can see how Israel has deteriorated over the past 10 years, people have lost some hope and don't go to vote anymore because they do not believe in anyone, you can always look on the bright side, it's still wonderful to live here, but it is becoming more and more difficult, corrupt and dangerous. and as a side note - we have more fatalities in car accidents (~450 a year, more then 30K total) than fatalities in all Israeli wars COMBINED.

    About raising kids here, I do agree that without financial capabilities it's better here then in the states, but a good private school in the states is no comparison to any school in Israel, any age, any city.

    About the specific laws, the "acceptable noise" law is not something I'm willing to let go, as you know I live on Emek Refaim and some people think it's OK to stop by my house at 3AM at night, open their car doors and play very loud mizrachit or techno music, now I know that in mid-day it's really hot and the street is too crowded and they are just chilling, but they are disturbing my peace, I can't sleep and if i don't get enough sleep I can't function at work, so I call the policy and they take care of it in 5-10 minutes. thank god.

    And the bus drivers, they might be rude to passengers, but from my experience and I've been riding bikes and driving here for all my life, they won't break the law, they won't speed up in the middle of a crowded street and they won't cut you off or decide to stop in the most disturbing place just to pick up a passenger, oh, and they wont hunk, bus drivers hardly hunk, they are way better then the taxi drivers, as I always say, 99% of the cab drivers are giving a bad name for the whole 1% that is left.

    phew, that's all for now :)

  4. hi Shmulik! I do agree with you in principle that we can't just ignore a law because it's stupid... all societies have bad laws and in order for each society to function we must try to keep those laws that exist. That said, there is a fine line between rigid adherence and realistic flexibility. I don't advocate purposely breaking a law...unless it is immoral and that's another whole subject.

    I think we are probably coming from two different perspectives..i come originally from a society (america) which in general believes in rigid adherence, no matter the hardship or unfairness, no exceptions for compassion. You have always lived here where bending or ignoring of the law is often freely practiced for both good and bad reasons. We are each looking at the other road as better than the one we come from... I am sure the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

    I feel for you for the noise level where you are in the moshava....and i do understand where you are coming from on that issue...on my noise issue, my friendly neighbors have moved it closer to 7am (6:30am now, but with drills and high powered tools...a few shouts from a few of us to sheked this morning were recognized for about 3 minutes :)...but, you know, for me as a writer, it is far more interesting to observe the personality of the "hood" than to call the police..:) which i would never do unless ... hmm,i'd have to think about a situation where i would do that. i did when i was robbed once (a different apt/neighborhood)..and you are right - they were there in 5 min. they were great!

    it's too long to tackle the bus/monit issue today..maybe tomorrow... i am a bit mystified by a few things you said though.

    later. and thanks for writing !

  5. hi shmulik

    as promised i will comment on the autobus/monit(taxi) issues we have both brought up.. i understanding you correctly that you feel the high rate of car accidents is the fault of the taxi drivers? i don't understand that line of reasoning but maybe you will explain more what you mean??

    I don't think the taxi drivers are any worse or better than all the other drivers here in israel...everyone drives a little crazy and impatiently... but personally i will take it over minnesota road rage any day.

    you are right, the bus drivers won't cut you off, and rarely honk, but boy do they speed!! in certain places (routes 22, 4, 32, 18 at least) - not only speed but hit the speed bumps at the high speeds, missing stops, careening around corners.....and yes, they obey the letter of the law in not picking up drivers at any spot...even if the bus has only moved 1 ft. from the bus stop and an old man is running (too slowly) to try to catch it. a biker you may have had good bus experiences and bad taxi ones...which would of course form some legitimate opinions from your perspective...\\ like everything else, i guess it's all relative... :)

    hope you can get some sleep on noisy emek refaim this week. maybe the slightly cooler weather will help !!

    shavua tov.....

  6. I'm at work and supposed to be working, so I'll make it brief :)

    What I mean is that you should not bend the rules on the road, even if it's hot or a poor passenger needs to get on a bus, the Israeli culture is very problematic in that aspect, we're used to bending the laws.

    For example, I don't cross a straight white line, although I really need to get into the parking in front of my apartment and it seems stupid, but I don't cross the line, I drive a bit further where it's allowed and do a U turn - I seem to be the only "sucker" that does it. but am I a sucker? a few months ago a woman driving an SUV crossed that line - a motorcycle rode in the opposite lane, rode too fast, he got tossed in the air and landed 30 meters from there, I hope he is alive.

    Some statistics, Israel and Minnesota have
    the same number of deaths in car accidents per year (Israel wins with about 50 casualties more) - but the amount of cars driving in Israel are THIRD then in Minnesota...

    Ignoring the law has it's advantages, but mostly it's pure evil.

    Tov, back to work :)

  7. hi shmulik, i can see this is an important topic for you! i will just say again that i'm NOT advocating purposely breaking traffic laws..however, there is a world of difference between crossing over into oncoming traffic (which is not only illegal but extremely stupid!) and doing an "illegal" but driver accepted U-turn in the middle of Rh.Aza.

    ..and sometime i will share my Minn. driving experiences with you...

    in the meantime, be well, and enjoy the somewhat cooler weather :)

  8. ..OH...i think you meant a left turn across the white line, not driving forward into oncoming traffic on the other side of the line? haha ..sorry i misunderstood.....well...i think we've covered the subject enough anyway.. drive carefully! me too! yom tov!

  9.'ll like this. tonight i was mad enough to call the police (it was too late tho).. there are 3 picturesque palms with beautiful & graceful fronds at the bottom of the steps of my terrace. ehhh i should say there WERE 3 picturesque palms...someone in the neighborhood cut all the fronds off one (the most central one) and were in the process of the 2nd one when i went by...OMG..i yelled MA ZE?? a mother and her young daughter mind you....they snuck off before finishing the 2nd one...while i said, for shame!! i think they could translate my english (guess they had enuf for their succah??) they actually went in the direction of the early morning jackhammers...maybe the same family??....haha, so you win ONE round at least in our friendly discussion... shana tova to you guys