Flying with American Airlines

You don’t expect much from the airlines these days. All you really want is to get wherever you are going with dignity. At one end of the spectrum you find some airlines which have really ‘sucked it up’ and do just that with Spartan no frills deals: you get a seat and the plane flies. You don’t feel cheated and you walk away with your ego intact. On the other end of the spectrum there are airlines that have chosen to share the process of ‘sucking it up’ with their passengers. While the end result will be the same – you will eventually fly with no food or drink or leg room or head rest or blanket or pillow or head set – you have to go through a prolonged period of seeing all these amenities gradually disappear. I experienced this latter interesting economical phenomenon recently which affected me deeply so much so that I feel compelled to share it. To make my long story short I will confine it to anything that happened either on the plane or very close to it. It all happened on a round trip flight from San Francisco to Boston.

As we approached the end of the jet way on our way to board, I noticed that the jet way’s tarpaulin roof was open allowing for a broadside view of the plane glistening in the early afternoon sun. I took this opportunity to perform a quick scan of the fuselage for cracks. As far as I could make out this particular side of the plane was intact. The fact that American Airlines does not paint their planes makes them easier to inspect. The shining metal also reflected a significant percentage of the solar energy hitting the plane, so they did not have to turn on air conditioning. You could feel the heat wave the minute you stepped on to the plane. It wasn’t the kind of temperature change that makes you fully aware that something is wrong, but it registers never the less. What did concern me was the fact that the pilot left the plane as I was boarding it. ‘Isn’t that the driver who just left?’ I asked the guard-dog stewardess who stood to greet everyone with a smile glued to her face. At first she had trouble understanding that someone had actually acknowledged her existence. When she managed to pull herself together she dismantled the annoying smile and said ‘He’ll be back.’ Wasn’t that someone else’s line? Why would the pilot leave? Still not too concerned, knowing that as long as we were on the ground the worst that could happen is that we would remain there I shuffled along to my seat in the ‘cattle’ class behind the sheep in front of me.

It is interesting how many names they have for the class that everyone flies but nobody wants to be in. They used to call it ‘coach’ but that went out with the railroads. Then it was ‘economy’ which also went down the tubes. Then there was ‘world traveler’ which was awfully confusing to those that only flew domestic. Finally they settled on the ‘rear of the aircraft’ which is kind of open ended, but my experience shows that it included all but the pilot’s row and two or three rows immediately adjacent to the cockpit. Personally I would prefer if they called it for what it is: the ‘mind your own business’ class or the ‘fly with no class’ class.

As you make your way down the isle it strikes you that the plane is full of people in spite of the fact that boarding is done in ‘groups’ these days. This is a new measure which significantly increases our security for reasons which are known only to those in charge of our security. I am sure that I don’t get it. I expect that groups arrange seating according to rows so that the plane is filled from front to back or visa versa. I can only guess that this is what they want you to think. The real meaning of the groups is quite different. Group ‘one’ has the good seats, that’s why they board with the first class so nobody notices that group one is always empty. Group ‘two’ is the one that gets pillows and blankets. Group ‘three’ has working power outlets. Groups ‘four’ is the cutoff group they get nothing. Group ‘five’ exists just to appease the masses of group ‘four.’

Based on my ‘group four’ membership I was assigned my usual ‘wing-side’ seat with the ‘fully-obstructed’ view. I always feel sorry for people flying in these seats for the first time desperately trying to find a body angle that allows them to get a glimpse of the outside world. Don’t you think it’s cynical that they even have a window next to these seats? I guess they left it there for star gazers and for the rare cases when the plane is flying upside down. In those rare cases the wing side seats become the best viewing platforms of the unraveling catastrophe. Not only do you get your view back, you get it with the flaming wing as a visor.

As basic fairness would have it, you would expect to be compensated for the restricted view with some extra leg room: ‘If I can’t see a damn thing I might as well stretch out and doze off”. Hah! Gotcha! You are not flying Jet Blue or South West that put exit rows over the wings. American Airlines has older planes where the exit rows are where the wings are not! ‘This is for your own security; the wing could be on fire when we leave the aircraft.’

Not having a pilot on the plane forced the crew to make routine excuses to keep the cattle from tearing up the pen. They use a recording of a man’s voice in these cases to bestow a technical aura on the problem: ‘we are in the process of wrapping up a routine maintenance procedure.’ ‘Yeah, yeah, just tell me the first baloney time estimate and let’s get on with the wait.’ ‘We should be done in five minutes.’ It didn’t seem likely that they would find another pilot so fast. Indeed, ten minutes later, when they could stall no longer the recording apologized: ‘It seems that the technical difficulty which we were experiencing.’ ‘You did not say technical difficulty in the first recording.’ ‘will require at least fifteen minutes…’ ‘Why don’t you just tell me that it will take at least half an hour to find a sober pilot?’ The recording machine must have heard the sound of opening seatbelts from the cattle pen because it quickly continued: ‘please remain (calm) in your seats’ and then as if we didn’t know that they had no clue how long this would take: ‘we will keep you informed.’ Think positive: ‘our meeting is in forty eight hours take your time’.

When things changed for the better they put on the cheery woman voice recording: ‘Good morning and welcome to our non-stop flight with [non-start] service from San Francisco’ ‘I know where we are.’ ‘to Logan Airport in Boston Massachusetts.’ ‘Lady, we really don’t need the geography lesson’ forgetting that it was a recording. Think positive maybe someone is interested? When we were in the air the new pilot chimed in and gave us all the crucial flight plan information in case he too would have to leave: ‘we will be cruising at thirty four thousand feet, ground speed… expected arrival time…’ Armed with all the necessary information I could sit back and plan the financial transactions I would have to perform during the flight.

You see, American Airlines cannot afford to feed you or entertain you. You need to bring your own change of clothes in your carry on luggage. There is running water in the lavatories ‘located for your convenience (so they only foul up the air) in the rear of the cabin (pen)’ and you are welcome to buy your food from the airline. ‘We have a choice of a ‘wrap’ or a ‘box’. The wrap went for five dollars and the box for three. The airborne financial advisor reminded the passengers that we also needed five dollars for headsets in case we did not keep the ones we purchased the last time we flew American. Confused with all the purchasing options I bought a wrap but forgot about the headset.

The wrap was cold and red which is not the right color for a wrap. I believe the airline knows that the color was problematic, so the wrap is served cut diagonally in half exposing as much of the ingredients as possible without having the wrap fall to pieces. Two red cylindrical containers with turkey and what used to be canned vegetables did not seem too appealing in the early stages of the flight, so I opted to store the goods under the seat until it was both later and darker.

Without a headset I was reduced to ‘observing’ the movie ‘Lake Six’ which is the bottom half of ‘Oceans Twelve’. I could only see the bottom half of the movie because the wing-side seat’s view of the monitors is obstructed by the ‘overhead compartments’ where one’s luggage is stowed ‘with one bag under the seat in front of you.’ As positive as I tried to be about the upside in all of this it did not amount to much. I was cramped with no leg room, and what I had left was hogged by my laptop which I could not use because group four does not have power outlets. The laptop should have been in the overhead bin but that was too small to contain it. However it was big enough to obstruct my view. I would have been able to get a somewhat better view if I could slide further down my seat but for that I needed legroom which was occupied by the laptop which I looked out the window at the wing which was not on fire and felt much better.

After the movie it was dark enough in and out of the plane to eat the chemically treated-to-last wrap. Of all the chemicals that they used I could identify iodine and salt with a high degree of certainty. They probably seed clouds with these wraps once their expiration date is overdue beyond all recognition. I ate it nevertheless knowing that there would be no food on the ground given our guaranteed late arrival.

As we were getting close to the airport the pilot was getting kind of cocky: ‘we will be on the ground in approximately seven or eight minutes.’ What is it with the airlines that they always have to use a redundant term in their sentences? If you approximate then you can just pick one number, we’ll figure it out. What really worried me though was the possibility that the pilot was not approximating he really did not know whether it’s seven or eight minutes. To put this in perspective for a plane that is moving four times faster than a car on a highway a difference of one minute means four miles. If you think you will land in seven minutes when you really need eight it means you will try to land at a height of fifteen hundred feet. I can tell you that you cannot land at that height believe me I tried. The good news is that the plane keeps going down and you get a second chance at landing. If on the other hand you need seven minutes to land but think you have a whole minute to spare then at the end of the seventh minute you will smash gloriously into the runway going one hundred miles faster than you should be. Think positive, we have a minute to spare. History proved me right.

On the flight back the pilot was so anal about time I knew everything would be all right: ‘our flying time to San Francisco’ ‘I know where I am going’ ‘will be approximately five hours and fifty nine minutes’ (I kid you not) ‘What is it with the English of air crews?’ Or was it the uncertainty regarding which one of the sixty seconds of that fifty ninth minute would be the one we touch down at? Maybe it is the one-dollar-and-ninety nine-cents pricing logic as it applies to time. It doesn’t work for pricing, it leaves you with many annoying pennies don’t do it to us with time. We have nothing to do with a minute dangling at the end of an hour we’ll waste it anyway keep it.

I had a whole row to myself so I decided to treat myself to a headset and the ‘box’. The ‘Box’ turned out to be a pack of eight beef-salami dice the size of quarters. They were wrapped in a people-tight plastic polymer used for bullet proof vests, The salami was accompanied by two bags of crackers in plural form thanks to the second cracker in each bag, two pieces of smoked cheese the kind that comes in a circular pack of eight but is then distributed evenly among four passengers, a bag of Oreos which like the crackers form a pair the minimal form of plurality, and a full sized bag of ‘Craizens’ which is a new way to brand cranberries which have seen better days.

I stared at the contents of my food trove contemplating my plan of attack. Clearly I would have to fight my way teeth-and-nails into these bags so it would be best to start the battle with the wrapping that was sure to present me with the most resistance. The wrapping of the salami was definitely the place to start. How else would they dare carry that foul meat around the world probably for months on end if it was not sealed as well as I suspected? Sure enough, the ‘tear here’ indicator tore ‘just there’ not coming anywhere near the context of the package. The next step was to try and pull apart the two sides of the package hoping that it would behave like a friendly bag of potato chips; to no avail. After a few attempts I could feel my fingers weakening and I still had the crackers and cheese to deal with. I found a knife in the ‘box’ but being a post nine-eleven plastic utensil – it disintegrated against the protective plastic sheet. I could feel the salami smiling at me the way a bird in its cage smiles at a cat. ‘I’ll have you yet’ I found myself thinking back at it which in the grand scheme of the humiliations I was going through was quite embarrassing in and of itself.

Unknown to the Salami, I had just left a hotel room which charged me for an Internet connection that did not work. As a way of getting even I took both the ‘thank you for staying with us’ plastic pens they provide you with so you can write paper letters since your Internet connection does not work. Surely I could sacrifice one of these to get at the Salami. The Salami stopped smiling when the pen came at it through the plastic. While the pen will never write again, its ball point smashed backwards into the ink cylinder, it had died an honorable death getting me within finger reach of the dubious fleshy product.

The salami at my mercy I turned my attention to the first bag of crackers. I should have waited a minute or two in order to gain better control of my muscles before attempting to open the wrapping of what turned out to be a very brittle product. The first pair of cracker disappeared in a cloud of dust between my trembling fingers, their final gasps reminding me to put my emotions aside as I went about opening my remaining bag of the only item that could be used to serve up the Salami without touching it. Well almost, you do need to assign a finger or two to make sure the Salami gets on the cracker. Pushing from the bottom end of the salami pack I prodded the eight pieces forward toward the opening the heroic pen had opened. The salami slices moved as one, determined to stay together to the end. Perhaps if they all made it into my mouth together some of them could make it to my throat without being chewed. Knowing that they cannot be digested when whole they would be reborn and live to see another passenger after the sewage recycling process was done a few weeks from now. I managed to split the group in half and with the aid of one cracker per batch did them in with no hope of resurrection.

Thinking positive I orchestrated a true Cinderella finish to my meal. After I was done with the meat cutlets I let them settle and prepared to dine on choice pickings from my platter of ‘fromage’. I nibbled at the one triangle I had selected from the identical twins that they were, pretending that there was more to it than just a piece of gummy milk product residue treated to last with chemicals similar to those used on the wrap. As I swallowed the last of my choicest cheese I waited for the imaginary waiter (myself) to bring me the chocolate dumplings (the bag of two Oreos). Filled with creams (sugar margarine) and topped with cherries (Craisens), .I washed it all down with fine ‘Port’ (Diet Coke diluted by too much ice which had long since melted) served in a crystal glass (the plastic dentures containers dentists use which the airlines serve liquids in). When the dinner was all done my dining hall turned back into the tray-table pumpkin that it was. I collected the remains of the wrappings along with the carcass of the pen and marched everything back to the galley. The stewardess eyed me suspiciously convinced that I was trying to steal a bag of pretzels like everyone else. Little did she know; how could I possibly covet a lowly product as a pretzel after the feast that I had just consumed.

We landed after exactly six hours and thirty minutes. The recording made no mention of the discrepancies between the expected and the actual time of arrival. However I think I heard the recording say ‘We know that you have a choice so why do you fly American?’

Evolution of Educating (or Daniel’s Bar Mitzvah Tales)

Full media coverage

Daniel was born a few weeks after Yeela’s spelling test. Very few families remember a spelling test that took place thirteen years prior. We remember because it was the first and last time that I ‘helped’ Yeela (or any one of the children) prepare for one. It all happened on an ordinary day. No one could have predicted the fallout of what was about to happen. Yeela was sitting in the kitchen, casually scanning the list of words for the next day’s test. She was getting ready to call it a day when I walked in. Being the concerned and responsible father that I asked her what she was doing. ‘Preparing for a spelling test’ she answered not suspecting a thing. ‘Why didn’t you write down the words?’ I asked. ‘I never do,’ she answered. ‘Well you should.’ The next day Yeela made her first and last mistake on a spelling test. It was the first mistake she ever made because I had ‘helped’. It was the last mistake because Imma took me aside, looked me in the eyes with a glare that had all the assertiveness of a mother protecting her offspring she said ‘Your genes are fine but your up-bringing sucked – therefore please do not intervene with the way I rear the children.’ ‘But I am their father,’ I attempted to protest. Imma produced the ‘Ktubah’, ‘Show me where it says that it is your responsibility to educate’.

And so it came to be; Daniel was born and I was to sit on the sidelines and watch him become a fine young man, without his original name, but a fine young man nevertheless. Like all our children Daniel lost his name for a nick name at a very young age. His nickname mutated from his initials. Daniel’s middle name is ‘Simon’ after half of his great grandfathers. Since two of them were named Simon his initials were actually DSSP, but that had no vowels so we nicknamed him ‘Osmo’. With the name behind us life was set to go. Over the years I would make the spelling test mistake over and over again, and Imma would be there to salvage the child time and time again. Imma let me have my way only when it was absolutely clear that no one would get hurt. The battle for the diapers was one of these rare examples.

‘For god’s sake – why do you change his diapers every two hours? Didn’t we go over this with the girls? You change a diaper when it is wet, not before that!’

‘This is a boy; he has a different anatomical structure.’ Ones sense of conviction is strong when it comes from the groin.

Imma was not impressed. ‘I am aware of the anatomical differences, any other ideas?’

‘Cooling is also a factor, that why the male reproductive organs are outside the body.’

‘The organs will do just fine covered with a diaper, its snowing outside!’

I threw out my trump card: ‘what do women know about crutch rot?’

‘That is does not affect baby boys who cannot walk.’

I just could not allow myself to be beaten on the issue. ‘Don’t you want grandchildren?’

Not much of an argument but Imma would let me have my way, a small price to pay to relieve the stress of a father with an overprotective attitude towards his new born son’s reproductive system. To me it was also an ego thing. How could I be a roll model to a child when my ego is in the pits? Knowing that, Imma allowed me to participate. Over the course of the next two years we would become Huggies gold members.

Fortunately nature does most things one step at a time so I could be kept in check without too much effort. With Daniel (and Tal and Amitai) weaning came before walking. In spite of my vested interest in early weaning (those used to be mine you know) I proudly sacrificed for the well being of the child. Learning to walk was an uneventful period. Given that Daniel was a third child, even I knew that you let gravity extract its toll of bruises. Leaning to speak caused a few flares ups over some casual grammatical mistakes that Daniel made, imitating the girls and referring to himself in female form (Hebrew is gender-sensitive).

‘Ima ani lo yehola.’ (I can’t)

‘Lo yahol, Osmo.’

‘Al tetaken oto!’ (don’t correct him)

‘But he is a boy. Remember the diapers? How come you let that pass?’

‘Because I knew this was coming…’

‘His hair is long, he speaks like a girl, and his pants are pink.’ I was genuinely concerned.

Imma switched to academics: ‘Don’t make me walk you through a child’s speech learning process again. The fact that he talks like he thinks he’s a she- doesn’t mean he thinks he’s a she. Our she’s know they are she’s and our he’s know they are he’s, and you have nothing to worry about!’ I was outmatched. I would try to find comfort in the fact that English treated sexes equally, but then so did the people in the Bay Area.

Third child or not, diaper training caught me completely unprepared, while Imma knew exactly what she was doing:

‘כשהו קם יבש בבוקר – זה הזמן להוריד את החיתול’ (the diapers come off when he wakes up dry)

I tried to postpone the inevitable claiming that by changing the diapers every two hours I made it difficult to gauge how ready Daniel was for such a right of passage into the ranks of ‘dry children’. Imma knew who she was dealing with: ‘I save all the diapers you change during the night they are all dry.’ Everyone knows that when diapers come off they stay off!!!

‘So what happens if he soils himself in his pants?’

‘What pants?’

‘We can’t let him walk around butt-naked and crap on the sidewalks.’

‘You can follow him with a plastic bag.’

Imma was right as always. Daniel was completely dry in a few days, he switched to male form and at some point we even cut his hair. It was sad to see those long locks of hair go but we were compensated with a beautiful face that emerged from under them. We had an adorable young boy running around the house, and all my worries had been for naught.

As a child grows one wants to expose him to new challenges. Some of these are driven more by parents’ aspirations than the well being of the child, while others do serve the child’s interests. Swimming falls under the first category. You do not have to teach a two yea r old child how to swim, all you have to do is teach him how to avoid drowning. You teach a two year old child to avoid drowning by teaching them not to swim. You teach them not to swim by letting then fall in the water. At the age of two Daniel learned how to avoid water. At the age of four he could swim and became a lifeguard at five when he pulled Amitai to the shallows from water deeper than his head stating that ‘הוא הלך על הריצפה אז הוצאתי אותו’.

One could sense the tension build up in the house when the time came for the first bicycle lessons. I was still recovering from teaching Yeela and Tal six and four years earlier. Perhaps at the time it was imperative to run after them and support them with all kinds of contraptions tied to the bike. It was too risky to let them ride up and down the hill, from Ramat-Denia to Kiriat-Yovel, by themselves as the traffic whizzed by on one side, and the play ground was at the bottom of a fifty foot plunge on the other. But now we were in the ‘Silicon Valley‘ and things were as flat as could be. Imma watched me with pity as I was readying the broom sticks and belts and whatever else I planned to latch on to the bicycle so I would be able to support it while Daniel tried to ride it at the same time.

‘Why don’t I teach Daniel how to ride?’ Imma offered.

‘Are you up to it? It’s not easy you know.’

‘That’s OK, do you mind?’

The horrors of the hill in Jerusalem flashed before my eyes. ‘I guess you can try, but I’ll be happy to help.’ I said handing Imma the ‘equipment’.

‘I don’t need that.’

’It’ll be a long week. You’ll knock yourself out chasing after him.’

‘Who said anything about chasing?’

‘If you let him ride all by himself, he’ll hurt himself and will not want to ride.’

‘No he won’t, he’ll learn like I did.’ (אל תתערב לי בחינוך).

I reflected on the little scar that almost everyone acquires when learning how to ride a bicycle. How could Daniel not hurt himself? Mine is under my chin. However it did strike me that Imma had never mentioned her scar to me. When I came home from work that evening Daniel was riding a bicycle. Imma greeted me with a regular kiss and a smile and said nothing.

‘How did you teach him so fast?’ I asked, forced to believe my eyes.

‘I didn’t do anything.’

‘But he’s riding!’

‘Isn’t that what you wanted?’ Imma was toying with me.

After leaving me dumbfounded for a few more minutes Imma sat me down with a glass of water, patted me gently on the head and said: ‘I bought him a bicycle that’s small for him’.

‘No problem, we can return it,’ I blurted, eager to be supportive.

‘That bike is like having גלגלי עזר (training wheels)’ Imma continued.

‘But we don’t want !גלגלי עזר’ I protested.

‘And we don’t have them.’ Imma answered in a quiet, soothing voice. My eyeballs were beginning to dilate. Imma took my pulse as she stroked my hand gently. When she spoke she used my nickname to covey affection: ‘Bushy, when the bike is small Daniel can put his feet down on the ground when he starts to lose his balance.’

In an instant my view of the old world collapsed. The child did not need hand holding and over protection. The child needed to be let loose and do what he was made to do, safe and not afraid to try on his own.

That’s a wonderful concept but I could not abide by it when it desecrated the game of soccer. Daniel started playing when he was five. I thought it would be a great idea for the boy to play soccer. Imma thought that it would be a great idea for the boy to play. Daniel’s view of soccer was much closer to Imma’s than to mine. He loved the field because it was big and green, and there were a lot of children running around him, kicking a ball all over the place. Daniel felt so comfortable on the field that from time to time he sat down and watch the game go by.

‘Osmo KUM!!!’ (GET UP)

‘Leave him alone.’

‘But the ball is coming his way.’

‘The ball will pass.’

‘But he can score.’

‘He’ll score another day.’

‘This isn’t soccer.’

‘The child is happy.’

It was all but impossible for me to accept that a child can sit down in the middle of the field during a soccer game.

‘Look at the other kids.’

‘They are from very strict families.’

‘Well they’re playing aren’t they?’

‘Do you know what happens to them at home if they don’t?’

In seventh grade Daniel scored six goals in one game. Academics were no different than sports. Daniel cared about his grades where it mattered and allowed himself some slack when the teacher was a proven idiot. Imma saw to it that a third language was mandatory and reading was a daily routine.

From time to time, in spite of having seen differently so many time s before I stumbled and pointed out that ‘effort’ was not a bad thing, and growing up meant getting used to trying harder to get things done. ‘You know that you have to be strict at something’ I said with all the authority I could put into it. ‘That’s why we have a piano,’ was the answer. Daniel has been playing the piano for six years and practice is part of the daily routine:

‘Osme, lech lenagen.’ (go to play)

‘Niganti.’ (I did)

‘Lo shameti.’ (I didn’t hear it) None of the kids could ever fool Imma.

‘Niganti I’m telling you.’

‘Play again.’

‘How many times?’

‘Do the Chopin three times and the Bach once.’

‘Three? But I already played…’

‘Do both three times! ‘

Ouch, that was harsh but it worked. Imma has made it crystal clear that ‘In my house you play for a living!’ To this day, Daniel is still showing normal resistance, but when the time comes he’ll be very grateful to Imma for not letting him wiggle off the hook. To sweeten the piano pill Imma was less strict with guitar practice and has not yet mentioned that the future held a flute or a Trombone.

The piano studio concludes every year with a dreaded piano recital, where each child has to memorize a piece and play it in front of an audience. Just for the sake of comparison this is at least as difficult as memorizing a text in one language and translating it rather than reciting it without the audience being able to tell that the text was memorized in another language. Sounds hard, ask all our kids how they felt as the day of the recital came closer every year. Yeela and Tal always wanted to run away from home and Amitai lost his will to live. Daniel, on the other hand always remained completely calm – somehow the stress skipped over him when he played. During a recent recital there were audible noises from nesting pigeons somewhere in the rafters above. All the kids played on as though there was no background noise, not daring to take their eyes off the piano – except Daniel. Daniel raised his head towards the ceiling and looked for the source of the noise, while his hands played on – performed like a true master of the arts.

Sitting on the sidelines for thirteen years, my day in the sun came when it was ‘Bar Mitvah’ time. ‘This I know how to do’. Imma was a bit apprehensive. Although she did not say it, her demeanor indicated that she was watching me, ready to step in if I went too far.

‘Osmo, you can memorize your haftara in a week,’ I said.

Imma jumped in immediately: ‘this is not what I meant when I let you le-hitarev bahinuch!’

‘What’s the big deal? It’s only a haftara!’

‘Just remember that Hebrew is his second language.’

‘That why I think he needs a week.’

Seeing that I was out of control Imma talked to Eitan our ‘new age’ Rabbi. I have to admit that Eitan was extremely open minded and knew all aspects of herding whatever was left of Jehovah’s flock.

‘Eitan. do you mind having a word with my run-away husband before he turns the child anti-Semitic?’

So Eitan ‘took me aside’ and very gently made it clear that what I was doing was just another form of ‘Kfiya Datit’ (religious intolerance) with all the adverse implications. ‘Now you don’t want that do you Yiftah?’ I had to admit that I didn’t. Eitan patiently laid out the three month plan which included some Jewish studies as well as learning how to read and sing the text.

‘Remember Yiftah if Daniel only does 95% of what you expect it’s still a great achievement.’

‘You mean that 95% is not a bad grade?’

‘Of course not, how could you think that?’

‘That’s what Yeela got on her spelling test…’

Mazal tov Daniel.

Of course the above could not be read so it was replaced by the following piece. This is the original version which served as a basis for a modified Hebrew translation which was presented during the celebration and remains to be posted some day

In the old days the BM was the ceremony designating the right of passage from being a child to becoming an adult. In the old days life was a lot simpler, much harder but fortunately for most people shorter. One had to do things a lot faster if one was to get anything done in life. In fact if we were in the old days we would go back up to the room after the ceremony and I would ask Daniel not to change his clothes because we would be going back down to his wedding a few minutes later Yes, arranged marriages were part of the deal until not so long ago because things had to be done quickly.

Modern society is much more complicated and there is so much more to learn before becoming independent and going your own way. We obviously live much longer so there really is no need to rush things, (but shouldn’t we reconsider the right to pick our in-laws?…) In our society the BM is more of a ‘checkpoint’ rather than a ‘turning point’.

Being at this checkpoint there are three things I would like to say to Daniel.

Part of growing up entails making more and more independent choices. At first it might seem as a scary proposition how do you know what the right choices are? Daniel, you have the gift of distinguishing right from wrong. If you do what you think is right you will be right most of the time. Every once in a while you will make some mistakes, but you will learn to correct them. I emphasize this because most people your age do not have this ability to the extent that you do. This will put you in situations where you are torn between doing what is right vs. doing what is popular. Look at your sisters; they have passed such tests time and time again, at times paying a price for standing by their principles looking back I don’t think they would have done otherwise in any situation. Follow your heart and mind and you will not fail.

The second thing I want to mention is that standing up for what is right goes hand in hand with being open to accept that other people are entitled to opinions, beliefs and customs which could be different than yours. Living in a foreign society has exposed you to cultural differences and taught you a great degree of tolerance. However, at times, you will be exposed to anger and sometimes hatred no matter where you live. You have to learn where to draw the line; when to stand firm and when to back down. Tolerance and the right to defend yourself, your family and your people go hand in hand. While practicing tolerance one should never forget that the other side is wrong when its opinions, beliefs or customs aim to deprive you of the same rights which you extend to them.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all learning is the key to making the right decisions, understanding people and becoming successful. From this day forward this is your responsibility – it’s all about working hard to learning more and more. Since you are not getting married this afternoon, you should focus much of your energies at making the most out of the many opportunities which you have to learn. Make the best of the opportunities at school; not withstanding that some teachers might not challenge your abilities. Learn as many languages as you can there is no better enabler to get to know people and come to understand them. Learn to play a third instrument you will not regret it. Read, read and read it takes away from Internet time but books are a world of riches like no other.

There is so much more that can be said but we have many years in order to do that. We will stand behind you with love and guidance and support you in everything that you do.

Mazal Tov.