blogitto ergo sum

December 17, 2016

#225 – Home Going

Filed under: absorb,Israel,on the road,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 18:53
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Once a year I go home.  My other home that is.  Or maybe I should call it my first home. Dual citizenship isn’t a big deal for Israelis.  It’s allowed, common, nothing to think of.

So I go to Israel.  The anchor, of course, is friends and family.


It’s a long trip.  And every year it gets harder.  The visit, that is.  The longer one lives away from home, the more one can see in a visit.  As Heraclitus said so many years ago, “You could not step twice into the same river.”  Change is inevitable; its direction however is.  and i don’t like the current one.  Not at all.

Landing 10 days after the US election, this visit was the hardest yet. Not only because of the election, but also due to the processes in play in Israel itself, and my ever evolving view of them.  there’s a lot to say about media-generated bias.

Tough, challenging, and rewarding in its own way; no matter who you are or what you do in Israel, this is always true.  And lots of fun too.  And good food.

I haven’t been to Ein Gedi nature reserve probably in a decade or more.  Nor to the Dead Sea.  I haven’t seen this much art in any two weeks. I’ve never before encountered so much bad coffee in Israel.  Nor was taken and addressed as a tourist, complimented for my Hebrew.

It was a challenging visit indeed.  At work, my answer was “it was interesting.”  At least one colleague told me how sorry she is to hear I didn’t have a great time.  So I insisted it was “interesting,” taking advantage of the double literal and colloquial usages of the word.

Interesting has its upside though.  Given my frustration with the long, too long, non-blogging interval, this trip is a great trigger to restart; head first.

The ending says it all

Before leaving my parents’ home for the airport, I went to say goodbye to dear friends living nearby.  I didn’t see this coming:


Given Facebook’s limitations, I had to attach a photo to the post or else I wouldn’t be able to include it in the trip’s album.


Nabi Ilyas, AKA Herbit an-Nabi Aliyas

The kids “posed” without any prompting, just like kids do.  Needless to say, this post got me another exchange over this sharing.  I was back home in California for a couple of hours, and there was a follow-up,  sadly confirming the intolerance and impatience to other opinions.  I’m not used to hearing a dear friend saying “I don’t care what you think,” and I expect you to respect and accept my opinions no matter what, no matter what your conscious tells you.  In Hebrew it goes

“תעזבי פשוט ..כול מה שרציתי להגיד שממש לא חשוב לי הדעות שלך וכו..”

Literally saying, “simply drop it, all I wanted to say is that your opinions are of no importance to me.”  Mic drop.

Are you ready to join my trip?


October 13, 2014

#222 – where your classroom is a country

Filed under: Israel,life matters,Opinionated,that Jewish thing,US life — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 01:03
Tags: , , ,

Election2014On November 2nd, I’ll practice my civic right, and vote in the 2014 Interim Election. My first! Staring at all the material I need to read to ensure I vote as I should, I realize how different is this democracy, compared to the one I grew up in. Living here for as long as I have, passing the citizenship interview/test, getting sworn in, getting a 2nd blue passport – all these steps were only the beginning. There’s more to US citizenship. And you don’t learn about it, unless you are one, unless you are totally in.

Many-many years ago, i was the [wait for it] Head Counselor of the Tel Aviv University Overseas Student Program [TAU OSP]. Breathe. It was indeed a very long title.  It was my first exposure and intense interaction with Native Americans [pun intended] excluding TV. American students, as opposed to Mexican, Canadian, and the rest of the world students, were the dominant majority [~85-90%] of the program. At that point in time, they were the US for me.

Whether it was getting them to hike to the top of Masada pre-dawn via the Snake Path to see the sunrise from the top, sharing an ambulance ride with a student that tried to commit suicide, or finding a way to tell an excited student that the nice Jewish boy she wants to introduce to her parents when they visit, is indeed very nice, but not at all Jewish, were but a few of my memorable interactions. The challenge of explaining that caring the water jerrycan is a team responsibility to students who didn’t go to Young Judaea or Habonim Dror. It was interesting. Given that I have had yet to visit the US, those interactions and experiences were the building blocks of my American perspective.

Masada Snake Path

It wasn’t until I started visiting the US on a regular basis [while living in Canada], and later living here, that I realized how distorted one’s perception may be, when it is based on a skewed sample, in a very specific setting. You can’t really learn a country or people from afar.  I know how wrong, how far off I was.

[Hold that thought]

Contradictory to Israel’s pathetic PR track record, the OSP had a brilliant one.

“Where Your Classroom is a Country”

TAU OSPSimply brilliant. Hey, I didn’t coin it. Every product / product marketing manager would be proud to have such a befitting slogan.

Every [American] student got a T-shirt with this slogan, before leaving for Israel. Americans dig marketing better than most.

In my latest cleanup & declutter [part #∞], I found the Canadian version that I produced when running the Canadian office, [and recognizing that Canada is so “not the same” [as the US]. Tomorrow, the shirts will be on their way to those who were quick to claim them.

[Keep on holding to that thought]

Between the High Holidays and the recent war, now less interesting since we got ISIS to feed the media, the last couple of months included a lot of, “So what is it with Israel? Can you please explain the war? What is going on? Who & What should I believe?”

israel facesI greatly appreciate everyone who tries to understand, who is honest enough to admit that s/he isn’t sure what’s going on in that troubled region. I respect anyone who wonders what’s behind rating-driven media coverage, money, and political agendas. I try to answer, share, and be as objective as I can. But, to really understand Israel, let alone the overall Middle East mess, you need to take yourself to the class… We – Israelis [in and outside Israel] – are a complicated bunch, with contradictions and inconsistencies being our normal. Our normal includes terrorism, religious fanaticism, and bleeding edge technology. It doesn’t include camels though. We, too, think of them as an attraction. My point? Israel’s normal is too often another’s ‘different.’

For example…

Israel is surrounded by countries that, generally speaking, wish it didn’t exist. Countries, one should point out, that when it comes to access to education & technology, personal freedom, and all other 21st century western world givens, are behind, and not necessarily interested in catching up. Israel pockets of archaic life styles are the whole garment in most of its Muslim neighbors.

Little in common with the neighbors is an understatement – check!

Known and respected for innovation in science, technology, medicine & pharmaceuticals, agriculture… with Israelis present, holding positions, sharing, partnering in most research and industries that advance us all. Yet, at the same time, thought of as a remote unstable desert somewhere.

The only Jewish state, with a minority population that can hardly be thought of as a minority. Home for immigrants, legal or not, from every corner of the world, only 66 years old, yet carries the weight of thousands of years of history. It’s the one place important to three religions that other than monotheism, agree on very little, though share a lot. Actually, make it four. The Baha’i faith, also monotheistic, has two of its most important shrines in Israel. This religious significance leads to a constant tension, not to say conflict, between the desire to be normal, and the push to be a symbol. Fundamentalists, Christians or Muslim, have a very clear view of what Israel should be… The Jewish fundamentalists have their vision too. Neither option will maintain an Israel I would ever consider living in. One or two of the options may change its name. All options will treat women as less than equal to men. The other abnormal for a western country is the unbridgeable gap, tension, and conflict between the desire to live in peace and the critical expensive battle for survival, living surrounded by hate, terrorism, and all too often wars.

You may wonder how this is all connected.  It’s about the Shoes, of course. Between taking a little pride in the brand of Katniss’ shoes and realizing that the election’s “study requirements” demonstrated to me that the country is a classroom… for the curious student.

September 20, 2014

#220 – Triple I. Identity, Interview, and I

Filed under: life matters,Opinionated — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 21:22
Tags: , , ,

Every now and then, I find myself thinking about the latest addition to my identity. The recent war in Israel, and the European anti-Semitism and hate wave that accompanied it, made me think about it a little more. “The whole world is against us” is more than just a song Israelis grew up on. There isn’t a living Israeli who didn’t experience one form or another of war, terrorism, or being under an attack. There isn’t a living American who had to fight to defend US proper – the actual physical country. We are talking home, not a forsaken land half way across the ocean, where an American soldier is sent to liberate, defend, or show the light to people of a very different culture, language, and value set. Getting ready to use my American passport for the first time makes me think about it much more. It is from this place, that my citizenship interview seems removed from the true meaning of being a citizen. After all, being a citizen [of either of my countries] doesn’t mean I agrees with everything politicians say, do, pitch, believe in, and too often, want to send the army to fight for, die for. It means that I agree with the core values and principles that make a country what it is. It means that I’m willing to sacrifice a lot to ensure this country stays around, even if and when its day-to-day practice goes against some of my beliefs. In Israel, land and how to treat the other, how to democratically manage the diversity that was a priori to the establishment of the state are critical components of my comfort with the ruling cocktail of parties, beliefs and interests. Right now I rather not drink this cocktail. In the US, which has been around a little longer, it’s global warming, war on women, and immigration. Social responsibility and community, as in caring for your neighbor are key too. And let’s say nothing about the healthcare mess. The surprising and uncomfortable insight, hard to accept or admit, is that today, or last month, or on May 21st or 22nd, my sworn in day, I was more comfortable, more at ease, with making that commitment to the US than I would have been if I had to re-commit to Israel. I’m not ready to give up this loyalty, this key component of my identity. But… None of this, nothing at all, went through my head when I went in for the citizenship interview. It was early April. On time, past security, I found myself in a big waiting room. A quick visual scan of the room returned with an Indian

majority. A close second was the Mexican, or maybe I should say Latino/Hispanic. Third was the Chinese delegation, and then it was the rest of the world; a Brazilian couple, and one or maybe two more Caucasian couples. One of the Caucasian couples, as well as one of the Chinese, came with a lawyer/translator, others came with kids. I thought I heard Hebrew, but wasn’t too sure. As bureaucracy goes, you need to submit your form NOT at the window with the sign that says so, but at the one to its right. Right there they got it wrong. After a while you realize that the sign is there just to confuse you. I flipped through the booklet with the 100 questions and extra answers, some of them are actually interesting. Patience.

The immigration officers are a diverse bunch. Seems that just like the waiting room, white is a minority. I love California. My people curiosity and its diversity paired well. Many of the names of the citizen wannabes present a pronunciation challenge, from the single or double syllable Chinese, to the how-do-you-pronounce-this-very-long-Indian-name-I’m-out-of-air names. To the officers’ credit, they make an effort to pronounce every wannabe’s name. And then it’s my turn. “Wagner…” and her tone goes up a notch with a typical question intonation. I’m considering taking an offense. 5-Syllable names get pronounced, though not without hesitation, and yet my two syllable, 4-letter name is considered so complicated, too challenging, that I’m the ONLY person that gets called by last name only. One could have said it’s anti-Semitism, but with Wagner for a last name, it’s really hard to make the case. Never thought of my name as a four letter word, but apparently, for most Americans, it is. I get up, smiling to myself, and meet Lupe [I think]. A big woman, and it turns out that with a matching big heart. Her first question, before we even make it to the interview room [read: her office] is, “How do you pronounce your name.” Touché. I say it, she repeats it a couple of times, and tells me about her life long-suffering due to her own unusual name. She goes on to tell me how hard she tries to properly pronounce every interviewee’s name, and admits that when she can’t, as is the case with some of the longer Indian names, she tries to match the application photo to a person in the waiting room… unless it’s me I think to myself. 15-20 minutes later, we exhausted the topic, including her Starsucks and other calorie providers’ fake name. I keep it simple, I admit. My name is “just the letter ‘Y’ please.” OK, so you know I love coffee, you know how to pronounce my name, more or less, now how any of it will help you determine if I am the kind of person you’d want to welcome as a citizen of your country? Have I been a member of a terrorist organization, she wants to know. “I grew up in Israel,” I say. “We fight terrorism.” She didn’t like it. “I have to ask these questions.” And then there’s a question about Nazism or something else. The Israeli association of Wagner & Nazism on one hand, and growing up as an Israeli with Wagner for a last name completely escapes her. Flipping through my application, she handed me a list of international trips. My trips, and asks me to confirm that these are all the trips I took since I got my green card. Not even close. “There’s a whole page missing.” Is it a test? I couldn’t tell. “There wasn’t enough space in the form, so I included an additional page with all my trips,” I added. “I have a copy of it here if you need it.” Working on that excel spreadsheet was my painful 2013 Thanksgiving project. I recall that it was 21 trips for the last 5 years. Make it 22, I took another trip in February. She asked for the dates. Thanks to mobile calendar and mobile boarding passes, I could provide the specific dates. She didn’t want my complete list. And I still wonder, was it a test? And if so, why? What for? “What is freedom of religion,” she asked. And I answered, “The freedom to practice any religion, or not practice a religion.” I had to read a sentence, write a sentence, there is a couple more questions, and then it’s something along the lines of “You are welcome to join this great nation.” You may be sworn in this month, or, if we already met the space limitations, you’ll be invited next month.” I get a note saying that I met all citizenship requirements, and it recommends my citizenship approval. It was all over, waiting included, in just about 70 minutes. What an anticlimax. So I took the rest of the day off. And time and again I think about what defines one’s identity.

November 24, 2008

#139 – Not Yet Dead

Filed under: Uncategorized — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 11:47
Tags: , , , ,

Not Yet Dead [1-see comment at end]

This one is to Martin, Eran and Simon. And to the amazing, caring staff of the Karolinska University Hospital.


It wasn’t until Saturday noon, sitting at the airport with Eran, knowing I’m going home, that I allowed myself to break down and admit weakness and fear. The tears came as a total surprise though. Until that moment, others did all the worrying, while I was too busy being cool and tough.

2 AM – I am in Pain

Never thought of myself as a wimp, hence, when the first pain wave hit me around 2 am, I figured that it was nature’s response to a very rich dinner. As the hours moved on, nature was having fun. I was not! All I knew was that no matter how I lay, sat, rolled, hugged the pillow or bent, each wave of pain left me exhausted, with the naïve hope that soon enough it’ll stop. A hot bath didn’t help either. I started thinking of the HOUSE episode in which he breaks his finger to distract his mind from a bigger distress.

Around 7 AM I SMS-ed Simon and Martin, informing them that I won’t be able to join the day’s meeting. The idea of sitting, listening, responding and being patient [dah] was beyond me.

Reading the SMS, the two guys immediately shifted into “fix problem” mode. From that moment on, not an hour went by without at least one of them insisting I’d take action.

Phone consultation with a Doctor brought up terms like obstruction, stones and other terms I associate with people other than myself.

By 11 AM or so, I was ready to cry. 9 hours of pain, no sleep at all, in a hotel bed, tangled with the duvet, hugging a pillow, was not my idea of having a good time.

I obeyed Simon and called our dear AMEX support[2]. “We could get you a list of local doctors” she said. I said “yes, please”. A pathetic list of 3 items arrived more than 4-5 hours later.

Luckily, Martin and Simon were not about to let me stall. “Call the SOS line, NOW!!!” they ordered via SMS, Skype and phone.

And so I did.

There’s a light

A case manager, a medical case manager . . . suddenly I had a professional support team all working for me and my comfort. Within 10-15 minutes, I had an address and someone who’s sole task was to make sure that I’m being taken care of the best possible way. There was a bit of a competition there, between these guys and Martin & Simon, and later Eran, who could care more.

Checking in

For the first time in my life, I checked myself in, and not to a hotel or a flight. Once I paid SEK2000[3], things started moving fast. Blood, urine and descriptions were collected carefully, followed by a CT.

Having to remove everything containing metal turned out to be a challenge – I already had the instrument for liquid injection in my arm, and movement was limited. I had to swallow my “no thank you I can manage” rejection of help, and ask for it. Only to find myself thinking it’s the first time in my life I am helped removing my bra. “BY A WOMAN” was the bold angry message sent from my protesting brain and pleasure center. Yes, by a woman.

Martin, giving up an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of Stockholm, was with me, providing the support I was too blind and stubborn to admit I needed. Further, he recognized that talking work would be a good distraction. Can’t believe it, but it worked, almost as good as a pain killer.

It’s late afternoon and while the pain waves are not longer slicing me that often, not a single thought of food crosses my mind, and I don’t even notice.

While I’m offered a bed a couple of times, I keep going out to the waiting room to enjoy Martin’s company. Denial I call it now for what it was. Sick people need beds, not me.

Verdict, Little Kid and a Big Airplane

The Muslim doctor that was handling my case/me all afternoon is sitting me down for a serious talk. I can forget about getting on a plane tomorrow, I have gallstones and a couple other symptoms they are still investigating; my liver which may be infected, is inflamed, and flying with swollen organs, considering what air pressure does to balloons, is not recommended by the hospital. The SOS Dr. talks to Dr. Mahmud, and wanting a 3rd opinion I call Ruti, my very own family doctor and friend in Israel. They all agree that flying is a great way to add adventure and pain to my life, along with, most likely, an emergency landing.

  • — “You’d rather get it removed at home, right?” says the nice Doctor.
  • — “Well, I rather get it done HOME-HOME”, I say.
  • — “What do you mean, aren’t you an American?”
  • — “Don’t you have an ear for accents?”
  • I get a confused look in response.
  • — “You are an Arab, aren’t you?” I ask/state.
  • — “No, I’m a Kurd” is the immediate response, and I sense some offense in his tone.
  • — “Oh, I’m really sorry” I quickly say, “And I’m an Israeli”
  • — “You know, when I was a kid, and the Iraqi army was chasing us, and ended up in a camp near Turkey. . . me and all my family”
  • — “Yes and the Turks didn’t welcome you either, I remember” I’m proud to show off my knowledge of middle-east conflict history and erase the Arab thing. “How old were you?”
  • — “And I will never forget” he says, all emotional, “the first airplane that drooped us food was from Israel.”

I now have a friend at the hospital.

Next – checking in.


[1] SPAMALOT – lyrics @ or general @

[2] Amex called hours later to ask if i needed anything else. By that time, I already canceled my flight, which the caller wasn’t even aware of. Not sure i was polite. They didn’t deserve it anyway.

[3] Exchange rate was retrieved using WorldMate Live which I’ve been enjoying for the past few months, tracking my biz trips and now my gallbladder-related events.

April 15, 2008

#129 – Israeli Sunset

Filed under: Uncategorized — yael [ya-el] wagner @ 10:40
Tags: ,

Sunset on the Mediterranean

Originally uploaded by dindrigo

Having a first-timer with me posted a challenge. what is the first thing you want him to see 90 minutes after landing?

I chose Tel Baruch beach.

With Beer – Maccabi [for him], Wine [for me] and fries.

Four months passed, and this chapter is still missing its essence, its soul. how can i bring someone to Israel, on his first visit, and sum it up with beer and fries @ Tel Baruch? Shame, shame, shame.

On the other hand, how can I neglect writing about any of the things, destinations and mishaps that i went through in the past months? Shame, shame, shame.

Started the week (June 15) in Paris, where Christopher ended each teasing, challenge or drink with “you will blog about this, right?’

And my answer is; “yes Christopher, i will blog about this, and this and about that too”.

Not everyday, possibly, not every week, but a lot. and with photos, that for a change may include some of my own.

get it?

… ” What it is,
When you get it,
If you get it…

Good, you got it!”


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