Sunday, April 29, 2012

Israel: Nation or Dysfunctional Family?

This morning Israel commemorated the holocaust with its annual minute of silence, accompanied by the haunting sound of the country's air raid sirens. I stood outside my Jerusalem apartment and watched cars pull over and drivers stand by open doors, buses stop, old ladies with shopping baskets stand with heads bowed and even the kindergarten teachers opposite my home made a valiant attempt to have their young charges stand quietly. The atmosphere was palpable: an entire country joining together in collective respect and even grief for the generation of European Jewry that was wiped out by Hitler & his Nazi followers.

The minute ended with the siren fading, and immediately normal life started up: car doors closed, children started to laugh & squeal and pedestrians walked on. I turned to go in to my apartment when the air was split with the raucous sound of car horns and angry shouts as two Israeli drivers engaged in the national pastime of driving badly, then loudly blaming the other driver for any near miss that may occur.

How can a nation bow its head in grief one moment and then have its citizens start berating each other the next? What happened to the feeling of unity and shared experience that had bound us all together moments before ? Perhaps the answer lies in a biblical name for the Jewish people, 'Bnei Yisrael', the Children of Israel. We are not simply 'Am Yisrael', the people of Israel, who by pure chance happen to be citizens of the same country, but we are also the descendants of a single family who lived in this area long ago, and in some ways after all these millennia we still are one large extended family and like most families, we are a little dysfunctional!

This explains a lot about some of the quirks of Israeli society: We have our disagreements, we irritate each other, and we often take the feelings of our fellow Israelis for granted, but we equally love to celebrate each others 'simchas' and share each others pain. We can stand and shed a tear together and then shout at each other a moment later, because like most families we care deeply about each other, but we don't always get on that well! This perhaps goes to explain other aspects of Israeli society like 'protexia', where who you know can open doors, perhaps unfairly, but after all, we'll all try to help out family... right?? The way we drive, always wanting to be in front even when there is nothing to be gained, is that any different to siblings who just have to beat each other to the most trivial things? The way we Israelis stick our nose into discussions and disputes that are none of our business, who doesn't have family members who do just that?

To the outsider then, Israeli society may often seem torn by divisions, and bad behaviour toward each other, but to those visitors I'd suggest you watch our shared grief when the memorial sirens blare; look at our shared concern and care for the young people we see as almost our own, as they give up years of their lives to serve our army, or observe the genuine joy every Israeli feels on hearing of an engagement or birth even concerning total strangers.

So next time you get yelled at by an Israeli driver who just cut you up, don't let it get to you, simply honk back and smile, after all who drives us more crazy than our own family?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


There are basically two ways to legally transfer money in and out of Israel (discounting money belts, which tend to itch on long flights!):
1. You can do a bank to bank transfer
2. You can use the services of a private money change business in Israel.
Both methods have their drawbacks: Israeli banks basically gouge their customers by wracking up the charges and offering a poor exchange rate far below the interbank rate, and the reason they are able to get away with this is because they are aware of the drawback with private money changers in Israel, which is they may be far less expensive and offer much better rates, but they are simply not as secure.
In recent years there have been high profile cases of money change firms going bust and of clients in the middle of a transfer losing their money. This happens because basically when your funds arrive in Israel, they land in the money changers accounts, and they then transfer the money to wherever you want it sent, but before they do, they have full control of the funds, which means the clients has to trust they money changer to do the right thing, which obviously they must do or nobody would use them again... unless you happen to pick the day they go out of business!!
There is however a money changing firm that have voluntarily added a layer of protection, arguing that clients shouldn't have to trust them, but rather they should be able to trust the system. That has always been the bank's advantage: I mean who really trusts bankers, but on the whole, we do trust the banking system.

I found out about Isratransfer's system when I was doing my daily radio show here in Israel. One of the founding partners did the financial news for me, and the system of transferring money was actually developed in partnership with the radio station's parent organization,  a highly respected non profit called The AACI (the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel).

Essentially what happens is that the AACI act as an independent 3rd party, approving transfers.Without the AACI approving a money release, Isratransfer are unable to do anything with their clients money. As soon as money arrives in the account, it is immediately released to the destination specified by the client when the money was sent and there is absolutely nothing else that can happen to the money. In fact, even if Israetransfer was to collapse while your money was in transit, it would still have to go where it was supposed to.
So with this system you get peace of mind and you don't have to pay the ridiculous bank charges and poor exchange rates of the banks. How much do I believe in what I say here? I have used Isratransfer myself  on multiple occasions and saved a lot of money, not to mention aggravation (the one thing Israeli banks give you that Isratransfer doesn't!) and now I'm trying to encourage people to use their services.
If you want more info, click here and I'll try to help