Wednesday, December 27, 2006


My husband just phoned me to tell me it is snowing where he works!

It has been very cold all day and has rained a lot here in Shlomi. My children actually wore hats and scarves to school this morning as well as taking their umbrellas and thick coats.

My husband works in a factory in Tefen a modern industrial park. It is on top of a small mountain and colder than here due to the elevation. He has been enjoying the cold all week and regaling me daily with stories of the fog.

I just told him to keep an eye on the bus driver as the descent from Tefen is quite steep on a deceptively curvy road where everyone drives too fast. (I once worked in Tefen and depending on the driver the descent from work could easily become a white knuckle-ride in addition to the ear-popping altitude changes)

My children have just arrived home with a friend. The friend had gloveless, and therefore frozen, hands so I have already supplied them with mugs of hot tea. (Not proper English tea, mind you. This is the weak Israeli stuff, hardly distinguishable from coloured water as far as I am concerned but the preferred liquid warming agent for Israeli children. Personally I prefer Earl Grey)

Seems my children spent playtime dodging hailstones and my daughter claims one nearly hit her in the eye.
In England I think I only once experienced hail and the stones were tiny - just larger than rice grains. In Israel we have hail at least once every winter and last year my daughter and I got caught out in a storm where the stones were the size of golf balls. We had to take shelter under a canvas awing and it was quite terrifying.
It started off as a normal hail storm but the torrent got stronger and stronger and the hailstones got larger and lager. Every time we thought the downpour was weakening it gained renewed strength and the force of the storm increased. It about half an hour and by the time it was safe to venture out the pavement was so thoroughly covered in hailstones we have to cautiously skate along on the top. We couldn't push our feet through to the pavement and just trying caused us to loose our balanced on the hard, slippery hail.

My husband says that the snow near him isn't settling but the news reports say there should be snow on the Golan at the weeked (Did you know Israel actually has a skiing resort?) so maybe we will be making a trip.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Karate Kid

Sunday was my son's karate competition. It is the fourth year he has participated.

The Sensei doesn't allow parents to sit in on lessons as they present an obvious distraction (especially with the Israeli obsession with cell phones) so the first year I really have no idea how my son was progressing and was extremely surprised when he came second in the 'kata' (a set form of different karate moves – with a different set for each level).

The second year he was suffering from a lack of concentration and enthusiasm. I began to wonder if he wanted to continue with karate at all. As the tournament approached he began to practice everyday and came third in the kata. He had gained his yellow belt at the end of the first year which meant he participated in the sparring as well as the kata. Although he loves the forms of the kata he doesn't like to attack in the sparring which I suppose is a blessing but caused him to be eliminated in the first round.

Even so that year was my favourite as instead of going up through the belts they started with the black belts and we were treated to an exhibition of the best in local karate. It was particularly interesting as the young national champ was participating as a judge.

By last year my son was already an orange belt but although he was still practising eagerly at home it was not for the competition but in order to gain his green belt. He was out of both the kata and the sparring in the first round but didn't seem that worried.

Despite his relaxed attitude to competing he seemed to be extremely focused on other aspects of his karate. Not only did he gain his green belt in winter, by the end of the summer term he had also gained his blue belt. At first his sensei felt that at 71/2 he was too young for a blue belt but when she discussed it with the other sensei and they took into account how long he has been studying karate they changed their minds and let him try out.

This year he is the youngest blue belt in his class, and at the competition, by more than a year but I think he enjoys the challenge. The problem is finding an opponent his size for the sparring. I have no worry about his safety because discipline is strict but on one occasion my father watched a class and was laughing at the fact that my son's kicks had improved because his opponent was so much taller than him the only way he could touch him was by kicking!

What I particularly like about Karate is the community. For the students, especially the older ones it is not just a class - they are also expected to help instructing, leading the warm up and 'organizing' the younger children.

This is particularly noticeable at the competition. According to the Sensei there were 200 children, and 300 spectators, at the competition last year. By the look of it there were even more this year. That is an awful lot of children to herd around.

The sports hall is divided into three competition areas so all the instructors are occupied in judging the various events. As a result the organization of the children, both to keep the children in their groups and then getting them queued up in order to compete, is dealt with by the older students. All the students are pre-army, even the judges are in their early twenties and at least two thirds are males. It is charming to see these strong, athletic young adults gently directing a slightly confused six year old or soothing a child that that has been on the wrong end of a misplaced spar, subtly shielding them from the crowd and their competitors so there is no loss of 'face' should a few tears be shed.

All this organization is made slightly more difficult by the language barrier. Karate is very popular in the Arab sector and about two thirds of the children competing are Arabs or Druze, from villages and towns between here and Haifa. Arabic and Hebrew as second languages are not taught until the children are in their teens and many of the female relatives do not understand Hebrew so all announcements are made in both Hebrew and Arabic. Because the winter competition is held in Shlomi about half the older students are Hebrew speakers with only a smattering of Arabic so they have to direct the younger children with hand signals, body language and a gentle 'hands-on' approach.

But back to this year's competition. It started at 16:30 with all the students to be there by 16:00. This meant my son had to go straight from school. The competition lasted a long while and by the time my son competed it was after 19:00 so he was a little bored and extremely hungry (for my son no snack compensates for supper).

The problem was that they started with the older black belts at one end and the younger white belts on the other then worked towards the middle grades. The green and blue belts, grouped together to give a good range of ages, were some of the last to compete.

Anyway my son didn't do anything spectacular though he has made a noticeable improvement in the sparring and he enjoyed himself.