Monday, 28 April 2014

Holocaust Testimonies (Including Eva Schloss & Rabbi Michael Mandel)

The following is a selection of holocaust testimonies worth listening to. For further videos see videos from Yad Vashem on YouTube. The first two accounts are lengthy. The third is one of shorter interviews from Yad Vashem.

Eva Schloss (Stepsister of Anne Frank)

Visit Jewish.TV for more Jewish videos.

Rabbi Michael Mandel

After the introductory video by Rabbi David Bar Hayim (head of Machon Shilo), the first in a series of 16 videos of Rabbi Michael Mandel (his father) sharing his experiences before and during the holocaust, is presented. The entire series can be found here.

Chayim Herzl

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Renting in Israel - Draconian Conditions - The Wild West!

You may have already read a recent post on this blog, "Radio Interview: The Costs of Renting in Israel - From a View of a Minister of the Knesset." We saw how the rental situation in Israel is currently out of control. In short, there are no laws to keep rental costs in any kind of balance. Landlords are given permission to charge what they like - when they like. The tenant is warned in the strongest of terms "caveat emptor" - or "let the buyer beware!" In our case - let the renter beware. A Minister of the Knesset - Minister Hilik Bar spoke out in the strongest of terms regarding the desperate situation renters find themselves in with prices what they are - and that even for someone like himself, he could see no way of buying an apartment for himself given the massive amounts of money needed to even make a start - to one's start!

Recently another Minister of the Knesset, Stav Sapir - came out as well in the strongest of terms regarding the "Wild West" situation of the rental situation in Israel. This time, it's not only the awful situation of costs that are involved, but the fact that landlords are practically given permission to treat their tenants in any way they wish. Indeed, renting an apartment without proper running water, electricity and various other dangers(!) can be the norm. As pointed out on, "...hundreds and thousands of Israelis and (sic) forced to live in apartments that are missing even the most basic of accommodations." The situation is indeed desperate, and more needs to be done to ensure that there is a measure of honesty from the landlord who is actually being paid by his tenant for the right to have a normal in-working-condition apartment.

Famous other problems - never to be attended to by the landlord - include wide open areas allowing doves to fly into the home, build nests and breed a new family, exposing of electric wires (an actual life threatening situation!,) unleveled floors (another opening for an accident,) allowing neighbours to build "at the expense" of the landlord's tenants who must forgo use of parts of their apartment during building, broken shutters (a building fault, not just needing a change of strap,) not allowing tenants to hang their own paintings on the walls, non-working radiators or yunkers (established as part of the contract), rental of broken, old furniture indicating the apartment as rented with furniture(!) It is clear, landlords have a monopoly. The tenant has no choice but to sign a contract which gives the landlord full rights to treat his tenant as he wishes. His only other option is to sleep on the street if he finds that living in an apartment without proper windows(!) air(!) water(!) or electricity(!) is not to his liking! Very often landlords will even go so far as to claim that they will indeed attend to the many needs in the apartment - as soon as the contract (Chozeh) is signed, yet you can bet your bottom dollar - that the next day he will have already forgotten his conditions. Writing them down is of course an insult to the landlord who wonders why you cannot simply trust him!

For those living in (normal) homes overseas, almost all have no idea of the circumstances forced upon tenants living in Israel to live in. They cannot believe this is true, often claiming that the law is the law and one may certainly take a landlord to court (at the cost of the tenant who already lacks money!) and have the courts straighten matters. There is a certain ignorance among those living overseas, and I am glad to see the issue finally coming out a lot more in the open in a variety of news sites.

It seems that because there are indeed Ministers of the Knesset themselves affected by these problems, that they are coming out into the open a lot more now and it is vital that the public educate themselves to the reality of the practical oppression to those unable to afford their own homes. Buying in Israel today has become a virtual impossibility for the minimum wage - average - labourer. That being the case, it is vital that proper laws protect the tenant - and more importantly that the public become educated to support the case for honesty in all matters related to rental and rental conditions. Remember - it may well be that you could find yourself in this same situation one day. Better to support the case for honesty in rental today - than to find yourself one day up against it when you may be the one in need!

For a more authoritative view on the problems of the "wild west", see the news in the, "New Law to Protect Renters of Apartments from Draconian Conditions." What a superb word to describe the horror!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Rav Kav - How to Get an Anonymous Bus Ticket and Get Organised!

If you read my previous post about the problems associated with the Rav Kav public transportaion card in Israel, you'll notice I posted a solution suggested by some friends. Today we were able to implement the solution and it worked!

To recap: Your Rav Kav ticket will allow you to purchase a variety of city and inter-city tickets. There's a catch though! The machine used to scan the card never knows which ticket to scan - and may well scan the wrong ticket costing you extra money! Certainly - it is the duty of the driver to code into his machine which ticket to take, but I've found most drivers to be unpleasant about this and even insulted when I've asked them to select the right ticket. This has resulted in an actual loss of money for me having had the wrong ticket "punched" numerous times! I've complained to Egged (with no response) and to Illit Kavim (having had them refund me ₪20 once) but the bottom line is that the problem still exists. It surprises me that the managers running the Rav Kav operation - no doubt qualified MBA's, honours, masters or Phd qualified B.Com graduates or even possibly CA's have no understanding of the issues facing the true problem of the card - but such is it.

So here's what will practically happen: You use your Rav Kav for a city ticket, an inter-city ticket and a combined ticked which is cheaper (when it works!) for travel between and within another city too! However, when the driver chooses to use a regular city ticket when you've already selected the combined ticked - you'll be charged more than double the amount as the computer will deduct both inter-city i.e. two tickets, then city - and then when you try to use the intercity on return you find that an extra ticket was deducted in the city - with you now losing two additional tickets for the inter-city ticket! 

If you don't follow that - the summary is that the machine that scans the ticket has no way of knowing which ticket you want to use. The driver may have an ego not wanting to let you use the one you want to, and you finding yourself at a loss of two or more tickets - wasted!

In the old days we used paper tickets which allowed us to have control of which ticket to use. But without the individual tickets, we can no longer keep track of what the driver and scanning machine are doing to the Rav Kav!

The solution: Get yourself a separate Rav Kav for every journey you make that requires a different ticket! I don't remember this being available at the start of the Rav Kav with their rules allowing only one ticket - but I see this is no longer applicable!

All you need to do is to go in to the main Egged bus station (Jerusalem), floor 3 - and ask for an anonymous Rav Kav. You can get as many as you like for the price of ₪5. It may cost something - but you'll be saving a fortune due to not having to deal with problematic bus drivers, Rav Kav machines and the tremendous stress you will experience having to explain to the driver how the Rav Kav actually does work - or finding out just how much you have lost due to drivers not using the machine correctly! Do'n't forget to label your cards so you know which ticket is on which card.

It's easy to do! Never ask the drivers for this anonymous Rav Kav ticket on the bus (though they should have) because they never have - forcing you to hope and pray that the next bus arriving will have. Just go in to the Egged bus station directly - a once off - get your additional Rav Kav's - and you're all set for an honest and stress free public transportation experience! BeHatzlacha - and a big thank you to those who helped me to sort this all out!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Rav Kav - Israel's Bus Ticket: Friend or Foe?

Some time ago Israel introduced the Rav Kav public transport ticket. It certainly looks like a fun ticket with a green colour that says "go!" and an icon logo (not the cartoon character numbered 2) that says "fun" or perhaps "speed", but was it really created for the benefit of the public commuter or was there perhaps another reason (such as to simply create confusion and further the public transport economy through "alternative" means (sic - read below,) that it was put into place? 

I'm not sure, but I'm going to tell you my personal story and the battles I have experienced with it. This story is here for everyone to learn from and prepare (and arm(!)) themselves well so that the "mistakes" I have made are not made by others. At the end of the article I'm going to share with you the ultimate solution of saving you (and me!) not running into trouble again! I'm thankful to a group of friends who agreed with me on the problems this card has brought, and who shared with me their solution which finally puts the consumer back in control of his bus ticket - something which the Rav Kav will take away from anyone not prepared!

To be honest, I'm not sure if Egged is to blame, Illit bus lines (Kavim) are to blame or if it's the Rav Kav card - and who actually determines how it works - that is to blame.

The famous Rav Kav (having no relationship to any Rabbinical authority or organisation) allows one to purchase a variety of tickets on it. The catch is, only the Rav Kav (and its accompanying "partner in crime" - the machine that it is scanned upon) knows what's happening when the card is scanned. Buying bus tickets in Israel now no longer affords the consumer the opportunity to ever see how many tickets he has left etc. as the ordinary paper kind allowed. There are apparently apps on smartphones that allow one to check - but this only helps those who own them. There are also booths that are situated in select areas - but unless you live nearby one, they are virtually out of reach for the average person. As for the drivers, it's rare to find a driver who will allow you to see how many tickets you have left - though he can easily do so using the machine on the bus. So all in all - your stuck with a card that completely hides any information about the content of tickets on it.

Here's a practical example: If you purchase a 10 "punch" ticket in Jerusalem using your Rav Kav, you get ten rides (if you are lucky - see below.) If you purchase a 5 "punch" ticket from Beitar to Jerusalem, you get 5 regular rides in that direction. If however you want to be "smart" (quotes there for good reason!) you can purchase a Hemshech (continuation trip) ticket which allows you ONE ride from Beitar to Jersualem, and then ONE ride in Jerusalem itself - at a "fraction" (quotes again for good reason!) of the cost. But here's the catch: The computer ticket machine cannot read your mind as to which ticket you want. When you place the card on the machine, it takes off whatever it reads. If you have purchased THREE separate tickets (one regular Jerusalem, one regular Illit and one Hemshech, the computer does not know what to read when it is placed on the machine - as the computer does not know what you are planning for the day!) There is little you can do about it - unless...

You can of course tell the driver to please use the Hemshech. Begging him to use it (instead of just the regular scan) may also be a necessity. I have found most drivers intolerant to listening to what I have asked for, most either telling me they know what to do - or that I can just place the card on the machine because the computer is already programmed "correctly"! 

At the end of the day, if he refuses and makes use of one of the other tickets (his ego having being hurt), you have no recourse. You're stuck with the ticket he chooses for you. This means, if you're hoping to save money by using the "continuation trip" ticket and he selects another, you will be forced to use the normal and thereby pay MORE. On the other hand, if Driver A chooses "continuation trip" ticket, and Driver B in Jerusalem uses REGULAR (i.e. not making use of your original continuation trip ticket!) you will not only pay more for the regular, you will also have paid for the entire "continuation" ticket, losing BOTH amounts!!!

It's not the first time this has happened to me - though yesterday it was just too much... "Fortunately" I met a "lovely" driver on the Illit bus, who pointed out it must have been Egged's fault. (G-d forbid to even suggest that something he did was incorrect and that the fault could easily be corrected by cancelling the ticket and going about things differently!) It was also "fortunate" to have two of his friendly bodyguards accompanying him on his obviously new found job - who refused to accept any blame. By the sounds in their voices, they were more likely employed to act as security on the bus than already-accomplished-drivers who had been employed to instruct the driver on how to deal with ticket-taking and bus driving for the Illit company - but what can one do?! They had a great laugh at my expense! Nobody was prepared to give me their names to allow me to lodge a complaint (the companies always ask you who was involved as if asking the criminals for their names will really help!) - though on returning home, I did so with both Illit and Egged using the bus registration number. Let me equally mention here that I had indeed complained about this issue before to Illit Kavim who after some 3 months of serious meetings about the issue - eventually refunded me - an admission of guilt amount- of 20 Shekel credit for my loss.

All in all, it meant losing the value of TWO full Hemshech tickets, one additional regular Beitar ticket and an additional Egged ticket - in order to "save" money by making use of the one famous Hemshech (continuation trip) ticket!

Totally frustrated I shared my problem with others who came up with the ultimate solution. I'm offering it to all today - until legal attention is given to the problems that will of necessity come up with a computerised card manned by intolerant drivers whose egos are more important than honest business.

The solution: Buy 2 Rav Kav cards!!! Additionally as another friend pointed out - buy an additional Rav Kav card for every single ticket you use. Example: If you use a regular Jerusalem ticket in Jerusalem, use one Rav Kav for this. When traveling in Beitar (or any other city that uses the Rav Kav), use ANOTHER Rav Kav for Beitar. When traveling Hemshech Jerusalem-Beitar - use YET ANOTHER Rav Kav. When traveling, present the card you know has the correct ticket on it. In this way, you avoid having to instruct the driver which ticket he should use on the one individual card!

It's a simple solution. It also tells the Rav Kav company - we're not prepared to settle for a flawed system. Yes, it will cost a little extra for the additional cards - but in the long run, the money and stress saved from working this way is sure to make everybody once again feel as though they are using their paper tickets - which they can clearly be aware of for themselves! Putting us back in charge means not allowing the transport department to fabricate additional ways of removing money from a legal card meant for other journeys!

For those wanting to find out more about understanding the intricacies of this card, do see Egged's page about it as well as the Transport in Israel web page. 


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