Thursday, December 31, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #101 - It’s time to pay. Or fight.

The shakedown
Rosie brought home a note from gan this week. On a little piece of note paper. It was handwritten in marker. By luck I remembered to ask Becky’s ‘big sister’ mentor to read it. She translated. They want to know: Why haven’t you paid the 600 NIS to the gan for books and projects and stuff?

Later that night I mentioned it to Bob. He already knew about it. The gannenet had seen him pulling in the driveway and called him over to tell him the same thing. Why haven’t you paid?
Why didn’t we get billed from the moetza (city hall) for this, I wondered? Last month they billed me 135 NIS for Rosie’s ‘cultural fee’.

Me: 600 NIS is a significant amount of money to be demanding on a little handwritten note in magic marker.
Bob: There’s no way anyone else is paying this.
Me: Rosie doesn’t even have any books.
Bob: I’ll bet they know we just pay.
Me: Are you suggesting the gan is shaking us down?

We’ll have to see about that…

It’s time to pay. Or fight.
Last night Bob and I tried to make sense of the credit card bill – including six charges from city hall, all of them described in the transaction-type column as “other”. When there’s one ambiguous charge you can maybe figure it out. But six? We gave up and went to bed.

Bob woke up ready for a fight. He gathered up a pile of receipts we’ve been accumulating from city hall. The protocol is once you’ve authorized them to bill you for one thing they just bill you for everything else (as they deem appropriate). Then you get a receipt indicating the amount that was charged to your credit card. Easy enough. Finding out what it is you’ve paid for is less straightforward.

Bezeq – achi tov b’bayit (the best for your house)
As I looked for the credit card bill on my laptop I realized my internet was down. Bob ran some diagnostics and then made the dreaded call to our internet provider, Bezeq. He put the automated menu on speaker. It opens up grandly. Bezeq – achi tov b’bayit!

He wowed me maneuvering through the menu (in Hebrew) and reached a live technician – calling Bezeq is one of Bob’s semi regular pastimes. The tech said to hold while he tested the line . And suddenly the internet was working. The tech insisted he hadn’t done anything but Bob knew he had.

Thank you! It’s working now. Mah aseet? What did you do?
Asiti klum! I didn’t do anything.
Lo, asita mashu! No, You did something!
Asiti klum!
I know you did SOMETHING. Tell me – why does Bezeq do this? They take me off line at night and then when I call in the morning they put me back on.
Bezeq would never do such a thing. We have millions of customers.
It works. I am happy. I am happy you did something.
I did not do anything.
How can you tell me you did nothing? It was not working and now it is working! I know you did something!
Would you like to complain sir?
(shouting) I do not want to complain! I am happy! I am happy you did something!

We looked at each other and laughed as he hung up. Bezeq – achi tov b’bayit.

Bituah leumi
Today was a day of reckoning. All ambiguous mail would be dealt with. Bob called Bituah Leumi. Recall the three letters they sent. But they wanted to speak with me. He asked for an English speaking rep to call me back. They said one would call within 24 hours.

They always say they will call us back. But they never call back!
Someone will call you.
Promise me someone will call my wife within 24 hours.
Well I can’t promise you…

As Bob walked out the door, papers in hand, I ran after him with the shakedown note from gan. I want you to find out about THIS. Do you think city hall knows about the bills that go out in magic marker?

He returned too quickly - city hall was open but no one could help him today. We’ll have to wait until the New Year to find out.

Stranger things have happened
The phone rang a few hours later. The bituah leumi rep did speak English and I even got the part about how they want to give me a 400 shekel gift for having a baby(!!!). But when I asked about the bill they’d sent, she said that is for my husband. If he is unemployed or self-employed he must pay. Then she said I need to go somewhere (??) and provide my bank information.

Tell me – if I give you my bank information will you take money out?
No – we just put money in.
But what about this bill for my husband?
Yes, for your husband we will take money out.

At this point I hand the phone to Bob. They continue in Hebrew.

What do you mean I have to pay?
Every man must pay.
The women don’t pay?
It’s good I have a lot of daughters.
(A shared laugh.)
Are you sure I have to pay?
Everyone pays.
I don’t think everyone pays. I am going to ask all my new olim friends if they pay!
But they are new olim – new olim don’t have to pay for the first year.
A-HA! WE are new olim! We are here only 6 months! So we DON’T have to pay!

We’ll have to see about that…

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #100 – 100 days of swirling thoughts – I hope there’s no press conference

Mascara costs 125 NIS here.

In Brooklyn I used to get automated calls inviting me to Bingo or a Chinese Auction. Now the automated calls are in Hebrew and they are invitations to come protest.

It seems no builder in Israel ever heard of a closet. Maybe they look at American homes and wonder why we waste so much space on closets.

We’ve lost corn
Rosie gets hot lunch in her saharon (after school program). Her favorite is couscous soup (which I’m pretty sure is chicken soup and a side of couscous). Ketchup is a close second. The ketchup is actually served with schnitzel. She calls it shneeetzel. Yesterday they had hotdogs. And tieghras.
Yes, tieghras.
If you want tieghras and you are in Brooklyn what will you ask for?
I will ask for tieghras!

Security is tight here. But sometimes misdirected
My manicurist comes to my house. Yesterday she was followed here by two good looking soldiers. They were looking for someone driving the same car as her. The very threatening Volkswagen Golf.

50 shekel parking and car wash. Any car.
This was the sign coaxing people into the Carta pay lot (right next to the Mamilla free lot) outside the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City. Bob, not wanting to wait in line for Mamilla (they check the trunk of each car before they let you in so it takes a few minutes), opted for Carta. The carwash sweetened the deal. He asked the attendant,
Any car?
Any car.
This car?
Any car.

Waved in, he made his way down, down, down.

The car wash attendant held out a ticket and said, “Eighty shekels.”
But the sign says 50.
But you have a big car.
But the sign says any car.
But this is a big car.
So if I came in a small car would it be 40?
No it would be 50.
I’m only paying 50.
I’ll do it for 70.
I’m sorry sir.

As Bob returned to the exit the attendant asked for his ticket.
I didn’t get a ticket – they told me 80 shekels.
You must to pay.
But I just got here! Can I go back?
No – there are spikes.

I love where we live
We have a bar mitzvah boy staying with us from America. So Bob took him to the Gush Etzion equivalent of ESPN Zone. Caliber3 shooting range. Except that there are no video games, the guns are real, and the ammo is live.

Bob took our guest to Jerusalem. They went to the Old City. Visited the Arab shuk, the Jewish Quarter and the Kotel. I emailed him my shopping list while he was out and they stopped at Mahane Yehuda for fruits and vegetables. On the way home they stopped at Kever Rachel for minha.

You get used to all of it
To save water, we frequently use plastic plates. With the abundant resources of chutzpah and maybe sand, Israelis have figured out how to make disposable plastic ware so impossibly thin I often grab a plastic fork and only after I’ve started using it do I realize it is two plastic forks together. You actually have to separate the cutlery. Of course we use the real stuff – for Shabbat and for peanut butter (plastic spoons break inside the jar).

I don’t want to be that person who is single handedly responsible for filling an entire landfill but, in trying not to waste water, I often suspect I am that person. As of early December the water level of the Kinneret was more than 15 feet below the red line (below the red line = very very bad). There has been some rain in the last few weeks but since the Water Authority is on strike (including the guy who jumps in every morning to take a manual measurement), there is no one to update the water level. But that’s a whole other story.

Telling it like it is
Rosie was trying to recall a song from gan. She sang a few words and then asked me to sing the rest. Maybe Barbara can sing it with you, I told her. Why not you mommy? I don’t know that song? Do you know anything, Mommy?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #99 - the story of the gas, the oil and the water

Shortly after I arrived in Israel I went to Jerusalem to see my obstetrician. After the visit I noticed I was low on gas.

Growing up, the only gas I knew about was the self service kind. And also the cheap kind. It was like a sport finding the station with the lowest price per gallon (96 cents instead of 99 cents). And so my parents, and eventually I, would drive to a particular station knowing the gas there was the cheapest. No matter that the station was in the next town over.

When I came home after freshman year, I used the Econ 101 concept of opportunity cost to justify filling gas locally (Gasp!) And until I moved to Brooklyn, the only time I got full service gas was on the New Jersey Turnpike (full-serve only – by law!). Did I mention that I checked my own oil, the air in my tires and my coolant? Self sufficient and well trained in the art of not getting ripped off.

Once I discovered my colicky firstborn didn’t cry (as much) in the car, the car became a place of refuge. My sanity hanging in the balance, full service gasoline seemed a strategic maneuver rather than a guilty pleasure. With my husband tending to the oil, tires and coolant and the very nice station attendant filling the gas, the economist in me justified it all in terms of comparative advantage.

Last summer when we visited Israel I had occasion to fill gas. I had seen Bob put self-serve in the car and watched him struggle with the requisite data entry at the pump (in addition to the credit card number, you must enter your license plate number and your teudat zehut number). It was a little intimidating. So when I saw a sign for sherut mele (full service) I headed straight for it.

Fast forward to my trip to the obstetrician. On one side of Jerusalem. The gas station I had used last summer – the only one I knew for certain that offered sherut mele – on the other side of Jerusalem. I drove across town, passing station after station, ignoring the signs posting the price per liter of gasoline (on the spot conversion of liters to gallons and then shekels to dollars to figure out what I pay for gas is outside my current skill set), and arrived at my trusty full-service station.

My nostalgia for blissful full-service vanished abruptly when the attendant insisted I needed fluids. Shemen (oil) and mayim (water) – you MUST to put! Not sure how to respond but instinctively sensing a rip-off I asked a few questions. He was insistent. Suddenly it occurred to me - I live in the Middle East! I must first speak with my husband before doing anything with the car. This was a language he understood.

Of course my husband was out of the country and so I drove straight to my trustworthy mechanic. Who promptly told me to NEVER buy shemen or mayim from the gas station. He then checked my fluids, added a drop of oil and sent me on my way free of charge. Rip-off averted.

Fast forward to a quick Dead Sea getaway. Me, my mother-in-law and my baby, then just 3 weeks old. The night before we left, Bob mentioned I should check the oil and water in the car. I made a face. He smiled. You can do it! What’s gonna happen?

Three weeks post partum and totally sleep deprived – I didn’t stand a chance
560 shekels later we drove off with gas (full-serve), coolant, and, according to the gas station attendant, four liters of the finest oil Israel has to offer. In a moment of weakness, the gas station rip-off I’d successfully been averting my whole life caught up with me. Compounded with interest.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #98 – parallel thoughts

Bob noticed I haven’t posted for a while (lack of sleep, not lack of inspiration) and offered to write a guest post. Turns out we had similar thoughts swirling in our heads that day…

Lisa on My Standing as “immigrant”:
In all our aliyah planning I never contemplated the fact that upon moving here I’d suddenly become illiterate, speak with an accent, depend on strangers to help me understand the specials in the grocery store, rely on my children to read the mail, not be able to communicate with their teachers, and be scared of official sounding messages of any type.

Bob on The Illiterate Professionals:
I obtained my Juris Doctor and Lisa is a step away from a PhD but when it comes to certain things we feel like fifth graders in an adult world. I just came from the bank to deposit 2 checks and it took me 45 minutes to fill out the deposit slip (with help from 2 nice people).

Lisa: It can be overwhelming on a day when a page-long handwritten note comes home from a teacher just after I’ve figured out that the reason there are 3 letters from Bituah Leumi is because they needed information before a certain date (long past) in order for us to receive certain benefits. And when I didn’t respond the first time they sent a second letter. And a third.

Bob: On the way back from the bank, I stopped for petrol (gas) and wanted to buy windshield wiper fluid but I could not read which bottle in the display was washer fluid nor do I know how to say "wiper fluid" in Hebrew.

Lisa: It’s not that I don’t want or need our Bituach Leumi benefits – it’s that I need to go there to set it up. Which sounds so easy. But I need to be up to the task – an exercise in precision timing, Zen-like patience, and ultimately, futility if I find out that the stack of papers I’ve brought is missing the one paper they insist they need. What I really need to do is to send Bob.

Bob: Speaking of cars, we were supposed to do the annual car inspection 2 months ago. There are 3 government offices involved in this process. I am still trying to figure out which of the 3 different governmental offices to visit first because each will undoubtedly tell me I need to go to one of the others before I can start at their office.

Lisa’s happy ending:
My illiteracy is temporary. Strangers are happy to help. My children are proud they can read. Their teachers are patient. For the most part, those official sounding messages can be deciphered after enough repetitions. And one day, before the benefits expire, we will make it to Bituach Leumi. My accent will be here forever but my kids won’t have one.

Bob’s happy ending:
We have come pretty far in less than 6 months. We order gas balloons. Lisa does this in Hebrew. We don’t get frustrated with workmen (we expect a mess) or their prices (sometimes we negotiate, mostly we just pay). We shop. We ‘get’ the metric system (Celcius, kilos, meters). We understand doctor hours and kupat cholim hours. I even learned how to give my kids quick strep tests at home. We’re not close to the doctorate level in terms of functioning like Israelis but we are probably on track for promotion to the sixth grade.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #97 – israelification – still incomplete (but the evidence is mounting...)

Before we left for the north I got my first tub of spreadable chocolate (and a big “oohwah” from Bob). When the kids started asking for snacks, about 30 seconds into the drive, I proudly declared, “For snack we have chocolate sandwiches.”

Israel is a really small place
When you travel to the north via Route 90 you drive along the Jordanian border. You are thisclose. So it really shouldn’t be surprising to receive a text message welcoming you to Jordan and inviting you to try out the free services of the Jordanian cell phone provider. But it is surprisingly funny.

How much is too much?
On our way, we stopped to visit the chocolate factory at Kibbutz Degania, on the southern tip of the Kineret. The kids had a great time creating chocolate dreidels and decorating blocks of Israeli wafers with chocolate and sprinkles (read: sugar on top of chocolate on top of sugar).

In the meantime I waited with my mom in the café. When my friend Michal phoned to see how it was going I could hear her smiling as I whispered into the phone, “I’m in the corner of the café hiding under a blanket nursing my baby.” I was sure all the café patrons could hear her laughter over the phone. “You’re nursing in a café? Now you’re really Israeli!”

Friday, December 18, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #96 – Our first Chanukah in Israel

That’s no building inspector taking pictures – that’s my MOM!
Just in time for Chanukah, loaded with gifts and brandishing her camera my mom arrived in Israel. A real Chanukah treat!

The school project
Each child came home with a hanukiah – some (clearly intended for display only) made with recycled cardboard, others with tiles, all of them sparkly and lovely. Becky’s was edible and lovely (see photo above).

The real hanukiah
At some point when we were living in Brooklyn, a visitor from Israel brought us a hanukiah in a glass case. We never understood the significance or purpose and it stayed in our curio cabinet until one day when I decided to clean out the curio cabinet and promptly broke it. And so we never used it – not that we even knew how to use it.

Fast forward to now. Erev Chanukah and also Erev Shabbos. Bob and I racked our brains trying to figure out the best location for our hanukiah – we live down a flight of stairs and so it’s hard to imagine how anyone passing by could see it in our window. We settled on a spot that was less than perfect but kosher, lit our candles and moved on. Bob returned from shul with the exciting revelation that all of our neighbors had displayed and lit their hanukiahs outside. Each one in a glass case!

The tiyul
Like every other holiday in Israel, when it’s not Shabbat or Yom Tov it’s a day for family tiyulim (trips). As we awaited the arrival of my mom, we traveled, caravan style, with a group of fellow olim to a place called Ancient Susya. The drive was magnificent. The view extended past the Judean hills all the way to the Dead Sea.

Ancient Susya was beautiful in its own way. Ancient stone structures, ancient caves, ancient underground passageways. At one point I returned to the car to retrieve snacks and found what seemed like a shortcut back to our group. As I struggled, pushed and half carried the carriage over the ancient rocky terrain, almost tripping on tiny little bushes of thorns, my thoughts drifted to the “Housewives of Ancient Susya”. Just the inspiration (read: laughs) I needed to forge ahead!

As I rejoined the group Rachel woke up and made some noise. Our guide was sort of excited. “She needs to nurse?” Um, yes. “Here’s a great place!” He pointed down to an ancient cave, out of which my kids had just climbed. As if this happened all the time. And so, like the housewives of Ancient Susya before me, I nursed my baby in an ancient cave.

For the record – I really did have my papers. And we recycle everything.
Remember those 2 pages of bar coded stickers I got with my very important hospital registration papers before I gave birth? The ones I was so conscientious about obtaining but then (predictably?) forgot all about on my way to the actual birth? (Pshhhhhhhh!) They came in quite handy as car entertainment (read: must distract Becky and Rose from fighting) on the drive down to Susya.

The party
It’s the kids’ first Chanukah away from their cousins. Lucky for them, their Auntie worked out a way to celebrate together across the miles. With the help of our computers we had a virtual Chanukah party – for more than 3 hours the cousins chatted, sang, giggled and played Chanukah Bingo together. My kids were interacting with their cousins in real time on a 42” screen while the cousins had my kids (on a laptop) sitting at the table with them! It was not the same as being there (read: the kids really miss their cousins) but it was really truly fun.

The gifts
1 Dudu Fisher Chanukah CD – 20 shekels
2 nights at Kibbutz Lavi – way more shekels than the Dudu Fisher CD
Chanukah in Israel with my mom – priceless!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #95 – i'm told this is entirely normal

Minha - the original flash mob
flash mob – a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse.

My mailbox is situated outside the makolet, next to the pizza store, and if I’m lucky I’ll remember to pick up my mail as I leave the makolet. I’ll be fishing around in my purse for the mail key and then look up and notice the produce guy, the pizza guy, some men I just saw in the checkout line, my neighbor, and about 25 other men standing together (in front of the mailboxes), facing Jerusalem and praying minha.

Mincha or Minha (מִנְחָה) – the shortest prayer service of the day, the afternoon prayers, named for the flour offering that accompanied sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Before the Chanukah flash mob on Ben Yehuda Street there was the pizza store mincha minyan. Similar groups of men assemble in flashes all over Israel every day.

More on mail
The mail is sort of a multi-step procedure. First there’s the ‘getting of the mail’ – a function of memory and good timing. Only one of us is required for this step. Then there’s the sorting of the mail. This can be done as a team or in shifts. One of us goes through and pulls out all mail that is addressed to no one (this is the junk mail – since it’s getting stuffed into all the mailboxes, why bother addressing it?).

What’s left goes into three piles: bills for which our credit card has already been charged and for which we can identify the entity who billed us, bills for which our credit card has already been charged and for which the entity who billed us is a mystery, and bills for which a mysterious entity is billing us and for some reason they don’t yet have our credit card information.

The other of us repeats this process, sometimes reducing pile #2. We further consolidate piles 2 and 3 into a single pile called “mail we need help with” and we wait. There’s no real system in place here. The waiting can be long or short depending on who passes through our door – it could be the kids’ tutor who helps us with a few pieces of mail. Sometimes the housekeeper can help. A neighbor’s child. The pizza store guy. A friend delivering a baby gift. We don’t really get the mail again until this pile has been resolved. Unless someone calls us shouting, “How didn’t you pay yet?” By the way – that bill really only arrived after Odelia sent it again – on day 15.

The junk mail
I like to look at all of it – to see what I can decipher. Some things, but not many, come in English, while quite a few come in Hebrew with English translations. These are my favorites since they provide me with a glimmer of hope that one day my mastery of the English language is a skill for which advertisers will pay. After all, I’m sure the air duct cleaning guy would be mortified if he knew he was advertising “solussions” to dust mite allergies.

VIP travel
I usually speak to Bob before he boards the plane coming home. Sometimes I am busy and simply wish him a safe flight. Other times I have the presence of mind to be anxious about his air travel and I repeat my wish for his safe passage several times. This last time after we hung up he ran into Rabbi Riskin in the El Al lounge. The Rabbi was carrying a Sefer Torah. It was for a yeshivah in Efrat. Bob stayed with him. They were whisked through security and escorted onto the plane. Before they took off Bob sent me this email:

Don't worry. The plane will arrive safely.

Are Entenmann’s Donuts considered contraband by the TSA?
Lucky for Asher we didn’t have to find out – the security guards were much more interested in the Sefer Torah (Rabbi Riskin opened it up for them) – and so, we might just be the only family in all of Israel enjoying Entenmann’s powdered donuts this Chanukah.

Enjoy the NBN Chanukah Flash Mob on Ben Yehuda Street:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #94 - Nes gadol haya po!

Half my Shabbat cooking is finished. The hanukiah's are set up. I unpacked the very last box today (and found my socks!). I picked up the mail and paid the gardener. The laundry's done, the house is clean, and there’s coffee cake. Bob would be proud. Nes gadol haya po.

Don’t blink or you might miss it
It’s strawberry season! For a country that is totally obsessed with artificial strawberry (toot) flavoring – toot marshmallows, toot Bamba, toot slushies, toot-banana flavored juice, ice cream and yogurt – it’s not surprising that when the real deal shows up briefly in the produce section, there is a little toot tutorial on the package letting parents know that real strawberries are actually healthy for children.

Good Yiddishe Nachas
While my kids (really just Asher) come home from school with a steady stream of juvenile jokes and songs – most of which don’t make any sense and were concocted for the purpose of making use of silly rhymes (clever stuff like Obama and your mama; George Bush and your tush; and the ever recurring Jaba the Butt) – they also come home with some special surprises. Some I overhear by accident. Like (3 year old) Rosie singing Birchat Hamazon to herself. Before I was done fainting from that she launched into Vea’hafta. This afternoon I asked Barbara to rock the baby in the carriage and sing to her. She blew me away when she sang (perfectly) 2 perekim of Tehillim. Then Becky joined in. She also knew them by heart.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #93 – more like swirling thought fragments

I cracked two eggs into a bowl to make coffee cake and then noticed I hadn’t finished setting up the Chanukah menorahs because the baby must have needed me. So I went back to the menorahs and then there was some dinner to clean up and then the baby needed me and then I got back to the kitchen and couldn’t figure out why there were two eggs cracked into a bowl. You get the gist.

Barbara thinks in English
This redeems her in the eyes of her English teacher for whom she has done no homework the entire school year. Today as I stood over her to witness the actual doing of English homework, she and her friend helped each other along. And then her friend asked her what a “j” looks like. Suddenly thinking in English seems more impressive.

If they can bring out Santa Clause before Thanksgiving, surely jelly donuts can appear before Rosh Hodesh Kislev
It’s Kislev – break out the jelly donuts. Or some more jelly donuts, rather. There have been jelly donuts in gan, in school, in the supermarket, the mall – basically everywhere you go. Asher is the donut freak in my family but it’s the powdered jelly-free variety he lives for. We’re in a land flowing with milk, honey and jelly donuts and he’s craving Entenmann’s.

It's been a month
After a month of anxious weigh-ins and one visit to the hospital “just to be sure”, Rachel Merav has officially returned to her birthweight (4 kilos – ooh wah!). In retrospect it’s obvious – I mean the day I went into labor I had 2 15-shekel iced coffees in the same meal – there’s no way this baby is getting as many calories on the outside as she did on the inside.

Between having a new baby who can’t seem to regain her massive birth weight (read: daily weigh-ins) and 4 kids who can’t seem to turn away a sick germ when it comes their way (read: multiple runs to the doctor, the kupat and the pharmacy) I’ve begun to notice something I’d missed before – there is a personal touch.

An hour after I showed up at the kupat cholim on a Friday crying because my 3 day old baby wasn’t nursing well, the lactation nurse showed up at my house. On her day off. When I had to bring the baby to the hospital my doctor hand-wrote the referral and then called his friend – head of the department – who was waiting there for us with what seemed like the express purpose of putting us at ease. A dermatologist who had happened to see my baby’s diaper rash during a visit to the kupat cholim called me a few days ago to ask how it was healing. And the kupat nurse called to see how the baby did at the Dead Sea. I still thank Gd every time my kids get sick on a Tuesday and not on a Wednesday but I like it when I call my doctor and he, himself answers the phone.

There’s that jewish guilt again – how didn’t we pay yet???
As we ran out of the hospital with our new little bundle of joy perhaps we should have stopped at the billing department and dropped off a bundle of shekels. Having not done that and assuming our bill would be mailed to us (assume nothing!) we received a shouting call from the collections department of the hospital.
“Who is this?”
“How many days is it now, Odelia?”

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #92 - They don’t roll their “resh’s” – they swallow them

Well it’s almost Chanukah – are we Israeli yet? Sort of.
We shop for fruit in the shuk and we’re weaning ourselves off the convenience of the makolet (in favor of the better priced Shefashuk) for groceries. But we still fill up our wagon in a way that seems to scream, “Excessive wasteful Amerikyim!” It’s probably all the paper goods.

Some of us take showers the Israeli way (rinse, shut the water, soap up, rinse) but some are still singing in the shower and losing track of time until the hot water runs out.

We use all of our excess water (usually unfinished ownerless water bottles) to water our cacti. But it’s really more water than the cacti require.

We don’t answer call waiting and we no longer expect anyone else to.

Asher explained to Becky one day that we live in Israel now and in Israel they just have less stuff. “Less water. Less electricity. Less paper. Less stuff, Becky. So you can’t waste!”

Barbara is working on an art project in class for which she needs to bring in scraps of fabric from home. She’s been collecting scraps from old clothes but if she forgets to bring it she is welcome to use scraps of fabric other girls have brought from home. She anxiously came to me tonight to remind her to bring her bag of fabric because if she “has to use someone else’s fabric she could get lice from it!”

When I asked my kids what they wanted for dinner tonight and made some typical Saturday night suggestions (cereal, toast, yogurt), Becky piped in, “Milky!”

Rosie asked me if she could bring a pompon that broke off her slipper to gan to put in her megehrah. I looked at her funny. Mege-what? “Megehrah!” she answered and looked at Becky for help translating. “Her drawer in school, mom.”

Barbara sounds Israeli even when she speaks English. For a short while I thought she was developing a speech impediment – the kind that makes your “r’s” disappear or sound like “l’s”. Then I realized she swallows her “r’s” just like she swallows her “resh’s.”

Rosie came to me today and said, ”Wanna hear me say Dora in Hebrew? Doh-gha.”

It occurred to me that maybe Dora in Hebrew would be a good benchmark for how Israeli my kids sound so I asked each of them to say Dora in Hebrew. Barbara, of course, gave a perfect Doh-gha and Asher, as I suspected he would, gave me something a little less Israeli – Dorrrra. Becky surprised me with a Dorrra and I had to confirm what I thought I knew about her. “How do you say ‘four’?” “Aghba” Good. How do you say ‘sport’? “Spohlt” Excellent.

So far so good but we’ll check back at Purim.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #91 – when Hanna Montana is but a distant memory…but only then

Dudu Fisher – an acquired Israeli taste
At some point during the 10 months we spent preparing for our aliyah someone involved in the education of my children (a teacher? a principal? I can’t recall) recommended we purchase and watch the video “Gan Shel Dudu”. “To help with the Hebrew.”

Basically it’s a musical video in Hebrew with a jolly guy named Dudu Fisher (okay so he’s a little scary looking at first but clearly he’s jolly) who has a gan (playgroup) for kids who are clearly too old to be in gan (think about the kids on Barney). They skip around singing all sorts of songs about the Jewish holidays, which bracha to make over cakes, the weather, you get the picture.

I made a special trip to Sifrutake on Avenue P. I’ve always wanted to walk into this store and buy something but since it’s a store with only Israeli videos, books and music (read: nothing in the store is in English AT ALL), I never before had any occasion to do so. I hurried home with my Dudu Fisher DVD and popped it into the machine. After about 2 minutes and some clever commentary (“It’s all in Hebrew, Mom.”) the kids were gracious enough to ask if they could watch it a different time and by the way could they please watch Hanna Montana if I was going to let them watch TV on a weeknight? That was the end of Dudu Fisher. Or so I thought.

Dudu reappeared in our lives once we arrived here and started getting sick. Our doctor – the one with the strange hours (of which I am starting to get the rhythm) – has a TV in his home office waiting room that plays Gan Shel Dudu every time we are there.

Recently someone told me that Olim chadashim (new immigrants) are referred to as “CHOLIM chadashim” (new sick people). It’s not that Israel is crawling with sick germs. At least not any more so than Brooklyn. It’s that our kids (and even us) are not used to the germs here. Every germ is a new germ. Hence the frequent visits to the doctor (and the ensuing strategy of getting cultures to the kupat before the lab guy comes at 10 and catching the pharmacist before he closes at 1).

Yesterday, I stumbled across our copy of Gan Shel Dudu and popped it in to keep Rosie and Becky happy while I combed through their hair (lice prevention is a bit of an obsession here). Within minutes 4 of my kids were crowded onto the couch. There was excitement and more clever commentary (“We have this? How’d we get this? The doctor has this!”). At some point after I sent Barbara and Asher up to bed (they resisted, wanting to stay and watch more) I realized Becky and Rosie had fallen asleep on the couch but Bob and I were still watching the video. I was transfixed by the Hebrew words on the bottom of the screen. Bob was mesmerized by Dudu’s big puff of hair. Gan Shel Dudu – who knew?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #90 – that’s our shul!

Refunds, cancellations – no! no!
There is some variation of this message on the bottom of every sales receipt I’ve received since our arrival here. Funny that it’s only in English while the rest of the receipt is in Hebrew. As if Israelis have no expectation of getting a refund (or cancellation?) – ever.

Maybe our government should pay more attention to the sales receipts
Permits are in place and construction is under way. Yet government authorized building inspectors are coming around to cancel the work. On homes. On shuls. On everything. Bob went out to protest the building freeze. After all, we are ‘settlers’.

He returned with pictures of all our friends participating in the protest, including Rosie’s best friend. This one, of 3 year old Yosefi, helping to lay the foundation of our shul, was also captured by CNN.

There are other things going on this week. A sheva berachot. A fundraiser for the Kobe Mandel Foundation. A “just checking because Lisa is neurotic” visit from the lice lady (clean!). A parent-teacher conference over the phone in Hebrew (I did it!). A visit to the shoe store because when you are no longer pregnant and it is 40° F outside people tend to look at you funny when you are still wearing shep sheps (sandals). A trip to the shuk because we are taking a stand against the expensive and often sub-par fruit available at our makolet. Flu shots at the kupat cholim.

My life goes on.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #89 - treatments

Feeling blue? Have a shot of chocolate! Feeling sick? Medicated chocolate for you.
In stores throughout Israel they sell a gigantic syringe filled with liquid chocolate. Real chocolate. For treatment of acute non-medical chocolate emergencies.

Why was I worried when we ran out of Grape Flavor Children’s Tylenol? Did I doubt for a minute there would be an Israeli equivalent? Of course there is an equivalent – it’s called Chocolate Flavor Children’s Akemoli!

Road trip!
When you live in Israel you can go to the Dead Sea. Just like that. And so we did. Me, Grandma Barbara and baby Rachel Merav. It was splendid. The drive was amazing. We passed herds of all kinds but for the first time ever I saw a herd of camels. Not the camels waiting to be mounted and photographed. A herd of some 30 camels galloping alongside the highway. The sea was like a mirror, reflecting the horizon like a watercolor painting. Really, it never looked so beautiful. And so we arrived.

Our hotel was booked solid. We had used a travel agent to get a reservation. It never occurred to me to ask why the hotel was so busy on a weekday in November. As it turns out we were the only Jewish people staying in our hotel.

There’s a holiday on the Muslim calendar called Eid Al-Adha. It is celebrated for several days and makes for a perfect opportunity to take the whole family and go to a Dead Sea resort hotel. Everyone in Israel seems to know about this holiday. I know about it now!

It’s all about the treatments
People go to the Dead Sea to relax and be pampered but there’s more to it than that. There’s an idea that the sea, the salt, the mud, even the air is curative and healing. People with medical problems go for weeks at a time. For treatments. Our cousin with a military injury gets to go to the Dead Sea for a week every year for free. For treatments. We couldn’t wait to get our treatments. When I called to schedule the treatments and they asked me what room I was in, I had to tell them I was not yet checked into the hotel – that I would be coming in a week but wanted to make sure I had my treatments scheduled.

What's that smell?
The Swedish massage-facial combo (always a winner) was amazing. My mother-in-law was visibly renewed after her body scrub-mud wrap combo. She and my friend Michal later agreed it’s so good it should be mandatory for everyone. I was very much looking forward to my scalp treatment – what better way to undo the damage of 4 ½ months of washing with limestoney water than to massage some Dead Sea mud into my scalp, right? Except that there was no mud. There was shemen (oil). I recognized the smell but couldn’t place it right away. Shemen zayit (olive oil)? Maybe it smelled like peanut butter. Was it peanut oil? Right when I asked her, “Eyze shemen?” (which oil) I realized what it was and we answered together, “Tzum tzum!” You know, the oil that separates from the tehine paste. She poured warm sesame oil all over my head and massaged it into my scalp. My thoughts swirling as usual, I wondered what she would do if she spotted lice in someone’s hair during a treatment. At some point I realized there was no sink or any other means of washing my hair in the treatment room. Sure enough when she was done she told me it’s very good to leave the shemen in my hair for another hour or so and then wash it out. For an hour I kept smelling my hair. It smelled like tehine. I started craving falafel. Maybe lafah bread. Then my hour was up. And our time was up.

We returned a day later but it felt like a week later. Renewed and refreshed. Rejuvenated and relaxed.

Tonight my mother-in-law is getting on a plane to go back home. There isn’t a treatment, chocolate or otherwise, to soften this blow. I miss her already.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #88 - I may have to return to the hospital – just to unspoil myself

Since I came home with the baby I’ve been pampered and doted on in a way that made me forget all about the Cheder Ochel. Delicious meals have been prepared and delivered to me daily by a tireless and amazing group of friends and neighbors. My mother-in-law has been here by my side, helping with the diverse and sometimes ridiculous needs of my four other kids – baths, homework, laundry, sickness, mediation /arbitration, and, of course, snacks, cuddles and loving. Bob has mastered more household tasks than most men I know (read: sponga, laundry, putting tights on a 3 year old) and has been on hand day and night.

This Shabbat the step-down begins with our last meal to be delivered. Note to self: stock up on eggs and salami. Tuesday, mom-in-law leaves. No amount of eggs and salami can compensate for this one. I need to read up on cloning myself. And then, Bob returns to the States.

But there is some sort of inverse (or is it reflexive?) nesting property at work. A few days ago I woke up from a mid-day-post-nursing-armchair-snooze with an overwhelmingly urgent need to put out a crudité for my kids. It occurred to me that despite of all the nutritious meals coming in, more candy and junk was passing their lips in the absence of my vigilant oversight than fruits and vegetables. And so began the process of cleaning out 3 weeks worth of aging tomatoes, cucumbers and lemons from the depths of my refrigerator. I was lucky to find some peppers and carrots, thus making the crudité a reality in spite of my rotting veggie drawer. The next morning I woke up and snuck away from my sleeping baby to prepare crepes for my kids’ lunch. And then I was seized by a need to polish my silver. Yesterday when Rosie returned from school I heard a voice asking her how her day was followed by “Does anyone in gan have lice today?” It was my own voice. And then, “Let’s comb through your hair just to be sure you are clean.” And so my refrigerator, my silver and my children’s hair are in pristine condition. Perhaps some of this excess energy CAN be channeled into cooking, homework, laundry, mediation/arbitration, snacks, cuddles, loving, please Gd no sickness, and getting my 3 year old dressed in the morning.

The sponga will have to wait.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #87 – water, color & time

Mai Eden revisited
Every time I see a Neviot water delivery truck I stare at it longingly. (Neviot being the alternative to Mai Eden). While I was in the hospital, my monthly Mai Eden delivery came. But for some reason instead of delivering my usual 5 bottles of water, they left me 2. And so began the painstaking process of trying to reach Mai Eden and making my situation (running out of water fast) understood.

First I tried the star number. In Israel there are these numbers for all sorts of places – Cellcom, Kotel tours, Mai Eden – that are just a star (*) and four numbers. Yes, Israel is that small. So the Mai Eden star number gets you to an automated menu offered in Hebrew, Arabic or Russian. I try the Hebrew. I let the menu repeat a few times until I think I’ve got a handle on it and I press 4 for sherut (service). “Medaber Anglit?” (do you speak English). “Yes.” Amazing good luck! So I start to explain my situation – 2 bottles delivered instead of 5 – and he cuts me off quickly. “This is sales. I will transfer you to customer service now.” Okay…. Back to the automated menu in Hebrew, Arabic or Russian.

I listen a few more times and then decide to dial a number they are offering for further service. Another star number. I dial it and unbelievably I can understand the automated Hebrew instructions to enter my Teudat Zehut number. Okay so it’s a little weird that the water company wants my TZ but it’s not that weird. It seems like everybody wants that number before they talk to you. So then a guy comes on. “Medaber Anglit?” In perfect and cheerful English he replies, “Of course!” This was really weird. As in too good to be true wierd. And I knew it. But I proceeded. “I usually get 5 bakbookim (bottles) mayim (water) but this month I only received 2.” Quiet. And then laughter. “You want Mai Eden! This is Misrad HaRishui. They have the same number!”

Why does Mai Eden have the same number as the Department of Motor Vehicles? And where was this cheerful English speaking fellow when I visited Misrad HaRishui? So many questions. Still no water.

A few nights later my babysitter from the summer – the one who encouraged me to talk tough with the dryer service people – stopped by with my friend, her mother, to drop off dinner. Right away I put the babysitter on the job. I dialed the Mai Eden star number and handed her the phone explaining the situation as the menu started. After a few minutes she handed the phone over to her mom – and almost immediately it was clear why the apprentice had deferred to the master.

My friend got through – to a person! – with my message, brought back an answer (Apparently my order has always been for 2 bottles but by some miracle my delivery man senses that I want 5 and has been delivering me 5. Perhaps because I was in the hospital and couldn’t telepathically communicate with him this time he deferred to the original order of 2. Yeah, okay.), and stated my request in demand form (3 additional bottles to be delivered this week). I was ready to do a victory dance as she hung up the phone when she said, “I doubt it will come but we tried.” Huh? “But you told them. They said okay. What do you mean?” I was confused. Evidently when you live here for 15 years you learn who to believe and who is to be believed only upon delivery.

Everything that can have color will have color
When I asked Bob to bring me cotton balls and rubbing alcohol from the pharmacy I smiled when he returned with a colorful array – it looked like a variety bag of Israeli marshmallows. And the alcohol was bright orange.

In 4 ½ months I still have not deciphered all the car makes on the road here. Skoda? Seat? “Mini” cars were celebrated in America. Contrast that with the mini as a way of life here. So the cars are unrecognizable and small. At least to me. Then there’s the color…

The most popular car color in Israel seems to be cobalt blue. Especially so for Mazda 3 and 6. A close second is electric salmon – very popular in the Opel line of cars. Tied for third are electric chartreuse (Peugeot) and electric kelly green (Citroen Berlingo and the new Egged buses). And it all just makes sense.

Some time trivia…
We operate on military time here. My kids finish school at 14:45 today.

Phones in the Ministry of Health in Israel are only answered between 13:00 and 15:00 Sunday through Thursday. At every other time there is a message reminding you of this fact.

There are 3 candle lighting times in Israel. They are for Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In Tel Aviv the practice is to welcome Shabbat 20 minutes before sunset. Jerusalem has the holy custom of taking in Shabbat 40 minutes before sunset. In Haifa they basically split the difference and welcome Shabbat 30 minutes before sunset. I’ve been told the practice in Efrat (to observe Tel Aviv candle lighting times even though we are just minutes from Jerusalem) was implemented by our chief Rabbi (Rav Riskin) in order to give soldiers time to return to their families before Shabbat.

Now I’m out of time.

By the way, my supplemental water delivery did arrive. Just in the nick of time!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #86 – little known facts – or maybe just some stuff you wouldn’t have occasion to contemplate

East 3rd Street or Zerubavel?
My driveway in Israel gets blocked by carpooling gan mothers and cement delivery trucks – not quite as often as my East 3rd Street driveway got blocked by Kings Highway shoppers and diners – but often. I sent Bob out today to speak with the construction site shomer (watchman) about the cement truck about to block our driveway. They spoke. And yelled and cursed. In multiple languages – Hebrew, English, Arabic and Russian! Like East 3rd Street! Except that they reached an agreement. Which is good because the shomer was carrying an M16.

I never thought about being illiterate and having an accent
When you make aliyah to Israel as an adult, no matter how long you are here, you retain an accent which identifies you as an immigrant. Think about any immigrant family you know. My father-in-law has been in America for more of his life than anywhere else but his accent gives him away in an instant. But when you make aliyah, your children grow up speaking your native tongue like natives – in my case that will be English like Americans – and they will also speak Hebrew like Israelis. I pick up trempers (hitchhikers) all the time and I ask them in Hebrew where they are going. And they answer in Hebrew. Once they are in the car, I ask them more specifically but I tend to ask them in English. Half the time they answer me in California or New York English. “You’re from the States?” I will ask. “No – my parents are,” they will invariably answer. And so goes the second generation. These kids then get married, often to a non-Anglo, speak only Hebrew with their spouse and raise children who do not speak English at all or who speak broken English with an Israeli accent. Woah. I’d better get back to ulpan so I can speak to my grandkids.

This is way better than the new Target
If you wake up one morning with a pulling desire to daven at Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb in Bet Lehem) – like I did the morning I went into labor with my own Rachel Merav – you can. You do not need a tour guide. You do not need a bullet proof bus. You just get in your car and drive there. You say hello to the cute soldiers who will then open the gate for you, you drive in to a parking lot that is free of charge and full of available spots. You park and walk less than 100 meters into the building that houses Kever Rachel. If you are coming from my house in Efrat it will take you 12 – 15 minutes to get there. Assuming no one is blocking your driveway.

Rachel Merav
So the big question lurking is about my daughter’s name. I recently met a woman here who had a baby and didn’t know what to name him. It was a free name but they were out of ideas. So she and her husband went through the phone book. They got to Akiva and loved it. End of story. But not exactly. When Akiva got to gan there was a party at which parents and children sat together in a circle and went around telling the origins of each child’s name. In a pinch, a story about Rabbi Akiva was concocted and the ganenet (gan teacher) was none the wiser.

It’s not always 100% spiritual – sometimes it’s just practical!
So we named her Rachel as in Rachel Imeinu, buried in Bet Lehem, on the way to Efrata – there are tons of biblical and local reasons to have named her Rachel. Of course the fact that Rachel can be pronounced by Americans and Israelis tipped the scales considerably…

Merav was a daughter of King Saul. He intended to marry her off to King David and then have her influence King David to come into danger. According to most, the marriage did not go through. Perhaps Merav was an independent minded woman. A nice quality in a namesake.

And then there’s the Hebrew word ‘merav’ which means, roughly, “to increase”. Certainly our blessing has been increased by the arrival of our Merav. And we certainly hope for increased blessing in our new homeland.

So now I’m covered with two possible stories in the event of a gan party.

The real deal – significantly less glamorous – on the order of a phone book name
I once picked up a tremper who I thought was Israeli but then answered me in perfect English. Her parents had made aliyah. She was very nice and we spoke the whole way to Jerusalem. She told me her name and I really liked it. It was Merav.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #85 - i'd give it a B+ but there's one thing for sure – you won’t get spoiled here!

Sometimes less is more
After a labor, epidural stabbing episode and finally, B”H, delivery – all of which I’ll spare you the details (which include someone – not me – fainting in response to my epidural stabbing episode) – I was wheeled to the maternity ward. I couldn’t wait.

Here is the Cheder Ochel (eating room) and some…jelly donuts?
They handed me a bag with a picture of a baby saying “Kef Li b’Hadassa” (literally “Fun Me at Hadassah”) filled with gifts – a towel, a lovely clean hospital gown and a package of sufganit ploos. It took me a while to figure out why they were calling maxi pads ‘jelly donuts ploos’ – in fact, jelly donuts are sufganiOt – but I can’t find any maxi pad related word to feed into google translator that will give me back sufganit ploos.

Ich bin ein Berliner
As I contemplate the urban legend of JFK calling himself a jelly donut, I am led to the (legendary in Israel) Cheder Ochel. “This is where you go to eat.” She wasn’t kidding. 3 times daily an announcement comes over the loudspeaker. “Cheder Ochel is open for the next 40 minutes. Go eat.” Sometimes a nurse would pop in and wake me with such kind words as, “It’s a shame to miss breakfast – go eat.” Other times no one would wake me and I would come out of my room starving only to find the food station of the Cheder Ochel locked up tight. There are two different ladies who alternate attending to the food station during Cheder Ochel hours – one maternal and loving, the other possessive and scary. Both take their jobs extremely seriously.

The big plate is for vegetables
My first dinner the (nice) lady handed me a tray all set up with big plate, small plate and bowl. She spooned me soup assuring me it was good for my health. When she saw me putting an apple and piece of cake on my big plate, she took both and moved them to my small plate, eating the bite of my cake that broke off in her hands. “The big plate is for yerakot (vegetables).” Then she gestured toward the cucumbers and tomatoes and waited for me to fill my plate. The whole experience reminded me of every other Israeli experience I’ve had to date – a combination of someone knowing what’s best for you and then telling you all about it. It was cute and the cake was good so I didn’t mind.

Water and hats – for tiyulim (hikes, trips) only
When you give birth in America (okay, so my experience is limited to Mt. Sinai hospital in NYC), the maternity nurses give you a pitcher of water and some paper cups and remind you to keep drinking – especially if you are nursing. They also put the cutest little knit hats on the newborns. In Israel (well, at Hadassa Ein Kerem, anyway) there are no hats for newborns. No big deal. But there is also no water for the mommy. Well, there is water – in a small room off the Cheder Ochel is a machine with cold water – but there are no cups. No pitchers. No nurses reminding you to drink while you nurse. I filled and refilled the water bottle I’d brought in when I was in labor maybe 40 times in 2 days. When I tried to take a paper cup from a drawer in the Cheder Ochel the food station lady was all over me. “What are you doing? You don’t open that drawer!” She wasn’t the nice food station lady from dinner. When my friend came to visit me with ice cream and asked the nurses for 2 cups for us to eat it from the nurses gave her a bowl from the coffee station (at which there are no cups) – it was the bowl that held the coffee grinds – and told her to wash it out.

In the spirit of ‘less is more’ I will skip over the broken hearing test machine (with which I was assured my baby had passed the hearing test – even though I was watching the machine flashing “broken” the whole time), and also I will skip over the night nurse who told me my big baby needed to eat more and will need the sides of her tongue cut loose so that she can nurse better. I mean, what more could I say about that anyway?

And then, as Bob tossed me the car seat and ran out of the room to get back to the car (because, ultimately, that is the procedure), my phone rang. It was the dryer service contract people. Wanting to schedule my appointment to fix the tubing on the back of my dryer. I laughed out loud. “I called you a MONTH ago!” She was quick to correct me – “No, you called us two and a half weeks ago.” I assured her that two and a half weeks worth of wet laundry was so much better than a whole months worth but that I no longer needed the appointment. But I had to ask her – “What’s with you guys?” And the answer – “You live in Efrat.” Okay...

Before I could have a second laugh the phone rang again. I won a contest somewhere. And now my name has been passed to this woman. She works for an agency who recruits for reality shows. Did I want to be in a reality show? Laughing, I told her, my life is a reality show.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #84 – advance registration – it only works if you bring the papers!

As we filled gas on the way to the hospital I suddenly realized…“The papers! We forgot the papers!” Somehow, in that moment, getting the hospital registration packet – with my sixty-some blood sample labels – seemed more urgent than anything else. “We must go back!” I told Bob, in a panic. Calm and almost laughing, Bob answered “Your water broke, sweetheart. We are already in Jerusalem. We are not going back.” I pleaded with him, “But they will YELL at me!” To which he smiled and said, “They probably will. Pshhhhhhhhh!”

And so it went. “What is your blood type?” Am I supposed to know this? I always call my sister-in-law when someone asks me this question. I don’t know why she can remember it and I can’t – maybe because of her medical training? Anyway, when I admit I’m not sure (saying you have the popular one is not enough, apparently) they ask for my papers. “I registered!” I assure the triage midwife, and then I whisper, “But I left my papers at home.” She looks at me sternly and I try to look pathetic. “Pshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

When the triage doctor asked the baby’s estimated size I was ready with the answer. “Seven pounds, thirteen ounces as of two weeks ago!” Pounds? Oh, you need it in kilos? Bob is trying to get a conversion on his Trio while the triage midwife is scratching her head and calling out a series of approximations in kilos and grams. The doctor questioning me, clearly unnerved by the lack of an understandable answer to his question moves on. “What was your glucose level?” I tell him excitedly that I passed the sugar test twice. “You have the numbers?” I confess meekly that I do not. “Pshhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

A few more doctors and midwives “Pshhhhhhh”’ed me that night but ultimately I prevailed – I delivered a baby at Hadassa Ein Kerem blee (without) papers.

As it turns out, all that pshhhhh-ing was just a warmup. When I showed up at the pediatrician the day after they sent me home he asked me if I’d registered the baby at the Kupat Cholim. But I just got home yesterday! Pshhhhhhhh! Did I know her birth weight? Excited and proud I announced, “Eight pounds thirteen ounces!” Pshhhhhhhh. He wanted kilos. But this time I had a paper – something they gave me in the hospital and told me to hold on to – a little birth chart for my not so little baby. “Four kilos and ten grams…Ooooh-wah!!”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Swirling Thoughts # 83 – so many thoughts, so little time…

This past Tuesday Hashem blessed our family with a delicious little baby girl. Well, maybe not so little… “Arba kilos! Oooh-wahhh!” Not to be outdone by any of her siblings, Rachel Merav, our first Sabra, made her entrance to this world as grand and dramatic as she was able – from her vantage point which I would characterize as “swimming around in a bunch of water.”

But maybe I should back up. There are many stories to tell and each one deserves its moment. This is the story of my water breaking. In my dining room. In front of my kids. Also in front of the sofer who was here checking our mezuzot. As he grabbed his stuff and left, calling out “Mazal Tov!”, Asher was trying to explain to the other kids and to Bob what was going on – “Mommy’s thing! It happened!” And there was a lot of confusion about the significance of the event. “Is the baby coming out now?” Barbara (little, not Grandma!) did an impressive amount of explaining.

We made our way to Hadassa Ein Kerem in fine time, we even stopped to fill gas. We got to the parking lot and this time instead of screaming, “The Baby! The Baby!” Bob just gave the attendant a knowing nod. He got me to the top of the hill and dropped me there so he could go park. So far so good. Except that I guess my water wasn’t done breaking. And so I stood there a moment to survey my situation. A quiet night at the hospital. I made my way through the security hut and then, all alone in the open courtyard under the stars (did I mention my water was still breaking?) I burst out laughing. Hashem has a serious sense of humor.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #82 – intended meaning

“Would you like trout with your bagel?” – trout meaning whitefish spread, of course...
While my mother-in-law and I were enjoying American style bagels and cream cheese in the German Colony, Bob was on a tiyul with Asher’s ulpan – in honor of the yahrzeit of Rachel Imeinu last week, they started out on a “quick and easy” hike on Derech HaAvot (literally, the path our forefathers, Avraham and Yitzhak took) followed by a trip to Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb) and then a picnic in Gilo Park in Jerusalem.

Bring a hat means bring a hat – about this we mean business!
The trip note specified to bring a hat and plenty of water. Upon their arrival the teachers made sure everyone had a hat. Those who didn’t were issued a hat from the lost-and-found. Bob heard the kids saying, “Oh! But we’ll get lice!” And the teacher reassuring them, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” Later in the trip there was an incident involving a child, some food allergy and then hives. And the teacher saying, “It’s okay – we’ll be home in an hour!”

A quick and easy hike...
At least that was the intention. Quick because it was a mile and a half – from Alon Shvut to Neve Daniel. But no one counted on the need for snack breaks every five minutes. 2 hours to walk a mile and a half. For people like me who are all about pace, that’s an 80 minute mile. And then there was the easy part. Easy because there was a path. But no one counted on the hot weather (“It’s so hot!” “I’m so sweaty!” now repeat in a British accent to get the full effect). In spite of it all, they had a great time.

Jokes designed to induce labor
Ever since we started playing beat the clock (read: Bob plans to leave on my due date) I’ve been on the receiving end of hilarious stories, poems and jokes. The idea being I will laugh myself into labor. And then there’s the walking. Since Shabbat I have been tackling everything from steep stone stair cases to uneven Old City cobblestone. Last night, in search of a shish kabob restaurant on the order of David’s (yes, the last time I ate good shish kabob was on Kings Highway), we hiked up and down Ben Yehuda and Yaffo Streets. Until the kids were almost in labor. As Bob anxiously awaits it appears my baby has hunkered down for some more iced coffee and chocolate. Looks like the joke is on him…

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #81 – Nesting is overrated. Isn’t there something about sentimentality just before birth?

Last summer (when we were “trying out” Efrat) I wanted to make some special foods to welcome Bob back from a trip to America. I asked the health food store owner where to buy grape leaves to make yebra (grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice). He smiled and extended his arm, gesturing to the beautiful landscape, and said, “It’s shmita – just walk around and pick the leaves.” And so, with the help of my kids, we roamed Efrat picking grape leaves from anyone whose vine was extending over their fence. Mind you, it was summer time, the kids were out of camp and there was not much else going on.

Fast forward to now – the shmita year is finished and who has time to hike all over Efrat picking grape leaves? Between ulpan, school notices, quick trips to Jerusalem, and the matter of being 9 months pregnant – grape leaves must be purchased, not picked. So Wednesday Bob headed to the shuk and brought back an array of meats, fruits, Middle Eastern delicacies (read: ka’ak, olives, halva) AND grape leaves.

Sometimes a special experience gets sandwiched in between larger, more noteworthy experiences. Roaming Efrat picking grape leaves with my kids is a tender memory that was tucked away in my consciousness. Until yesterday. Between the much anticipated arrival of my mother-in-law and the still anticipated arrival of “new baby”, my Barbara sat with me and rolled yebra for the first time. I showed her all the tricks my mother-in-law had taught me – fold over the bottom, then the sides, roll it up, keep folding in the sides, lift it gently, like you would a caterpillar, place it seam side down on the tray. She was a natural – happy and proud.

No matter that the nursery is still unpacked, there is no crib and I still have not gotten to the pharmacy for the urgent list of vitamins and creams my doula insists I need. My mother-in-law is here, a family tradition has been passed on, what more do I really need to do? Okay, maybe nobody answer that…

quick and easy shmita review:

Friday, November 6, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #80 – situations

No matter how good you are at Beytzim, spanech jibn in your lunchbox is grounds for teasing.

Don’t they worry about identity theft here?
In uplan today we learned how to fill out a questionnaire. Should I now return the paperwork to Rosie’s gan that they gave me to fill out 2 months ago? Important things to know: mispar teudat zehut (your Israeli ID number – memorize it since everyone asks you for it and not just government agencies – vendors like the butcher and the local community center theater require it before they take your credit card info), shem prati and mishpacha (private and family name), tariq and eretz l’eyda (date and land of birth), and matzav mishpachti (effectively ‘marital status’ but literally translated, family situation).

We have a situation
This is Asher’s newest expression. As in, “Aba – we have a situation. Mommy spilled the milk in a bag all over the floor. She is sitting in it and I think she might be crying.” Or this one, since he found out Bob is banking on me delivering early and hoping to travel to NY on my due date, “Mommy – we have a situation. Aba thinks he’s leaving the day you are supposed to have your baby!”

How a 3 mile road through the picturesque Judean Hills could remind me of a Tarantino film…
High on Bob’s mayoral platform is a plan to grind down the 12 or so speed bumps along the main road of Efrat. The older bumps are tolerable and serve their purpose – they slow you down and if you drive over them at a reasonable speed there is no negative consequence. The newer bumps, however, are totally unforgiving at any speed. People giving me tremps apologize as we bump along knowing full well they are contributing to the bumping up of my due date. So today for the second time I gave a tremp to a soldier. With a very big gun. And though it was pointed down and surely locked and safe, I held my breath as we bumped along the main road.

School Uniforms
In Brooklyn half of every flyer that came home from school seemed to reiterate the school dress code. For Asher, my little soldier, it was easy peasy. He had a drawer of khaki’s and a drawer of collar shirts. He mixed and matched every day. I never really gave it a thought until I came to visit the boys’ school last winter and the principal mentioned there is no uniform and also no dress code. No dress code? I was incredulous. He called some boys from the hallway into his office. They were in basketball shorts and crewneck t-shirts. “You see?”

Since school started Asher has been loving the freedom of wearing soft cotton crewneck shirts and soft gym pants to school. He wears this same style to bed each night and in the morning I have to really look at him to decide if he’s put on fresh clothes or if he’s still in his pajamas. Basically, he’s all snuggly all the time. What could be better?

My friend, who actually reads the emails in Hebrew as opposed to running them through Google Translator, gave me the heads up today. Hello Kitty uniforms in the girls’ school were just a rumor. Barbara will be relieved. But the boys school is taking feedback for the next two days and then deciding on uniforms. We’ll have to monitor this particular situation carefully….

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #79 n. pl. id·i·o·syn·cra·sies A structural or behavioral characteristic peculiar to an individual or group.

I wonder
Do Israelis visiting Brooklyn go into shock when they come across a 24 hour pharmacy? How about when there’s a special on Hunts Tomato Sauce and you can buy 20 cans for $4. Do they try packing cans into their luggage?

Multitasking is truly an art form here
In 4 months I’ve grown accustomed to many of the idiosyncrasies that characterize life in the aretz. But then I’ll forget and plan to do my pharmacy shopping at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon. I’ll park and start walking up the steps. And then I’ll remember. But I’ll continue up just in case. Just in case Wednesday has magically turned into some sort of “special American hours day” where the pharmacy remains open continuously past 1pm…

Of course there are no special hours and the pharmacy is closed. Not just a segur sign in the window closed. The gate is shut and there’s a huge chained padlock dangling from it. That kind of ha-ha-GOT YOU closed. Probably until 4pm but I don’t even bother checking because the only time for me to do my pharmacy shopping today was at 2pm. I’ll try again tomorrow – after ulpan and before the post office (which closes late tomorrow – I think 1:30).

Recall that sometimes Efrat runs out of things. Items like watermelon, flushable wipes, Philadelphia cream cheese. It’s not that any one store runs out. It’s that the entire town runs out. 3 makolets and a restaurant once ran out of eggs. So I guess it makes sense that when an excess of items comes available, it comes available to all the stores as well.

Bargain redefined
So with 40 minutes to kill and no pharmacy I headed upstairs to the small makolet with a partial grocery list I’d been carrying around just in case.

Something I’ve come to know and accept although I couldn’t begin to explain – Israel produces tomatoes, both fresh and canned, and tomato paste (in little plastic tubs) but no tomato sauce. Nothing even resembling tomato sauce. My Israelification still incomplete, I pay the 9.50 NIS for a 15 ounce can of imported Hunts Tomato Sauce. As I see the sign in the small makolet, I realize that lately every store I go into is running a special – 2 cans for 15 NIS. That’s about $2/can. What a bargain!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Swirling Thoughts # 78 – nesting but not really and could it be colder here than on Hoth?

Does doubling a recipe of spanech jibn count as nesting?
As I was furiously unpacking a basket of miscellaneous items that Bob had announced would probably be sitting atop my dresser for the rest of my life I recalled a theory I’d formulated in my last pregnancy or maybe the one before that – it’s not that you start to nest when you are getting close to giving birth. It’s that as you get close to giving birth, you nest so furiously you put yourself into labor. Not wanting to really test the hypothesis just yet, I slowed down. The basket of miscellaneous items is now officially unpacked, the hospital bag is sort of packed but that’s about it. Oh, yes, and soon there will be a spanech jibn in my freezer.

If your pace is slow enough and your expectations are low enough…
We took a leisurely trip into Jerusalem to Ace hardware today. We searched for some items we recently realized we were lacking (door mats and a mechanism to hold rain boots). A 50% success rate – not bad. On the way in, the soldiers at the macshom (security checkpoint we pass through on the way out of Gush Etzion/in to Jerusalem) were all wearing these really cool snow suits. On the order of Han Solo on the cold planet of Hoth (see pic). Except that they were full-body snow suits – head to toe. Bob, always looking for lively conversation in Hebrew, asked one of the soldiers where he could get one – if they were army issued or not. The soldier looked at Bob funny since he really speaks Hebrew like an Israeli (and wouldn’t an Israeli already know the answer to that question?) and Bob had to tell him we’re “Stam Amerikayim!” He laughed and waved us along. Did he know we were headed to Ace? Where they actually carry the full-body Hoth suit. And space heaters. And bathroom heaters. And bed heaters. We live in the desert, right?

When it’s cold and your house/dorm is made of stone, there is nowhere to hide
One of the yeshivah students we host for Shabbat called this afternoon to ask where he could buy a space heater. Seems he’s been freezing in his dorm each night. Bob, who never forgot the bone-chilling cold of winter in an old city yeshivah dorm, heard the call to duty loud and clear. Together, they went to buy a space heater and Bob made him a shopping list of things for his relatives to send. Namely down comforter, puffy coat and long underwear.

We learn this in school!
Becky just asked me if I want to play Beytzim. Seems it’s a game. A game where you throw the ball against the wall and then jump up and let it bounce under your legs. Where have I seen that before? I thought Beytzim meant eggs!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #77 - Stupid Idiot Boots

I moved to the desert, right? We pray for and celebrate rain here, right? I came with 44 coats plus ponchos and rain boots for each member of my family, just in case, right? So what did I do wrong? Evidently a lot. We’re in the middle of some psycho storm from Cyprus – who knew? The kind of rain in which you cannot carry an umbrella because the accompanying wind turns the umbrella into a launchable missile.

Becky sobbing and screaming.
Becky came down in socks and water shoes, screaming her refusal to wear “stupid idiot rain boots”. Her rain boots are yellow. They should have been blue. Also no good – her yellow rain slicker. Her choice – a pink windbreaker and pink earmuffs. Did I mention it is freezing cold outside in addition to pouring rain and whipping wind?

Rosie sobbing and screaming.
I loaned the housekeeper the Dora umbrella so she could hitchhike home in the rain last week. That would have been okay if the umbrella was back in our house this morning which it clearly was not. The fact that Bob carried Rosie to school under the huge Barney’s umbrella and that she wouldn’t have been able to manage her Dora umbrella in the wind – totally irrelevant.

Barbara not sobbing and screaming but her face all crinkled up getting ready to sob and scream.
I ordered Barbara yellow boots about a month ago. Once I placed the order she came to me and said, “The boots you ordered – they’re not yellow are they?” I headed that one off at the pass by ordering her a pair she picked out and pushing the yellow ones on Asher.

Me, ready to sob and scream.
Asher, my soldier, dutifully taking orders, flopped down the stairs looking like the Gorton’s Fisherman – yellow boots and matching slicker. Bob to Asher, “Are those boots too big for you? Lisa, I think Asher’s boots are too big for him. Look at how big these boots are. These boots are definitely too big.” Stupid idiot boots.

Swirling Thoughts #76 – it’s all about the weather now

A missed photo-op
At the Gilo junction: a Chossid’s very extremely long grey beard blowing completely horizontal in the wind. I couldn’t get out my camera in time.

44 Plus
I’ve been caught in the rain without boots, umbrella or coat 3 times so far. I can’t seem to get in synch with the weather. Bob, on the other hand, has been anticipating the weather and talking about rain gear and winter coats since Shabbat. Today, while I was sonograming and eating gourmet ice cream in Jerusalem with my dear friend Michal, he was hard at work setting up a place to hang our winter, spring, fall, rain, wind and Shabbat coats.

In Brooklyn it seemed quite normal to have various coats for various seasons. Believe it or not, I gave away maybe 15 coats before we left. But somehow, arriving in Israel with 44 coats (plus ponchos) to a house that (in the Israeli style) lacks closets of any type and most definitely coat closets, seems totally ridiculous. And yet, it’s precisely what we’ve done.

Smooth sailing or the calm before the storm?
Today as I made my way to the obstetrician I got there without detouring to the Prima Kings. For the first time ever. Okay, so my friend was driving but it was me directing her. At about the same time, Bob was making his way to the mall in Talpiot – he went straight there, parked easily, shopped and left. A stark contrast to his first visit. I asked him – any stories? Blogworthy mishaps? The fact that he set out for two closets and came home with one hamper didn’t seem surprising. Even the way they told him he could order the closets and IF they were in stock they’d come in about 3 days. If not, Bob asked? Well then, we’ll have to wait for the manufacturer to make some more closets. Even this we took in stride. It’s a small country. The whole entire inventory of any one thing can’t be massive because where would they put it? It’s all starting to feel normal now.

When we bought the Grandis and Bob said something about the front or rear fog lights not working, I asked if we’d had fog lights on our Volvo in Brooklyn. He looked at me funny and explained all cars have fog lights. Never having had occasion to use them, I didn’t give it a further thought. Until tonight. In the summer time clouds will settle upon Neve Daniel, across the highway from us, rendering it virtually nonexistent. Today when we got in the car for taekwondo carpool, we could see nothing beyond our house. It was as if we were on a cliff. Four years of driving through blustery snow in Syracuse did not prepare me for driving through cloud cover in pouring rain in Efrat. I think I drove 2 miles per hour the whole way. I asked the kids in carpool if this is what winter in Efrat is like. They said yes. This feels anything but normal.

When we got home, soaking wet, Bob assured me it’s only a storm. As per the email from our local weatherman. It spoke about strong weather coming in from Cyprus with more rain and wind. And regarding the wind:

‘Winds will be very strong, especially in the center of the country. So, be careful of possible flying objects.”

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #75 – lice, rain, & Gilligan

Required Reading
Yesh kinim b’Gan. The dreaded words – we have lice in the Gan – came home on Friday. Of course I missed them completely. They were printed at the bottom of the sheet detailing the parshat hashavuah (weekly Torah portion). I guess I got a little lazy about struggling through school flyers without nekudot since I started ulpan. Thankfully, a very not-lazy friend of mine pointed the message out to me today at which point I started compulsively checking each of my kids for lice. So far, so good.

I know I packed rain gear somewhere…
In Brooklyn we would grit our teeth over a rainy day. Here, the short bursts of water pouring from the sky, which we now call rain storms, are cause for celebration. Thursday when the skies opened up for all of 6 minutes during ulpan my teacher ran to the window with her arms up and called out – “What beracha (blessing) – we should make a shehechyanu!” (a blessing for special firsts). So Friday at 12:45 – exactly the minute I needed to pick up Rosie from Gan – the skies opened up again. And since her Gan pickup could not wait the necessary 6-8 minutes until the rain stopped, I had to run out.

One rainy day when I was early for a doctor’s appointment in Central Park South I took 2 kids into Barney’s New York and made a single purchase. A big black umbrella. One I envisioned I would use to help the kids in and out of carpool on rainy days. I actually opened it in the store and made the kids stand under it with me to be sure we fit comfortably. Bob laughed and laughed when I brought it home – I’ve never NOT lost an umbrella. We calculated that if I could keep it for 5 years, the price would be the same as if I’d just continued my practice of buying and losing cheap umbrellas. It’s been 3 years and the umbrella is still with me. Somewhere. In a box. In my attic. And so under the cover of Rosie’s Dora umbrella which, by chance, was unpacked early on, I ran to the Gan, scooped up Rosie and ran back home. Just before the rain stopped.

I’m coming, Little Buddy!
When I was little, if I had to stay home sick (a rare occurrence), my mom would plug a tiny black and white TV in my room and let me watch from bed. I was so thrilled at the novelty of watching TV in my room (in my bed!) that I didn’t care that the TV was small or that it was black and white. Fast forward to Israel. My kids watch videos once or twice a week on our super screen but otherwise, nothing. We didn’t sign up for TV. We got through season one of the Brady Bunch (which they loved) and now we started on season one of Gilligan’s Island. From 1964. In black and white. The truth – the black and white was annoying to me! I didn’t realize how spoiled I’d become for Technicolor. But aside from a few murmurs of protest from Becky, the kids didn’t seem to mind at all. They are savoring every black and white episode. It will only be a short matter of time before they are assigning each other characters (you’re Gilligan, I’m Ginger! Aba is the professor.) – like they did with the Brady Bunch (I’m Marsha! You’re Bobby! Rosie is Cindy! Mommy is Alice!).

There are words more dreaded than 'yesh kinim'...
At 5:30 in the morning: "Mommy! My (cough, cough) stomach is (cough, cough) killing me!!!" You know what comes next. Let's see how getting sick on Yom Rishon compares to getting sick midweek...So far we are waiting until the doctor comes in at 4:30pm. Benatayim, at least there's Gilligan on the big screen.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #74 –small nostalgic foods and gross creatures, small vs. big emotions, and my not so small anymore determined activist

Strawberry sighting!
In the bigger, meaner makolet. 25 shekels for approximately 15 strawberries. That’s almost 50 cents/strawberry.

I was there in search of pereg – poppy seeds. It was the fourth store I visited this week in search of pereg. I can’t wrap my brain around the shop first, menu second concept. Except for strawberries. I know not to put anything on the menu that calls for strawberries.

I’m spending half my cooking time making conversions – grams to ounces and cups – and the other half approximating (for example, margarine comes in a 200 gram block but 1 cup of margarine is 226 grams). As for Fahrenheit to Celsius, I cheat with an oven thermometer.

Bob just called to me from outside and asked if I wanted to see the fattest slug ever. You know I do – I was outside before he finished his sentence! It was pretty fat but I think I’ve photographed fatter.

There is no like. Only love.
When I was in first grade and learning to write I wanted to write a card to my mom’s hairdresser. I didn’t want to ask her for help but I didn’t know how to spell ‘like’. So I wrote:

Dear Seymour,
I love you.

I gave it to him even though I was embarrassed that I had overstated my affection. And I never forgot about it – not when I learned to spell ‘like’ and not even to this day. The man I told I loved even though I only liked him.

We learned numbers and time in ulpan today. And more about love. I pushed my teacher to give me the secret words to distinguish my love for my husband from my love for sanvichim. I insisted there were degrees of affection and that while I might like her cooking, I love my mom’s cooking. How could I ever make such a subtle distinction using only one word? She smiled and said in Israel everybody loves everything and everybody. There is no like here! Only love.

Speaking of love, I’d like to add Stevie Wonder to the list of artists Israeli’s really truly love.

Bob’s working on his platform for when he runs for mayor of Efrat – there will be an El Al style tax (the legend is that El Al has to pay passengers if its flights out of Ben Gurion are delayed) on shopkeepers who keep customers waiting by trying to wait on all of them simultaneously. It would be called the “you’re being too nice and it’s making us all late tax.”

The economist in me is trying to figure out an incentive structure that would change the behavior of cashiers in supermarkets all over Israel so that instead of them sitting and watching while you struggle to bag your groceries before the groceries of the person behind you are completely comingled with your own, the cashier would actually see benefit from jumping out of her chair and helping you to bag, thus moving the whole line along. I have far to go on this.

In the meantime, Barbara is working on her own issue – one that she feels quite passionately about – school uniforms. Yesterday, upon seeing Becky’s new and extremely short haircut, one of Barbara’s friends told Becky she liked the haircut – that it expresses Becky’s personality. I thought that was right on the money and yet clever for a 4th grader. So when Barbara told me her principal is deciding whether or not to implement school uniforms starting this coming Purim and that she was writing a letter of protest to the principal, I fully expected a letter about individualism and expressing her personality through her clothing choices. So I asked her – what are you writing? And she answered – “I am telling the principal that the uniforms (long sleeved white collar shirts with a long black skirt and a pink sweater vest with black buttons) will be sweaty. And they will be ugly. And we will all look like Hello Kitty.” long as i know i have LOVE i can make it...

Swirling Thoughts #73 – my dryer, my ulpan, & a dream come true

No clamp? No need!
When the washer/dryer installer guy came in August and asked if I wanted to buy the (aluminum) dryer venting tube for 200 shekels I said yes. After all, a dryer needs to vent. When he merely smushed it onto the back of the dryer I asked him if he would be putting a clamp on it to keep it in place. “No need,” he told me. “It will stay.”

Fast forward – and a word of advice
When your dryer venting tube falls off and disintegrates when you try to smush it back into place and you decide you need a replacement dryer venting tube and you want to just buy one because you have clothes in the washer and tons more laundry to be done, be prepared to pay for something packaged in a box that has the following warning in English:

Vinyl tubing - flamable. Not to be used with a dryer.

Be prepared to read this label and ask about aluminum tubing and to be told there is no such thing as aluminum tubing here and that this is what everyone uses. Be prepared to call your dryer installation company and have them take down your number so that they can call you back to let you know when they can first schedule you. Then call the local appliance repair guy and pay another 200 NIS for replacement tubing. The aluminum kind. Or you could just skip to the last step. Yes, that’s what I’d recommend.

How does this movie end, again?
My ulpan class is an eclectic mix of colorful characters. We resemble a movie cast – something from along the lines of ‘Summer School’. We have a group of young South African soccer players, a Frenchman, a middle aged married couple, a soft-spoken child genius, a kollel learner and his devoted disciple, a mini-support group of moms, and several others. I am the slow-moving pregnant character, of course.

I wondered what everyone’s motivation would be for the test this past Sunday. I mean – there is no report card. There is no failing ulpan. Ulpan is like this whole other dimension. If you say you are going to ulpan, nobody asks how you do on the tests. It’s understood. You go there to learn Hebrew. You are “in ulpan,” that’s what you do. End of story.

Today the tests came back. I got a Metzuyan! And everyone knows it.
I remember attending an Israeli child’s birthday party in Brooklyn with Barbara years ago. At the end of the party the little girl opened all her presents. In front of the guests. I figured the party had fizzled out too early and the mom didn’t know what to do next so that’s what we did. I never thought about it again until Barbara attended an Israeli girl’s birthday party here a few weeks ago. At the end of the party the little girl opened all her presents. In front of the guests. So it seems, maybe, possibly (though I need more evidence to test my hypothesis), that it’s a cultural thing – at an Israeli birthday party the host opens the gifts in front of everyone.

And so, why would I be the least bit surprised when the ulpan teacher went over each person’s test and grade in front of the entire class today. Suddenly I understood the motivation for studying for the test – to avoid public shame! The teacher started out with an announcement about our overall performance. “It’s not so worse. But it’s not so good.” One by one we got an analysis of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Plus each other’s grades – Metzuyan (excellent), Tov Maod (very good), Tov (regular good), and my favorite grade, Tov Menus (good minus).

More Google Translator – finally a lunch menu! But is it Kosher? And who is Perry?
We are pleased to announce the provision of hot meals nutritious and balanced school students.
Kashrut is Mehadrin.
The cost of a dose - ₪ 12.
Hmgshit: Pizzeria bloc
Baguette with ham
All dishes will be added Perry.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #72 – reach out and touch someone

I finally got a phone!
Well, one that works like a US phone and isn’t my cell – it’s in the house and I get reception all over my first floor. And I bought and prepared steak for the first time since we’re here. And we ate it with a 28 NIS bag of Bodek broccoli florets (exactly the same price as in the US). I spoke with one of my Brooklyn friends on the phone as I was preparing dinner and though I was snacking on olives, tehine and grapefruit soda while we were talking, it all was so totally reminiscent of a typical weeknight in Brooklyn – minus the homework and plus the husband.

Just the two of us...romance redefined
Bob and I took a trip to Shefashuk together this morning to stock up on cholent meat, snack sized potato chips, flour (five bags for 15 shekels!), “fruit” juice (we can’t shake our dependence yet), soda, impossibly thin plastic ware, store brand flushable wipes (score!), Israeli pasta, and gourmet chocolate chips (I bought out the inventory!). The highlight for Bob was finding the slice-it-yourself-bread-slicer in the front of the store and then taking a rye bread and slicing it himself. For me the highlight was having Bob there to help me push/pull my two wagon loads of groceries. We spent so much we earned free gifts. Sticker books “for to keep the children very busy for very long – it’s good for you.”

We’re off to see the Wizard
Just after the lights darkened in tonight’s production of the Wizard of Oz (in Hebrew), Rosie announced she was ready to go home. She has a way of announcing things that is not really conducive to just ignoring her and sitting through even another second of the show. “I want to go home. I want to go home now. I want to go home this instant! Mommy! Let’s go home. Let’s go home now. Let’s go home this instant!”

Odds and ends
Since Becky refuses to wear a pony tail I figured it was a good idea to get her hair cut fairly short to keep her safe (Ha!) from any lice that might want to jump onto her during lineup at taekwondo. It’s cute and really really short. She’s as happy as can be. There goes another fake contraction. Waking me up from my club chair nap instead of my snoring. I packed my hospital bag. Sort of. I can’t remember what you’re supposed to bring. And I’ve heard they don’t bring you food to the room during your stay (after you’ve given birth) – something about a communal cafeteria for new moms you need to walk to if you are interested in eating. Maybe I’ll pack some snacks.

Israeli TV revisited: It wasn’t Israeli Lost – it was Israeli Survivor
More like Israeli Survivor meets Israeli Baywatch from the looks of it. You decide:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #71 – I see security guards and vampires in my future

Not yet!!!
As we pulled into the parking lot at Hadassa Ein Kerem Hospital, Bob yelled frantically at the parking lot attendant, “The Baby! The Baby!” as he pointed at my protruding belly. I guess it was a test run on all fronts. We got as close to the main entrance as a car can get and at that point he let me out and then went to park (we’d heard the parking lot was two miles away – he needed to investigate). So I stepped up onto the sidewalk and entered an outdoor security hut. I got in line, and when it was my turn, showed them my bag, went through the metal detector and only then found myself inside the courtyard of 3 or 4 hospital towers. No one had asked if I was in active labor or if I needed to cut the line. I guess they see pregnant ladies all the time. Maybe they scream, “The Baby! The Baby!” if it’s really getting close.

Slowly and carefully I checked out the Hebrew writing on each building and then my eyes fell on the Mother and Child Building (this one was in English) and so I waddled in and looked around for where to register. I found the admission window and asked a man there if he spoke English (“yes”) and where I could register. He nodded and in a deep voice told me “It is here.”

It is here? Where am I? What is “it”?
I sat down and began answering his questions which seemed pretty normal at first. Name, address, teudat zehut number, which kupat cholim do I belong to? Then he asked if my husband is Robert. Yes. And who is your father-in-law? Huh? I suspected he knew the answer and was quizzing me. Asher. He nodded. What’s his birthday? Confused I asked, “Asher’s or Robert’s?” He laughed and said Robert. I gave the date and he nodded… but I didn’t see him write it down. It reminded me of the mandatory awkward exchange with the customs lady perched behind her tall desk at Ben Gurion airport. Where she asks you questions to which she mysteriously seems to have the answers.

The envelope please…
In any case, we finished up in just a few minutes. He handed me an envelope, which he said I must bring to the birth, and sent me on my way. I called Bob who’d just found a parking spot and told him to come back and get me. I can see now, between security, parking, and fumbling through my bag looking for “the envelope”, I will be giving birth alone. Hopefully inside the hospital and not in the courtyard. I peeked in the envelope and there were 3 sheets of paper. One with, presumably, all my information (in Hebrew) and 2 more which were actually pages of mini barcode stickers – the kind they put on vials of blood. Evidently they want to be prepared to take some 60 vials of my blood when I come to deliver.

I said “Not yet!”
As we made our way to Tel Aviv last night for the wedding, laughing about the day’s events - including breakfast at Wolfson Towers (Israel's answer to Leisure World), a trip to the doctor (more giggles over the 3D sonogram), and a makeshift birthday party for Asher (complete with sprinkle cake) - I started contracting – or doing something that was giving me jolts of pain in response to which there were excited utterances of “ouch!” Bob asked if we should to continue to the wedding or head back to Jerusalem. We were already in Tel Aviv. I wondered aloud if anyone in our family was a doctor. I wondered if a Tel Aviv hospital would honor my bar code stickers for vials of blood. Bob repeated his question. “Should I turn around? We’re an hour away!” I looked at the cityscape and wondered which of those tall, lit up, buildings was a hospital. And then I remembered how smushed the baby looked on the sonogram earlier in the day. I figured something about the way I was sitting in the car was just causing too much smushiness and that all I needed was to get up and walk around. Also, after all this musing about giving birth to my Sabra in Ihr HaKodesh (Jerusalem) I was determined not to give birth in Tel Aviv.

We arrived and made our way to the wedding, in the Harbor, right on the beach. I followed in a woman wearing blue jeans and gained some confidence about my choice of clothing. The outdoor pre-wedding reception was in full swing. As expected, my false labor stopped. The chuppah went off in the midst of the outdoor celebration for a standing audience under the stars and with a background swish of the sea. It was a lovely night and the only drama was as scheduled. A wedding, not a birth.