Monday, August 31, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #24 – Bob may be claustrophobic but he’s not afraid of wild dogs.

It’s a process.
People keep asking how my aliya is going. It’s not a slam dunk, I tell them. It’s good, we’re happy, the kids are happy and we are ‘getting there’ but it’s clearly a work in progress. I have mail we just figured out how to collect (there are post boxes near the makolet – we just now identified which box is ours) which is all in Hebrew. Bob asked the pizza store owner to help him translate some of the mail but, for the most part, it is sitting somewhere in my house, unread. I’ve been calling my pharmacist in Brooklyn to translate medications and dosages. I just emailed my Brooklyn butcher to translate cuts of meat. I’m making my Rosh Hashanah menu and working on finding ingredients to make the foods we are accustomed to eating. To get ready for a bat mitzvah tonight I had to unpack about 7 different boxes – I was in search of shoes, a scarf and a purse to go with a particular dress. I found soap, towels, games and hats but had no time to put them away. Tonight I will climb over opened boxes to reach my bed.

sent bob to walk home babysitter. to protect her from roving packs of wild dogs hanging out in the judean hills.

There are no signs for this.
Wild dogs crossing. They run in packs in the hills here. We hear them barking at night and see them near the Northern gate from time to time. Tonight there were 8 of them crossing Route 60. They cross in pairs, which is probably why you see two dead on the road and not one when you do see them that way. We slammed on the breaks to avoid them and then watched in disbelief as they crossed.

How many Elite mazal tov taffy’s should you give a child to get them through a one hour tour of the Kotel tunnels? As many as it takes!
The kids did great. Even Rosie - never underestimate the power of Israeli taffy. We ventured through the narrow tunnels – we got to a spot which is just 97 meters from the Kodesh HaKodeshim – along the underground portion of the Western Wall. We learned about many things – Bob’s claustrophobia being one of them. It was a nice way to spend one of our last days before school starts.

A great story as told by Rav Riskin tonight at a Bat Mitzvah at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, outdoors, overlooking the old city. He told it way better but the story went something like this:

After 5 years of working toward the building of a city of Efrat on the biblical location of Efrat, with 190 families ready to join him on aliya, Rav Riskin was getting ready for the cornerstone ceremony symbolizing the opening of Efrat in 1981. The impetus for building Efrat came from Golda Meir who thought it imperative Efrat exist as the link between Hebron – representative of the beginning of Jewish history – and Jerusalem – representative of the culmination of world history. He went to a ferbrangen of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, A’H, whom he adoringly characterized as the caretaker of all Jewish people of our generation, hoping to receive a blessing for the ceremony. He received two. The Rebbe told him, outright, you will build the city of Efrat. The Rebbe walked away and then walked back to Rav Riskin. He repeated the blessing. The next day Rav Riskin arrived in Israel and his Israeli counterpart shared with him the bad news – a terrorist attack in Hebron caused the cabinet to rule against any settlement activity and the opening of Efrat was effectively cancelled. Rav Riskin persisted and ultimately was set up in a meeting with Menachem Begin – the only person who could overrule the cabinet. He pleaded his case and told Begin about the blessings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Begin realizes he’s met Rav Riskin prior – in a meeting with Rav Soloveitchik and his own father, Benny Begin. Begin, moved, pulls out Der Judenstaat by Theodore Herzl, known as the father of modern political Zionism. He opens to a section where Herzl speaks about creating a Jewish state where rabbi’s will flock with their congregations to the state. He concludes it must be that if Rav Riskin is prepared to come to the Jewish state with his congregation they must be allowed to. He permits the opening ceremony and thus, Efrat is born on the biblical spot of Efrat in a miraculous intersection between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Menachem Begin.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #23 – cleaning after Shabbat, parking before Shabbat, Shabbat, and a soundtrack.

Why do I feel so guilty using my Swiffer Wet Jet?
Is it because as a teduat zehut carrying citizen of Israel I am obligated to sponga my floors motzei Shabbat? Maybe it’s because my floors really need to be sponga’d and the wet jet solution (I brought 9 bottles) with the wet jet contraption is doing a sub-par job. Perhaps the secret to sparkling stone floors lies within the super hard Israeli lime filled water.

There is a commercial in America with these two ladies cocking their lime-a-way cleaning solution trying to get hard water stains off their shower doors. Here in Israel you can taste the lime in the water. If you look inside your Shabbat hot water pot or your koum koum you will see it lined with a layer of grey limestone. For this reason I used half of one jug of Mai Eden (from my machine) to fill my hot water pot. I paid 400 shekels for a lime filter for my Maytag. I think there’s a cleaner out there for my shower doors called Cillit. I’ve heard it’s been used to clean nuclear waste. Adding it to my shopping list.

Street parking in Efrat is like a guilty pleasure.
Israel is the opposite of New York with regard to parking. In Israel if you are driving down the street and you see a spot on the opposite side, you just cross the dividing line and park in it. Backwards. No problem. I was pondering this concept erev Shabbat when I did just that but then had to maneuver my KIA in and out of the spot to get it just right. So I am parallel parking and there is oncoming traffic. Interesting.

Under penalty of SPIKES.
Lest you think Israeli’s are totally chofshee about their parking you should know that when it comes to lots, garages and gas stations there is a strict seder (order). Those arrows painted on the ground are not merely suggestions. Failure to follow them will undoubtedly lead to spikes. Yes, spikes. The penalty for incorrectly exiting a strip mall or shopping mall, an amusement park, a hotel, a restaurant, or pretty much any place in Israel is spikes in your tires. Gas stations do not have spikes. But there are gas station attendants enforcing the zero tolerance policy. Ever get to the gas station and forget which side your tank is on and then, after the fact, maneuver your car so the tank is near the pump? In Israel there are arrows all over the ground at the gas station. You come in one way, go through the gas line one way and exit the station one way. If you’ve mistakenly gone to the pump on the wrong side of your car you just keep on driving and re-enter the station. Anything short of this will surely earn you shocked questioning looks complete with excited hand gestures and then, of course, instructions on how to exit the station and re-enter correctly.

Shabbat in Efrat
I don’t know if I can describe this but I’ll give you a little. Friday night Bob leaves for shul with the kids. A 4 minute walk in any direction from my front door would put you in a real (shul with a building) shul. Our shul is, in essence, a shtiebel. It’s made up of neighborhood people and has the added allure of a Sephardic minyan. We love it. So it’s in someone’s house. And the kids come and go between the shul and the monkey bars outside the shul in the backyard. There are no cars on the road save for the occasional Bitachon (security) truck. The kids LOVE this and walk to and from shul in the street – just because they can.

Musical interlude.
Having trouble writing because Bob is setting up our new “media center” (read: purchase of a ridiculously large flat screen tv on which to watch videos, use the computer, and listen to music). He is trying to stream music but having trouble accessing US stations. Stuck with UK stations playing US music – “Get Your Freak On”???? I had to counter with some Asia.

Until next time…

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #22 – when you can’t just jump off Menara Cliff

Fight or Flight. In Israel there is a third option.
Picture this – you have paid 420 NIS to enter Menara Cliff – a quasi-amusement park created out of a mountain. Your ticket includes admission for three of your children to a trampoline where they will be attached by bungee cords to the rafters of a makeshift structure and they can jump and flip to their hearts content some 40 plus feet in the air. For seven straight minutes. They see the children ahead of them jumping and flipping. Their eyes are popping out of their heads. It is 4000° degrees out. A lady cuts the line. Or so it seems. But her child is bigger than yours and there are four trampolines – 2 for small children, 2 for big children. Even though there are about 8 small children who have been waiting in line for the past 21 minutes (including yours), the new lady’s kid goes next. And then another big kid appears out of nowhere. 21 minutes turns into 35 minutes. Initially your gut might tell you to yell and scream. At this point my gut was melting and no amount of frozen passaflora (passion fruit slushy in lieu of noticeably absent ice coffee) could cool it. I was ready to flee the scene. And then I looked at my children. Eyes still popping out of their heads, completely unaware of the temperature, the lack of wind and the amount of time they’d been waiting, they were in an anticipatory trance. And then it hit me. There really was nothing to fight about here, as ridiculous as the situation might appear at first glance. And scooping up the children, running back to the car and high-tailing it away from this place was clearly not an option. And then I saw it – from one of the workers inside the trampoline dome. The hand extended with all five fingers facing up and pressed together at the tips. In Israel this is the universal symbol for savlanut (patience).

Throughout the day (the wait to go up the mountain in the cable car was more than an hour – the temperature had risen to 5000°) we were forced to find our savlanut. Bob and I exchanged knowing glances – knowing this was the reason we’d never visited Great Adventure and possibly on some level this was the reason we didn’t run to visit Disney before we left America. Thankfully in all these hot waiting places there were snack vendors and the kids were only too happy to load up on ice cream and chips. The last activity of the day was a toboggan-style roller coaster where you control the speed of the toboggan as it flies down the mountain. Really, a sick ride. Sick in the good way. Even for Bob who had to go on it three times in a row – once with each kid.

Back in the car, some 7 hours later, I asked the kids to rate the Menara Cliff – 0 being worst ever, 5 being best ever. Not only did it receive a perfect ranking from each kid – even Rosie who wasn’t allowed to go on the trampoline or the toboggan ride – but when we went around giving our individual ‘high points’ and ‘low points’ of the day, each kid had a high and not one had a low.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #21 – differences – vacation vs. real life, Israeli kids vs. American kids, rapids vs. lazy rivers, crabs vs. frogs

The drive up north from where we live is one of my favorite things about Israel. We get to Jerusalem and then head straight toward the Dead Sea. Just before we drive into the Dead Sea we make a left and then we drive north along the Jordan River. The drive is magnificent. Desert turns to farmland turns to lush greenery. For most of the drive you see right into Jordan on your right. If you make the wrong turn onto the 98 instead of the 92 you can drive almost into Jordan on the road to Hamat Geder. On the last stretch of the drive, where you are looking at mountains in Lebanon to your left and mountains in Syria to your right, my kids said the super thickly tree lined roads reminded them of Maryland. It was really something unreal.

The North has everything (even Halva at breakfast) – but there’s no ice coffee.
The hotel is a blast. My friend told me all about it including (but I forgot) the part about inappropriate statues. The kids reminded me. “Why are there so many butts showing?” My mom asked how I like it – I love it! The shower is hot and technically unlimited (though I’ve yet to shower alone) and I get a new towel EVERY DAY. The Israeli breakfast has so many food groups represented I eat something akin to breakfast, lunch, and, at the least, a snack all in one sitting. Did I mention the obstetrician has yet to make me stand on a scale?

A choice of Tiyulim (hikes).
There are three choices of hike when you go to Nahal Senir (the Hatzbani River). The first is not really a hike – you just hang out in a wading pool of the Senir River, complete with waterfall. Did I mention the wading pool is a cool 17° C (about 63°F)? The kids did not mind and were doing something reminiscent of the Maniac dance from Flashdance under the ice cold waterfall. We started out there but then headed out on choice two – the half-hour intermediate hike. In the trail map they mention it is not an easy hike – suitable for those 6 years of age and older. They fail to qualify that last piece. Allow me. It is suitable for Israeli born and raised children 6 years of age and older. I saw them. They were doing it. Soft spoiled American children should be at least 8 years old. The intermediate hike takes you (and whoever you are carrying) over tree roots and slippery rocks into shallow but rocky fish-filled parts of the Hatzbani River. It is breath-taking. Lush and green in every direction. Note: when carrying a six year old on your shoulders across a rocky riverbed beware of low hanging tree branches overhead that will tangle the hair of said six year old! There were tons of people hiking. At some point you meet up with the icy cold Dan River (between you and me, I did not feel a difference in temperature between the two). It was a leisurely hike with several stops to empty sand and rocks from shoes, to snack on pita, to try catching little fish in baseball hats using crumbs of leftover pita as bait, and some stops just to take it all in. Two hours into the half-hour intermediate hike we were faced with a choice – continue down the river (that would be hike choice three, the advanced hike) or turn back toward the entrance (we called this the “let’s get ice cream” hike). Hmm…

Kayaking a.k.a. White Water Rafting.
When Bob and I honeymooned here 11 years ago we took a white water rafting trip down the Jordan River. Just to be clear, there are no white water rapids on the Jordan River. It’s more like the lazy river ride at any Jersey shore water park. In fact I think Bob had to use the paddle to get us going a few times. Fast forward to now – the same ride on the same river but they call it kayaking (actually, there are signs boasting “kayaakim” in the Hebrew). There were some size issues for us to take out the family raft – Rosie was too small, I was, in essence, too big. So Bob took the big kids on the kayaakim. 2 hours later they came back brimming with excitement. There had been a giant crab holding up its claws getting ready to fight. There was an encounter with a mean turtle. Oh, and Asher fell in the river.

quote of the day: "It's just a scorpion, Barbara."

How much nature is too much nature?
For dinner we visited an amazing local restaurant - Dag al ha Dan (literally, Fish on the Dan). This restaurant is built ON the Dan River. Some kids came prepared – in water shoes, they were playing in the river streams running through the restaurant. Somehow, thank Gd, my kids did not see them. While we were waiting for our seats an unfortunate misunderstanding about the distribution of toys and gumballs from a 2 shekel gumball machine made it necessary for me to sit in on a large rock next to our car in the gravelly parking lot with my fiercest warrior child Becky. It’s been my experience that surprise animal appearances stop tantrums and it’s also been my experience that Becky – a keen observer of detail – notices little creatures scurrying across the floor before anyone else. In any case, in the middle of a tantrum the cries went from naggy to frantic and she was as close to the top of my head as possible. A crab had scurried out from under our rock and was heading across the ground toward our car. Using the crab as leverage (we can go in to the restaurant and away from the crab if we can just stop crying now), we made our way into the restaurant.

Dinner was great and the atmosphere incredibly rustic – there are pits with open flames lighting your path everywhere and wooden plank bridges with no railings to cross the river. As we made our way back to the car we joked about the crab. Not wanting to take any chances, Becky climbed back on top of the rock. And then we heard it – a noise coming up right behind her leg. She never saw – she flew across the parking lot in a screaming fit of fear right up into Bob’s arms – but the rest of us got a great view of a nice sized frog who’d just been climbing up the rock to say hello.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #20 – fighting gives way to vacation, at long last. but not without a fight before departure. make that two.

my uplander turned into a kia carnival. gearing up for a fight...

A trip to the North
When I ordered our rental car and asked if it would be a KIA Carnival or a Chevy Uplander the lady excitedly told me that the fleet of KIA’s was old and no longer in use and that she had a brand new fleet of Uplanders, one of which she would send me. She would send me my Uplander early in the morning, the day we were scheduled to leave for the north.

The car arrived early, as promised. My 2004 diesel fueled KIA Carnival showed up before Bob finished his morning coffee. After raging to the rental people over the phone (they are now sending us an Uplander Sunday morning), he checked out the car with the guy who delivered it. Not happy with anything about the car, he asked the guy, “How does this tire look to you?” The answer, “Well, it’s not new.” Again, “But how does it look to you? I know it’s not new. Does it look good? I am taking my family for a 3½ hour trip north – does this tire look like it’s going to make it? Tell me what you think!”

In many (most?) restaurants in Israel, if you ask for ice you are often told not to worry, the drink is cold enough. The man answered Bob in similar (typical Israeli?) fashion. “Don’t worry. The tires are good enough.”

If you fight with the gas balloon man you may end up with no gas balloon.
This lesson was almost learned the hard way. Of course the gas company is demanding payment to move the gas balloon hookup to a kosher distance from the air conditioning machine. How my landlord avoided this issue up until now I do not want to know. While I was at school meeting with Becky’s principal (who was talking to the new olim children about how Israel is different from America in many ways, including the lack of carpeting in favor of stone flooring and the limited availability of hot showers), Bob was fighting with the gas man. When I called to check on him I frantically urged him to not fight since we CANNOT BE WITHOUT A GAS BALLOON. He had already figured this out and was in the process of making peace with the technician who had already threatened to walk out and leave us with no gas. Ultimately, he left us with 2 balloons and we paid for the balloons plus his fee for making the hookup kosher. We did this as we were watching our vacation tick away on the wall clock and as the gas man walked out the door, we (already packed and ready in the KIA) walked out with him.

Sachne – do pumpkin seeds on wet stone steps add traction or increase slippage?
There’s an amazing place to spend the day just west of Bet Sha’an on the way up to the north. On the map it’s called Gan Ha’Shlosha. We know it as Sachne. There are stone pools, stone water slides, waterfalls over stone and everywhere you need to walk, there are stone paths and stone steps. Surrounding all this stone is an expanse of grass and date trees and other vegetation. There are playgrounds every few hundred yards, parking is sort of “chofshee” (a free for all) and you are free to dine in the restaurant, buy food from the on-premises makolet (which sells, among other things, fresh pita, cans of olives, packages of humus, and Turkish coffee), you can bring your own picnic or you can even bring your own grill and enjoy bar-b-q. This last option is quite popular and every time we visit Sachne Bob kicks himself for not bringing a bar-b-q. It was a boiling hot day but the water was amazing. We got a sense of how Israeli we’ve become when someone started asking us if we’d watch their things and we thought they were asking us to watch their two year old and we were saying yes. We stayed until closing, which, itself, is something to see.

Sachne at closing – the Jews left Egypt with less.
Israeli’s know how to enjoy their free time. There is no question. They know how to be comfortable – they bring air mattresses to lay on, float on, play on, nap on, etc. Yes, the same air mattresses like what we were sleeping on. They bring everything you could want to eat on a hot day by the water. Pita, humus, olives, cucumbers. They bring mango and knives to cut the mango. They use their empty soda bottles to catch fish and then store the fish in their drink coolers. They bring chairs. Some bring tables. One guy had a table and chair fold up combo that we all stopped and stared at in disbelief. When I say they bring grills it’s not necessarily the really small disposable type. In fact, it’s most likely not. And so at closing time there is a parade of families leaving Sachne, each carrying its dismantled three-piece grill, air mattress, cooler, and chairs. Everyone is carrying something. From the youngest barefoot child (carrying a floaty or a 1.5 liter water bottle) to the oldest grandparent (most likely carrying out a chair or a drink cooler).

Bob always teases me when we go to the beach or the pool – he calls me a bag lady because I like to have a separate bag for everything – food, towels, change of clothes, water toys, etc. Watching the exodus from Sachne and thinking about all the things I’d like to bring next time we come, I felt validated in my bag lady ways.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #19 - it might be time for a vacation

Water is water but cold water is not hot water.
35 liters is NOT 35 gallons – it’s 3 ½ buckets of water. The plumber confirmed what I’ve been saying all along – the hot water runs out after just one shower. It’s true – Amerikayim DO love their hot showers. But I’m becoming Israeli. At this point, I even love a lukewarm shower…

Housekeeper Karma?
In Brooklyn my housekeeper (who was of such a short stature my kids were astonished when they first saw her and wanted to know if she was still growing) used to carry around a step stool with her wherever she went. Initially I thought the parallel between me in Israel and my Mexican housekeeper in Brooklyn was all about language barriers. Both our kids would come home to us speaking the language of the land, neither of us would understand them.

Now I can feel for her challenge of height. I haven’t met many really tall Israeli women but my kitchen was most certainly built for some sort of Israeli giant. On my first trip to the Gush Center (before my lift arrived and I had any dishes to unpack), I purchased a step stool so Rosie could reach the sink. Since then I’ve purchased 2 more – bigger ones, for myself (yes, I made the man helping me in the Gush Center stand on it to see if it could handle something close to my weight) so that I can reach my dishes, my glasses, my cookbooks, my coffee mugs – pretty much everything that I have.

Have Step Stool, Will Cook. Well, sort of.
For Shabbat lunch we had some corn, bean and olive salad with some humus and some salami. Sunday’s dinner was scrambled eggs with salami and leftover corn, bean and olive salad. Bob casually mentioned something about wanting to eat something other than eggs and salami. He’s not picky. When Barbara was born we ate steak and French Fries – the only meal I could prepare one-handed – through three months of colic. But how much salami and eggs can you feed a man? So today I used my frying kitchen (which I’ve made my “dairy” kitchen). I made pancakes for breakfast and then semboosak for lunch. For dinner there will be spanech jibn but I’m not sure I can muster the strength for a side dish. Maybe couscous. Thank Gd for the instant hot water on my Mai Eden machine.

To Ulpan or Not to Ulpan.
I decided not to put Barbara and Asher in Ulpan. My decision has been met with mixed reviews – some raised eyebrows and some thumbs-up. I’ll let you know how that works out. My Ulpan starts September 14. I CAN’T WAIT!!!! I have 14 unread text messages from Cellcom and Mai Eden and then there’s Eddie – my Israeli driver’s ed instructor with the American name but not one word of English in his vocabulary. I’d love to know what he’s telling me – it always sounds so very important! Today when I called my obstetrician I would have liked to understand the phone menu choices instead of getting a run-around for 15 minutes only to find out I’d been dialing the wrong number in the first place.

There’s no letter in the Hebrew alphabet that gives the G sound in George.
Last night in a fit of unpacking enthusiasm continued (read: Bob cannot stand living with boxes), Bob singlehandedly unpacked the entire attic. Becky had napped in the day so she was by his side in an unending quest to find Curious George. Curious George is so much a part of Becky’s life that I packed him only at the last minute. Unfortunately he did not make the box manifest so other than knowing he was in a high numbered box, I could not tell her exactly where to find him. And so the treasure hunt began.

Back in Brooklyn Bob drove his dream car – a Mazda Miata convertible. We (me, the kids, the neighbors, his parents and siblings) joked that he looked like a giant (almost 6 feet tall) driving around in one of the kids’ toy cars. Last night when he was unpacking the attic which has sloping ceilings, making some of the spaces just 2 feet tall, he was reminiscent of that giant.

Tale of the Tape.
It’s 2:30 in the afternoon and I have no idea where my kids are. Asher and his friend are somewhere in the house – a good guess would be in the attic playing Wii. Rosie left with Bob to return a plastic table with chairs to a neighbor and then they were scheduled to hit the makolet for a treat (read: 2 shekel slushy from the pizza store). That was about 2 hours ago. Hmmm. At about the same time, Barbara and Becky left on a highly covert operation. They said they were taking their collective 7 shekels and walking to the makolet to buy slushies. When they wouldn’t let Rosie come I began to suspect something a little more complex. They are still not home but I’m confident the story will ultimately involve closer to 20 shekels (smuggled out in a sparkling pink pocketbook) and lots and lots of Hubba Bubba Tape.

Becky and Barbara met up with Bob and Rosie. Each one (minus Bob) walked in with a Hubba Bubba Tape dispenser of gum. There are 6 feet of tape in each package. Rosie walked in with no less than 3 feet in her mouth. The entire front of her face was protruding as she struggled to chew. She looked, well, like Curious George.

With the magic button making the water hot via super expensive electricity we are still limited to four hot showers. Thankfully what passes for Asher’s shower is like a blink in time. Barbara will shower with Becky and then there’s those 3½ buckets that were heated by the sun….a bonus, I suppose. Looking forward to our trip to the north. To a hotel. With showers. Without quotas.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #18 – flying carpets, made in USA, keeping a low profile in the gush center

There’s a little boy who lives in the downstairs apartment in our house. He lives there with his mom and dad and there’s also a little baby. The loud crying kind. A few days ago the boy appeared in our garden. He speaks only Hebrew and he was saying something very excitedly about us not being allowed to play in the garden. The next day when I came downstairs he was in our living room. Bob had let him in and though the kids were preoccupied with their DS, he seemed very comfortable just wandering around. I asked him his name – Matan. Matan knocked on the door during Shabbat lunch. And he was here again this morning. Matan’s father does something with wood – I’m not sure if it’s his job or his hobby. Each evening his electric saw is going. Matan’s mother is busy with her baby. I hear my kids speaking with Matan. The older ones really speak with him – in Hebrew. Rosie tries her best. She tells him Ken (yes) and Lo (no) and today she busted out with Beseder! (okay).

So we live over Matan’s family and next door to us is a house under construction – a “shellet” in Hebrew. Since we live in the hills, the land for this house is below Matan’s house. This morning in a fit of unpacking enthusiasm we unpacked the area rugs for the kids’ rooms. Barbara’s from BJ’s – “it looks like a beach towel – it’s so small”, Rosie and Becky’s from Land’s End – big and luxurious and the envy of the rest of the family, and Asher’s from JC Penny on-line – a Yankee’s rug that surely was made in China, shipped to the Port of Newark, trucked to a JC Penny warehouse somewhere until my order at which time it was trucked to Brooklyn, then packed in my container and shipped from Bayonne to Israel. And if it didn’t smell when it left China, well then it picked up a smell somewhere along the way. So we hung it out on our side balcony – the one attached to the laundry room, over Matan's house, over the land with the shellet, the balcony with all the laundry lines and clothespins which I have used all of one time until today to air dry some shirts I had spot cleaned and then forgotten about for two weeks. It’s a wonder the wind did not blow them away.

So we left to the Gush Center to pick up some essentials (shower hose, hot water pot for Shabbat, hot plate for Shabbat, toaster oven) and to grab some essential ice cream and ice coffee. Every electric appliance we’ve purchased since we’ve been here has been “Gold Line” brand which boasts “AMERICAN - USA!” really big all over it. I have to check the box because I am so sure it is made in China. In 37 years of living in America and at least 11 of them spent buying appliances I never once came across Gold Line brand. Anyway, Bob has a funny ringtone on his phone for calls that come in from people his phone doesn’t recognize – it’s the “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” song. And while we’re navigating the Gush Center, trying to keep our kids quiet, trying to decide on the appropriate size for a toaster oven (Gold Line makes 3 sizes) and trying to conduct a conversation a kindly gentleman has struck up with Bob about being new to Israel, Bob's phone rings. And it's really loud. “It’s peanut butter jelly time, peanut butter jelly time, peanut butter jelly time, peanut butter jelly time. Where ya at? Where ya at? Where ya at? Where ya at? Peanut butter jelly, peanut butter jelly, peanut butter jelly with a baseball bat” and it’s as if we’re stuck inside a really loud skipping record in the Gush Center – for some reason the ringer isn’t stopping and everyone there is staring at Bob who is staring at the phone wondering who is calling him.

When we get home from the Gush Center the first thing Bob sees is that Asher’s area rug is no longer hanging from the laundry lines. Some investigation leads him to the adjoining lot which is below Matan’s house and seemingly unreachable from our property. He and Asher walk on the security road behind our house. Asher wondering all the while what will happen to them if the security cameras see them on the road. Will they be shot at? Will they get run over? Bob had to explain to him a little about the purpose of the security road. When they couldn’t access the lot they came back and tried from a neighbor’s back yard. They made a new friend but alas, no access to the resting spot of Asher’s fly-away carpet. When they returned home, Matan was out front and the kids explained to him, in Hebrew, about the flying carpet and about how it seems impossible to reach it. Each kid devised a plan to get the carpet but each plan was prefaced with “Aba - this will be risking your life but...” Ultimately it was Matan’s dad who climbed a seemingly un-climbable fence and rescued the Yankees from further disgrace.

We’re desperately trying to get to the north on Tuesday. We must first exchange the Ford Focus for our brand new Chevy Uplander(!!!!), then wait for the gas (balloon) technician to check my connections (Bob’s interpretation of this event – they come for money – he’s gearing up for a fight), then take Becky to meet her teachers at school for half an hour. Then get on the road. And we have no directions. Note to self: Get directions.

While most of Israel is getting in their last minute vacations and ultimately getting ready for school (which starts on September 1st), as the advertising specialists would have you believe, most of Jerusalem is counting down the minutes to GAP. That’s right. The GAP is opening its doors on Shopping Avenue (aka Mamilla Mall) this Tuesday. Will the goods come in at half price since we’re halfway to Asia and even closer to Pakistan? Doubtful but I’ll let you know.

It’s funny what catches on here and what doesn’t. To save my life I can’t find a case of Coca Cola in cans for Bob to drink. But I could buy a 5-pack of 1.5 liter bottles of – would you believe? – RC Cola. Next to the Tnuva dairy trucks, the Nestle NOK OUT trucks and the local tomato/cucumber/watermelon delivery trucks, I would say the RC Cola trucks are the most commonly sighted delivery trucks in all of Israel. RC Cola – go figure.

The Wii is hooked up. And so all of our addictions may now be fed. I left for a leisurely 1½ hour trip to the makolet – ALONE – wandering the aisles, making small talk with old friends (remember my tour guides to Ir David via Silwan?), learning new vocabulary (economica means bleach), and finding mother’s little helper (the six-pack of parve chocolate bars) on sale. I ran into a neighbor just back from America. She asked what I was making for dinner and then complained that all she’s been making is schnitzel tieraz (corn schnitzel) and cream cheese sandwiches. I suggested she add fish sticks and salami sandwiches to her repertoire and she’d be on par with the haute cuisine of our summer. When I returned I simply called up to the open attic window – “Anybody home?” and the rest of my family appeared in the window asking if I needed help from the car. Wii. Trying hard to find something good about the Wii. Bringing families together?

My dear friend Michele once corrected me when I said I hated something. It’s better to say “I don’t care for it,” she advised. I try to encourage my kids in this manner. Clearly I forgot about my husband and another dear friend. B’kitzur, Bob hates the fans, Natalie hated the cantaloupe pillar. I don't care for the Wii. But I still love my Maytag.

Enjoy some Peanut Butter Jelly Time:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #17 - a low profile dud shemesh and the problem with Amerikayim

I’ve been hounding my landlord to come fix my dud shemesh for two straight weeks. Also there’s the issue of the second floor air conditioning which dumped no less than five full buckets of water through the ceiling vent exactly 2 minutes after the painters finished painting that part of the ceiling. I joke with Bob that what we’re wasting on electricity (each time we push the magical button to heat the water electrically), we’re saving by not being able to run the upstairs air conditioner. But as time wears on, my patience is wearing thin. When the washer-dryer installation guy told me the drain for the washer was leaking and needed to be moved, it came time to stop waiting for the landlord and hire a plumber. I posted that I was looking for a plumber on the Efrat Chat list. That was at about one in the morning before I went to bed. When I got up and checked the computer before 8 there were about 10 responses. Most of them pointed to the same guy so I called him. And he said he was on his way. But then, too soon after he hung up, there was someone at the door. What do you know – it was my landlord. He turned on the hot water (which OF COURSE was hot) and then explained to me that if there is already hot water this early in the morning (9-ish) then there must have been hot water all night long. I explain to him that NO THERE WASN’T and he starts lamenting about how Amerikayim use too much hot water. They love hot water. Now he’s saying all this in Hebrew to the plumber who walked in (how awkward!) just a minute after him. And now she wants to put in a hot water feed for her American washer – what a waste! We go over the fact that I have not yet run the washer, that I have not yet run the dishwasher, that all we’ve been using any hot water for during the day is to wash our hands! He keeps telling me how the dud has 200 somethings of water and it should be plenty but Amerikayim use too much hot water. When I ask about the air conditioner he suggests I run it for an hour and see how much water comes out. I look at him like he’s insane and tell him I can’t deal with water pouring from my ceiling just now. He shrugs. As he’s leaving, I am situated on my club chair in the back corner of my living room, the chair from which my babysitter said it looks like I am ruling the house. She called it my throne. From there, I said goodbye to the landlord who is telling me that all my problems are not really problems – not his problems anyway. He’s visibly uncomfortable from the defeated and sad look on my face but other than that, I feel powerless from my throne.

After he leaves I ask the plumber just how much water is in my dud. 200 somethings turns out to be just 35 gallons. Enough for four showers. But we’re not getting even one. Something is amiss. He mentions something about my dud being low profile. Normally I like to be low profile but I’m not sure having a low profile dud is such a good thing – whatever that means. He’s coming back Sunday to inspect the dud. But he did fix the drain and hot water for the washer. Alas, the sweetest sound I’ve heard in weeks is that of my Maytag washing machine running for the first time ever.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #16 – a memorable tiyul and a Kotel memory

Jeep rides, Gush Etzion springs, and pish.
My kids finished camp today – there was a final show with some dancing and gymnastics. The girls were in it – they did a little twirly dance. Asher wanted no part of it. He opted out. After camp, they spoke about the show a little bit but it was nothing compared with how they came from camp yesterday. Yesterday was a jeep tour (jeeps came and picked up the kids – 7 per jeep – am I the only one thinking about lice jumping from head to head in a squishy jeep? – for an off-road ride through dirt and dust) which included a stop at the Gush Etzion springs (picture Poland Springs, now take away most of the water and add some mud), and during which, some of the children “needed to make! And the counselors said they should make in the bushes! They said everyone in Israel makes in the bushes! So everyone made in the bushes. Except for two people who were scared but everyone else made in the bushes! There was a bush and a rock and that’s where everyone made! In the bushes! Because in Israel, everyone makes in the bushes!” Most conversations throughout the course of the day reverted to the event of making in the bushes. Seems it made an impact. When Rosie mentioned she wanted to come to the big kids’ camp for the last day of camp, Barbara told her she can’t come to big kids’ camp unless she knows how to make in the bushes. I kept trying to steer the conversation back to the (seemingly) more interesting part of the trip. The jeep tour? (Dusty). The springs? (Muddy. Oh yeah, and Asher fell in. And that was right before everyone had to make. So they made in the bushes.) In my head I was singing that song from Sesame Street – the one showing everyone sleeping that goes, Everybody Sleeps, and then the re-make of it showing everyone eating that goes, Everybody Eats. Only in my head it went, Everybody Makes.

Last night we had occasion to visit the Efrat Emergency Medical Center – the plaster dust in my house plus the dust from the off-road jeep ride was enough to trigger Asher’s asthma. And though I KNOW I compulsively packed Xopenex, it was no where to be found. At the medical center, which looked like an oversized bomb shelter with a few ambulances out front and exactly one staffer, we waited for the little girl ahead of us to get a few stitches and then we were seen. Asher got his meds and once the nurse/doctor/plastic surgeon/ambulance driver/secretary-lady was satisfied his airways were clear, she sent us home with one dose of the medicine for the morning. And some instructions. In America there are little plastic ampules – you rip off the top, squeeze the contents into the cup and throw away the plastic. Here in Israel you take a syringe, pull out 5ml from a glass bottle, squeeze it into the cup, use the syringe to pull 2 ml of special water out of a plastic ampule and squeeze that into the cup, then wash the syringe for next time and store the medicine and special water in the fridge. Simple enough. Ugh. When she asked me how long I’ve been here that I still don’t have a pediatrician she stopped short of reprimanding me but suggested strongly I get one right away. And less than 24 hours later we were sitting in the home-office of our new pediatrician. Who has evening hours (that would be 2 hours) 3 days each week, a morning hour (like exactly one hour in the morning) 2 days a week, and some emergency hours on Friday. The good news is he re-assured me only I need to deem it an emergency to come on a Friday – he will not judge. Baruch Hashem.

A deal I will ultimately have to pay for.
In some delusional moment of weakness when the kids asked me if they could unpack some of their boxes (the ones adorning their rooms) I said sure but that they must put away whatever they unpack. Deal. It is now 9 o’clock at night. My hallway is filled with empty boxes. Each kid’s room is littered with clothes, books, toys and miscellaneous goods (screws, hair clips, shower caps). At 5:30 this evening, in the middle of the unpacking event (who am I kidding – they just wanted the empty boxes to play in) we needed to leave to make the new doctor’s evening hours. From there we visited Burgers Bar where Rosie ate her way through most of our order. She was alternating schnitzel fingers with a giant hot dog (in the giant Burgers Bar bun) and devoured an order of fries, solo. When she picked up Asher’s uneaten hot dog it occurred to me she must be growing. And now the kids are bathing and getting ready for bed, stepping over all the goodies lining the floor. The activity for tomorrow morning – clean our rooms! Let’s see how that one goes…

Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh Elul – a morning for grownups.
The bar mitzvah was beautiful – we sat in the air conditioned indoor women’s section at the Kotel (for real!) and watched and listened to the bar mitzvah boy (along with about 9 other bar mitzvah boys – each one at their own table with their own entourage including rabbis, video guys, candy throwers, family and friends). This was in addition to the bar mitzvahs going on outdoors simultaneously. The Kotel was packed today – a Thursday (they take out the Torah) and Rosh Chodesh as well. I had to leave early to meet the washer-dryer guy (who was late) but it was still great. I can’t remember the last time I walked through the alleyways of the old city alone. None of my kids stopping, crying in the blazing sun, refusing to walk even one more step. Well maybe I can. It was on my honeymoon. It was Shabbat. Bob and I had walked to the Kotel from the Dan Pearl (outside the Jaffa Gate). We walked through the alleyways and I commented on how I’d never be able to navigate my way from the hotel to the Kotel alone. We got there and he went to the men’s side, I to the ladies side. When I finished praying I went to look for him on the men’s side. There was not a soul there. Literally. Nobody. It was boiling hot. I looked around a bit and then decided he must have finished and gone back to the hotel. And so I walked, through the alleyways, back the way we came. And I made it. All the way back. All alone. Except Bob was not at the hotel. In the boiling heat, the men had gone into the indoor part of the Kotel to take out the Torah. When they came out, I was nowhere to be found. With my words echoing in his ears (I’d never be able to navigate my way alone) he stood there, looking, waiting. He didn’t move. When I’d returned to the hotel, our friend Silby was there waiting for us. When I told him I’d lost Bob he said to stay put and he’d go find him. Silby found a defeated Bob, standing in the Kotel plaza, looking up toward Shemayim. Seems he was looking for some divine guidance on how to explain to my parents he’d lost their daughter 3 days into the honeymoon. Turns out he didn't need it. Hashem sent Silby.

Move over Madison Avenue – Mamila’s got Shopping Avenue
Bad translations are everywhere and everybody loves to find them. The elevator at the Mamila parking garage designates the mall level as Shopping Avenue. As I walked through the Jewish Quarter I noticed a man playing piano. He had a basket in front of him for donations of money. This sight is not unusual to me. I’ve been to Ben Yehuda Street. I’ve taken the NYC subway. I’ve been to Central Park. What was unusual was the sign he had posted. It read, “I sell piano.” Before Rosie and I went to the obstetrician yesterday I bought her what I thought was a Tinkerbell doll – it had lavender hair and wings. When she asked me to open the box in the waiting room I laughed as I read: “They are to bring the spirit of the lucky amiability, beautiful fairy maiden, they are to help your good friend that you realizes your dream, collecting them!” Okaaay.

Everybody Sleeps:

Everybody Eats:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #15 – 2 miracles in one day. and me being a plumber isn’t even one of them.

It’s possible, yes?
There’s a Hebrew word I use more than any other word and I don’t recall using the English of it so much in New York. “Efshar”. (It’s possible, yes?) “Efshar lelechet po?” It’s possible, yes, I can go here? “Efshar lechania po?” It’s possible, yes, I can park here? “Efshar kness po?” It’s possible, yes, I can enter here? And then there’s the dreaded “Eee Efshar” – IMPOSSIBLE. Most things are possible, yes, but once in a while you will encounter “Eee Efshar”. The first I heard of it was when my friend Michal was retelling a bureaucratic tale of woe – and if it sounded harsh in the re-telling, you should know it made her cry when they said it to her face.

Before I left for Israel my obstetrician told me I’ll get great pre-natal care in Israel, not to worry about anything. He also mentioned that they do a lot of sonograms. Something about how they really love to do sonograms. At my first appointment, last month, the doctor, who’d been so easily speaking to me in English, started speaking (at length!) to the baby during the sonogram – in Hebrew. I figured she’d forgotten I was American but then she turned to me and said, very matter-of-factly, “You know your baby already understands Hebrew, right?” A profound medical opinion!

The broken shower, revisited, erev Shabbat.
About 15 minutes before candle lighting I heard a noise outside my bathroom window. I was rushing through my shower and I looked out to see Bob hauling bed boxes to the garbage tank. Seems our movers, who were shocked to receive a tip, had dumped all of our empty moving boxes on our neighbor’s parking pad. Note to self: next time negotiate tip in exchange for box removal. At about the same time, I noticed a bubble in the hose connecting the shower head to the wall in our bathroom. It was puffing up with water to the point I was afraid it would burst. Although the kids’ bathroom has no shower curtain, when Bob came in, exactly 4 minutes before candlelighting I told him “no time to explain – take a shower in the kids’ bathroom – and try not to make a mess.”

After Shabbat Bob inspected the hose in our shower and cut a little hole in the plastic so the water would drain. Problem solved quick and easy – the Israeli way. Saturday, Sunday, Monday went by without incident. And then the hose burst. In the middle of my shower right, where it connects with the shower head. And so it was a déjà vu of my very first shower in this house (minus the freezing water) – something like showering with a garden hose that has the oomph of a power washer. I figured I’d get a new hose at the hardware store. It was higher on the priority list than any of the other things I need from the hardware store (cookie sheets to fit in my ridiculously small no-name European oven, a koum koum to make hot water in the downstairs apartment, a hot water pot for Shabbat).

This morning I woke up at 7:10 and at 7:15 the man delivering my short term small rental car phoned that he was outside. My Chevy Opra miraculously turned into a Ford Focus (these kind of miracles occur at car rental places all over Israel every day) and the kids loved squishing in the back seat on the way to camp. As Rosie and I continued on to my doctor in Jerusalem, we picked up a tremp who re-routed us to a quicker and better way to get to Wolfson Towers. Except that once I dropped her off I got lost. At 9:04 my doctor called to see where I was. By 9:30 I was sitting in her office, apologizing for my lateness. She didn’t care. She was downright giddy about me passing my sugar test. Then she told me to hop on the table so we could check out the baby. With Rosie sitting next to me we got to check out the baby in high-resolution. And as I promised Asher this morning, we asked the doctor to please re-examine the area between the legs. The appointment was quick and as we pulled out of the parking lot I contemplated what we should do next. Malcha Mall for cookie sheets? Coffee with my friends who are in from New York? Just then Rosie said something about needing to pee and my decision was made for me. 20 minutes later we walked into my house.

When the ceiling fan knocked on my door at 11:30 I quickly re-invented the rest of my day. Realizing I may not make it to the hardware store I started thinking about the shower curtain I’d packed for the kids’ bathroom. If I could solve that small problem, I could push off the problem with my shower. I would unpack the kids’ rooms before they returned from camp and set up their bathroom. And so began the hunt for the shower curtain. In my unboxing and searching I came across many things but no shower curtain. When I decided to look in the cabinet in the kids’ bathroom I did not find a shower curtain but I DID find a new shower hose!!! So I abandoned plan B and went back to fixing my shower. I stepped inside, unscrewed the old hose, screwed in the new one, attached the shower head very carefully turned on the water. It worked! But, alas, I could not mount the shower head. Hmmm…. I started to open drawers looking for a little plastic piece I remember Bob purchasing that was just for mounting shower heads. What do you know, the first drawer I opened had the vinyl shower curtain I’d been searching for. But I was so close to succeeding at Plan A and now (getting greedy?) it looked like I might fix my shower AND have the kids’ bathroom ready for them – score! So I examined the hose carefully and realized (duh) I’d hooked it up backward. So I unhooked and rehooked the hose and of course the shower head fit perfectly in the mount. But there was a problem. When I turned on the water the white plastic tubing within the hose started to expand. You’re not supposed to even see that tubing. Mine looked like it was going to explode. And then, of course, it did explode. All over me, exactly one minute before I left to pick up my kids from camp. But not before I quickly hung their shower curtain and said signed off on this issue until Bob returns. Rosie reassured me it was okay to make a mess since I am a grown up and grown ups are allowed to make messes. Loud enough for my ceiling fan guys to hear, I answered that it is okay for me to make a mess because it is ME that cleans up all the messes…

And so I escaped from this mess and picked up my kids. On the way they phoned me from the Moetza (Efrat’s answer to city hall?) to let me know they needed my teudat oleh right away to process my discount for Gan Shalosh (nursery 3) for Rosie. This is kind of funny. I got an email stating that as a new oleh I get a 90% discount on Gan Shalosh – I pay one month’s price for the whole year. So I went in to pay (the people who handle the gan are separate from the people who handle your payment – the same lady who takes your Gan payment takes your property tax payment, etc.) and I asked them to put it on my cartise (credit card). Tashlum echad, I said. The lady looked at me like I was crazy. “It’s a large amount!” I stated the number I was thinking she was charging me and again I got the crazy look. “That is only for one month!” Nachon! I explained to her about the email. She said it couldn’t be. “Eee Efshar!” She phoned her boss. He came to the desk. They conferenced in Hebrew. They both turned to me. “Eee Efshar!” (And then, in case I was not familiar with the Hebrew) “No, absolutely not, it could not be possible and where did you hear such a thing?” From the email! I told them. They demanded to know who sent the email. I told them and they said, no, it's a mistake and there is no such discount. Eee Efshar. This was 2 weeks ago. In any case, today they needed my teudat oleh, which was at home, and so I returned to them. And I inquired again about payment. And so it seems there are miracles occurring all around me today – my Gan Shalosh discount is being processed at this very moment. It’s possible, yes!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #14 – Seasonal items, balloons filled with gas and also cars.

Benatayim. In the meanwhile.
Benatayim we will store my Passover dishes in the middle of the living room. Benatayim we will put the antique desk, the kitchen table, the videos, the Wii, and all of our winter clothes into the attic. Benatayim we will continue renting a car. Benatayim we will eat on plastic. Benatayim we will eat salami sandwiches. And fish sticks. And sometimes corn schnitzel. Maybe eggs. Benatayim we will live with orange plastic garbage bags covering up the shelves of things I’ve painstakingly unpacked and arranged to keep them safe from falling plaster. Benatayim we will struggle to get the orange plastic garbage bags out of the stainless steel garbage can that likes to hold them in snug when they’re full of garbage.

When I asked my friend Michal how it was food shopping here after she first made aliya she complained that she missed strawberries. Not much is imported in the way of fruits and vegetables so we’re left with what grows here, in its season. A foreign concept to my kids who eat grapes, strawberries, kiwi and mango year round. Last summer, once I was settled and ready to hit the makolet, I made my menu, turned it into a shopping list and headed out. I was quickly reminded of Michal’s missing strawberries and of some advice she had picked up – go the makolet first and then make your menu. I had wanted to make spanech jibn. There was Bodek broccoli in the freezer but no Bodek spinach. I spent about 20 minutes examining all the spinach that was there and asking anyone who walked by in really embarrassingly primitive Hebrew if they knew if any of the non-Bodek spinach was checked for insects. Seems none of it was so I went to the Alei Katif section to see if there was fresh. None. I asked when they expected more Bodek spinach. Not for at least 2-3 weeks. Add Bodek frozen spinach to the list of seasonal items in Israel. Before Passover Michal called me with a very specific directive. “Load up your lift with GLAD trash bags. Trash bags in Israel are also seasonal!” Seems there’s only one type that fit her trash can – the green ones – and they are not always available.

Balloons for kids, balloons for moms.
When my order came to 283 shekels in the makolet yesterday the saleslady informed me that, “no it was not possible for me to receive the sale items” since my order was not the necessary 300 shekels. Amazing since my order included 3 32-ounce bags of frozen Bodek spinach – they must have just gotten it in because I’ve been looking for it all summer. I spent 96 shekels on spinach alone. A worthwhile investment I told myself and then imagined myself making spanech jibn for my adoring and appreciative brood. I added a 6-pack of 2-litre water bottles (as necessary as oxygen here). 14 more shekels. The lady tallied up my order and then shook her head. “I’m sorry. You can not have the sale items.” I have a little experience with adding on things at the end of an order to push my total over the necessary minimum. In Brooklyn I had a standard fill-in – bags of chocolate chips. Depending on how close I was to the minimum, I would buy anywhere from one to six bags of them. I didn’t care. I was always baking. So I looked at the woman who had told me ‘no’ with so much formality and finality. And I asked her, “if I buy something else that brings my total to 300 shekels, will you then give me the sale items?” I think what was throwing her was that the sale item I wanted was 2 6-packs of the 2-litre water bottles. She took pains to make sure I understood that I would have to pay full price for the original 6-pack but then, assuming I bought something to bring up my total to 300 NIS, I could purchase an additional 2 6-packs for 10 shekels. But what would I buy, she wanted to know? I looked at the five shekel bottle of ice cold eshkolina (grapefruit soda) in my hand. I was almost finished with it but did I really want another? I still haven’t really figured out my oven so I don’t need more chocolate chips, since I can’t imagine I’ll start baking before I start cooking. Did I mention my 9 year old asked me when I will start cooking real food again. I asked whatever did she mean? Not fish sticks, not corn schnitzel, not salami sandwiches, not hard boiled eggs – real food – “like a piece of chicken or something”. Gasp! Anyway, I looked at the Israeli wafer cookies. Can’t have too much of those. Not expensive enough. Pass. Gum? Not worth any discount – only leads to fighting. Have I mentioned my newest hypothesis – my kids will fight over anything. If I tell them there is a prize in the cereal box (even if there is not and I am just testing my hypothesis), they will fight over who got the last prize and who gets this one. I started buying the mini (prize-less) bags of potato chips because the regular snack bags come with prizes. It goes like this: if Asher is eating chips he gets the prize. But what happens if Bob takes a bag of chips? Who gets the prize then? It becomes an elaborate history of who got the last prize, who has the most prizes, who ate chips the last, etc., etc. With gum the fighting is about how many pieces each kid got including the distribution history of the last 3 packages of gum. No gum. The next thing to catch my eye – balloons. A six shekel bag of 20 balloons. Balloons, for some reason, provide fun in segments longer than one minute and there are so many that once the kids finish fighting over who gets which color (why can’t they sell the entire bag in one color?) they can actually each have a handful with which to play. They blow them up, hold the tops as the air squeals out, sometimes fill them with water (outside!), and at camp they learned to fill them with flour. I choose balloons and then struggle to carry all that water out to my car.

My neighbor calls and insists on bringing me “real dinner”. I protest, telling her my kids love to eat cereal for dinner but she ignores me. I think Barbara ratted me out. She gives me a choice – a dairy dinner – some kind of jibn (notice how she does not specify spanech jibn but rather leaves herself open for a broccoli or squash substitute – clearly a seasoned makolet shopper) or chicken and mashed potatoes. Chicken! Barbara loves mashed potatoes. Hmmm…the evidence is adding up. And so it is settled. Several hours later she shows up with a pot. Is that the mashed potatoes? I wonder aloud, trying to get a whiff. “It’s water, almost boiling. We have a change of plans.” Seems her gas balloon ran out. Yes, that’s right. We live in American style houses, drive big American cars (Chevy Uplander is the newest coolest thing), have high speed internet access (although with daily power outages it can be intermittent) but we do not have gas lines! Well maybe some people do but I do not know of any. Everyone I know has a balloon. Some have big balloons, some small. I have a small one. Benatayim we are using what’s left of the landlord’s gas balloon. So as my neighbor is telling me how her balloon ran out and she called the gas company and they told her they will come with a new balloon in 2 ½ days (that’s when you tell them it’s an emergency – normally the wait is 3-5 days. Yes, that’s normal.), all I can think about is my small balloon outside. Who knows what gourmet dinner I might be preparing when that balloon would run out? In the middle of her disaster I am fixated on averting my own disaster. I have her help me call my landlord so we can discuss how to get the gas company to send ME new balloons. While she’s on the phone I call to Asher to come help me pull the orange plastic trash bag out of the stainless steel trash bin. I struggle a bit and then hold the top of the bag closed while turning the whole can upside down. I’ve figured out how to harness the power of gravity. This goes on several times each day. My neighbor puts her hand over the phone and tells me I’m using the wrong trash bags. I need the clear ones but they don’t sell them in the makolet here. Sometimes they have them in Alon Shvut. If she sees them she’ll buy me some.

This morning my babysitter returned. I was in the middle of trying to get the gas company to send me a technician (since I am a new customer they must examine my connections before they send me any balloons of gas). They tell me Yom Shelishi (Tuesday) and I tell them Yom Rishon or Yom Sheni (Sunday or Monday) but NOT Yom Shelishi. They tell me they can not come before Yom Shelishi. I hand the phone to my babysitter and explain to her that the technician MUST come before I leave for the north on Tuesday. The babysitter repeats my request but with force and in real Hebrew. After a few times calmly but forcefully repeating my request she turns to me. “It’s no problem – they will call you Thursday to let you know what time he’ll be here Sunday.” Amazing how that works.

waiting by the phone for eldan to call me back...

the power of prayer - woo hoo! eldan just called me with my mazda chamesh!

I’m exhausted. And the ceiling fan guy didn’t even get here yet. And we have not even discussed my car situation. The rabbi returned from America yesterday. And, as I should have expected, he needed his car back. And so I returned it. He was gracious and kind and drove me back home with four kids in tow so I wouldn’t have to tremp. And really, truly, between tremping and kindly neighbors, you can get by here for a few days without a car. But there are some events coming up for which I would like to arrive sweat-free in a timely manner with some certainty. Tomorrow I return to the obstetrician in Wolfson Towers and Thursday I have my two Kotel bar mitzvahs. Plus my washer-dryer installer will (please Gd!) be showing up back here at noon. I felt I needed a car sooner rather than later. And so I booked one online with Eldan. I filled out the form, got the 20% internet discount, made an Excel spreadsheet to see how much I’d be paying weekly if I took the car for long term (4 weeks is the same price as 2 weeks!) and decided to rent the 7 seater Mazda Chamesh (Mazda 5) for a month. It was easy and it was fun. I pressed the button to submit the reservation. A notice came back to me. Reservation submitted. I will hear from an Eldan representative within 48 hours. Huh? I called the Jerusalem branch right away. Do you or don’t you have the Mazda Chamesh? She would not tell me and she asked me if I’d read what it said on the internet? The part about waiting 48 hours. Was she kidding? “You have to be patient. Someone will call you.” I tried using my new fighting persona with her but she had the upper hand. “If you want the discount you must wait.” Since the discount was about $400 I figured I’d wait. So I waited. On the first day, nothing. The second day started and I could wait no more. I called to check on my reservation. Seems it was not in the system. I should come in. “I am pregnant, hitchhiking with four kids and no husband. I will NOT come in!” (Scary how easily I’ve transitioned into fighting mode though I’ve decided it’s not really fighting – just strong negotiations, at all times). He agrees to make the reservation over the phone though he cannot guarantee me the internet price since he ‘does not have access to the website’. Now think this one through with me. Does anyone believe for even one second that the Eldan representatives do not have internet access on their computer or that if they do, they are somehow UNABLE to click on the Eldan website and make a reservation on-line???? B’kitzur (to make a long story short) I am renting a car from another agency who specializes in long term rentals of (what else) Chevy Uplanders! The price is better, and they will deliver the car to my door. Eventually. Benatayim, they will bring me a smaller cozier Chevy Opra (for the price of a Hyndai Getz – I am wheeling and dealing now). At 8am tomorrow so that I can get to my doctors appointment on time. Here’s hoping it has air conditioning.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #13 – birthing pains and fighting the good fight.

My landlord came in the day we were hanging the ceiling fans. There were moving boxes everywhere, piles of plaster dust and chunks, wires popping out of the ceilings and walls and Bob was upstairs scrubbing a mysterious stain off a wall with bleach (we don’t use the “m” word, we call it “retibut”). The landlord smiled and started laughing. He said something in Hebrew that translated roughly to this: with the coming of Moshiach, a new baby, or a new house there is a period of pain to pass through. I thanked him for the words and warned him with a new Hebrew word I recently picked up ‘Sakana!’ (danger) as he walked upstairs to check on Bob, who was, no doubt, passing through a period of pain at that very moment.

Spent the day fighting. Feeling more Israeli by the minute.
Normally I back away from a fight. I give up parking spaces to people who came after me but think they were there before me. I yield to people who cut the line. When I told my friend Natalie I was moving to Israel she laughed. She said they’ll eat you alive there. I have strong opinions and will yell and scream about politics and all sorts of stuff but when it comes to face to face confrontations, I am the definition of non-confrontational. That’s who I’ve been up til now, anyway. Somehow confrontations feel personal. In Israel, they are more like a sport.

Last night when Bob was packing for the States he did not open his closet and look for clothes. His closet was empty and his clothes, like mine and the kids, were sort of folded, mostly smushed in orange plastic garbage bags all over the floor, all around the house. This is how clothes come back from the laundromat (okay and they come back faster than I have the energy or inclination to put them away). It’s less ‘Fluff and Fold’ and more ‘Fluff and Stuff’. When we notice mysterious stragglers who’ve joined our wardrobe we sort of wonder about what’s gone missing. Like we’ll ever figure that out. And so it’s been for the past month (remember the washer in our first house was broken for more than a week). Now, with my beautiful brand new full-sized American washer and dryer staring me in the face I can’t wait to be done with the laundromat and the orange plastic garbage bags.

The company who carries the warranty for my washer and dryer also does the installation. This is not a ‘welcome to Israel’ gift – I paid for this service! Like so many companies in Israel, they only send servicemen to Gush Etzion (Efrat is in Gush Etzion) once a week (I’ve heard some only send once a month!). When I called to let them know my washer and dryer had arrived they told me they’d let me know which day they would be in the Gush. The next day they called back to tell me they were coming this Thursday between 9 and 11. I hesitated when she said Thursday and she was quick to offer the following Thursday as an alternate date. Knowing full well I will be in the north on the following Thursday and that the first time I’d be doing my own laundry would be early September I quickly told her to keep me on for this Thursday.

Two of my good friends are here in Israel to make bar mitzvahs for their sons. The bar mitzvahs are on the same date and at the same time. But instead of splitting my time and running from one to the other, I get to attend them both as they occur simultaneously at the same place. This Thursday at 9am I fully plan to be at the Kotel.

I explain this to the coordinator for my washer-dryer service call. I ask her to kindly switch me with one of the afternoon appointments in the Gush. Since they did not offer me a choice of time I can’t imagine they offered anyone else a choice. And so, why can’t they just call someone back and tell them their time has changed? She tells me if she can do it she will. And I believe her.

I called her back today, re-introduced myself, re-stated my request and asked her how it was coming. She said she hadn’t been able to make any changes. I pushed a little asking if she could make some calls to switch my appointment. She said she’d have to speak with her boss. We left it at that.

I mentioned the scenario to my babysitter today. She laughed and said they are not going to just switch my time like that. I told her about the ‘speaking to the boss’. She laughed and encouraged me to call back and fight. I called the lady back, re-introduced myself and repeated my request for a time change on Thursday. She patiently advised me that she knows I need a time change but no one has called in to cancel their appointment yet. And so the fight began. “You cannot WAIT for someone to cancel their appointment! You scheduled a whole day in the Gush, nachon?” Yes. “You gave me no choice as to my time. Did other people get a choice?” No. “So you can call someone with an afternoon appointment and tell them you have changed them to a morning appointment, yes?” Then some muttering about how her service guy has to be back at the central office early. “What time does he leave the Gush?” Some stuttered answer about he leaves when he’s finished, no particular time. “So he can come to me in the afternoon, yes?” Something about speaking with her boss. I was about to demand to speak with her boss (Bob taught me this trick) when she mentioned her boss is out of the office. I restated my request which, by now, had become a demand. I feel empowered by the babysitter cheering me on from the couch. It really IS a sport!

I hang up with her and move on to my next opponent. Before Bob packed his bags last night he swept up chunks of plaster and tons of dust. As he was sweeping I was wiping down every exposed surface with Lysol wipes (which arrived on my lift just in time!). While he was packing I continued sweeping. This morning when the Sparkle cleaning girl arrived I put her on the job. She spent 4 hours cleaning up the dust and plaster mess. And so I email the ceiling fan guy telling him not to come back to my house before calling to speak to me first.

When my phone rang I was ready to pounce. Alas it was the service coordinator! She was able to change my appointment after all. Thursday from 12-4. I blessed her with long life, told her she was a tzadeket, and thanked her profusely, to the point of making her uncomfortable.

And then I called up the ceiling fan guy. I mentioned the amount of cleanup involved after his visit, the fact that he’d not forewarned me, and that he’ll need to show up tomorrow a little more prepared (read: drop cloths). He gave me a whole thing about how this isn’t America and why he can’t come prepared with drop cloths and that plastic tablecloth covers are the best he can do and if I want he’ll even go to the store and buy them for me. Yes, I told him. Go to the store and buy them for me. Not much of a victory – I know I will be left with another ridiculous mess. At least this time I am anticipating it. And soon I will have ceiling fans. To enjoy the glorious wind. Which still smells like poop.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #12 – the lift, falling plaster, the problem with natural fertilizer, and some recycling fun

thinking about unpacking my lift alone, self-medicating with chocolate

my tatooed ethiopian moving men asked me where they could wash netilat yadaim before they ate their pizza. :)

Over the last week or so, our lift at sea has become a sort of mythical place. Asher dreams about his Wii floating around in the ocean, being guarded by sharks, safely inside the lift. Everything Becky can’t find since we moved from the first house to Zerubavel Rosie reassures her is “On the lift. In the ocean!” Where is my hat? My robe? My pillow? My this and my that? “On the lift. In the ocean!”

Exactly six weeks to the day from when we stood in front of our two-thirds full container lamenting how little Bounty we had bought and joking about living in the container itself if we really want to fit in (in the “shtokim”), a Russian driver and a crew of Ethiopian and Moroccan moving men pulled up with our much anticipated lift. The day went quickly with breaks for pizza, water and cigarettes. At one point there were Bob Marley tunes (funny – we had moved out to Bob Marley as well) and a lot of laughs – receiving your goods is so much better than sending them off. We opened the couches from Jennifer and wouldn’t you know it. They are the color of chocolate. There is not a camel in the universe that color. Is it a sign? Please, Gd, let there be more chocolate in my future than camels! We laughed about it because chocolate looks great with the new paint (although I am still not sure about the cantaloupe colored pillar in my living room) and because – really – what else is there to do but laugh? My friend ordered a cream chenille rocker to her lift and it showed up, here in Israel, in yellow corduroy.

Ceiling Fans – Wind at a Price.
I am now seeking refuge in the frying closet. And not because I have the overwhelming urge to fry. I simply want to be in a part of my house that is free of dust, dirt and chunks of plaster. Today, after four separate visits from the Sparkling Cleaning Service, including one after the landlord moved out, one after the painters finished, and one before the lift arrived (I am not even counting my own compulsive late night bleach spraying cleaning sprees), the ceiling fan installation crew hit my house like a ton of ‘blokim’ (cinderblocks). And unlike all the previous messes, this mess caught me off guard.

The houses are made of blokim. If you want to extend an electrical wire through a cement wall, there is going to be some damage to the wall and (make no mistake) most certainly, a dumping of plaster onto whatever surface is exposed. In my case that would be every bed, dresser, counter and half-unpacked moving box in each bedroom. Lucky for me, they did not finish in one day and they will return Tuesday to wreak havoc on my living room, dining room and kitchen. Bob is regretting the move to put in ceiling fans – I say we’ll be so happy one they’re in. The wind is one of the most amazing things about where we live. So many houses in Efrat do not even have air conditioning but rather rely on open windows and ceiling fans to bring in (and circulate!) the delicious wind from outside.

Is it a conspiracy or just fertilizing season? Why am I thinking about gas masks?
So the wind is always blowing in Efrat – more so later in the day – and with that wind comes the scent of lemon grass, rosemary, lavender, fig, olive and almond trees and everything else that grows in the valley below our house. Or so it’s been until yesterday. I awoke to the sound of a braying donkey. Not unusual. Arab farmers have little plots of land on the hills just below our house. They tend to the land as needed, often with a donkey in tow. But yesterdays “tending” seems to have left a scent of the donkey’s “business” blowing in the wind for the rest of the day and again today. Hmmm…..

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle – it comes naturally when you love the land.
In Brooklyn these were mostly buzzwords. My kids would come home from yeshivah, talking about saving the planet and recycling. Tonight, when Barbara looked out my window and saw that the garbage men had come and emptied the tank but left behind all the cardboard and boxes surrounding the tank she was shocked and mortified. “You mean the garbage men are just doing this for the money? Not to keep our land clean?” Then and there she announced her plans to pursue a career as a garbage lady in the aretz.

On the local chat list there are constantly posts by people giving away everything from old furniture and old books to broken appliances, closets, doors – really just anything you can imagine and everything that we would have not given a second thought to taking to the curb, back in New York. So when we started unpacking our lift Bob asked me to put up a post in case anyone needs boxes and packing paper. We have 100 of them, remember? We got responses from people who needed just that and the boxes have been disappearing from the front of our house at a steady pace!

When my landlord stopped in last week and saw us collecting water from a leaking pipe in the bathroom he made sure we were planning to use that water either for sponga or to water plants. We’d just had the ceiling fan guy over to give an estimate and we were flicking all the light switches on and off to see which controls what. Seems we left one light on. In the middle of the day. The landlord wanted to know why we had a light on in the middle of the day? We pay for the water and we pay for the electricity but the true Israeli mindset is one of conservation. Bob loves that and is striving to be Israeli in this way in particular. When the cleaning service had a bucket of used sponga water he was quick to tell them not to throw it out – we used it to sponga the front patio. We are re-filling our Rubbermaid water bottles, re-using bath towels and pajamas, hardly using paper towels at all, and saving uneaten bowls of (milk-less) Cini Mini’s for snack time.

In the middle of all the balagan (craziness) today, Bob went to pick up the kids from camp. He called to tell me some exciting news – something about a Mai Eden bottle he’d seen at the makolet to collect air conditioning water. “Huh?” I asked, but he had to hang up. When he came home, he took our empty 6 liter Mai Eden bottle, laid it down sideways in front of the house and then fed the air conditioning drainage tube into the mouth. In an hour’s time of using the air conditioning (yes, the air conditioning! The wind was blowing bad smells on a hot day!) he had enough clean water to water all the plants we have in the house (8 cacti plus several leafy plants). And there was no water pooling on the patio in front of our house. Two problems solved! He was so proud. I told him his inner Israeli was shining through.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #11 – 2 forgotten days revisited

One day last week:
There is no ready-made glucose drink waiting for me in the refrigerator of the Kupat Cholim Medical Center but rather, the nurse mixes it for me while I wait – a hot sugary beverage in two impossibly thin disposable plastic cups. The walls are covered in posters, signs and flyers. When will I be able to read and make sense of these things? I sit and try to decode each sign, slowly, word by word. They say it takes years. Today I have three hours. Zmahn. (Time).

At night I wake up to the sound of a screaming cat and then barking wild dogs. I think the dogs are eating the cat but she keeps screaming and they keep barking and I realize she is giving birth outside my window in the valley below. Later I dream cats are living in the empty room that will soon, Gd willing, be the nursery.

The next morning the beds are damp from the thick morning dew. As if, with our air mattresses, cold showers and steady supply of cream cheese sandwiches, we’ve been camping outdoors instead of indoors. A preview of fall and winter in the aretz.

The kids start camp. Special ulpan camp for olim. No health form. No liability release. No permission slips for trips, though there are trips. Trips to Latrun (Mini Israel!), to the Biar – ancient underground mud and water tunnels, here in Efrat, dating back to Shelomo HaMelech, to the pool in Tekoa, and to visit Chayalim (soldiers) at a local shooting range. There was a total of one email about camp consisting of the date, time, place, and price.

One day last summer:
So the second biggest food item in Israel (after chocolate) is “toot”. Toot is Hebrew for strawberry and you can find toot most everywhere. Asher drinks toot-banan (strawberry-banana) “nectar” every morning in lieu of orange juice. The kids all enjoy toot yogurt and also toot banan yogurt. There is toot ice cream, toot slushies and (for me, the most offensive) toot marshmallows. The crazy thing is that you cannot buy regular white marshmallows. Every package of marshmallows has a little toot surprise in it. Perhaps there are 10 white marshmallows and 4 pink (toot) ones. I consider this a best-case scenario. Often, however, the ratio is reversed. Then there is my least favorite toot surprise – a bag of seemingly white marshmallows but then a marshmallow rolls over on the counter and you notice the underside of the marshmallow is PINK. Yes, in Israel they have figured a way to make a marshmallow exactly half-toot.

So I have completed a night of cooking. In Brooklyn, lahamagine is my easiest appetizer. I buy the dough. I buy the oot. I buy the meat. I mix it up and make it. In Israel it has been an ongoing process since I got here. I feel like the little red hen. i bought flour but then spent 2 weeks searching for a flour sifter. I found the sifter, sifted the flour and made the dough. Then I took my list of ingredients for ‘fake oot’ to the makolet and spent an hour searching for prune juice. I got it plus the other ingredients and spent 4 hours tonight simmering and stirring my fake oot. i just tasted it and can’t believe it actually tastes normal. Now I have to get the meat and finish the project. Not so hard but really not so easy either.

I also made marshmallow logs (hence the search for toot-free white marshmallows). They came delicious, as always.

I took the kids to Ir David (the City of David) today. Most normal people meet a tour guide at the Kotel and walk 10 feet outside the Old City into Ir David. Those 10 feet are in “East” Jerusalem but it’s no big deal. The people I went with wanted to drive directly to Ir David. They felt driving there was no big deal. After all, we’d be driving right next to the walls of the old city. So we caravanned in but our leader made a wrong turn and we found ourselves driving deeper and deeper into Silwan, the Arab neighborhood surrounding the City of David and from which gunfire is often heard Saturday nights at the Kotel. There were three of us (cars) so there was some feeling of security but not much. We finally parked and then walked for a good 8-10 minutes up a very narrow road with about 13 of our combined children walking in the street and trying to avoid being hit. We finally got to the City of David, bustling with families and tourists who’d most surely just walked over from the Kotel and experienced no anxiety whatsoever. The contrast between our previous half hour and the scene inside was like night and day. I wish I could say more about Ir David but all I know of it is there are tons of stairs. I carried Rosie in a stroller down and up all those stairs while trying to coax a miserable and hysterically crying Becky to walk with me. Ultimately it was Asher and Barbara who got the real tour – there are these underground water tunnels from 3000 years ago that the kids walked through for more than an hour. It was pitch black – they needed flashlights – and there was water I think to their knees.

Tomorrow I’m planning to catch an early bus from the community center in Efrat to Kever Rachel in Bet Lechem with Barbara. They give a women’s class (in English I hope) each week.

I just tasted my fake oot again. I still can’t believe it tastes normal.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

swirling thoughts #10 - bituah leumi workers are on strike. what's everyone else's excuse?

barbara and asher take out the trash for me every night. barbara carries the bag and asher scares away the cats. they come back in a fit of giggles each time.

My kids are enjoying a ton of freedom here (and the added responsibility that comes with that) – at nine years of age you are officially permitted to cross the street by yourself in Israel – there are actually signs attesting to this posted all over Jerusalem. Probably to keep the under-nine crowd from crossing, and not because the nine-plus crowd would otherwise back away from such a task! The kids walk to friends’ houses. Barbara picks up Rosie from camp and birthday parties. They eat slushies on a park bench outside the makolet while I shop. And every night before they go to sleep they take out the garbage. This is a multi-dimensional task, depending on how long it’s been since the garbage was last collected from the big tank in the street. The number of cats lurking in and about the garbage tank grows as the tank fills and overflows. On several occasions, as Asher would tell it, cats have looked at him, licked their lips and tried to eat him. And so, we use the buddy system. One to ward off hungry-for-children cats, another to quickly dump the garbage – either in the tank or very close to the tank, depending on how overflowing it is…

step one of fourteen in the long and involved process of procuring an israeli drivers license (the eye test) - completed. that's two tests i passed this week (passed glucose test with flying colors!). but will i pass the sanity test when bob leaves as the lift arrives...?

The DMV in Israel
Okay, so it’s called Misrat HaRishu’ii – Licensing Bureau – but the model was culled from some twisted combination of Soviet Russia and the Coney Island Department of Motor Vehicles. You walk in through a metal detector and reveal the contents of your handbag – for the express purpose of reminding you that you are still in Israel. They didn’t let me walk through the metal detector – in fact it was forbidden since I am pregnant. Not the first detector I’ve encountered – but definitely the first I was denied access to. Curious. So we enter and immediately it becomes clear we have entered some sort of alternate universe. There is a room with a ton of people in line but nobody behind the counter to wait on them. We pass this room and enter the larger main room. Just like the DMV in Coney Island there are rows and rows of chairs, all facing a row of windows. Again there are NO agents manning the windows. All around there are flyers stating different types of information, some in Hebrew, some in Arabic and some in Hebrew with Arabic, English and Russian translations. There was one particular sign which was repeated in every language and was posted multiple times around the room. It read: 10:40-11:00 BREAK. They weren’t kidding. It was as if someone froze the scene and then removed all the staff. People were seated at the windows as if they were in the middle of being helped when BREAK started.

So of course I wanted to photograph this scene. I took out my camera and sneakily held it around a corner to capture the line of people in the first room – it was a colorful cast of characters, really – like one of those Israel posters with all the different faces. Then the larger room – I discretely photographed a bunch of people sitting in the rows awaiting the end of BREAK. I figured the photo array would be complete if I could capture the BREAK sign above the line of empty windows. So I held up my camera so I could get a really good shot of the sign and the windows and suddenly I hear “GIVERET! GIVERET!” (Lady! Lady!) I look and there is a police officer running toward me. I anticipate him pouncing on me and confiscating my camera so I hold it out and tell him, “Rak shney” (just two) and I show him the two I’ve taken and then the picture of Becky eating a blue lollipop and showing off her reptilian looking blue tongue. “See! Rak shney!” He stands over me while I delete the two pictures and then we go through the pictures again – Becky’s blue tongue, a picture of the painters in my house (I had to photograph them to contrast with the pic I took of Bob after he painted – it was really quite comical), one of Rosie and Becky eating yogurt on chairs outside my front door because I’d just cleaned the floor and wouldn’t let them eat it inside the house – until he is satisfied and he sends me on my way with a grunt about not taking pictures here.

Bob was finding out where we should go and missed all the action. He did, however, return with some important info. We need to go further, yashar yashar and then to the left to a ‘cheder katan’ (small room) to speak with Yanna. We get there and again, every booth has someone sitting on the “customer” side of the window and not a soul on the staff side. The room is full of people waiting and the machine which dispenses numbers has no more numbers. We look around and some gentlemen (also waiting) inform us that we are after one of them – the one in the yellow shirt. It’s surreal. BREAK is officially over and there is an influx of staffers in the hallway and slowly they trickle back to their window stations. In the hallway Bob asks one of them about the number machine. She waves him off and tells him to go back to the cheder katan. As a woman enters the area behind the glass windows Bob asks her which window we should go to. She waves him away without an answer. Bob goes up to a woman in the window and now the gentlemen who told us our place in line are talking amongst themselves in a mix of Hebrew and Arabic. Enough for me to understand that they are not about to let Bob cut the line. They tell him as much but at the same time the woman behind the counter looks up. He tells the men and the woman he just wants to know which window we should go to when it is our turn. They all answer – “SHTIAM!” (two). From there, although from the look of it you would never believe it, the whole thing ran very smoothly. One of the gentlemen went to window two and then the next. Then the man in the yellow shirt and then Bob and I stepped up.

“Yanna?” We asked. “Yes, Yanna.” We showed her our papers complete with photographs, eye test results and medical exams. She took one look and asked “Olim chadashim?” (new olim). “Nachon.” “Who told you to come to me?? You are supposed to be in the “cheder gadol” (the big room)!” We go through a lot of “oh, but we didn’t know, and they told us to come here and they even said to ask for Yanna”, etc. – all true – and Yanna agrees to help us – this once. Stamp, stamp, stamp – she must have taken out 7 different stamps and finally she sent us on our way. Bob, knowing full well but hoping for a better answer, asked her “What’s next?” A driving lesson and a driving test. Who does Yanna recommend? “Where do you live? Efrat? Don’t you have any friends in Efrat you can ask?” Come again? “Maybe you can look at the yellow pages. Look under ‘driving instructor’.” Thank you, Yanna! And so it went.

Our lift was delayed in America. Then at sea. Then in customs in port. Bob has been anxiously pushing our shipper to get us the lift before he leaves for the states (in 2 days). The last email correspondence with the shipper went something like this: Who can I push to make the lift be ready or am I being too israeli? With a response that went something like: I suppose you could call meches, but that would pretty much guarantee a customs exam, at extra costs and delays. And so we accepted the fact that our lift would arrive Sunday, just as Bob was preparing to leave. Imagine my surprise when a man speaking Hebrew called me at 6 o’clock this evening saying something about a lift. “My LIFT?” He asked would it be better if he spoke to me in English. “Yes, that would be MUCH better – when is the lift arriving?” Between 8 and 9 tomorrow (Friday) morning. Baruch Hashem!!! Bob is still here, the painters are finished, the cleaners have come and gone and the novelty of air mattresses has worn off even for the kids. I will soon be surrounded by the 100 boxes I started packing after Pesah - let's see if I can unpack them before next Pesah. More importantly, tomorrow night, with Gd's help, I shall be sleeping in my BED!

Friday, August 14, 2009

swirling thoughts #9 - what's in a name?

On the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliya flight to Israel someone official with a computerized clipboard approached me and asked if I’d wanted to make an official name change now that I’ll have new Israeli identification papers. I thought about it and asked them to drop my maiden name which I’d been carrying around hyphenated on all my official papers for the simple reason that it’s on my passport (and THAT is for the ridiculous reason that when I got married it was easier to get a passport with a hyphenated maiden-married last name then it was to change my American Airlines frequent flyer account in which I’d accumulated more than 50,000 miles in my maiden name). The lady with the clipboard said “No problem!” and that was the end of that. Way too easy. (I’ve since been warned that when someone in Israel tells you not to worry, you should worry and when someone tells you, “Ein Baya!” (no problem), expect many Bayas)!

The day Bob and I went to pick up our temporary health insurance cards we gave our name and the lady looked in her computer and told us, no, we were not yet in the system. Then we remembered my name was probably still the hyphenated maiden-married name so we gave the name that way. “Ah, yes – here you all are!”

There’s a word in Israel that I love – “afook”. You can get your coffee mixed with a lot of milk – they call it afook. Rosie put her shoes on the wrong feet on Shabbat and her friend giggled, “Lo! Afook!” When things are mixed up or upside down they are afook. I wanted to drop my maiden name but instead it was appended to the names of every member of my family. My husband is now carrying around my maiden name, hyphenated to his given name. As are each of my children.

Today as I sat in the kupat cholim waiting for the results of my glucose test, I remembered to give my maiden name but she couldn’t find me anywhere in the system. Now there’s the issue of pronunciation. The way I pronounce the name versus the way the name was originally, by someone official, written down in Hebrew. Evidently it’s a whole different name. So I asked for a new name and it seems I got one.

It’s wedding season in Bet Lehem – take cover!
The place where we live is called Efrat. The biblical significance of this place is tremendous. Bob’s favorite pastime (when not painting small sections of my interior walls or answering the phone with a fake Israeli accent – “AHLO! AHLO!”) is finding references and descriptions of Efrat in the Chumash. (For a crash course on Efrat, check out Bob likes to call Efrat ‘Ramat Bet Lehem’ (Bethlehem Heights) since, from several points in Efrat you are able to look down upon Bet Lehem. In fact, to reach the northern gate of Efrat you must first get around a kikar (traffic circle) which takes you to Bet Lehem to the left, Efrat straight ahead and to a place selling “Old Furniture” (a poor translation for antiques) to the right. Where we live the view is of the Judean Hills (think olive and almond trees, rosemary bushes and lavender) and so you might just forget our proximity to the next town over. That is, until nightfall when, through the valley which separates us, the sounds of our neighbors carry over. Typically they begin with a call to prayer and then the prayers themselves. Depending on the wind it can sound as far as a distant hum or as close as the back yard. Lately there have been celebrations with music – not to be confused with weddings, which have also been occurring almost nightly. Weddings seem to have a distinct sound – it is the sound of guns being fired into the air. Celebratory gunfire. This is part of normal in our part of Israel. Afook.

Becoming Israeli – a bread drawer, a frying kitchen, I draw the line at early bathing.
One of the selling points (for Bob!) of the house we rented was the fact that it has a frying kitchen – literally a room off the main kitchen with an oven, sink, counter and window. It’s about the size of a walk-in pantry (how I wish it WERE a walk-in pantry!). I think Bob imagined us having this very Israeli feature and then becoming very Israeli ourselves – me calling him to come eat his schnitzel and French fries on some sort of regular basis. Does he even know I gave away the Fry Daddy he insisted we buy when we first got married but subsequently used just 2 times? When I described it to my friend Michele I could hear her mind working the possibilities. “Does it have a door?” she asked, “because people always seem to show up just after I’ve fried something.” I went through the mental exercise with her. Fry kibbe on a Friday afternoon or fish on a Thursday morning – the rest of the house stays smelling fresh – it’s like an unattainable dream in Brooklyn, I’m sure. Yes there’s a door. There’s even a window. But without a fan pulling the air OUT, the frying kitchen, to me, is a frying closet. And so I’ve used my frying kitchen to scramble eggs and to prepare lentil soup but not yet to fry…

The bread drawer was another source of excitement for Bob – I don’t know what it is about my husband – most likely a nostalgia for things he saw his Israeli aunts doing when he was a child. Anyway, he opened the drawer, showed me how the cover to the drawer opens and closes and proudly declared, “See! A drawer for bread!”. Thinking about ants and other pestilence, I promptly cleaned out the crumbs and seeds from the drawer with Clorox spray cleaner and re-designated the bread drawer as a smatoot drawer – a drawer for cleaning rags. I see the bread is spoiling very quickly on the counter in plastic bags and I really do wonder if it lasts longer un-bagged and in the drawer. I will never really know and I’m okay with that fact and with refrigerated bread.

Things to do today:
#1. Call dud shemesh dude
A quick primer on hot water in Israel – there is a tank on the roof of your house called a dud (sounds like dude) shemesh (shemesh means sun). The sun warms the water all day and you have hot water almost for free until it runs out. In older neighborhoods the tank is modestly sized and so after a certain number of showers there is no hot water until the sun heats more water in the dud shemesh. Anyone who’s dormed in Jerusalem can attest to this phenomenon, particularly evident erev Shabbat. In newer neighborhoods, especially those catering to Anglos, people will boast about their dud shemesh holding 200 gallons of water. Easily enough for 15 people to shower erev Shabbat. We have such a dud. And in the 7 nights since we moved into this house I have had exactly 2 hot showers. My complaints about the cold showers have been met with concern that we aren’t living “Israeli” enough. Israeli’s start the day early so they probably bathe early so they can go to sleep early. Perhaps by the time I am showering (after midnight), the hot water from the day has cooled down. Can I take a shower with the kids at 7pm? Absolutely not! I am a night owl. I enjoy taking a shower at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning and then crawling into bed. We have a 200 gallon tank. There should be hot water on demand in the summer months, day or night! Baruch Hashem the landlord popped in at about 9 tonight and we ran the water for him. There was already no more hot. He agreed and will bring someone (the dud shemesh dude). I couldn’t be happier. In the meantime I am flicking a switch to turn on the electric hot water heater 30 minutes prior to showering – now that I know about this miraculous switch.

The paint saga drags on…
After some intense negotiations over price, attitude and quality of workmanship, Bob and the bedroom painter made their peace and an agreement was reached for painting the rest of the house (the painter will paint and we will pay). As a bonus, the painter offered (and Bob accepted) to paint one pillar at the entrance to our living room in a contrast color with a Venetian plaster finish. The pillar is now the color of Thousand Island salad dressing. I commented as such and he told me it will look great once he makes it smooth and shiny tomorrow. I am looking at this pillar and wishing I had the strength to get up and cut some cucumbers so I could dip them in some Thousand Island dressing.