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.

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