Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #47 – ulpan, bureaucracy, and the Klausenberger Rebbe

Tomorrow is the first day of ulpan (for me – seems I missed the official first day of ulpan last week ). The car is ready and sechach can be delivered so things are looking up up up.

Sometime later…

Really cheesy ulpan humor
Michigan in Hebrew is spelled like meshugena. Leave it to my ulpan teacher to catch that and have a good laugh. The only Jordan Israeli’s recognize is Michael Jordan. (The river and neighbor are Yardan).

So I spent my first day in Keeta Aleph. We learned “first, second and third body” pronouns, conjugated verbs, and sang B’shanah Haba’ah. There was a lot of in-class talking (on purpose – in Hebrew), a little written class work, and some homework (which I did in my car while waiting for Becky to finish her English kug). We memorized a conversation between Ronny and Donny and then changed Ronny and Donny to Ronit and Daniella and rehashed the conversation in the feminine. My notebook is filled with stick figures of individuals and groups of boys with kippaot and girls with dresses and long hair. It’s not random doodling – this is how I’m keeping it all straight. Ani lomedet. Ata lomed. Hem lomdeem. Hen lomdot. We’re all learning. Slowly.

While I spent the day learning, singing and recapturing the euphoria of first grade (I even brought my own baggie of snacks), Bob tackled the day’s laundry list of hurdles: first the car (fixed – we hope!), then city hall – there were some phantom bills (in Israel, once someone has your credit card number they just bill the card when they feel they should without notifying you OR sending you any type of invoice. They also take the liberty of billing you in installments – this is for your benefit! – but it’s rare someone can tell you what the total bill is and how many installments they have decided to give you). Bob comes home exhausted from these visits to city hall but I think he partially enjoys the drama of fighting with them in Hebrew. There were pre-Sukkot errands (read: lots of time spent in stores practicing savlanut) and a tremping opportunity to further explore the reaches of savlanut (read: waited 20 minutes for a tremp). His fish pond and filter (a success!) provided him some solace from the day’s grind.

Enter the Twilight Zone…
My first experience with mindboggling bureaucracy was probably dealing with the Board of Ed in New York. But that was long ago and long forgotten. And then today, I got a call from the Board of Ed in New York. They wanted to confirm Asher will continue his OT services. I apologized for not reaching them (I had tried!) and explained we had moved to Israel. The woman said, “OK, so I will authorize Asher to continue his services.” No, I said, thinking she didn’t realize what I meant. Asher moved to Israel with me. Again, “So I will authorize Asher to continue his services.” There was no language barrier here and the connection was crystal clear. I explained slowly and firmly: Asher lives in Israel now. He’s in a different country. He will not be there to receive the services you are authorizing. Silence. “OK, so I will discontinue Asher’s services?” Woah.

An aliyah tale for the ages…
I attended an amazing shiur by Rabbi Riskin – welcoming the new olim to Efrat. He told his well-known story about his first lesson in Zionism – based on his experience with the Klausenberger Rebbe. I can’t tell it as well as him so here’s a link if you have 8 or 9 minutes:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #46 – some post-Kippur projects

Sukkah hopping – it’s all the rage
Yom Kippur has barely ended but it’s not the echo of shofars you hear. It’s the din of hammer and nails. We understand that on the 11th of Tishrei, the day after Yom Kippur, Moshe instructed the people to start the construction of the Mishkan. Similarly we have the minhag to start construction of our sukkot the day after Yom Kippur (if not sooner - they start at night here). It’s an exciting time – people are still singing the songs of the day’s tefilah and discussing how meaningful and productive the fast was – as sukkot go up all over the neighborhood. Children are running in and out of each one and the talk of sukkah hopping begins. As my kids reported to me, sukkah hopping is officially defined as the going from sukkah to sukkah and getting candy and can we go, can we go, can we, can we? Hmmm… sounds easy and fun. My biggest challenge now will be getting them to sit through the meal.

The garden, the fishpond, the car – all works in progress
I’m working with my gardener and his (American) encyclopedia of ‘all that grows’ to pick out pretty things that will thrive in a southern California climate. Bob has brought in a helper for his ongoing fishpond project (the goal is a non-leaking, pristine fishpond with a home-made – by Bob – filter in a pretty ceramic pot). For the record my fishpond is about 3 feet across by 2 feet wide. Thankfully the gardener and the fishpond fixer-upper manage their own transportation. Our towing (pulling?) insurance covered a tow (pull?) from Alon Shvut to the mechanic. The definition of tow is a little different here. They put the car in neutral, tie some rope to it and pull. So far the progress is more in the garden and fishpond. I see many tremps in my near future. The biggest challenge this week will be transporting schach via tremp!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #45 – A mechaya (pleasure – that one’s Yiddish)

Daylight savings time ends in Israel just before Yom Kippur – on purpose!
A full five weeks before daylight savings time ends in the US we end it here in Israel. Thankfully just before Yom Kippur. Our fast will start early but will also end early. Selichot at 5am will feel like selichot at 6am and my 6am trip to Kever Rachel will feel like a 7am trip to Kever Rachel. There’s an extra hour to prepare food, say tashlic, do kaparot, pray minha – now somebody here was really thinking! Now if I can only explain the new time difference to those who like to call me in the middle of the night...

Less of a mechaya…
Bob was returning a Shabbat guest to his yeshivah in Alon Shevut last night when the Mitsubishi Grandis stalled and stopped. Just like that. Waiting for this story to evolve.

I walked to selichot this morning and though it was a drop lighter than it would have been yesterday at 5am, it was still pretty dark and I was on heightened alert for wild dogs. I didn’t really have a plan should I come under attack. Maybe my Darth Vader breathing as I huffed and puffed up the hill would hold them at bay? This lame plan, in spite of my advice to our Shabbat guest (whom I confidently told, “The wild dogs WILL eat you if they attack you so always carry rocks in your pocket.”)

Well the jury is still out on wild dogs, their intentions, and abilities. I made it to shul unscathed, if not a little winded. As men and boys stumbled in, grateful for the extra sleep, we waited for a minyan and then began selichot. Michal picked me up and we continued to Kever Rachel (open!) to pray shaharit.

That’s all for now – an hour is, after all, just an hour. G’mar chatima tova.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #44 – lizards, jets (the other kind), savlanut revisited, special people and a special pass.

Nighttime sights and sounds
A tiny lizard just ran across my stone floor. He’s the color of the floor – peachy white. Fast and quiet.
There are F-16’s over my head tonight. I mean really loud fighter jets swooping really low. Fast and not so quiet.

A 311 hotline for Kever Rachel?
Our painter is supposed to make his daughter’s bat mitzvah at Kever Rachel Tuesday. As of yesterday he heard Kever Rachel had been closed. My friend Michal is on her way to Kever Rachel right now. I guess she’ll find out if it’s still closed. We’ll go together Sunday before Yom Kippur. Assuming it’s been opened and stays that way.

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step” ...
One of Bob’s Israeli cousins called last night to check on us. We spoke for a while – I told him about the car, the kids’ school, the house, Bob’s work, my big belly, just about everything that’s been going on. Then I told him how I feel like an ignoramus trying to decode the mail and the kids’ flyers from school. In broken English he offered up an ancient Chinese proverb. “If to go a thousand steps, you must to start with one step.”

Patience 101
Nothing in Israel goes as quickly as you might think it should. One month after our initial missed meeting I finally met Eddy my driver’s ed instructor at Misrad Harishoui to give him my driving papers. My driving test should happen sometime acharay haHagim. Flash back to Bob’s email and all the jobs I was to do in his absence. The rental car was picked up yesterday. The post office papers for the car have still not been obtained. Did I mention the side view mirror is being held on by crazy glue while the car broker searches for some kind of special car glue? That seems to be a time consuming search. I sent Bob out to pick up a sefer (book) we ordered for Asher – I got a call that it had arrived at the bookstore. I know from my own experience there is no such thing as a quick in and out at the bookstore – even if they are holding a book for you. I forgot to mention it to Bob. It took 40 minutes. Exhausted, he took my relatively small shopping list to the other (bigger) makolet – remember the one with the delivery boy who screamed at me? Three hours later he returned, defeated.

I listened to Bob speaking to his father this morning on the phone. A lot of what he was saying was about how things go slowly here. You go to the bank and they ask about your whole mishpacha (family) before they begin your transaction. It’s nice. But it slows you down. You go to the hardware store and if five people are in the store, they try to help all five at once. It’s nice but it insures nobody will walk out in five minutes – in fact it’s lucky if all five come out a half hour later. But after every example he told his father, “It’s okay. You get used to it.” It’s funny. He’s a New Yorker through and through. I lived there long enough to recognize what offends a New Yorker. It’s slowness. Easy-easy-ness. And that’s just what defines Israel. It’s slow and easy. Liat liat. (Easy, easy). A New Yorker works harder to achieve the savlanut needed for survival here.

People impact your quality of life here – not just friends and neighbors.
It's almost everyone you interact with. On the second week of school when the fourth grade finished later than the first grade by an hour (and I had no idea) I got nervous when Becky and Barbara didn’t return home. I called the principal and asked him if he could help me find them. I had visions of each one wandering Efrat all alone. Gd bless Rav Yehuda – when neither girl responded to an announcement over the loudspeaker and he couldn’t find them on the school grounds, he got into his car and went looking for them. They were, of course, happily walking home, oblivious to the whole situation.

The gardener, the painter, the carpenter who built our pergola, the fridge guy, the other painter, and even the cleaning help – each one has a unique story, something to offer. Nobody just comes, does a job, gets paid and leaves. There is common ground to find. Connections to be made. Information to share. Each one feels like part of some extended mishpachah. It’s an unexpected addition to our quality of life here.

Do as I say not as I do (read: don’t jump in front of buses and NO hitchhiking!)
Asher is taking the bus to ulpan now. I took his school picture from last year to city hall, had a laminated bus pass made and so far each morning Bob has walked him up the steps to the main road where they are trying to figure out the best stop in which to wait for the bus. The first day Bob threw himself in front of the bus to make it stop. The second day they walked down a big hill to a designated stop. Tuesday they will try walking up the hill to the other designated stop. He has a friend around the corner who takes the bus but when I asked the friend what time he gets on the bus at his stop, he mentioned that he often misses the bus and “hitches in a tremp”. And so a new rule was born – absolutely no tremping without mommy or Aba. Becky is so very jealous of Asher’s bus pass. Apparently the 10 minute downhill walk home from the girls’ school is more than she can bear, especially knowing there is a bus that takes her friends home to nearby streets. It’s not for lack of inquiry on my part that Becky and Barbara don’t take the bus – but it seems we live too close and don’t qualify. So I heard Becky whispering to Barbara the other day, “Let’s sneak on the bus and get off at Avigail’s house!” Rule number two – no sneaking on the bus.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #43 – some things Israeli’s love

The smell of Hawaii.
The perceived smell of Hawaii, anyway. There is Hawaii-scented shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, dish soap. And, of course, Hawaii-scented body wash and hand cream. I’ve never been to Hawaii but now I think I know what it must smell like there.

Bob Marley
I don’t have Casey Kasem Countdown data for Israel but if I had to put it together by artist it would include Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Scorpions, Blondie, Rolling Stones, Bryan Adams, U2 and maybe Madonna would make the cut. But make no mistake. Bob Marley would be in the #1 spot. Any week and every week.

Bob often posits the following question: Will there be korbanot (animal sacrifices) when the Beit Hamikdash is (Be’H) rebuilt? It’s not an unusual question – the times, the people and the culture are very different than they were in 70 AD. When he posed the question at lunch last Shabbat our guest turned it around. Do you like BBQ he asked? It will be like a great big BBQ. And Israeli’s do love their BBQ – recall the yetziah (exit) from Sachne with 3 generations of family members carrying out disassembled BBQ’s from a day-long tiyul (trip). We have a neighbor that seems to BBQ daily. Looking at it that way, it became easy to imagine the return of korbanot.

Fallen national heroes.
Last Sunday when my kids were home early from school because of the municipal strike, we (me, the kids and their tutor) were overwhelmed by the sound of F-16 fighter jets flying over head. Understand that where we live there is no commercial air traffic. I’ve heard there are direct flights from Tel Aviv to Jordan but I can assure you, the flight path is NOT over where we live. We hear F-16’s on a regular basis but before Sunday I never really gave it much thought. Later that Sunday, Assaf Ramon, legendary pilot, son of fallen Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, died in his F-16 in a training exercise over the southern hills of Hebron. From the sky you could say this is part of my neighborhood. 30 minutes by car, probably a fraction of that by F-16. He is being mourned throughout Israel like his father before him - as a legend, a hero, a brother and a son. Who knows – maybe one of the jets we heard earlier that afternoon was being piloted by Ramon. Maybe. Probably. In fact, most likely.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #42 – overheard

Soldier at a security checkpoint, redirecting traffic and needing to get the attention of a car full of haredi men: “Tzaddikim!”

Becky and Asher fighting: “I’m up to passuk yud gimmel!” “Yeah? Well I’M up to passuk yud tet!!!!”

Minha tefilot of the painter’s assistant as he prayed facing Jerusalem in front of my house this evening. SEE COMMENT BELOW!

The ice cream man’s not here but I still hear his play list.
Every hour or so the boys’ school has a break outdoors for about ten minutes. Yes, that’s correct. Every hour or so. Every boy in the school gets to run around for about 10 minutes outside. Eureka! Children need to run around outside to stay focused! Anyway, at the start of the break you can hear, all around my neighborhood, including in my kitchen, songs like Lullabye, Muffin Man, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. In lieu of a bell, the boys school plays songs from the ice cream truck.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #41 – getting ready for a new year

A Rosh Hashanah visitor – no shechechiyanu here – a neighborhood lizard hiding in one of many laundry piles. One day I will write a book called Things We Tell Our Children (independent of their truthfulness) – this morning’s contribution: “I opened the window and saw the lizard run out.”

My new favorite pre-holiday riddles:
* Guess the oven temperature (as honey cake burns on the top and oozes over the side.)
* What is the best balance between washing dishes, clothes, and children? Did I mention there are about 3 buckets of hot water in total?
* How many people does it take to clean up one small tea glass which breaks against the shelf, breaks again as it hits the stone countertop and breaks a third time as it crashes onto the stone floor?
* How many non-functional refrigerators and non-functional temporary replacement refrigerators will fit in my basement before the holiday?

Some kitchen mishaps…really gross face splashes – everyone could add something here, I’m sure:
Pomegranate seed juice – everywhere and really not gross, just messy.
Fish juice – this one went on my lips – EWW!
Spinach juice – in my eyes – this one made me laugh.
Tongue gravy – all over my face – there were no words.
Thank Gd for a (cold) shower before the holiday!

Tongue, Fish, I did not realize I am so demanding!
Every time I think I am NOT a spoiled American I end up looking for something that apparently only a spoiled American would want/need. Like deli-style tongue for the siman (sign) of eating something from the rosh (head) on Rosh Hashanah. For years we have been hiding a microscopic morsel of deli tongue inside a huge chunk of challah. When I called the midnight delivery butcher and asked for tongue and they said “No problem, how big?” I had an inkling that maybe I should confirm they were sending the tongue “k’mo salami” (the tongue that is like salami). “At rotzah salami?” (You want salami?). “LO! Ani rotzah lashon k’mo salami!” (No! I want tongue that is like salami). Silence. And then, “Lo. Einlanu.” (No, we don’t have). After that we called another butcher. No luck. Bob offered to go to the deli in Jerusalem and order a tongue sandwich without the bread but then I started to feel like maybe I ought to be more Israeli. If everyone is ordering whole tongue, may be I should order a whole tongue. How hard and how gross could it be? (THAT turns out to be a whole other story). I also ordered fish. I asked for fresh. They had only frozen. I asked for tilapia to fry. They had only sole to fry. I asked for sea bass to bake, they sent nile perch to bake.

People tell you and you try to remember. But really, you just live and you learn.
They say you are supposed to go to the store first and make your menu based on what’s there. I have not yet mastered this skill. I needed celery and bought the most pathetic wimpy stringy excuse for celery (picture plump stalks of parsley). I did this twice. I needed oranges for my sweet potato chicken. I bought a ton of them. They were green. I ignored the nagging voice in my brain telling me oranges are supposed to be orange. I even told my kids, who pointed out the obvious, that this is just how Israeli oranges look in September. During dinner Bob whispered to me that the sweet potatoes were a little not-so-sweet – maybe the chopped up green orange was making them taste bitter?

It’s Kosher – see for yourself!
So it seems the reputation of the butcher as having great hashgocha, plus the delivery man speaking only Hebrew and Yiddish with really long pais, not to mention the hashgocha on the sealed package of frozen fish are all not enough to guarantee that the actual fish inside is really and truly kosher. I found this out on the morning of the second day of yom tov as I opened my defrosted fish and noticed a segment of fins and scales had been left on for my approval. I opened the second package and saw it again. Laughing at how scaling a fish is easier than peeling a tongue I cleaned it off and wondered if I’ll ever see fresh Sea Bass in the aretz.

Rain – beautiful and welcomed rain.
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah there was evidence of rain. Little sprinkles. Countable and few. But they were there. But the buzz was about day two. An approaching rain storm. A friend told Bob if your shoes get a good soaking in the fall, they will not dry out again until the spring. With this in mind, I ran up the steps in pouring rain wearing (fancy) flip flops on the second day of the holiday. I got to the closest minyan – literally 2 minutes from my front door – held in a caravan. Actually there are two caravanim. Side by side. One is Moroccan, one Ashkenazi. If you missed hearing the shofar in one, you could surely hear it from the other. In fact, there were women and children standing across the street from the caravan shuls hedging their bets. Once the shofar started to blow in the Ashkenazi shul there was a rush to the caravan. It was jam packed. I was the only one in flip flops but it just didn’t matter. Enough people were wearing sandals and truly no one cared. The holiday fashion show was not taking place here. Inside was complete silence for the shofar. When the tefilot began again all you heard were the tefilot. From the women and the men. There was no side chatter. Children sitting inside were silent. Children who couldn’t be silent were playing outside. There were tons of them. They ran from caravan to caravan to hear each shofar. They were splashing in puddles wearing oversized hand me down Shabbat clothes. They were happy and free, celebrating the holiday and rejoicing in the rain. A new year in Eretz HaKodesh.

We’re hoping to go camping soon.
The kids are off school the week of Sukkot. I’m not due for another month and a half. We stockpiled camping gear before we left Brooklyn. And we’ve been practicing on some level since we got here. I think I’m ready.

I had sent Bob for watermelon. There was no watermelon. In all of Efrat. This happened once before with eggs. We were sitting in a coffee shop and ordered the Israeli breakfast (2 eggs, salads, cheeses, bread, juice and coffee) except that there were no eggs. Not in the restaurant, not in the makolet. Not even in the other makolet. There’s not much else in the way of Israeli breakfasts once you eliminate the eggs. And so it goes – sometimes we are lacking in eggs, other times, watermelon. And lately, often just before Shabbat, all of Efrat is lacking in electricity. It’s good practice for camping.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #40 - guest post! by bob.

So I leave home at about 11:30 a.m. to go pick up our new car: A used 2005 Mitsubishi Grandis with 65,000 miles for the equivalent of about $20,000. The car was sitting around for the last week for the owner to get his paperwork in order and when we got the green light this morning that all paperwork was in order, I assumed the entire endeavor would take, at most, 3 hours. We (me and my car broker) drive the car and look it over to make sure everything that we requested to be fixed was, in fact, done. The car (a 7 seater so really a van) drives nice. 4 new tires, serviced, tuned up, new fluids, plugs etc.. We go to the sellers broker to close the deal. I put down my bank check plus some shekels for incidentals and I get a form that needs to be processed by the post office for the car to be transferred to my name. Easy. When we arrive at the post office (and wait about 30 minutes for our number to be called) and give them the form we are told "yesh baaya" (there is a problem). It turns out the registration was frozen for failure to file certain paperwork or do certain things that were supposed to have been done during the past week. The owner’s agent says it will take "about an hour, maybe an hour and 15 minutes" to clear up the mess and clear the car. I must wait and have "savlanut" (patience) I am told. So I wait in the car dealer's showroom which is surrounded by grungy repair shops and shady used car dealers.About an hour later it dawns upon me that I just gave up $20k and do not have a car. I have nothing. I forcefully tell both car brokers, in my most lawyerly voice, that "you are not authorized to deposit the check and I want it returned immediately." As you may have guessed, the check has already been brought to the bank for deposit. But I am told, "al tidag, yihiye beseder" (don’t worry, it will be okay). After the second hour of waiting comes and goes, I look around the office that I am sitting in. "What is here that I can destroy (valued at 20k) if the deal does not go thru and they don't give me back my money," I am thinking. About 30 minutes later, stewing and disgusted, right when I am ready to give up and start breaking things, a greasy, dirty man without a kippa comes over to me and asks "hitpalalta minha"? (have you prayed afternoon prayers?) Taken aback by his question in light of his appearance, I do not answer. He asks again. Thinking to myself that I have time on my hands (I am told that the post office closes at 6:00 p.m. so “en baaya” --- no problem) I follow him down a hill along a dirt path surrounded by auto repair shops and half junked cars, to a small white shack (picture above). Inside this run-down shack is a full-fledged bet Knesset (shul) with a sefer torah, bima and all. In walk the neighborhood shady car brokers and various greasy car guys who, by their looks, (clearly misleading,) do not look very religious at all. They reach into their pockets for their kippaot and the hazan reaches into the bima for white cloth "sleeves" as he is wearing a black short sleeve t shirt. Never have I prayed minha with a kahal that had such kavana. True sincerity. A beautiful uplifting tefillah. It then dawns on me: Are these people really trying to cheat me? Their sincere line of thought is: what difference does it make if the check is in my account or in his account, the money is still there. And when they say "Al tidag, yihiye beseder” (“don't worry, it will be okay") they are not just saying it to appease me. They really mean it. After minha and a brief reading of the halachot of succot, everyone leaves, takes off their kippaot and goes back to their respective grease pits. A short while later, I have the car, a bill of sale, but no registration, which I am told, with the utmost sincerity, will be processed tomorrow. Or Friday. Or maybe next week. But it will be done. “Al tidag, yehiye beseder” I am told. Is it not astounding that you can see the best and worst of Israel in 6 hours?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #39 – life without a map, GPS, or TV

All roads lead to…
It really depends on who you are, where you’re coming from and what one little morsel of directional knowledge you choose to cling to. For Bob, all roads in Jerusalem lead to the Malcha Mall. From there he can get home so, no matter where he is in Jerusalem, his instinct is to head toward the mall. Knowing as much as I think I do about geography I find myself restraining him from taking this circuitous route when we are near the Old City but maybe the native New Yorker in him has a better insight about traffic patterns – whenever he heeds my directional advice (against his Malcha instinct) the kids call from the back seat – “Why is there so much traffic? Why is it taking so long?” And his jovial answer, “Mommy had a better way!”

For me, all Jerusalem roads lead to the Prima Kings, a hotel on King George street at the nexus of Rehavya, Talbiyah, and Nachlaot. From here I can get most anywhere. The problem is getting from my house to most anywhere without first having to go to the Prima Kings. I have been to my obstetrician in Wolfson exactly four times. I have driven there each time. I have gotten lost each time. In my mind I know exactly where Wolfson is. But what does that do for me if I can’t get to Wolfson without accidentally passing it, ending up (for the millionth time) in front of the Prima Kings, and then setting out for Wolfson once again? I used to think I had good spatial awareness. Bob used to call me his GPS. Maybe it’s the pregnancy. Maybe I don’t spend enough time in Jerusalem. It’s probably a combination of having too much confidence and too little map (we lost our Jerusalem map and never replaced it). Bob doesn’t call me his GPS anymore…

In Israel they reveal Rosh Hashanah recipes on the morning show. And that’s not all.
I haven’t watched TV in Israel since the Olympics last summer. So this morning when I got to my doctors appointment I sat directly under the TV without even thinking about it. But then something caught my ear and I had to move to a seat where I could see – they were giving out a recipe for lubia (black eyed peas) on the morning show (a show which looked like a combination of The Today Show and The View). Three women sitting on hot pink couches discussing (after lubia) foot massage techniques, bare-bellied pregnancy photography, and holiday fashions. The commercial breaks featured ads for a hot water machine – they deliver it to your house and you have hot water for tea or coffee on tap, a coffee machine – they deliver it to your house along with special coffee and you have gourmet coffee on tap, and a seltzer making machine (called a Gaz machine, here) – they deliver it to your house and you have seltzer on tap. Each machine looked so enticing. How the quality of life seemed to improve for all the people in the ads. All those beverages on tap, in your home…I cringed, thinking of my Mai Eden machine. The next commercial was an ode to political incorrectness. A man uses masking tape to pull his eyes tightly back in conjunction with the wearing of a silk robe and a coolie hat in an effort to appear Chinese. I was in the middle of laughing at the absurdity of it when the commercial quickly changed. There were girls in bikinis, wrestling in mud. Then there were one-on-one interviews with some of the girls. Then the pan out to see they were on an island. And then big letters that I’m still trying to figure out what they spelled but it seemed very much like the Israeli version of the TV series LOST. Lost but with mud wrestling girls. I’ve seen enough Israeli TV to last me until the next Olympics.

During today’s sonogram the baby was kicking the doctor and giving a big mouthed Gene Simmons style hello. I can see from now this baby will fit in with my other kids just fine.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #38 – the relative nature of dreams

The ulpan orientation was given in Hebrew. I understood most of what was being said, although I suspect she was limiting herself to very basic vocabulary. She did make a point of translating one expression so that we would be sure to know it. Halom l’heetgashem – dream come true.

When we first got here we visited a water park with the kids called Beit Halomotai (House of Dreams). A bunch of little (but really slippery) slides plus huge buckets of water spilling all over the place. For my kids, it really was a dream come true!

I know the ulpan instructor was speaking globally about the whole magical aliyah process but my mind kept going local. I was thinking about the Nissan Vanette (see pic) I’d spotted in the parking lot and laughing about how dreams coming true lead to new dreams. Later when I spotted a truckload of colorful thin “princess and the pea” mattresses, my dream turned to capturing it on film (see other pic).

Totally not dreamy.
My exterminator came today. He asked me where the nimalim ketanchikim were in the kitchen and I told him I’d blasted the area with Clorox. Personally, I was pleased at how that had worked. He was not. Annoyed, he turned back toward the door and said to call him when there were ants for him to see. Thankfully(??), Asher discovered a few ants in his room this morning. When I showed him Asher’s room he miraculously discovered a hole near the window where they were coming in. Watching him put poisoned honey in the hole and feeling a little bit vindicated, I asked him what about the kitchen ants. He told me they won’t come back to where I sprayed the Clorox. They’ll show up somewhere else. I should call him when they return. It sounded ominous – am I really waiting for ants?

Ants, meat, waiting is waiting.
My meat order never arrived and I thought when I called the delivery man that he said he was running late because of the hagim. But he never came. So maybe he said something else. Like he’ll come tomorrow. Or the next day. Who knows? It’s good I’ll be learning Hebrew in ulpan. So that I can track down delivery men or at least understand what they tell me when they don’t show up. For me, this will be a small dream come true.

Tomorrow is a big day – going back to the doctor, visiting Mahana Yehuda for the first time in 18 years, maybe possibly purchasing a car (Mitsubishi Grandis – not the dream Vanette but perfectly fine for life in the aretz), Mai Eden water delivery – what will happen? – will they drop off water or take back the machine? – the game of chicken continues…, and a meat delivery (I HOPE!).

HOLY COW it is 11:49pm and the meat delivery man just phoned to tell me od esreem dakot (20 more minutes) and he’ll be here with my mishloach (delivery). Phew! My Hebrew’s not so bad after all.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #37 - where we live

taking a break from all the verbiage. here's a photo array so you can picture the backdrop.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #36 – Rosh Hashanah is coming, homework is not. Jets, ulpan, banking, swine flu and mai eden.

On the radio, DJ’s are counting down the last days of Taf Shin Samech Tet to the start of Taf Shin Eyin. And now, the top ten songs of Taf Shin Samech Tet…

Leek Edjeh – failure to fry in the frying kitchen
I never made leek edjeh (leek pancakes – like latkes) before but it wasn’t hard. It took a while, made a mess and most of my house has the lingering smell of frying leek. Bob mentioned that maybe if I would use the frying kitchen the smell would be contained… I asked him where the frying kitchen was? I only see a frying closet! There is now talk of installing an exhaust fan. The recipe yielded about 20 pancakes. I need closer to 40. Not wanting to lose my momentum (and not wanting to bring back the smell of frying leeks another day) I ran to the makolet for more leeks. I ran into some friends in the cookie aisle (see pics). I shared my observations with another American. Even as we giggled and laughed (check out the girl holding the cafe oleh), we're uncomfortable in the cookie aisle - in a way that only Amerikayim could be.

In the meantime Bob spoke with Asher’s rav. Each day Asher comes home with no homework. I find this odd. I think the teacher must be saying (as opposed to posting) the assignments and Ash is just missing it. As it turns out, Asher is a yeled tov maod (very good boy) but he is boring (pretty sure he meant bored) and the teacher isn’t giving him any of the homework because he thinks it will be too difficult. We’re going to start sending him with Hebrew workbooks and let the spoken Hebrew from the teacher sink into his brain via osmosis. Between that and a tutor we think he’ll catch it and become less boring.

You can take the Jets fan out of New York…
That large charge on the CapitolOne bill turned out to be the ridiculously large TV screen on which we’ve decided we will not sign up for TV. We use it for a computer monitor, to Skype, to watch videos (including a nostalgic season one of the Brady Bunch), and Bob has signed up for a Jets website that lets him watch games streaming live. There was a lot of anticipation yesterday. Bob announced in the morning he would be unavailable from 8pm. It took a while for the game to come on – seems they had some technical difficulty which was less painful to withstand once we got into a related chat room and found out all the subscribers were complaining of the same problem (the problem of ‘they took my money and now I can’t see the game!’). By 9 it was resolved and Bob watched his Jets in real time. On a really big screen. A real treat.

If it was good enough for Rabbi Akiva, how can I complain?
I registered for ulpan, was tested by reading a Sipor (story) about a fisherman (got through 2 lines) and placed into the equivalent of Keeta Aleph (first grade) – the beginner ulpan. No matter about my measured successes with Mai Eden, that I can fill gas and know how to turn down the attendant who is insisting I need all sorts of vital fluids for my car, that I can navigate through the makolet (getting the specials AND avoiding tashlumim), or that I can talk to an exterminator about nimalim ketanchikim (small ants). The first thing we learned today was about the extra season that exists in Israel. It’s called Acharey haHagim (after the holidays). Ulpan starts Acharey haHagim. We’ll find out which days it will be held Acharey haHagim. Any questions we have about uplan will be answered – you guessed it – Acharey haHagim.

After the ulpan registration I headed to the bank. There is one bank in all of Gush Etzion – located in the beautiful and sleepy town of Alon Shvut (exactly 3 minutes from Efrat). Technically it is located in the Mercaz Hayir – the city center – but that is a very relative term. Becky and I drove around for ten minutes (presumably in a circle) until we asked someone where the bank was (I have been to the bank 3 times prior and always seem to stumble upon it – you cannot access it from the road). Turns out we were right in front of it. But we needed to park and walk through a shady path to access the entrance. The lady at the bank was very helpful – walking me through ordering checkbooks (how many do I need? she thinks 2 is good), changing dollars to shekels (she thought maybe I have enough shekels and should leave some dollars), and depositing checks (she took the time to teach me how to write the deposit envelope myself so that I can save 7 shekels per transaction). Do you notice a theme? When Israelis help you they do it in a very nurturing and paternalistic way. When I was finished with all my bank business she wished me well, told me what a pretty house I live in (she used to live on my block) and reminded me where the bank deposit box in Efrat is so that I can deposit checks next to the makolet (now that I know how to fill out the deposit envelope). I hope I can remember – I truly don’t want to let her down!

First lines of an important email received today from school (compliments of Google Translator):
Blessing the you!
Re: how to wake pig influenza
Bob just got home from the health clinic via tremp. With antibiotics and an ambiguous diagnosis that ranges from the beginnings of a chest infection to possibly flu. Swine flu? Apparently there is only one type of flu available in Israel.

He may be down but he’s not out.
Bob tried using the hot water from the Shabbat hot water pot to make his coffee this morning. I had filled it with water from the Mai Eden machine. He threw it out when he saw pieces of limestone floating in the water. He is now on the phone with Mai Eden cancelling the water. He’s calling them on their bait and switch. ‘Lo rotzeh!’ (I don’t want!). They are giving the hard sell on the other end. He’s holding his own, demanding answers. We get one. Those free bottles of water they gave me along with a Mai Eden vase when we opened our account – yes those were ‘accidentally’ charged to our account. ‘NIMASLI!’ (I’m disgusted!) I feel like I am at the US Open. He’s on hold while they track down the English-speaking sales rep who opened our account – seems she’s the only one at Mai Eden who is authorized to close our account and will have to call us back. Within 48 hours. To be continued…

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #35 – September in the aretz – dew, strikes and hagim

Just because there’s no giant inflatable rat doesn’t mean workers don’t strike!
The mother of a friend of Asher’s called me up last week to let me know school would end early Sunday and Monday due to a strike. She had gotten the notice in her son’s knapsack. Asher came home and I asked him to show me all his notices. He had none. Where are they? Seems he told his rav that his mother can’t read Hebrew without nekudot so they did not give him a notice… And so, school ends early Sunday and Monday. By scheduled strike.

Walk me out in the morning dew
There has been an abrupt change of season in the last 2 weeks. It went from dry hot summer to dewy warm September. The morning air is heavy and wet, reminiscent of summer mornings at camp. The dew blankets the hills – you can see it, feel it, smell it. It is said the manna that fell in the desert was sandwiched between two layers of dew. We adapt our amidah in the summer to bless “Morid HaTal” – the “One Who Brings the Dew.” I am keenly aware of what I am saying when I recite this blessing here.

There have been at least 4 power outages in the past two weeks – all moisture related from what I understand – and, not unlike the change of seasons in New York, this one has brought with it some uninvited visitors. I awoke to ant activity in the frying-dairy-water kitchen and Bob is suffering from no less than 11 mosquito bites. No, wait, make that 12.

Some background about the temperature around here.
And by around here, I mean in our house. I am in my eighth month. Carrying 30+ extra pounds on a 5’2” frame. I can hardly breathe. I am huffing and puffing every time I walk up the stairs, every time I bend over to clean a black footprint off my floor with a baby wipe, every time I move the stoop to climb up and retrieve a dish, every time my cell phone rings and I have to walk hurriedly to a spot in my house where I have reception. Basically I am gasping for air all day long. And I am hot. Beads of sweat on my forehead, upper lip, and neck. Exactly what you would expect from someone who is working out. Yeah, that’s right. For me, daily life is a workout. In any case, my dear husband, tipping the scales at 99 kilos (you do the math!) and towering at almost 6 feet of height has turned into the equivalent of a frail old lady next to me. If I am always hot, he is always cold. He says he’s turning off the fans to save electricity but I know the truth. He complains I am freezing the children by running their fans at night. I tell him the children need air! They need to breathe! They shouldn’t be hot! Last Shabbat when our guests started asking to borrow sweaters at the Shabbat table it dawned on me that maybe, possibly I am a drop hotter than everyone else. In any case, our bedroom windows stay open at all times and unless Bob can get me to agree that it’s cold (a rare but possible occurrence), the ceiling fan runs each night. The last few nights I climbed into bed after midnight. The bed was damp. The pillow, the sheets, the blankets. And when I woke up in the morning, the breeze blowing in the open windows was, even by my standards, cold. Baruch HaShem.

Out with the old, in with the new. Check out the expiration date on the teudat kashrut (above).
This week is Rosh Hashanah. It is the only two day yom tov of the year. All of Israel is scurrying to prepare. An occasional shofar competes with my braying donkey. The makolet is selling gord and black eyed peas still in their shell, leeks, pomegranate, dates, honey and apples. All my neighbors with pomegranate trees have put up netting to catch the ripening fruit. For the first year since I’m married I am scurrying to prepare the simanim – the “praying foods” (this was something my mother-in-law always did for me). There are opportunities to recite selichot according to every minhag at every imaginable time and place including the Kotel. Next year in Jerusalem? This year just a few kilometers south.

Walk me out in the morning dew…

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #34 – got milk? (in a bag?)

Don’t cry over spilt milk
Surely this expression originated in Israel where milk is served out of a plastic bag.

Is fruit salad, yogurt and bread considered lunch? Wait a minute. I live in country where lachmanya im choco (roll with chocolate spread) is considered a meal. Growing up I remember eating a significant amount of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was probably a fill-in lunch for when there was no baloney or turkey or when my mom was just tired of making anything fancier. Like tuna. Just like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are an American staple – except for in my house (I paid asher 10 shekels to take a peanut butter and chocolate chip sandwich to school this week; Barbara took one look at a jelly only sandwich – I didn’t dare taint it with peanut butter – and had a full blown fit) – lachmania im choco is a standard Israeli lunch. Can somebody please inform my children that we are now Israeli and should be eating the standard Israeli lunch? Our lunch grid/spreadsheet broke down after just one week. Seems everyone who said they’d eat cream cheese has a different bread preference. One wants white pita, one whole wheat pita. One wants rye bread (called ‘dark bread’) but Gd help you if you send it on diet rye bread (purchased accidentally, called ‘light dark bread’). So we’re down to noodles, semboosak, pancakes and fishstics. Except that they ate all the semboosak last week (it takes me a while to prepare semboosak from scratch – no Mazor Dough in Efrat!). The other night I was too tired to cook and did the unthinkable – I allowed them to eat noodles AND fishsticks for dinner. Are you keeping up? There’s only one choice left. And today there was a pancake disaster. I am half asleep as I prepare pancakes at 6:45 in the morning. So I must not have mixed the batter well. It seems there were bursting pockets of flour in some of the pancakes at lunch time. It’s 10 minutes past midnight. I just checked the freezer for fishsticks. Fish rings. Fish nuggets. Fish schnitzel. Any breaded fish product! I’ve got klum (nothing). The only fish item at all is a frozen gefilte fish for Shabbos. An aside: they sell Gefilte Fish from the US for something like 42 Shekels but I opted for the (cheaper) Israeli brand – trying to acquire Israeli tastes at every turn. There were two choices – Hungarian Style and Yerushalmi Style. No one in ShupaShuk could really tell me the difference although I think it has something to do with sweetness. I gambled on Hungarian. Stay tuned for the results. In any case, tomorrow’s lunch will be fruit salad, actimel (drinkable yogurt) and bread. It could be worse. It could be lachmanya im choco.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #33 – yareach devash

When Bob and I got married we honeymooned in Israel. Every hotel we checked into, he was sure to let them know it was our “yareach devash” (literally, moon of honey). We were treated to bottles of champagne, platters of dried fruit, baskets of fresh fruit and even plates of cake. Sometimes there were room upgrades. In the Dead Sea we wondered where they would put Bill Clinton if he happened to show up during our stay since we were clearly in the presidential suite. But, alas, the honeymoon finished. We got back to Brooklyn and got started on real life.

My honeymoon with Mai Eden ended the day I actually placed my order. Up until that time the English-speaking sales rep pursued me in a way that made me feel special. Important. Really wanted and appreciated. Loved even.

My elusive English-speaking Mai Eden service rep…
“Vladimir from the water” called me tonight. Twice. From his private (read: blocked) Mai Eden number. On my cell phone. Where I have no reception inside my house. And so we got as far as, “Hello, this is Vladimir. From the water.” Twice. Even this is progress. How did we get even this far? A little background is in order:

I had no koach (strength) to fight Mai Eden about the 400 shekels they billed my CapitalOne Card without ever sending a bill or explanation. But I called them anyway. And in a fatigued daze I navigated through six rounds of menu options in Hebrew. Every time I heard a word like Sherut (service, I think) or Heshbone (bill, I’m sure) I would press the number. When I heard Automatica I DID NOT press the number. For all I know it was one menu and I was listening to the same 3 options for 10 minutes but I’m pretty sure it was how I’m telling it. So I got to the Sherut Heshbone lady and we established who I was (shem shell ach – your name?), and when I didn’t know what she was asking I just gave her my phone number. I gave my house number. Three times. And then my cell. And then it came – some recognition – Lisa M---? Zeghrubavel Arghba? Nachon!! I asked her if oo-lye (maybe) they have someone who can speak to me in English. She stayed with me so I guess the answer was no. But I was on a roll. We established more. I have my heshbone. I have a baya (problem) with my heshbone. Baya Gedola (big problem). She’s with me. I keep going. I received water twice. Sheva bachbookim (seven bottles)? Ken! Sheva bachbookim! And now for the baya…the 400 shekel charge (7 bachbookim should cost 168 shekels). Overly confident, I pose my question: “LAMA HA HESHBON BESHVIEL ARBA MAOT SHEKELIM???” At this point she launches into a detailed explanation of my bill at which time the communication breaks down completely and I humbly repeat my request to have someone who speaks English call me back. She sees my limitation and agrees. And so, since yesterday morning, I have been anxiously awaiting the call from Vladimir from the water.

The honeymoon doesn’t last forever.
Or so they say. My friend in Brooklyn told me – just wait. Wait til they start school. Til they walk in the door at 1pm. Til they’ve got homework. YOU’LL see, she told me. YOU’LL see…

Just the other day I was speaking to someone who’s lived here some 20 years. She lives in a neighborhood which is literally a stone’s throw (no pun intended) from Bet Lehem. I asked her if she hears the early minyan – ha ha – the call to prayer and the ensuing prayers come at about 4am but sometimes as early as 3:30. She said it’s so loud she can hear every word. It’s the middle of the night! It’s like noise pollution! I mentioned that I hear it sometimes, depending on the wind. I also mentioned about the donkey braying that wakes me and the kids each morning at 6:45. I said something about the sounds adding to the flavor of the place. She smiled and said it’s all still romantic and new to me. The honeymoon will finish. I will want to sleep at night and not be woken up by donkeys in the morning. She said it with a lot of confidence. Lucky for me I’m a heavy sleeper. And I still don’t mind the donkey. So long as he stays down wind.

Before Asher was born I felt like me and my firstborn, Barbara were on a honeymoon. She used to wake me up earlier than the braying donkey – at about 5:30 am. Ready to start her day. So we would go downstairs and watch Barney and snuggle on the couch. It was dreamy. She was so sweet and loving. And then Asher was born. And the honeymoon ended. At his first checkup I asked the doctor to please check Barbara. Something has happened to her, I told him. She must be sick. She checked out fine and I insisted he check her again. “What are her symptoms again?” he asked. She’s impossible! She’s not the same child! He looked at me and smiled. “What did you expect?” he asked, nodding toward Asher. “You’ve ruined her life!” Now Rosie snuggles into my bed each morning. She rubs my face and tells me "I love you soooo much mommy!" Yesterday she looked at me adoringly and asked me to set up her Jumpaline. I explained I couldn’t do it alone – I need to wait for Aba to come help me. She looked at me with love and said, “But you’re my mommy! Mommy’s can do everything! I love you soooo much Mommy!” I can hear the clock ticking as we count down the weeks to the end of this honeymoon.

Am I in Israel or at a Dead Show?
A friend of mine who made aliya some 9 years ago recently posted a funny blog about trempers (hitchhikers) along with a suggested "Tremping Ettiquette Guide". She got a ton of feedback - mostly about smelly trempers. It's funny, the day we arrived in Israel last summer Bob and I spent the day with the kids in the car picking up trempers and delivering them to their destination. We were running a free taxi service for the fun of meeting new people and getting to know the neighborhoods and local yishuvim. He's never said as much but I believe one of Bob's thrills when going into Jerusalem is loading up the car with trempers. Last week when we found ourselves in Jerusalem with errands still to run and no time left before the kids got home from school, Bob dropped me at the Gilo trempiada and I tremped home to be there before the kids. To us the tremping (giving and receiving tremps) has been novel and fun. And then yesterday the kids and I picked up the dreaded smelly tremper. We drove him exactly 4 minutes down the road to his destination and then, as we pulled away, opened every window in Uplander. Normally I'm careful to drive with the windows closed on Route 60 and the kids know it. They couldn't believe their eyes! Picking up tremps is a part of life here. But it's no longer romantic and new.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #32 - a day of discovery

A daughter of a friend of a friend.
You know, the person someone tells you to look out for and you really do have every intention of looking them up but then you get all bogged down and you forget all about them and then when you do meet them you know there is some connection, some link, but you are hard pressed to even remember who set you after this person in the first place!

My most refined and subtle introduction to date:
I overheard someone in the makolet talking about lahamagine. I nearly tripped over my wagon running to them, almost shouting: “Who are you?! You also make lahamagine?!” It’s funny how we’re always searching for connections.

The truth is out there somewhere.
After weeks of searching I found two things I most certainly never needed before I came here:
1. salt for the dishwasher (this does something to counteract the limestoney (hard) water)
2. special water for the iron (in lieu of the limestoney (hard) water which would destroy the iron)
When I filled my hot water pot this morning I peeked inside. I’ve been using bottles of Mai Eden to fill the pot every Friday before Shabbos. When I hesitated before ordering the Mai Eden (I mentioned to the English speaking saleswoman that we do have a water filter on the sink), I was told that Mai Eden is MINERAL WATER – filtered sink water is just filtered sink water. It sounded good at the time. B’kitzur, I expected my hot water pot to be sparkling on the inside. It was not. It was covered with dusty grey limestone residue. Bob did point out to me that limestone probably falls into the category of “mineral”. He’s interested in testing the contents of the filtered sink water vs. the unfiltered sink water vs. the Mai Eden “mineral” water. He believes it to be all the same. I’m starting to think he may be right.

If you ignore it, it won’t go away.
This is what everyone tells me about lice. I find it also rings true for mail. I finally got my mail and accosted a friend in the makolet. She had no choice but to read through it with me. I had to know – that very huge amount on the CapitolOne bill from Hashmal Tel Aviv – was that my electric bill??? Bob keeps telling me the electric is very expensive here. He runs around after me and the kids shutting lights and fans. He’s turned into both our fathers. Don’t get me wrong – Bob’s not stingy or tight by any stretch of the imagination. I think this is just part of his Israelification. In any case, the electric bill turned out to be a fraction of the mysterious Hashmal Tel Aviv bill – so little, in fact, that I started dreaming about leaving the magic electric hot water button in the on position all day long. And then it hit me – the electric bill is estimated. Based on my Israeli landlord’s use while he still lived here. I’m guessing once they actually check the meter, the bill will grow. Unless the Israelification takes hold of the entire family. So much for my hot water dream…

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #31 – housekeeper karma revisited

Back in Brooklyn, my Mexican housekeeper used to come to me every so often with an envelope clutched tight in her hand. She would be certain it contained very important information because her name was typed on the front AND on the inside letter. She never knew what it was but would ask me to read it for her and explain. It was hardly ever anything important but how could she know that?

I have a new way of putting myself to sleep – each night I take one of the kids’ notes from their knapsacks and try to read (and understand) it. Forget notes in English. There are none. Sometimes the notes are typed so they are in block letters. Other times they are handwritten in script. Either way, there are no nekudot - ever. Today I signed some class rules for Becky. I was able to decipher some of the main rules – respect the teacher, respect the other students – but then there were some very specific bolded rules about the first meal and the second meal of the day. I could swear it said send halvi (dairy) or parve for the first meal and basri (meat) or parve for the second meal. But that seems so weird. Am I packing a cheese sandwich next to a salami sandwich? I’m sure that’s NOT what it means and so, I’ll devote some of my energy to creating a strictly parve menu for that second meal.

When I need to wake myself up again, I play a game called Let’s Match the Capitol One Bill Charges to the Appropriate Vendors. The August bill seemed okay. There were a few weird looking charges but, like in the US, we figured out sometimes the front office is in one location and the billing office is elsewhere – no problem. But the September bill came in with some weird charges that were weird beyond that. Big and weird. One of them, of course, is the Mai Eden charge. I’ve heard if you call them yelling and screaming that you wish to cancel your water service, they will try to woo you back with an even better deal. So far they are triple billing me and I can’t find anyone to yell and scream at in English. Which brings me to the mail. Most likely all these billing mysteries would be solved if we could read the mail. Which usually comes typed in block letters (never in English) and with no nekudot – ever. The fact that I have to go to the shopping center to pick up my mail does not facilitate quicker and easier reading of the mail. In fact, quite the opposite. Until my Capital One bill shows up looking weird (or a parent asks me why I missed back to school night), I can pass my days in ignorant bliss with the children’s school flyers and notes home as the only faint reminder of the reality I am unable to decipher.

I keep asking my friends how long it takes. They tell me it takes years. My old housekeeper has lived in the US for more than 20 years. Here’s hoping my klita (absorption) goes better than hers.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #30 - hiding from a big job in a big store

Only in Israel or Only in Givat Shaul?
Long bearded older Chassidic man, riding a Vespa, wearing black pants, white shirt, black kippah. And Crocks.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
You can buy an Israeli version of VIVA cloth-like paper towels for a few shekels more (it’s the exact same thing) but they market them as reusable. “Reusable towels!” Did I mention we let the Shabbat hot water pot cool down motzei Shabbat and then use the cooled water to – what else – water our cacti?

found israel's answer to ShopRite - it's called ShupaShuk. 1700 NIS and 3 hours later... my kitchen is filled with grocery bags and i'm not sure there's energy left to unpack them.

I can’t go back to ShupaShuk any time soon. And it’s not because they weren’t nice or it wasn’t amazing. They were SO nice and it was SO amazing. It’s me. I simply hate to shop. And of course when you put me in a gigantic supermarket with great prices I get it in my head to buy EVERYTHING I anticipate I will need for the next 6 months so that I will not have to shop again too soon. This plan fails me systematically as I always end up making a new shopping list on my way home – for all the ‘little things’ I forgot.

So ShupaShuk was like Beitar’s answer to ShopRite in Brooklyn. Except it’s super kosher (that’s a whole other story – as Bob would tell you, someone saying their store is regular “kosher” is like the least kosher guy in Israel. Why on earth would you settle for kosher when there’s mehadrin min mehadrin (most stringent of kosher of the most stringent of kosher – aka super kosher)???) So it’s super kosher and the butcher ground my chop meat in front of my eyes (that was worth the whole trip!).

They don’t call it ShupaShuk for no reason – I found everything I was looking for and many things I didn’t even realize I was looking for. For example, I purchased 3 pairs of new tzitzit for Asher – the kind I used to buy on Coney Island Avenue that were imported from Israel. They had an entire Gold Line – USA section of kitchen appliances including a washing machine. Hi, honey, I’m home. Can you help me unload the groceries? There was a special on washing machines at ShupaShuk today so the packages are a little heavier than usual…

So we’ve established Israelis are sensitive about smoking (did we establish this? I have to post the picture from Ramat Rachel of the Pinat Ashen – smoking corner). They are sensitive about hayaronim (pregnant ladies) – recall my waived admission fee to Kiftzuba and then today the (60+ year old bearded, armed) guard at the supermarket insisted on wheeling my wagon to the car for me – since I am hayaron – after the checkout girl called to a delivery packer to pack my groceries for me (even though I wasn’t taking delivery) – since I am hayaron. Anyway, I’m sure there are other things they are sensitive about…time will certainly tell...but we’ve also established there are certain issues about which Israeli’s lack a certain (American-type) sensitivity. Political correctness/racial profiling is one. Gun control is another. Peanut allergies has got to be a close third. There is an entire aisle in ShupaShuk devoted to “peanuts snacks”. There is Bamba and then there are 300 different Bamba knock-offs in all different (snack, lunch, party) sizes. I could barely breathe just thinking of all that finely ground peanut dust. And I’m not even allergic.

By the way, the real reason I lost myself in ShupaShuk – Bob left me with another megillah of MAN JOBS to take care of in his absence. And he didn’t even know about the nail in the tire of the Uplander which I diagnosed and had fixed this morning before 9am!!! Bob’s email to me (outlining my jobs) may as well be its own blog post. I get tired just reading it. B’kitzur – there is possibly a used Mitsubishi Grandis in my future. Here’s how it will come to pass:

The Car Guy will call you tomorrow morning re: the car. He is having his guy check it out (not testline but like testline) and will tell us the results. If everything is okay he is going to want you to buy the car asap. Ask him to drop off the report to you. Before we buy the car 2 things need to happen. First you need to go to the bank and make out a bank check. The Car Guy will tell you who to make the check payable to. Order more checks while you're there. We also need insurance. The Car Guy has a guy. Get full coverage, confirm the rate with me and the Car Guy (to see if fair) and then pay. Make sure we are covered on delivery.Get together with the Car Guy and go to the Car Place. The car should be washed. They were to do a wheel alignment and drain something so the ac won't smell. They also are to fix the drivers seat as it shakes back and forth a bit.You are to go to the post office, pay and get something that shows you own the car. After all of this is done and the car is home and you are happy with it, call and ask the Rental Guy to pick up the rental car.

Have fun!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #29 - time to be normal

The Bonus – guests.
Anyone who knows us knows we love guests. If you make aliya and don’t love guests, I suggest you move to a small apartment where you can tell everyone how cramped you are because in Israel the guests come in steady streams, B”H!!! So our first official guests are 3 seminary girls and 2 yeshivah boys – most of which are family friends from the States. Bob is out right now giving them the Bob Tour of Efrat. Somehow the house feels more normal with the hustle and excitement of new faces. Does that make sense? Every time we sit down to the table, just the family, my kids ask ‘who’s coming?’ And (up until now) every time I told them ‘nobody’ they couldn’t understand why not. The fact that my dishes were still packed, that my oven was missing its racks, that I didn’t know how to use the oven without burning the food (my girls now know you can peel of the top layer of a burnt boreka and it will still taste good), that there were boxes impeding passage from the living room to the dining room – none of that mattered to my kids. Normal for them is a house full of guests and now, a full two months into our journey, I am able to give them a little taste of normal. They are ecstatic.

What’s special about life here.
There’s the obvious – we’re living in Eretz Hakodesh. Beyond that there are all the little things, which I try to elucidate as they come up. And then, it occurred to me this past week, once my kids started school, there is this major thing that I did not anticipate and which is not so obvious. Zmahn. Time. My kids finish school by 2:45 on their longest day. They are home by 3. They used to be home at 5. That’s two extra hours each day for my kids to unwind, play, do homework, eat dinner, take baths – it allows for some easing up on the pace when there is more time to do the same amount of things. They all walk to school themselves. Except for Rosie. Rosie goes to school across the street (literally). I used to spend three hours a day several days a week driving carpool. There was crankiness, squishiness, and the out-of-breath-race-to-get-dinner-on-the-table-ness that accompanied carpool. Carpool was a fact of life that was impinging on my quality of life. No more. I now have three extra hours each day to unwind, play, help with homework, make dinner, give baths. Okay, now here’s the best part. Friday morning before the seminary/yeshivah kids showed up I mentioned to Bob that once they got here I’d be putting them to work setting up the basement apartment. The shower curtain needed to be hung, the beds needed to be made, towels, soap and a wastebasket needed to be brought down. He looked at me funny and said, “I’m not doing anything now.” Huh? And then, “I’ll set up the basement.” So the best part is not that Bob is doing household chores for me (but it still strikes me as cute that he does). No. It’s that Bob is just here. In Brooklyn I said goodbye to Bob in the morning and saw him again late at night. Like 10-o’clock- late- at-night. Here, I see him all day long. It’s like a honeymoon! A honeymoon with trips to the hardware store, runs into Jerusalem, and lots of home improvement activities. Friday morning at 10:40 we took a BREAK on our back meerpeset (porch) to drink coffee and just catch up on events. In 11 years of marriage I don’t think we’ve sat outside drinking coffee together and chatting at that hour. Maybe it doesn’t seem like a big deal. For me it’s huge. In Brooklyn, Bob’s office was 3 minutes away from the house. And yet, it took a transatlantic move for me to see more of my beloved.

If you cook it they will come.
So Shabbat is over and the guests have left. We had a house full of people (we ballooned to 23 for lunch and I lost count by seudat shelishit). There were halachic discussions, life in Israel discussions, and divrei Torah. There were people coming and going throughout the day. It was a lot of fun and the kids were flying. There are no leftovers. As I was sweeping up the floor I realized how much crumbs, sprinkles and miscellaneous food debris must have been getting lost in my carpeting in my Brooklyn house. (The floors here are definitely work but at least you can properly clean them!). Asher was running around with some new boys (Becky calls them his Ninja Friends), Rosie had little friends over all afternoon, Barbara and her friends were working on singing and dancing shows for each other and Becky was in and out with her friends all day long. By the end of Shabbat Bob was beaming like a proud papa. “You’re back, Baby, you’re back!” he told me. He’s left to Jerusalem to return the students. I have my legs up as I wait for my dishwasher to do its first of many loads. The week starts on Sunday here. My kids leave for school at 7:40 tomorrow morning. My housekeeper shows up at 9.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #28 - will gallon jugs of petal replace 12-oz. cans of coke? stay tuned!

Tepeche Mode
In our family the S-word is Stupid and the F-word is Fat. I was so hyper-vigilant about keeping these words out of my kids’ collective vocabulary, I would catch them as the sss sound was forming in their mouth and scare the rest of the word back down their throat with a big-eyed scary mommy look. They started to police each other and I would get tattle reports, Rosie said the S-word! Barbara said the F-word. So did you ever have a word you said in another language which would sound so offensive in your native tongue but in the different language is somehow less offensive? We (Bob and I) have some words for the real S- word which we always say in Hebrew and Arabic and we never think twice. But you’d never catch us saying the real S-word in our native English. Hypocritical? I never thought about it until now. My kids picked up the word “tepeche” somewhere in my absence. They taught it to Rosie. They are calling it to each other. My ears are oblivious. Until they can take it no longer and burst with the news: “Mommy!!!! Rosie is saying the S-word in Hebrew!!!!”

How close is too close?
Rosie’s gan is across the street from my house. Exactly across. Yesterday when I was returning from the pharmacy she happened to be in the play yard. Before I even saw her, she noticed me. She started screaming at the top of her lungs. “MOMMY!!! I CAN SEE YOU MOMMY!!! IT’S TIME TO COME PICK ME UP MOMMY!! MOMMY!! WHEN ARE YOU COMING TO GET ME ALREADY!!!” This went on until play time was finished, about 15 straight minutes. I could hear her from inside my house. When I did pick her up she was laughing and laughing. She said “You know why I was calling you, mommy? Because I had to make so I wanted you to come take me to make!”

For the record, I used to shop in a health food store.
Bob’s been begging me to find cans of Coke. Or as Rosie would call it, Cola Cola. For some reason it’s really not so readily available. You can buy one can at a time for 6.50 NIS (more than $1.50) but who wants to buy 12 cokes for $18??? No, we’re drinking lots of Mai Eden water – from the machine and from the bottles I keep getting when I spend a certain amount at the makolet. 300 NIS, remember? I do that a lot so the bottles have started to accumulate. The dairy kitchen nee frying kitchen has become, effectively, a water storage kitchen. Today Bob took notice. The stack of water bottles is taller than him. So the water’s pretty cheap and the fruity drinks started getting expensive. (The Coke never even made it into the equation – poor Bob.) So we started with a very Israeli thing called Petal. It’s a sugary syrup in different flavors. You add it to the water to make a fruity flavored (sugar) water. There’s, of course, Grape Tylenol flavor and then there’s Raspberry flavor and Apple flavor. That’s all we’ve tried so far but when I noticed gallon jugs of Petal in the makolet today, I feel like I was glimpsing my future.

In pursuit of oot.
It’s like last summer all over again. I found the prune juice, the cranberry juice, I substituted plum jelly for prune butter – how different could they be? Apricot jam for apricot butter, lemon juice and apple sauce were no problem. Two hours on the fire and as it was cooling the butcher showed up. Guess who else carries a gun? He unpacked my order with me and gave me his father’s phone number and suggested I call his father in the morning to get a very good recipe to use with the brisket I ordered. I’m sitting here on the couch playing “bus” with Becky and she keeps reminding me I’m supposed to be cooking for Shabbat. She got a little excited when I told her there would be lahamagine. I’ll have to end here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #27 - The little things.

My gardener looks like Noach. What we imagine Noach would look like, anyway. He’s got a long white beard and he wears a faded khaki Gilligan hat. He wears a white button-down oxford and faded khaki pants. He’s soft spoken and measured. He seems to commune with the garden when he comes. Which is why we hired him. That and a little bit the Noach thing. He works every day on the garden. We expected him to have a crew of foreign labor as his helpers. He does not. He has a Persian yeshivah boy as his sole helper. Bob loves to hang out and talk with them while he drinks his morning coffee and they tend to the garden.

The drive home from OT is magnificent – the kids go to a center in the Kfar Etzion kibbutz, about 4 minutes south of Efrat, between Alon Shvut and Bat Ayin. The Judean Hills provide a powerful contrast to the drive home from Omni on Coney Island Avenue…

A lady was holding her one year old and trying to take out her wallet to pay for her groceries at the same time. The baby started to cry and she quickly pulled a bite sized halva bar out of her purse and gave him a piece. He ate it and stopped crying. Israeli babies cry for halva.

Today the pharmacist saw me looking at a weekly organizer calendar on the counter while he was ringing me up. He asked if I wanted one, free. I said no, a little too quickly and a lot too forcefully. It took him by surprise. I had to explain myself. I have been trying to wrap my brain around the Israeli calendar since the kids started school and signed up for OT, taekwando, English lessons and tutoring. There are the Hebrew days of the week to begin with. Yom Rishon, Yom Sheni, Yom Shelishi, Yom Reviyee, Yom Hamishee, Yom Sheeshee and Yom Shabbat. We all know this. We learn it in yeshivah, in Hebrew School, when we visit Israel as teenagers, whenever. Fine. Did you know the Hebrew days also have numbers? Which in Hebrew are actually letters? Alef is the first day. Yom Rishon. Sounds simple, right. Except that my kids have taekwondo on Bet and Hey. So first I have to translate Bet and Hey to 2 and 5. Then I have to think what the 2nd and 5th days are and what they correspond to in English. All good, right. Then I open the calendar to pencil them in for taekwondo on Mondays and Thursdays (I hope!) and what do you know. Hebrew is written right to left. Why should the Israeli calendar be any different. It took me an hour to get my kids’ schedule into my new (backwards) calendar and I am just waiting to miss an appointment because I thought it was on Tuesday but really it was on Friday.

It’s funny – Bob uses this algorithm whereby he sets the independence date of the modern state of Israel to the independence date of the United States and thus concludes Israel is up to about 1776 plus 61 years – 1837. Conclusion – we’re living in the wild wild west.

Guns, guns everywhere.
Just like political correctness is not a sensitive issue here, neither is gun control. In fact, I doubt there is even a Hebrew word for gun control. Until I was 17 and traveled to Israel I’d never seen a gun. Now I am pressed against them in grocery lines! Just to be clear, Israeli’s carrying guns do so with permits acquired under strict scrutiny. There is no celebratory gunfire at an Israeli wedding.

I love seeing who is carrying a gun. It’s usually someone I’d be scared to see with a gun if I saw them in New York. When we were at the beach in Tel Aviv I saw these guys who looked like real beach bums – no shirts, hairy chests, baggy swim shorts – laying down on a picnic table – one on each bench and one over the top. Then I saw their IDF issued M-16’s and realized those beach bums were soldiers on break and my whole perception of them changed. Then there was the guy from Latrun bending over to help his daughter with something, his undershorts showing because his jeans were so low. And around the belt loop of those low jeans – a holster. With a gun. There’s the lifeguard at the pool in Jerusalem. He walks around, helping ladies who need baby wipes and little girls who lose their bracelets in the pool. And he carries a gun. Some more unexpected armed citizens: our local weather man, my landlord, several of my neighbors including a yeshivah boy from Brooklyn (all grown up), and my painter. Motorcyclists seem to carry guns disproportionately but then, it’s probably just that I can see their waistline while they are driving as opposed to all those Citroen, Peugeot, and Mazda drivers. The kids’ crossing guards are armed (the grown up ones, not the kids wearing safety vests, carrying long sticks with stop signs). In the toy store today I noticed water guns of the variety that would have Wal-Mart executives scrambling to call their in-house counsel – one looked exactly like the gun our security station attendant carries. Another looked pretty much exactly like a rifle. The only giveaway on either – a little orange cap on the tip, presumably where the water comes out.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #26 – lost in the translation or just lost?

Excerpts from a safety message I received in Hebrew via email from my kids’ school – I ran it through Google Translator:

Re: Reach for safe passage to school.
…to strengthen the safety of the arrival of a schoolboy…bay download front of the school is intended solely for buses organized shuttles. Parents who take their car first asked to download the children fled, Rachel immediately after turning right spread, olive oil adjacent to the sidewalk... Parents downloading their children in the garage faces the School are asked to perform the horseshoe curve only traffic circle…

And so the mystery of bad signage has been cracked –Google Translator is to blame!

You must be confusing me with someone else.
Bob returned to the store we love to hate – the Office Depot – to buy toner cartridges for the printer we bought less than 2 months ago. Remember? The one they made him open in the store then forbid him from returning… Anyway, he walked in with the empty toner cartridge and asked for a new one.

We do not sell that particular toner. But we asked if you sell the toner before we bought the printer! Which printer? The Canon Pixma MX320. We don’t sell that printer. BUT WE BOUGHT IT HERE. No you didn’t.

There is a reason they do not permit new olim to get a gun for the first three years they are in the country.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #25 - political correctness has it's place - but it's not here.

I am aware that everything I experience here is filtering through my American lense but this was really over the top. I stopped dead in my tracks in front of the cookie display. I was holding in laughter as I took these pictures. The makolet manager saw me photographing the cookies and laughing to myself. Even if I explained it to him he'd never get it. Woah.
The bottom picture (with the big earings) caught my eye. Then I noticed her cookies were dark chocolate. The lighter skinned women represented the caramel cookies and the chocolate vanilla mixed. The character on the package reflects, in essence, the flavor of the cookies inside. Go ahead, look again.

I brought Barbara to school today for an orientation with her new morah. There were no medical forms to fill out though I’ve heard that if I don’t send the kids with proof of vaccination the school nurse will bring them up to date (“The nurse will be giving us shots??? On the first day of school???”). There was nothing about food allergies and what foods you can bring in to the school (hello Bamba!). Though the general dress code is known – modest skirt and shirt – there was nothing given out about a dress code. For the girls OR the mommies.

My big girl took one half of one step into the classroom and then, with tears welling in her eyes, suctioned her entire body to my pregnant belly. Thank Gd her face was smashed into my midsection – she couldn’t see my tears. Between me, the morah, several kind classmates and their compassionate “we’ve all been there” mothers, we got her to join the group. Fast forward to pickup, close to two hours later. She was all smiles. She looked at me with starry eyes and said, in a wistful voice, I have the nicest teacher in the world! I asked about the classmates and got a similar description.

Benatayim (there were close to 2 hours for me to quick go shopping and figure out what I am sending 4 kids for lunch each day SIX DAYS A WEEK – that’s 24 lunches!!!), I went to the makolet. Earlier I had given Asher a data collection exercise – we made a grid chart with each child’s name down the side and across the top we put Asher’s 4 choices of lunches (we’re working with the lowest common denominator here – Asher is my worst eater). So Asher surveyed the girls to see who would be willing to eat (once or twice weekly) noodles, fishsticks, cream cheese sandwiches, and pancakes. The girls were game.

Listening to other mom’s talking and just walking around the makolet I had a few ideas for supplemental items – fruit, cheese sticks with crackers, potato chips, cheeto’s, cereal in a baggy, drinkable yogurts – and all the while I secretly longed for the availability of daily school lunch. At any price.

There are four flavors of Gold’s Duck Sauce available in the makolet. Oriental, Polynesian, Szechuan, and Cantonese. I can’t remember having such a selection in Brooklyn. I always thought Gold’s Duck Sauce came in regular or spicy. How different could they all be, I thought? I’ll just grab one. Then I saw the price. 30 NIS per jar. Holding off on duck sauce until I can figure out which one is which.