Thursday, December 31, 2009

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

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

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

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

We’ll have to see about that…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll have to see about that…

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

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

Mascara costs 125 NIS here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #98 – parallel thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #96 – Our first Chanukah in Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't worry. The plane will arrive safely.

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

Enjoy the NBN Chanukah Flash Mob on Ben Yehuda Street:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #94 - Nes gadol haya po!

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #93 – more like swirling thought fragments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 5, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 3, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #90 – that’s our shul!

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

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

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

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

My life goes on.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #89 - treatments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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