Sunday, December 26, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #182 – some things take almost a year and a half to seep into your consciousness...

For example…
Ahava’s Mineral Shampoo for Men of all Hair Types is the very same product as Ahava’s Anti-Dandruff Shampoo for All People of All Hair Types.

Of course there's no way of telling this from the packaging. I'm certain, in fact, that the only way to ascertain this liberating truth is to actually live here for precisely a year and a half (the time required to visit the Ahava factory exactly twice, search in vain in your local pharmacy for the same products exactly 100 times, to be told by (but not believe) your local pharmacist that the two products are the same, and then to visit the Ahava factory a third time and be told by an Ahava expert that the two products are, in fact, the same).

For example…
A 2.8% fat yogurt actually has 4.2 grams of fat. (it takes a while to internalize the European-style nutritional info given per 100g)

For example…
The (school sponsored) Egg Falling Competition (whereby students drop eggs from the roof of school to see if they can sufficiently pad them to keep them from breaking) actually marks the two month countdown to Purim (which actually marks the unofficial end of the school year).

For example…
A toilet paper roll is a valuable raw material. (As kids acclimate to the Israeli recycling mentality they will re-use EVERYTHING). Barbara is weaving me a scarf using a toilet paper roll and toothpicks as a loom.
For example…
All peppers are the same. There is no hierarchy of peppers. 9.90 NIS per kilo for light green, dark green, red, orange, and even yellow.

For example…
Double dutch jump rope. (Okay, so this will seep into your seven year old’s consciousness).

For example…
Margarine is good. (But only for suffocating lice). My neighbor offered me some cookie dough for the kids to roll out and cut with shapes. They heard me ask her if the dough was made with margarine. They rolled the cookies but refused to taste the dough and wouldn’t even taste the cookies.

For example…
It’s wasteful (shameful, even) to use a water bottle only one time. Becky’s been hounding me for months to devote a kitchen drawer to rinsed-out water bottles so she can reuse them. And she’s not waiting for me. I see her washing bottles herself and filling them with iced tea, orange juice and even coca cola. (Although, for Becky it’s less about recycling and more about sneaking sweet drinks to school...)

For at least the past 6 months I’ve been sending eco-friendly reusable water bottles with the kids. We fill them with Mai Eden in the morning and we water the plants with leftover water in the evening before we wash them out for the next day. It was going along very green and good until the Mai Eden delivery mishap - a half-order of water was delivered. Inevitably, halfway through the month, we ran out. And so I went back to buying water bottles.

Barbara’s grade is having a recycling competition – which class can collect the most water bottles. Barbara was proud to report:
My class is winning the bottle competition! We have the most bottles!
(Having a hard time picturing the Israeli classmates with single-use bottles).
Actually, it’s me bringing in most of the bottles. Everyone else washes theirs out and reuses it four times.
Oh, the shame.

For example…
Removing the fatty vein from a #5 (Minute Steak) Roast is not an Israeli concept. In fact, it’s downright wasteful! Bob and I had big plans to visit the shuk last Thursday but then I woke up sick. He ended up taking the baby to the grocery store and visiting the local butcher instead. I forget that when Bob maneuvers here, he does everything in Hebrew. And his Hebrew is pretty Israeli. As per my request he ordered a #5 roast, 2-3 kilo. And he ordered it in Hebrew.

The butcher handed him a roast in a bag, all bloody and juicy. Bob handed it back to him and said,
You’ll clean it up for me, yes?
But it’s good like this! The juices are all good!
No, you don’t understand. My wife is American.
Ahhhh! American! Yes! She wants London BOIL. It’s London BOIL the American women like. I will cut it and deliver it to your wife.

Several hours later my meat order arrived. A minute steak roast, split into two plus a mysterious third package.

It's in my freezer now, awaiting a time when I become Israeli enough to know what to do with it.... the fatty vein.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #181 - postscript

I asked Rosie if she needed to take lunch to the Shabbat party.
(Giggles) Of course, Ima!
Of course she shouldn’t eat chocolate cake until she’s eaten her chocolate sandwich!

She bounced out the front door in princess braids, a Shabbat dress, earrings and even lipstick. I watched from the doorway, in my pajamas. And as I started my challah, put up my roast, cleaned my vegetables and worked on another experimental whole wheat cake, all in my pajamas, I thought of my Rosie, the Ima Shel Shabbat, glamorously lighting candles, singing songs and baking cake in gan. How I hoped that cake wouldn’t embarrass her!

She came home euphoric.
How was it?
What did you do?
I don’t know.
How was the cake?
Like you always make, mommy!
But I never made that cake before!
Yes, mommy – it tasted like the cake you always make.
Okay…Who made it? Did the morah understand the directions?
I called different people to put in the ingredients.
And did everybody like the cake?

Did you sing songs?
Which songs?

I don't know.
Did you light candles?
The morah helped me.

What else did you do?
I don't know.
Did you like being Ima Shel Shabbat, Rosie?
I loved it!
Do you think next time mommy can come see you be Ima Shel Shabbat?
(Giggles) Of course not, Ima!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #180 – Ima Shel Shabbat

In Brooklyn when your child is the Shabbat Ima you get a note home inviting you to join the class and asking you to bring in a snack or a drink.

Tomorrow my Rosie is the Ima Shel Shabbat in her gan. I am not invited. This is not to be taken personally. It’s just not done. Last year I asked the Ganenet if I could just pop in. She told me I should just give her my camera and she would snap some pictures for me. They make it like a big non-event. Because seriously, doesn't the real Ima have enough to take care of on a Friday morning?

And while I did not receive an invitation, I did receive a petek (note) listing for me the items I am to send in with her tomorrow. I looked over the petek and understood only one word, ooga (cake).

Cracking the code…
1st attempt:
Rosie, are you supposed to bring cake to the Shabbat Party?
No, mommy. I have to bring something for the cake!
What are you supposed to bring for the cake?
Something something something
(really fast in Hebrew).
Uh huh.
Mommy, maybe you can call the Morah?

2nd attempt:
Bob – can you read this petek?
It says you have to bring things for cake.
Things for cake?
I think you have to bring ingredients.
(quickly passing the buck) Here, Barbara, tell Mommy what this petek says.
It says you have to send tzedakah.
Oh, wait, no, it says you have to bring ingredients for cake.
What ingredients? What cake? What are they talking about???

3rd and final attempt:
Morah? Shalom. It’s Rosie’s mom. What should she bring tomorrow?
Thankfully the morah was in the company of an English speaking friend who kindly advised me over the phone:
You need to send a recipe for cake. And you need to send all the ingredients to prepare the recipe.
I looked at my groceries, just delivered, sitting on the kitchen floor, wondering what cake recipe could be made without white flour and white sugar.
Got it. Thanks!

Okay but that wasn’t even the hard part
I quickly turned a chocolate cake recipe into a whole wheat, brown sugar chocolate cake recipe and measured out ingredients. Now came the fun.

3 cups flour became
3 כוסות קמח
2 cups sugar
2 כוסות סוכר
Etc. etc.

I decided the reason Israeli's love these little envelopes of vanilla sugar is because they are so easy to send to gan when your recipe call for vanilla. I mean, that's why I love them now. Because how is anyone sending in one teaspoon of vanilla?

I worked with my doctored recipe and Google Translator for almost an hour getting the measurements and then the instructions ready for a class of Hebrew speaking 4 year olds. I had Barbara proofread the recipe. I can’t believe after all that work I am not invited to see my Rosie be Ima Shel Shabbat! Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe I shouldn’t be there when the untested doctored cake comes out of the oven…

I put the ingredients together in a bag with the recipe and showed it to Rosie. She told me she wants to wet her hair in the morning so we can fix it just so. This is sounding less like a non-event and more like a magical princess party.

A friend of mine recently commented in the middle of our 10 year old daughters’ school play that her daughter didn’t know how to strike a match. She mentioned it after one of the 10 year olds on stage lit candles. With a match. I said Barbara had never struck a match either. We laughed as we recognized the difference in Israeli vs. American upbringing but I wondered – at what age are Israeli children instructed in match striking? Is it in gan? Is that why they don't want mommy's to come?!

Rosie - will you light the candles tomorrow?
Yes, Mommy but the Morah helps me.

She’s so very excited to be Ima Shel Shabbat. And while I stay home being the real Ima, preparing for the real Shabbat, I will be thinking of my Rosie. Lighting candles, looking like a princess. I’m so very excited for her.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #179 - The Road to
Singapore? Zanzibar? Morocco?

We packed up snacks (potato chips and Shugi’s) and water and were on our way. I recently described the Shugi to my friend Michele.
It’s like a granola bar. Without any granola. It’s made of corn. But it’s mostly sugar.
And then she got the joke.
And they really call it Shugi?!

Once again we were the envy of the road with our Chimigag but maybe this time we were too enthusiastic.
Look at all this space in the car!
I know! Everything fit in the Chimigag!
Three hours into the drive…
Oh, the baby threw up! Where are her clothes?

Lucky chance spotting
I was excited to see Bedouin tents complete with YES satellite dishes. My kids were rendered speechless at the site of two dead sheep. After that they were wide eyed the whole way down. Who knows what else we would spot! There were wild camels grazing, the Shugi factory(!!!), chemical plants and the hint of an alleged nuclear facility…, military choppers, and an ominous sign confirming the presence of wild camels.

There was the hand-painted chill-inducing sign reminding us that
גלעד שליט גם מגיע לחופשה
(Gilad Shalit also deserves a vacation).

We found the fountain of youth (translated as Youth Fountain) and the Plant Quarantine Zone (with instructions not to throw any fruits). Next came a Firing Zone and then, as we slowed down to enter Eilat, six and a half hours into our journey, we were looking into Jordan. But not like in the north where you see a border fence, a buffer zone and lots of nature. We were looking into a busy city just on the other side of the border fence. We could see the drivers inside their cars! My kids couldn’t understand where we were.

Are we still in Israel?
Is that Israel over there?
No, it’s Jordan.
(And then, to really confuse them, I pointed straight ahead and showed them Egypt).
Are we leaving Israel?
And then it hit me.
Remember how we lived next to Raymond in Brooklyn? He was our next door neighbor, right? So Jordan is our next door neighbor now.
Ok fine. But how much longer until Eilat??
We’re here!

And so we were! Eilat was a blur of sunshine, friends, pools, Israeli breakfast, and sufganiot (jelly donuts). There were adventures inside of Eilat as well – the search for a hunchbacked token thief in the video arcade, the returning of a lost boy to his mom with the helped of an armed waiter, children (not mine!) playing in the pool with glass beer bottles (and the gentle exchange of bottles for plastic cups), sink holes in the sand pool and a heated discussion with an aloof lifeguard which led to a sign being placed over said sink holes (yes, this exact sign):

Asher was a superhero with his metal detector, detecting Shekels, Euros and Rubles, stopping to pose for photo ops with people who’d never before seen a metal detector.

Peetoosh and I took the scenic route home (the flight over the Negev is breathtaking) and Bob drove with the kids. I don’t know what they spotted out the window, if anything. They made it back in 3 ½ hours.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #178 – Diet is exercise

Math and Ulpan before I drink my café afook? My brain hurts.
It’s been a bajillion years since I did WeightWatchers but what can I say? A year and a half of bar mitzvah hopping and Israeli breakfast is adding up. I decided it was time to revisit the familiar fool-proof pointing system of weight-loss past.

I joined WeightWatchers on-line and calculated point values for everything from 5% cottage cheese to 1.5% yogurt. I figured out how to say calorie (energie), fiber (sivan) and fat (shuman) in Hebrew. I converted the calorie, fiber and fat measurements from the irrelevant European-style 100g portions into actual servings. For example, whole wheat crackers come in a 200g package. Nutritional information is given per 100g. The crackers themselves are divided into four portions. Hm, hm, hm, (quick math-in-my-head-noise), divide the nutritional information in half for the 50g serving size. Got it.

Then, after a bajillion years of using the same points system, WeightWatchers decided it was time for an overhaul. Of the points system. Today.

I woke up and was welcomed to my new plan manager with PointsPlus and a little note about how I’ll love the new calculations.
Do they know how hard I worked to get the old calculations?
I fired off an email demanding the return of the old points system.
I got an automated reply letting me know I’ll be getting a human reply. I'm still waiting.
I settled in for a quick session with google translate. I've added carbohydrates (pachmimot) and protein (halvon) to my vocabulary and am working on recalculating the points values of my favorite crackers, yogurts, and cottage cheese.

I already get the gimmick of this new system.
After all the translating and calculating, there’s no time left to eat.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #177 - All I can say is that my life is pretty plain... I like watching the puddles gather rain...

Today Bob pulled a baby stroller out of our storage shed. It was still wrapped from our lift and I was reminded of the rainy summer before we left New York. It had rained for 30 consecutive days. I prayed the rain would subside so we could pack our lift without fear of all our belongings crossing the Atlantic in a sealed container of dampness and mildew and yuck. My prayers were answered that day.

There’s a law in Israel that requires you to drive with your headlights on during the daylight hours from November 1 to March 31. No matter what. No matter that we’re in the midst of our fourth consecutive heat wave since horef (winter) officially started. No matter that Rosie asked me to buy her sunglasses because it’s so bright out when we walk to school that it hurts her eyes.

Speaking of horef
Winter in Israel is defined, in my amateur opinion, as a continuum of beautiful sunny 70°F days interrupted by 3 days at a time of fog and intermittent rain showers. Except that, so far, nobody got the memo about the fog and intermittent rain showers. We’re past the 6 month mark of no rain. We need rain. We’re praying for rain. Barbara can’t understand why it rained so much in New York and yet we haven’t seen rain since March. I tried to explain it in some sort of lofty spiritual vs. material existence way but I wasn’t very convincing. I admit. I am coveting New York rain.

Side effects of no rain – straight from the headlines
Forest Fires Rage as Israel's Rainy Season Fails to Arrive

Cattle ranchers suffering as brush fires have turned large swaths of pasture on the Golan Heights into ashen wastelands

Bananas and persimmons have ripened early, causing serious problems for farmers

Israel faces worst butter shortage in country's history: Slow-to-begin winter is largely to blame for the shortage, since cows produce less milk and butterfat when it's hot out...

In other news
Bob went to the shuk yesterday for our weekly restocking of fruit, vegetables, meat, pita, pickles, ka’ak and nuts. We’re making “Thanksgiving Shabbat” so my vegetable order was particularly large. He reported he bonded a little with our vegetable guy in the Iraqi shuk.
You did? I always try to bond with him! Did I tell you that?
No. But we’re so bondy with all our other guys.
I know! I want to be bondy with our vegetable guy! So what was the bonding?
Well I had a lot of onions. And then a lot of potatoes. Then I got a lot of cucumbers and tomatoes. I handed it all to him and he said, “Are you sure that’s all?”
And what did you say?
And then?
Nothing. That’s it.
That was the bonding?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #176 – conversations with rosie

Rosie’s been learning about composting in gan. She’ll burst out with a tidbit about composting in the middle of dinner, bath, or playtime. What goes in the composter, what doesn’t go in the composter, all kinds of things about the composter. Except that she calls it the com-POST-air. And they must teach it in terms of gender roles because she tells me
Aba has to put the peels in the com-POST-air. Tell Aba, Mommy.

Today they took a field trip to the Mercaz (Central) Something or Other that has to do with composting. Not recognizing the words I asked her what it was. She thought for a minute and then explained
It’s like a gan…without yeladim (children).

Mini Clips
Look Mommy! A heepusheet!
You mean lady bug, Rosie?

Look Mommy! Asher and Becky have otodovar! And me and Barbara have otodovar!
You mean Asher and Becky’s slushies are the same? And yours and Barbara’s are the same?

Mommy, I want to make sure there is lahamagine maspeak l’kulam.
You mean you want to make sure there is enough lahamagine for everyone?

I’m trying not to lose Rosie’s English. But this email from school reminded me that the important thing is not to misplace Rosie.

Via Google Translate:
School Secretariat collected many pairs of glasses. And children.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #175 - where do I live? what language do I speak? will a cactus take bob to the airport? it's all so confusing!

So much faith!!!
When I speak to my Sri Lankan housekeeper it’s in slow and deliberate English. I know English is not his first language and I want to be sure he understands what I’m saying. It would never occur to me to speak to him fast.

So why is it when the school secretary calls to tell me that the post office doesn’t think I live in my house (yes, I do live in my house) and that the school has a package for me and she will just send it home with my son since the post office doesn’t know where my house is, why is it that she speaks to me so fast? Yes, one year and four months into it all I understand enough key words to understand what she is saying. Post office. Package. Address. Maybe she doesn’t know Hebrew is not my first language. But wait, she said something about Olim Hadashim (new immigrants). She is sending me a package for new immigrants. Surely she suspects that if the school wishes me to receive a package designated for new immigrants, than I, myself just might be…a new immigrant? She’s not the only one. I find myself asking people to repeat themselves ‘liat, liat’ (slowly slowly) several times throughout each day. So this begs the question. Do Israelis have no patience for a slow absorption? Do they underestimate the amount of time it takes to fully take on the language? Or do they have faith in the ability of new immigrants to acclimate quickly. So much faith that it would never occur to them to speak slow and deliberate Hebrew?

What’s worse? My Hebrew or Rosie’s English?
When Rosie came home and explained to me she needs a tikya for gan I thought I knew what she meant. I gave her two plastic folders to choose from.
No, no, Ima. I need (something something something, really fast in Hebrew with a strong Israeli accent)!
Huh? This isn’t a tikya?
No, Ima!
I asked Asher.
What’s a tikya.
You know, a tikya.
How do you say it in English?
I don’t know. Like a plastic thing. I think. I don’t know.
Asher does know what a tikya is. He just doesn’t know how to say or describe it in English.

Fast forward to this morning. Rosie asked me what day it is. I told her Monday. We started talking about the days of the week. I asked her if she knows the days of the week and she whizzed through them. In Hebrew. She told me something about Yom Rishon and Yom Reviyi. I tried changing the conversation to English days of the week.
You mean Sunday and Wednesday?
Rosie, how do you say Yom Hamishi in English?
She thought for a while, then answered.
Nachon. Can you tell me what day comes after Tuesday, Rosie?

I sent Rosie outside to put a bag of trash next to the front door. Meanwhile, I told Barbara about the days of the week thing and we agreed - Rosie not knowing her days of the week in English is a problem. Just then Rosie called to me.
Should I put the bag next to the taxi?
What taxi, Rosie?
The taxi next to the door?
Rosie, do you mean the cactus?
Yes, Ima! The cactus!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #174 – when the ordinary is extraordinary

One year ago today I visited Kever Rachel on a rather urgent impulse. In fact I was on the way to see my obstetrician. I had my mother in law in tow. We jumped in the car and I said something to the effect of,
We’re running a little bit late but it’s okay. The doctor will be running late, too. Let’s stop at Kever Rachel.
And so we did.
Later that day we enjoyed my sonogram, lunch and a lot of iced coffee. Later that evening there was the drama of my water breaking. In front of the kids. In front of the sofer. In front of the security hut at Hadassa Ein Kerem. Breaking breaking breaking.

There was the triage station. Where the Israeli triage doctor asked me questions I simply could not answer because I’d left all my important papers behind. Questions like my blood type, my previous children’s birth weight in kilograms, the result of my glucose testing. There were the midwives. From everywhere but Israel. Mostly Russian. It’s funny how a thick Russian accent sounds the same in English and in Hebrew. There was my doulah, walking me around, talking me through contractions in a thick British accent. And then the orders came down from above. My doctor had ordered petosin and an epidural. My protests were overruled and on we marched. To a new room with an IV drip. And an anesthesiologist. An Arab doctor, trained in Russia. Five spinal punctures later, the anesthesiologist finally nailed his target. But not before some intense screaming on my part and some intense fainting on the part of someone who shall remain nameless. From there it was the standard miraculous progression from woman in labor to woman with baby. Enter Rachel Merav.

While I bonded with my slimy little black haired angel I listened to Israeli women giving birth all around me. I’d never heard the screams of anyone else giving birth. They must keep the birthing room doors closed in Mount Sinai. Here at Ein Kerem they were wide open. Scream, scream, scream….wah, wah, wah. Over and over I listened to the miracles around me as I held my own close to my heart.

Today I visited Kever Rachel. On an urgent impulse I tagged along with a women’s group on their weekly bus trip. At some point I realized the significance of the date and the poignancy of having Rachel Merav in tow, though it’s not her first (or second or third or even fourth) visit.

Happy birthday, my Jerusalem-born Sabra. My Kever Rachel buddy. My sweet Rachel Merav.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #173 – if it’s possible and appropriate we would like to pair you up

I decided some time ago that what’s important culturally can be gleaned from the language. My proof was of the inverse – things that don’t matter, don’t really exist in the language (for example, words for “fairness”).

Some words stand out as used disproportionately. Efshar is my favorite. I use it the way I hear it:
Is it possible to order? Efshar lazmin?
Is it possible to enter? Efshar lekaness?
The answer is usually 'betak!' (of course) or an enthusiastic, ‘efshar!’ (possible!). But sometimes it’s ‘ani hayav livdok’ – I must check.
I love efshar because it’s not at all sarcastic the way it would be in English. Imagine you want to get the attention of the sales clerk at the Gap in Kings Plaza and you ask
Is it possible for me to pay?
The unspoken response: It might be possible, but now you’re going to have to wait while I fold these returns, Lady!
Not only isn’t it sarcastic here, but there’s an added dimension. If it’s possible, of course we’ll do it for you! And if we’re not sure if it’s possible, we’ll find out if it’s possible. Because we want to do it for you!
But then I get carried away because it seems to me you can just say ‘Efshar – Anything’.
If you live in a forgiving place where nobody expects your Hebrew to make sense you can get away with questions like:
Efshar kapit? to mean: Is it possible to get a teaspoon?
Of course, what I unwittingly asked the waiter was:
You can spoon?

How very inappropriate!
Which of course, brings me to my next favorite word – matim –fitting, but really, appropriate. The school is matim for him.
The topic was matim.
I love appropriateness! A fitting ideal in the holy land.

What my 4-year old had to say about couples:
When Rosie had a tiyul in gan, she came home and told me excitedly all about it.
Today we went on a rekevet and an auto-boos and I was zug with Yoseffi.
Liat was zug with Avital, Ahuva was zug with Boaz, Neely was zug with Pelly...
This concept of zug, pairing, is of paramount importance in the Hebrew language, although I’m not sure why Israeli culture values its time units (and body parts) in couples.

What my ulpan teacher had to say about couples:
If you have a day, you have a YOM. Many days are YOMIM.
But if you have 2 days, they are YOM-AYIM.
One week – SHAVUAH. Many weeks, SHAVUOT.
Just 2 weeks – SHVU-AYIM.
One month – CHODESH. Many months – CHODESHIM.
Just 2 months – CHOD-SHAYIM.
Are you following? It’s the AYIM to indicate a cozy zug of time.
If something happens once, you say PA’AM. If it happens many times, PA’AMIM.
But if it happens twice – you guessed it – PA'AM-AYIM.
Then there are hands (YAD, YAD-AYIM), eyes (AYIN, AY-NAYIM), legs (REGEL, REG-LAYIM) and all the other zugim of the human body.

I thought I knew all there was to know about couples
Then I had coffee with a good friend. I ordered for both of us.
Efshar lazmin shtey café afook? (Is it possible to order 2 coffees)
Or so I thought.
Café afook pa'am-ayim, she corrected me.
Café afook two times?
They take this couple thing very seriously.

Later that week I asked a waiter at a bar mitzvah for water – for me and Bob.
I thought about it for a second and then I made my move.
Efshar mayim pa'am-ayim?
I got a nod from the waiter, raised eyebrows from Bob and then water. Two times.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #172 – Do I feel safe here?

As we sat in the food court of the Malcha Mall, Bob asked me this question.
Do you feel safe here?
What did he mean? This is the type of question I get from visitors as I drive them past the security checkpoint to enter Gush Etzion. Or as we enter Efrat from the traffic circle we share with Bet Lehem. Bob and I never have this conversation! Did he see someone suspicious? Did he have a gut feeling about something? I looked around to confirm my initial reaction and then answered him, confidently.
Yes. Absolutely.
Look up.

As you can see the decorative ceiling in the food court of the Malcha Mall is somewhat short of completion. And the piles of metal rods needed to finish the job are available. And waiting. Precariously perched overhead... Maybe the workers are on hafseka (break). Maybe they are on strike. I ate the rest of my salad looking straight down at my plate.

The benchmark for a subtle, unobtrusive fence…
The ‘light rail’ in Jerusalem is nearing completion. There are rails built right into sidewalks all over the city. Apparently the train will appear, doors will open all over the place, people will step on and the train will disappear.
But how will people not get run over by the train? The rails are in the middle of the sidewalk. There is no fence.
They’ll have to put a fence. Nothing big.
Like the landmine fence?
That’s more like a suggestion not to cross than a real fence. Yeah, something like that.
You know the baby really loved the pool last week. What are we going to do when she discovers the fish pond?
I was thinking we should put a little suggestion of a fence around it. Nothing big.
The landmine fence?
That would be perfect.

Just when you think you can’t be surprised at the upside-down-ness of this place…
When I called to schedule the baby’s appointment with a pediatric pulmonologist after a bout of wheezing, I was given an appointment at 8:45. The doctor is in Kikar Shabbat which is a well-known 5-way intersection in the heart of Mea Shearim. An extremely busy place but easy to find parking before 9am. I was happy.
To confirm. Your appointment is Sunday at 8:45pm.
No! No! I need a something earlier!
Something earlier…I have 6:45.
In the morning?
No. 6:45 in the evening.
Do you have something in the morning?
No, the doctor only has hours from 6-10 at night.

Hebrew Word of the Day (proper nouns count)….
There’s a guy everyone seems to know. He’s everywhere and yet, he’s nowhere to be found. He’s to blame for everything and everyone’s got a story about him. His name is Plony Almony and just the other day I was speaking about him to Barbara. And then the very next day her teacher mentioned him in class. Plony Almony is the Israeli Joe Schmoe.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #171 – Accepting that “First In Line” is a meaningless title will take you a long way here

Hebrew Word of the Day:
Chutzpanit – someone who has over-stepped the boundaries of accepted behavior with no shame.

I should have known better but how could I have known….
That when you visit Hevron during Hol Hamoed Sukkot that more than a thousand other people will also be visiting (okay, no problem), that you will have to park your car in a field somewhere in Kiryat Arba (reasonable) and take one of many available buses in (easy, so far), but that when you want to leave you will suddenly be involved in a struggle with more than a thousand other people to board a scarce bus back to the field somewhere in Kiryat Arba (very orderly, everyone waiting patiently in line, respecting the order and the line, oh, wait a minute, no, THE OPPOSITE of that).

After 3 failed attempts at boarding a bus with my children (each time I was first in line – a relevant fact only in my mind) I decided I had two choices. Become Israeli or wait until the last of those thousand plus people left at nightfall and then pray a final bus would come for me and my family. Was it really even a choice?

I threw 3 of my girls onto the next bus. Literally. Rosie’s feet didn’t touch the steps of the bus. She landed next to the driver.
GO GO GO! I shouted. IN IN IN!
Barbara asked if she should climb in under someone’s legs.
Rosie, Becky and Barbara disappeared inside. The bus driver got up to tell me and the throngs of people amassed behind me,
Meleh, Meleh (full).
With feigned dismay and pseudo-shock I said:
Aval ha yeladim sheli befnim! But my children are inside!
As I pushed my way onto the bus I looked the driver in the eye.
As I made my way to the back of the bus, found ample space for me and Rosie, and discovered Bob, Asher and the Baby had all boarded as well, I heard Becky asking Bob:
Aba. What is chutzpanit?
Why do you ask, Becky?
The bus driver said Mommy is chutzpanit!

How do you know your ‘klita’ (absorption and acclimation into the Israeli way of life) is progressing? For starters, you start using words like ‘klita’. You wish people a Horef Tov, literally, “happy winter.” And if you’re really making strides like me, when an Israeli bus driver calls you 'Chutzpanit!' you smile and wear that label like a badge of honor.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #170 - enthusiasm for all things Israeli (80's tunes on intercepted airwaves included)

Hebrew Words of the Day:
Kan Kan – pitcher (We’ll take a kan kan of water for the table.)
Koo Koo – pony tail holder (Rosie – put your hair in a koo koo so you don’t get lice!)
Kooshbalaboosh – scribble scrabble (Look at my picture, Mommy. It’s kooshbalaboosh!)

Totally Israeli phenomenon of the Day:
My Israeli neighbor has a gigantic side yard in perfectly manicured…Astroturf. And I’m absolutely 100% certain he’s never even heard of the Brady Bunch.
What is it about Anglos living in the Middle East rocking out to 80’s tunes?
I have a new favorite radio station – Mood 92.
Serving the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
And Efrat.
They play a few notes of something from Christopher Cross and then interrupt to announce:
If you like this then you’ll love Mood 92. Best music in The Kingdom.
Everything is about The Kingdom. They advertise the best BMW dealership in The Kingdom. The best hair removal products in The Kingdom. That’s about the only two ads they run. Then they’re back to the best music in The Kingdom. ELO, Mister Mister, Meatloaf, The Steve Miller Band, Kool & the Gang, Bob Marley(!!!). I’m loving Mood 92 but I would have named it something else. "Shameless 80’s for The Kingdom, plus".

New land. New fruits.
The last time I was enjoying Mood 92 I was on my way to the shuk. In search of Passiflora. Until recently I thought Passiflora was only a slushie flavor. Then my friend Melissa showed me the fruit and how to eat it (wait until it looks dried out and brown, cut it in half and scoop out the delicious inside). Of course I’m about a month too late. There is no Passiflora in all the shuk. But what is that intoxicating fruity smell? It’s everywhere?
I ask my fruit guy.
Mah zeh?
Zeh gwee-ah-vah.
Mmm! Guava!
Never having eaten one but sold on the fragrant aroma, I buy half a kilo. Then I see Becky’s favorite fruit, parsimon (persimmon). I buy a kilo, forgetting I bought a kilo yesterday in the makolet. Then I see figs. I can’t help myself. A kilo of figs. When my kids get home and see the fruit bowl they look mildly interested and then ask if there are more donuts hiding anywhere. I don’t care. I love our new fruits!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #169 - Mysteries

Disappearing time
My friend pointed out to me last night that I haven’t posted since October 1. What have I been so busy with, I wondered to myself?

Of course it’s those school emails I’ve been running through Google Translator. Every day, sometimes 4, 5 or even 6 in a single day. Since the first day of school I have received 16 emails from the girls school, 19 emails from the boys school and 4 emails from Asher’s teacher directly. 39 emails in 22 days of school.

Email about the uniforms and the long arm of the law:
Modesty shirt meets the long ruling of law school

And then the follow up email where they tell you where to park it:
Parents have not yet completed the purchase of polo shirts are asked to park the palm.

Email about the fangs pygmies online course:
will also Hebrew Online Course -" Fangs pygmies "which taught parents and children Onashir our knowledge in the holy tongue.

The school lunch menu email, (again with ham!):
Sunday Monday Wednesday Thursday
Hmgisit: Schnitzel, spaghetti, pizza and vegetable two triangles Pizzeria in Gush Hmgisit:Chicken, rice, vegetable baguette with ham
All dishes will be added to fruit.

Email about the inconvenience of olive grenade fire:
March rally tomorrow's youth rally with olive grenade fire. You like to stay for the inconvenience, we'd love to see you join us and your child walk.

The volunteering project email:
Youth movements in a week, we are pleased to announce that today the value like a commune in the business counselors - and then turn our daughters school activities and kindness six different stations. We see the appropriate Youth belonging to the spirit house.

And then there were multiple emails regarding the library project, the recycling project, the water project, the bus schedule, changes to the bus schedule, sweatshirts for the uniforms, and the crying-seltzer-on-fire-back-to-school-night:
Please note that the meeting was crying and 4 of the torch Seltzer begins earlier at 19:30.

This year, I attended back to school night for Barbara, Asher and Becky (last year I missed all three). I took notes on whatever I could understand.
Tzedakah yes.
Silly Bandz no.
Need sweatshirtim.

Missing vocabulary
This morning I took Barbara with me for coffee. She ordered a muffin. The lady understood muffin.
Ech omrym muffin b’ivrit? (how do you say muffin in Hebrew)
K’mo Anglit?
(like in English?)
I laughed.
Ein l’chem mah-feen lifney ha Amerikayim ba’im? (there was no 'muffin' before the Americans arrived?)
Nachon! (correct)

Along with muffin, sweatshirtim, and redymiks concrete, Amerikayim seem to have brought a host of new concepts to Israel. For example, fairness.
Zeh lo fair! (it’s not fair)
Zeh ken fair! (it is too fair!)
Lo! Zeh lo fair! (no, it’s not fair!)
Usually this discussion takes place near an elevator (or bus) door and involves people who waited patiently, hoping to get on, and people who pushed through (and actually got on).

The case of the missed boat
With Google Translator in my corner, I was holding my head up high. Knowledge really is power! Then Rosie’s back to school night pounced upon me. And knocked me flat on my back. She came home last Wednesday with an invitation she’d made herself.
Asher – does this say “hayom b’sha’ah 20:30”? (today at 8:30pm)
Uh, yes. And you have to bring a photograph of her.
What kind of gan tells you about back to school night
– (I look at my watch) - 4 hours in advance??? I have no babysitter! I cannot possibly go.
Yes rosie?
You HAVE to go.

I thought of the ‘Daf Kesher’ Rosie brings home from Gan every Friday. The ‘Page of Connection’ that doesn’t connect me because I don’t know what it says but of course it must have said something about Rosie’s back to school night. And the photograph. If only they’d emailed the notice! Oh Google Translator, where are you when I really need you???

Disappearing white pasta…
When Bob was in America last week I decided to make some small changes in our family diet. I went to the health food store and returned with wheat berries, amaranth, legumes, agave and whole wheat pasta. I cooked up lentil soup, fava beans, black beans, brown rice, soy protein, tofu and polenta – and insisted everyone try it. They all did, with varying degrees of resistance, and then settled in, each one, for a bowl of Cheerios.

The Case of the Disappearing Donut...
Bob returned from America with processed, hydrogenated and chemically altered (to last indefinitely on a shelf), Entenmann’s Donuts. A box of 12. The mother of all ‘whadjabringus?’ surprises.
12 donuts divided among 4 junk deprived children.
These children dream about donuts.
Their first words to Bob were
Hi Aba!
And their second words were
And to prevent a donut free-for-all which would surely result in crying
We implemented a strict schedule of donut consumption
Which also resulted in crying
Shabbat morning – one donut each
Sunday lunch snack – one donut each
That’s 8 donuts in 4 little bellies.
A report comes in.
Aba let Asher have a second donut on Shabbat.
Asher is maxed out.
9 donuts in 4 little bellies.
From 12.
Which leaves 3, right?
Except that there are only 2 in the box.
In unison:
Aba says, No. Maybe Asher ate it.
The kids join in.
Asher says no and then blames Becky.
Becky says no, blames Asher.
Someone suggests it was Rosie.
Bob points a finger at me.
I look at Barbara.
We are at an impasse.
And so, 2 donuts remain, uneaten, in the box, on the shelf.
Where they will last indefinitely.
Until the donut thief strikes again.

For the last week we’ve had a cat in the window.
My first question was
Who’s been feeding the cat?
They all say no.
Yesterday we noticed a second cat in the window
Somebody must be feeding these cats.
Who is feeding the cats?

Did someone feed the donut to one of the cats?
Did the cat come in and take the donut?
Will the children feed wheat berries and polenta to the cats?
Stay tuned for answers to these mysteries and more…

Friday, October 1, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #168 – serpents, chocolates, songs, and tzaddikim

Just in time for his 15 minutes of fame...

Yes, that is just outside my front door. Maybe I should stop saying I live in Gan Eden?

The finer things... We have them – Belgian Chocolates, yogurt covered energy bars – but they belong in the refrigerator. The eggs can sit on the counter indefinitely but unless you want a big melty blob of gourmet chocolate (or a confusing mix of yogurt melted together with glue from the wrapping of your energy bar), it’s best to rethink your use of refrigerator space.

Casualties of my aliya
Every Israeli knows these same 100 songs. They learn them first. In fact, they are called ‘100 First Songs’. In a year’s time my kids have learned every one of them. Yonatan Ha Katan (Little Yonatan), Yom Huledet Shel Itamar (happy birthday, Itamar!), etc., etc. So last week I told Rosie to sing the ABCs while she soaped her hands to be sure she spent enough time scrubbing. This is what I heard:
A-B-C-D-E…….I….. Silence.
Again, Rosie?
Again silence.
Followed by a lot of squealing, mostly from me.
OMIGOSH! She forgot her ABCs!!!
Barbara and Becky spent the rest of the day reprogramming Rosie in English (at some point they realized she also didn’t know Twinkle Twinkle and Wheels on the Bus) and by bedtime she was ready for a solo performance. Hesitating but without mistake she made it from A to Z. Thatwasacloseone.

A trip to Kever Yosef - Date Night redefined
A late night rendezvous, a bullet-proof bus, a military escort, dancing hassidim and fervent prayers. Only in Israel.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #167 – dreams, forgiveness and a trip into the Twilight Zone

Once upon a time in Brooklyn we decided to build a dream house. And so we designed it. The dream house was to have limestone countertops, southern exposure, and private parking. And then we remembered an old dream…

When I traded my dream house for my dream life, limestone took a demotion from luxury surface to pesky residue (something I struggle to get out of my hot water urn and off my shower doors) and southern exposure became irrelevant (there’s no shortage of sun in the desert). Yes, I have private parking and, while someone who’s lived on East 3rd Street would easily believe I moved all the way to Israel just for the parking, it’s simply not true.

‘My life is like a dream’ doesn’t mean ‘My life is dreamy’. It means sometimes really weird stuff just pops up like how it does when you are dreaming…

Pot stop
Is it surreal to drive through the “West Bank” following a Haagen Dazs delivery truck? We both drive around the car stopped in the middle of the road because a gigantic pot has fallen out of a truck right in front of it. The Haagen Dazs truck continues straight as I turn into the traffic circle I share with Arab taxis and donkeys from Bet Lehem. I pass a lone Arab house flying the flag of Chile. I honk and wave at my good friend in her pink car and approach the northern gate of Efrat. I pass some Arabs sitting outside on plush living room furniture selling auto parts and transmission fluid. I can’t tell anymore. This is just my life. But sometimes it seems like a strange dream.

Flash back
I almost didn’t leave the house today. I was late for my wax in Jerusalem. I decided to go anyway. The northern gate was blocked on the outgoing side. I inched through the incoming side, praying there were no hidden spikes. This was my foreshadowing. But I wasn’t paying attention. I was wondering where the guy selling car parts from his sofa was today.

There was a ton of traffic in Jerusalem and no parking anywhere. The vibe was reminiscent of searching for parking on Kings Highway. And as I inched past a double parked Volvo, I smiled at the driver. I expected him to smile back at me in my matching Volvo. Except that I forgot I live in Israel now and drive a dusty Mitsubishi Grandis. The traffic and parking thing really transported me back. Woah.

Forgiveness is in the air
As I was missing my wax I was marveling at how the Galgalatz DJs were having an intense conversation about Yom Kippur, teshuvah, and forgiveness. At one point they mentioned “Nach-nachim” – and then explained their made-up word with this one, even funnier -“Extremim”. Does anyone in Israel not know who the Nach-nachim are?

When the beauty salon told me I could come back 7 hours later for the next available appointment, my keen awareness that tomorrow is Yom Kippur – how could I not be aware – the DJs were giving the fast times and divrei Torah - saved me from freaking out about having shlepped into town, driving around with my gas light on for 30 minutes and then turning back, mission unaccomplished. I took a breath and recalibrated the mission.

Twilight Zone
I got to the gas station and it was really the weirdest thing. Every single car in the station had driven in backwards. The station was full and all the cars were facing the wrong way. Lucky for them there are no spikes in the gas station! I, of course, drove in correctly and noticed a little sign on the gas pump while I waited hopefully for sherut meleh (full service). The sign was a picture of a wheelchair and a picture of a horn with ‘x3’ next to it. For a brief moment I wondered if being illiterate and also totally unable to maneuver sherut atzmi (self service) were enough for me to honk three times. Then I wondered if the honking three times was reserved for handicap people everywhere or only in the gas station. Is it a well known thing in Israel?
One honk means move.
Two honks means I already honked and what do you think you’re doing still sitting there?
Three honks means I could actually use some assistance.
Probably it’s limited to the context of the gas station. But I’ll start paying better attention.

So the attendant finally came over to me and I asked him, breathless and full of hope,
Zeh sherut meleh? (it’s full service?)
Zeh balagan! (it’s craziness)
I know! The cars are all going the wrong way!
It’s you! You made balagan with your car!
Me? You mean…
He nodded.
I am backwards? I could not understand. My gas tank was facing the pump and I’d driven in the right way… or so I’d thought.
Slicha! (Forgive me). Should I sivuv? (turn around)
No, it’s beseder. He was very forgiving.
I’m lucky there were no spikes! I'm lucky it's Erev Kippur! A year of filling gas and you’d think I could properly follow the arrows into any station. Probably the other drivers thought I should have done better – what with my dusty Mitsubishi I really look like someone who knows better – but the mood was easy and no one honked, not even one time.

There were dream-like (not dreamy!) characters at the gas station – a tattooed heavy set middle aged man wearing short white shorts, another heavier set middle aged man with a black toupée that sat on his head like a helmet. They helped me navigate out of my backward spot and as I drove off I offered a sincere plea.
Yesh kavod beshviel ha seder shel ha macomb! (I have respect for the ‘order’ here). Ma’mash slicha! (I’m really sorry).

After a day filled with dreams, forgiveness, driving around, and turning around I drifted off to sleep on my sofa. I woke to the sound of my dishwasher jerking to life after a 30 second power outage, a sound as familiar as donkeys braying at dawn. The power is back and the dream sequence continues…

Gmar hatima tova!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #166 – What’s in a name?

As we drove down from the north last month we tried to see which beach along the Kineret was most beautiful, most inviting, most popular. Bob and I were cross referencing road signs with our handy map.
Dugit – do you see Dugit?
Yes! Here’s Dugit!
Golan – do you see Golan Beach?
I think, wait a minute, yes! Golan Beach!

My head is down looking for the next beach on the map…
Hey! This beach looks amazing! Look at all those people in the water! What’s this beach called?
Scanning for roadside signage…

A qualified confession (everybody’s doing it)
Bob has an Israeli cousin Nava who has been Navoosh as long as I have known her.

Today I was in a neighboring yishuv, the predominantly Haredi Beitar Illit. A woman was calling to her son, Levy. Except that she called him in a way that only Israeli’s (religious and secular alike) call their children.
Ley-voosh. Ley-voosh tzaddik!

My baby was born on a Tuesday. We didn’t name her until Saturday morning in shul. We didn’t decide on her name until Saturday morning, a few minutes before Bob left for shul. I have 4 other children. For four full days they were living with a nameless baby. Well, maybe it was four full minutes. As soon as they saw us hesitate with the name, they awarded her a ‘temporary name’.
We’ll call her Pizza.
And they did.
And the neighbor’s children came to see the baby Pizza.
And the neighbors themselves came to see the baby Pizza.
And Shabbat morning came and went. Pizza became Rachel Merav. On paper, anyway.
Pizza stuck.
And then, needing a nickname, Pizza became Pete.
Any of this really could have happened in New York. But the Israeli thing is what happened next.
Pizza, Pete for short, became Peetoosh. And she’s been Peetoosh ever since.
She is 10 months old this week and she responds to Peetoosh. She also responds to Raheloosh, Meravoosh and Stinky Pants but not as consistently.
One day she will surely reclaim the glorious names we bestowed upon her that Shabbat morning – probably when she starts dating – but in the meantime she is and will continue to be our most delicious Israeli baby.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #165 – English is probably a very confusing language also

Waitress at a wedding last week: Keh-ves or sohl-mun?
I had salmon for lunch but as far as I know, keh-ves is drywall.
I’ll take the sohl-mun.
Bob sat down.
The waitress reappeared: Keh-ves or sohl-mun?
She put something in front of him. I didn’t recognize it as drywall. It smelled delicious.
What is that?
Keh-ves. Lamb.
I thought keh-ves was drywall.
Bob, stumped, quiet: I think you’re right.
Bob, to the rest of the table: How do you say drywall in Hebrew?
The response, in unison: Geh-ves!

Sometimes it’s just the context
After a year, I finally figured out how to order 4 slices of pizza – you ask for 4 meshoolashim (literally, 4 triangles). So last Shabbat one of our guests, an army medic, was retelling an exciting story of how he was in a Tel Aviv mall and there was a medical emergency and a request for anyone with medical training to report to the scene. He and another medic showed up and realized the elderly woman who’d fallen and dislocated her shoulder needed to be carefully transported.
We needed meshoolashim so we could move her.
At this point I interrupted the story.
You needed slices of pizza?
No! We needed, you know, meshoolashim.
Apparently there is some type of medical equipment/sling/bandage/transporty thing in Israel that, when needed, is never confused with slices of pizza.

A heads up
If you offer an Israeli 7 year old noodles and she asks for ketchup, chances are she will prefer the sweet Israeli Osem brand to your expensive imported Heinz.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #164 – Reasons to make aliya? More like added bonuses once you’ve decided to make the move. I mean the little things.

You can recapture your youth listening to your high school favorites proudly broadcast as the best of today’s music on Galgalatz (Talking Heads, U2, Eric Clapton).

Not only will your short list of dream cars include the Citroen Jumpy but you will also know the difference between the Jumpy and the Peugeot Partner.

You will own (and USE) clothespins.

You will consider corn a normal topping for pizza

If you are a mumbler, you’ll do great. For example, say Mizgar Ladav like I do when referring to Mizgav Ledak and you will end up at the correct hospital.

If you don’t like the meaning of certain words in English, you will relish the opportunity to use them in Israel to mean something completely different.
Why why why means Oy Oy Oy.
A Hebrew corruption of both English and Yiddish. Why? Oy!

Alternately, you can use nonsensical English words to mean something very real in Hebrew.
The tutor told me the kids will need a disk on key for school.
Disk on key?
You don’t know what is disk on key?
(Astonished): But it is English!
So it is.
Disk on key means flash drive. In Israel.

If you’re tired of speaking English altogether, there are plenty of Hebrew words that just roll off the tongue. I don’t think we’ve ever referred to Misrad HaRishui as ‘the licensing bureau’. It’s just good old Misrad HaRishui!

If you’re terrible with street names but have a knack for directions based on right turns, left turns, traffic circles and going straight, you will be able to give an Israeli directions in a way he is accustomed to receiving them. This is great for your self confidence.

There’s an old boys club culture here too…
We spent the day at the pool at Ramat Rachel, one of our favorite Jerusalem hangouts. We called a cousin to come visit us there. He said he’d be right over. I asked if he had a membership. He answered matter-of-factly,
No. But I have many friends.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #163 – inverse proportionality is the naming convention for Israeli roadways. In case you seek out patterns, like me.

Eureka! Bigger number = smaller road
It’s really quite simple – less is simply more. The “One”, the “Two”, the “Four”, the legendary toll road, the “Six” – these are all relatively large highways. Expect minimal curves, sufficient lanes for passing and clearly marked signs in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Increase a digit, lose a lane
As you navigate throughout the land you start to understand that whether it’s the 38 or the 60, the 90 or the 87, or even the 92, a road with two digits is a road with two lanes. And sometimes a shoulder. But look out for donkeys and goat herders before you use that shoulder as a passing lane.

The three digit road
How can it get smaller than two lanes? Well for starters they take away the divider line. Or the shoulder. (You may get one but don’t expect both). But don’t worry. There’s room for everyone. Also, somebody forgot to add English to some of the signs. But they added lots of white-knuckle hairpin turns to slow you down just enough so that you can work through the Hebrew signs phonetically.

Maps can be deceiving – resist the urge to take a shortcut via a 4-digit road
But if you end up on a road with 4 numbers – like the 9778 or the 9779, for example – expect a narrow (read: prepare to scoot to the side for oncoming traffic unless you, yourself, are riding a donkey) road, with more curves and less people.

No matter what road you take, have your camera close at hand. From the car I’ve photographed everything from the landscape to the sunset to the moon to the guy on the donkey to the lady with the wheely crib full of children to the herd of galloping camels to the truck with chickens to the truck with goats to the remarkably understated “Danger! Land mines” sign to the mysterious “!” sign which pretty much sums it all up.

It took me a while to find an explanation for this sign. I found one on the website for the Ministry of Transportation. I ran it through Google Translator. You get the gist:
Death trap
Whom is not set
Special milestone.
Title danger
Notably, the sign No.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #162 - a quick trip to the makolet. saw it here first.

As we left the Golan Heights yesterday I begged Bob to turn around the car. I needed to photograph the billboard advertising my long lost housekeeping friend...the Swiffer. We were, of course, on a major highway, hence - no photograph.

Imagine my surprise today when I almost tripped over the newest display case in our local makolet...

Surprise is a common sentiment elicited at the makolet. For example, when I found baby cereal infused with chocolate.

Or when my mother in law discovered lamb chops. Surprise! Made of turkey.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #161 - ish sheleg wearing mittens? how about water meter fluttering?

We have sandstorms, not snowstorms!
When we lived in Brooklyn, my kids spent maybe half a school year each learning about an ish sheleg (snow man). They learned about his mittens, his hat, his scarf. Really relevant stuff if you want to speak Hebrew in Brooklyn. Not so relevant if you speak Hebrew in Israel. I asked Rosie the other day how to say snow in Hebrew. She had no idea.

The ultimate Hebrew tutor
It’s summer. The kids don’t want to do work with their tutor – they want to play games with Saba. He’s happy to comply on one condition. He’ll play Uno, Sheshbesh and cards. But they must speak only Hebrew.

The tutor approves!
Since school ended, the tutor has been bringing less work and more games. Last week they played cards in Hebrew. It was going along beautifully until Barbara clutched her face in a fit of astonished giggles and I was forced to translate. It seems ace in Hebrew is pronounced ahss.

Mystery of the disappearing summertime water - the tale of the tape
1pm – I open my PO box and take out my mail. It’s surprisingly stuffed for only having sat for a week (as opposed to the usual 3-4 weeks).
1:05 – quick scan of junk vs. stuff that needs attention
1:06 – I ask the pizza guy if this letter from city hall talking about mayim (water) is something important
1:07 – pizza guy gives a quick scan
You have a leak. See here – it says ‘n’zeelah’ – that means leak. See this (he points to the bolded words on the bottom). It says ‘EVERY DROP IS A SHAME’.
1:08 – I feel instantly ashamed.
1:09 – I call the gardener to be sure our irrigation system (which waters the garden for 15 minutes each day) is permitted. He tells me it is and that I should check the water meter.
Nothing should be moving if everything is off.
1:16 – I check the meter. I don’t know what I’m looking at. There is also a second meter. I don’t even know which meter I’m looking at. I photograph both meters.
1:23 – I visit the moetza (city hall).
1:27 – I receive the shocking news that while people normally use 60 ‘cubes’ of water in two months, we have used 60 cubes in the last 13 days. THREE DAYS OF WHICH WE WERE CAMPING. Hmmm…
1:40 – I call the plumber. He is not home but his wife tells me to check the water meter.
But I did!
Is something moving?
I don’t think so.
Hmm…doesn’t sound like a leak. Are the kids home using lots of water?
We’ve half filled the baby pool 3 times…
(more shame)
I’ll tell him you called.
1:45 – wheels turning in my brain…If there’s no leak…and if our water usage is relatively steady…could it be someone is stealing our water?
1:49 – I arrive home and notice the house under construction next door has its back patio filled with water to test for leaks. My water theft theory grows.
1:50 – I call back the moetza
The lady who helped me is gone. I am speaking to a gentleman who saw me there but speaks no English.
Yesh baya im ha mayim sheli (there’s a problem with my water)
Ken, ani yodeah. Tzareech livdok ha sha’on mayim. Livdok im hu m’parpar.
I need to check the rose water for butterflies?
Perhaps, do you have a child in the house who speaks Hebrew?

I look at 4 year old Rose.
I'll call back tomorrow.
2:30 – finally it’s morning in America. I speak to Bob about the situation – I tell him about the possible leak/overuse/theft of water. He tells me a water thief would have to literally fill up buckets in front of the house and carry them up the stairs and away. A doubtful occurrence. Then he tells me,
It’s strange – we had this same problem last August!
And how did it resolve?
It didn’t. We never found an explanation.

Today I read about the Israeli water authority installing “Chas-Cham” water conserving devices in homes for free. It might be time to sign up.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Swirling thoughts #160 - my ears are still popping (part three)

Every pit stop involves a cost-benefit analysis.
The benefit of a refreshing water hike at the midpoint of our journey certainly outweighed its cost (setting up camp after dark).
Quick! Get the bug spray!

Little known camping fact:
Bug spray in Israel is actually Skin-So-Soft in a glass roll-on bottle.

If you plan to camp during a heat wave, I recommend the campground at Kibbutz El Rom, elevation 1050 meters above sea level. Nestled between the Syrian border and an Israeli army base, this is a particularly good destination in the north if you will be camping during a scuffle at the Lebanese border.

If you are camping with a bunch of kids there’s nothing better than camping with a bunch of families with a bunch of kids. And if those families happen to be veteran camping families your camping experience may include fresh pita making in addition to the usual campfire fare (s’mores, potatoes, smoked tuna…)

A word about smoked tuna
It could be the whole world knows about smoked tuna but this is the first I’ve ever heard of it. And I am certain I’ve now learned it from the masters. A group of 13 year old boys on our trip would make a small campfire, open a can of tuna packed in oil, stuff a tissue into the can and light the tissue on fire. Once the tissue burns completely you are left with smoked tuna. These boys were preparing smoked tuna at every opportunity. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Campfire gourmet!

Syria, not Lebanon
At some point during my trip I got an email from my mom asking if we were near the shooting at the border. I reassured her we were at least 20km from that border.

Have (full) Chimigag, will travel
By the second day of the trip I decided the empty Chimigag lacks the aerodynamic prowess of the overstuffed Chimigag. After a morning drive with the Chimigag flap-thumping in the wind like a herd of runaway camels on the roof, I advised Bob against 24/7 Chimigag-ing.

There were 4 kids sleeping with me in that tent
Anyone who’s traveled with lots of small children knows that once the vacation starts at least one of the children will get sick and probably throw up. I’m here to tell you that throw-up in a tent can be cleaned in the middle of the night and order restored with enough wipes, friends and spousal support.

You may experience a slight change in cabin pressure
The trip from my home in Gush Etzion to El Rom in Ramat HaGolan took me from 900 meters above sea level to 300 meters below sea level and then back up to 1050 meters above sea level. There’s a reason school children bring gum on tiyulim in Israel.

The perfect ending
As we were paying our lodging fee and getting ready to set out on our ear-popping return home, the campground supervisor from El Rom presented each family with a gift. A beautiful book on tiyulim in the Golan. Complete with maps, pictures, descriptions and symbols indicating the terrain and time required. Off the beaten path tiyulim. In Hebrew. For real Israelis!

Swirling Thoughts #159 – camping. part two of three. yes it just got longer.

Road trip
The car ride up north was the same as any car ride with kids.

There was fighting.
Look at those goats traveling double-decker in that truck!
I saw it first!
No! I saw it first!

There were cows out the window.
Look, kids, cows.
Hey what’s that behind the cows?
No, Syria.

We planned to leave at 9 but really left at 11.
Which worked out amazing. Our first stop was a water hike at Nahal Hakibbutzim. The thing about this place is that it’s nobody’s ultimate destination. Everyone pretty much stops here to cool off on their way up north. Which is strange since it’s probably the hottest spot of the country this time of year (excluding Eilat). But the water is cool and refreshing. And free. Which makes it even more attractive. And crowded. Ridiculously crowded. So leaving late worked to our advantage. As we were pulling in, the rest of the crowd was pulling out. We had a prime parking spot, a choice picnic table and gazebo, and plenty of room to splash around.

There were wheely cribs.
Okay, maybe this isn’t part of a typical road trip but you have to hear about it! The first time I saw the wheely crib – a small crib on wheels with a handle bar for pushing – was on Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin. The moms would show up in the dining hall dazed before their morning coffee with their kids in the wheely crib. I thought it was a kibbutz thing until I saw a lady pushing the wheely crib around Jerusalem with children from her daycare. I started thinking of how a wheely crib could benefit me. As we unloaded our day bags for our water experience in Nahal Hakibbutzim I noticed a clever lady wheeling her whole family’s needs – floaties, towels, food, etc. in a wheely crib. Nice.

Jewish families gone wild.
Fully clothed moms, dads, kids, and babies in backpacks frolicking in the water pretty much sums it up.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #158 – camping. part one of two. getting there.

In preparation for our camping trip I sat down with a map, a Fodor’s book on Israel and a list of destinations for tiyulim in the Golan.
This Fodor’s book is for tourists! I called out to Bob. Nothing we want is in here! We need a book of tiyulim for Israelis. In Hebrew, it should be!
Where are we camping again?
All the way north.
No. Syria.
With the help of our friends (veteran campers) I put together our non-tourist itinerary. While Bob put together our Chimigag.

About a week ago when Bob was in the camping store buying gear, he emailed me.
Chimygag. Please Google.
I obliged but alas nothing came up. Later that evening someone called speaking fast Hebrew. Something something chimygag. Mmmm… familiar.
Bob – someone on the phone about chimygag?
Oh! Dad! It’s the chimygag guy! Mommy – it’s important. Asher was very excited.

Then next morning Bob and Saba were off – going to meet someone about chimygag. About which, at this point, I still knew as much as when I Googled it.

They returned triumphantly a couple hours later.
We have a Chimigag.
What IS a Chimigag?
A canvas roof bag.
What will you put in it?
Sleeping bags, tents, whatever you want.
Maybe we can fit the jogger stroller in the Chimigag?
You want to bring two strollers camping?
Maybe not. How much did the Chimigag set you back?
We looked at something like this in New York.
How much was it there?
Something like $40.
And here?
750 shekel.

Are you coveting my Chimigag???
Everyone was interested in the Chimigag. If you understand how Israeli's travel you would understand why.

How Israeli’s travel:
They bring mattresses. They load the mattresses along with sleeping bags, pillows and duffle bags onto the roofs of their cars. They tie it all on with rope and they’re ready to go.

First the security guard at the gate of Efrat stopped Bob. He wanted to know what Bob had on top of the car. Did he think it was a bomb? Bob explained it was for camping gear.
Oohwah! Eyzeh mashu! (wow – now that’s something!)
As we pulled into the crowded parking lot at Nachal Hakibbutzim a chassid walked over to our car. As he opened his mouth to speak I figured he wanted to tell us something about the way we parked. But no. Not even close!
With great curiosity, Ech ha Chimigag hazeh? (how is this Chimigag?)
Yofi! (good)
Eyzeh mashu! (now that’s something!)
A soldier asked us.
Mah zeh Chimigag?
For camping.

As we made our way up north we noticed everyone’s roof packed with mattresses, luggage, plastic chairs and water floaties.
He needs Chimigag!
Look over there – he needs Chimigag!
Woah – this one totally needs Chimigag.
I think I’m going to leave our Chimigag on all the time.
Even when it’s empty and we’re just driving into Jerusalem?
Chimigag baby!

Swirling Thoughts #156 – oops! so happy i forgot to post this one...

What’s all this talk about Israelis being happier than most everyone else?
Are we happy? Hmmm.

Well… without carpool, my mornings are happy. And my afternoons. School ends early. That means my kids are happy. There’s hardly any homework. And so our evenings are happy. My husband doing sponga – there are no words to describe the happiness this elicits. Café afook makes for happy coffee. Israeli breakfast makes for happy tummy. No snow – happy winter. No rain from Pesah to Sukkot – happy summer. My kids run my last minute errands for me – happy Shabbat cooking. I live 10 minutes from Jerusalem and 20 minutes from Hebron – happy inspiration. I go to Mahane Yehuda – happy shopping. I figure out more Hebrew every day – happy discovering. My kids speak Hebrew almost fluently and with an Israeli accent – happy nachas. I live in a spot people like to visit – happy hosting.

I have time to do the things I love and then there’s time left over to sit and write about them.
Happy? Relatively speaking, yes. Absolutely, also. :)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #157 – Sunday morning in the aretz

A dream…
I may have forgotten about my father-in-law’s dream. He mentioned it in passing Shabbat morning. Something about a fig tree in my yard.
No, Saba, I told him. We have a shesek tree.
I know, mami. But in my dream you had a fig tree.

Sunday morning I ran out early. Me, my mother-in-law and a good friend of mine. We were heading to Meah Sharim to the legendary bookstore Manny’s. In case this ever comes up in Trivial Pursuit, I’m pretty sure Meah Sharim holds the record for most Jewish Bookstores per city block. After purchasing a lottery-style scratch-off parking ticket from a tiny shop to stick in my car window (!!!) we made our way past all the other tiny shops until we reached our destination. In the midst of all the tiny shops of Meah Sharim sits Manny’s – a behemoth gigantic air-conditioned Jewish bookstore in the spirit of Eichler’s that truly looks as if it were dropped down from the sky. And everyone inside speaks English. As Israeli as I strive to be, I love shopping for Jewish books in a relaxed air-conditioned English speaking environment. What can I tell you? And then a phone call came in.
Bob. With some urgency.
I need the gardener’s number.
A gardening emergency?

We left Manny’s for iced coffee in a tiny little bagel shop. We were the only people there. In fact, it felt like we were the only people in Meah Sharim that day.
Where is everyone, I asked?
It’s summer. They are in the north!
Soon I will be in the north.
We sat and discussed all the essentials for my upcoming camping trip – mostly food strategies (bring enough for the first 36 hours) and scorpion bite prevention measures (pajama pants tucked into socks, closed shoes, don’t put the baby down ever).
As the conversation shifted to gun license renewals, we laughed over the differences in Israeli vs. American small talk. My friend is in the market for a smaller gun. Her 9mm Glock is just too bulky. Which led us to our plans for the rest of the week.
Hmmm… after my camping trip, wanna go shooting?

On the way back to the car we picked up water bottle cases that can be worn as backpacks. One for each walking member of the family. This is an item that says something about its owner. It says bearer of this bag has walked in nature under a scorching sun, by design, for a period of time long enough to consume 1 ½ liters of water. Believe it or not, this is something all Israelis do (or have done). With school or camp or army or friends or family vacation. Covering as much ground as you can on foot seems to be a goal of some. Throw in a riverbed, some natural pools and a waterfall and now you have the objective of most everyone else’s tiyulim. The water bottle backpack can be worn like a badge of honor in my estimation – indicating your standing as true Israeli. One year in the aretz and I buy books like an American but I hike like an Israeli.

As I unpacked my purchases I asked,
Where is Saba?
Bob smiled. Outside with the gardener.
He’s supervising the planting.
Go. Go see our new fig tree.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #155 – beytzim, quality control, holey foil, and how to get money when the money changing store is under construction (hint: go in)

In America when you buy Tropicana Orange Juice they have some secret way of making it taste exactly the same 365 days of the year. In Israel, if you are lucky enough to stumble upon fresh orange juice, you will notice the taste of the juice changing as the quality of the local orange crop changes. Egg yolks also vary with the season. They are almost white in the summer, absolutely orange in the winter.

Speaking of eggs…
When you say eggs in English you pretty much picture eggs. In Hebrew, beytzim is the word for eggs. Plus.

Israeli breakfast staple
How would you like your beytzim?

They sent my daughter home for lice but she only had two beytzim!

Jump over the ball game
I am the best at beytzim in my class!

Part of the male anatomy
Az di bubbe volt gehat beytzim, volt zi geven mayn zeyde. (It sounds so much nicer in Yiddish – where it probably came from).

When we first arrived I noticed quality control in packaged goods was not a high priority. I’m not saying you buy peanut butter and open it up to find mayonnaise but if a bag of chips claims to have a prize inside, it could well have 4 prizes and another bag could have zero. Today I opened up an 18 pack of eggs in the makolet and found half of them were brown and half white (all of them surprisingly clean). Then I opened another – 17 white and one brown. Hmmm. A beytzim puzzle.

We took a trip back to ShefaShuk last week – our first since our official moadone cards arrived in the mail. Smiling ear to ear (and knowing the answer), the cashier asked, ‘Yesh Moadone?’ To which we proudly responded, ‘Yesh!’ And so she began to ring. Until the Diamond Aluminum Foil crossed the scan.

Might I insert a word about Israeli foil here – if you could imagine foil being as thin as Saran Wrap then you can imagine Israeli foil. When I pull my pyrex covered in Israeli foil out of the oven, the foil has holes in it. The 350° oven burns holes in the foil! And so I bounce for the Diamond Foil from America. And that’s where we continue with the ShefaShuk story…
It’s 23 shekel for the foil!
The foil – are you sure you want it?
We went back and forth for a while (of course I wanted it!) and it took some convincing but in the end she rang me the foil. But, alas, I had a second box.
You want two??
She probably thinks I have tin foil for a brain.
Yes! Two of them!
It’s 23 shekel each one.
Perhaps I had forgotten the offensive price.
In that moment I contemplated buying the Israeli foil purely out of shame and embarrassment although I doubt her intention was to shame or embarrass me. Mostly she was trying to help me save money. And to teach me. It’s a big thing here, the ‘teaching’ you. It goes back to Bob’s mishpacha theory. Anyway,
Yes, yes, I want both.

When you spend all your shekels on foil, eventually you run out.

Of shekels, that is.

It used to be you could change money on the black market. It sounds worse than it was. We would go to the back of the Kent Store on Ben Yehuda Street – and get a better rate than the hotels or even the banks. Now there are official money changing stores that look like Vegas pawn shops from the outside (neon signs flashing green dollar signs) but they are actually official places to change money and you get a rate somewhat better than the bank, without even negotiating. Of course Bob likes to go in there and negotiate anyway – his success rate is about 50-50. They really have the upper hand because where are you going next? The Kent Store is gone.

In any case, like you would expect, the money changer is sitting at a desk behind a counter and a plexiglass window. And like you would expect, the money changing store has walls, a ceiling and a front door. So yesterday when I noticed our local money changing store was under construction I started thinking of where else I could change money. But I saw a lady coming out of the store. There were construction workers taking a break in front. Sitting inside was our local money changing guy. No plexiglass window. Without a door even. Sitting behind his desk with sheetrock dust on his kippah. I looked up – there was no ceiling. Neat stacks of shekels on the table. Giving them out in exchange for dollars. I wondered for a split second about his security. Was he at least sporting his neshek? Of course he was. What did you expect?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #154 - Things they don’t teach you in the driver’s ed crash course for olim – I will teach them to you now!

Curb your enthusiasm…
There are black and white striped curbs. And red and white striped curbs. There are red and yellow striped curbs. And there are blue and white striped curbs. After a full year I have cleverly deduced that the stripes demarcate zones as follows: (black and white) keep moving zone, (red and white) you may stop but don’t park zone, (red and yellow) bus zone, (blue and white) you may (pay and) park zone.

Not all stripes are created equal
In Meah Sharim, the blue and white stripes indicate that you may park but you have to magically know that you need to go into the nearest store and buy a ticket to pay for your parking. There is no sign indicating any of this. You just have to know it. And now you do!

In Efrat, I think it’s safe to say everything is treated as a (free) parking zone independent of the color stripes, save for the black and white. But that’s obvious. They paint the rim of the traffic circles black and white. Not even the people who park on the sidewalk would park there!

If you’re past the blue and white stripe zone in Meah Sharim and you ask a local where to park they may direct you to the sidewalk. You will look around, see other cars parked on the sidewalk, see no signs forbidding sidewalk parking and you will park and be on your way. This is what happened to my dear friend Michal. Just as she returned to her car, a traffic officer approached. He reprimanded her for parking on the sidewalk.
I’m going to write you a ticket! He shouts.
She’s not bothering anyone! A voice calls out.
Several locals then reprimanded the police officer for reprimanding Michal because she was not bothering anyone with her sidewalk parking. While they argued the merits of law abidance she quietly slipped into her car and drove away. My dear friend Michal, fugitive from justice.

To be fair…
You get a lot of mixed signals regarding sidewalk parking in Israel. It’s totally permitted, encouraged even, in the German Colony in Jerusalem. In other places it’s sort of tolerated – like on a Thursday morning in Efrat when the grocery store parking lot is full but there’s a big hunk of empty sidewalk. Or let’s say you do your banking on the very busy Derech Hevron. You’re not going to block a whole lane of traffic parking on this busy thoroughfare. It’s almost like they expect you to park up on the sidewalk there but they can’t say it outright. It’s a don’t ask, don’t tell policy as far as I can see. For the record, I can barely bring myself to do metered sidewalk parking – climbing a curb with your car is so unnatural!

It’s also unnatural to park in a big box with an X through it!
My friends all have big boxes with X’s in them in front of their houses. I figured these X spots mean no parking. Guess what? The X spot means no parking unless it’s your house. Oh, how those X spots would go over in Brooklyn!

Someone should really tell a girl from Maryland this one
The dotted white lines in the road mean what you think – sort of. You can YES pass. But guess what – they are divider lines and the road has two-way traffic! Looking for yellow lines? If you find them, you are in the wrong place – those indicate taxi and bus only lanes. Get out quick! Oh, and the lane that had all white lines last week might have changed to a bus and taxi only lane since then so you will have to simultaneously get out of that lane and map out an alternate route ASAP.

Shoulders, in Israel are courtesy lanes
Big trucks lumbering up hills will courteously edge over onto the shoulder so that you can pass them on the left. This said, there will be drivers who, by all estimation, should edge over onto the shoulder to let you pass but they won’t. And so you will be expected to pass them into oncoming traffic. Where the exact same scenario will be playing out in the other direction. There is a stretch of road from the 60 to Beitar Illit that is technically a 2 lane highway but realistically it can fit 3 cars across. In practice, there are usually 4 cars across the width at any point, the inner two just narrowly missing each other in a game of chicken which instantly has me singing that song from Footloose…