Sunday, January 31, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #108 - how do you like your eggs?

A long way from Shoprite
Outside every makolet I’ve ever been to in Israel is a playground. As in, kids – go play while mommy shops. Or, kids, take 5 shekels, buy yourself a treat and wait outside in the park while mommy shops. And that’s really how it goes.

If an Israeli goose lays a golden egg, will it be clean? I doubt it.
The order form for a local delivery service for groceries offers eggs by the tray.
30 eggs, clean – 42 NIS
30 eggs, little dirty – 36 NIS
It seems weird – who would order dirty eggs? Until you realize the default here is ‘little dirty.’ What’s weird to me is that effort is made to stamp every single egg but not to clean them. My mother in law asked which ones I order. I get mine from the makolet. Where there is no choice. They are all ‘little dirty.’ But easy to carry since my kids are playing in the park.

Black gold!
Ten shekel tamerhindi paste from the shuk + an equal amount of sugar = oot! Tart, authentic, bursting with flavor oot.

I can’t complain about the winter
Convincing the kids it will be cold and they’ll need their winter coat is difficult when said cold days are interspersed with sunshiney days of 70° or more.

It’s not so much that I’m looking for messages in the minutia of daily existence as it is that sometimes the messages seem to find me.
When I drive to the supermarket and my car barely fits in the parking spot I get the message. My car should be smaller. When I can’t bag my groceries fast enough I get the message. I am buying too much nearly see-through foil, paper towels and plastic cutlery.

Messages which require decoding are often received late
When I spoke to the Ministry of Health about why they hadn’t responded to my email I was scolded – it seems email correspondences in English need to be sent for translation which takes one month. Scolding woman told me this in perfect English so I asked if she herself could read my email to which she scolded, “It doesn’t matter if I can read it. If you send the email in English expect to wait one month for the translation.”

Luckily I live with an ulpan grad
Yesterday as I was struggling through a note from school with pictures of bugs on it (I figured it had something to do with science OR that there were kinim (lice) in the class), Asher (now an ulpan graduate!) walked over and offered to help. He quickly scanned the note and then told me Becky will be having a petting zoo with her science class on Tuesday. Before I could figure out which Tuesday, Becky walked in. “We had a petting zoo TODAY!”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #107 – happy new year to the trees!

Move over jelly donuts
Asher picked almonds with his ulpan. I’ve been harvesting my own cumquats. We have two separate Tu B’Shvat Seder invitations plus a field trip to plant trees in the Jerusalem Forest. In the mall we hit the dried fruit concession and my most recent impulse purchase was a bonsai olive tree.

I’m celebrating Tu B’Shvat with m&m’s and twisted cheese
According to my kids, "Israel doesn't have m&m's." I have friends whose traveling husbands bring back meat, cheese, oil, bread, Bounty and oven cleaner. So far I’ve requested mascara (the cheap kind costs 125 nis here) and m&m’s.

We were told by a friend who’s lived here for 15 years that “Israel doesn’t have twisted cheese.” Bob, not one to take ‘no twisted cheese’ for an answer, took his search to the shuk.

One mincha and several tastes later he sends me the following text:
Sulu guni – twisted cheese in Israel.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #106 - The last permission slip I signed was in Brooklyn

There are no permission slips here. No liability waivers.
The only thing I seem to sign for my kids are notes from their teachers. They are notes explaining how good my children were behaving after they maybe did something very minimally not so good. This, according to the child translating the note for me. I sign nonetheless.

What I don’t sign is a permission slip of any sort. Last week Becky had a tiyul (trip). The note I got home said there would be a tiyul and that she would need a hat, extra water, and extra snack. I know this because this is what Becky told me it said. Maybe (probably) the note mentioned where they were going. When Becky returned from the tiyul (which I failed to properly prepare her for – she got a spare [read: lost and found] hat from the teacher) all she knew was that they’d traveled far (more than 3 hours in her estimation) and that there were bees. 3 hours can take you far in this tiny country. If they went north she was visiting bees that pollinate flowers in Syria. If south, Egyptian bees.

Slippery when wet
It’s finally raining in the aretz. Welcomed and much needed rain. All over Israel you’ll see people thanking Hashem for the rain. You’ll also see them gripping railings tightly so as not to slip on cobblestone staircases. And cobblestone walkways. And on wet marble floors. What you won’t see is a sign warning them of the possibility of slippage.

In retrospect, the signing of our Israeli citizenship papers was akin to the signing of one all-encompassing permission slip and liability waiver. After that, it’s all about common sense, watching your back, watching your neighbors’ (kids’) backs, and Hashem watching over the whole bunch of us.

It's also about no nonsense - (Sometimes a bump is really just a kiss)
A car backed into my backing up car in the Mamilla parking garage the day I went into labor with Rachel. We stopped, got out, estimated the damage from the bump (none), determined our cars had simply ‘kissed’ (albeit loudly), and went our separate ways in a matter of 3 minutes. It was a pleasure.

Colorful liquids in small bottles
Shortly after I moved in I borrowed some floor cleaner from my downstairs neighbor. I thought nothing of the brightly colored plastic bottle in which it came until Rosie brought it to me with a cup and asked me to pour her a drink.

It’s not always floor cleaner. Sometimes it’s flammable.
In the makolet, near the Shabbat candles, there sits brightly colored liquid in clear plastic bottles. Parafin for lighting wicks in glass bulbs (in lieu of wax candles). They look so pretty. And fancy. And familiar. Like something….ah, yes, like Kool Aid.

HIPAA – what’s that?
Before Bob left for the states last week he had done some routine bloodwork. While he was gone I decided to call for the results. The conversation went something like this:
Me: I’m calling for the results of my husband’s bloodwork.
Them: What’s your husband’s teudat zehut number?
Me: I don’t know. He’s out of the country.
Them: Well tell us his name and we’ll get the number.
I give them his name.
Them: Okay. His bloodwork came back normal.
Me: Thanks.
Them: Now take down his teudat zehut number so you have it. In case you need it for anything else while he’s gone.

Places I really expected to see liability waivers:
The shooting range. But no. It’s just pay and shoot.
Taekwondo. Nope. The only permission was for tashlumim (monthly payments) which we did not authorize but which they are taking anyway.

Bob runs private tours of the Gush for friends whose fancy tours’ liability concerns prevent them from touring Israel properly.
We recently had visitors from the States. They had come from a tour. We asked if they’d been to Ma’arat Hamachpaila (tomb of the patriarchs). No. To Kever Rachel? No. Anywhere in Gush Etzion? No. Seems the insurance for the tour does not allow for them to travel inside “the green line” in Israel. Which seems nonsensical to me since I live inside it. And my kids don’t even need permission slips to visit those places with school, camp or ulpan.

Speaking of camp
You know those days before camp starts and after it finishes? Those are perfect days to send your kids to kytana. Kytana is camp as far as I’m concerned. Camp run by a couple of 13-14 year olds. Serving a whole bunch of 3-6 year olds. No parents. No permission slips. It takes some getting used to. But not much.

Kids shop here
There are signs all over Jerusalem reminding families that the official unsupervised street crossing age for children is 9 years old. This fact was met with enthusiasm by my Barbara and disappointment by the rest of my (younger than 9) children. Until they figured out they could cross the street if Barbara accompanies them. And so it goes. Children walk to school. They walk to kug (afterschool program). And they walk to the makolet

I once saw a friend’s daughter (age 5) at the makolet.
Where’s mommy?
Who are you here with?
My kytana. We are on a scavenger hunt.
In the makolet?
No. All around Efrat.

A common summer sight in parks all over Israel are birthday parties at which candy is served up shish kabob style. On pointy little skewers. Two per kid. Make that two per running-all-around-the-park-holding-a-pointy-little-skewer-in-each-hand kid.

Hafseka (break) - In Israel they take their breaks very seriously
We hear the most amazing reports from my kids about things that happen in school.
This one punched that one in the mouth and his whole tooth fell out!
This one fell from the monkey bars and broke her leg!
Where was the teacher?
It was hafseka!
Yes, for you. But where was the teacher watching you.
There is no teacher watching us in hafseka. It is hafseka for the teacher too!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #105 - the life of an ulpan dropout

Efrat is a town in Israel, after all
There may be a ton of Anglos here but they try really hard to be Israeli. They are not walking around spitting garaneem (seeds) – that Israeli phenomenon may well be limited to Kings Highway in Brooklyn for all I know – but they are speaking Hebrew. To Israelis and to each other. I sat through a D’var Torah at a seuda shelishit where every person at the table except for one was Anglo. The person giving the D’var Torah was from Brooklyn. He gave it in Hebrew and everyone (except for me, of course) understood and even commented. In Hebrew.

No soap radio
Picture this: someone tells a joke. The punch line has nothing to do with the joke. Everyone starts cracking up. They “get” the joke. You do not get it. But why not? It must be funny if everyone is laughing. You start to laugh just to fit in. Is the joke on you?

Have my American friends in Israel all conspired to play a prank on me? Are they designing exclusive invitations, withholding phone numbers and setting me up for linguistic humiliation as part of some great big gag? I admit it seems far fetched. But how could it be that my friends who are born in America are so fluent in Hebrew they no longer notice if something is in Hebrew or English? I feel like that will never be me.

A friend sends over a bat mitzvah invite. It is in Hebrew. No English. It goes into my ‘mail I need help with’ pile. She asks if I’m coming to her bat mitzvah. What bat mitzvah?

Someone recommends a repair man. They don’t have the phone number handy but “It’s in the GushPhone.” (A phone book with every business and residence in Gush Etzion listed. In Hebrew.) I’m still looking.

I’m planning a Kiddush for Rachel Merav. My neighbors recommend a cholent guy (he makes cholent in a huge pot). They give me his number and tell me all about it (Cholent. Delicious. In a huge pot. Huge as in I’ll need two strong men to lift it). Sounds great! I call him. We get as far as
Uh. Ani sareecha cholent. Uh… Medaber ktzat Anglit? (Uh. I need cholent. Uh…Do you speak a little English?)
Lo. (No.)
And then me, fumbling,
Ba’ali medaber yoter tov aval hu lo po. Uh…Acharei. Beseder? (my husband speaks more good but he’s not here. Uh…After. Okay?

I lament to Bob that if I’d stayed in ulpan maybe I could order cholent by now. He looks at me, holding the baby, and laughs.
Can’t help you there, babe.

Today I ran into a friend. I invite her to my Kiddush. She takes out her yoman (planner). She’s turning the pages backward. It’s an Israeli planner. In Hebrew and backward. I say something about how Israeli she is after 15 years here. She looks at the planner as if for the first time. She never even realized.

She looked pretty sincere for someone who’s pranking me. Ok, I think I believe her.

Eyze Mispar? (which number) – meat jargon
When I ordered meat from the midnight delivery butcher I was lucky to find someone in the store who spoke English and knew her cuts of meat. She took pains to figure out the roast I was seeking was probably the number 6 roast. I pictured a Chinese takeout menu.
Yes, I’ll have the number six.

The roast was delicious and Bob asked me what kind it was.
Number six!
What is that? Dekel? Brisket? French Roast? Brick Roast?
It was a number six!

Last week I was going to be in the neighboring haredi community of Beitar. I asked a friend if there was a good butcher there. She recommended one that boasts the highest level of kosher supervision possible. Meat everyone would eat! I asked her if the store had haredi hours. Haredi hours means there are separate hours for men and women to do their shopping. There are stores in Beitar with such hours. But no, she said. “No haredi hours. They are normal. But they do close in the middle of the day.” That hardly seems normal but okay.

I go and there is a woman seated at a desk. Behind her is a freezer full of meat and behind the freezer is a butcher pounding chicken cutlets. It was not a place to browse – I needed to tell this woman what I wanted.

Sometimes I can start off in Hebrew and then wing it. But my butcher vocabulary is weak. I had no starting words.
Ani sareecha roast. (I need roast).
Ma zeh roast? (What’s this ‘roast’?)
Roast. Uh. Basar. Uh...medaberet ktzat Anglit? (Roast. Uh, meat, uh, do you speak a little English?)
Lo. O Yiddish o Ivrit. (No. Yiddish or Hebrew)
She looks at me and waits for me to order in Yiddish or Hebrew. I open my mouth but all that comes out is another Uh….
She calls to the back and asks the butcher if he speaks English.
Kzat. Oolye. (A little. Maybe.)
Do you have roast?
Ma zeh roast?
Meat for Shabbat. You cook it a long time.
Ani lo yodeah ma zeh roast. (I don’t know what’s this roast.)
He directs me to a poster of a cow divided into cuts of meat. Perhaps I will recognize the roast from the diagram…

As I study the cow the desk lady hands me her cell phone. She really wanted to help me. She had called a friend who speaks English.
I am trying to order a roast.
What number is it?
This store has numbers also? I think about the six roast from the other butcher.
I don’t know what number it is. A brisket. A dekel. A brick roast. Any kind of roast.
You don’t know the number?
Thanks anyway.
I hand back the phone.

Meat by numbers
I go back to the cow poster and really study it now. Wait a minute. It has numbers. Could it be that in Israel cow parts are universally numbered rather than named? Eureka! I ask for the six but they are out. We settle on the four (which is close to the six on the diagram) plus some five for my cholent. Suddenly I feel like I’ve unraveled a mystery – broken a code. I’ve learned a few words in a new language – not Yiddish, not Hebrew – the empowering language of ordering meat.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #104 – Israeli husbands

Right from the beginning Bob announced that a good Israeli husband helps his wife. I see a lot of men sponga. I can sponga. I will help you with the sponga. He has since mastered the fine art of sponga. (read: my tiles, inside and outside, sparkle).

There are husbands picking up groceries. Sometimes with a wagon load of kids. Husbands carpool. I don't know how many of them sponga but mine does! They take their kids to the doctor. When Becky was sick, just after Rachel was born, I brought both of them to the doctor. He asked me, in a most disapproving voice, “Where is your husband?” I mumbled something about how he’d stayed up all night with the sick child and how he has a flight to America in a few hours. The doctor just shook his head. “Pssshhhh.”

There was a dad ahead of me today when I took Rachel to the kupat cholim for her well check. As he bent down to strap his newborn into the carseat I noticed his gun and wondered what he does with it when he visits Bituach Leumi.
Do they keep the gun for you? Do you get a little claim receipt?

Déjà vu, a question, and an answer
Today I was speaking to a receptionist on the phone and when she asked where I live I answered her in Hebrew.
Zeghrubavel Aghrba
Ma? (what?)
Zeghrubavel Aghrba
Ma? I don’t know anything what you are saying!
I’ll say it in English – Zerubavel. Number four.
AHH! ZeghrubaVEL.

I have variations of this conversation all the time so I knew exactly what Rosie meant when she asked me tonight, “Does my voice speak like Hebrew?” Before I could answer her she started talking about a par par (butterfly). Only she was calling it a paghr paghr.
Yes, yes, yes. Rosie’s voice speaks like Hebrew!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #103 – At first glance it looks the same

People speak English. Kids wear GAP sweatshirts. Infant car seats have colorful mobiles dangling from them. But upon closer inspection it is not quite the same.

Moms drive with their infant car seats in the front seat of their car. Not just one or two moms. A lot of moms.

People run here. That’s the same. The hills of Efrat on a Saturday night are as busy as Ocean Parkway on a Sunday morning. My friend is running a 10K this week as part of an international marathon around the Kineret.

I asked her if there was a runners club. No. A process for signing up for the marathon – qualifying races, lotteries, a waiting list, etc. No. If you want to run you sign up and run. Did I mention they are running around the Kineret?

I started walking today. In the hopes of soon stepping it up to running. Will I measure my runs in kilometers? Is that more satisfying than miles? Hmmm. I walked 3 miles. Okay. I walked 4.8 kilometers. Wow – how totally satisfying!

Will losing weight be easier in kilograms? 4½ kilos sounds so much more manageable than 10 pounds. And 9 kilos doesn’t sound like a fantasy the way 20 pounds does…

I’m working on a birthday party for Barbara. There are websites dedicated to party ideas for 10 year olds. But not all of the party ideas will work for me here. For example, ideas that waste precious resources. Like the Foil Makeover game – make crazy outfits out of aluminum foil. Not a chance. And the Mummy Game – wrap each other in toilet paper (HA!). There are ideas that require unattainable resources. Like the M&M challenge (I haven’t seen an M&M in 6 months). And then there are ideas that, in my estimation, could lead to the transference of lice. Games like Telephone. And the Hoola Hoopla game – hold hands and try to get a hoola hoop from one end of the line to the other. Yeah.

On the other hand, there seems to be no such thing as an ‘over the top’ party here. Pass the present is played at all parties. Projects are the favors. And the very presence of Sour Sticks at a party seems to boost its overall approval rating. The pressure is off and the kids are happy. That works for me.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #102 – we pay. It’s what we do. We always pay.

Today we ventured out to Bituach Leumi. They raised the stakes (benefits for each kid plus a one time bonus for having a baby) by putting a time limit on us. We had to go in and provide our bank account information. Right away.

Bituach Leumi is located in the center of Jerusalem. And it is also located across the street and around the corner. We stumbled upon one office while looking for the other. We made our way through the security line where they first ask if you have neshek (gun) and then examine the contents of your bag. I went first since I had my purse and the diaper bag. It then looked like Bob was alone pushing the baby and the security guard was all over Bob. Until another guard showed him Bob was with me and they let him through. Evidently a man pushing a baby stroller is very suspicious.

We waited in a long line in front of three windows. When we got to a window Bob asked the tough looking no-nonsense BL agent:
Medaberet ktzat Anglit? (Do you speak a little bit of English?)
She had stood up after the last customer and for some reason was still standing.
LO! She shouted. She continued to stand as she shouted instructions at us in impatient Hebrew.
We were at the wrong office but no, we should not go to the other office now – we should take a number and wait inside and see if they can help us in this office.

We take a number and walk in to the DMV style waiting area. Our number comes up quickly and we are given forms to fill out at the counter. Bob asks if there are forms in English. We are told no but someone in booth 12 can help us. We assume that means the person in booth 12 speaks English. I walk over to booth 12. There is an elderly woman reading a newspaper in Hebrew. She doesn’t look like she speaks English.
Slicha. (excuse me)
Nothing. She can’t hear me. Obviously the booth 12 agent is on break and this hard of hearing elderly woman has sat down to read her paper here.
Bob, still at the counter, is giving me a questioning look.
Now I’m not sure what to do.
Slicha! At ovedet po? (excuse me, do you work here?)
She looks up.
Ma sareecha? (what do you need)
Ozer b’anglit. (help in English)
LO! (NO!)
She goes back to her newspaper.
I call to Bob.
There’s no one here. Just a woman reading the newspaper.
He tells the counter agent.
There is no one at Booth 12.
She looks over at Booth 12 and tells Bob:
There is a woman there.

Bob joins me at booth 12. As he sits down the woman suddenly puts down her newspaper and grabs the paperwork out of his hand. Bob asks:
At ovedet po?
Bob looks at me.
She motions to me and explains,
He shoelet medaberet anglit. Ani lo medaberet anglit! (SHE asked if I speak English. I do NOT speak English.)
Aval at yechola lazor lanu? (But can you help us?)
She proceeded to fill out all the paperwork for us.

When it came time to fill in the baby’s information she asked to see the baby. We angled the stroller so she could see Rachel.
Ma ha shem shelah? (What is her name?)
For the first time, a smile.
Shmee gam Rachel. (My name is also Rachel).

We finished up at the first office where they assured us we will now receive our benefits. We asked the security guard how to get to the second office (yashar, ad a sof, az yamin, v’smol – straight to the end, then right and left).
Yesh lach rach chamesh dakot. (You have only five minutes).

It was getting late. Almost 12 noon.

An Ezrach Oleh, also known as ‘Ezrach yelid chul’ (citizen born abroad) is a person who, whilst not having lived in Israel, is considered an Israeli citizen due to one or both of his parents being an Israeli citizen. In many cases an Ezrach Oleh is unaware that they are Israeli. Often the first they know of their status is when they are stopped at the border and given an Israeli ID number.

This was Bob – not knowing he was Israeli until we started the process of making aliyah. Now that we’re here, the kids and I are “new olim” and Bob, my suddenly Israeli husband, has a special status – “Ezrach Oleh.” This causes quite a bit of confusion. For example the day after we arrived here we went to sign up at the kupat cholim. They wanted to know which kupat cholim Bob had before.
When before?
When you lived here before!
I never lived here before.
But you must have. You are an Israeli citizen. Perhaps you were born here.
I was born in New York.
Are you sure?
Me interrupting: he’s ezrach oleh!
Ahhh! Ezrach oleh. Beseder. (Okay).
So we get the health insurance free for the first six months, yes?
No. You must pay.

Since we made aliyah as a family mostly we are considered “new olim” so we tend to forget about Bob’s special status...

We ran to the second office and got into the security line just in time.
We got in, took our number and sat in another DMV style waiting area. There was a lot of yelling in this office. Customers yelling at each other (evidently if number 230 is called and the person with number 231 goes to the counter, 230 loses his place in line), customers yelling at agents, and one agent yelling at someone on the customer’s cell phone.

Bob and I had number 244. We were assessing each booth to see where he should run once 243 was called. I told him booth 3. He was thinking booth 8. Suddenly booth 6 opened up and he pounced on the chair in front of the agent. The agent looked surprised. Bob and I started cracking up. She asked Bob what was going on. He explained to her everyone is yelling and fighting.
I want to yell and fight also!
She started laughing.
Now he presented her with our Bituach Leumi bill. The first office is where they pay you. This is the office where you pay them. This was our moment of truth.
We are new olim. Do I have to pay?
She studies the bill. She looks at her computer. She examines his teudat oleh.
As she says the words Bob and I realize it at the same time.
You have to pay.
He looks at me and I point at him and laugh:
He takes his teudat and folds it in such a way so that the “Ezrach” is hiding.
See, he says, holding up the folded teudat – “oleh”!
The agent was laughing so hard she was wiping away tears.

And so, before we receive the benefits from office #1, we have already paid office #2.

The gig is up
When we returned home there was a message explaining the nature of the 600 NIS gan bill. It is not mandatory but it is not a shakedown either. Simply fundraising by the ganenet to pay for things the municipality alone cannot afford for the gan. Well, when you put it that way, how can we not pay?