Sunday, February 28, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #119 – Purim Sameah!

Weather afook
Underscoring the upside down nature of the holiday there has been howling wind, horizontal rain, thunder, lightening, hail and heavy fog interspersed with brief bouts of sunshine every day since Ta’anit Esther. They say it’s always like this on Purim.

Lights are over-rated (or ‘camping is under-rated’)
Something about steady pounding horizontal rain interacted poorly with my electrical wiring and just after Shabbat we were surprised with no electricity on our main floor and, for some reason, an unusually cranky baby. Our neighbor, an electrician (and an Aba), worked diligently to restore as much electricity as he could and suggested we carry Rachel Merav face down on her belly to alleviate her obvious stomach discomfort. The baby stopped crying and the electricity started working – well, mostly. We packed mishloach manot by flashlight and hope to have lights working sometime this week…

Most (surprisingly) common Purim costume:
The Native American

Most popular Mishloah Manot:
Granola with yogurt and fruit

Most unusual Mishloach Manot:
Challah roll with a hard boiled egg baked into the center – represents the eye of Haman – when you eat the egg you are gouging out his eye…

Most surreal moment:
Walking home from shul at 9am and being offered a shot of whiskey by a neighbor driving around with an open bottle.

Tied for most surreal moment:
Bob, dressed as my Punjabi groom, rushing to do sponga before nightfall.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #118 – things we buy for each other and our kids

I asked Bob to buy me the Windex that’s not called Windex when he went to the makolet – the blue stuff, I tell him. Whatever it’s called. He knows what I mean. Sometimes it’s called Ajax. Sometimes it’s called Sano. It’s all Windex to me. This day he brought me home refills of the blue stuff in plastic re-sealable bags.

Becky has a Purim grab bag event on Friday. Each kid must bring in snacks to exchange. To guarantee equal representation from the four essential snack groups, each kid must bring:
a lollipop
a salty snack
a chocolate
a coated wafer
Which reminds me…
What do the coated wafer, Milky (snack size chocolate pudding with cream on top) and Arctimel (drinkable yogurt) have in common?
Each one is part of the lunch but can also be part of the dessert. It can be snack and also breakfast. In desperate circumstances, it can even pass for dinner.

It should be telling that you can buy these items in jumbo packs – I buy wafers by the 24 pack. Milky’s by the 12. Arctimel comes in something like a 20 pack. It’s unwieldy Aside from these dietary essentials, almost NOTHING in Israel comes in a jumbo pack. There aren’t party bags of chips, nothing resembling a five-pound bag of flour or sugar. A comedian once joked that the only thing big in an Israeli house (which is typically small and the bathroom even smaller) is the jumbo pack of toilet paper – the only household item available in bulk (and only available in bulk – if you are in the market for a single roll, you are out of luck).

In any case, it should also be telling that I have every one of the listed snack items already in my house.

Bob used to ask me to buy him cans of Coke. I never did see them in the makolet but I would always look. And then one day I spotted a case of Coke cans while checking out. I told the girl at the register I’d take the case of Coke. She looked at me in a way that made me repeat myself in Hebrew.
Ani rotzah hakol (all of it).
Beseder (okay).
She proceeded to take down the case of Coke and open it up.
Ani rotzah hakol, I repeated.
She nodded and showed me how she needed to scan one can of the Coke so she could determine the price of the case.
Cama zeh – rak echad? (how much is it for just one?)
Hamesh (five shekels)
Beshviel hakol? (for the whole thing?)
She looked at the register while I did the math in my head and we answered simultaneously – she in Hebrew, me in English.
120 shekel!
It suddenly became very clear to me the case of Coke was to refill the drink fridge at the entrance of the store (which is why it was the only case of Coke in the store and why each can was priced at 5 shekel). I quickly changed my position on the purchase.
Ani LO rotzah hakol.
I brought Bob one souvenir five shekel can and told him the story.
Bob stopped asking me to buy him cans of Coke.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #117 - Ah, the luxuries I’ve left behind!

Steak used to be my easiest stand-by dinner. Even if I had no steak. I could call the butcher from my car in the middle of carpool and have steak brought to my window as I drove by. We could be eating dinner within 15 minutes of arrival home.

Israel has steak…or some such item
I once ordered steak from the midnight delivery butcher and it came frozen in a round tub. Six round steaks stacked in a round tub. I’d never seen round steak before. The kids didn’t like it so I never ordered it again.

How the mighty have fallen!
I miss steak. And so, I searched the freezer section of the makolet the other day for a round tub of meat but, alas, I could find none. Then I realized the schnitzel section of the makolet is equal in size to the meat section. Maybe it’s even bigger. And I’m not talking about chicken or fish. Vegetable schnitzel. A mainstay of Israeli daily cuisine on the level of milfafonim (cucumbers) and lachmaniya im shockolad (roll with chocolate spread).

There is the ever popular schnitzel tieras (corn schnitzel), schnitzel yirakot (vegetable schnitzel which is really just schnitzel tieras with some peas in it), mushroom schnitzel, broccoli schnitzel, zucchini schnitzel, purple cabbage schnitzel (I’m not making this up), schnitzel that tastes like hamburgers, schnitzel that tastes like falafel and then there’s something that’s not schnitzel at all but it’s got a spot in the schnitzel section nonetheless – pareve hot dogs. Of course, each schnitzel variety comes in cutlet size and in nugget size. And so, I didn’t feel so bad coming home with no steak, opening my freezer and heating up an assortment of pareve schnitzel cutlets and calling my family to dinner. I felt quite Israeli.

Schnitzel can only take you so far – then, Baruch Hashem, there’s Burgers Bar
Where you can order a lamp warp (lamb wrap) [TIME OUT: how can I still make fun of misspelled menu English when I myself am so totally illiterate in Hebrew? I am inviting bad karma!], chicken cutlet or schnitzel and, of course, real meat burgers. There is a steak sandwich but I couldn’t imagine it would be the steak experience I’m craving. The burger did just fine.

I picked up a package of maybe 6 organic chicken thighs in the health food store this morning thinking how proper roasted organic chicken for dinner would be. 98 shekels. I’m now working on menu plan B – a choice between pancakes, eggs, salami, and now, schnitzel.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #116 – tiyulim (excursions - short trips taken with the intention of returning to the point of departure; as for pleasure; jaunt)

My Sefer Yehoshuah tiyul was amazing and inspired (once I recovered from geological shock). And traveling with 6 very learned ladies afforded me the opportunity to catch up on my ‘papers I need help with’ pile. Alongside water bottles and snacks, my bag held several mysterious school notices. One of which was Asher’s tiyul form.

Wanted: Armed chaperones
There were 2 lines specifying the date, time, place, and required packing (hat, 2 liters water, 2 meals, comfortable shoes). Then followed an entire paragraph soliciting armed chaperones. Something like ‘If you have a gun and want to chaperone, you can chaperone.’ And ‘If your gun is an M16 and you chaperone, all the rest of your son’s tiyulim for the year will be free.’ Just like the tiyul notices we received in Brooklyn...

Savlanut & Emunah (patience & faith) required. And leave your gun at home.
The maxim of successfully navigating Israeli bureaucracy also applies to the American bureaucratic experience in Israel.

After four cancellations we finally made our appointment with the US Consulate. An unassuming stone building, situated between a used car lot (which doubles as a parking lot for a 20 shekel flat fee) and Palestine Pottery, it couldn’t be further from Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue, yet it has a charm all its own.

Like a heavily guarded post office, it is a blend of security, strictly numbered window hopping, and waiting. Waiting for the various guards in varied styles of sunglasses (worn at every post – even inside the building) to usher us through from one waiting spot to another to yet another (not before asking if we have a gun and then confiscating my camera, cell phone, and eyeliner sharpener).

Waiting for the American-born-Israeli-raised woman who couldn’t fill out her Social Security application because, while she can speak perfect English, she cannot read or write (note to self: make sure Rachel Merav learns to read and write English). Waiting for the Arab family who insisted they lived in the US in 2004 and again in 2007 and now wants to return but can produce no evidence to support their claim to be graciously denied pending further documentation. Waiting waiting waiting and suddenly we were done.

With a receipt and nothing more we walked back to our car wondering if it would still be there (it was) and hoping for such luck with the registered mail delivery of Rachel’s passport, consular report of birth abroad and social security card since the contracted courier service will not deliver to the Gush.

Giddy with accomplishment we went for Israeli breakfast. Sometimes a seemingly ordinary day can feel like a tiyul.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #115 - More little known facts on the ground

Everything in Israel has perfume. Even the baby wipes that are labeled ‘perfume-free’ have perfume.

There is nothing more refreshing after a morning run than kumquats. All the more so when you can pick and eat them off your tree.

It is perfectly normal for Israeli school children to be given candy by their teacher. It is also normal for them to be given sugar cubes in lieu of candy.

Today’s sale item was the meat known as Number 5
Sale of the Yom – The makolet has a cute sale schedule where certain items are on sale Sunday, others Monday, still others Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Except that the sign lists the items according to the yom - Alef, Bet, Gimmel, etc. (Sunday, Yom Rishon, is Alef). And while I’m certain the sign is posted throughout the store, I only notice it once I’m at the register. So once I’ve counted on my fingers to figure out which day we’re on, cross referenced with the sign to see what’s actually on sale this day, gauged if I can run and grab the sale item before the baby starts crying, and surveyed the mood of the people in line behind me, I usually pass on the sale. But if I see a friend as I’m leaving, I’ll be sure to give a heads up. “Yom Bet – sale on yirakot (vegetables)!”

Facts about the ground
The kids have been having earthquake drills in school. At first I thought they were really rocket drills – that the school didn’t want to scare them. I don’t recall ever hearing about an earthquake in Israel and when Becky got scared about the earthquake in Haiti, I assured her there could be no earthquake here because we don’t live anywhere near tectonic plates…

Standing atop the meeting point of two tectonic plates on my tiyul the very next day, I learned all about the Syrian African Rift. Later, I Googled ‘earthquake in Israel’ and came up with this headline:
Israel Is Due, and Ill Prepared, for Major Earthquake

Ignorance is truly bliss.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #114 - when summer weather is foreshadowing ...

Just as I finished reconciling the list of school days off with Bob’s travel dates for the next few months it hit me. My kids are off school the TEN DAYS BEFORE (that’s right, BEFORE) Pesah. Of course they are also off during Pesah and for Isru Chag. With just 2 days of Yom Tov total (read: one seder), this makes for lots of fun family tiyul time. Which I’ll need to recover from those ten days of Pesah cleaning with all my kids home. And no husband…

If Pesah lasts a month, why shouldn’t Purim be 2 weeks long?
Purim in Israel seems to officially start with Rosh Chodesh Adar. I’m not just talking about Hamentaschen in the makolet. I’m not even talking about candy displays littering the aisles or wine displays that have overtaking entire sections of the supermarket. I’m talking about 14 straight days of face painting, mask-making, games, and candy. At school! And no homework.

Purim afook
Barbara and Becky came home singing a special song for Purim – something about everything being afook – upside down and opposite. Then Asher came home telling me about a list of new rules – special for Purim.

I’m allowed to bring my DSI to school.
This, just one week after he was caught with the DSI at school and told NOT to bring the DSI to school. Hmmm…
I can show you the rules, mom!
He could hardly contain himself.
See, Mom! Rule Number Four! Ken Ta’aseh Lecha Pesel Et Hamachashirim Ha’electronim V’tasech Otam Bizman ha Hafseka!

Even with my cave-man Hebrew I could pick out the key words – ken (yes) electronim (enough said), hafseka (recess).

I had him translate the rest of the rules, all under the heading “Rules for (the two weeks of) Purim.”

No homework.
Rosh Chodesh will be celebrated with games (and no learning) the whole day.
If the teacher comes five minutes late to class, it’s a free period.
If the teacher sends you out of class you can come right back in.
If they teacher tells you to stop reading your library book in class, you can continue reading your library book in class.
You must obey the principal Sunday through Wednesday only.

Bob ran into a friend today who reminded him to send Asher to school in costume this Wednesday.
But Purim is not until Sunday.
Don’t you know – the kids are finished learning for the year.
What do you mean?
Now it’s Purim. Two weeks later it’s Passover. That brings us right into April. And that’s it. The year is finished.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #113 - perspective

My sister-in-law remembers coming to Kever Rachel some 15 years ago. It was a once in a lifetime experience for her. I have a friend here who recites Tehillim at Kever Rachel once a week.

Green Alert!
I got 2 calls from friends alerting me to the presence of Bodek spinach in the makolet last week. Then there was the ‘breaking news’ email from my grocery delivery guy – fresh insect-free broccoli – one per family while supplies last. I could not believe my good luck.

What is convenience anyway?
There is no pizza delivery motzei Shabbat. (In Efrat nothing opens motzei Shabbat). We have no 7-11 (sheva-echatesreh?), no bodega, no place local to pick up milk or diapers (or emergency chocolate) in the middle of the night. We came from the city that never sleeps (and certainly never runs out of Bodek spinach) to a place where lights out seems to be at 9pm (and fresh broccoli is breaking news).

At 9:45pm last night, when I finally decoded the note from Rosie’s gan telling me to send in 5 cucumbers for her Rosh Chodesh party today, I looked at the clock and simultaneously realized that
1. no store will be open at this hour.
2. there exists an expectation that any self-respecting Israeli will OF COURSE have 5 cucumbers to spare at a moment’s notice

Silly me – spending the day at the Dead Sea instead of cucumber shopping.

While Rosie celebrated Rosh Chodesh with her gan, we drove to Hebron. Why not? It couldn’t be more convenient!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #112 – i'm fluent in pig-latin...

It’s not just about the Hebrew
Asher asked me what the heat was set on. It’s sunny outside but the house is freezing. I told him 77°. What? Oh, yeah. 25° I told him. Somehow Asher (and Asher alone) has mastered Celsius. I’ve noticed with most of my American friends here that fluency in Celsius comes at the expense of fluency in Fahrenheit. You can know both but really only be comfortable in the one used in your current locale. My 10-day forecast includes an 84° day. Or, for Asher’s sake, a balmy 28°.

From one holiday (and its symbolic food) to the next
Hamentaschen have replaced dried fruit in the makolet, the mall and even the health food store. Purim is coming. My costume is top secret on the order of national security. My good friend drove me to a store (whose name I cannot pronounce) in a neighborhood (where I always get lost) to get discounted supplies for mishloach manot. I am ready!

When is Purim, anyway?
My first day of ulpan the teacher made a point of showing us the Hebrew calendar. She contrasted it with the Gregorian calendar and told us that to live in Israel is to live by the Hebrew calendar. To illustrate her point, she asked us when, on the Gregorian calendar, is Pesah?
Late-March, early-April, mid-April, came the answers.
And when is Pesah on the Hebrew calendar?
15th of Nissan!, we all shouted out.

There’s a cute gadget on-line to convert the dates
but it’s usefulness is limited. Here’s why.

Most Hebrew text today uses European digits (0, 1, 2, 3...9) to represent numbers. However, religious or biblical text, and calendars in Hebrew will use the traditional form which uses Hebrew letters as numeric values

Barbara is at a birthday party now. The invitation, hanging on the fridge, invited her to come, not on the 25th of Sh’vat, but rather on kaf-hey Sh’vat. In the interest of her own social self-preservation, Barbara quickly mastered the Hebrew calendar.

Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!
This weekend brought two surprises – the best one being 2 Simchas showing up at my doorstep just before Shabbat. Two Simchas as in cousin Simcha and my sister-in-law Cindy (aka Simcha). These two could not be more aptly named. With happiness, joy and a lot of Hebrew in the air (cousin Simcha is Israeli and sister-in-law Cindy is fluent), I got my second surprise.

When Rosie turned two I had her evaluated for speech therapy because she simply did not speak. Some time before her 3rd birthday, she opened her mouth and spoke. Sentences, paragraphs, soliloquies. And she hasn’t stopped.

Without missing a beat, the sentences have started coming out in Hebrew. And the paragraphs. Even the soliloquies. If you speak to her in English, she answers in English. If you speak to her in Hebrew she answers in Hebrew. Real Israeli-sounding Hebrew.

Less than 3 weeks until Purim. Between them, my kids have mastered Celcius, the calendar and Hebrew. Let’s see what Pesah brings. Pesah, as in tet-vav Nissan.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #111 - They said living here is not the same as vacationing here

Granted, as a tayar (tourist) I enjoyed hot showers to my heart’s content at the Inbal. I even giggled at the card in the bathroom gently suggesting I hang up my towel for re-use rather than leave it to be changed. My biggest bureaucratic nightmare may have been arranging for two taxis to transport my family around town since strict seatbelt laws prohibit 6 of us from squishing into one.

What else did I do as a tayar? Let’s see. We visited holy sites. The Kotel. Kever Rachel. Ma’arat ha’Machpela. We visited family. Jerusalem relatives. Tel Aviv relatives. We had lots of treats (read: candy and ice cream). We hung out with friends. We ate in restaurants.

Seven months into it, I’d say it’s still pretty vacationy on a lot of levels. Bob is around more often than not – this alone makes it vacationy. But there are other things. We’ve had a steady stream of visitors – family and friends, planned visits and welcome surprises. We get to the local holy sites more often than you’d think. Israeli relatives have started to visit. Our Tel Aviv dodas (aunts) showed up with chocolate and gummy worms in an unprecedented motzei Shabbat pop-in. Yes, the kids go to school six days a week but they’re home early enough that the pace is never quite frenzied. Shabbat is filled with friends and we eat our fair share of ‘Israeli Breakfast’ in restaurants.

Next week my Shabbat learning group is tiyuling to some of the sites named in Sefer Yehoshuah. Here’s the description:

We will look down on Yericho and discuss the Rachav story, see & discuss the whole geography of Ever HaYarden, Arvot Moav, Gilgal, go to *the actual spot* where Bnei Yisrael crossed the Jordan -- it seems that this is a known, identified place! -- and then go on to see either one of the proposed sites for Ha'Ay (there's a big machloket regarding where it is) or else sites connected with the battle of Givon or else landmarks connected with the nachalot of Yehudah & Binyamin.

All this and I will be home by 3 for my kids.

Living here is not the same as vacationing here. It’s better.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #110 - Heightened alert - it's supposed to snow

(Food x 2) + (Recess x 3) = suitable conditions for learning
There are 2 eating periods plus 3 hafsekas (recesses) at school each day. You can play during the eating period and you can eat during hafseka so effectively there are 5 recesses and 5 times to eat.

My school lunch rotation – one day each of pancakes, borekas, noodles, chocolate sandwiches, fish schnitzel, and rice - broke down when I noticed the kids coming home near starvation every day. The rotation has become a smorgasbord – as much as I can stuff each day of borekas, noodles, chocolate sandwiches, fish schnitzel and rice.

Everyone has an excuse
When we first got here I rented a car from a company that sends a driver to bring you the car. What happens next is his partner, another rep from the company, shows up and takes the driver home. Our driver had to tremp back to his base in Netanya since his partner refused to come to the Gush.

My washer/dryer service company only sends repairmen into the Gush once a month.

Taxis drop us off at Tzomet Gilo (the southernmost tip of Jerusalem) and leave us to tremp back to the Gush.

Initially, some of our Tel Aviv relatives couldn’t believe we wanted them to come visit us here. How would we get there? Do we need armored cars? Neshek (gun)?
Mapiton!?! (what are you talking about?)
We got a surprise last night.
“See! We came to visit you!”
They happened to be giving a soldier friend a ride back to Tel Aviv. A soldier friend with an M16.

The big chill
My dear friend Gabrielle chided me to get to the makolet and stock up on snowed-in essentials – bread, eggs, hot cocoa and anything else I think I might want to cook/eat for about the next 5-6 days since, if it does snow, NO TRUCKS DELIVERING FOOD WILL COME INTO THE GUSH.

My Mai Eden delivery never came. It was scheduled for early in the week. The snow was scheduled for late in the week. Silly me, expecting Mai Eden to deliver me water in the same week snow is predicted.

Until Gabrielle’s admonition, I wasn’t really paying attention to the hype about the pending snow. Each kid brought home a phone number to call if it snows. A snow phone. Supposedly in English. My first school flyer ever to come home in English was a full page on what to do if it snows while the kids are in school.

How could I take this seriously? They are talking about the physical process of snow falling from the sky without even any talk about accumulation. If one flake falls or if we’re blanketed with snow it seems the proscribed protocol is identical: PANIC.

Don’t drive.
Don’t send your kids to school.
Don’t expect any stores to be open.
Expect a food shortage to last well into next week.
Don’t go anywhere where you will get stuck and the army will have to come rescue you.

Tressim – heavy plastic window coverings that you close at night using a pull-string to make your house look like an impenetrable fortress. I believe the American equivalent is the roll-down hurricane shutter. It’s a very Israeli thing to have tressim although here they protect your house from the heat of the desert sun more than from hurricane rain. I leave mine open for the most part but when Bob’s away and the wind is howling, I close them tight and hide inside.

As I tucked the kids into bed I promised them no school if even one flake of snow falls. The wind was howling. I closed the tressim, dove under 3 blankets and contemplated a lazy day of movies, cupcake baking and art projects.

I was sure we were snowed in up to the second floor when I opened my tressim the next morning. The window was freezing cold and I could not see a thing. But, alas, we were mired in fog and not a flake of snow had fallen.

As I scrambled to fill lunchboxes with rice, yogurts, jelly sandwiches, anything I could find, my kids just looked at me with confusion and disappointment.
“But it’s so….COLD. It’s LIKE it snowed!”
I called the snow phone – partly to humor the kids who insisted there couldn’t be school on such a cold day and partly because I couldn’t believe, after all that hype, preparation, and anticipation, that there would still be school.

The snow phone in English is, apparently, only in English if there is actually snow.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #109 - bob's the only smoker in efrat anyway!

Our tree planting field trip has been cancelled in anticipation of snow.

I’ve been busy responding to congratulatory emails regarding Rav Riskin’s ruling on the sale of cigarettes (2 out of 5 stores in Efrat have agreed not to sell cigarettes in light of Rav Riskin’s ruling) while Bob has been busy trying to figure out where the fifth store in Efrat is.

A lesser known rite of passage specific to olim from the Gush is the experience of getting lost in Talpiot - the industrial/shopping zone of Jerusalem.
Densely concentrated (read: stores piled on top of stores, signs all in Hebrew), the allure is that you could find just about anything (carpet, groceries, power tools, paper goods). If you know where you’re going.

For some (read: Bob) it’s less about getting lost (he’s mastered the maze of kikars (traffic circles) and malls (old and new) on three parallel streets with a few streets cutting through and then several streets that appear to cut through but do not) and more about parking. There always appears to be parking right in front of the store you want. This is a dangerous illusion. Once you enter the lot, which is most certainly full (and in Israel, full means every spot is taken plus cars have gratuitously parked in “spots” they’ve created on the sidewalks, behind the dumpster, and wedged into corners), exiting the lot becomes a physical impossibility. Bob’s first trip into Talpiot was a three hour adventure. Two of those hours were spent parking.

Shopping with one’s husband for paper goods is a sure test of the strength of one’s marriage.
In preparation for Rachel’s Kiddush I made my way to Talpiot for paper goods. Thinking I knew where I was and also that I knew where I was going, I circled and circled. And circled and circled. 40 minutes into circling, Rachel woke up to let me know it was time to go home. Empty handed. I returned the next day with Bob and map. We arrived, parked, shopped and paid. Did I mention shopping with one’s husband for paper goods is a sure test of the strength of one’s marriage?

Before the Kiddush my dear friend Michal warned me – when you have so many people in your house, expect things to get a little dirty. (I thought of the eggs). Even gross. “Like what?” Barbara looked worried. With twinkling eyes, Michal answered in a solemn voice. “Cholent on the walls. Expect shmears of cholent on your walls.” Barbara looked mortified. Probably she was contemplating the effect of cholenty walls on her upcoming birthday party. “If the walls stay clean you will be pleasantly surprised,” Michal added. Barbara, lost in her own swirling thoughts, didn’t hear her.

All that circling was not for nothing
When I needed to return to Talpiot to find the ‘dollar’ store for Barbara’s birthday party projects, I knew exactly where to go. Except that it’s a ‘dollar thirty-four’ store (I’ve taken the liberty of renaming the ‘five shekel’ store). The five shekel store is where you go to buy little projects for kids, rejected paint colors (read: burnt sienna), and made in China toys that don’t meet the safety requirements to be sold in the USA (read: bite sized parts, deafening volume, choking length strings).

Sure that I would embarrass Barbara with my dropout level Hebrew I forged ahead and hosted a birthday party for 32 girls – 20 of which speak only Hebrew. We dined on pizza (mi rotzah od pizza?), played Star Wars Bingo (Milchama Cochavim!), passed the polish in every color (yarok, cachol, katom, varod), entertained each other with impromptu skits, and created lovely (5 shekel) art projects. After the party Barbara told me the party was great and she wasn’t embarrassed by my Hebrew at all(!!!). As I was cleaning up paint and polish from my floors and walls that night I came across a crusty patch of something dried on the wall. Closer inspection revealed cholent as the offending agent.

Bob was busted smoking outside a bar mitzvah today. Soon you won’t be able to buy those in Efrat, a familiar voice told him. It was the unmistakable voice of Rabbi Riskin.