Friday, March 26, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #127 - Like torching things? Your dream job is waiting.

The most amazing Israeli Pesah invention – spreadable white chocolate.
The newest most mysterious hashgocha – kasher l’Pesah erev Pesah.
The ultimate wafer replacement - oogiyot yayin.

Rosie hasn't stopped singing Avadim Hayinu and Manishtana for 10 days except to sleep. Against that musical background we've been getting ready for Pesah.

Pesah update.
The house - clean (including blow torched oven racks)!
The yebrat, oot, lahamagine - all made!
The husband - returned!
The children - recovering from pizza-store overdose, living on rice cakes with spreadable white chocolate and oogiyot yayin.

Shabbat Shalom! Hag Sameah!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #126 – it’s the caring

We’re not standing on ceremony. You want my number? Just ask me.
In the hospital doctors reach midwives and nurses by calling them on their cell phones. And vice-versa. There’s no paging Dr. Cohen to the delivery room stat. They just call Dr. Cohen on her cell.

If you need to reach someone – anyone – they give you their cell phone number. You want to call your child’s teacher, your doctor, lawyer, mechanic, or school principal, you dial their cell. I had to leave a dentist appointment before I got the results of Asher’s x-ray. The dentist gave me his cell phone number and told me to call him while he’s driving home and he could go over it with me. 6 cavities and 2 possible root canals – lucky it was him driving and me sitting on my couch.

Some things are just different here
In funny little we’re-taking-a-field-trip-below-sea-level-and-we-have-to-bring-chewing-gum ways.

Holiday closeouts – who knew?
Kids who don’t know who or what the Easter bunny is give each other mugs with Easter bunnies on them as birthday gifts. People decorate their sukkahs with tinsel and illuminate their gardens with red and green spotlights.

Grammar matters
Waitresses offer you ‘Thousand Islands’ dressing – because if there are a thousand of them, of course you would use the plural – and supermarket clerks are truly dismayed when you refuse a sale item or (gasp) opt out of a moadoan – ‘club membership’ - (that would save you fifty shekel on this very order!).

Extra shopping bags to soften the blow of Bob’s illiteracy
When Bob refused the moadoan in Shefashuk, the reaction was utter shock.
Mapiton? Just a minute to fill out the form!
It’s hard for me
, Bob explained. Hebrew is not my first language. These questions are hard for me to answer. He motioned to the form.
Ah, but we will help you! Tell me, what is your cell phone?
No, it’s okay.
Bob stood his ground. I have to hurry. The baby is waiting. He motioned to our two full wagons.
We will help you! Someone is paged to come help Bob with the wagons as the small crowd that’s gathered starts (gasp) bagging his groceries.

He asks for some extra bags and they give him the entire bunch.

As he walks his first wagon load out of the store, hands clenching maybe 100 extra grocery bags, they call after him.
Don’t forget your other wagon sir! And welcome to Israel!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #125 - Pesah in the Aretz

Most surprising item bearing Pesah supervision: Keef Kef (the Israeli answer to Kit Kat)

Most convenient item bearing Pesah supervision: rice cakes

Most noticeably absent Pesah items: tea matzohs and Pesah cake mixes

Funniest item bearing Pesah supervision I’ve seen (so far): Shoelaces

In the coming days leading up to Pesah there are scheduled times to bring your cutlery and pots to kasher in huge cauldrons of boiling water. One in each neighborhood. Our date is next Thursday from 4 – 8 pm. Let’s do the math on this. 5 kids minus one husband plus as many baby bottles, chicken scissors, can openers and lemon zesters as we can carry together to a huge pot sitting atop (I’m guessing but I’ll let you know) a huge fire. Hmmmm. Sounds like an adventure!

Speaking of which
Bob and I have been Pesah shopping. A word about shopping in Israel. Somehow not all food is kosher to begin with. That said, most food we see is kosher but in order to determine whether or not it is parve or dairy we play a Where’s Waldo game of finding the hashgocha (label of kosher supervision) in Hebrew amidst what seems like a megilla of ingredients, nutritional information and promotional hype – also in Hebrew, of course.

Israeli’s are not big into distinguishing their products in this way – the tub of parve Elite Chocolate Spread is identical in every way to the tub of dairy Elite Chocolate Spread – save for the very tiny word ‘halvi’ hidden under the ingredients list.

It’s not just food
My kids Spongebob Shampoo is virtually indistinguishable from their Spongebob Conditioner.

Now, assuming the item is kosher, of known status (parve or dairy – we won’t even touch on Chalov Yisroel v. Clalov Nochri but know that dairy products in Israel, milk aside, tend not to be Chalov Yisroel… ), we now want to be sure it is kosher l’Pesah. Hmmmm.

I once had a guest bring me wine and apologize in advance if I didn’t think it was kosher enough. I looked at it – there were not one but two well-known stamps of kosher supervision on the wine. I looked at my guest. Two rabbi’s saw this wine before me and declared it kosher. Is that not enough? I was confused. He shrugged and said some of his hosts would only eat food supervised by a very specific rabbi. That said, one can better understand the tendency of food in Israel to bear several hashgochot at once. In essence:
These four supervisory bodies have each concluded that this product is kosher.

But now it’s Pesah and we have the crucial divide between Ashkenazim & Sephardim – the seemingly larger than life item known as kitniyot (legumes or just about any bi-product thereof).

Combine this with the tradition of multiple hashgochot and you are left holding a single item that simultaneously bears the following four labels:

Kasher l’Pesah (kosher for Pesah)
Kasher lo’l’Pesah (kosher all year but NOT on Pesah)
Kasher l’Pesah l’ochlim kitniyot (kosher for Pesah for legumes consumers)
Lo kasher l’Pesah (not kosher for Pesah)

But that’s not all!
Then there are the famous Pesah abbreviations. Corresponding to the list above, picture the Hebrew equivalent of

Thankfully we eat kitniyot

We’re busy checking rice, no time to check for lice!
Rosie is Shabbat Ima tomorrow for the second time. This time Barbara took it upon herself to advise the ganenet that Rosie will be bringing her own mitpachat (head covering) for the occasion. Because Rosie is not interested in pre-Pesah lice.

Crunch time
Pesah is not for another 10 days. We have time to search for tea matzahs, to clean the hametz, to check the rice, to kasher the cutlery, to ---
Hi, Mom, we're home for Pesah vacation! Can we have a snack?

Hag Kasher v'Sameah!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #124 – I’m 16 again!

As much as Bob and I talk to each other (a lot), all official communiques are via email. (I’m talking about when he’s here!)

And so, 6 days after we landed in Israel I received this email (from Bob in the other room) outlining the procedure for procuring an Israeli drivers license.

July 2009
1. Until we get our Israeli license, we can use our US license – for 1 year.
2. To get an Israeli license we need to go to some office with our New York license (copies of front and back). Jerusalem locations: Malha Mall or Talpiot.
3. They give you a green form -- go to an eye doctor and regular MD -- each need to sign this form attesting to your ability to drive (no restrictions).
4. Take the form and everything else to Misrad HaRishui in Talpiot. They give you a form so you can now take driving lessons.
5. Schedule, but do not yet take, a driving lesson with an instructor.
6. Take the Misrad HaRishui paperwork to the post office and pay the 60 NIS fee for the driving test.
7. Take the test.
8. If pass, then go back to Misrad HaRishui and get temporary license.

September 2009
Step 2 and half of Step 3 completed before a delicious Israeli breakfast in the Malha Mall
As it turned out, ‘some office in Malha Mall’ was an eyeglass store – they have a special desk at which you get the green form and conveniently, there is an optician who is qualified to fill out the eye doctor portion of the form.

September 2009
The doctor’s visit

This was easy peasy. A quick visit to the medical center, some cursory questions about our health and voila! On to step 4.

October 2009
Step 4 - after the Hafseka (break)
Remember this? The DMV of Jerusalem. Me, Bob and a whole lot of aspiring Jerusalem cab drivers waiting for the licensing bureau windows to re-open after the daily morning BREAK.

We followed up with Israeli breakfast and then we called Eddie, our driver’s ed instructor.

October 2009

Patient, calm (for someone totally obsessed with the cleanliness of his car), Hebrew-speaking Eddie. I met him in front of Misrad HaRishui – you can imagine the scene – me, 9 months pregnant not able to leave my car since I did not have shekels for the meter trying to explain in broken Hebrew what my car looks like (dusty, grey) and what I look like (fat, not moving) before my cell phone dies. We made the connection (I gave him the papers – step 5, sort of) and then it was time for a real break.

Four months and one baby later
We resumed with renewed enthusiasm when we realized that after a year, instead of taking one driving lesson, we’d each need to take something like 24 driving lessons.

I received this email from Bob early last week:
thurs at 9:20 -- driving practice
fri at 11 - test.

March 11, 2010
Driving practice – the step between 5 and 6
We did this yesterday. I went first. A 40 minute tiyul around Jerusalem. Eddie gently reminded me to use my blinkers, to turn the wheel hand over hand, to watch out for pedestrians and to use my mirrors. As I timidly inched along the streets at some 20 km per hour (12.4 miles per hour), Eddie asked me how long I’ve been driving. “22 years,” I told him. “So then drive!”

Bob had his turn next. An hour into it he called to tell me they were stuck in traffic but that in the meanwhile I should find a babysitter because our driving tests will be together.

March 11, 2010
Step 6
Conveniently there was a post office at the entrance of the driving lesson/test area. Maybe too convenient. We waited an hour, paid in 30 seconds (the fee went up to 65 nis) and then, famished, made our way to Israeli breakfast.

March 12, 2010
Finally – the big test
We woke up early. Bob offered to let me drive into Jerusalem. I declined. I wanted to save my best for the test. How do you practice not resting your elbow out the window, anyway?

We returned to the lesson/test area, waited for Eddie to Windex/Ajax/Sano his windshield, side view mirrors and headlights, and met the other woman who was to be tested with us. Our tester arrived and we loaded into the car. As I (signaled first and) drove out of the lot, tester riding shotgun, Bob and the other lady in the back, we waved to Eddie.

They say you don’t get your results on the spot because one time, a person who’d been told they failed the driving test pulled out a gun and shot the tester
And so, as we anxiously waited for Eddie to call us, we replayed the driving test over and over. I didn’t signal as I pulled over to park. Bob let someone waive him into a traffic circle. Would we fail? And so it went, all afternoon until we got the call from Eddie. Time to prepare for Step 8!

Sunday we’ll celebrate with Israeli breakfast.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #123 - WHAT?

Is everbody mixing up their car with mine or is it just me - mixing up my car with everyone else's?
I walk around the parking lot pushing the car alarm button on my keypad listening to hear which car unlocks. But not everyone locks their car and sometimes my car is parked right next to one of these unlocked cars. Why can't I tell the difference? Last week I started loading my groceries into a car that was not mine. A few days later I couldn't figure out where the base of Rachel Merav's car seat went as I loaded her into yet another car that was not mine. Bob went to get the car and pick me up after a bar mitzvah last month. He called to say he was getting close. I walked out into the lot and almost got into someone else's car. With someone else's husband!

I guess I could learn my (really long) license plate number...
I know I said all the cars in Israel are really small. And really colorful. But there's a whole fleet of cars here in Efrat that are neither small nor colorful. And to me they all look the same. What I mean to say is that a grey dust-covered 7-seater Honda Stream looks the same to me as a grey dust-covered 7-seater Mazda 5 looks the same to me as a grey dust-covered Mitsubishi Grandis. 7 seats because families are big. Dust covered because who is wasting water washing their car? Grey because...I have no idea! I rented 3 cars and purchased 1 since I've been here - I never requested a color on any and 3 out of the 4 showed up in grey. It's like the opposite of electric salmon.

If only there were something noteworthy about my car. Something special...

Rosie – I love you! “WHAT?”
When a child is on the cusp of bi-linguality there is a window of time during which the child will need you to repeat everything you say. The mechanism by which the child buys time in order to determine which language you are speaking and then process what you’ve said is the age old question, “WHAT?”

The window closes about a month later once the processing time is virtually instantaneous. The “WHAT?”s will have disappeared as quickly as they came but not before the appointment, so anxiously scheduled, with an audiologist to rule out deafness.

Or so it went with Rosie.

Curvy mountain cliff roads or Jerusalem with a risk of traffic?
Did our forefathers ponder these same questions? We opted for the scenic mountain route and made our way to Hadassa Ein Kerem for Rosie’s audiology appointment. As we entered the parking lot the gate opened but no cartis (parking stub) came out of the machine. Bob inched up to the attendant, relaxing in the sunshine, and alerted him to the malfunction (normally you take a cartis and only then does the gate open). The attendant went back to the machine, pushed the button and returned to us with a receipt indicating that we’d left Hadassa Ein Kerem.
This is what you’re giving me?
In the time it took for the attendant to shrug, the whole episode played out in Bob’s mind – we would get to the pay station, have no cartis, and be unable to exit the parking lot. He then said it out loud.
We are going to get to the pay station, have no cartis and be stuck in this parking lot!

As the guard, unfazed, turned back toward his chair, Bob put the car in park, jammed the parking brake (yes, we were blocking the lane of traffic), and announced, “I AM NOT LEAVING WITHOUT MY CARTIS!”

He got out of the car and walked back to the machine. He pushed the button. Nothing. A security guard monitoring cars in a second entrance lane called to him. Something about how your car has to drive over the hump to activate the cartis machine and the gate.
Sivuv! (go around) he instructed Bob.
Okay. So we drove out of the lot (in retrospect we were free at this point...)

It’s a Mossad car! Are you happy?
As we drove through the second entrance, the gate opened and again, no cartis. Hmmm. By now we seemed to have caught the interest of the original attendant. He was looking at the gate, the cartis machine, our car, and our tires.
Both gates opened for your car with no cartis!
It now seemed highly unusual. He had us back up and re-enter through the original gate. As if on cue, it opened right up. No cartis.

At this point both guards were practically in our car.
Tell me – is this some kind of special car?
The gate knows this car! It is a special car!
What kind of work do you do anyway?

Accepting the fact that we were not to receive a cartis this day, Bob smiled and conceded.
Yes. It is a special car. We drive a very special car.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #122 - eretz ha kodesh

It’s the holy land – what do you expect?
A friend of mine tapped on a taxi window to see if the cab was available. The driver, engrossed in a book, did not look up. She tapped again. As he offered the Israeli hand gesture for ‘savlanut’ (patience), she realized he was finishing up a book of tehillim (psalms).

Meticulous searches for one thing or another
I asked Rosie if she’s learning about Passover. It’s about all I can think of when I’m not consumed with lice prevention.
Ima! Passover is Pesah in Israel!

No naked mud flap girl - cultivating a new hobby
When I came home the other day there was a truck with a crane arm placing a new security hut outside Rosie’s gan. It was interesting – not the hut, not the crane arm – the wording on the truck – ‘ein od milvado’ – there is nothing besides Him! (see photo). I mentioned it to my friend Michal and she said there’s stuff like that on all the trucks. The next day on Route 60 I saw a truck sporting a pasuk (verse) of tehillim but it was difficult to read at high speed. I reached for my camera but was then faced with a choice between snapping the shot or staying on my side of the road.

As I zoomed past a truck with the famous na-nach quote, I decided I need to spend more time and energy on my truck quote photography. Perhaps drive with the camera dangling from my wrist. Spend more time on the highway. Thoughts... drifting... to my travels throughout the aretz...a new goal...a photo montage of all the religious truck quotes. Anything to put off cleaning for Passover. Or Pesah.

Sometimes you ask for a blessing. Other times you get one by surprise.
When the motorized triss repair man was finished working I offered a cup of water and he asked for a broom to sweep up the mess. As he drank the water I started sweeping. But he insisted I go back to feeding my children. He would sweep. And then he blessed the children that they should grow to be tzadikim.

A different kind of protection
I took Rosie to gan a few minutes late. I rang the bell but the gate did not open. I looked into the new security hut to see if the guard was inside. He was, indeed. Wrapped in his tallet (prayer shawl), praying shacharit (morning prayers).

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #121 - organization 101

Collections is an art form (or “boost your receivables – send kids”)
On the first of each month Rosie is escorted home by one of the children of the woman who runs her saharon (after-school program). They will gently remind me it’s the beginning of the new month and I will trip over myself running for my checkbook.

Chekim (checks – as in, ‘when my husband is not here, I seem to write a lot of checks – if I can remember where I put the checkbook’)
צ 'קים In Hebrew – that apostrophe (a chupchik) lets the tzadik (normally a ‘tz’ sound) sound like a ‘ch’ (as in choo choo). This I learned in ulpan along with a whole host of banking terminology. There was probably an implied message in the lesson– something along the lines of: plan to spend lots of time in the bank – but it didn’t register.

The first time our checks ran out I asked Bob, who do we call to get more checks?
No one.
We have to go to the bank to order more checks.
That’s strange.

And so I went. To the next town over. The bank is located in the mercaz (center) which is a beautiful and centrally located little courtyard which you can’t see from the street. I sent Becky and Rosie to play in the park and I went in to order chekim.

A few weeks later I told Bob we should really pick up our mail – probably our box of checks is taking up the whole post box. Except that he had just gotten the mail. No checks.
Maybe they got lost in the mail?
Maybe we should call the bank to see when they were sent out.
Maybe we should just go back to the bank.

And so Bob went.
What took you so long?
Your checkim have been sitting here in the bank for weeks.

Man jobs
Bob left me with a few tasks this week. One was to fix the car (a minor transmission fluid leak). Another was to get the lights working. Still another was to get the motorized backdoor triss fixed. What he didn’t leave me were checkim. I take that back. He left me one. I used it to pay the car guy.

There was a pithy email exchange this afternoon along the lines of ‘why did you not procure more checks?’ and the response ‘when I took the checkbook out of your junk drawer it was all crumpled up – it felt like it had a lot of checks.’

As I searched for a clever comeback there was a knock at my door. Rosie. And a little Israeli boy not much bigger than Rosie. Speaking just one word of English.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #120 – let there be light!

1. At the end of the day, no matter how many creative and fancy mishloach manot are delivered (read: granola parfaits, sushi, chip and dip, appetizing plates, health salads) the house will be overrun with the three items which are the essence of ‘snack’ and ‘celebration’ in Israel – toffee (as in the kind pelted at bar mitzvah boys at the Kotel), coated wafers (I’ve already discussed the deep connection between the people of Israel and the coated wafer), and Bamba (as in the snack that comes out of every number and letter combination in the ever popular Bamba vending machine). By flashlight, I stuffed an oversized Ziploc (yes, I still have a few) with toffee, a shopping bag with coated wafers, and an entire cupboard with Bamba. I should have as much nutritious food at arm’s reach.

2. Snacking on mixed nuts while sorting mishloach manot by flashlight segues to gagging and spitting out chewed up pistachio shells with near certainty.

3. Leaving even one mishloach manot on the table when retiring at night is the surest way to guarantee a 6am wake-up call from disgruntled children who cannot agree on the fairest distribution of toffee, coated wafers and Bamba for breakfast.

How can I complain about sideways rain when 80° F is the default temp?
Five days into our winter storm, with a variety of weather warnings along the lines of
‘Beware of heavy rains, high winds and falling fences,’ and two days into my own personal partial blackout, a reprieve is on the horizon. My lights have been restored (though my waterlogged motorized back door tris remains out of commission) and a look ahead shows temps in the high 80’s early next week. It’s cause for celebration. Thankfully we’re fully stocked with celebratory snacks.