Monday, April 26, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #134 – the one I wrote when I should have been sleeping. Or collecting wood.

Lag b’Omer is upon us. The day Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped dying. The yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. And so we make bonfires. Yes there is a connection. That’s all you need to know. That and start looking for a long green stick on which you will roast hot dogs and marshmallows and start looking early because everybody else already has theirs!

As I drove around Efrat yesterday delivering children to guitar lessons and English tutoring I noticed an unusual amount of young boys lugging large pieces of wood from garbage bins, construction sites, and hilltops. I saw one boy, maybe 7 years old, walking around with a jig saw. Just in case he found something good that was still attached, I guess.

In the email I received regarding our local community bonfire it seems some people will bring humus, others watermelon and still others will bring pita dough. To make pita. On the bonfire. I will explain this after I’ve seen it. I wonder if they sell Jiffy Pop at the makolet?

In addition to mentally preparing for Lag b’Omer (really I’m just making lists of things to buy and collect – marshmallows, hot dogs, green sticks, anything else?), I’ve been hosting some very special guests – my mom and dad! We’ve been running around like tourists visiting parks, the Kotel (we parked INSIDE the gate! Bet you didn’t know my parents were VIPS!), the shuk, eating lots of Israeli breakfasts (seriously – a ridiculous amount of Israeli breakfasts), and yes, tomorrow we hope to loot some construction sites for Lag b’Omer firewood. Just kidding. Sort of. I may just send the kids.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #133 – some words simply do not translate

It really does get less overwhelming over time.

You learn to distinguish a machsom from a rahmzohr from a kikar when people are giving you directions. Only one involves armed soldiers. It took me a while to distinguish sound-alike words that have nothing to do with each other. Machsom, machsahn, michlat, mitpachat. I often ask Bob to bring the folding table out from the security checkpoint.

I’m still trying to figure out the different occasions I am invited to – for Chanukah there was a mesibah at Rosie’s gan. I’m not sure but I think it was a party. I mean, I was there. We did crafts, sang songs, and ate jelly donuts. It felt party-ish.

For Yom Hatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) there is a tekkes. Ask any English speaking kid who’s lived here a while to define tekkes and it will take them a good while and some prompting. And then you still won’t have a definition that doesn’t include the word. “It’s, you know, a tekkes!” The closest answer I have so far is ‘assembly that’s like a show and like a party’. Okay…

I happened to be in school on Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day). This day (one day before Yom Hatzmaut) has nothing to do with sales, shopping or great lease deals and everything to do with remembering fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Restaurants are closed, stores close early, television shows do not run and you can be sure there will be a tekkes. In fact, when the electricity went out for 10 minutes during my visit to the school, all you could hear was, “Miskanim! B’Emseh ha Tekkes!” (Poor things! In the middle of the Tekkes!). Hmmm…

Later that night
As I sat in the park with several thousand of my neighbors I saw for myself what the Yom Hatzmaut tekkes was. There were speeches, honors, a torch-lighting ceremony, a performance with flags, singing and dancing. At the end were fireworks. I don’t know if there is an English word for tekkes. Even if there were, would it capture the essence of the tekkes? My good friend Claudia was honored and lit a torch. Becky’s friends were up there dancing. My friend’s son was up there performing with a flag. It wasn’t just entertainment. It was a celebration and it was personal. For thousands of us.

Glossery of terms
Machsom – security checkpoint
Rahmzohr – traffic light
Kikar – traffic circle
Machsahn – shed
Michlat – bomb shelter room
Mitpachat – scarf for a woman’s head
Mesibah – party, as in the thing you are invited to at Chanukah in your child’s gan - I think
Tekkes – assembly that’s like a show and like a party - but really it's something more

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #132 - fearlessly forging ahead (so what that my ignorance will surely be revealed)

Preparing to return to the shuk alone
With no one to translate my meat order. So I am having some fun with google translator.

Boneless turkey breast - תרנגול הודו ללא עצמות השד

Tarnegol hodu le’lo etzmaot hashad

Then I put in that first word – tarnegol – it means rooster. Hmmm.

I take out the rooster and reverse translate it.
Hodu le’lo etzmot hashad
Funny – it still means boneless turkey breast.

What’s with the rooster?

When I google ‘rooster in hebrew’ I find The Jewish Origin of the Vulcan Salute (did you know Spock’s Vulcan hand gesture has its roots in birchat haKohanim?)

Then I try it the other way – turkey breast with no bones:
חזה הודו עם עצמות לא

This seems to avert the whole rooster issue except that I don’t know how to pronounce that first word for breast/chest. So I google how to say chest in Hebrew and I come up with this hilarious anecdote from an on-line language school about a British sitcom:

…the British show Coupling and these guys were in a bar and this one guy sees a beautiful woman and he goes over to meet her, but she can't understand him because she's Israeli and only speaks Hebrew. He talks to her and asks what is her name, he makes the gesture of pointing his finger to his chest to signify himself and says his name and then points to her chest expecting her name as an answer. The Israeli woman thinks he wants to know how to say breasts in Hebrew so she says "Shadaim" or something which means "breasts" and the next day he's calling her Shadaim all the time but he doesn't know what it really means he thinks it's her name. Well he wants to know what she's saying so he asks where her friend is. This Israeli woman has a friend who speaks both Hebrew and English. But the Israeli woman thinks he is trying to say that he likes her friend (he doesn't) so the next day he shows up at the bar again and the Israeli's friend is there thinking she's going to be on a date with this guy. And the guy says "Sorry, I was expecting Shadaim" and the woman slaps him immediately.
It may be time to unpack the Hebrew-English dictionary.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #131 – other moms pack my kids’ lunch but my dinner is fit for a prime minister

To maximize lunchtime satisfaction pack up the sack with things OTHER kids in the class will want
I asked Rosie how she liked her chocolate sandwich at lunch today.
I didn’t eat it.
I gave it to Neely.
How about the Arctimel?
I gave that to Liat.
Did you eat the cream cheese sandwich I put in there?
No. I gave it to Ahuva.
So you didn’t eat lunch?
I ate!
What did you eat?
Avital gave me some crackers and some…
(she mumbles a word in Hebrew).
What’s that?
It’s like chips, Mommy.
Did you at least drink your chocolate milk?
So you had chocolate milk, crackers and chips?
Something LIKE chips, Mommy.
Are you hungry?
Yes. Can I have a chocolate sandwich now?

On Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the new Hebrew month), everyone wears a white shirt
As I dodged butterflies all over Route 60 today, my kids were dodging tiny white-shirt- seeking flying black bugs. Sporadic competing swarms continue…

A new title for me!
Barbara fell asleep on the couch while I was making pancakes for dinner. I called up to Asher a few times to come help me with the baby. When she woke up she relayed this dream:
I dreamt the prime minister of Israel came to our house. He smelled your pancakes and wanted to eat them. He enjoyed them so much he made you his vice prime minister in charge of food. You hired Asher as your servant.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #130 There is no granola in Israel – only Muesli

What exactly is Muesli? It is exactly granola.

American’s who had spent time in Israel but returned to America had urged me to bring things such as pantyhose, deodorant, and aluminum foil with me when we made aliyah. Meanwhile, American’s living in Israel had assured me I could find everything in Israel and that I shouldn’t bother bringing anything. I compromised and brought (massive quantities of) toothpaste, baby cream, and garbage bags.

My supply of Sparkling White, Max Fresh, Advanced Whitening, Mint Stripe, Clean Mint, Cool Mint, Crystal Mint, and Minty Sparkle Colgate ran out. So I went to Supersol Deal and spent 10 shekels for the small tube of Original Colgate. Which is made in Poland.

Then the baby cream finished. I sent Barbara to the makolet to buy more – I’d seen it there myself – Johnson & Johnson’s. Except that some clever Israeli has taken Johnson & Johnson bottles and filled them with perfume-y Israeli baby cream. Actually, they are imported. From Italy. Okay, some clever Italian.

My second mega pack of Glad Garbage Bags which are protecting me and my family from ‘gross garbage’ (yes, it says this on the box) is dwindling and I will be sad to see it finish if only for the fact that in nine months of feeble attempts, I have not yet figured out how to consistently purchase suitable Israeli bags that can protect both me and my family from gross garbage.

Each afternoon while bright sunlight is pouring into my window I instinctively grab the nearest child and check them for lice. The daily lice check takes about 5 minutes per child.
It’s therapeutic. In that since I’ve been checking them myself daily I have stopped dreaming about lice nightly.

British sponsored terror on Zerubavel?
Bob has but one hobby to which he devotes an inordinate amount of time and energy. It’s not procuring deals on string cheese in the shuk and it’s not precision sponga (though one might think so…). It’s the upkeep of his beloved fish pond.

He takes special trips to a fish farm in the hills beyond Bet Shemesh to buy new fish and also to purchase various fish pond apparatus. The fish pond is therapeutic for Bob and I’m sure, if the fish could express themselves, they would have words of abundant gratitude. To Bob who filtered out their murkey water, fixed their broken pump, repaired their water fall and made their life better. Until a precariously perched feline infiltrator knocked a large planter into the pond. Ruining everything.

It is told that the British brought cats into Israel during the time of the British Mandate in order to eradicate a very bad mouse problem. And so Israel was left with a legacy of feline terror. Cats staking out territory in café’s. Fighting to the death in alley ways. Scaring children (and grown-ups) away from dumpsters. Harassing fish. And so the therapeutic repair and upkeep continues.

My kids miss funny things about America
Like carpet. Especially when they misjudge the flight from Asher’s bed to his bean bag chair. Floors can be so unforgiving.

Now I can say, ‘turn right at the first kikar (traffic circle)!’
It’s reported (somewhere) that more people are killed in car accidents in Israel than from all the wars and all the terrorist attacks since the founding of the State. Having had about a bajillion near-misses (all of them people coming thisclose to rear-ending me) and one parking lot ‘kiss’, I’d say it’s possible. And so it seems the highly political “building freeze” does not apply to kikars which have been going up all over the place. We even got one at the top of Zerubavel!

And then there was sand
For about 20 straight hours it was a complete white-out as the wind whipped around desert sand in a full-blown sand storm.

Look what the sand blew in
A variety of bugs have been swarming all over Efrat since Shabbos. My kids and guests ran into the house Saturday morning screaming about tiny black flying bugs that were clinging to white clothing. Today when I returned home there was a new swarm. Butterflies. Everywhere.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #129 – Some days we spend in Israel. Others in Jerusalem.

When Bob left me watching our pushcart of shuk produce to go change money I started contemplating things I thought I knew and things I have come to know.

For example, I used to think everyone knew where Jerusalem was.
We are truly at the center of the universe here. At least that’s what I like to think when I look at Rachel Merav’s US Certificate of Birth Abroad and her US Passport – both of which list her place of birth as Jerusalem. Not Jerusalem, Israel. Jerusalem.

Apples from Austria, garlic from Italy and China, where are all these strawberries from?
As we had passed by vender after vendor calling out “Tutim! Tutim!” I realized strawberry season is not nearly as short-lived as I anticipated. A delightful surprise! (Though, in nine months I have yet to see a single cherry OR blueberry).

Shouldn’t shuk ka’ak outrank Kings Highway ka’ak?
I thought the ka’ak would be better here. It’s good – don’t get me wrong – but we’re pretty close to the original place of ka’ak making.

I think I want to start taking pictures of people taking pictures of food
I have seen more tourists photographing food in the shuk than photographing the Western Wall.

There’s still plenty of local produce
On a day when no shiitake mushrooms were to be found in the shuk, we were the beneficiaries of a bumper crop of shiitake mushrooms from Tekoa.

I thought my fish eating days were over
That is, when I asked the midnight delivery butcher what type of fish they had fresh and the woman told me all the fish comes frozen but if you soak it over-night in lemon juice, it won’t stink so bad. Hmmm… But alas, we found a reputable fish guy in the shuk. And so began my quest for something akin to Chilean Sea Bass. Through trial and error (what’s a fish error, you ask? Remember to ask them to take the skin off your tilapia if you do not want to fry the fish with the skin on!) I figured out that Princess of the Nile (which might be the same thing as Nile Perch) has at least the same look as Chilean Sea Bass. And so I set about ordering it.
Yesh Princess of the Nile?
Except that they had no clue what I was talking about. Until a kind woman passing by spoke up on my behalf.
Nesika ha Neelus!
Chilean Sea Bass it isn’t but it was fresh and yummy. And no lemon soak required.

My kids aren’t always craving sweets
They beg me for (plain) Cheerios in the morning and will also eat Kornflakim and Branflakim. And ka’ak. They speak wistfully about Fruity Pebbles but, for the most part, are no longer holding out for them.

Even if they brought 7-11 to Israel, some wise guy who knows better would replace the coffee station with something more Israeli…
As much as Bob loves his Turkish coffee everyone else here loves café afook (half coffee, half hot milk in a small cup). When I order a large café Americano, because that’s the closest I have gotten to the coffee I really want – the largest possible coffee in Seven Eleven – the waitress confirms for me that I want ‘coffee with water’. When she puts it that way, I no longer want it.

I looked up and I’m quite sure I saw Bob shouting at the money change guy before he walked out. You know the kind of shouting – animated, dramatic hand movements, a shocked, ‘MAPITON?’ As if the money changer just informed him that Jerusalem has its own currency. But more likely the money changer told him his rate of something close to 3.7 shekels per dollar.

Bob stood on the step outside for several minutes. And then he went back in. This wasn’t the black market money changing guy in the back of the Kent Store on Ben Yehuda. This was an official store-front money changing place. As far as I ever knew, you walk in, ask the rate, give your dollars, get your shekels and leave. I thought it was like a bank but with slightly better rates. Well as it turns out, it’s like the shuk. Just like you can negotiate prices on tutim, ka’ak, and fish, you can negotiate exchange rates.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #128 - 9 months later…

My Hebrew is still terrible but slightly less terrible.
I can say important things like Ani sareecha leshalem – I need to pay – and yesh elegefen? – do you have grape leaves?

Most of my communication in Hebrew consists of short phrases that indicate my question – kemach meleh? (whole wheat?),
matanot? (gifts?)
or longer phrases that circumvent the gaping holes in my vocabulary –
ba’ali lo rotzeh matanot beshviel li (this is my standard answered to Cellcom when they call my cell phone offering me ‘gifts’ – for which I will OF COURSE have to pay -
‘my husband doesn’t want me to have gifts’ and
‘efshar la’asot kah-kah? ('it’s possible to do like this?' – insert improvisational hand movements demonstrating what it is you want to do - anything - exit a parking lot, serve yourself from a buffet line, change your baby in the corner of a small shop...).

Then there’s my receptive language – essentially my fake understanding. I ask prices and then nod as a stall tactic while I try to figure out what number they just told me. I repeat the number as a further stall tactic while I try to figure out what that number is in English. At this point I am usually embarrassed to stall any further (although i really should shout 'Mapitone?!' - 'what are you talking about?!' but I do not) so I make a split second decision to either pay or flee and only then do I make the final calculation – of shekels into dollars to see if I paid a fair price. It goes down something like this:

Cama Zeh Oleh? (how much does this cost)
Shmonim ve chamesh tishim (eighty five ninety)
Shmona ve ….mah? (eight….what?)
Shmonim ve chamesh tishim
(In my brain): Ok it’s either thirty-nine or eighty. Or fifty-nine. Or maybe it’s ninety.
I’ll take it! (I pay with way more than it could possibly cost - a 200 shekel bill just to be safe).
And as I put back my change I count it discreetly to figure out the answer to my original question, Cama Zeh Oleh?

This doesn’t make me Israeli – I mean EVERYONE loves sachlab (or they should)!
I used to crave tasti-d-lite. Now I crave sachlab A thick, sweet, hot, milky drink with cinnamon and nuts. Which you can get in the shuk. Usually. But if not, there's always dried pomello peel.

Maybe this is evidence of me getting there…sort of
I cringe at the sound of water running. I shut the water when I brush my teeth, lather my shampoo, scrub my dishes. Of course my washing machine is running non-stop…

My kids will holler “YOU’RE WASTING WATER!” at whoever is letting water run. Often times I am in the middle of rinsing the baby and someone will pop in to reprimand me. As I explain bathing the baby is not wasting water I am rebutted with stories about classmates who bathe…well, less frequently.

I think I will have to agree to disagree. With the supermarket.
It struck me today that I really can’t get used to the culture of the supermarket – I’m talking about the bigger meaner makolet. It really has its own strange culture of non-service, obscure sales, and a survival of the fittest bent. I’m not even talking about the bag it yourself (and FAST) business. I am midway through bagging. She is done ringing and she announces the good news. I have spent enough to earn matanot (gifts) – well I have to pay but only 1 shekel each. My choices are orange drink or pizza.
I’ll take the pizza.
Where is it?
In the freezer.
The freezer in this particular store is in the furthest point imaginable from the register. I survey the situation. Baby is awake in her carseat. Rosie is spinning (think: Dead show spinning girls) in the entrance-way of the store. There are about 7 people lined up behind me. Since I accidentally used the express lane for my gift-worthy order, all 7 people are holding their groceries. In their hands. I look at Becky. My only hope – 6 year old Becky.

Becky – can you go to the freezer and get – what’s the name of the pizza?
She tells me a name.
I finish bagging while Becky goes to look.
Of course there are two pizzas with this name, only one of which is on sale, neither of which is identified as the sale item and Becky is stumped in the freezer section for five of the longest minutes ever.

I pay, pull Rosie out of the way of wagon traffic and push the baby to the side – within eyesight of a friend of mine waiting in another line. I leave them there and run to Becky (!!), we bring both pizzas to the clerk, she points to the one that’s on sale, Becky goes back and gets another and we leave. My teeth are clenched. My heart is racing.

Am I still so spoiled or is this system just backwards? I think of the book I’m reading – My Life by Golda Meir – and about the socialist roots of the modern state of Israel. I’m working on a theory connecting supermarket culture with the goals of social equality for the proletariat…but maybe it’s not that complicated.

Maybe it was that American-style service on our Dead Sea vacation that spoiled me…

An aside –
One night during dinner a ton of people were (ultra-civilized) waiting in line for lamb for maybe 25 minutes. Someone commented that we’re such a patient and orderly group. How American, they said. (Funny – I thought they all must be British. In Brooklyn people didn’t wait so patiently and orderly in line for lamb.)

Contrast that with a trip to the bathroom. All the stalls were full. An Israeli lady came in and asked me if all the stalls were taken. I nodded yes. She waited about 10 seconds and then started knocking on each door to make sure. And to hurry everyone along, I suspect.

For the record, I’m still a hybrid
My kids take Israeli showers but they take them every day. And then they put on clean clothes. I wait for the lamb and for the bathroom but I have no more patience for supermarket sales. I can’t drink enough sachlab except when they don’t have it but I know how to comfort myself with an impulse purchase of dried pomello peel. No matter what the price.