Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #150 – ONE YEAR IN THE ARETZ!

Reflection...This week marks our one year aliyah anniversary! What have we been doing here?
It’s pretty much exactly as my ulpan teacher said it would be – we live by the Jewish calendar. First everything started (school, ulpan, gan) but nothing really started because everything needed to really start ‘after the hagim’. And so we went through the hagim. And we put away the last of the schach just in time for the start of the 2 months of Hanukah. Which couldn’t have finished a minute too soon to start preparing for Tu b’Shvat (YES it’s a real holiday here, complete with seders). After that we had 30 days of Purim. Which was like 30 days of sending the kids to clown school the middle of the school year. Not three weeks later the kids were off for the full month of Pesah. After that it was a mixed bag of half days, days off, tekesses, bonfires and bar-b-q’s – Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzmut, Lag b’Omer. Shavuot came, along with what seems to be bar mitzvah season. I suppose if I were older it would be wedding season.

In between it all there’s been a lot of shuk adventures and wistful lamentation about ulpan interrupted. We’ve had countless Kotel visits, Hevron trips, mini tiyulim and Israeli breakfasts. We’ve spent time searching for items, searching for stores, searching for parking. We’ve dealt with the bureaucracy that lurks around every life change. We’ve gotten accustomed to socialized medicine. And we’ve spent a respectable amount of time preventing, checking for, talking and dreaming about lice.
I’ve gotten much better at ordering meat. Including boneless turkey breast and steak. I get water every month by what seems like chance and should it not show up, there’s very little I could do about it. So every time it comes, I say Baruch Hashem.

While I can barely put forth a respectable sponga (what kind of Israeli am I?), Bob has mastered the art. I know how to procure gas balloons (so long as I don’t lose the magnetized business card with the number for Am-isra-gas). I carry club membership cards for Fox AND Shefa Shuk. While I pretend Milky has nutritional value and I purchase it without guilt, I do not drive around with my baby in the front seat of the car. I laugh when lizards find their way into my house but I do call on Asher to come and get rid of anything creepy crawly. I have made peace with my dud shemesh. And if I put my mind to it, I can pull off a resh. Ghresh.

My Hebrew is progressing ‘liat, liat’ (slowly, slowly). I can now explain symptoms of fever and sore throat to the doctor in Hebrew. I make small talk with the makolet clerk. And I still find one new word each day. Today’s was ‘lehitgavar’ – overcome. As in ‘anachnu nitgavar’ – we shall overcome.

I talk less about politics though they impact me more.

My favorite way to spend a day is to spend it with my husband. And I actually do this. All the time.

Speaking of favorites, what ‘year in review’ post would be complete without superlatives?
* Most joyous family experience: Our housekeeper’s wedding at Kfar Etzion.
* My ‘eureka’ moment – Why we are here: at some point during Becky’s first grade ‘Chumash Party’ (siyum Sefer B’resheet) at Ma’arat Hamachpela (Patriarch’s Tomb) in Hebron (for more on this I have to refer you to my friend Yonit’s blog***).
* Unexpected random thing that connects where I live to the Torah: My friend David pointed out to me that the two turtledoves that basically live in my yard (lay eggs in our window planters, drink from our waterfall, sing and fly around all day) are what would have been used for a sin offering in the time of the Bet Hamikdash.
* Unexpected random thing that connects the Torah to my real life: We save our carwashes for Kotel trips.
* Most surreal moment: The brit milah of a friend’s baby Avraham at Ma’arat Hamachpela.
* Most un-Brooklyn thing I do here: I share the road with donkeys. Literally.
* Biggest surprise: Our steady stream of visitors from Chutz l’Aretz (outside of Israel). Also, I never expected to become one of those people who refer to everything outside of Israel as Chutz l’Aretz.
* Thing I never thought I’d get used to: Checking for lice. Every day.
* Thing I do that I can’t really believe I do: I leave eggs out on the counter for days (for some reason you can do that here). Also I let my kids wear Crocs to school, to shul, to the Kotel, to everywhere. On cold days they wear socks with their Crocs.

* Thing that annoyed me most that totally doesn’t annoy me anymore: My pediatrician’s weird hours.
* True confessions of an ulpan dropout: I used gan notices as scrap paper for at least the first 6 months I was here. I (still) use makolet receipts to discard chewing gum.
* Most abnormal thing that is normal here: solicitation of armed chaperones for class trips; gun toting gardeners, weathermen, painters, butchers, dads at gan parties; gun checks instead of coat checks for those awkward moments when a security guard asks you,
“Yesh Neshek?” (Do you have a gun?)
and the answer is
“Yesh.” (I have).
* Items with the most puzzling popularity: pineapple flavored Nestea, nougat (which, by the way, is just a fancy way of saying ‘hazelnut’ in Israel – as in hazelnut chocolate, hazelnut cereal, hazelnut ice cream), and ‘Thousand Islands’ dressing.

Just 2 weeks before the one year anniversary of our arrival in Eretz Yisrael, after some deep contemplation about American apple juice (the only taste Barbara has completely forgotten), Barbara said the following to me:

Thank you Mommy. Thank you so much. Thank you for bringing me to Eretz Yisroel.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #149 – water for nestea and another of bob’s theories

The Mai Eden guys showed up today. They were excited to see me and I couldn’t figure out why but then I remembered how Bob serves them Nestea (but never water).
Atem rotzim mashu lishtot? Oolaye mayim? Oolaye Nestea? (would you like something to drink? Maybe water? Maybe Nestea?)
Nestea, ken! (Yes, Nestea!)
They took the Nestea to go after bringing in all my bakbukim and setting them up perfectly in my kitchen. Baruch Hashem!

Today as I crumpled up my receipt from the makolet and put it in my purse so I could use it to discard my chewing gum later it occurred to me that for close to a year I have relied blindly on store clerks to give me fair and accurate prices, to not ring me up twice, and to take off for sale items. Like the 4 bottles of Nestea I always add to my order because they are on sale for 20 shekel. Even if I have to load them into the baby carriage. With the baby. Today I almost paid full price (not that I'd ever have known) but the clerk caught her mistake and made the proper adjustment. I figure the law of averages evens out any uncaught mistakes over the course of a year. And considering what that Nestea gets me, I'd say it's worth full price once in a while.

We’re all mishpacha (family)
When we flew to Israel 2 ½ years ago and my Rosie (then almost 2) cried for ten straight hours, I had Israeli’s of all shapes and sizes coming to my aid. Men telling me to hold her on her stomach. Old women offering to rock her. Others telling me to splash water on her face. Still others grabbing her out of my arms and splashing water on her face for me.

The crying never stopped but neither did the advice and the ‘help’ as I paced the aisles of the plane hour after hour. Whether I wanted it or not. Bob chalked it up to his theory of ‘we’re all one big family’. This is how he explains the way Israeli’s can fight and then hug. How a clerk in a government office will yell at you but if you start crying they will put their arm around you and do everything they can to help you. Absolutely everything. How a bank teller will want to know why you wish to change so many dollars to shekels. How a store clerk will want, more than anything, for you to get a club membership so you can enjoy savings.

And it explains just about every other in-your-face, in-your-business, in-your-space encounter you can have in this country. It’s a great way to feel good when your instinct might otherwise be to feel mad, sad, offended, or invaded.

(Repeat as necessary to calm nerves: We're all mishpacha! We're all mishpacha! We're all mishpacha!)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #148 - at a moment’s notice

If you are going to come live here you need to get comfortable with a few concepts
You will be asked, at a moment’s notice, to send things to your child’s school. Things like drinks, toffees, pickles, Bamba, a jumbo tub of humus. There will be no note. Your child will come home and say nothing. In the morning as your child is about to leave you will get the verbal memo.
Mom! I need to bring cucumbers to school today!
You mean pickles?
No, actually, cucumbers.

Somehow, my children require labor intensive items at a moment’s notice. For Yom Hatzmaut Becky insisted she needed to bring a cake with an Israeli flag on it. She would get in trouble with her morah (teacher) if she did not. I think my kids bank on the fact that I don’t call their morahs to verify their preposterous claims. This week I sent Barbara in with a homemade piñata. A piñata takes 3-4 days to make. “We” made ours in one so that Barbara wouldn’t get in trouble with her morah. Hmm…

There are parties for party’s sake here
There are ‘beginning of the summer’ parties as well as middle of the summer parties and, of course, end of the summer parties – each one complete with bounce-houses and cotton candy. There are ‘signing up for after-school activities’ parties in the beginning of the school year as well as chumash parties, marking the completion of sections of Torah learning – throughout the year. All at a moment’s notice.

Sounds like a party to me
There are ‘carnivals’ the kids host at lunchtime where older kids sell candy, pizza, and pickles skewered onto toothpicks to the younger kids. For this you must send in candy, pizza or pickles (and toothpicks) if your child is one of the older kids. Lucky for me I get to send in money so my younger kids can buy candy, pizza, and pickle kabob.
Mom! I need 9 shekels! I’m getting one slice plus two pickles at the carnival today!

There is the Boker Keeta (class party in the morning). For which you will be asked (the day before) to send something – like a jumbo tub of humus (I maintain a standing inventory now).

And there is Erev Keeta (class party in the evening). This usually involves bar-b-q. And a raging bonfire. As in 30 boys loosely supervised by their Rav horsing around by a raging bonfire for 3 hours. Which brings me to the next concept you may have trouble warming up to:

The Israeli fire culture. But I like to call it ‘institutionalized pyromania’. Bonfires occurring, in true Israeli fashion, to celebrate any event, at a moment’s notice.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #147 – what about the doctor, the lawyer, the accountant?

The life guard, the tour guide, and the bus driver.

Bob always insists these are three of the most respected professions in Israel.

A Tel Aviv life guard commands the respect of an IDF general. Does anyone ever NOT listen when the lifeguard shouts out, “AH-lo! AH-lo!” ?

The lifeguard doesn’t retire. He trades his sporty trunks for a Speedo and moves into the prestigious post of hotel pool lifeguard. Or Dead Sea lifeguard. Or Sachne hot springs lifeguard. A life of leisurely laps, Turkish coffee and still, the utmost respect as he demands strict adherence to ‘pool rules.’ I think my friend Silby should move to Israel and become a lifeguard. I will suggest it.

Tour guides train for two intense years and then must pass a national exam. They gain access to the otherwise inaccessible and speak with authority about the land and its rich history. And sometimes, they carry a gun. Brains and brawn. Bob’s retirement dream is to become a tour guide. I think it's a perfect fit.

Bus drivers are often a blend – knowledgeable, rule oriented and armed. Maybe with a gun but most definitely with their own choice of music for your bus ride. On some level this speaks to me. My dream car is a 9-seater Volkswagon Transporter. Oh, how different life is here!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #145 – blink

I left the land of milk and honey for a land flowing with paper goods and electricity.
This toilet paper is so THICK!
This air conditioning is so COLD!

Yaakov Shwekey ringtones fade away, replaced by Lady Gaga.

I secretly long for shuk veggies but indulge in 24 ounce filtered coffees at every opportunity.

I answer questions about our collective experience.
Are the kids happy? (So very happy)
Did you have any unexpected surprises? (Like that I needed special travel documents to leave the country?)
How’s the public transportation? I explain a little about the hitchhiking culture.
How is everyone’s Hebrew. (I boast about Rosie – babbling, thinking, dreaming in Hebrew)
Do I feel safe? (Absolutely)
Some questions seem to be masking a deeper question – will we ever come back?

For the kids, I gather 'crazy bands' animal bracelets – a craze they know nothing about but my nieces assure me they are all the rage in Brooklyn. Their only gift requests were I LOVE NY t-shirts and Dum Dum lollipops (the only thing Israel is missing, according to Barbara).

We talk about how good a car the Hyundai has turned out to be and then I shock everyone by telling them how much the Hyundai goes for in Israel.

Washington traffic makes Jerusalem traffic seem tame but the radio comes in strong the whole time – none of that teetering between Galgalatz and Radio Jordan we get on the road to Efrat.

As I leave the Potomac for the Atlantic for the Mediterranean with bracelets, t-shirts, lollipops and the hugs and tender wishes of family, it occurs to me that the rare and treasured experience this week will be seeing all of my loved ones in one 24 hour period.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #144 - the undisputed king... of hassidic rock

A pit-stop in Abu Ghosh - like a blip on the radar
Almost forgotten and not sure if it really even happened – I’m carrying around a vague memory of visiting an Elvis Presley museum in Israel some 20 years ago. Where was that place? Did it really exist? Do Israelis really love Elvis? A Bob Marley museum would make more sense, no?

When I first came from Brooklyn people here would ask me if I knew Shwekey.
Which Shwekey? I would ask, wondering if they meant the Shwekey who lived down the block from me or the Shwekey whose kids were in school with mine or the Swekey from shul or….
Yaakov! They would shout. Yaakov Shwekey, the singer!
No. I don’t know him personally. (disappointed look follows)
But I have heard of him! I quickly add (smiles return)

Just like Elvis – EVERYONE knows Shwekey. In Israel, anyway. And his concert is coming. And everyone knows it. And everyone’s talking about it. And everywhere you look there are signs announcing the news: Shwekey!!!

You don’t want Shwekey? No! You mean you DO want Shwekey!
On my first visit to Shefa Shuk, once it became clear I’d spent enough money to be eligible for a special gift offer (this was before Shefa Shuk was pushing their moadone – club membership), the sales clerk got excited and explained to me I could purchase a Shwekey CD at the customer service counter for just 30 NIS. When I said no thanks she repeated herself because obviously I did not understand that she was offering me SHWEKEY for only 30 shekel. I was scared of supermarket gifts in the beginning so I held my ground and walked out, to her shocked dismay, without Shwekey. I felt a little bad, I'll admit.

My next trip in was different. I was more familiar, more comfortable, more open to all things Israeli. And so when my total again qualified me for a special gift, I agreed to purchase the Shwekey CD. See, I’m like everyone else. I’ve got Shwekey.

Now all I need is club membership…

Speaking of which....
As we unloaded our overflowing wagon of groceries yesterday, the Shefa Shuk clerk asked for our moadone card and was astonished (there was a dramatic deep breath as she took a step back) to hear that we did not yet have club membership. When Bob said, “No, no. No need.” it was simply too much to bear. She stopped ringing and started picking up grocery items to show us exactly where we would reap our tremendous savings. In a rare move I overrode Bob and authorized the club membership. And then I asked Bob to please fill out the paperwork. What a sport!

As a form of passive protest he filled it out with all made-up information – a fake Teudat Zehut number, our Brooklyn address – I think he put his age down as 85 – but whatever! We saved ourselves 130 shekel plus we never have to dodge the ‘hard sell’ in line at Shefa Shuk again! Until they start offering up 30 shekel Elvis CD’s...

This is not your mother’s Chinese Auction
When a friend called me up to see if I could sell ticket packages for the school’s Chinese Auction I said, “no problem.” But when I told her I may not be able to attend unless I could find babysitting she told me I had it all wrong. The auction starts at 6, she said. It’s over by 8:30. There’s pizza. A magic show. And lots and lots of kids.


And so it was. Exactly as she described it. A totally kid-friendly event with all the excitement and anticipation that accompanies dropping tickets into prize boxes. Minus the fancy.

As we left the Chinese Auction we found full color Shwekey flyers adorning all the cars. As my kids grabbed up as many as they could I tried to remember the last time I saw so much paper frivolously strewn about in Israel. Shwekey is no frivolous matter. We now have Shwekey flyers throughout my house. And the countdown is on. T minus 1 day until…Shwekey!