Friday, November 25, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #213 - I am thankful every day.

But in the spirit of American Thanksgiving, I’ll direct my thankful thoughts to the bounty of produce in Israel. Available to Americans preparing a Thanksgiving meal across the Atlantic (yes, we do that).

Not having stepped foot inside a supermarket in months, thanks to my husband taking over the grocery runs when he’s here (and thanks to when he’s not), I somehow still feel qualified to comment on the seasonality of produce in the aretz. I’ve put in my fair share of time combing produce aisles (and the shuk) in search of a mango in March (no chance), figs in July (rare), and cumquats in September (close but not quite).

For the most part, everything has its season. And with hardly an imported fruit save for apples, there is only the season. Negating completely my mother-in-law’s favorite maxim, ‘everything in moderation’. More like everything in extremes. Mountains of strawberries in the winter, not a one to be found, come summer. By the time grapes and mangos arrive in the late spring it is not unusual to see shoppers euphorically kicking up their heels in the produce aisle (well, this shopper, anyway). Before cherries arrive on the scene in June (and not a one in May or July – cherries are strictly a June fruit), one could almost forget we get cherries in this country.
Mom, what’s a cherry again?
*A real question last April.*

With few exceptions, Israeli produce aisles boast gorgeous arrays of fruits and vegetables strictly according to the season. But I want to focus on the exceptions. For some reason celery is available all year round. Long after its “season”, long after it is even recognizable as celery. That it still grows is, I suppose, the reason that it remains available. That and the obvious fact that when Israeli consumers (me included) want celery, they’ll take whatever they can get. No matter that the wimpy scrawny ‘stalks’ look more like scraggly sprigs of parsley.

If you are a lover of sweet potatoes, that staple of all Thanksgiving tables, rest assured: your love is to be found in the produce aisle all year round. But stop at the bank on your way to the grocery. Evidently the Israeli demand curve for sweet potatoes is totally inelastic – like a junkie’s need for smack – Israelis will pay ANY PRICE for sweet potatoes. And so will the unwitting husband who is simply trying to please his wife by doing the grocery shopping according to her list.
Honey, you saw I got you your sweet potatoes? The ones you asked me to buy for you.
Yes, thank you so much, dear.

Ok. (silence) Just so you saw that I got them for you.(The unspoken conversations in a marriage are sometimes the best!)

If I should feel sad about the nonexistence of fresh cranberries (for some things, there is no season at all), I focus on the mountains of strawberries on the horizon. For which I happen to be, in terms of produce, most thankful.

Happy holiday.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #212 - i'm still here

Sleep deprived but full of joy.

Our second Sabra appeared on the scene after 41 cozy weeks in utero. 41 weeks of iced coffee and Israeli breakfasts and suddenly (dejà vu) a 4+ kilo baby...Ooohwah!

Since then, like every other Israeli, we've been busy
* figuring out what to do with the bajillions of apples we overbought at 3 NIS/kilo for Rosh Hashana,
* keeping our children occupied with *enriching* activities over the 16 DAYS OF CHOFESH
* crying tears of joy over Gilad Shalit's reunion with his family.

Now, two apple cakes and 37 episodes of Spongebob Squarepants later, the kids are back in school and my little Sabra is getting ready to meet her Grandma.

And I'm getting ready to crawl into bed.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #211 – What’s going on. From the exciting to the mundane. Or vice versa.

Netanya was fun but it was HOT
Not Dead Sea hot (100°F), not Tiberias hot (105°F), but hot (80° with 80% humidity). Especially for a pregnant lady. Nine months, remember. I was relieved to get home to the assuredness of my ceiling fan/air condition combo. Though I have to fight for it at times.

The ninth month should be renamed, “The battle over the thermostat”
As continues the battle against terror, so continues the battle over the temperature in my house. Bob tries to use the kids against me. I know he puts them up to these little shananagans.
Oh, Mommy, that FAN! It is blowing SUCH COLD AIR! I feel like I am going to DIE.
Oooh, Mommy, it’s FREEZING IN HERE!
I give them stern looks and then remind them of their bathrobes upstairs and the stash of earmuffs downstairs. And then I focus in on the real instigator.
You’re like a frail old lady, Bob. Would you like to use some of my silk scarves to warm your neck?

To be fair, he has become somewhat frail under my care
Well, not exactly frail but everyone is noticing how much weight he’s lost. The conversation goes like this:
Everyone: Wow! Bob! You’ve lost so much weight!
Bob, gesturing to me: Tell them, sweetheart. Tell them how I did it.
Me: Yeah, I stopped cooking about three months ago. He’s starving.

Ordinary is a relative term (or, “You’ve got hurricane maps, we’ve got rocket maps”)
We live in a part of Israel that many Israelis are scared to visit. Birthright tours are not allowed to come here. Though our daily life is, thank Gd, very peaceful, during the last intifada our neighbors had the very regular experience of being shot at on the main road. The same road I take to do my grocery shopping, to pick up my kids from camp, to get a cup of coffee, to go to Hebron on a whim. People from America ask if there is an armored car that can transport them on that same main road. I laugh but I get it. I live here. They are on vacation.

Last Saturday night, when it still looked very much like we’d be leaving to Ashkelon for our vacation the next morning, we decided to call the hotel just to be sure we weren’t behaving irrationally.

Hi, Holiday Inn?
I am nine months pregnant with 5 small children. Can you explain to me where your MAMAD’s (bomb shelters) are in relation to our room and the pool area?
Sure! We have one on each floor and the main lobby area is a MAMAD.
Uh-hm. Okay! Thank you.

It sounded reasonable at the time. I didn’t give much thought to the fact that the woman who took my call LIVES there. Having 15 seconds to find a bomb shelter is part of her reality. We resolved to stay close together and avoid the beach. The only thing left to do was explain the procedure of a Color Red alarm to the kids.

Me: Kids – we’ll need to stay together at the pool.
Barbara: Mom – I heard there are rockets being fired at Ashkelon.
Becky: What’s a rocket?
Me: Um….something that makes a big boom.
Becky: I don’t want to DIE!
Me: No, no, they have terrible aim. And the army shoots them down anyway. BUT (segue!), just to be extra safe, when we hear the alarm we’ll go into a special room for ten minutes.
Becky: I am NOT going.

And so it was decided. By Becky, perhaps the only rational, albeit typically dramatic, member of the family. You live where you live but a vacation destination can easily be changed. And probably should be when rockets, pregnant women, and anxious children are involved.

In retrospect, sadly, it was a good decision for us. The Color Red alarm sounded between 2 and 10 times every single day that week in Ashkelon.

The procedure, in case you were wondering:

* If you are in a building
Immediately enter the Residential Secure Space (MAMAD), and close the steel door.
* If there is no MAMAD in the building, enter the room that is farthest from the direction from which the missile fire threat is coming, and that has the least number of external walls, windows and other openings. If there is no such room, go into the stairwell.
* Inside the secure space, sit on the floor, under the window line, against an interior wall, though not opposite the window.
* Residents of the upper floor of a building without a MAMAD must enter the stairwell and descent one flight of stairs.
* If you are outdoors
* In a built-up area: Enter the building and follow the directions for those in a building.
* In an open area: Lie down on the ground, and protect your head with your hands.
* If you are in a vehicle
* In a built-up area: Carefully stop at the side of the road, exit the vehicle, and enter the nearest building or shelter.
* In an open area: Carefully stop at the side of the road, exit the vehicle, lie down on the ground, and protect your head with your hands.
* After 10 minutes, you may exit the secure space unless otherwise instructed.

We weren’t the only ones
As it turned out, most everyone who was scheduled to vacation in the south, plus many people who live in the south, took the opportunity to vacation somewhere more north. And so, instead of squeezing into crowded bomb shelters, we squeezed in poolside. We squeezed in to the hotel breakfast. And we squeezed in to the restaurants at night. Where Bob was able to replenish his nutrients and all of us were able to enjoy a little family closeness.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #210 - the saga continues...

Ultimately we ended up using our own insurance company – the one we use for car insurance – to do the mandatory life insurance. Bob broke it gently to the bank insurance guy. But I don't think he took it so well.

Speaking of car insurance…
Some would take it as a sign... I understood our getting into a four car collision on the way to the lawyer’s office as a reassuring signal that our house purchase will be like everyone else’s, here in Israel. Not straight. Not easy. Not even close. We know we're lucky to have found a house!

The car we drive (drove)
So we crashed the Grandis. What are the chances that in a four car collision on Derech Hevron in Jerusalem, two of the cars will be from Efrat, two of the passengers will be pregnant women, and one of the drivers will have the name Mazal Tov? Everyone was okay, nobody yelled, the driver we hit offered me cookies to calm my nerves, and the one who hit us called me twice that day to see how I was feeling. We chatted amiably while we waited for the police. It was the most pleasant car accident imaginable.

I once had a conversation with a waitress about the difference between Hebrew and English. In her estimation, English had too many words for the same thing. The example she gave: Rotev. In English, it can refer to Sauce, Dressing, Juice, Gravy, or Vinaigrette. In Hebrew it’s all Rotev.

Shamai: Appraiser, Assessor, Valuer, Estimator, Adjustor

Enter the Shamai. Again.
So when you get into a car accident there is a claims adjustor who comes to assess the damage. In Israel he is called a Shamai. Not to be confused with the house appraiser Shamai. But (foreshadowing) there will be some confusion.

And again.
When you get a mortgage in Israel you also need to buy insurance to cover the things inside your house. Homeowners insurance, if you will, except that in Israel, someone from the insurance agency comes to your house and pre-emptively values your sofas, your gadgets, your clothing, your stuff. This ’stuff appraiser’, in our case, comes from the same insurance company as our car insurance and now our life insurance. And he’s called, you guessed it, Shamai.

The car is totaled
Not by my estimation. It drives. That’s all I need. But, evidently, there is a threshold beyond which it doesn’t pay for the insurance company to fix the car. My car teetered on the threshold for a while.

And so, you turn over the ‘totaled’ car and hope they actually pay you the seemingly too good to be true amount of shekels they mention in one of a bajillion phone conversations. Including this one, which occurred after the decision to fix the car was overturned in favor of the decision to total the car….

Hi, insurance company? I want to know if we can upgrade the week-long rental we are entitled to from a 5 seater to a 7 seater. To fit my family, you know. I will pay the difference.

You will have to speak to the middle man company who arranges for the car rental. They know you are entitled to a week long rental (because of the ‘totaling’) instead of a 3 day rental (for fixing).

Hi, middle man company? We are supposed to get a 5 seater rental for a week----

(Screaming mad) NO! We had a rental for you. You were entitled to it for 3 days and you never picked it up. Why didn’t you pick it up?

Fast forward to today
I dropped Bob at the car rental place where the middle man company assured me a 5 seater would be waiting as would the opportunity for an upgrade.

Everything is seasonal in this country. Including minivans.
No matter how Israeli Americans try to be, they are still Americans. It matters to Americans to have a car that fits every member of your family. Israelis have no such concept. They are happy to drive around in a tiny fuel efficient car that seats only part of the family at a time because, let’s face it, when is the whole family piling in the car together, anyway?

Allow me to answer that question
In the third or fourth week of August, every single Israeli family takes a vacation of some sort. The scale, location, and duration will vary but trust me on this one. They’re all on chofesh (vacation). And so, families will either split into two groups – those traveling to their vacation destination by bus and those by car – OR they will rent, for one week out of the year, a minivan large enough to seat every member of the family.

And so, like those elusive tzimmers in the north with private pools, the supply of minivan rentals all but disappears by the third week in August.

Take a look at the calendar
The timing of our crash couldn’t have been better. Or worse. The kids kept asking where we were planning to put the new baby. And into our third year of aliyah, we might just have needed that push to use our new immigrant rights which entitle us to 10% off a new vehicle purchase within the first three years of making aliyah.

But it’s also mid-August. We have a vacation coming up for which I don’t exactly see us loading into an Egged Bus. And 10% off a gagillion is still pretty close to a gagillion. (Cars are taxed at about 110% in Israel).

And even if you can wrap your brain around the ridiculous car prices here, as per everything else, nothing happens right away. The car cannot be ordered until the passports have been surrendered. For an unspecified amount of time. Maybe ten days. Maybe twenty.
Me to Chevy dealer sales guy: Um, my husband travels to New York on a regular basis. To work.
Chevy Guy: If you really need to leave the country you can always drive to the customs office in the Port of Ashdod and try to get your passport back.
Bob: So you’re telling me if I have to go to New York I should stop by the Port of Ashdod on my way to the airport?
Chevy Guy: It is possible, yes.

I plugged in our vacation dates and desired vehicle to every short-term car rental website in Israel. They all promised to call me with confirmation. None did. I waited and waited.

A week into the process (and 6 days before we depart), I received a promising sounding email. *Sounds of rejoicing in the finding of a rare, overpriced minivan*

Remember the free rental (and upgrade opportunity), for which I dropped Bob at the car rental place?

So not only was there no upgrade opportunity. There were no rentals. There were no cars at all. Bob sent me back to Efrat with the Grandis (which we were scheduled to turn over to the Shamai that day) and said he’d wait since the rental place assured him,
If you need a car, we will get you a car.
Don’t worry. Just wait.

And so he waited. For our five seater. Which turned out to be a four and a half seater.

Asher: Hey mom, where’s dad?
Me: He just brought home our rental car.
Asher: Where is it?
Me: It’s in the driveway.
Asher: I didn’t see anything in the driveway.
Becky: Hey mom, is that the new car? It's pretty small!
Barbara: Yeah, mom! How will we all fit in that car?
Rosie: Wow! That car is teensy!
Me: Guys! Be happy we have a car!!!

And then the Shamai called
Perfect timing! The Grandis is at the garage. You can take it from there.
Why would I go to the garage. Why are you telling me about your car?
Who is this?
The Shamai!
Which Shamai?
I will value your stuff.
The ‘stuff’ Shamai!

A few minutes later the phone rang again. Barbara answered in a sing-songy,

Someone for you Aba.
Who is it?
He’s speaking Hebrew.
You speak Hebrew. Ask who it is.
He’s speaking really fast.
Bob was pretty sure it was the life insurance agent from the bank.
Barbara, please find out who it is.
Poor Barbara.
(In Hebrew) My father cannot speak to you unless you tell me who you are.
Aba, he says it’s about the car.

Bob takes the call.
Hmm. Yes. Really? Okay! I will be there.

Who was that?
It was the police!
What??? Why didn’t they just say so?
I don't know.
What did they want?
I need to go report the accident in person.
I thought we reported it on the spot.
I thought so too.
Do they need anything from you?
My driver’s license.
As long as it's not your passport.
And also the vehicle registration.
We no longer have the vehicle registration.
Why not?
We no longer have the vehicle. The Shamai has everything.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #209 - A tale of one house, two bank loans, three Shamai’s, and four cars.

The longer I go without writing, the more convoluted this story becomes. Where to begin?

The 'one house' is the house in which we live
Which is in the literal physical process of being purchased. I mean smack in the middle. So there are bank meetings. Lots and lots of bank meetings with the “mishkanta” (mortgage) guy. Mostly this involves Bob yelling and screaming in his caveman Hebrew in the hopes of moving things along faster, the mishkanta guy ignoring him, the bank manager walking by to make sure everything is in order, and the two ladies that sit next to the mishkanta guy giggling behind their desks because they know Bob is just putting on a show to pass the painstakingly long time each meeting takes. Sometimes I come along. I last for about six minutes in the bank meetings before I wander out to the makolet for a snack or to the park following Peetoosh, who is strangely at home in the bank. She plays peek-a-boo with the desk ladies, re-arranges all the brochures, and rolls around on the floor.

This last visit, 30 minutes went by before Bob realized I was gone. My phone rang.
Where are you?
In the park, having a picnic with Peetoosh.
We need you to sign some things. Can you come back?
Be there in a sec.

There are also lawyer meetings. Sometimes in our house, sometimes in Jerusalem. At the beginning of this whole process, the lawyer instructed me to get a Shamai.

Beit Hillel vs. Beit Shamai
This is how I remember that a ‘Shamai’ is a house appraiser (beit = house). There is no mishkanta without the house appraisal and so began the courtship of said Shamai.
Hello, Shamai? When can you come?
First you must to send me X, Y, and Z.
X,Y, and Z sent.
Hello, Shamai? When will you come?
Now you must to send the appendix to X, Y, and Z.
Appendices sent.
Um, Shamai? Will you come now?
Not yet. We must first to see Q, R, and S.
Q, R, and S found. And sent.
Please, Shamai!
Okay, I will come. But you are overpaying for that house.
What? How can you say that? You haven’t even seen the house!
I will see the house but I am telling you right now. You cannot pay so much for this house.

Bob (to me): We are not going to get a mishkanta because of this Shamai.
Me: I think he thinks he’s helping us.
Bob: Totally.
Me: It’s that tough love thing, right?
Bob: Yep.

There have been endless life insurance email and phone correspondences
When you get a mortgage in Israel, you must take life insurance policies for both mortgage holders. The bank’s insurance agent called us (maybe 10 times in two days) and urged us to buy his policy.
Is it cheaper?
It is the best.
What’s so good about it?
We are part of the bank.
We make sure if something happens to you, the bank gets paid. Those other insurance companies, they may not take care of the bank.
Let me make some calls.
No, let’s start your application today. I will send you forms in English!
And so began the aggressive line of questioning about my extreme hobbies and Bob’s asthma.
You have asthma! Why did you not say you have asthma on the form?
It says on the form to check if you’ve taken medicine for asthma in the last two years. I have not.
No. It says that on the English form. On the Hebrew form it says if you’ve ever had asthma.

The rate quote is in
Bob: So, that sounds great. I’ll think it over and let you know.
Agent: What do you mean? You must to take the policy!
Bob: I want to shop around.
Agent: But I’ve already priced it for you.
Bob: And I thank you. Now I can compare your price to others.
Agent: But we are the best. We are with the bank.
Bob: I’ll remember that.
Agent (defeated): Can I call you tomorrow?
Bob: I know you will.

To be continued…

Monday, August 1, 2011

Swirling Thoughts # 208 – the case of the missing shoe sizer

The tale of the (missing) tape
Barbara’s Crocs have been broken for, well, forever. She fashioned the strap back on with pipe cleaners which was a good fix for about, I don’t know, 3 months, but it’s gotten to the point where even Bob has noticed and taken an interest in getting her new ones. (Side note to readers: I can't stand shopping. Bob can’t stand shopping. They’re pretty close, our levels of strong dislike for shopping. In fact, it’s a miracle my kids have clothes. That said…)

We loaded into the car and headed to the shoe store for new Crocs.

Anachnu tzarichim Croc-im. (We need Crocs.)
Eyze mida? (What size?)
Ani lo yodea. Tzareechim livdok. (I don’t know. We have to check.)
Hasargel haser. (The measure is lost.)
Yesh rak echad? (There’s only one?)
Ken. (Yes.)
Just to be sure I understood,
Rak echad aval haser lachem? (Only one but you lost it?)
Nachon. (Correct.)
It seemed so logical to her. What else could I say?

Fast forward two weeks

I called my friend to see what she was up to on this hot summer day.
Heading to the shoe store.
Oooh! Enjoy!

A half hour later my phone rang.
Could you believe they don’t have a foot measurer in the shoe store?
Oh, yeah! They lost it!
What? You knew that?
Well, I knew it was lost as of two weeks ago. I didn’t think about it much since then and I can’t imagine they still haven’t gotten a new one.
They only had one?
What did you do?
We just sort of tried different shoes to figure out Barbara’s size.
That didn’t work for me. They were bringing out man sizes for my 5 year old.

As we hung up the phone I got to thinking. Maybe there’s more to it than meets the eye – I mean, what would keep a shoe store from having a proper way of measuring people’s shoe size? Is everyone in the Gush just ‘winging’ it? I decided to take on the case.

In the two minutes it took me to figure out the foot measurement tool is called the Brannock Device, I figured out it comes from Liverpool, NY (next to Syracuse), and is available, for $49.25 in junior size and $68.00 in regular size, on line.

In my third minute on the case I sent the following email to the Brannock Device Co.

How much to ship your product to Gush Etzion, Israel? Our local shoe store lost
its foot measurer. I am not making this up.

A few hours later I got my reply and, I’m guessing, the reason why there is still no Brannock Device in the shoe store:

The shipping cost for 1 device would be $72.00 (Additional local duties and
taxes may be assessed by the carrier at the receipt of your order.)

Should I put Bob on the case? Have him smuggle one Brannock Device into the country for the sake of proper fitting shoes in Gush Etzion? Seriously considering it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #207 – Surprisingly typical conversations in Israel

Me to Friend: How did your mortgage meeting go at the bank?
Friend to Me: Great! We are approved for the mortgage! But we have to have another meeting.
Me: Why?
Friend: Well, they ran out of paper.
Me: What does that even mean?
Friend: The copy machine. It ran out of paper. So they could not print out our information.
Me: There was no backup paper? No other copier?
Friend: Nope!
Me: And I guess nobody’s job description in the bank includes running to Office Depot for more paper.
Friend: Nope.
Me: Well, congratulations!

Life insurance agent to me: Do you have any extreme hobbies?
Me to life insurance agent: Like jumping out of airplanes?
Agent: Yes. Somesing dangerous. Like jumping out of airplanes.
Me: Like living in the West Bank with many small children?
Agent: Well, this sounds very dangerous but it is not considered an extreme hobby.
Me: So then, no. No extreme hobbies.

Bob to me: Check out that lady’s grocery cart.
Me to bob: Wow! She’s really organized in there.
Bob: Look how she has the Nestea all standing upright on the bottom.
Me: I know! Look how she has every dot of space utilized perfectly!
Bob: I think we are staring.
Me: No, don’t worry – tell her! Tell her how impressive her cart is!
Bob: You know what? I think I will.

Proceeds to compliment woman on the immaculate organization of her cart. Woman responds with encouraging words of how tranquil life can be if one is just organized.

Me: Take a good look, Bob. She’s the one that got away.

Me: You know, in Israel it’s an ideal to be so MISUDAR (organized). In America, there’s a clinical diagnosis for people like that woman. It’s called OCD.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #206 - You've got mail!

We've finally reduced mail collection intervals to about once every 2 weeks. Which is a noticeable improvement (read: mail box is not stuffed/jammed/overflowing). Granted, the mail sits in a shopping bag on my buffet server for an additional week or two before I even take a crack at it, but who’s counting?

Well, maybe my downstairs neighbor who probably missed the wedding for which his invitation was (most unfortunately) lost in the black hole that is my mail pile.

And my around the corner neighbor who’s Rami Levy membership cards were (mistakenly) mixed in with my pile of neglect.

Maybe my ulpan is taking. Or maybe I feel guilty about the attention I don’t give my mail. Whatever the motivation, I actually made a good faith effort to read the mail today. And I noticed a few things. You’ll notice much of what I noticed was actually in English. But no matter.

I’m sure everyone’s mail looks just like mine

This cute graphic was part of the electric bill. The guy all bundled up with earmuffs on the right is saying:
I feel like a popsicle!
The guy in the wife-beater with sunburn on the left is saying:
There's no need to freeze! 25 degrees is enough!
Maybe 25 C (77 F) is enough for him! He looks sort of happy - maybe satisfied with his electric bill - but not truly comfortable. If the drawing was of me, on the other hand, you would see me as comfy as can be, oblivious to my bill, happily advocating for a cool 21 C (69.8 F).

This really important looking bill (note how I cleverly deleted Bob's personal information!) is my TV Tax Bill. For TV service. Which I do not have. And, as such, I ignore this bill. What I do have is a 42 inch screen. The purchase of which alerted the TV police to my existence. I'm just waiting for them to show up one day. I will invite them in to watch Season One of the Brady Bunch.

This next one is my Bank Statement (unbelievably) in English! I scanned it today, taking note of the putter-inners (Bituach Leumi child payments, Kupat Cholim reimbursements) and the taker-outers (Bituach Leumi husband payouts, Kupat Cholim monthly premium). I noticed a pattern of sorts. The housing department is a putter-inner around the first of each month (an aliyah benefit? most likely! thank you very much, housing department!) while the 'Osher Comm. is a taker-outer. But what is the 'Osher Comm.? And what are they doing with 17.95 of my shekels on the first of each month? Osher means happiness. Is this a happiness fee?

This one is by far the winner of todays prize for 'mail that is funny without trying to be funny'. I mean, funny in that Israeli paradoxical existence way. That says it's normal to showcase clowns alongside bomb-sniffing dogs.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #205 - How do we cope?

Everyone has their fallback coping mechanisms. I have one friend who eats. Another who starves. Some shop. Some read. Some watch TV.

I cook and bake. I plan menus and shop for ingredients. And I talk about cooking, baking, menus and ingredients with whoever’s interested. For me it’s total escape and comfort.

Since we made aliyah, I’ve fine tuned how to prepare some of the special foods my family is accustomed to eating. Syrian delicacies such as lahamagine (little meat pizzas?) and yebrat (grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice). Persian staples such as gundi (a chickpea and meat dumpling) and ashpolo (a pyramid of rice, chicken, carrots and raisins).

Unlike Brooklyn, where abundant full-service Middle Eastern groceries carry everything from raw ingredients to ready made cuisine, my experience in the actual Middle East is that such groceries do not exist.

There is Machane Yehuda, the shuk, which is as close as I’ve gotten. There you can find the rare vendor who knows, himself, what oot (temerhindi) is, but none of his workers have ever heard of it. There’s a ka’ak guy selling something that looks like ka’ak. They even call it ka’ak. But it’s just not. I once asked for ele’gefen (grape leaves) and was shown ready made parve yebrat. Like the kind they sell in a can. I had to go to the Arab vendors in the Iraqi shuk to get the actual leaves. Incidentally, they knew exactly what I was asking for and why.

And so, I’ve figured out oot (equal parts temerhindi paste and date honey), grape leaves (buy them fresh and boil them for 1 minute), allspice (ground English Pepper), chickpea flour (kemach humus), and even rose and orange water (which, imported from Lebanon to NY, come in tall bottles and are mostly water – here they come in tiny vials and are so concentrated, I use half a drop at a time).

Sadly, certain culinary staples we’ve let go. Our daily ka’ak is but a faint memory. So much so that we are able to eat shuk ka’ak with ever-diminishing reluctance.

Sembusak is a whole other story. Without the ready-made semolina dough easily available (yes, I know about the lady in Givat Shaul who sells dough), I tackled the daunting task of making the buttery pastry from scratch. For my only son, who lived on sembusak before we made aliyah, could I do any less? Except that my homemade version was too grainy (coarser semolina), too buttery (the ready made dough is made with margarine), too different.

Suffice it to say, I refuse to spend 3 hours making sembusak if my son, for whom I am making it, refuses to eat it. I’ve been in refusal for close to two years. And then my friend Tuni showed up with a bag of sembusak.

We baked Tuni’s sembusak and then fought over every last one of them. I shamelessly ate them from the tray before I served them to the kids, instructing them to take only one at a time. I made sure my baby had one (her first!) and then, as Asher took a sniff and rejected them without trying, it occurred to me that the rest of my family loves sembusak and that I need to get back to the business of making sembusak. I called Tuni for her (mother in law’s) recipe which called for an ingredient usually found in ka’akmachlab.

If I was in Brooklyn I would have called my mother in law, my sister in law’s mother and a handful of friends to confirm that they’d ever heard of putting machlab in sembusak. Here all I could do was ask Tuni if she was sure that was correct. She assured me it was.

I have a good friend here who picks up my temerhindi paste from a certain spice guy in the shuk. She’s never used oot and, in fact, I showed her the packaging so she would know how to buy it. Now my friend, who, until recentely, didn’t know what a lahamagine was, brings me the quintessential lahamagine ingredient almost weekly. This week when she offered to pick me up temerhindi paste or anything else in the shuk, I couldn’t shake this desire I’ve had for the past few weeks to try my hand once again at sembusak. And every time I think of Tuni’s recipe and the machlab, I think of homemade ka’ak.

When Bob and I first got married, eager to please and impress, I took out the Red Deal Delights cookbook my mother in law had so lovingly bestowed upon me. I looked up the recipe for ka’ak, quickly shopped for the exotic ingredients at the Middle Eastern grocery across the street from our apartment, and started preparing the bracelet rounds. At some point the recipe instructed me to dip the bracelets into beaten egg and then to dip them into sesame seeds.

This is where I need to mention that I did not grow up making or eating ka’ak. In fact, the first time I took a bite of one I was expecting a sweet cookie. I nearly choked.

And so, as per my literal interpretation of the recipe instructions, I took each round, fully dipped it into beaten egg and then fully coated it with sesame seeds. Bob walked in as I was halfway through.
No, no. Not like that! Like this!
And for the first and only time in our 13 years of marriage, Bob rolled up his sleeves and dipped ka’ak with me – the proper way (a light brush of beaten egg, ideally with the palm of your hand and then a light dip into sesame seeds). It’s no wonder I went on to edit cookbooks. I had a keen appreciation for highly detailed recipe instructions that needed to be nurtured.

I answered my friend’s offer via email.
Can you ask the spice guy for machlab?
Can I ask what that is?
Why, it’s ground cherry stones.
(Okay, so I only know this because I did edit two cookbooks subsequent to my ka’ak fiasco).
May I ask what you use it for?
Ka’ak. And sembusak.
Can you translate that into my language?
Those sesame bagelas you see in the shuk? Those are ka’ak. Sort of. And sembusak is a buttery cheese pastry.
Sounds hard. You should buy them!
I wish I could!

I warned my friend that once she walks into the spice guy and asks for machlab, after asking for temerhindi paste for the last month, he will never believe that she is not Sephardic. No matter what she tells him. Sure enough, she asked for the machlab and he offered her a taste of his wife’s freshly homemade ka’ak. He had the plate hidden under the counter. He wasn’t giving out ka’ak samples to every customer. I’m sure he felt that as a member of an insider’s club of sorts, she would surely appreciate it. And she did.

I made lahamagine last night. And today. There are two stages of production when you make the dough yourself. I sent over a plate to my friend to taste the delicacy she made possible.

It’s her new favorite food.

Now she’s asking when I’ll be making the ka’ak.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #204 - you say forests are for camping. i say forests are for spas.

If you see dinnertime is an opportunity to counterbalance the effects of a day of sugary and salty snacks (staples of the “I’ll pack it myself, Mom!” school lunch), you’ll find the last two weeks of school to be of dubious nutritional intake.

First there is the week in which each class celebrates the culmination of its learning with an evening of song and coordinated dancing. Whether in Hevron (potato borekas), at the school itself (candy, potato chips, hot dogs), or in the old city of Jerusalem (rumors of pizza), the performances and ensuing nachas offer sufficient sustenance to the parent-only audiences.

By the second week, in which each after school activity enjoys a night in the spotlight (guitar, taekwondo, gymnastics) the siblings (who are now encouraged to join the audience) are getting a little antsy. And so we bring dinner along. With proper planning, that could be noodles, fish sticks, cheese borekas, freezer pizza squares. Poor planning could yield the dinner we had last Wednesday night. A shared bag of Bissli followed by ice cream for everyone.

Bob returned from two back-to-back trips to America, delirious from jet lag. He missed all the school celebrations but was just in time for our anniversary getaway. Which I planned because I wanted luxury. Bob wanted camping.

As my kids enjoyed their last few moments of school, Bob and I snuck off to the Carmel Spa for pampering and (more than) our fill of legendary healthy cuisine.
Are you sure you don’t want to go camping?
Please get directions to the spa.

When you look up Carmel Spa, it shows up as being in Haifa. And so we got on our favorite road, Kveesh Shesh (the pay road, for which we finally figured out how to pay), and drove to Haifa. On our way, Bob was most certain he saw a tehine tanker.
Did you see that tehine truck?
That’s an oil tanker!
But it said Tehine on the side.
Do you seriously think there’s an oil tanker filled with tehine driving around Israel?
Yes. Yes I do.

We continued on and I spotted a red velvet couch. In the middle of an olive grove. I’m not delirious from jet lag, either.
Did you see that couch?
No, where?
In that olive grove, next to the plush green office chair. It was red velvet!

As we approached Haifa we drove through an Experimental Area.
What do you think an Experimental Area is?
I had no witty reply for this and in fact, I just now looked it up on-line.
Seems the Iranians (who’ve been accusing Israel of stealing their rain clouds) are following the experimental work of Israeli scientists who are trying to turn desert dust into rain clouds. Or something like that. In Experimental Areas in the North and in the South.

We arrived in Haifa and started our ascent up toward the Carmel, as per every sign we saw. When we weren’t sure we asked the locals.
And so comes the cruel punch line.

The Carmel Spa, Haifa is neither in Haifa nor in the Carmel. I know I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. Israel truly is an insiders club.

Evidence in support of my claim
* The vowels, yes, we know.
There are none. To read Hebrew you must already know the words.
* The Carmel
Spa. It’s listed in Haifa. Why on earth would you then not go to Haifa. Why on
earth is there a place in Haifa called Carmel that is not the location of the
Carmel Spa. And if this is a 5-star destination of tourists, why is getting
there shrouded in secrecy (our story was matched by at least 4 other couples
once we arrived).
* The maps. Better yet, Google maps. Overloading you with
undeserved confidence in how to drive from door to door, Google maps relies on
good old fashioned street names. OF WHICH ISRAEL HAS NONE.

Conclusion: You must know the language, know that names
of places are not necessarily the names of places, and know the names of streets
which appear to be nameless. An insider’s club? For certain!

And so, after a scenic two hour tour of Haifa, we made our way to the Carmel Forest Spa, located deep in the Carmel Forest. But not before we happened upon these guys.

The drive in was eery.

Do you think it’s strange one of Israel’s top luxury spas is flanked by prisons on both sides?

There were charred trees all around us. Just as I wondered if a particular spot was where the prison guards had been caught in the fire, just six months ago, we passed a makeshift memorial urging us to remember the fallen guards.

My babysitter had told us about new growth in the forest. I shifted my attention to the new growth.

We arrived, more than ready to commence relaxation and pampering. My cell phone rang as we were checking in and a slight woman, not taller than myself, bum-rushed me out the front door, all the while pointing to signs prohibiting cell phone use in the hotel’s public areas.

For the rest of our visit we kept an eye on this woman (who turned up everywhere) keeping an eye on all of us. The first night at dinner, she was at the next table.
Bob was excited to try the food.
Let’s go check out the salad bar.
I’ll wait here until you come back.
The kids are not here. We can go to the salad bar together!
But your phone is here. I’m worried about… you know, the cell phone police.

We loved the food. But Bob was suspicious of the corn chowder. How could it be so thick, so creamy, so satisfying, and yet healthy? He posited a theory.
I think the food here is made to be delicious and they make it seem healthy but in reality it is NOT.
That’s a pretty bold statement.

He pointed to the corn chowder as evidence.
Tomorrow I will call their healthy food bluff.
Please don’t.

The spa was filled with detail people. Towel folders, chair pusher-inners, candle blower-outers. My friend told me when she was there she noticed a guy whose sole task was shpritzing bottles of the signature Carmel Spa scent all around the hotel.

The trip was indulgence defined. Lazy swims, fuzzy robes, treatments, relaxing in the garden, and 3 delicious meals daily. We had a great time and a ton of laughs. Bob enjoyed himself, even as he poked fun.
What’s people’s fascination with walking around all day in a robe? And getting rubbed?
But I got him to join the hotel “club” so we can enjoy discounts in the future.
Will you agree to come back?
Can we go camping in between?
Once I give birth? Absolutely.
Then, yes. We can come back.

And so we returned home, rejuvenated, pampered, refreshed, to a bunch of missed cell phone calls and, more importantly, to a bunch of kids who were all too happy to eat Bissli, instant soup and pizza in our absence.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #203 - the yoman reshet has made its impact!

Somebody’s been paying attention
I’ve been asking these questions since I got here. Did Israelis never need a svetshirt, eat a sanvich or a mahfin, go on a dayt, or be in shok before Anglos showed up? Of course they did! And now the Misrad ha Chinuch (the people who invented school, according to Asher), have implemented a campaign throughout our Anglo community to let us know that in Israel, we speak Hebrew.

There are signs hanging all over Efrat, each with a word that has been adapted from the English (such as shampu, deesk, trampolina, teeshu & veeroos), followed by the official Hebrew word (for shampoo, disk, trampoline, tissue and virus).

I’ve been busy compiling my photo mi-lone (dictionary). The highlights, so far…

AHN-LIYN (mekuvan)

GPS (navtan)

and my favorite,

BLOG (yoman reshet).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #202 – a mixed bag

I got a call today from Asher
Mom, we have a substitute teacher for math today and he doesn’t want me to wear my hat. He said to go the mazkiroot (secretary's office) for a yarmulke but I don’t want to do that because, you know...LICE! And I can’t tell the teacher that! So can you please bring me my yarmulke from home?

Rosie was talking about otiot (letters) on Shabbat. So Bob asked her,
What are otiot in English?

I’m losing sight of the weirdness!
It seemed so totally natural for the Teva Outlet at Kfar Etzion to be selling cherries today – after all, cherry season is only exactly one month long and most of the cherry trees in Gush Etzion seem to be concentrated right around Kfar Etzion. Asher was excited to see I had picked up cherries.
Where’d you get the cherries, Mom?
At the shoe store!
Mom! Cherries at the shoe store?
I guess that is kind of weird.

When spiritual nourishment is not enough
Becky has her end of the year siyum/mesibah/celebration-thing this Tuesday in the Old City of Jerusalem. There’s actually a grainy map of the Old City that came with the invitation pointing to the specific location. I can’t make heads or tails of the map so I’m excited to see where I end up. I’ve heard about this siyum/mesibah/celebration-thing. I’ve heard it is really special, meaningful, amazing and 3 hours long at dinner time with absolutely no dinner served. So I am getting ready. Grainy map, check. Camera, check. Potato chips, granola bars, water bottles, check.

When enough is enough!
Rosie was talking about how her swim teachers keep rotating in a degem (pattern). Before I could coax the meaning of degem out of her, Becky interrupted.
Rosie, can you please speak in ENGLISH?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #201 – spring cleaning

Seven weeks and a few sandstorms since Pesach, Shavuot is upon us and another round of pre-holiday cleaning begun. Not the kind of pre-Pesach cleaning that causes an entire country to run short on paper towels, but more the, ‘oh, it’s been almost two months since I moved my Mai Eden machine’ kind of cleaning.

And for me, some switch has been tripped in my brain (I wish I knew how to trip that switch on purpose) which has caused me to do things like sift through the ‘TO DO’ list on my Blackberry. The TO DO list which, until yesterday, still contained such tasks as ‘Register Rosie for Gan’ and ‘Rosh Hashanah Menu’.

There were some tasks I didn’t recognize
For example:
Seven Wagon With Stove
I’m not sure if this is a car reference or a camping concept.

Others I recognized and was ready to delete
For example:
Beytza Reka
I kept this for a really long time, thinking it would help me order a soft-boiled egg. Until I actually tried to order a soft-boiled egg.

When you go into an Israeli restaurant (or anywhere in Israel), you have to accept that there will be something you want and someone to tell you that you really don’t want that thing.
For example:
I’d like some ice for my drink.
Your drink is cold enough.
Can I get ice?
We are out of ice.

Ani rotza lehazmin beytza reka. (I would like to order a soft-boiled egg.)
Ayin Hafook? (Over Easy?)
Lo! Beytza Reka! (No! Soft Boiled egg!)
Beytza b’mayim? (Egg cooked in water?)
Hmmm. Sort of.
Im haklifa. (With the shell.)
Lo. Blee haklifa. (No. Without the shell.)
Bob interrupted.
I think they mean poached egg.
Mevushal b’mayim im haklifa l’meshek shalosh dakot! (Boil in water with the shell for three minutes!)
Ani tzareeka livdok. (I must to check).
We were in the Café in Wolfson Tower – a residence popular among American retirees. I wondered to Bob how a restaurant catering mainly to a 70+ population could not know about soft-boiled eggs. The waitress returned.
Hem lo maskimim. (They do not agree.)
Hem lo yecholim la’asot et zeh? (They can’t do it?)
Yecholim aval lo maskimim. Ein efsheroot. (They can but they do not agree. There is no possibility.)
I actually went through this routine in a few restaurants before I just gave up and started ordering my eggs poached.

There were tasks I have yet to accomplish
For example:
Ani Ohev Song
This one I actually remember – there was a cute song on the radio with a guy (or girl?) singing about how they love this and they love that. I want to find it and buy it but I don’t know how to find and buy music in Israel. So for now, it stays on my TO DO list.

Hagiga B’Snuker
This is an Israeli movie my friend Yigal told me to watch. I actually know where to find it – there’s a movie guy in the shuk – I just have to remember to go there when I’m in the shuk! Somehow between buying lettuce, halva, meat and pickles, it never occurs to me to go looking for movies. Still on the list.

Hayiti B’Shok!
This is an expression in Hebrew that means (you’ll never believe it), I was in shock. This was on my task list to remind me that one day I want to post about all the English words that have made their way into the Hebrew. Apparently before the Anglo influence, Israeli’s did not go on dates (dayt), have perspective (perspectiva), or be specific (spetzifi). What surprises me more are the words that DO NOT mean what they sound like in English. For example, yeediot is not idiot and ananas is not bananas.
On our brief Netanya get-away (to the prison/hotel with soft robes but no pool access) we were given the most delicious chocolate rations. I have big plans to procure more of this chocolate some day.

And then there were the tidbits which were intended for blogging but just never made it
Like the Cellcom conversation.
Once a week I have this conversation (in Hebrew) with Cellcom (the Israeli cell phone service provider we chose one fateful day…)
Hi, this is Cellcom. Can I speak with Robert.
Robert cannot speak but I am his wife. I will speak for him.
We want to *something something something*.
Can you say it again? Slowly?
We want to *something something something* monthly bill.
Is there a problem?
No! No problem!
Are you offering me gifts?
Yes! Gifts!
Robert does not want gifts.
What are you talking about???
No gifts!
Are you sure?
I am sure!

I stopped asking them to stop calling. Apparently there is no ‘do not call list’ in Israel. I look at it as an opportunity to practice my Hebrew. Each week I get further and further into the conversation before I stop it cold with the “Problem or gifts?” question.

I guess I can take Cellcom conversation off my TO DO list now.

Oh, yeah. And this guy. Eggplant Gumby. I've been meaning to post him for a while. He's just been sitting on my Blackberry waiting.

Hag Sameah!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #200 – BBQs, bonfires, and family visits. the Omer in Israel.

A thick cloud of bar-b-q smoke hung low over Jerusalem Tuesday morning when I picked up my parents for what has become their annual ‘Yom Hatzmaut through Lag B’Omer’ visit. As they left this past Sunday night, the smoke was just clearing from a night of bon-firing that, in my totally-prude-about-fire opinion, bordered on the obscene.

To give you a flavor, in Brooklyn we used to drive around Mill Basin to see the over-the-top Christmas decorations – each house out-doing the next. When I picked up Barbara from her Lag B’Omer bonfire (yes, it is normal for children to have their own bonfire), we drove around Efrat looking at one bonfire bigger and higher than the next, some of them as tall as those Mill Basin houses.

As always, the visit was fun but too short. This time we had the added bonus of my brother and sister in law joining us so that it became a holy land family reunion. Complete with camel rides, Dead Sea floating, old city touring and lots of (you guessed it) Israeli breakfasting.

Cultural differences that I’ve gotten so used to I hardly notice were brought back to my awareness as my brother and his wife had the oh-so-familiar experience of wanting to buy something and the clerk refusing to sell it to them.
Mark: We like this shirt for Sarah.
Clerk: It is too big.
Sarah: Um, I like it.
Mark: Me too. I like it on her.
Clerk, decisively: No. It is too big.
Shirt is taken away.

Also I was reminded of the lack of formal definitions in this country. For example, wheelchair accessible.
Bob: I’m taking your parents to Gavna for lunch.
Me: But what about all those stairs?
Bob: I called. The guy said there’s a way to get a wheelchair to the upstairs.
Me: Wow. I had no idea Gavna was wheelchair accessible!
Me: How was Gavna?
Bob: Great!
Me: How did you get to the upstairs area?
Bob: We went up the stairs.
Me: But what about the wheelchair?
Bob: Yeah. The guy came to help carry the wheelchair up the staircase.

And then there’s the formidable sign prohibiting entry to everyone except for authorized vehicles. What exactly is an authorized vehicle? What constitutes authorization? Is there authorization after the fact?

Anyone who has been to the Kotel (Western Wall) in the Old City of Jerusalem has either been dropped off at the exact entrance by a taxi or tour bus or walked through the cobblestone alleyways of the Old City. Either way, you cannot help but notice the cars mysteriously parked right there at the Kotel entrance. How did they get there? Who authorized them to park there? In that ultimate dream parking lot.

I wanted to drive to the entrance of the Kotel. It’s been a while and I sort of forgot how. I drove toward Zion Gate. When faced with huge DO NOT ENTER signs, I realized that the route I wanted to take was one way. The wrong way. I pulled into the Zion Gate parking lot to recalculate my route. I asked a tour bus driver what to do.
I have my dad with a wheelchair and I want to drop him off at the Kotel entrance. How should I go?
You should drive in through Jaffa Gate.
Drive through the Old City?
It’s allowed?
NO! It is prohibited!
But it’s the best way to go. It’s how I would go.

And so we made our way to Jaffa Gate. Past signs in Hebrew and in English reading:
Entry for Authorized Vehicles ONLY
I figured I could get some ad-hoc authorization from whomever would dare stop me. I then drove in with so much confidence, no one would dare stop me.

We wound through the Old City on the road built in 1898 for Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser, of course, traveling by horse back, and not by Mitsubishi Grandis. We all sucked in our breath. As if that would make our car thinner.

And sure as can be, we arrived, without incident, at the Kotel entrance. The car in front of me was involved in a shouting match with one of the police officers guarding the entrance.
Meleh! Ein macomb! (Full! No room!)
He wasn’t buying it and he wasn’t budging.
Ein! Ein macomb! (None! No room!)
I was holding up a line of (authorized) taxis who were starting to beep but I could go no where because of this guy. I was sure the police would be annoyed and frazzled by the time they got to me but no, the same police officer came to my window with a very patient, “ma?” (what?)
I started to explain.
My father cannot walk so well to the Kotel and so we have a wheelchair-
I was confused. I had listened to this same officer shouting ‘no room!’ for about five minutes.
Should I drop him off or park?
He motioned me to go around the car of the guy in front of me. He was still not budging.
And so it was. We were authorized.

* the fish pond is well on its way to full rehabilitation. picture of our new fish (and the 3 survivors from the original crew) to follow.
* paper towels are back in town
* my transplanted (from the drain) lentil plant is thriving in a genie bottle in my garden

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #199 - the one before 200

Things I never knew

Rosie would fail a simple zoo trip in English.
Rosie and Bob saw a beautiful colorful bird outside my window this past Shabbat.
Look, Aba! A tookie!
Um, Rosie, what’s a tookie?
That bird, Aba! It’s a tookie.
Do you know what a tookie is called in English, Rosie?
It’s a parrot.
A carrot?
Look, Aba! A carrot!

Living here matters. But not in that lofty spiritual way.
Ani gara po b’aretz! (I live here, in the land).
I never said that when booking a Florida hotel for Winter Break. What a weird reaction I would have gotten! But I sure did say it today when booking a Dead Sea hotel. I saw those internet rates in dollars. Ouch! Yes, it seems Israeli’s get different rates on Israeli hotel rooms than Americans. Better ones. But then they pay the VAT tax so maybe it’s a wash. Maybe. But can you imagine hotels in Manhattan charging different rates for Americans vs. foreign tourists?

Medicine is medicine. And as such, it is never full price.
The big bottle of Advil costs 85 shekels. I was ready to pay. They asked for my cartis.
My Kupat Cholim card.
Um, okay.
Suddenly the price was 40 shekels. Half-priced Advil – an unexpected perk of socialized medicine.

They say Gd protects children and stupid people. Where do fish fit in?
When I called the electrician the first time, Bob was shouting in the background.
Tell him it’s a matter of life and death.
Of course he was referring to the fish, dying at an alarming rate (we went from 10 to 3) in our fishpond, now overgrown with algae since our pump stopped pumping, due to some unidentified electrical problem. Hence the call to the electrician.
I said no such thing and just asked when he’d be coming.
Tomorrow, ma’am.
He did not show up tomorrow and so then Bob called himself.
It’s a matter of life and death.
The electrician was here the same afternoon.
He apologized to me for not coming right away.
Huh? Oh, because the husband called you with the life and death thing you thought the wife was freaking out about some electrical problem. Of course! Not!
No, no, it’s Bob’s fish. They are dying. It’s real life and death. Not sarcastic life and death!
Relief, mixed with panic. The fish!
A plan was formulated. That was 5 days ago.
I was not involved in the plan but I think Bob needs to go the fish farm store to replace the pump before the electrician can work his electrical magic. In any case, the broken pump is still sitting on the side of the algae-ridden fish pond. Bob is close to 6000 miles away. I peek in on the remaining three fish each day wondering if they know their redemption, while on hold, is at hand. They are oblivious. And alive.

I thought paper towels were among the random household supplies that could appear to be seasonal (like 409, trash bags, & toilet wipes). Now I know the truth (they really ARE).
I went to the makolet yesterday with a short list which included paper towels. The makolet had none. I asked.
Literally, 'they finished on us'.
I went back today. Still no paper towels. I asked again.
This time, a woman who seemed really interested in helping me.
Haser kol ha’aretz. All the land is missing them.
Kol ha’aretz? All the land?
With a totally straight face she answered me.
Yes. After the Passover holiday, you know…
Wow. All that Passover cleaning takes its toll. The run on paper towels really is a nation-wide seasonal phenomenon.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #198 - Kever Yosef. Then, Then, and Now.

During Sukkot (2010) Bob and I visited Kever Yosef in Shchem. We did so in the middle of the night with a military transport. 1000 people went in that night, in three shifts of about 350 people each. We met at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem at 10pm. We boarded a bus with people from all over – Israel, England, America – and made our way to Elon Moreh Yeshivah, near Shchem.

We were greeted by the Rosh Yeshivah, HaRav Elkayim Levanon, who offered us a heart-wrenching account of the events of 2000. Up until Rosh Hashanah of 2000, talmidim from the Hesder Yeshivah in Elon Moreh (as well as talmidim from Od Yosef Chai) would come daily to pray at Kever Yosef. That Erev Rosh Hashanah, Palestinian “policemen” turned them away. By Shabbat Tshuva the IDF had given over control of Kever Yosef to the Palestinian Authority.

Upon hearing of the abandonment of Kever Yosef, Rabbi Hillel Lieberman, z”l, walked toward Kever Yosef that Shabbat morning with the intention of saving the holy Torah scrolls and sifrei kodesh. Rabbi Lieberman was gunned down by bloodthirsty Arabs who followed up by attacking his funeral procession. He left behind a wife and seven children. Thousands of holy books were burned as the Kever itself was looted, desecrated and destroyed by local mobs, as the Palestinian Authority did nothing.

We allowed ourselves to be inspired that night by the very recent event of the restoration of the tombstone to the kever, just a few days before. Just as Moshe Rabeinu personally set about collecting the bones of Yosef Ha Tzadik from Mitzrayim in order to bring them to his family’s land in Shchem for proper burial, Jewish workers carefully attended to the restoration of the tombstone.

That night in Kever Yosef was nothing like I anticipated. I fully expected to tiptoe into the kever but was instead greeted by the joyous sounds of song and as I quickly figured out the configuration of the site (one room houses the kever, at first women were allowed in to pray while the men waited in the other, empty room), I understood the men waiting were overcome with joy at the very prospect of returning to this holy site. Many of them were Breslever Hasidim – a group that never severed its connection with this holy site – regularly making their way to the kever to pray, both with and without military protection, always with fervent faith and joy.

The experience was brief but powerful. I shared it with my children as well as my hope that soon they would be able to visit this holy site without relying on the cover of darkness and a military escort.

Fast forward to Pesah of 2011.
While four of my children hiked on a hol hamoed tiyul with their Aba, four other children laid their Aba to rest.

A Breslever Hasid from Elon Moreh, a father of four, part of a group of 15 men who regularly visit Kever Yosef to pray, was shot at close range by Palestinian “policemen” for the unspeakable crime of praying when it wasn’t time to pray.

Even though I spent most of the day reading, thinking and crying about the morning’s events and the ensuing nonsensical explanations offered by everyone from the IDF to the Palestinian Authority to the media (does it really make sense to any of them that the penalty for prayer without permission is death?), it took me by surprise when my Becky came home from her friend’s house and explained to me about the boy that was killed today in Shchem when he went there to pray with the army. I had to correct much of her information – it was a man, not a boy.
What do you mean, a man?
An Aba.
Her eyes got wide.
With four children.
She wanted to hear every detail all over again.
The Aba was part of a group of men that prayed at Kever Yosef every week.
Did they go with the army?
No they did not. They went every week to pray, but not always with the army. And today the Arab police shot at them.
I cringed as I said the word police.
But they’re not really police, you know.
I know
, she said. Instinctively sensing that real police do not shoot at people’s Abas who have come to pray. Even if they have come to pray at “not the right time”.

Ironic how the most touching piece I read about Rabbi Lieberman, z"l, was penned by Noam Livnat, father of Ben Yosef Livnat, z"l. As we mourn the death of this young hasid we mourn all over again the death of Rabbi Lieberman, z"l, and the tragic abandonment of Yosef Ha Tzadik.

Saintly in life and holy in death
In Memory of Hillel Lieberman
by Noam Livnat, friend and companion of the martyred saint Hillel
October, 2000
Hillel, Hillel....Hillel, Hillel....Humble, innocent, with shining countenance...principled, upright and faithful...soul-searching, modest, ever working on his character, A true servant of G-d. Your image is so alive that I am incapable of relating to you as to someone no longer here. We shall relate the same way to the bet midrash "Od Yosef Chai" which was and is no more, and to Joseph's Tomb in Shechem, where -- make no mistake -- it seems we will not be returning for a very long time... All the same, all three live on through us, and they are with us constantly. Their vitality continue forever.Joseph himself was the same way: After all, Jacob, his mourning father, never let the memory of his beloved son fade. "Joseph lives on..." (Genesis 45:28).Yes. Joseph lives on. Not here, but in another place, as when Joseph was found to be "ruling over all of Egypt" (Genesis 45:26). Hillel Eliyahu, son of Rabbi Zevulun and Bracha Lieberman. A young man arrived from New York with a shepherd's staff in hand. He "encountered the place and spent the night there" (Genesis 28:11), and in the morning he was a different person... Hillel "traveled through the land as far as Shechem, coming to Elon Moreh, and the Canaanites were then in the Land" (Genesis 12:6). Henceforth, over the course of fifteen years, Hillel held to Shechem with powerful yearning.The Talmud teaches that when Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish passed away, Rabbi Yochanan, his study partner of many years, lost his mind. The Rabbis asked G-d's mercy and Rabbi Yochanan left this world. The question is widely asked: Why didn't the sages pray for G-d to cure him? The answer they give is that no benefit would have derived from this. Had Rabbi Yochanan regained his sanity, he would once more have seen that Resh Lakish was no more and would again have lost his mind... It was the same with our Hillel. He could not bear Joseph's once more being disgraced and abandoned, his brothers' betrayal, the degradation of "Joseph's house going up in flames" (Ovadiah v. 18)... Apparently he had only one means of rectifying his situation -- to be joined with Joseph, and with Shlomo and Harel... Sometimes the departed are eulogized along the lines of "Acharei Mot-Kedoshim-Emor" [After they die, say they are holy], even when in life they were not known for being saintly. Not so with Hillel. Already in life, he was recognized as being unique. His sterling traits were without parallel. I will not talk about Hillel the family man, Hillel who honored his father and mother, Hillel who scrupulously observed the mitzvot, Hillel who loved the Torah, who generously gave to charity, who was active in the community and on behalf of the whole Jewish People -- Hillel, the lover of all Israel. Although he was unique in all of these areas, head and shoulders above everyone else, this would not have been enough to place him in a different class. However... Who else composed poems to the Holy City of Shechem? He wrote: "Let me go and see the city of Shechem, crown of the Torah..." Who else was as careful as he not to let even one day pass without prostrating himself at Joseph's tomb? Who was as happy as Hillel was every time he went to the yeshiva, to the gravesite of the tzaddik, to his beloved Shechem? Who worked harder than Hillel did to see that Scriptural megilot were completed for the Aron Kodesh in Shechem? Moreover, when it was time to acquire festive white coverings for the four Torah scrolls in the Shechem compound, to be used on the High Holy Days, it was Hillel who saw this project through to completion. And it was Hillel, himself, who managed to dress the four Torahs in these scrolls on Erev Rosh Hashanah. Just one week later, on Shabbat Shuvah, these same Torahs were smuggled out of Shechem in the middle of the night -- a terrible desecration of G-d's name. How like shrouds these coverings became! Would anyone among us besides Hillel recite Tikun Chatzot, the prayers recited in the middle of the night? Hillel would do this, sitting on the floor crying bitter tears, weeping over the exile of the divine presence and the destruction of Jerusalem. Whenever we heard of any Jew suffering a martyr's death, who but Hillel would decree upon himself a week's abstinence from meat? When Jews were prevented from entering Joseph's Tomb, would anyone besides Hillel sleep on the floor?...Hillel would always go to hospitals to visit those wounded in terrorist attacks, people whom he did not know. He would remember to be thankful for every small kindness done for him, and he would continue to feel obliged even years later... Due to his love for Eretz Yisrael, he would do his utmost to avoid eating produce from abroad... To be like Yosef who "at seventeen shepherded his father's sheep" (Genesis 37:2), and to emulate G-d, the "Shepherd of Israel who leads Joseph like a flock" (Psalm 80:2), Hillel established a sheep pen in his backyard...Hillel, more than anyone else, tied himself to Joseph, to Joseph's traits, to Joseph's Tomb and to the city of Shechem... He knew how to find in every single portion of the Torah the aspect relating to Joseph, and to prove by all sorts of wondrous means that that part was the main one... He delved into every source in the Written and Oral Torah having to do with Joseph and Shechem, and he searched far and wide for midrashim in this regard that had been lost. Moreover, he knew how to explain, even to those far removed, the special significance of these matters to our time... Hillel Eliyahu. Hillel -- and EliyahuHe was as far from anger, and as bright of countenance, as Hillel the Elder. He related gently to all people. He hated controversy and fled from it. No one showed as much appreciation for rabbis as Hillel did. He would attach himself to every saint and to every Torah scholar and gain something from them. He would guard his tongue out of the love of Israel in him. With his every action, he fulfilled Psalm 34:15: "Do good!" Through his humility he would fulfill Hillel's dictum, "If I am only for myself, then what am I?" (Avot 1:14), and through his alacrity to perform every mitzvah he would fulfill, "and if not now, when?" Ultimately, when Shechem was abandoned and Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites, he fulfilled with his own body, "And if I am not for myself, then who will be for me?"... Yet he was also a man of principles like Eliyahu -- a zealot for his people and for his G-d, and for his land. He would forcefully protest the desecration of G-d's name. When such things happened -- and only then! -- he would refuse to show honor to those more prominent and more powerful than he. He saw himself, as long as he lived, as a student of Rabbi Meir Kahana. Hillel was a person who asked someone to pray for him at our forefathers' grave-site, the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Chevron, that he should merit "devotion and a true connection to G-d" (!!). Like Eliyahu, he concealed himself in a cave, and like Eliyahu as well, he ascended heavenward in a storm, wrapped in his Tallit. Hillel, dearest of people, beloved by all, whose smile lit up the world -- may your memory be blessed, and may your soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life! And may you be an advocate on behalf of us, who are weaker than you, and who have remained behind...And may G-d, before our eyes and through our agency, exact our great vengeance, the revenge over your spilt blood.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #197 – I take back what I said

Originally I thought the key to understanding the Israeli psyche was in the language. I’d like to revise my hypothesis. It lies, mostly, in the grocery store experience.

Guns welcome
Absolutely welcome. In the supermarket. (Also in the bank!) More on guns in a future post.

Pay close attention
Look carefully at the chocolate spread display in the photograph. The small sign under the bottom shelf reads: Chametz (in other words, not Kosher for Passover). The small sign under the seemingly identical top shelf reads: Kosher l’Pesah (you guessed it, yes Kosher for Passover).

Only when you realize that the penalty for transgressing the laws of Passover is spiritual excision (okay, that’s for intentional transgression, but still) do you truly grasp the walking-on-a-tightrope-without-a-safety-net experience that often characterizes life in this country. As I stood in line to pay for my Kosher for Passover chocolate spread, I picked up an assortment of colorful bar-b-q lighters. Just next to the candy and other impulse purchase items at eye level. Eye level for a 6 year old, that is.

Not believing my own eyes I asked the cashier.
Are these to light a fire?
Why, yes!
Wow! They look like toys.
You’d better be careful, ma’am.

She was clearly dismayed, concerned even. About me. Like maybe I was going to play with the lighters.

Like the spikes in the supermarket parking lot, unforgiving consequences lurk in every aisle, check out line and driveway. All you can do is pay close attention. There’s always something to the effect of a knee-high land-mine fence (with signs reading ‘land mines’ every 400 meters or so) to suggest impending doom. Pay close attention so you don’t miss it.

We keep it real
For better or worse, Mustafa and Moshe park, shop, and work side by side in the supermarket here. But don’t expect to read about it in the Times.

If you bring it, we will sell it
Barbara got a cute mug for her birthday last year. It had a bunny. And colorful eggs. At some point she came to me and asked if this mug had something to do with Easter. For that same birthday she received a wind chime for her room in green and red. It was, without a doubt, a Christmas decoration but somehow she never realized that. I was in the toy store one day and noticed, in addition to the Easter mugs and Christmas chimes, they were selling inflatable beach balls. With the Canadian maple leaf design. As I purchased one for 2 ½ shekels as a gag gift for my Canadian friend, I asked the store owner what the deal was with all these obscure items. She confirmed my theory. Closeouts.

In America I used to buy fancy paper dinner napkins for Shabbat and Holidays. During the week we used those thin square napkins that come by the 500-pack. Here in Israel I am excited if I can find those thin square napkins in white (often I find only yellow or red or blue) by the 85-count. Fancy dinner napkins, were they readily available (I’ve heard rumors of their existence here), would seem excessive and inappropriate in a place where paper is so rare and so valued. So imagine my surprise and excitement when I stumbled upon a fancy napkin section in our local supermarket. I picked up the first package. Snowflakes. Hmm… not really shouting Passover. The next one, hearts and “Happy Valentines Day”.

I quickly determined there was not a plain white package in the collection but was now fascinated by the eclectic mix of “fancy” napkins and, as tends to happen more often than not, became totally sidetracked and busy taking pictures when I should have been busy filling my wagon. Napkins with Dutch writing about dieting. Napkins with the German for “Do Not Make a Mess”. I had to laugh when I saw the cheeseburger napkin.

Okay so the fancy napkin section was obviously a section of fancy napkin closeouts. Even so, this one had me laughing out loud

I wonder how Mark & Cornelieka are doing now. I wonder if they've taken the time to visit an Israeli supermarket in their 14 years of marriage.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #196 - the quick getaway

They say anticipation is the best part of the quick getaway. I guess that’s because there is so much of it (3 months worth) compared with the getaway itself (just 31 hours).

In any case, we made our way north via the mysterious Kveesh Shesh (Route 6) – the “pay road” – to Netanya.
Did we ever get mailed the bill for the last time we drove on the Shesh?
Dunno…Could be sitting in the mailbox?

Note to self: time for the monthly mail pickup.

Bob and I have been together for longer than not – we met when I was 17, he 18. (I turn 39 next week, do the math.) Which translates to pretty much every experience he’s had, I’ve at least heard about, if I didn’t also have it. Yet on our quick getaway, I learned something new. Bob had a girlfriend who lived in Netanya. 23 years ago! A rare morsel of “Bob, Before”.

We found our hotel, the lovely Island Tower Luxery Suites, in the “south beach” section of Netanya (let’s just say it’s the up and coming “south beach” section – more construction than inhabited buildings so far). Now if this were Bob’s blog, the next paragraph would include a rant about how the front desk told us our room would be ready in a few minutes (this at about noon) and that when we came back at 1:30, after telling us our room still was not ready, they obnoxiously reminded us that check-in is not until 2.

But I’m used to “customer service” in this country (I reminded Bob that they are doing us a favor by even having a hotel for us to stay in…). In any case, this is my blog and so I will rant about the fact that at 4pm when the sun was beating onto our (stunning) balcony and we got the bright idea to dip into the pool, we came down (bundled in our cozy hotel-issued bathrobes) only to find the door to the pool deck not only locked, but barricaded! We went to the front desk to inquire.
The pool closes at 4.
I looked outside at the beating sunshine and worked up my best Hebrew to date.
At yodat…kol ha olam haklifu ha shaon. (You know… the whole world changed the clock).
Ken! Anachnu haklifanu! (Yes! We changed!)
B’arba, yesh shemesh hazak bachutz! Harbeh harbeh shemesh! (At 4 we have strong sun outside! A lot LOT of sun!)
At tzodeket! (You are right!)
Efshar rak leshevet bachutz? (Can we just sit outside?)
Ein efsharoot! (No possibility!)

Wow. We felt like prisoners. In our cozy robes (and did I mention slippers?), sentenced to our cell. A 2 room ultra-modern suite in clean white with a grand balcony on the 19th floor and a breathtaking sea view. Surreal. We did what any prisoners would do. We took a nap until dinner.

Dinner was delicious, the togetherness dreamy. We were jolted back to reality when we suddenly couldn’t tell which direction the spikes were facing as we tried to exit the parking lot. Israelis are so unforgiving about this parking lot business! You make one mistake and it’s your tires! We held our breath as we went over the spikes. The correct direction.

When I woke up this morning and saw the rain I quickly shifted our itinerary from beachcombing to Tel Aviv adventure.
Let’s go to the shuk ha pishpishim! Do you remember how to get there?
Mh? What? Okay.

An hour later.
Bob – did you like my idea of what to do today?
What idea??
I told you when you were sleeping! You said you even know how to get there! Shuk ha pishpishim!
Um, okay.

The last time we visited the shuk ha pishpishim (a flea market but probably there are real fleas – it’s no Sample Row), was on our honeymoon.

The ride in should have been simple. The front desk at the hotel was very accommodating with a map of Tel Aviv in Russian. We were to get off at HaShalom, go one block and turn left onto Yaffo St. Easy peasy. Except that we missed the turn onto Yaffo St. because Yaffo St. isn’t called Yaffo St. until you are in the neighborhood of Yaffo. And so for the next 40 minutes we meandered, circled, avoided bus lanes, and took one way streets away from our destination until we happened upon Yaffo Street. In Yaffo.

We didn’t mind the ride at all. In fact the last stretch was through a fashion district. Where all the clothing stores had English names. Names like Capri. Trip. Lunatic. Police. No Problem. No Secret. Ice Cube. Blue Ice. Bob started making up names. Potato Chip. Telephone. Fire Truck. My favorites? Exo and Sexso.

We needed to find the clock tower. It felt like a game. We spotted the clock tower but then lost it. Found it again and then we were there! And it was exactly the same as it was on our honeymoon. I mean exactly.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #195 – Some things I learned today

If you need khaki colored thread (or anything in khaki color), you ask for it in beige. Because khaki sounds like that word for #2 when pronounced with a proper Israeli accent.

Speaking of proper accents
I’ve long known my 9-year old, Asher, is timid when it comes to speaking Hebrew to strangers or store owners. I first learned this when he adamantly refused to take money from me to pay the guy behind the pizza counter for the pie we just ate.
But Ash, just show him the money. He knows what we ordered.
I will NOT do that. It’s so embarrassing, Ma!
It’s become sort of a joke with us. Like the worst thing I could in life is to make Asher go ask someone something in Hebrew.

So today, as we drove by a tent curiously set up in the Geffen Field of Efrat, I slowed down the car and called out to the police officers (who were in rare abundance at the site).
Ma yeshlechem hayom? (what have you got here today?)
Yeshlachem Tekkes? Mashu kazeh?
(you’re having a ceremony? Something like that?)
Ken! Ken!
Yofi! Toda! Yom Tov.

As I turned to Asher to point out that I am not embarrassed to speak Hebrew he was convulsing in a fit of giggles.
See Asher, I’m not embarrassed!
Mom! You speak with an American accent!
Yeah! And my Hebrew is terrible.
Yeah! Your Hebrew really stinks!
And you see, I’m not embarrassed!
That’s because you speak with an American accent!

All of a sudden it clicked in my brain.
Asher, is the reason you are embarrassed to speak Hebrew sometimes because you speak with a perfect Israeli accent and if you don’t know the words it will be more embarrassing than if you were speaking with an American accent?


When I took ulpan last year I learned something about ‘otiot garon’ – letters of the throat. Except that you pronounce it ‘otiot galghon’. I suspect, for a real Israeli, the ‘otiot garon’ are what give you accented English. Thank Gd my children speak English and Hebrew, each with the correct native accent.

Most of my children, anyway…
Tonight Rosie was trying to read one of Barbara’s Ramona Quimby books. Except that Rosie cannot read. She’s most interested in reading and brings home from gan pages and pages of what look like hieroglyphics – characters that are not quite the English alphabet and not quite the Aleph-Bet. And she refers to them, not as letters, but as otiot. So tonight she asked me
What does B – E – V – E – R – L – Y – C – L – E – A – R –Y spell?
Except that when she pronounced the letter ‘r’, she pronounced it ‘algh’.
B – E – V – E – algh – L – Y – C – L – E – A – algh –Y.

Thank Gd my children speak English and Hebrew, at least one of which is spoken in the correct native accent!