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!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #194 – the Super

At some point I stopped asking Why they can’t, don’t, won’t bag your groceries for you. And at some point it stopped bothering me. But I’ll admit there is a disproportionate amount of Shabbat table discussion amongst Americans, at least in our circles, about the definition of customer service in the supermarket. And related discussions such as: The Automatic Plastic Bag Dispenser. Time and money went into development of this machine? Is this spillover technology from the IDF? From NASA? Did someone really sit and design this machine. That haphazardly separates plastic bags for you? Who is that supposed to help? Bob insists it’s for the benefit of the cashier, whose sole interest is moving the line along. The bag dispenser doesn’t even bother me anymore. My biggest challenge is remembering to bring along a 5-shekel coin. Have coin, will travel IF you have a 5-shekel coin (or an American quarter) with which to release the wagon and IF you can leave behind your preconceived notions about what constitutes customer service (service here means a guard will check your trunk on your way in, a cashier will tell you how much money you could save if you would just buy Israeli cereals instead of American ones, and there will be a large bottle of water at the customer service desk from which you are welcome to take a small plastic cupful, should you become thirsty), you may be ready to visit the “Super” (any large grocery store) in Israel. Which is great if you are in the market for a new cell phone. Or some cheese. Certain grocery items are very important here Chocolate milk being one of them. The chocolate milk section is vast, complete with family sized, small snack sized, large snack sized, extra large snack sized and teeny tiny sakiot (bags) - for anytime (but these sakiot are for real Israelis only).

This bag contains about 10 little bags of chocolate milk. You can tell how long someone’s been here by watching them with the little baggie of chocolate milk. If they require a scissor to open it or if they bring it to mommy to open it, they are clearly right off the Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. The real way to open it, like a watermelon seed, is with teeth. Only teeth.

In time, you get used to the small sizes of, well, everything Forget the party sized bag of anything. There is no gallon of milk. Even the family sized chocolate milk is just a half gallon.

Almost everything. Israeli's have their priorities As my friend Yonit astutely noted, the smallest hair gel comes in a 1000 gram container. That's 35 ounces of hair gel! Meanwhile, the largest cottage cheese you can find is just 350 grams. That's barely 12 ounces!

But buyer beware If you cannot read Hebrew make sure you know what you are buying. When we first got here Rosie brought me a bottle of Cif (floor cleaner) and a cup and asked me to pour. Could you tell the difference?

These dishwasher tabs should be stored far away from the candy bracelets. You will get advice in the Super. Sometimes solicited. Most times not. Sometimes about food and saving money. Other times about snakes. Asher is my little engineer. It took me a while to get used to the pockets full of rusty nails, broken glass and watch batteries he would bring home. But now they’re just a fact of life.

Another fact of life: Peetoosh is not allowed in his room. Ever. As Asher was searching for ‘raw materials’ in the field next to my house this afternoon he came upon a snake. Oddly enough, Becky and I had received a leaflet detailing what to do if you come upon a snake – just last week, in the ‘Super’. The leaflet was decidedly unhelpful, but the excitement of the snake sighting in conjunction with the Snake Leaflet lasted the whole day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #193 - the world through Becky's eyes

Let me start by saying I don’t have television. I listen to the news in Hebrew on the radio which means I catch about every 4th word. Practically speaking, that leaves me to my computer for both my information and to get a feel for the local, national, and international sentiment about that information – in other words the vibe.

My iGoogle homepage streams headlines and links from Arutz Sheva, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Ynet, CNN, The NY Times, The Wall Street Journal, The NY Post, and Fox News. I also get Top Stories which can come from anywhere from the Christian Science Monitor to Al Jazeera. No kidding. Some of these sources (and I’m not talking about the last two) are like a car crash – you don’t want to look but you just can’t look away. But Bob always says – it’s good to know what everyone is saying, especially when it’s about you.

As the information keeps streaming, the local vibe is shifting. From grief (over the murder of 5 members of the Fogel family by terrorists) to outrage (over international coverage or lack thereof) to spiritual healing (adding Shabbat candles) and finally to practical healing (how to help the orphans, help the settlements, even how to help our own young children deal with this horror).

My mind was on that last topic from the outset. As I sent my kids to school Sunday morning I contemplated picking them right back up so that they wouldn’t hear about the tragic event. Maybe other kids would be talking about it. Maybe the school would have an assembly. I asked a friend. She gave it to me straight.
The culture is different here. The prime time news is on at 8pm, not eleven. The bus drivers listen to the news on the morning drive.
I was most concerned about Becky, my 2nd grader.
She will hear about it. From friends, from the school. This is not America. They do not shield children from reality.


And so I waited for my kids to come home and see what kind of damage control I could implement after the fact. I started with Asher.
Did you hear anything in school today?
Uh, no.
Were your friends talking about anything?
Uh, no.
I moved on to Becky.
Did they say anything to you in school today?
Did your friends say anything?
I was in the clear. All the other American parents had the same instinct as I – shield our small children from the unexplainable and incomprehensible tragedy that occurred – not across the Atlantic, mind you – less than 100 km from our home.

But then it occurred to me to ask Becky just one more time.
Becky – did you hear anything scary today?
As if on cue she blurted it all out.
Yes. A family was sleeping on Shabbat and terrorists went in their house and killed the parents and three of the children.
Who told you about that?
Quietly, she answered.
My teacher. We said tehillim for them.

We spoke for a while. About who, why and how. We spoke about safety. She repeated the same question everyone is asking:
Why did they kill them?
We spoke until I was sure she was okay. As okay as can be. Thank Gd for the resilience of children. I see she is fine. As it turns out, Asher also knew all about it. His tutor had told him.

It really is a totally different way here. Part of that way is dealing with whatever life throws you and moving on.

The moving on
In Brooklyn we had fire drills. The best description of today’s drill came in the form of a post from my friend Terry:

Israel at its best: While doing Zumba, watching through the window a missile
attack drill at (the girls) school, having the "injured" lying on the ground
carried away by "medics " in Purim attire.

I asked Becky about the drill tonight.
Yeah. We had to go under our desks.
Did you have to do anything else?
(Excited) Yes! We got to go to a room and watch SPONGEBOB!
Was it the room with the really heavy door?
I didn't want to say the words bomb shelter.
Yeah! That room! And the SPONGEBOB was in HEBREW!
Glad to see television’s still got it.

More conversations with Becky
I never really think about the fact that Becky turned 6 just before we left to Israel. Which means she was only five her whole last year in America. Five is really little.

Today we had occasion to talk about Purim and I mentioned my friend was baking hamentashen with her kids.
What’s that?
What is that word?
Um…oznei Haman?
Oh! How do you say it in English again?
Well, it’s not exactly English but…Hamentashen.
They don’t say Ears of Haman in English?
Um…no. They say Hamentashen.


Gan Geula
There’s a half-day playgroup where I’m thinking of sending Peetoosh in the Fall. The kids are beside themselves with excitement at the prospect of Peetoosh going to Gan. They are already planning out who will walk her, who will pick her up on Fridays, who will fix her hair. I must have mentioned out loud the rave reviews my friends gave about the cleanliness of the place.
Becky asked me today if we will put Peetoosh’s hair in a ponytail when she goes to Gan Geula.
Of course!
But I thought there’s no lice in Gan Geula.
Becky – this is Israel! But in Gan Geula, when there is lice, the ganenet actually tells the mommys.
REALLY? I wanna go to Gan Geula!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #192 - it's all so idiomatic

Flashback to me waddling toward the Mother and Child building of Hadassa Ein Kerem 16 months ago. It was the middle of the night. Nobody was around, save for the security guys. My water was leaking, leaking, leaking. I was laughing, laughing, laughing. And thinking of a way to express what was happening, should I happen upon an actual medical professional.
My water is breaking.
I don’t know how to say breaking.
My water is going out?
I know this word!
Yetziat Mitzrayim. The going out of Egypt.
Hamayim sheli yehotzei. My water is going out.
Of course! I repeated it to myself over and over, with each labored step toward medical salvation.

When I finally found the triage unit (strangely far removed from the entrance of the Mother and Child building – as if most people make their way in with time to spare), I was ready. I made my announcement to the 2 doctors and 2 midwives who raised their eyes toward me from the midst of their conversation.
Hamayim sheli yehotzei!
Four puzzled looks.
Ha mayim! The water!
I pointed.
Ahhhh, yeridat mayim. (The waters are lowering).
Four knowing looks.

In Israel you can raise your glass or raise your prices but you can’t raise your children.
No it’s not that stereotype that children in Israel raise themselves. Even if it were, it would be that Israeli children grow themselves. Because, like tomatoes and flowers, you grow children in Israel. And if you happen to be a shepherd, you grow sheep.

To serve man
I was kind of surprised to find that when you serve in the army it’s the same kind of serving as when you serve dinner.
It’s a cookbook! I joked.
Nobody knew what I was talking about.
Sometimes I feel like I am in my own personal Twilight Zone.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #191 – the countdown to PURIM

The PURIM email arrived today, Rosh Hodesh Adar, the official start of PURIM in Israel (also known as the unofficial end of the school year). As empowering as my ulpan experience has been (I just ordered Burgers Bar in Hebrew), I still rely on Google Translate to work through school emails. Because it's there and I can.

Regarding the upcoming Shuk Purim at school (during school, yes):
Each student will receive a tab which 10 stations of the market, as well as a raffle ticket at 5 million, additional raffle tickets at NIS 2 per ticket. Also sell a variety of dishes and snacks at a reduced price, pizza tin - 10 ₪.

Thank goodness they are offering snacks at a reduced price!

Boker Tov!
Last week Asher had a Boker Keeta. As he described it,
It’s like an Erev Keeta. But in the Boker.
Erev Keeta is a class evening out. Literally. They are outside, 30 kids and one teacher, roasting hotdogs and building bonfires.
Sure enough, for the Boker Keeta, they walked to the park and roasted hotdogs. At ten o’clock Friday morning.

English with an Agenda
Last month Barbara had an English test to see if she knew the difference between many and much. Duh. She came home laughing.

Mom! It was so easy! What kind of English class is this?

What kind of English class IS this? She’s in a class of English speakers. And so when I ran into her English teacher, I decided to ask. As it turns out, those English speakers in Barbara’s class were either born here or have lived here most of their lives. Meaning they are as comfortable in Hebrew as they are in English. And as such, they are at great risk for losing the ability to distinguish between ‘many’ and ‘much’ in English. Because in Hebrew there is no distinction. You can have much children and many happiness. You ask how many does it cost and how much days will you visit. Because it's all the same word.

Asher’s English test last week had a section where they had to distinguish between fact and opinion. Blue is nice (opinion). George Washington was a US President (fact).

Just as I suspected
All week in ulpan we’ve been rendering our opinions on topics ranging from whether or not mothers should work outside the home to what’s wrong with the world’s perception of the Middle East. Opinion opinion opinion.
Da’ati. My opinion.
Da’ato. His opinion.
L’da’at. In the opinion.

And then I was reading my cereal box. In Hebrew. Facts about the cereal under the heading:
Tov L’da’at. Good to Know.

Aha! In Hebrew, the opinion IS fact.

I'm being targeted. And that is a fact.
There’s a reason I ate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for breakfast Friday morning while Asher was dining on hotdogs. The impulse purchase section in our local makolet has been expanded to include a section targeting Americans!

With such rarities as Reese’s Cups (the three pack!!!), York Peppermint Patties, mr. Goodbar, Twix…
Not to be confused with the impulse purchase section for Israelis:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Swirling Thoughts #190 - who needs Hebrew when there are English names and descriptive pictures?

So we’ve begun the second round of ulpan. I’ve been promoted to Level Four where, to my surprise, we have left behind the soap opera of Motti, Haggai, and Yifat (*SPOILER ALERT* Haggai and Yifat are to be married after just two months of dating and with no plans for supporting themselves although Haggai has landed a job as a waiter in Motti’s brother’s new restaurant and Yifat is still deciding between a course of study in environmentalism and music…)

Apparently, Level Four is sophisticated ulpan. We discuss values such as freedom and social responsibility. We discuss recycling and do-not-resuscitate orders. And we discuss it all really fast, in Hebrew!

What I’ve learned so far, aside from how to pontificate in Hebrew, is what I’ve always known – the Hebrew language mirrors the Israeli people. It is direct.
When there is a choice to be made, you will always be notified.

There’s no such thing as someone offering you a new car and you accepting the new car because you didn’t realize that after the new car offer, they were planning to offer you a trip around the world as a second choice. In the Hebrew it is presented as follows:

Would you like OR a new car (oooh! Something else is coming!) OR a trip around the world?

Then there’s the YES/NO question. Never, in Hebrew, will you be asked a YES/NO question and mistake it for anything deeper since the question is phrased basically as such:

Yes/No do you think the thief was justified?

Finally there’s the absence of ‘would’. In Hebrew, if you ‘would’ do something, then you will just do it. It doesn’t get more direct than that.

How a 5 year old processes the world – a peek inside:
I told Rosie she gives me so much joy.
What is joy?
Joy is when your heart is filled with happiness!
What is it called again?

Last night we had the excitement of a broken down car (insert saga of car breaking down with husband in America and 5 children in tow *here*).

I mentioned to the kids that I would tremp to Elad (our mechanic) to pick up the car after ulpan this morning.

By 11:30 I was back in the car, driving Rosie to a doctor’s appointment. She looked at me and casually asked,
Did you walk all the way to Eilat?
For the car.
To Elad! The car was by Elad! The man that fixes the car!
Then she shifted gears.
Is it fun being a mommy?
So much fun!
Because of the…joy?
Yes! Because of the joy!

Some other things that gave me joy and raised the sophistication level of my Hebrew these last couple of days:

I wasn't sure what this was. Then I turned the package over.

This next product was exactly next to the SmellX. If you had to guess, wouldn't you think it was another bad-breath-fighter?

Not even close. But can u find the little snail?
Somebody will have to please explain this one to me. Yes, we have a significant amount of Sri Lankans in Israel on work visas. But are we marketing a flavor of Nestea to them? No, it cannot be that. Does this Nestea TASTE like Sri Lanka? WHAT is Sri Lanka supposed to taste like? I suppose, if all goes well in ulpan, I'll be able to explain it myself. Some day.