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.