Wednesday, November 21, 2012

swirling thoughts #221 - oops (written but never posted...til now. i blame the valium)

A sense of humor only takes you so far. And then you need valium.

How could I even say such a thing? Because I can. I carry valium in my wallet. When Bob had to go for an MRI of his back (Bob is a veteran of back surgery and, as we discovered during a tour of the underground Kotel tunnels, extremely claustrophobic) we requested an open MRI, which, incidentally, you can get in NY as easy as a slice of pizza. In Israel, the wait for open MRI is one year. And so we opted for the closed MRI, for which we got a middle of the night appointment 3 weeks later. The doc gave me two tablets of valium and told me to give Bob only one.
So why two?
In case things get really bad.
Bob was working hard on ‘mind over matter’ and got through the experience with the one tablet. And so I’ve got mother’s little helper in my wallet, sandwiched between my 2 licenses – the Israeli and the expired NY. In case things get really bad.

Any mother who’s missed several nights sleep with a baby running fever in the 40+ range knows how hard it can be to maintain a sense of humor while fighting off hallucinations of sleep. Add to that the stress of zig zag-ing between branches of the health clinic to catch the lab guy on the eve of Sukkot (read: streets blocked with sukkah parts, lulav vendors, bajillions of school children not in school) and the only laughter you will hear is that scary nervous laughter of a person on the brink of insanity.

When life was really hard…
There’s a story my husband tells about my father in law when he wants to illustrate the Israel of his father’s youth. It was Yom Kippur in 1947. Not unlike Yom Kippur in 2012, while the grown-ups were inside the shul praying, the kids were outside the shul running around. Except that my father in law, then 11 years old, and his friends stumbled upon a shell of a bomb. Not unusual in southern Tel Aviv in those days when tensions ran high between Jews, Arabs, and British. As the boys were playing with the shell, my father in law realized it was warm. He turned to tell his younger brother to get back, that it was going to blow up. As his brother ran, the shell exploded, killing two of his friends. My father in law, with his back still turned, miraculously, was okay, but his brother was standing just far enough away to be hit by the arc of shrapnel coming out of the bomb. As the story goes, my husband’s uncle, young and full of shrapnel, almost died. He needed life-saving antibiotics but there were none to be had. My father in law went to the black market and got the antibiotics. And saved his brother’s life again.

Things are different now. You can get antibiotics. But don’t be picky.
Not wanting to sound like that mother who thinks she knows better than the doctor but, inevitably, sounding like that mother, I said, “She was on penicillin two weeks ago. Isn’t there something about changing up the antibiotics?” Turns out, Israeli doctors know all about the changing up of the antibiotics. Except, “the antibiotic I want her to have has been unavailable for the last two months.” Unavailable at the local pharmacy? But I knew the answer. Unavailable in the whole aretz.

swirling thoughts #223 - It’s normal to have a strategy

Everyone’s got a strategy – depending on their situation.

For my kids, it’s how they’ll walk to school so that they are not more than a minute from a bomb shelter (go up the street behind the school because there are more houses - in case they need to run into one).

For me it’s how we will sleep in the house at night in Bob’s absence (Barbara in my bed;  if need be, she will grab the baby, I will grab Peetoosh, we will call to the others simultaneously to wake up and get down to the bomb shelter).

For my friend, it’s how her son will return to school in Qiryat Arba when there is stoning on the road (Egged bus with bullet proof windows and armed bus driver).

For a friend returning to Jerusalem from Sderot, after a morning full of missile attacks, it’s how best to exit the car should there be another a tzeva adom (red alert) siren blast while he is driving (seatbelt off until after Beer Sheva).

Thank God for family
I have spoken to our Tel Aviv relatives more in the past week than I have in the past 3 months.
In just one day:
Missile in Tel Aviv – yes, they’re okay.
Baruch Hashem.
Missile in Gush Etzion – yes, we’re okay.
Baruch Hashem.
Stoning on the road in Gush Etzion – yes, we’re okay.
Baruch Hashem.
Bus bomb in Tel Aviv – yes, they’re okay.
Baruch Hashem.

Actually, we’re all family
Every phone call from someone’s son or husband is celebrated by everyone within earshot and our collective breath is held indefinitely as we await word from sons and husbands who have not yet called.

I asked my brother if our mom ever canceled a dentist appointment because she didn’t want to risk having to jump out of the car on the highway in order to shelter us with her body in the event of a missile attack. It was a rhetorical question but it underlined a reality we are living here. The younger (read: more Israeli) children, seem to have a better handle on this nutty reality. One friend, distraught in her bomb shelter, was comforted by her four year old who reminded her, very matter-of-factly, “In the mamad we read books and say tehillim and stay safe, Eema.”  I’m not sure I can fully articulate our reality but our Tel Aviv cousin keeps trying.

To live here is to have a beautiful life in a beautiful land but also – sometimes – balagan (craziness). 

Peetoosh started every other sentence today with “When the bomb comes, I will…”.

Having a strategy is normal. Even when the situation is not.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Swirling Thoughts #222 - We’re fine, B”H

For four days my FB status read:
“My country is under attack. You will hear about it soon enough...when we retaliate.”
My country being Israel. Our attackers, Hamas and its supporters in Gaza. And on the fifth day we did retaliate. And so began Operation Pillar of Defense.

Everyone sent us their heartfelt support. But we’re out of rocket range, I kept telling them.  Don’t feel bad for us. Feel bad for my friends and neighbors whose husbands and sons and sons-in-law are being called to the front.

I wondered if my organic vegetable order would arrive from Ben’s Farm near Bet Shemesh Thursday after a day that included 3 killed in Kiryat Malachi and the first missile to reach Tel Aviv. When it showed up at 8pm my biggest concern was making sure I left time from my Friday Shabbat cooking to check my mustard greens and arugula for bugs.

I was consumed with my organic produce almost until candle-lighting. My mother in law called. I reassured her we were fine as I dealt with my leaves. She asked if our gas masks were in our bomb shelter. I joked that I had moved them to make room for some wine. I spoke to our cousins in Tel Aviv who assured me they were fine. I emailed my mom, as time was running out before Shabbat. We’re fine, I told her. Shabbat Shalom! And so we lit candles, me and my five girls. Asher and Bob made their way to shul.

I started cutting tomatoes into an endless bowl of greens. And suddenly we heard a siren. I screamed up to Barbara in the attic. Suddenly everyone was screaming. We tripped over each other scrambling down to the basement. We were in the bomb shelter. Also known as Bob’s office. But something was not right. It took me a minute but I figured it out. We needed to close the metal plates covering the window.
Barbara: Mommy!
Rosie: Close the window!
Peetoosh: I’m scared!
Becky: Eeeeemmmaaaaa!!!!!!!!!  We’re gonna DIE!!!!!!!!!!
And then they were closed. And then we heard a boom.
Me: Did you hear that?
Barbara: Yes! I heard it!
Becky: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
Rosie (hands over her ears): I have a headache! Make Becky stop screaming!
Peetoosh: What’s that noise?
Sarah was the only quiet one.

When Becky stopped screaming to catch her breath, Rosie whispered to me:
I know a perek of Tehillim by heart, Mommy.
Which reminded a suddenly quiet Becky that she knows a special blessing for the soldiers by heart.
And so we started praying and reciting tehillim.
Until Sarah started squealing and Barbara asked:
So how long do we have to stay in here?
Um… I have no idea.           

Slowly we ventured out.  
What if they shoot a rocket at us again?
My heart ached, thinking of families who endure this on a regular basis.
They probably don’t have so many rockets that can reach this far.
But what if they do?
We’ll go back in the shelter.
What if Aba and Asher are walking when there’s a siren?
They will go into a neighbor’s shelter.
What if I am walking in an open field and there is a siren?
Lay down, face to the ground, and cover the back of your head with your hands. Um, when are you going to an open field?
And, like this, we slowly we got back to normal. Sort of.
We talked about what to do if you are wheeling a patient in a hospital bed when the siren sounds. (Duck under the gurney but first place a pillow over the head of the patient!)

Asher and Bob came home and told us how half the shul stayed inside and half went outside to see if they could see the rocket. I cringed until Bob assured me he and Asher were part of the inside half.

Dinner was delicious and quiet, save for some outbursts of hysteria over how long we actually have once the siren sounds (“75 seconds?!…What if I’m in the shower!?”) The salad was totally worth all the effort.

Throughout Shabbat we heard about this one and that one called up for reserve duty. Bob couldn’t get over how normal the abnormal is here. I think it shook him to see his Israeli friends in uniform leaving their homes on a Friday night.

And after Shabbat one Tel Aviv cousin called to see if we were okay. And the reality became clear. We are now in rocket range.  In the same breath he told me about the 10 buses he saw picking up reservists but that I don’t have to worry because Hamas doesn’t have so many rockets that can reach this far. This seems to be the standard line of comfort. Who knows if it's true. He said they’ve never aimed at Jerusalem before but that this is how it is to live in Israel. The abnormal is normal. And that it will all be okay.

My kids went to school like normal today. One texted me a message about a new teacher getting her name wrong. My next text came from my good friend. Whose son just called her from the front to let her know he is turning off his cell phone now and will not be able to call again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Swirling Thoughts #220 – The tip of the iceberg

I taught Becky the “30 Days Has September” song in response to this “math” question: “How many days are in the English months?”

For those of you who don’t still sing this song to determine whether the date is August 31 or September 1 (for the record, I totally do):

30 days has September, April, June, and November
All the rest have 31
Except for, quite contrary, February, which has 28…most of the time
But in LEAP YEAR, 29!

So far so good. Except for the dazed look on Becky’s face.

Me: You just need to know about the exceptions and all the rest are 31.
Becky: But what are the rest, Mommy?
Me: Um. Well. There’s October. December. January. Skip February, remember? March. May. July. August….Becky do you know the English months?
Becky: Um. Which month is Yanuar?
Me: Becky, tell me the months in order.
Becky: September. April. June. November. Adar.
Me: Ok. Stop.

Two days earlier…
Rosie, now in the first grade, excitedly showing me her “1st Grade Reader” (Mikrei Aleph): Mommy, we have to laktoff it.
Me: Laktoff?
Rosie: Yeah, you know with shekufit!
Me: Shekufit?
Rosie: Yes! You know – something shekuf!
Becky to the rescue: Mom, she needs you to cover her book with that clear stuff.
Me (clutching my head): She needs to learn English.

Not 24 hours later…
The sound of Asher strumming his electric guitar reminds me of Jimi Hendrix. And my Jimi Hendrix cassette tape. I run upstairs and pop it into the boom box (the boom box I cleverly bought so as to still enjoy those cassettes that made aliyah with me). Before I hit play I explain to a curious Asher, “This is Jimi Hendrix, electric guitar legend, playing The Star Spangled Banner.”

Blank stare.
Me: The national anthem of the United States of America?
Blank stare.
Me: Before every ball game?
And now…the awkward part where I sing (a cappella) the national anthem to my son, “and-the-rockets’-red-glare” high notes and all, so that he can fully appreciate the genius of the Jimi Hendrix version, although, at this point, it is clear I have ruined Jimi Hendrix for my son forever.

Jimi fades as my thoughts swirl at tornado speed. How will Becky write a check? Fill out a form with her birthday? Know when her credit card expires? Apply for a credit card? How will Rosie communicate with her cousins in America? Will Asher be the only one not singing along at the opening of a Yankee game? What are the other gaps in his cultural knowledge? Will I catch them in time? Where should I start? Calendar. Patriotic songs. Shakespeare. US capitals---

My swirling thoughts are interrupted by Rosie asking Barbara why she wore her grey shirt to school today.
Barbara: It wasn’t a shirt. It was a sweatshirt.
Rose: What’s a sweatshirt?
Barbara: Um. It’s a svetter.
Rose: Oh.

Me, laughing, to Barbara. Did that really just happen?
Barbara, cracking up: Yep. It really did.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Swirling Thoughts #219 - you really don't have to speak hebrew. but then u need to understand the signs better.

There is a pizza store in the Jewish Quarter in the Old City.  Generally, they get two types of customers. Old City residents and tourists. Old City residents get a discount. Tourists get spoken to in English. I took my kids with some of their  friends for pizza recently. We were a large group so (in my very best Hebrew) I asked the guy behind the counter if he could slice each piece in half.  I half-wondered if he would, upon hearing my perfectly accented Hebrew, offer me the Old City resident discount. He did not. Instead, he offered to speak to me in English. I insisted he should rather correct my Hebrew. He paused.
You asked me to chop the pizza.

I am not giving up. I will continue to butcher the Hebrew language until I have made it my own. That said, of course I will still automatically opt to read signs in English. Or better yet, try to figure them out based on the graphic:

NO 1990s



Did u guess it yet?


swirling thoughts #218...welcome back

Rosie had a Rosh Hodesh birthday party in school a while back. The kind where every kid with a birthday that month celebrates together in a joint party effort. The kind where each parent brings a different item to the party. And the kind where the parents of the birthday children show up to the party.

In case you lost track, Rosie turned 6. 

There were many calls back and forth. In Hebrew. With lots of repeating.

Ima shel Rosie? You will bring drinks and plates.
I will bring drinks and plates?
Yes, you will bring drinks and plates.
Let me make sure I understand.  Drinks and plates?
We will bring the activity for the kids because it needs to be a game in Hebrew and that will be too hard for you.
Um, yes.
And we will all show up at the party at 10.

Fast forward past a lot of intermediate phone calls changing the time from 10 to 11 to 9 to this one:

Ima shel Rosie? The parents will not attend the party.
I should not go?
No.  You should not go.
Are you sure I should not go?
Yes, I am sure. You should not go.
Ok. I will not go.

And so I sent in the drinks, the plates, and my birthday girl.
And she came home from school and asked me why I did not come to the party.

But no parents came.  Right?
No, mommy. The parents of the kids whose birthday it was DID come. Except for you.

Ouch. I am back in ulpan.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Swirling Thoughts #217 – a peek into the psyche of EL AL Customer Service (Guest Post by Bob)

Me. You switched me to a middle seat and I had a window seat. What happened?

Them. We did not switch your seat. We switched planes and now your seat is a middle and not a window, but it’s the name number.

Me. Yes, but now I am in the middle and before I had a window.

Them. There is nothing we can do and it’s not our fault.

Me. Well it’s not my fault either and it’s not fair.

Them. There is nothing we can do and it’s not our fault. We did not switch you. We switched planes.

Me. Okay. The extra seat added. Why don't you switch that guy to the middle and move me to the window as originally done.

Them. We can't do it. This is his seat.

Me. No, it’s my seat because you switched planes.

Them. No it is not. There is nothing we can do. What do you want us to do?

Me. Switch me to an aisle seat.

Them. (after checking...) There is nothing available. We are overbooked. There is nothing we can do.

Me. Okay. All I want is for you to say that you are sorry and what was done to me was not fair.

Them. I can't do that. It is fair. We did not change your seat we ....

Me. Yes I know you just switched planes. You told me that. Do you really think what happened was fair? I am not blaming you. I just want you to acknowledge it is not fair and an apology. That's all. And I want you to know I am not happy.

Them. No. (then silence). You are right. It’s not fair. I thought I apologized.

Me. You did not.

Them. Are you sure I did not apologize?

Me. Yes.

Them. I am sorry.

Me. Okay. Please switch me.

Switched to an exit row, aisle seat!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Swirling Thoughts #216 - i still can't get ice in a restaurant in israel...

Email from me to Bob late last night:
Let’s do something tomorrow. Something fun.

Bob's Reply:
Wanna get breakfast at the mall?

My Reply:
Um, well, there’s this Jerusalem Ice Festival. Maybe we can hit that first....

Bob's Reply:
Sounds great.

We arrive at the ice festival which is actually called Ir Hakerach, City of Ice. We park and notice but don’t really notice mothers bundling up their kids (on this 50°F day) with mittens, hats, and scarves. Israelis really don't like the cold.

Bob: So what is this? Mini ice sculptures?
Me: No, I think it’s life-sized stuff. Something about Jaffa Gate made out of ice.
Bob: This is Israel. There is no way they wasted enough water to make a life-sized Jaffa Gate.

We arrive at the paying kiosk. 2 adults. Maybe she didn’t notice the stroller. Except that would mean she was blind because when I asked if she spoke English and she motioned me to another kiosk window I specifically said,
Bob, you speak with her so we don’t have to move the stroller.
And I gestured to Bob. Who was standing 2 feet away with the stroller.
So maybe she noticed the stroller but she didn’t notice the baby inside….
We pay.

Now we move through the entrance line. It’s all set up for a crowd of a bajillion but there’s only me and Bob and a handful of people in front of us.

Suddenly everyone is upon us. In Hebrew and in English.
Assur l'agala! (It is forbidden to take the stroller.)

I was prepared for this. I brought the wrappy carrying thing.


There was a LOT of gasping when people saw me taking the baby out of the stroller and putting her in the wrappy thing.

Assur le’tinok! (It is forbidden for the baby!)
Assur? (Forbidden?)

As it turns out, it is not forbidden by the police, like the stroller is. But it is VERY NOT GOOD, according to everyone at the entrance, to bring in the baby.

Ice City Employee: It’s -10°C in there!

Bob (to me): What’s minus 10, anyway?
Me: I don’t know but I thought the write-up said something about 17. or maybe 27.
Bob: We don’t even know what 27 is anymore. Is that cold or hot?

Passerby: it’s MINSK in there.

Bob: MINSK? We’re from New York. How cold could it really be? These Israelis are such wimps.

We press pass the naysayers, baby wrapped, covered with a blanket. They are offering jackets to people as they enter. Bob takes a jacket. I think, “LICE! Don’t take it!” but then a blast of Siberian air whips across my face and I grab one and put it on backwards to cover the baby.

Amid a sea of disapproving stares we open the door to the actual exhibit.

One winter break we returned from Florida to something like -7°F in New York. My in-laws came to the airport loaded up with wool blankets. We threw the blankets over the kids in their strollers and I’ll never forget how cold it was when we pushed those strollers out the airport door. You couldn’t breathe.

Ir Hakerach is not as cold. But it’s definitely close. We agree to move through the exhibit quickly, which we do, stopping only to snap some photos of the (life-sized!) Jaffa Gate and the James Bond-style ice bar serving up Absolut Vodka. There are grown-ups flying down ice slides and kids running through ice tunnels. It is 4 minutes of ice magic.

We make our way out.

Bob: Wow it’s really warm outside.
Me: Balmy.

Passerby in the parking lot (in Hebrew): You really should pay more attention to your baby’s health.

Bob: What do you want to do now?
Me: Wanna get breakfast at the mall?
Bob: Sounds great.

Video on how they built it

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Swirling Thoughts #215 – cleaning up the Blackberry for Passover

Pesach is on the horizon (less than 6 weeks!) A perfect time to clean up my sprawling Blackberry Task List. Which is really just a dumping ground for any random thought I hope to one day follow up on. Today is that day.

* Ani memaheret
When I moved to Israel I like to think I left that rapid-fire New York pace behind. But just in case, I’ve got ‘I’m in a hurry’ stored in my phone.

* Ubiquitous Axel F
I couldn’t figure out why 8 year olds were doing gymnastics to the Beverly Hills Cop theme song. And also 10 year olds doing Tae Kwon Do. And also 9 year olds doing dance. Now I get it. As it turns out, it’s Crazy Frog – Axel F (not to be confused with the original Axel Foley song from Beverly Hills Cop even though I totally confused them because it is the same exact song, just with some ‘crazy frog’ sound effects) – this crazy frog song ranks right up there with HaTikva in terms of songs you are guaranteed to hear if your child is in any school or after-school performance of any type.

* Twisty ties, the REAL Johnson’s baby lotion, my electric pencil sharpener
I can only describe this entry as ‘Things I love that come from America – reduced to 3 essentials.’

* Bobsvog
Means, literally, Bob Sponge.

* Oreo Car
There were rumors about an Oreo Car. I dismissed them as the talk of people delirious from Oreo deprivation. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, my own eyes beheld the whimsical Oreo Car. A seemingly ordinary car with…a gigantic Oreo on the roof! Um, world, there is an Oreo Car lost in the West Bank.

* Teenager on cell phone driving erratically. On donkey.
What can I add to this?

* The sky is not even one pitch of blue
This is something Rosie said to me in a typical example of English speakers translating from Hebrew to speak English. Or of just not knowing how to speak English properly. Which, by the way, is now the ultimate insult among my kids.
You don’t even know how to speak English!
I lived in America ‘til I was 6!
Well I lived in America ‘til I was 9!

* Conspiracy Theory
First we were supposed to boycott Tnuva. Because the cottage cheese was too expensive. (Who do I talk to about organizing a boycott of new cars?) Now we’re supposed to boycott Elite & Strauss. (Somehow our socialist economy has produced an all-powerful chocolate monopoly.) I’m not sure what to make of it all. And this only complicates my understanding; I mean, is cottage cheese inherently expensive or are we actually subsidizing Newark Liberty International Airport? I ask you.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Swirling Thoughts #214 - it's all still good in the aretz...

I’m just SO. VERY. TIRED.

And so there are stories to tell but I lack the energy to relay them in their full hilarity.

For starters, the story of procuring a US passport for Sarah. Which involved 100 failed attempts at photographing a 2 month old without parental appendages, shadows, and unnatural expressions.

There was the dramatic Hollywood moment where I ran toward the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, arms flailing, shouting, “I’m an American Citizen! Open the gaaaaaaate!” Because I just couldn't resist.

And there’s more stuff which I really should write about – the orange pay phones inside the embassy which only take special cards but nobody has a special card (no cell phones permitted inside the embassy). My friend once asked a shopkeeper for the special card and he asked her for her cell phone number so he could sms (text) her the special card pin. Um. Yeah.

The juxtaposition of the southern Virginia drawl of the American consulate workers with the y’alla pace of the Israelis working for the embassy is funny but not as funny as the spreadsheet we got on how it is possible for American grandparents to commute citizenship to grandchildren born in Israel. Post mortem.

Then there’s the story of how America looks through the eyes of an American who’s been living in Israel for 2 ½ years. You guys have re-usable Tropicana jugs now!

As I suspected, America is still the land of 24 ounce coffees in REALLY THICK PAPER CUPS, blueberries as far as my eye could see, and ridiculously nice store clerks.

My Target list read like a camp scavenger hunt. My best surprise find was the twisty ties my sister in law had in her junk drawer. She had maybe 300 of them. I took them all.

There’s the story of the jet lag upon returning to Israel. Which is mostly a story about Peetoosh making ridiculous demands in the middle of the night.
“I want to go OUTSIDE!”
“Um, Peetoosh, it’s 3 in the morning.”

And finally there’s the story about Cellcom. Cellcom who calls me weekly but only wants to speak with Bob. About free gifts which I try to reject but they cannot accept my rejection since I am not Bob. For the record, Bob is usually right next to me, waving his hands in an “I am NOT here” gesture. Anyway, today as Bob slept off more of our collective jetlag, a Cellcom rep called me and asked where our house was. I woke up Bob.
“Um, did you ask Cellcom to send a rep here?”
“Mm hm”
“He’s outside.”

Ten minutes later I looked outside and they were talking.
One minute after that, he was gone.

“Why was the Cellcom guy here?”
“I wanted them to do something about our klita” (reception)
“But he left.”
“Yes, he left.”
“Did he do something?”
“Why didn’t he do something?”
“Well, for the neighbor, they did something to give them klita all over the house."
"That sounds great!"
"Yes it does. But for us they wanted to do something to give us klita in just one room.”
“Just one room?”
“Just one room.”
“Mm hm.”
“So I sent him away.”

And so we are back. A fine visit with family and friends, and just enough smiling customer service, blueberries, and twisty ties to hold us over until next time.

And in case you were wondering, it is good to be back.