Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Learn to Laugh

That's my advice for people making aliyah - actually that's my advice for anyone doing (almost) anything - learn to laugh about things that go wrong.  I'm very easily amused, and I think most things are pretty funny, so it works for me.

Let's take today, shall we?

There we are in Ulpan shteiging away, learning all about when and how to use the word  על -  it's not so easy, believe me. 

Let's back up a second.  The building we are in is probably about as old as the neighborhood (Maccabim), so let's say 30 years old.  The door to our classroom has not been closing properly, which is a problem on the colder days when the draft from the hallway makes it into our class.  So we keep trying to keep the door closed and the latch does not work.

In addition, the Ulpan Director's office is in a kind of loft attached to our classroom.  HER door either doesen't close or closes but you can't open it.  We have been amused watching various people fight with this door.

So, in summary, let us say that the building is old and there are door problems.

Today, the Fixer Man came to fix things.  He came equipped with his drill.  And he came while we were having class.  And he started to drill.  Loudly.  We all looked at each other, thinking the same thing.  He didn't even interrupt and ask the teacher if it was ok, he just started to drill!  Helloooooo, Mister, there's a class going on here!

Nope, he completely ignored us.  Our teacher did say something to him, but it didn't seem to have any effect.  He kept drilling.  So what did she do?  She spoke louder.  As did we.  But the other reaction we foreigners had was to start to giggle at the absurdity of it.

When Mr. Door Fixer was done working on our door, which didn't seem to have been improved whatsoever due to his ministrations, he went up to Ulpan Director's office and started banging and drilling there.  Well, this is actually INSIDE our classroom. And this task required even more banging than the first one.  The student next to me started really laughing and saying how he loved this aspect of Israel - no formality, just do it.  Most of us were giggling at this point.

I don't know if he actually fixed anything, but it sure was fun watching him. 

And face it - after 3.5 hours of Ulpan, most things seem hysterically funny.

For those of you wondering with bated breath whether I managed to acquire gas using self-serve, you'll have to wait.  Didn't have a chance yet.  That is a nice way of saying that I chickened out.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

First Shabbos at Home and The Phone Gets Returned

This past Shabbos was my first in our new home.  I say "my" first Shabbos because my husband is currently in Baltimore working, until after tax sesason / Pesach. 

Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  Here I am lighting my candles, looking out to the hills, realizing that for over two years I have been dreaming of this moment. 

Friday was spent cooking, of course.  It was really fun - using my new oven, preparing Shabbos food, looking forward to guests, etc.  On Friday morning I had even ventured out to the local grocery to find last minute stuff - I needed matches, of all things, and had a hard time finding them in the big supermarket. Found them!  Also bought a Jerusalem Post weekend edition, and I was able to purchase bottles of soda and candle oil.

Why, you may ask, am I saying that I was able to purchase bottles of soda?  Because our elevator is now working! Yes, folks, after more than three weeks in this apartment the elevator is now working - such good timing since everyone has already moved in. 

So bringing heavy bottles of soda is now easy peasy since we have an elevator.  I'm sure you are all starting to plan a celebration for us.

I fill the candlestick thingies with candle oil and enjoy looking at my set table and lighting-ready candles all day. You can tell that this is not going to end well, can't you?

I go to light the candles and use my newfound matches and I light the wick and.....fizzzzzzzzle.
I try it again.  Fizzzzzzle.  Oh, that's depressing.  Apparently I bought the wrong oil.  But it SAYS oil for candles on it!  How can that be wrong?

Thank goodness my Shabbos guest brought me a bag of tea lights!  She saved the day!

So anyway....Shabbos was beautiful.  Waking up Shabbos morning, looking out at the hills, sitting on the mirpeset, reading the paper, amazing.

And the neighborhood, which is usually busy with traffic, was full of families walking to and from shul, kids running around, etc.  I still cannot beleive that after all of the planning - it is real.  I keep saying that, don't I.

Today was my first foray into the famous supermarket Rami Levi.  One thing I can say for them is that even though I didn't have a "club" card, I was not pressured to get one.  Automatic ten ponts for Rami Levi. 

I also, with trepidation akin to erev Yom Kippur, went to Office Depot to return a phone.  You see, when I purchased the phone, the cashier printed out this long complicated special receipt, gave me a very serious look, and said, "Hold onto this, do NOT lose it." 

After trying out the phone I decided I didn't want it. I went to look for the receipt and, um, I could not find it.  Remembering the stern cashier, I feared for my very life.  So I did what I usually do when soemthing is scary - I decided to procrastinate.  I put the phone back in the bag and that bag sat on my desk for about 8 days staring at me, daring me to take it back to the store and return it.

Finally today I decided to do it.  I walked in and said to the young guy behind the cash register that I wanted to return it.  I decided to be tough and not mention the lack of a receipt.  I mean why put ideas in his head?  So he took the phone and started to credit it to my charge card and I was feeling pretty smug.  Then he had a question so he had to ask Someone Who Knows Stuff.  Well, you can forget it now.  I was never getting a refund on my credit card.  Of course the Someone asked me for my receipt and I said I don't have it.  He gave me a very stern look and said, "We cannot help you."  OK, I thought, I'm going to try something else - "How about giving me store credit for it?" 

"OK!"  they said, we can do that.  So three people got together to figure this out after which I walked out with something with Hebrew on it that may or may not be a store credit receipt.  We'll find out next time I go there and try to use it.  Either way, they have my phone and I have.....something.

Tomorrow my challenge of the day will be getting gas using self-serve.  I think it's time I do that here.  Apparently you have to punch in your identity number and your license tag number.  Wish me luck!

Friday, February 24, 2012

PLEASE Join our Club

Israelis love clubs.  Especially clubs that stores create so that you can get a discount on your purchases.  Not a bad concept, lots of US stores do the same thing.  But here, well, they get a little overly enthusiastic, shall we say, about encouraging you to join.

EVERY time I have gone to Supersol, the cashier asks me it I want to join the club.  Once I said yes, she took my identity number, and I thought OK that's it.  Never heard from them.  OK, guess that wasn't it.  I probably misunderstood what she asked me (do ya think?).

So Wednesday evening I was there again and the cashier asked if I had a "moadon" (club) card.  No, I said, but I want one.  Well, you would have thought I just offered her a year's supply of money (actually I kind of had).  Her face lit up and she RAN (I am not exaggerating) to the manager's office to get a form.  "Oh, don't worry, I'll fill it out for you!"  She asked me for my teudat zehut (identity card).

Ha, this is where it gets interesting.  You see, if you recall I handed all of my papers (identity card, driver's license, etc) to the car salesman who had to send them to some government office so that we could get our olim discount.  And I don't have them back yet.  So all I have are copies of these documents. 

"No problem," she said, and grabbed the copy from me and ran back to the manager.  She came back and proceeded to fill out the rest of the form and asked me to sign in 5 places.  I did.  "Where is that paper," I asked.  "Oh, you need it back?"  "Yes," I answered, "it's my only copy."  Ah-HA, I didn't think she had understood what I said before.  OK, she promises to get it back.

I sign the form and here comes the manager, a guy with a Steve Carrell haircut who looks like he just stepped out of Leave it to Beaver.  I am not kidding.  He is all smiles and very happy with me and then he looks at the form.  "Oh no," he says, "your signature is slightly different in some of the places you signed - they will reject this."  OK, you try signing your name 5 times in a row while leaning over onto a grocery conveyer belt.

"No problem," he says, "I will fill out the form for you and you just sign this NEW form again."  Wow,, a lot of people are helping me fill out this form, it's very impressive.  Or frightening.  One of those two.  So I sign again and he seems satisfied that I did not magically disappear and someone else stepped into my place to sign one or more of the lines.  Whew.

So everyone is happy.  Then he asks for my teudat zehut.  I explain to him my story - buying a car, they have the documents, etc.  His face changes. Drastically.  Not happy.  "Wait," he says, "I have to see about this."

In the meantime the cashier checks me out and I then go over to the manager's office where three people are now discussing the fate of my club card.  There is a huge debate going on about whether or not the company will accept this copy of my teudat zehut.  "No problem," I say, "I'll come back next week when I have the papers with me and we'll do it again."

Horrors!  Let a customer who is about to be suckered in to the bad deal of a lifetime walk out with nothing?  Never!  They are now all concerned and looking at me and looking at each other.  Finally, the manager says many words in Hebrew very quickly and hands me back my photocopied teudat zehut.  He is smiling.  I say, "B'seder."

I actually have no idea what he said.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Humility, or I Plan To Sound Like a Complete Idiot for the Next Two Years

Ulpan is, let's just say, a humbling experience.  Let's also say that today after Ulpan I came home and raced to find my bottle of Excedrin and gulped down a few.

Let's just start out by stating a few facts:
  1. I went to a very good Talmud Torah (thank you, Mr. Leo Reich, a"h!)
  2. I attended the Baltimore Hebrew College during my high school years and received an outstanding education in Hebrew language, among many other things (thank you, Rabbi Dr. Baumgarten a"h, Dr. Samuel Iwry a"h, Mrs. Leah Steinhardt, yb"l and others!!)
  3. In general, am pretty good at languages.
There, now I feel better.  Because after today I truly plan to sound like a blithering (blathering?) idiot for the next couple of years.

Today in Ulpan we got deep into the binyanim (conjugations).  Oh brother.  I am not shy in class and always try to give answers and I'd say 60% of the time I was wrong. 

The nice thing about Ulpan is that after sitting there for 4 hours, we are all kind of giddy with heads full of information and are just giggling about how dumb we sound.  Our teacher is fantastic - she speaks only Hebrew, is very patient, and explains thing exceptionally well.  She always asks us how we say this or that in English so that we have a frame of reference.  She knows enough of the other languages or her students that she is able to help the Russian and Spanish people as well.  Pretty awesome.

And of course we are all fluent speakers in our native languages, we are all adults, and we are all struggling to learn a totally new language, no matter how much school we went to.  We THINK we know how to say things, and are usually wrong.

So I want to officially apologize to any immigrant anywhere about whom I've ever thought that their English should be better - bless you for working so hard to learn a new language and culture and please accept my apologies.  I will NEVER again hear someone struggling in English and think anything but loving thoughts toward them.

Yesterday I had to arrange for auto insurance.  The woman called me and I asked if she could speak in English because beyond "how are you" and "I am fine" most Israelis speak too fast for me to understand them.  I've learned to request to speak in English, at least for now, so I don't miss important things like "you need to pay us 1000 shekel right now or we will come after you."  Things like that.

So here she was struggling to explain the ins and outs of the policy in English and SHE kept apolgoizing to ME about her English.  "No," I said, "I am sorry that my Hebrew is not yet good enough to speak to you in Hebrew."  And do you know what she said?  "It's ok, Susan, in another year I will call you and we will speak in Hebrew and you will be so good!"  Nice lady. 

I've found that most Israelis are very nice if you let them know that you are a new immigrant and apologize for your poor Hebrew.  That's my personal approach, I  mean it's the truth after all. Let's see if that line works after I'm here for two years and still struggling.  I guess I can always pretend to be a new immigrant, until some clerk at a store says, "Hey, didn't you tell me that two years ago?"

Now back to dikduk (grammar).  I am pretty sure that even after 5 months of Ulpan I will be better but not confident and will make tons of errors in my speech.  I am also sure that my poor Hebrew accent and halting speech will mark me as an immigrant forever.  So this is indeed a humbling experience.  I'm always going to be marked as a new kid on the block. And this after making a good living as a communication expert! 

It's frustrating not to be able to express oneself, but it's a good lesson as well.  You go back to basics, you forget your high and mighty-ness from the US, and you become a child again.  You depend on others more than you ever have, and you accept help.  It also makes you happy to be able to give help (I let a woman go ahead of me in the supermarket and she practically hugged me).

Humbling, but also energizing.  It makes you re-think a lot.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Washer, The Car, and the Sagging Closet

Sounds like the name of a scary movie, right?  Stephen King-ish if you ask me. 

Today started out nicely with a conversation with my new client for whom I am going to do internet research and writing (two of my very favorite things, and yes that's nerdy so what's it to ya). 
I was very excited about the washing machine installer coming.  He was scheduled between 1:00 and 3:00 pm.  That's probably why he showed up at 10:00 am.  The scary thing is that that makes perfect sense to me after only seven weeks of living here.

So the installer and the assistant installer came in and unpacked the washing machine.  This was it, folks, the moment of truth. Was this machine intact or was it broken, only to be sent back again?

Yay!  It was perfect!  Well, except for one teensy weensy thing. 

So he hooks up the machine, praises my wisdom in buying it, shows me how to use it, and then looks at me seriously and then tells me about the teensy weensy problem, "You know, the washer is 7 kilo and the dryer is 8."  Uh oh.  What did I do wrong now?  "Well, he says, the dryer is on top of the washer, and since it's bigger, it may TUMBLE DOWN OFF THE WASHER AT ANY MOMENT!"  So I imagine myself standing by the dryer every time I put a load in, holding it on top of the washer for its entire cycle. 

"What should I do?" I ask.  "Well, you will probably need something to stabilize it."  Uh oh, I think, here it comes, they are about to sell me something. A magic dryer-is-bigger-than-washer-stabilizer for only 1000 shekel!

But no, he just shrugs and says, "Oh, it's probably ok, watch it for a couple of times and if it stays on top of the washer don't worry about it."  What am I supposed to do with this advice?  But at least I'm a bit relieved - I mean if he's not worrying about it, why should I?

Then he sits down to write up my receipt and points to his company's flyer and asks very sweetly, "Why don't you have this water filter?"  It only costs _______ shekel (he says the number really fast and my Hebrew is just not up to speed yet, but I'm pretty sure the word "elef" was the first one, so it's at least 1000 shekel).  Now, to be honest I've been thinking about a water filter becasue the other option is to shlep huge bottles of water up three flights (our elevator is not working yet and won't be for a while - another story). 

So, I did it.  I bought the water filter.  And guess what, I got a present!  That's right, I'm not as big a sucker as you all are thinking right now (I hear you, so stop pretending you are not thinking that) - because he gave me a new phone as a present!  And we needed a new phone!  So see, I was not suckered in that much.  OK, let's move on.

As soon as he leaves I happily run to the hamper (how often do you hear that phrase?) and throw a load of laundry in.  Now the washer is made in some European country and the manual is all in Hebrew.  There are hieroglypics on the front of the machine indicating which kind of wash you are doing.  You basically need a Rosetta Stone to figure this out.  So I THINK I remember what the guy said and push some buttons and voila!  it works.

And works.
And works.
And works.

About an hour later I see it is still spinning and rinsing.  Hmmmm.  Probably not good.  I play around with it and it starts a spin cycle.  And it sounds like it is about to launch itself into outer space.  I stand there and look at it as it makes this ever-higher whirring noise.  Then - it stops.  Oh, ok, it's supposed to sound like that.  I hope.

In other news, we are closer to getting our new car, which is very exciting.  I went to the bank today to transfer the money to the dealership.  As I waited for the bank to reopen at 4:00, I hoped that our English-speaking bank friend was there to help me.  If not, I needed to know how to say "transfer" in Hebrew so I looked it up on my handy dandy Google translate app on my phone.  And memorized it.  And forgot it.  And looked at it again and memorized it.  And forgot it.  Luckily, the nice English speaking lady was there. We transferred the money and the dealership has many of our shekel right now.

The car salesman promised that the car would be ready in a couple of weeks.  At least I can understand the controls in that machine.

And the closet.  Well, the nice carpenter built us a beautiful series of shelves and poles in which to put our clothing.  Last night I finally was able to make sense of our clothing and it was such a relief after living out of suitcases and plastic bins for almost two months.

I began to hang things on the poles and guess what?  They started to sag.  Carpenter is coming back to fix it next week.  It just never ends.

Oh, and last but not least I purchased a trashcan. I know that sounds mundane but we'd been debating whether to spend a small fortune on a nice step-on trashcan and finally I did it.  I am tired of having plastic trash bags laying around the house so I made an executive decision.

Ahh, the power.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

They're going to take my driver's license away

Ooooh boy.  I am very glad that the Israeli police were not patrolling my neighborhood last night. 

I was in Beit Shemesh for Shabbos and drove home around 7:30.  So far so good.  When I reached my neighborhood, I thought that I should take the road that is closest to my apartment, even though I wasn't quite sure how to do it.  Be brave!  I thought, don't be a wimp!

So here I go, driving happily, and make what I think is the correct left turn.  WRONG.  Turn around, go back and try again.  Make another left turn.  WRONG.  OK, this is just not happening.  Let me go out and make a left and try again.

So I make a left.  Now, I promise you that not a half mile before this intersection, this had been a ONE WAY STREET.  I promise!  Somehow when I made that left and then turned around, the one way street magically became a two way street.  How do I know this, you ask?  Because there I am happily driving in the left lane when I see cars coming right toward me.  "Oh," I say, "this is SO not good."

Apparently, this is indeed now a two way street.  I quickly move over to the right and hope that the mishtarah (police) are not watching. The whole one way/ two way thing here is quite confusing.  Really, it IS confusing, it's not just me.

In other news, today the Minister of Plumbing Fixtures (Ahmed by name, a very dour man but he gets things done) came by to ONCE AGAIN find out which plumbing fixtures we don't have.  He gives me his diary, tells me to write my name and apartment number in it, and take dictation as he spells out for me which things are still missing and which have been supplied.  This is gonna be good - once he sees my appalling Hebrew spelling he'll be laughing his head off.  After I take dictation, i must sign my name that I agree that two plumbing fixtures are indeed - STILL MISSING.  I think I have already signed a similar paper but it doesn't hurt to sign another one.

Also, today we received mirrors, shower doors, and a closet!  We can do so many things now - hang up clothes, look at ourselves, and get clean without spilling water all over the floor!  Yahoo!

Now tomorrow is really going to be thrilling - the washing machine installer is coming and we find out if washing machine #2 is intact or broken.  I know, I can hardly wait either.  I may have to send out a "breaking news" email or something.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

New Neighbors

Yesterday was a big day.  After over two years of planning, frustration, waiting, more waiting, and more planning Gila and Donny (and kids, they didn't forget them) moved in one floor below us.  It was quite a moment - for them and for us.

To celebrate, Ariella ran upstairs at about 7:30 pm in her PJs to kiss me goodnight.  Awesome.  In addition to the humans, my refrigerator also arrived, as did my new washing machine. 

Here's the washing machine story.  Called the delivery company in the morning to make them promise that they would take the old machine away when they brought the new one.  They said yes. Hmmmmmmmmm.   The delivery was going to be around 3:00 pm. Hmmmmmmmmmm.  So of course all day I was nervous.

At 2:45 the delivery man called and said he was on his way. Yay!  He came upstairs to take the old machine away and ask me to sign some paper in Hebrew - I have no idea what it said or what I promised.  Probably something like, "You will pay US 10 million shekel tomorrow, and we will take it directly from your bank account. If you don't have it, we will move into your apartment and you can live in our truck."

So he looks at the damaged washing machine door and tries to fix it.  Now I"m wondering - is he planning to tell me it isn't really damaged?  I mean this thing has a huge crack in it and the door does not stay shut.  He keeps trying.  It doesn't work.  Whew.  Now he can't figure out how to get it down the two flights of steps if the door keeps swinging open.  Eventually he gives up and begins to drag it from the back.  As he drags it the top of the machine comes loose.  We look at each other and laugh.  Then he gives me this sly smile and rips the thing completely off the top of the washer.  He says, "Now it's REALLY broken."  Ooooooooooookaaaaaaaaaaay.

As he drags it downstairs a huge piece of the styrofoam protective wrapping falls off in the hallway.  Remember that for later.  He brings the new machine up and I ask if I can inspect it to make sure it's not broken. "NO NO!"  he says, "when the installer comes, he'll find out if it's broken and then you will call back and get another one delivered."  Ah, ok, well then.

So he leaves and sees the styrofoam in the hallway.  He kicks it out of his way and keeps walking.  Wow, amazing. 

Also yesterday, in Ulpan news, we had an exercise in which we were paired up to make sentences with certain words.  I was paired up with a Russian woman who has been here about a year.  She came here knowing no Hebrew other than the letters - it was great sharing stories (in Hebrew) about our aliyah and noting how similar we were.  We also have several Australians and a South African.  I love the fact that we are all gathered for one purpose and that we all came home and are now living together.  It's very cool.

So Shabbat Shalom and Good Shabbos to everyone.  Stay tuned for the tale of the carpenter, the mirror guy (who is also the shower door guy) and our one last shower head which is still not installed because it "hasn't arrived yet."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Guy on the Side of the Road

Yesterday, I saw a car stopped on the side of the road - a very busy, highway-like road that is heavily traveled.  It is rush hour so there is lots of traffic.

I notice a guy in jeans and a t-shirt on the side of the road and assume he is having car trouble and making a phone call.  Then I notice he is standing kind of still, then I notice he is shukling.  Ah!  I realize he is davening Mincha because it got too late for him to wait until he got home.

Another time we were on a train and a man opened his laptop up and perched it on the top of a seat then stood in front of it.  Wow, I thought (the train was empty) - he really doesn't like to sit.  Then I noticed his lips moving.  Ah - he was davening from the siddur on his laptop!

I know one can see people in America davening in public places but somehow the man on the side of the road in his jeans and t-shirt got me.  This is a country where no one wonders what this man is doing - everyone, no matter how religious or non-religious, knows what he is doing. 

So this is what it feels like to be home.

Wedding Safes and Ulpan

Yes, you read that correctly- a wedding safe.  No, it's not a prenup, it's a real honest to goodness safe that you see at weddings here.  There is a guy standing near it (a bouncer type).  He has a big empty bin near him and a safe.with a slot on top.  You can either (or both if you're very generous) place your gift in the bin or, if you are giving money, put it in one of the handy dandy envelopes on top of the safe, write your greeting, seal the envelope, and put it in the safe.

So....having a safe at a wedding is kind of not cool.  But not making the groom or father walk around with a wad of envelopes in his jacket is totally cool.  You can all discuss that one at the Shabbos table.

The wedding we attended was for our cousin's son, and it was just great to be one of the Israeli cousins coming to the wedding and not one of the American cousins rushing in for the wedding and rushing back.  Very different experience and very lovely.

Ulpan started today!  Since they usually have about 20 people per class and ours has only 10, they will only be holding class two days per week instead of the usual five, which is fine with me.  If today was a normal gan day, I'll be glad to only do this two days per week.   I mean my brain cells will be happy.  It's a very steep learning curve.  Today we had to introduce ourselves and talk about a topic.  The topic was noise - like it or hate it?

Seriously, that was the topic.  So I regaled everyone with the story of how, when we lived in Washington Heights, our apartment was next to an elevator and it was very noisy.  That's when we invested in our first "white noise machine" and every since then we can't sleep without that machine going.  So the entire class learned the word for....ADDICTION! 

It's also fun in Ulpan, I see, to try to figure out the English equivalent of a Hebrew word.  For some, there are no equivalents.  Like the Hebrew word l'haazin means to listen to music - no English equivalent.   We also got into hiphil, poel, niphal, etc.  Those of you who have studied Hebrew grammar are now starting to cringe.  I'm with you.  I'm hoping that just living here and hearing Hebrew all of the time, it'll become second nature, as will the darned rules about things that are masculine or feminine.

Today we also got a call that our washing machine is being delivered tomorrow - hopefully without a broken door.  But I had to call back because I have been here six weeks now and I am smart enough to figure out that that is no guarantee that they intend to take away the broken machine that is sitting in the middle of my kitchen. 

The nice lady on the phone informed me that the delivery man will probably expect some moolah in return for shlepping the old machine out.  That's what I was afraid of.  AND the delivery window is between 10 and 3 which worried me - I mean I don't want to miss Day 2 of Ulpan!  They promised to call me one hour before delivery.  We'll see.  My gut tells me to stay home and not expect them to do this, but not sure yet.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Job Interview

Today I have a job interview via Skype.  Sounds easy, right?
Let's see - we have our internet, we have our computer, what could go wrong?


First, the electrician came to change our wireless network into a wired network.  Seems our wireless router doesn't really work here that well. You see, in Israel most apartments and homes come with a room that is specially designed to wtihstand attack - it's called a Mamad which is an acronym for the Hebrew of "residential secure space."  It's got very thick reinforced concrete walls and a special air filtration system, etc.  Scary but good to have.  Anyway, if that room gets in the way of your wireless router, forget it.  Not much gets through that space.

So an elecrtrician was here changing our system from a wireless router to a wired network. They arrived in the morning.  At about 11:30 I realized that they had taken my entire network offline and the Skype interview was at noon.  Oh.

I quickly saw that this Skype meeting could not happen in my apartment.

My solution was to run downstairs to my daughter's apartment.  It is empty, but there were people doing work.  My daughter warned me that it might be noisy.  OK, I thought, I'll just go into the back bedroom and have the Skype interview.

So I went downstairs and settled myself into one of the rooms, and got ready for the interview.

THEN - the guy comes to fix a window in THAT room.  And you can't tell these guys to come back later, you take them whenever they show up.  Of all times, it was 5 minutes before the interview.

The person interviewing me logs into Skype and asks if we can push the interview off for 5 minutes.  OK, I think maybe this guy will be done in 5 minutes.  Five minutes later, he starts banging away making a racket.

OK, my option of using my daughter's apartment is slowly losing ground.  I have about one minute to find another place with internet access.  I run into their Mamad and close the door.  Oh, it's quieter ok, but remember what I told you about internet access in a Mamad?  Rotten.  So I can't keep the door closed because then I have no internet.  So I have to keep the door slighly open which means that the banging is louder.

The woman skypes me and we start talking.  She is lovely and very understanding about the noise, and we have what I think was a great conversation.

Just another day in the construction zone that is our building.  Today we moved closer to civilization - we got door handles on our kitchen cabinets, we THINK the replacement washing machine MIGHT come this week, and we have had our US lamps rewired so that we can use them here. 

This afternoon my piano was calling me so I sat down and played - I don't think I can truly explain how playing piano makes me feel.  I'm not very good but I love it so much it almost makes me cry. OK, emotional interlude over.

This afternoon we had a great "real life" experience. My daughter Leezy came by with her kids and we went to the mall for dinner with both girls and their kids.  Crazy and hectic, but so normal and so nice.  One of my grandsons now knows that he can come in, walk himself to the TV, plop himself down, and have a grand old time. 

Lovely, truly lovely. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Birthday, Ulpan, Mezuzos

Actually the title should be "Ulpan, Mezuzos, Birthday" but in this country you read right to left.  Ha! A little Hebrew humor for you.

Today we went to the Ulpan Test to see what class we should be in.  We received an email weeks ago that the test started today at 9:00 am and that is when we should arrive.  So we arrived a bit early, at about 8:40 am.  First of all we had to practically be Magellan to find the right building - there was a teensy flimsy paper sign telling you where to go and today was incredibly windy so it was flapping around and we didn't see it.

We get to the room and it is already full of people taking the test.  What?  What was that about 9:00?  We still can't figure it out.  So we sit down and are given a 5 page test.  The first three pages are stories which we must read and then answer questions.  The first story was easy shmeezy.  The teacher came around to see how fast we did page one and she smiled at us. "Wow, I'm thinking, they are probably going to tell me to just go home because what am I even doing there, being such a Hebrew expert!" 

Then I got to the second page.  Oh.  The next story was harder. 

The third was really hard and I couldn't even understand one of the questions.

Then there are two pages of conjugation - making singulars to plurals, pasts to presents, etc. 

By this time, from the conversation going on in the room we figure out that the people who are really at ground level can just go home and come back the next day to start Kitah Aleph.  We, they say, are in Kitah Bet.  OK, sounds good.  BUT....they say.  Oh no, here we go - they are going to tell me that I can't come back until my washing machine is fixed or my faucets are installed or something.

BUT, they say, there are really not enough students for Kitah Bet.  So please come on Wednesday at 8:20 and we will decide what to do.  We may just have two days/week of Ulpan instead of five if there are not enough students. Whatever.

Then we go to a Judaica store to buy mezuzot.  I found this terribly emotional.  I mean, we are living in Israel buying mezuzot for our HOME HERE!  WHOA! 

When we came home we found out that the kablan's guys were ready to install our fancy shmancy bathroom vanity.  Now here's a good story.  We were not told that we were getting a vanity.  Apparently the site manager was supposed to tell us last year at some point but he never did.  Since we thought we were only getting a sink, we (and Gila & Donny) ordered a large mirror and had the tile work done in the bathroom to fit around this specially made mirror.

Then the vanity gets delivered.  And guess what?  It has a lovely mirror and small medicine chest attached to it.  HUH?  No one even showed us a picture of this.  Now we have an extra mirror lying around.  Offers accepted until midnight tonight.

And finally, today is Leezy's birthday.  Happy birthday, Leezy!  Nice to be here and in the same time zone so I can call you in the REAL morning, not the US 3:00 pm morning.  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Your Email is Not Working

If you recall, we received a broken washing machine the other day.  The installer told us that he was going to report the damage and the company would call us.  Which company?  We THINK he meant the company that shipped the washer, but we weren't sure.

So yesterday we received a call - yay!  The guy wasn't kidding!  The woman said we need you to FAX us the receipt from the installer which has the receipt number on it.  FAX?  We don't have one, so I asked if we could email the receipt number to her.  Sure, she says, just use the email address on the receipt.

No problem!  I carefully type in the email address on the receipt and email her the information. 

It bounces back.

Hmm, I think, I must have typed it in wrong.  I try again.

It bounces back.

We decide to call the company since they had called us so we had the number in our phone, right?  Wrong, it was listed as a private number, so the woman must have called from her private cell.  We call the general number on the receipt.  We tell them the story.  No, they said, our email is fine, it's YOURS that is not working.

Here we go.

We deny that our email is broken, since we'd been emailing people all day.  She says, well we MUST see the receipt or we can't help you!  Oh, boy.  So I quickly figure out how to fax from our brand new printer thingy and I send the fax!  It's sending!  Yahoo!  Then the fax report comes back from the recipient that it failed.  I try again.  Failure again.  We call again.  No, they never received it, are you sure you have the right number?

What is it, because they can hear our foreign accents they assume we are not very smart?

We get VERY frustrated and my husband decides to go back to the store we bought the item from and ask them for help.  They are really nice and helpful and fax the reciept from their store.  It says it was successful. Bern calls to make sure the company received the fax.  Nope.

Bern then gets fed up and hands the phone to the store owner who proceeds to have a brief but very loud and fast conversation in Hebrew with the person on the other end of the phone.  When store guy hangs up, he says, "No problem, I will make sure you get a new washing machine in a couple of days, I'll handle it."  We are putting our faith in this person so I'll let you know what happens.  In the meantime our washing machine is sitting in the middle of our kitchen.  That would be so handy if it was really hooked up, wouldn't it?

In another milestone, we pretty much emptied out all of the boxes we could and the place is looking much more liveable.  The machsan (storage closet in the garage), however, is, um, let's just say - full.
It's kind of like those cartoons where the house is neat and clean and then you open a closet and everything falls on your head.  Kind of like that.  But hey it's in the garage so we don't have to deal with it right now!

Just a note about the weather - ok, you are already yawning, but just hold on as econd.  Someone out there must know someone who knows someone (maybe Tom Tasselmeyer?) who can tell me if I'm right or wrong that the sunshine here is brighter, glarier (is that a word?) than on the US East Coast.  Also, I love watching how the weather changes during the day.  OK, boring part over, you can wake up now.

An amusing note about our parking spot.  Not that I'm complaining because we have a covered parking spot in a country where it gets to a zillion degrees in the summer, so that's great.  But our spot, and most of the spots in our building's garage, is between two very scary looking concrete walls.  Our little rental car is not very wide and we are having issues with getting in and out of that space.  Each time, we advise each other, "Swing it more widely!"  "Back it in!" [very scary option, not used much] " "Back up the OTHER way and then turn around!" "Turn your wheel!  NO NOT THAT WAY!"  You get the idea.

Well, Shabbat Shalom AND Good Shabbos - one last story. The carpenter who came to give us an estimate this week came highly recommended. I had asked the local email group to recommend someone who speaks English.  His English sounded American, so we were thrilled.  Ends up he grew up on the Chabad kibbutz here and was born here but raised speaking English.  Today he called with an estimate and at the end wished me a Good Shabbos.  NOT Shabbat Shalom.  What an interesting country.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Are You Sure?

Wow, what a story for today.

Actually a couple - it makes up for yesterday's rather blah post.

So here was today's rundown:

1.  Turned on the dud shemesh in the morning and waited 1/2 hour - no hot water.

2.  OK, no problem, decided to do other stuff instead.

3.  Washer/dryer installer comes - yay!

4.  Washer/dryer installer tells us that the washer was delivered broken - no can install.  He takes a picture of the damage and says he is sending a report to the company that ships the item and they will call us. Hmmmm - do you believe that one? 

5.  Back to the dud shemesh - still no hot water 1 hour later.  hmmmmmmmmmmmm.....

6.  Carpenter #1 comes to give us an estimate for our closet - stays 5 minutes

7.  Carpenter #2 comes to give us an estimate for our closet - stays 1/2 hour and comes up with some really good ideas.  Guess which one we're hiring?

8.  Tried for hot water again - 2 hours later - nope. Oy.

9.  Call the site foreman and tell him about the dud shemesh.  He says he'll send over the water guy.

10. Water guy comes - it's not his problem, he says, it's the electricity guy.

11. Callt he site foreman and ask him to send the electricity guy over.

12. Electricity guy comes - says it's not his problem, it's the dud manufacturer.

13. In the meantime here come the plumbing supply guys with our vanity and sink!  But no, they don't install, they just deliver!  Now we have 3 MORE huge boxes sitting in our apt.

14.  Realize the vanity that just got delivered comes with a mirror.  We did not know this and already ordered a mirror from someone.  hmmmmmmmmmm.

15. Electrician comes for the dud and says to call the site manager - who also says to call the dud manufacturer.

16.  We call the dud manufacturer and here's where it gets good.  This is the conversation my husband had with the lady on the phone:
  • Husband - We live at 17 Sara Imeinu Street, it's a new building and our dud shemesh is not working.  We were told that you can fix it.
  • Lady - 17 Sara Imeinu?  Let me look it up.  Nope, no such address.  Are you sure?
  • Husband - WE LIVE HERE!
  • Lady - Are you certtain?  perhaps you're confused?  Do you know your address?
  • Husband - WE LIVE HERE!  NOW!
  • [phone hangs up]
       We call back and get it sorted out.  They SAY they are coming tomorrow.

17. In the midst of all of this the electricians (other ones) come to take care of our many electrical needs, which was convenient because they speak English and helped interpret when the Hebrew-speaking electrician for the dud came.

18. They are nice guys and we traded quotes from "Princess Bride" which was fun.

19.  So, to summarize as of today we have electricity and heat, but no hot water and can't do laundry. 

Showers and clean clothes are over-rated anyway, don't you think?

To be continued..............

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

More Good Stuff and The Gas Man Cometh

Once again I'd like to list a few of the wonderful things about living in Israel, and then I shall regale you with the tale of the Gas Man. [Note:  every time I hear that phrase I hear a man yelling in a booming voice, "Gas Man!" and pounding on my back door - the meter readers who used to come every month before the days of outdoor meters - sorry that was probably a very boring editorial note.]

Remembering my parents:  My parents (Mary and Jack Weintraub, a"h), truly believed in and loved the idea of the State of Israel. They weren't flag wavers and we didn't have discussions about politics at our dining room table, but I remember the look in their eyes whenever they'd talk about it.  Like it was some far off dream that only the very fortunate few could attain.  When they made their first trip here in 1972 (also their first vacation EVER in more than 20 years of business), they came back enthralled with everything.  From that time onward they'd recall their visit and look at their pictures with longing.  My father was the dreamer between the two of them and he said on many occasions that he'd drop everything and move to Israel - my mother, the more practical of the two, reminded him that they had a business to run.  I guess that made more of an impression on me that I thought, because now that I'm here I can't stop thinking about how proud they'd be and how much I'd like to tell them about it.

Children and grandchildren:  Aside from the obvious - we are living near two of our kids for the first time ever - the joy of hearing my grandchildren speak perfect Israeli-sounding Hebrew never gets old.  It is also a wonder, considering how adults struggle with new languages, how a child's mind absorbs the sounds and nuances of language so naturally. The thrill of seeing my daughters and sons in law living here, working, raising kids - being happier than I think even they realize - that is a daily joy.  If our son and his family were here - now THAT would be perfection.

Pride in the country:  I know there are lots of things wrong here, but wow, what a country.  What accomplishments - just to survive surrounded by enemies is a miracle.  I know it's a cliche but when you live here and see people smiling, laughing, living their lives, children running around - you are just so proud of what has been accomplished.

Chayalim [soldiers]:  I can't help it, I still get a thrill and a have a deep sense of gratitude and pride when I see chayalim.  I love seeing the men and women walking around the mall with their rifles slung over their backs, chatting with friends, shopping, sitting at a restaurant.  They are protecting all of us and I don't think there are words in my head that can thank them enough.  By the way, I feel the same way about the US military, but here it is just a deeper feeling.

OK, on to the gas guy(s) - there were two of them and they were very efficient.  What I never understood was why the gas line has to go somewhere where you can turn it off if you need to.  That makes sense, I guess, but I just didn't get it before they did it.  Now the gas turnoff switch is in my kitchen cabinet in case of an emergency or in case there needs to be an oven repair - no need to move the oven.  So no drama there, but wow is it good to be able to eat at home......and tonight we dine at home for the first time since January 2!

Monday, February 6, 2012

We Tour Herzliya

What adventures we had today - first, we were surprised by the oven installer who said he was coming on Tuesday - no really, I KNOW the scheduler said Yom Shlishi, not Yom Sheni, really!  Anyway, thank goodness we were here.

So this nice man starts taking the oven out of its humongous box.  As he opens the box, piece by piece, he hands me the trash.  "Here," he says.  Oh!  I get it!  I'm his lovely assistant!  OK!  He proceeds to hand me pieces of trash and then tell me to pull the bottom of the box out from under the oven.  It takes a lot of self control for me not to start laughing and saying, "Yes, boss."

He tries to explain to me why he has to halfway install the oven BEFORE the gas company comes to turn on the gas. I nod like any of it makes sense to me, but I do understand it has something to do with a possible explosion, so I guess it is important.

After that, we drove to Herzliya to visit a car dealership. I prepared for this visit by going to Google maps and mapping out the drive and writing out the directions [we didn't have a printer yet, but now we do.]  I was very proud of myself and thought, ha this will be a piece of cake. 

We left at least a half hour early to give us time to get lost.  We needed it.  The directions on Google maps had nothing whatsoever to do with the signage in Herzliya. Before we knew it we were driving through a run-down residential neighborhood.  Thank goodness for son in law Donny who directed us to the dealer.

We found out from the dealer that the discount that olim get on new cars has an inverse relationship to the car's fuel efficiency.  That is, the less efficient the car is, the more the discount for olim.  Make sense?  No?  You're right.  But we are now in the "whatever" mode. 

We decide on a car and work out a deal and guess what the salesman did?  Hold on, this is going to be traumatic.  He TOOK my Teudat Zehut, our Teudat Oleh, my US driver's license, my Israeli driver's license, AND my passport! [He did make copies for me to keep for now.]  He has to send all of those originals to the ministry of something or other and promised to give them back to me.  He put them all carefully in a special envelope and then I asked nervously, "Um, you're not sending that through regular mail are you?" 

"No!  Of course not!" he said, "we have a special courier who picks it up and takes it to the government office!  Don't worry!" 

In my head, as we left, I saw him and his fellow salesmen clutching their stomachs and roaring with laughter, saying, "Wow, she actually believed us!  Here, Ziv, put this envelope in the mailbox on your way home - or not."

Tomorrow we await the visit by the gas company.  It is Shabbos yet? Please?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chickens, Eggs, Seats

We have finally moved in to our home.  It smells like paint and plaster, there are construction noises everywhere, it's incredibly dusty, and there are boxes all over the place, but it is ours. 

Today we received our....ahem....restroom fixtures!  We also got - ta da! - a shower head!  Imagine that!

The entire day seems to be a mad chaotic whirlwind of calling people,waiting for them to show up, having them show up and then not be able to complete the job they have come to do, hearing them promise they'll be back soon, and waiting more.

I did have one success - I complained to the construction foreman that our buzzer and hallway light was not working (I have learned the phrase "lo oved" - it does not work - VERY well.).  And guess what - the electrician guy came and fixed it!  And guess what - I forgot to ask him which switch works the dud shemesh.  Rats.

[Ed. Note: For those of you not familiar with Israeli life, the dud shemesh (pronounced "dude shemesh") is a hot water tank that sits on your roof and works via solar power.  No, this is not new eco-living, this is how Israelis have done things for ages and ages.  You turn on the dud shemesh about 1/2 hour before you need hot water (less in summer, longer in winter) and the water heats up.  You use your hot water and when you're done you turn the dud off.]

We are also waiting to have our oven installed.  You see, the gas company would not turn on the gas until the oven was installed.  And the oven installer would not come unless the gas was turned on.  What comes first, the chicken or the egg?


So we called back the installer and said can you just come and install the oven, then we will have the gas company come, and then if something is not working, we'll call you back?  Sure, they said - I think they've heard this story before, once or twice.

Oh, and when the gas gets turned on - 600 shekels, please.

I have to mention that I am now more used to people rattling at me in Hebrew and responding with a blank stare and saying, in Hebrew, "I don't understand."  Sometimes they revert to English, sometimes they speak more slowly and with hand motions.  Either way I am learning.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Twists and Turns

OK, I'm going to get a little deep here so hold on.  It has occurred to me in the last few weeks that our life has taken an interesting twist in more than one way.

Yes, we are living in the Holy Land, and that is awesome in and of itself.  Yes, we are living close to two of our three kids, and that is awesome too, although we miss kid #3 tremendously.

But there is something else that I've been trying to put my finger on.  Like most of our peers, as our kids got older and left home, and we moved into senior level positions at work, we got more "stuff."  We decided to get a little nicer car, some gadgets that we didn't have before - all in all, life was getting a little easier.  For six years we lived in a lovely condo on Park Heights Avenue that had a full time porter who'd help with packages, meet the plumber when there was a problem, and all in all make things very relaxed for us.  Things were starting to be a lot easier.  And after all, after all of those years of working, raising kids, etc., it was nice to be pampered a little, right?

Then our daughters made aliyah and we decided that was the next step for us as well.

With all of our planning and thinking (and boy was there a lot of it), you don't really "get" what it means to live here for real until you do it.  It's a slow learning process, and an interesting one.  But what it seems to come down to is that we are now living in a society, in a country, where things don't come easy.

Today's crisis kind of says it all. We were all excited about having electricity (no heat yet but hey you can't have everything) and we asked the construction worker who has helped us before if the gas is connected.  "Sure!" he said.  So we can call the oven installer, right?  "Sure!"

But I've earned a couple of smarts in the past month.  I decided to ask the worker's boss as well.  He came to my apartment and I asked him if we could have the oven installed.  The look on his face was priceless.  "No, of course not!" he said, "the gas is not turned on for the building!"  "So what should I do?" I ask.  "Ask Nochum," was the response.  Nochum is the site foreman who seems to be the go-to guy when someone does not know or want to answer your question.  So Nochum gives me a number to call to get the gas turned on.  Donny (son in law and TRUE construction foreman) calls the number, they take our address and his phone number and say they'll get back to us when they verify that the building exists. Yes, they really said that.

At the same time, the guys were supposed to show up today to install all of the plumbing fixtures.  ALL OF THEM.  End result - kitchen faucet installed, bathrooms still unworkable.  And we waited a week for this. 

So back to the theme of today's post - things here are not easy.  It's kind of like going back in your life to a much more complicated era but I have to say that while it can be frustrating, it's also energizing.  Maybe things were coming too easy back in Baltimore and it's a good experience for us to start working harder for every victory.

We're feeling pretty awesome when something works (I almost danced when my internet started working today on the first try), and less frustrated than we used to be a few weeks ago.

Guess we're growing up too. It makes life interesting. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Lights! License! Action!

You know, we came to Israel one month ago today.  For many, many years before that we had a nice, sane routine.  Go to work, come home, dinner, etc. etc., same routine next day.

For the past month every day has been a mixture of chaos, hysteria, relief, fear, and worry.

Let's take today:

8:00 am -  Go to the Modiin mall to find the office where we tell the property tax people that we are olim chadashim (new immigrants) and they should charge us less.  The nice lady tells us that we should wait until we get a bill for TOO MUCH MONEY and then come to her and she'll take care of it.

8:30 - get to the apartment (new).  It is raining and the apartment is, as usual, dark and cold.  No electricity means no heat and no light.  Start unpacking stuff.

9:30 - the guy comes to finish the tile work in the kitchen - he says it will take an hour.

10:00 - we hear that the electricity guys are in the building and soon we will have lights and heat!  they come into our apartment to check things!  so exciting!

10:15 - our new neighbor Itzik invites us over for hot tea.  He hooked up his cooker to some power line - very nice.

10:30 - I call our driving instructor who had PROMISED to call me when our licenses come in.  He says, "Oh, hello Susan, your licenses came in!  I'll drive them over today!"

11:00 - the driving instructor arrives with our licenses which are....pieces of paper - you see they are only temporary licenses.  OK, no problem, at least this is OVER!  hahahahahahaha!  No, it is not over yet!  You have to take this temporary license to the post office and pay another 200+ shekel each for the privilege of receiving a real license in the mail in a month or so.

11:15 - Bern drives over to the post office to pay for the licenses.

11:20 - the electric guys show up again, still testing, still saying "soon, soon!"  OK, we'll wait.  We continue to unpack.

12:30 - it is getting colder and colder and still the electric guys are not ready to turn things on.

1:30 - we hear the electric guys wandering around!  maybe soon!  it better be because our noses are falling off!

2:00 - THE ELECTRIC GUYS SAY WE CAN FLIP THE SWITCHES!  we do and voila! we have electricity! we stick in a bulb and it lights up!

2:02 - we walk over to the thermostat/ ac/ heat thingy pad on the wall and happily switch it to "on" and....

2:03 - we cry a little.  Our heat is not turning on.

2:04 - my son in law Donny calls the "guy" who handles this who tells us that HE has to come and turn it on and he will do it - tomorrow.

2:10 - we talk and play with Ariella who walked to the apartment from school (nice!) and have a fun time giggling and talking - ahhhh, that's what makes it all worth it.

3:00 - tile man - remember him?  the one who said he'd be done in an hour? Finally done.  Nice job.

4:00 - we need to go to a store to buy closet stuff and on the way we stop at a Toyota dealership and talk to someone about prices, etc.

5:00 - we go to the home supply store and as we check out we get harassed about signing up for a special store credit card.  The nice cashier is like a bubby and puts her arm around me and tells me how much we need this and so we get it.  Suckers.

6:00 - that's it.  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz