Saturday, March 31, 2012

Going to the Supayr

Supermarket shopping in Israel - well, let me just say that the American Association of Psychologists or whatever they call themselves could literally have a whole week-long convention about the antics of Israelis in supermarkets.  Or in parking lots.  Oh.  Or anywhere.  Never mind.

Back to the Supayr.  Here are just some highlights:

1. Parking - person #1 decides that those lines mean nothing and takes up two whole spaces.  So person #2 parks next to him poorly.  And so on.  By 10 AM the entire lot is filled with cars parked at weird angles and taking up too much room.

2.  The Carts -
  • Locked! - Yes, the grocery carts here are locked together with a little lock thing.  You have to either put a 5 shekel piece in the lock or perhaps you have a grocery cart unlocking gadget.  I don't know what the stores are afraid of - am I going to shove the cart into my tiny little car and steal it?  We won't because they lean! [see bullet below]
  • Leaning! - Please, someone, explain to me why EVERY SINGLE shopping cart in EVERY SINGLE grocery store in Israel is incapable of being wheeled straight.  They all lean to the left.  ALL OF THEM.  What is that?  You actually see many people pushing their carts from the sides, not from the pushy handle thingy, because it is just easier.  I am not making this up.

3. The Pesach shopping - You know how Seven Mile Market starts stocking Pesach food by the time Shavuos is over (OK, I exaggerate but you know what I mean)?  Well, here, a country of Jews where everyone celebrates Pesach in some form or another, they start stocking a couple of weeks after Purim.  Yes, that's right.  Just last week I was at my little neighborhood grocery and they were discussing where to put the Pesach Shelf.  SHELF????  SMM has like a half store dedicated to Pesach!  And there is very little to choose from. I found a store on Beit Shemesh that had tomato sauce and I almost kissed the owner.

4. Kitniyos - just saying that it is tough to find Pesach food that does not have kitniyos in it.  Once in a while you see an email from the neighborhood list-serve and one of the postings is that someone has found a store where they are selling kitniyos-free margarine.  The news spreads like wildfire and within 5 minutes the store's mobbed and the margarine is gone.

5. Clubs - every single supermarket has a club.  Which means that if you belong to the club, you get the discounts and if you don't, well, you don't.  Problem is, some clubs cost money.  Hmmmmm....

7. Bagging - here, you have to bag your own groceries.  OK, that's not terrible.  But let's say you have a lot of stuff, you are not well practiced in bagging, and you have already paid.  You might think that the checker-outer person would help you bag your groceries to move things along.  Nope.  She sits there, arms folded over her chest, watching you struggle to pack your stuff and get out. 

8. Payments - every time you shop, the cashier asks you if you want to pay in tashlumim (payments).  It usually mean you can split up your bill and pay over 3 months or so - sounds good, right?  Sure.  Until you get your credit card bill and realize you've chosen "tashlumim" for lots of purchases and you have random little payments cropping up forever.

9. Hebrew - yes, this is Israel and everything is in Hebrew.  I know that. DUH.  But some of my most amusing purchases have been made becasue I misunderstood the Hebrew on the package:

  1. White cheese was purchased becasue I thought it was cottage cheese  I don't really know what white cheese is, since it is not cream cheese and it is not sour cream.
  2. Cheese - I just buy cheese, and I have no idea what kind it is.  The other day I found cheese called "amerikai"  and was so happy - let's hope it really is American Cheese.
  3. Pasta sale - one store had something which LOOKED like 3 for 1.  It was not.  Won't make that mistake again.  Maybe the sign actually said, "Buy one for the price of 3."
  4. Chicken and meat - I have yet to buy these from the butcher, to whom I would have to speak in Hebrew.  Instead I buy the frozen packages  I know, I know, eventually I'll have to do it.  It's like the gas station - eventually I'll get to it.
  5. Bananas - bananas here are the best anywhere.  I guarantee it. I know that has nothing to do with Hebrew, I just thought I'd throw that in.
Like everything else, it's slowly slowly.  In the meantime at least I can amuse all of you....

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On Our Own

Today I had to go to Rishon Letsiyon for a medical appointment.  Let's not go into any gory details, let's just say it's something people of a certain gender who are over 30 or so should do once a year and leave it at that.  I actually received a letter from my health company reminding me to do this.  It was in Hebrew of course and let's just be glad that some Hebrew words, especially technical and medical ones, are just Hebrew transliterations of English words, so it's easy to figure it out.

First I had to call the place and make an appointment.  Done - yes, in Hebrew.  I of course had to ask the person three times to repeat the date and time because I am still translating numbers into English in my head instead of just knowing what they are in Hebrew.  "Hmmm....esrim v'shmoneh....ok, that's twenty and eight, OK!  The 28th!  Uh oh, what month did he say?  Mayrts?  OK, that's March.  What time?  Oh boy.  

Not 2 minutes after I called to make the appointment, I received a confirmation email - 3 pages in Hebrew with instructions.

I was determined not to get help with this.  I just sat with it and figured it out - and it only took me a few days!  Progress!  They said that the appointment was going to take 2 hours and have three steps - one of which was going to involve me giving them my entire life story and health history.  Then the actual exam, then waiting to see if the test needed to be taken another time, in case of a bad reading, and then I could go.  

I read that darn letter three times just to make sure I got everything right.  My Ulpan friend told me she had gotten a letter as well so we decided to go together.  See, my first reaction when I made the appointment was to ask one of my daughters to come with me - please, someone come with me to translate!  Then my Ulpan friend and I decided we'd brave it together.

In preparation for the hour long initial interview I dug up all of my health records, my latest bloodwork from Baltimore, and the results of my most recent tests.  Ha, I thought, I am SO smart, I will take these with me and whip them out just as the doctor says, "Well, we can't help you if we don't have any history on you."  And I will be named the Patient of the Day!  Or the Week!

So this morning, armed with my entire medical history and about 17 sets of directions to the place, a GPS and 2 phone GPS programs, my friend and I made our way to Rishon Letsiyon.  

And got lost. But at least we got lost together.  It was actually fun.

You see, the directions tell you what exit to take, but alas the direction people have never, it seems, spoken to the Israeli Highway Sign Authority.  I am pretty sure that the IHSA is made up of a group of people with very good senses of humor and lots and lots of traffic cameras.  I think they sit in a room all day and watch people swerve suddenly to the right because they THINK they are at the right exit or maybe it's the NEXT one so let's swerve the other way.  It must be a laugh a minute in that office.

So of course the Rishon Letsiyon sign did NOT say "Moshe Dayan Interchange" as the directions said it should (come on, isn't it cool that many of the interchanges and highways here are named for famous Tzahal generals?  I mean, isn't it way cooler than, say, "Frederick Road"?) .  

So we took a wrong turn, toured Rishon for a while, and finally found the place.

Once inside it really hit me.  I am here ON MY OWN!  AHHHH!!!  What do I do?  I saw a reception area and waved my letter in the air - some lady saw me and asked me my name.  She told me to sit.  OK, I like sitting, I can do that.

Then they called me!  I went to a desk.  The woman started speaking quickly.  I said in Hebrew, "I'm a new immigrant and my Hebrew is not that good yet, please speak slowly."  She did.  With words I did not know.  Then I heard a word of a body part that we had learned in Ulpan!  Yay - last week or the week before we learned all of the body parts!  Yes, I know that!  I answered her questions (I think). And she told me to sit again.  Good.

I noticed that people were being called and told to go to a room number.  What if I didn't understand the number of the room?  What if I walked into the wrong room?  I gotta say I was a little nervous.  Then they called me, "Leibtag, Soozan [I love how they say that] - cheder arba."  Arba!  Yay!  I know arba!  That's four!  I can do that!

I proudly walked back to room 4 and went in.  I expected to sit down and be asked for my health history, as the letter had explained.  A lovely young technician was there to greet me and I once again explained the situation with the Hebrew - she was very nice and welcomed me to Israel.  I love that.  They get such a happy look on their face when they say it.  She did not ask me to sit down.  She told me that we would be doing the test now.

Wait a minute, sister!  I spent a half hour last night digging up all of this information, and you don't want it?  What about me being patient of the month?  But no, she did not have any questions for me.  So much for the three-page letter and the three steps.

I had the test and she told me to wait.  Then it was over and time to leave. Instead of two hours, it had taken 20 minutes.

I did it!  Then my friend and I celebrated by (getting lost and then finding) the Ikea store nearby, almost running out of gas, getting lost on the way to the gas station, finding the gas station, finding our way back to Ikea, and shopping.  Yay shopping!  

So I guess I succeeded, but not without a good deal of anxiety.  Next time it will be easier?  Please say yes.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Model Seder

Yes, you read that correctly.  Just like we  (well, some of us) had in Hebrew School, lo those many years ago. 

Last week the head of the Ulpan program in Modiin informed us that Rav David Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Modiin (son of the famous Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel Rav Yisrael Meir Lau) was coming to our Ulpan to have a "model seder" with all of us.  Personally, I thought it was a great idea.  I mean, we get to hear words of Torah from Rav Lau - pretty cool.

So today was the day - we all shuffled into the biggest Ulpan classroom and sure enough there were tables that reminded many of us of those days in Hebrew School - little plates of matza, hard boiled eggs, macaroons, cups of grape juice, the whole shabang.

But wow - this was not your father's model seder.

You see, many of the new immigrants in that room had never experienced a seder in their lives.  That Maxwell House haggadah that we all laugh about?  Some of the Ulpan students did not even know what the seder involved other than perhaps the four cups of wine.

I sat next to some women from Russia and France and helped them find their way through the Haggadah as Rav Lau spoke.  It was so moving to hear him speak about us, the new immigrants as the embodiment of "v'ga'alti" - that because of us the world is that much closer to the coming of Moshiach.  I know, I know, it sounds glorified and overly dramatic but you know what?  He's kinda right.  I mean, people coming back to Israel is part of the big picture and the people sitting in that room today were part of the return.  I was especially proud of the people from Russia, France, and other countries where anti-semitism is so rampant (you should hear their stories).  One man came from Uruguay for a wedding and decided to stay forever.  He said he couldn't imagine leaving now that he had found his true home.

Rav Lau is a warm, engaging personality and he is clearly a busy person, but for that few moments we were all his students.  It was very special.

So he slowly explained the seder itself, why we do it, what we say, and we all sang Mah Nishtana together - many people had never heard it before.  His Hebrew was clear enough so that even those in the first level could understand most of what he said. 

His emphasis was on the telling of the story - comparing what we were to what we are - and remembering that we are still surrounded by enemies that want to destroy us.

We all have been through the trials and tribulations of aliyah, some with more scars, some with less, but all with a great feeling of accomplishment. 

For those few minutes, in that room, we all felt pretty heroic.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Today it all came together in one moment and it made me cry.

No, not a bad thing.  Quite the opposite.

Today I attended the birthday party of my grandson Yaakov at his gan.  This is kind of routine in Israel - Israelis make a very big deal about birthdays and I have seen picutres and videos of the birthday parties of my other grandchildren in Israel, so I kind of new what to expect.

[Important editorial note:  I love knowing that Yaakov is named for my father.  For that reason I am always looking for my Dad's traits in him, whether that is something that I should do or not (some people may find it silly).  I do think that Yaakov embodies a lot of my father's wonderful character - he is funny, sweet, and very humble.  He watches the world and is amused by it.  I watch him sometimes and wonder what he is processing inside, and how it will eventually mold him into a wonderful young man.]

Anyway, Bubby-kvelling aside, I was so pleased to be able to go to the party - some of the gans are physically too small for grandparents to attend, say, a Chanukah or Purim party, when all of the parents attend.  But since it was Yaakov and a friend celebrating their upcoming birthdays, I was invited.

The emotion took a while to bubble up.  First, Yaakov took my hand and told me to sit in the two chairs of honor next to him - normally reserved for Mommy and Daddy.  He said he was sure he wanted me to sit there with Donny, who just returned from the US yesterday. Yaakov was clearly very emotional about this.

Then the party begins with a selection of birthday songs and dances, and with children selected to come up and present him with a flower.  These beautiful little Israeli kids singing and dancing - the country's future was in that room - I know, it's kind of a grandiose statement, but it is also true.

And I am part of it.  I am part of Israel's future.  I have changed my life to do something with it that means something.  I think for the first time I actually matter. 

Every day here has the kind of meaning I never thought I'd experience.  My home is small, my car is small, I'm not making that much money, everything is expensive - and none of it matters when you realize that just being here makes you happier and more full than you thought possible.  You and your life have meaning.  What is expensive tuna compared to that?

That's when the emotion started.  The kids, the music, my part in it.  I did not want to embarrass Yaakov ("Did you know that Yaakov's savta started to cry at the party?") or myself, so I choked it back, but it was raw and deep.

Final and kind-of related note: Last night I heard a commercial for a TVstation advertising their special selection of programming of kid-oriented shows "for chol hamoed Pesach."  It just felt so right to be living in my culture, not in a country centrered around another culture in which the highlight of the year is the showing of "It's a Wonderful Life" in December.  I'm home. Awesome.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Make That 10 Years

You may remember a recent blog where I decided I was going to sound like an idiot for the next two or three years, until my Hebrew improves.   .

Haha - I wrote that in the days when Ulpan was easy.  Now we are in the big leagues and brother, are we confused. So let's make that ten years.

For example, today our teacher gave us a list of words that include the letter aleph.  OK, we all assumed this would be words that START with an aleph.  Nope, these are categories of words that HAVE an aleph.  Confused yet?  Me too.

In the end we think she was giving us spelling tips, but none of us is sure exactly what was the point of this lesson. 

And in another lesson we were learning about two words together in which both are nouns (as in water bottle), and two words together in which one is a noun and one is an adjective (big bottle).  OK, not so bad right?  Just wait.  There are all kinds of rules about plurals, singular, using a letter "heh" sometimes, standing on your head and whistling Dixie (or Hatikvah), patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, and more.  At least that's what it feels like. 

At this point, we just look at each other and say, "Whatever she writes on the board, put it in your machberet and don't ask why."   When a class of twelve adults gets into a giggling fit, you know something is going wrong.

Don't get me wrong, the teachers are dedicated and caring, and very knowledgeable.  It's just us students who, with everything else we are experiencing as new olim, feel quite inundated with information and things to learn and figure out.

Now I know that English is a much harder language to learn than Hebrew.  So for all of the people I have ever known who had to learn English (including my own grandparents, a"h), I am sorry I EVER mocked your accent, your sentence structure, or your reticence to speak in English. 

Anyway, on to other things. 

Let's discuss self-serve gasoline.

Let's discuss how I DID IT BY MYSELF TODAY!  ALMOST!  KIND OF! See, Gila went with me, just to make sure that I didn't crash and burn.  And I didn't.  Next time I will be completely on my own, I promise.

I also started shopping for Pesach.  I learned quickly to check each package for the note that the item has no "chashash shel kitniyos."  Speaking of kitniyos, I'm thinking that it's worth paying someone to do some serious ancestry research on my family and my husband's to find the Sephardi ancestor that I'm SURE is out there, begging to be discovered so that his or her precious great great great whatevers can eat kitniyos on Pesach.  Sounds reasonable, right?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Gas Masks, Friends, & Hebrew

Today I was part of a Ladies of Ulpan field trip to Holon.  A couple of new immigrants and myself figured out how to get to the mall in Holon and actually found our way there.  We asked in the mall, found the line of people waiting for gas masks, showed our Teudat Zehut, and got our gas masks.  I know it's a small thing, but we felt very accomplished having done all of that by ourselves.

It's always better to do these things with friends - that way you have buddies equally terrified of getting lost and ending up somehow in Ramallah (I think that's every Israeli's innermost fear, by the way). Also, it's great having a new "chevra" of friends.  It's exciting meeting new people, hearing their life stories, and realizing how much we have in common, even though we grew up thousands of miles apart.

It feels like, in "upper middle age" we are re-creating ourselves.  We were born and raised in Baltimore, have most of our friends from there and from our college years in New York, and Baltimore held everything familiar and comfortable.  Shul, schools, stores, etc.

Now everything is new and on top of that we don't really speak the local language all that well. But you know what?  It's ok.  It is more than OK.

It's not that we don't miss our friends and family in the US - it's just that we are reinventing our lives from scratch.  We also don't want to re-create the US in Israel - we want to live as Israelis and learn how to do that, as slowly as we need to. 

And of course it is not without its embarrassing moments.

For example, the other day I was in the famous Rami Levy grocery store (best prices around) and wanted to sign up for a "club card."  I handled the discussion with the person in the store OK, and then she gave me a form and told me to stand (I thought) at Cashier 1.  Actually what she said was to stand at the counter in FRONT of Cashier 1.  So there I was standing in the line for Cashier 1 with a little piece of paper.  The cashier looked at me a little (ok, a lot) strange and I showed her the paper.  She said (with a look like "Oh you weird person") you go THERE and pointed to the counter in front of hers, where the store managers are (makes sense, no?).

OK, embarrassing moment #549 of probably several trillion.

It's kind of good for you, humbling even, to be the new guy in town.  In Ulpan we often laugh at our mistakes and wonder how we will ever, ever, remember all of the rules and conjugations.  Just when we think we have it, boom, we get it wrong.

But at least it proves, to us "older" people, that our brains still work and can absorb new information.  Slowly, but it does get in.  One day I will probably stop referring to my vocabulary list every time I want to remember a word I learned probably five times already.  And I will definitely not have to think, "OK, if it's a 'hiphil' - is it a 'hiphil'? - then the past tense for a man is....."  and have it take like 5 minutes to get a sentence out.  Or wonder if you use the feminine or masculine forms of the numbers in a given situation.

I am in awe of little kids and how quickly they pick up the language - they just absorb it wthout thinking about it too much, something I'm afraid adults can't do.

But it's ok I can always ask my grandkds to help me with my Ulpan homework.  "No, Bubby, it's n'kayva - didn't I tell you that yesterday?"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The New Weekend Mindset

This is my 11th Shabbos in Israel.  Whoa.  Amazing.

Over the past three and a half years since my daughters made aliyah, I've heard them lament the loss of Sunday in their lives - the kind of Sunday they had in America.  You know - sleep a little later, at least not rushing out for school or work, get stuff done, relax a little without a harried schedule, etc.

Not that anyone minds the lack of the Sunday Whine of the Children, "What are we going to DO today?" of course.  But it is hard for those of us who have grown up with the mindset of Sunday as an off day to rush from Shabbos into work/school. 

That is one of the most interesting (I won't say difficult) parts of my aliyah experience.  By the time Monday rolls around, I'm sure it's Tuesday - I literally have to keep checking to see what day of the week it is.  And that feeling after Shabbos that TOMORROW is not an off day is hard to get used to. But then I remember that (I'm not proud of this, people) sometimes on Shabbos I'd be thinking about what I wanted to do AFTER Shabbos or on Sunday, since Shabbos was not this island of relaxation - it was connected with Sunday as part of two days "off."

But I gotta tell you, my new Israeli weekend mindset has finally sunk in and it's awesome.

Here is what it was always like for me in America:
  • Wednesday: Oy, I have two more days of work until Shabbos.  Better do food shopping today so I can cook tomorrow.
  • Thursday: I have to go home after a whole day of work and cook for Shabbos because I have to work on Friday and then rush home.
  • Friday: Go to work, the whole time dreaming of Shabbos.  Try to pay attention at work, knowing Shabbos is coming.  Rush home a few hours before Shabbos, hurriedly get ready (which I always kind of liked, the rushing around on Friday part), Shabbos starts, sink into a chair and sigh a lot.
  • Shabbos:  hmmm, should we go out tonight?  Go to the mall tomorrow?
But in Israel it's like this:
  • Wednesday - ooh, tomorrow night starts the weekend!
  • Thursday - ooh, weekend starts tonight - ahhh, a whole day tomorrow to get ready for shabbos.
  • Friday - nothing to do but get ready for Shabbos.
  • Saturday night - OK, that's it, back to work tomorrow.
You see, here you actually spend a day preparing for Shabbos, not a day preparing AND working AND rushing home.  And this makes Shabbos more special, as it should be - an oasis of pure peace.

Even in the summer, when Friday is longer, and you get to do something fun like go to the beach so you have to cook on Thursday, you know that the whole day is dedicated to pre-Shabbos.

I have never actually realized how important, even vital, it is to prepare mentally for Shabbos. I may have thought I was preparing in America, but now that I am here, I realize that I was sort of fooling myself.  When I was working on Friday, I was pretty far from the real mental exercise of preparing for Shabbos. - but there I had no choice.

I realize now that I never knew what it felt like to prepare oneself for Shabbos.  I used to set the table on Thursday night so I could see it for a whole day before Shabbos came - so I guess I was looking for some way to connet to Shabbos before it arrived.  But here everyone prepares mentally for Shabbos.  By the time Wednesday rolls around, the cashiers in the grocery stores are saying Shabbat Shalom as  you leave.

Re-reading this I'm not even sure that I've expressed how special this is. I think you have to be here and experience it to really let it sink into your head completely.

I sincerely hope this country does not change the system and make Friday a work day and Sunday an off day - this is what they are considering.  Because what is so special about Friday in Israel would be totally lost.  That would be tragic.

Good Shabbos, all...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Notebook and Who Is It?

On Sunday our Ulpan teacher #2 (we now have 2 teachers who split the week, so I shall call them #2 and #3, since #1 was our teacher for a few weeks before that) wrote a list on the board of supplies we would need:

1. Scissors
2. Markers
3. Ruler
4. Pencil
5. Pen
6. Eraser

These, she said, were needed so that we could create a "machberet" (notebook) that would contain all of the conjugation families we are learning.  She asked us to have the materials with us on Wednesday when she returned.

We all wondered at the list and felt a little like kindergarten students.  Indeed, I have to say that when I went into the stationery/office supply store, I did feel like a little kid getting all ready for the new school year.  I even anguished over the color of my notebook (purple!), the number of markers, the size of the scissors, etc.

After I made my purchases I realized I'd forgotten to buy a pencil case in which to store all of this.  I've noticed, via my granddaughter, that schoolkids here all have HUGE pencil/supply cases that they shlep around with them.  In fact my granddaughter Ariella generously and graciously offered me one of her erasers when I told her about the list.  But no problem, I thought, I'll just use a ziploc bag.

Today was the day Teacher #2 returned and we were to create our notebooks.  I have to say, I was looking forward to it, wondering how we were going to create this useful book.

I can't possibly describe the intricate instructions that made that little plain machberet turn into an incredibly useful tabbed notebook but suffice it to say that it took our class over an hour to do this.  And that most of us were almost comatose from either trying to figure out her Hebrew instructions or laughing at ourelves at how inept we were.  Here was a group of accomplished professionals with our scissors and paper, looking at how the guy next to us was carrying out the instructions, hoping we'd done it right, running for the tape because we made a mistake, getting bits of paper all over the place.

I mean when was the lasst time you took scissors to paper, cut carefully, wrote in little tabs, used a ruler to write a straight line, and used markers?  If you say not a long time, you either are a primary school teacher or you need to get something better to do all day.

By the time the notebooks were "done," half of us were vowing to redo them at home, and the other half were popping Excedrin (OK, that was just me). 

My biggest boo boo happened early on in the session - I cut the page the wrong way.  No problem, I thought, I'll just tear these two pages out and start again.

Then, as we went on, I realized that she meant to use up the entire notebook - uh oh.  I was going to run out of pages before everyone else.  Panic.

As we went further, we got to the last few pages of the notebook.  Some people had many pages left, I had one. I was ready for the big embarrassing moment when I would resign myself to doing the whole thing again at home - and maybe asking my five year old grandsons for help.

But - then she said we were done!  Yahoo, I had one page left! 

The second half of class was talking about the parts of the body.  After listing them in groups according to whether the words are masculine and feminine (they don't divide up the way you might think, of course), we moved on to providing adjectives for them. You know, long legs, brown eyes, etc in order to practice our feminine/masculine expertise. The teacher then asked us to write a paragraph describing someone else in the class and we'd all try to figure out who it is each of us is writing about.

Hmmmm...sounds like a recipe for disaster.  I mean, would you really write that someone in the class has a big nose or a pointy chin?

As we went around the room with each of us reading our descriptions, it was clear that we were all beautiful/handsome and healthy.

Oh, and remember the ziploc bag that I used to store my supplies?  Well, what do you think happens when you put a scissors in a ziploc bag?  Bingo.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gas Masks

Last week I received an email from the Modiin Olim liaison, a wonderful woman named Cherie. She wrote to the entire olim community informing us that we should order gas masks.

This did not upset me.  I know, it sounds scary, but after all we all live in apartments and homes with "mamad" rooms that are constructed to keep us safe from an attack.  So why should ordering a gas mask feel scarier?

Anyway, back to the amusing part of the story.  The email included a link to the Post Office website's form for ordering the gas masks.  Yes, the Post Office, which seems to serve as the official government site for anything happening in the area.  We went there to pay for our driver's license, after all.  Makes sense, right?  Don't answer that.

So I dutifully filled out the order form (in Hebrew, folks) and hit "send."  About an hour later I received a phone call with someone speaking very quickly in Hebrew.  I assumed this was the call from the gas mask distribution office. But she spoke so fast that after ,"Hallo, Suzan?" I was lost.  I asked her to speak in English.  She hesitated, and then said (I think) that she'd transfer me to someone else.

After which I heard a dial tone.

Oh, she must have meant that she would have someone else call me.  I THINK this phone call was about the gas masks, but who knows,.  So I waited for the phone call.  Which never came.

No problem, I thought, I'll fill out the form again.  Done.  No one gets back to me.
No problem, I thought, I'll fill out the form in English this time, so they know that the person filling it out needs to speak to somene in English.  No one gets back to me.

That was over a week ago.  Yesterday I got fed up and wrote back to the olim liaison asking her what to do.  She said you have to go to the post office and order the gas masks in person.

So, veteran Israeli that I am, I look up the post office website and find my branch, and then check out their hours.  As I've said before, the hours when a place of business is open varies from day to day, week to week, and store to store.

My post office is open Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8:30-12:30, then from 3:30-6:00.  On Tuesday, only 8:30-1:00.  On Friday..... well, you get the idea.  My daughter gave me the idea of taking pictures of the store hour signs wherever I go, which is pretty smart.

So my big plan is to go to the post office and order the gas masks tomorrow, which is the first day this week I don't have Ulpan and can get there in time.  Of course I have to do this in Hebrew.  I've been memorizing the word for gas mask for 24 hours now, but you can be sure I'll start mumbling and will forget the word and end up looking lost and saying, "Gas mask?" after which the post office person may or may not understand me.

I may just walk out of there with stamps.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Parking and the Masked Stranger

Yes, these two things are connected.

Parking in Israel is fascinating.  Those little white lines between spaces?  Meaningless! Taking up two spaces? What's your point? Parking your big car in a tiny space so that no one on either side can get in their own car?  Is that a problem?

One place I LOVE to park is in the Azrieli Mall in Modiin.  There is a lovely covered parking lot with lots of spaces and I have figured out exactly where to park (green section!) so that I can get out on the right street and get home quickly.  Now, people there park rudely as well, but at least there are lots of spaces (except on Fridays, but that's another story).

The other thing I love about this mall parking lot is that parking is free for the first two hours.  When you leave your stick your little parking ticket thingy into a machine and it gives you a beautiful green message that says "no charge!"  Of course you have to make sure that you are there for less than two hours, but that's not hard to do - I mean, Towsontown Center (for non-Baltimoreans insert here any humgous multi-level mall in your city) it ain't.

So today after Ulpan I drove over to the mall to pick up some Ulpan supplies.  I started out Ulpan with a nice thick spiral notebook but after a while, you really need dividers and pockets because there are so many sheets, lists, etc. and you should keep them organized.  My library training kicks in here - I do so love organizing papers and making everything easy to get to.  As someone in class said today, we could easily organize this information on our computers, but then we'd have to be typing in Hebrew - haha, that's not gonna happen.

Back to the mall.  I found a cool store with school supplies and happily filled my arms with binder, paper, dividers, nilonim (plastic sheet holders which are VERY popular here), etc.

Then it was time to go home.

So I go to the exit and go to the ticket thingy and put my ticket it, waiting for it to show me the happy green screen and let me know that parking has been free.

Something goes very wrong.

My little parking ticket jumps in and out of the machine quickly and I keep pushing it in and it keeps popping out.  Then I get a message that I do not understand about my "kartis."  I think to myself, "Oh, I guess I'll just get in the car and hope for the best."  But inside I was very nervous.  What if the same police and members of Mossad who almost arrested me after I got gas last week are waiting for me at the mall exit and THIS TIME they'll get me for leaving without seeing the happy green message?

So I walk out to my car and guess what - while I had been inside the mall, the mall people had repainted the parking lot section I was parked in.  It was now orange.  Wow. Quick work.  It took me a second and then I realized I had come out of the wrong entrance.  So much for my showing off about what an expert I am at the mall.  Somehow my brain needed to work out the non-working parking ticket and going out the wrong entrance so somewhere in my brain I think, "Oh, the parking ticket didn't work because I was at the wrong entrance."  That may be one of the dumbest thoughts I've ever had.

So I go back into the mall, walk to the other entrance (if you think I was going to walk through the parking lot to find my car, you must be crazy), and once again put my "kartis" into the machine.  Guess what?  Same thing happens.  I walk to the guard standing there and ask what the message means.  He shrugs his shoulders. Thanks.  So I look the word up on my phone (I love you, Morfix) and I see that it means that the ticket cannot be read by the machine. 

That's. it, I fugre.  I will drive out and the card will not work and I will get arrested, or even worse - have to speak Hebrew through the intercome at the exit machine.  This is going to be interesting.

So I drive out and am happy that no one is behind me becasue I'm sure that I'm going to be there for a while.  I put the card in and it doesn't work, it pops out.  The message is, once again, that the ticket cannot be read.  At least I learned a new word today.

So I press the intercom button.  Then I notice that behind me is a young man on a motorcycle.  Oy, he's going to be mad at me!  Then, out of the blue, the young man, who is wearing a huge helmet (i.e. "masked man"), comes up next to my car.  No, I wasn't afraid.  And he hands me HIS ticket.  I understand that he wants me to use his ticket and then both of us will get out while the mehcanical arm is up.  Oooookkaaaaayyyyy.  I realize that it's going to be a mad dash.

I put the ticket in and floor it.  And yes, we both get out.  He saved me!  I thank him as we both pull up to the light.  I learned a new word and made a new friend!

Thank you, masked man!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Real Life

Shabbos is the one day each week I get to read newspapers.  In Baltimore I was a newspaper junkie, loving to read the NY Times every day, but here newspaper delivery is really expensive, so I wait for Shabbos, buy a Jerusalem Post and Haaretz and catch up.

Today I was reading some letters to the editor in the Jerusalem Post reacting to an article about the difficult and sad situation in Beit Shemesh which you have all read about.  One of the letters really got to me.  The writer mentioned that when one makes aliyah, one can try to "recreate" one's hometown/home country life in Israel, or one can learn about Israeli life and adjust one's lifestyle to match what Israel is like.

I think that thinking "how am I going to have this American life in Israel" might be what makes some poeple hesitant about aliyah.  It certainly made me hesitant.  When we first started visitng on a regular basis after my daughters arrived, I'd think, "How do people live here?  It's dusty and everything is dirty, and the stores are tiny and it's like small time America of 30 years ago.  I could NEVER live here!"

And then we kept visiting and visiting, and slowly I realized something - it's not about living an American life in Isarel, it's about living an Israeli life.  If you are going to recreate America in Israel, why come here?  You have to be open to that, which I became slowly, over time.  The last few visits we had, I left feeling sad - not only for leaving my kids but because I stopped thinking about what Israel WASN'T and starting loving what it was.

What it is is, and I've said this before - home.  It's home in a way no place else could ever be.   I grew up in Baltimore and love Baltimore and love  my friends and family there.  But living here just feels all kinds of right. 

In a way I feel like my life just started - my real life.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


No, this is not about a poorly prepared Purim seudah (face it, you were all thinking that).

You may remember that I have been nervous about getting self-service gas. Well, I finally did it.  I was on my way to Bet Shemesh for Purim seudah at my daughter's, and I knew there was a gas station right on the way, an easy pull-off.  "Come on," I told myself, "you have to do this, don't be afraid, what's the worst that can happen?"

You're all laughing already, aren't you.

Well, let's just say that it's a miracle I wasn't arrested.  I have no idea what happened at that gas station.

Here's the story.

I pull into a "sherut atzmi" (self service) pump, open the gas tank and pull out my Israeli credit card (you can't use self service with a foreign card) and look at the screen which is full of Hebrew words.  "Well," I think to myself, "it must be telling me to put my card in!"  So I slide my card in and the words on the screen do not change.  Then I slide the card in the other way and the words on the screen do not change.  Hmmmm.

So I do the same thing again.  Still nothing.  Then I remember that someone once told me that I had to put my identity number in, so I figured why not and typed in the number.  Still nothing.

OK, my nightmare is now officially coming true.  I've gone to the gas station and can't figure out what to do.
I think, "You have to ask for help."  So I turn to the Israeli-looking man at the next pump and ask, "Slicha, efshar l'azor li?" (Excuse me, can you help me?).  He nods yes and comes over and he cannot make it work either.  He then pushes the speaker button and the guy inside says I have to come in.  "OH NO!  I have to speak more Hebrew!"  

But I do it as I think how my nightmare is continuing.  I go inside and the guy says some words to me and I stand there with a blank face.  Then he gestures that he wants my credit card.  I give it to him.  He swipes it. He says something about coming back.  I say OK.  Then he asks if I want a receipt?  I understood enough of that one, so I said no.  He hands me back my credit card.

Now what?  My Israeli friend has pulled away and I am standing there like an idiot.  I figure, maybe I'll try pumping the gas.  Nothing.  Hmmm, maybe I'll try sliding the card again!  Nothing.

Uh oh. Then a little voice comes over the speaker and says something.  I figure I'll give the pump another try and gas comes out!  I fill up the tank.  Then I think, "I don't think I have to go back in there because I don't want a receipt and they already gave me my credit card back. So.....uh....I'm just gonna drive outta here.....quickly."

So I give a quick look back to the office and see that no one is gesturing for me to come back.  OK, I get in the car and turn it on and pull out.  I keep looking in the rear view mirror expecting to see this gas station man screaming, waving his hands madly, and running after me, accompanied by several policemen, the Mossad, and a whole platoon of chayalim.

No one follows me.

So, I got gas but I was not successful with the pump thingy. I can't wait to check my credit card statement to see exactly what I was charged.

See, I had wanted to go WITH someone who would help me but I thought that was very childish and I should go myself.  So I did and it kinda failed, except that I did get gas.

Next time I'm taking a chaperone.

Oh, yeah, Purim.  Purim was wonderful here -of course everywhere you drive there are people with costumes,crazy things coming out of their cars, speakers playing music, and more. And hearing the DJs on the rock and roll station say "Chag Purim Sameach" is so very cool - I don't think the DJs on 98Rock in Baltimore do that.....

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


So today was one of those days when I realized what it means to live in Israel.  I don't think it has really hit me like this in the over two months we've been here.  It's been a constant whirlwind (is that an oxymoron?) of offices, papers, movers, unpacking, learning Hebrew, etc. etc. etc.  

First, as I drove to Ulpan, the streets were filled with people taking their kids to school and gan, and every single kid was dressed in a Purim costume.  I mean everyone is excited about Purim. And I just kept smiling - this is our country, with our holidays, and we are not the foreigners or strangers.  When you get that it's an overwhelming feeling.

Today my daughter and I went into Jerusalem to meet a cousin visiting from Canada.  It was just a routine kind of drive into the city, find the hotel, etc. etc.

But it is not routine when you are driving into Jerusalem.  I've always loved that entry into the city, the hills, the narrow streets, but it's always been as a tourist.

We drove into the city in a way where you kind of creep up on the walls of the Old City.  Suddenly, on your left, is the Old City.  It takes your breath away.  It is so majestic, so ancient, so full of who and what we are, and I live here!  I kept saying that to myself.  How lucky am I - I can come here whenever I want, it's part of my country, where I live.

All I can say is, my heart was full.  I was glowing on the inside, just loving our decision to come home, to be where we're supposed to be - with all its frustrations and quirks, it is ours.  I think for the first time in my life I feel complete in a way I didn't think I could be.

Baruch Hashem.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sometimes the Blogs Just Write Themselves

You may recall that our plumbing fixture story has not yet ended.  

While most of our fixtures have arrived and are installed we still await one showerhead and one soap dispenser (for the kitchen - the soap dispenser, not the showerhead, in case you were worried about our bathing habits).

A few weeks ago, my heroic daughter and husband actually went to the plumbing supply warehouse to demand our supplies since she had almost no fixtures and was about to move in.  They were successful - ALMOST all of the fixtures were delivered.

Today my daughter called excitedly, "Your showerhead and saboniya [soap dispenser] are on their way upstairs - go tot the door!"  And sure enough there was a knock on my door and there was Mr. Chief Plumbing Guy with his trusty assistants, Mr.1 and Mr 2, and in their hands were my showerhead and soap dispenser!  They could not fathom why I did a little jig when I saw that, but let's just add that to the things that they think are weird about Americans. (For example when we moved in the movers chastised me for having "big American furniture - we are a small country, we need only small things.")

So after the jig was over I led them to the master bathroom to install our showerhead.  

Wait for it. This is when the blog wrote itself.

"Ayfo ha z'roah?" asks helper #1.  "Ayn z'roah??" asks Chief Plumbing Guy?  "Ayn," says #1.  Now I have been in Ullpan for 3 weeks and in Israel for 2 months, so I understood that something was missing.  See when someone says "Ayfo"  (Where is) and someone else says "Ayn" (There isn't) you know you have a problem.

Uh oh.  

So CPG (figure it out people) looks at me and shrugs his shoulders.  "Ayn z'roah."  

I am now thinking of the word z'roah and wondering if showerhead installation in Israel may be connected with the seder plate. 

I quickly figure out that the "z'roah" is the arm-like pipe which comes out of the wall onto which one affixes the showerhead.  

"Look," CPG says, looking at me, "I deliver to you what I have.  When the z'roah arrives, we will install the showerhead."  BTW, he said this in Hebrew and I understood completely! 

This is when I start laughing.  He looks at me.  I can't help it, the whole thing is so comical between the connection to Pesach, the showerhead that will never be, and the constant frustrations, the only thing to do is laugh.

So I am assuming that I will never have a showerhead in my master bathroom.  I'm thinking of turning it into a small home office or renting it out.  Interested?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ulpan Takes a Turn to the Serious

Last week, our Ulpan teacher informed us that for whatever reason our Ulpan class would start to meet five days per week instead of two days per week.

Hmmm. how did we feel about this?  On the one hand, you'd surely learn faster the more days you attend, but on the other hand, it was kind of nice not having to get up and go out every morning.  Nevertheless we all smiled and agreed that bottom line was that we wanted to learn Hebrew faster, and five days of doing that is better than two.

So today three things happened:
1. We got a new Ulpan teacher who had a decidedly different tone the teacher we were used to.
2. We were told that our new teacher would not be our ONLY new teacher - others will be teaching us as well.
3. We moved to a new classroom - in the miklat (shelter) of the building.
4. We were told that - oops- they MEANT to say that Ulpan will be FOUR days until Pesach, and maybe five days afterwards.

Like any teaching situation, teachers have their own "tone."  We quickly learned that our new teacher was a kind of no-nonsense person as she laid out her rules:

1. Come on time
2. Always do your homework
3. No cellphones on during class
4. You may not bring your child to class - ever.

Now our first teacher had never laid down any rules at all, and when people came late to class you could tell she wasn't happy but she never said anything about it.  But OK, we could handle this.

New Ulpan Teacher also told us in her own way that she did not teach dikduk like our former teacher.  She wanted to teach us in an organized, piece by piece manner so that the binyanim (tenses) made sense to us.  This was a little disconcerting since we had gotten into a nice rhythm with our first teacher and now everything was changing.  Considering the fact that we'd all left our home countries not long ago and were getting used to absolutely everythying in our lives changing all at once, it had been nice to get into a routine with a teacher.  Now we had a new teacher with a completely different style.  But come on, we're not children, we'll be fine. Right?

The weirder part was having our class in the shelter.  This room was damp and cold, being in the basement of the building and it having been an especially rainy few weeks.  You heard water dripping but didn't know where it was coming from, there were all kinds of knobs and dials everywhere that looked scary, and there was no direct light from the outside.  Totally creepy. You not only could not physically warm up the entire four hours, but you felt this eerie chill as well, knowing that this room may be used one day to keep a lot of children safe from some kind of attack.

Anyway, our new teacher is definitely serious - the whole session felt different, a little less happy than our previous sessions.  But we shall perservere - after all we are there to learn as quickly as possible so that we don't sound too much like idiots.

And here's an interesting thing that our Ulpan teacher told us today - apparently we religious people use two names when we name our children because the longer the name the more "power" it has.  I had never heard that and wondered if it was an utter misconception of Israeli culture. 

She also said that more traditional religious Israelis look down upon the short Israeli names like "Ziv" and "Nir" because a short name is less powerful.

One thing I taught HER was about "coffee names."  That is, if you have a hard to pronounce (for an Israeli) name like "Bernard" for example (not that I know anyone by that name), when you order your coffee you might run into trouble because the cashier can't pronounce it or gives you a weird look.  So you adopt a "coffee name" which is more comfortable for the Israelis - like "Ziv" or "Tal."  Others in the class knew about this phenomenon, but the teacher was blown away.

In pre-Purim news, it is great fun seeing all of the signage everywhere about Purim - those banners that they hang in the medians of the bigger roads wishing you a good Purim and telling you to shop here or there for your Purim needs.

And I know this is not news, but having the cashier at the supermarket wish you a chag sameach is very cool.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Wheels! and My First Israeli Protest

Today was a big day - I traveled to Herzliya this morning to pick up our new car. 

Here's some historical dialogue (you wives out there will enjoy this one) which took place in Baltimore sometime around last November:

Me: Listen, we are going to need a car as soon as possible after we make aliyah.
Husband: We can't afford it.
Me: Well, how are we going to do all of the things we need to do right away?
Husband: Our kids will drive us around.
Me: Are you kidding me?  They have carpools, shopping, they can't be shlepping us around.
Husband: We can't afford a car.
Me: So we should rent a car at least for a few weeks until we get everything done.
Husband:  Fine.
Me: And we should try to buy a car as soon as possible.
Husband: We can't affrord it.

Well, I am happy to say that said Husband finally agreed with me that we needed a car as soon as possible. I mean, living where we do, there are no local grocery stores - you are basically living in the suburbs and need to drive to anything. Whew.

This is why we pushed so hard to get our licenses before the Husband left to go back to the States for Tax Season.

So we went through getting the Green document (Tofes Yarok) which you get from the optometrist, the doctor appointment, the visit to Jerusalem, the driving lessons, the driving test, the car shopping, the money gathering, the money transferring, the insurance buying, and finally, folks, today was Car Pickup Day!

So my son in law Donny took me with him to Herzliya this mroning (he works there) and there was our little car waiting for us!

The salesman showed me the basics (the key goes here, this is the spare tire, etc.) and away I drove!  Now I only had to find my way back to Modiin. 

For some reason, I am terrified of driving where I have never driven before.  I mean terrified.  I am afraid I'm going to get lost and never find my way home. I know, it makes no sense.  But there it is. So I prepare.  I check Google maps so I have a picture of the route in my head, I have a GPS, I print out Google directions.  And I still panic.

So there I was driving out of Herzliya and - yay!!!! - I found the right road and was happily driving my new car on the Ayalon highway south toward Modiin.

And then....the traffic stops.

OK, I think, it's an accident or just heavy traffic. No problem.

I keep driving slowly and ahead of me two cars have their flashers on.  OK, this must be the accident scene.  Then I look to my right and left - in all four lanes of traffic AND the shoulders there are cars with their flashers going - and they are in a line.  And they are stopping traffic from moving forward.
AND they all have signs in their back windows - something about taxes.

I start laughing hysterically (see yesterday's blog).  Here I was panicking about losing my way and I do so well and then these protesters stop me in my tracks.  I was actually enjoying it because at least I wasn't lost!

Eventually people started snaking their way through the barricade, me among them.

And I made it home.  With my new little car.  Which I LOVE. 

And I called the car rental people to pick up the rental car, which I patted with love and said goodbye to.  I mean that little Dahiatsu got us through a lot of tough things, and performed very well.  But our new Hyundai is so much prettier and cooler. 

And as you know, we are all about being cool.