Thursday, November 29, 2012

We Finally DO Stuff

Well, we've been here over 10 months and other than, you know, move to a new country, new apartment, make new friends, find new work, learn how to live here, we haven't done much.

And by "doing" I refer to those images I had in my head before aliyah.  You know, you see yourself going to the Kotel every week, climbing mountains in the Golan, jeeping in the Negev, visiting ancient ruins, etc.

So far, for us "doing" means food shopping, going to the Modiin mall for necessities like lunch, finding a good dry cleaner, and figuring out when the fruits we like are in season.  I mean it, James Bond has nothing on us when it comes to pure adventure. Sometimes - hold on to your seats, my friends - we even go to ANOTHER mall!

See, we are still in the "deer in the headlights" phase of our aliyah which, from looking around at our neighbors, lasts about 5 years.  Seriously.  By this I mean we look out at our magnificent view of the Judean hills (I think that's what we're looking at, at least I'm pretty sure we're not looking at the Alps, Syria, or Jordan, so let's call them the Judean hills because it sounds so ancient and romantic) and think, "We actually LIVE here" but it does not sink in at all.  In fact (and I've heard this from other olim) sometimes I say to myself, in shock, "When is our flight back again? Oh, right, we're not going back, we're staying here.  Get it through your thick head, woman."  Still can't believe we live here.

We have been saying the following to ourselves for about 6 months - "We really need to DO something."  We just haven't been able to figure out what that is or get ourselves to do it.

Well, all that is over because as of two weeks ago, we are doers.

First, we took a short vacation to the Dead Sea.  Let me tell you about the Dead Sea.  People walk around there wearing bathrobes.  OUTSIDE of the hotel.  In the STREET.  I felt like I was in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and Jack Nicholson was going to appear around the next corner (ooh, image deleted - every time I think of him I think of that scary Stephen King movie).  Really, perfectly normal people are walking around outside, in the street, in the little white bathrobes that the hotels give you.  But anyway the trip was restful - my husband decided to try out the massages in the spa.  First day was great - second day not so much.  On the second day he opted for an anti-stress massage.  It's called anti-stress because when it's over you stop worrying about all the stuff going on in your life and begin worrying about he bruises that have already begun to blossom on your poor body after the masseuse is finished with you.  I am not kidding. The man is now covered in bruises - even on his toes!  Eww.

Next, we went to a concert in Jerusalem - yes!  We drove there!  Hooray for Waze - people, if you are coming to Israel, put Waze in your smartphone and you are all set.  The concert was a benefit for Emunah and was wonderful.  I looked around and congratulated us on doing something Israeli.  The Jerusalem Symphony played and several chazzanim sang.  But the highlight was at the end - everyone stood up and we sang Hatikvah.

That got to me - standing up with hundreds of other Israelis, singing Hatikvah, in Jerusalem. When I used to sing Hatikvah in America I always got emotional, but this was several hundred levels of emotion above that.  Not something you can really put into words, but I almost felt worthy of calling myself an Israeli.

Last night we attended a comedy show put on by the Koby Mandell Foundation.  Seth Mandell does the intros for these shows and as he's standing up there, smiling and joking around, you just wonder how he manages to do all of this.  He talked about the summer camp that the foundation runs and how the kids who go love it because they can feel like it's OK to be sad, to feel lost, and to need to be with other kids who understand that.

Tomorrow we are scheduled to go on a tiyul around Modiin to learn about the history of the city. 

So this was a jam-packed week of DOING.  Hopefully this means our lives are getting into somewhat of a more normal routine.

However, we have yet to find a decent dry cleaner.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Going Social and the War

Lately there has been a great deal of back and forth about the value of the Internet. 

Let me tell you something - social media (Facebook, Twitter, and all that) has changed the face of war forever.  And I think it's for the good. 

I know some of you reading this may disagree, but denying the value of social media in 2012 is like living in 1950 and denying that telephones were worthwhile.  It may be a new thing, but it changes everything - and it's not going anywhere So get used to it.

With rockets raining down on Israel, Israelis are able to Tweet and post to Facebook using their phones and tablets - no electricity necessary (until the batteries die, but that's another problem).  There is no such thing as a delay anymore.  As soon as something happens, it's out there.  That means that help is also on the way immediately. 

Before Shabbat, emails went out informing everyone that they could keep on their radios (or radio station Internet sites) over Shabbat - once the regular broadcast stopped around 4:00 pm as it usually does on Fridays, it would immediately be turned on if there was a siren, with an announcement of where the rockets were heading. 

We did this.  For the entire Shabbat I don't think there was a 15 minute period of quiet.  You'd hear the siren sound, then you'd hear the announcement, "AZAKA - [name of place]."  Over and over and over again.  Nonstop.  Imagine living in those towns and having those sirens go off one after the other.  Many people spent Shabbat in their safe rooms.

So here is the Internet saving lives, literally.  Just like the phone, which can carry lashon hara or b'sorot tovot, the Internet is a tool that man has created and which can make a huge difference for the good.

People have been writing and calling asking us how it feels to be new olim and going through this war.  I can give the pat answer, "Well, life goes on here, blah blah blah."  But it doesn't.  Each of us has a knot in the pit of our stomachs, knowing that young men and women are out there risking their lives for us.  We see the photos of young men davening in the field somewhere, taleitim and tefillin over their rifles and uniforms. And we love them.  I mean each one of them is like our own child.  Our heart aches when even one is injured.  People are posting on Facebook the names of their children and relatives who are fighting, to keep them in mind. 

This past Shabbat, Chief Rabbi Lau asked everyone to say special Tehillim during davening, some with the Aron Kodesh open.  How powerful that was.  Knowing that standing there in shul were parents of soldiers already called up, or about to be called up, and parents whose young boys and girls are not yet in the army but will be, sooner than one can imagine.  Your heart aches and your soul just reaches to shamayim to ask Hashem for help.

So that's what it's like.  And all of these feelings, and so much more, are communicated between millions of people via social media - and it gives tremendous chizuk to all of us to hear and see it. 

Today we are tied together as never before, we are within milliseconds of reaching each other with comfort and love.  And with news, both good and bad.

May Hashem give us the strength and courage to be what we are meant to be, what He made us to be - giborim/ heroes - and to use our brains to continue to create tools that bring us together as a nation.

And to recognize that those tools ARE for good, and that we have the strength to make sure of that.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Being in the Right Place

Today Tzahal took out a high level Hamas leader and Hamas and their friends have vowed revenge - big time.  Apparently people in the reserves are being called up, and the government is advising people within 70 km of Gaza to go into their shelters.

It is very scary. 

But for the first time in my life, instead of feeling that gut-wrenching worry from 6000 miles away, I am here going through it with the rest of our country and our people.

Hundreds of rockets hit the Gaza region and the news ignored it.  It was all over Facebook and Twitter, but never picked up in the mainstream media. So, since the media rules the world, it never happened.  You can bet this attack on a Hamas military leader by the Israeli army will get plenty of press, though.

So, my reaction to this event today is -I am here.  I am not trying to be glib about this, chas v'shalom.  I am trying to get my head around the fact that I am part of this country instead of an observer of it.  It is my country, my people, and my war.  Don't think I've ever felt like that before.  It's a very new experience.

But I feel proud - of how Israel behaves, of its brave soldiers, and of its smarts.  And, OK, I feel a little proud of me for being on this side of the world, finally. 

Finally, I'm in the right place.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Dud Dudes Do It

Oh,, boy, here is one for the books.

Last week, the weather got much cooler.  Suddenly, our hot water did not heat itself anymore, as it does all summer (solar heating is VERY cool - well, hot, well you know what I mean).  So we started to switch on the dud (pronounced "dood") shemesh (solar water heater people, keep up) about 20 minutes before we wanted to shower.

The first time we did this was last Friday.  Our showers were, um, not hot, let's just say that. Hmmm, we figured, our dud shemesh is broken, we have to get it fixed.

So we called the dud company on Sunday, and, of course, they said they'd come on Wednesday.  We got them to come on Tuesday.  Monday they called and said they'd arrive between 10 and 2.  They came at 3:30.  Early!

First, they had to figure out how to open the combination lock that secures the door that goes to the roof.  This was a problem.  Apparently children in this country do not grow up using combination locks on their school lockers. Even with written instructions in Hebrew, this did not go well.  They looked at the paper, only saw the numbers, and rotated the heck out of that dial. After 4 tries, we convinced them to actually read the entire list of instructions, which tells you what direction to turn the little dial in.  Voila!  It worked.  Up they go to the roof to inspect the dud.

After a few minutes guy #2 (I'm calling the guy on the roof guy #1) comes down and asks me to turn on the water and turn the handle to the hottest possible.  I do.  Then he tells me to turn it off.  I do.  So far, I am doing great.

They he asks me where the switch to turn the dud is - I show him the switch we use near our master bathroom.  There is also a switch near the guest bathroom.  Here is where the story gets extremely embarrassing for us.

When he turns on the switch, the guy on the roof says nothing is happening.  This goes on for a few minutes with a lot of conversation in Arabic.  I think I learned the word "no" in Arabic very well.  Then I had an idea - "Look," I said, "there's another switch near the other bathroom."  He looked at me kinda funny.  Another switch?  So I show it to him.

Then he looks at me funny again.  "THIS is the dud switch," he says, pointing to the switch we kind of ignore, "and THIS is the switch to turn on the bathroom heater," and he points to the other switch.

Oh.  Um.  OK.

So apparently we have been using the wrong switch this whole time, and just lucking out that the water was hot enough on its own.  We have never actually turned on the dud, it turns out. 

Yes, we are idiots.

But then...guy #1 comes down from the roof with a part in his hand.  He has replaced the thermostat.  He shows it to us.  He says some words.  The words probably mean, "We brought this old thermostat in with us to make you believe that we changed the thermostat, but actually we just carry it around and show it to people."

So wait - they replaced a part, but really the problem was that we were using the wrong switch.  So ...oh, forget it, by this time they are leaving and speaking quickly in Hebrew or Arabic or Swahili and we are flustered.

After we closed the door, we burst out laughing - idiots!  We were pushing the wrong switch for 10 months. 

That's it for now.  More embarrassing stories to come, I'm certain of it.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Work - Differently

Since about a month after we arrived in Israel I have been working as a Virtual Assistant - working for US companies who need help with all kinds of tasks (administration, writing, research, social media, web content, data entry, etc. etc.) and decide to get real about the work force and hire some exceedingly qualified people, no matter where they live.  I have had between 5 and  7 clients at any one time. (The company, by the way, is called Secretary in Israel and is very cool). 

Before we left the US, I had been working for The Johns Hopkins University (you have to write it that way or Johns Hopkins himself climbs out of his grave and beats you over the head with a stick) for over 30 years.  I had gotten positions of increasing responsibility and benefited from all that JHU had to offer, including tuition benefits for my kids (yay!).

So here I am in a new country, new home, and now not only a new job, but many new jobs and working at home for the first time since a brief stint 1982 when my son was born (I couldn't take it after 6 months and went back to in-office work).  Listen, I like getting out of the house every day.  I like being with co-workers, discussing issues with them in person (you know, "issues" like office gossip, that sort of thing - what? is that wrong?).  Not only that, but I was now working US hours - not really getting going until around 3:00 pm and working until 10-Midnight most nights.

Not only that, but my husband is also working from home.  So we are together.....all the time.

OK, listen, before you wives out there start making gagging sounds I want to tell you that it is actually OK.  Sort of like when our youngest left the house and we looked at each other and said, "EWWW, I have to talk to YOU now? Gack!" and then we realized that we kind of still like each other.

But wow, what a change in lifestyle.  Here goes:

1.  You wake up and do not have to rush out to go anywhere.  Sometimes (heh heh heh) you can even get back in bed and read awhile.  GOOD!

2. You are near the kitchen and fridge all day long.  BAD!

3. You hear your spouse on the phone with his/her client and coworkers and now you know everything he or she is doing and all the ins and outs of office politics.  INTERESTING! (maybe)

4. Your spouse, whom you love with all your heart and who is cute and wonderful, and by the way a total genius, but who is just not a computer person by nature, keeps calling you in to help him with things like PDFs and printing. CHARACTER BUILDING!

5. You make up reasons to go out - "Yay, we need to go to the cleaner today! AND the supermarket!|  "Let's not do both on the same day, ok?  Let's hold off and do the cleaner tomorrow!!"  PATHETIC!

6. Your work is. always. there.  You cannot walk away from it. DEPRESSING!

7.  When you get tired, you walk 2 steps to your bedroom and take a rest!  EXCELLENT!

8. You can get work done while everyone else is sleeping and impress the heck out of your boss! SMART!

9.  Dinner becomes the high point of the day.  Wait, dinner is always the high point of the day.  Never mind.

10. When you have fee time you can check Facebook or play games and no one will come in to look over your shoulder and wonder why they are paying you money to do this. AWESOME!

11.  Oh, but remember re #10 - you only get paid by the hour, don't earn money while you are on Facebook.  NOT AWESOME!

That's it for now.  Gotta take a break.  Naptime!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Vote, Cleanliness, a Tiyul, a Friend

First, we (and by "we" I mean my husband) had our first Israeli voting experience.  This is how the elections work in Israel:

1.  You join something.
2.  They send you emails and texts
3.  They tell you to go vote somewhere
4.  You go
5.  There is a selection of slips of paper and you choose one and put it in a box.
6.  You walk out and wonder what just happened and is this 1877?

That's about the size of it.  No idea how this all works.  Of course we learned about the elections in Ulpan - you vote for a party, not a person, but you want to see who they might pick, etc. etc., so maybe that's how you decide what party to vote for.  Or not.  Apparently yesterday's vote was only for people voting for this party.  Maybe.  Or not.

On to our latest property tax bill.  Received yesterday, paid yesterday; we are good citizens.  The bill was accompanied by a flyer about the Modiin Fall Music Festival.  "Fall" being an interesting term for a season that so far has seen 90 degree temps and no rain.  But that's another matter.  On the flip side of the flyer was an ad.  It was a plea to dog owners to clean up after their dogs.  OK, nothing so wrong with that.  But the photo that accompanied the ad was of a dog cleaning up its own....mess.  With a shovel and pail, and a plastic bag.  Standing on its hind legs. 

I'm proud to say that we wrenched ourselves away from our computers this week and went to two tiyulim!  We feel dumb that we've been here for 10 months and have done nothing Israeli.

Well the first was not really a tiyul, it was more of us getting out of the house and going somewhere that is not the Modiin mall, the local grocery store, or the home supply store.  We went to another mall! In Jerusalem!  And we drove there!  And we came back! 

But the next day we went on a real tiyul, since we now consider ourselves expert "getting out of the house" people.

So where did we go?  Up the road!  There is a memorial to the Jews who died in the Zaglembie region of Poland during the Holocaust.  It is all outdoors, a series of garden areas, with the names of all of the families, etc.  Very touching and well done, as are all of the memorials here (and as you can imagine there are lots and lots of them).

Last but not least, I heard from my friend Edson who works for Johns Hopkins in Jordan - he is coming here and we can visit!  He figured it lot easier for him to come to Israel than for me to go to Amman.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Ten Month Report

We have been Israelis for 10 months now. 

We love living here, more than we ever imagined we would.  We feel like we are living the way Jews are supposed to live, in the country Jews are supposed to be in, and it is not a feeling I can adequately describe in words.  It just feels right in a way we never felt in America.  We are home, and it is a visceral feeling - way, way, down deep inside, that you don't get from a visit - you get it when you live here every day, when this is your home base. 

The bottom line is that we thought our life was great in Baltimore, and in many ways it was, but when we moved here, we realized what our lives had been missing, how empty they'd been in many ways, even with the wonderful community, learning, chesed, friends, etc.  It's like a big veil has been lifted from in front of us and someone is saying, "Hello, there, THIS is living a Jewish life."  And we're responding, with mouths wide open in awe, "Oh!  We get it now."

I'm not preaching to anyone about making aliyah - that's a very personal decision - I'm just telling you how we feel. Take it or leave it.

With all that said, it has been an interesting adjustment in many ways:

1. Culture - Israelis are a different breed, and it takes some getting used to.  This is a country where everyone has a military background, has seen profound loss, and knows that they are surrounded by countries that wish to wipe them off the face of the earth.  This makes for some very tense people, but people who are also very emotional, caring, and deeply, fiercely protective of the country.

2. Language - it's not easy being in a country where you can't express yourself easily. Where you have to think about how to say, "Can I have 200 grams of cheddar cheese?" without embarrassing yourself.  And where you do, actually, embarrass yourself on most days.  Which leads us to #3...

3. Humility - being in a new culture teaches you humility if nothing else.  You know that you can't speak as fluently everyone else does, you don't know the ropes yet, you are going to make mistakes, and you need to make new friends.    This especially comes home when you listen to your 3-9 year old grandchildren play with their friends and are jealous of their facility with Hebrew. Even 2 year old Nadav speaks better than me, and he isn't speaking in full paragraphs yet! It also teaches you that if you are ever in a situation with an immigrant, be kind, patient, and understanding - but most of all be respectful.  This person who can't get a sentence out in your language has a whole life, profession, and history that you know nothing about.

4. Schedule - my husband and I work, for the most part, from home.  We miss going out each day to an office with (other) people with whom we can chat, etc. We spend every. single. day. together.  And you know what?  It's really OK. Although he keeps mumbling about finding an apartment in Damascus, but I don't think he really means it.  Do you?

5. Kids nearby - awesomeawesomeawesomeawesome.  Being near two out of three children is a dream come true.  It does not get old, we do not take it for granted, and we get a thrill each time we see them.

Yesterday we met Leezy and the boys at the mall for an hour - Tani jumped into my arms like he hadn't seen me in weeks (it's been about a week since I last saw him).  Ariella comes up and lets herself in to our apartment, and is suddenly standing in my office with a big smile.  Nadav waves from the mirpeset below when he sees me peering over, "Oh!  Bubby! Hi, Bubby!" and when I'm with him he tells me to "Shev Po!" [Sit here!]  Amichai, the child who never stops moving, is able to make me laugh just looking at him, and Yaakov always looks at us with such true affection and leaps into our arms and offers big kisses - and he lives downstairs.

6. Kids far away - we miss our Chicago kids terribly.  Everyone here that is our age (we call ourselves the old people), seems to have at least one child/grandchildren in America, and we all discuss how hard it is to be so far away.  I don't think I'll ever get used to that - it hurts to be that far away from a child.

So there's my 10 month report.