Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wimp Award

Hello, my name is Susan and I am a wimp.

I admit it. For whatever reason, I wimp out on things (moreso as I get older, but let's hold that discussion for my upcoming AARP blog post, "I Am Getting Older. Yeah. Whatever. Deal with it.").

Let's take the snow, shall we?  Yes, let's.

As you may have detected from the 42 million posts on Facebook creatively titled "SNOW!" accompanied by pictures of SNOW, it snowed in Israel last week.

Now, when we lived in Baltimore,  this was my rule about snow:

If I'm inside - snow is GOOD
If I"m outside - snow is BAD.

I fondly remember the huge snowstorm one year on a Shabbat - I remember looking outside and watching it come down and feeling all cozy and relaxed inside. The next day I had to go out - I don't think I slept that night worrying about the driving.

That COULD be because once in 1983 I was driving home from downtown, going up the JFX, when my trusty little Tercel did a 180 and there I was facing oncoming traffic.  

But in general I hate that feeling of loss of control, the fear of slipping, falling, skidding.  I know, I know, you psychologists out there have probably already diagnosed me with some dread form of illness, like slipaphobia or Tropical Skidding Syndrome, but whatever.   

Back to the Israeli snow.  Last Friday afternoon, about 1:00 pm, after it had been raining on and off for 3 days, it started to sleet.  Within 1/2 hour we had an inch of sleet and our streets were ice-covered.

Why should this worry me?  Because we had been invited out to dinner on Friday night and I was terrified of walking on ice (we live at the bottom of a steep hill, just to make matters worse).

I started to panic and called our host to cancel.  Wimpy?  You bet.   

But (here comes the aliyah part) you have to realize that here they have absolutely no clue how to handle snow and ice.

There are no salt trucks roaming the streets, ready for the forecasted sleet to begin.  There are almost no snow plows anywhere (they use front end loaders to clean the streets).  People never shovel - most people don't even have a shovel, and you can't find one here - the only people who have them are Americans or Europeans who have moved here.

So I cancelled on what I'm sure was a lovely dinner with friends because I'm a wimp.   

Someone told me that this reticence to take on difficult things is common with olim, especially us older ones. It takes a while (as in years) to adjust yourself and you are constantly being bombarded with new stuff in a new language and done in a new way - after living the first 50 or so years in a very different culture.  

See how I did that?  Turned my wimpiness into a badge of courage!  Way to wordsmith!  Go me!

So that's all for now. I just wanted to let you know that:
1. It snowed here
2. I hate slipperiness
3. I proved that one really can cook Shabbat dinner in less than an hour.
4. Oh, and I am a wimp (I think in Hebrew it's a חלשלוש)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Another "I Cant Believe I Actually LIVE Here" blog

So you've had fair warning.  If you're tired of hearing me drone on about loving living in Israel, just politely go to another website, I won't even know. [Heh heh, you THINK I won't know...]

So a couple of things happened in the last week or so.

1. Trip to the Galil:
We went to the Galil with an organization called English Speaking Residents Association (ESRA) which runs great travel programs throughout the year.  The trip took us WAY up north (as far as Metullah) and the highlight was visiting the Hula Valley Nature Reserve and watching the migration of the birds on their way from Northern Europe to Africa for the winter.

Are you laughing yet?  The thought of nature-hating me going to watch birds?  For those of you who don't know me well, just know that the very thought of camping makes me ill, I hate bugs, am afraid of basically every animal, and would MUCH rather sit inside and play a game on my computer than take a hike somewhere.

However, I had gotten interested in bird migration when we saw the movie "Winged Migration" years ago - I mean it is scary how organized these birds are.  And how hard working.  Makes us all seem kinda lame and stupid.

Anyway, the bird thing was super cool.  And what is really amazing is that the Hula Valley is exactly the midpoint for the birds, and they have always stopped over there on their trip south, and just watching literally tens of thousands of them hanging out, knowing they'd be there for a day or so and move on, was super duper awesome and cool.

2. Concert in Jerusalem
Nope, not chazzanut.  Not Israeli music.  

Sixties music.

That's right.  There is a great Israeli group that plays Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc. music and they do at least one concert a year. They were amazing. 

We drove into the city with friends and happened to drive by the walls of the Old City.  The thought that the center of our religious history from thousands and thousands of years ago is less than 1/2 hour from my home, always gets me.  I live here!  I really do!

3. Chanukah
So I live in Modiin.  MODIIN, people!  Where the Chashmonaim lived, worked and played...and also fought, and died, and got buried.  Nuff said.

Also - we have been to the "Hasmonean" gravesite, but people say it's not really their gravesite.  Just sayin.  

4. Normal day to day stuff is cool
So during this week, we needed our water filter replaced, our dud (hot water heater) went bust, and we needed our carpenter to come and repair something.  Each of the worker guys had a kippah on.  And I happened to look outside when the sanitation truck was coming by - the three guys coming off the truck had kippot, one had tzitzit flying.

I'm not saying this because it matters so much to me that they wore kippot or not, but knowing that so many people around us, everyone doing all kinds of work, keeping the country going, are Jews, is super duper cool. 

Ben-Gurion once said that it will REALLY be a Jewish state when even the garbage collectors are Jewish.  

So those of you who went to another site, nyah nyah nyah you missed a good blog.    The others - congratulations on your good taste and excellent decision making.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Car Wars, Episode V: It Ends at the Pharmacy

So, six weeks after the accident, the car saga has come to a close.

Today we went to the dealership - remember, now, that this is after we had done the following in the six weeks since the accident:

1. Dealt with the police investigation (oh, we haven't heard the end of that, by the way, so stay tuned)
2. Waited for the insurance company to declare the car totaled.
3. Visited the Tax Office to deal with the glitch in our paperwork.
4. Picked out a new (well, new but used) car
5. Waited for the insurance company to tell us how much they were giving us for the totaled car.
6. Convinced the dealership to hold the car for us for a month, until we got the money.
7. Waited for the insurance company to tell us how much they were giving us for the totaled car.
8. Waited for the insurance company to tell us how much they were giving us for the totaled car.
9. Found out how much the insurance company was giving us.
10. Found out that there was some holdup with the money, and now they were not sure how much they were giving us.
11. Waited for the insurance company to tell us how much they were giving us for the totaled car.
12. Found out how much the insurance company was giving us - again.
13. Waited for the insurance company to actually give us the money.
14. Talked to the (ahem - NEW) car insurance company about insuring our new car.
15. Giving them every personal document we own so that the insurance could be figured out.
16. Waiting for the insurance company to fax us the insurance documents.
17. Going (today) to the dealership.

No, there is no way you are getting how frustrated and fed up we were.  So, our car salesman had told us that all we had to do was come today with our documents and "zehu!"  (that's it!).

We get there.

"So," our guy says, "did you go to the post office already?"
[Utterly stunned silence]
"Yes, you have to go to the post office to transfer the title of the car."
"No one told us that."
"Oh, but you have to do it."

Then our car salesman (wonderful guy, by the way), said he'd take us to the post office. Not sure if he said this because he realized he had made a mistake in not telling us to do it beforehand and felt embarrassed or if he was sincerely just being a good guy and wanted a chance to get out of the office and smoke a few cigarettes.

We went to the post office.  We were No. 92 in line.  They were on No. 80.  A young couple was at the only window which handled transactions like ours.  They were doing something which was extremely complex.  It involved piles of little pieces of paper, teudot zehut, passports, money, their firstborn, and probably all of their jewelry.  It took them 40 minutes.

Anyway, our guy handled everything and handed us the registration form.  It was not in our name, it was in the name of the previous owner.  "Oh, no problem," our guy said, "you just have to go to the government office and get a new registration with your name on it."

I don't think there is a word for our faces at that point.  That's just about when we did the official "throw the hands in the air and give up" gesture.  Then, I remembered something, "Wait - is this something we can do at those new machines they have in the pharmacy?"  "Yes!" says our guy.

So from the car dealership to the post office to the car dealership (to actually get the car) and then to the pharmacy.

All in a day's work for us Israelis.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Car Update, Aliyah Love

First, the car.  The insurance company finally deposited the money into our bank account!  Today we go to the bank to transfer the money (bye bye lotsa shekel, it was nice seeing you for your brief visit, please come again) to the car dealer, finalize the car insurance, and.....maybe even get our car.

I say "maybe even" because I have learned never to expect anything to work well.  I'm pretty sure we'll be driving away from the lot and the salesman will be running after us with three Mossad agents firing Uzis, screaming, "You forgot to sign the form!" and waving some random government document in the air.  I have very low expectations these days.

In other news, we met with friends who came to Israel for a visit.  I don't know if they will ever make aliyah, but they sure want to.  Now, most of the time when we meet with friends who have not made aliyah we follow our hard and fast rule, learned the hard way - don't talk about the wonders of living in Israel.  Why? Because lovely as our friends and family are, and caring as they are, those of us who have made aliyah know one thing - you only "get" aliyah once you do it.  Trying to explain it is frustrating for both us and them.

You just can't imagine it beforehand, although we wish we could explain it to them.  I know this sounds like what some out there call aliyah snobbery - I prefer to think of it as "aliyah love."

I don't like the phrase "aliyah snobbery" which I hear people use, because it implies that I think I'm better than someone else.  I certainly don't, God forbid.  I just have this very deep, powerful desire for my fellow Jews out there to come here and feel this utter joy - is that snobbery or love?   I know that people don't like hearing that life could be better somewhere else - but when it comes to making aliyah I'm willing to make that statement.These friends get that and were happy to listen to us go on and on about what becoming an Israeli does to you.

Here's the thing about aliyah love. I kind of want people to understand that no matter what they imagine it will be like - it will be ten million times better.  It will be better in ways they cannot possibly imagine.  They will feel at home for the first time in their lives, they will realize what it means to be part of something so miraculous that hits you in the gut every single day. They will feel "authentic" because this is the land God gave us to live in and we are living in it, as He told us to do.  They will see their children/grandchildren growing up as part of our homeland, contributing to it every single day.

They will know what it means to know they are part of the future of the Jewish people in the most important way possible.  Because, in the end, we can only really be ourselves in our own home. They will live in a culture where non-religious people quote the Chumash and don't even quite get the fact that, as irreligious as they are, they are thousands of times more spiritual and grounded in Judaism than their cohorts outside of Israel.

I am re-reading this and it isn't even doing my feelings justice.

Sitting with our friends and knowing that they felt our joy was very rewarding and made us realize even more deeply how right our lives feel right now.  Knowing they were leaving back to the States and we could stay - I felt badly for them, and they felt badly too.  Leaving Israel is physically painful for many of us.

So I'm here to share the aliyah love, baby.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Car Wars, Episode III: The Tax Man

I'm sure you've all been waiting to find out what happened next in our car saga.

Well, wait no longer.

We are moving forward at the speed of.....matzo ball mix.

Last week was spent working with the insurance company to figure out our next step.  First of all, now that we knew that the car was officially "totaled" or as you say in Hebrew, "tohtall lohss," we had to think about what kind of car we wanted to buy. New? Used? Make? Model? Price?

We called friends and asked them what cars they had, did they like them, what did they pay, etc.  We wondered not HOW MUCH money the insurance company would give us, but HOW LONG it would take to get that money.

So we visited a Toyota dealer nearby and just as we were looking for something, Bern's phone rang.  It was the insurance company.  He was listening for a while, then his jaw dropped and he said, "You are kidding me."

Oh. no.

It seems, he told me, that the car appraiser that works with the insurance company was all ready to issue a check but found out that we had purchased the car with our aliyah rights.  That means our tax was different than it would be without using those rights.  Which means it didn't compute somehow - it made it look like we hadn't PAID our taxes and there was a lien on the car.

So NOW we had to GO to the Appraiser's office, pick up the appraisal report, and TAKE it to the Government Tax Office and have them verify the tax situation.  Yes, just two more annoying steps, Mr. and Mrs. Leibtag!  And then you're done!  Really!  We mean it this time!

So Bern went to pick up the appraisal form - unbelievably, the person recognized his name and just handed him the report, just like that!  And today was our day to go to the Tax Office with the appraisal form and get some document signed.

We get there.  There is no line!  Yay!  Some guy waves us into his office.  He does not smile.  He is a tough looking older dude who probably led some huge regiment during the Yom Kippur War.  We look through our papers and start to tell our story.  "Just give me the papers."  We give him the papers.  We are not messing with this guy.

He looks at the papers.  He says (are you sitting down?  If not, please do):  "This car is not totalled."

Our jaws are now dragging on the ground. I am seeing our future, going back to square one, fighting with the garage, with the insurance company, with the government, with Netanyahu.

"But...but....but....they told us it was officially totaled."  "No," he says, "see, here it says 54% not totaled."  We simultaneously put our heads in our hands and look like we're about to cry.

We think that got to him.  All of these gruff guys are softies underneath.  Suddenly he stops arguing with us and goes ahead and does his thing.  In 5 minutes we have our form and he is wishing us a good day, and even faxing the form over to the appraiser and calling the appraiser to tell him it's on its way.

Crisis averted - we think.  Although we are still terrified every time the phone rings that it will be some other office dropping another bit of bad news at our feet.

So, lesson learned - it pays to cry, or at least look like you're about to.  Remember that next time you are visiting the Ministry of Taxation.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Car Wars, Episode II: Return of the Lunacy

When we last saw Bernie and Susan, they were handling the red tape following Bernie's car accident. 

Fast forward to today - time to return the rental car, clean out the personal items in the totalled car, and move on with life.  Simple!

First stop - gas station!  Fill up the rental car - gotta return it with a full tank.  Simple!

Stop at the pump.  Turn off the car.  Pull out the key.

Uh oh.

Yes friends, the key broke off in the ignition.  I kid you not. Gas station attendants tried to get it out, but nope it was not budging. So there we are stuck in the gas station with a rental car that we cannot return. 

Luckily, I was driving my son in law's car so I kept going to the garage where the old car was, emptied it out, and returned.

Then the drama of the keystuckintheignition got ugly.

Bernie called the rental company.  He told them what happened, and that we were on our way to return the car anyway, so they could just come and take it.  No problem!  We will come with a tow truck, they said, and you can just sign something and go home.  Yay!  Simple!

Not so simple.  After waiting about 1/2 hour, Bernie calls again (see, we have learned how to be Israelis - if someone says they're coming in 1/2 hour,  it means they have just decided to have a long lunch, go on vacation, and find a new job - in other words, they're not coming - it's a secret code.)

So the second call he gets someone else who gives him a different answer, "Oh!  no problem we will bring another rental car to you!"  No, he says, I don't WANT another rental car, I want you to take this one, I was on my way to return it to you.

Another 1/2 hour..  Another call.  Another person.  Another explanation. Another answer.

Finally someone shows up.  In a car.  Not a tow truck.  Where is the tow truck, Bernie asks?  Why do you need a tow truck, don't you need another rental car? 

Explanation once again.  Then the rental car guy tries to get the key out.  Guess what, it doesn't come out.  Then the rental car guy sees that the windows are open.  Hmmmm... better close the windows if we have to keep this car here for a day or so.  But....oh...the car has actually been "on" this whole time since the key was never removed, so now the battery is dead.  This means that they can't even close the windows and push the car off to the side in a safe place.  The rental car guy wrings his hands.  The gas station guy says, "Um, you're in a gas station, we can give it a hot shot."  the rental car guy is skeptical but lets the gas station guy try.  DUH.  It works.  Windows are closed.

Now what?  It seems to my husband that he only needs to go back to the rental car place and sign something, but the rental car guy needs to have a lengthy conversation with his boss before this happens. 

Finally they get to the rental car place.  The lady behind the counter has to hear the story 5 times before she gets it.  Then she says, "OK, that's 1000 shekel for the broken key."

Seriously, you can't make up stuff like this.

Bernie finally loses it and says, "OK, guys, I'm walking out of here - you gave me a car with a broken key and now you want ME to pay for it."  He walks out.

We shall see what happens, and I'll be sure to keep you informed - watch this space for Car Wars, Episode III:  The Israeli Adventure.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Car Wars

Listen, if you can help it, NEVER get int o a car accident in Israel.  I mean, well, never get into a car accident anywhere, but if you thought you experienced red tape in your own country, you ain't seen nothin yet.

Here is how we spent our time over the last two days:

  1. Gathered all of the necessary phone numbers and addresses - put the addresses in Waze so we can find where we have to go.
  2. Go to the Police Station in Rehovot.  Found the building, found a place to park (itself a miracle).
  3. Sit in a waiting room and try to fill out a form in Hebrew, guessing at what a lot of the questions were.  It was probably a question like, "How did the accident happen?"  But our answer probably sounds like "It was a sunny day."
  4. Finally barge into a room, after waiting 1/2 hour, and ask the woman if we are next.  Not only are we not next, she says, we are in the wrong place.  Go upstairs!  Second floor!  Ask for Zamir! [But did you get that I barged in?  How Israeli of me!]
  5. Go upstairs (which is, of course, floor #1 - don't ask), and find Zamir.  Friendly guy.  He says, "sit in those chairs outside my office until the person across the hall has time for you."  There is one person ahead of us.
  6. We wait 1/2 hour (see a pattern here?)
  7. I go back to Zamir and ask if we really have to wait this long.  This is my new strategy here - wait a bit and then ask if you REALLY have to wait.  So I kinda show a pitiful face.  Zamir softens and asks to see my papers.  He says, "Oh, you've been waiting in the wrong place!  You need to see Gabi!  He will be here in about an hour or so.  Go, sit THERE and wait for him."
  8. THERE is about 2 steps down the hall.  We are in front of Gabi's office.  It is a little frightening that the sign on the office door does not name anyone called Gabi as one of its inhabitants.
  9. We wait 1.5 hours, during which Zamir, who has not forgotten us, tells us that Gabi is indeed on his way. Via South America, it seems.
  10. GABI SHOWS UP!!!!  We practically kiss him.  He asks if he can have 10 minutes for lunch.  We say, "Sure, no problem!"  We are so happy he is: a. Real and b. There, that he could tell us he's only going to meet a woman, get engaged, get married, and have a child and we'd still wait patiently.
  11. Gabi finishes lunch after about 30 minutes [pattern]
  12. Then we get to go into Gabi's office.  Gabi, it turns out, was the investigating policeman at the scene and needs to get a statement from My Husband, the Criminal.
  13. We spend 2.5 hours giving the statement and answering questions.
  14. During this conversation, Gabi starts talking about the judge and the court.  Judge? Court? Now we get it - it's a traffic violation, therefore a crime,  and therefore the "perp" (love that word) has to be interrogated.
  15. THEN we are told that we have to go to the police garage and show them a paper, and pay them, and then they can release the car to the towing company to take it to the garage for repair.
  16. The police garage is in another city.  It is too late to go there.  We have to go tomorrow.
  17. I ask (I am so smart), "Please give me the address and phone number of the police garage."  Gabi makes like 10 phone calls and finds this information out and writes it down for me.
  18. We review next steps 32 times because by now we are totally confused.
  19. We go home and rest.  Then call the garage.  The number is wrong.
  1. I [smart!] call the Police station in Rishon Letzion, where the lot is located.  They give me the correct number of the police lot and they tell us to just come over.
  2. We go to the police garage, which is not a police garage at all - it is a private garage which apparently the police use - so dumb us we were looking for police signage.
  3. At the police garage there is a little shack.  Outside the shack, on a gravelly square of land, are three couches covered in middle-eastern looking blankets, and a little table too.  Apparently this is the reception area.
  4. We open the door.  An old man is sitting in the shack drinking tea. On the customer side of the desk. I ask, "Do you work here?"  He says , "Yes, what do you need?"  I need to release my car.  "Next door," he says.  We open Door #2 of the shack.  There is one woman with a desk and a computer.  I am NOT making this up. I was sure Jethro and Ellie May were going to come round the bend any time.
  5. We pay them, and they give us this form saying the car is released.
  6. Then we have to contact the insurance company so that they can contact the towing company so that they can take it to the garage.  This involves several Hebrew phone calls and me learning the word for towing.
  7. We then are told we have to go to the garage and fill out more paperwork.
  8. We go to the garage. We fill out the paperwork
  9. They tell us - now you have to wait until the tow truck shows up with your car.
  10. We wait about 45 minutes, and then I've just about had it.
  11. I ask, "Do we really have to wait for our car to show up?"  They say, "No."  Huh.
  12. We sign more papers and they arrange for our rental car.
  13. We go to the rental car place and they say the car is ready.  The woman behind the counter mumbles a long litany to us in Hebrew, which neither of us understand but we're so exhausted that we smile and nod and agree.  She probably asked us if we were willing to hand over our first born if anything happened to the car.  [So, Gila, sorry about that, but they seemed nice so you will have a happy life, in Rishon LeZion. I promise to come visit.]  The best part was that we didn't have to wait too long.  
So now we wait to hear from the police about court, and who knows what else will surprise us.  We probably did this totally the wrong way and lawyers all over Israel will be using this as a test case for dealing with stupid Americans. 

But we are home.  We have a car to drive.  And our pretty little red Hyundai (which, by the way, the Israelis pronounce YUNDYE so you don't pronounce the "H" when speaking about these cars) is getting fixed.

Nap time.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

On the Phone...with the Department of Transportation

Oh, today was fun.  My husband was in a minor car accident (he is OK, thank God).

This meant that I had to call the insurance company, deal with the police, etc., all in Hebrew.

Yay for my daughters, is all I can say.  They, in true daughter fashion, ran to our sides and were incredibly helpful as we talked to the police, then helped me negotiate the ins and outs of the insurance company and find out what to do next.  The whole time my husband was at Shaarei Zedek hospital getting checked out.

So here I was:
1. Unsure what Hebrew words to use
2. Never been to Shaarei Zedek before
3. Without a car
4. With less than stellar Hebrew (did I mention that yet?)
5. But [yay] with two amazing daughters

Well, the police asked for the insurance card.  It was in the car!  Yay!  It was also expired!  Not yay!  We finally get that straightened out (yes, I had paid, and no they had not sent a new card to us).

Then when we got home, I realized that although I had paid the car registration for this year, we never received a new car registration card with the new date.  And I had to take this to the police station the next day, so that they can release the car to the garage.

So I had to call the Ministry of Transportation.  Can you imagine my excitement at this prospect?  Something akin to how you feel on your way to a root canal.  But worse.

I find the number.  I dial it.  Then, of course, there is a menu of choices.  After about 4 attempts at listening to the menu, I understood it.  This, by the way, is par for the course.  We even did "listening to phone menus" in Ulpan, because it's a huge problem for olim.

The menu offers help in Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian.  Hmmmmm, definitely Hebrew.  Then finally I get to what I THINK is the right menu and the next option is, I think, whether you have a manual or automatic car.  I think to myself, "How strange!  Why would that make a difference?"

But, you are probably already laughing at me.  It wasn't "manual or automatic" car, the option was "do you want to speak to a person or use the automatic phone system."  I figure that out after hanging up several times and then thinking about it.

And yay!!!! I get a person!  Who speaks English!  I tell the person my story, they look up my record and say yes you did pay.  I said, but I never received a new certificate.  And tell her about the accident, and how I need a new certificate....immediately.  She says, "No problem, you can go to [listen to this people, I am not making this up] the Super Pharm [pharmacy] in Modiin and use the machine there to get a new certificate!"

Yes, the pharmacy has a Department of Transportation machine.  It is true.  I was wondering if you can get a prescription filled at a local garage, but I digress.

So, Gila and I (and Nadav, who was an unwilling but cheerful participant since he had hopes of receiving a treat at some point), trek on over to the Super Pharm.  And we find the machine!  It is there! 

And it is not working.

Of course.

So the pharmacy man says that they will call the tech person to get it fixed and they will call me when it is fixed.

Hahahahahaha!!!  Riiiiiiiight.

So I will go to the police station tomorrow to have them release my car to the garage and I will show them my expired registration and hope for the best.

Pray for me. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Is it "After the Chagim" Yet?

So....the holidays.

In the mind of my non-Jewish and/or non-religious friends, this conjures up images of sugar cookies, decorations, gifts, and driving to Grandma's.

For us (well, me anyway) it conjures up images of meal after meal after menu plan after food shopping after long davening .....sprinkled with moments of happy family togetherness.

Living in the US, I was always amused when, returning to work after Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur, my colleagues asked me "So, how was your holiday?!"  with an expectant look of glee and joy in their eyes, thinking of their own happy holidays.

So the image bubble over their head looked something like this:

While the one in my head looked something like this:

So I'd always answer, "Great!" and think that it was sweet of them to ask, but they had no idea at all what it was like for us. 

In general, the Rosh Hashana - Sukkot holiday season is tough for everyone. I mean let's get real:

  • Kids just started school and are now on a more than two week vacation
  • Parents have to shop, cook, serve, and clean up from way too many meals
  • It's become a competition, it seems, to have tons of guests over - it's the Rosh Hashana equivalent of "How late did your seder go?" to hear the question "How many guests did you have yesterday?"
  • There is too much eating and sleeping and sitting 
  • The money!  Aside from the food, how about the lulav and etrog, the sukkah decorations, the clothes, the shul seats, and chol hamoed trips
  • Stress levels are at an all time high, making it not so much a fun meaningful holiday for anyone

It's just not natural, I tell you.  We need to rethink this thing.  Here are my suggestions:
  1. A ban on guests on Rosh Hashana - first of all shul is so long that you don't get to eat until like 3:00.  Then you just end up in a loshon hora fest anyway (and yes, the comment, "Wow, why did he have to drey out that "v'chol maaminim"? is considered lashon hora). On top of that, if you have guests, your meal (probably meat) takes a longer time, and then you can't have dairy until like 10:00 or 11:00 pm, which wrecks your menu ideas for dinner.
  2. School on chol hamoed - seriously the kids actually want to be in school, let them go and have chol hamoed fun there.
  3. School on the chag!  OK, that is going a little too far.
  4. Esrog/Lulav delivery service - OK, the 3 trips to the lulav guy is a little ridiculous, I mean we do have other things to do.  So why hasn't anyone thought of delivery?  The guy comes to your house, and in his car are all of his choices.  Then he comes back erev chag to deliver the hadasim and aravot.  Smart, right?  
  5. Fun in shul - really, shul can get to you, am I right?  I  mean after 2 hours it's time for some fun - so how about games instead of a drasha?  Like "guess the ushpizin" or "capture the lulav."
  6. More fun in shul - how about a little yoga session to stretch those muscles after the long shemoneh esreh on Rosh Hashana?  Is that sacreligious?  We can call it something else.
  7. Services that take your kids on chol hamoed trips - someone could really rake it in here.   Pay someone else to take your kids on a trip. 
  8. Cereal meals.  Cereal is possibly man's greatest invention.  Have at least 2 meals on the chag where it is the main/only offering.  Your kids will love you for it. Include Fruity Pebbles.
  9.  Ice cream meals - even better than #6.
  10. Nap helpers - what about chag / shabbat afternoon babysitters?  Why has no one thought of this yet?  Imagine the happiness of parents if they can snooze in the afternoon while their kids are entertained!!
 I got a million ideas, these are just a few.  I gotta go stock up on cereal now, it's almost Shemini Atzeret.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hebrew, French Fried Onions, and Holidays

So we've been here 20 months!  And guess what?  My Hebrew is....a tiny bit better!  Yay!

I don't think I'm used to having to prepare my sentences and vocabulary ahead of each confrontation with an Israeli, but at least it has gotten a tad easier. 

Let's just say that I can tell my Hebrew is better by the fact that:
  1. I mostly understand what my three year old grandson Nadav says. Sometimes he has to repeat himself, though.  And he has learned to roll his eyes a bit at me.
  2. I can turn on the radio and figure out the topic of the discussion - but that's not really fair because it's always politics.
  3. I have had Israelis yell at me that I should stop being embarrassed to speak Hebrew because my level is not that bad.  But I bet then they go home and tell their families they did a good deed by making an olah feel good about herself. And then laughing. A lot.
  4. When random people call me on the phone and start speaking quickly I have learned to let it all wash over me and wait for the one word I know - like "dentist" or "car" or "pizza" and then ask a question, like, "Oh, this is about the _____________?" and not sound too stupid (well, I don't think I sound too stupid but I'm probably just fooling myself)
  5. I am VERY good at the Resh sound.  I can chhhhhhhhhhhhh the resh with the best of them.  Got a word with two Resh's?  Bring it on, baby, I can handle it.  
  6. I am outstanding at saying English words with an Israeli accent, which is sometimes all you need to get by.  Example:  Ani michapeset [I am looking for] eh tccchhhhhesh ken [a trash can] - works every time.
  7. I drive around in my car having Hebrew conversations with myself and a phantom friend and my phantom friend never corrects me.
No, seriously, my Hebrew is better.  For all of you who think you could never move to Israel because of the Hebrew, let me reassure you - you get used to sounding like an immigrant.  No matter how good your Resh is, the Israelis know you are American - sometimes they even start speaking to you in English (not very good English) with this knowing look in their eyes.

In other news, guess what?  Our little grocery store has bowed to the pressure of the Americans and started stocking French Fried Onions!  What a treat!  Now I can make my famous tuna casserole the right way (after having to go searching for cream of mushroom soup - American - and white tuna - American).   It's the little things.  I was so happy when I saw that that I actually called people to tell them.

So, by learning more Hebrew and acquiring more American foods, things are good.  

Oh, and by the way, there is NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING like the Yomim Noraim in Israel.  Every single person I have come in contact with (including the pizza delivery guy) wished me a shana tova last week and a tzom kal (easy fast) this week.  Aside from the nice davening, which you can find in other places, the feeling in the country is totally and completely centered around the chagim.  Think mid-October through December 25 in America.  THAT is how completely the country is involved in the holiday season.  So cool.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gas Masks and Cooking and Shopping Stories

Well, the title just about says it all. 

We are in two mindsets here in Israel - one part of us (well, OK, one part of ME) keeps listening for sirens to go off and wondering how I would actually live in our mamad (safe room) for 3 days if I had to. Regarding the latter, my thoughts run to things like bathroom needs, cleanliness (yes, they are related, I know), food, water, boredom, fear.

So back to the war.  Yes, it is scary.  But somehow not as scary as being in the US.  I guess because it's our country, with our soldiers and our unique brand of chutzpah that makes me feel OK.  Whatever happens happens, but if God forbid something does happen to me here, at least it happens for a purpose, for my country and for my people. That gives me a sense of purpose I never had before.  Don't get me wrong, I think America is great, but when as a Jew you live here, you realize what it means to belong, really belong, to the country and everything in it.  Can't explain it any other way.

The second part of me is enjoying preparing for Rosh Hashanah.  Although I haven't been much of a cook and nothing of a baker since we arrived, I dug in and made challah this year for the first time in a very long time.  It felt right and it was fun.  The problem?  Very few people in Israel have freezers aside from the ones on the top or bottom or side of their fridges, so freezer space is at a premium.  I used to cook and bake away and freeze everything, and now we have to invoke the strategic talents of a army general to figure out how much we can freeze and what has to be made in the last day or two.

Ordering online: As usual, my pre-chag shopping included some amusing Hebrew-related mishaps.  For one thing, I started ordering online.  Nice, right?  Well, nice if you can do the whole thing in Hebrew and know how to measure things in kilos.  Which resulted in me getting way too many pomelos and lemons and not enough carrots. 

Chicken: Also, a nice lady from the store called and asked me a question.  It took me 3 sentences to realize she said the name of the store.  Then she asked me another question and the only thing I understood was "of" (chicken).  I had ordered chicken!  Yes!  We are talking about the same thing!  So then she asked me a veryquickhebrewquestionthatIcouldnotunderstand.  So I gave her my one size fits all response "Ken." (yes).  I figured, what could go wrong with chicken?  As it turns out, they gave me one package of chicken instead of two.  Did they bill me for two?  Who knows?  Do you think I can understand the receipt? 

Flour:  I knew I needed the flour in the clear plastic bag.  I found it - indeed it said it was pre-sifted!  Yay, that's what I was looking for! I bought 3 bags!  Then I came home!  And guess what?  I had purchased.....Rye Flour!  Darn.  Do you think I am going to go back and exchange it?   hahaha!  That would involve speaking complicated Hebrew sentences!  No No!  I simply went to another store and bought more flour!  Because (say it with me) - I   am    a   wimp.

So that's it.  K'tiva v'chatima tova to all of you and yours.  And if you have any regular old white presifted flour, could you send it over?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mommy and Daddy Camp: Merely a Suggestion

Living close (REALLY close) to my kids has allowed me to re-live many of my own parenting moments.  Watching them go through all of the stages of raising their families is a hoot. 

I'll be the first to say that they are WAY better parents than I was (I only speak for myself here) as I am by nature an extremely impatient person.....and.....let's just leave it at that.  But hey they turned out OK, so someone somewhere did something right, probably their teachers and the parents of their friends.

Aside from the parenting observations, I love watching them as couples, joking around, talking seriously, being affectionate.  It is a great feeling seeing my offspring create beautiful lives of their own.

That said, I ache for them and their busy lives.  They are constantly running, running, running, what with school, work, and home.  They need a break.  So the kids have camp in the summer, time to re-charge their batteries, enjoy life, blah blah blah.  And what do Mommy and Daddy get?  Nada.  They have an even tougher time of it during the summer, what with the lack of schedule and all, and when they go on vacation, well as a great blogger said recently, for parents, it's not a vacation, it's a trip.

So I'd like to suggest that parents attend Mommy and Daddy Camp (M&DC) at least once a day.  That's right, once a day.

Before I tell you what it is, let me tell you its advantages so that you can become really interested and keep reading;

  1. It does not require a babysitter
  2. It does not require the kids to be asleep or even out of the room or even quiet!
  3. It can be done anywhere at all
  4. It takes less than a minute

Here are the instructions for Mommy and Daddy Camp:

  1. Sit down next to each other.
  2. Put the phones and computer far away from you.
  3. Look at each other.
  4. Say "hi."
  5. Smile
  6. Say "I missed you today."
  7. Smile again

That's it.  It should take all of 3.5 seconds.  But hopefully, if neither of you starts giggling or gets distracted by the beep of a text message (seriously, people, let it go for a minute) you  may be surprised at how good you feel after it.

And all of this at no cost to you!  And.....your kids will see you doing it and will remember it.  Yes, they will remember it.

No need to thank me.  I'm here for you.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Storage Wars

That's it.  I am starting a new protest movement, Closets for Israelis.

I do not know why Israeli apartments are built without any storage whatsoever, but please - people, figure out that we need to put things away and build things in which to put them and don't make us have to buy such things after we move in.

I know, I was spoiled - our last real domicile in Baltimore was a huuuuuuuuge condo that had more storage than we needed, especially after we performed THE GREAT GARDENWICK ROAD PURGE OF 2006 and cleaned out our big house before moving to said condo. ["What IS this?"  "Your college philosophy notes from 1973." "Oh." "Do you want to keep them?" "No, of course not...*sigh*."]

During unpacking after a big move, you always get to the point where there is stuff still unopened, and here is the conversation:
  • What's in there?
  • No idea.
  • Think it's something we need?
  • Nah.
  • Let's leave it in there and if we find out we need it we'll open it.
  • OK!  Wheee!  
  • So let's push that box under that table!  Now we can't see it!
  • Wheeee!

And said box stays under said table for.....a very long time.

I was so happy to have MOST of our stuff unboxed that I decided that I actually LOVED having those random boxes hidden under tables, and had no need to move/open them.

Then they started talking to me.  I am not making this up.
  • Susan, we are still unopened.
  • You cannot live with plastic tubs hidden everywhere, this is not normal, and you know it annoys you.
  • Also, maybe we have something you want
  • In any event, we don't like living this life of uncertainty.
  • Just open us up and decide if we live or die.  We can take it.
Thus began my own personal version of Storage Wars.  Which ended up in our paying a very nice man many, many shekel to build closets for us.  Like every other Israeli.  [Oh, you are wondering about our roomy machsan (storage unit) in the garage?  Hahaha!  That thing is so packed that we haven't found our pesach dishes for two years.  So let's just not go there.]

So some stuff is actually put away.  Some plastic tubs still grace our apartment.  And our bedroom is still the old person's version of a college dorm - knock-down dressers, bathroom rugs on the floor masquerading as "carpet" and an overstuffed walk-in closet.  To think that in Baltimore we had an entire dressing room in our condo.

Well as people say, living here forces into a more simple lifestyle, which isn't so terrible.  And I'm not asking for luxury, really I'm not.  I. Just. Wanted. A. Couple. Of. Closets.

If you want to donate to the cause, please send your tax deductible contributions to ....oh never mind just send me more plastic tubs.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Lamed Tet....Halachot of Our Marriage

Today we celebrate our 39th anniversary.  It does NOT seem like just yesterday that we were married - these have been 39 very full, busy years - good stuff, bad stuff, sad, happy, blah blah.

So in honor of the occasion I have created 39 halachot for our marriage.  Some repeat, which is OK because it is my blog and I get to make the rules.

1.Laugh. A lot.
2.Nothing is that important.
3.Don’t assume.
5.Watch a lot of television
6.Watch a lot of violent shows
7.Watch a lot of violent movies
8.Appreciate “I Love Lucy” as the best show ever.
9.Read during dinner (when the kids are grown and out of the house).
10.Don’t throw away the foil square that is used for instant oatmeal cooking.
11.Keep the toilet seat down.
12.Make sure the tablecloth is even.
13.Make sure the blanket is even.
14.Allow the other person to clean out your pocketbook.
15.Go to lots of malls.
16.Make aliyah.
17.Agree that “Breaking Bad” is the best TV show ever.
18.Agree that “The Wire” is the best TV show ever.
19.Always watch “Dr. Zhivago” when it is on TV.
20.Scratch the other person’s back whenever they want you to.
21.Never mind #20, it ain’t gonna happen.
23.Share your popcorn.
24.Get cable (when the kids are grown and out of the house)
25.Only one person gets to worry at a time. The other person has to say it is going to be all right even though the other person does not believe it. And the first person knows that the other person doesn’t believe it.
26.Go out to restaurants. A lot.
27.Finally get a bright red car.
29.Enjoy the other person’s socks.
30.When the other person says, “You know what they say….” you have to answer “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humidity.” Every. Single. Time.
31.Laugh at the stupid jokes that you have heard for 39 years. And mean it.
32.Still feel a little excited when the other person comes in the door. Just a little, it’s enough.
33.Know that with all of his/her annoying habits, obnoxious traits, and gross bodily activities, you do not want to live with anyone else.
34.Laugh at just the thought of his/her annoying habits, obnoxious traits, and gross bodily activities.
36.Watch the other person when they don’t know you are watching and think, “Huh. I guess he/she is ok.” Do this at least on your anniversary.
37.Congratulate yourselves that your kids did not grow up to be serial murderers. If your kids did grow up to be serial murderers, forgive yourselves, it wasn’t your fault.
38.Don’t look at pictures from when you were young. It’s depressing and you’re so not that person anymore anyway.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sibs Reunion - Check!

And a miracle happened there....well, sorta.  For the first time in over five years, my three kids and their families are in one place.  Our son and his family arrived last week for three weeks, and it has mostly been non-stop since then, with minor breaks for water/food/resting.

Since the girls came to Israel in September 2008, all of us have anguished over the fact that the whole family did not get together. As happy as we are with our move, it never seems right, somehow.  Something huge is missing  - the rest of the family. Even before, it was a rarity that we would all be in one place at the same time.

I know, I know, they grow up, they move away, blah blah blah.  But a parent's heart aches to have everyone together.

Every child is a miracle - nothing less.  You only truly realize that as you raise one.  The fact that they grow physically, learn to walk, talk, read, etc. - every single step is a gift from God.  You wonder at it, no matter how many children you have, with each passing day.

When I am here in Israel with my daughters, I think - if only our son was here too, with his family, life would be perfect.  Not to mention how his sisters miss him - every Whatsapp conversation, every phone conversation, is reported and gushed over.  The connection is powerful and does not wane with the years.

As parents of adults, we know (ok, this is morbid) that we will be gone and they will carry on.  What any parent wants is for their children to be close, to be in touch, to take care of each other.  Because, as all parents say to their kids at one time or another, "One day that will be all you have!" meaning we'll have kicked the bucket.

This three weeks is the most time my kids have spent together since my oldest graduated high school in 1997.  And guess what?  They are still crazy, silly, and make each other laugh uncontrollably, and still tease and make fun of each other. I am watching this in complete wonder, and trying to record it in my mind.

Yes, they are all religious and have raised gorgeous, smart, respectful children.  But it's the caring and the laughing that matter to me more than anything.  They are there for each other in the most important ways possible. 

When,you think back to all of the steps it took you to get here, all you can do is be grateful to God for the chance to be part of the lives of such wondrous souls.  And you remind yourself, watching all of them interact lovingly, that you have to appreciate what you have every single day, and thank God for it - it's His gifts, after all, that make anything possible. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Customer is Always....Never....Oh, Forget It

OK, now full disclosure - my parents had their own store ("Weintraub's" -  I know, catchy name), and sold meat, fish, and chicken to the denizens of Baltimore for many decades.  I grew up with parents who had a butcher shop. That meant that:

  • We NEVER had a vacation because (HORRORS!!!) you could not leave the customers to go to another butcher shop - they may never come back!
  • I thought everyone's mother had fish scales in her hair, like mine did.
  • I thought everyone's underwear had sawdust in it, because didn't everyone's mom do laundry in the back of the store, and isn't the floor of the store always covered in sawdust?
  • I knew what sawdust was before I could talk, since you had to put it on the floor of the store for safety reasons (parts of meat and chicken can make for slippery walking).
  • I still remember vividly the smell and sight of my mother holding a fresh chicken over the flame to sear off the last of the feathers.
  • I hated Tuesdays, which was when the slaughterhouse delivered a cow's head so that my parents could take the brain out (delicacy! Gross!)
  • Before Rosh Hashana and Pesach we three girls helped with order delivery, and our parents were so bone tired by the time the holiday came around that they could hardly move.
  • My father's car always, always, always, smelled like fish.

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY.....I grew up knowing that the customer is always right, and it is the job of the merchant to make the customer happy, to provide excellent service above and beyond.

Then we moved to Israel. 

Here are some choice customer service moments from the past 18 months:

  • Go to purchase a hose in the hardware store.  Merchant stands there and stares at me.  I tell him what I want.  I point to what I want.  He says he doesn't have it.
  • Air conditioning guys come to my house, make a HUGE mess, smile, and leave.
  • Dry cleaner - says the clothes that have been there for 2 weeks aren't ready yet.
  • Cashier in home improvement store, who looks like she is still recovering from last Thursday night's drinking binge, is too lazy to give me a bag to put my purchases in.
  • Cashiers who glare at you when you don't want the "bargain" that is advertised at the cash register - like why don't you want the car smelly thing that you hang on the mirror for only 5 shekel?  It's 5 shekel!  Buy it!
  • Movers who criticized my furniture - your furniture is too big, why did you bring it to this small country?
  • Government ministry workers who speak rapid Hebrew, even though you asked for them to speak to you in English, and hang up (yes, it's true) when you ask them to speak more slowly.
  • Stores that close up at random times on random days.  

And so on, and so on.

Needless to say, I'm horrified each time because for me customer service is defined as doing whatever it takes to make the customer happy because: 1) you want them to come back, and 2) it's the right thing to do, people.

You know you're getting used to this when, the one time that you happen upon someone who is actually nice and helpful, you feel so grateful you practically kiss them.  And when you start laughing the minute you walk out the door because you can't wait to record this in your blog.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What My Father Taught Me

Today marks my father's 18th yahrzeit.  Ironically, his "chai" yahrzeit.

My father was smart, funny, and kind.  He abandoned his dream of becoming a pharmacist when his father became ill and could no longer run his grocery store and support the family.  My father took over the store and the rest is history.

But he loved that store - mostly he loved the people.  Making people happy made him happy. While my mother was the business brains of the operation, he and she together made it a place people felt at home and cared about.  Now that's a skill that one doesn't see very often anymore.

My father gave me his flat feet, his facial features, his sense of humor, and most importantly, his passion.  And his passion for Torah and for being a Jew most of all.

When I joined the Jewish Defense League in the late 1960s, he was proud - he was worried, but he was proud because I was standing up and fighting for something.

As my father got older, I was the only child in the house, and this was the time he became more and more devoted to religion - he started attending a Daf Yomi shiur, for example.

I figured I'd use this space (haha, I can write about whatever I want!) to remind myself and everyone else of what he taught me:
  • Always let guests know that they are doing you a favor by being a guest in your home - you get to honor them and make them comfortable.
  • If you get invited to a simcha, it's sinful not to go.  We have to enjoy these things and make the people who have something to celebrate know we are happy for them.
  • Never take anything that doesn't belong to you - he berated me once for using a pen that I had taken from my office.
  • Smile at everyone - you never know whose day you can improve by giving them a warm smile.
  • Be passionate - fight for what you believe in and don't give up.
  • Sing [we are Leviim] - and let music move you.
  • Honor your parents - do whatever it takes to care for them.
There's much more, but that's enough goop for now. One of my strongest memories is of him standing in the kitchen in the evening davening Maariv.  He'd be so tired after waking up at 4 am to go to the store, that he'd sometimes fall asleep on his feet.  It would take him 30 minutes to finish davening.  My mother would ask me to sit there and watch him and make sure he didn't fall over.

 Needless to say, I miss him every day and think of his smile and warmth often.  I think how sad it is that he didn't get to see all of his great-grandchildren and enjoy the accomplishments of his grandkids.  He died at age 75, and I think it was, more than anything, of a broken heart after losing my mother 5 years earlier.

Miss you, Dad.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

18 Months!

That's right, folks, we have been Israeli citizens for 18 months.  Thank you, thank you, please send money.  No, just kidding. 

This is how I can tell that we have adjusted:

  • At stoplights, I start going when the light begins to consider turning from red to yellow+green
  • The bills in my wallet no longer reminds me of Monopoly.
  • I can feel the coins and know which one is a 10 and which is a 5 and which is a 1 - without staring at them for 5 minutes.
  • I know that when it is time for my prescription refills, it is a 10 step process - none of that calling up and giving someone the prescription number that you wimpy Americans can do - and then having it delivered!  Nonsense!
  • We no longer have to have an IV drip of Valium every time we drive somewhere - we have learned to depend on Waze
  • I stopped trying to identify people's religiosity by what they look like 
  • I have resigned myself to buying clothing that costs 3 times as much as in America, and has one tenth of the quality
  • Cheaply made Israeli products don't seem so cheap to me anymore - like "Hmmm, that thinner than air plastic cup seems SO sturdy!"
  • We turn the a/c off every day, keep the trisim down and the ceiling fans running.  It feels like we live in a cave but it's pretty comfy.
  • We go out on our mirpeset every evening because it is cool and lovely - who in Baltimore wants to sit outside at night with the mugginess and the bugs?
  • I make Hebrew mistakes that are beyond embarrassing, but got used to asking whether I've used the right word or not, and it doesn't bother me as much.

This is how I know we have a ways to go:
  • We have identified 2 stores within a 25 minute drive where we can purchase white tuna
  • I still panic before interacting with an Israeli
  • The Hebrew sentences in my head, which are oh so perfect, have nothing whatsoever to do with the drivel that comes out of my mouth
  • I still hate the Israeli potatoes and long for Idahos, [but I have discovered the wonders of Pireh - the boxed instant mashed potatoes]
  • I cannot bring myself to buy Israeli cereals - it just doesn't feel right - I need to see that General Mills or Kellogg's or Post logo somehow - and hey, it only costs 3 times as much as Israeli cereal!
  • I still cringe a little when there are sales ads that tell people that the sale is on "Shabbat only!" since there is no word for Saturday here. 
  • I still make Hebrew mistakes that are beyond embarrassing.

And then here are the things that I still wonder at:
  • We can go to Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world, whenever we want
  • The scenery here is literally breathtaking - I can't believe I get to look at the Judean hills every single day - they are majestic and stark 
  • The entire country prepares for chagim and other important days - there are even billboards that refer to the Three Weeks and Tisha B'Av
  • The image of a guy with a kippah and tzitzit driving a truck/pumping gas/delivering mail - for some reason it makes me teary 
  • My husband is planning to go on a trip to Har HaBayit (aka The Temple Mount) on Sunday - I think that's one of the coolest things ever.
  • I love that the Israeli cartoons start having Shabbat music and cartoons about Shabbat on Friday afternoons
  • When you drive around you suddenly see an archaeological dig on the side of the road near a construction site - oops, don't build that apartment building until we dig up the ancient artifacts!
  • I am actually living in the land that God gave us to live in.  
  • I know I live in a country surrounded by enemies that want to see us annihilated, and instead of being fearful, I'm fiercely proud.
  • Will I ever stop embarrassing myself with Hebrew?
So there's a bit of a rundown.  All in all, the best decision our daughters ever made was to make aliyah, because that sort of made the decision for us.  18 months ago I could not have imagined what our new life would be like.

And now I can not imagine myself living anywhere else .

Friday, June 28, 2013

Ice Ages

My husband and I visited Israel in 1978. 
Before we came, he warned me about ice.  Yes, ice.  He knows me very well (even then, and we'd only been married for 4 years).

I looooooove ice-cold drinks.  I cannot tolerate warm drinks, or anything less than brain-freeze-inducing beverages.  Israelis, he told me don't use ice.  Be forewarned.  He explained that having ice means using freezer-type electricity which is expensive. 


I mean the refrigerators are working already, and have freezers, it's not like they are installing special ice freezers.  But I shrugged and dealt with it.

So for two weeks I tolerated life without ice.

Our next trip to Israel was in 1997
Somehow the country had figured out that Americans like ice and had secured a good recipe and started having it, although not actually offering it. 

Fast forward to 2013
I am sorry to tell you that Israelis have not joined the Ice Age. I am sorry not for them but for me, because my visits to restaurants always require me to specifically ask for ice. Note the following experiences:

- My husband gets orange juice from a street vendor and asks for ice.  The woman says, "You don't need ice, the oranges are cold.  Here, feel one."

- I get a smoothie (which they call smoozie here, I have no idea why) and it is served room temperature.

- I ask for ice with my soda and I receive two - count 'em two - pieces.  I have to actually ask for more and get scowled at when I do.

- Drinks are NEVER offered with ice, you have to specifically ask for it.

So I cannot say that with all of the wonderful things Israel has accomplished, it has achieved a real understanding of the need for cold drinks.  You'd think that in a country that is about 90 degrees from April through October, SOMEONE would have thought, "Huh, I wonder if a cold drink would be refreshing right about now."

So maybe it is that Americans and Israelis have different definitions of cold.  Or maybe that old yishuv-type thinking is still so entrenched in Israeli culture (like closing all of the stores mid-day even though they are all air-conditioned) that it will take another generation, and lots of American olim, to change it.

Whatever.  For now, I am considering taking my own ice to the restaurants with me - what do you think?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Relax! Hurry Up!

I just had a very Israeli experience.  I was driving to the salon to get my hair cut.  On the way no less than five people honked at me because I was not driving as they wanted me to.

That is, I was waiting at least until the red/yellow was on for a second before pulling out (of course NO ONE waits for the green to actually appear, that's just ridiculous).  Then I was driving along happily and a bunch of workers were crossing the street to get to the construction site.  They did not look "right and left" like we were always taught.  They just went.  Perfectly relaxed, slow, laughing and talking.  The cars slowed down and waited.  [Note: they were not walking across a marked crosswalk.  Just saying] No one honked. So I guess we honk at other drivers, but not at pedestrians.

What's amazing about Israel is that as crazy as they are when driving, when it comes to pedestrians, they are literally fanatics, obsessed about waiting.  If anyone is crossing a crosswalk, they absolutely have the right of way and all traffic must stop.  Israelis take this very seriously.   I once crossed in the middle of the street and a driver got out of his car and yelled at me.  I am not making this up.

So, back to my story.  I got to the salon and the hairdresser was clearly 4 people behind in her schedule.  The hairdresser, the friendly and lovely Ilana, welcomed me and did not apologize for the long line.  That was my first hint that to her, this was not a problem.  Just sit and relax!

My daughter and granddaughter were two of those people waiting. It was already about 15 minutes after our first appointment was scheduled.  My daughter and I had a discussion about how to handle this, and as usual she was smart and reminded me how flexible my schedule was.  So I decided to leave.

When I stood up to leave, Ilana was a bit horrified - "What?  You can't wait?"  She was not apologetic, just a bit surprised that I was not willing to wait. The fact that there were 3 people ahead of me and that meant at least 45 minutes of waiting, if not more, did not seem to be an issue.

So you see, I have to learn that there is a time to rush (driving) and a time to wait (hair salon).

Israelis are intense - intensely happy and intensely angry (but maybe that's just being Jewish).  Either way, living here means you are getting used to both but realizing something even more important - under everything, there is  love.

I've never seen a more loving country - the way the big gruff guys melt and start cooing in squeaky voices a the sight of a baby, the way the harsh looking women with dyed red hair and TOO MUCH makeup who have clearly been smoking since they were about 6 come up to you and put a hand on your shoulder and call you sweetie if they want to ask you something.

However harsh and hectic things seem here, underneath it all is an intense love and caring that can bring tears to your eyes. 

After that kind of day, we went to a concert last night - a salute to the Chassidic Music Festival of years ago - and of course at the end we sang Hatikvah.  Before we sang, the MC spoke a bit about hope, and about knowing that Hashem is with us and that we are strong and courageous because of Him.  It was not a religious crowd by any means, just so you know.

Then all several hundred of us stood and sang - it was an older crowd and I loved the fact that the men (most were Israelis) stood at attention just as they did when they were in the army.  I don't even think I can express correctly how standing there with hundreds of people singing Hatikvah made me feel.

So I'll take the "hurry up" and I'll take the "relax!".  It's ok. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Books and Covers

I remember, lo those many years ago, when  I was very active at Shomrei Emunah, and worked on a project with someone who (heavens to Betsy!) didn't cover her hair, wore pants, etc.  We had a great time and ran a successful program, although it beats me if I can remember what it was.  I remember thinking afterward how stupid I'd been even thinking about what she wore on her head or body because (say it with me people) - you absolutely do not know anyone until you know them.

This person, whom I would certainly have judged (I know, so sue me) as "less religious" than me, turned out to be so much more religious than me in more important ways than what she wore on her body.  She davened 3 times a day, she was extremely careful about kashrus (as in "more careful than me"), and she forswore all lashon hara.    Whoa, I thought, hitting myself upside the head.  Remember!  No Judging!

So let's be honest.  Most of us look at other people and decide how religious they are.  Come on, don't give me that "Oh no!  I would NEVER do that!"  We all do it.  We see someone in pants and figure, "Hmmmm, less religious" and see someone in a black hat (man) and figure "Hmmmm, religious."  It's more of a gut reaction than anything else, based on our upbringing, culture, society, etc.  I'm not saying we're all baaaaaaad to the bone, it's just being human.

Then I made aliyah.  Whoa.  Definitely book and cover time on a deeper level.

For the first few months I was amused at the dress code of Israelis - none.  I mean in general, the fashion rules here rival those on the boardwalk in Ocean City - only much less classy.

But after about a year,  after observing people in all kinds of places we've been here, I began to look at religious Israelis differently.  You can't figure anyone out by what they wear, and that's one of the most beautiful and refreshing lessons I've learned.

Here, there is a massive variety of hair coverings, skirts, skirts and pants, kipot sizes, shapes, and fabrics, the length of payot, the in/out tzitzit (I am definitely not in Park Heights anymore.)

Religious life here has hundreds more strata than it does in the US (feel free to argue with me here, by the way).  You can't figure anyone out by what they look like.  In Baltimore it was rather easy - for me, anyway.

Here, you can see a man with a white shirt, big beard, tzitzit out, and his wife is in pants with her hair completely covered.  Huh?  Or you can see a man with a teeny tiny kippa, with the typical Israeli man shaved-head hairdo, and his wife has a long skirt and is wearing a hairband.  I see women in leggings and halter tops (Israeli women's haute couture, it seems) saying a bracha at a restaurant.

Or, like the other day, in the mall, a man without a kippa kissing a mezuzah on his way into a store with such feeling that I had to look away.

You just have no idea what people are about, and that's very freeing somehow.  Maybe it's because in Israel, people are indeed different.  Yes, it's the holiness of living here but it's also the fact that you are living in, and defending, your home every single day and you take less for granted. Once you realize that, you also realize that you don't know what people have been through, and that you should not judge anyone.

So you stop judging. Know what that does?  It frees you - and allows your heart the energy it needs to start loving people more.

So I feel like there is a brighter rainbow here, and that makes me feel happy.  It feels less confined, less "this way or that way" and somehow more in love with the country and with our people. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dizzy from the Women

All this talk about women of, by, and for the Wall has me dizzy.  I truly do not get it. I have been religious all of my life, but did not attend a yeshiva or day school.  I received an outstanding education in Jewish studies at the Baltimore Hebrew College, and everything else I picked up along the way, via NCSY, from my husband, etc. 

So I ain't no scholar.

But I do consider myself a deeply religious person. 

I believe that the Torah was given to us as a way of life and that God knew what He was doing when he gave it to us. 
I believe that it offers us a way to live that works in every generation, forever, and is not time-bound.
I believe that God watches us and waits for us to ask Him for help. 
I believe that the Torah he gave us offers us a fulfilling, meaningful, and rich way of life.

So...that said....I believe that as a woman I have a vital role - to show the world that living a Torah way of life makes one charitable, kind, wise, resourceful and courageous and gives us a firm and secure place in the world.

See, I believe that Hashem has carved out incredibly rich roles for men and for women.  Because they are (here's a shocker) different, have different skill sets, different bodies, and different approaches to the world.

So not only do I not WANT to have a man's role, I believe that I'm not supposed to, that God does not want me to, and that if I can't figure out how to make my life meaningful with the role that I have, and if I keep looking over the mechitza and wondering why I can't be more like the men, well, then, that's MY problem, not the Torah's problem.

So when I see a woman in a tallis and tefillin, I feel like saying to her, "What are you really looking for?  There isn't enough in Torah for you to feel fulfilled?  You have to wear a tallis to feel better about yourself?" 

So on  the one side I look at these women and feel frustrated.  And on the other side, I look at the women in the Chumash and feel small - they are heroic, they are brave, they protect their loved ones, and they speak out.  They are not quiet, by any means.  I mean, Sara even laughed at God, sheesh that took nerve.

And what are we?  Are we even close to being as courageous as they were?  The men and women in Chumash were true partners, even more so than some couples today, I'll bet.  And those women at the Kotel - do they think they are being brave?  To me they are just confused and totally missing the point.

So that's where I stand.  I'm sure that some of you will disagree and say I'm old fashioned.  The thing is, the typical religious woman today is so NOT old fashioned that it is hard to explain - we are educated, we work, we raise families, we take care of homes, we help out our friends and family, we help the community.  We make the world what it is.  I don't think there is a husband/father out there who won't agree that the women in his life hold his life together.

We have a role that is so "meta" that people might somehow miss it - we are providing the balance, the caring, the love, and the warmth that keeps the world going.

Go women! 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I am a Yentah

My name is Susan and I am a yentah.

I find people and the things they do, and why they do them, extremely interesting.  I don't like to gossip - that's different and not nice. I just like to know what people are doing - I guess I'm a social type of person, very aware of what people around me are doing. 

Because I am a yentah, I spend an inordinate amount of time on Facebook.

See, those two go together.  Especially when one moves away from the place she has lived for over 50 years. 

It' s like this.  I love hearing about what people are doing.  My family, other people's families, celebrities, friends of celebrities, etc. etc.  Facebook is made for yentahs. 

I know, I know, it can be a colossal waste of time.  I mean, you can start FB'ing at 10 am and all of a sudden it's lunchtime and you're deep into your sister's husband's cousin's roommate's vacation pictures and where did the time go?

But, can I tell you something?  Shhh, it's just between us.  I love Facebook.  I'll tell you why.  Because it makes me feel connected, especially after we made aliyah.  I can keep in touch with everyone, see pictures of them and their families, comment, wish a mazel tov, refuah shelayma, get important updates - all in one place.

You have to use Facebook to appreciate it - I know people vilify it, but for me it brings me closer together with the people I love and also connects me with people I would never otherwise have had any connection with.

Here are a few examples of what I get to do with Facebook:

1. I get to find long lost family (this happened before aliyah) by remembering only part of their last name - these are family members who were sent away from Ellis Island in the 1920s because of immigration quotas and ended up in Argentina.  And I found them on Facebook, we "friended" each other, and now we send each other pictures of our grandkids.

2. I get to find school friends: we found each other and caught up on the many decades of each others' lives, and discovered that we had a lot in common - now we keep up with each other weekly.

3. I keep in touch with my extended family: I have a wonderful family with many cousins (first, second, third, etc.) - we communicate via Facebook, share family news, pictures, and gossip.

4. I get news!  Once you "friend" the news sites, you get instant news feeds. 

5.  I get to be part of interesting "threads" - sometimes people post controversial articles or posts and the discussions ensue - it's always interesting.

6. I get to laugh - with all the bad news around, it's great to click on a stupid video and watch something which makes you laugh.  It's refreshing and it feels good.

7. I get to help - people post names for refuah shelayma, they post requests for meals and help for people who are in need, and they just plain ask for help - and my response can be instantaneous, as can the responses of all of their friends.

8. I get advice - if I want to purchase something major, like a car,  or am looking for a new recipe, I can post my question and ask for help from my friends - this is called crowdsourcing - and people do this every day. What better way to get advice than to ask all of your friends by putting up one simple post?

I happen to work on my computer all day, so Facebook is my answer to stopping by someone's office and chatting for a few minutes, and I love it.

Also, as per above, I am a professional yentah.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Victory over Boker Zugi

We have won a major victory in the aliyah process.

Israel is famous for its breakfasts.  Ask any tourist and they will rave over the wide variety of salads, breads, and spreads that restaurants and hotels offer.

When we first started visiting Israel after our daughters came on aliyah, we were also enthralled with the Israeli breakfast menus at the local restaurants.  They have something called "boker zugi" which is a breakfast for two - eggs, bread, and a selection of salads and spreads.  Sounds yum.  IS yum. The first thirty times.

Then you begin to realize that you don't, um, actually like the salads and spreads.  That cat food tuna (NO, I shall NEVER get used to it or learn to like it), the white stuff that is not sour cream nor is it cream cheese, the other spreads that defy explanation.   

OK, that's Part I of the story.

Part II is that we came on aliyah and began a lovely tradition of Fridays at the Mall.  [Sidebar: We love Fridays because, unlike Sundays in America, which are days of doing nothing with no defined purpose or structure (which we still kinda miss theoretically), Fridays are days of doing things to get ready for Shabbat.  The whole day, and actually from Thursday on, you are thinking about Shabbat, knowing it's coming, feeling that sense of relaxation, albeit being busy with preparations.  We love it. Shabbat has never felt so....Shabbat-y, and yes that is a word I just made it up, so there.]

So...back to the story.  Every Friday morning we go to the mall for breakfast.  So, every Friday morning we were stuck with the boker zugi.  Not fun.  Got to hate it.  Never ate the spreads.  Laughed when they were put on the table - in fact, the spreads themselves started to sneer at us when they were brought, "Oh, fine, we know you have no interest in us, and we don't even care."

But, being olim (or maybe being us) we were passive about this.  I started ordering the yogurt/granola breakfast and my husband just got the boker "ishi" (personal breakfast) and didn't eat the salads.  Then.......

We got brave (well, he did).  This took almost 1.5 years of eating breakfasts we didn't like.  Do not mock us. OK, mock us.

So my brave, heroic husband asked the waiter, "Can't I just order and omelet and bread and coffee?"  The waiter seemed nonplussed.  "'s going to be more expensive!"  Most Israelis (ref my earlier blog about the Listerine purchase) cannot believe you would possibly spend more money than they think you should.  For example, if you order a big coffee instead of the tiny coffee that comes with the breakfast, they warn you, "That's going to cost you AN EXTRA 5 SHEKEL, MISTER!" after which you must sign a form in triplicate agreeing to the extra charge. And have it notarized.  By the Prime Minister.

But, in the end, victory was ours.  My husband received the breakfast he actually wanted. 

I think the waiter had to have extensive psychotherapy.  He had a weird eye twitch by the time we left.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

No Magic Words, Just a Helping Hand

So there is a great Facebook debate afoot about a blog written for YU's Observer about aliyah being too big a sacrifice to make.

This has been eating at me since I read it.  The reason is that the writer admits that while aliyah is an ideal, many people do not feel that they are really ever going to actually do it, for whatever reason.  I am not upset because of that fact, but I am just trying to figure something out:

How can I explain to people who have not yet made aliyah how great it is?  What magical words can I say, what phrases can I use, what religious issues can I invoke, to suddenly turn on the light bulb above their heads and make them realize that it's the best thing they can ever do for themselves, their families, and their future generations?

The answer is:  Nuttin honey.

This is part of the conversation we olim have all the time - we never thought we could be so happy.  We never thought we'd be OK with this kind of life.  And yet, not only do we not miss our old lives, we desperately want to find a way to bring the rest of our friends and family here so that they can experience this too.

But is there anything we can say?  I doubt it. That's what is so weird.  It wasn't until we got here that we had that realization, so it means THEY have to come here to experience it too....huh...

So I remain frustrated.  I appreciate groups like Nefesh b'Nefesh who made the aliyah process less daunting.  But there is only so much they can do.  What can be done to bring more people to live here?  I have no idea.

I hope that through this blog you non-Israeli readers have had some taste of the wonder of our new life, even with its problems and frustrations. 

So maybe I can do something - offer my help.

If you want to talk to me (and several people have!) about aliyah, I'd be more than happy to discuss any aspect of it.  If you want a friend here to help you have what they call a "soft landing" you've got one.  I'm there for you.  I'll even meet you at the airport and help you through those first confusing days.  I mean it, with all my heart.

I don't have any magic words, but I do have my two hands to hug you when you get here and help you with whatever you need.  And then you'll get it.  Then you'll see what I see.  I can't wait to meet you!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

You Can't Have It

I think I've donated 7000 shekel to the City of Modiin.  Maybe they will erect a statue of me.

See, you get this property tax bill here.  At the beginning of the year they send you a (paper) bill.

Once your first year after aliyah is over and you are a regular Joe (or Ziv) here, the bill no longer has a oleh discount and is for a humongous amount of money (ref the 7000 shekel).  You can choose to pay it all at once or in installments, and you let them know how you wish to do this.  You can do this on their website.

I am a good citizen (I did not yet know HOW good I was, but let's continue) so I went immediately to the website and chose to pay the bill in 3 installments.  I gave them my bank-issued credit card number and poof!  It was done.  I even got a nice thank you email.

In my next bank statement I saw that indeed installment #1 had been paid.  Excellent, I thought, I sure am smart - I know what to do.

All was well until about 6 weeks ago when I received another paper bill from the property tax office - quoting the same amount that was due.   Huh.  I read that sucker over and over (by now I am not so bad at reading bills in Hebrew) and could not figure out where, if anywhere, they noted that I had already committed to pay this amount over 3 installments.

So I decided to go to their website and put in my information to check my account.  That would tell me that they had recorded that I had set up the payments.

It told me I still owed 7000 shekel.  Then I figured that the property tax was really 14000 shekel, which was alarming but nothing about money is alarming after living in Israel for a year.  So I figured I'd go through the motions of paying again and maybe then it would tell me that I had already paid.

Nope, they took my 7000 shekel (which unfortunately I had NOT chosen to pay in 3 installments) and gladly sucked it right up into the Ministry of whatever.  I imagined the ministry workers throwing my 100 shekel notes around gleefully, planning a big office party.  "We got another one!  Hahaha!  She paid twice!  Wheeee!  We love our jobs!"

Hmmm.  Then I got worried and planned my trip to the Property Tax office.  This is not easy for me. See, I have to go through several steps:

1. Decide there is a need to go to the office
2. Figure out what I want to say
3. Figure out how to say it in Hebrew
4. Practice how to say it in Hebrew
5. Ask one of my daughters to accompany me.
6. Be nervous about it for weeks.
7. Finally decide it has to be THIS WEEK
8.  Not sleep the night before
9. Have a terrible stomach ache the day of
10. Get in the car and go. 
11. Feel the headache coming on.

So Gila and I actually went.  When I sat down and started talking, Gila looked at me weirdly, which only later I realized was because she didn't realize my Hebrew was good enough to get through this conversation (yay! proud of myself!).  I started to tell the woman what happened and she finished my sentence, ..."so you paid twice.  Yeah, it happens a lot."

She went through all kinds of calculations and typing things onto her computer and talking to her supervisor, and then assured me that we would see a refund in our bank account soon.  "How soon?"  I asked stupidly.  "Soon."

So I waited for about a month and not only did we not get a refund, but the first installment of the second 7000 shekel payment showed up as paid.

Back to the office.  This time with my husband.  "Ok," she tells me, "we can't actually refund the money to you but we can refund it to the bank."  Huh.  What does that mean?  "Don't worry," she says, "you'll get the money back."

We leave the office.  I am now pretty certain that we've given the city a 7000 shekel gift.  Hope they use it in good health. 

Then...the next day (WEIRD) we receive yet another property tax bill.  This one shows that THEY owe US money.  So now I will erect a statue to them.

In other news, we were at a supermarket yesterday and when the cashier came upon the bottle of Listerine we wanted to buy, she scanned it and then looked at me disapprovingly.  Then she asked me something. I thought she asked me if I wanted to take advantage of a bargain where I could get 2 for 50, so I said yes because I wanted her to like me.

But then she took the bottle, scanned it again, and put it aside.  Oh, I thought, I'm not getting that bottle, am I.  After a minute or two I realized that what she actually said was, "This is 50 shekel, you don't want it, do you?  Do you want me to delete it from the bill?"  See, it takes me a while to translate....

So, wanting to make friends, I thanked her for saving me from the awful sin of spending too much on mouthwash and agreed that it was very expensive. 

She was so happy that I agreed and now we are besties.