Thursday, January 31, 2013

The (Very) Good Life

You probably think I'm going to write yet another blog about how great it is to live in Israel.

No, my friends, I'm going to write about taking a cruise.

No, I'm not kidding.  My husband and I went on a cruise to the Caribbean with Kosherica to the Caribbean, accompanied by about 250 people who came with Kosherica, 700 other Jews who just happened to be on the same ship, and about ten million other people who were on the ship as well, not part of any group that I know of.

If you're never done a cruise, let me tell you - it's the vacation-takers' best-kept secret. 

I know it sounds exotic and luxurious, but when you consider that all of your meals are WELL taken care of, you are taken from city to city without having to arrange your own transportation, you don't have to shlep your suitcases anywhere, and when you are not exploring some port you have a ton of stuff to do on the ship, it's quite an amazing, and not overly expensive, vacation.

We were on a ship with the Jewish Music Cruise, a Kosherica specialty.  With us were Cantors Yaakov Motzen, Dudu Fisher, Simon Cohen, as well as Avraham Fried, Lipa Schmelzer, and others. 

Now some of you are shuddering at the thought of listening to chazanut every day.  Believe me, it was nothing like that.  They sang all kinds of stuff - one singer even sang Old Man River.
Anyway, when you're sitting in a comfy theater and not standing up in shul waiting and wondering when Kedusha is EVER going to end, who does this guy think he is, etc. - it's nice to listen to the music.

Oh, also, the ports were interesting and the weather was warm and sunny, a nice thing to do in the winter.

Now a full disclaimer.  Our daughter Aliza works for Kosherica and is basically the manager of the cruise along with a few other employees.  She's not Julie, so don't be a smarty pants (for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, I'm not going to explain).  She's the person who takes care of every single detail.  It was fun to watch her work (also lots of nachas was shepped).

But we always pooh-poohed the idea of going on a cruise, thinking it was for other people.  Now we're hooked.

But before you do this, here are some thoughts:
  • The ship rocks - it is a ship, it is in the sea, it will rock back and forth. Take Dramamine.
  • When you get home, the ship will still be rocking - it takes a couple of days to get used to being on dry land
  • Food - there is a heck of a lot of it.  And it's gourmet and it's also heimish and it's awesome. Pace yourselves, people.  The first day, everyone gorged on all of this abundant food, and then we all kind of looked at each other and thought, "Huh.  this food will be here all week.  Let's take it slow."
  • Bars - the ship has about 350 bars. People walk around everywhere with drinks in their hands.  It is a boozer's heaven.
  • Casino - to get to our shul you had to walk through the casino.  People would be sitting there an hour before the casino opened, waiting.   אנו רצים והם רצים....
  • Luxury suites - if you get a chance to see a luxury suite, do it - each have 3 bedrooms, a baby grand piano, and their own pool.....
  • Ports - for each port the cruise line sells excursions.  Some of these cost several arms, legs, and other body parts. 
  • Kvetching - sometimes when people pay a lot of money for something like this, they kvetch whenever something goes wrong.  If you've ever been on the other side of a massive organized event like this, you understand that something will always go wrong, or at least not be perfect.  So have sympathy and empathy and deal with it - don't kvetch. It's so unattractive.
  • Crew - I have to hand it to the crew - to a person they were friendly, helpful, and warm.  And as far as the Kosherica staff, well there's one woman named Aliza who is amayyyyyyyyyyzing...
  • People - if you're going to do this, you should be open to meeting all kinds of people.  If you're not, you really won't have a good time. The group included Chassidim, non-religious, all different flavors, and it was fascinating how friendships blossomed between the most unlikely families.  If you go on a cruise with the attitude that you are going to get to meet other Jews and get to know how other communities are, it's worth it.
  • OFFLINE!- this is the best part.  At sea, it is very difficult to get any Internet connectivity, and if you do it's via satellite and very expensive.  Also, your phones won't work.  So you are really disconnected in many ways.  This makes the aspect of building friendships with new people even more important.
So that's my story.  We are already saving up for the next cruise, and consider it worth not vacationing in the meantime, just to have the experience again. I still have some Dramamine left over.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Driving? No Problem! Oh, Never Mind

In the past few weeks we have had the occasion to drive into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv a couple of times.  With Waze and/or our other phone-based GPS system, we've done really well and made it back home to Modiin without the need for a search and rescue squad.

In fact, last night we drove to Jerusalem and it felt like home - didn't need to wonder where to go, just went!  Big accomplishment!

And then came today.

Today we needed to drive to Rishon LeTziyon to take our car to the Hyundai garage for its checkup and to fix some, um, er, ahem, body damage.

Yes, we have dinged our beautiful new red Hyundai.  Actually, I dinged it just trying to get into my cement-walled parking spot under the building.  That's another blog altogether, but suffice it to say that I now back into said spot and it takes about 45 minutes to do so each time.  I exaggerate, actually 43 minutes. At least 4-5 different maneuvers.

And there have been other dings.  You see, the Israeli Mossad comes at night and moves sidewalks and curbs and then waits and watches the next day when you hit them as you are driving.  It's how they ease the tension in their office.  They watch the videos during lunch.

Anyway, it was time to take the car in.  First, like in the US, you call to make an appointment.  Luckily, we found an English speaker.  She was very nice.

Then, this morning, Gila and I drove to Rishon to drop off the car.  I had printed out Google directions AND put it in my phone in both the Orange GPS and Waze.  Pretty awesome, right?  AND I stared at the Google map for about 15 minutes.  OOH, I thought, this is easy, take 431 to 412 and that is the street that the garage is on, Derech HaMaccabim!  What could be so hard?

After Gila and I lost each other on 431 for a bit, we ended up at the same light when we got off on 412.  We gave each other thumbs ups (what is the plural of that - thumb ups?) and were so proud.  Well, I thought, the first sign I see will be Derech HaMaccabim, just like on the map!

There's the street sign!  And it says...."Derech Herzl."

Uh oh.

Well, the GPS lady told me to turn onto it so I did.  And then, after a while, she told me to make a right.  Into what, exactly?  This tiny driveway?  I don't think so, lady, you must be wrong.


She was right.  Had I turned into the little alley I would have found the little tiny street I was looking for. As I was passing it, I saw the Hyundai sign.  Huh.  Shoulda turned there.

You know those times when you pass where you were supposed to turn?  Bad feeling. Instead I kept driving, and almost reached the Golan.  Then I turned around and, of course, could not make a left into the little tiny street.  Oh no, of course not, one has to turn into another street and suddenly you are in a neighborhood whose streets were originally sized to fit a small horse, but not the humongo truck that is, of course, just ahead of me.

I finally make it out of the little neighborhood and am thinking I'll go back on this Herzl street, but my GPS lady tells me to turn left.  Hmmmm, I think, remember the adage about trusting her.  So I turn left.

And then she tells me to turn left again.  And again.  Going in a cirlce. 

So these GPS ladies?  I think they are real.  And I think they work with the Mossad and probably have lunch together. 

So I use my awesome sense of direction and get myself out of that neighborhood and back onto good old Herzl, which now seems like home.

I slowly work my way up Herzl and GPS lady is telling me to turn right soon.  I do.  I look for that Hyundai sign I'd seen earlier. I do not see it.  I call Gila.  I keep trying.  Finally I see the Hyundai sign!  I pull in and miracle of miracles the nice woman is there and is very helpful.

Best news of the day?  I won't ever have to drive there again, because if your car needs just the usual kind of tuneup, they will come to you, give you a loaner, and take your car away, then bring it back to you.  I almost kissed her when she told me that. 

So my driving confidence was really good for about 12 hours.  But it'll come back again, right?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Shul Guilt

Let me just get through the touchy feely part of this blog and then I'll get to to the good stuff.  Be patient.

Touchy Feely Part of Blog
When I was growing up, my mother insisted on going to shul every week. 

This was not easy for her - this was a woman who got up every morning at 4:30, went to work by 6, was on her feet all day cleaning fish and cutting meat and keeping customers happy and listening to customers kvetching, came home at 6, made dinner and worked on the store billing until 9 at night. 

So by Shabbat no one would have thought anything of it if she slept in.  But she loved shul.  She loved the socializing, the community, the singing, and the sitting with her girls.  I have wonderful, warm memories of sitting with her in shul.

So when my kids got old enough to sit in shul quietly (about 6 or 7), we started to go to shul together and I now have the same warm memories.  Most weeks, at some point they'd let me know they were bored/tired/hungry, but I treasure the memories of sitting in shul with them, giving them a soft, loving touch every 2 seconds (I am a very affectionate mother - I still pat the heads and arms of my grown-up children whenever I can), holding hands, giggling, etc.

Then, b"H, they went off on their own and now I sit in shul by myself, with my contemporaries, and I still love being there.

OK, now - here we go. 

Other Part of Blog
My problem is - every. single. Shabbat. I literally have to force myself to go to shul. 

Why is this?  When I used to go out of the house to work every day, my excuse was, well it's the only day I can just not push myself to go out of the house.

But in my new life I am home every day.  I can sleep in if I want to any day.  I don't have to go out of the house if I don't want to. 

So one would think that, come Shabbat, I'd be thrilled to get dressed and go out.

But here is what goes on in my head - it's a little like the conversation good Gollum has with bad Gollum (if you don't know what I'm talking about, shame on you - go to the link, read it, then watch all 3 movies - you can skip "The Hobbit" as far as I'm concerned - meh - and then come back here):

     "Mmmmm, it would feel so good to get back in bed and read."

     "But you can get back in bed any day of the week, GO TO SHUL."

     "But I have to get dressssssssssssssed [whiny voice] and walk up the big hillllllllll, and it's hot/cold/windy/ outsiiiiiiiiiiiiiide."

     "Stop whining."

     "But maybe just this week....."

     "No!  You know you love it once you are there."

     "But I have to get there and that means I have to get dresssssssssssssed."

Why do I struggle with this every week?  Once I walk out of the building I'm so glad I went.  And I enjoy sitting there, being with my friends, and seeing my husband on the other side of the mechitza, especially now that he does the kohain thing twice every single week, it's like a little bit of a floor show during davening where he's the star.

If any of you have any deep thoughts about this, I'd appreciate it. 

I have no deep thoughts on this (or on most things). The only thing I am sure of is that this whole issue involves the one talent I'm really good at - GUILT.

I'm a professional at guilt.  You can come to me for lessons, although if you are a Jewish woman you could probably teach me a thing or two.

I feel guilty when I spend money.
I feel guilty when I'm not nice enough to my husband.
I feel guilty when I don't spend enough time with my grandchildren/kids/sisters/cousins/friends.
I feel guilty when I play a game on the computer instead of doing something productive.
I feel guilty when I don't make a good supper.
I feel guilty when I don't go to shul and stay home and read instead.

So on the weeks when I do succeed in overcoming the inertia and get myself to shul, I feel great.  On other weeks, I feel guilty.

One thing is for sure - no matter what I do, I will find something to feel guilty about.

Like I said, I'm a professional.  Gotta go play a computer game now. Bye.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Weather and Sponga

I confess, I love weather.  And I always loved weatherman Tom Tasselmeyer.  I think he is the greatest weather guy ever.  And he has a fun name which, in our family, we put to a sing-song when the kids were little:  "Tommmmmmmm TASSELmeyer!"  Yes, yes, we made up a song about the weather man.  What's it to you?

So, anyway, let me just confess, I am a weather freak.

When we were living in Baltimore and a snowstorm was coming, I would get super excited.  The anticipation, the preparation, the knowing we had everything in the house we needed and could hole up for a day or two.  OK, the dirty snow afterwards was disgusting but before and during the storm it was thrilling.  And thunderstorms in the summer?  The more the merrier, as far as I was concerned.  Watching those clouds roll in, hearing the thunder, catching a sight of a bolt of lightening - I'd open the curtains, sit back and just watch.  Movies of weather disasters?  Bring 'em.  Documentaries about tornadoes, tsunamis, and hurricanes?  Could watch them all day.

Hey, I see your hand on that mouse.  Step away.  This is NOT going to be a boring blog, I promise!

Because this is about how Israelis do not know how to handle weather, and Baltimoreans do - surprised you, right?  

For example - Israel is a desert.  It is dry most of the year.  So you'd think that when it rains it would have all sorts of ways of capturing rain water, right?

Nope, hardly any.  We just stand there and watch the rainwater wash away and think, "Hmm, I bet it might just be a good idea to hold onto that water.  I wonder if we should do that.  We live in a desert, right?  Yeah. hmmm."

And wait until it sleets or snows.  This country freaks out.  Not in the toilet-paper-and-milk buying sort of way, but in sheer panic.  Schools close, people are told to stay home.  Because it might sleet a little or snow 1/2 inch.  So the same people who learn to jump from planes, be snipers, and drive tanks begin whimpering in fear with the first flake.

Granted, for the past week the weather has even made international headlines, and here we are all happy because the Kineret is rising and it is a blessing to have so much water.  I'm just amused by the reaction of the people.

Now on to the sponga.  For those of you not familiar with Israeli housecleaning techniques, the sponga is a mop with a flat rubbery blade at the bottom.  You are supposed to move water around with it or hook a rag onto it and wash the floor that way.  I have no idea who thought of this.

Every time I tried (yes, I even watched a You-tube video about it), I failed.  The floor was not getting clean, the rag wouldn't stay on, or there were other problems.  I finally decided to wet a towel, throw it on the floor and move it around with my feet.  Been doing that for a year. I even tried using Swiffers, but that is expensive, like $500 or something for one package of the wipey things.

But now, I finally figured it out.  How?  I was in a grocery store and the cleaning woman was doing the floor.  I watched her.  She threw a wet rag on the floor and proceeded to put the sponga on the rag and move the rag around.  No clicking of the rag onto the broomy handle, either! Whoa!  What technique!  I went home and tried it and it worked.

That's it, not much of a story but for me it was a big deal. 

And it only took me a year to figure out how to wash a floor!


Monday, January 7, 2013

My Mall is Flooded

Well, we hit the one year mark last week and celebrated with a trip to Bnei Brak to buy challos from the famous Vizhnitz bakery and herring from a store named Zahava's.  Actually, my husband did the buying and I just did the eating.

About the challas - let me just say that we don't actually remember whether or not we had any other food on the table last Shabbat.

About the herring - let me just say that my hands still smell like herring.  No, I did not eat with my hands, so don't be a smarty pants.  But I did have to wipe up herring spill on the counter after SOMEONE spilled in their impatient glee to eat said herring.

Back to more global issues. Life has certainly changed for us in the past year.  But we are very proud of having done this and of course thrilled beyond words to be living here.

[Deep thought alert]

It's not until we actually started living here that we did a "Wow, I coulda had a V-8!" bop on our foreheads and realized that we should have always been living here, and thought how amazing it would have been to raise our children here. I'm so glad for them that they are doing this.  My grandchildren will be part of the future of Israel, how cool is that?  Also, ancestor-wise, it still hits me almost every day as I drive around and (I know, this is corny) look at the beautiful hills, imagining Biblical figures making their way from place to place, that my parents, in-laws, and all of their ancestors, especially those who had such hard lives in Europe, would be (or are) kvelling over the fact that we are living in our land, an idea that was so unattainable for them.  (That was a very long run-on sentence, I apologize.)

[End of deep thought, back to our regularly scheduled rambling]. 

So, our life has changed a bit.

For example, here is a brief list of things I never thought I'd hear myself saying:
  • It's raining! Wow, this is so exciting! Look!
  • My mall is flooded.
  • I can't get warm.
  • Look at the cows across the street!
  • It's 30 degrees today!  I'm boiling!
  • It's winter, so I'm wearing boots every day. 
  • Shabbat.
  • Chag
  • Oy va voy.
  • M'uleh!
  • Any complete sentence in Hebrew without making a mistake (ok, it's a very short sentence, but still).
  • I'm going downstairs to visit with the kids.
  • I got my gas masks.
  • I'm putting pomegranate seeds in the salad.
  • Dirt rain
  • What IS this vegetable?
  • Why is the celery so dirty?
  • To my grandkids- "So, when you are in the army...."
  • To my grandkids - "What did you say?  What does that mean in English?"
And on and on.

We are very blessed to have had even this one year's opportunity to live here, and I hope that we have many, many more.  It's a true, pure, and amazing dream and with all the problems, worries, and changes we encounter as Israelis, now we could never imagine living anywhere else.