Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sportacus - My Ulpan Teacher

God has blessed me with eight beautiful grandsons and one granddaughter.  You may be able to deduce that the boys outnumber the girls.

After growing up with two sisters and having two daughters and one son, it took me a while to realize that my grandparenting life would have more to do with guns, trucks, and those sounds boys make when they are shooting something, than with Barbies and braids.  Thank goodness Ariella the Granddaughter is quite girly and allows me to brush her hair and buy her girlie things.

Well, back to the male hordes.  Boys love fighting.  They just do.  When our own son was little, we, as card-carrying Hippie Parents, made sure not to buy him guns because we were sure we knew the recipe for raising peace-loving men. 

He proceeded to create a gun out of a piece of challah.  And shoot his sisters with it. Huh.

My Israeli grandsons have taught me about the various TV shows that they absolutely adore and could watch nonstop for weeks on end.  Nadav, the youngest, is still fascinated by Curious George, but he's the aberration.

The rest of them love things like Power Rangers - they watch this and then proceed to spend hours acting out the stories.  It's great for imagination, and I love hearing the discussions about the tactics of said warriors.  Production-wise, Power Rangers ranks up there with your backyard puppet show, but these guys do not seem to care.

Then there is my personal hero, Sportacus. Apparently this is a TV show which originates in Iceland and the story line involves the lead character who tries to get the kids in "Lazy Town" to eat vegetables and exercise, and has to continually fight Robbie Rotten, who wants them to eat candy all day and just be, well, lazy.

This guy is amazing.  No, really!  He does all kinds of gymnastics, and lives in a super cool spaceship that hovers above Lazy Town, and he is always saving people.  

The reason I'm telling you all of this (I can see you shaking your head and asking what this has to do with aliyah, so just hold your pants on) is that all of these shows are of course dubbed into Hebrew.  As a side note, the mouths of the (and I use this word loosely) actors never match the words that come out of them.  And yet these kids do not even blink.  Why?  Because almost everything they watch is dubbed, so they're used to it.  (Anyone else thinking right now about the SNL Japanese movie skit with John Belushi? I thought so).

Anyway, my point here is that I get to learn Hebrew by watching with them, combining my favorite activities - sitting with my grandkids and learning Hebrew!  See, I have learned lots of Hebrew by watching kids' TV with them - because the child characters in the shows speak at a level only a few higher than the level I speak on! 

My favorite moments involve me watching intently and then asking the six year old, "What does that mean?" and having him (politely and patiently) roll his eyes at me and say, "Bubby, didn't you go to Ulpan?"  I'm sure he's thinking, "Look, I"m 6 and I understand this, and she's [not 6] and keeps asking questions. Sheesh."

So, thank you Sportacus for your contribution to my aliyah and I hope that one day I can take a ride in your spaceship. As long as my grandkids can come with me so they can translate.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Guilty or Not Guilty?

I am not telling anyone what to do, and I am not an aliyah evangelist (weird juxtaposition of words,  I know).  I know aliyah is a tough decision, and even perhaps an impossible one when one has family elsewhere.

I'm not patting myself on the back, either.  We made aliyah because our daughters came first and paved the way and made (and are still making) things easier for us. Yes, we'd always thought of it, thought it would be nice, etc.  But of course with our parents and the rest of our family in the States, we thought, how could we leave everything.  When our friends left on aliyah, we always explained to ourselves why of course THEY could do it but WE couldn't...right now...

Yet I have to admit that living in the States, there was always some level of inner guilt that we hadn't actually just done it. When we wrote to our friends here, or called them, we were jealous that they were THERE, in the place that we knew we were supposed to be.  We'd hear lectures about the mitzvah of living in Israel and felt guilty.  We heard about the wars and watched the news and felt guilty.  We knew that, in a perfect world, we should be there, and that was always there in the back of our minds.

So, life happened and we finally got here.  Then I kept feeling guilty and I couldn't figure out why, for many months.  Then it hit me - I felt guilty that we hadn't made aliyah as a young family and raised our kids here.  I felt guilty that I had not been among the pioneers who built the country. I felt like I had missed something and could never get it back.

Finally, this year on Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Hazikaron, I think some of that guilt is falling away.  No, I didn't come here as a teenager and build the country. And no, unfortunately we didn't raise our kids here.

What I am coming to realize slowly is that I don't feel guilty anymore about the big issue - the part about coming to live here.  It is hard to explain unless you are actually living here, and please don't thing I'm being snooty or anything.  It's just one of those "naaseh v'nishma" things - you have to do it to understand it.

When you are here you are part of a solution, part of a future of the Jewish people.  You ARE doing something, just by making the statement that this is where you live.  Israel is the future of our people and I am no longer a bystander, watching from across the ocean while this country grows - feeling proud, but not in any real way being a part of it. 

I am here, doing a very small bit to help.  Finally.  Time to stop feeling guilty.  Well, about that anyway, because there is SO much more to feel guilty about but that's for another kind of blog....


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Come! Learn about your benefits!

Last week I received an email from the Olim office in Modiin about a seminar being held today for people 50 and older, about bituach leumi (Israel's version of social security) and the benefits we can expect to receive.  Excellent, I thought, I need to learn about that, I'm going. I'll learn a lot!

Wait, let me stop laughing.  OK, I'm better now.

Now, imagine the scene.

Over 70 people (20 of whom never RSVP'd) struggling to fit into a classroom.  People coming late, of course, and shlepping chairs noisily over stone floors into the room, greeting their friends, gossiping, you know, like in shul. 

Everyone finally sits down and the Olim office woman introduces the speaker.  And then she says, "And please be quiet becasue she does not have a loud voice.. Oh and don't interupt her with questions!  We'll have questions at the end." 

That's when I started giggling.  I haven't stopped yet.

Do you truly expect 70 senior citizens, many of whom have hearing problems, and all of whom are thoroughly confused about the Israeli bituach leumi system, to sit quietly and not interrupt for 2 hours?  In what imaginary, drug-induced world do you think that will happen?

So, the poor woman from bituach leumi starts talking.  Within .05 seconds someone shouts, "WE CAN'T HEAR YOU!"  She tries to speak louder.  Better. OK, now everyone is listening.

She starts out with....a description of the Bituach Leumi structure. And how it differs from what other countries have.  Hmmm.  The natives are getting restless.  Drool is accumulting beneath our desks.  Get to the good stuff, woman!  Tell us what we get!  How many millions of shekel are going to pour into our bank accounts once we turn 62?

She finally gets to real information.  This is how it goes, and I am not exaggerating:
  • BL woman:  So, if you are a woman and age 62 or a man and age 67 and you haven't worked here and if you pass the "means" test, or if you have worked here but less than 5 or 10 years, I think, then you may or may not be eligible.  It depends.
  • Audience member 1: But I came at age 64 and 3 months and I worked a little so what do I get?
  • Audience member 2:  But I have been here for 5 years and worked the whole time.  How about me?
  • BL woman:  It depends.
BL woman then launches into the minute detail of how the system works and all the ins and outs.  Drool drool drool.  By this time, people are either catatonic or angry or screaming out their questions.  BL woman looks like she could use a stiff drink. Then a couple of answers she gives are, well, not entirely correct so people in the audience correct her.  That feeling of "why, oh why am I wasting my time with this" keeps wafting over me.

Finally someone asks a basic question, "So what is the difference between national health insurance and our kupat cholim that we pay into every month?"

Silence - oh.  None of us realized that there were two health insurances that we have to pay.  Huh?

It went on and on.  I got a headache.

Then came the highlight of the morning.  The woman from the Olim department in Modiin made an off-hand comment like, "Well, don't forget to pay it - hahaha, it's kind of like the television tax!  You have to pay that too! Or else they'll hit you with a huge bill!  Hahahahaha!"

Stunned, utter silence. Then lo, the cry of the confused immigrant:


Heads turned to neighbors in sheer panic - the people who have indeed paid their TV tax (like me, ahem ahem) were sagely advising those who had no idea what the television tax is and never heard of it before.

Twenty minutes later, after oxygen was administered to several attendees, we got back to bituach leumi.

But my favorite "Olim rock" moment was the British guy in the back who asked, "Why didn't they tell us about national health insurance costs before our aliyah so we'd be prepared?  Is it a national secret?"

And our wonderful Olim advisor's response, "Yes.  It is a national secret.  Now you're here and we'll help you."

So by the time the two hours were over, we were all utterly confused, worried, and wringing our hands, sure that when we got home, waiting at our door would be either (or both):

1. The big, burly TV Tax guy who wants to see if we have a TV so the country can charge us
2. A huge package in our mailbox, with pages and pages summarizing all the money we now owe the Israeli government.

Oh, and don't let me forget to tell you the conversation about the cemetery.  If you live in Modiin, apparently you get a free burial plot in the Modiin cemetery.  If you want to be buried NEXT to your loved one, you have to pay.  No saving seats.  If you want to be buried in another city, good luck buddy, you're on your own.  

All in all, I will just tell you that by the time I left I was giggling like the village idiot.

At least they had coffee and cookies.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

It's Simple

One of the best parts of aliyah has been making new friends. 

In our community, there are lots of "older" couples like ourselves (I use the quotation marks because in this community, if you are, say, close to 70, you are the absolute oldest person around - and for those of you who don't know it, 70 is NOT OLD AT ALL - I mean it used to be old, but it isn't anymore...but I digress) who moved here because their kids are here, so we automatically have a lot in common.

First of all, we have the guilts about leaving our kids who are not in Israel.  And of course knowing that even if we see them once or twice a year it is definitely not enough.

Secondly, we have made a huge change in our lives after living for decades in one community or city.

Thirdly, our Hebrew is wretched.

I had dinner last Friday night with one couple who arrived sometime last year (yay!  we're not the newbies anymore!) and with whom we immediately became besties. 

We laughed ourselves silly (and no, this was not due to the bottle of wine we consumed) over our own embarrassing moments and shared frustrations:

1. Using the wrong Hebrew word - and sounding (say it with me, people) like an idiot
2. Dust. Everywhere. All the time.
3. Not being able to find _____________[ oh just fill in anything here ] in the stores
4. Driving
5. Parking
6. etc. etc.

But the best part of the evening was when we shared our joy.  The woman told me she'd never had any Zionist feeling growing up and never in a thousand years imagined herself living in Israel.  But, she said, "You know what?  I could never live anywhere else." 

Her husband agreed and asked me, "Did you ever think you could be this happy?  That your life could have this much meaning?  That you could feel so right, so much at home?"

We both had that "I coulda had a V-8" smack-oneself-upside-the-head feeling that we should have been here years and years ago, that we should have raised our kids here.

We then had the usual olim discussion about our friends and family living outside of Israel and how much we miss them and how hard it is to explain this feeling to anyone. 

We just wish they'd come and live here with us.  We want to share this with them, this deep, nothing-was-ever-so-right feeling that this is where we are supposed to be, where we were always supposed to be. 

It's not that it's easy, it's that it's simple.