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.