Wednesday, December 10, 2014

We are So Smart

Many of you may already know that if you live in Israel you are often told you have to filter your water.  So when we moved in, we had a water filter attached to the water pipe that brings all of the water into our apartment. We are so smart.

And a couple of times a year, for a minimal fee of three million shekel or so (not including tax), a man comes to our apartment, tells me he is going to change the filter, and goes to the lower level where the pipes and stuff are - to do that.  I assume he does it.  That is, I have never followed him to see him actually do it. 

Last year we gave ourselves a treat and bought a water bar. You are wondering what that is.  It is a countertop contraption that is connected to our water supply and has hot and cold water always ready.

Now, we are not just pampering ourselves, no sirree.  Drinking water is extreeeeeeeeemely important here, especially during the 10 month summer. And I do love me some cold water.  So this way we always have fresh, cold water to drink.  We are so smart.

Now. Here we go.  The other day we get a call. This is the water-filter-changer people.  Don't we want a contract on the water bar like we have on the water filter?  Why, of course we do!  We have many millions of shekel just sitting in piles on our floor waiting to be spent on service contracts. After many phone calls, we finally explain that we do want the contract, we negotiate down the originally-inflated-and-ridiculous-price to the price which-is-still-more-than-they-thought-they'd-get ("Ha!  These Americans!  Give them one discount and they love you!  We are so glad they move here!"), and we are good to go.

Now comes the test of everyone's brainpower. Setting the appointment. After another few calls, I speak to someone in English who sets the appointment for Thursday, December 11, when the technai will come and change both filters.  Excellent!  We are so smart.

This morning (Wednesday, December 10) we receive an SMS - "Hi!  The technai is coming today!"

Huh.  OK, so he is coming today instead of tomorrow.  I can deal with that.

At some point he calls and says he's 1/2 hour away.  Sure enough, 1/2 hour later he shows up.  This is going so well!!!

He comes to the door with a big smile. This is how the conversation goes:

Technai: "I'm here to change the filter downstairs." 
Me: "And the filter on the water bar too!"
Technai: "What water bar?"
Me: "You were supposed to be changing two things."
Technai: "No, look, here on this sheet, it has only one item.  But I'll call them and check."

After he changes the one filter, he returns to tell me that someone will come to do the water bar tomorrow.

An hour later I get a call from the company.  It goes like this:

Co.: "I'm calling to set up a time to change the filter on your water bar."
Me: "I thought you were coming tomorrow."
Co: "Tomorrow?  Well, maybe in the morning..."
Me: "But I already had an appointment for the afternoon.  I won't be here in the morning"
Co.: "But you have to be there because that is when the technai can come."
Me: "But I won't be here."
Co.: "Really?"
Me: "Yes, but how about next week?"
Me: "Yes, it's fine. Please make it for Tuesday."
Co.:  "Tuesday? You really want to wait that long?"
Me: "Yes, it'll be fine."
Co.:  "OK......"

So I'll let you know if we come down with dengue fever from drinking water that has been cleaned by a filter that should have been changed today but won't be changed until NEXT TUESDAY.

In the meantime, I have a headache. I'll take my aspirin with juice.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Head Totally and Completely in the Sand

Wow, what a country.  The entire government of Israel has fired itself.

That's it, guys!  This is not working out, we can't agree, so let's fire ourselves and try again to keep our own parties in power!  In the meantime, we sure are glad that the country is safe and stable because no one is home to fix anything! Wheee!

Seriously, though, I am the last person you want to ask about Israeli politics.  Truthfully - I never understood politics, I find it boring, and I hate reading about it, hearing about it, and talking about it. And thinking about it. 

Why? Because it's basically total fabrications.  While we think the conversation goes like this:

  • Politician #1: What can we do to help the citizens?
  • Politician #2: We can try to work together, even though we have different views, and find a solution to help people!

It probably goes more like this:

  • Politician #1:  New car?  It's cool!
  • Politician #2: Thanks!  Let's get coffee!

It's all about backroom deals and money anyway, so nothing you read or hear is ever real.  And the media is biased, so that's a double whammy - fake news and biased reporting.  Seriously, folks.

Therefore, I have a policy never to read the paper or watch the news. And when people at the Shabbat table start talking politics, I have perfected the interested face, wise head nod, etc., while thinking, "Hmmm, that cholent sure is good, I wonder what she puts in it?"

My husband is a news devourer who actually understands Israeli politics and is brilliant and knows Israeli history cold. [Now, I know what you're thinking and you're right - why he married me I'll never know. My favorite mass media is, um, less intellectual - e.g., reruns of "I Love Lucy."]

Anyway, he was fretting over Israeli politics and spoke to our Rav, an 8th generation Jerusalemite, who responded to him, "It goes in phases, things are actually getting much better, don't worry!" 

I like that so I adopted that as my mantra.  And, wonder of wonders, my husband decided to stop reading the paper. [Note to readers - this was something which I advised him to do years ago, but which someone with apparently way more influence - and this does not take much - told him to do two weeks ago.]

So now he is joining me in ignoring the media, but while I maintain this approach steadfastly, I doubt he'll last another week.  Guy loves to read and think and discuss.  Sheesh.

So if you want to discuss something meaningful, like which meat is the best in cholent, I'm here for you.

If you want to discuss politics, go for it.  But I promise you that the cholent discussion will have more meaning.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Still Here

Hi, I'm still here.  Between the chagim and the birth of our new twin granddaughters (kiddush!  two kiddushes!), life has been the good kind of busy.

I have had the chance to polish my baby-care skills, which have gotten a bit rusty, but I still remember which side of the Pamper goes on the bottom, how not to drop a newborn in the bath, and how to jiggle a baby to sleep.

Yet as much as our hearts are full of thanks and joy for the new babies, we hear each day about another horrific event in this country in which an innocent person is murdered in order for someone to make a point of some kind.  An entire family is shattered, and we all wonder, "How would we handle that?  How does anyone handle something so random and vicious?  How are there people like that?"

Still, it becomes part of your life.  You sigh, your heart breaks, you go to the grocery store to pick up milk.  You read the news, you look at the pictures of the funerals, you return a book to the library.  Knowing that wherever you walk, wherever you are standing or driving, someone could purposely run you down and end your life - you kind of have to deal with it, yet not focus on it, every day.

Standing in line at the grocery store, I strike up a conversation with an Israeli who notices my less than perfect Hebrew and asks when I came here.  She says, "Well, of course, you had to come, this is home - everyone has to come home eventually."  I love her.  I mean, so much love I feel like crying.

Today I went to the post office - where all of Israel transacts most of its business, sort of like the Old West.  I had received a letter from the Government offering me money!  yay!  So I had to go to the PO and do stuff there.  The woman behind the counter asked me something, and I gave her my usual "dumber than dirt" look in response.  She smiled and said, in her broken English, "I ask eef you work for you-self or somebody else."  I apologized for not understanding.  She looked at me with the warmest smile and said, "You are here, that's what is important, don't worry about the language, ok?"

Felt like crying again. 

It's starting to feel like last summer - everything feels shaky and tentative, scary beyond scary. But we are still here - all of us - and more are coming.  That's our answer - a warm smile, love for one another, and staying power.  It'll be OK.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Erev Rosh Hashanah - The Sewer, the Nectarines, and the Drama

Well, it's been quite a while since I've written anything - my many fans have asked me what happened, and both of you (Hi, Gila!  Hi, Leezy!) deserve a response.

I guess between the war, the heat, and life I just did not feel very amusing for the past few weeks.  Amusing-ness is slowly returning, although hearing yesterday that there was a terrorist action planned in Gush Etzion for Rosh Hashana did not do much to lighten my mood.

But here are some interesting anecdotes for your pre-Rosh Hashanah reading:

1. The sewer cover
A few weeks ago I noticed a clunk-clunk sound outside my window.  I figured something had fallen in the street and cars were driving over it.  Then I realized that it was a loose sewer cover.  For some reason (nerves on edge anyway after this summer) it really bothered me.  I mean, I got to figure out what KIND of vehicle was driving over the sewer cover by the length of time between clunk 1 and clunk 2 (long delay - truck, tiny delay - motorcycle).  My son in law Donny then asked his Israeli friends which terms to use to complain about this.  And guess what?  I called the city office and complained - in Hebrew! Yesterday!  And guess what?  It got fixed!  Yesterday!  Moshiach is coming!

2. The treif nectarines
Yesterday I took my grandson Yaakov to the toy store.  He had some of his own money and wanted to spend it on something for himself.  Of course, since Bubby took him Bubby purchased the toy, as well as toys for everyone else, and told Yaakov to keep his shekel for another time.  This resulted in a huge smile and big hug and kiss.  Totally worth it.

Anywayyyyy, after the toy store I noticed a grocery store right there, and since I needed the requisite "last few things" before chag.  I went in.  Lo and behold they had nectarines - I loooooove nectarines but we are at the end of the season here and my local store didn't have many this week.  I was so happy and bought a bunch of them.  Came home and told Gila, who proceeded to laugh at me.  "Ha, ha, that's the TREIF store!"  Yes, folks, I managed to buy fruit at the one store in Modiin that is truly treif - meaning their fruits and vegetables do not have trumot and maaserot taken from them, and they actually sell pork.  Of course, I had eaten one of the nectarines before I called her. Oops.

This resulted in my immediately dumping the nectarines into the trash as if they were poison.  Funny how these things affect you two days before Rosh Hashana. Then,. many inquiries later, I was told that I did not need to do this (thank you Gila, thank you Kate) and retrieved the fruit from the trash (yes, I washed them) and then performed a lengthy ceremony in which I did the terumot and maaserot taking myself, and let me tell you it was interesting. It involved a cloth, 1/4 of a nectarine, and money.  And a trash can.  Don't ask.

3. Building drama
OOOH, this one is good. In Modiin there are extremely strict laws about adding to one's home - I mean they actually come around and check to make sure you have not changed anything which might result in the city squeezing 100 more shekel out of you for your property tax.

Well, it is a lengthy process to get approval to do anything but one of our building-mates came around asking all of us to sign our OK on his plan to cover his mirpeset with a pergola.  "Sure," we thought, "why not?"  Well, suffice it to say that had we seen a drawing of the monstrosity that he was going to erect, none of us would have agreed.  This new structure has caused untold grief and anguish among the other apartment owners.  It is amusing to watch Israelis argue.  

4. Shmittah
Oh, and shmittah starts tomorrow, so watch for some interesting "Oy! I forgot to save the peels!" anecdotes as the year progresses.  I have read all of the literature and I still have no idea what to do.

So with that, I wish all (both) of you a year of health, fulfillment, unending joy, and kosher nectarines. 

Monday, July 21, 2014


SPOILER ALERT: I'm not saying anything here that you haven't read in a million other blogs and posts.  But writing it out helps me deal with it. So this one is really for me.

I knew when we made aliyah that we would be living in a country where everything revolves around the army.

After all, everyone serves (well, almost everyone, but that's a topic for another writer, not me) in some capacity.  Every single man and woman I see here in Modiin has served in the army, and every single boy and girl I see will do the same.

In our everyday life - post office, mall, grocery - we see soldiers with their rifles slung across their backs doing everyday things. They are handsome/beautiful, strong, and my heart melts because they are our Jewish boys and girls.  Our children.  Babies.  Going off to defend our country, to be trained to kill if need be, but also to be full of mercy and caring.  Show me a picture of a soldier putting on tefillin and I weep. It is possibly the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

And then they get sent off to battle sites.  And then they die. 

I see the faces of their parents and siblings and grandparents at the funerals of these young heroes and I can't even find a word for what it makes me feel.

We in Modiin have only experienced three sirens so far, and I thought I handled them well.  We even took a "selfie" in the safe room.  We heard the boom overhead, and knew that a rocket had been intercepted by our Iron Dome.

That was last week when it was just a rocket war.  Now it's a ground war.  And the battle site is about a 1.5 hour drive from my house.  Now I literally jump at strange sounds, and think every whine of a truck coming down the street is a siren.  I can't imagine feeling at ease ever again.

In America, "war" was a foreign idea to me - it was always somewhere else, and being fought by soldiers whom I admired but had no connection with.   Only those who enlisted voluntarily would fight, and it was rare that that was someone from my circle of acquaintances and family.

Here it's all not just people you know and see - it's your family.  Every face of a soldier killed in action could be the face of my child or grandchild.  You can't help but feel it.  It is in the family and it is raw, but raw is OK.  Raw is real.  It is not a game, it is not over there, it is right here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Come Home

The past almost three weeks has been something I never could have imagined.  Living here, seeing the pain on the face of every single person you come across in your daily life, the agony grew and grew.

And now, they are buried. Three boys gone, three families devastated, an entire country in mourning.

All we wanted was for them to come home.
There is apparently a phrase "Aliyah snob."  Meaning someone who has made aliyah and then throws it around among non-Olim, acting all superior about how they've "done it" and "you should too."

Well, you can call me what you like but here is my lesson from the past 19 days:  Please, please - come home.

Yes, I only made aliyah because my kids did.  Yes, we came when we, unfortunately, no longer had aging parents to take care of.  Yes, yes, yes.

But do you know what?  

We only realize now that the whole time we were living in Baltimore we could have been living a real life here.  Once we became Israelis, once we begain to live here and got our Israeli IDs and became a part of our homeland in the real sense, we realized that THIS was the life we had always been looking for.  It was here all along and we found every reason in the world not to come here.

So, let me just say this - THIS is the life you are looking for.  It is not "full of meaning" - it IS meaning.  I'm sure I'm not saying this very well, but our lives are so different now - our souls are so different - that I almost feel that if I don't share this I'm not fulfilling some task that I need to do.

So please. Please come home. Come live where you are meant to live, in the way you are meant to live, in the place Hashem gave us to live.

Friday, June 20, 2014


So it's been a week since we first heard about the three boys kidnapped on their way home from yeshiva for Shabbat.

Three 16 year old children - taken, grabbed, scared, not able to be home for Shabbat with their families.

Everyone's heart was broken, is broken, until we hear good news.

As parents, we can't even let our minds roam to what these six parents must be thinking and feeling.  It's so unimaginable that our minds don't let us go there.

But then there comes the reaction - what I've been calling (to myself) the "together."

A divided Jewish nation, often ranting and raving at each other for whatever reason, suddenly becomes one. These boys are our boys, our children, our babies, and we cry our hearts out with worry and fear.  What is happening to them?  Are they scared? Hurt?  Are they at least together?

We gather, big black hats next to no hats, long skirts next to shorts and tank tops, to pray, to hold each other, to give each other strength and hope.

Every picture of a tefila gathering tears at us - why can't we always be like this? Helping, unified, all with one purpose in mind?  Why do we keep finding ways to argue and one-up each other?  What's that all about?

Every time (unfortunately there have been a lot of them) something like this happens, our reaction is always to be together, give each other strength, and show those who are suffering that we are with them. We suddenly become blind to what the person next to us is wearing, what is on their head, where they go (or do not go) to pray.

I'm not naive, I know we're going to go back to the "apart" soon enough.  But that hurts, and it hurts deep inside of me.  Because I hate what is going on with those adorable young boys but I love that as a people we can put everything aside and embrace each other.

Our people has suffered so much, so deeply, and unfortunately we have shown the world how to deal with tragedy and keep going.  But we were also created to show the world how to love and care with every part of our soul..

מי כעמך ישראל

Saturday, May 31, 2014

My New Ulpan

As y'all know, I struggle with Hebrew, yes, still.  Yes, after about 2.5 years here I still

  • Tremble in fear before speaking to an Israeli
  • Don a sheepish smile and ask if what I've said is correct
  • Hope that I haven't asked for a cow wearing a pith helmet when what I really want is lettuce
  • Avoid buying anything, doing anything, or being anywhere that involves speaking Hebrew
  • etc. etc. etc.
It still bothers me not to be able to easily express myself, with correct grammar and vocabulary befitting an adult, whenever I want to.  For example, last week I took the kids for pizza.  And realized I did not know the word for "slice" (meshulash).  I asked Ariella and she said, "Oh, it's OK, I'll just order for us."  Sigh.

I am tired of driving to an appointment and preparing my dialogue in advance, which usually is as complicated as this:

  1. I have an appointment with ______________
  2. Yes, I will wait
  3. Here is my ID card
  4. Which room is it
All in all, as I've said before, I know I will sound like an immigrant forever.  

So everyone's solution seems to be: Spend more time with Israelis. 

I agree, so I have registered for a brand new Ulpan called "Teach Bubby Hebrew."  

The instructional staff includes 5 highly trained individuals who have dedicated their lives to improving my Hebrew skills. 

And what I love about this Ulpan is that each instructor has his or her own style.

For instance, the other day Professor Rose the Middle(age 8) explained the nuances for the many ways of saying "stop" and "listen."  When I asked about how to use a particular word, he responded with, "Hmm, so I say it this way."  I love the real life scenarios.

Professor Rose the Younger ("Ani Ben Arba!") utilizes the immersion technique.  He simply speaks only Hebrew to me and so I have no choice but to learn.  What is a bit unfortunate is that he himself seems to struggle with correct grammar at times.  I am only aware of this because his Mommy told me, otherwise how would I know?  He entertains me with long explanations of everything, mostly revolving around which snack he would like and why.  In order to keep him happy, I need to figure out what he is saying.  It is a win win. Also, he speaks a unique blend of Hebrew and English, so it keeps me on my toes ("Bubby ani rotzeh a treat.")

Professor Rose the Eldest (age "almost almost almost 11) is a patient instructor, and is becoming more adept at hiding her gales of laughter when I say something incorrectly.  When she introduces me to her Israeli friends, she tells me "Say Shalom to her, she doesn't speak English."  That's not embarrassing at all.

Professor Klein the Elder (age 7) likes to challenge me.  "Bubby," he says, "let's read this Hebrew book and I'll help you with the hard words.  And it has nekudot to help you!  Come, you  really need practice."  He is kind, this one.

Professor Klein the Younger (age 5), in between doing cartwheels and jumping off the couch, is an entertaining instructor.  I have no idea if he teaches me anything but he is so funny that who cares.

I would encourage you to join me, but alas this is a single-student educational experience so nah nah nah boo boo you can't.

Oh, and this Ulpan is free (well, except for the snacks for the younger Professor Rose). I signed up for a long-term course.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

I Have No Time for You

The store
Just came back from the home goods store.

We were looking for a bathroom rug.  This was not rocket science NOR was it brain surgery.  It wasn't even a Melissa and Doug puzzle.

We found the bathroom rug section.  There was a man sitting there, feet up, talking on his phone or playing Candy Crush (PERSONAL NOTE: I'm on level 364 by the way, people, so nah nah nah boo boo).

We looked around and were discussing the options:

1. This ugly color
2. That ugly color

Suddenly we hear a voice, "Yachol laazor lachem"?  [Can I help you?].

Now please note.  Said person:
1. Had not arisen from his chair
2. Had not even lowered his feet from their resting position
3. Was still looking at his phone.

We declared ourselves non-needing of help so he seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

Then we found a light blue rug that wasn't too gross.  Suddenly we hear a voice, "Which room is this for?"
"The bathroom," we say.  He nods and goes back to his phone, his daily requirement of customer service at its end.

Then we decide to get rugs for our room.  "Which room are they for?" he asks.  "The bedroom."  Another nod.  Uh oh!  He's over his quota of customer service!  He probably should just go home now!

Then I decide to ask a question, "Do you have something to put under the rug so that it doesn't slide around?" And believe me I had no idea how to say that in Hebrew, most of it was said in smoke signals.

"Yes," he says, "you need something."
I look at him hopefully (read stupidly), figuring he'd now show us where to purchase said something.

"We don't have it."

Huh.  Guess the conversation is over because he went back to his phone.  Impressively, he had not changed position during this exchange, his feet were still propped up on a pile of rugs, which thankfully we were not looking at, because that would have caused a cosmic shift.

The marketing phone call:
Got a call yesterday, with someone speakingreallyfastHebrew.  I caught the word "Hyundai" - whew!  Unless it means something else in which case she could have been selling hair salon equipment and I wouldn't have known.

When she took a breath, I told her we don't have a Hyundai.

She hung up on me.

The other marketing phone call:
I don't know which company this was from, I really don't.
The woman was also speakingreallyfastHebrew.  I asked her to please tell me again more slowly.

She hung up on me.

The service call:
I was calling someone to arrange a service visit.  I asked if someone could speak in English, because what I had to explain was very complicated.  He said, "Sure, no problem, I'll have someone call you right away."  Never heard from them again.

The positive experience!!
Today I called to make a medical appointment.  The woman spoke slowly and clearly (she's probably the cousin of marketing call lady, who warned her about me).  I made the appointment and checked the time again with her just to be sure and she was very patient.

She probably wasn't born here.

Monday, May 5, 2014

There and Here

Last week we returned from the US - my husband had been there since the end of February, for work, and I was there since the week before Pesach.  It was great seeing our kids in Chicago, and spending part of Pesach in Florida.

Here are things I noticed when I was in the US:

  • There is English
  • There is Target
  • There is CVS
  • The traffic lanes are normal size
Truth is, I fell back into life in America with no trouble at all.  At times I was thinking, "Wow, this is so easy!  Everyone speaks English,  and I can find the products I want, and I get the culture!"  It felt comfy and I didn't have to work so hard at everything.

But there were things I missed - looking at the Judean Hills every day, knowing Jerusalem was 25 minutes away, there for me any time I wanted to go, and hearing Hebrew, even if I didn't understand it. 

The thing is, I chose to make Israel my home, and then when I got here, I realized that "home" had an entirely new meaning.  It's not just the physical environment, it's the belonging. 

I lived in the US for the first 58 years of my life, but I never felt at home.  Maybe I'm unlike other people, but I was always keenly aware of not belonging.

It was never my country, it was their country and I was living in it.  I was grateful for the good life and the freedom, but I was a guest.  The culture revolved around someone else's religion, someone else's holidays and customs.  And the tendrils of anti-semitism would snake around me so often that it was just part of life.

I'll never forget a co worker whom I trusted and respected saying to me, on more than one occasion, how he "Jewed" someone.  And not realizing how insulting and hurtful that was.  And that no one else in the office, aside from my African American friends, got that either. 

When I got here, it hit me with tremendous force - this is my country, my people, my holidays, my customs. This is where I was supposed to be all along, why hadn't I known that?  Why hadn't I acted on it?

So last night we attended the festive Maariv for Yom Haatzmaut, at our shul.  This was one of the most powerful moments since we made aliyah, and I'll never forget it.

The special tefilot were said, and the dancing and singing rocked the shul.  Everyone was wearing white and blue, everyone was joyful and grateful, and when the shofar blew and we all said "Shema Yisrael" together, it was like we were shouting to the heavens in gratitude.

I looked at my friend and said, "Look what we did!  We came here! Yay us!!!" and we both laughed and cried together.

So I am happy to be back with the narrow traffic lanes, missing a lot of what people say, asking "Mah?" a lot, and being unable to find Excedrin.

Home is where my soul is. Thank you, Hashem, for this land and this people and this Torah.

Friday, April 4, 2014

What I'm Reading

OK, first of all, I am not saying I'm proud of this, but it is a fact.  I love reading women's magazines, like Good Housekeeping, Women's Day, even (ok, especially) People magazine - you know what I'm talking about.  I mean, I read other stuff too (for example, books), but I do love me a good dumb magazine.

I am not allowed to look at them before the weekend.  I have rules.  When I lived in Baltimore, by Friday afternoon, I'd have a pile of magazines and catalogs (yes, I even like looking at catalogs) to keep me busy.

For me, it's total relaxation. I would rather read about the problems of rich movie stars than think about my own, and I love reading stories about people who overcome adversity and push through, whether or not it's true.

But - there is one downside to aliyah.  You can't get those magazines here in Israel. Now you feel sorry for me, right?  I can feel you feeling my pain, so thanks.

Sometimes friends/family bring magazines here for us from America and it is like the whole neighborhood celebrates - it's reason for a kiddush, I tell you. "The Leibtags have five issues of Good Housekeeping!  Get the herring!"

When one walks into the home of a friend, and sees one of these magazines in said friend's home, one's eyes focus laser-like on the magazine until said friend agrees to share.

Because, like I said, you can't get those magazines here. Well, that's not completely true.  You can get some magazines, depending on which day/hour/minute you visit the bookstores.

Today I found the following:
  • A February issue of People for about $7
  • A January issue of Style Watch for about $10
  • A February issue of "O" for about $12

Yes, those prices are real.

And, um, I MAY have purchased one.  Or two. Or all of them.

I once purchased an InStyle that cost me almost $20.  But it was for Chag!  Special!

Gotta go.  My neighbors saw me walk in the with the magazines and I have to hide them for a few days.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hebrew Update / Coping Mechanisms

So Ulpan is long in the past, and I think my Hebrew skills are a little stagnant.  I mean, I work in English, and I don't have that much to do with Israelis who only know Hebrew.  Also, I don't watch Israeli TV (we gave up cable - too expensive).

So, now I rely on my grandchildren, ages 10, 7, 6, 4, and 3.  Bless their little heads, they have taught me more Hebrew than I care to admit and are very patient with me.  Also, when they roll their eyes I don't mind as much, it's kind of cute.  Then again, everything they do is kind of cute.

When I am spending time with Tani, age 6, first grade, we read Hebrew books.

This is how it goes:

  • Tani:   Bubby, do you want to read this book to me or do you want me to read it to you?
  • Me:    No, no, I can read it!
  • Tani:   Are you sure?  You had a hard time last time we did this.
  • Me:    Tani, I have to get better, so I'll read and you'll help me.
  • Tani (subtly rolling his eyes): OK, Bubby, let's go.

Then I sit there and am good for a few words until I start struggling.  The words are so nicely on the page but trip over each other on their way out of my mouth.  Also, thank goodness for nekudot.

Tani just surpassed my pathetic abilities - he started reading chapter books.  That's it, I'm done.

Then there's Ariella, age 10.  She will lapse into Hebrew in mid-sentence and I lose her.  Her Hebrew is fast and beautiful and I'm just smiling away, completely lost.

Then there's Nadav, age 3.  Nadav has a unique language all his own, a blend of Hebrew and English, such as, "Ima!  The mechonit went tachat ha-couch!" [Trans: Mommy, the car went under the couch]. Nevertheless, there are many times he is in all-Hebrew mode and there I am, only a bit older than he is, lost.

However, I have to say that hearing my own grandkids speak Hebrew like natives is a beautiful thing - it thrills me every time.

I have developed coping mechanisms for my lack of Hebrew expertise:

  1. I prepare before I go somewhere - e.g., if I'm going to a store I figure out what I may have to ask for and how I will say it and repeat it to myself over and over in the car on the way there. Then - the words play this little game of musical chairs and they come out of my mouth in the wrong order - see #6 and #7 below.
  2. I speak in English with an Israeli accent.  I'm VERY good at this.  If I don't know a word, I say it in Israeli -sounding English and they almost always understand me.  You just gotta roll those R's and lighten up on those L's and you're good to go.
  3. I avoid speaking Hebrew.  This is my best option!  Buy meat from the frozen meat section, packaged cheese - anything you can do to avoid speaking to someone behind a counter.
  4. I realized that I enjoy hearing Hebrew.  It's a beautiful, lyrical language and I enjoy trying to figure out what people are saying - well, some of the time, when they are not speaking directly to me.
  5. I smile!  I take cues from the people who are talking to me!  When they smile, I smile!  When they laugh, I laugh!
  6. I got used to making mistakes.  Enough said.
  7. I got used to being embarrassed - like when someone is speaking to me really fast and I have NO IDEA what they are saying, and I'm employing mechanism #5 above and then I realize they are waiting because they just asked me something.  And I have to say my favorite word, "Mah?"
  8. I embrace my immigrant status.  I just think, well,  I'm an immigrant, and proud of it.  Also, you can always play the "I'm an Olah Chadasha" card but you kinda get tired of that after two years....and a little embarrassed.
  9. I keep trying.  No matter what, I have to keep trying.  I say Hebrew sentences to myself, I try to read the newspaper, I speak in Hebrew even when the other person says I can speak in English. 
  10. I comfort myself - when I'm by myself in the car, my Hebrew is great!  I mean I am fluent, I find esoteric vocabulary words in the back of my brain and bring them out, my accent is perfect!  Someday that will also happen with real people.  
 So, thanks for listening.  I have to go practice now before I go to the home appliance store.  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Bathroom, The Oil, and The Air Conditioner

Sounds like a really cool fantasy novel, right?  You are expecting a magical can of oil and an a/c unit with a Disney-type face on it, talking to each other, becoming friends, and sharing a strand of spaghetti.

Well, you go on and keep thinking like that, and in the meantime I shall tell you my tale of woe.

The builder of our development comes by each year (I think for 7 years from the date we moved in) to see what needs to be fixed.  I have covered this in an earlier blog, regaling you with my attempt to write down exactly what the worker told me to write (he is an Arab who I believe can speak but not write Hebrew well, so I was happy to help) and signing it. (I really should find the old blog and link to it here, but I'm too lazy and you really don't care, do you? Just take my word for it).

So one of the things to fix involved a possible leak in one of our bathrooms - there were water stains on the ceiling over the shower and we wanted him to take a look.

He looks and tells us that (you have probable already guessed this), "It is not our problem. You have to get the a/c people here right away."  He also declares that if there is a water leak, somehow the pipe which goes down the wall and under the bathroom is probably clogged up.  He opens up the access hole and pulls out gunk.  

OK, well at least the gunk is out, although I have no idea what that has to do with the leak, and I don't think anyone else really does either.

He has also, by the way, cut open a square of drywall over the shower to access the problem area.  This area will have to be repaired by him, when the a/c guy finishes his work.

By this time I am alternately crying and laughing, hoping that we understood the Hebrew and not at all certain as to what was happening other than we now had a big hole in our shower ceiling.  See, the whole time I'm just saying my favorite phrase, "B'seder!" and hoping for the best.

So he calls the a/c people for us and "enhances" the situation to make it sound desperate and telling them they should come right away.  We giggle, hearing his little white lie and he looks at us like we are nuts - this is just the way people do business, it's not funny.  We stop laughing.

So the a/c guy comes over, spends a lot of time looking, going onto the roof, etc., and declares that it is not water, it's oil.  Huh.  Oil is for some reason dripping out of a pipe over our shower. Huh.  He declares that he will return in one week.  

I am now wondering if his return will mean that he is fixing the leak.  My husband declares that he [a/c guy] knows where the leak is.  I maintain that he said he does not.  I do not know why he is coming back in a week unless he needs equipment, but we decide to wait and see. There was a lot of fast Hebrew talk in there and we might have missed an important sentence or ten.

Today he came back, right on time!  I think he says, "OK, today I am going to replace the access panel [not the ceiling hole] in your bathroom." 

"OK, I say, about the oil leak?

"I told you, I don't know where that is coming from.  When you turn on the a/c again when it gets warm, maybe it will leak again and then we will see." [Note to self - hahaha I was right!]

I say it over again to him in Hebrew to make sure I got it right.  He replies something that sounds like, "שףגלכחש פם'קןרשףךדגלכשףדךגכלשפ'קםןרשףךגלדכשףדךגכח ךדגלכשףךד"  and I nod and say "b'seder."

Then, when he's done, he "Slicha, G'veret"s me and I go see what he has done.  I look up at where the access panel should be covered.  It is not.  Then he shows me that he has created a HUGE hole and new access panel over the shower, so that he can get to the problem easier next time.

The old access panel is still uncovered.  I ask him to please cover it.  He does, but he is not happy about it.  Seriously, do you mean he didn't see the access panel cover sitting there the whole time???

So yay - now we have two access panels in our bathroom ceiling.  

"Yoo hoo, Architectural Digest?  Could you maybe come back another time?"

But we do have a lovely new access panel now in our bathroom.  Really, it's gorgeous you should come and take a look.  It's white and plastic and everything.  

I'll bet plumbers and HVAC guys everywhere will come to gawk.

So, I give up.  The oil can drip.  Just please don't make me talk to these people anymore.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Another Milestone - Self Check Out

I know you are all going to be very proud of me.

Today I used the self checkout at Supersol.  Or, as they call it here, Shoofersal, because they use a פ in the name and....oh, never mind.

Why, you ask?  Why because they had exactly 1 cashier open and the line was way too long for an impatient person like me.  I have things to do!  People to see!  Places to go!

So I marched myself over to the self checkout, which is located right next to the Customer Service (hahahahaha!  wait, I'm picking myself up off the floor) office.

All of the instructions are in Hebrew.

Here is what I THINK I did right.

Put in my identity number so that I could get the requisite discounts.

Here is what I KNOW I did wrong:
- Scanned the mini yogurts wrong: they come 4 to a pack, but had come un-attached in the cart - not sure, but I think they asked me how many I was getting.  I said one because I think they meant how many packages.  So I either got 3 free or paid for 1 extra.  One of those.

- Called my onions potatoes.  Put the onions on the scale thingy - pushed the "yirakot" button (yay me), chose potatoes.  Afterwards realized it was onions.  Didn't want to explain this to the Customer Service (hahahahaha!) person, so just kept going.

- Forgot the word for tomatoes.  Yes, yes, I know that's really dumb.  I mean tomatoes are almost like the national vegetable here, but at the moment of tension and anxiety the word just slipped my mind.  And I had to choose a word by putting in the first letter!  EEEEEK.  So I just chose onions again.

-Paid for my bag of almonds twice, or not at all.  Not really sure what I did here, but  if you think I was going to check my receipt and argue with Customer Service (hahahahaha!), you haven't  been reading my blogs very carefully.

Well, at least I walked out with groceries.  And I paid for some, all, or twice as many of them.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

An Evening in Hebrew

One great thing about making aliyah is connecting with friends who you haven't seen / socialized with in years - lots of our friends have made aliyah over the years and of course we've sort of lost touch.  Maybe we'd see them when we'd come for a visit, but to be honest when you've come to visit with your kids and grandkids any millisecond spent away from them seems like a colossal loss.

So now we are starting (yes, we've been here two years and yes, we are just starting, so deal with it) to re-connect.

Bern, through various odd circumstances, found two of his old friends from YU - one was his dorm counselor there, who'd been here for many years, and one just made aliyah 6 months ago.

We were invited to dinner at the home of the new olim in Jerusalem.  I was expecting a lovely dinner with conversation, in English, about aliyah, our kids, grandkids, etc.  WRONG.

When the second couple arrived, our hostess greeted her in Hebrew.  Uh oh.  Wait - is she Israeli?

Yes, she was Israeli.  And guess what - the language of the evening was Hebrew.  I mean it's only polite that when one person is Israeli, the rest of the guests speak in Hebrew.  So I greeted her as well and my head started pounding.

And then the unthinkable happened - the Israeli wife and I found ourselves in the living room by ourselves. NO!  Now I have to speak in Hebrew!  HELP!  SOS!  Well, help did not arrive, so speak I did.

I actually was OK.  At one point, Hebrew words were flowing out of what I think was my mouth and the woman didn't give me looks like, "Oh my God, she's been here two years and she still speaks like a 2 year old"  At least I didn't think so, because she asked me questions and I answered them, so I believe what we were doing was considered having a conversation in Hebrew.

We were there for 3 hours, and spoke Hebrew the whole time.  I even waxed eloquent at one point about how we love having Friday as a "get ready for Shabbat" day instead of a work day and how that makes Shabbat an entirely different experience than outside of Israel.

At one point I could not think of how to say a phrase in Hebrew, so I just said it in English and Israeli wife nodded.

Wait a minute.  You understand English?

But, no matter, I'm sure she was more comfortable trying to figure out what the heck I was trying to say in my broken Ulpan Hebrew, than trying to understand my English.

Now, having said all that, I don't know if, as they were driving home, the Israeli-wife couple was laughing themselves sick over my grammar/botched vocabulary, and saying things like, "Did she say ____?  Please tell me she did not use that word!" But I'll never know, will I?

As for me, I THINK I did ok.  All I know is that I was exhausted by the end of the evening.

I mean, that's a lot of grammar to remember, put in the right context, and get out of one's mouth the right way.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Insurance Week

Suddenly, we're swamped with insurance concerns:

1. Life insurance - do we buy it here?
2. Homeowner's insurance - we have it, we have to renew it - do we shop around?  
3. Health insurance - should we buy one of the supplemental policies?

For all of these questions, we have a friendly insurance agent.

Thing is, we don't quite know how we got him.  See, we got a call that our homeowner's insurance was about to expire and we have to renew it.  OK, sounds reasonable.

Then we got a call from someone who said he wanted to come over and talk to us about our insurance needs.  We THINK his call was connected to the earlier call, but we're not altogether sure.  

He came over and we had a nice, long discussion about various insurance needs.  

Health insurance: He thought we should get supplemental health insurance.  We filled out the forms.  We went to the doctor to get a "health report" which did not (surprise!) involve any kind of physical exam, it was just a piece of paper.  But our doctor did tell us that we were crazy to want supplemental health insurance - so that was interesting.

We now wait to see how much they want to charge us for the supplemental health insurance.

Homeowner's insurance: Then someone called and said he was an appraiser, and needed to come to our house for our homeowner's insurance.

We THINK he's connected to our actual homeowner's insurance agency, which we THINK is the company that sent the other guy.

See, there are sub-companies with different names and...oh, forget it.  I'll just confuse you.

So the appraiser comes by and does his thing a few days ago.

Then the insurance company calls and we have this conversation:

"Our appraiser has to come by."  
"No, he already came!"
"Impossible, he could not have already come"
"But he did, two days ago."

So then we look at each other - who WAS this guy who came over?  He seemed official enough (not that any Israeli professional wears any kind of uniform aside from jeans and a sweater).  He had all kinds of forms and stuff. When we asked for a business card, he wrote his email address down on a piece of scrap paper. hmmmmm....

Car insurance: Then there's the saga of the car accident...
We were billed for the ambulance.  We were told that our health insurance would cover it.  They do not.  We are told by the health insurance company to take this to the car insurance company.  They insist on us faxing (the faxing here drives me crazy - come on, start-up nation, scan the darn things and email them!) over paperwork.  We do it.  They get it.  They now tell us it is in the hands of someone else.  Bye-bye, 494 shekel.

And...most of the above discussions and transactions took place in Hebrew.  We greatly improved our vocabulary during these conversations.  So there's that.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tears at the Barber

No, the barber did not decide to cut my husband's hair with a blunt scissors, so calm down.

This is one of those "I love living here so much..." stories.

Here goes -

Two weeks ago we became grandparents again - a little boy born to our kids in Chicago.  Mazel tov!  Why thank you!

Bernie was getting ready to travel to America for the shalom zachar and bris, and decided to get a haircut.  He proudly told his barber (an older Israeli man) about the new baby.  The barber, and his buddies who hang out in the barber shop (none of them are religious, just so you know, because it makes the story even sweeter) were incredibly happy for him and asked, "Are you going to be the sandek?"

"I don't know," he replied.  "Well," they said, "if you are the sandek, you have to come back and give us a bracha!"

For those of you who, like me, never heard this before  - apparently a bracha from the sandek [the person who holds the baby while the bris is performed] is a huge, special thing. They did not teach this at Pikesville Senior High.

Sweet enough to stop there, but there's more.

Bernie returned home yesterday and went to the barber shop today to visit.  They welcomed him warmly and lowered their heads to receive their bracha.  They were so moved, almost to tears, in gratitude that this man came back and gave them a bracha.

As Bernie left, himself almost in tears, they wished him a Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.

He called me, choked up, "I can't believe we live here."  He couldn't even find the words to express his emotions.

Yup, that kind of thing happens quite often.  Your heart fills up at the little things and you know that what you are feeling you could not feel anywhere else.

We hit our two year aliyahversary this Shabbat.  Still can't believe how blessed we are to be here.