Monday, May 14, 2018


Yesterday was Yom Yerushalayim, celebrating 51 years since the recapture of the Old City from the hands of the Jordanians.  This is a monumental event in Jewish history, as for over 2000 years before this we were unable to visit or pray at the site of our holy Temple.  Truly a miracle.  We watched videos of the soldiers lobbing hand grenades to enter the Old City, going through the gates that we now happily traipse through like we're going into Jewish Disney World.....Truly a miracle.

Today the US Embassy will be moved to Jerusalem.  Doesn't count as a miracle in my book, but certainly nice to see recognition of the fact that Jerusalem is Israel's capital.  If you'd like some helpful "talking points" about this subject, see this post by America Jewish Congress president David Harris.  It's good.

Things are hot on the Gaza border and up North.  In a few days our Arab cousins will be in mourning for Naqba day, the English date of establishment of the state of Israel (Israel celebrates on the Hebrew date, hence the lack of overlap).  And a few days after that Ramadan starts, which may also lead to an increase in hostilities (or may not.  I'm hoping people are too hungry from fasting from sunup to sundown to cause trouble).  So it's an intense time here.....

But I, who have, for almost three years, steered pretty steadily away from politics, am not writing today to discuss any of that in-depth.  I'm here to talk with you about Eurovision, which I'm guessing that many of you have never heard of.  Eurovision is a singing competition with over 60 countries competing this year.  Why countries like Australia and Israel compete in something with "Euro" in the title is something I can't explain to you or myself, but that's how it is, folks.  Israel won in 1978 and 1979 (our teacher played one of the songs in ulpan and I started humming along.  Had definitely heard that catchy "Hallelukah" tune when I was a kid) and then not until 1998.  And then Saturday night, when a zaftig 25 year-old woman who is clearly SO comfortable in her own skin sang a feminist theme of "I'm not your toy" while making chicken-flapping motions and moving her uber-elastic face in ways that are definitely unusual for pop singers. 

 Is this a big deal?  I'd say that depends.  It wasn't even mentioned on the religious radio station I listen to.  Penina, however, woke up to 630 Whatsapp messages on her class group.  And the secular newspaper noted that half the country was exhausted at work yesterday from staying up until 2 a.m. for the final results.  This IS a big deal for Israel because the winning country gets to host the competition the next year, and I'm convinced the best way for Israel to have better PR is to have people come visit this incredible country.

Netta's favorite expression is "Kapara Alayich" which in current Israeli slang means "you're a sweetheart" or "We love you".  Frankly, I don't get it, as kapara means "atonement" and my association with the word is about chickens swung over heads before Yom Kippur  .  Maybe that's why Netta put the chicken flapping motions in?  I don't know....So when Netanyahu sent a tweet to/about Netta before the competition, he used this phrase.  Those who get his tweets auto-translated to English read "Netta, you're a cow" (for those who know Hebrew, get it?  k'parah).  Oopsie.  And this one was sent out after she won (clearly no one on his staff gets these things in the translated version):

Double oopsie, but way to go, Netta!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Yom HaZikaron

We are at the end of Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day.  The sirens last night and this morning, already wrenching, felt like they were at a whole new level--our little town is mourning the death of one of its own, a 20 year-old soldier who was killed in a tank accident last Shabbat

I know the Jewish world as a whole is small and I know where I live is also small, but I am really seeing it up close as it seems like truly everyone here has a personal connection to this family.  In our case, Penina is a classmate of one of his younger sisters.  This morning she made her first shiva call without a parent with her....

Hearing the sirens and thinking of this family in the midst of sitting shiva for their son, grandson, brother.....There are no words. 

May the memory of Eliyahu ben Roni be for a blessing and may his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Pesach Roundup

Definitely had some noteworthy moments over Pesach:

Like when I was at the grocery for the final, final shopping round the morning that the holiday started (don't go late, because EVERYTHING closes early) and I was told at the checkout that I couldn't buy something because "it's scanning as 'not kosher for Passover', so I can't sell it to you" (!!!!).  Which was made even more odd because it was, at this time, literally impossible to buy anything that wasn't Kosher for Passover in my town.  For example, the supermarket that I was in had anything not "KLP" in one aisle with giant pallets stacked at both ends of the aisle preventing entry.  And the item I was trying to buy had both a very high level kosher certification on it *and* a prominent "kosher for Passover" stamp on it as well.  I saw later that they continued to sell it for the rest of the week, so I assume somewhere along the way the computer system got updated.  But, wow, that was very interesting.  I guess that those who want a sandwich on Passover do not move to religious cities :)

We had some great tiyyulim, going around the country while the kids had off schoolChana was in for two whole weeks, so everything was more fun.

The first day of Chol Hamoed was Sunday, and we discovered that the entire family very much needed a "proper Sunday" Remember, Sunday is a work/school day here:
Sunday here = Monday in the US

We finally made it out of the house at 3:30 pm and went to the Kotel and walked around the Old City (made all the more interesting because it was Easter, so where we usually see mostly Jews and some Muslims that day was mostly Jews and some Christians)
photo by Penina

We also drove down to the Negev desert to "The Salad Trail" and learned about agriculture in there.  Let's just say it hasn't been easy turning the dessert green.  And we came home with the best "field trip souvenirs" we ever got:

My favorite day was when we went flower picking
and then to the Ben & Jerry's parlor.  Quote from daughter: "It was worth it to make aliyah just to be able to have a hot fudge sundae at Ben & Jerry's on Pesach".  (I will refrain from putting in a picture because it just seems too "nyah nyah" to those of who you couldn't join us)

We finished up the day by going to the beach in Ashdod, which was a teeming throng of religious people (yet big enough that it didn't feel too crowded, thankfully).  I had never been at a beach with so many other religious people.  I'm not sure I've *ever* seen a man in a suit and tie at the beach before, but that day I saw many.   It was also very interesting to look around and see the differences in how people were dressed--not like "who will wear a bikini" because, in this crowd, the answer was 'no one', but more like 'who will take off their shoes to walk on the sand and who keeps at least socks on, even when walking in the water'.  My favorite was this couple--the man was wearing a long bekeshe coat and was holding a hat box that likely held his fur shrtreimel, which he had replaced with a navy baseball cap with stars on it.  

A photographic farewell to Pesach:

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Home Improvements

Since we rent our house, there are only so many home improvements we can do, but, in the Pesach spirit (as it is THE home improvement time here) here are a few little things we've done recently that have definitely improved things.

Israeli homes have no built-in closets.  This means that there is no coat closet close near the front door.  For many people, I would hazard to guess, this means that, like us, all sorts of non-closet-like places become repositories for coats, sweaters, backpacks and hats.  In our case, the main place was the sofa, which was esthetically unappealing as well as being uncomfortable when we wanted to sit on the sofa.....We chose to improve our "hallway to nowhere"--a dead-end tiny hallway alongside the staircase that has a deeply sloping ceiling giving about two feet of usable space before you have to duck and then crawl.  Our suitcases are tucked in the part that requires crawling and now we have hooks on the more usable part that give us, hurray, a place to actually store coats and backpacks. (By the way, walls here are concrete, and we had to hire a handyman to do this simple thing!)

A closet here does not even really have the same connotation as in the US.  While you can buy a vertical wardrobe with a hanging bar and that's it, most closets here have shelves and drawers, as closets here generally negate the need for a dresser.  Or, as an Israeli friend in the US once said to me, "I don't understand the closets in this country with just a bar and nothing else--what, I own so many ballgowns?!"

We had purchased freestanding wardrobes for Penina and Ilana, and Chana has a spiffy built-in system based on an idea from Auntie Kim, but what about us?!  Our room had an inlet that was made for a closet, but, thinking we would be moving shortly, we thought it didn't make sense to buy something that fit the space there, but perhaps wouldn't fit our next home.  So we spent 2.5 years in a room with a lovely assortment of plastic bins, a few moving boxes and a $20 hanging rack.  The master bedroom was definitely the weak link in terms of storage.  Until we upgraded a few weeks ago, and bought a five door closet (that's how closets are sold here--by the door!) with two hanging areas (ooh--his and hers!), shelves and even shoe drawers on the bottom.  I can't believe how nice our room looks without all those boxes in it!

Our last home improvement has been everyone's favorite.  We bought a "water bar", which offers instantaneous cold, room temperature or hot water. 

There is even Shabbat mode, so we don't have to put out a hot water urn (as long as we remember to push the button to change it into Shabbat mode.....Oops.  Sorry about that lack-of-coffee last week, Honey....).

 This spiffy gadget also means that the top shelf of our refrigerator is now much more spacious, as half of it was formerly taken up by an assortment of Brita filter pitchers, glass bottles and everyone's water bottles (once, a friend of Penina's walked from her house three houses away--at night, when it was cool--and brought her water bottle.  I laughed and told her she didn't need to do that, as we have water at our house (!) and she told me that it had been ingrained into her since she was young to NEVER leave home without a water bottle).

It seems that the neighbors are planning to put their house on the market, since they are also doing some home improvements.  They have converted what was once a bedroom back into its former state as their garage.  The neighbors next door to them did the same when they sold their house, as the conversion to a bedroom was not legal.  So we woke up one morning to workers with sledgehammers tearing the wall down.  Shortly thereafter, the new neighbors moved in and--surprise--we woke up to workers putting a wall up so that the garage could go back to being a bedroom.

the walls are left painted and they even left the hanging light up.  In case the car, you know, wants a fancy parking spot....

Friday, March 16, 2018

Here, There and Everywhere

If only I could blog all the ideas that go through my head while I'm jogging or falling asleep.  Alas, you're stuck with sporadic updates written on the sofa.  You'll deal, I know you will.

So what's new here? 

--we are gearing up for Ilana's bat mitzvah!  Ahh, I remember that Shabbat HaGadol almost twelve years ago.  It was NUTS.  "I'm having contractions?!?!  I can't be having contractions--we didn't turn the kitchen over for Pesach yet!".  Anyway, I will say it set the bar at a totally different level and each season of Passover prep can only seem fairly-reasonable by comparison (and a still-heartfelt-after-all-these-years Thank You for Auntie Paula, Roz, Susie and Rissy who made sure we didn't starve that Pesach).

Her bat mitzvah here will be (per school rules) at the school.  She and I have been working on her dvar Torah about blessings over food, which she will translate into Hebrew with her mentor and tutor, Adina.  When we come to the US over the summer, there will be a luncheon in Malden so no fear if you won't be here after Pesach :)

--Ulpan started again!   Yay--I'm in for another round!  This time, Irit is back teaching Level Gimel, and it's just what I need.  While I'm nowhere near the top student (that prize goes to the French woman who speaks 6 languages and already lived here for nine years, before going back to France for over a decade), I'm holding my own and trying to absorb all I can.  Which results in some amusing conversations when I'm out and about, as I'm constantly correcting myself as I realize that, although I got my point across, my grammar could be tweaked. So I do.

This class has the least number of Americans of any ulpan I've taken and the highest number of Russians/Ukranians.  I love them because they had to work even harder than I have had to to get to this level, as most of them came without even knowing the alef-bet and had to start in the lowest level, Aleph.  Thanks to 8 years of the Temple Shalom Charles and Esther Lew Religious School, I was able to start in Aleph Plus, which is for students who can read, write and speak, yet do none of it well.  I told Yvgeny that I understand almost 100% of what he says because it's like watching myself speak (were I a male, 60-something, former Ukranian....): I can practically see his mind at work as he slowly and deliberately reaches up through his word bank, searching and searching for the word he is looking for.  It's great!
--Purim was awesome!  The girls used their loot that Uncle Stephen spoiled them with last summer and went as Hogwarts students.  I borrowed a Professor McGonagall robe and our mishloach manot consisted of breadstick wands ("may contain Ron Weasley's broken wand. We were out of spellotape to repair..."), Hogwarts Hommus with Dried Dragon Flame (Penina's genius marketing for the paprika we sprinkled on top), Bertie Bott's Beans, and Gringott's Gold coins. 
with Maldener Natanyah!

We had a really fun and also spirited-yet-spiritual meal with our friends, the O's.  We each chose "something" to do to enhance the holiday, so during the meal we were treated to a puppet show, original holiday song (from Ilana and Raaya), Purim Mad Libs (my offering--totally cribbed from Malden. Thanks, guys!), and a Alef-to-Tav Purim question and answer (based on a weekly Shabbos-themed Q & A sheet Ilana brings home from school.  This was Shalom Shachne's contribution and it was great; he worked so hard to make up a question related to every letter of the Hebrew alphabet).  Lastly, Penina decorated the table gorgeously and then made "Penina's Purim Pizzeria". YUM.

--We ended Purim by getting on a plane to San Francisco for my nephew's wedding!

Benjamin and Natalie are a wonderful couple and we had a really amazing weekend being with family.  We arrived early Friday morning and left Sunday night, so it was quite brief, but we did so many different things with so many different people that it felt like longer.  We all loved having an 11-person game of "Apples to Apples" Shabbos afternoon in our hotel room, and seeing Uncle Stephen and Amanda, who, despite being from "the other" side of the family, shlepped up from LA since we were (sort of) in the neighborhood.  What sweeties!

Oh, those crazy uncles!

Ilana did a very good job as flower girl ;) and I think the 15 hours on a plane each way was probably worth it because we got a good family photo (miracle!)

Mazal tov, Benjamin and Natalie!  We love you guys!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Tire Was Flat. Pancake Flat

With thanks to "The Jolly Pocket Postman" book for the inspiration, we shall investigate what happens when "a small amount of air isn't there".

Ordinarily, it might not have been such a big problem.  Except that we were on our way to seeing THE PLAY that Penina and Ilana were singing in the choir of.  And had been rehearsing for since August.  And the tickets prominently noted that no latecomers would be admitted until intermission.  And there we were (Chana, who was in for two weeks for winter break [YAY!] and our dear friends Michal and her daughter Raaya).  I guess these were three very good people to be in this situation with, but it would have been my preference to avoid the situation altogether....This also highlights the genius of those running the play who, by requiring everyone in the show to take the cast bus together, not only saved every parent's sanity by not requiring them to shlep their kid(s) into Jerusalem for each of the six performances, also ensured that no one would be missing from the cast/crew due to, say, flat tires.

I called the roadside assistance company and found out that they would be happy to help us.  Sometime within the next 1-2 hour.  And my trying to explain about the play and intermission and rehearsing since August didn't do much good (in the company's defense, I wouldn't say I was able to explain all that at a high level.  Or even one that might have made any sense to the customer service rep on the phone). 

Then--genius!  Chana and Raaya thought to make a sign asking in English and Hebrew: "Do you know how to change a flat tire?"  This younger generation is pretty smart, if you ask me. 

AND SOMEONE STOPPED!!!! And he had a much better tire jack, etc than I had in my trunk.  And he refused to let us even give him a tip afterward.  The general consensus was that (despite this guy's lack of a yarmulke) we had met Elijah the Prophet.

You know how, when someone pulls out a phone, everyone instantly stops whatever they're doing and smiles beautifully?  Chana and Raaya did it, but I decided to just let loose with how I really felt:

B''H, we made it to Jerusalem, found a parking spot only a few blocks away and ran like lunatics to the theater, making it there....5 minutes after the show time.  But the doors were still open!  And (joke's on us) would be for another 15 minutes, until the show actually started.  It's okay--gave us time to stop hyperventilating from our dash through the city.  And it turns out that the ushers still sat people who came even later (not that I'm complaining, since it meant that our Malden buddy Natanyah actually got to see most of the show after her cab driver got lost and she showed up later than we did).

How was the show?  GREAT!!!!  As someone totally and completely biased, I'd say that the choir was the best aspect of it ;).  I'm so glad that Penina (on the right in the photo) and Ilana had a good experience being part of this big event and making the video as well (note to anyone who actually ends up seeing the video, "our girls" are in only the first video, as the second was filmed while were were in Eilat and we made a family decision to go on vacation although the bright lights beckoned).  I'm so glad we made it to the play--it was wonderful to see the final product of all those months of hard work!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Gettin' Social

A few quick photos of friends and family we've seen recently:

NEHA reunion with Morah Esther

and then with Morah  Chaya

Crazy amazing Shabbos dinner family reunion with Michael and nieces Mia, Cloe and Saige (note Grandma Barbara on Facetime in the middle!).  I do not have the words to say how great that evening was, or how thankful I am that we had it.

And, lastly, we went to the wedding of Temima's sister, Mazal (famous in our house for spending a lot of time making a heartfelt sign welcoming us when we made aliyah, and then coming to meet us with her siblings at the airport).  It was so kind of them to include us in the wedding, and we had a great time (ceremony was an A+, in all of our opinions.  Probably the best I have ever been to).