Saturday, December 24, 2016

.....And a Happy New Year!

I saw this sign when I was in Jerusalem last week and really got a kick out of it.  As the sign implies: for all those reading this blog post to whom this applies--hope you have a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What is Shabbat Like Here?

To start early, let's begin with Thursday.  I usually shop right after ulpan ends.  I bring my "Granny Cart" (or "the car", as I used to call it before we got Jazzy) to ulpan and stop in the mercaz on the way home.  A little of this and a little of that ensues: I go to the fish store for salmon (in Hebrew, the word is the same, but it's pronounced with a very strong "l", which always makes me smile), the greengrocer for fruits and vegetables, to the "lettuce lady", who sits outside at her makeshift store--a folding table with a little cash register and credit card swiper (she's there only Wednesday afternoons and Thursdays until she runs out of herbs and lettuce to sell), and, finally, to the grocery store to get whatever is left on my shopping list.  Sometimes I'll go to "HaKol LaShulchan" ("Everything for the Table") to get paper plates (which are surprisingly hard to find at regular stores here--they only sell plastic plates!), or the butcher shop, or the Shabbos takeout place, or one of the other little stores in the mercaz.  It's all there, just took me five or six months to figure that out, and learn where every store is (I'm hoping next summer to give a tour for new olim to save them a few months of learning).

Fast forward through a lot of cooking and cleaning and we arrive at Friday afternoon right before candle-lighting time.  Shabbos music is blaring from speakers in the mercaz.   The stores have all been closed since around 1:30.  And then, the big moment: the music stops and is replaced by the Shabbos siren: it's time for lighting Shabbos candles.  I wish we could hear this better from our house, because it's....incredible.  First, I always feel happy that the siren is not announcing anything scary.  Then I think, "wow--so cool that everyone is on the same calendar here and wants to know when to light".  Then, invariably, I run around trying to finish up getting ready and actually light :).  The custom is for Beit Shemesh to light at the same time as Jerusalem, so we light 40 minutes before sundown, rather than the traditional 18.  As I'm running around those final few minutes, the thought always pops into my head that even if Shabbos started at midnight, I'd still be rushing around at 11:50 pm.....

I've walked through the mercaz around candle-lighting time and it's eerily deserted.  Not long after, it's hopping, with tons of freshly-washed, well-dressed kids playing in the streets (my favorite is seeing large groups of girls jumping rope.  So darn wholesome!), and people rushing to get to shul for services.

The streets are very quiet all through Shabbos.  Because our city is "nestled in the Judean foothills", there are sometimes bicyclists who come through.  Cars are rare; there are probably about 5 "regular" cars that I see driving on the main street over the course of the entire 25 hours (nothing on the side streets) and a few emergency services vehicles.  It is blissfully quiet on the traffic front, and I enjoy walking in the middle of the big streets: because I can.

Shabbos here is a nice mix of things to do and time to rest.  I greatly enjoy the spirited singing on Friday nights at our shul, and I enjoy hearing the Rabbi's talk (Friday nights, he switches off between speaking in English one week and Hebrew the next.  Shabbos morning is always in English).  There is a women's English learning class Shabbos morning at a different shul that I go to if we don't have guests for lunch (so it's kind of rare that I go, but it's nice to know it's there).  This past Friday night, Penina went to an oneg at a classmate's house.  Now that Shabbos starts early, there is a men's learning class Friday night that Shalom Shachne attends.

Saturday night, after Shabbos is over, Ilana and Shalom Shachne often go to Avos u'Banim, Parent-Child Learning, at yet another shul (there are *9* in my small neighborhood!).  This past week, Shalom Shachne and I went to an informational party for a local organization.  The night included sushi and a wine tasting and a great talk, titled "From Rock Star to Rabbi: How a Kickboard Changed My Life" it was every bit as enjoyable as we thought it would be (plus I signed up to do some volunteering for the agency).  Most Saturday nights are not quite as exciting, and mostly consist of washing a whole lot of dishes :).

This motzei Shabbos promises to be an exciting time.  Shalom Shachne is making a siyyum as he has finished learning masechta Shabbos!  He's been working almost three years to complete this and we are all so proud of him.  (Wikipedia translation: "siyum (Hebrew: סיום‎‎) (“completion”) is the completion of any unit of Torah study, or book of the Mishnah or Talmud in Judaism. A siyum is usually followed by a celebratory meal, or seudat mitzvah, a meal in honor of a mitzvah, or commandment. Siyum also refers to the celebration.") 

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Vroom, Vroom

Chana has done the mildly-impossible: she passed her Israeli driver's test on the first try!  She worked VERY hard in the US to finish her lessons and take her test before we made aliyah (she made it just under the deadline--her test was less than two weeks before we moved).  We did this because the process of getting an Israeli license for the first time is much more complex and expensive than transferring a driver's license (which was complex enough.  Glad we didn't have to do anything else!).

Seen in this picture, she has her green paper license (still need to go stand in line at the post office to pay even more to get the actual plastic license with the picture on it), a little sign for the back window that proclaims her a "Naheget Chadashah" (new driver.  Only a legal necessity if she *hadn't* had a US license already, but seems like a good idea anyway) and a greeting card saying, "You Passed Your Test".  Here is our translation of the card, which we all thought was a riot:

"Now is the time to repay your debts
To everyone who shlepped you and did good for you
You have permission to go and conquer your city.
To gather your friends
And, of course, to drive carefully!"

Way to go, Chana!  Vroom, vroom!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wow, These Floors are Hard!

Wow.  That's a Le Creuset pan that merely slipped out of my hands and fell on the floor!  I didn't even know pieces could break off those things---they're cast iron!  This one had been going strong since we were engaged--Irwin and Barbara got us a set and it certainly won as "engagement present used the most over the years".

Off to contact Le Creuset about their warranty!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Being Thankful

Most Thanksgivings in the US, we were guests at either my mother-in-law's (missing the poached pears, Chellie!) or Deb and Frank's.  When Deb and Frank were here recently we talked about making a whole giant meal to recreate and have an early "Franksgiving", but were convinced that going out was lovely, too (and it was, as we got to introduce them to our favorite restaurant which has, truly, the best french fries/home fries we've ever tasted).  Frank also taught Penina how to make his homemade tomato sauce, which is delicious.

And then this past Thursday came around and we had volunteered to make a side dish for the Lone Soldiers Thanksgiving Meal in Tel Aviv (by dividing the whole meal up into portions for 20 people, and working with a number of communities, somehow a meal for 1000 people comes together!).  Lone Soldiers come voluntarily to Israel to serve in the army.  As my neighbor, Kara, said, they leave their homes, families and their friends and come overseas to join up in an army, in a totally foreign language so all of us can have a country to call home and so we can feel safe every day, and the rice and turkey and potatoes are "all just a teeny, tiny drop in the bucket of the immense gratitude we feel towards them every single day"

Well, after we were already cooking wild rice for the soldiers (whole machloket over whether to include cranberries.  Do they look nice or were they too feminine for a bunch of soldiers [some of whom, regardless of gender, I was quite sure would appreciate the cranberries]?!  In the end we put just a sprinkling in for visual appeal).  Chana decided she wanted to make Thanksgiving.  Far be it for me to ever tell one of my kids they shouldn't cook, so she made a whole feast and I made a few things and we sat down and told each other what were thankful for about each of them, which was a nice change over saying what each of us was thankful for.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Fires Across Israel

The weather has been extremely windy lately, which has made it quite dusty.  We had to stop leaving the windows open after we woke up one morning to find that all the dishes drying in the rack needed to be rinsed....

I promise you that I dust!

For the past several days there have been many (estimates are as high as 100) wildfires raging across Israel.  The really sad part is that a large number of these fires have been determined to be "environmental terrorism"--arson using forests as weapons.  I just saw a picture of a booby-trapped tree that was discovered before it could be detonated.  So, so sad.... The situation is complicated by the fact that the weather has been extremely dry and windy, so the conditions are ideal for the fires to spread.  Thousands of people (like the vast majority of people living in Haifa and Modiin) have been evacuated.  Chana and I are about to go to our neighborhood collection point with a care package for firefighters.

May we soon have rain.  May everyone be protected from these fires and any other harm.  And may everyone soon learn to live in PEACE....
Link to say tehillim:


Monday, November 21, 2016

NEHA Reunion

A small reunion since Shelly and Sigalit couldn't come, but SO lovely to be together again with Morah Esther (in Israel for her grandson's bar mitzvah.  Mazal tov!) and Morah Chana, who made aliyah about 7 months ago.  Did my heart good to be with "the old gang" :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Walking up the Stairs

Our house is about eight flights of stairs below the main street level.  Here is a spiffy 16-second video that I asked my sister, Deb, to make while she was visiting.  Once at the top of the stairs, it's only a few minutes to walk to the mercaz, but, boy, we work to get to the main street!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Well, That Was a Surprise

Woke up crazy early this morning and couldn't control myself from checking the news and seeing how the election results were doing.  Ended up just staying up hitting the "refresh" button on the computer for two hours until the wake-up alarm went off....The final result was announced while we were in ulpan and let's just say it was hard for some of us (cough cough) to pay as much attention in class as we would usually....

Learned something interesting about the news in Israel (at least the news from Kol Yisrael): it's not updated every hour.  You can get 7 a.m. or 11 a.m. because, "there's not enough news to keep updating it every hour" ;).

For those of you interested in practicing your Hebrew, here is the lead story of the 7:00 a.m. broadcast.

דונאלד טרומפ על סף  הבית הלבן. חסרים לו שישה אלקטורים כדי לזכות בתואר נשיא ארצות הברית הנבחר.

That was good--now I got to practice my Hebrew typing :).  (translation: "Donald Trump is on the threshold of the White House.  He is lacking 6 Electoral votes in order to win the title of President-elect of the United States")

In other news, yesterday was a new holiday in Israel: "Aliyah Day".  This was the first year it was celebrated, and I hadn't even heard about the holiday until they took the entire ulpan for an assembly that was all about how the Israeli government was ready to assist people with finding jobs/getting retraining and helping those who want to make their own businesses (I loved the promo material for this program: "I made aliyah and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.  And a 125,000 NIS loan from the government to start my business!").

Coincidence that the new holiday is just before election day (my Facebook feed was filled with people musing about making aliyah)?  Maybe.....

In one last bit of election-related news, I'd like to share this picture of Susan B. Anthony's grave covered with "I Voted" stickers:

And, from an article sent to me by Nancy B.N.:

  • Susan B. Anthony attempted to vote in Rochester in 1872 — and got arrested. She was publicly tried and convicted, but refused to pay the $100 fine.
  • She was the first woman to appear on US currency who was not a fictional character.
  • Anthony went before Congress every year from 1869 to her death in 1906, asking them to consider an amendment allowing women to vote. When it was finally passed in 1920, it was called the “Susan B. Anthony amendment.”

Monday, November 7, 2016

What's Doing at Ulpan?

I'm still at ulpan five days a week from 8:30-12:45.  Well, it's really 8:30ish....Now that I drive the kids to school I find I run late almost every day.  It was definitely easier for me to be on time when they had to leave 15 minutes before me so they could catch a public bus.  Now that we all leave together, it's a giant scramble for me to be ready and still do things that I used to do after they left.  Minor things like eating breakfast....

I decided to go back and do Level Bet for a second time, rather than stay in Level Gimel.  It may have been possible for me to hang in there in Gimel, but it seemed like a poor choice of where to put my energies.  As the teacher said to the whole class, "If you feel like you're challenged in class, good!  Why are you in class if you're not learning anything?  If you're up at night stressing about whether you can keep up in class, then it's too high a level".  Three of us are now "Gimel refugees" back in Bet. Chana is taking level Gimel now and doing fine. Where would I, the linguistic weak link, be without my family?  (Probably banging my head on the computer while trying to figure out how to pay the electric bill.....).

Bet is a nice class.  The entire class is religious, including the teacher, which is an interesting change from last year's class with many secular Russians/Ukrainians and a secular teacher (although the teacher has clearly been hanging out here a long time.  When a couple in class had a party celebrating their daughter's engagement, she wore a sheitel!  I was pretty stunned to see her, and kept thinking how I couldn't imagine a non-religious woman in the US buying a wig just to wear to religious events she gets invited to).

I'm enjoying having a different teacher and getting used to her teaching style.  My goal in repeating Bet is to improve my grammar.  Perhaps there will come a time in the future that I won't, in the middle of a conversation, have to apologize for saying something incorrectly and give the ol' "Sorry, I'm an immigrant" line.  Tough teacher, though--tests at least twice a week, including make-up tests if you miss class!  It really works for me, though, because I see how much more I'm studying at home because I don't want to perform poorly on the test :)

Each student has to give a presentation to the class.  No reading straight from a paper, but notes are allowed.  It's encouraged to write a vocabulary list on the board (in English, French and Spanish, the languages of the students in this class) and use that as your notes (which I did).  The subject is totally open, so yesterday, when it was my turn, I spoke about working as a school/summer camp nurse and told some of the wackier stories I've experienced.  When my family asked at dinner about how the presentation went, I surprised everyone (including myself) by getting a bit misty-eyed when I spoke about putting on my lab coat and stethoscope to give the talk.  Kind of reminded me of the superhero who goes into retirement and then looks at her cape longingly....Well, we'll see.  Once I've mastered Gimel I can go into a medical uplan.  For now, though, the days are quite busy enough!

Here Today and Gone Tomorrow

Last week's big news was that Deb and Frank, my sister and brother-in-law, stopped in for dinner.  Actually, they were here for about 30 hours, so it was more than dinner, but not by much.  Gotta love these global travelers, though, because they're coming back for most of next week :)

In fact, they were here such a short time that I don't think we even took any photos (but I'm sure we'll rectify that next week).  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Right on Schedule!

Monday: Prayer for Rain makes its first appearance in the davening

Today: wake up to odd sound.  It takes a few moments to place it.  It's.....raining!  Wahoo!  (But, boo, that we procrastinated on taking down the sukkah)

Later today: take down sukkah.  Just as we finish, it rains again, and this time it POURS.  Kids are playing in the street and asking for hot cocoa (Israeli equivalent of playing in the snow for the first time, I guess).  My kids took a squeegee and cleaned our car off (I can't believe how dusty Jazzy got in only a week!)

Coat was really not necessary, but it was the first raincoat-like thing I grabbed

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sukkos (featuring the first appearance of "car, car, c-a-r"!)

It's been a very pleasant Sukkot holiday here.  It is delightfully easy to have our sukkah on our mirpesset, as this porch is right off our living room and near our kitchen.  No stairs, and no (potentially-muddy) backyard to walk through.  Since our entrance is a flight above street level, we also don't have to worry about having animals walking near our sukkah, like the time a skunk walked by when Shalom Shachne was sleeping in the sukkkah ;).  It's also lovely to be in a place with nice weather pretty much guaranteed--I took dining rooms chairs out because I didn't have to worry about them getting rained on.  On the other hand, it's still quite warm here and we had to get a fan (wow!) for our sukkah.

We've been in overdrive going places during chol hamoed.  That's literal because we bought a CAR!  I struggled with this decision ("It's like Woody Allen says--our feet will never touch pavement again"), but faced the reality that, with five of us now living at home, we can't all fit in one taxi to go anywhere.  Suddenly "let's go out to dinner Sunday night" became a whole balagan.  So we've added "Jazzy", a 2013 Honda Jazz Hybrid, to the family, and we've been racking up the kilometers on it since we bought her six days ago.

She sure was excited to drive down our street

We went on the Nefesh b'Nefesh trip which was to a nature reserve that had over twenty different types of sukkahs on display.  Some were halachically permitted, like the sukkah on a boat, or this one on top of a camel:

Others were not okay to use, but were interesting to see what they looked like in reality, like this "too tall" one:

And, best of all, we would have had to be at the community center at 8 a.m. to catch the NBN chartered bus, but, thanks to Jazzy, we were in no rush to get out of the house.

We managed to do relatively few things with all of us together, but *some* of us did things like: go to the Kotel, go bowling, go to the mall, visit our former neighbors Lori and Andy Shlomo, and, what every holiday needs: a visit to Ikea where I continue to be delighted in all the Jewish things in the store:
I couldn't figure out if it was just the frame for 49nis or if it included the bircas habaiyit home blessing

tables were set for Rosh Hashanah meals, including having a "machzor" out on each table (we checked inside and it was really a children's sports book written in Swedish with just a fake cover to look like a Rosh Hashanah prayer book)

the cool thing here is that there are two sinks in the model kitchen and they are labelled "meat" and "dairy"
Ilana and I went to the big free concert that our city put on: Chanan ben Ari--awesome to see tons of people singing along to "HaChaim Shelanu Tutim" (although I'm not sure why our lives are like strawberries), and teen sensation Uziah Tzadok, although we left before the headliner, Yaakov Shwekey!).  Only about two weeks ago, it was unclear that the concert was even going to happen, and it was incredibly professional and well done.  It was also a really beautiful example of the types of people who live here--from extremely secular to extremely religious, all getting along together.  Plus they sold the largest cotton candy I've ever seen:
Israel gives up all pretense of fancy names like "candy floss" and just calls it "sugar" :) (and, no, she didn't eat it all but it definitely made for a good photo op while we were waiting between performers)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

What's doing at 11:15 pm?

That was our question last night, after finishing putting up the sukkah in preparation for the start of the holiday tonight.  So Shalom Shachne, Penina and I went up to the mercaz to see what was doing.  And it was jumping!  Many stores were open, both the expected ones (clever hardware store) and the less-expected (who really needs a new snood at that time of night?!) and TONS of open-air booths selling items for the holiday, including hundreds of etrog and lulav sets.  Loads of people, including a much larger number of children than I felt was appropriate for that time of night (when *I* wanted to be home in bed)

super jumbo etrog!
The buses all say "Chag Sameach"  on their destination signs, our sukkah is ready, the food is cooking and we're off to have our second Sukkos here!  Good Yontif!

Kever Rochel

Last Saturday night, Chana and I joined a women's trip to Kever Rochel--Rachel's Tomb.  A synagogue across town was doing a fundraiser for their members who need financial help over the holidays.  A member paid for the bus so all the money raised went to the charity fund.  For Israel, it was expensive--100nis (about $25) for each of us--but I was really glad to support the need as well as have someone drive me to Kever Rochel, as I had never been there and, really, it's not in a great neighborhood (although plenty of seminary students--including my own--have taken the public bus there and report that it is easy and safe).

The entrance to the complex has a gated fence and a soldier actually walked through the bus we were on.  We were clearly a pretty innocuous bunch of frum females (we were sitting across from a woman who had brought bags of popcorn to give out to the soldiers on duty) and were allowed to enter the compound.  There are high walls with barbed wire and lookout posts on the tops as you travel down the road, turn a corner and then....enter a more open area where there were tons of religious Jews milling around.  Cognitive dissonance.

We entered the Kever and had some nice private davening before the bus left to go back home.  It was quite crowded, as the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are both an important time to pray as well as a traditional time to visit the grave's of one's ancestors.

The most surprising thing for me was finding out that the "modern" Kever Rochel looks nothing like all those art projects my kids brought home from preschool.  Maybe you have to come during the day.  Or enter from another way (although the way we came in is the only way Chana says she's ever entered), but there is no dome on top!  Yet more cognitive dissonance.

All in all, another thing to tick off of my "new olah" checklist (and, in this case, my "baalat teshuvah" checklist) and the synagogue raised over 6000nis for its members in need ;).

Monday, October 10, 2016

Got me a ukulele....or something

The background to this story is that, when driving "the back way" to Jerusalem, one goes through a security checkpoint (soldiers decide which cars to stop and search) and then, immediately after, there is a large traffic circle.  So cars are going quite slowly for about 1/4 mile and "the locals" have used this to set up some road-side businesses.  One guy sells fruit, another sells soda cans from a cooler and then there's the guy known in my mind as "The Ukulele Dude".  He could also be known as "The Stuffed 'Hello Kitty' Dude" or "The Tacky Tchochke Dude".  Every time we drove by him, Chana would longingly say, "I've always wanted a ukulele" and I would really understand that because I would also get this urge to stop and buy one.  We never had any spare time ("Gotta get the rental car back").  Until the other day.

With images in my mind of Chana joining Batsheva and Auntie Paula at a ukulele-fest next summer, I stuck my head out the car window.  "How much for the ukulele?" I asked in Hebrew.  The guy looked confused.  I pointed.  "Over there.  Like the small guitar".  I wondered if maybe there was a different word in Hebrew for "ukelele", as I had just said the word while trying to put an Israeli spin on the pronunciation

I felt that 50nis (about $12.50) would be appropriate and was stunned when he said 130nis!  "Oh, I didn't realize they were so expensive.  Never mind".  And then it got into a whole bargaining balagan with me saying I only wanted to pay 50 and him offering other amounts, telling me about his 7 children ("cue the line about the large family!"), showing the genuine wood of the guitar, telling me he wasn't going to make any money on the deal, etc. I was actually not really trying to bargain and was just trying to leave without running over the guy's foot (he must have been a door-to-door Fuller Brush salesman in a past life, because he used every trick in the book: "Step 1: put ukulele in car and push it back in every time lady tries to give it back to you").

Finally, Chana started saying, "Mommy, just drive away".  And the guy yelled some number and I said, "Sorry, 50" and then, in an extremely cartoon-like moment, he said, "50" and then I said, "no, 50" and he bellowed "50!!!!!" and Chana said, "umm, Mommy, he just said 50".  I was laughing so hard as we exchanged money for musical instrument.  It is rare that life imitates Bugs Bunny so faithfully.

On the way home, Chana worried that we had paid too little ("the guy has 7 kids!").  Sharing the story when we got home, Penina agreed with Chana ("7 kids, Mommy!").  I will let my brother, Jay-the-well-known-economist, give his views on this (although I'm pretty sure I already know them).

Then Shalom Shachne, the player of many musical instruments, heard the story and saw the ukulele.  And told us that it was it not a ukulele at all, just an extremely small guitar (which explains why the guy didn't know what I was initially asking about).  After trying to tune it and finding that the thing refused to stay in tune for longer than a minute, he also said that I "certainly had not overpaid" from a merchandise standpoint.

On the plus side, I conducted the whole two minute negotiation in Hebrew.  On the minus side, this may only show that I know how to say the number "50" in Hebrew :)

"Uki" (shout-out to cousin Gil)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Rosh Hashanah Wrap-Up

It's a little hard to believe this is our second Rosh Hashanah here, and that, last year at this time (on the Hebrew calendar, anyway), our lift hadn't even arrived.  Last year I was making meals with two knives and two pots and this year we'll have a full table and I'm making my first-ever brisket (we're hosting a bunch of yeshiva guys for one of the dinners.  After a meal last year where a yeshiva guy almost cried that we were having salmon as the main dish, I now only serve fleishigs when hosting young men.  They don't know enough about my love of all things vegetarian to know how lucky they are ["Main course of breaded tofu, anyone?  Anyone?!?!"].

It is beyond lovely to be in a place where Rosh Hashanah is such a big deal. The malls, schools, doctors offices and stores are all decorated with things like paper apples and fake pomegranates, everyone (including store cashiers) is wishing each other a Shana Tova (a good new year) and kativa v'chatima tova (may you be written and signed for a good year) and Ilana and I both came home from school/ulpan with candies from classmates to wish us a sweet New Year.

People are in overdrive buying and making simanim foods (one clever supermarket even posted a sign by each one of these special foods that are eaten on Rosh Hashanah.  This way, shoppers just had to go down the produce aisle saying, "ohh, right--I forgot to get the leeks."  [Karsi in Hebrew sounds like the word kares which means to destroy, so there is a custom to say "May it be your will, Hashem, that our enemies are destroyed"].  Simanim have become almost a trend now, with one popular blogger posting her Rosh Hashanah Tapas Simanim meal.  We are sharing a meal tonight with our friends the O's, who made aliyah this summer from Sharon, MA.  I've suggested that everyone try to bring their own siman.  As we are big into puns around here, we're having fun planning on what to bring.  Chana seems able to make anything into a siman: "I'd like to make chocolate chip cookies for dessert.  I can say that we should always be chipper and never be late.  Choco-late".  I found a recipe for Harvard beets so that we can beat back our enemies and be really smart while doing it)

All of the houseware stores are having huge sales (bigger around Pesach, but still pretty big now). The appliance stores are also in overdrive.  Thinking about that more, I think it's a confluence of the holiday being right after tons of new olim arrive so, for many reasons, it's a good time for stores to have a sale.

Rosh Hashanah is the only guaranteed two-day yontif on the Israeli calendar. You should see the worry people have about buying enough food/cooking for a a two day holiday.  I only hope that, by next Rosh Hashanah, we will be in a new house that has space for a second freezer and/or fridge, since the space issue of hosting people with only one fridge has been a big challenge (I wonder many times a day how my grandmothers and great-grandmothers did it). Shalom Shachne and I went grocery shopping last night after Shabbos ended because there was just no fridge space before Shabbos.  This meant that we had to wait until the store actually opened after Shabbos ended and then wait in a long check-out line at 11 pm because we were, not surprisingly, not the only ones who knew that the lines this morning would be twice as long as last night!

The spiritual aspects of the end of one year/beginning of another one are being heavily focused on, which I love.  I went to a shiur last Shabbos (my neighborhood has a weekly class that is given by different women who live here) and the speaker noted that this is the last week of the year and how hard we should work to make each day the best it can be, since each day "done right" can make up for less-than-stellar ones that happened throughout the year.  The Rabbi at shul yesterday took a moment before mussaf started to remind us that we were about to daven the last  mussaf of the year, and make it count.  Intense.  I always spend part of Shabbos afternoon saying tehillim so, in this spirit, I said extra yesterday.  I was about to stop when I said, "oh, why not--just one more.  I'll open randomly" and opened to.....number 119, which is the longest one of all (celestial joke!).  I made it through and was only five minutes late for the shiur :).

May we all be entering a sweet, happy, and healthy New Year!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Grandma Barbara and Grandpa Ed visit!

So glad we've been able to welcome our first set of grandparents for a visit!  Serendipitously, they arrived the night of our anniversary ("Gee, Barbara, 24 years ago we also stayed up really late together!") and we had SUCH a lovely week together.  Some/all of us were together every day, which is impressive since they were staying in Jerusalem.

We really got a fabulous amount of quality time together as we did things as varied as going to the Kotel together (and seeing an amazing new virtual reality "tour" of the Temple.  It's so new there wasn't even a sign up to find it and I can't find it online to give you a link. So glad Barbara's friend had been to a sneak preview the previous week) and even just playing a game on Shabbos afternoon (Grandpa Ed won in "Apples to Apples").  Yesterday felt rather boring with just our regular schedule going on and no fancy dinners to make or eat, but we'll focus, instead, on how great it was to have them here :)

Monday, September 5, 2016

"Once More Unto the Breach!"

Ah, our favorite line from Henry V has been said rather often around these parts in recent days.....As you may have guessed, the school year has started.

We have switched Ilana to another school that seems like it will be a good fit for her and our family.  Delightfully, another family we knew a bit from Boston, "The O's", made aliyah over the summer and their daughter is also in Ilana's class (she, in fact, is the only first year olah and Ilana is the only second year olah in the class.  Despite this, there are a lot of English speakers in the class/school.  The school even sends out notices in both languages, which is a delightful change from last year that saw us hunching over Google translate.  It also feels a lot like "cheating".....).  Penina has remained in the school she was in last year, as the school Ilana is in doesn't have an 8th grade.  We will look into the possibility of switching her for 9th grade.  We are right in step with other olim, as quite a large percentage of people switch their kids' schools, sometimes within the first weeks of the school year (props to us for sticking it out a year!).

Ulpan started today.  Shalom Shachne is not going back this year, as his level is above what they offer and, frankly, the schedule he kept last year is impossible to do long-term (in brief, here's what he did: wake up at 6:15.  Go to shul from 6:30-8:00.  Come home and eat breakfast. Sprint to ulpan to get in workout because there is no other time. Attend ulpan until 12:45, although his class always ran at least 10 minutes late.  Walk home and arrive around 1:20.  Eat lunch/shower/power nap/down-time until 2:30 or 3:00 when he would start his work day.  Work until midnight or later, with breaks for dinner and davening.  Set alarm for 6:15 a.m. and start all over.  See how that could get a bit old after a few months?!).

I am trying out level gimmel, the highest level there, but may decide to do bet for another semester before going to gimmel.  We'll see.....I was following along just fine until the teacher told us we were now going to listen to, and translate, the news.  I was grateful that no one else was able to describe exactly what the report was saying about Angela Merkel....

Once more until the breach!!!!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

How to Convert to an Israeli Driver's License in 600 Easy Steps

This has been the most byzantine process we have experienced yet.  And we've seen a fair bit of stuff in the past year....

Here are the steps.  There are, of course, sub-steps involving the saying of bad words, but we'll just go with the main things one needs to do in order to convert one's license, which is a legal necessity as one can only drive on a US license for one year and, hey, time's up....

1) around Passover, husband reminds you that you both should get working on this.  You think he is being overly-cautious, but, in the interest of marital harmony, get started by going for the required eye exam at the local eyeglass chain store that is the only place that does them.

2) find out that the particular location you chose only does exams for those under age 40.  Shlep to the *other* location for those of us in the geriatric set.  Wait in line.....Wait in line some more.....

3) pass eye exam.  Yay!  Take tofes yarok form from eyeglass store and hope you don't lose it

4) make required doctor's appointment (seriously.  I tried to just drop off my form and was told that wasn't allowed and an appointment had to be booked.  And paid for out of pocket, credit card not accepted!)

5) go to doctor's appointment with tofes yarok.  Spend *20* minutes going over medical section of form with doctor.  Spend five more minutes scrambling around purse and husband's wallet because you forgot that credit card was not accepted.  Thankfully, together you scrounge up the required amount.

6) doctor writes that you use asthma medication.  You will later learn that you should have begged doctor to not write anything in the space provided.....

7) 35 minutes bus ride to take tofes yarok to driver's license bureau.

8) clerk at bureau takes one look at form, sees that the space for "medications taken" has something written on it and instantly tells you that you must go to the main office in Jerusalem.  Get so frustrated that you give up all hope of speaking in Hebrew and say, "Seriously?  You can't drive in this country if you have asthma?!?!".  Clerk has no idea what you are saying and very clearly could care less (perhaps a cross-cultural attitude of those working at the registry of motor vehicles no matter the country?)

9) another day, go to Jerusalem to the main branch.  Wait in line to get in.  Wait in line to go through security.  Wait in what you really, really, really hope is the correct line for the correct window to process tofes yarok

10) finally get to clerk.  She speaks English fairly well.  The day is getting better.  She looks at the medication taken, asks what it is, and says, "asthma medication?  That doesn't affect driving. No problem" and stamps tofes yarok.  Feels less cranky towards RMV clerks the world over

11) call driving teacher recommended by neighbors.  Try to schedule required driving lesson and driver's test.

12) play phone tag with driving teacher over several days

13) driving teacher in June tells you that, due to the three-month strike of RMV driving testers in the spring, that they are very backed up and it will "be a few weeks".  Spend the next 6 weeks, until leaving for the US, calling driving instructor once week.  Each time, he tells you to "call back next week".  Each time, you tell him that, once you return from the US, you will have only ONE WEEK to convert your driver's license.

14) listen to daughter be witty about how they call it "converting" license because you get turned away repeatedly, similar to when a non-Jew wants to convert.....Thank Chana for putting new spin on situation.

15) driving instructor picks up tofes yarok and does some sort of processing thing to it.  You are feeling hopeful.  He returns tofes yarok and tells you to bring it to the post office to pay a processing fee.  Let's just say that going to the tiny local post office (which was clearly made for the size this city was when it was built up 17 years ago) is never top on your list of "fun things to do"

16) go to post office, stand in long line (thankfully, the "deli number" thingie is working), pay fee, and get tofes yarok stamped

17) pester driving instructor again

18) repeat step 17 again and again

19) go to the US for 3.5 weeks.  Call driving instructor one week before you return.  He says there are no testing dates for when you return

20) once back in Israel, keep calling

21) read local Facebook group post from someone who has been driving for 30 years and yet failed the Israeli driving test.  Read 25 response posts from other local olim who also failed test.  Read thoughts on whether failing the test is just a scam to get people to pay for more driving lessons.  And/or whether each day has a quota of people who may be passed and that taking the test in the afternoon leads to a high rate of failure.  Start to worry about passing the test....

22)  Hooray!  There is a date for your test!  Too bad it's in the afternoon, but, hey, hopefully you'll pass.

23) Actual text of conversation with driver that day:
     you: "Where do I meet you for my 2:00 test?"
     instructor: "Supersol"
     you: "Do I need to show up earlier than 2:00?"
     instructor: "1:30" (call me crazy, but I assumed I should show up at 2:00)
     you: "Anything else I need to know?"
     instructor: "papers" (I kid you not--that's all he said!)
when asked to explain WHAT papers he expects, he writes: "copy of license and money"
    you: "how much?  Does it have to be cash?"
Feel like you could go on all afternoon with this conversation full of unanticipated things.....

24) take bus 40 minutes to testing location.  37 minutes into bus ride, text instructor as to where exactly in the parking lot to meet him.  He calls and asks what your name is (!).  He evidently mixed up your name with someone who's name is, well, also American, but, really, not all that close (we'll give this guy a break here since he's Israeli and maybe the names sound more similar  if you're Israeli).  Offer to hang around the parking lot all afternoon in case someone cancels.  No dice.  "There's no way I can fit you in today".  5 days until license expires.

25) pester instructor repeatedly and remind him of how sorry he was to make scheduling mistake.

26) consider changing instructors, but hear that everyone is backed up since the strike and, anyway, this guy has your tofes yarok.  And he feels guilty about messing up the other test date, so hopefully he will get you in before your license expires.

27) rent car the day your license expires.  Clerk at rental agency says, "What's going on with you converting your license?"  Consider just keeping car because it is unclear if/when you will be able to rent again....

28) lesson/test finally scheduled for the day *after* your license expires.  In a moment of recklessness, drive rental car to test on the way to return it.  Hope tester does not ask how you are driving a car without an Israeli license.

29) lesson is scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m. and end at 8:00.  Great.  Assume test will be at 8:00 and you will be done by 8:15.

30) learn you are wrong when driving instructor drops you off in parking lot at 8:00 and says, "meet me back here at 9:30 for your test".  He drives off to give lessons to two more people.  It is Friday morning and you had not counted on spending the entire morning dealing with this....Luckily the RMV shares a parking lot with a supermarket.

31) finish Shabbos shopping while waiting for test.  Hope that car rental agency does not charge for you bringing the car back 26.5 hours after renting it, rather than the allowed 25 hours.

32) FINALLY!  Take driving test!  Test is done with two strangers also in the car.  You are the last one to drive.  All goes well, baruch Hashem.

33) return rental car and apologize for lateness.  They are kind and do not charge extra.

34) that afternoon (!), driving instructor calls to say you PASSED!  Hooray!  They evidently stuck this extra step in because too many people argued with the tester if they didn't pass.  Understandable (both the arguing and the fact that they changed the system)

35) wait several day for actual license to be dropped off by instructor

36)  Yay--you have the license you are done!

37) or not.....

38) license is an oversized piece of paper that says it expires in February

39) text driving instructor who insists license is good for ten years

40) send instructor photo of license with expiration date in 7 months.

41) find out that you must go AGAIN to the post office to wait in interminable line to pay yet another fee and only THEN will you get your plastic driver's license that is good for ten years.

42) give up and write blog post.  It has been 6 months since genius husband suggested getting working on converting driver's license.  He is still waiting to take his test.....

Thursday, August 11, 2016

We're Here (Part II)

If you've seen people who look suspiciously like my family lurking around Israel, don't clean your glasses--it really is us.  It was lovely seeing so many people in the US and frustrating that not everyone was seen/seen as much as I would have hoped for.....  

Overall, we really had a wonderful trip.  We were in 11 states (well, many of them we just drove through), had an action-packed visit to Washington, DC, enjoyed having Batsheva come to Boston for a week, saw sunrise at the beach (thank you jet lag), stopped in Paris on the way back and got to see the Eiffel Tower and, overall, reconnected with family and friends.  My thanks to everyone who hosted us (and there were many!).  

Now finishing unpacking (we had "The Great Pirate's Booty Luggage Disaster of '16" in one duffle bag), trying to get past jet lag, and trying to get my act together to make Shabbos myself :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

We're Here (Part I)

If you've seen people who look suspiciously like my family lurking around the US East Coast, don't clean your glasses--it really is us.  Chana, Penina, Ilana and I are here for three weeks (!), seeing family and friends and, in general, acting like tourists (Chana and I even took a trolley tour around Boston).  It's been lovely seeing so many people.  We're now in NY before going to DC and then, of course, back to MA.  Looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Healthy Ability to Laugh at Oneself....

I would posit that a healthy ability to laugh at oneself is a requirement for being a new immigrant.  Case in point:

Yesterday, I was at a business office with Penina.  I had been there several times before and each  time appreciated the "take a number" system (or, as I think of it, "the deli system").  Alas, the number machine was empty.  When I sat down at the window of one of the clerks, I tried to note the lack of numbers by saying, "Ein misparAYIM hayom?"  He looked at me and asked, "What?".  I said it again.  He ignored me and began studying his computer intently.  At that point Penina leaned over and said, "Mommy, you just said there are no scissors today.  MisparIM is numbers".  Luckily, the clerk handed over my paperwork then because I was laughing too hard to do anything but leave with the shreds of my dignity intact.

I redeemed myself later by having an entire (if short) conversation with a worker in one of the stores in the mercaz when he asked if I was a visitor (I was, indeed, buying a really touristy item for our buddy Eitan from Philadelphia).  I told him, no, we had made aliyah and I lived in the neighborhood and, in fact, had even bought a tallit from the same store a few months ago.  So there ;)

Chana and I have started taking a conversational ulpan.  It meets twice a week for an hour, which is a stunningly huge drop from the 4.5 hours/day I was used to, but we figure something is better than nothing.  In the inspirational category: there is a 94 year-old man in the class who looks and acts so much younger it seems impossible that he is really 94.  He even walks to and from class by himself (with a cane, but steady enough on his feet that is seems a bit superfluous).  These older olim are very inspirational!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Fun, Fun, Fun

We ended the school year with a bang with Uncle Jeff, Auntie Marissa and Salo coming to visit.  They were here for their friend's son's bar mitzvah, but we got to spend lots of time with them ;).

We even stayed for Shabbos at a hotel in Jerusalem so we could see them more.  This was a real treat, as the food was excellent (and not cooked by me!) and the Prima Kings Hotel is in a great location, so some of us walked to the Kotel on Shabbos afternoon.  It was Shalom Shachne's first time being at the Kotel since we made aliyah!  I'm not sure I've ever been there on Shabbos and it was so calm and peaceful and, frankly, especially nice that the tzedakah collectors were not there (while there are some, like the super sweet lady, whom I like to give to, some of the collectors are just WAY too aggressive [Hey, Batsheva, remember that guy?!]).  It was lovely to be at the Kotel on Shabbos, when there was absolutely no time pressure to finish up, see other things, catch the bus back home, etc....

Shalom Shachne and I *did* take the bus back, but it was after Shabbos.  Meanwhile, Jeff and Marissa put their plan to spoil all the kids into effect and rented a room at their hotel for the cousins to have a slumber party in, then took them to the mall on Sunday for extra spoiling.  SS and I went back in to Jerusalem Sunday afternoon and met up with them and then we all went on the bar mitzvah tour's evening event: a trip to Genesis Land in the Judean Desert, a "go back in time and meet Abraham" kind of place.  The view there was amazing.

The bar mitzva boy's parents really know how to throw a party, as there was a wonderful meal, a drumming circle led by professionals, comedian Yisroel Campbell and, of course, camel rides:

Of course, after all that partying, we all went into the week tired and cranky, but we'll make it through ;)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Year-End Wrap-Up

Ilana's last-day-of-school selfie
We adults finished ulpan yesterday.  I plan to return in September and, hopefully, one more year of the intense level should be enough to get me to a reasonable level of Hebrew.  I'll miss my class (although many of us plan to continue together in the Fall): we're an extremely varied group, from two young women in their late teens up to Moshe, who just turned 84 and is in a wheelchair yet rarely misses class.  I have such admiration for the retirees who make aliyah, especially those who are in my level class because it's not easy to get along with this level of Hebrew.  This semester, my class has two older couples who immigrated in the past few months, and both are in class together (I, at least, have the benefit of a spouse who speaks Hebrew far better than me!).

We had a great last day of class: our teacher had each of us describe our "immigration day" and it was so interesting to hear everyone's story.  Even the stories I thought I knew had a depth to them that I hadn't anticipated.  Like hearing my friend M. talk about leaving her home in NJ, the home she had lived in for 60 years, first as a child and then as an adult raising her own family.  That first evening, while their kids (most of whom live in Israel) made a welcome party for her and her husband, she looked into the yard and saw a child there.  Her first thought was, "that looks like my granddaughter who I Skype with."  Then she realized that it *was* her granddaughter:  And then, she said,  "I realized that I had left my house, but I had arrived home".

Our teacher brought a tray of chocolates and we each had to give a blessing to the class and then choose someone to give a chocolate to.  I gave mine to E., who is from Russia and arrived five years ago *in April* as a single mom with her 11 year old daughter.  No Hebrew (at all.  The Russians in my class arrived not even knowing the aleph bet), no job, no family here.  I can't really imagine how bad life in Russia must have been to make her take all that on (and what was that like for the 11 year-old to start school in April in another language?!), but here she is, five years later, making it work.  I said, "we are all brave to be immigrants, but E, you are very, very brave....."

We also had a visit from the leaders of one of the local youth movements.  She explained that their group was so inspired that we would all give up our former lives and make aliyah that they made cards for each of us with variations of "thank you for making aliyah.  You are amazing.  We are so glad you are living in Israel".  It was very sweet ;).  And also hard to not make mental comparisons with people coming to other countries where the welcome is not so warm....

It's hard to believe that my kids are finishing an entire year of school in Hebrew.  I am so impressed with them, and love seeing how their Hebrew skills have improved so much this year.  Penina finished last week (she started a week earlier, though) and Ilana has her last day today.  Which is good because Uncle Jeff, Aunt Marissa and cousin Salome are visiting and there is no time for anything but fun, fun, fun!  Penina is finishing up two days of touring with them and we are all going to Jerusalem for Shabbos so that we can see them on Saturday (fun fact: hotels here have a post-Shabbos checkout, so, even though we won't be leaving until 9:30 Saturday night, we will only be charged for one day!).

Yay!  The cousins are together!

Sunday, June 19, 2016


In the interest of being thorough (if not punctual) here is a rehash of our Shavuos last week.  Chana stayed in seminary for a last hurrah (seminary ended a few days later), so it was just the four of us here.  Shalom Shachne learned the entire night with his chavrusa (study partner) and we ladies surprised ourselves by staying up as well!

A few days before the holiday, I offered to host a learning session for tween/teen girls at our house and, in the best Malden tradition, make a midnight ice cream party for them (neighbor: "umm, we're having chicken for our meal that night.  Will your ice cream be dairy?"  Thankfully, we had a pareve option).  We started the night with 9 girls listening to the very interesting, funny and heartfelt story of one woman's conversion to Judaism.  After much ice cream, we moved on to a homemade Jewish trivia game that our neighbors made, with questions by each family member (very interesting to see the different level of difficulty based on who wrote the question.  My favorite was, "what's the bracha you make on [older sister's] onion soup?" although there were much harder questions, such as "Name all seven female prophets", which, even working all together, we couldn't do).

6 girls and two mothers made it all the way to hear Megillat Ruth, which was read at 4:45 a.m. (!).  Similar to Pesach, it was a bit odd to have two days' worth of events smushed into one day, but, because Shavuos was immediately after Shabbos, we at least had that "two day" feel to the holiday.

We are still working our way through all the fabulous cheesecakes Penina made, but I'm quite sure I don't hear anyone complaining!

And speaking of cheesecake: what a riot to be in a country were everyone makes cheesecake the same week.  The supermarkets had huge sales on dairy products; one place even brought in 4 large refrigerated cases to go in the first aisle of the store, where all the seasonal/on-sale items go.  One person stocking the shelves was wearing a shirt from Tnuva, the largest dairy here.  It wished everyone a "happy, healthy and delicious Shavuot".  I tried to take a picture, but Penina told me it looked like I was stalking him, so you'll just have to take my word for it :)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


Hard to believe, but Shalom Shachne, Penina and Ilana have not been to the Old City since the week after we made aliyah (oops).  What can I say--it's a lot closer than 6000 miles, but it's also not around the corner and, with Sunday being a school day, there isn't a day that's easy to take off for trips.

Last week, we started to make up for the lack of visits.  Thursday night, I had a rental car and Penina and I picked up Chana at seminary for a trip to see the Jerusalem Festival of Light, an international festival that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.  But first, we stopped to see "Mrs. Eliana", the first close friend who is our kids' ages to get married (she and Batsheva were in school together, and her parents are the friends who bought our former house in Malden).  It was SO SWEET to see her with her hair covered, puttering around her little kitchen and making dinner for HER HUSBAND (as was said with awe thirty or forty times!).  We had a little Malden reunion, since Esti R. and Ariella, the bride's sister, were also visiting and it was really lovely to see everyone again. We even scooped up Ariella for our visit to the Light Festival, which made it all the more fun.
Perhaps as close as I may ever get to the real Eiffel Tower

The Festival was very bit as wonderful and as crowded as everyone who had visited already had led me to believe.  It was very interesting to see modern art juxtaposed with the Old City (like, "Wow.  Of all the things I thought I would never see in the Old City, at the top of the list would be two guys playing electro music while wearing white from head to toe, including white puffy wigs and white tutus....").  We loved the water fountain that looked like it was out of Disney World, with a synchronized sound and light show and then pictures of the Old City projected upon the water, and the exhibition at the big Post Office building on Rechov Yaffo.  I thought it was just lights upon the building, until Ariella and Chana pointed out that, across the street, there were old mailboxes painted, turned into percussion instruments, and then wired into the exhibit, so that, when the tops of the mailboxes were hit, it changed the colors on the entire post office building in accordance with the beat.  I had to smile at the Chassidish guy who got so into it that he was turned sideways so as to play on two mailboxes at once (he was good, too!).

We visited the Kotel, and it was so nice to be there again.  Penina decided to continue to make up for lost time by accepting an invitation to Liat's house in Jerusalem for Shabbos, which included her taking the bus to Jerusalem alone, and going with Liat's youth group on a pre-"Yom Yerushalayim" Shabbos walk to the Kotel, which was over 1.5 hours.  Each way.  In 100 degree heat.  Way to go, Penina!!!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Big Week for Ilana

This week, the iriya (local city) graduated its last children's ulpan class.  We are delighted that Ilana was one of the students in grades 1-6 who received ulpan for about 18 hours/week.  Baruch Hashem her Hebrew is vastly improved from when we arrived and she even has Israeli friends at school with whom she only speaks Hebrew (according to the teacher, at least! So far, these girls haven't come to the house).

The Iriya did a very nice job on the graduation.  All I was expecting was a little "Pomp and Circumstance" and a diploma, but this was an entire evening of festivities.  The city rented a bus to go to the site and stopped at the two city community centers on the way.  This was very convenient for those of us without a car :).  We visited Gan Golan in Beit Shemesh, which is named after fallen soldier Golan Pelli whose parents are artists who converted a space next to their house into a beautiful Biblical sculpture park in his memory.

Pomegranate tree!

We next went to a community center where the staff had set up arts and crafts, had falafal delivered for dinner and showed a movie about the history of Beit Shemesh.  Hard to believe that where the local mall currently is, there used to be hundreds of metal caravans housing entire immigrant families in extremely cramped spaces.  The man who the first teacher there spoke on the video about the children seeing his "home" and how amazed they were that he had "all that space" to himself.  He said, "to them, I was a millionaire because I had a caravan to myself!".  I found it very interesting to hear the memories of immigrants from an earlier generation, and the hardships they had to go through to move to the very same area we so recently came to.  B''H, all I have to do to get water is turn on the tap....there is plentiful food at the stores....we have electricity.....our house is big.....You get the idea.

Here is Ilana getting her diploma from Morah Nechama:

Ilana also participated in her school's Yom Yerushalayim festival yesterday, celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967.
June 7, 1967, when Israeli paratroopers recaptured the Kotel.  

and a more modern-day celebration :).  Ilana is third from the left
 It was very sweet to see the hundreds of girls in her school dancing, singing and celebrating Jerusalem.  It was also stunning to the see the two fourth grade classes on stage together and realizing that the 60 of them on stage was the largest number of girls performing that I had ever seen (Ilana's grade being bigger than the entire BY Boston school!).  I especially enjoyed hearing the young adult daughter of the choir/dance teacher sing "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav", a song that I had never really related to, in such a beautiful way that I had tears in my eyes.

As the performance was going on, a woman I didn't know tugged on my sleeve and said in English, "isn't this amazing?  Aren't you glad you made aliyah and can be here to celebrate this?".  I really have no idea who this woman is or how she knew we were new olim, but I agree with her!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Lag B'Omer

This is what happens when you forget to press "publish" after writing a post: your Lag B'Omer post arrives a week late!

We had a great time on Lag B'Omer (link to full info if you would like to know more about the holiday).  We stayed local, which was quite enjoyable.  At night, the party mobiles were out and about.

We discovered that we live in a great place to celebrate Lag B'Omer because across the street is the beginnings of a new development of apartment buildings.  Right now, there are just large piles of dirt and a paved road leading down to the dirt.  It became a very popular place for kids and families to build bonfires.  Ilana counted 14 (really reminded me of July 4th in Winthrop when I was a kid) and there was much roasting of marshmallows and hot dogs.

Oh yeah, and Ilana got to climb the giant dirt pile :).

The kids had school off for Lag B'Omer day.  Penina enjoyed sleeping late and Ilana went to a carnival that the local Yeshiva hosted.

Meanwhile, the "Meron Report", from Chana and the five other seminary gals who we saw this past Shabbos (including Malden's famous Esti R.!)  was that Meron was "very cool and very crowded".  Reports say that half a million people were there for Lag B'Omer!  There were lots and lots of crowds of people.   "MANY different types of people-you can't believe how many types!"  Most of the girls reported that it was too crowded to get into the kever of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, but that they were able to daven near it.  Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller described Meron as, 'the bottom of the hill is Purim and the top is neila'".  There are people giving out cooked, kosher food.  There were also different groups of chassidim with bonfires which their Rebbes lit.  On the way back to Jerusalem, the buses stopped at a "pop-up" rest area, with 100 portable toilets (50 for the men and 50 for the women, which felt unbalanced until I thought of how many more men than women go to Meron) and more people giving out food!  Reports were that the traffic was horrible (5 hours back to Jerusalem, rather than the normal 3), but those who went to Meron at midnight and returned at 3 a.m. (let's not name names here) used the time to sleep.

All in all, a very fun holiday!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Nieces and Nephews and Finnish Folk, Oh My!

We recently had the very lovely experience of hosting TWO relatives (who don't live together) on the same day.   Nephew Ben (Margaret and Graham's son, from England) was visiting in Israel because he got a great airfare, so he and friend Alex were tooling around for a few days.  Niece Mia (Hilary a''h and Michael's daughter from FL and Ben's first cousin) had been on Birthright and decided to stay for an extra week because she found she really loved Israel (yay!).  Birthright FL ended just as the British Visit began, so we had the delight of having them both visit for the afternoon.

I can't begin to say how lovely it was to get to know them on their own and as the wonderful young adults they have become.  We mostly only see each other at family events and, while it's great to be together with the entire family, it's hard to have an in-depth talk with much of anyone.  I hereby highly recommend moving 6000 miles away from where the rest of the family lives; it really gives you an opportunity to know the rest of the crew better if/when they visit ;)


Mia stayed with us a few days, and, of course, the girls were totally smitten with her.  Chana came home from seminary for an afternoon and we went to one of our favorite restaurants (looking forward to when Jeff, Marissa and Salome arrive in July, as this place has the best homemade french fries our family has ever tasted.  And that's saying a lot).

Nothing like a cousin

We finished our week with a visit from more people from Finland.  Our neighbor organized a week-long group tour of Israel-loving non-Jews from Finland and we hosted a really sweet couple for Shabbos dinner.  Since my view of folks from Finland was starting to be that they all loved Israel, I figured I should do a reality check and ask what their friends and family thought of their love of Israel and frequent visits (this was trip #5 for them).  In a heavy accent, Mr. Fin slowly answered, "They think we are crazy" ;).  Okay, so good thing there are these trips to build relationships!

Come back soon, everyone!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Thelma and Louise (Israeli-Style)

We live off of a mildly-major street (two lanes in each direction with a median in between).  I was crossing the street today to catch the bus when I saw the bus arriving.  Drat.  There was an unusual amount of traffic on the first half of the street but I imagined myself doing this if I was with my kids and telling them that there would always be another bus and no bus is worth running between oncoming traffic for, yada yada.....I made it across the median just as the bus pulled up. I thought I had a good chance of getting on as the bus was now right across the street from me, so I started waving at the driver, who did an excellent job of not seeing me (or perhaps not wanting to see me).

Just as I was ready to resign myself to a 15 minute wait for the next bus (certainly not the worst thing in the world) the car that was in back of the bus screeched to a halt in the middle of street, right in front of me, and a religious Israeli woman beckoned me to get in.  "Nah, no problem" I said, but she was laughing and I started laughing and I hopped in (she seemed totally normal and there were car seats in the back).  We had hurried introductions in "Hinglish" as she zoomed to the next stop, which is quite far (probably about 1/2 mile).  As we were turning on to a different street, and then another one, to get to the bus stop, I said, "I hope you were driving this way anyway" and she laughed and said, "no"!   She then pulled her car in front of the bus so it couldn't leave without me on it!  That was the most giggle-filled 90 seconds I've had in many years.  I wasn't sure if she'd understand the "Thelma and Louise" reference, but I did tell her in Hebrew that this was like a movie :).

Not to get too poetic about it, but this is why, when I say that I have no family in Israel, people tell me that we are all family.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The "Yoms"

Last week was Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), two days ago was Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and yesterday was Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day).   On Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron, sirens go off across the country and people stop what they are doing and stand at attention.

I really like this video from the Israel Project, as it shows a variety of locations and you can hear the siren.  Normally, the siren goes off when it is time to light Shabbos candles.  I love the siren then.  Hearing it in this context was so different and eerie and made me fervently hope that I would never hear the siren "for real".

We were at different locations each time the siren went off: once I was driving on a small road to Jerusalem.  I very much wanted to be on the big highway ("The 1".  We joke that we may sometime slip into an alternate universe while driving on it and end up at the Square One Mall in Saugus), but Waze kept giving me route options that did not include the 1.  Oh well.  I pulled over on the side of the road as did the one car in back of me and that was it.  I was glad that I happened to be driving near a moshav at the time, as I heard the moshav's siren.  I had the radio on, tuned to a religious radio station (not particularly by choice.  I generally just put the radio on and leave it on whatever station the last person who rented the car had it on.  Since I only want to hear the Hebrew and don't understand much of what I'm listening to, it doesn't particularly matter to me what they're saying).  The radio station, rather than having the siren, had an announcer saying tehillim perfectly timed to the siren.  I liked the juxtaposition.

For the second siren, I was in the mercaz and it was very nice to see the wide variety of people standing at attention.  Among the religious, there is great disparity about how people note these memorial moments, including a large number of people who don't follow them at all, so I was pleased that almost all people I saw were standing.

For the last siren, I was at ulpan and they had us join in the local elementary school's Yom HaZikaron program that was being held in the community center's common room.  It was quite impressive to have a room of about 150 people snap to attention when the siren started, especially since about half of those people were children (there was scattered giggling about halfway through, but, overall, I was pretty impressed).  The children put on a beautiful program, which is really saying something since I understood only about 25% of what was said (Hebrew for Hebrew-speakers AND that it was said by children just overwhelmed my small skills).

There was a beautiful profile of Miriam Peretz and two of her sons who died while serving in the Israeli army, some nice songs, and a color guard performance with Israeli flags, in the middle of which I had an almost-overwhelming feeling of "Oh my goodness!  I live in Israel now".  You'd think that would have occurred to me before now, but I guess some of us are slow on the uptake....

It really was intense to see this room full of kids and hear their performances, which seemed quite heartfelt.  Probably every one of those children will do either army service or sherut leumi (the alternative service program offered to religious young women) and I assume that gives the show added poignancy to them (it did to me!).  I also assume that the day has more immediacy to the kids here than in, say, Boston, since a much larger number of people here know someone who died defending their country.

Finally, we ended with Yom HaAtzmaut yesterday.  It's quite a segue to go from Memorial Day immediately into Independence Day, but that transition also seems quite Israeli ("We Mourn.  We Go On").

We made several trays of pasta salad to contribute to the Lone Soldiers' BBQ.  Somehow, working together, families in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh made enough food to feed 850 Lone Soldiers!

Shalom Shachne, Ilana and I went for a hike in nearby Park Britania, including climbing up Tel Azeka (I had a Mexican dyslexic moment when I googled "Tel Azteca" and couldn't figure out why I couldn't find further info....).  Tel Azeka is the site where David and Goliath fought, and the Jewish National Fund (JNF--they do more than plant trees!) has done a beautiful job with the site.  Quotes from Shmuel Aleph line the walk up to the top of the mountain and it was very impressive to read along and try to imagine it all happening right where we were standing.

Yom HaAtzmaut is a major time to BBQ here and the park--which is ENORMOUS--was mobbed with extended families gathered together and grilling hot dogs.  We actually sat in traffic for about 15 minutes try to exit the park!  We had specifically *not* gone to Jerusalem because of how bad we heard the traffic is (thanks for the invitation, though, Fern).

Yom HaAtzmaut is, unfortunately, also a holiday that is not a "universal" here.  It's beyond my new immigrant skills to parse it all ("seriously--you can't eat a hamburger today because it might give the impression that you're too modern/supportive of the secular government?!"), but, if you want to delve into it more deeply, this woman gave it a whirl

And, lastly, Shalom Shachne's ulpan class watched this cartoon of two old Army buddies meeting again on Yom HaAtzmaut at a BBQ.  If you want to give your Hebrew a try, it's pretty funny (and, no, my Hebrew is not on this level.  I needed a huge amount of help to understand it)

Shabbat Shalom and, yeah, Yom HaAtzmaut Sameach.