Thursday, January 28, 2016

The End of Ulpan

We are still having so many "firsts" that it's a bit hard to believe that we had our first "ending" here: we just had our last day of ulpan.  5 months of 20 hours a week intensive (in case that's not clear!) language instruction is now over.  Also, never again will we be the "new olim" in class, since new people are always arriving here....

We had a 2.5 hour final exam on Wednesday.  Some people were getting a bit worked up about it: "Are you nervous about the final???".  I said that every time we opened our mouths to speak with someone in Hebrew, THAT was our final exam.  But it was definitely an interesting experience to take my first final exam in MANY years.  (Well, actually, the whole ulpan was such a neat throwback to a much earlier time in life, namely, a time when a sharp pencil and a clean eraser really made my day!).

Amidst the reading selections with comprehension questions, grammar questions, and a long essay was a short essay: "Friends are coming to Israel to visit.  Tell them about a special place you want to make sure they will visit".  My answer:

"Dear Deb and Frank,

I am so happy that you are coming back to Israel!  We had such fun with you in November!  When you visit, we should go to the Golan.  The mountains there are very beautiful and we can also visit with Gil and Nitsan.  It will be very interesting!


Ellen"  Is that an A+ mini-essay or what?!

My class got together today at a local restaurant.  It was so sweet and nice to do.
I'm on the back left and our wonderful teacher is 3rd from the front on the right side

 I will really miss the makeup of this particular class (thankfully, many/most of us will be continuing on together).  I am sad that my buddy Yosef is not continuing on.  Yosef is in his 70s and has a sharp sense of humor (I have often thought, as he made some wisecrack, that he is very similar to what my father would be like if he ended up in such a class).  I admire Yosef, both for making aliyah at this time of life and for sticking with class (Yosef's wife was in class for the first month, as was another older woman, but they both found it too much and left class....When our buddy David got a job, it looked like Yosef was going to be the only male in class!  Thankfully, Moshe, another retired man, then joined class so Yosef wasn't the only guy).  But Yosef says he's done with ulpan: he stuck with class until the end and now there's a gemara with his name on it, and who can argue with that reasoning?!

We got to know each other pretty well during the semester (which is really saying something considering there were six Russian speakers so our mutually-poor level of Hebrew was our only way of communicating).

My favorite story from class: "N", from Ukraine, came to Israel for a vacation.  While at the Kotel, she asked someone to take a picture of her.  Turned out she had asked a man who also spoke Russian and he took the picture, they had a brief chat about where each was from and that was it.  She went back to the Ukraine and, meanwhile, this guy spent the next two months trying to track her down online.  He finally succeeded, they got to know each other online (you can see where this is going, right?!), she came back to Israel to visit him....he went to Ukraine to visit her.....And then they got married ;).  While filling out paperwork for her to come to Israel, she had to write her parents' names.  Let's say "Boris and Natasha".  And her grandparents' names.  Her father's parents were Uri and Olga.  And her mother's parents: David and Rebecca.
"Wait" said the representative from Israel: "David and Rebecca? Are you Jewish?"
"Me?! No" said N.
"Well, go ask your mother" the representative said.
"Mother, are we Jewish?"
"Noooo" said N's mother
"Ask your grandmother" said the representative
"Grandmother, are we Jewish?"

Me: "WHOA!  What was that like to find out you were Jewish???"
N: "Shock.  Total shock" (the rest of the conversation was in Hebrew, but that phrase was English)


Anyway, back to ulpan (but a higher level) on Monday ;)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Tu B'Shvat

We recently celebrated the holiday of Tu B'Shvat--the New Year of the Trees ("Chag Ha'Ilanot" or, as Ilana says, "my holiday" :)).  We ate a ridiculously large variety of dried fruits and I even serendipitously discovered a budding tree while walking home from ulpan.

view from our porch in September....

and view today.  A little rain does a lot of good!  The giant pile of dirt is the start of a new apartment complex.  

 It's a small holiday, hence the small blog post :).  But it is nice to feel like we've made it through the majority of winter (or, should I say, "winter"?!).  There was mass pandemonium the other day due to the *possibility* of several centimeters of snow in Jerusalem!  Some schools were closed, there were rumors that the main highway to/from Jerusalem was closed or would be closing imminently (Chana had come home for the afternoon and we were hoping she might get snowed in, but no such luck), and I had a question for a secretary at Hadassah Hospital, but she hadn't come to work because of the (no) "snow"!  We're prepared, though--my genius husband brought our snow shovel just in case!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Adventures in Car Renting

There are several car rental agencies in the town center just a few blocks from our house, so renting a car is pretty easy (in theory).  I reserve online and try to remember to have all of the necessary paperwork with me when I go to pick up the rental; this includes my drivers' license, credit card, teudat zehut (Israeli ID card) *and* my US passport (that's the one that always gets me, as the other things are always in my purse).  This past week I had a new clerk who, 15 minutes before closing time, insisted that I also needed my teudat aliyah, the ID card confirming we had made aliyah.  She and I went back and forth for several minutes, with me remembering the advice that "Israelis will say 'no, no, no' and then, without reason, will say 'yes'".  And then she gave me the rental car without requiring me to run home for the teudat aliyah.

My father suggested that I try to work out a better price with the car rental agency than the one I get online.  Those of you who know "Norman the Negotiator" in real life will have no trouble believing he said this :).  "Tell them you'll bring the car back nice and clean and without dings" he suggested.  I had such a good laugh over this: "Dad, when I GET the car, it's not nice and clean and without dings!".  Re. the dings: for anyone considering renting a car in Israel, just do yourself a favor and take the full insurance coverage, no matter the cost.  I can't imagine that any renter could realistically catalog all the dings and knocks each car has before taking it out as a rental (unless you came an hour before you actually needed the car), and you would surely end up paying for someone else's trouble with the car.

Re. the "nice and clean": I have had cars that range from mildly dirty to downright filthy (inside and out).  Hard to believe I'm paying for this!  The last time I rented, Yinon, the young man who brings out the rental cars, tried to clean the car for me: he took out the empty packet of cookies from the front seat and threw it on the ground (don't get me started on the trash issue in Israel--one of the big things that bothers me here).  Yinon left the half empty Coke bottles and water bottles for me to deal with, though....

Amusing side story about Yinon: he speaks very little English.  The first time I rented, he was trying to ask me....something....and I just wasn't getting it.  Getting frustrated, he asked in a very strong tone how long I had been in Israel for.
"Three....weeks....." I responded.  Every word was a struggle at that point.
"Three YEARS?!?!" he demanded
"No....three....weeks"  (and I realized he was upset with the idea of someone here long-term who hadn't learned the language)
"Three MONTHS?" he asked.
"NO, THREE WEEKS!" (see, I'm educable!).
He broke into a broad smile and said, "Three weeks?  You speak Hebrew very well for only three weeks" and since then we chat every time about how things are going in ulpan and life in Israel.

The past two times I rented I got an Opal wagon with a backup camera.  First time I've ever driven with one and I loved it, although it definitely seems very, very weird to look forward while driving backward.  I finally decided my method was to look out the back to the left, look back right and then look at the backup camera.  From those of you who use a backup camera on a regular basis, I would love advice of the best way to use it.

I also drove the worst car I have ever driven.  As someone who never owned a car until I was in my 30s, I have driven LOTS of rental cars, lots of ZipCars and lots of friends' cars.  The Fiat 500 was the worst (and scariest) driving experience I have ever had, which is really too bad because it was also the cutest, sportiest car I ever drove (well, perhaps it was tied with the light green Volkswagon Beetle with the flower in the vase on the dashboard that was "our" ZipCar in Brookline).  I got in that car so excitedly and, when I returned it, was just thankful the experience was over.  When they tried to give me the same model the next week, I told them there was no way, and I even paid for the upgrade because all they had left was Fiat 500s in various colors.  While searching around online to find out if I was the only one who had such a hard time driving this thing ("I'm pressing the gas and I'm in drive.  Why on earth am I rolling backwards?!"), I came across this:  Truly the funniest car review I have ever read (it may also be the *only* car review I have ever read, but don't let that stop you from getting a laugh, too).  My favorite line: "Driving the Fiat 500L made me long for the days of mule-based transportation".

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Song of the Year

For the girls and I, at least (I'll let my husband have his own opinion!), we nominate Gad Elbaz's "Open Up".  Penina's class danced to the music in her school-wide dance competition (when I think back on that, I am so impressed at how they ran the competition: each class had to make an original painting that expressed their theme, make costumes, compose a dance, write lyrics to their music and then the school brought girls from each class to a professional recording studio to record their piece.  It was great to see the creativity these girls brought to the assignment!).

A few weeks later, having had this song already buzzing through our house while Penina practiced, I showed up at Ilana's weekly jazz/ballet class and heard that they were now dancing to the same song.  Infectious (in a good way!).

What I've read about Gad Elbaz is that he's a religious singer who tries to use his music to build bridges between those who are religious and those who are secular.  He also sings perfectly in both English and Hebrew, which I love (can you tell I'm having issues with speaking Hebrew like "such an American"?!)

I like how he has kids in the video linked below (especially great seeing good dancing done by frum kids).  I'm amusing myself picturing the girl who plays the cashier telling her friends,
"I booked that video I auditioned for!"
"Great!  Who's it for?"
"Beats me.  Some Israeli guy I never heard of".

Also, for those from the alte heim: don't you think that Gad Elbaz bears a resemblance to Richard/CRG when GE is dressed at the supermarket manager?!

Loving the Winter

As I said to my mother a few days ago, "We didn't move here for the weather, but I'm sure not complaining!"  For the past three days it's been in the mid-60s and today is in the low 70s.  It's been so pleasant to have the windows open (only during the day--as soon as the sun goes down it still gets cold).  Chana and I even took our bikes out for a spin on Thursday, riding along one of the quiet main roads here and seeing a flock of sheep (with a shepherd!) along the way!

Tomorrow, back to "winter"--mid-50s and some rain.  It's been really interesting to see the land bloom with the rain we've been getting.  To me, it doesn't seem like so much rain, but clearly what grows around here does just fine with the small amounts

Not that long ago, it was mostly brown.  Had I anticipated the dramatic change, I would have taken a "before" photo

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Mazal Tov, Rabinowitz Family!

I really can't believe we were able to attend the bris for the new Rabinowitz grandson.   It was wonderful (and rather surreal) to be in Jerusalem and also be with so many people whom we had last seen in Boston.  Many of the BY girls who are here for seminary came to the bris, our beloved former neighbors the Shulmans (who live in Jerusalem now) were there, and we also serendipitously found ourselves sitting next to the Rabbi's nieces from NY whose family comes each year to Malden for Simchas Torah (the older niece has lived here for six years and the younger is in seminary).

Welcome, Dovid!
I'm not sure if one ever really gets over the feeling of wonder at seeing someone you knew as a little child now in complete grown-up mode, but seeing Shragi, who has learned in Jerusalem for five years already, and now has a wife and son, was pretty special....

Shalom Shachne, Ilana and I took the bus to Jerusalem.  It was an easy bus ride of about 50 minutes and the Egged bus was clean and comfortable with cushy seats, despite which I spent most of the ride being extremely glad that I don't have to do this commute to work every day, as many people around here do! (Cousin Mark T: remember when we were here as teens and all the Egged buses were red?  They are green now and it still seems wrong to me!).

This was the first time since we moved here that I have been back to Jersualem!  (Sorry, Fern, that you guys are still in Burma and couldn't be visited on this auspicious occasion....).  I was really surprised at how city-like J'lem felt.  It was noisy, crowded, dirty....I felt like I had gotten off the bus at the Port Authority in Manhattan!  We weren't near the Old City, though, and that part, although extremely, umm, old, is much quieter and cleaner.  I was glad to get back to our little suburb at the end of the day :)

Mazal tov, Rabinowitz Family!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Rabinowitzes Come VIsit!

A big "Mazal Tov" to Shragi and Leah on the birth of their first child, a son, on Sunday, and yippee for us that this happy event meant that the Rabinowitzes, our Rav and Rebbetzin and our good friends, came to visit!

It was SO nice to get to see them and talk with them in person and we greatly appreciate that they shlepped here from Jerusalem on the bus.

The Rabbi, good sport that he is, tried his first Krembo, an Israeli snack food that consists of a cookie base with a multi-inch topping of marshmallow, covered in chocolate.  He wasn't crazy about it (I totally agree with him).  What I have found out about Krembos (thank you, Fern) is that they are a seasonal food, sold here only between November and February and, during that time, enough Krembos are sold to equal *nine* for every Israeli!  Sheva enjoys them, and, since she is coming to visit in March and will have missed the season, I bought some to send her back to Chicago with.  Then Penina told me that I bought the wrong brand.  I had been under the impression that Krembo was a brand name and the box I bought was the same product despite the less-fancy wrapping.  But, no.  Seems I wanted Kleenex and just bought tissues.  So we're spreading the, erm, joy around and making sure all our guests try a Krembo just to say that they had a full Israeli experience ;)

Thanks to the Rabbi, I only have to eat eight more.

We showed them around the mercaz (town center) before they went back to snuggle the baby, although not before we had to sprint to get them to the bus on time.  If you asked me something I would probably never do in my life, yeah, jogging down the street with the Rabinowitzes would be on that list ;).  

I only hope we can get some more time with them before they leave!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Writing Checks in Hebrew

As if it's not enough that I have to:

--write the whole thing in Hebrew
--including writing the numbers out as words
--and remembering to write the date "backwards" (day first, then month)

Now I've got to remember to write "2016"?!  OY ;)!

Several people have asked me how New Year's Eve is celebrated here and the answer is that it's not (which is fine by us and exactly how we noted the day in the US).  In ulpan yesterday, some of the secular Russians were talking about "Rosh Hashanah" and I was totally confused ("Rosh Hashanah was months ago.  And do they even celebrate it?!") until the teacher wrote on the board the word for "secular".  AHA!  Then we learned the words for "fireworks" and "there aren't any fireworks around here for secular Rosh Hashanah but wait until Independence Day in May".

Happy 2016!