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.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

She's Off!

Penina is off to America for a week of being fussed over by family and friends ;).  By the time we arrive as a family for a visit in mid-July, most of her friends will be away at camp and my in-laws, Chellie and Joey, will have moved to California.  Since our clever girl had saved her bat mitzvah money she was able to strengthen her case by splitting the cost of the ticket with us.

Since my part of the story ends with dropping her off at the airport, I hope that she'll make a guest blog post upon her return, but let me just comment on being at the airport three hours before her flight:

--chalav yisrael Ben and Jerry's.  Whadda country!

--And, man, I closed that airport down!  Her flight left late (and it was scheduled for 12:15 a.m. to begin with) and El Al told me I needed to stay until the flight was in the air.  The counter attendant kept telling me things like, "they've pulled away from the gate.  Just five more minutes and then you can leave".  "Okay, now they're on the tarmac.  Just five more minutes".   Finally, it was in the air and I was on my way home.

Nesiya Tova, Penina!  Have an amazing time!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Pesach Wrap-Up: The Food....The Holiday

Well, now that the kitchen is back to its old self, here, in no particular order, are my thoughts on our first Pesach as Israelis:

--As would be expected, the pizza shops and bakeries were mobbed before Pesach began.  One place set up a very unseasonal Sukkah on the sidewalk to handle their overflow crowd.  I also saw one woman who just plunked down on the sidewalk with her little kids and an open pizza box.

--One bakery, at midnight the night before Pesach started, gave away everything they had left.

--Before Pesach started, there were several stands set up on the streets to kasher utensils, pots, etc by boiling:

--When it was time to burn our chametz, I was about to go online to find out where to do that, but first I went out on our balcony to water the plants.  I looked across the street and, yup, there was a fire burning :)

that's Shalom Shachne and Ilana burning our Cheerios
--it was very odd having only one Seder, although I'm not complaining about how much less work it was to prepare for.  The next day, Chana was reading a Haggadah with commentary by one of her teachers and she noted how weird it was to not have a second Seder to share it at (told her it was fine at any point, of course).

--We were delighted to be joined by our Malden buddy, Rachel L, who was visiting Israel for a few weeks.  Rachel, surprisingly enough, was with us for a Seder *last year* as well.  Amazing.....Especially when I think back to that time, when we were in the midst of making plans but had not made the news of our aliyah public yet.  Amazing....(Anyone else who has ever been at a Seder at our house is cordially invited to "be like Rachel" and come visit, too.  In case you didn't know that)

--Pesach ended with a two day Holiday by going into Shabbos.  For those Americans here, they had a Yom Tom/Shabbos mix but we just had Shabbos.  This led to our having two versions of kiddush at each meal--one for the Israelis and one for the Americans (we had Sara Malya M., formerly of Boston, staying with us, and then seminary gals or yeshiva guys as guests at every meal).

--I was (of course) very unused to everything that is usually spread out over two days of Yontif being squished into one day.  For example, in the middle of davening, a lot of people started walking out of shul.  Since it's actually not all that unusual here for people to come and go, I didn't pay too much attention, just was trying to work out mentally what part of the service had just been announced.  Thankfully, Chana understood that what was announced was Yizkor and we should also leave.  My first thought was, "but that's tomorrow!  Oh, riiiight...."

--We noted the end of Pesach by eating kitniyot on Shabbos.  We had hommus on our matza :)

--While we're speaking of kitniyot, to follow on my last post about how many products here contain kitniyot, I noticed there is also a certification saying "Kosher for Passover Without Fear of Kitniyot".  At first the Hebrew really threw me, because I had only been looking for the word kitniyot as a sign to NOT buy something.  Chana figured it out, though.  WHEW!

--Here most dairy products are marked "Kosher for Passover only if bought before Passover starts".  In the US, I was used to buying all of our eggs and Lact-Aid milk before Pesach, but this was a tough thing to get used to, especially with only one fridge and no second freezer.

--Many products had two kosher certifications on them.  One that was their standard packaging that said "Kosher but not for Passover" and then either a stamp as part of time/date info that said it WAS kosher for Passover, or a different second certification stamp altogether.  To say this threw me for a loop is an understatement.  Like it took me up until the day Pesach started to find packaged raisins.  I was standing in the store saying to myself, "okay, you are missing something.  Pesach starts tonight.  The WHOLE store is kosher for Passover.  Those very, very religious people just left the aisle with raisins.  LOOK to find the hidden the Passover certification or there will be no charoset tonight!"  And, whew, there is was.  Finally.

While we're speaking of everyone's favorite Seder food, I was amused to find ready-made charoset:

--The mercaz, where we do almost all of our shopping (it's about 25 little stores selling anything/everything and two moderately-sized supermarkets) was beautifully quiet the entire Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the holiday).  Only the supermarkets were open, and they were on a reduced schedule.  No shechting (ritual slaughter), so no fresh chicken for the last days of Pesach!

--It was fascinating to see things that were kosher for Passover

"Waffle Factory"?!  Seriously?!

Ilana had very yummy GF Passover ravioli at this restaurant.  I love how even the restaurants look like a home kitchen on Pesach: everything covered in aluminum foil and sealed off with plastic wrap. 
--It was very interesting the few times we drove through the (very, very) religious neighborhood near us.  The large families were all decked out in their holiday clothing, including the kids in matching outfits (up through teens, the girls will often wear clothes that match their little sisters) and the men in fur shtreimel hats and their special Shabbos/holiday kapotas

--Ilana's thoughts: "Pesach was really, really fun for me because I could eat everything.  I loved hiking all the way to Beit Shemesh.  It was so fun and cool to see that I could hike all that way without even feeling tired so much.  The view was awesome!

editor's note: 2.5 hour hike through the foothills of the Judean mountains.  It was awesome!
And bowling--I never thought we'd get to do it because we kept going and then leaving because the line was so long, but we finally did and it was so fun."

Among other trips on Chol HaMoed, we went with Nefesh B'Nefesh to Ein Yael a "living museum" of Jewish life during Roman times (the good parts of it, anyway....).  There was pottery making:

and flute making (SO Israeli--"here's a long piece of bamboo and a sharp knife.  Cut several pieces of bamboo off and then we'll help you tie them together".  We'll just say the "Nurse Ellen" in me couldn't watch little kids do it)

Chana and I, unfortunately, discovered we have no future in basket-making.....

But, overall, it was very fun and I really enjoyed talking with other people with the NBN stickers on (there were five busloads of people just from our town!)

We also went to the drive-through "Safari" in Ramat Gan.  Loved seeing so many animals up close:

He was very majestic!

In the attached zoo, we saw some animals that I had never seen before (different varieties of bears, mostly) and had fun renting a golf cart (Chana finally got to drive for the first time since August [she will need to be 25 before I can sign her on to our rental car agreements])

--So, all in all, a really fun holiday!  We can only say, as we do at the end of the Seder, "LeShana HaBa’ah B’Yerushalayim HaBenuya” (next year in the rebuilt Yerushalayim)!"