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Monday, October 29, 2012

Guns and cholent

We spent Shabbat with friends in Elazar and had a really wonderful time.  We ate, we sang we talked and then we ate again.  And of course we ate a bit more.  Good thing the town has some hills.  Actually the panoramic views of the Judean hills are amazing.  It must be incredible to wake up to that view every day.  I was surprised that the kids didn't notice how many of the residents were packing heat.  A guard at the synagogue we went to had a machine gun.  N did notice a lot of barbed wire fences around and asked about it.  I explained that some of Israel's neighbors don't think that the Jews should live in Israel so sometimes we have to put up fences to protect ourselves.  Of course he took it in his own direction.  He talked about a country he knows with very friendly neighbors.   The United States.  The relations are so friendly he told us--Canada doesn't even have an army.  So I will apologize in advance to any Canadian readers but I don't know if that's true.  I mean it sounds absurd but N can kind of be convincing.  I wasn't really sure how to debate that point so I didn't.  Meanwhile we of course got lost on the way home.  Fortunately, we stopped at a quicktrip type place for some snacks and found Kosher sushi which was pretty exciting b/c I absolutely love sushi and would never be able to just stop in and find kosher sushi at a quicktrip in Kansas.  Turns out I haven't really been missing much (should be self evident but gas station sushi--not so great) but it was still fun.  We are now researching smart phones b/c the days of no GPS etc. need to be behind us.  Anyone with a phone they recommend please leave a comment.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Jim Davis in Israel

I have always been a huge library fan and when I heard we had a library in town I was a bit nervous about what we might find.    This is after all a relatively small town.  Nehemiah and Ariella and I walked over the other day and the whole way there I was prepping N.  I didn't want a  speech about the great libraries of Kansas once we got there.  As an aside, if any readers from Kansas bump into Governor Brownback anytime soon please let him know that I have a great PR guy for him right here in Mazkeret Batya, Israel.  Seriously, I mean Kansas was a great place to live but the way N tells it you would think we left Shangri-La.  Anyway, when we arrived we were all pleasantly surprised.  It is a little gem.  Quite similar to the library we left behind in Leawood but just on a smaller scale.  N got super excited b/c he now feels as if he has an office to work on his comics ("The Adventures of Super Someone" and his new "novel" about---here's a shocker---a young man trapped in a horrible world and trying to escape).  So when the librarian saw that he was interested in comics she started pulling out books from the English section on how to draw comics etc.  Turns out they have almost the entire Garfield collection and N is a big fan.  What a find!  I have no idea why on earth some small town in the middle of Israel has decided to stock such a large collection of Jim Davis--but I don't ask why.  I am only thankful.  Best part is it is so close to home that N can bike/walk there whenever he wants to.

Meanwhile, the teenage daughter of one of our new friends volunteers every week at this library.  She came up with the idea to make Lital her "library helper" so that she could covertly teach L some Hebrew in an unofficial capacity.  What a score.  L is so excited because she thinks she has a job at the library.  Tuesday will be her first day.  Little Ariella does not need any such help b/c she is picking up Hebrew so quickly that today when I asked her something she replied with "ani rak midaberet ivrit (I only speak Hebrew).  That little plan of hers didn't last long after I told her that I only speak English and of course since half of her Hebrew is still gibberish she should probably wait a day or two before making such declarations.

And just to keep you up to date we have been approved for ulpan hours in school!!   Supposed to be 6 hours per child and they approved 6 hours total.  N to get 4 and L to get 2.   No, it doesn't make any sense to us either and of course we'll have to start the whole phone call chain again but we are making progress and progress is good.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

You say tomato I say tomata

So last week I needed some tomatoes for a salad I wanted to make so I popped into the supersol (local grocery) and figured I would go through self check-out to make it quicker.  I got kind of hung up when I had to find the vegetable I wanted on the screen b/c obviously this is all in Hebrew.  Now sitting on the wall of my ulpan is a large poster with many different fruits and vegetables.  I know that a tomato is an "agvaniyah" but every time I typed aleph (first letter of Hebrew alphabet) no tomatoes were coming up as a choice.  I turned to the customer at the other self check out station.  "What is this?"  I asked him.    He sort of looked at me like he didn't know how to proceed and then maybe b/c of my accent he answered in English "it's a tomato".    Well gee whiz.  I mean I know it's a tomato it's the whole reason I came to the store.  I just can't get it to come up on the screen.  He came over and typed in "agvaniyah" but apparently it's spelled with an "ayin".  Not likely to forget that anytime soon.

Nor will I forget the word "pereg" anytime soon.  Last week I stopped to get an iced coffee at the local bakery on my way home and saw some delicious looking brownies that I thought would be nice for Shabbat.  Imagine my surprise when we bit in and it was poppy seed cake.  I think that poppy seed cake is clearly an acquired taste and when you are expecting a rich fudge chocolate brownie it is definitely not the time to learn to appreciate poppy.  Pereg=poppy--thank you so much.

Meanwhile we've made some noise and now someone in the national level of the education ministry is aware that two little American kids in Mazkeret Batya need to get their in-school ulpan hours.  The superintendent should know that N has already mastered all swear words in Hebrew using her techniques.  Haha he said.  I thought this was a holy land--they have swear words here too :)


Monday, October 15, 2012

And now for some "oys"

Well it can't be all fun all the time here.  I mean even though we have moved to Israel and everything it is still real life.    As  new immigrants our children are entitled by law to ulpan (Hebrew language class) in school.  They are supposed to be receiving around 6  hours per week.  Well friends it is now October 15th and they have received exactly zero hours.  Yes.  Zero.  The principal keeps telling us that she is waiting for the funding from the ministry of education.  Forms have been filled out, phone calls have been made but nothing is happening.  We decided to stop waiting like patient Americans, and go in person to the head honcho here in Mazkeret.  I'll call her the Superintendent of schools for lack of a better translation.  We plead our case.  Our poor children are so depressed in school.  They don't understand anything.  It's so frustrating.  Her response was that we should tell our children not to be so shy.  Don't get so focused on the ulpan she said.  No one learns Hebrew from the ulpan they learn from talking to other kids.  Just tell them not to be shy and start asking what things mean.  OK.  Right.  Um.  That wasn't really the reassurance I was going for.  Maybe we should just implement plan B and bang our heads against a wall.  I've heard that works too.

I mean seriously Israel has absorbed thousands upon thousands of immigrants in the past 60 years (thanks for the pep talk dad!) and I know that so many of them have gone through what my children are going through and that yes the language will not really be learned in the ulpan.  But still.  We need something.  When I was sitting comfortably in Overland Park talking about moving to a non-anglo town so that we would be forced to integrate I guess I didn't really know what I was talking about!  It is hard work.  And people love to say that kids learn languages fast, which they do.  But running to the playground and asking kids to play hide and seek and counting to twenty and then having a conversation about the rules  in a new language, is not the same as listening to a science or grammar lesson in a foreign language.

In the meantime, I am making progress in my own ulpan.  I am amazed to see how quickly we are moving forward .  I am mostly speaking with the Russians in Hebrew now.  That is partly because we are learning more and partly because they told me that my English was very hard to understand with my heavy accent.  I actually almost choked when they told me that.  That's pretty rich.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Rooftop happy meals

What a whirlwind the last 10 days have been.  How incredible to have 10 days in Israel that we didn't have to make huge flight plans, hotel reservations etc. b/c we live here now.  You can just get up and go.  And go we did.

First off just taking a left out of town instead of our usual right, introduced us to tons of little day trip type places that are just minutes from our home.  To include a new Barkan vineyard/winery.  I know where friends and family are going to make their first stop when they come to see us---little Napa Israel.

This was our first Sukkot in Israel and it was interesting sitting in our Sukkah having dinner when our neighbors were doing the same.  You can hear the chatter and their dishes clinking.  I almost asked for a taste of the soup.

First day of chol hamoed Sukkot (secular days of the holiday) we planned to go hiking and BBQ with friends in one of Israel's national parks, Har Hatayasim.   This mountain does have amazing panoramic views and we hiked up to a spring where the kids had fun exploring.  I however have never been a huge fan of cars on small windy mountain roads so my adrenaline levels were pretty high just from the drive.  I think our crew did a good job in keeping with the true spirit of Sukkot in that we looked more liklike a segment of wandering Jews than real hikers.   And if memory serves, much like the Jews leaving Egypt my children might have had a complaint or two when we learned at the end of our hike that BBQing is not allowed in national parks.  Not to worry though this is Israel...we found good Kosher food fast.

Day two we joined a group of Olim (immigrants) and headed North to Alona park for the day.  We started off at a vineyard picking grapes (actually you cut them at their stems with scissors) and then brought the grapes to a different area to make grape juice.  I'll admit that as I was watching all those hands mashing the grapes and looking at the bins my mind was wandering more to staph and pseudomonas than yummy beverage.  But I reflected on the whole organic--local--back to basics food movement that is going on right now in the US and decided that people would probably pay good money to have this  hands in the earth experience so I rolled up my sleeves and got in.  And even sipped a bit of the juice.  Pretty tasty actually--though it was not purple as my children thought it would be.

Next we went on a tour of a Roman built underground water tunnel system.  Wow talk about glad not to have been a Roman underground tunnel builder.  The water was up to my thighs and it is pitch black.  We didn't have a flashlight but others did and you really couldn't make it through without them.  Disney doesn't hold a candle to those tunnels.  The kids had a blast and as soon as they were out headed right back to go in a second time.

We ended the day at the Mall in Modi'in eating Kosher McDonalds on a rooftop Sukkah where Michael and some of the other diners got into the finer halachic (Jewish law) details about wh ether or not this was in fact  a Kosher Sukkah (properly constructed) and one of the diners came back with string so that he could fix it to his liking.  This I am certain could only happen in Israel.

Day three we spent the morning in Park Ayalon with a dear (and very patient friend).   This is another of Israel's national parks and is quite lovely.  Rows of fig and olive trees with little walking paths and fish ponds etc.  After feeding some fish and rock climbing we had a picnic and then a huge caravan of people showed up.   We had brought our pop-up Sukkah with us and it was quite the conversation starter.  People kept coming over to ask what it was and where in the world had we bought it.  In spite of the total fun party atmosphere our kids had enough so we hopped over to Yad La-Shiryon which I believe is officially Israel's memorial site for fallen members of the armored corps but is an absolutely spectacular tanks museum.  Three whining kids perked up fast and we stayed until they closed.  There are dozens of tanks to explore and an observation deck with amazing views and tons of history.  We just barely scratched the surface in our three hours there.

At the entrance to the tank museum there was a soldier and as we were entering Nehemiah said to him that his only hope was that Moshiach didn't come before he was able to serve in the army (rough translation--I hope world peace isn't achieved before I have my army service).  There is so much to unwrap in that statement but I am starting with the fact that my son who was previously telling people that he is on the first plane back when he turns 18 is now staying at least long enough to do the army.   Also, when we climbed the stairs to the observation deck we saw a small group of hippie type religious people sitting around with a guitar.  I got excited thinking we would get a little Sukkot kumzits (a spiritual type sing along) so I got a bit closer and they started singing "Hotel California".    Not really what I was expecting but even stranger is that recently the Eagles Hotel California album has been the soundtrack for our lives (this I will have to explain in another post).

Day four we headed towards Jerusalem to yet another national park (great thing about living in a small country is you get to see a lot in a short time) Castel park.   Those Romans were at it again this time with a fortress that was redone by the crusaders.  It is a child's dream visit.  There is a huge fortress on a hilltop with all sort of trenches and passageways.   There is so much history at that one spot but mostly we just had fun playing with our kids and letting their imaginations run wild.  The views are unbelievable and if I had any clue as to Israeli geography I might have even known what I was looking at but I don't think I could have enjoyed it more for knowing.  We stopped for lunch just outside of the park and met a family that had emigrated to Rehovot (town we live outside of) 17 years ago.  This was fantastic because their son who was in 5th grade 17 years ago, told Nehemiah that he remembered in detail how absolutely awful it was that first year when he didn't understand anything or speak the language but how now he loved Israel and couldn't think of anywhere else as home.  The mom (who turned out to be an English teacher) told us that she used to keep her kids home from school every couple of weeks for mental health days b/c it is so frustrating for them to be in a foreign language school environment all day.  That is advice we will probably be taking.

Yesterday we went back to the beach.  Friends called last minute to invite us for the holiday lunch which freed us up from cooking, we got a bit of take out for the holiday dinner and headed out.  I can not overstate  how incredible it is to be so close to the water.  While playing in the sand I suggested we write our names in the sand and let the tide wash them away.  I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Lital write her name in the sand in Hebrew.  We got back home in time for a lovely holiday in Mazkeret and we have one more day until we go back to real life.