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Friday, October 25, 2013

Hannukah is not the only miracle

Let us begin with a poem:

There is sand in your hair
There is sand in your toes
There is sand on the floor
There is sand in your nose

There is sand everywhere

There is sand on the ground
There is sand all around
There is sand on the stair
Gotta spread it around if we want to be fair

There is sand everywhere

I dedicate my poem to all families of children in Gan in Israel.  I am only slightly exaggerating when I tell you that when Ariella comes home from Kindergarten I pour a quarter cup's worth of sand out of her shoes. There are 34 children in her class so you do the math.  I have no idea how the playground still has sand after two months of school!  In honor of the upcoming Hannukah holiday I will compare it to the miracle of lights.  These kids are schlepping home 3 gallons of sand every week and yet the sand lot is still full.

And whether you empty the sand from their shoes before you enter the house, after you enter the house, in the little trash that exists in every meeting room where kids have to take off their shoes, no matter.  You will always find more sand.

Fortunately for us, after kindergarten the sand lot disappears so this should be our last year of sand in our hair.

Meanwhile, this week we had municipal elections.  Politics in Modiin seem quite friendly from where I'm standing.  There are a few cities that had very difficult elections and the campaign tactics were beyond the pale.  Unfortunately, in one city the scare tactics used were successful enough that the minority faction trying to control the majority was successful in electing their mayor who did nothing to help lessen (and maybe even worsened) the very high tensions in the city.  Ick.  But here in Modiin things were good.  My father joked that I am so happy here I should run for city council.  I actually don't know about city council in U.S. cities but here it is an unpaid position and it has been rewarding to see all the different candidates with incredible ideas and thousands of volunteer hours spent dedicated to this city.  One of the campaign posters in our neighborhood was in English, and I noticed when I went to Ramla to get my polio shot (actually had to drive on Dr. Salk street to get there!) that there were many signs in Arabic.

Lital learned from one of her good friends who is from Australia that if you don't vote in Australia you get fined.  She also told Lital that voting happens on Shabbat.  Though I've previously mentioned how amazing the "children's information network" can be I usually double check things that I hear from 8 year olds so I asked some of the Australians in my ulpan.  Turns out it's true.  It's about $300 per person if you don't vote.  Apparently, you can go in and draw a smiley face on the ballot if you are so inclined, just so long as they check your name off.  It was described to me as "You will be free and participate in your freedom, wether you want to or not".  Also, they do vote on Saturday but you can turn your ballot in early.

This  Shabbat we have a special visitor, our friend Hannah who made aliyah this past summer.  Our families have been the types of friends that merge into family so it is only fitting that now Hannah has become like our niece/cousin some type of family here.  Especially great for our kids to feel connected. Hannah is super fantastic but one really great thing about her---she likes to sponga!  Sponga is the process of mopping your floor clean.   I've already talked about the sand...

One of our neighbors told us that they've started looking forward to Ariella's nightly courtyard fashion shows.  She loves to dress up in costume and parade around the courtyard.  They were impressed with how many costumes she has.  Truthfully she doesn't have so many it's just that her combos aren't always the most self evident.  Not everyone does "bridal ninja" or "Super Snow White" and trust me, no one does strung out pirate as well as she does (no costume necessary).

So far treadmill desk off to a good start.  26 KM during the first week, and counting.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Technical difficulties

The post I wrote last night about the Wizard of Oz Museum disappeared today.  I was able to cut and paste (thanks to my most loyal reader---Mom!)  Any bloggers out there that can explain what might have happened.  A friend even commented but since the post disappeared her comment is no longer attached to an actual page so I couldn't actively reply.  Ideas?  Anyone?  Bueller?

Follow the yellow brick road...but bring your wallet

I started my new ulpan today.  It seems like it will be a really great class.   For starters it's less than 10 minutes away.  That beats taking two buses and 3+ hours of round trip travel any day of the week.  Looking back I can't believe I did that for last year's ulpan.  This time the make-up of the student body is also pretty different.  I'm in a bit of a comparing mood because we spent much of the morning learning comparison words.   I learned that while my apartment in Israel is much smaller than my house in the U.S. that is not true for everyone in the class.   The folks from Paris said that 800 square meters is considered a large apartment and could be yours for a couple of million dollars in Paris.  Though I also learned from them that if you are Jewish you would not want to live in Paris right now unless you like being afraid all of the time.  When we told people in Kansas that we were moving to Israel we often got "but is it safe?" type of questions.   The French students said that the children in France only feel safe once they get to Israel. 

The rest of my class is from different parts of the U.S.---including a retired surgeon who after 50 years of dreaming about aliyah finally did it!,  England, Australia, Mexico, Belgium and two women from Russia.  One of the Russian women, upon learning that I was from Kansas started to tell me all about how popular "Dorothy" is in Russia (where apparently she is known as Elly).  When she asked me if I had been to the "Dorothy museum" in Kansas I was torn between making up a really great story for this woman and shattering her illusions about the midwest.  Her face fell when I broke the news that we didn't have such a museum in Kansas City.  I suggested speaking to someone from a place called Hollywood, California.  Of course, when I got home and told Michael about this, he used his special Google power and discovered that while there is no such museum in Kansas City, there is, in fact, a special museumdedicated to all things Oz in Wamego, Kansas, several hours away.  It seems that not only did I crush the dreams of my fellow student, but I did so needlessly.  I think even if I tell her, she will never fully recover the magic.

I am hoping to improve my vocabulary and general Hebrew ability.  I can still feel the sting from a couple of weeks ago when it was "aleph" day at Ariella's kindergarten.  Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and she was supposed to bring something in that started with the letter aleph.  Well didn't all those kids with "arnaks (wallet)" "avatiach"(watermelons) and even a real "arnevet" (yes, a rabbit that stayed all day in the class) look smug.  I sent Ariella with an "iparon (pencil)" which I now know starts with an ayin and not an aleph.  Sort of like sending your kid with a Kite on "Letter C" day.  Not gonna impress too many people that way.  But not to worry, I returned with an "agas--pear" so all was copacetic.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Little pieces of paper

The other day, during the pre-Shabbat clear-away-the-scattered-junk-fest, Michael stumbled upon a plastic bag full of little notes, on each of which Nehemiah had written his name.   Michael asked what they were, and Nehemiah answered that they were good behavior notes-- notes that the teachers give to the students as a reward for said behavior.  Whoever has the most at the end of the year, Nehemiah explained, gets a very big prize.

"Wow," Michael responded, "Have you gotten any recently?"  Nehemiah answered, "No, the teacher stopped giving them out a few weeks ago."  Then, Nehemiah continued: "The only way to get more of the notes now is by gambling."

Yes, you read it correctly.  In typical fashion, this enterprising group of fifth graders realized that since the notes can be converted into valuable goods, that they are effectively a form of currency.  Look out, Bitcoin, there's a new currency in town!

And of course, once the demand for the good behavior notes cannot be met because of the dry-up in the supply chain, a gambling market sprung up enabling the notes to continue to circulate.

It makes sense.  Unless, as one friend of ours pointed out, the reason the supply of notes dried up was because the teacher simply forgot about it or decided to quietly end the program.  I don't even know how economists would describe what would happen to the little 5th grade economy when the currency loses all of its value.  

Anyway, speaking of numbers games, it is a good thing that L likes math because she has a great deal of math homework, made more challenging by virtue of its Hebrew presentation.  And before you start rolling your eyes and thinking, "how different can math be?"  try doing long division backwards yourself.

And naturally, since I set up a home study program for Hebrew with my easy newspaper and found a partner to practice conversational Hebrew with, the ulpan has decided to let me join.  I suppose I'll never know why they had a change of heart but my guess is the phone call I made to the government branch that advocates for immigrants.  Anyway, even though they will be making a space for me they can't let me start the class just yet because that would be too obvious.  There are many adjectives one could use to describe this process but "obvious" would not be one of them.

The most exciting news of the week is the arrival of Michael's treadmill desk.  Yes readers, we are that cutting edge.  Hats off to Michael who did all the research (this article is interesting) and then found the one Israeli company that makes the treadmill desk.  A few months ago as part of his health revolution M started the couch to 5k program and now he is running 5k a few days a week.  He and a friend are hoping to train for a 10k race in the spring.  I will keep you posted how the desk fits into the overall health picture.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Iron lung

There's a joke that makes the rounds which recent experiences have brought to life.   First, the joke:

An American, a Chinese, a Russian and an Israeli are all loitering on the street corner when a reporter comes up to them and asks, "Excuse me, what is your opinion about the meat shortage?"

First, the Russian asks, "What's an opinion?"
Then the Chinese inquires, "What's meat?"
The American follows up with, "What's a shortage?"
Then the Israeli queries, "What's 'excuse me'?"

Now, we have found that the "What's 'excuse me'" is an untrue stereotype.  Israelis are actually quite warm, and not lacking in courtesy and care (though social mores are sometimes different from the U.S., in both directions).

However, we never fully understood the American part, "What's a shortage?", until we got to Israel.   Lesson number one was the Fiber One shortage.  Now, to the best of our knowledge, there is a Fiber One plant in Israel.   But one fine day several months ago, no Fiber One on the supermarket shelves.  Anywhere.  Michael asked the manager of one of the big stores, and he said "There's a shortage from the factory.  There is no Fiber One in Israel until the shortage ends."

We scratched our heads (was the Fiber One factory under siege?  On strike?) and gloomily substituted Frosted Flakes (or Frosties, as they call them in England and Israel) for our healthful Fiber One until the five week shortage finally broke.

Then, of course, was the Bran Flakes shortage.  You must understand that Israelis love Bran Flakes.  There are something like twenty different varieties.  But one day, this Israeli staple had disappeared until-- the (choose one) strike/siege/extended factory vacation ended.

More recently (and still ongoing, though there are rumors of an end) has been the great brown sugar shortage of 5773-5774 (or 2013).  One day I sent Michael to the store with brown sugar on the list, and he came back with "golden sugar," subtitled "brown sugar with a fine taste."  Let me tell you that golden sugar is brown sugar only if you define brown as "not white."  No offense to golden sugar, but the color is not brown.  The texture is not the same.  It doesn't taste the same.

The other day, Michael discovered that the brown sugar shortage has been going on for about a month, and appears to be nation-wide.   I wonder whether this one is not an Israeli thing, but is connected to the giant molasses spill near Hawaii a month ago.  Oy.

In other news, almost overnight the weather here has changed.  Now mornings are cool and evenings are (according to Michael the perfect temperature) a bit chilly.  Air conditionings have been switched off but I think the hot water heater may need to be turned on soon.  The hot water heater is solar powered.  It actually feels like fall but without the pretty colored leaves that we used to see.  Granted those leaves would end up on your lawn and it was the work of Sisyphus trying to keep the lawn clear.

Meanwhile, I previously mentioned that my "observation period" in the ED had been delayed.  I should clarify a bit.  There is something of a physician shortage here and one of the initiatives underwork is that North American doctors are sort of "fast tracked" to start working.  I won't rehash the difficulties I personally faced having to obtain my license from the North American state of Kansas (apparently not as well recognized as Dorothy and Toto would like to think!) but now in order to get my "specialty recognition" I need to be observed for 3 months in the ED.  Three months is considered the minimum amount of time required and is generally granted to those who are board certified in their field in North America.  It's not a lot of time especially considering that in the reverse, physicians moving to the U.S. generally have to do their entire training over.  However, the observation period does have to be consecutive and I just learned last week that I have to give proof of my childhood immunizations.  If I'm out in left field, someone please let me know, but I don't have my immunization records.  Granted, I was born in a time when parents remembered what the different diseases looked like and were afraid and wanted to protect their children and so we all got vaccinated.  But the proving of it is going to entail several stops at different health clinics in different cities in Israel.  I must:  1) Get my blood drawn for antibodies to prove that I did receive certain shots 2) For the shots that can't be proven via lab go to the ministry of health and get boosters.  Not sure if you would call 15 months the "fast track" but here I am.  So I'm not taking it on the chin, I'm taking it in the upper arm--a few times!

While we're on the subject of vaccinations, there was polio found in a water source in Israel and so it was recommended that all children under age 10 receive the live vaccine.  (The age cutoff is calculated based on the time period that live vaccine was stopped and assumptions about hand washing---polio being spread via the oral-fecal route).   The majority of parents seem to have complied but there are quite a few that can't decide.  I am not sure when the anti-vaccination campaign got so strong but it's just so ironic to me that the parents who are so against it would have been the same group to receive the live vaccine when they were kids because that's what they were using both in Israel and the U.S. until the early 2000's.

Anyway, since I'm mostly spending my time driving around getting needles in the arm, I decided I should take another ulpan (Hebrew course).  So, I contacted my local ulpan (joy= we live in a city with an ulpan!) showed up today as instructed and was promptly told they had no space for me (oy= the ulpan is full).  Sort of ironic because the woman at the hospital who put the final touches on my paperwork (that will now take 6 weeks to process) repeatedly told me that I needed to work on my Hebrew.   Well geez people, I'm trying.  She was actually quite opinionated on the subject---maybe I could get her to call the head of the ulpan here and pull a few strings.  So now the coordinator of my ulpan last year is sending proof to this ulpan that I actually didn't receive all the hours I am entitled to as an immigrant and this apparently will create a space for me in the class.

And on the home front, classes have started in our own little ulpan.  Apparently, convinced that Michael and I have been derelect in our duties to teach Ariella English, Lital has started a homeschool of sorts.  It sort of reminds me of Sarah and Scott G. back in the day.  She has set up a homeroom in Michael's office, complete with workbooks, worksheets and a curriculum (my favorites being "Computer Tusday"--hopefully that's not just them watching funny youtube videos and "Sport Wensday"---hey it's important to know how to say "not fair it was my turn" in English).  To make the special school truly authentic, Lital even gave herself a day off each week, as Israeli teachers work five days a week, even though the children are in school for six.  (Figure out those schoolhouse logistics!)

Let me end by re-visiting my upcoming vaccination schedule.  If you have plans to be at the Department of Health in Ramla on the third Wednesday of the month between 7:15 and 7:40, I will see you there!