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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dewey decimal and apple pie

The other day, L looked up from a book she was reading.  "Ima (mom in Hebrew), what's a root beer float?"

Two things struck me from that question.

First is one I have thought about many times in the last 3 years.  Why did I have my children call me "Ima" instead of mom??  Yes, it was convenient in Kansas when I was one of a handful, but here in Israel everyone is Ima, and how I wish I had had the foresight to be "mom" so that my child's cries could be distinguished to me from the crowd!

Second, how does my 10 year old daughter not know what a root beer float is?  What a completely different childhood they are having.  I described the drink to her and made a mental note to make sure we had some floats this summer.  As luck would have it, N was with me at the grocery store a few days later and as anyone with children knows, they might not be able to find the math book, milk container, second shoe or whatever item they need that is directly in front of them, but when it comes to sweets and treats they have eagle vision.  My little bird of prey quickly descended upon the cans of root beer that apparently have been before me this whole time (one of our local groceries stocks loads of US/UK products because of the local population) so we had them at home.

But as we approach the end of our third year, I see that my kids, though American, and being raised by American parents and living in the digital small world age are having such a different cultural childhood which of course is ever-present in religious life, but extends to food tastes, songs (it doesn't get cuter than your first grader belting out Hebrew classics!), TV, books etc.

Which brings me back around to reading.  I have tried hard to keep up with N's voracious appetite for books and was fortunate enough to discover a used book seller that ships internationally for free.  (I have no financial interest but they do great things:  betterworldbooks.com)  I have resisted joining the library here because I thought that the English section couldn't possibly be up to par.   And how I miss the library!  I have always loved reading and taken advantage of the wonderfulness of libraries.  Not just for fiction.  When I developed my interest in screenplays I learned to write them from books I checked out at the library (shout out to any film students that are readers:  I have a great script for you!)

But now here I am 3 years later with my Israeli children, and they are reading Hebrew books.  The tide is starting to change.  Only A reads in both languages at grade level.  It's funny because while our friends in America may have their kids in a Hebrew school a few hours a week, we have A in English school a few hours a week.  The teacher has been incredible and took these kids from barely recognizing their English letters to (most of them) reading at first grade level.  I imagine that the first graders in the America will surpass these little guys with time but being here has also taught me that so much of the educational process is fluid and flexible.  N and L essentially skipped an entire grade when they spent their first year in Israel without much in the way of assistance.  When they started their second school year it was in a language they were far from academically fluent in.  And yet, they're making it.  And so are all the other kids in similar positions.  OK, it's more challenging for them at times, and sometimes you have to cover some math basics that may have been missed here and there but they do it.

N recently finished his third novel in Hebrew.  Some have recommended getting books the kids have already read in English, but my kids aren't interested in "working" to read a book in Hebrew that they've already read.  Before Aliyah, our wise friend Frankie S. told us to just wait until there was a book that they could only get in Hebrew and they wanted to read.  It will happen, he sagely reassured.  And he was right.  A book that had been translated from French that was interesting and funny got N's attention and once he finished I think he realized "hey, I enjoyed that.  I'll try it again."-- and he did.  Two more novels, and now I realize that it's time to join the library.  Fortunately, there is a library in walking distance to us so N and L can even go on their own to get books and I hope this will open up the world of reading to them even more.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Benjamin Franklin and my adventure

And just when I start feeling as if things are falling into a routine, the tax man cometh.  Yes, yes: death and taxes.  We all know the saying.  But little did I know that when I did my 3 month observation period in the hospital last year that long after my certificate of specialty recognition arrived, I would be seeking another form.  What form?  The tofes 106.  OK so tofes just means form but doesn't it sound more sinister when I give it the foreign name??

Since we live in Israel but earn income in 3 countries (M works for a European firm) taxes are somewhat complicated-- but hey, it's a modern world.  Lots of folks do it.  Anyway, between the US and Israel we have to stay somewhat on our toes with the paperwork for the tax man.  It's always a relief when we can check (here we say "v") off that we've completed the taxes for both countries.  This year the one thing outstanding: my Tofes 106 from last year's 3 month "job."  I put the word job in quotes because it is less a job and more a mandatory period wherein a department chair at a hospital observes your practice for 3 months and (hopefully) signs off at the end that you are actually a specialist in the field that the paperwork you've brought with you from your country of origin says you are.  But it's not really a "job" because though you do have to go and work, they don't pay you.  But it's not a volunteer thing because you can't do it without getting paid (I asked when I was sitting around waiting for paperwork to be processed) so the Ministry of Absorption pays you.  It's a stipend, not a salary.  None of this really matters to the tax authority.  They just want the form.

I started by calling the Ministry of Absorption to see if they could send me the form.  The conversation, though a most excellent Hebrew lesson, was a bit circular.  It started with me introducing myself and my situation.  This was followed by the clerk acknowledging that I had indeed been paid by the Ministry of Absorption but she had no clue how to provide me with the Tofes 106.  Bogus.  It seems they can only give one to employees of the Ministry of Absorption which I clearly was not.  Instead, I worked for the hospital.  But the hospital didn't pay me.  She granted me that point but still we got nowhere.  Then she switched to English, though our barrier was not one of language.  She suggested I check their website.  The website?  She thought maybe I could find out how to get my form from the website.  When I pressed her for where on the website she thought the category of "received a stipend but am not a salaried worker and just need to get a form so I don't get in trouble but wasn't even enough money to get taxed" section might be, she said she really wasn't sure.  The situation after that conversation looked most egregious.

So, next stop was the hospital HR department.  They claim they are able and willing to produce a tofes 106 even though I didn't get paid by them, which would be a most triumphant conclusion to this saga.  However, if I'm not successful there I don't know who I will get in more trouble with:  the IRS (for failure to report earned income) or the Israel tax authority.  Hmmm, interesting new blog series:  life inside an Israeli prison.  Never mind, I can't imagine the paperwork, which would be most heinous.

Monday, April 27, 2015

When Oys mix with Joys

The excitement leading up to Yom Haatzmaut  (Independence Day) celebrations here is palpable.  Flags and banners start appearing all over and naturally the kids have much preparation at school.  In the week before though, we commemorate the Holocaust and remember the victims.  It's true that we have "won" in the sense that we, the next generations, are still here, but of course we also lost.  And we lost big.  And they don't pull any punches in teaching the children about it.   I was raised by the children of survivors, so the Holocaust was always present when I was growing up.  It was something of a family joke that we could depend on our father to mention Auschwitz or the Nazis at every family gathering, including the happy occasions.  He certainly never forgot.  But--and I could be wrong-- I don't think most of my friends had the same experience. 

On the other hand,  kids here start hearing about the Holocaust in Kindergarten through stories, but A learned things in first grade that made her cry.  I'm not arguing that she can conceptualize what happened, but really who can?  It's so horrifically unfathomable.  Growing up here it becomes part of their consciousness from earliest memories.  A week later is Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) for fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terror.  This day purposefully falls the day before Yom Haatzmaut.  I've heard some argue that it's not right to make such a sudden transition from such sadness to such joy, and that it hurts them to see the celebrations right after the commemoration for their loved ones, but I can see how it works to have it that way.  Memorial day is a very somber and hard day.  The whole nation marks it, with ceremonies, stores closing and two one-minute sirens where even cars pull over and the drivers get out, and everyone wherever you are, stops and bows their head.  It's a hard day for the nation.  It would be impossible to grow up here and not be aware of the sacrifice that others have made for our privilege.  A has been taking care of one of her dolls who was "shot" while in the Army and was "saved at the Army hospital" but now requires full time care.  It registers.

On Yom Haatzmaut I took the kids to a free festival about 25 minutes from our house.  Michael had to work so I teamed up with another mom whose husband was working.  But in the car it was just me and the kids, and about 12 minutes into our drive we passed through a check-point over the "infamous" green line.  In the weeks building up to Yom Haatzmaut, flags for your car appear out of nowhere.  So as we passed the checkpoint I started wondering if it was such a good idea to be driving along with an Israeli flag flying on my car.  Like a target.  I mean, we have Israeli license plates so it's not like we're driving through anonymously, but in the moment I started to feel nervous.  The kids are not immune.  It doesn't take them long to figure out that all the guards (in front of their school, entrance to the mall, entrance to parking lots etc.) are to "make sure bad guys with bombs don't come in".  So as I started discussing with them whether perhaps we should take the flag down while driving through this area, I lowered the window and the flag flew away.  I felt like a traitor, and then I noticed that every 10 kilometers or so there were soldiers standing on the hilltops.  Clearly there was a need.  N remarked "One day in a few years that will be me standing on the hill guarding our nation." To which L replied, "No N, we don't want you to die."  So was I wrong to want to take the flag down while driving in my own country?

Well, a couple of days later a close friend called to tell me about her Yom Haatzmaut.  They had been invited to join Israeli cousins on a guided tour near the Kotel (Western Wall).  The bus driver took a "wrong turn" into East Jerusalem, and as he tried to turn around to leave, several young children were positioned in the  road to block the bus and force it to stop, and then a group of men ambushed my friend's bus.  They attacked the bus with metal bars, smashing the windows and sending broken glass flying inside, and throwing rocks. 

I work hard not to divide the world into "us" and "them" for all of the obvious reasons, but how can "we" negotiate with people who purposefully put their small children in harm's way and want their children to witness this type of brutality?  Fortunately, the only physical injuries to the families on the bus were some facial lacerations, but the unseen marks were left.  Their young son kept screaming "why do they want to kill us?"  After a harrowing few minutes soldiers arrived and evacuated them.  If you're thinking that you didn't hear about it on the news because you're reading this from outside of Israel, it wasn't on our news either.  Not sure why.

It turns out the scariest part of the day for me was when we arrived and I had to park the car.  After almost 3 years, I'm completely down with makeshift parking lots.  It's often like going to a country fair and parking in fields.  What I wasn't prepared for was being asked to reverse into a spot that ended in a precipice with a sharp drop.  I don't have specific phobias, but since I respect a good incline and I prefer to drive forward, I refused.   No problem.  The guard told me to just drive to the end and "find something".  Fortunately, two soldiers were able to move a couple of plastic chairs that were in the place of a perfectly good parking spot and all was well.  The kids had a great time.  There were so many activities to do, but the kids did note the prevalence of men in street clothes carrying guns.  When you drive past huge red signs that tell you that it is illegal to enter and that if you do your life will be in danger, it should not come as a surprise that in the areas next door where you can turn in, you might need protection. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Are we there yet?

One of the questions my kids love to ask goes something like "Is Israel big enough that we can drive for 10 hours and still be in Israel?" or some variation on this theme.  I think it's part of how they try to wrap their heads around how big Israel is because we're always telling them that it's a small country.   My answer "It depends on who's driving."  And so it goes.  This year's Passover break was such a great time.   Our Seder was very kid friendly and the kids had so much to contribute.  The younger kids' reenactment of the Jews leaving Egypt, complete with Hanes t-shirts tied around their heads, was quite a hit.

Sunday morning we headed out with friends to the Negev, in the south of Israel.  Our destination, Machtesh Ramon, is a giant crater--like a Grand Canyon of Israel.   It was supposed to be a 2 hour drive to our camping site, but somehow it took us 5 hours to arrive.  You know how it goes-- a few bathroom breaks, a stop at the Kibbutz where Ben Gurion lived, the two-hour estimate didn't include the 3 miles on a non-paved road, which 3 miles themselves ate up half an hour of bumpy, 5mph driving. . . of course, it depends on who's driving.

Yes, we went camping in Israel.  In the bit of research I did to prepare, I discovered that actually what we did is referred to as "glamping."   Glamping is for those who want to pitch a tent, roast some marshmallows and stare in wonder at all that nature has to offer,  but still be able to use a clean toilet, take a hot shower and buy ice cream.  I learned a lot while camping in the Negev.  For one thing, the Negev is really, really hot--until the sun goes down.  Then it progressively gets really, really cold.  I also learned that the sky full of stars is beautiful and the surroundings can give such perspective.  Another lesson was that I really like sleeping in a bed.  The padding and everything under your sleeping bag sounds great in theory, but . . . 

Naturally, about 10 minutes after pitching our tent, N looked up and saw a kid from his school and about 10 minutes later, our downstairs neighbors walked over to say hi.   What a small world!

Interestingly, we met a couple from the Pacific Northwest who were visiting Israel for a month.  They were a bit shocked by some of the cultural differences between Israel and the US.  Israel was a much more intimate affair than what they were used to.  We tried explaining that during the week of Passover much of the country is on vacation, so it wasn't such a fair comparison, but they hadn't realized that tents would go up so close to one another and they missed the rangers going around and telling people to be quiet and people being silent until 10AM.   That would never fly here.  Ever.  What we experienced instead was a bunch of families camping out side by side.  All facets of Israeli life, religious and secular camping out together and everyone had a box of matzah.  A real spirit of nationhood.  At one point, our kids noted a mom leading a big group of kids in a game.  They ran over with their friends, and maybe because they were speaking to each other in English, she switched to English and asked them if they wanted her to explain the game.  The kids in both families replied to her in Hebrew that they knew the game and joined in the fun.  Times like that I can not only see the progress, but also appreciate that my children are growing up Israeli.   After our morning coffee we went to a nearby site for a desert archery class.  The fellow running the course was an Australian immigrant from twenty years ago.  He asked me what I did and I told him I was an ER doc but that I am working in the urgi-care here.  N joked, "she got demoted."  He replied that "Your mother came for love of country."  And in deed I do love Israel, and traveling around and seeing more only deepens the love.

The next day we picnicked at a National Park about 10 minutes from our house, with totally different topography.  Forests and greenery replaced rocks and sand.  But again, it's the whole nation out with frisbees, boom boxes, soccer balls, kites and matzah.  Israelis seem to have the picnic thing down.  I'm talking table cloths and full on meals including spices for the food--and this was Passover!

The next day we went to the movies.  During the first year of mourning, it is customary not to go to movies but since we were seeing a children's movie and it was in Hebrew I decided to go.  Movies in Israel represent to me a huge marker of progress.  In our first month in Israel we made the mistake of taking the kids to the movies.  Language did not occur to us.  We've since learned that kid's movies are (almost) always dubbed to Hebrew while adult movies just have subtitles.   Makes sense.  Young kids can't read.  Our kids were so mad during that first movie that they staged a semi-revolt.  Almost 3 years later they don't even ask, and a few weeks ago when Lital went to a movie with friends and I asked her if it had been in Hebrew or English it took her a few minutes to remember.  As for me, I understood most of the film.

Final day we went up North with some friends to a Kibbutz that built mazes out of nature.  It was so much fun.  Again, the environment was totally different, with everything in a varying shade of green. Families were on the lawn playing tennis, jumping rope, playing catch and the mazes were really challenging and fun.   We never quite figured out the last one and when it started to drizzle we took the easy way out. 

And by the way, Ben&Jerry's Charoset flavored ice cream was really good.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Happy Passover!

Quick clarification for an astute reader, L.T. who asked about Sephardic Jews eating kitniyot.  Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazic Jews share the same Jewish legal system and the bulk of ritual observance and practice looks the same.  Essentially the variances you will find between the two are similar to variances in regional cooking and to completely oversimplify for the blog, if the Jewish nation or parts of it takes on stringencies in their practice, these adopted customs can over time take on the significance of law.  So Jews from Ashkenaz about 1000 years ago stopped eating things that either were mixed in with grains or could be mistaken for grain in order to ensure that they didn't accidentally eat chametz (made from grain) on Pesach.  Over time this custom became obligatory.  The Jews from Sepharad (Spain, Northern Africa) never developed those customs.  Perhaps grains in their part of the world were stored differently.  I don't know. 

Speaking of kitniyot,  not one single reader asked what our rats would be eating over Passover.  I know.  I know.  Most people are trying to rid their homes of vermin and we are researching and seeking out Passover friendly options for ours.   And no, the rats aren't obligated to keep Passover but since we can't own or even benefit from Chametz (leavened products) the week of Passover we can't own Chametz containing rat food or care for our animals using Chametz (which is a type of our benefiting from it, since the food sustains our rats ).   And while there are loads of options for dogs, we weren't fortunate enough to find any for rats.   Fortunately, those Ashkenazic ancestors of ours never adopted a custom to treat kitniyot like actual Chametz, where you can't own or benefit from it.   The custom is just for us not to eat kitniyot, but ownership and benefit is a-o-k.  So guess who will be eating kitniyot in our house?  Yes, Oreo and Kitty.  

The week before Passover is school vacation.   It's my sense that teachers have a very strong union here.  A spent her week at a backyard camp.  I think she mostly enjoyed herself, but when I picked her up the first day she gave me an accusing look and asked "Did you know it would be kids in charge of kids?"  Welcome to Israel.  Its very commonplace here for 7th and 8th grade kids to host these little camps during school breaks.  Essentially, for less than half of what you might pay a babysitter, your child joins a small group and gets entertained by teens for the week.  It's the entrepreneurial spirit and really is a win-win for everyone.

I did a little backyard camp of my own in the form of two birthday parties.  Both N and L had birthdays and I planned parties in the park.  In the park, outside. . . what could go wrong?  That's right, it poured.  Fortunately, in the age of Whatsapp we had an easy reschedule for the next day.  I planned a scavenger hunt for Lital's party where they had to find clues and then make a puzzle out of the pieces they found out at each stop.  It was actually a lot of fun and let me tell you, I don't care how many ulpans you've taken.  You haven't experienced Hebrew until you have 20, ten-year old girls shouting out questions at the speed of light. 

Tonight we join friends for Seder and it feels good to be celebrating with the same friends we had Seder with last year.  This is the first time in 4 years we are in the same spot on Seder night.  These wandering Jews are finally finding a home.  We have great plans for the week of Passover, travelling around the country.  Hopefully I can give a little travelblog on the other side.  And yes, we do have a pint of the "Charoset" flavored Ben&Jerry's sitting in our freezer.  I'll let you know how that is too.

My parents shared second night (obligatory only outside of Israel) Seder with two of their closest friends for 40 years.  I know my dad's absence at the table will be felt strongly this year. 

Next year in Jerusalem.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Trash talk

And then there was Osher Ad.  Friends had been telling me about the place but I never seemed to have the opportunity to venture out.   Since they have one near the clinic where I work in Bet Shemesh, I decided to pop in after work.  I got a really good feeling when I arrived and saw a big sign of a man with a "Kirkland Signature" lapel saying he was new to Israel.  The day after my blog about how I'm schlepping all of this stuff from Costco across the ocean, I'm standing face to face with a greeter from Costco (well more face to likeness-painted-on-stone, of a greeter from Costco, but you get the idea) .  Only at Osher Ad, you don't need a membership card to get in.  I can't actually imagine the "pay to get in" model being successful here.  Paying to shop somewhere.  People would call you a friar ("sucker").

Right now the entire store is turned over and only selling Passover inventory.  You can get anything you might possibly need for Passover.  Heck, you can get things you don't need for Passover or never even thought of needing.  The overwhelming variety for what ultimately is a 7-day event is staggering.  And why keep it simple?  Between the two main ethnic groups of Jewish people,  Sephardim (let's say Jews with Spanish and North African origins) and Ashkenazim (mostly Jews with Eastern European origins) there are different customs on how much is prohibited on Passover.  We all agree no leavened products, but after that there is parting of ways (come on--Red Sea!).  Sephardim eat everything in the category of kitniyot (ie rice, corn, lentils and depending on who you ask, the list could go on).  This becomes important if you are used to just checking to see if something is "Kosher for Passover" in the U.S., because now you have to also check if it has kitniyot.  Osher Ad actually had the aisles divided for those who eat kitniyot and those who don't.  Pretty amazing.  The majority of Kosher keeping Jews in Israel are Sephardim, so those of us who follow Ashkenaz definitely have to pay attention.  For Sephardic Jews, I don't think Passover is quite as overhwhelming.  Their Passover day could be corn flakes for breakfast, rice and beans for lunch and chicken with hummous for dinner.   Granted, it would be a challenge to find those items Kosher for Passover outside of Israel (because there are often actual issues of chametz--leaven-- added to many products that otherwise wouldn't seem to have them) but here, no problem.  OK, no pita, but have you tried their soft matzah?  It's pretty darn close.  Seriously, who are the friars?

Before Purim, when you're out grocery shopping, you can start to see entire aisles getting cleared away, or whole freezer sections getting cleaned out.  Think of all the work we put into just cleaning our own kitchens, and then imagine that on the commercial scale.  Daunting, but they do it.  You can start seeing the Kosher for Passover stamp on items from several weeks ago.  Part of what's fun about going to actual grocery stores in Israel (vs. on-line shopping which is huge here and super convenient!) is watching the transition from one thing to the next.  They could have a TV game show where they send Israelis into stores and have them guess which holiday is coming up next just based on what's for sale at the main entrance to the store.  Actually, it's pretty easy to guess.  Every contestant would win. 

 So back to Osher Ad,  they had tons of stuff from Costco.  Once I put that blue box of plastic cutlery into my cart, I was unstoppable.  When I got to the shelves of Kirkland Signature trash bags, my heart simultaneously took flight and sank.  It made me think of my dad and how he just sort of smirked as my mom and I rearranged suitcases and carry-ons to fit just a few more trash bags.  If only we had known they were sitting on a shelf in Bet Shemesh this whole time.  Not to give the impression that Osher Ad is just like Costco (it is smaller).  It's not even close, but it was pretty cool.  I also happened to meet a famous Jewish food blogger who was there shopping.  Israel really is a small country!  As I was leaving the store the man who checks the receipt was smoking a cigarette.  I don't think the greeters at Costco are lighting up, but he did wish me a "Chag Sameach" (happy holiday). 

While we're on the subject of trash bags, ours having been going a lot further lately.  A few months ago our neighborhood introduced a new initiative to put "wet trash" (essentially food and paper, regardless of whether or not it's wet or dry) into a separate bin from the regular trash.  I know from friends in other neighborhoods of Modiin that they've been doing this for awhile, but it's new to our neighborhood.  One night a woman knocked at our door, gave us the bin and explained that we were running out of room for trash and it was everyone's duty to participate.  I asked her if it was mandatory and she explained that the Negev was filling up fast.  Now I am all for reduce, reuse, recycle.  My mom was doing it long before it was hip but I think she could have had a stronger selling point.  I mean, have you been to the Negev lately?  It looks pretty wide open.  All joking aside, it's a very worthy initiative.  We put our wet trash into plastic sacks from the grocery store and put the sacks into the "wet trash" bins the city provides.  This has reduced our regular trash take out significantly.   I was frankly shocked at what difference it makes.  It's also interesting to watch this develop in real time.  As I understand, they have a machine that empties the wet trash bins and rips open and separates the plastic bags so that the garbage can be composted.  This led me to wonder what we would use once the grocery stores phase out plastic bags which I have heard will likely happen in the next few years.  If we don't get these bags from our grocery shopping, will we have to buy bags?  What?  Buy bags to put in a trash can?  That's crazy talk.   Well, if it comes to that, I'm sure they'll sell them at Osher Ad.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Flying high

I am back from America.  On this last trip I was speaking to A one morning on the phone and mentioned that I had a surprise for her that she would get on my return.  "Can we just Face Time right now so that I can see what it is?" she asked me.  I told her I wanted to keep it as a surprise but I was amazed at how different the world looks to her.  One hundred years ago if someone were going to make the journey from Kansas to Haifa port it would be an arduous journey by boat.  (OK they had luxury cruising but I'm traveling coach).  Today my daughter just takes for granted that when we are separated by an ocean all she has to do is push a button to see me live.  And frankly, it's not "easy" getting from Tel Aviv to Kansas, but relative to 100 years ago it's practically like teleportation.  "Beam me over" USair.

It sometimes feels like I"m living parallel lives in my Israel life and my US life.  I have even started to recognize some of the other commuters.  Most of the airline staff is familiar to me.  I've mentioned before that I often meet other physicians making the commute, but on this last trip I met a group of engineers who spend two weeks out of each month working in Israel.  They're from Phoenix, and while I didn't specifically ask, it wasn't my sense that any of them were Jewish.  I couldn't help but imagine that parallel life.  A bunch of women in Phoenix (because frankly with the exception of me, one dentist and one pediatrician the majority of commuters I have met have been men) commiserating about their husbands who are off working in Israel.  And then the women of Modiin (and many other Anglo communities in Israel) saying goodbye to their husbands Sunday afternoon as they head out to America (or Europe).  Except the women here look forward to the suitcases of goodies that their husbands bring back.  Do these women in Phoenix hanker for the rugelach or Bamba that their husbands could bring?

Which brings me to another point of the commuter lifestyle:  My life as a mule.  In short, I bring things back that we either can't get in Israel (though that list is getting much smaller) or are cheaper.  Pretty much everything is cheaper.  Don't get me started on gasoline, because we all know I can't bring that back in my suitcase.  My kids are always torn between missing me and looking forward to their next delivery.  Let's take Shredded Wheat as an example.  Shredded wheat cereal in Israel is somewhere between $8-10/box.    I can get it for $3 in Kansas, so it's a $5-7 savings for every box I bring back.  Our new pet rats have to sleep on special shredded paper bedding that is about 1/3 of the cost.  Now clearly, I wouldn't fly across the ocean to pick up 50 lbs of merchandise, but since I'm already there working it only makes sense to fill my bags.  Fortunately, on this trip the gate agent was more interested in talking about Israeli politics than being particular about the scale, so he let an extra 2.26796185 kilos (aka 5 lbs)  go through.  My mom and I have a tight operation packing my bags.  I always land saying I don't really need anything this time, and then we find ourselves weighing and repacking multiple times before heading back to the airport.  Now, that woman knows how to pack! Lucky for me , they don't weigh your carry-on.  And now I know that a peanut butter sandwich is fine--just no tubs of peanut butter in your carry-on.  ("Never surrender" is my new motto!)  Now America is a big place, and if any of you are from the coasts, you are likely asking yourself right now, "Where in the world is she getting cereal for $3/box?"

Another thing I've noticed:  Things are expensive here, but the adjustment is much more noticeable for those of us coming from the Midwest than Americans living in larger, more expensive cities.  Who knows?  Maybe a businessman from LA who reads my blog* will fill his suitcase up next time he travels to Kansas.



*Someone has advised me to issue the following disclaimer:  Any representations made in this blog (hereinafter the "Blog") are not intended to be construed as a recommendation of any service, action(s) or course of action(s), product, TV dinner,  good, bad or lukewarm idea, or any other thing, as defined under the broadest definition available between US and Israeli law.  The Blog makes no representation as to the readership of the Blog or lack thereof, either in total or in its constituent parts, with regards to identification or description of either individuals or demographic trends.  Any resemblance of persons described herein to any other person, living or dead, real or fictional, is purely coincidental.   All rights reserved.  Gustabus non disputandum est.  (Thank you, Michael)




Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fickle Israeli voter

So I couldn't really let election day pass without a post.  It seems like just yesterday we were new citizens, voting in our first elections.  We were so excited and eager.  And maybe it seems like it was just yesterday because it was actually just two years ago that we were putting little slips in boxes.  This time around seems less exciting and more nerve wracking.  I have invested so much energy in trying to figure out who to vote for, and I still don't fully understand the system.  After elections coalitions have to be formed and it feels a little like guesswork because even if the guy you support makes it in he's going to have to find some friends to get any work done.  And who will those friends be?

So a month or two ago, we hosted a parlor meeting at our home with Yesh Atid, a centrist party that made its debut in 2013.  I thought a lot of what they had to say made sense and believe me there are so  many issues.  I mean just start with the price of cottage cheese and draw the lines to Sudanese refugees, civil rights for all citizens, cost of housing, left vs. right, non-working segment of the population, immigrants, socialized healthcare, mandatory military service.  I  mean why would you even want to run the country?  That makes everyone gunning for these positions  somewhat suspect to begin with!

The night of the meeting one of my children greeted the Yesh Atid Knesset member with "Hello.  My teacher said that Yair Lapid (the head of the party) is a bad man." (the indoctrination that is apparently taking place at the school was all the more shocking as the Minister of Education is a member of the Yesh Atid party that they were speaking against!)

 Now mind you, by the end of the evening  Yesh Atid had a new campaign volunteer (evidencing the ease with which a school aged child can be indoctrinated!)  Anyway, balancing all of the different issues I was really conflicted about who to vote for, when friends invited us to go for a hike on election day.  Yes, election day is a national holiday, prompting the joke "I'm going to vote for whichever party whose government will fall apart first and give us another day off."  When our friends mentioned the hike it was the first time that I looked at the actual date the elections will be held, and naturally I was already scheduled to work in the US.

Guess where in the world there is no absentee ballot?  If you guessed Israel, you win the perspicacity prize!  You have to be physically in the country to cast that little paper ballot (obviously there are exceptions for diplomats etc. and while I do appreciate that there are folks out there who enjoy my blog, I do not enjoy diplomatic status).  So no vote for me.   Though I suppose in July of 2012 when we flew across the ocean, we had already cast our ballot.  Or at least enabled me to vote in all the future elections.
(This post has been sitting waiting for me to re-edit it since Purim.  Alas, having shortly thereafter flown to the U.S.,  I haven't had time for editing, but I don't want to skip the Purim update before moving on to my election day post, so here's a never-before-seen "rough draft" version of a post):

Purim 2015 has come and gone.  This year we were a bit wiser.  The Purim story is from about 2500 years ago.  A man in Persia trying to wipe out the Jews.  How I wish that didn't have a familiar ring today.  After the Jews avoided destruction (thank you to one of our main Jewish heroines--Queen Esther) we took on some customs that continue to this day.  We listen to the Megillah (the Purim story) once at night and once during the day, we give money to the poor and give gift baskets to friends and having a festive meal on Purim day.  I don't know where the dressing up in costume comes from but that is also customary.  It makes for a lot of fun but I'm sure there are many parents out there who would back me up that it can also be a super stressful time.  Making and delivering the baskets, making sure you are on time for the Megillah reading, getting costumes together for the kids etc.  Oh and the day before is a fast day in which we remember the build up to the drama.

So sometimes I think of Megillah reading as the 45 most stressful minutes on the Jewish calendar.  The adults are starving, the kids are on sugar/costume/vacation high.  Fortunately, in Modiin we have so many Megillah readings to choose from that a lot of that stress has been removed because miss one and another is starting in 10 minutes.  You have your pick.  Dramatic reading, fast reading, women's reading, family reading, puppet show reading.  We got the variety.  Whatever you're looking for within reason.  But last year it felt like the day of Purim we spent a large chunk of time passing out gift baskets to friends.  This year, a friend organized a group to visit patients who are stuck in the hospital on Purim.  My father was very involved in visiting sick people in hospitals and he used to tell us that his father's favorite holiday was Purim.  So I felt a special connection to my dad during the visit.

The cool thing about going to a hospital in Israel on Jewish holidays is that it's the national holiday.  Much like Americans must feel if they gather to visit sick people on Christmas there is a festive spirit that you get to tap into that belong to you.  I think it was a great experience for the kids to see the people's faces light up and somehow my children ended up receiving a gift basket and costume that a different group was passing out.  Even though we explained that my kids were volunteering and were not patients they simply responded with "all the more reason to receive."  It was great.  A 3-piece band came through and did some singing and dancing and many visitors were in costtume so I think the patients and their families felt that they were not forgotten.  As were passing out our final goody bag/get well card a nurse came over and told us he didn't think the hospital was a good place for small children.   Bah humbug!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dancing with the stars

I should probably take the time to review my blog now and again.  I had completely forgotten last year when the month of Adar started we were introduced to the "Mishe Nichnas Adar" singing and dancing.  Last night just after we had finished dessert and were about to start a traditional Shabbat song we heard a knock at the door.  It doesn't happen all the time but it's not uncommon for a neighbor or friend to knock on our door on Shabbat with a medical problem.  Ariella usually greets them with "my mom is a doctor for emergencies so she can only help you if you're about to die."  Love to see her as a triage nurse one day.  But I digress. 

I was half expecting someone with a sore throat or stomach ache when the door opened and in came a bunch of kids in costume, singing and dancing.  Adar is here and the build up to Purim in this country is intense.  Anyway, it's sort of customary to give each kid a little treat but I was caught off guard.  Really, if you live here and especially if you have kids you always have to have some type treat in your cabinet because life here is always celebrating something or preparing to celebrate something.  The 5 days during the school year where they are not engaged in either of those must be the time where they learn math.  I still haven't figured it out. 

Anyway, my kids joined the group and returned an hour later with sandwich bags full of marshmallows and wafers and lots of great fun.  The Mishe dancing goes on all week so tomorrow I will head to the store so that I have something to hand out and an extra for my cabinet.

Today we were able to see Mars and Venus with our naked eyes.  How cool that no matter where in the world you are when you are reading this blog, we were all able to see that.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Rat race

One of the dreams I have for our family is to eventually own our own home in Israel.  (A dream that would have been much easier if the selling market of our old Kansas house had not, unfortunately been below the buying market from a few years earlier.  But that's okay, you take your opportunities and make worthwhile trade-offs).  I don't fantasize about a yard or covered parking because unless we set up a very successful crowdfunding campaign, we will be lucky to buy our current apartment which has neither.  Real estate in Israel is so expensive.  It's like the entire country is San Francisco or Manhattan.  The Upper East Side of Manhattan.  It's a funny thing if you stop and think about it.  Surrounded by hostile neighbors, held responsible for most of the world's problems, can't keep a government together, and yet buying a home is so expensive.  I probably should have paid more attention in my economics classes (hey Mala!) but I don't get it.  Anyway, I do dream of a place of our own where we can decide what we want to do and not worry about having to move again, but sometimes it's good to be a renter.

And when, you might find yourself asking, is it good to be a renter?  When your kids beg for a dog.  Now don't get me wrong.  I don't have anything against dogs.  I grew up with the world's loveliest Golden Retriever--Ruby Tuesday.  But some days it seems like our little human family of 5 has a very full plate, and if we had one more thing to take care of, Oy! (That's me justifying the blog title).  So I've kind of enjoyed our landlord's policy of no pets.  But darn if my wily kids didn't grab the landlord in person during a rare appearance, and wear the man down.  Finally, he agreed to allow caged pets.  Enter Kitty and Oreo.  The newest non-human members of our family.  Once we got the green light from our landlord, Michael started researching our pet options and his investigation led him to the conclusion that rats make amazing pets.  Yes Rats.  I actually became convinced.  They're so intelligent and friendly.  You can train them, you can love them.  And they will love you back. And they will use a litter box and come when called.

Once we were all in agreement that rats would make great pets (I say rats in the plural because like Lay's potato chips, you can't have just one--they get depressed and die without a companion), we got a little stuck in the practicalities.  I have no basis for comparison as I never tried to purchase a rat in the US, but here in Israel we couldn't find a pet store that sold rats.  When we called to inquire, they always agreed that rats do make excellent pets but no they didn't know where we could buy one.  How about a nice hamster?  My detective work led us to an animal menagerie outside of Rehovot that did in fact sell rats.  Mostly to people with pet snakes, but no matter.  We found them.

In retrospect, my interest may have been a touch more theoretical, which is probably why the actual going to get the rats happened during my last work trip.  Yes friends, while there was an ocean to separate us, my family bought pet rats.   To get to this animal menagerie you have to drive down a very long dirt road (I have since returned there to buy rat food!) and I mean a loooooong dirt road.  Two years of being here make it so normal to have to go off paved roads to find what you're looking for.  And if people are doing 3-point turns or  U-turns on that road--again, not a big deal.   But some dirt roads are longer, and more potentially frightening to someone who hopes their car will retain some value, than others.

My Bubbie's response when she heard we got pet rats:  "Most of the world is paying someone to rid their home of rats and you guys are paying to give them a home!?!?!?!"    Ha!  If she only knew.  Our rats have a hammock--homemade mazes, specialized food and a lot of love from 3 kids--who somehow can't be found when it's time to clean the cage.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Long time no see

Well it's certainly been some time.  It's not that I haven't thought about blogging, because I certainly have.  And frankly the immigrant experience is so ripe with material that nary a day goes by that I couldn't write something.  But, since my last post, my father died.  And while I know I was incredibly lucky to have a dad like mine,  the loss is so complete.  Of course I know that the natural end of the life cycle is death but the utter blackness that is the realization that you will never, not even once, not even a chance, not ever see the person again is so painful.  Though this is the oysandjoys blog (thanks again to my super creative friend Ilene for the title) I think I should focus more on the oys than the joys.   In that light, I offer  a few thoughts about my dad that are happy, especially since he wanted us to remember the good times and remember him as he was throughout his life, not as the cancer left him at the end.

I remember once on a car trip he engaged us for the better part of an hour with an incredible tale about a man he knew who was a spy.  By the end of the story we were begging and pleading with him to tell us who this amazing man was.  His reply.  "His name was Bond.  James Bond," followed by his ever infectious laugh.  My dad was the same person who told me at 8 years old that no one was really happy.  Happiness, he explained, was a Hollywood idea.  Those two stories might begin to illustrate a father who was always engaged with us, always interested in our lives and our friend's lives and in life itself.  I miss you dad.

Anyway, where to even begin?  Last summer we visited family in the US, and at some point I should probably write about the experience as seen through the eyes of my children, who probably didn't even remember the land that they missed and then re-experienced again as foreigners.  They met their cousin, Golda, for the first time and Ariella attached the Israeli "oush" so she became Goldoush.  They loved being with family and seeing old friends but I was relieved to see them eager to get on the flight home.  Home to Israel.  On the flight, N asked a few passengers if they were considering Aliyah. 
"You should do it," he told them.   "It's rough, but it's worth it!"

This morning we went to the Mesibat Siddur for all of the first graders at Ariella's school.  Last year I was so impressed with the show the Kindergarten class put on, but since the Kindergartens in Israel are free standing, hers was just a class of 35.   The entire first grade performs together so this was over 100 children.  It was like a Broadway show.  Costume changes, sets and lots of singing and dancing.  Think more big choral numbers rather than solo parts.  There was one sort of modern dance routine set to the theme song of Mission Impossible which I'll confess I might not be artistically sophisticated enough to have appreciated, but otherwise it was amazing!  At the end of the show, the Chief Rabbi of Israel came and shook the hand of each child.  I didn't even travel to Israel until I was 17 years old, but my 6 year old daughter has already met the Chief Rabbi. 

Watching A in first grade has really been interesting.  The other two are fluent in Hebrew but have not yet reached "academic fluency," (crazy as it seems--this is a 5-7 year process!) but A is truly bilingual.  It's amazing to see her read and write in both languages and actually understand what she's reading.  My hope had been to keep up with the first grade curriculum, but alas they have passed me.  My Hebrew has definitely improved, though.  I have come to realize that when we moved to Israel and I used to tell people that my Hebrew was bad, I was quite mistaken.  My Hebrew was essentially non-existent.  Now, after 2.5 years my Hebrew is bad.  What an improvement!  Even one of the kids' teachers noted a major difference in my ability to communicate.  In spite of my efforts, there still remains such a major gap.  Life without a firm grasp of the language is like living in a semi-constant state of confusion.  I might not be using salt in the dishwasher or cleaning the toilets with oven cleaner any more but I still have a long way to go. 

On that front, I have a new Hebrew conversation partner.  The idea is that she will improve her English and I will improve my Hebrew.  She grew up on a Kibbutz in the 80's, so she was one of those kids who grew up in a "kids' area" and not at home with her parents.  Fascinating. 

Anyway, so much more to write about.  Including elections, house pets, school events.  But for now just getting back to blogging.