Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shana Tova!

Our first official pomegranate, rimon, in Israel! We paid for this one at the grocery, but they're growing all over Modi'in.

Ulpan was really hard this week. And we had lots of homework. And lots of things to do during the week, after ulpan. So no posts. Sorry.

However, I have been taken lots of pictures of all the beautiful flowers in our neighbourhood. Okay, not all; there are far too many. I've just gotten a snippet of what's here, and posted them to my Facebook. But you can enjoy them even without a Facebook account. Just click here.

Here's a taste:

We are off to spend Rosh Hashana with Aunt Shirley in Haifa. Because we can. And because she invited Maimo, too. Maimo's first train ride!

Wishing everyone a Shana Tova, may you have a year filled with health, happiness, success and joyous occasions!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Heinz Catch-up

One of the beautiful things about living in Israel is proximity to so much family. Definitely not the case in Vancouver. Turns out, cousin Michal works in Modi'in once a week in the evening, so last night she came over for dinner. We plan on making this a fairly regular occurence. Because of the *grumble grumble* bus system, when she comes over, she can't stay later than 9pm. However, we had such a great visit last night, that I'll take frequent hour/hour and a half visits over nothing!

Now if we can just get the other kids cousins here.

In other news, Monday night we went to an English panel of the candidates for mayor of Modi'in. It was very interesting to witness the wheels of the political machine in Israel, and realize that politics are the same all over: Take everything every candidate says with a grain of salt, and wonder what they really mean. Although we discovered we aren't yet eligible to vote (the criteria is, you must be a resident for 6 months as of some day in October 2008. I ask you, why not just make the criteria that you must be a resident as of March 2008? Now that is very Israeli!), it was a very interesting evening, and we were very grateful for the opportunity to hear the candidates in English. Please G-d, by the next election, we'll understand their platforms in Hebrew.

In other other news, I went on a supermarket tour this afternoon! Why a supermarket tour? Because I have (half) jokingly said that that we run the risk of buying oven cleaner every time we search for fabric softener. Think about it - you go to the market to buy meat, you know what shortribs are, you know what a rib roast is. What's the Israeli equivalent? How do you say "low fat" in Hebrew? What are all the kinds of fish? What is that weird green fuzzy thing in the fruit section? Where's the buttermilk?? Elana Kideckel runs a wonderful market tour called "Supermarket Savvy" that answers these questions and more! She also includes some basic nutritional information, and includes a booklet with translations of important words, like "fat" "sodium" "cholesterol." It was so helpful, and I feel so much more comfortable with what I'm buying. And I had a couple of important questions answered - I can't have aspartame or sorbitol, very common sweetener additives. The Hebrew for aspartame and sorbitol is:

Aspartame and sorbitol.

I also met a neighbour on the tour! Although, she'll be moving to another neighbourhood soon. If you're reading this and you live in central Israel, contact Elana for a tour! It's worth it.

And to add icing on the cake, while waiting for the bus to take me to the supermarket for the tour, 5 different people stopped and asked for information - directions, where is such-and-such a street, when does the bus come, where does the bus go - and I was able to answer all of them in Hebrew AND respond to a joke the gentleman waiting with me made about all the requests for information ("Modi'in" - the name of our town means information!).

All in all, a very good day.

Next on the calendar: will our mattresses arrive tomorrow?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Shameless self-promotion

Welcome to the new readers who have found us through! We hope you enjoy the show.

For our existing readers who aren't on Facebook, and thus haven't seen my shameless self-promotion there, I had an article published on Please to visit and read! And hopefully, ponder.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Everything happens for a reason

So we struggled with finding the right tool with which to place our mezuzot. We found a double-sided tape, and if you recall, all the mezuzot fell off.

It took a few days to find the tape we really wanted, the one we felt would be more effective before we let the salesperson misdirect us. Then it took us a few days to find out if we need to say the blessings again when re-affixing our mezuzot (the answer is yes, by the way). We got the new tape 2 days ago, got the answer to the blessing question this afternoon.

For the past few weeks, my sister has given me the blessing of Chesed by helping her with the editing of a local Rabbi`s weekly Divrei Torah (words of Torah). While in the processing of researching a particular source - Tanchumah - I find a link to a reference on the website. I click on the link and the page opens to...

an article entitled "Mezuzah on the Door."

What do you think the message is?

We're putting up our mezuzot tonight.


We live near the Green Line, and because of the placement of Highay 443, pass through a checkpoint every time we go to Jerusalem. Checkpoints aren't all the same. This one controls entry onto a highway restricted to vehicles with Israeli licence plates. There are many who believe that these roads are, in fact, racist. Nothing could be further from the truth, as any of the Arab bus drivers who regularly take us to jerusalem could tell you. But, these security measures are a necessity. Critics conveniently forget similar restrictions in other countries.

Case in point: the US response to the attack on September 11, 2001.

There were not only roadblocks set up around DC, all air traffic was rerouted away from the US, and even crossing the border by vehicle was temporarily stopped. It was only after many hours that traffic started to move again. I happened to be flying to the US two days later; the trip, which would normally take 4 hours, took 24 hours because of increased security. If the US was being attacked at the rate Israel has sustained shootings and bombings over the years, I would expect entry into America to be damn near impossible.

While real, these restrictions within and out of the territories are the direct result of terrorism. When Israel acquired the West Bank and Gaza, traffic to and from was relatively easy. I crossed the border in 1978 in minutes and there were no checkpoints anywhere. We visited Bethlehem, Jericho and Hebron and were welcomed (they wanted our tourist money, of course.)

And y'know, for all the bitching about the security fence (or whatever you want to call it), 10 years ago both Israelis AND Palestinians wanted more separation. A poll conducted in 1998 found 81 percent of the Israeli respondents and 63 percent of the Palestinians interviewed support(ed) a closed border. More importantly, both Israelis and Palestinians -- 77 percent and 65 percent, respectively -- said relations between the two peoples should be intensified in order to build support for peace. Ironically, one of the loudest opponents of a separation fence was Ariel Sharon, who was set against establishing any line that could be construed as a border.

Although living in Modi'in feels a little like being in the suburbs, we don't ever forget that we're also on the front lines.


crossposted to

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Pleased to make your refrigerator

Everyone who has tried to learn another language has their major gaffe story. My favourite came from one of the aliyah lists I'm on: A woman confused the word "mishcafayim" with "michnasayim." Mishcafayim means glasses. Michnasayim means pants. She told someone, "I didn't recognize you with your michnasayim on."


Mine today wasn't so bad. In Hebrew, there are two different words that mean "know." To know something is "yodea." To know someone is "makir."

And the word for refrigerator is "m'karer."

So, yes, I refrigerate him very well.

Monday, September 8, 2008

We interrupt these ramblings for a word of Torah

As we approach the end of our annual reading of Deuteronomy, I can't help but be thankful for the relative ease of our exodus to the Promised Land compared to our ancestors: Seriously, Manna from heaven! 40 years in the desert! The Golden Calf!

But did it really happen like that?

I don't mean to sound facetious here. The Exodus, and unfortunate wanderings that followed, are easy to dismiss as brilliant 'storytelling' and nothing more. And within the recorded story, there are certainly elements that demand interpretation. The Torah was meant to be read and re-read by each generation; more importantly, it was meant to be relevant and inspirational. Sometimes, it's not the literal words that accomplish these things but the dynamic between the text and our experiences and ability to comprehend. One of the things I love is the Jewish custom of re-reading Torah portions every year.

It never ceases to amaze me how time and again, a passage I've read dozens of times can suddenly leap out at me with profound meaning and clarity. Did the words change? Did the story change? Not at all. I changed. I grew through study and gained new experiences as I've aged.

Torah interpretation also allows each generation to apply contemporary values and beliefs to the understanding of the texts. A good example of this is the phrase, "An eye for an eye" (Exodus 21:24). The rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud, recording oral tradition going back at least centuries, could not believe that the phrase was ever meant to be understood literally; the notion was abhorrent then and now. It was clear that the text referred to monetary compensation because that understanding was consistent with their values.

Perhaps the understanding was different 3,500 years ago. Perhaps it will change in the future. Neither of which is as important as how the words are understood and applied to our lives today. Each generation is obligated to address the fundamental concerns and values of its time and to struggle with the parameters of necessary and permissible change. Deuteronomy itself insists upon this: we must rely on the judges/priests/leaders of our time "even if they say that right is left and left is right" (Sifre on Parashat Shoftim). And as we read in Parashat Nitzavim, "[Torah] is not in the heavens."

Did the Exodus really happen? Perhaps not exactly as described, but then the historicity of the Bible isn't as important as its relevance and meaning. The Bible isn't a history book, nor should it ever be reduced to such a mundane purpose. It's much deeper than that.

(crossposted to

Sunday, September 7, 2008

We learns the Hebrew

Okay, we confess: we cheated. We couldn't bear the thought of getting up before 6am to ride a bus full of little schoolkids to ulpan today. Starting ulpan was stressful enough. So we took a taxi. It wasn't bad, NIS* (₪) 38, and for some reason, the driver rounded it DOWN to ₪ 35. Yes, DOWN. Maybe he felt bad for us after we told him we were going to the primary school for ulpan (Hebrew school).

First the transportation good news. Someone offered us a lift home today, right to our door. Wonderful. There is another couple in our class who drive and live right near a bus line that goes to our house. It's also very walkable from their building. We'll beg talk to them tomorrow about possibly carpooling. The other bit of potentially good news is our neighbourhood #2 bus stops near stairs that lead up to Rehov (street) Reuven, where the ulpan is. We'd never know that from the schedule, and looking at the map, the bus stop looks too far from Reuven to walk easily. So tomorrow, we try the #2! One bus, one route, maybe 10 minutes or so of walking (or climbing, if you want to get technical).

Ulpan was good. It started out a little chaotic, but eventually the teachers broke the class into two groups. Then our instructor had each of us give our name and tell where we're from, where we live, if we have family here. All in Hebrew, of course. Then we all had to write our little stories. Same information, plus a sentence or two about what we do for work. That was fun. I write just fine, but I don't know how to spell anything. Hebrew is very logical, so I think it's a relatively easy language to learn, but spelling is a different story all together. There are so many ways to indicate the "ah" sound, two letters for "v", two letters for "k", two letters for "s", two letters for "t" - there are endless possibilities for some words! Somehow, the teacher understood my story.

At 10:30 she explained that would normally be our break time, but today, we could go home. Since everything is stone and marble, every sound echoes, so sometimes it's a little hard to hear. And even though our teacher promised to speak slowly, sometimes she would go too fast for me. And everything is "rak Ivrit" (only Hebrew), no English allowed. But we got through it. Ultimately, the only mishap of the day was trying to find the ladies room in the boys yeshiva. We had permission to use the bathroom in the administrative office, so I asked someone to show me where the "sherutim" (bathrooms) are. I went through the door I was shown and saw a sink and two completely enclosed stalls (which is typical here). There was a third door with a sign on it.

However, it wasn't until I came out of one of the enclosed stalls that I realized the sign on the third door said "nashim" (women). When I left through the main door, I looked back at it and saw the sign that said "gever/nashim" (men/women). Obviously, the two stalls were for the men. Weird setup. Thank G-d, no one came in while I was in the stall.

I wondered why the seat was up...

Tomorrow: the bus!

*NIS = Israeli New Shekel (₪), the currency here. Yes, it should be INS. But that has bad connotations to American immigrants.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Superstitious minds

It's a good thing that Jews aren't superstitious, and don't believe in omens*. Our doorframes are metal, so we bought some double-sided tape to hang all our mezuzot**. I thought we should get something thick and "poufy" (think 3M), but the store owner said the thin, double-sided mounting tape is stronger and better. It was even cheaper!

So we took his advice, bought the thin tape, and with great enthusiasm, said the blessing on hanging mezuzot and placed them on all our doorframes in our home (except the bathrooms).

And within a couple of hours, every single one fell off.

* Well, we're not supposed to, anyway. Poo poo poo, let me get my red bendel, k'nayn ahora, where's my chamsa?

**I don't know how to translate that. A mezuzah is a small, cigar-shaped box attached to the doorframe of a Jewish home, that contains a scroll. On the scroll is written a portion of the Torah, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21, that contains the words of the Sh'ma which observant Jews recite 3 times a day. The mezuzah is placed in keeping with the commandment in the Sh'ma to "place these words on the door of your house..."