Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's raining Macs

So we said goodbye to the Betty and while we were at the airport waiting for the El Al counter to open, we treated ourselves to kosher McDonald's. And it was a treat, because it cost just as much as a meal in a nice cafe. Yep, a Big Mac sets you back 40 shekel. Auoof.

But we figure, it's been many many years since we've had a Big Mac, and it will likely be a very long time before we have it again, so we'll spend the extra kesef. And it's not that Mickey-D's is a hot spot of ours, it's just that it's one of those things that everybody else gets to have, but we couldn't because it's not kosher. But here in Israel, there is kosher fast food. Yes, even people who keep kosher can now stuff themselves with saturated fats, trans fats and any other kind of fat you can think of. Exciting, eh? We had our hit of Mac, and now we're good.

In other news, when it rains in Israel, it rains! It's been raining nearly every day, and when it rains, it pours. Torrentially. It's really cool to watch, but it means clothing takes forever to dry, and in these stone/cinderblock houses built for the summers, things get cold very quickly with no sun. The temperature has actually only dropped 5 or 6 degrees (celcius), but with little sun, and nothing to retain the heat of the sun when it is out (big trees, grass, soil, insulated buildings), it feels right chilly.

Which meant today was the perfect day to go and pick up our new duvets, a housewarming present from Betty (thank you!). We're looking forward to being snuggly warm tonight, because we want to avoid turning on the (extremely expensive) heat as long as possible.

Ulpan started up again; it's nice to be getting back into a routine. Chol HaMoed is hard here. Have I said that? Have I mentioned how busy it is during the break, and how the break is really no break at all? Have I?

The next break is Chanukah. We're going to sleep and eat sufganiyot (donuts) the whole break.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


In Israel, Shmeni Atzeret and Simchat Torah are squished together into one holiday.

Thank G-d. I don't think I could handle another holiday.

Er, I mean, how wonderful to increase the joy of a holiday!

Today was very cool. I walked over an hour to the other side of town to the womens' tefillah group, where I read Torah with and for other women. It was a tremendous blessing to be leining (reading) the Torah, our holy words from G-d, in Israel, our holy land given to us by G-d. Yes, I got a little choked after the first reading (we read this portion of the Torah over and over again, until everyone has a chance to come up and make the blessing - or in the womens' case, a statement and request - over the reading).

There was much dancing, much singing and many introductions for me. I had been worried about Simchat Torah here in Israel, because it winds up being a men's festival. In the Orthodox community, women tend to get left out of Simchat Torah for reasons that would take more detail than I have energy to go into here. In Vancouver, we had a womens' reading every year, but in Israel, it's not very common. I certainly didn't expect it here in Modi'in. I'm so glad I was wrong. I had a kickin' Simchat Torah, topped off with lunch with one of our first new friends in Modi'in. And that was topped off by her father being in town visiting. Oscar was Gabbai at Schara Tzedeck in Vancouver, and it was fun catching up.

Next up: our first tiyyul!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Yeah, yeah, sorry we haven't posted in a long while. Chol HaMoed is reeeeaally busy around here! We foolishly thought we'd be getting a break, some time off to take care of some errands and chores and maybe finally get around to getting those bookshelves and cupboards we need to finally finish emptying the boxes.

Yeah. Um, not happening.

We have been having a lovely time, it's just been go go go! First there was Yom Kippur, then we had to buy s'chach (the roof for the succah), then we wound up having to buy succah walls, then we had to build the darn thing, then it was Succot and Pamela joined us. Then we were off to Jerusalem to see my Kaufman cousins, then a friend came to visit, then Morey's mum, Betty, arrived from Ottawa. So now we're off to Zichron Yaakov, then it's Simchat Torah (I am, b"H, reading Torah at a womens' tefillah group), then Wednesday we have a tiyyul (a trip, like a touristy kind of bus/group trip), then Thursday it's back to Ulpan.


I need a break from our break.

Meanwhile, we were thrilled to be able to go to the local home store and buy all our Succah supplies. Yep, at the local equivalent of Home Hardware. Sweet. And all the succahs!! So cool!

Enjoy some pics of Sukkahs! Although, I don't think I'd want to eat in the succah on the 4th floor that's balanced on scaffolding...

Morey on the roof making the roof.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Happy Holidays Part 2 of 4

It's erev Yom Kippur. I thought we'd take a break from all the eating to wish everyone a G'mar Chatima Tova.

May you have a meaningful fast, may the heavens open to receive your tefillot, and may you be sealed in the Book of Life for a good, joyous year.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Another reason why we're here

Speaking of G'mar Chatima Tova, here's another thing that makes me giddy like a schoolgirl to be living in Israel.

Back in Vancouver around this time of year, we'd be scrambling to explain to our bosses why we pretty much need off two days in a row every week for 5 weeks straight. Not to mention dealing with the nasty looks from co-workers who were thinking about all the summer vacation time we had just had. Not to mention chasing after city workers who were trimming trees so we could snag some schach. Or begging our neighbours to help us cut down our (and their) wild bamboo for schach. And having people stop and stare as we built a hut in the yard. Or the exhaustion of shopping, cooking, shopping, cooking, shopping, cooking.

Here, all those days off are national holidays. No one gives nasty looks, even though we've all had summer vacation time very recently. Here, they sell schach in front of the home store and at the mall. Here, people might stop and stare, but only in admiration for the elaborate decorations. There's still the shopping and cooking, but instead of having to make nearly everything from scratch, you can do a lot more shopping and a lot less cooking, if you choose. Everyone in Ulpan was talking about Yom Kippur and Sukkot, everyone has family coming (including us! Morey's mum is visiting. And hopefully bringing Scotch).

Even the supermarket had a bin of Sukkah decorations. They looked suspiciously like xmas tree decorations to me, but whatever.

And the topper to this all: the woman who rang us up/checked us out at the supermarket wished us a "G'mar Chatima Tovah" (which basically means, "May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for Good"). It's a normal fact of daily life.

I love it here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

יום הולדת שמח

Yom Huledet Sameach, Ayala!

Anachnu ohavim otach,
עליזה ומורי

I suppose we could have stayed in bed this morning*

Today after ulpan, we went to Yishpro Centre to buy sheets. We are currently using borrowed sheets (on our new mattresses!), which have to be returned for Sukkot. We finally had a free afternoon, so off we went. The journey started off on a good note, when we were offered a ride to the #6 bus stop, saving us a 10 minute walk, although this meant a 10 minute wait at the bus stop. But always: better a wait than a walk! We got to Yishpro, and on a whim, decided to check out Murphy's Irish Pub. Which is all the way on the other side of Yishpro (Yishpro is pretty big). And here's where things started to go downhill. We got all the way to the pub, only to discover it was closed. Poor Morey was so disappointed - the idea of pub food** and a beer?!

I was so disappointed, because we had to walk allllll the way back. After a quick lunch at Cuppa Joe, we went to the brand new supermarket, which was great. Morey shopped, I talked to Cigal on the phone. While Morey stood in line, I went to Home Centre to get the sheets. And here's where things continued to go downhill. In hindsight, this is where we should have just called a cab and gone home.

First, we maxed the credit card. I knew we were close, I just haven't had a chance to sit down and look at the statement online and make a payment. My bad. Morey ran to the caspomat (ATM) which was 30 seconds away and came back to find the kupai (checker) had started ringing up someone else. Who had a very very full cart. 1,121 shekel, 30 agarot and 25 minutes later, Morey was finally able to pay.

Thanks to the maxed out credit card, we weren`t able to buy sheets, which was the reason we went to Yishpro in the first place. So we wound up buying only lightbulbs, and a gas hose to replace the one we're borrowing for our stove. We also ran into one of our ulpan classmates while shopping. Simon's always great to chat with; he has such a sunny disposition. I've never seen him get frustrated over anything.

Off we go to the bus, and once again, I served as Modi'in (information) for the bus. I either look like a bus company employee, or like I take the bus a lot because I'm always being asked about the bus routes. And here's where everything really went downhill. We want to catch the connecting bus from the train station next to the mall that goes nearest our house because we're laden with bags and don't want to walk far. Except the #6, which picks up at the mall to go to Yishpro, doesn't drop off at the mall. So we wind up walking to the mall (which thankfully, wasn't too far, but still...), around the mall to the other side, to wait for the 1A.

The bus driver wasn't too effusive when we confirmed that he was a 1A (the drivers rarely remember to change their sign from '1' to '1A') and double-confirmed that he went to our street, but he did nod, which we took to be a yes. Except, when he got to our street, he went up the hill instead of down, taking us very far from our destination. We were the only people on the bus at that point, so we stopped the bus, then stood our ground about how he went the wrong way. He didn't argue with us, just put his head in his hands***, which made me feel really bad for him. I'm sure he had had a bad day, and just wanted to go home, which maybe is why he decided to skip our street. However, we had 7 heavy grocery bags, plus our heavy backpacks with our (oye) school books, which we were not going to shlep all the way down the hill.

He just sat there, so finally I asked him in Hebrew, were we just going to sit there all night? He asked where we wanted to go, and we told him, and told him again that the way he went was not correct. He finally closed the door to the bus and started moving, and I asked him where he was going. He said, "L'baita, l'baita" (to your home, to your home). And he drove us to our stop. We conducted this whole exchange in Hebrew, and we were successful! Yay us! I just wish I knew how to say, "I'm sorry you're having such a bad day, and I hope it's better tomorrow." Instead I thanked him very profusely, and hopefully gently, and wished him a "G'mar chatima tova" which is the usual greeting for the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It basically means, "May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for Good." I truly wish for him a better day.

Meanwhile, while basking in our foreign language success, we got home to realize we were overcharged by one shekel for our stuffed grape leaves (thank you Leah for translating!), and our sparkling wine for Shabbat was not in any of the bags. But it most certainly was on the receipt. And somehow, we lost the box of Earl Grey tea I put in the cart, which was not on the receipt. And last but not least, when I took out one of the lightbulb boxes from the bag, it had a suspicious tinkly sound. Guess we get to do all of this again tomorrow....

* We should have known something was up: we missed our bus to ulpan this morning.
** We have since discovered they're probably not kosher, so maybe it's no great loss, anyway. Still, a beer would have been nice.
*** Like Moshe in Parshat Korach when Korach confronts Moshe about who made him a leader, anyway? and King David in Tachanun. Don't know if the bus driver's a great leader, but it's a recurring theme in Jewish texts - when leaders (a bus driver leads his passengers, no?) are questioned when they themselves question their own leadership, they put their heads in their hands.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Happy Holidays!

We're now in the midst of the holiday season in Israel. Strangely for us, it all seems to be sort of low key around here. Let me 'splain. Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur/Sukkot/Simchat Torah-Shmeni Atzeret are huge holidays. Everyone is off for RH, the entire country closes down for YK, and rumour has it that parking lots and open courtyards all over are filled with sukkahs (um, huts basically) for sale, along with all the things that go along with sukkahs (apparently, what in North America we would call xmas lights are very popular for sukkahs here). And nearly everyone is off for holidays for Chol HaMoed (the days between Sukkot and Simchat Torah).

There are sales in the markets, and signs for classes and services everywhere, but what's different is there isn't that frantic feeling of "getting everything taken care of in time" that I always felt in Vancouver. It's probably because we don't have to worry about the stores running out of kosher food! Or buying tickets for services. Here, you pay your membership fee before Rosh Hashana, and that's your "seat." But if you don't pay a membership fee, you can still go to services. Pretty much anywhere.

So we went to services at Aunt Shirley's in Haifa, and had a wonderful time. (Aunt Shirley and Morey's mum are sisters.) It was really nice to spend a holiday with family that didn't involve hundreds of dollars of plane fare, dog boarding and time off from work. It was a simple train ride. Okay, it wasn't so simple. We brought Maimo with us. Dogs are supposed to be muzzled on the train, but we don't really have a muzzle, so we faked it with a little cat collar. They called us on it, though: "Ze lo beseder." That's not okay. However, it was 10:51 and our train was leaving at 10:52, so we yelled a quick "sorry" and ran to the train. We caught it as the doors were closing.

On the way, we discovered every other dog on the train was not muzzled. On the way home from Haifa, we discovered every other dog on the train was... not muzzled. Modi'in must be hard-core because it's such a new station.

Anyway, we ate way too much food at Aunt Shirley's, met lots of people, davened (prayed) with a lovely minyan, said Tashlich (ritually casting off our sins) while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, were woken up by a torrential downpour, got wiped up by Aunt Shirley at Scrabble, and got to visit with a couple of cousins. Ittai broke his ankle. Last time I spent any significant time with Ittai, I was in a wheelchair from spraining my ankle. I told him I guess we can't relate to each other unless one of us is on crutches.

It truly was a wonderful way to spend Rosh Hashana, but while I can't imagine spending any holidays anywhere but Israel, I missed our Vancouver Shtiebel terribly. I missed Cliff's davening, Michael's torah and shofar blowing*, our tiny Torah, the community participation and how meaningful the tefillot (prayers) are.

But still. I was in Israel for Rosh Hashana. It doesn't get any better than that.

* Here's a video of an amazing display of shofar. You truly get the sense of the "call to arms."