Thursday, February 26, 2009

Joooos on Skiiiiis

Y'know, Jews aren't famous for their sports abilities. Sure, there have been some famous sporty Jews - Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, Daniel somebody-the-boxer? weightlifter?, and I'm sure a few football players out there - but our talents out on the field are not things we are known for.

That was very evident yesterday when we were at Har Hermon, Israel's ski resort.

Yes, Israel has a ski resort. A very nice one, in fact. The *resort* itself isn't much to look at, but the slopes look nice. The "bunny hill" was packed with people. Mostly falling down and trying to get back up. The area where you put on your rented skis and head out to the slopes was a writhing mass of bodies tripping over each other, sliding into each other and pretty much falling down or struggling very hard to stay upright. There was also a noticable lack of ski etiquette.

Eh, I'm being unfair in giving the impression that Jews can't ski. There were plenty of Arabs there (judging by the massive number of kaffiyehs), and they sucked just as bad. Although, come to think of it, I didn't see too many of them actually on skis...

At one point, I look up the hill at one of the "expert" slopes, and saw about 5 or 6 people swoop beautifully around from behind a hill. For a brief moment I thought, "now that's skiing beauty." Then they all wiped out. Every one of them.

But the important thing was every one (nearly every one, there were a few cranky kids here and there) was having fun. Whether on skis or snowboards or sleds or nothing at all, everyone was smiling and laughing and having fun in the snow. And there was LOTS of snow!

We only had a few hours, and Morey doesn't ski ever since that tree jumped out of the woods and cruelly accosted him without any provocation whatsoever, so we had lunch by the toboggan ride (which we would have gone on, except the car wasn't big enough for two adults and we weren't enthusiastic enough to stand on a long line when we couldn't ride together), tried to remember how to climb a hill in the snow, stood in a really long line for the chair lift (here it's called a cable car) to take us to the top, had rum coffee while taking in the spectacular view, watched some charedi men sledding with their kids (I think the kids were just an excuse!), then laughed through the bitterly cold ride down while oohing and aahing over the amazing scenery.

Har Hermon is right at the border with Lebanon and Syria, and because of its height is obviously a very strategic location. It is surrounded by military bases, and we actually passed a unit that must have been doing some training. They were climbing along the side of the mountain in winter camouflage. The road to the ski resort continues past the resort, but it is closed to civilians. There are soldiers all over the place, and in fact, when we were at the top, I looked off in the distance, which looked like it was just a barren swath of land, and saw two soldiers coming out of the mist. It was like a scene from a movie.

We also had to go through a security checkpoint to get up the hill to the ski resort, and then had to go through security/metal detectors to get into the site. Israel is a very different place.

It was a long trip; 4 hours up and 4 hours back. But When you live in a desert, every appreciates the novelty of snow, and travelling 8 hours to spend 3 1/2 playing in the snow doesn't seem like such a strange thing to do!

More pictures here at Facebook.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What can you do in six hours?

What do you do in Israel if you rent a car for a day or two? You go to Ikea! Well, if you're us, first you take a night drive to Kiryat Ekron to buy some booze.

Then, you go to Ikea!

In two days, we went to two different places that I've never been to before, and I drove on foreign roads (and dealt with getting lost on one of them) to get to both! Very exciting for me. It was a beautiful hour-long drive to Netanya today, although I wish we had taken the beach road up. We planned on getting there quickly, and driving along the beach on the way home, but really, who expected a) we would be at Ikea for 6 hours, and b) it would be raining on the way home. And of course, we got stuck in Israeli traffic, so it took us an hour and a half to get back.

So what's the difference between Ikea, Richmond (Canada) and Ikea, Netanya (Israel)?


let's see...


Well, okay, there are a few differences:

1. You have to go through security and a metal detector to get in.
2. The food in the restaurant is KOSHER!
3. Everyone speaks Hebrew.
4. The "doors" of the display rooms have mezuzot on them.
5. People stopped in the middle of the item pick-up area to daven mincha (afternoon prayers).
6. There are play areas for the kids all over the store, not just in the child-minding area.
7. You have to pay for a plastic bag to put all your purchases in.

(I don't mind that last item one bit, because maybe it keeps the plastic bag consumption down.)

Morey and I were in one of the departments, when we both did a bit of a double-take. It seemed, for a moment there, we had both forgotten we were in Israel, and were surprised when we heard Hebrew.

We have been waiting over 6 months to go to Ikea, so we had built up a big shopping list - apparently enough of a list to fill one hour for every month. We've tried to find the things we need (bookshelves and wardrobes - we have no closets) locally, but no dice. So, 6 hours and a bill big enough to cause Visa to call us to make sure it really was us using the card later, we finally headed home.

We're a little surprised at how exhausted we both are, and how much our legs hurt. Which, I guess, shouldn't really be surprising considering we spent 6 HOURS walking. Very slowly, but walking.

Our new purchases are being delivered tomorrow, so I have two wardrobes and three bookshelves to put together. And since ulpan starts up again next Sunday, instead of a week from Sunday as we were originally told, my timeline for getting these things all put together has shrunk considerably.

We have the car for one more day, so there are a few errands in the morning, but then, barring rain, the afternoon is for taking Maimo to the pea-ay-ar-kay (shhh. We don't want to get him excited in case it rains). It's his reward for being home alone today for 9 hours. Six of which were, y'know, spent at Ikea.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Election Day!

Today is election day in Israel, a national holiday. After weeks of banners, print ads, radio ads, tv ads (I am grateful yet again, that we do not own a television), it finally comes down to this:
  • We walk to the local school (I more or less dragged myself, being sick as a dog).
  • We find the room with our number on it.
  • We stand in line, because only one person at a time is allowed in the voting room.
  • When my turn is called, I hand my Teudat Zehut (national ID card) to the nice lady behind the desk.
  • She hands me a pretty blue envelope.
  • I go to a table that has a three-sided cardboard privacy screen.
  • I am faced with this:

photo from

These are slips of paper. Each Hebrew letter represents a political party (yes, there are that many parties in Israel!).
  • I pick up one (only one! If you accidently put in two, your vote is invalidated) slip with my party's letter, and put it in the pretty blue envelope.
  • I seal the envelope.
  • I walk back to the desk and put my envelope in the pretty blue box.
  • I get my ID back from the nice lady.
  • I leave, having done my civic duty.
It's a good thing the actual procedure is so simple, because deciding who to vote for in this country is not. Do you vote for the party where nearly every member is under investigation for some thing or another, with the exception of the party leader, who has shown a lack of strength? Do you vote for the one of the two parties whose leaders have already been Prime Minister in the past, and well, didn't do much to inspire confidence? Do you vote for one of the leftist green parties? The extreme right-wing party who wants to run all the Arabs out of Israel? The extreme religious party who thinks everyone in Israel should live under their definition of Jewish religious law?

There are three primary items, in my opinion, that are of utmost importance to voters in Israel: security, economy and religion (enforcement of or freedom from). Trying to find a party that covers the right combination of all three is a challenge. Just like in the US, except now I have to decide between 23 or so parties, rather than just the plain old 2 or 3.

I kind of wanted someone to take my picture as I voted ("look! My first federal election!"), but at the same time, I already voted in my local elections, so the "first-time" thrill was gone. And the stress of wondering how the election will go, who will be running our country, and what kind of coalition will be formed (with so many parties, no one party gets enough of a majority, so coalitions between the parties are necessary. It's really complicated here.) overrides much of the excitement. Whoever wins, may G-d grant them the strength, honesty*, commitment and faith to make decisions that will be for the good of the country and her people.

*All the Israelis who are reading this: stop laughing. I know, I know.