Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Good, The Bad, The Aliyahversary

I recently posted on Facebook that we just celebrated our 3-year anniversary of making aliyah. One of my friends asked what was the best thing about making aliyah and what was the worst. I gave a nutshell response of,
"the best: I live in Israel for cryin' out loud! :)
the worst: not being able to easily see friends & family. Although many of them come to Israel, so I do get to see a lot of people, despite leaving."

I decided to answer this in more detail. So without further ado, here goes (and I am SURE I'll think of more after I post this blog!)

  • See above ;) This country is beautiful. Everywhere you look, there is amazing beauty. From the green fields and mountains in the north, to the pristine beaches, to the rocky Judean hills, to the stunning variations of the desert. I never get tired of looking at this place. And that's not even taking into consideration all the ruins to look at!

  • I am not "the Jew" - one of a few, someone different, standing out. I am one of many people who look like I do, live like I do, eat like I do, believe like I do. Yet, all those many people are still very unique and individual.

  • My holidays and the country's holidays MATCH! My goodness! I don't have to use my personal or vacation days for my religious holidays. Along with that is the fact that the store decorations at holiday times are relevant to me.

  • People truly do treat each other like one big family here. If you are in trouble or need help, your neighbours will be on you in a flash (assuming, of course, they know!). Of course, this also means that they will ask you too-personal questions like family would, yell at you if they think you're doing something stupid and ignore you if they just don't feel like dealing with you right now.

  • In keeping with the family theme, people here know how to disagree with each other. A good friend of mine is very left-leaning. I'm more centre, with an occasional toe into the right. We occasionally work together, and one day during a break we got into a big debate about a very hot, touchy political topic. For 15 minutes we spoke vehemently (I wouldn't say we yelled) about the subject, disagreeing completely. After 15 minutes, we looked at the clock and said, "should we get back to it?" and went back to work. It affected our friendship not one whit. I think he's wrong, he thinks I'm wrong and we accept that.

  • Men are not afraid to ask for directions. Or wear pink. Or carry a man-bag. Or take their baby out for a walk in the stroller. With another dad taking his baby out for a walk in the stroller.

  • The weather. For at least 10 months out the year. One month is cold and rainy, the other month is stinkin' hot. The rest of the year is usually pretty amazing.

  • No matter where you are, you're never really that far from the beach.

  • Vegetables have taste. Wonderful taste. And smell! I never knew red peppers had a scent until I moved here, walked into a grocery store that has the vegetables right at the entrance and walked around trying to identify that wonderful odour.

  • Dairy. The spectrum of dairy products makes my head spin. I eat yogurt and cottage cheese ("cottage") and feta and leben (kind of a yogurt-y cheese) on a regular basis. With those tasty veggies!

  • Almost everyone visits Israel at some point, so we get to see friends and family all the time!

  • Two words: kosher cruises

  • Two more words: ice cafe (which is very different from iced coffee. Think frappacino.)

  • Antiquities and archeology. The trail through the forest where I regularly walk the dog takes us past ancient graves, ancient mikva'ot (ritual baths), wine presses, old wells and cisterns and buildings carved into stone.

  • Consumer goods are plentiful. You can get pretty much anything here. A lot of it will be more expensive, but a lot of it won't.

  • Cheerios! I can get Cheerios here!

  • The sun is the best dryer in the world. And the best stain remover. And the best bleach. Unless of course, you accidently leave your navy blue shirt outside for 3 days. Oops.

  • Getting to know other branches of the family better.

  • So many people speak English here that when I get stuck for how to say something, between my broken Hebrew and another person's broken English, I can usually make myself understood. Or vice-versa.

  • Our soldiers are HOT. Seriously. We have the cutest guys & gals in uniform in the world. IN THE WORLD.

  • We have the silliest names for things that lead to many innuendoes and lots of jokes. Kfar Pines (which is pronounced pee-ness), the HOT company (which results in everyone saying "I'm home waiting for the HOT guy to show up."). You get the idea.

  • There is still a shuk (street market) mentality here. You can bargain for anything.

  • As much as Israelis are some of the most giving and helpful people I've ever met, they can also be some of the most self-centred. I can't count the number of times people have parked their cars up onto the sidewalk - blocking it completely from strollers or people walking their dogs - so it can be in the shade, despite there being an EMPTY parking lot across the narrow street.

  • Hardly anyone picks up their dog poop. Sitting in the park is a hazardous enterprise.

  • The dog culture here in general kind of stinks. A large number of people are afraid of dogs (it's a Middle Eastern thing), dogs very rarely get properly trained so socializing is difficult, dogs have to be leashed and there are no dog parks, so the dogs are not getting appropriate exercise, which means they have too much energy so they bark. A lot. It is getting better, though.

  • There's nowhere for Maimo to swim, no doggy friends for him to play with regularly, he went from having a big yard to living on the 3rd floor with no elevator, he's a black dog living in the desert.

  • Despite the plethora of consumer products, the quality of some things just sucks. Oh, quality ziplock bags! You are like gold to me! And baking soda. Can someone please explain to me why baking soda comes in teeny tiny little bitty packets?

  • Salaries kinda suck.

  • In line with that, when you send a resume in response to a job ad (or in my case, audition), it can be 3 months before you hear back. Or never. But 3 months is not unusual.

  • Not being able to easily see friends & family. Although many of them come to Israel, so I do get to see a lot of people, I still miss a lot of folks.

  • I miss Vancouver & the northeastern US. Green piney forests with soft undergrowth. And water. Lots and lots of water. And Allan's cabin on Helby Island. ;)

  • HEBREW. It's killing me. And arguing with very sweet Israelis who insist on speaking English to me when I'm trying to speak Hebrew with them is getting annoying. Especially when I finally give up, speak English, finish my transaction with them, and their parting words are "You need to learn Hebrew! You should try to speak Hebrew!" gaaaaah

  • People truly do treat each other like one big family here. Which means no one has any qualms about randomly starting up conversations with the strangers standing around them, because, of course, we're not strangers, we're family. This is kind of a nightmare for me, because eventually it will get to the point where I no longer understand what they are saying, they will then switch to English, and then, refer to the paragraph above.

  • Bills and banking. Native Israelis cannot figure out how to read their bills or bank statements. There is a 5 shekel charge on my water bill every month that no one seems to be able to explain. Not even the water company.

  • Oh, the bureaucracy. It's enough to make your head explode. Everyone has a story about having to go back to the same office 5 times to get one thing processed.

  • CORN. Israelis love their damn corn. It's in everything. Even pizza! I hate corn. Corn is stupid.

  • Cereal is expensive, and 90% sugar. Finding a non-sugar cereal is near impossible.

  • It has to be said - the politics. The world thinking it knows what's best for Israel. Israel knows what's best for Israel, thank you very much. Go pay attention to the countries that truly need help. Anyone ever heard of Darfur?

  • There is still a shuk (street market) mentality here. You have to bargain for almost everything.

So there you have it. THE BEST far outweighs THE WORST. Everything under THE WORST is easily handled or easily ignored or will improve someday. Nothing tops the fact that, plain and simple, I live in Israel. Every day I have to pinch myself.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

You meet people in the strangest places

There's a blogger we follow, a blogger we accidentally met - along with his wonderful family - by being placed at their house for a Shabbaton. That story, in case you've forgotten is elucidated here and here.

David Bogner, the blogger behind the blog, has embarked on an ambitious journey to celebrate my his birthday. He's also using this journey to raise funds for the The Efrat Emergency Medical Center Radiology Suite. He's making many pit stops along the way, and at those pit stops is meeting up with people to sign his trip log as proof of actually making this long ride. Read about the details of this trip and how to donate.

The Maimo & I volunteered to meet up with David at, if I'm not mistaken, his first pit stop just outside of Modi'in, and sign his trip log (I took care of the signing part. Maimo just watched). And of course, we took pictures to mark this auspicious occasion!

Our intrepid traveller. Who coordinates so nicely with his surroundings.

Gettin' out the iPad

Aaaand our first from-the-road blog post!

Go Team!

Good luck, נסיעה טובה and Happy Birthday to us! :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Strange things you see in the forest

I love that I live in a country where there is such a love of nature. People regularly take advantage of our parks and forests and deserts to go walking, biking, camping and hiking. Every time Maimo and I go walking through the forest, we run into someone biking, picnicking, horseback riding, touring the sites. We frequently even run into people davening (praying). And sometimes, even dancing.

The downside to all this love and appreciation is that the concept of "pack it out" has not reached Israel. Every day, I see enough broken bottles to start my own stained glass window company. Back when JNF had a dumpster in the picnic area where we park, I used to pick up the glass (filling my fannypack!) and dump it before we left. Now that the dumpster is gone, I do my best to drive it into the dirt so there won't be any cut doggy feet or sliced tires. Aside from glass bottles, we have seen plastic 2-litre bottles, foil roasting pans, styrofoam packaging, and even the little hibachi-style grills. Apparently they are cheap enough to just leave behind. Occasionally, we see a neatly packed bag of garbage. Which of course, doesn't stay neatly packed for long, once the animals get into it.

Today, we even saw rolled up diapers, next to a bag of garbage, which was not far from plastic plates and cups strewn about, as if waiting for their guests to sit down and fill them. Not all of it is waste, though; someone once left a case of tetrapaks of non-pasteurized milk - the kind that doesn't need to be refrigerated until you open it. I guess they didn't need it all, and left it for the next campers.

All this is mostly outweighed by the beauty of being part of a people who love their outdoor spaces (if not cleaning them); of seeing a religious man in the middle of group of trees, davening out loud so the only sounds you hear are the birds and his voice, followed a little while later by a group of men dancing and singing in the forest for the sheer love of Hashem.

I get it. Being in the forest makes people happy. It makes me want to dance. But then Maimo looks at me funny.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

And on the third day

Actually, it's only the second day, but Frenchie has risen again! Turns out, something did hit the car - in the fuel filter. So what I thought was oil spilling all over the road was, in fact, gas.

You're welcome, Modi'in.

Our mechanic, Oded (who is somewhat of an automotive celebrity here in Modi'in. I think he even has a fan club.) was able to get a new part the next day, and we picked Frenchie up last night. He seems none the worse for his little adventure; I actually think he secretly enjoyed it. Oded showed us the fuel filter, and the gash in it is pretty impressive. The mind boggles at what could have caused it.

The mind also boggles at how close we came to major disaster. Oded said we have such mazal (luck), because an inch or two either way and the whole fuel system could have been shot. Mazal tov!

In the end, optimism was warranted. Frenchie is home, pretty inexpensively. The cherry on top of our automotive sundae is, after all that, where I thought the car dumped a whole tank, we actually only lost half a tank of gas!

You're welcome, Modi'in.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Day in the Life of a non-Hebrew Speaker

You ever have one of those days when all the little individual items add up to make one bad thing that much worse?

Yeah, that was my day.

It started with the rain. Maimo wouldn't, er, do his business this morning, so I brought him along with me when I took Morey to the train, figuring we'd stop at the park on the way home, since by that time the rain had let up a bit.

We drop Morey off and head home. Two minutes later, I hear a 'thunk' that sounds like something hit the side of the car. Based on where we were (there is SO much construction in this city, I was neither worried nor surprised), I decided to continue around the corner where I was turning, and park.


The car died just as I made the turn. In the middle of the road. Next to two blocks of red & white striped "no parking" zones. He just would not start, and the sudden, overwhelming smell of oil convinced me that it probably wouldn't do much good to try. I did, a couple of times (what? You've never touched a freshly painted wall, despite the "Wet Paint" sign?), but my first instinct was right. I was able to roll a little out of the way of traffic, and up against the curb. I was hoping to roll back out of the turn, and roll down the main street a few feet to a legal parking spot.

Best laid plans and all that, blah blah. The curb was angled, and since the car was turned off, I had very little steering control, so the rear tire bumped up against the curb, and there she stayed. And of course, there is no one around, and none of the cars flying by me slowed down enough for me to even hope to get their attention to maybe help push me. I sat there staring at the perfectly legal and empty parking spots maybe 50 feet ahead of me. If this had happened only 10 seconds earlier, I could have coasted into a perfectly legal and empty spot on the main road. If it happened on 10 seconds later, I could have pulled into one of those spots right in front of me.

What to do? Call Morey, of course! He was on the train, so he made a few calls. The call to our mechanic went to voicemail, and when he tried our insurance company (we get one free tow), he was hurled into a Hebrew phone menu that went by so fast he couldn't even be sure he called the right company. He had to wait until he got to work, to enlist the aid of an Israeli co-worker.

Which would have happened faster if his train hadn't been delayed by 15 minutes.

I've now been sitting in the car - with the dog - for over an hour. I, too, have to get to Tel Aviv for a recording session. But since I was just planning on dropping Morey at the train, then heading back home, I am not dressed for Tel Aviv, I have no cash on me, nor do I have my bankcard. I also have no water, which by now both Maimo and I are regretting.

In the meantime, I take Maimo out for a quick stroll near the car; he does his thing, so we at least got one item on the to-do (to-doo?) list checked.

After another half-hour passes, I cancel my gig for today, and call a friend to ask for a ride home. Of course, she has a kid home sick today. But she's a great friend, and willing to drag her poor, sick kid out of his sickbed to come get me and the dog. Morey finally calls; while trying to figure out the best place to tow the car to, our mechanic had called and explained that one free tow is a tow to anywhere. It's good to know that had we been in Eilat, we could have gotten a tow home. I'd feel really bad for the tow guy who then had to drive a tow truck 5 hours back home, but hey.

So after Morey's co-worker gave a sob story about how the car was blocking traffic (well, it had been) and "his wife" was in the car, the tow company said they'd send someone right away. This, of course, was the Israeli "right away," but it wasn't too bad, especially given that I was starting to need to use the human facilities, and you. just. know. if I left the car to go to the shopping centre around the corner, that would be when the police finally showed up - to give me a parking ticket. Plus, I had the dog and that's... just... weird.

The tow truck shows up, and it figures - I can speak enough Hebrew to do just fine in a restaurant, or a supermarket, yet everyone always wants to speak English with me. I know not a single word relating to mechanic, tow, car repair, etc., (the best I can do is "my car is not working"), and I get the one guy who doesn't know a single word of English. He left, it started raining as Maimo and I waited outside, and stopped just before Kate came and picked me up. Her sick little kid got lots of doggy kisses, and less than 3 hours after the start of our ordeal, Maimo and I got home. We're still waiting to hear if Frenchie is dead in the water, given up the ghost, returned to his Peugeot maker or if there is a small modicum of hope. Sadly, I am not optimistic.

What I am optimistic about, however:
  • It was raining today!
  • I have a friend who was available to pick me up. And if she wasn't, I had backups.
  • I was able to move the car out of the flow of traffic, and not block the road.
  • We can get a tow to anywhere! Please God, may we never have to use it again.
  • Today's gig was with a long-term client, who has me doing a big project, so re-scheduling is not too much of a big deal. If it had been a one-off client, that would have been very very bad.
  • This happened while I was in Modi'in. It could have just as easily happened at 110 km/hr on the highway on my way to Tel Aviv.
  • Maimo is a rockstar. He could have been a right royal little pain in the tuchus, being stuck in a car, with no water, toys or food for so long, but he eventually curled up (with his head on my lap - aww) and sacked out.
  • Morey is an awesome rockstar. While I normally can handle stressful situations, there were too many factors that threw me - being in a no-parking zone, having the dog, having to get to a job, not having the language skills, not being sure what our policy covered... Morey handled it all with aplomb. I should hire him out.
Yes, this is what it takes to get me blogging again. Expect some "I hate Connex" posts in the near future.