Wednesday, December 31, 2008


There's something surreal about being a Jew in Israel on a bus driven by an Arab with both of us listening to the same radio announcer discussing the war on Hamas.

I wonder if each us was wondering what the other was thinking?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Contrary to the song of the same name, sometimes war is good for something. In this case, letting Hamas know they can no longer rain down rockets on Israeli cities unchecked, risking the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Firing back is never a good thing, but sometimes it is necessary. I'll let David Bogner's comment on his blog speak for my feeling on this:
"are you serious? ... I have a deal for you. What if I decided to sit in my car across the street from your house and get good and drunk every day. When your kids get off the school bus I get to shoot in their general direction. My state of inebriation and lack of aiming will almost guarantee that I'll miss your kids every time. I may mess up the paint job on your house, but who cares... you have to repaint at some point anyway, right. What's that? You don't want to take that chance with your kids? So why is it you are OK with Israeli kids living under fire every day? What you REALLY need is to be dragged from your comfortable Brooklyn apartment and flown to Sderot where you will be chained to a sign post in the center of town for just one day. When the sirens start going off (as they do every 20 - 30 minutes) you can take comfort in the fact that "there had not been a single Israeli death from rocket fire since June". The odds are with you, right? RIGHT?! Idiot."
Anyway, this is mainly to let you all know that we are safe and, at the moment, far enough away from where the action is. And if anyone has read about the Palestinian Arab who stabbed 4 people in Modi'in Illit, that is a town called Kiryat Sefer (it's also known as Modi'in Illit), across the highway from us. It is not Modi'in. We are, thank G-d, out of rocket range, although we have been hearing all the jets taking off from nearby. We knew the Operation had started on Shabbat when we heard all the jets, although we couldn't confirm until Shabbat was over. It's a little strange actually being here while an action is going on, but to be honest, it almost feels less real here, because life for the rest of us is going on as "normal."

Except we're all praying a little more and listening a little harder.

Prayer for Soldiers
May the Almighty cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighters from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sderot in peacetime

1-tzeva adom, 2-tzeva adom, 3-tzeva adom, 4-tzeva adom, 5-tzeva adom, 6-tzeva adom, 7-tzeva adom, 8-tzeva adom, 9-tzeva adom, 10-tzeva adom, 11-tzeva adom, 12-tzeva adom, 13-tzeva adom, 14-tzeva adom, 15-


That is the amount of time you would have to get to a shelter to protect yourself from an incoming rocket if you lived in Sderot. Or last Wednesday, Ashkelon. Or Netivot.

I have wanted to visit Sderot for a while, and when I heard that Connections Israel, an organization that arranges for Chanukah and Purim gift baskets for residents in Sderot, and for IDF soldiers, had arranged for a trip to Sderot last Wednesday, I signed up and dragged our friend David along for the ride (I didn't really have to drag him; he was just as interested as I was).

Why did I want to visit Sderot, which has rockets falling on it on a daily basis? I'm not entirely sure. I'm angry that our government has done nothing serious to stop these attacks.* I'm angry that the world isn't unified in its outrage over indescriminate bombing of a sovereign nation. That the masked men who are firing these bombs are referred to delicately as "militants" rather than the terrorists they are. I'm angry that an entire generation of children are growing up with PTSD, where wetting the bed at age 11 is a common occurrence. A generation of children who don't know what it's like to freely play outside in the open in a playground. I've seen videos of residents of Sderot who state that they the rest of Israel doesn't know they exist, and even if they do know, they don't care. I wanted to tell them that we do know they exist, and we do care.

The media distorts everything, so I wanted to see for myself how the people of Sderot live, what Sderot is like. I'm an Army brat; growing up on Army bases you get used to hearing cannons and various weaponry, so I know what a rocket can do. But to read articles about Sderot and the Kassam rockets, one could easily get the impressions that a Kassam rocket is no more dangerous than a mis-aimed bottle rocket. "Homemade." "Inaccurate." "Short range." These are just some of the terms used to describe Kassams.

Let me tell you, "Homemade" "Inaccurate" and "Short range" missiles can kill and maim just as easily as factory-made, computer-guided, long range missiles can. It's not just the physical damage, either. Spending every day with half an ear tuned to listening for the Tzeva Adom alert, half an eye scouting out for the nearest shelter, and having to interrupt what you're doing to run to a shelter every time you hear the alert will make a mess of your nerves. Stress levels are through the roof, and that damages your body from the inside.

We had just a very very small taste of what people here go through. We walked past the firehouse and had to turn around and go back when we heard the first alarm. We continued on our journey, and had to turn around and go back when we heard the second alarm. You don't get very far when you have to keep stopping and going back to where you started. We experienced these life-threatening interruptions just twice in about 4 hours. I jumped out of my skin at the second Kassam that fell close enough to shake the walls of my protective shelter. I can't even begin to imagine what it would do to someone day in and day out.

Yet, when we stopped for lunch in the centre of town, where evidence of fallen Kassams is everywhere, people were out, waiting for buses, ordering food, buying goods at the bakery, standing around chatting with each other. They make sure life goes on. Some people are there because they have nowhere else to go. How do you sell your home to make a new life elsewhere, when bombs are raining down around you? Some are there because they are adamant that Sderot is their home and they won't leave. Still others are there because they believe they are Israel's front line. If they leave, Hamas will just move the bombing further into Israel. I heard this in an interview with an 8-year-old girl. At 8, she feels the weight of the protection of the entire country.

Cars pulled over when they saw us to wish us Kol Hakavod (lit: "all the respect") for coming. Others called us "heroes." I wanted to say that spending 4 hours in their world was not being heroic - I can go home to my safe home, far from falling rockets. The residents of Sderot live with this every day, they struggle with this every day, they drop everything to run to shelters every day, they will have to figure out how to deal with the consequences of traumatic stress disorders on them and their children in the future. They are the heroes.

Speaking of 8-year-olds, the one thing I did not see anywhere during this Chanukah break was children. One of our hosts took us to his home, where we met his some of his children. But outside, where in Modi'in or Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or Kiryat Sefer we'd see tons of kids playing outside, running around or riding their bicycles, or mothers pushing their babies in prams, in Sderot, I did not see a single child outside.

It's just not safe enough.

*Today, Israel started Operation "Cast Lead" in Gaza to finally, b"H, put a stop to this bombing. The name "Cast Lead" is from a poem by Hayim Nahman Bialik, referring to a "dreidel cast from solid lead." May G-d keep our soldiers safe and their aim true, and bring them success in this Operation.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nes Gadol Hayah PO!*

One of the amazing things about being in Israel is being able to visit the sights of the many occurrences in the Torah. Being able to look out our windows at the hills of Judea. Being able to touch the walls that Herod built around the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which no longer exists. The remaining piece of the retaining wall is known as the Western Wall). Being able to celebrate holidays with other people who are celebrating the same holiday, rather than being the odd man out.

It never occurred to us, though, that in our choice of town in Israel, we would be celebrating our first Chanukah in Israel in the very spot where the makings of this holiday took place. Very briefly:
In the 2nd century BCE (Before Common Era), when the Greeks ruled what is now Israel, the ruler Antiochus forbade Jewish observance. Jews were not allowed to study Torah, keep Shabbat, give their sons Brit Milah (circumcision), eat kosher food and the Greeks put statues of Zeus and other gods in the Temple in Jerusalem - all in an attempt to assimilate the Jews completely into Greek culture.

A group of Jews, led by Mattityahu HaCohen, and his sons - most famously, Judah Maccabbee - rebelled against the Greeks. Despite being grossly out-armed and outnumbered, the Maccabim prevailed. When they went to clean and purify the Temple, they found only one cask of oil with seal of the Cohen Gadol, or high priest. This oil would only be enough to light the Menorah in the temple for one night, but miraculously, it stayed lit for 8 days, which was long enough for more purified oil to be located.

In honour of this miracle, we light our menorahs (or more accurately, a Chanukiah. A Menorah has 6 branches, a Chanukiah, 8) for 8 nights.
The Maccabim fought against the Greeks in the area that is now known as the city of Modi'in. The graves of the Maccabim are in the forest across the highway from my house. I can see the forest from my balcony. It took 2 minutes to drive there (it was another 20 minutes to remember exactly where in the forest the graves were, but that's another story).**

I started the first night of my first Chanukah in Israel reciting the prayer for the Righteous over the graves of the actual people whose courage and commitment to the laws of Torah thousands of years ago gave us this holiday. I lit my Chanukah candles overlooking hills that contain artifacts from the Hashmonean period, the period of rule by the Maccabees.

After we lit and our friend David HaCohen led us in some Chanukah songs, since we had rented a car, we went shopping around town. Every store had a Chanukiah, lit with a first-night candle and everyone was wishing everyone a "Chag Sameach!" (basically, festive day). There were even a few stores giving out free sufganiyot (jelly donuts).

I have to admit, I'm a bit in awe of my first night of Chanukah. It's not considered a major holiday; in fact, it's not even a Torah holiday, but when you put it all together, I think my first night of my first Chanukah in Israel will stand as my favourite holiday moment ever.

Chag sameach!

*If you look at a dreidel, there are Hebrew letters written on the sides:

נ ג ה ש
נ - nun, ג - gimmel, ה - hay, ש - shin
Nes Gadol Haya Sham - A great miracle happened there.

But here in Israel, we say,
נ ג ה פ
Nes Gadol Haya Po - A great miracle happened HERE!

**There's an archeological dispute over the graves. A set of graves were found in this forest, Yar Ben Shemen, that are currently identified by the State of Israel as the graves of the Maccabim. Archeologists believe that another set of graves in another part of the forest are actually the graves of the Maccabim, and that the first set of graves are not accurate to the time period. They won't be excavated anytime soon, for all sorts of political reasons. Logic, science and the Book of Maccabbee lead us to agree with the archeologists.

A monument to the modern-day Maccabim who died in the war in 1948,
very near the location of the graves of the ancient Maccabim.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Seven things about me

Since I'm too brain-dead to think of anything to post that actually pertains to this blog (we went on a tiyul today that I hope to muster up the brain strength to write about soon!), I'll respond to the tag for this meme from Kelli at Children Mentioned (the same Kelli of the Jeremy & Kelli who found us our wonderful apartment. Twice.) btw, Kelli specifically tagged me, not Morey or me, which is why I'm responding. And I could never get Morey to do one of these anyway*.

Here are the rules:
1. Link to your tagger and list these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people (if possible) at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs.

Seven things about me that you probably could care less about ;)

1. I have never lived in one place more than 3 years until I moved to Vancouver, with the exception of 4 years in the same house in Bedford NY. By one place I mean, the same home. In Vancouver, I lived in the same house for 7 years - an eternity for me!

2. Because of blogging, and reading other people's blogs, I discovered that I'm not a freak who can't stand my hair in my face, elastic on my wrists, lace touching my skin, or not having a heavy weight on my legs when I sleep; I actually have sensory issues.*

3. I dream in colour. I dream in extreme detail. Strangely (and sadly, in two cases), sometimes my dreams come true. I also have a recurring dreams. I'm tempted to write one of the recurring dreams (although it's more like a mini-series than recurrant) into a book of some sort.

4. I have wanted to move to Israel for over 20 years. I wish I hadn't waited so long. But I guess it was supposed to happen this way.

5. I have been drawn to observant Judaism since I can remember. In my non-religious family, I pushed for a Chanukiah, I wanted to observe my Bat Mitzvah, even though no one else had had one (my one-year-older cousin celebrated her Bat Mitzvah a year before me). I have suspicions that it might have something to do with being sent to an Orthodox day school for kindergarten and half of first grade (my father was in Vietnam and my mom and I lived with my also secular grandparents. For some reason they decided to send me to a Jewish school.)

6. Ironically, my very first kiss from a boy was in that same Orthodox day school.

7. I hated high school. I positively adored nearly every minute of school, right up until 8th grade, when I moved back to the US, after living in Germany (and attending American dependent schools). Then I hated nearly every minute of school (there were exceptions. Thank you, Mrs. Schneider). So much so, that I threatened to drop out if I wasn't allowed to graduate early. My last year, I doubled-up on all my classes, and graduated in January. I loved my senior year. I had four English classes with papers and short stories due every week. I had a serious photography class. A teacher offered to buy one of my photos, and one of my short stories was submitted by a teacher to a magazine. And I had a solo in the school chorus' production of Handel's "Messiah" (okay, forget the piece. Focus on the solo. Besides, it's all from Isaiah, which is our book anyway.)

So now I'm supposed to tag seven people, but my list is short as most of my blogging buddies have already been tagged, or I know them through my anonymous blog, in which case, I ain't taggin' 'em here:

1. Evenewra
2. Jay at Picture This
3. Al at Bokashi Blog
4. *And because I love futility, Morey

and that about wraps that up. :)

*edited to add: this was not a self-diagnosis from Dr. Google. This person's symptoms sounded exactly like my issues, so I asked a doctor. Always follow-up, never assume, just because you read something on the internet ;)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

May you be comforted

I don't even know where to start with this. We have ongoing assignments in Ulpan to write a story on a particular topic and read it in front of the class. The current topic is "best friend."

This morning in class, a student wrote about his first wife, who died a few years ago. Today was her yahrzeit. She sounds like she was an amazing woman, and our classmate certainly did his part in elevating her neshama (soul) today. It was a privilege to share in her story.

That's not what got to me. Well, yes, her story did touch me, of course. But in any classroom, anywhere, this story could have been heard. Many people have lost loved ones, and have shared stories about them.

But what wouldn't typically happen in a typical classroom anywhere? You wouldn't have the entire class be attentive while the storyteller gave a learning, and then stand together while he recited Kaddish (mourner's prayer), with nearly the whole class giving the appropriate responses. You wouldn't have that followed by a little nosherei in the wife's honour. You wouldn't have all this done with the teacher's approval, encouragement and participation.

It was an honour to be a part of this man's observance of his first wife's yahrzeit, and I am grateful he felt this was something he wanted to share with his classmates. And I am so grateful to be in a country where this didn't seem at all out of place. To anyone.

May her memory be for a blessing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Someone's gotta toot his horn

Quick! Run out and pick up the latest edition (24 November 2008)of The Jerusalem Report! Turn to page 66 and before you do anything else, read the byline.

Then let Morey know how impressed you are that he's been published in a major Israeli magazine. :) You can read an excerpt of the article here.
You won't find caped crusaders or masked superheroes in any of these comic books. Instead, Miriam Libicki's "jobnik!" chronicles her day-to-day life in the Israeli army in frank, often blunt terms. Jobnik is Israeli slang for soldiers in non-combat roles. More of an illustrated diary than a comic, "jobnik!" takes us behind the heroic façade, to where soldiers wash dishes, file reports and fool around.
If you want to read the whole article, you have to buy the magazine.

If you want to buy Miriam's comic, you can order it here.

If you want to give Morey a Mazal Tov!, you can email him here.

Yasher koach, Moe!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Vote early, vote often

Today we voted in our very first Israeli elections! Exciting stuff.

After being told that we weren't eligible to vote, we received voting cards in the mail. Which, naturally, confused us. Upon investigation, we discovered that the candidate for mayor who informed us we weren't eligible, was wrong. That does not bode well for a mayoral candidate. And it meant we had to cram about who to vote for.

So today, we took our voter cards, found our polling place, asked for help in English, listened to one of the volunteers make a joke about all the people asking for help in English - probably not realizing that we understood what she was saying - and were shown to our voting room.

Only one person at a time can go into the whole room. I showed my Teudat Zehut (identity card), gave the (thankfully English-speaking person who was extremely friendly and helpful and enthusiastic about this being my first time voting in Israel) my voting card, she confirmed me on the list (I was dead last) and gave me a yellow envelope (for mayor) and a white envelope (for city council). I took my envelopes, went behind a cardboard screen, picked up a yellow square of paper with my candidate's name on it and put it in the yellow envelope, then picked up a square of white paper with the party's designation on it and put that in the white envelope. Then I came out from behind the cardboard screen, and placed my envelopes in the big box and "ze hu!" I was done.

I don't know what they would have done if I didn't read Hebrew, but I was excited that I could read all the candidate's names without thinking about it. It's such a simple process here, yet I feel disproportionately proud about voting. Maybe because it emphasizes the fact that I am here. Gee, how am I going to feel about voting in the Federal election??

(yes, yes, I know, we need to post more. It's hard during Ulpan. Ulpan sucks your brain dry. There is no thought power left after Ulpan. Well, after Ulpan and Facebook.)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hebrew for dummies

Dear Blog,
Today in Hebrew skool we uzed our sissers and made big cuts in our notebooks. Then we drew lots of lines and rote words at the top for catagoecatagorees. Then teacher yelled us at us becuz we rote the catagorees rong. I membered to bring my erasur, my ruler, my pensil sharpener, my sissers and my yellow magic marker. Then teacher had us rite words in Hebrew but we had to be very very careful to put the rite word on the rite page. I did not want teacher to yell at us again.

Yep, this is what we’ve been reduced to. Arts and crafts for first graders. Every day I have to come home and look at myself in the mirror and say, “I am a college graduate” just to remind myself.

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."

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..."

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ehhhhhh, ech omrim,* "Charlie Foxtrot?"

So we finally got news of our ulpan (Hebrew classes) and when it starts and where it is. It starts next week, and it's in a school in the neighbourhood of Buchman**.

Alllllll the way on the other side of Modi'in.

Now, you may have heard that the buses in Modi'in bite the big one. This is even more true if you live in the northwest of Modi'in and need to get to Buchman in the south. There is no bus that goes from here to there ("you can't get there from here"). To get to ulpan we would have to take a #1 to some point in town, then walk to a #3 bus stop. And assuming we wouldn't have to wait too long for the #3 (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA), we would still have what looks to be about a 20-minute walk from the #3 drop off to the school where the ulpan is being held. And remember, Connex doesn't do transfers, so we're talking 8 bus tickets a day for the two of us. Every day. For the pleasure of about an hour-and-a-half trip each way. To go maybe 5 kilometres.

But see, I just interrupted myself to double-check the Connex website and discovered there is no #3 that would get us to the school on time! We'd have to either take the 5:45am or the 8:25am. Except class starts at 8:30am. So rantus interruptus; I have to interrupt my rant with a new improved rant.


We were told the reason classes are being held in Buchman is because there is free space at the school. That's fine. But then, provide transportation. Most of us new olim (immigrants) don't have cars. And the Ministry of Absorption knows that. The Ministry also knows how bad the buses are. We were told there's are new buses for the schoolchildren, particularly the #10. That's great, the #10 stops near our house and goes right to the school. Except the #10 runs only once at 7am (and how, exactly, do we get home?) AND the Ministry of Education has not agreed yet that we adults can ride the schoolkids' buses.

Which actually is fine by me. It's hard enough when I have to go through each day speaking like a 5 year old and dealing with the frustrations of not being understood, and not knowing enough to make myself understood. It's embarrassing enough to stand in the middle of a store playing charades trying to get a store clerk to understand that I need a long shower curtain rod because I have a very long bathtub space. Do I really need to have what's left of my dignity buried under some kid's Dora the Explorer backpack by being the only adults on a children's schoolbus? No thank you. I love kids. I don't want to ride on a schoolbus with them.

We've asked the Ministry to compile a list of everyone in our neighbourhood who is registered for ulpan. Maybe someone has a car, and we can all carpool and share gas costs. Maybe there's enough of us to make it worthwhile for Connex to add another bus for the ulpan students. Maybe there's enough of us over here to make it affordable to split a taxi van; maybe the Ministry will arrange a van. Maybe maybe maybe.

All I know is trying to learn a new language as an adult, and living in a country where you don't speak the language is stressful enough. We don't need merely getting to the classes to be anxiety-inducing as well.

*ech omrim = "how do you say"
** Buchman is pronounced, "booochman" with a "ch" like "l'chaim!"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's sugar time!

Sugar. Israelis love it. Especially in their cereal. And they don't mind paying the equivalent of about $5 or $6 for a small box of it to kick off their morning.

I, on the other hand, don't do well with sugar. Sugar and I haven't gotten along well since our big row 20 years ago, where we didn't speak to each other at all for 4 months. Gradually, little by little, I let sugar back in, but for the most part, we only see each other on Shabbat. Occasionally, sugar drops by for a surprise visit during the week, but I try not to let it happen too often. I don't want sugar to get any ideas.

But now, in my quest for an Israeli breakfast cereal that a) doesn't break the bank, and b) isn't granola, sugar has practically packed a bag and moved in. I cannot get over the amount of sugar that is in every single cereal. And not just plain sugar - oh no, plain sugar isn't enough. The innocent looking cinnamon wheat cereal I bought has chocolate in it! The even more innocent looking puffed something cereal I bought next? Chocolate! For cryin' out loud, people! No wonder Israelis are always screaming at each other; everyone's on a flippin' sugar high.

For various reasons, I need to start my day with a benign bowl of something oat-y. For obvious reasons, I don't want to start my day with a bowl of hot oatmeal (just the perfect thing for a 35-degree day!). For fiscal reasons, I don't want to go to the store that specializes in American products and pay nis 28 (about $8 or so) for a box of plain Cheerios.

A big thing here is find people who are moving to Israel and try to buy space on their lift for a package or two. Or sometimes a refridgerator. Maybe I should buy some space for a couple of Costco boxes of Cheerios.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Help! I'm in Har Nof and I can't get out!

(another in the ongoing series of "How the bus companies hate me")

I'm going to go backwards here and start with a second story. Tomorrow, bli neder (without a vow, ie, I'm not promising), I'll post the first story. However, the second story does require some first story information. Because of a lesson learned from the first story, I gave myself an hour to get from the neighbourhood of Har Nof to the Tachana Mercazit (Central Bus Station or "CBS"). It takes 20 minutes or so by bus. It takes 45 minutes to walk. Now you have the necessary information.

My sister Pamela had invited me to a women's concert last week at Neve Yerushalayim, a seminary in Har Nof. It was supposed to end at 10:30pm, but I knew I'd have to leave early to get to the CBS in time to catch the last bus to Modi'in, which leaves at 11:00pm. It was a wonderful concert, and I was having a great time, but despite that, when my phone alarm vibrated at 10pm, I whispered "goodbye," exchanged quick hugs and hightailed it out of there. I quickly found someone who could lead me out of Neve, since I was a little turned around, and made it to the bus stop.

The woman who helped me and I chatted for a bit about the concert while we waited for our respective buses. She offered me a ride if she took a cab, but the taxi that stopped wanted too much. Eventually, her bus came, and at the same time, my bus - the 15 - arrived. I hopped on the bus, and for some reason, decided to ask the bus driver if he went to the CBS. Even though I know the 15 goes to the CBS.

Me: "Ata holech l'tachana mercazit?" (Do you go to the CBS?)*
Driver: "no."
Me: "LO?" (no)
Dr: "11 or 15"
Me: "Aval ata hachamesh esrai!" (but you the 15)**
Dr: "I let off, I don't pick up. You need the bus building, not the bus sign."***

* Feel free to correct my Hebrew. It's a constant learning process.
** Yes, the driver was speaking English and I was speaking Hebrew. Eventually I realized this, and started speaking English.
*** In some places, the buses only drop people off. In this case, there was a bus shelter where you stand to get the pick-up bus, and a little past the shelter is a pole with a bus sign on it. That's where he stops to drop off. I don't understand it either.

So he lets me off at the next stop, where I go to the shelter - which claims to be a 15 pickup stop - and wait.

And wait. And wait. After a few minutes, quite strangely, the bus that picked up the woman who helped me earlier drove by again. With the woman still on the bus. Considering she was going farther than I needed to, I'm not sure who was worse off.

Eventually, an 11 comes by. I get on it, and double-check that this bus is going to the CBS. I ask what I think is a "yes or no" question, in Hebrew, and he gives me some long answer.

What I asked: "Ata holech l'tachana mercazit?"
What I expected: "Ken" (yes)
What I got: lots of words that probably translated into something like, "I eventually will arrive at the location you requested, however before I can do that, I have to drive all over the entire city of Jerusalem, getting stuck in small alleys, stopping to yell at people who are walking in the middle of these small alleys, while stopping for a smoke and a coffee, all to make sure you go sufficiently insane and have a meltdown in the middle of some unknown neighbourhood."

Yep. I'm sure that's what he was saying.

I responded, "Slicha?" (excuse me?)

And 3 English speakers on the bus yelled, "Yes. He goes to the CBS."

I wound up sitting behind someone who was wearing a Pacific Northwest NCSY sweatshirt, so I had to ask her if she was from Vancouver. Turns out she is, and we had a lovely chat while we both missed our 11:00pm buses. I arrived at the CBS and tore through the underground tunnel, running across the path between the main roads, and arrived to see:


I got to the stop at 11:06. After leaving the concert at 10. Had I walked, I would have been miserable, but I would have made my bus. Thank G-d I have a sister who lives in Jerusalem, and has a spare bed, and loves me. I waited for her to arrive at the CBS while trying to avoid thinking about how I missed the last performer for nothing, and she and I walked back to her lovely neighbourhood of Nachla'ot, bought a couple of beers (non-twistoffs which I opened without an opener. My teenage years weren't totally devoid of valuable lessons, thankyewverymuch.) and sat in a park chattering away. Eventually wound up hanging out with some of the artists who performed that night at Neve. Had a great time, stayed up too late, was grateful for my sister and her futon and her friends, got up early and went to catch the 10:15am bus home.

Except when I got to the CBS at 10:13, there was no bus...

Your opinion is requested

Oh, I know you're desperate for more "I hate the bus system" stories. Don't worry, I have more, but I thought for a change of pace, I'd ask for your opinions. We have a lovely white wall unit. It comes with knobs that are white and sort of disappear into the unit, making it look smooth and unified. I happen to have a handful of brushed nickel doorknobs that I thought might look lovely on the wall unit doors.

So I tried both. I can't make up my mind. On the one hand, I like the unified, smooth look of the "disappeared" doorknobs. On the other, the shiny knobs give the unit a more sophisticated, less Ikea look.

What do you think? Feel free to post your opinion in the comments or email me.

With white knobs

With silver knobs

Friday, August 22, 2008

And now, a word from Morey

I was asked the other day how it felt to be living in, as my friend put it, "the homeland." Not to sound facetious, but it feels like home. Seriously. We were both remarking the other day how oddly normal everything seems. Israel is an fascinating mix of European, Middle Eastern and American sensibilities which somehow matches our personal inclinations. Israel is also a place of contradictions, both wondrous and difficult. There's no question that a social imbalance exists; we're living in a modern Israeli city being built and maintained by essentially by Arab and foreign labour.

Yet, the other day the most interesting thing happened. I was on my regular bus to the mall. The driver was a charming Arab woman (try to find a female bus driver in any Arab country). We took on a couple of passengers who sat at the front next to me; they looked like a middle aged mother and her 20-something son. A few minutes later the driver spotted an elderly Arab woman in traditional dress walking with some difficilty in the midday-heat, stopped the bus and beckoned her to board (for a free ride - an action I completely support). The 20-something guy leaned toward the driver and asked, "At Aravi?" (Are you Arab?). She responded yes, and then they all began babbling away in Arabic. As the old lady joined in, I looked around and realized that I was the only Jew on this bus in Modi'in, the modern, Jewish city. Fantastic!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Oh, Stuff, how we have missed you

(Mysteriously, we started having internet problems a few days ago. 012 thinks it might be the modem - HOT's problem - and HOT thinks it's the connection - 012's problem. We have very intermittent connections, hence the lack of blog entries. I wrote this a few days ago and have been trying to post it since.)

We have furniture! We have stuff! As evidenced by my last post, of course. I realize I posted about all the packing paper before posting that we had anything to unpack. It's been so nice getting re-acquainted with our stuff. It was also very nice to realize how few boxes we actually have. We got rid of a lot of stuff in Vancouver. There are still the odd item here and there that we realize could have been left behind, but for the most part? We done good.

Israeli apartments don't have closets, so figuring out where to put everything is a bit of a challenge. We'll certainly have to buy an aron (wardrobe) or two, we just need to figure out how many and what size. And erm, bookshelves. If you go through the pictures linked below, you'll see alllll the boxes of books.

We're really pleased how wonderful our furniture looks in our new apartment. I was afraid the grey couch and chair would get kind of lost against the white walls and beige floor, but the walls are winter white, with blue undertones, so it brings out the blue undertone in the grey furniture and really makes it pop. And our artwork is full of primary colours* which just look brilliant against the very white walls. I'm very excited to see it all hung.

Morey's been extremely happy to use real plates and bowls again; I'm happy not to be using anything disposable. Turns out our Presidents Choice water filter pitcher filters out the minerally taste in the water just fine. I don't mind the taste of the tap water, and I'd prefer the healthy minerals in my water, but Morey doesn't like the taste. So ice cubes and coffee get the filtered water, my water bottle gets the tap. Nice compromise.

Speaking of water, we bought new dairy pots before we left Vancouver, so now we have to tovel (ritually immerse) them. Certain new dishes and cookware needs to be immersed in a mikvah (ritual bath). In Vancouver, you had to make an appointment, and use the same mikvah that men and women use. In Modi'in, you go to the mikvah around the corner any time of day or night and use the small mikvah that is just for dishes. However, in Vancouver, we had a car that we could carry our dishes in. In Modi'in, we have to carry them up the long, steep hill.

We don't have use of the storage room for the apartment - the landlord uses it - so we have to figure out where to put the suitcase and all our Passover dishes, but we'll figure that out. And we still need a bed. It's reeeeeaally hard to buy a mattress!! If anyone has any suggestions, hints or tips, please let us know. If you bought a mattress (in Israel, please: different sizes/brands/materials here) and love it, please let us know what you bought and where you bought it. Seriously, we're stumped. And sleeping on couch cushions.

Enjoy the "in between" pictures of apartment (scroll past the empty apartment pictures). Phase I was moving in empty, phase II is "the lift just arrived." Phase III, please G-d, will be everything's unpacked and put away and looking lovely!

*I noticed this a while ago - I'm attracted to colours and design in a piece of art, but if I don't love the colours, I won't like the art, no matter how beautiful. And nearly all the very varied, unique pieces of art that I've picked out are in primary colours.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I guess they thought we'd miss the trees

If anyone is wondering where the trees in Vancouver went to, we have them here. The movers used them all to stuff our boxes.

I am appalled at the sheer volume of packing paper that was used as filler in our boxes. Empty sheets - 5 or 6 sheets together - stuffed or layered into the boxes with nothing in them. Absolutely unecessarily.

Let's face it, no matter how you look at it, moving is not environmentally friendly. We tried to get our movers to use towels and clothing as "bounce protection" as much as possible, but it was a hard battle. And there are nooks and crannies that need to be filled to prevent breakage, and unfortunately, packing paper works great for that.

We had no idea we'd be moving boxes of empty paper, though. And paying for the pleasure. We're taking the unused sheets and putting them aside, and we're being as careful as possible when unwrapping our items so as not to tear the sheets. Hopefully, when we advertise boxes available, whoever takes them will re-use the paper, too. That will make us feel a little better.

Won't bring back the trees, though. Sorry, Vancouverites.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


It's happened. I came down with the Aliyah Cold. Apparently, it's very common for new olim to get sick a lot the first year. I guess it's new germs, stress, constantly being tired from running around and sleeping on borrowed mattresses. Morey got sick the second week here and stayed sick for two weeks. Which is very unusual for him - with his metabolism, he goes through a cold in 24 hours. Now I've got what he had. Blargh. The worst part is, we don't even have our couch yet, so I have nothing to curl up on.

Speaking of furniture, we bought a new dining room table.

Click on the picture for a larger image

It's beautiful, expands to seat 10 - 12, and was more than we should have spent.

However, we've spent the last few years talking about how we would love to host people for Shabbat, but we were never close enough to anyone and didn't have a big enough table.

We had 7 people for 2nd Seder this year, and were very cramped. But we had so much fun, it didn't matter at the time. So we figured that since the table wasn't strictly for our enjoyment but for the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (welcoming of guests), it was worth the extra money. We just won't get as nice a bed.

Speaking of beds, we need to buy mattresses too. A friend drove us into Jerusalem last week and dropped us off near the tachana mercazit (central bus station aka CBS) so we could hop a bus into the neighbourhood of Talpiot. Talpiot has lots of stores and malls and is great for getting furniture. Talptiot is also home of the "big" mall, Kanyon Hadar. Morey and I nearly fell over laughing when we saw the "big" mall. It's one floor, with about 30 stores, including food stalls. In Israeli terms, it is a fairly big mall. By North American standards, it qualifies as a shopping centre.

Anyway, here's where my lousy bus karma came into play. We knew we could take the 5 or the 21 buses. We passed a 5 stop, but it said "tachana mercazit" which confused us. We were walking to the tachana, which was about a block away. Did the 5 end at the tachana? We decided to keep walking to the CBS. After waiting a few minutes, a 21 came up. Morey went to confirm with the driver that he went into the "industrial" area of Talpiot, not the residential area, and he said no, we needed the 74.


After waiting 25 minutes for a 74, the driver of the 74 told us we needed the 21, that he doesn't go anywhere near the stores.


We then waited for ever for another 21. (Of course, after waiting 25 minutes for the 74, 3 more showed up in the space of 10 minutes.) We were at the tachana well over an hour by the time the next 21 finally came. Then, we were stuck in the construction on Jaffa Street, so it took nearly an hour to get to Talpiot. That didn't leave us with much time, but we did get to explore Kanyon Hadar, and go to 3 different mattress stores, which left us just as confused as when we started. We weren't able to catch a ride back to Modi'in with our friend, but it seemed like G-d wanted to make up for our horrid trips to Talpiot, and when we decided to go home and left the last mattress store, we were right at a bus stop with a 21 bus sitting at the stop. Which got us to the CBS 5 minutes before the bus to Modi'in left. That was perfect.

So we still don't have a mattress, and don't have the foggiest idea what to get, but at least we have a less foggy idea of what's out there, and how much this might cost us. Suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mazal tov!

For those of you who know her, yesterday afternoon on top of the Yeshivat HaKotel/Wohl Centre in the Old City of Jerusalem, on a gorgeous afternoon overlooking the Kotel, Cigal married her Beshert (intended, soulmate, meant-to-be), Yitzchak. Cigal looked so beautiful, and so happy, and even after fasting two days in a row (Sunday was Tisha B'Av, a fast day, and traditionally, a Jewish Chattan - groom - and Kallah - bride - fast on their wedding day, until the meal when they have their first meal together as a married couple.), the smile never left her face.

Cigal and Yitz were intending to get married in Toronto, but that's not what G-d wanted for them, so in less than a week, a full wedding with reception, flowers, band, photographers and benchers (Grace after Meals prayerbooks) was put together. Amazing teamwork by the couple and their wonderful friends. Right after the reception, Cigal and Yitz took off for the airport to finish the celebrations with their families in Toronto.

It was a wonderful day and great fun, and Morey was honoured with the first bracha (blessing) of the Sheva Brachot (seven blessings) under the Chuppah (marriage canopy). And leave it to Cigal to come out of the deepest, darkest day of the Jewish year, Tisha B'Av with an incredible simcha (joyous event)! We are so happy for Cigal and Yitzchak; we wish them many, many years of happiness together, b"H. We were so blessed to be there.

And that wouldn't have happened if we hadn't made aliyah.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Happy Monthaversary!

Today is exactly one month since we arrived in Israel. It feels like yesterday, but it also feels like a year ago.

So now while we're looking for jobs and trying to figure out what to do with ourselves in the meantime, we'd love to take the opportunity to travel and explore before we get bogged down with jobs, but aye, there's the rub. We have limited funds because we're not working and had to buy things like a new refridgerator, washing machine, stove, diningroom table - and a bed, which we haven't done yet. Do we spend our limited funds on things we likely won't have time for later, on the assumption that we'll get jobs soon (please G-d!), or do we behave frugally and save every penny and try to do stuff during vacations and holidays, along with everyone else in the country?

Our table gets delivered today! Assuming the delivery guys can find their way here. They called and asked where we were, but got fed up with our lousy Hebrew (we knew all the right words, it just sounded like a 6-year-old giving directions.) and decided to call someone else. So hopefully they'll show up soon.

The latest news on our lift: it should arrive at the port today, with delivery sometime next week. And of course, next week is really busy. We have a wedding, Morey has appointments, we have an aliyahversary party to go to.

It will be really nice to finally get our stuff and make this place feel like "home." Right now, it still kind of feels like we're staying in a really big motel room. Except there's no ice machine.

Grocery shopping is still a challenge, but getting much easier. I'm starting to understand some ingredients, and recognize the difference between juice and juice "soda drink." The only 100% fruit juice we've found though, is orange and grapefruit juice, and lemon juice with mint. All the rest of the fruit juices are juice drinks, not what we got used to in Vancouver. Maybe because fruit is so plentiful and inexpensive, people make their own juice. There is so much cheese to choose from, we were in front of the cheese counter for a good 20 minutes trying to decide on something to get. And Morey is very happy - he has fresh parmegian.

And the woman who rang up our order asked us for our moadon kartis (membership card) and we somehow managed to convey that we had signed up for one, but hadn't received it yet. So she asked if we were olim chadashim. When we said yes, she wished us b'hatzlacha (success) and bruchim habaim (essentially "welcome home"). When we were all packed and ready to go, and had paid, she wished us a Shabbat shalom (um, y'all got that one, right?).

With all the language difficulties and bus frustrations and job worries and hills, I love living here. Yesterday, we got a speech from a mattress salesman about how very difficult it is to live in Israel, but it is so worth it. "You have to work hard, it's very hard, it's very very difficult to live in Israel. But there is nowhere else."

He's absolutely right. There is nowhere else.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Identity crisis

btw, I should point out that, despite most of the posts saying "posted by Morey Altman" I've written everything here. Join me in trying to convince The Writer in the family to write something. Anything.

In appreciation,

It's like being fresh out of college all over again

Things that would be useful to know as olim (immigrants):
  • We should have asked for an Isracard (a debit card that allows you to break a charge into payments, known as tashlumim) when we opened our bank account. (We should have insisted on someone who speaks fluent English and deals with olim, actually)
  • How to access our bank account online. No one gave us a passcode, a password or anything else. No one even gave us the url.
  • How to fill out a cheque in Hebrew. You can write the date in English, and the amount numerically, but having someone write out NIS 3,170 in Hebrew would be helpful.
  • How Israeli banks actually work.
  • Where the best appliance stores are, what are typical prices for various appliances, beds, other furniture, etc.
  • What are typical sizes for beds, since they're different than North America
  • Where do you buy sheets, since we didn't really see any selection at Home Centre
  • How do you buy stamps and mail a letter
  • What's a good shampoo
  • Hebrew so we could talk with our landlord.
Ouch. Seriously. Our landlord came over yesterday to pick up our post-dated cheques for the rest of the year. We had a difference of opinion on paying the Va'ad Bayit (similar to the maintenance fee for a condo). He (and our lawyer) had said the Va'ad Bayit was to be paid in 3 quarterly installments of NIS 400. Yesterday, he asked for one payment of NIS 1200. Between his lousy English and my lousy Hebrew I managed to stand my ground and insist on 3 quarterly payments. It's not a big difference, but it's a matter of principle. Once I give in on one thing, it's all downhill from there. And we have to rely on him for too many things. He still has stuff on the mirpeset (balcony), and he still needs to fix our aron (closet). I don't mind that taking a little longer, but I also want him to know that when I want it done, he can't brush us off.

Fortunately, he's a really nice guy, although I don't think he's the innocent, "counting on this apartment to be his pension" man that was portrayed to us.

Anyway, the whole experience has made my headache worse. It's hard doing all that concentrating for so long. It's reminding me of calculus all over again - let your mind stray for 10 seconds and that's it; you've lost the stream of knowledge and you'll never make your way back again.

By the way, a 4-year old corrected Morey's Hebrew today. That's really great for the ego.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Journey. Faithfully. Not Journey's "Faithfully"

Last week’s Torah portion, Masey, includes a listing of all the places the Israelites stopped on their 40-year journey through the desert after leaving Egypt, on their way to the Holy Land. What is the purpose of this detailed, itemized list of locations? And why such meandering? If you plot out the list of locations on a map, it looks like G-d led the Israelites on a wild goose chase.

(Actually, it looks like our 30-minute tour of Modi’in on the number 1 bus to get us to the mall that’s 2 kilometres away. But I digress.)

Our ancestors toured the land. They were led east, then north, then west, then east again, probably a short turn south, before heading back up to their final destination. The usual discussion is that the detours were necessary. It’s easy to take the Israelites out of Egypt, but not so easy to take Egypt out of the Israelites. We needed those 40 years to get de-Egyptized. To get the idea that we were slaves out of our system. To learn what freedom was and to not be terrified of it.

But last week I read a different, but similar, take on the subject. I apologize, I can’t remember who wrote it or where I saw it, but the author posits that perhaps equally important is just the journey itself. Each place is mentioned in the Torah, implying that each place has importance. Why else mention it specifically? Although, in looking back at our journey - crossing Canada - I specifically mentioned Merritt, BC and Brooks, AB. I talked about Falcon Lake, Kenora and WaWa. Are those places important? Do they have significance? Only in that they are markers, place holders for our journey. It lends credence to the story. It’s like a bibliography of our trip. If you’re writing a book that contains facts you want your readers to believe, you will list your sources. “Some guys said that...” won’t hold water.

Saying we left Brooks, Alberta gives our story a source. The reader can go to a map and look up Brooks, Alberta and then look up Falcon Lake. They have a fact to base our story on, to give it weight. Saying we left “someplace in Alberta” and “arrived somewhere in Manitoba” still gives the reader an idea of the journey, but has less impact, less truth. Saying we left “somewhere” and arrived “somewhere else” has no meaning at all.

Of course the journey is important. Judaism expects its adherents to be present in every moment, whether the journey is life, a job hunt, a vacation to the mountains or a trip to the supermarket. There will always be moments during every journey that are important, that can have an impact, that we should be taking note of. Of course, there will always be important moments that will be missed, as well. Those have an impact, too.

Taking note of the locations that make up our journey, whether they are towns or emotional landmarks gives us sources. It lets us see where we’ve come from, how far we’ve traveled, and where we’re heading. It lets us know if we’ve taken a wrong turn, if we need to travel faster or slower or if we just need to stop a take a break. Journeys are a series of learning events. Each stop on the journey out of Egypt was another step in emotionally leaving Egypt behind as well.

The irony of reading this Torah portion this week, our third week in Israel was not lost on us. Crossing Canada was a number of steps in emotionally leaving behind our life in Vancouver. Then we left Canada. Then we left North America altogether. Each week in Israel brings us closer to Israeli life. We still feel like we’re camping, since our lift still hasn’t arrived, but each week brings us yet another “normal” item. We now have our refrigerator. We have a stove. And Thursday, G-d willing, we will have a diningroom table. Each little steps on our journey.

That fridge, stove and table will help us bring together people for meals. And may each of those meals bring us a step closer to the day that this period of the 9 days, a period of mourning leading up to the fast day of Tisha B’Av, will become a time of joy and celebration instead of lamentation and tears.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Aliyah! As seen on TV

Oye. This is about as far as you can get from a realistic portrayal of what new olim (immigrants) experience.

How do they decide who wins a particular event? Do you win if you go to the bank to open an account, and actually come out with an account, or do you win if you go to the bank to open an account, don’t get an account, but you successfully yelled at the clerk in broken Hebrew, threatening to take your business elsewhere, so they gave you the phone number of a manager in Jerusalem who speaks English?

How do they choose?!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Aks-sent-choo-ate the positive

So the table we were going to buy was sold to someone else (why does that keep happening to us??), but that’s okay, we found another really nice one. We went shopping for a fridge and a bed, but came home with a diningroom table. As many of our friends have pointed out, we can sleep on the table and store our food under it. It won’t stay fresh for long, but…

It didn’t take long though. We went back to Yishpru (that bus is reliable!) the other day, and finally decided on a fridge. And the salesguy gave us a great price. And, amazingly, even though he said it would take a week to 10 days, it showed up today. It looks nice, but it’s even nicer to have a real, working fridge. And after 8 years of living with a barely working, ancient fridge, it is so wonderful to have a brand new fridge. And wonderful neighbours who take us to the really cheap supermarket (where no bus has gone before) so we can fill said new fridge.

We still need a bed though. We went to cousins David & Beth’s last night for dinner in Jerusalem, and figured we’d spend the day in Jerusalem looking for a bed. Then we remembered we have a dog.

We’re so used to being tourists in Israel and being able to go anywhere for any amount of time; we actually forgot for a moment that we live here. And Maimo is here. And Maimo can’t stay home alone with no pee break for 12 hours. Which is how long it would be when you factor in taking the local bus to the Jerusalem bus, then our time in Jerusalem, then all the busses and connections back. So until we know our neighbours well enough to ask if they can take Maimo out for a pee break, it’s either the day in J’lem or dinner in J’lem, but not both.

But we did have a lovely time with David & Beth and family! It was very cool to see them, and know we can do that anytime!

Anyhoo, there’s a long tedious story about a lovely evening we spent with more new friends, but I’ll leave that for later. We had a lovely time with the friends, but a hellacious time getting there, and then getting home. You can thank Connex at the “we love you Connex” party we’re holding next month. Not.