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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

An apple a day

Back in the USA again.  Got to stand in the line for "Israelis" on the way out of Israel and the line for "U.S. citizens" after arrival.  Pretty cool.  The flight here was rather turbulent and at one point it sounded as if an engine had blown out but apparently it was just some static discharge.  The Israeli flight attendant kept saying in English that we shouldn't worry it was just because of the "unstable" weather.  I for one would have been more comfortable with a different translation.  Unstable sounds a little too much like--not stable.  Don't worry passengers we are flying at 36,000 feet in the air in a tin can and the loud blasts you're hearing are just because we are in a situation that is not stable.

As I filled out my customs form I realized that I had accidentally brought some contraband in my carry on.  I packed a pb&j  and an apple for the Philadelphia part of my trip forgetting that you can't bring produce into the US.  A professor of agriculture explained to me why the U.S. has these restrictions but Israel and other countries often do not, though the explanation now escapes me.   Anyway, I had to get rid of the apple when I went through customs.  The officer asked me if I had any other food.  "I'm Jewish sir.  I can't travel without having a 10 day supply of food with me but I don't have any other produce. "

We had some flight delays leaving Philadelphia.  Just some mechanical things.  You know the kind of announcements that always make you feel confident about getting onto the plane.  When I'm travelling without children though I don't mind so much when there are delays.  OK I'll sip my coffee and flip through this magazine a little longer.  No big deal.

Being back in the ER is also great.  It's amazing how easy it is to work when you are staying at Hotel Megerman.  Got to hand it to my parents they are seriously providing a full service experience.  Not thinking about what's for dinner for 3 weeks is going to be awesome (though I did leave a detailed meal plan back home).  I don't want to think about how much I'm missing Israel and Michael and the kids.  One of the nurses asked me if I feel like I am coming home when I get to the US or leaving home because I left Israel.   What a great question.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Everything's up to date in Kansas City

So much travel this week.  Shira arrived today---hooray!  Now Lital has clothes for the next decade.  Kids have been so excited for her visit. We did the Israeli thing and picked her up from the airport with a bunch of  balloons.  Balloons are kind of a big deal here.   I leave this week for the U.S.  I know it's bad timing but both of our trips are connected to holidays in the U.S.  On the way to the airport to pick up Shira, Nehemiah started telling me that his gym teacher was from Ashdod and that if Hamas starts firing on us again she won't be able to come and teach gym.  I asked him if there are still some bombings right now:

N:  No, there's a ceasefire.

Me:  But what if Hamas doesn't want to listen to the ceasefire?

N:  They'll listen because they work with Egypt to fight us and Egypt told them to stop.

Me:  Why would Egypt want them to stop?

N:  Governmental elections.

It kind of got sketchy after that as to which government was having the elections etc. but since this particular line of thought didn't come from us, it is apparently the news as per a 4th grader who is learning through a non-native language.  
My Israeli passport in lieu of a real passport

In other news, I finally got the Ministry of Health to recognize my Kansas license.  I was stuck in a bit of a bureaucratic bubble that I think I would still be in if Michael hadn't made the astute observation that perhaps they just weren't used to paperwork from Kansas.  It turns out he was right--apparently if it doesn't have the words "letter of good standing" in the title then it can't be a letter of good standing no matter what it says--- and after several unreturned phone calls they called my translator/notary/lawyer to let him know that they will accept the paperwork from Kansas.  It's a good thing too because I'm not too sure what I would have done otherwise.  For all of you from the coasts who think of Kansas as a "flyover" state, you have something in common with the bureaucrats who work at the ministry of health in Israel.

While I'm in KC my ulpan will be on hiatus.  I am missing the 3 final weeks with my class and when I return will join another class for their 3 final weeks  (including our final written exam!)  Hopefully I won't forget all of my Hebrew while I'm away.  One of the trauma surgeons I work with speaks Hebrew so maybe he can quiz me on my verbs and keep me up to speed.

Now to the topic of our children with their Hebrew in school.  Hmmm.  We met with the pediatrician yesterday and she seems absolutely fabulous.  It was actually her recommendation to meet us first without children so that we could go over issues relating to aliyah/immigration etc.  She said learning in school happens from after Hannukah break until Purim (approaching spring break).  And she's not the first one I've heard this from.  So in other words, our kids don't really have to learn much this year except Hebrew and keep up with the math and oh yeah that's all done in about a 4 month span.  Phew.  Any educators out reading this?  I mean Israel is way advanced in high-tech, science/medicine lots of Nobel prizes here so I'm thinking someone somewhere is learning something but that seems like a super short time to learn it all in.

Friday, December 14, 2012

An ounce of prevention is worth 28 grams

[Pre-post note:  And the winner of the never-announced "Guess The Title Theme" contest is Mala R., who correctly  and without coaxing pointed out that my recent blog post titles were all the names of Rolling Stones songs.  Congratulations Mala!  You win the prize of the fame and fortune that comes with being mentioned on this blog!]

Took the kids to get flu shots Tuesday.  They were used to getting the nasal mist vaccine and were somewhat terrified at the prospect of an actual needle.  Lital's library "job" starts at 4 and the clinic opens at 4 so I figured she would just be a few minutes late.  I got mine first to show them that it didn't hurt but that didn't seem to help.  While Nehemiah was talking 100 miles a minute and Lital was screaming, little Ariella just walked up to the chair rolled up her sleeve and got the shot.  Barely a flicker registered on her face.  I was rather surprised.  Her bravery did not seem to inspire her older brother and sister and we still had a lot of convincing.  I know from years in the ER that once people go to that irrational fear place no amount of talking will bring them back because well it isn't rational.  Eventually Nehemiah swallowed hard and got the shot and so did Lital.  I asked Lital why she finally stopped screaming and she said "the nurse told me to hold still, I didn't want her to have to do it all over again."  Go figure.

Next day we went to an amusement park in Tel Aviv.   Fortunately it was a beautiful sunny day and perfect weather to enjoy.  The park reminded me of Rye Playland.  The type of amusement park that is fun and has great rides but still has character.  We called in advance to see if they had a kosher food booth and they said they did.  Now we'll know for next time to ask if it's open.   The same two who were begging not to get their shots have absolutely no fear of super fast upside down spinning amusement park rides.  Remember the irrational fear?  I am terrified of roller coasters (though I'm sure some readers would agree that this is most likely something highly rational!)  I don't like inclines at all.  I mean I'm slightly uncomfortable in San Francisco.  So as always I prefer to watch them enjoy the terrors.  At the kiddie coaster Ariella wanted to get on.  Most amusement parks I've ever been to have a sign with a height measure.  If you're up the line you're in and if not you're out.  This park had printed signs with height requirements (maybe in Israel parents are more up to date on their kids' heights) and age recommendations (for scariness purposes).  I was laughing at that one because I am 38 and I am afraid of the coasters but my 7 year old isn't so I don't think the sign helps much in that department.

Here's a picture of one of the coasters.  For those who read Hebrew note that it says:  Anaconda.  This brings me to another good point.  If you are struggling to figure out a Hebrew word on a sign it is most likely an English word spelled out such as "An--Kon--Da".  There are so many and it's fun when you find one.  (In this picture it helps to have the snake right above as a visual because I might have walked away thinking Ankonda was the word for roller coaster).

Anyway, I got the gold star parent award when Ariella measured tall enough for the kiddie coaster and I tried to send her on with Nehemiah and Lital.  The worker told me I had to go on.   When I tried to tell her I was afraid of roller coasters it didn't register.  I don't think it was my Hebrew.  I think it was that I was sending my 4 year old on a ride that I was afraid to go on.  OK.  So I sucked it up and went on.  While we were waiting all the children in line were giving me tons of encouragement.  In the end it reminded me of Disney's space mountain because I had my eyes closed the whole time.  But Ariella loved it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Get off of my cloud

The Rainy season has started.  This is not the misty wetness I thought we would have, but skies open pouring down rain.  Not sure it matters much if you have umbrella and rain gear because if you're outside you're going to get wet.   We got a head start on Hanukah break and headed up North on Thursday.  The kids were so disappointed to be missing an extra two days of school.  Now that we're in a much smaller country our road trip was only two hours long.  Road warriors that our children are they were already asking the "are we there yet" that every parent so looks forward to about an hour and fifteen in. The good news though is we were only 45 minutes away.  I tried reminding them that when we used to drive 10 hours to visit family in Chicago it took 5 times as long.  Short as the journey was the landscape completely changed.  We drove into the Western Galilee and were just a few miles from the Lebanon border.  The further North you get you start to see the signs have increasing amounts of Arabic writing.  

The panoramic views did not disappoint.  We even got to take the kids ice skating!  Lots of outdoor hiking and enjoyment.  Unfortunately the game station and dvd player at our rental did not work.  At first the kids were disappointed but the place was completely stocked with board games from my childhood.  We actually ended up having a good time going old school and playing "Clue" and an Israeli version of Uno--"Taki".  Saturday night after Havdalah (religious ceremony making the end of the Sabbath) our kids started yelling "Happy Hanukah".   They were seriously pumped.  We lit our Chanukiahs, played dreidel with our gelt and then walked around the neighborhood to see the lit up menorahs.  It was truly a first.  People we met over the weekend even brought us homemade sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts traditional at Hanukah time).

Sunday we visited a nature reserve at the Northern tip of Israel.  We were closer to Beirut than Jerusalem.   In the 1940s, the British dug a tunnel through the mountainside and built a railroad to connect Haifa and Tripoli.  This took 10,000 workers over a year to complete.  My children stood at the site eating ice cream.  Sometimes you're digging the holes and sometimes you're eating Nestle but the human chain keeps going.  We took cable cars down to the site and then walked through tunnels that were formed by thousands of years of rainwater and the lapping of the waves.   The picture you see shows the border of Israel at the site.

Next we motored on in the Merdinger-mobile to a little Marzipan museum.  We stayed longer than we thought we would at Rosh Hanikra and so when we called the museum to verify they told us not to bother since we would be arriving with only an hour and you need a minimum of two hours to really enjoy the museum.  We pressed on and arrived at the museum with only 45 minutes until closing.  Well dear readers I suppose my children were not sophisticated enough to need the two hours it apparently takes most to enjoy this museum.  It was about the size of my parents dining room.  Don't get me wrong they expanded their dining room and it's pretty good size but it took my children about 15 minutes to enjoy all the marzipan creations.  Next was a 10 minute movie (actually about wine making---later the employees asked us "Why didn't you tell us we showed you the wrong movie?"  Hmmm, what is the right answer to that one?).  But not to worry because they more than made up for it with the 25 minutes they had in the gift shop. All sorts of chocolate and truffles, almonds and sugary goodness.   It might have been the driving or the altitudes but I think I saw a costco on the way home.  Any readers from Northern Israel out there?  What is Cost-365?

Today we went to Hashmonaim for Nehemiah's first baseball game.  It was a bit of "Bad news Bears" minus the alcohol and the profanity.  Plus the kids all had names like "Ezra, Chaim and Nachshon" but you get the idea.  Our team actually won the second game with Nehemiah even scoring one run!  After the game we found out that the umpire was the son of our former Rabbi from Kansas City :)  We spent the afternoon getting Happy meals at the Modiin mall and sampling from the sufganiyot bonanza that was occurring on the first floor.  Seriously every variation on the theme of filled doughnuts that you can imagine.  Plus we were there for two menorah lightings.  I won't say it was like Rockefeller Center tree lighting but there were well over one hundred shoppers standing and watching and then singing Hanukah songs together.  Young and old, secular and religious all joining in together.

I wish Bubbie were here to make her famous latkes and potato knishes because we are definitely missing those this year.  Final thought:  people tell you that your kids will know Hebrew by Hanukah.  One mom told me "yeah that's true they'll know Hebrew by the third Hanukah".  OK, so hopefully it won't take that long but their knowledge of Hebrew does not come by the first Hanukah.  I think what does come is the removal of the first layer of resistance to such a big change.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ruby Tuesday

When you live in a country where you can get whatever type of fruits and vegetables you want any time you want them you can get sort of used to well getting whatever type of fruit or vegetable you want whenever you want it.  Before we moved to Israel , we had very little connection between seasons and availability which is probably why my children (Lital in particular) was so upset that we couldn't find strawberries or blueberries in Israel.  But guess what?  They're back!  The strawberries anyway.  I don't think I've ever had the experience of feeling such utter delight at finding strawberries at the store.  I think this must also contribute to the produce here seemingly tasting so much better.   We stopped at our new shuk on the way home last night and picked up a bunch.  A woman in line told us that in the summer we will be able to get blueberries from the Golan.  I really hope that turns out to be true.  Not sure how long strawberry season lasts but we will definitely enjoy it while it's here.  Bon Apetit!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

No expectations

Friday we had a major cultural experience in the form of the preschool Hannukah party.  A few weeks ago we were told that there would be a party/performance.  I was sort of expecting a 5 minute deal where the kids sing about the Maccabees, we have some cookies and call it a wrap.  When we dropped Ariella off the morning of the party all of the other children were wearing blue and white.   Ariella was in pink.  I'd like to say it was a language thing but any readers who were with us in our previous preschool would probably call me out on that one.  We haven't always been the most attentive to these details.  Anyway, we returned a few minutes before the "show"  and changed Ariella into blue and white.  What followed was a full on extravaganza.

These kids sang and danced their hearts out for a full hour.  There were costumes, there wet set changes, there was even a segment which I can only describe as "Riverdance Hannukah."  It was truly remarkable and I was happy to see Ariella singing along.   (Mom-dad-Joan-Paul you should seriously consider being here for one these shows--they are incredible).  The teacher who has been concerned about Ariella's reluctance to speak in the classroom probably wasn't predicting that Ariella would do a running commentary in between numbers.  She suddenly felt the need in front of the 40 or so adults who were there to watch to let us know how wonderful she thought the show was going (in Hebrew).  At the end parents and kids joined in for some special spinning dance (think spinning dreidel) which probably everyone in the room knew from their own childhood and now Ariella will too!  Seriously, I can only hope that each of you gets some moment in your lifetime that is as amazing for you as it was for us standing in Israel watching these children sing about the Hannukah miracles and sing "Am Yisrael Chai" as we are about to celebrate out first Hannukah as Israelis.  Exceptional.

Our family friend, Hannah, who is here learning for the year came to spend another Shabbat with us.  So great having her around.  While the kids were playing on Shabbat afternoon N apparently gave her a lecture on the importance of attending college.  Hannah told me later that N let her know that if she didn't go to college she could end up on the street and no one wants that.

Tonight we walked to our new favorite local felafel stand for dinner.  Darn if the calories in calories out thing doesn't follow you wherever you go.  Anyway, I had the most amazing chicken pita and so the owner said that next time he wants to make an even better chicken pita for me.  Some type of Jerusalem pita.  I was totally into it when he was telling me about the spices and the onions but when he got to the chicken heart I had to pause.  "I don't think I understood that last part, Lior.  Could we try in English?"  So he said chicken heart in English.   That did not make it sound any more appealing.  N wanted to know if there was any part of the chicken that was not Kosher.  Lior was shocked that I had never heard of this delicacy.  So any readers out there that are foodies?  Please help me out. Have you ever heard of eating chicken heart?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

In Another Land

And now back to our regularly scheduled program.  Good news.  I have now been here for 3 consecutive months and was able to submit my paperwork for the pre-passport.  The Ministry of the Interior really reminded me of any bureaucratic  government office except I think they were having fun that day because several of us seemed to have the same numbered ticket so that when number 209 popped up on the board you had to get there before the other  guy with the same ticket or beat the person who had 210 when their number popped up.  It was also good ulpan practice because the woman sitting next to me clearly did not appreciate my current Hebrew knowledge and kept engaging me in conversation regarding the difficulty she was having with her paperwork.  Anyway, I should be good to go in a few weeks.

Now that we have been here for a few months people love to ask us what we think of the schools.  Well my answer dear readers is:  I have no idea.  My kids don't speak Hebrew.  Seriously though they understand very little of what goes on during the day.  I have spoken to numerous educators about this and they all seem to say the same thing which essentially boils down to missing a year in your education is no big deal.  Just keep up with the math.  I found that kind of surprising but apparently a lot of what the kids spend their time learning is not that important to their long term educational plan.  The caveat being that when I started 8th grade in a new school system  I missed their year of geography but hadn't yet had one at my old school.  To this day I would be pretty hard pressed to find North Dakota on the map.  And by hard pressed I mean that I couldn't do it.  (Sorry to any readers from the North).  And there was the great Megerman Trivial pursuit championship of 1990 that my mom and I lost because we couldn't name the 5 oceans.  She was an immigrant and probably missed that year too!

We have started working with a really incredible tutor.  I haven't seen the kids so excited in a long time.    He's young, totally laid back, and a good religious role model.  Unfortunately, the school has yet to let us set up the tutoring hours during school so we are having to do it on the kids' free time.  He said he is going to speak to the principal "it doesn't make sense that they can meet every special need except for the needs of two children who moved here specifically to live in Israel."  Well you can see why I loved him right away.  Seriously though they are both getting super motivated and doing the assignments he gives and I am feeling hopeful about their learning something.

Lital and I were at a grand opening in Mazkeret this week.  We now have a fruit/vegetable shuk.  A shuk is traditionally an open air market where you can get inexpensive items from kiwi to a fly swatter to some unique cooking spice.  A true carnival for the senses in every way.  So being that Mazkeret is a bit gentrified this is more like a shuk that has been sanitized and bright lights added.  They had loads of candy they were passing out for the opening and L took some for herself and her siblings.  She is so sweet that way.  We were also there when they put the mezuzah (piece of parchment with Biblical verse) up on the doorframe.  "What fun," she commented "candy we can eat and getting to kiss a new mezuzah."

N has his first baseball game in a couple of weeks, on Hanukkah.  The Gezer "Bats" vs. the team from Hashmoniam.  Totally excited because the game is in Hashmonaim which is the Maccabees old stomping grounds.   This time, however, the Maccabees are going down!

Thanks for the suggestions on the chanukiyah. In the end I went with Carol K's idea for the clothespins glued together.  It's creative, different and well let's face it a pretty easy project.  I think Lital was pleased and she took it to school today.  Next week is my oral exam at ulpan---wish me luck and then we go on Hannukah break.  Hooray!  Looking forward to some downtime with the kids and traveling a bit around Israel.  We definitely will miss being near family. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012


After such a trying week we were quite happy to experience what I call the Shabbat trifecta.  Cleaning lady came on Thursday and we got invited out for both meals.  Ahhhhhh.  Just feel us relaxing.  Also, now that winter is here we finally figured out what the parachute like attachment is on the kids' backpacks.  Rain protecter.  Rather ingenious actually.  We are in the rainy season now and the weather has gotten a bit colder.  I think many of the Israelis actually consider it cold so our children are going around in sandals and summer fabrics and their children are wearing fleeces and boots.  Lital has very much been enjoying her super cute rain boots from Judi S (thank you Judi).  Yes.  She wears them to walk in and out of the car on rainy days and then from the car into the school building where she changes her shoes again.  You know it's important to show them off but you wouldn't want to wear your rain boots all day.

Friday morning we stayed and made a Hannukah menorah with Ariella at her gan.  Ariella is somehow like the Queen of England at her preschool.  These little kids love her and when she arrives they make all the proper fuss.  It is really pretty cute.  So Friday morning there were all these little kids coming to watch this little princess put the finishing touches on her Hanuukiah and telling me all about how Ariella plays with them in Hebrew.   They were so proud of her.  The teacher on the other hand still wants her formally evaluated.  Oy vay.  Yet another thing to do.

Lital is supposed to make a Hannukah menorah at home.  Apparently we completely missed the Noah's ark she was supposed to make so I would like to actually participate this time.  If anyone has a good idea for an at home Hannukah menorah craft please share.

And Uncle Howie if you are reading:  please let us know if you are indeed a checkers champion.  Nehemiah has been telling some of his friends that his Uncle Howie is one of the 50 best checker players in NY.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

You can't always get what you want.

So try to be thankful for what you have.  We didn't really celebrate Thanksgiving this year b/c the Americans that invited us for dinner were having an evening get together and N had baseball and L had basketball.  I did make some cranberry sauce as sort of a nod to Thanksgiving (and if you can boil water you can make some too).  We tried to go around the table and say what we were thankful for.  In what I believe to be a true Thanksgiving tradition there was soon dysfunction and fighting amongst the children present.  Oh well.

 I for one am thankful for no rockets and no sirens today.  Unfortunately that is not true for the people living in the South.  So thankful to be living here in the land of Israel!  I am also thankful for the makers of the soap at my local grocery who must have known that I needed a laugh.  The label on the soap is translated as "soapless soap."  Anyone out there who knows what that means please let me know.

This is not a political blog (of course to be followed by a political statement) but Michael Oren who is just an incredibly amazing person wrote a great article that I want to share.

I am also thankful that my Hebrew is slowly progressing.  We have oral exams at our ulpan in just over a week.  Today I gave my practice speech that I will have to give at the exam.  I spoke about the high prices of real estate in Israel.  When I got to the part about how it is less expensive to buy in the South all the Russians started laughing.  Definitely some tension released.  I have no idea what they were bargaining for when they moved here but everyone is trying to keep spirits up.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in America and God bless the USA.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Give me shelter

Last night or really very early this morning we woke up to the sound of a siren so we gathered up the kids and went to our mamad (safe room).  The siren didn't seem very loud and after 10 minutes we surfaced and discovered that it had been for our neighboring town.  Since we are sort of new to the "running for cover" I guess the distant sound of the siren didn't clue us in.  Anyway it was a good drill and we were fine but I felt bad for waking and scaring the kids.  Ariella I think just thought it was a game and was more interested in what snacks we were going to serve.  Nehemiah made some disparaging remarks under his breath.  Something to the affect of "this is a picture you won't see on the NBN website anytime soon".  NBN being an organization that helps Jews move to Israel.  We slept late because of it and I let the kids have sugar cereal.  When Lital asked "are you giving us Frosted Flakes because of the bombs?" I wanted to cry.  They get sugar cereal on Shabbat and I guess now when we've had to run to our mamad.  That's a pretty strange message.

Last night they hit an apartment building in Rishon where I have my ulpan.  One of my classmates lives right there and she said it was very loud.  Her building is older and so she doesn't have a mamad.  Today they blew up a bus in Tel Aviv.  Now I know that I will more likely be run over by one of the senior citizens who like to ride golf carts around to get places (yes dad---there are scores of ahem 'older' gentleman playing chess in the park and I guess those who can't walk there like to ride in golf carts) but it is still very scary.  I take 4 buses a day to get to my ulpan.  It is unfathomable to me that if Mexico were lobbing bombs into California and then Mexicans started blowing up buses in Los Angeles that people would tell Californians to just "show restraint" and "make peace".  It is impossible to make peace with an entity which does not recognize your right to exist.  I would ask all dignitaries that are currently asking us to make peace if they would like to take the bus and how comfortable they would be doing so.

I have been asking neighbors, friends shopkeepers etc. what they think.  Clearly a very informal poll but my man on the street thinks we should invade Gaza.  They want to clear out the massive arsenals that they have.  These opinions come from Israelis who have either served in the Army, are currently in reserves or have children in the Army so they definitely don't take these decisions lightly.  After ulpan today I stopped at our local fish shop to get some salmon and the owners were asking how we were holding up and if we have family here.  When I told them that we didn't have family they on the spot invited us to stay with them for Shabbat in Rehovot (nearby big city).  She told me that they will become our family since we don't have any here.  This also made me cry.  It is the part of being here that so much feels like coming home.  Times are really tough and scary but I know we will be fine. This is an old story.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Rocket man

Hello all.  Thanks so much to everyone for calling e-mailing etc.  Hearing from you really helps us.  I haven't posted in a few days b/c of the war.   There is something surreal about the possibility of rockets landing on your head.  Or waiting for sirens to run into your shelter to keep rockets from landing on your head.  Or constantly talking about rockets landing on your head.  Our kids had not yet gotten used to school on Sunday so I was hoping to prep them in some super easy way but N came home from school telling us all about it.  (It's OK for all of you who want to say that "we're not in Kansas anymore").  And it's true that we're not.

 We're lucky our kids are still in school.  In towns that are only a short distance away (like 5 kilometers--and we all know that if I can run a 5k it can't be a very large distance) schools are cancelled as a safety precaution.  The local governments do a really great job with it though.  Many towns are taking day trips every day to zoos, parks etc.  The children definitely feel the disruption but they are making the best of it.  We had plans to stay with friends in a more dangerous area but we decided not to go and instead invite our friends to us.  I feel sad that the kids now have safe rooms and bombs in their world view but I guess maybe we're lucky that they made it this far before only hearing about it.  Thank God not experiencing it first hand.  Many kids in the world aren't as lucky. There is a general sense of anxiety here but at the same time you still have to make dinner, do laundry etc.  Many moms are now doing this on their own as their husbands have been called up for reserve duty.  I wouldn't even be able to begin to imagine what they are going through.  I am ever thankful to the very brave Israeli soldiers who literally risk their lives to keep us safe.  This isn't a political blog but you can't really "make peace" with people who have sworn to wipe you off planet earth.  So what can we hope for?  Right now, just defending our right to be here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to turn $25 to $500 overnight in Israel and get out of the country

I am compiling a list of things that are less expensive here.  Granted it's a pretty short list but cell phone plans are on it.  You can get unlimited international calling, texting and 3GB of data (I won't pretend I know how much that is) for $25/month.  So you can spend hours making all types of elaborate plans with your friends on the phone--you just might hesitate to drive to the final destination (gas not being on the aforementioned list).

All that is theory, of course.  There have been some billing issues with our cell phone company which somehow charged us about 20 times the amount.  Michael called and spoke with them and they said they would credit us but when I got this month's bill we haven't been credited and we've been charged another, additional amount that is sky high.  So before calling the cell phone company I called our American credit card company.

Wow.  They were so incredibly friendly.  At the end of the call the rep told me that I was a valued customer and then asked if there was anything else he could do.  If he hesitated when I asked him just to stay on the phone another few minutes and speak politely to me, I couldn't tell.   OK, I haven't gotten that desperate.

Next I called our cell phone company.  It's true that I have been practicing my Hebrew more but I wanted to make sure we get our money so I chose the option "for English push 4".  I don't really know what happens if you press the "for Spanish push two" button in America, I've always just assumed you get someone who speaks Spanish.   After I pressed "4" I got an agent who must not have done too well in the company ulpan that I'm guessing they offer for their "English speaking" employees.  The conversation was pretty much in Hebrew with the exception of  "hold on a second", "just a minute" and "we'll call you back".   I have to hand it to him though, he did a really good job with those.  Actually, later in the evening someone who spoke English did call me back and while he didn't tell me I was a valued customer, it was kind of like talking to your cousin to get your bill fixed.

After ulpan today, I went back to the Ministry of the Interior to get my temporary passport.  This is where I learned that I have not yet been in Israel for 3 consecutive months.  First I stood outside with about 20 other people until the office opened.  I was fascinated that everyone took their proper place without cutting.  It helped that a woman with a rather "type A" personality kept everyone honest.  Got in, got my number and waited only a few moments to be called.  The agent switched to English when she heard my accent.  Her English was flawless.  Apparently learned from watching TV--maybe I need to be watching a little more "Kofiko"  (again not that desperate--though a lot of the TV here is supposed to be pretty good).  She noted that I had not yet filled out the form and then entered my identity into the computer and printed out a completely filled out form in about 30 seconds.  The form probably would have taken me at least 20 minutes to complete.   I gave her my photos, double checked everything.  It was just about that point that she noticed I had left the country in August.  (My trip back to work).

"Who gave you permission to leave?" she wanted to know.   I told her I had simply travelled on my US passport but will need the temporary passport to travel in December.

Her:   "But you can't get a temporary passport unless you've been in the country for 3 consecutive months."
Me:  "What if I had to leave tomorrow?"
Her:  "Just come back and we'll give you the permission slip."

She really was very nice but my head started to hurt thinking about how this worked.  I have to return at the end of November to get my temporary passport unless for some reason I have to leave the country between now and then in which case they will just hand me a permission paper.  If you can explain it to me--go for it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The results are in

Well the results are in.  Apparently the students at the Borg school in Mazkeret Batya were ready for some change because they elected one Nehemiah Merdinger from Kansas who does not yet speak Hebrew,  to the student council.  Yes, we were shocked too--though as I've mentioned before he can be rather persuasive.  I had nothing to do with his campaign speech (as even he didn't know he was running until the day of) and doubt that he will be able to follow through on most of his promises but as Saba (Grandpa) Paul pointed out---Israel is a country that was built by people with big dreams and the history of Israel shows that dreams actually can be realized.  So we shall see.

Besides the new playground and expanding the school property,  also promised to rid the school of bullies.  There actually is a bit of a problem with bullies at the school as we are learning.  If anyone has suggestions for programs that we could try implementing, please leave a comment or contact me off-line.

Meanwhile I have some answer as to why little Miss A is a non-stop chatterbox when she gets home.  We had "parent teacher conferences" (is it just me or do they seem young for this---in US these start at age 3!) and the teacher said that Ariella speaks with the children but is completely silent otherwise.  She doesn't say one word to the teachers.  She actually showed some of the same behaviors last year at her JCC preschool.  The teachers asked us for the first 6 months if she could speak at all.   By the end of the year they were more concerned that she couldn't identify an octagon.  Fortunately she is our third child so we sort of took it all in stride.  The teacher here has suggested speech therapy.  Interestingly, one of my friends from KS who is a speech therapist gave me a chapter to read from one of her textbooks before we moved.  It was about children becoming bilingual and all of the different behaviors that can be manifested--linguistically.  Apparently not speaking at school is standard enough to be in the textbook and speech therapy isn't the answer--basically it's just time.  However, the speech therapy would be free so we might as well check it out.

And today L starts a new after school program.  We had her in a regular aftercare that focused on dance and she liked the dance part but I think the all day Hebrew was too much.  I spoke with the principal of the school and she recommended putting her in an English setting.  Our little town actually has an English club aftercare.  An olah (immigrant to Israel) from England who has been here a very long time runs an aftercare that focuses on English.   People who speak English at home  or want their kids to get a head start on English send their kids there.   It's arts and crafts/homework etc. but with the staff speaking English and several English speaking kids it hopefully will be the type of place where L doesn't have to be so exhausted with the effort of concentrating on a foreign language.  Plus they get tea and biscuits!  I don't get home from ulpan until at least an hour after school is out and now that Michael is working she can't really go home.  Yes--did I mention Michael found a job?  Wonderful development!  Working for an outfit out of France so except for the occasional conference he might have to attend, there is no commuting which is also a plus.

And I just got back from the office of the Interior where I went to get my pre-passport.  Can't travel on the US passport when I return from US but can't get an Israeli passport until we've been here a year.  I took a day off from ulpan to do it so naturally the office was closed.  Well why shouldn't they be?  Wednesday is as good a day as any to close the office.  I did also stop in the office of immigration to turn in my reimbursement slips for travel to ulpan.  Because I don't have a local ulpan the state of Israel pays for my travel.  When I got there the man at the front desk asked if I had an appointment.  Nope.  OK then he said just go into that room.  I walked in and was immediately helped.  I noticed a bunch of people sitting in the waiting area.  Were these the people with appointments?  I have no idea.  I do not even try to understand how these things work but apparently making an appointment might mean that you have to actually wait.  Or I just got lucky.  I will probably never know.  Anyway, the woman behind the desk filled out a series of forms and then pulled out what looked like a day planner and took out a small legal yellow paper and wrote my information on there.  Didn't inspire a lot of confidence that I would be getting my $200 anytime soon but I will watch my bank account.  I am not sure why the country that is second only to California with it's silicon valley (aptly named "Silicon Wadi) doesn't have this whole thing computerized.  But again these are questions which I will not even begin to ask because I do value my sanity.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The other election day!

On the eve of the U.S. elections I thought you would like to know that N ran for student council at his school.  I didn't find out until after the fact.  Frankly speaking since the ulpan hours that were finally granted to our kids last week, disappeared this week I am not really sure how N or L understand much of what happens in that school.  Last week N spoke about a math test and I was actually just happy that he knew he had a math class.  I'm not exaggerating.  L's teacher seems to have taken a more proactive approach (and I think must know more English) and is helping L along.  Supposedly the hours are actually starting this week though I won't hold my breath and in the meantime we have hired a private tutor.  But I digress.

Apparently N wrote a speech and had the principal deliver it.  He made quite a few campaign promises  and unless he has become fast friends with a philanthropist that I don't know about I think he would have difficulty coming through on most of them.  I'm not too worried though as I would be rather surprised if some kid who just arrived from America and doesn't know the rules of the road yet is elected to student council but I'll keep you posted.

I don't think a day goes by that I'm not amazed that we are actually in Israel.  It's true that some days it might be more like "what in the world are we doing in Israel?" but mostly it's "Wow."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Guns and cholent

We spent Shabbat with friends in Elazar and had a really wonderful time.  We ate, we sang we talked and then we ate again.  And of course we ate a bit more.  Good thing the town has some hills.  Actually the panoramic views of the Judean hills are amazing.  It must be incredible to wake up to that view every day.  I was surprised that the kids didn't notice how many of the residents were packing heat.  A guard at the synagogue we went to had a machine gun.  N did notice a lot of barbed wire fences around and asked about it.  I explained that some of Israel's neighbors don't think that the Jews should live in Israel so sometimes we have to put up fences to protect ourselves.  Of course he took it in his own direction.  He talked about a country he knows with very friendly neighbors.   The United States.  The relations are so friendly he told us--Canada doesn't even have an army.  So I will apologize in advance to any Canadian readers but I don't know if that's true.  I mean it sounds absurd but N can kind of be convincing.  I wasn't really sure how to debate that point so I didn't.  Meanwhile we of course got lost on the way home.  Fortunately, we stopped at a quicktrip type place for some snacks and found Kosher sushi which was pretty exciting b/c I absolutely love sushi and would never be able to just stop in and find kosher sushi at a quicktrip in Kansas.  Turns out I haven't really been missing much (should be self evident but gas station sushi--not so great) but it was still fun.  We are now researching smart phones b/c the days of no GPS etc. need to be behind us.  Anyone with a phone they recommend please leave a comment.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Jim Davis in Israel

I have always been a huge library fan and when I heard we had a library in town I was a bit nervous about what we might find.    This is after all a relatively small town.  Nehemiah and Ariella and I walked over the other day and the whole way there I was prepping N.  I didn't want a  speech about the great libraries of Kansas once we got there.  As an aside, if any readers from Kansas bump into Governor Brownback anytime soon please let him know that I have a great PR guy for him right here in Mazkeret Batya, Israel.  Seriously, I mean Kansas was a great place to live but the way N tells it you would think we left Shangri-La.  Anyway, when we arrived we were all pleasantly surprised.  It is a little gem.  Quite similar to the library we left behind in Leawood but just on a smaller scale.  N got super excited b/c he now feels as if he has an office to work on his comics ("The Adventures of Super Someone" and his new "novel" about---here's a shocker---a young man trapped in a horrible world and trying to escape).  So when the librarian saw that he was interested in comics she started pulling out books from the English section on how to draw comics etc.  Turns out they have almost the entire Garfield collection and N is a big fan.  What a find!  I have no idea why on earth some small town in the middle of Israel has decided to stock such a large collection of Jim Davis--but I don't ask why.  I am only thankful.  Best part is it is so close to home that N can bike/walk there whenever he wants to.

Meanwhile, the teenage daughter of one of our new friends volunteers every week at this library.  She came up with the idea to make Lital her "library helper" so that she could covertly teach L some Hebrew in an unofficial capacity.  What a score.  L is so excited because she thinks she has a job at the library.  Tuesday will be her first day.  Little Ariella does not need any such help b/c she is picking up Hebrew so quickly that today when I asked her something she replied with "ani rak midaberet ivrit (I only speak Hebrew).  That little plan of hers didn't last long after I told her that I only speak English and of course since half of her Hebrew is still gibberish she should probably wait a day or two before making such declarations.

And just to keep you up to date we have been approved for ulpan hours in school!!   Supposed to be 6 hours per child and they approved 6 hours total.  N to get 4 and L to get 2.   No, it doesn't make any sense to us either and of course we'll have to start the whole phone call chain again but we are making progress and progress is good.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

You say tomato I say tomata

So last week I needed some tomatoes for a salad I wanted to make so I popped into the supersol (local grocery) and figured I would go through self check-out to make it quicker.  I got kind of hung up when I had to find the vegetable I wanted on the screen b/c obviously this is all in Hebrew.  Now sitting on the wall of my ulpan is a large poster with many different fruits and vegetables.  I know that a tomato is an "agvaniyah" but every time I typed aleph (first letter of Hebrew alphabet) no tomatoes were coming up as a choice.  I turned to the customer at the other self check out station.  "What is this?"  I asked him.    He sort of looked at me like he didn't know how to proceed and then maybe b/c of my accent he answered in English "it's a tomato".    Well gee whiz.  I mean I know it's a tomato it's the whole reason I came to the store.  I just can't get it to come up on the screen.  He came over and typed in "agvaniyah" but apparently it's spelled with an "ayin".  Not likely to forget that anytime soon.

Nor will I forget the word "pereg" anytime soon.  Last week I stopped to get an iced coffee at the local bakery on my way home and saw some delicious looking brownies that I thought would be nice for Shabbat.  Imagine my surprise when we bit in and it was poppy seed cake.  I think that poppy seed cake is clearly an acquired taste and when you are expecting a rich fudge chocolate brownie it is definitely not the time to learn to appreciate poppy.  Pereg=poppy--thank you so much.

Meanwhile we've made some noise and now someone in the national level of the education ministry is aware that two little American kids in Mazkeret Batya need to get their in-school ulpan hours.  The superintendent should know that N has already mastered all swear words in Hebrew using her techniques.  Haha he said.  I thought this was a holy land--they have swear words here too :)

Monday, October 15, 2012

And now for some "oys"

Well it can't be all fun all the time here.  I mean even though we have moved to Israel and everything it is still real life.    As  new immigrants our children are entitled by law to ulpan (Hebrew language class) in school.  They are supposed to be receiving around 6  hours per week.  Well friends it is now October 15th and they have received exactly zero hours.  Yes.  Zero.  The principal keeps telling us that she is waiting for the funding from the ministry of education.  Forms have been filled out, phone calls have been made but nothing is happening.  We decided to stop waiting like patient Americans, and go in person to the head honcho here in Mazkeret.  I'll call her the Superintendent of schools for lack of a better translation.  We plead our case.  Our poor children are so depressed in school.  They don't understand anything.  It's so frustrating.  Her response was that we should tell our children not to be so shy.  Don't get so focused on the ulpan she said.  No one learns Hebrew from the ulpan they learn from talking to other kids.  Just tell them not to be shy and start asking what things mean.  OK.  Right.  Um.  That wasn't really the reassurance I was going for.  Maybe we should just implement plan B and bang our heads against a wall.  I've heard that works too.

I mean seriously Israel has absorbed thousands upon thousands of immigrants in the past 60 years (thanks for the pep talk dad!) and I know that so many of them have gone through what my children are going through and that yes the language will not really be learned in the ulpan.  But still.  We need something.  When I was sitting comfortably in Overland Park talking about moving to a non-anglo town so that we would be forced to integrate I guess I didn't really know what I was talking about!  It is hard work.  And people love to say that kids learn languages fast, which they do.  But running to the playground and asking kids to play hide and seek and counting to twenty and then having a conversation about the rules  in a new language, is not the same as listening to a science or grammar lesson in a foreign language.

In the meantime, I am making progress in my own ulpan.  I am amazed to see how quickly we are moving forward .  I am mostly speaking with the Russians in Hebrew now.  That is partly because we are learning more and partly because they told me that my English was very hard to understand with my heavy accent.  I actually almost choked when they told me that.  That's pretty rich.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Rooftop happy meals

What a whirlwind the last 10 days have been.  How incredible to have 10 days in Israel that we didn't have to make huge flight plans, hotel reservations etc. b/c we live here now.  You can just get up and go.  And go we did.

First off just taking a left out of town instead of our usual right, introduced us to tons of little day trip type places that are just minutes from our home.  To include a new Barkan vineyard/winery.  I know where friends and family are going to make their first stop when they come to see us---little Napa Israel.

This was our first Sukkot in Israel and it was interesting sitting in our Sukkah having dinner when our neighbors were doing the same.  You can hear the chatter and their dishes clinking.  I almost asked for a taste of the soup.

First day of chol hamoed Sukkot (secular days of the holiday) we planned to go hiking and BBQ with friends in one of Israel's national parks, Har Hatayasim.   This mountain does have amazing panoramic views and we hiked up to a spring where the kids had fun exploring.  I however have never been a huge fan of cars on small windy mountain roads so my adrenaline levels were pretty high just from the drive.  I think our crew did a good job in keeping with the true spirit of Sukkot in that we looked more liklike a segment of wandering Jews than real hikers.   And if memory serves, much like the Jews leaving Egypt my children might have had a complaint or two when we learned at the end of our hike that BBQing is not allowed in national parks.  Not to worry though this is Israel...we found good Kosher food fast.

Day two we joined a group of Olim (immigrants) and headed North to Alona park for the day.  We started off at a vineyard picking grapes (actually you cut them at their stems with scissors) and then brought the grapes to a different area to make grape juice.  I'll admit that as I was watching all those hands mashing the grapes and looking at the bins my mind was wandering more to staph and pseudomonas than yummy beverage.  But I reflected on the whole organic--local--back to basics food movement that is going on right now in the US and decided that people would probably pay good money to have this  hands in the earth experience so I rolled up my sleeves and got in.  And even sipped a bit of the juice.  Pretty tasty actually--though it was not purple as my children thought it would be.

Next we went on a tour of a Roman built underground water tunnel system.  Wow talk about glad not to have been a Roman underground tunnel builder.  The water was up to my thighs and it is pitch black.  We didn't have a flashlight but others did and you really couldn't make it through without them.  Disney doesn't hold a candle to those tunnels.  The kids had a blast and as soon as they were out headed right back to go in a second time.

We ended the day at the Mall in Modi'in eating Kosher McDonalds on a rooftop Sukkah where Michael and some of the other diners got into the finer halachic (Jewish law) details about wh ether or not this was in fact  a Kosher Sukkah (properly constructed) and one of the diners came back with string so that he could fix it to his liking.  This I am certain could only happen in Israel.

Day three we spent the morning in Park Ayalon with a dear (and very patient friend).   This is another of Israel's national parks and is quite lovely.  Rows of fig and olive trees with little walking paths and fish ponds etc.  After feeding some fish and rock climbing we had a picnic and then a huge caravan of people showed up.   We had brought our pop-up Sukkah with us and it was quite the conversation starter.  People kept coming over to ask what it was and where in the world had we bought it.  In spite of the total fun party atmosphere our kids had enough so we hopped over to Yad La-Shiryon which I believe is officially Israel's memorial site for fallen members of the armored corps but is an absolutely spectacular tanks museum.  Three whining kids perked up fast and we stayed until they closed.  There are dozens of tanks to explore and an observation deck with amazing views and tons of history.  We just barely scratched the surface in our three hours there.

At the entrance to the tank museum there was a soldier and as we were entering Nehemiah said to him that his only hope was that Moshiach didn't come before he was able to serve in the army (rough translation--I hope world peace isn't achieved before I have my army service).  There is so much to unwrap in that statement but I am starting with the fact that my son who was previously telling people that he is on the first plane back when he turns 18 is now staying at least long enough to do the army.   Also, when we climbed the stairs to the observation deck we saw a small group of hippie type religious people sitting around with a guitar.  I got excited thinking we would get a little Sukkot kumzits (a spiritual type sing along) so I got a bit closer and they started singing "Hotel California".    Not really what I was expecting but even stranger is that recently the Eagles Hotel California album has been the soundtrack for our lives (this I will have to explain in another post).

Day four we headed towards Jerusalem to yet another national park (great thing about living in a small country is you get to see a lot in a short time) Castel park.   Those Romans were at it again this time with a fortress that was redone by the crusaders.  It is a child's dream visit.  There is a huge fortress on a hilltop with all sort of trenches and passageways.   There is so much history at that one spot but mostly we just had fun playing with our kids and letting their imaginations run wild.  The views are unbelievable and if I had any clue as to Israeli geography I might have even known what I was looking at but I don't think I could have enjoyed it more for knowing.  We stopped for lunch just outside of the park and met a family that had emigrated to Rehovot (town we live outside of) 17 years ago.  This was fantastic because their son who was in 5th grade 17 years ago, told Nehemiah that he remembered in detail how absolutely awful it was that first year when he didn't understand anything or speak the language but how now he loved Israel and couldn't think of anywhere else as home.  The mom (who turned out to be an English teacher) told us that she used to keep her kids home from school every couple of weeks for mental health days b/c it is so frustrating for them to be in a foreign language school environment all day.  That is advice we will probably be taking.

Yesterday we went back to the beach.  Friends called last minute to invite us for the holiday lunch which freed us up from cooking, we got a bit of take out for the holiday dinner and headed out.  I can not overstate  how incredible it is to be so close to the water.  While playing in the sand I suggested we write our names in the sand and let the tide wash them away.  I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Lital write her name in the sand in Hebrew.  We got back home in time for a lovely holiday in Mazkeret and we have one more day until we go back to real life.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

National Israel Bike Day, Mediterranean Musings, Science & Soda

National Israel Bicycle Day, a/k/a Yom Kippur, is a strange blend of people going to synagogue, not a single car on the road at all the entire night or day, and as a result of these two, a big bicycle block party.   Towards the end of the fast I took a walk with the kids outside and the place was swarming with people on bikes.  There was a large crowd gathering around the synagogue and I noticed several of them occasionally entering to hear the Neilah service.  The fast was over just after 6 pm, so we came home had a quick bite and then went back outside to watch neighbors and friends begin to build their sukkot.

The next day we went to the beach.  Israel has officially entered vacation mode.  When we told people we were moving to Mazkeret Batya and would be 25 minutes from the water, I'm not sure I had in mind what that even meant.  I mean midwest living has serious advantages but now that we're so close to the beach I can see the pull to live near the water.  This was like landing in San Diego but (any San Diego readers feel free to correct me) I don't think they put Sukkahs up at the beaches in California.

Palmachim is also one of Israel's national parks.   Just to save you some time in case you find yourself heading to this beach anytime soon, the first tiny little sign on the left that says Palmachim is a military base so don't turn there.   Anyway, when we arrived it was like landing in paradise.  This is what you imagine when you picture yourself on a Mediterranean holiday.   Pristine sand that felt so wonderful to walk on.  Clear swimming water and when you look into the horizon the sky is  6 shades of blue and the water is 8 shades of green.  Palm trees and shore line stretching out.

 Lital who spent 7 years in Kansas worrying about sharks got onto a boogie board and started wave hopping in the Mediterranean Sea faster than you can hum the theme song to Jaws.  Nehemiah was his little fish in water self and Ariella had a blast digging in the sand and chasing after seagulls in Hebrew.  I guess she figured these were Israeli birds.  Afterwards we went to the food shack for ice cream.  I challenge you to find a place in Israel without ice cream.   It is after all the land of milk  and honey.  

Next stop Ikea for lunch.  A friend mentioned we could eat there on the way home.  I have never lived near an Ikea and certainly would never have been able to eat in their cafeteria even if I had.  Let me tell you, trendy feel good furnishings aren't the only thing they do right.  Their cafeteria was incredible.   I had soup in a bread bowl.   We probably stood out a little in our beach clothes (I had no idea this was a date worthy type place) but the food was priced right and delicious.

Next day I took the kids to the Weizmann institute of science while Michael went to Home Center to buy a Sukkah.  Can you even imagine going to your local home depot to buy your sukkah and schach? I think I missed the part about their children's museum being outdoors.  Fortunately the weather here has started to change and so it wasn't super hot.  Plus the good folks at Weizmann have a coffee bar at their children's museum b/c they know that in order for most parents to listen to 3 hours of "mom over here, mom look at this, mom look at me,  wow mom how does this work? etc" is going to take at least a double espresso.  After 3 hours of levers and pulleys and all types of hands-on fun my 3 children were most in love with the exhibit at the exit.  The one that dispenses the sweetest of nectars that children worldwide seem to love.  Yes, the coke machine.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Back in the USSR

My ulpan (language class for immigrants) has started.   I was very much looking forward to ulpan b/c I wanted to bridge the gap between my current Hebrew speaking ability and being able to speak Hebrew.  When we first went to the absorption office in July, I was told that my ulpan would start September 1st in the nearby city of Rehovot and I would be contacted about the details.  I hadn't heard from anyone by the end of August so I decided to call myself.  Every day I was told to "call back tomorrow" when the person who could help me was scheduled to return.  After 5 tomorrows I went in person to the office and was told that there is no ulpan in Rehovot.  Would I like to try one in the city of Rishon Lezion?  OK.  Well not really b/c that's 30 minutes away but if it's my only option.    I called the office in Rishon and they told me to come the next day for my test.  Test?  Now we're talking.  I actually got excited.  We're making progress now.  They are going to give me a test and find out how good my Hebrew is and where I need to be.  Maybe Rishon is farther away but these people seem to know what they're talking about.  Michael barely suppressed his smirk.  

Driving into Rishon the next morning I was really pumped.  I'll spare you the details of getting into the school where the ulpan was held but suffice it to say there are quite a few gates at that school each with its own unique entry point and I somehow managed to go to every single wrong one.  Eventually I made it to the ulpan office and met with the administrator.  She asked me my name, where I was from, and if I had ever studied Hebrew.   A full ten seconds later she announced the test result with the decree: "ulpan aleph".  "Aleph", I asked?  "The first level that you have"?  A class for people who don't know the alphabet?  How could that be possible?  I went to day school through 7th grade and what about daily prayer, adult learning etc.  Those of you have spent some time here probably know where this one is going.  I told her I wanted to be put in ulpan bet (second level).  "Let me try it out.  If it's too difficult I can go back to aleph."  Which is of course when she told me that they only have ulpan aleph in Rishon.    

"So.  I just drove out here to take a placement exam for a class that only has one level?"  "Yes".  Alright.  Just checking.  And that dear readers (i.e. mom and dad) is how I ended up in Ulpan aleph.   The good news is that since my absorption office neglected to give me the proper information about the class they had already been meeting for 6 weeks so at least I didn't have to start with the ABC's.

Now that I am in ulpan I am learning tons of important things,  such as:  I'm really glad I wasn't born in Russia (or the Ukraine.  From hereon out I will call them both "Russia").  Seriously though there are 25 people in my class and 4 of us are from outside of Russia.  One woman from Switzerland is a lawyer,  another woman (not Jewish) from Romania is a dentist and she wants to convert to Judaism though I am going to have to get more details there because frankly how in the world would some random woman from Romania get the idea of moving to Israel and becoming Jewish into her head?  Third is a woman from Iran.  She and her husband came through Turkey because clearly there are no flights from Tehran to Tel-Aviv.  And furthermore, the Israelis did not stamp her passport that she has been to Israel or else she could never go back.  And last is me.  Everyone else is from Russia.

These are not Jewish people from Russia.   I know this because I've done some informal polling--I don't bother asking the ones wearing crosses b/c it seems sort of unnecessary.    Why is the Jewishness or non-Jewishness of most of my classmates interesting?   Because if you are Jewish and from the Western world and you want to move to Israel, there are so many wonderful things about it, but you are not increasing your physical comfort and you are probably taking a pay cut to be here (and you're paying $9/gallon for gas).   So when my Russian classmates tell me they didn't move to Israel because of Judaism or anything like that, but solely because they consider it many steps up in terms of material and physical comforts, I realize that I am very fortunate not to have been born in Russia.   Though I am forever thankful for my Russian Bubbie!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rosh Hashana has come and gone.  Our first big holiday in Israel.  Wouldn't you know it has to be a two day Yom Tov.   Hello???? We moved to Israel--um, we should only have one day now.  

Ariella's gan (preschool) teacher kindly sent home a kazoo/pretend shofar.  How sad we were when that little buzzer just disappeared.

The spirit in the air was contagious and the community has been so welcoming that I felt emboldened to have some guests at our place.  I was caught up in the energy, the buzz, the joy.  I might have taken notice of our very small oven.  Some of my menu items had to be completely scratched b/c frankly I barely had the time to make what I did.  Which of course was entirely too much food.   Note to self:  we also have a  very small refrigerator.  And no, in case you're wondering, moving things around that are already in the fridge doesn't really create space for new food.   

We had only one kitchen fire and well I've always felt that parchment paper might be slightly over rated.  My late father-in-law Arthur Merdinger (of blessed memory) taught us early on to always be prepared for a kitchen fire.  The red fire extinguisher stood ever ready on our counter thanks to him.   Funny thing is they don't allow pressurized containers on your lift so what did I do?  "MICHAEL--GET IN HERE NOW!"   Fortunately, all was contained within the oven and no damage done.  We really did have an amazing Yom Tov.  

On the second night we went for dinner to a French family who emigrated about 17 years ago.  Their parents (just made aliyah 3 years ago---hint-hint mom and dad), sister and brother-in-law (from Australia) and an Aunt were also there.   It was like walking into an enchanted garden.  Tables were set up in the backyard with the backdrop of fruit trees.  The evening was so lovely with one delicious thing after another and such warm and wonderful conversation we didn't want to leave.  We also got to experience a new (to us) custom of eating different foods with symbolic significance.   At the end of the meal when they asked if anyone wanted tea or coffee N replied "I'll take decaf if you have any-that's all my mom lets me have at this hour."

And while we're on the subject of hours.  Just found out today that Israelis set their clocks back one hour this week to coincide with Yom Kippur.  Yes friends they have gifted us with one less hour of daytime fasting.   That is what I call good for the Jews.  

Shana tovah.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Welcome to oys and joys.  This is a blog about me and my family who moved this summer from the midwest of the United States to the mideast---make that Israel!  We are realizing a long time dream and wanted to keep friends and family posted about our lives here.  I suppose if you're going to uproot your whole life might as well do something cliche' so why not start a blog?  Once I start posting, I would love to hear your comments.  It is a great way to stay in touch.  Welcome.