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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.