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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."