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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mickey mouse vs. the dentist

I took the kids to the dentist last week.  In the US I was fastidious about twice a year appointments but this is the first time we've been in the 17 months we've been here.  I was a bit anxious.  First I'll start by saying that we had an amazing pediatric dentist in Kansas.  If you live in or near Overland Park, and you don't take your kids to Dr. Matt, then you are basically a negligent parent.   (Not that I'm judging.)  We went to him because of his credentials but he is so personable and the entire office is so friendly, plus they have it set up in such a kid-friendly way that after experiencing the long lines at the actual Disney world I think my kids would prefer a trip to Dr. Matt.  For them it was like going to super fun land and they came home motivated to take good care of their teeth--with actual instructions and know how.  But enough about smilesdentistry (and no I have no vested interest) it's just that I was pretty sure he was going to be a tough act to follow.  Plus, here we're on a socialized medicine plan and were just going to our plan's local dental clinic.

I am happy to report, we were quite pleasantly surprised.  There was some initial confusion in which I thought the tech was the dentist and the dentist was the tech, (have you ever had a dentist who wore a big gold chain?  It was a first for me)  but he was very good with the kids.  No plasma TV to watch in the ceiling while you are lying back in the dentist chair, but N even had a minor procedure and was fine.  The dentist recommended removing two of N's baby teeth.  N told him "Please don't do anything that will cause my teeth to become straighter because I want to move to England and become a footballer (soccer player) and I want to blend in."  Where does the guy get this stuff??  All I can say is he reads A LOT.   Fortunately, the dentist had a sense of humor and they hit it off.   A couple of painless shots and the teeth were out.  N and the dentist were like buddies at the end with him calling N the next Mr. Bean.

Afterwards, we took them for flu shots.  A being our youngest and bravest jumped right up to the table and pulled up her sleeve.  N who had just had the oral injections and was still having fun with his numb mouth requested the numbing spray prior to getting his shot.  The nurse happily obliged.

Meanwhile my parents sent N a pair of goalie gloves.  Boy, was he excited.  By mistake they happened to choose the color that his favorite goalie wears.

Cost of kids goalie gloves:  $15

Cost to mail to Israel:  $15

Getting yellow goalie gloves in the mail from your grandparents:  Priceless

And the school year moves along.  Thinking of last year when we just couldn't get help and comparing to this year when our kids are not even new olim (new olim have the most "rights" to get help) and all the help they are getting.  L's school just started a twice a week after school program to help with homework and for reading exercise.  The school librarian works with this small group and I am so excited.  First of all, school here ends at 1:30 so she now will get twice a week after school for free plus tons of help to close the reading gap that 2nd year Olim tend to have.  Hooray!  If anyone reading is considering aliyah, take note:  Go to a place where the schools have Olim-- it is much easier for your child and much better academic support.  The English programs at both schools are also good.  L's friends from Australia were complaining that they have to learn the American spelling for certain words (i.e. color vs. colour) but I guess such is life.

Today, the 17th of Tevet, is the 8th Yahrtzeit for Michael's dad, Arthur.   We miss you Arthur.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Winter wonderland

Only a short time after my last post, it started snowing in Modiin!!  According to neighbors, this is a first.  What fun.  Our kids were so thrilled (until they realized that hats and gloves were still in boxes--snow is actually pretty darn cold).  No matter,  all the kids ran out and had their 4 minutes of snowball throwing until their hands just couldn't take it.  Guess that's better than spending 10 minutes getting them bundles up just to have them tell you they have to go to the bathroom.  Actually, if we had all the winter gear they would have missed out on the fun in the time it would have taken to bundle them up.   My sense is that this snow might not be here in the morning but loads of fun for kids.  Very glad we don't have to drive anywhere.

Covered in a blanket

One day you're on the beach on Hannukah vacation, marveling at how warm it still is in December and next thing you know, bam--cold and rainy, winter has arrived.  OK, so it's not that cold in Modiin for those of us who have lived in regions of the world that experience real winters but cold enough that I had to run out and buy socks for everyone (something like 40 to 48 degrees farehnheit, with wind and rain).   Ariella, who is our most authentic Israeli child, was reluctant to trade her sandals in for a pair of socks and shoes but even she didn't venture out into the cold and wet with exposed feet.   It's possible the weather changed on a dime like this last year but I suffer from a condition I call "weather amnesia."  I don't know if that's even something real or if one can find it in the DSM-V--though with current trends to label everything I suppose that wouldn't surprise me.  It's just that I can't remember weather from year to year so patterns escape me.   Let's just say that even though we are now into December it was sort of shocking that it got cold and wet.  Luckily a friend had dropped a bag of hand-me-downs off for Ariella or that poor girl would still be wearing sundresses.  At the store I learned that what we call tights are called garbayot (long socks) here and what we call leggings they call "tights."  Make sure if you are repeating these words at home to yourself to add the accent whenever words such as "bank," "lobby," or "villa" are spoken in Hebrew.  Otherwise, you will never be understood!

Before all of you make fun of me for applying the adjective "cold" to 40-49 degrees, please remember that buildings here are designed for the majority of the year, which is quite warm.  They therefore are made of stone, and keep it cooler inside in the Summer.  But there is no (meaning zero) insulation.  So when it is 43.5 degrees outside, it is 44 degrees inside (since your body heat helps out a little).  This contributes to the feeling of cold, and explains why even the Olim from Britain and Canada are feeling the chill.

Anyway, living in a country that is so dependent on rain I actually have a feeling of increased security when it is pouring outside.  Like, ugh it's wet and icky, but hooray the Kinneret is filling up.

There is something I don't understand, though, and if there are any city planners reading I would like you to chime in.  (Elaine M. if you are still reading--maybe Andrew could advise?)  I haven't noticed much in the way of drainage systems here.  I mean 150 years ago they were draining swamps and the like, but for instance in my city which is relatively new (20 years old or so), when it rains large puddles appear on the roads and sidewalks, and some buildings have small floods.  Now I come from Kansas City, home of wet basements.  I totally get that if it rains excessively and the ground is completely saturated, basements fill with water.  But this is not an excessive rain situation.  This is more puddles accumulating in the street after a morning of rain.  I don't see drainage sewers.  I started thinking that maybe in climates that are prone to drought there is a reason for this and would love it if any readers could comment or explain.

Friday morning update:  I didn't send this post out last night, and I awoke this morning to weather news from Jerusalem that makes our Modiin winter seem somewhat underwhelming.  Jerusalem often gets some snow, and people from Modiin will sometimes take their children to play there.  However, today, Jerusalem has gotten a much larger share of snow than usual, leading to the shutdowns of the highways, and the army and police rescuing 2,000 motorists who were stuck because of the snow.

I remember a massive snowstorm in Nashville that completely shut that city down, demonstrating that the essential thing is preparation, preparation, preparation.  At the time, Nashville only had 3 snowplows.   I bet you they wouldn't have even noticed that storm in Toronto.  Karen, if you're reading this, do you remember that storm?  The one where people drove 20 minutes to work, realized the fury of the storm and turned around at 9:30 or 10 a.m. to get home, only to arrive home 10 hours later. . .

Any potential Christian tourists sharing Bing Crosby's dream shouldn't hold their breath, though, since next week is forecasted to be in the high 40s and low 50s in Jerusalem, which should melt everything away before December 25th.  Which, by the way, is cousin David's birthday.  Happy birthday, David!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Invasion of the body snatchers

This year I wanted to do some serious research for my blog so I decided to conduct an independent study on where to find the best sufganiyot (Hannukah doughnuts) in Modiin.  I knew it wouldn't be easy because there are so many fantabulous bakeries here and only 8 nights, but I felt that in this time of dedication (read another blog for the Hannukah story) I could show some dedication of my own.  After all, if you find yourself in Modiin some Hannukah I want you to get the absolute best sufganiyah out there.  I really only had your best interests at heart when I started, but dear readers I quickly learned that it was no mission for amateurs.  I mean I can put away some chocolate chip cookies and I can eat a pint of chocolate chocolate chip ice cream like nobody's business but these doughnuts were an entirely different matter and I'm sorry to report that I had to abort the mission after only three nights.  Sometimes, as it turns out, there really can be too much of a good thing.

And how do you burn off the calories from little fat bolus donuts?  Local runs in Modiin!  Last week Nehemiah ran in a local race.  Modiin has a yearly 5/10K, with shorter races for kids.  He qualified to run the 1500M on behalf of his school, instead of having to register independently.  It was a lot of fun.  There were 500 runners in his age group.   You might be asking how I burned calories standing on the side lines, so let me tell you-- since none of the parents knew where the finish line was, we cheered our kids on at the beginning, walked half way to the point that we thought was the finish line and then turned around and walked back to the start since it turns out the start and finish were the same place.  We had to move kind of fast too because this is only like a 7 or 8 minute race.  Afterwards the kids played in the olympic village the city set up.  All in all, lots of fun.

Poor Michael injured his foot so even though this was to have been his first official 5k it looks like he is sidelined for a bit.  No worries, he is shadow boxing while he waits for his foot to heal.

Last Friday, our neighboring city (the border of which is one block away from us) had their own race.  This was just a show up and run deal, and N and L both ran and then played in their bouncy/craft/play area.  The girls designed dreidels and N and a buddy made their own fun.

Now the kids are on break from school to celebrate Hannukah.  We planned some day trips and part of the blog experience is chronicling them so we can look back and say "Hey, remember that time we went to the Alexander River to see the sea turtles and that guy rode up on horse back, tied up his horse and walked away?"  Yeah, that actually happened while we were at Nahal Alexander.  I thought it was more a beach where we could swim but it was actually a big grassy park and you can watch the turtles come up on on the banks of the river.  Not sure where he came from.

We took a day to harvest fruit for poor people.  We joined up with an organization called Leket Yisrael.  We learned there that 1 in 4 Israelis lives below the poverty line.  Fortunately, great organizations like these are working hard to help.  One of the many ways they help is to have actual fields where they grow fruits and vegetables that are donated.  Our day we were assigned to pick clementines.  Our group was about 50 people, some from a bat mitzvah group that do mitzvah projects each month in preparation for becoming bat mitzvah, others from a school group from a town in the South, and a handful of families like ours.  We worked for about 90 minutes and the leader told us that we picked about 1000 Kilos of fruit, or about one ton.  He told us this would be donated to about 250 families.  We felt really good about that.  The other thing that we felt really good about is that sometime during the harvesting there was an invasion of the body snatchers.  I don't know if was the manual labor, or hearing about hungry children, or knowing that our work made such a difference, but our children spent the next several hours playing so nicely and treating each other with such love and respect, that I felt like we had become a family from an old-style TV show, like Leave it to Beaver, or the Brady Bunch.  I did not want to change the channel.

I'm not really that familiar with Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the film), so I don't know how to wrap up the analogy, but basically in the movie you're totally rooting for the "good guys" to get back to themselves but in this version I was rooting for my kids to keep up the charade.  Anyway, by morning the 'pod people' seem to have left and our children were back.  Today we went to the old city of Jerusalem on a tour organized by our city.  It was great because we went by bus, so there was no need to worry about parking etc.  Ariella sang songs about Jerusalem the whole way there.  She wanted everyone to join in but it was a group of Olim and she couldn't understand why they didn't also know the songs from school.  At one point she switched to "Adon Olam," because she said every little kid learns this one.  She was a bit confused as to why the announcements on the bus were being made in English.   Our first stop was the generations museum outside of the Kotel (Western Wall).  Apparently it took the artist 6 years to create the glass sculptures that he uses to depict the generations over thousands of years that have been in or have yearned to be in Israel.  Nehemiah got pretty excited when he saw his name etched on one of the sculptures.  The tour is done with a headset that is programmed in many languages.  Ariella chose to listen in Hebrew but I chose English.  She turned to me and told me that if I want to learn Hebrew I can't just to go to ulpan-- I have to also choose Hebrew.

Afterwards, we took a tour through the tunnels underneath the Kotel.  Nothing like thousands of years of history to put things in perspective.  What an awesome feeling to stand in such archeological sites and feel so connected.  And to be reminded how glad I am that I wasn't born a Roman soldier.  King Herod (who made a number of additions to the Temple area) did not mess around.  I'm not sure when it developed, but there is a custom to write a note and leave it in the wall with your prayers.  Lital put a note in asking for my dad to get better.  It was very sweet.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Time to make the doughnuts

Hannukah is rapidly approaching and for the last few weeks, major department stores have all things Chanukah related.  I love walking in and being greeted with Hanukiyot (Hanukah menorah), candles, matches, oil lamps, cooking oil.  Seriously anything you can think of that is somehow related to the holiday will greet you on the shelves as you enter the stores.  I saw mesh skimmers and tongs for deep frying, cake and doughnut decorating utensils.  In fact, my challenge to you dear readers:  Name a Chanukkah related item that you think is NOT on the shelf ready to be purchased at my nearest grocery (well, okay, no Channukah bushes--oy).  In the meantime, the doughnuts have come out in full force.  Everywhere you turn is another doughnut, more decorated and frosted than the next one.  No need to worry about overeating during the Hannuka season, because seriously the grocery carts are so hard to push in a straight line that you easily burn an extra 100 calories every time you go to the store.  (I said I wasn't going to complain about them anymore but note that I'm giving an upside--not a complaint!)

It's a super fun time to be here with all types of parties and events.  We went to Ariella's class party and I am still such a newbie.  I teared up seeing all those kids dance and sing about Chanukah and living in Israel.  It really is miraculous and to be part of it can just hit you all of a sudden.  After their performance we made Hanukiyot.  Since this is Israel it wasn't just glue some parts together it was the full organic experience.  A potter came in with his equipment and the kids got to spin clay on the wheel and then make clay Hanukiyot.  Messy but fun.  Naturally we were the only parents who forgot to bring the clothing for craft time but that's nothing new.   At least I understood the e-mail that had instructed us to bring the clothing.

On the school front, a classmate of mine in ulpan was an ESL (English as second language) teacher in the US and she told me that on average it takes 3 years to gain Academic fluency.  So my kids, at year two, are in the middle.  If you have school aged children and they struggle with any subject, imagine how much more difficult it would be for them if they didn't fully understand the language of instruction.  Modiin does seem to have incredible schools and thankfully they are set up to work with olim.  It is a lot of effort but we are charging ahead.  And sometimes I wonder what fluency even is.  Today I told someone in English that I could see an item under discussion even with my "blind eye," which she politely reminded me is actually called the "naked eye."

I celebrated a little success this week that I might have thought a year ago at this time would have been a miraculous event.  One of N's closest friends from KS called to Facetime.  So they're chatting and continuing their cartoon series when I overhear them talking about when they might be able to actually see each other.  His friend is likely moving to Colombia (the country) at the end of the school year.  I mentioned to N that perhaps they can see each other in KS before the friend moves and N responds with "But I want D to come to Israel.  I want him to meet my all of my friends and see how great it is here."  Well, I knew things had been going well, and life here is so amazing for kids, but you could have knocked me over with a jelly doughnut when I heard that one. 

Special welcome to readers from Yaldah magazine.  I felt so honored to be mentioned.  I do hope you enjoy the blog, clearly Leora W. has exceptional taste!

Meanwhile back on the ranch, Bubbie woke up one day, sold her house and moved into a retirement community.  OK, maybe not that fast but it was pretty impressive.  The other day I called to see how she was adjusting to her new surroundings.  Even though Bubbie left Russia 70 years ago and has been in the US over 60 years, people usually ask where she is from.  Even though she knows what they mean, her usual response is Leawood (the town in KS).   Well apparently when the members of her new residence started asking, she told them she had arrived from Sweden.  This is technically true because they were in Sweden for a few years before emigrating to the US.  The best part is the responses she gets are usually along the lines of 'Yes, I thought that was the accent".  Thank you Bubbie for reminding us that it is never too late to reinvent yourself.  

And even as I adjust to all the inventions of our new lives, I wasn't quite prepared to hear Lital on the phone with one of her friends in Hebrew.   It's not that she's never spoken Hebrew before in our presence, it was the comfort and the fluency--wow!  I don't know the right word to describe how it feels to watch your child converse in a new language.  A word that would combine "strange, but mixed with pride and inspiration" would be close to the word I'm searching for. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Down by the schoolyard

So last week we received a letter from one of our children's teacher.  The teacher expressed serious concerns that her young pupil, while bright and enjoying school, was clearly not working to maximize potential and was not doing the homework.  She explained the steps she wanted us to take and we had to sign at the bottom of the note to prove that we had seen the missive and were in agreement with the corrective steps.

The child:  Ariella

The teacher:  Lital

Wow, home ulpan can get pretty intense when an older sibling bathes in the luxury of authority.  Frankly, I'm a bit nervous about how parent teacher conferences are going to go...

At my own ulpan we are improving our vocabulary daily.  I again notice the ulpan trend of assigning themes to remind current immigrants that no matter how challenging things may be there is no comparing to those with real hardships.  For example, today's assigned reading is about the founding of a town called "Petach Tikvah" (the opening of hope).  Apparently, the founders left Jerusalem in the 1870's and discovered a town that was swamp land and most of the inhabitants were sick with malaria. They brought a Greek physician to the town and he told them that it wasn't fit for human life.  In spite of all of this they named the town "Petach Tikvah" and got to work.  OK, I get it I'll stop complaining.  OK, I'll stop complaining after this one line:  Why are all of the grocery carts built in such a way that they tilt as you push them?  This can make getting your groceries to the car quite a workout.  Between the obstacle course of other shoppers and cars, Oy!

In her regular Kindergarten class, A is learning about tzedakah (charity).  The other day she told me she wants to make sure to bring money for tzedakah every day because that way old people can get food and drinks and have a place to live.  "Though," she commented, "they will still be old."  I'm really not sure if that was a translation issue or the philosophy of a 5 year old.

Another thing I learned in ulpan is that the number of continents in the world is apparently not an agreed-upon fact.  Seems that since I am American, I was taught that there are 7 but for much of the world there are only 6 because they count North and South America as one.  I am proud to report that we have students from 5/6 or 6/7 continents:  Africa, Europe, N. America, S. America,  Australia and Asia (stretching with this one as the teacher is from Israel).  Everyone has to give a 5 minute talk about themselves in Hebrew and it it quite interesting hearing about the different parts of the world that my classmates lived in before moving to Israel.

This morning N's school started off the morning with a run and healthy breakfast.  It was loads of fun.  Each class wore matching color shirts and they all carried banners and torches exclaiming things such as "5th grade 2 is my family".  The 1500 meter run was less a race and more a promoting healthy habits event, but N came in 2nd place for his class.   As I watched him interacting in Hebrew with his friends and classmates I felt that I was watching a type of transition. . .

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hannukah is not the only miracle

Let us begin with a poem:

There is sand in your hair
There is sand in your toes
There is sand on the floor
There is sand in your nose

There is sand everywhere

There is sand on the ground
There is sand all around
There is sand on the stair
Gotta spread it around if we want to be fair

There is sand everywhere

I dedicate my poem to all families of children in Gan in Israel.  I am only slightly exaggerating when I tell you that when Ariella comes home from Kindergarten I pour a quarter cup's worth of sand out of her shoes. There are 34 children in her class so you do the math.  I have no idea how the playground still has sand after two months of school!  In honor of the upcoming Hannukah holiday I will compare it to the miracle of lights.  These kids are schlepping home 3 gallons of sand every week and yet the sand lot is still full.

And whether you empty the sand from their shoes before you enter the house, after you enter the house, in the little trash that exists in every meeting room where kids have to take off their shoes, no matter.  You will always find more sand.

Fortunately for us, after kindergarten the sand lot disappears so this should be our last year of sand in our hair.

Meanwhile, this week we had municipal elections.  Politics in Modiin seem quite friendly from where I'm standing.  There are a few cities that had very difficult elections and the campaign tactics were beyond the pale.  Unfortunately, in one city the scare tactics used were successful enough that the minority faction trying to control the majority was successful in electing their mayor who did nothing to help lessen (and maybe even worsened) the very high tensions in the city.  Ick.  But here in Modiin things were good.  My father joked that I am so happy here I should run for city council.  I actually don't know about city council in U.S. cities but here it is an unpaid position and it has been rewarding to see all the different candidates with incredible ideas and thousands of volunteer hours spent dedicated to this city.  One of the campaign posters in our neighborhood was in English, and I noticed when I went to Ramla to get my polio shot (actually had to drive on Dr. Salk street to get there!) that there were many signs in Arabic.

Lital learned from one of her good friends who is from Australia that if you don't vote in Australia you get fined.  She also told Lital that voting happens on Shabbat.  Though I've previously mentioned how amazing the "children's information network" can be I usually double check things that I hear from 8 year olds so I asked some of the Australians in my ulpan.  Turns out it's true.  It's about $300 per person if you don't vote.  Apparently, you can go in and draw a smiley face on the ballot if you are so inclined, just so long as they check your name off.  It was described to me as "You will be free and participate in your freedom, wether you want to or not".  Also, they do vote on Saturday but you can turn your ballot in early.

This  Shabbat we have a special visitor, our friend Hannah who made aliyah this past summer.  Our families have been the types of friends that merge into family so it is only fitting that now Hannah has become like our niece/cousin some type of family here.  Especially great for our kids to feel connected. Hannah is super fantastic but one really great thing about her---she likes to sponga!  Sponga is the process of mopping your floor clean.   I've already talked about the sand...

One of our neighbors told us that they've started looking forward to Ariella's nightly courtyard fashion shows.  She loves to dress up in costume and parade around the courtyard.  They were impressed with how many costumes she has.  Truthfully she doesn't have so many it's just that her combos aren't always the most self evident.  Not everyone does "bridal ninja" or "Super Snow White" and trust me, no one does strung out pirate as well as she does (no costume necessary).

So far treadmill desk off to a good start.  26 KM during the first week, and counting.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Technical difficulties

The post I wrote last night about the Wizard of Oz Museum disappeared today.  I was able to cut and paste (thanks to my most loyal reader---Mom!)  Any bloggers out there that can explain what might have happened.  A friend even commented but since the post disappeared her comment is no longer attached to an actual page so I couldn't actively reply.  Ideas?  Anyone?  Bueller?

Follow the yellow brick road...but bring your wallet

I started my new ulpan today.  It seems like it will be a really great class.   For starters it's less than 10 minutes away.  That beats taking two buses and 3+ hours of round trip travel any day of the week.  Looking back I can't believe I did that for last year's ulpan.  This time the make-up of the student body is also pretty different.  I'm in a bit of a comparing mood because we spent much of the morning learning comparison words.   I learned that while my apartment in Israel is much smaller than my house in the U.S. that is not true for everyone in the class.   The folks from Paris said that 800 square meters is considered a large apartment and could be yours for a couple of million dollars in Paris.  Though I also learned from them that if you are Jewish you would not want to live in Paris right now unless you like being afraid all of the time.  When we told people in Kansas that we were moving to Israel we often got "but is it safe?" type of questions.   The French students said that the children in France only feel safe once they get to Israel. 

The rest of my class is from different parts of the U.S.---including a retired surgeon who after 50 years of dreaming about aliyah finally did it!,  England, Australia, Mexico, Belgium and two women from Russia.  One of the Russian women, upon learning that I was from Kansas started to tell me all about how popular "Dorothy" is in Russia (where apparently she is known as Elly).  When she asked me if I had been to the "Dorothy museum" in Kansas I was torn between making up a really great story for this woman and shattering her illusions about the midwest.  Her face fell when I broke the news that we didn't have such a museum in Kansas City.  I suggested speaking to someone from a place called Hollywood, California.  Of course, when I got home and told Michael about this, he used his special Google power and discovered that while there is no such museum in Kansas City, there is, in fact, a special museumdedicated to all things Oz in Wamego, Kansas, several hours away.  It seems that not only did I crush the dreams of my fellow student, but I did so needlessly.  I think even if I tell her, she will never fully recover the magic.

I am hoping to improve my vocabulary and general Hebrew ability.  I can still feel the sting from a couple of weeks ago when it was "aleph" day at Ariella's kindergarten.  Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and she was supposed to bring something in that started with the letter aleph.  Well didn't all those kids with "arnaks (wallet)" "avatiach"(watermelons) and even a real "arnevet" (yes, a rabbit that stayed all day in the class) look smug.  I sent Ariella with an "iparon (pencil)" which I now know starts with an ayin and not an aleph.  Sort of like sending your kid with a Kite on "Letter C" day.  Not gonna impress too many people that way.  But not to worry, I returned with an "agas--pear" so all was copacetic.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Little pieces of paper

The other day, during the pre-Shabbat clear-away-the-scattered-junk-fest, Michael stumbled upon a plastic bag full of little notes, on each of which Nehemiah had written his name.   Michael asked what they were, and Nehemiah answered that they were good behavior notes-- notes that the teachers give to the students as a reward for said behavior.  Whoever has the most at the end of the year, Nehemiah explained, gets a very big prize.

"Wow," Michael responded, "Have you gotten any recently?"  Nehemiah answered, "No, the teacher stopped giving them out a few weeks ago."  Then, Nehemiah continued: "The only way to get more of the notes now is by gambling."

Yes, you read it correctly.  In typical fashion, this enterprising group of fifth graders realized that since the notes can be converted into valuable goods, that they are effectively a form of currency.  Look out, Bitcoin, there's a new currency in town!

And of course, once the demand for the good behavior notes cannot be met because of the dry-up in the supply chain, a gambling market sprung up enabling the notes to continue to circulate.

It makes sense.  Unless, as one friend of ours pointed out, the reason the supply of notes dried up was because the teacher simply forgot about it or decided to quietly end the program.  I don't even know how economists would describe what would happen to the little 5th grade economy when the currency loses all of its value.  

Anyway, speaking of numbers games, it is a good thing that L likes math because she has a great deal of math homework, made more challenging by virtue of its Hebrew presentation.  And before you start rolling your eyes and thinking, "how different can math be?"  try doing long division backwards yourself.

And naturally, since I set up a home study program for Hebrew with my easy newspaper and found a partner to practice conversational Hebrew with, the ulpan has decided to let me join.  I suppose I'll never know why they had a change of heart but my guess is the phone call I made to the government branch that advocates for immigrants.  Anyway, even though they will be making a space for me they can't let me start the class just yet because that would be too obvious.  There are many adjectives one could use to describe this process but "obvious" would not be one of them.

The most exciting news of the week is the arrival of Michael's treadmill desk.  Yes readers, we are that cutting edge.  Hats off to Michael who did all the research (this article is interesting) and then found the one Israeli company that makes the treadmill desk.  A few months ago as part of his health revolution M started the couch to 5k program and now he is running 5k a few days a week.  He and a friend are hoping to train for a 10k race in the spring.  I will keep you posted how the desk fits into the overall health picture.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Iron lung

There's a joke that makes the rounds which recent experiences have brought to life.   First, the joke:

An American, a Chinese, a Russian and an Israeli are all loitering on the street corner when a reporter comes up to them and asks, "Excuse me, what is your opinion about the meat shortage?"

First, the Russian asks, "What's an opinion?"
Then the Chinese inquires, "What's meat?"
The American follows up with, "What's a shortage?"
Then the Israeli queries, "What's 'excuse me'?"

Now, we have found that the "What's 'excuse me'" is an untrue stereotype.  Israelis are actually quite warm, and not lacking in courtesy and care (though social mores are sometimes different from the U.S., in both directions).

However, we never fully understood the American part, "What's a shortage?", until we got to Israel.   Lesson number one was the Fiber One shortage.  Now, to the best of our knowledge, there is a Fiber One plant in Israel.   But one fine day several months ago, no Fiber One on the supermarket shelves.  Anywhere.  Michael asked the manager of one of the big stores, and he said "There's a shortage from the factory.  There is no Fiber One in Israel until the shortage ends."

We scratched our heads (was the Fiber One factory under siege?  On strike?) and gloomily substituted Frosted Flakes (or Frosties, as they call them in England and Israel) for our healthful Fiber One until the five week shortage finally broke.

Then, of course, was the Bran Flakes shortage.  You must understand that Israelis love Bran Flakes.  There are something like twenty different varieties.  But one day, this Israeli staple had disappeared until-- the (choose one) strike/siege/extended factory vacation ended.

More recently (and still ongoing, though there are rumors of an end) has been the great brown sugar shortage of 5773-5774 (or 2013).  One day I sent Michael to the store with brown sugar on the list, and he came back with "golden sugar," subtitled "brown sugar with a fine taste."  Let me tell you that golden sugar is brown sugar only if you define brown as "not white."  No offense to golden sugar, but the color is not brown.  The texture is not the same.  It doesn't taste the same.

The other day, Michael discovered that the brown sugar shortage has been going on for about a month, and appears to be nation-wide.   I wonder whether this one is not an Israeli thing, but is connected to the giant molasses spill near Hawaii a month ago.  Oy.

In other news, almost overnight the weather here has changed.  Now mornings are cool and evenings are (according to Michael the perfect temperature) a bit chilly.  Air conditionings have been switched off but I think the hot water heater may need to be turned on soon.  The hot water heater is solar powered.  It actually feels like fall but without the pretty colored leaves that we used to see.  Granted those leaves would end up on your lawn and it was the work of Sisyphus trying to keep the lawn clear.

Meanwhile, I previously mentioned that my "observation period" in the ED had been delayed.  I should clarify a bit.  There is something of a physician shortage here and one of the initiatives underwork is that North American doctors are sort of "fast tracked" to start working.  I won't rehash the difficulties I personally faced having to obtain my license from the North American state of Kansas (apparently not as well recognized as Dorothy and Toto would like to think!) but now in order to get my "specialty recognition" I need to be observed for 3 months in the ED.  Three months is considered the minimum amount of time required and is generally granted to those who are board certified in their field in North America.  It's not a lot of time especially considering that in the reverse, physicians moving to the U.S. generally have to do their entire training over.  However, the observation period does have to be consecutive and I just learned last week that I have to give proof of my childhood immunizations.  If I'm out in left field, someone please let me know, but I don't have my immunization records.  Granted, I was born in a time when parents remembered what the different diseases looked like and were afraid and wanted to protect their children and so we all got vaccinated.  But the proving of it is going to entail several stops at different health clinics in different cities in Israel.  I must:  1) Get my blood drawn for antibodies to prove that I did receive certain shots 2) For the shots that can't be proven via lab go to the ministry of health and get boosters.  Not sure if you would call 15 months the "fast track" but here I am.  So I'm not taking it on the chin, I'm taking it in the upper arm--a few times!

While we're on the subject of vaccinations, there was polio found in a water source in Israel and so it was recommended that all children under age 10 receive the live vaccine.  (The age cutoff is calculated based on the time period that live vaccine was stopped and assumptions about hand washing---polio being spread via the oral-fecal route).   The majority of parents seem to have complied but there are quite a few that can't decide.  I am not sure when the anti-vaccination campaign got so strong but it's just so ironic to me that the parents who are so against it would have been the same group to receive the live vaccine when they were kids because that's what they were using both in Israel and the U.S. until the early 2000's.

Anyway, since I'm mostly spending my time driving around getting needles in the arm, I decided I should take another ulpan (Hebrew course).  So, I contacted my local ulpan (joy= we live in a city with an ulpan!) showed up today as instructed and was promptly told they had no space for me (oy= the ulpan is full).  Sort of ironic because the woman at the hospital who put the final touches on my paperwork (that will now take 6 weeks to process) repeatedly told me that I needed to work on my Hebrew.   Well geez people, I'm trying.  She was actually quite opinionated on the subject---maybe I could get her to call the head of the ulpan here and pull a few strings.  So now the coordinator of my ulpan last year is sending proof to this ulpan that I actually didn't receive all the hours I am entitled to as an immigrant and this apparently will create a space for me in the class.

And on the home front, classes have started in our own little ulpan.  Apparently, convinced that Michael and I have been derelect in our duties to teach Ariella English, Lital has started a homeschool of sorts.  It sort of reminds me of Sarah and Scott G. back in the day.  She has set up a homeroom in Michael's office, complete with workbooks, worksheets and a curriculum (my favorites being "Computer Tusday"--hopefully that's not just them watching funny youtube videos and "Sport Wensday"---hey it's important to know how to say "not fair it was my turn" in English).  To make the special school truly authentic, Lital even gave herself a day off each week, as Israeli teachers work five days a week, even though the children are in school for six.  (Figure out those schoolhouse logistics!)

Let me end by re-visiting my upcoming vaccination schedule.  If you have plans to be at the Department of Health in Ramla on the third Wednesday of the month between 7:15 and 7:40, I will see you there!

Monday, September 30, 2013

The law of maximum entropy

The Sukkahs (temporary outdoor dwelling space) came down as quickly as they went up.   Last week was the holiday of Sukkot--a holiday known as our time of joy-- and it is such an amazing time to be in Israel.  I personally think it is one of our most fabulous holidays, especially when you get to celebrate and enjoy the entire week.  The building of the Sukkahs that we dwell in for the week of the holiday go up quickly right after Yom Kippur.  I was still in the US at that point this year but it was fun to come back and see all the different varieties that people construct.  The balcony off our apartment is built in such a way that all we really had to do was put up our schach (covering for the Sukkah).   This and hanging the decorations was pretty easy.  Between all the different meals with friends, Sukkah "hopping" parties, and trips, we spent the holiday on the border of fun and too much fun.  Standing on that border is a sweet spot but as an ER doc and a mom I'll let you know that if you add alcohol or your own children into that mixture then cross that border at your own risk!

On the first of the intermediate days we took a trip to Shiloh.  Shiloh is an ancient Bibilical city that was the religious center of Israel for several hundred years before Jerusalem.  It was about a 50 minute drive and is quite scenic.  Mostly rocky hillsides dotted with occasional herds of animals and not so occasional large red signs.  The large red signs were at the entrances to Palestinian towns and inform you that the road leads to "Area A" and is forbidden for Israeli citizens and that it is not only against Israeli law to enter but also dangerous to your life.   Sadly, there was an Israeli man who was murdered that week when he agreed to share a ride home with his Palestinian co-worker.  His colleague did not take him home but instead kidnapped and murdered him.   We work really hard to teach our children not to generalize about groups of people and I think it is an important value, but that story does give pause when it comes to considering danger to you and your family. 

Anyway, Shiloh is a really interesting place to visit.  Unfortunately, we were slightly late for the English tour, so we went on a Hebrew tour.  At this point I guess it's really only unfortunate for me as everybody else's Hebrew is coming along nicely.   You walk along the paths and they perform reenactments of different historical events and try to bring a lot of history/religion to life.  The path of the tour leads up a hill where you watch a movie that is on panoramic screens and it fades in and out of the real life background that you see through the large windows/movie screens to the scenery in the background which is breathtaking. Naturally since we had tickets to the English movie which had already been shown, we had to scramble for some tickets to this one.  Luckily one of the families that had gone with the group had extra tickets though when we got in there were at least 20 of us who had to stand so I'm not even certain why they had the tickets.  Just comparing our family position this Sukkot to last year, it is phenomenal that my kids can listen to what they are hearing.  After the movie we visited different booths where the kids did various thematic art projects, including drawing, mosaics,  grinding spices, and making grape juice.

The next day we went to a small village nearby that teaches agriculture and farming.  They had turned the farm into a big exhibit for kids.  This is the true organic experience with real dirt and mess and not the kind brought to you by Johnson and Johnson.  Though even there, they didn't allow the kids to eat the goat cheese that they made because it was in unpasteurized form.  And it's Israel so you don't have pony rides, you have camel rides.  I thought it would be fun to ride along with the kids.  And it was, until it was time to get off.  To any who would criticize my performance, all I can say is that you should try doing that in a skirt.  Oy vay!  I also wouldn't recommend it to anyone with a hip replacement.  

We weren't sure what to do the next day, when lo and behold a neighbor told us about the annual circus in Modiin.  Yes, dear readers, our amazing city has a circus every year during Chol Hamoed Sukkot.  We went to an acrobat show which was an urban-funk type performance.  Performers way, way fitter than anybody we know (and we know some very fit people!), scampering up and down twenty foot poles like squirrels, swinging from a trapeze upside down while holding another performer with one hand, balancing on a board on top of a rolling cylinder on top of another board, on top of a cylinder moving the other direction, on top of a small table, etc.   Apparently the shows at night involve light shows and all kinds of fun but we already had plans by the time we heard about it, so it's something to look forward to next year.

After Sukkot, there is another holiday called Shemini Atzeret.   The Rabbis compare this to an after party.  Sort of like Sukkot was so much fun let's just spend another day together.  The holiday coincides with Simchat Torah, a celebration marking the end of the annual cycle of Torah reading.  

The day after a holiday is still considered a day off (i.e. no school).  I think this is to give everyone a day to travel back and recuperate, and because of a strong teacher's union.  We used the day to go to the beach with friends who were visiting from the U.S., which we followed with lunch at nearby IKEA's very impressive cafeteria.   The Mediterranean is always beautiful, and the waves were great.   There were, surprisingly, still a few jelly-fish, but they were small enough and few enough to not be a bother.

Speaking of jelly, Sukkot brought hints of Chanukah already, with sufganiyot (Israeli jelly-filled donuts, a Chanukah staple) already making their appearance at the local bakeries.

I had expected that with the wrap up of the holiday season,  I would start my "observation period" in the Emergency Department.  Apparently there is a bit more paperwork that I had previously been unaware of so it will likely be a few months before I actually start.  That's OK-- our space needs some serious organization.  I can't say that I have ever been a good homemaker, but hope springs eternal and I do like to cook.  And from what little I understand of chaos theory (and it is very little) as soon as I start organizing around here, someone else's life is about to get rather crazy.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Final Post of the Year (Jewish Calendar:) )

Oh, my poor abandoned blog!  It has been so long.  I have thought of you and I've meant to sit down and write but you know how it goes.  Anyway, my parents came to visit for almost 3 weeks and it was such a wonderful trip.  Whatever I had hoped it would be in terms of my father and the possibility that it could be his last time in Israel, my expectations were exceeded.  For starters, on the first night he gave me a letter and a necklace.  It was so meaningful, and now I have them for the rest of my life.  For those who don't know my dad, you can see what a caring and thoughtful man he is.  And really, since the natural order in life is for parents to die first what an amazing thing for any parent to do for their child.  So, if any readers out there want to take a cue from my dad:  write a letter to your child for when you are no longer around.  It will mean a lot to them.

A few highlights from their trip:

While they were here my dad's energy was incredible.  We took advantage of every minute.  First of all, my parents brought about 20 pounds of candy to Israel.  The dogs at the airport were probably going nuts thinking that there was something contraband tucked away b/c who in the world brings candy to Israel?  But God bless my parents--they brought 4 suitcases worth of stuff.   One of the things they brought was fresh blueberries.  It had been over a year since we've had berries, so they were a big hit.  I am not sure why we don't have blueberries here.  I have heard you can pick them in the Golan but that would be a drive of several hours, so maybe on some future trip.

After the first Shabbat spent with good friends in Elazar we headed up North.  We went rafting on the Jordan River.  By "we" I mean everyone except for Ariella and me, because in the rafting company employee we found the one person in Israel who was concerned with safety and wouldn't let Ariella go in, because she was under five.  We still had fun though, because well frankly, when was the last time you spent a couple of hours without any distraction hanging out with your child outdoors?  I learned all about her desire to become a bird and live in the tree tops or a lion and roar at the animals in the jungle.  

Our friends in Elazar recommended we go to a placed called "The Orange Grove."  What a fabulous tip.  I haven't seen it in guide books, but if you are visiting in Israel and have children I would try to get there.  It's like winning a golden ticket.  But instead of being invited to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory you are invited to his back yard.  They literally built a backyard type play area in an orange grove.  I mean some people have pretty cool yards.  They have zip lines, and a pool and a cool jungle gym (hey Jay and Margie--how are you doing?) but nobody I know has a back yard like this.  Pretty much any cool thing you could think of to run and jump and play with in a backyard was in this orange grove and it was a ton of fun.

One day we went to the Jerusalem zoo and then met cousins at the outdoor mall bordering the old city.  My dad and one cousin walked to the Kotel (Western wall) and then met us at a restaurant.  Some kind of artist fair was going on, and the mall was packed.  Musicians were playing and it was just a very festive atmosphere.  Luckily, the Italian place we like is sort of hidden away so there was no wait to get in.  As we were trying to figure out exactly what the relationship would be between my kids and my mom's cousins' grandkids, their daughter said "We're English speaking relatives in Israel--that's practically like being twins."  And it's true.  For us anyway, as we don't really have much family here.  As we were leaving the restaurant,  Lital  said she wanted ice cream and since it was only 10PM and we were in Jerusalem  with the grandparents, she got her wish.  You never have to go too far to find ice cream in Israel (unless it's 10PM and you're at Mamilla mall with your children.  That particular detour will cost you at least an hour!)

One day while driving with my mom, I got distracted by Waze (oops) and popped a tire as I bumped up the curb.  I pulled the car over about a block later and before we could even get out of the car, a jogger stopped and offered to change the tire.   I was so confused as to why he had been out running with a jack but later my mom explained that it was from my trunk.  I took a whole semester of driver's ed and frankly I feel like I should get a refund or something because I knew absolutely nothing about changing a tire.  In fact, I didn't even put the car in neutral as I was apparently supposed to.  The fellow who was helping joked that he should have known Americans wouldn't know to put the car in neutral.  Don't be offended, I lived up to every stereotype imaginable that day.  It is something I love about Israel and Modiin people are really helpful.

As is the case with most trips, we didn't do everything we wanted but we had a truly great time together.  My parents left the night before school started.  Now, I've previously told you about our "courtyard of dreams" (another great name from my friend Ilene).  So two nights before school started they had a movie night for the kids in the courtyard with a giant screen and projector and super-loud speakers.  It started at 8PM.  There were two movies.  It was literally in our courtyard so of course there was no way I could keep my kids from going.  Yes, they went to bed at midnight two nights before school started.  I mean I love our building, our neighbors, our courtyard but why would you plan to deprive children of sleep right before the start of school?  Does that sound like a good idea to anyone?

In spite of the late nights, the school year has gotten off to a great start.   Each child is in a different school.  When we first got to Modiin we heard about a school that started about 6 or 8 years ago and has a tremendous reputation.  Basically people told us not to even think about getting our kids into the school because there are wait lists and it's impossible to get in.  It's not a private school but maybe more like a magnet or charter school.  So naturally who does Nehemiah become friends with right away---a bunch of the kids from this school.  They all assumed he could just "get in".  You know, because they're 10 years old.  One of our projects while my parents were here was trying to get him in since it did seem like such a good fit.  And while there are many ways in which I could describe Nehemiah, motivated student would not be one of them.  In spite of that, and in spite of all the odds, we did get him in!  It was such a relief.   Running with this new crowd of kids N had started to feel really comfortable in Israel.  One day he announced that he was going to stop calling soccer by that name and call it football.  He reasoned that really only Americans called it soccer and he wasn't in America any more.  I took this as a real sign of progress and then he went on to tell us that he thinks he has realized his true destiny:  to be British and be the goalie for Liverpool!

Lital is in the local public school that is basically on our corner.  She slid right in and the teacher said that unlike new immigrants who tend to stick with English speakers only, Lital is friends with native Israelis and immigrants.  Most of the school-age kids from our building go to this school so it is a natural fit.  I was very happy to hear that.  Ariella goes to a Gan (kindergarten) in a building right next to Lital's school.  We are in a very sweet spot in the mornings b/c the girls have about a 5 minute walk (don't worry, I take Ariella) and Nehemiah has about a 12 minute walk.  Everyone can get out and no need to rush into a car.  It is actually pleasant.  Last night Ariella asked Michael how to say "Spanish" in Hebrew.  She explained that she wants to find out if anyone in her class speaks Spanish but she can't ask them in Spanish because she doesn't speak it, and she can't ask them in English because they wouldn't understand, and she can't ask them in Hebrew, because she doesn't yet know how to say "Spanish"!  What she plans to do with this information is beyond me.  We are glad that she has a few English speakers in her Gan because she no longer speaks English like a native but instead translates from the Hebrew.  For example:

"Will you give to me that apple?" or "Hadar wants me to visit if you let."  Between English at home and having a few English speaking friends, hopefully that trend will reverse itself.

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year starts tomorrow.   I have crammed a lot in, perhaps rambled a bit.  Our year is certainly off to a sweet start.   Let me sign off with the following blessing, inspired by Ariella:

I wish to you a good and sweet year!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Downton Abbey

My wise friend Elisa calls the first year in Israel the "Sabbatical year" for children.  What with all the new things being thrust at them every day, it's natural to sort of ease up on the home front expectations.  To that end, the kids have not had a lot of responsibility at home this past year and have sort of come to see Michael and me as their personal wait staff.  With moving again, I was sort of inclined to extend the Sabbatical season a bit but when they started giving us 3's and 4's on the comment cards I realized that perhaps things had gone a bit too far.  So now we are giving them chores and added duties at home.  They of course are thrilled with the new management.  Recent exchange:

Child:  I need water.

Me:  OK.  You know where the cups are so you can get your own water.

Child:  Do I have to do everything around here?

And my personal favorite from a child:  (frustrated tone)  "Really you guys, I just finished vacuuming." It's almost too much fun.  Plus, not that I am in anyway insulting their abilities but they're currently making plans to market their "cleaning crew" to the neighbors and while I grant that people often grumble about the availability of a good cleaner, I don't think they are yet up to the challenge.

After some of their household duties were done we went to a pottery painting place nearby.  It's a worthwhile outing because it keeps the kids occupied for a good 10 minutes.  Throw in the 10 minutes there and back and you have a solid 30 minute activity.  Seriously though, it was fun.  A woman stopped to admire the frog N was painting and she told him he might become a famous painter.  He replied that it was actually his dream to become the goalie for Liverpool.  Wouldn't you know?  She was from Liverpool.  It was great.  As we were leaving he gave her his name so she could watch for him in 10 years.  Savta Joanie always loves taking the kids to paint pottery and now that we live so close to one, you can take them next time you're here Joan.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch Lital ripped a sleeve on her dress but assured me that she could fix it because "Bubbie taught me how to sew."  Well it looks like she needs a reminder tutorial from Bubbie but I figured that if I can suture in the ED how different can it be?  So I fixed the dress but Bubbie, the kids have been asking when you are coming to visit.  They want their apple slices, cookies, potato latkes and knishes.  OK, I'm the one who wants the knishes but the kids miss their Bubbie so please plan a visit soon!  So excited to see my parents, Saba and Savta next week.  The kids are excited to show you around and the walking path behind our apartments has around 40+ species of flora and fauna including dad's beloved cacti.  We won't have to go far to get the beauty in.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Party like it's 1979

Our first year in Israel has passed.  When we landed here July 2012 it was not in our plan to move again but here we are a year later in a new city.  Moving this time wasn't nearly as dramatic.  Of course the most obvious reason is we didn't have to cross any oceans but putting distance aside, we've been here a year and things have changed.  We brought children who speak Hebrew (mind you not like native Israelis--except maybe Ariella) but they can run and play with kids they meet without the barriers they faced last summer.  We brought kids who think that bread and chocolate spread is a meal, can give the "wait a second" hand gesture like naturals,  drink chocolate milk from a bag and....

Moving into a building with a courtyard has been like a gift from above.  Basically, kids from the 4 buildings gather in the evening and play.  That breakdown time when you're making dinner and can't handle one more "I'm bored" has been whisked away with the intro of neighborhood play.  I can watch them through the kitchen window.  Our kids also discovered the apartment intercom.  And that's fun.  Because of course, why would you walk up a flight of steps if you can just call your mom to let her know every random detail that might enter your head?  Buzzzzz.  I run to the phone thinking someone has come by only to discover that L or A just wants to let me know they want popsicles, or can I make them popcorn because everyone is eating popcorn, and playing takes just way too much energy for them to come up and place their orders in person (Heaven forfend!)  

When I was a kid my mom installed a water fountain on our outdoor spigot to keep us out.  Lucky for her--no intercoms at that house.

Meanwhile, we continue our ongoing quest to discover what is wrong with Ariella.  You might remember that her pre-K teacher last year was very concerned because A did not speak Hebrew when we arrived.   This clearly indicated to her a serious deficiency and she was adamant that we get to the core.  Well readers, you will be relieved to hear that after seeing every type of therapist, specialist, and undergoing a series of tests it turns out it was just that she was born in Kansas.  Phew.  It has been interesting to watch at the different offices because Ariella is like a native Israeli now in many of her mannerisms and her accent, but because she is bilingual there are certain words that she just has not yet come into contact with and it's interesting to watch the development.  

It's especially rewarding when we are at the grocery store or pretty much anywhere in public and A starts in with her inquiries.  Why did you say it that way ima? (ie the grammatically incorrect way that doesn't make so much sense)

And me.  I started at the urgicare.  It has been interesting, to say the least.  I did my first 4 shifts at the main center in Jerusalem.  Most of the patients were extremely understanding that my Hebrew was so poor.  One couple became irate and apparently screamed all sorts of insults at me.  The poor nurse came in and apologized.  "I hope you're not offended."  I just chuckled because frankly unless they had given those insults veeeerrrryyyy slooooowly and repeated things a couple of times, I didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of understanding what they said.  I have started working now in Modiin and changed my opening line to "I'm new to Israel so my Hebrew is only so-so,  let's go slow."  It's great because I get welcomed to Israel 20 times a night and many wishes of good luck etc.  The irony of course is that occasionally an American tourist comes through and they sigh with relief "thank goodness you speak English."  ahem.  

Another great thing about our new quad (there are actually 2 quads) is that by sheer dumb luck we seem to have ended up in a great spot for adults.  First, we were invited to a Kiddush by one of our neighbors.  Never having been to one we weren't entirely sure what to expect.  Basically this is a time--after services, but before lunch on Shabbat morning to have a couple of drinks, some cake and socialize without a full lunch.  Kind of like meeting someone for coffee instead of dinner.  Of course this only works in places like Israel where the "late" minyan finishes at 10:45.  Anyway, we have now been to two Kiddushes and they are fantastic.  We also got invited to a wine and cheese/karaoke party last week.   Like an old fashioned block party.  It was really fun though making small talk in Hebrew was a bit challenging for me and I don't think my wittiness improved with the Chardonnay.   I'm sure neighbors were impressed with comments like "I am Eliana.  I live building 6.  We are new.  We like here.  Is fun."  Sounds like these block parties happen every few months so hopefully after a few months at the urgicare I can at least say "How long have you had that rash?   Is it itchy? Have you had a high fever?"  "How long have you had blood in your stool?"

Another favorite cultural phenomenon is that Nehemiah has fallen in with a group of boys this age who made aliyah at sometime in their life (usually earlier), and as a result, these children are in a time warp.  Instead of talking about whoever is the newest-hottest-hippest band in 2013, these kids will have conversations like this real-life exemplar:

Kid 1: "Keith Moon is the greatest drummer ever.  The Who rocks.   But the Boss is the best.  I love Born to Run."
Kid 2: "I'm more into Rush, myself."

And people say that parents have no influence over their children . . .

Thursday, June 27, 2013

View from the hills

I am back from a month in OPKS, and what a month it was.  It was really nice to spend time with my family and to see friends and co-workers.  Plus I'm a sucker for paved parking lots :)

It is so great to be back home again, except--- home is in a different city, Modi'in!  Yes, my gem of a husband not only flew solo with 3 kids for a month but moved to a new city.  I know.  I'm lucky.  I didn't have to be there for the move!  (Just kidding, Michael!)

I've already learned a few things since living in Modiin:

1.  There is indeed "Shredded Wheat" in Israel.  Hooray.  But at $8/box it's more of a luxury item than a wholesome breakfast cereal.   Make sure to savor every bite.

2.  We need gas masks.  No one mentioned it in the previous 11 months but during the move a friend mentioned it to Michael.  Now we have them but it is illegal to open them unless we are instructed to do so in a real emergency, so we need to watch the video in advance to make sure we know how to use them (which of course I hope we never do!)

3. Deer-shaped bush sculptures are really cool.

We are looking forward to settling in.  We've met loads of great people and tons and tons of olim (the reported number is that 50% of our neighborhood is Anglo).  We moved into a quad of apartments (think courtyards from Yale, Oxford, Harvard, etc., but without the distinctive architecture) which is dati (religiously observant) and almost exclusively Israeli.  We've been told it is called the "kibbutz" because neighbors are so friendly and take care of each other.  Since they all met Michael a few weeks before I arrived, I think they were relieved to see that I did actually exist.  I think they also assumed that my Hebrew was as good as his and I've held my own (though this morning I think I told a woman that the children's school had closed as opposed to saying that the kids were finishing the school year in our old town---but I'm sure she got the basic idea).

Meanwhile as our first year rapidly approaches the kids are changing by the day.  Ariella is a little chatterbox who is trying to teach me Israeli songs and cheers.  I start in the urgi-care next week and have contemplated taking her along as my translator but that likely wouldn't go over too well as she is easily distracted.

Lital has lost several teeth, grown several inches and though her spoken Hebrew is still growing daily her understanding of Hebrew is tremendous.  We were recently at an event and she told us what they had announced through the loudspeaker--even Michael couldn't make it out.

And N is happier than a pig in sh*t.  He has started using the word sh*t and when I asked him about it, he replied "I'm Israeli and sh*t here isn't a bad word--it's like 'darn' in America.  I don't think I could ever go back to America now or I'd have to stop using it."  So we can question and contemplate what makes a word bad in one place and not somewhere else but yes folks, it took a curse word to trump all the Johnson County luxuries that had previously been calling his name.

In other exciting news, N's baseball team won the junior league championship last week.  Driving to the game we passed through a town with bookshelves at the bus stop.  One of the kids remarked that "only in Israel would you find sefarim (scholarly religious books) at the bus stop." :)   Ironically, the team they played against was Modiin.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Made in China

I don't think 11 months is a long enough time to be away that you are considered a foreigner in your own country and yet there I stood on a Friday afternoon, like a stranger from far away.  Since I work every night except for Friday nights, I use Friday afternoon as my day to buy things that I want to bring back to Israel.  I was somewhat sleep deprived and left my sunglasses on when I went into Target.  My regular glasses were in the car and well, I wasn't going to go "all the way back" to the car to get them.  I saw a dress hanging on the clearance rack that was very cute but didn't have any particular clearance sticker so I asked a worker to price check it for me.

She looked at the tag, looked at me and in heavily accented English replied "twenty seven ninety nine miss".  I can read, so I tried explaining the whole "it was hanging on the rack so I was wondering if it was on sale" thing but she just repeated "twenty seven ninety nine".  It's likely she thought I was stoned.  And I suppose I was sort of under the influence.  The heady intoxication that can only come from buying cheap goods made in China.  I don't know why but the cheap goods from China that you buy in Israel are sort of expensive and  yet of an inferior quality.  If there are any readers out there who can explain it to me, I'd love to know why that is. Either way, I'll be hauling my 40lbs of goodies back with me next week when I head back to Israel.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How the other half doesn't live

Well it's back to the US of A for me.  Headed back to work for a few weeks and spend some time with my dad.  If you saw my post about my last flight you will remember that it was rather scary, what with the gasoline fumes, the turning around and landing right after take off etc.  Hoping tonight's will be more routine...triple wrapped chicken, movie, pretend to sleep, triple wrapped eggs and land in Philadelphia.  With of course crying babies in the background---but hey they're not my crying kids so it's  not so bad.  Anyway, after my last flight I received an e-mail from US Air letting me know that I had been upgraded to silver preferred.  This meant complementary upgrades to first class if there was a seat available and a waiver of one checked bag fee.  Wow was I excited.  I have been dreaming of my first class experience and at this point even the grocery store clerk knows that I might be flying first class.

Well, ladies and gentleman, don't believe the hype.  First class upgrades are only "when available."  That means not for flights to Hawaii, Europe, South America or the Middle East.  That leaves Asia, Africa and domestic travel available for upgrades.  But wait!  US Air doesn't seem to fly to Africa, and their only Asian destination is Japan.   That leaves Japan and domestic flights.  But wait!  For flights that are short distances--like halfway across the country from Philadelphia to Kansas City--US AIR uses small planes that do not have first class seating arrangements.

So I guess I won't get to see how the other half lives.  But at least I get to bring an extra checked bag free of charge so that I can bring back more things from Target and Costco.

But wait!  It turns out, everyone on the international flights gets a free checked bag, and while the small print didn't say these things were mutually exclusive, US Air's very flexible customer service department assured me that they are.

The whole thing kind of reminded me of when Bart and Lisa tried to hire a lawyer on the Simpsons:

Israelis are not the only ones with bureaucracy, it seems. . .

Switching topics to "family and friends visiting Israel", my Aunt Marlene and Uncle Hyman were visiting in Israel this week and we had the pleasure of joining them for dinner in their hotel.  Hyman was a hit, especially with his introducing us to the MLB phone app (for watching major league baseball), and Marlene was very indulgent of our children's multiple entree predilections.

It was kind've funny to be the Israeli family that your American relatives take out for dinner. . .

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"...I will not let you go" (Pharoah's song)

Bring a lot of white shirts.  People like to ask for advice for their own upcoming aliyah and I mention this because there is something to celebrate or commemorate or mark in some way that requires your children wearing a white shirt almost every week.  Last week all the activity was around Jerusalem day and tomorrow is Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) so A had to wear a white shirt and festive clothes to Gan today.  Yesterday as we were walking in, one of her friends made mention to me that she needed to bring a basket to Gan the next day.  I gave him a quizzical look.  "Ema shel Ariella" (translation: "Ariella's mom"--kids here call you as the mother of your child's name) he went on, "you can't forget the basket."  See poor little A probably misses out on some of the goings on in her Gan because they require either a knowledge of how things worked in previous years or a commitment to reading e-mail from the teacher.  Now even those of you who are reading in your primary language probably only scan.  Reading it in Hebrew things can get lost.  The parents don't think to mention these details because what kind of person doesn't know for instance that you are meant to bring a basket to gan the day before Shavuot?  So it falls on the kids to bring me up to speed so to speak.  I can imagine those little kids "Chaval (oh what a pity), this week she didn't bring the red flower..."

So after the five-year-old gave me the heads-up, I asked the teacher because I was still a bit fuzzy on the details.  I left the room thinking I would bring her a yogurt and fruit in a grocery sack.   Fortunately, I got another call that night "ema shel Ariella, can she come play?"  I love these phone calls because when I'm speaking with the little kids we're all on the same level and they know what it feels like to not be understood so they don't mind repeating or speaking slowly.  Anyway, I learned when I dropped her off that it was more a decorated bakset that we were supposed to bring.  I'm no historian and I'm not about to get into which tradition came first, but to a girl from Kansas this sounded suspiciously like Easter baskets.  I'm sure it's all connected with the first fruits etc. but if I had been given more than a night's notice I could have sent her with a lovely basket.  As it is I was able to dig something out of our cupboard and we walked in with our heads held high.  All the girls had little flower wreaths on their heads (there's always next year) and since she and her friend had made crowns on the playdate A too had something on her head though a bit more taped-together-construction-paper-than-flowers but she didn't care.

Meanwhile, we are considering getting N a cell phone.  Thank goodness he has really fallen in with a nice group of friends and most nights he isn't home.  It's constant running and doing and going.  I don't want to push my luck but I have also noticed a major drop in comparisons to Kansas or even a mention.    Last week when he was speaking with one of his close friends from Kansas, he learned that his friend was moving to Colombia--as in South America.  Wow, I said your friend is also moving overseas.  N gave me a look and reminded me that there actually was not an ocean separating North and South America.  Details.

Back to the subject of Easter bunnies etc.  Last week L went with a friend to the local community center to watch a movie.  I'll confess I didn't do any screening and the friend's mom told me she thought L understood much of the movie but needed some translation.  Turns out the movie was about Santa and the tooth fairy and a group of imaginary characters.  Really.  We flew all the way to Israel to watch a movie about Santa.  Not atypical for living in the U.S., slightly more unexpected for living in Israel. I have a strong suspicion that L was likely the only kid in the theater who knew who many of the characters were.   Meanwhile, L lost a tooth last week and she told me "I know there isn't such thing as a tooth fairy, but there are moms.  I expect money underneath my pillow when I wake up."  Kids these days.

Tonight we head out of town to stay with friends we made through baseball for Shavuot.  Really looking forward as I'm sure it will be both a meaningful experience for us and great fun for the kids.  With all the Shavuot prep and learning, A has done a great job connecting Passover and Shavuot.   And in what I'm sure will become an instant hit in Jewish households across the world she has taken to  singing "No, no, no, don't let the dog go."

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Right Way to Make Unsafe Choices

I am so excited that my new friend (who feels like an old friend), Gila from mentioned me and my blog in her blog.  I have been reading Gila's blog for around two years and she doesn't disappoint.  In fact, hers is the only blog I read on a regular basis.  Recently, we actually spent a Shabbat with her family and all the different counterparts got along.  Isn't it great when that happens.  Anyway, I mostly started this blog for my mom and my friend Ilene (who came up with the name for oysandjoys) but if any readers from accident want to join--you are very welcome.  I may  have just set a world record for using the word blog in a 5 sentence paragraph.

So do other parents ever get the feeling that the message you may be trying to send just isn't getting received?  I feel like I try to emphasize safety with my children especially since my career involves dealing with a lot of the aftermath of unsafe choices (generally mixed with alcohol, but still . . .)   When Ariella was a baby she used to find tiny little objects in the house, put them in her mouth and then bring them to me and say "choking hazard."  You know all the times I had taken something small out of her mouth and warned her about choking hazards somehow got mixed up in her mind.  We were never able to fix that one.

Today I discovered Ariella blending two phenomena with which our Israel experience has thus far graced us:  Bicycle safety and stone floors.

Well, bicycle safety has always been a big theme for us, and our children, including Ariella, never tire of pointing out the common practice here of bike-riding without helmets.

The stone floor phenomenon is widespread here.  The upstairs, downstairs, and the stairs connecting them in our house and in almost every other home we have seen in Israel are made of stone.  They are rumored to lack the soft, plushy qualities that many carpets possess (except for the "Grey Banshee" that was our carpet in Kansas for several years.)

I caught Ariella blending these two important themes as she prepared to pillow-surf her way down the stone stairs.  Her final preparation:  Putting on her bike helmet.

Friday, May 3, 2013

And how many ways do you use oven cleaner?

So I'm a tad behind with my update as Lag b'omer was last week but it was so much fun that I figure better late than never.  First of all, as with so many things here there is some controversy surrounding the way this "little wee holiday turned serious dedication to burning things" day has evolved.  For instance, where exactly did all of that wood the kids collect come from?  But that is a conversation for a different forum.  Anyway, there was so much build up and so much of it seemed well sort of downright scary,  that I was prepared to consider it a success if I didn't have to use my newly acquired medical license that night.   Fortunately, at least in our little neck of the woods no medical emergencies (though I did make one house call for a trip and fall who was just fine, thank you). 

We had such a great time.  It's a hard scene to describe but essentially every 400 feet or so there are little groups having bonfires.  Our family for instance had 4 different fires we could have belonged to but we chose to attend the second grade bonfire and I let N go on his own to the 4th grade fire since M was out of town.   Even while I'm typing this it sounds alarming that I would let my 10 year old go on his own to burn things with friends but I knew there were parents assigned to monitor and also it's sort of normal.  And he had a complete and total blast.  Imagine organized chaos.  At our fire we made our own pita, roasted marshmallows and hot dogs.  We also ate roasted potatoes and onions that were soooo good.  The technique was rather ingenious.  We poked a long wire through the foil wrapped potatoes/onions and put them in the fire.  After awhile you just pull the wire to take it out.  There were also games and singing.  I felt a certain amount of pride when A and L sang along.  It's new to me but it won't be to them.

The next morning (kids never go to school in this country so they were home with me), Lital pulled out chopsticks and found some marshmallows and as I was making pancakes she roasted a few marshmallows for the group.  Later she and a friend decided to have a bake sale.  We made some yummy cupcakes but as it was a million degrees outside they came back in after about two minutes and we played board games until it cooled off.  As they were designing their posters for the sale, I realized that the plural form of currency (the shekel) shekalim, rhymes with the word for tasty, ta-im.  So they went back out with their cakes and started singing a little ditty.  Well they sold out in 30 minutes,  I'd like to thank it was the cakes, might have been neighbors eager for the poem/song to end.

Today I went to an ultrasound course in Tel Aviv that the Shaare Zedek docs invited me to.  First of all when there isn't any traffic (since Friday is not a standard work day), Tel Aviv is actually only 30 minutes away.  It likely would have taken me 2-3 times as long to get there on a regular weekday.  The course was great, I got to meet a few ER docs and some medical students who served as models.  The lectures were in Hebrew but the slides were in English so between the two I was pretty well able to follow along. The students who were Americans at an American/Israeli medical school (Sackler) told me that after a few months with patient care I would have a decent fluency.  As most of them did not know Hebrew before they came, that was good to hear.  Especially since I recently discovered that I have been cleaning the toilets with oven cleaner for the better part of 6 weeks.  Hmmmm.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lip gloss, Pyromania and Emergency rooms

On our journey to absorption, adjustment, integration, whichever term fits we can now add another experience:  Home birthday party.  Wow, was that an experience.  Now is as good a time as any to recall the backyard obstacle course I built two years ago for N & L's birthday parties.  I love making creative home parties and I think our kids and their friends have generally rather enjoyed themselves.  A dear friend, B, once told me that she just loved watching Michael and me in party action.  Well, dear readers, ulpan doesn't really give you the vocab necessary to reign in thirteen 8-year olds.  It was a rather rowdy group and there were several little future criminals, lawyers in the group.  We had a lip gloss making dance party.  When it was time to break into small groups so that the girls could choreograph their performances the arguments began.  One group absolutely could not agree and when Michael went in to broker a peace deal so to speak, another girl came complaining to me "zeh lo fair, zeh lo fair" (does that really need translation?)  Apparently it offended her sense of fairness that an adult was helping another group and might give them an extra advantage in the final dance-off.  Or she didn't like the color of her lip gloss.  Beats me because she was talking so fast I didn't stand a chance.  The important part is that L had a great time and (I think) so did the rest of her class.  It has been rather remarkable to watch the transition as L has gone from new kid who doesn't speak the language to accepted girl with friends who speaks enough to participate.

Sunday Michael leaves for France for work.  Great timing for him as the kids don't have school on Sunday or Monday and apparently it will become bonfire city (countrywide) on Sunday night to celebrate Lag B'Omer  (Jewish holiday).  It's also great timing since the weather is projected to be over 90 degrees, perfect for dozens and dozens of gigantic bonfires consuming branches, discarded doors, and pretty much anything made out of wood that hasn't been nailed down.

Hopefully the hot day/cool night pattern will stick, because everyone is super excited.  The kids have been collecting wood with their friends for about two months for the huge group bonfires.  Will keep you posted.  N has an all day olympiad to participate in on Monday so I will get some downtime with just the girls.

Update on my medical licensing.  I received my license before Pesach which means I can now practice medicine in Israel.  This is great.  Now, in order to receive specialty recognition I need to work for 3 months in an emergency department (much less than what physicians from outside of North America need to do, and of note, foreign docs who want to get licensed in U.S. have to redo their entire training).  I met yesterday with the director of Shaarei Tzedek, which houses the busiest ED in Jerusalem.  Looks like a great place to do my histaklut as soon as I can find 3 months in a row which will likely be next Fall.  In the meantime I am hoping to start working at an urgi-care this summer, so that I can LEARN HEBREW and start to get the sense of how medicine is practiced here.

Friday, April 19, 2013


What a crazy week this has been.  It seems that the world is raging around us.  In the U.S., the horrible attack in Boston, poison sent to a U.S. Senator, and the fertilizer plant tragedy in Oklahoma seem to have come as a one-two-three punch to all of us.
On the Israeli end, terrorists fired rockets from the Sinai into Eilat.  Thank God everyone got to safety before the rockets landed.

It seems strange to blog about "everyday life" in light of these events, but everyday life must go on.  In fact, affirming everyday life may be among the best tools we have to deal with tragedy.  To that end:

Last week was Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) which is followed by Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day).  It is a difficult transition to go from a very sad day to a very happy day and L actually asked me as we were headed out for a Memorial Ceremony before beginning the Independence day celebration how people could go from being so sad to so happy.  The night Memorial Day started N went to a program with a friend.  I stayed home with the girls because A is too young to understand and I wasn't sure how much L would understand (especially as it is of course in Hebrew).   When N got home I sat down to talk about it with him.  He told me it was very sad because many young soldiers had died when they had their whole lives ahead of them.  He also told me that he felt scared because "when they were reading the names from the list I realized that my name could be on that list one day, and I don't want it to."  What could I say?   It's scary for all of us and something that I hope we never ever have to face.   The sirens sound for a moment of silence at night and once during the day.  It is a very powerful sound and emotion as an entire nation of people stops to recognize, remember and mourn those killed in action.

This is all followed by a huge celebration that marks Israeli Independence Day.  I had heard about how amazing Yom Haatzmaut is in Israel so I was sort of prepared to be disappointed.  I figured that reports had likely been exaggerated.  Boy was I wrong.  First we went to a Memorial ceremony at our local congregation.   I didn't understand all of it but they did a good job, remembering and mourning.  They read names from a list of people who had relatives in our congregation.  Unfortunately, with Israel being such a small country and so surrounded by enemies, many families had a loved one whose name was read. There was a drum roll and the raising of the Israeli flag from half mast.  Afterwards we all sang the national anthem and then the kids performed some songs and dances and we all joined in for some traditional folk dancing.  Next we headed to the main drag in our town "Rothschild Street."  It is hard to describe the scene.  What a feast for the senses.  It was like one long street fair/carnival.  There was music and dancing and street performers, fire eaters, jugglers, people on stilts, people as statues, balloons, kids carnival games.  And of course tons of street fair food.  I had no idea cotton candy was so delicious.  The excitement and celebration was unbelievable (and Tricia if you're reading---not like that.)  I don't think I have ever been to a party like that.  Our little town did an amazing job.  Savta Joanie and Saba Paul also had a thrilling time (Joan could have been hired as the town photographer).  We even met the mayor and told him that we were new immigrants to the town and had our picture taken with him.  We dragged the kids away at midnight but they were still going strong. 

Also, my dad who had been in the hospital a few days after his first chemo gained his independence and went home on Yom Haatzmaut.  Hooray!

The next day we went to an air force base across the street.  Five thousand of our closest friends had the same idea so it took about an hour to get to the base once we exited our town (normally perhaps a 7 minute drive).   It was super duper windy but that did not stop the air force from doing an amazing Red Baron air show!  We had fun again looking at all the different air crafts and exhibits (and of course eating the ice cream, popcorn and cotton candy!).  Interestingly, N proclaimed that he would wait to leave Israel for the major leagues until after his army service.  He even turned to L and told her "hey, we'll be in the army at the same time." 

A few days later marked the end of the visit from grandparents.  They took us out for a last night celebration dinner.  Funnily, the restaurant was called "Breishit" (beginnings).  But to be so cliche, I suppose every ending is a beginning.  Anyway, the restaurant was in a nearby town which is rather artsy and fun.  It was a very quaint, rustic setting and after a fabulous meal (who knew Israelis had so mastered fish and chips!) we went out to the courtyard where N filmed his first movie "Chicken and the Roosters."  It is about a man who is called Chicken because he is afraid of so much.  He must get an egg from the roosters in order to have a perfect breakfast.  It's a comedy.   He wanted me to post it to the blog but since Michael was the main actor and Saba Paul had a large role I'll need to get their permission.   L and A did some song and dance performances for us and then we went back to Mazkeret to have cake as a belated birthday celebration for N and L.  Was really a perfect evening.  It was hard to say goodbye.

Yesterday, we got back into some routine.  The kids took my ipad and were trying to get Siri (who can be addressed even when the ipad is locked) to give them the password for the parental lock.  At a certain point I think A was highly confused.  Wait a minute, she wondered, "how does it talk without a mouth?"  She was clearly recalling some theological questions she has been asking about how God can "speak", although incorporeal.   Is Siri. . . ?