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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The long and windy road

We had a Sunday!!  Well it was actually a Tuesday but it was such a fun day.  A run around and get things done day.  An afternoon trip with the kids day.  A no need to wake up and rush out the door day.   It felt like a Sunday.   Though I guess I was missing a theoretical day because we never really had Sundays before in our family.  Since I don't work on Shabbat (Sabbath) the trade-off has always been to work most Sundays, or Sunday nights or Saturday nights or some combo therein that took away Sunday as a free day.  In some respect this made aliyah easier for our family because we didn't have to adjust to the loss of Sunday (though I have written before about my children's views of school on Sunday).

Back to the topic at hand--we had the day off  because election day here is a national holiday.   In the afternoon we voted and took the kids on a little trip to a National Park about 25 minutes away.  The 25 minutes is before you turn onto the entrance and travel 15 treacherous minutes on a rather narrow, rocky path.  I wouldn't call it a road--it was more like a suggested path designed specifically by nature to destroy the undercarriage of your vehicle with sharp and craggy rocks the size of your head.  But we brought our brand new smartphones with us (Yes we have entered the 21st century--folks, we live in a country that has more cell phones than citizens, so it was inevitable), and Waze kept up with us down our windy path.  When we finally made it to a "parking area" we met some Israelis who it seemed were also a bit put off by the windy path and they showed us a better way in and out.  Perhaps we just don't have enough of the adventurous spirit because at the beginning of our hiking trail (which was a narrow trail for single-file walking)  was a sign (which you could only get to by climbing over boulders taller than Ariella) that said "No cars beyond this point".   Michael and I tried to figure out how one could even get a car beyond that point if you wanted to.  I think it would be impossible, but clearly enough people must have tried, and enough of them that a sign was necessary.  Or it was Israeli bureaucracy at its finest.  The park was spectacular:
Sign telling you no cars beyond this point

One more picture from the elections.  We voted.  Can I even state in words how incredible it was to vote?  I can try.  I won't pretend we were super thrilled with the choices and M got caught up in playing the "prisoner's dilemma" with his vote but what an experience to be living in Israel and casting a vote for the next government.  The election workers were so sweet because they were excited about how excited we were.  Everyone was just feeling good.  We voted in a public school a few blocks away.  Tables for the different candidates were set up outside, along with a lemonade stand that some entrepreneurial little kids set up, and a man asking people to sign up for organ donation.  The weather was amazing so it was definitely a get out and vote type of day.  Here is the booth (note that each slip has the little letters that were on the billboards and this is how you identify your party though of course the name of the party is also on the slip, so if you forgot the random and meaningless letters you could also identify your party by the popular name in small print that is used in all other contexts).  You simply pick your slip, put it an envelope and place the envelope in the ballot box which is guarded by the election workers.  Actually I don't think it could be easier.
But now we're back to the daily grind.  I have my final exam in ulpan next week.  Today one of the students (and I won't name her country of origin) asked the teacher if she could get us an advance copy of the written exam.  We literally only take the ulpan to advance our language skills.  I can not imagine how ingrained the culture of cheating must be in one's culture to make you feel comfortable asking your teacher to help you cheat on an exam whose results have no bearing on the rest of your life.  Bizarro.

Monday, January 21, 2013

So many choices

 Going to work in the US at the end of December meant that I would miss the last few weeks of my ulpan and the final exam.  I made arrangements to join in for the final weeks/exam with a different group that was just a few weeks behind us.  I started with them last week.  A different cast of characters but with a lot in common.  Most of the class is again from "Russia".  One such student is a man who appears to be in his late 50's and wears a shirt and tie every day.  I had previously seen him in the hallways and assumed he worked at the school.   There is a man from Iran who is the husband of the woman from my previous class.  Another woman from Iran told me that she is not an immigrant but rather a tourist, explaining that she will be going back.  I asked her where the government of Iran thinks she is right now and she told me "Turkey".  I also asked if she was scared to go back.  Interestingly the gentleman from Iran was listening to us and as she was answering "yes" he was saying "no" that there wasn't anything to be frightened about.  I would really like to ask her more before the class wraps up.

This class has a few students from South America, who speak Spanish and English.  We also have a Romanian dentist.  What the call is to these Romanian (non-Jewish) dentists to come to Israel I am not certain.  However, when this dentist told me that she has a saying "white teeth, black heart" I made a mental note to avoid Romanian dentists if possible.  I'd say my dentists have always had a bit of a different approach.

Back of the Egged bus

Note the box with two Hebrew letters--seem to have some historical significance but nothing relevant.  Anyway, every party has different letters.

On the way home, I tried to get a few shots of the billboards that are all around.  Elections are tomorrow and it is a national holiday.  No school and no ulpan.   Lately it seems we're just talking politics.  There are so many issues that Israel has to contend with that frankly it is a wonder anything happens at all.  Plus, there is a parliamentary system here and since you need a majority in order to run the government, the largest party (which never gets a majority on its own) forms a coalition with other, smaller parties after the elections in order to run the government.  That means a lot of horse-trading and compromise up front to get their support, so in the end you don't really get what you voted for.   So you have to find the party with the platform you like but then also try to anticipate what will be given up if certain mergers occur.

Apparently, we will cast a paper ballot.  At first it sounded quaint but a friend from England pointed out to us that fraud is a lot more difficult with paper ballots than a computerized system.  Really with the whole "hanging chad" thing so fresh in our memories I don't feel we have much room to talk about primitive voting systems.  I am pretty excited to vote even if I don't quite have it all down.  As a neighbor told me:  The United States is a large country with only two choices (sorry, Ross Perot) and Israel is a tiny, tiny country with many choices.  I suppose that is how it goes.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

This is your captain speaking

And I'm back.  It was actually a bit frightening on my return flight.  We had a "maintenance" check after we were all on board and were cleared to go but 20 minutes after take-off we could smell gas fumes and the pilot announced that we would be returning to Philadelphia as a precautionary measure.  Apparently we had to dump all of our fuel (and where fuel is dumped when you are over a city I don't have the slightest idea) and then landed to a runway lined with fire trucks.   I have watched too many made-for-tv movies to know that we were still in danger even though we had landed.  I started telling everyone around me that we "had to get off the plane" and suddenly I heard an announcement "Eliana please come to the front."   Really?  Had I been too vocal?  Leaving my 20lbs of carry-on goodies behind I marched to the front to discover that they were looking for a child who was travelling alone, apparently named Eliana.  Anyway, a few minutes later we were all off the plane and about 6 1/2 hours after originally scheduled we took off for Israel. 

Enough has changed in these 3 weeks.  I returned to a 4-year old who prefers to speak Hebrew.  I have to remind her to speak English at home!  And of course now that she is speaking in her Gan, the teacher has a new concern.  Something about the way she holds her pencils.  Oh goodness I think this will be a year for much patience.  The hard part--and I don't want to brag---is that I happen to know A is a little genius.  She has become my big helper in the kitchen and friends let me tell you that it's not every child that can be so discriminating when it comes to the quality of chocolate chips.  Sure, it sometimes takes her 20 or so to figure things out but this is hardly a skill you want to rush. 

N watched one of the movies I brought home, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and later that night gave a little talk at the dinner table about the similarities between the film and Sefer Shoftim (Book of Judges).  Though I don't think his insights were perhaps what the Rabbis had in mind I was happy to see that he has picked something up at school.  I think his Hebrew has actually advanced quite a bit but he keeps that somewhat hidden in his desire to continue down the path of no homework and no expectation.  Well, who can blame him and clearly there is still a large gap in his Hebrew knowledge.

L, middle child that she is, brought me up to speed with all that is going on.  She even wrote, stage designed and performed a one-girl musical.  Sort of "Music Man" meets "Les Miserables" with the central theme being--here's a shocker: a family that moves to the promised land but realizes that they should probably go back to Kansas.  Don't worry in the finale you get some inkling that things in Israel might work out for them.  Possibly, maybe.

How M kept things in order for these 3 weeks I don't know but I am thankful to all our new friends here who definitely helped out.  Next week are elections.  Aaaack.  Parliamentary government is rather confusing.  I feel I should be granted a Master's degree for all the reading I've been doing trying to figure out who's who (or the reading I should be doing).  Now I can see why cab drivers are so eager to talk politics.  They probably feel like they should have a degree too.  Seriously it is quite confusing.  N's recommendation is to vote for Likud since Netanyahu gave us "Yahoo" (breaking down his name natan=gave, yahoo=Yahoo) which is why 9 year olds haven't been granted the right to vote.  Though I may be taking my young children to the grocery next time I go for a bit of translation :) 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


My 3 weeks in the US are coming to a rapid close.  I have been working with the most stellar staff and we have been working hard.  Another shout out to my parents who really made my stay here like a little vacation (albeit a vacation in which you work 16 night shifts in 19 nights).  The focus over the last few days has been how to get 70 pounds of stuff into the 50 pound weight restriction that the airlines now have for luggage.  The laws of physics really don't change but remember Einstein's little theory of relativity?  Well I feel that it is all relative, and if the folks at US air only understood how important my need to bring Costco garbage bags and Ziploc bags back with me they would allow for a little overage in the luggage weight.  I have garbage bags stuffed in every nook and cranny of my suitcase.   I don't know why but the people who made the dessert bloom have not had much success with garbage bags.

While I was away A started speaking at her preschool.  Apparently her first words were "Ani Lo Rotzah" (I don't want to) after being asked to do something.   The preschool teacher might be longing for the days of silence but I think at this point those days are over.  Can't wait to see my kids and they can't wait to see my 50 lbs of American goodies!