Follow by Email

Friday, March 27, 2015

Trash talk

And then there was Osher Ad.  Friends had been telling me about the place but I never seemed to have the opportunity to venture out.   Since they have one near the clinic where I work in Bet Shemesh, I decided to pop in after work.  I got a really good feeling when I arrived and saw a big sign of a man with a "Kirkland Signature" lapel saying he was new to Israel.  The day after my blog about how I'm schlepping all of this stuff from Costco across the ocean, I'm standing face to face with a greeter from Costco (well more face to likeness-painted-on-stone, of a greeter from Costco, but you get the idea) .  Only at Osher Ad, you don't need a membership card to get in.  I can't actually imagine the "pay to get in" model being successful here.  Paying to shop somewhere.  People would call you a friar ("sucker").

Right now the entire store is turned over and only selling Passover inventory.  You can get anything you might possibly need for Passover.  Heck, you can get things you don't need for Passover or never even thought of needing.  The overwhelming variety for what ultimately is a 7-day event is staggering.  And why keep it simple?  Between the two main ethnic groups of Jewish people,  Sephardim (let's say Jews with Spanish and North African origins) and Ashkenazim (mostly Jews with Eastern European origins) there are different customs on how much is prohibited on Passover.  We all agree no leavened products, but after that there is parting of ways (come on--Red Sea!).  Sephardim eat everything in the category of kitniyot (ie rice, corn, lentils and depending on who you ask, the list could go on).  This becomes important if you are used to just checking to see if something is "Kosher for Passover" in the U.S., because now you have to also check if it has kitniyot.  Osher Ad actually had the aisles divided for those who eat kitniyot and those who don't.  Pretty amazing.  The majority of Kosher keeping Jews in Israel are Sephardim, so those of us who follow Ashkenaz definitely have to pay attention.  For Sephardic Jews, I don't think Passover is quite as overhwhelming.  Their Passover day could be corn flakes for breakfast, rice and beans for lunch and chicken with hummous for dinner.   Granted, it would be a challenge to find those items Kosher for Passover outside of Israel (because there are often actual issues of chametz--leaven-- added to many products that otherwise wouldn't seem to have them) but here, no problem.  OK, no pita, but have you tried their soft matzah?  It's pretty darn close.  Seriously, who are the friars?

Before Purim, when you're out grocery shopping, you can start to see entire aisles getting cleared away, or whole freezer sections getting cleaned out.  Think of all the work we put into just cleaning our own kitchens, and then imagine that on the commercial scale.  Daunting, but they do it.  You can start seeing the Kosher for Passover stamp on items from several weeks ago.  Part of what's fun about going to actual grocery stores in Israel (vs. on-line shopping which is huge here and super convenient!) is watching the transition from one thing to the next.  They could have a TV game show where they send Israelis into stores and have them guess which holiday is coming up next just based on what's for sale at the main entrance to the store.  Actually, it's pretty easy to guess.  Every contestant would win. 

 So back to Osher Ad,  they had tons of stuff from Costco.  Once I put that blue box of plastic cutlery into my cart, I was unstoppable.  When I got to the shelves of Kirkland Signature trash bags, my heart simultaneously took flight and sank.  It made me think of my dad and how he just sort of smirked as my mom and I rearranged suitcases and carry-ons to fit just a few more trash bags.  If only we had known they were sitting on a shelf in Bet Shemesh this whole time.  Not to give the impression that Osher Ad is just like Costco (it is smaller).  It's not even close, but it was pretty cool.  I also happened to meet a famous Jewish food blogger who was there shopping.  Israel really is a small country!  As I was leaving the store the man who checks the receipt was smoking a cigarette.  I don't think the greeters at Costco are lighting up, but he did wish me a "Chag Sameach" (happy holiday). 

While we're on the subject of trash bags, ours having been going a lot further lately.  A few months ago our neighborhood introduced a new initiative to put "wet trash" (essentially food and paper, regardless of whether or not it's wet or dry) into a separate bin from the regular trash.  I know from friends in other neighborhoods of Modiin that they've been doing this for awhile, but it's new to our neighborhood.  One night a woman knocked at our door, gave us the bin and explained that we were running out of room for trash and it was everyone's duty to participate.  I asked her if it was mandatory and she explained that the Negev was filling up fast.  Now I am all for reduce, reuse, recycle.  My mom was doing it long before it was hip but I think she could have had a stronger selling point.  I mean, have you been to the Negev lately?  It looks pretty wide open.  All joking aside, it's a very worthy initiative.  We put our wet trash into plastic sacks from the grocery store and put the sacks into the "wet trash" bins the city provides.  This has reduced our regular trash take out significantly.   I was frankly shocked at what difference it makes.  It's also interesting to watch this develop in real time.  As I understand, they have a machine that empties the wet trash bins and rips open and separates the plastic bags so that the garbage can be composted.  This led me to wonder what we would use once the grocery stores phase out plastic bags which I have heard will likely happen in the next few years.  If we don't get these bags from our grocery shopping, will we have to buy bags?  What?  Buy bags to put in a trash can?  That's crazy talk.   Well, if it comes to that, I'm sure they'll sell them at Osher Ad.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Flying high

I am back from America.  On this last trip I was speaking to A one morning on the phone and mentioned that I had a surprise for her that she would get on my return.  "Can we just Face Time right now so that I can see what it is?" she asked me.  I told her I wanted to keep it as a surprise but I was amazed at how different the world looks to her.  One hundred years ago if someone were going to make the journey from Kansas to Haifa port it would be an arduous journey by boat.  (OK they had luxury cruising but I'm traveling coach).  Today my daughter just takes for granted that when we are separated by an ocean all she has to do is push a button to see me live.  And frankly, it's not "easy" getting from Tel Aviv to Kansas, but relative to 100 years ago it's practically like teleportation.  "Beam me over" USair.

It sometimes feels like I"m living parallel lives in my Israel life and my US life.  I have even started to recognize some of the other commuters.  Most of the airline staff is familiar to me.  I've mentioned before that I often meet other physicians making the commute, but on this last trip I met a group of engineers who spend two weeks out of each month working in Israel.  They're from Phoenix, and while I didn't specifically ask, it wasn't my sense that any of them were Jewish.  I couldn't help but imagine that parallel life.  A bunch of women in Phoenix (because frankly with the exception of me, one dentist and one pediatrician the majority of commuters I have met have been men) commiserating about their husbands who are off working in Israel.  And then the women of Modiin (and many other Anglo communities in Israel) saying goodbye to their husbands Sunday afternoon as they head out to America (or Europe).  Except the women here look forward to the suitcases of goodies that their husbands bring back.  Do these women in Phoenix hanker for the rugelach or Bamba that their husbands could bring?

Which brings me to another point of the commuter lifestyle:  My life as a mule.  In short, I bring things back that we either can't get in Israel (though that list is getting much smaller) or are cheaper.  Pretty much everything is cheaper.  Don't get me started on gasoline, because we all know I can't bring that back in my suitcase.  My kids are always torn between missing me and looking forward to their next delivery.  Let's take Shredded Wheat as an example.  Shredded wheat cereal in Israel is somewhere between $8-10/box.    I can get it for $3 in Kansas, so it's a $5-7 savings for every box I bring back.  Our new pet rats have to sleep on special shredded paper bedding that is about 1/3 of the cost.  Now clearly, I wouldn't fly across the ocean to pick up 50 lbs of merchandise, but since I'm already there working it only makes sense to fill my bags.  Fortunately, on this trip the gate agent was more interested in talking about Israeli politics than being particular about the scale, so he let an extra 2.26796185 kilos (aka 5 lbs)  go through.  My mom and I have a tight operation packing my bags.  I always land saying I don't really need anything this time, and then we find ourselves weighing and repacking multiple times before heading back to the airport.  Now, that woman knows how to pack! Lucky for me , they don't weigh your carry-on.  And now I know that a peanut butter sandwich is fine--just no tubs of peanut butter in your carry-on.  ("Never surrender" is my new motto!)  Now America is a big place, and if any of you are from the coasts, you are likely asking yourself right now, "Where in the world is she getting cereal for $3/box?"

Another thing I've noticed:  Things are expensive here, but the adjustment is much more noticeable for those of us coming from the Midwest than Americans living in larger, more expensive cities.  Who knows?  Maybe a businessman from LA who reads my blog* will fill his suitcase up next time he travels to Kansas.

*Someone has advised me to issue the following disclaimer:  Any representations made in this blog (hereinafter the "Blog") are not intended to be construed as a recommendation of any service, action(s) or course of action(s), product, TV dinner,  good, bad or lukewarm idea, or any other thing, as defined under the broadest definition available between US and Israeli law.  The Blog makes no representation as to the readership of the Blog or lack thereof, either in total or in its constituent parts, with regards to identification or description of either individuals or demographic trends.  Any resemblance of persons described herein to any other person, living or dead, real or fictional, is purely coincidental.   All rights reserved.  Gustabus non disputandum est.  (Thank you, Michael)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fickle Israeli voter

So I couldn't really let election day pass without a post.  It seems like just yesterday we were new citizens, voting in our first elections.  We were so excited and eager.  And maybe it seems like it was just yesterday because it was actually just two years ago that we were putting little slips in boxes.  This time around seems less exciting and more nerve wracking.  I have invested so much energy in trying to figure out who to vote for, and I still don't fully understand the system.  After elections coalitions have to be formed and it feels a little like guesswork because even if the guy you support makes it in he's going to have to find some friends to get any work done.  And who will those friends be?

So a month or two ago, we hosted a parlor meeting at our home with Yesh Atid, a centrist party that made its debut in 2013.  I thought a lot of what they had to say made sense and believe me there are so  many issues.  I mean just start with the price of cottage cheese and draw the lines to Sudanese refugees, civil rights for all citizens, cost of housing, left vs. right, non-working segment of the population, immigrants, socialized healthcare, mandatory military service.  I  mean why would you even want to run the country?  That makes everyone gunning for these positions  somewhat suspect to begin with!

The night of the meeting one of my children greeted the Yesh Atid Knesset member with "Hello.  My teacher said that Yair Lapid (the head of the party) is a bad man." (the indoctrination that is apparently taking place at the school was all the more shocking as the Minister of Education is a member of the Yesh Atid party that they were speaking against!)

 Now mind you, by the end of the evening  Yesh Atid had a new campaign volunteer (evidencing the ease with which a school aged child can be indoctrinated!)  Anyway, balancing all of the different issues I was really conflicted about who to vote for, when friends invited us to go for a hike on election day.  Yes, election day is a national holiday, prompting the joke "I'm going to vote for whichever party whose government will fall apart first and give us another day off."  When our friends mentioned the hike it was the first time that I looked at the actual date the elections will be held, and naturally I was already scheduled to work in the US.

Guess where in the world there is no absentee ballot?  If you guessed Israel, you win the perspicacity prize!  You have to be physically in the country to cast that little paper ballot (obviously there are exceptions for diplomats etc. and while I do appreciate that there are folks out there who enjoy my blog, I do not enjoy diplomatic status).  So no vote for me.   Though I suppose in July of 2012 when we flew across the ocean, we had already cast our ballot.  Or at least enabled me to vote in all the future elections.
(This post has been sitting waiting for me to re-edit it since Purim.  Alas, having shortly thereafter flown to the U.S.,  I haven't had time for editing, but I don't want to skip the Purim update before moving on to my election day post, so here's a never-before-seen "rough draft" version of a post):

Purim 2015 has come and gone.  This year we were a bit wiser.  The Purim story is from about 2500 years ago.  A man in Persia trying to wipe out the Jews.  How I wish that didn't have a familiar ring today.  After the Jews avoided destruction (thank you to one of our main Jewish heroines--Queen Esther) we took on some customs that continue to this day.  We listen to the Megillah (the Purim story) once at night and once during the day, we give money to the poor and give gift baskets to friends and having a festive meal on Purim day.  I don't know where the dressing up in costume comes from but that is also customary.  It makes for a lot of fun but I'm sure there are many parents out there who would back me up that it can also be a super stressful time.  Making and delivering the baskets, making sure you are on time for the Megillah reading, getting costumes together for the kids etc.  Oh and the day before is a fast day in which we remember the build up to the drama.

So sometimes I think of Megillah reading as the 45 most stressful minutes on the Jewish calendar.  The adults are starving, the kids are on sugar/costume/vacation high.  Fortunately, in Modiin we have so many Megillah readings to choose from that a lot of that stress has been removed because miss one and another is starting in 10 minutes.  You have your pick.  Dramatic reading, fast reading, women's reading, family reading, puppet show reading.  We got the variety.  Whatever you're looking for within reason.  But last year it felt like the day of Purim we spent a large chunk of time passing out gift baskets to friends.  This year, a friend organized a group to visit patients who are stuck in the hospital on Purim.  My father was very involved in visiting sick people in hospitals and he used to tell us that his father's favorite holiday was Purim.  So I felt a special connection to my dad during the visit.

The cool thing about going to a hospital in Israel on Jewish holidays is that it's the national holiday.  Much like Americans must feel if they gather to visit sick people on Christmas there is a festive spirit that you get to tap into that belong to you.  I think it was a great experience for the kids to see the people's faces light up and somehow my children ended up receiving a gift basket and costume that a different group was passing out.  Even though we explained that my kids were volunteering and were not patients they simply responded with "all the more reason to receive."  It was great.  A 3-piece band came through and did some singing and dancing and many visitors were in costtume so I think the patients and their families felt that they were not forgotten.  As were passing out our final goody bag/get well card a nurse came over and told us he didn't think the hospital was a good place for small children.   Bah humbug!