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Thursday, July 26, 2018

What’s cheaper??? Three things you’ll love paying less for in Israel


We all love to kvetch.  Or maybe I’m just speaking for myself.  I definitely love to kvetch!  But sometimes, it’s worth stepping back and looking around at how much is truly wonderful about this unbelievable place we live.

Here are three that I’m really enjoying this week:

1. Public Transportation

This is my number one.  In fact, this was what caught my eye on Facebook today.  Someone was kvetching about the high cost of buying and renting a car—and they were right.

True, cars are expensive, but public transit is almost laughably cheap.   It’s even cheaper than when we arrived in 2013.  In an era when nothing goes down in price, fares were actually LOWERED around most of the country a couple of years ago!

Here’s what I’m talking about:

I took the kiddies to Jerusalem two days ago.  The three of us went from north of Haifa to Jerusalem and back, taking local buses in both cities, inter-city buses, and trains.  The train was an hour, a one-hour bus ride, then several local trips within Jerusalem.  Then, five hours later, an inter-city bus ride back to Haifa and one local trip to get home.

Total cost?  ₪60 per person. That’s under $20 (US).

Oh, and we could have traveled for another 12+ hours on the same fare, had we been so inclined, because it’s good for 24 hours from purchase.

Where, outside of Israel, can you get around cheaper than that?

(NOTE:  This isn’t what trains look like in Israel nowadays!  This is an authentic 1970s-era train on display in the Railway Museum here in Haifa.  Photo © Deror Avi via Wikimedia)

Two years ago, we were in Ottawa and I wanted to leave my family there and get back to Toronto by bus.  It’s a five-hour train ride, so farther

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Weird, wacky, wonderful (Hebrew) words: Time (זְמַן) after Time (פַּעַם) and more…


I figured it was time for a new post!  I know, I haven't posted anything in so long, and now this is like 3 in a 2-week period.  Blogging is like that sometimes.

And speaking of TIME... this post is all about time.  Specifically, the words we use to talk about it in Hebrew.

We use words for time a lot, which makes them extremely useful.
We say things to each other like:

  • "What time is the party?"
  • "How much time do you have?"
  • "How many times have you eaten blue cheese?"
  • "I sometimes think I'll try it someday."

In English, all four of those are the same word: time.
Not so in Hebrew.

  • What time is the party? / be’eyzo sha’ah hamesiba / באיזו שעה המסיבה
  • How much time do you have? / kama zman yesh lach / כמה זמן יש לך
  • How many times have you eaten blue cheese? / kama pe’amim achalt gevina kechula / כמה פעמים אכלת גבינה כחולה
  • I sometimes think I’ll try it someday. / leefameem ani choshevet she-anaseh yom echad / לפעמים אני חושבת שאנסה יום אחד

What are the time words I’ve used here?

  • Sha’ah / שעה – usually, hour
  • Pa’am / פעם – usually, time as in “how many times” (think of it as “occurrence”)
  • Zman / זמן – usually, time as in the abstract noun, like “we don’t have much time.”

For the fourth sentence, with sometimes, you're going to need a

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Weird, wacky, wonderful (Hebrew) words: אֶפְשָׁר / Possible (efshar)


You've been reading these posts for a while.  How about I reward you with a gift?

It's a single word that works as a magic key, opening doors here like no other word can do -- including "please" (בבקשה), which really doesn't go a long way at all in Israel.

Actually, I’ve come to believe that saying please is actually a cue for whoever is supposed to be helping you--in restaurants, government offices, or wherever--to ignore you for a certain period of time.  Like counting to 10 when you're angry.  At least, they kind of stare at me cluelessly when I do it.  I’m not kidding.  It will only slow you down here.  Try it!

So what's the word?
Well, it's a little word that makes everything POSSIBLE...

Because it means "possible"!
And the word is... אפשר / efshar.

(And okay, since I’m not the grammar maven that you might be—technically it means something a lot more like “possibly,” but for the rest of this post, you and I are going to agree to overlook  grammar and technicalities almost entirely… if you want a more linguistically inclined site, check out Balashon – currently on hiatus but nonetheless packed with great info!  Also a terrific pun: balash means detective, lashon means language.)

Now, in English, the word “possible” isn’t used nearly as often in Hebrew. Here, you can use this little word instead of “please” in a huge variety of situations.

For example, in a restaurant:

  • Efshar ketchup? / Literally, “possibly ketchup?” but it means

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Two countries, two passport offices: Israeli bureaucracy in 2018


Let's play a game: see if you can guess which country is which!  Two countries, two passport offices.  One of these experiences took place in Canada; the other in Israel.  Let’s let them go head to head.


Walk into passport office, get in line.  Wait in line an hour, reach wicket.  Lady inspects documents: birth certificate, passport application, passport photos, signatures, guarantor form and signatures, old passport, miscellaneous other ID.  "Great," she says, "Here's your number.  You can go get in line in the other room."  Half an hour in line in the real passport room waiting for the number to be called, go up, hand in documents, pay fee, leave.  In and out in under two hours!


Walk into passport office five minutes early for appointment made online.  Enter info into computer at entrance, receive a number.  Sit down for 2 minutes until number is called.  Go up to wicket, hand over old passport and ID.  "Great," she says, "Here's the price."  Tell her I already paid online.  "Oh, right, no problem.  Here's your receipt."  In and out in under ten minutes!

Now... in which country did I have which experience?

You probably already guessed, but

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani shot near Gaza: A Canadian in Israel responds


You know what this blog post was going to be about?  Volunteers.  And about how Israel doesn't appreciate volunteers who come here from places like United States and Canada. 

It’s an important topic, right?  Too bad that’s not what I ended up writing about.

Volunteers are people of all faiths and all ages who don't have to come here, and who work for organizations like Sar-El (which places volunteers on military bases), on farms, in schools, all over the country.  They must contribute millions of dollars to the Israeli economy, which is absolutely fabulous.

I was talking someone a couple of weeks ago who had been here volunteering on farms for two months, and she started telling me about how she and the others were forced to work half a day on Yom HaAtzmaut, while the farm's owner slept in, then lounged around the house with friends and family (later, the volunteers were invited to join the BBQ -- once they were done work).  She noted that the paid migrant workers weren't in the fields... probably because it's illegal to make them work on a national holiday.

Volunteers can work whenever they want, I guess.

That made me mad, and I also, somewhat guiltily, realized that my daughter has had a volunteer from the U.S. teaching English in her school this entire year and I hadn't even met her, let alone thanked her (she's been working one-on-one with some of the native English speakers), until someone invited her to our Lag Ba'omer BBQ.  So I felt bad that she's been in the country so long and probably barely acknowledged by the community, and finally, belatedly, invited her over.

Like I said, that's what this blog post was going to be about. 

Because seriously, with the feeling towards Israel in North America these days, it's not at all obvious that someone would come here to volunteer, paying their own airfare and often also paying to volunteer, just so they can show up and be ignored at best and their goodwill abused at worst.  Israelis probably see volunteers as "freyers," suckers who are easily conned and therefore aren't worth very much.

File:Flickr - Israel Defense Forces - Sar-El Volunteers at Lebanon Border (4).jpgFile:Austrian Volunteers in Ein Hashofet July 19731.JPGimageimage

(All freyers????  L-R: Sar-El volunteers 2012 photo © IDF via Wikimedia; Austrian Kibbutz volunteers 1978 photo © Robert Schediwy via Wikimedia; American volunteers at Masada meeting George W. Bush 2008 © White House via U.S. National Archives; Farm volunteer © WWOOF Israel)

I wanted to write about that because I was mad.  But then…

Then I saw something that made me even madder, and also -- I found out about people who abuse their volunteers even more than Israel does:  Gaza.  Or rather, Hamas, its quasi-elected dictatorship.

Gaza has had a humanitarian crisis over the last few years due to its leadership's terrorist policies.  Hamas is a government that's in power on a one-plank platform: eliminate Israel.  Once elected in 2006, they dismantled electoral operations so nobody could un-elect them and proceeded to take money out of children's and families' pockets and dedicate it to building terror tunnels and rockets with which to bombard nearby Israelis.

Hamas may be many things, but they're not stupid.  So in addition to these operations, they have poured a ton of work into the PR battle for the hearts and minds of the world.  It's a humanitarian crisis, they weep to the world, which is absolutely, 100% true.  And then, they point to Israel.  That's the whole PR thing: point to the crisis, point to Israel.  Repeat until hearts bleed and journalists cry.  It doesn't take much to make journalists cry, especially if there are pictures of children.

But courting NGOs and liberal media outlets is easy, hardly a challenge anymore.  Like I said, they cry easily.

So if I was in charge of the Hamas PR machine, then the thing that I would want most of all, more than anything else in the world, is a Canadian. 

The world loves nobody more than a Canadian.

To the world, Canadians are innocent, naive, the ultimate freyers, really.

Yup, that’s what would head up my wish list: A nice Canadian frayer, a volunteer who could

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Nine (9) things I wouldn't have to tell a Canadian neighbour


I get alarmed sometimes, living in Israel.  There truly are moments when I just look around and realize we’re living somewhere utterly foreign, and I ask myself what we think we’re doing here, when it is so, so painfully clear that we don’t belong… such as when we have less-than-pleasant encounters with various neighbours in our building.  Sheesh.

This is a neighbourhood full of “characters,” and sometimes it’s fun and you can laugh it off.  But sometimes, you just want to cry and wish everybody could be Canadian, so you wouldn’t have to fill them in on the basics, such as…

1. Turn off your music -- it's 2 a.m. and I'm trying to sleep.

Israelis are sometimes strange about noise.  I have a personal theory that because it's such a small country, and you really can't get away from other people, they don't even bother trying.  There are no boundaries.  "If I feel like listening to music, then you feel like listening to music," is pretty much how many Israelis feel about their tunes. 

Also, this particular neighbour is a weird, too-thin skittish little guy who you just figure has got to be on a pile of something addictive, though obviously, we have no proof.  His behaviour has been pathological in the past. 

The fun part is him trying to convince us that this is what Israel is like, and if we don't like it, we should go back to Canada, where people are quiet and polite.  Which brings back memories of calling the police on inconsiderate neighbours in a few different situations... and, yes, of having them called on a party I held at one point.

But I think one difference is that this guy doesn't care, he'll just turn it right back on after the cops leave, just to show me he can.

2. That's not music, it's cats yowling.

I may not be the best candidate to move to the Middle East.  Some people really enjoy "Mizrachi" music, the swirling, wailing sound of notes that go up and down seemingly at random.  Then again, some people like chummus, which tastes like dirt paste.  Okay, to be honest, everybody here likes chummus—with a passion.  Except me.

I want to show up outside this neighbour’s door at 7 a.m. with

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Do you know how to protect yourself on Jerusalem’s sidewalks?


This is actually more of a public service announcement than a blog post.  Know what the biggest threat is to pedestrians in Jerusalem?  From what I’ve learned this week it definitely isn’t terrorism… it’s slippery sidewalks.

Yup, those fabulous shining stone walkways that make Jerusalem look so lovely for so much of the year… are apparently (almost literally) deadly.

If you’ve ever walked through the Old City at night in the rain, you probably figured that already.  But maybe, like me, you thought you were the only one.  Nope, nope, nope.  If you’ve ever stopped yourself from running for a bus in our nation’s capital because you were scared you’d slip and fall and break your neck… it turns out you’re not alone.

Except some people aren’t just afraid of falling.  They’ve actually fallen, and maybe not suffered