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Monday, October 24, 2016

The road less settled: 8 reasons to consider living in the REST of Israel.


I love Israel – absolutely every inch of it.  But as you may have noticed, we’ve made the decision to live outside of the centre of the country.

Not that I’m knocking the centre of the country – it’s great.  I love it, and I travel there regularly.

But there is life for English-speaking olim beyond Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv, Raanana, Rechovot and Beit Shemesh.  With that in mind, here are eight great reasons why (whether you’re here already or thinking of aliyah) you really ought to consider the REST of the country…

1) It's ALL holy.

It says in Kesuvos 112 that “anyone who walks four Amos in Eretz Yisrael is guaranteed a share in the world to come.”  Now, there is some dispute about the Biblical boundaries of the country, and so some bits of desert around Eilat may not count.  But the fact is that the mitzvah is to live here in the country itself, on the holy land Hashem gave to Avraham Avinu.  Not just one or two selected cities.

2) It's not THAT far away.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Things that are cool in Israel #9: Tripping over history


Are you a dummy about history?

Don’t know your Maccabees from your Hasmoneans?  Can’t tell Greeks, Romans and Babylonians apart?  Well, relax – there’s no way you could be dumber about Israeli history than I am.

And the great thing about living in Israel is you just kind of ABSORB history by living here.  It’s all over – so much so that at certain times and places, you’re actually tripping over it.  Like today, when we went and visited a whole bunch of graves.

Even if you find graves kind of creepy (who doesn’t?), even the gravest sites in Israel have been thoroughly sanitized by time and by the nice archaeology people who are in charge of removing the bones to Elsewhere for a proper burial before they swing the doors wide to tourists.

Sure, Israel has some big-name graves (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Maimonides being two of the biggies), but we decided to head a little off the beaten path today to celebrate one of Northern Israel’s cultural treasures – the grave of Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nassi (Judah the Prince), otherwise known throughout the Talmud as “Rabbi.”  Why does this guy merit the one-name appellation, out of all the rabbis who have ever lived, throughout Jewish history?

Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nassi is better known as the REDACTOR of the Mishna.  He was the editor, the guy who pulled together all the oral traditions floating around and single-handedly, perhaps, saved Judaism as we were poised on the brink of a very long exile.

After Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nassi requested to be buried there around the year 217, the village of Beit She'arim in the Jezreel Valley became THE trendy burial site for Northern Israel.  Lots of famous and wealthy people hurried to follow his example.  So there are lots and lots and lots of long-ago relatives to visit, in a lovely park-like setting on a deliciously breezy hillside.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Weird, wacky, wonderful (Hebrew) words: שַׁלֶּכֶת/ shalechet


It’s way too early to be thinking about fall, but there you go – that’s what I’m thinking about.  I accidentally put on my “Elul Hebrew Songs” playlist before Shabbos and ended up listening to a whole bunch of pre-Rosh Hashanah songs and getting into THAT kind of mood.

And with all these songs comes a word that comes up all the time in the fall in Israel that I had never really even thought about before… שַׁלֶּכֶת/ shalechet.

Morfix translates the word as “fall (of autumn leaves) ; (botany) exfoliation.”  Google, as “autumn, fall, or effoliation.”  But you’ll have to take my word for it – nobody says this in English the way Israelis do here, with its many heaped-on layers of meaning.

This is a lovely word that is a haiku unto itself.  It means, vaguely, “fallen leaves on sidewalks.”  But it also refers to the crunchiness of the leaves and the mood of the leaves and the ending-and-transitioning that is fall and even, kind of, winter in Israel, which isn’t really a season but more a dampness that descends for a while and then lifts.

It’s certainly not just “falling leaves” – because when people want to talk about falling leaves, they say עלי שלכת/alei shalechet, which would be redundant if shalechet was all about leaves.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Things that are cool in Israel #8: Barbie’s Book of Tehillim


You know what's cool about about Israel that I don't write about often enough?  Prayer.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, kindly overlook the fact that I haven't blogged here in over a year.)

Because I really want to talk about prayer for a second.
Prayer so cheap you take it for granted.
Specifically, books of Tehillim (Psalms).  Here in our local "stock" shop (Max Stock Kiryat Chaim), they sell bulk packages of keychain sifrei Tehillim, 7 for ₪10.  If you're in the U.S., that's less than $3. 

How awesome is this?


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Should you hang with other English speakers? Yes, and here’s why.


Having spent two evenings last week socializing exclusively with English speakers, I’m feeling guilty.  And lazy.

Why?  Well, Thursday night was my monthly English speakers meeting of children’s-book writers and illustrators (SCBWI*), and Friday was our community’s English Speakers Oneg Shabbat. 

At the book meeting, I mentioned the oneg, and one of the Israelis there asked, “Why only English speakers?” 

So then I felt ashamed.  And lazy, like I wasn’t making an effort.  And I almost felt racist (linguist?) for eliminating Hebrew speakers from my social circle so deliberately.  Why move to Israel and then spend so much time hanging out in English??? 

I didn’t even mention that we’re going to the annual Nefesh b’Nefesh Go North English-speaking Shabbaton next week.  Even more English !  Are we just obstinately refusing to integrate into Israeli society?

On the way home from my SCBWI meeting, and for the 2 days since, I’ve put more thought into it.  Because this is something all olim will have to balance in their lives somehow: how much time will you spend “out and about” mingling with the natives and how much time will you spend all huddled and insular with your Anglo “peeps”?

I’ve concluded that it’s not just about laziness.  Though your mileage may vary, here are 5 really good reasons from my own life that I deliberately spend time hanging out with English speakers…

1.  Israelis are busy

Israelis have lives here that are busy and well-established.  Sort of the way we did back in North America.  Many Israelis are too busy to stop and realize that we are here and we need a little extra TLC. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Chanukah in Israel: why it’s simply better here


"Do they really celebrate Chanukah in chu"l???" (Outside of Israel - see this post!)

This Sunday, I brought English Chanukah songs for the girls I tutor.  One of them was amazed and asked me this outright.  She couldn’t believe that even in Canada, we celebrated Chanukah.

She knew that Jews everywhere celebrate most holidays, but Chanukah is so tied up in the Israeli psyche, our most nationalistic holiday besides Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), that it must have seemed impossible to celebrate anywhere else.

And I have to admit: she’s right. 

Sure, you can celebrate Chanukah in chu”l, but you can’t feel it the way you do here.

I've always been humbug about Chanukah.  It's not that I hated it, but when we lived in Canada,

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A not simple time: the stolen Yemenite children


In Hebrew, instead of saying something in the past was "difficult" or "complicated," the phrase is softened a little.  They say, "it's not simple."

One such not-simple period is the stolen children of Yemen. 

Here's the nutshell:

When Yemenite Jews came to Israel in the 1940s and early 1950s, some children were often taken and given away to Ashkenazi families, some of whom were survivors of the Shoah.  Not all, and perhaps not even many; but some.  The actual number doesn’t matter.  There’s no number that would have been acceptable.

Sometimes, Yemenite parents were told that their children were sick and needed to be in the hospital.  I read the story of one man whose adoptive mother simply showed up at the hospital and was told, "Pick a baby."  His birth mother, like most of the Yemenite parents, was told that her child had died.

Having seen so many Ethiopian families trying to adjust to life in modern Israel in the years we’ve been here, I find it