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Thursday, May 28, 2015

The other half of Israel: do religious Jews hate Arabs?

Last week, a friend who volunteers teaching English to kids in an Arab village near Karmiel mentioned an informal survey he’d done among the kids he teaches.  He asked them, hypothetically, who they wouldn’t want living in their village. 

He listed a whole bunch of different types of people:  Arab Christians, Americans, religious and non-religious Jews.

It turned out that the main group of people that the kids didn’t want coming to live in their village was religious Jews.


Because, according to the kids, religious Jews hate Arabs more.

In other words:  not because they hate us, but because they believe we hate them.

I was astonished, but actually this makes sense.  They probably figure that the people who are most passionate about the religion are also the most passionate Zionists.  And thus, the most passionate Arab-haters.

To me, being a religious Jew is totally about Israel.  But it is not at all about hatred. 

I always figured that when I made aliyah, I’d understand the situation here a lot more clearly.  You know, being actually present on the ground, as opposed to being way off in North America.

That’s about as accurate as a flea expecting to understand a dog’s life just because it lives on the dog’s back. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bug OFF! More creepy crawly critters I’ve known in Israel.


If you're easily creeped out, maybe you'd better not read on.

Still here?

Good.  Because if you’re planning to move to Israel, you’re going to have to think about insects.

As I write this, I am literally pecking ants off my computer screen.  It's ANT SEASON here in Israel.

The first year we were here, a friend told us, "After Pesach, the ants come." 

I didn’t think she was lying to us, but really?  In Toronto, insects don't have a schedule.  Sure enough, though, days after Pesach, they arrived.  Right now, we’re in our second year, and, yes, in the middle of our second invasion by ants.

My 7-year-old son loves this, because it lets him make up rude rhymes for the song "The Ants Go Marching," in various multiples.  Me, not so much.

Ants, of course, are not the worst of it when you live in a hot desert-type country like Israel.  I guess the worst-case scenario would be the friend who got stung by a scorpion moving some furniture in his house.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

5 surprises when you go to shul in Israel (with a helpful vocabulary list!)


Considering it’s called the Holy Land, and considering that so many of us move here for religious reasons, I guess it’s strange that I haven’t said anything about going to shul before now.

When my sister was here visiting last year, she also mentioned that she’d been all over the place but hadn’t set foot in a shul.

Life in Israel is like that.

Are you wondering what shul will be like when you make aliyah?  Here are 5 things that may surprise you when you finally get there:

1.  It’s not called shul.

This may be obvious to you, but then, you’re probably smarter than me.  Smart enough to put two and two together and realize that Ashkenazim like me, and our quaint Yiddish expressions, are not in the majority here.  (Us Ashkenazim tend to see the world through Ashkenaz-coloured lenses.)

Shul here is known as בית כנסת / beit knesset.  Everybody calls it that – even Ashkenazim.

Which is another thing, by the way:  in Canada, I grew up thinking of the Jewish world as divided into Ashkenaz and Sefardi.  It turns out we’re the only ones who call them Sefardim.  Here in Israel, these “eastern” / southern Jews are better known as “eidot hamizrach,” or “mizrachi” (which means eastern, go figure).

But within that “Sefardi” realm, there are so many different types of – uh-oh – shuls.  Just within a couple of blocks of here are Moroccan, Tunisian and Yemenite shuls.  Whereas, since we’re a minority, Ashkenazim tend to have the local “Ashkenaz” shul, and not have as much of a choice.  We’re black and white; they’re a whole entire rainbow.

And the truth is, if you accidentally say shul, everybody will know what you’re talking about.  I don’t even think you’ll offend anybody.  But that’s not what they call it.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Haveil Havalim, the Emor Extravaganza


Well, no, it’s not an extravaganza at all. It’s me being a day late and probably also a dollar short, but there it is and here we are with my monthly (but it happens weekly!) roundup of All Things Good in the Jewish blog world.

What is HH?

imageIt’s a weekly roundup of what’s new and great in the Jewish / Israel blogging world.  I host once a month to give you a taste of what other great blogs are out there that you might enjoy.  Hopefully, you’ll find some new favourites.

  • Last week’s was hosted by Batya over at Shiloh Musings

  • Next week’s carnival host is TBD

  • For more details, a complete schedule of future issues or to host an upcoming issue, please join the HH facebook group.

Don’t forget – the point of social media is… SOCIAL.  Stop by and visit some of the other blogs listed here.  Leave a comment to let them know you came from HH!

It’s actually been kind of a busy week, as Jewish bloggers around the world start waking up again after Pesach.  Shavuot is not the same kind of scary spectre… a quick 1-day (or, here in Israel this year, 2-day) experience rather than the full 8 days, and no significant cleaning or kashering to be done. 

And, of course – spring.  Spring is here, for however long it decides to stick around.  Despite the mournful overtones of sefirah, I really do enjoy this time of year.  Hope you’ll enjoy this bloggish roundup!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Seven things you MUST know before renting an apartment in Israel: an essential guide for new olim.


Before you think about signing a lease for your first apartment in Israel, here are seven essential questions you MUST ask.  Make sure you know the answers before you put pen to paper.

  1. Can a realtor help me?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  In some areas, a realtor for rentals may be hard (like outside the centre of the country).  If you do find one, they generally charge a fee of one month’s rent.  We couldn’t find a realtor, but in the end, I found our place easily on “Yad Shtayim,” one big website for secondhand goods and real estate.   I used Google Translate for terms and descriptions I didn’t understand and Google Maps to help me understand where each apartment was.
  2. Who owns the apartment?  Unlike in the U.S. and Canada, buildings aren't usually centrally owned, so each apartment in a building has a different owner.  Most buildings have a "Vaad HaBayit" (Building Committee) to make sure central expenses get paid and central issues (like painting and cleaning) are dealt with.  Ask, because this is extra on top of your rent.
  3. Are appliances included?  Usually not.  Unfurnished apartments don't include appliances like washer, fridge, stove.  You will probably need to buy these when you move into your first apartment in Israel (measure first!!!).

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Aliyah: the easiest thing in the world


Let me tell you a secret about making aliyah:  Pesach.

When we decided to make aliyah, everyone said “Mazel Tov,” and then they’d start to coo.  Ooh and awe in amazement.  “Good for you,” they’d say.  “You’re so brave.  That’s so difficult.  You must be so strong.”

It was embarrassing, really.  But I believed it, too.  I believed that we were doing something incredibly difficult.  I believed that someday, by the sweat of our brow, we would earn the praise.

And then, along came our first Pesach here in Israel.  Which was easy; almost unbelievably so.

Just about any yom tov here is easier.  I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise in the world’s only Jewish country, but there it is; it was a surprise to me.

Like before our first Rosh Hashanah, when, in the post office, the teller was selling holiday greeting cards.  In the grocery store, honey was on sale (regular and silan, the delicious local date honey).  Along the shoreline, we were far from the only family tipping out our pockets come Tashlich time.

Then came Sukkos, Simchas Torah, Chanukah, Purim… they were all so much easier than the same day anywhere else in the world.

Pesach without the monster

But Pesach.  Pesach.  Sweet, sweet, Pesach in Israel…

We have been here for two Pesachs now and each one has been a delicious, delicious surprise. 

Okay, I don’t mean buying foods free from kitniyos (legume products forbidden to us minority Ashkenazim), which was actually harder this year than last, for some reason.  But just… everything about the yom tov itself.

Here in Israel, there’s no Pesach Monster.

What’s the Pesach Monster?

In Toronto, at least, people treat Pesach like it’s a monster, coming to get them. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Things that are weird in Israel #16: Book covers

image of popular book covers in Israel

Maybe it’s just me?  Or maybe you’ve wondered about this, too?

Read on and let me know in the comments.

I’ll start by saying I love a great book cover.  It’s almost the most important part of the book. 

Sure, we’d all like to think we don’t judge books by their covers, but really… we do.  Of course, the inside is MOST important, but you’re never going to get to the inside if the outside is lousy.

Am I right?

Which is why book covers in this country continue to perplex me.  Astonish me.  Surprise me with the depths of terribleness to which they are allowed to sink.

To give you a sense of how awful things are, here is a fairly random sampling of some books in translation, so you can compare them to their English equivalents.