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Monday, March 23, 2015

How to fix your internet problems in Israel (sort of).


The Internet here has a way of stopping shortly after midnight. It should be a lesson of some kind, something like, "it's just too late to be sitting on the computer." That’s what happened last night, as if on cue. It’s only happened a few times, but it’s always at or around 12:17.

Any sensible person might think, “time for bed!” But with my drive to fix things, I usually take it as my cue to put in a call to Bezeq, our internet company.

Maybe you think that makes a little sense? 

Ha.  What you don’t know is that in our nearly year and a half of being their clients, Bezeq has literally NEVER solved a problem for us over the phone.

But they are usually unfailingly polite and speak passable English. It's almost a pleasure to call. So I do.

Last night when I called, just after midnight, the system politely informed me that there was a longer than usual wait time and that my place in line was... 31.

Some places you call, they play radio music for you. Not Bezeq.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

REVIEW: Hebrew through story with author Leah Broderson

easy Hebrew readers by Leah Broderson

Looking for a not-so-painful way to improve your Hebrew?

I always am.  For an olah, my reading is okay.  For an Israeli… it’s lousy.  I struggle through my daughter’s third-grade readings for school – with great difficulty.  Ouch.  It’s very humbling.

Everybody recommends reading newspapers, but it’s not the easiest way.  Every Shabbos for months, I’ve stumbled through the free Friday paper, trying to bring my reading up to a passable level.  

It seems like I have to pull out the dictionary for every other word, and many articles are full of useless jargon and abbreviations.

Now, I have a better way. 

I’ve found a Hebrew reading “coach” who is tough without being impossibly demanding:  Leah Broderson and her two books of Hebrew short stories.  Each of these little stories is less than a page long, and each illuminates some aspect of life in Israel: a place you might want to visit, a historic figure, travelling around Israel and the types of people you meet here.

 easy Hebrew readers by Leah Brodersoneasy Hebrew readers by Leah Broderson

Her books are called להיות ישראלי / lihyot Yisraeli, “To be Israeli” and אני ישראלי / ani Yisraeli, “I am Israeli.”

Essentially, they’re primers, the simple story books we give to kids learning to read – except that they’re written with grownups in mind, covering topics and anecdotes suitable for an adult reader.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

This… is how you should welcome olim


How will you be greeted when you finally arrive here in Israel?  Or, if you’re already here, how were you greeted?

Was it a depressing, bewildering, lonely aliyah story (I’ve heard my share of those) or an upbeat, thrilled, amazing aliyah story?

I really hope your story is as beautiful as that of friends of ours from Toronto (let’s call them Chana and Shlomo), who just arrived last week.   What made the difference for them? 

When you read her email, I think you’ll figure it out right away.


Happy Aliyah to me

Happy birthday to me .

Happy Aliyah on my birthday !

.........Happy Aliyah to me ‎!!!..........

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Things that are cool in Israel #7: Ads around the Jewish holidays


Spotted this trio of IKEA ads while shlepping into Haifa the other day. 

I was so charmed that I found myself wishing immediately that they were more of them. 

When was the last time you wished to be inundated with MORE advertising messages?  In Israel, it happens.

Here’s the first one (translation beneath):


Hebrew text:  סירים מעוצבים דיינו / sirim me’utzvim dayeinu
Translation:  “Designer pots, Dayeinu!”  (from the Haggadah song, Dayeinu)

This one is #2 (Like my kids, I don’t know which one of these I love more…)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Essential phrases you must know in Israel: Chafetz Chashud / חֵפֶץ חָשׁוּד


Stop!  Before you put that backpack down for a second… don’t.

Israelis are, shall we say, just a little bit touchy about unattended luggage, purses, backpacks, of any kind. 

Leave it alone for more than a few seconds and it’s automatically reclassified.  It’s no longer your stuff… it becomes a חֵפֶץ חָשׁוּד / chafetz chashud = suspicious object.  And that is something everyone here takes very, very seriously.

Here is the entire Kotel / Western Wall complex shut down because of a chafetz chashud:


Can you spot it in this picture?


Some moron put down a backpack and walked away… and the entire place had to be evacuated.

When you do leave something behind by accident, Israelis are very vigilant.  It starts so quietly you might not notice, but the reaction is almost immediate:  “Whose bag is this?”

If it’s your bag, you’d better claim it, and fast, because soon enough, everybody will be chiming in trying to figure out which dummy has left a potentially suspicious object lying around.

Ultimately, the chain of inquiry can lead to your bag being exploded for you

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beyond required reading: REVIEW of Catch the Jew, by Tuvia Tenenbom

cover of Catch the Jew! by Tuvia Tenenbom

Catch the Jew! by Tuvia Tenenbaum (Gefen Publishing House:  2015) is not only required reading, it's enlightening reading.

Catch the Jew! by Tuvia TenenbomDid you ever wish there was somebody who could talk to ANYBODY who would run around making sense of the Middle East so you don't have to?

I know I have.

And then, did you wish they'd make it fun to read so reading all about it didn't feel swallowing taking some kind of dull, boring medicine?

I’ll tell you the truth:  I wasn’t looking forward to reading this book.  I picked it up in a bookstore because it was only 70nis.  For an English book of this size, that’s a great price.  “That’s a lot of book!” I thought, excitedly.  But then I realized that it was about Israel, and politics, and it had a goofy cartoon on the cover, and I groaned inside.

review, Catch the Jew! by Tuvia Tenenbom

(The cover for the Hebrew version is a little less goofy, but also strange…)

Catch the Jew! by Tuvia Tenenbom

But once I started reading it, reluctantly, once I’d read everything else I had on hand, I was immediately sucked into Tenenbom’s world.

You might not like what Tuvia Tenenbom has to say, or who he rubs shoulders with in his new book Catch the Jew!, but if you're interested in Israel and Judaism today, you'll want to read it anyway.

Tenbenbom, born and raised Hareidi in Israel, but who has lived as a non-religious Jew in the U.S. and Germany most of his adult life, is a modern-day chameleon. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sanctity vs Cynicism: Highlights of GZ’s siddur party in Jerusalem


My older kids had siddur parties.  Maybe yours did, too?

It’s very cute. 

Once first graders are reading well enough, they have a big ceremony and make a huge deal about handing over their Very First Siddur.  For my big kids, that took about an hour, with refreshments following.


Here in Kiryat Shmuel, in the boys’ school, at least, things get a little more involved.  Like, “involved” as in a 12-hour shlep to Yerushalayim. 

And while you’re shlepping, you’d better not just hand over the siddur.  At least not without a ceremony.  And pizza.  And a Chief Rabbi.  And a visit to the Kotel (Western Wall).

Yup, 12 hours.  Fun, fun, fun.

We just got home, and I decided to write down the highlights of the day while they’re still fresh in my memory.

The main celebration (see blurry photo above) was in the Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in Har Nof, where last November, two Arabs walked in and started stabbing Jews. 

Why was that a good highlight?  Because we shook the floorboards with laughter, singing and pizza.  Because Jews support Jews and Israelis support Israelis.  Kiryat Shmuel is the same as Har Nof as far as the bad guys are concerned.  And yet our vibrant Jewish lives here go on and children grow up and receive siddurs.

Two other stops on the action-packed agenda were the Machon HaMikdash (the Temple Institute), where we learned all about the Bais (Beit!) HaMikdash, including grinding our own incense, and then on to the Kotel (Western Wall).


So… what were some of the outstanding moments from today’s long, long journey?

  • Discovery.  Like the kid behind me on the bus shouting out "Abba, abba, hinei!" (look!) whenever he saw anything.  It doesn't matter what.  Police, hills, trees; this kid has clearly lived in a box his whole life.