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Monday, August 31, 2015

What should you buy where? Smarter online shopping in Israel

photo depicting various online shopping options in Israel

It’s back to school time here in Israel.  And we all know what that means:  online shopping!

I can’t be the only one, right?

In Israel, just like around the world, the hottest shopping site these days is Aliexpress.  There, you can buy directly from China, mostly with free shipping, cutting out the middleman and saving a bundle.

That's the theory, at least. 

In practice, it's not so simple.  The quality is usually low, and it's better in theory to buy Israeli (or local, wherever you happen to be).   Sometimes, though, when buying Chinese is the only option anyway, things do work out much better, price-wise.

But there are many downsides to Aliexpress, including:

  • Long shipping time
  • Dubious quality merchandise
  • No recognizable brand names
  • No brands, price comparisons or reviews (sometimes there are reviews, but rarely)
  • Merchants don't speak English

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The biggest down, however, is that for higher-value items (I think it's over $50), you could get hit with a big tax bill.  The same thing was true in Canada - there, anything worth over about $20 could get opened and dinged for import taxes.  And there are added fees you have to pay as well if you're billed for taxes.  Sometimes, it's just not worth it.

That's why it's nice to know that there are online-shopping alternatives that let you buy "locally" here in Israel.  The goods may still be made elsewhere, but you're dealing with local suppliers who know how to get stuff to your door quickly, and can often save you that big tax bill.

The best place to start is on ZAP - zap.co.il.  There, you can search (in Hebrew, so use Google Translate if you're not strong at it) for whatever you want, and hopefully, you'll get a whole bunch of good results.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Just when you think you miss Walmart...

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Here I was going on and on about how much I loved Walmart while we were visiting Canada, but you know what...? School supply shopping here may be even easier.

Everything is laid out in one reasonably sized section, for decent-enough prices...

"Attention, Max Stock shoppers..."
There were literally employees in every aisle.  Not the pestery kind you usually meet in Israeli stores who are just after their commission.  These asked if we were finding everything and then, when I asked where to find calculators, she started to say, "over there in the next aisle," and then said, "wait, I'll take you."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Should you change your name when you make aliyah?

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For years, I thought this was a no-brainer.  When in Rome, pick a name like the Romans do… or something.

Apparently, I was dead wrong.  It turns out there are a million reasons not to change your name when you make aliyah:

  • it will confuse and perhaps anger your family and friends
  • people will think you've become more religious (maybe "crazy religious")
  • people will think you're turning your back on your old life
  • you've built a career and reputation in your name
  • you'll have legal problems using the new name
  • you'll never adjust to being called something new

Interesting.  Notice that these are the same reasons many people give to not make aliyah in the first place?

Since you're already taking that giant step – or thinking of taking it – it seems a much smaller leap to give yourself a shiny new handle.  Especially one you've chosen yourself, that you'll love hearing every day and seeing on all your shiny new paperwork.

[By the way, the Hebrew words in the image above are “olah chadashah,” which means “new immigrant to Israel” in the feminine form.]

My grandparents’ “aliyah” to Canada

My grandparents were olim, of a sort.  Well, they were immigrants.  Same thing, right? 

Separately, they found a way out of Poland, where they'd grown up as "Wolf" and "Chana Rivka."  When they came to Canada, they morphed into "William" and "Rose."  They named their kids Albert, Charles and Dorothy.

Monday, August 10, 2015

How to choose YOUR OWN best destination in Israel

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How up are you on your Israeli geography?

One of the things I found most maddening before we moved to Israel was place names.  Beyond Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, I had barely heard of other places here.  Maybe Beersheva, because it’s in the Torah.  Some places were in the news (Chevron), so they were somewhere in my consciousness.  Others, not so much.

That quickly became a problem when we started planning to move here.

Maybe this is something you’ve experienced? 

Anyone who has been anywhere in Israel, even if they’ve never lived there, has anywhere between three and a dozen places to recommend.  They’ll come up to you anywhere, anytime, and spout this list like it’s gospel (or, you know, the Jewish equivalent).

Telling Kiryat Arba from Kiryat Shmona

These places are not all cities.  Some are cities, some are neighbourhoods within cities, some are kibbutzim or moshavim, some are, I don’t know, hilltops somewhere with a few idealists in trailers parked on top.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Home Sweet Home: Sorting us all out

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Did you have one of these shape sorters as a child?  (Maybe your kids did!)

Look at all those shapes.  Some of them are very similar - the pentagon and the hexagon; the trapezoid and the square; the triangle and the little rounded cone-triangle (is there a name for that shape?). 

(Babies were smarter in those days, I guess - newer shape sorters are much simpler.)

The fascinating part was that no matter how similar the shapes, they wouldn't slide nicely into the wrong hole.

So I think I'm like that, a bit.

We're back in Israel now.  We got home at midnight last night. 

And so now, I can tell you my secret:  I was half expecting to hate it here.  Maybe more than half.  My daughter was in tears as the plane was taking off, leaving behind so many of the people she loves in Canada.  I braced myself, just in case I got here and felt SO depressed to be back.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Take me with you: How to make aliyah with pets

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Would you make aliyah and leave your family behind?  If you've got a precious fuzzy (or scaly, or slimy) friend at home, you probably wouldn't consider a big move without them. 

Your dog, cat or reptile may not be exactly Jewish, at least according to the Law of Return, but that doesn't mean they aren't family.

Before we go on, I’ll admit something.  Two things, actually.

One, I have owned almost every kind of pet there is except dogs and birds.  Lizards, guinea pigs, ferrets, cats, frogs, hamsters, turtles, fish.

Two, when I found out I was expecting my son, twenty years ago, I got rid of every single living thing in the house.  I love animals.  But I knew I could either raise animals and plants... or I could raise a kid.  I wasn't responsible enough to do both. 

We've had a couple of near-brushes with cats since then, but so far, nothing has stuck.

So when we made aliyah two years ago, we were petless.  To get some advice on what it's like doing it with a fuzzy (or otherwise) buddy, I turned to some reliable sources on Facebook, as well as personal friends who brought their sweet (ginormous) doggie to Israel from Canada.

Clearing all the hurdles

Most important:  don't assume that just because you've mentioned your pet to your Jewish Agency rep that it's all taken care of.  The Jewish Agency is in charge of HUMAN aliyah. 

Pet aliyah is governed jointly by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Nature Reserves Authority, along with the Director of Veterinary Services.  All of which will require a whole slew of paperwork of their own (some no doubt redundant and - seemingly - unnecessary).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Brother, can you spare an agora?

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Know what's nice about being in Canada?

Stepping out of a nationwide cash-coinage crisis, that's what.  In Israel, for whatever reason, you'd swear there was a shortage of coins.  Maybe there is, for all I know.

You know you're not in Israel anymore when you shuffle through your wallet to find the 15¢ (for the overpriced $4.15 iced coffee), and the cashier is mystified, and not particularly grateful that you're giving her your pocket change.

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(pocket change in Canada)

For whatever reason, that same pocket change in Israel is precious.

Maybe the mentality started back in 1948, when the government recalled all British Mandate small bills and refused to issue new ones.  At the time, stores in the new nation had to resort to issuing "chits" (like a raincheck?) instead of giving change.

Whatever the reason, you must hold onto every single agora (though you won't find anything less than ten agorot in circulation these days; the single-agora coin shown here, my mother’s, is more of a metaphor now). 

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