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Monday, April 14, 2014

Pesach “balloons” of happiness…

IMG_00004379 Welcome to my shiny-weird Israeli Pesach kitchen.

I’m calling it a kitchenETTE.  Notice I’ve brought our transformer into the kitchen… I left behind most of our kitchen appliances in Canada, but decided to pack along the Pesach mixer and hand blender, for some reason.  I’m grateful to have them.

A few night ago, I started worrying.  Why?  Our balonim.

Huh?  Balloons???  Yup, gas balloons. 

Basically, in Canada, when you have a gas stove, dryer or any other appliance, the gas comes in a pipe from some mysterious unknown place.  The supply is pretty much infinite, like turning on tap water. 

Here, it’s not quite so simple.  Instead, every home owner or apartment renter, if they want gas, contact one of several gas suppliers to obtain “balloons.” 

I first learned about balonim courtesy of Batya over at me-ander, in this post.  As she points out, there are occasional problems – like the “off” one can leak and empty itself out without warning.  But it’s not a bad system; just weird to get used to if your gas supply has always been infinite before.

(In the merkaz klitah, there were no balonim; just a “mains” gas supply, like in Canada.)

The gas company give you two canisters – one on (ie connected to your apartment), one off.  When the “on” one runs out, you switch to the “off” one and order a new one to replace the empty balon.

There is no coordination between neighbours, either, so outside every single apartment building, you end up with a motley collection of mismatched balonim:

This one’s actually pretty tidy.  Ours is a real mess.  I don’t know what the “hood”  over the top of the balonim does, either.  Ours is just about the only one in the neighbourhood that doesn’t have a hood.

So after I read about them on her blog, I pretty much forgot everything… until a few nights ago when I lay awake thinking of all the cooking ahead for Pesach and wondering, “how long do these things last, anyway???”

We moved in in late January, and now it’s April.  And a quick facebook poll revealed that three months was pretty typical.  Eek.

Happily, I sent Akiva out there today to check and it seems like we have plenty; one full and one with “enough,” he said, to last through yom tov.  Phew!  He also tested how to switch them and said, “it’s easy.”  Phew again!

NOTE TO SELF:  Don’t ever forget the “balloons” again.

And now that the worry is past, it’s time to cook and cook and cook and cook…

In our teeny-weeny kitchen, we have 2 shelves loaded with Pesach food.

IMG_00004365 IMG_00004366

And what’s cooking?

Lemon dessert in progress…

Here’s the crust (crumbs of a marble cake at left, mixed with a little coconut oil and baked into a crust at right):


And here’s the filling – lemon curd (underneath, made last night), 3 egg whites to mix in to make the main filling, 4 more egg whites to make the meringue.


Wondering where all the extra egg yolks go???


Egg lokshen!!! 

When cool, I’ll roll these up and slice them into “noodles.”

Chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons! 

(super-easy, no whipping – here’s the recipe!)


Eggs for the seder, puréed squash for tomorrow’s soup, and roasted beets (unpickled; the pickled ones are on another shelf).


Last post before Pesach; a lot is done already, but there is still much to do.

Best, best wishes from the Holy Land for a happy freedom festival!

Monday, April 7, 2014

First Pesach Shopping in Israel

IMG_00004340Things have changed here in Israel.  I almost hate to say it, because I’ll probably have every olah vatikah on my back about how terrible things used to be and how easy we have it today.  Sorry!

On my way out the door today to do the annual Pesach Shop – Israeli version, I was scaaaaaaared.  I’ve heard terrible things about how hard it is for us Ashkenazim here. 

Since a majority of Jews here are Mizrachi (roughly what we in chu”l called Sephardi), a majority of certified kosher-for-Pesach products contain (or may contain) what I still in my head call “kitniyos” – the beany-type things that also include rice, corn and peanut-flavoured Bamba snacks.

It’s that “may contain” that had me running scared.  Needing to read ingredient lists of fifteen bazillion tins and boxes and bags and…. eek.

For reassurance, I googled “Pesach shopping in Israel” and pulled up this Unofficial Guide to Pesach Shopping in Israel from A Mother in Israel.  It didn’t really help much.  In a few ways.

She (being Hannah, the aforementioned Mother in Israel) says: 

  • “The best way to avoid the kitniyot issue is to shop at a haredisupermarket.”   Um, none of those here in the Krayot.
  • “My handy-dandy list says we ate 23 kilograms of potatoes last Pesach.”  No handy-dandy list, and we’re short 2 people plus all the guests we knew back in Canada, so all bets are off in terms of what we’ll eat.
  • “In the US, the OU publishes a list of products considered kosher for Passover, even without a special stamp (Domino sugar comes to mind). No such list exists here.”  Ditto for the COR in Toronto.  Uh-oh.
  • “I like to shop about a week before the holiday.”  Alright, I was okay with this one.  Exactly one week to go.

Trepidatiously, we headed out for our local Osher Ad, whose name means Happiness Forever, and which pretends to be the local Costco but falls slightly short on a few counts.

But NOT – I repeat NOT! – in the Kosher-le-Pesach-for-Ashkenazim department!!!

But first – a delightful moment, when I stumbled upon the “charoset aisle.”  Only in Israel. 

Charoset, which I call “charoses,” isn’t exactly a delicacy in our house.  Usually, it’s a last-minute confection whipped up from some ground nuts, grated apples, sweet Kedem kiddush wine, and cinnamon.  Usually, I throw the stuff at my sister and tell her to figure it out.  And she does, because it’s not rocket science.

Still – in the absence of my sister, it’s nice to know it’s available in containers like this.

Anyway, the biggest and most delightful surprise was the SIGNS, clearly and prominently posted above or below to almost every item in the store.

Some of the signs said “לאוכלי קטניות”, which means “for eaters of kitniyot,” like this one.


(yeah, I wanted to buy chocolate spread… oh, well)

Other signs said “ללא חשש קטניות”, which means “no suspicion of kitniyot.”


(but I didn’t buy this coffee anyway; it was just an example)

Some of the signs were smaller, some were bigger.  All were very, very helpful.

In most product categories, there were a few decent choices even for us kitniyos-haters.  The real exceptions were oil and mayonnaise.  In Canada, I always bought a bottle of cottonseed oil (as the kids here would say, ichsa) and used as little as possible. 

Here, it doesn’t seem like they have any, so the Ashkenaz-friendly choices were a rather murky-looking palm oil and (at twice the price) hazelnut.  I went with palm – and again, will use as little as possible.  I bought two big bottles of olive oil for a good price, so hopefully, we’ll rely on those for most things. 

Despite hating waste, I am always happy to throw away any unused Pesach oil at the end of the holiday.

As for mayo, they had a great big tub of Gefen, same as in the States, but I didn’t want a great big tub for 20 shekel.  Fortunately, Naomi Rivka spotted the small sign next to the more reasonably-sized tubs of kitniyos-free mayo.  I didn’t peer at the fine print to see what oil they used in there.  Again, we use it sparingly and throw away happily after yom tov, but sometimes it comes in handy.

As I took the mayo off the shelf, I noticed an older couple peering at the labels and whispering to each other.  Turned out they were not only Ashkenazim but also speaking English, a rarity here, and I was happy to show them the little mayonnaise jar before we moved on.

I’ve heard margarine is almost impossible for us Ashkenazis to buy.  And again, ichsa.

Anyway, lest you think our First Pesach Shop was TOO EASY and therefore not enough to toughen us up and turn us into True Olim… I decided, subconsciously perhaps, to throw two wrenches into the works.

Overall, our Great Big Pesach Shop (phase 1) took about 3 hours and ultimately made us late for Naomi Rivka’s dance class, but that was mainly because I made her pose at the bus stop so I could take her picture with our lengthy receipt… only to realize that we were at the WRONG BUS STOP.

 IMG_00004344 IMG_00004345

Oh, but wait.  Before I tell you about that… see that nice long 800 shekel receipt she’s holding???  After I finished paying, I tucked it neatly inside one of the couple-dozen grocery bags… and forgot which one I’d put it in.

Which was okay until it was time to leave the store and the security guard stopped me.  No receipt, no exit – period.  He sits there all day with a stamper, stamping receipts, and woe upon anyone who has hidden her receipt inside one of a couple-dozen tightly packed grocery bags in a bundle buggy.

“Go back to the cashier,” he said (after a few times of me saying, “what?”).  “She can print you a copy.” 

I had no idea this was possible, but I did as I was told, leaving Naomi with the guard. 

The cashier immediately stopped what she was doing (checking out a couple’s groceries) and called for a supervisor.  And then everybody waited.  And waited.  The supervisor didn’t call or stop by.

“What are we waiting for?” asked the husband of the couple.

“She needs her receipt,” the cashier told him.

I apologized but weirdly for Israel, he didn’t seem at all disturbed.  Eventually, when nobody called or came, he suggested that she could try again AFTER they paid for their groceries, so she finished checking out their order.

She did call again, but nobody came.  So eventually, she just scrolled through the last half-hour of receipts on her cash register (handy!  I didn’t know they could do that!), I pointed to mine, and she printed it and handed it to me.

I walked to the front, handed it to the guard, who stamped on it.  He barely even looked up and for sure didn’t do anything like correlate what was written on the receipt with the groceries in my bag.  “First time shopping here?” he asked, in a not entirely kind tone of voice.  “First time shopped for Pesach in Israel,” I said.  “First Pesach in Israel.”

Just before we left the store, the couple whose grocery-checkout I’d held up for a couple of minutes came by with their stuff and very kindly asked if we needed help.  I assumed they meant getting out to our car, so I just said we were okay.  Which we were.

Well, except for waiting at the wrong bus stop.  But even there, a nice lady randomly handed Naomi Rivka a bag of (kosher-for-Pesach!) chips.  Sometimes, I really like living in Israel.

The right bus stop was across the street and the minute I realized my mistake (and let another bus go that could actually have gotten us home quickly enough), we saw our bus pulling out, so we had to wait nearly 20 minutes for the next one.

That was easily both the biggest change and the hardest thing about Pesach shopping this year:  no car.

Well, also not going with my mother.  That part was sad.  I’ve been replace; I already heard last week from my sister, who had been called in to fill in for me.

It’s not that I help my mother, or, really, that she helps me.  We just usually do it together.  And then sometimes buy a haggadah afterwards.  And pizza (since they put in the Second Cup in the same plaza, it’s often a coffee occasion as well). 

And just Being Jewish Women together, shopping and preparing for yom tov just the way our ancestors did in Egypt, in Israel, in Poland or wherever.  Which I guess was also what this outing was about with Naomi Rivka.

It was nice.  We have a long way to go before we’re ready… but it’s a start.

Is it just my imagination, just our store, or has Pesach shopping in Israel really gotten easier???

Things that are weird in Israel #6: Young guys who wear a kippah even when they're not religious...

Can somebody explain this phenomenon to me?  I'm serious.

Here are two different guys, not together, but wearing the same white (non-Nachman) kippah, spotted on my way home from the Merkazit (central bus station) after Shabbos.  

It wasn't that they didn't know they had it on.  And it wasn't that they were secretly frum (the guy on the Metronit platform was horsing around with all the scantily-clad girls around him, plus... um, the ubiquitous chiloni-guy payos-totally-off haircut?).  Probably not that their parents make them.

I don't know what the deal is with these guys, or what kind of thing they're saying with these big white kippahs.  In both cases, they were the only one among their friends to wear one.

Somebody want to fill me in???

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Haveil Havalim: Jewish/Israel Blog Roundup, Metzorah 5774

Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs -- a weekly collection of Jewish & Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. Hosted by different bloggers each week, you can find out more about how to participate through our Facebook Group

almond tree in bloomIt’s Nissan and the fruit trees are blooming everywhere here!  If you see one, remember to make the bracha.  More details, from

Even though everybody but me is totally busy and occupied with Pesach preparation, here’s some of the great stuff that’s going on in the “underground” Jewish web world of blogs and bloggers and our heads.

There is a special place in my heart at this busy time of year for anyone who actually took the trouble to submit blog posts for this roundup… so I will try to repay them by not forgetting any.

pomegranate tree in bloomPesach

(a pomegranate tree in bloom)

It’s on our minds… so why not blog about it?!?

  • Don’t we all need a lesson right about now in How to do your Pesach Cleaning Cheerfully in Less than One Day ???  Here’s one from Rav Shlomo Aviner.
  • Fellow Toronto journalist and blogger Frances Kraft offers her Passover Country Potato Pie and lots of other food-related posts, if you’re looking for something yummy.
  • Ever wondered what goes on at an Orthodox seder?  Or wanted something to share with non-religious friends and family that might explain things clearly?  Ruchi Koval, who normally blogs at Out of the Orthobox, guest-posts this week at Mishegas of Motherhood, on My Big Fat Orthodox Seder.
  • Preparing for Pesach through poetry:  daily themes from Ima on the Bima, including #blogexodus 2: Tell.
  • Yeshiva University’s small Canadian branch held its convocation last week, and The Rebbetzin’s Husband Kvetches about having to wear A Cap, Gown and Kittel – and how they can make rituals like the seder more concrete.

peach tree in bloomFamily Life

(a peach tree in bloom)

  • Ima2Seven blogs about Baby #8, the main reason her blogging handle is now seriously out-of-date.  This post is about choosing a name for her Chanukah baby.
  • Seriously jealous of Mommzy, who continues to homeschool even as we’ve dropped out of the race for the time being (due to aliyah so it’s for a great cause!).  You can find tons of great Pesach resources at her blog, A Jewish Home School, including a picture book for kids called Pesach, Pesach, What Do You See?
  • Another homeschooling blog I love is Breathing Space, where a busy stay-home home-educating mom blogs this week on why I haven't called.
  • Another one from Frances Kraft, as she reflects on What’s strange about writing my book, “a memoir about the year I lost my dad and said Kaddish for him (the traditional Jewish way of mourning a parent).” 
  • Are things really greener on the other side?  Not when it comes to marriage, says Rivki Silver of Life in the Married Lane, in But That Spouse Looks So Much Better Than Mine!
  • A mikveh post… from a man.  Ben-Tzion Spitz writes at about the mikveh as A Secret of Jewish Marriage.
  • Batya supports a mother whose sons have chosen to make aliyah and enlist over at her blog, me-ander, in HaDassah, Letting Go to Support Aliyah.  And don’t forget the I'll Need a Miracle to be Ready for Passover Kosher Cooking Carnival, in which she hosted all things food (Pesach and otherwise) for this month.

fig blossom


(a fig tree in bloom)

flowering olive treeJewish World

(an olive tree in bloom)

If I’ve missed your post(s), I’m sorry!  Be sure to stop by the facebook page and find out who to submit to for next week’s sure-to-be-great Pre-Pesach HH!!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Neglected dog next door :-(

Kind of the opposite of Toronto:  in the winter, maybe (just maybe) it's okay to keep a dog outside with no shade, food or water (okay, not really)... but with summer coming, I really fear for this dog.

Plus, he stands there barking at every single person going past, often late into the night.  Very obnoxious.

Since the dog arrived in the neighbourhood (shortly after we did), I sort of assumed there was nothing we could do.  Probably by extension from the Broken Windows Theory - this street and all the yards are kind of run-down, even by Israeli standards, so I figured nobody from the city would care.  Plus, the language barrier.

But last night, I broke down and finally contacted the Haifa equivalent of the SPCA.  We'll see if they're able to do anything about it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Losing lashon hakodesh, gaining a language.

IMG_00004296 When you’re religious outside of Israel, especially if you’re a crazy baalas teshuvah like me, the language you speak is usually no longer English:  it’s a weird yeshivish patois of English, along with just enough Yiddish and Ashkenazi Hebrew to get by in the strange world of frumkeit.

You don’t pray, you daven.  You don’t say Grace After Meals, you bentsch.  And you never travel to Israel… you “visit eretz Yisrael.” 

  • Growing up Conservative, we had a rabbi.  As an adult, I had a rav and a poseik halacha, and no, they were not the same person.
  • Growing up Conservative, we went to shul.  Okay, that didn’t change.
  • Growing up Conservative, we took classes and studied.  As an adult, I went to shiurim and learned.
  • Growing up Conservative, we went to Hebrew school.  As an adult, I worked hard to learn as much of לשון הקודש / lashon hakodesh, literally the holy tongue, as possible.
  • Growing up Conservative, we had a great time.  As an adult, it was sometimes gevaldik, a mamesh heilige farbrengen.

Alright, maybe I’m kidding.  But here’s an example, from an article on on How to Understand Yeshivish, of a passage that the author actually believed was written in English:

“The lechatchila time for shacharis is neitz. B’dieved, if a person davened from amud hashachar and onwards he is yotzei. In a shas hadchak he may daven from amud hashachar and onwards lechatchila…. After chatzos it is assur to daven shacharis. One should wait till after mincha and then daven a tashlumin. The possibility for a tashlumin doesn’t exist for someone who was bemaizid.”

Wish I were kidding.

This coming Pesach season gives us about a million more examples… starting with the word seder, which is used for everything from tidying your room to getting along with friends.

  • Growing up Conservative, we celebrated Passover and had no clue what Shavuot was.  If we’d known, we would have called it Shavuot.  As an adult, it became Pesach, and – of course! – Shavuos.
  • Growing up Conservative, we commemorated the Jews’ coming out of slavery in Egypt.  As an adult, it was all about bnei Yisrael marching from avdus to cherus – a foretaste of the geulah to come.
  • Growing up Conservative (with Reform haggadahs), we talked about the Exodus from Egypt.  As an adult, it became יְצִיאַת מִצְרָיִם / Yetzias Mitzrayim – with no gebrocks, of course.

Crazy baalei teshuvah!

Hebrew is holy, of course.  And using it marks frum Jews in chu”l as holy as well.  Special and removed from the mainstream – even from the Jewish mainstream.

When Elisheva was a little kid, I brought her to what would ultimately become our shul, The Village Shul, for the first time.  Affiliated with Aish HaTorah, its frumkeit credentials are impeccable.

Nevertheless, it has an unmistakeable “kiruv” (kiruv, not outreach!) bent.  And, hearing the rabbi speak about the “Jews” in “Egypt,” she turned to me and asked, “Mommy, is that man Jewish???”

It’s definitely true that the Hebrew words have different meanings, and I believe in many cases we should use them in English to reduce inaccuracies.  For instance, tzedakah has a totally different meaning from the English word charity.  Teshuvah, too, means return, and not repentance, as it’s so often mistranslated.  Even sin isn’t simple; there are several different kinds in the Torah.  And don’t even get me started on “leprosy.”

But here’s the thing that living in Israel has driven home.  If this is to be a living language, then these living Hebrew words must – to some extent – be stripped of their sacred nature.  To resurrect this thing and make it useful in daily life, we have to let go of the sanctity and all of those distinctions between holy and profane.

Yesterday, I caught Akiva looking up the word קַבָּלָה / kabbalah in the dictionary.  Apparently, he’d been in a store and when he left, they ran after him, shouting “kabbalah!  kabbalah!”

IMG_00004300Before yesterday, he thought Kabbalah was something only Madonna was into.  Now he knows that it also means receipt.

And by the way, on any given receipt, you could probably find any number of words that outside of Israel only exist in the context of great sanctity.

Welcoming guests, for instance, through  הכנסת אורחים/ hachnasas orchim… well, the word “hachnassa” by itself, in modern Hebrew, means income.

I’m always seeing words on signs or in newspapers that are very, very familiar, just from learning the siddur, saying Tehillim (Psalms) and other facets of religious life.  Except these words don’t mean what I think they mean.

Like how at Sukkos, we welcome Ushpizin, holy guests, into our Sukkah, but in modern Hebrew, the verb לאשפז / l’ashpeiz (from the exact same root) means to be admitted to the hospital.  It was a little tough figuring stuff out until someone explained it to me.

to hospitalize... or celebrate?

And that sacred Exodus from Egypt, the יְצִיאָה / yetzia that we dreamed of throughout 210 years of slavery (but who’s counting)…? 

Well, that’s just a plain old exit sign around here.


Wishing you all a merry seasonal “exit” from the Holy Land!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Aliyah: Roseanne, Ethiopians, and the French

imageYears before we arrived, one of the things I said I would miss the most is French.  Turns out I might not have to give it up after all.

Batya asks this week on her Israel blog Shiloh Musings, “From where will the next wave of immigrants come?”  I’m going to spoil her surprise – the answer is France. 

She’s not alone in thinking that:  this Tablet Magazine article blames the 63% increase in French aliyah in 2013 – up to 3,120 – on economic malaise in Europe and rising antisemitism in France.

Most and Least Favoured

3,120 olim – and exactly one of them has made it into my ulpan, by the way.  As favoured Western olim, they most likely have ideas about where they’d like to settle.  And the Krayot are not where they’re going to end up.

Meanwhile, stories like this one about nearly 4,000 Ethiopian Jews who have appealed to come in since Ethiopian aliyah was officially closed last year receive significantly less attention.

Up around here, we get a lot more of the Ethiopian olim, and those from the Former Soviet Union (a flood which doesn’t seem to be stopping) than those from France or the United States.  Not necessarily because the region appeals to them for any particular reason – just that they don’t have as much choice.

That article answered some of the questions that I had about the incoming Ethiopian olim, anyway… like, where are they coming from and why are they still arriving? 

The Klitah Machine

It is heartbreaking, sometimes, watching these Ethiopian families struggle to manage here.  The parents are often illiterate – both Akiva and I have been approached in the grocery store to interpret packages or prices for Ethiopian shoppers. 

But the Klitah (absorption) machine eventually works its magic on all of us, some more quickly than others, and it is also very, very nice seeing how well some of the second generation are getting along. 

One of my students is “Ethiopian,” but even her mother speaks Hebrew like a native – way better than I do, that’s for sure. 

I figure she must have arrived as a child, like Knesset member Pnina Tamano-Shata, who has railed against a system which doesn’t let her donate blood in Israel because she’s from Ethiopia – even though she’s lived here since she was 3.

“I am good enough to serve the state and in the Knesset,” Tamano-Shata told Ynet. “But for some reason to give blood I am not good enough. This is insulting.”

I disagree with her that this is racism; I suspect bureaucratic idiocy.  I’m not saying there isn’t racism here, or that it isn’t blatant, but I don’t think this is a country that would waste precious donated blood for anything other than the most idiotic reasons.

And there is no denying that, racism or not, Ethiopian Jews – at least those who have survived a generation or two – have reached a reasonable level of success here.  Again, the Klitah machine, chugging along, turning out Israelis (mainly through its school system and the army).

…And Celebrity Aliyah

However, without any involvement in those two primary means of Klitah, it remains to be seen how well the government will manage to absorb Roseanne Barr if she goes ahead with her hinted plans to make aliyah in 2014. 

Will she get sent to the north, like us and the Ethiopians?  Or find her way to some shiny American community full of sculptures and treed roundabouts in the merkaz (centre of the country)?


Okay, it doesn’t remain to be seen… we know which she’ll pick, and it won’t be Haifa.

Nevertheless, it makes me happy that the Knesset is considering a bill to make the 10th of Nissan “Yom Haaliyah,” a national holiday celebrating immigration to Israel.

"Yom HaAliyah is a chance for Israel to reach out to all Jews throughout the world and say that Israel is not a place for them to just consider living in; this is their Home… with this new national holiday, the Jewish People can celebrate Israel as the country to come to by choice, not just as a refuge from adversity.”

Our stories are all so different, but ultimately, this country draws us in and slowly, slowly, knits us into a people again.  It may be a Disneyfied oversimplification, but I believe with all my heart that it not only will happen, it is happening here every single day.

And I feel so honoured to be a part of it.