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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Israel: It’s for the birds (and for you)

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When I met my first husband, I told him about our family's annual camping trips to provincial parks where we'd drive in, park on the site, pitch the tent, and head to the beach or river or forest or whatever to enjoy nature.  Sometimes, those campsites would have running water, other times, you had to walk somewhere else to get water.  My father's strategy was sending the kids to wash dishes in the bathroom -- strictly forbidden according to all provincial campground rules, but you know.  Someone has to be an exception to the rules.

So that was camping.

But my first husband quickly declared, "It doesn't count if you can get to it with a car."

He would have had a hard time with Israel.

Here, camping sometimes means that your tent is just a few feet away from the next person's…

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(© Tiberias municipality via Wikimedia)

… and hiking usually means taking one of quite a few well-used routes, like the Israel Trail, a 1025 km. (look it up!) route – nothing to sneeze at, really, given that National Geographic has called one of the world's 20 most "epic trails."  But there certainly isn’t the variety, and from what I’ve heard, you’re very likely, in most stretches and hiking-friendly seasons, to bump into a number of fellow travellers.

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(It’s also perhaps the only one that apparently features a lending library so you can pick up reading material along the way -- People of the Book, indeed.)

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(photo credit © royisoko via Wikimedia)

Finding a nature getaway definitely isn't hard in Israel.  But as with so many things when you make aliyah, you may have to (slightly) redefine what you mean by the term. 

Since almost every spot is within half an hour's drive of a big city, and there are factories and processing plants of all kinds everywhere from north to south, you're probably not going to get total solitude and silence to commune with nature unless you take to the deep south.

But that has its upside, too, like the fact that you can hop in a bus in Nahariya and within not very long, be standing in the middle of one of the world's most extraordinary bird sanctuaries -- the Hula Valley.  A crucial migration spot between Europe and Africa (and back), the Hula Valley hosts about 500 million migrating birds every single year, and an incredible range of birds as well.

And it happens to be crane season RIGHT NOW.  Well, okay, as our guide explained, these days, it's crane season all winter long, at least until March.

That's because of the Strange History of the Hula Valley, which I'll sum up here very briefly.
Maybe in Hebrew school you learned how

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Guest Post: Ordering online in Israel vs ordering online in America

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Image result for eytan buchmanAre online stores here in Israel up to snuff?  Most people will tell you things are getting better… which may be true, but today’s guest post, courtesy of hummus-loving marketing guru Eytan Buchman, begs to differ – slightly.  Things may be better than they were, but as he explains, sometimes you still feel like you’re crossing over into the Twilight Zone...



Ordering online in America:

Go to Amazon.
Click Buy
Get it to your door that day.

Ordering online in Israel:

imageFind a website

They don’t sell things online. Weird.

You find a comparison website. It feels like a scam.

It sends you to

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My vacation in Mecca, or why I’m saying bye bye to Airbnb

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I’ve always loved Airbnb, a site that made it super-easy for anyone and everyone to rent out their place and make a little money on the side (or a lot – I know for lots of people it’s an actual business at this point). 

But I abruptly quite loving them today, following the announcement that they’ll be blocking listings from Jews in disputed areas of the West Bank.

Why?  According to NGO Human Rights Watch, who undoubtedly has advised Airbnb every step of the way, it’s mainly because “Palestinian ID holders are effectively barred from entering” these areas (just as they can’t enter many parts of Israel).  Because the Palestinian Authority have utterly failed, since the initial hope of Oslo, to reach any kind of peace agreement – not tried and failed, but simply failed due to power hunger on the part of their leadership.

When I read about all of this this morning, frankly, I was astonished that I had an opinion at all.

I didn’t used to.

You have to understand that I was a very bad prospective olah, in that I didn't really know anything about Israel before we came here.

I probably couldn't have found Haifa on a map.  Let alone Beer Sheva, Netanya, Ramat Gan and a whole bunch of other towns that I now know as well as the suburbs where I grew up.

Which also meant I couldn't tell the difference, politically, between Chevron and Rechovot, between Efrat and Eilat, between Kochav Yaakov and Kochav Yair (okay, to be fair, even born Israelis get those two mixed up!).

I always figured that if I lived in Israel, the "situation" here would make a lot more sense.  I would know what "settlements" people were talking about and understand whether they were right or wrong and which were the good bits of the country and which weren't.

I’m a lot less naive now. 

But even so, I certainly couldn't claim to know more about how to fix the situation than anyone else.  So the fact that Airbnb, like the EU, is announcing that they have the answer, and that the answer is to label different parts of the country in different ways to call attention to the political situation… well, that’s astonishing. 

  • It’s astonishing that they

Saturday, November 17, 2018

It’s winter–are you taking a Donut Shower?

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Do you shower differently in the wintertime?

Here in Israel, it’s officially Winter.  And in Kiryat Shmuel, where we're always the last to hear about such things, it's actually kind of cold these days, blessedly so.

In the next couple of weeks, we have an oddity coming up:  the one Jewish observance that's keyed to the secular calendar.  From now until the year 2100, in regular years on the night of December 4, and in leap years (2019, 2023, 2027, 2031, 2035), on the night of December 5, we start adding the words ותן תל ומטר לברכה / v’sen tal umatar livracha (Sephardi pronunciation uses v’ten instead of v’sen; both are correct), “and send dew and rain for blessing,”  to the Shemoneh Esrei.

UPDATE:
A reader has pointed out that in Israel, we start saying Tal u'Matar on the 7th of Cheshvan, which was a few weeks ago already.  Which just goes to show ya... don't trust everything you read on the internet, even if it was written with the loveliest of intentions.

And also the very commonsensical rule that halacha from chu"l doesn't always apply here in Israel.

This isn’t the first seasonal change to the Shemoneh Esrei.  You probably already noticed that we started saying משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם / Mashiv haruach umorid hageshem, “You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall,” all the way back on Shemini Atzeres.

But December 5th is when we get serious and really dig in (click here to find out why).  At that point, we’re not just asking for geshem, rain, we’re also asking for tal and matar – two other types of precipitation.  Why?

Because every single drop counts.  Not a single drop of dew can be taken for granted here.

There was an ad in the newspaper yesterday driving home this point. 

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It basically says, “Yeah, we know it’s raining, but

Monday, November 5, 2018

Can religious Jews celebrate Sigd? If not, why not?

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My kids' school did an awesome thing last week.  At least, I think so.  Read on and tell me if you agree.

And before you go on – I just want to add.  This isn’t about politics.  It’s not about liberal / conservative.  It’s not about Orthodox Zionist / Haredi.  It’s just about how we treat one another, and our stories.

Author and scholar Thomas King has said, “The truth about stories is, that’s all we are.”  We are our stories, and our nation is our stories.  And this is about whose stories get heard… and whose don’t.

So here’s what happened:

Last week, my son’s school sent out an invitation via WhatsApp (if you don't live in Israel, you might not be aware of the wonders of WhatsApp -- for those who live here, it's the main way many of us communicate with the world beyond our homes, especially if we have kids in school...) to their annual commemoration of Sigd.

This was the main holiday of the beta Israel,

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Our bad neighbour–a Yom Kippur story without a happy ending

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There are a few things that make me sad here in Israel, believe it or not.  I’m about to tell you about THE thing that has made me the most miserable over the last 2-3 years.

EDITED TO ADD:  Before you read on, be aware – I was attacked on Facebook about some of the strongly negative thoughts I’ve expressed in this post.  I know it’s unlike me.  I’ll get back to the happy stuff soon, I promise – I am still in love with this country, don’t worry.  And I’ll share a couple of those negative comments below – just for fun.

I believe it’s important to share not just the good stuff.  Everyone who works in aliyah, whether professionally or just for fun, like I do, has a responsibility to present both the good and bad side of what goes on here, and I hope you know I always try to do that.  I love Israel, love aliyah, love our lives here -- but I'm also realistic and try to present the reality on the ground, not the rose-coloured glasses version some people claim is all they get before they arrive.

I’m saying this because I’ve gotten in trouble for posting negative stuff before.  Even though this site is about 90% gung-ho and positive, there are some people who simply won’t let you share your thoughts if they’re at all down.  If you’re one of those people, I suggest you st0p reading right now even though there’s an exciting bit with firetrucks a little further along.

So.  Still with me?

Good.

What's making me miserable these days is our neighbour.
We live in an almost completely religious neighbourhood, and he wears a kippah and you know, I wouldn't have been surprised if you told me before we moved here that there were evil, horrible people who wear kippahs.  I would have said, "Of course there are."  But meeting one in person is just making me sad, sad, sad.  It's bringing down my whole experience.

He plays music.  Super, super loud music.
We're on the ground floor.  In an apartment which is nearly perfect in terms of almost all

Saturday, September 22, 2018

What should you bring on aliyah? What should you leave behind?

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Should you bring Ziploc baggies?  What about furniture and appliances?  One question every single oleh is going to have to face before moving to Israel is – what should I bring with me?

So I thought I’d turn to the real experts – olim who are already here. I asked the following question on two major aliyah groups on Facebook:

What ONE item did you (or should you) have brought with you when you made aliyah? Bonus: what ONE item did you bring that turned out to be utterly useless? (ours was snowsuits!!!)

I’ve divided up the responses into categories to make it easier for you to read. But essentially, there's no one answer that works for everybody. Some people bring several lifts' worth of items, others come with just a backpack.

The advice here is also sometimes contradictory. I’ve met people who say, “Don’t bother bringing anything major, you can get everything here.” And then there are others who tell you to bring everything you possibly can. It really depends on who you are and regardless of what other people’s experiences have been, what you choose to bring is up to you.

That said, hopefully we can all learn something from what people chose to bring (or what they regret bringing...).  Spoiler alert – not one person mentioned ziploc baggies.  Or toilet paper, tuna, chocolate chips, or any one of a huge range of items that they would have been begging for 10, 20, or 30 years ago.  You can get zipper bags of various kinds (though they’re still not very good, in my opinion!), the tuna is excellent, and they even have Godiva chocolate for sale here now.

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(Mmm… I saw these in a store the exact DAY my husband surprised me by showing up with one as a Rosh Hashanah present!)

Here are the major categories of people’s MUST-BRING items as well as their aliyah REGRETS.

The very biggest regret, hands-down, is a category

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