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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Things that are weird in Israel #7: Chad pa’ami, a poem about plastic cutlery

chad paami plastic spoon First, some background.  Israelis adore their plastic cutlery, which is mysterious because it is some of the most awful I have experienced in my entire life. 

The spoons are the worst – most are shaped in such a way as to slice the sides of my mouth every time I use them. 

The other cutlery here isn’t much better – the forks snap, leaving tines scattered everywhere in your food, while the knives have wimpy handles that don’t let you accomplish much of anything.

And don’t get me started on the plastic beverage cups, which, where I come from, would be known as “baggies.”  They do have a sort of ring arrangement around the top that prevents them from collapsing utterly when raised to the mouth or lowered to the table – usually.

imageNevertheless, the past week having been Pesach, and our dairy Pesach stuff having apparently been thrown away instead of packed meticulously for our lift (!), we have been dependent on plastic cutlery, also known as “chad pa’ami” (חד פעמי), which means “single use” and is a catchall phrase for anything you can use one time and never again – generally because it has fallen apart along the way.

Until our lift arrived, plastic cutlery was pretty much all we used at the merkaz klitah… so it felt really sad to have to go back to it for this week.

(Yeah, they did community kashering in KShmu, so theoretically, we could have hauled all the regular dairy cutlery to be boiled…)

So now that Pesach is over, I’ve written a poem, in tribute to the plastic cutlery that’s been “plaguing” me all week long (get it?  Pesach – plaguing?).

Chad paami, how I hate thee
All the mouth sores, scrapes and cuts
For Passover, but moreover
All the damage still remains.

All that plastic, trash fantastic
All our money down the drains.
And the mouth sores, scrapes and cuts.
Eating messy, like a klutz,

All those flimsy plastic handles
Stacked beside the yom tov candles
How my mouth bleeds and bemoans,
While around our table groans

The creak and crack of chad paami
Scraping matzah - double whammy
Now the chag is gone and through
So I can say I'm sick of you!!!

And imagelook! 

While googling, I turned up this picture, but I have also seen these in the stores… for people who can’t be bothered buying an actual pot (or cannot afford one):  it’s a chad paami POT – made of TINFOIL. 

If the quality is anything like the rest of the chad paami in this country, I would fear for my life when using this thing…

Please – share your terrible chad paami experiences (Israeli or otherwise) in the Comments section below!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Starting out in a Merkaz Klitah: Pros and Cons.

merkaz klitah 1 Now that we’ve been living on our own for a while (two months), many people who meet us are asking the same question:  was it a good idea to start out our lives in Israel living in a Merkaz Klitah?  Was it good for our family?

First, some basic terminology.  A Merkaz Klitah is literally an “absorption centre,” essentially a building run by the Jewish Agency with apartments that are subsidized well below market rates for new olim. 

Who can stay in a MK?

The Jewish Agency has certain criteria that determine whether you stay in a MK:  I think at least one spouse has to be Jewish, and in general, you must be under 50 at the time of your arrival (beat that bullet by less than 3 weeks, as Akiva had his 50th birthday our third week in Israel).  Nobody mentioned that criterion to us, so it may not apply to all of them.

Staying in a MK does NOT depend on your pre-aliyah income, as far as I know, or on how much money you have to spend.  However, different merkazei klitah (the plural) have different rules governing how long you’ll be allowed to spend there, and that may also vary by circumstances.

So the first step, if you want to stay in a Merkaz Klitah, is to get friendly with your aliyah shaliach.  Because they’re run by the Jewish Agency, they have nothing to do with Nefesh b’Nefesh; in fact, we got the impression that NbN was actually slightly trying to discourage us from our plan to go straight into a MK.

(I’m not sure if this is true or not – it was just an impression!)

We mentioned that we wanted an MK and that we had seen the one in Raanana on our pilot trip.  We were very impressed by the multinational makeup of the one we saw in Raanana – but as it turned out, most of the centres in the north are not like that.  Up here, they are mainly Russian, with some other eastern Europeans thrown in for good measure.

merkaz klitah 2 However, the MK we stayed in, in Kiryat Yam, is somewhat uniquely over 90% Ethiopian.

Thinking about this retroactively, I believe it’s important to ask, if you’re looking at staying in any Merkaz Klitah, is “who else is going to be living there?” 

Not out of any reasons of racism, but to make sure you go in with reasonable expectations about the types of bonds you’ll be able to form with your fellow olim living there.

Friendships for life?

Some people have the idea that you will be all buddy-buddy with the other olim in the MK.  I’ve even read this – people forge lifelong friendships in a Merkaz Klitah that they carry with them for the rest of their lives in Israel. 

Based on our experience, I’d say it really depends.  If you happen to find a bunch of likeminded Anglo olim, maybe.  Or if you are a gifted social person who can transcend language barriers, again, maybe.

For us, it was very difficult, though we did make some Spanish-speaking friends from Mexico, which was nice.  But it’s still awkward having them for meals.

I’ll sum up the rest of my thoughts into Pros and Cons, keeping in mind that this is how these things worked out for OUR family.  Your family’s (or your own, if you’re single) experiences could be very, very different.

PROS:

  • Simple arrival:  hop in your free sherut from the airport and your apartment will be set up for you when you arrive.
  • No complicated paperwork:  you don’t need a bank account, cheques, or even a teudat zehut to move in (yay!).  (It took us over two weeks to get teudot zehut, during which time we couldn’t open a bank account or order cheques; renting an apartment would have been difficult, if not impossible.)
  • No buying appliances:  rental apartments here generally don’t come with appliances.  The MK included a fridge, 2-burner stove and a kettle – enough to get us started.
  • Utilities – from Day One.  We had gas, water, electricity and everything, all turned on from Day One.  I cannot tell you how nice that was, having wrangled with those utilities a bit now on our own.
  • Assistance if needed:  we had a “klitah counsellor,” Valentina, who spoke English, Russian and Hebrew, who guided us through opening bank accounts, setting up our kupat cholim (health clinic), and the kids’ school registrations.
  • Short commute to ulpan:  most of the time, the local ulpan is right in the Merkaz Klitah.  If you don’t need ulpan, or want a specialized or advanced non-local ulpan, this would be less of a benefit.
  • Services for kids:  depending on the demographics of your MK, they may provide services like homework help for children.
  • Social life:  besides meeting other olim in the hallways, many MKs offer seasonal social events, like Chanukah parties and celebrations for other chagim.

CONS:

  • The feeling of being “institutionalized.”  You don’t feel independent – because you’re not.  This can be good (someone comes and changes the lightbulbs when they get stuck), or bad (four washing machines for several hundred people).
  • Delaying the inevitable.  Sooner or later, you will have to move out and get an apartment.  Hopefully, your MK stay delays it long enough that you have more Hebrew when that time comes.
  • Not breaking the ice.  There were two categories of other olim in the MK we stayed in:  black and white.  Sorry, but it’s true.  The Ethiopian community were longterm residents – most had been there a few years or more.  They are also a very close-knit community; it was hard to tell where families began and ended (and perhaps irrelevant).  Since they had their whole social life there around them, they really don’t have much to do with the “levanim” (white people) who come through on a short-term basis.  As for the others – apart from some other Canadians, I think the gap, religiously, language-wise, and in other ways, was just too broad for us to even think about crossing.  And since we were all moving on in a fairly short time – I think everybody also figures why bother.
  • Having to move again.  Five or six months is about the longest any MK will let you stay… and that’s just about the same amount of time it takes to get yourself and your kids settled comfortably.  If you hate moving, think a few times about whether you want to incur a second move within your first year here.
  • Bringing your lift?  If you arrange for your lift to come to the MK, you will have to pay to move it all again to your “final” home.  We decided not to – so we stored our possessions for a few months back in Toronto, then had them shipped in time to arrive around when we estimated we’d be moving into an apartment.  For us, this worked out perfectly, but think about whether you prefer to pay twice or do without your STUFF for what can be a very long time.
  • Neighbourhood.  If you choose a Merkaz Klitah, you won’t necessarily have a ton of choice about what kind of neighbourhood you’ll be living in.  We were hoping to live somewhere we could fit in religiously – sadly, there isn’t a big religious community in Kiryat Yam, so we had a bit of a longer walk to shul than usual for a few months.  You may not have much choice even about what city you move to, depending on availability.

Are you thinking about a Merkaz Klitah?  Did you stay in one and have something you’d like to add?  Share your thoughts and experiences to make this post as helpful as possible to others!

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):

IMG_00004381

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.

IMG_00004384

Wondering where all the extra egg yolks go???

IMG_00004383

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!)

IMG_00004382  

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

IMG_00004385

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.

  IMG_00004341

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

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

IMG_00004342

(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 oukosher.org.

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 ben-tzion.com 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

Israel

(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.


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