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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tin-can dancing – Sefardi Simchat Torah style


Some epiphanies come later in life than others, or are only possible in Israel, when you realize that not everybody is Ashkenazi like you are.  One question I heard years ago about Simchas Torah has been echoing in my mind every year, ever since: why is it called “Simchas Torah”? 

(And, yes, in my head it’s still simchas Torah, with a ת/“sav” at the end of the word.  Pronounce it however you like when you read!)

A lot of people lazily refer to the day, when they refer to it in English at all, as “Rejoicing with the Torah,” but you probably suspect this isn’t correct if you know anything about the grammar of possession in HebrewWikipedia translates it as “Rejoicing of/[with the] Torah,” which I like because therein is the answer. 

The name of the holiday is rejoicing not WITH the Torah, but OF the Torah.  Once a year, the Torah rejoices and we, Am Yisrael, are its arms, its legs, its voice in song.

Why have I been thinking about this this year in particular?  Well, if you’re Ashkenazi, like I am, this picture is probably pretty close to what you think of when you think of dancing with a Torah:


(Skverer Rebbe photo credit Arit126 via Wikipedia)

This kind of Torah is like a baby, easy to dance with.  Just smoosh it flat against your chest and off you go, bobbling lightly and sedately around the shul.

But it turns out that we Ashkenazim are the only ones

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Things that are cool in Israel #11: Milk Bags (& their awesomely smart holders!)


What???  Four years in Israel and only 10 things are cool?  Impossible!

(And yes, shocking but true; another aliyahversary has passed, marking another year for us living in this amazing Holy Land!)

So here we are with a long-belated #11 – something we’ve been enjoying since our first few days here: milk in bags.

Now, as Canadians, milk bags and their cute rectangular plastic holders were not new to us as they are for many olim from the U.S. and elsewhere.  Coast to coast in Canada, walk into any supermarket and you’ll see a huge display of them:

Image result for canada milk

Photo © Alex Dawson via Wikimedia

So I grew up using milk bags, both loving and hating them.  They’re very handy to keep around, they don’t hog space in your fridge, you can pop them in the freezer if you bought too many.  But on the other hand… when you need to open them, you have to run around looking for a pair of scissors.

(So much so that in 1979, a Toronto inventor created the “Snippit,” a little device that hangs on the freezer and cuts milk bags open.)


(photo credit © Tangibles, the Snippit company)

But no need for a Snippit in Israel!

Here in Israel, there isn’t

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Starting a small business in Israel? Learn from my mistakes!


Did you come to Israel – or are you planning to come to Israel – hoping hoping to start a small business?  Good for you!  I really mean it.  Israel is the Startup Nation.  It’s a land of opportunity.  It’s the place where you can make many of your dreams come true in amazing ways you never even dreamed of back where you came from.

As long as you’re careful.

For all the opportunities here in Israel, it’s also… (shh) a very bureaucratic place.  And you have to stay on top of the bureaucracy because, unlike in certain larger and more anonymous countries I could name, where you can owe the tax people money for years with absolutely zero consequences, neglecting some of the bureaucracy here in Israel can have serious repercussions.

How do I know?

Um, let’s just say… I’ve learned this the hard way.   Not the extremely hard way, which probably involves jail time.  But the kind of hard way, which involves having your bank accounts frozen and threatening letters from various government agencies.

Setting yourself up as a small business here is actually super-easy.  There are three basic steps, and I’ve found that Rifka Lebowitz’s guide is terrific in terms of explaining these in detail:

  1. Register your business for Ma’am (Value Added Tax = VAT):  There are two kinds of businesses, which mostly depends on how much income they bring in, and for both types, you need to open a “tik” (file) – tax-exempt (osek patur) and tax-paying (osek murshe) with the VAT office.
  2. Register for income tax:  True, they’re both taxes.  But the VAT people don’t talk to the income tax people and vice versa.  So you have to tell the income tax people you’re a business now.  And then they will hound you forever after (see Tip #1) until you close your business tik, which is very easy to do if you’re no longer running your business.
  3. Register with Bituach Leumi:  This is a socialized country You no longer have an employer paying your national insurance, and most importantly, your health insurance to your kupat cholim (HMO, healthcare provider network) – so this is your responsibility now as an independent business person.

In general, skipping one of these steps is a recipe for disaster – so don’t do it.

Here are three mistakes I made along the way through this simple process that I hope you can learn from instead of having to untangle on the other side.  Any tips here are NOT a substitute for a good accountant.  If you think your needs are at all complex, please consult a real tax advisor (not just a blog, for heaven’s sake!) before you take any steps you may regret.

Mistake #1 – Tax ≠ Tax

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?  Except I was lulled into complacency because when you come here, everybody says

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

When NOT to come on your Israel pilot trip…


I never thought I’d be saying this.  Keep in mind:  I’m not saying don’t come at all!  A pilot trip is one of the best investments you can make in your own aliyah!  Please come visit before you move here. 

But what I’m saying is… think before you plan.  Be nice to those of us hosting and welcoming you to our communities.  Pretty please?

Why mention this now?

We’re in the middle of the last week of school, and also, I suppose, the start of the aliyah season, because we have several pilot-trip families converging on KShmu over the next couple of weeks.  Which is terrific – I’m always so, so,  happy to show off our community if I can.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Comparing healthcare systems–Israel vs Canada


I got a great question from a reader today – I love hearing back from you! – and I thought I’d share it once I was done writing back.  The reader asked, based on my experience with healthcare in Canada and Israel, how I’d compare the two.

It’s actually something I haven’t put a lot of thought into.

As Canadians, socialized health care wasn't such a big transition for us.  American friends have had a variety of reactions, from giddiness that they wouldn’t go bankrupt trying to stay healthy to… well, I don’t think I’ve heard of any who really had a hard time adjusting, so I don’t know what the worst-case scenario is.  I suppose for people coming from the U.S., there may be longer waits and more of a “socialized” feel to things here, if that makes any sense.  But most, as I said, are far too delighted that the safety net exists here to worry about the nitpicky details.

Also, full disclosure:  baruch Hashem (ptoo, ptoo, ptoo!), we haven't had to have a lot of contact with the healthcare system.  However, although we’ve had no major health problems, we have all seen a variety of specialists, done the basic urgent care visit for little-kid stitches, non-emergency hospital visit, and routine health things as well.  Mostly, if it has been harder here, it is because of difficulties with the language, not the system.

A few particulars that I’ve found are different here:

  • Israel is more complicated in terms of choosing a kupat cholim (healthcare plan) and package. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How you know I’m still Canadian after all these (almost 4) years…


How do I know I’m still Canadian, even after almost 4 years in Israel?

Well, for one thing, the big Canadian flag in my front window – genuine, no doubt made in China, purchased last week at Dollarama.  (Full disclosure: I bought the JUMBO size, not SUPER JUMBO, so it’s smaller than the Israeli flag we just took down after Yom Yerushalayim…)

(This is my actual flag pictured above – not some cheesy stock photo.  You can tell it’s my flag because it’s held up with a clothespin – see top-left of photo.)

For another thing, the small Canadian flag in one of the front planters.

For a third thing, we’re flying to Canada at some unspecified point this summer, iy”h.  (Or, as everyone says here, be”h.)

For a fourth thing… well, we just are.  It’s just our culture.

In what way?  Well, here are two examples.

Canadian in the mall

Last summer

Friday, May 26, 2017

To have and to hold: The tricky talk of owning in Hebrew


Are you having a good day?  Do you have a cold?  Did you have a nice time?

I’ve said a million times that English is a lazy language compared to Hebrew, and here’s yet another way it’s true.  In English we have this awesome verb “to have,” which we use for almost everything.  We even use it to help other verbs:  “Had I known you had it, I would have chosen hot chocolate!”

But guess what?

This word is completely, 100%, missing from the Hebrew language.  In other words:  it has no has.  When I’m teaching, this is one of the most difficult things to get across – why kids need to be able to conjugate “to have” in English when it doesn’t exist at all, as a concept, in their native language…

But instead of “to have,” Hebrew has numerous different forms that you use depending on what, exactly, you want to say about you and the thing you own.  Here are just a few.  Well, okay… six.

Six Awesome Ways to Talk About Having in Hebrew

1. Yesh! – “There is”

This is the classic.  Back in Hebrew school, I learned the way around this:  “yesh.”  Yesh has two meanings:  to possess or to indicate. 

To Indicate:  you can indicate an object by saying, יש עיפרון על השולחן / yesh iparon al ha shulchan and it means “there’s a pencil on the table.”  Basic stuff (and hey, I’m not a grammar guru, so if there’s a better word than “indicate,” just let me know politely!). 

To Possess:  You can also say יש לי עיפרון / , yesh li iparon, which literally means “there is to me a pencil,” but basically means, “I have a pencil.”  Only without saying have.  The pronoun here conjugates nicely, so you can give anyone you like a pencil (thanks very much!):  יש לנו עיפרון / yesh lanu iparon / “there is to us a pencil” = we have a pencil.

So far so good.  For an English speaker, it takes a little thinking, because in English, all you have to do is figure out the simple pronoun (I, you, we, etc.) and then add HAVE, whereas in Hebrew, you need to conjugate (li, lecha, lach, lanu, etc.).

So that’s yesh, and it takes care of having – kind of.

2. Shel + Suffixes – “Of”

But what if you want to say you OWN something?  “We have a car.  The car belongs to us.”

Hebrew school taught me the easy way to do this –  האוטו שלי / ha-oto sheli / “The car is mine”.  But it doesn’t mean belonging.  This form is far more passive.  The car just sits there and “BE”s mine.