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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Who Israel has instead of rock stars and supermodels (and why I’m glad)


Sure, supermodel Bar Refaeli captures her share of headlines here.  But you know who's a real celebrity in this country?

I'll tell you.

I was sitting down this afternoon in a little cafe in the mall, revving up my voice recorder, buffing up my pen & notepad, or whatever I do before an interview… when I noticed a woman standing outside the cafe, staring intently. 

After a second, she started waving - at the guy I had come to interview.  She waved timidly at first, shyly, and then a little more crazily when she saw that he'd spotted her there.  "Todah," she mouthed at him.  "Todah."  Thanks.

"He's like a rock star here," said the translator.

I nodded, numb, amazed.

Who was this instantly-recognizable mega-star that I had come to interview?

It was this guy:


What’s that you say?

Exactly!  Yeah, this guy.  (The one in the vest.  No idea who the guy in the white kippah could be.)


Yup, him.  Desmond Tutu’s buddy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Why “Aliyah” is one of the hottest baby names in America


Here’s one fact that maybe you didn’t know about aliyah:  it’s an incredibly popular baby name in the U.S.

Since this blog is dedicated to covering All Things Aliyah, I thought I’d explore this phenomenon.  Maybe I’ll inspire someone to choose the name for their baby!

In the year 2011, “Aliyah” was actually the 133rd most popular name in the U.S.  It beat out far more common and predictable names, like – um – Jennifer.  And also classics like Mckenzie, Haley, Michelle and Stephanie.

Here’s the name Aliyah in Hebrew letters:


When writing it without vowels, people often include two lettter “yuds,” like this:


The Hebrew meaning of the name is absolutely beautiful.  It means “going up,” “ascent” or “rising” (though here in Israel, this could refer to a spiritual ascent or just gas prices!). 

The main meaning of the word, for Jews all over the world is the “going up” involved in moving to the Land of Israel.  Which is, in fact, what this blog is all about.  A secondary meaning is “going up” for an honour in the synagogue, such as when people are called to read from the Torah.

But mainly, those are not the reason that people are giving the name Aliyah and related names to their babies in record numbers.

Most people are still naming their babies in tribute to the dead superstar singer Aaliyah Dana Houghton, better known just as Aaliyah (with two A’s at the beginning). 

But now that it has been a few years since her death, many more people are picking the name simply for its beautiful sound or meaning. 

This is a name with quite a few variants.  Some other common variations are Aliya, without the H on the end, Aleah, and the Hawaiian Alia, who apparently was a princess, and which means “great joy.” 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

What’s my kid learning??!? A guide to school subjects in Israel


Prepare to feel like a moron, that’s all I can say.

The first day my daughter came home from school in Israel, I thought I was going to cry.  I had put 2 kids all the way through Jewish schools in Canada, with plenty of Hebrew along the way.  I really believed I had a handle on things. 

Reading the schedule

Turned out I knew nothing and couldn’t even read her schedule.  And that was Grade 2!?  Oy.

I plowed slowly through her timetable trying to make sense of it.  A few words, I did understand (Torah! Chagim!).  A few words, I knew, but they didn’t make sense.


Why was a second-grader learning “Engineering”?

זה"ב/Zahav?  What was the point of studying “Gold”?

Oy, did I have a lot to learn.

So you won’t get stuck like I did, I’ve put together a yet another handy chart of Hebrew/English school subject names.  If your kids are in a religious school, chances are they’ll be learning most of these and possibly some more (if you have additions, let me know in the comments!).

Scroll down to see that full list!

The biggest difference

Even learning the names of subjects won’t help completely, but it is definitely a start on understanding the differences between schools here and schools “out there” in the rest of the world.

However, the biggest surprise so far (this is now our third year, making us veterans!) is the number of “subject” teachers. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Don't make these 5 mistakes when you're opening a bank account in Israel


Quick, where will your first bank account in Israel be?

One of your first tasks when you step off the plane is opening a bank account so you can start getting sal klitah, the six months of “absorption” money that you’re entitled to when you arrive in Israel.

So that’s why many olim feel rushed into opening their first bank account, and don’t think the process through as much as they should. 

Sure, you can always move your account later, but you might not want to once you have an established line of credit, “standing orders” (הוראות קבע/horaot keva – fixed monthly payments), government deposits or debits, not to mention (hopefully) payroll deposits coming in and out of that account every month.

So you do want to put some thought into opening your account, even if it seems like you don’t have a lot of choices.  When you look back on your aliyah process in five years’ time, these are some of the mistakes you may end up regretting…

1) You didn’t set aside enough time

I’ve opened bank accounts in Canada where I’ve walked in, plunked down ID on the counter, and walked out 15 minutes later with a bank card.  That’s not how it works here. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Arabs, on the train


I'm sitting on the train, it's late, and I'm on my way home.
Far too exhausted to be paying attention.

I step past a family of Arabs, their boxes spreading into the aisle.  There are grandparents, parents, a little girl.  They chatter all the way north.

I may be exhausted, but I can't help paying attention.  My life depends on paying attention around Arabs, I've been told. 

Even when they're travelling as a family?  Even when they've got a little girl babbling on their laps?

I don't understand their language.  Are they talking about me?  Arabic sounds horrible, guttural and strange.  I know Hebrew must sound that way to others; to me, it sounds like the Tanach, like poetry.  The Arabs' Arabic is sprinkled with Hebrew here.  They say "b'seder," and other Hebrew words.  Do other Arabs outside of Israel feel like they are contaminated with Jewishness?

I don’t know if they’re talking about me, but I’m thinking about them.  Not them, exactly. 

You know:  Terrorists.

Oh, yeah; that.

I'm writing a blog post about terrorism in Israel.  I start hunting for a picture of a knife to go with the post, then realize my screen faces towards them.  Will they know what I'm thinking about?  Will they think I am thinking about them? 

I quickly search for the word "girl" even though I do not want a picture of a girl to go with the post.  Slowly, I creep back towards the pictures of the knives, choosing a relatively tasteful one instead of something bloody and garish.  Not my style, anyway. 

The child is facing away from me, sitting with her parents.  The older people are facing in my direction.  Perhaps their eyes are old; perhaps they can’t see what I’m doing.

I modify the picture in furtive bursts,

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dear Family: she is safe, so please stop asking


Hi, all!

Just wanted to let you know that although we are all worried about E_____ when terrible things happen in Jerusalem, it doesn't help to email her to let her know about them or to ask if she is safe. 

Telling a person in that situation to "stay safe" implies that anyone who gets hurt is simply not making an effort.

If you want to send her a note, try something constructive, like, "I'm praying this will end soon," "I hope you're still finding ways to enjoy life," or simply, "we love you."

Please remember that, in Jerusalem as in any other place in this world, a person is safe until the moment they are not - whether that moment comes in a car, on a city street, in Canada's parliament buildings, in a hospital, or at the hands of a terrorist.

Statistically, her life expectancy here is higher than in most countries of the world, including the US. Though none of us know when our moment will come, for this moment, right now, she is safe.

I spent last Tuesday afternoon with her in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On a roll (it’s not what you think it’s about)


Have you tried Israeli toilet paper lately?

It's actually quite good – as toilet paper.  Definitely better than it was, I'm told.  Which is good, because good old TP has been re-imagined (or perhaps always was) the National Nose-Wipe.

In fact, the toilet paper here is quite good.  Apparently, it used to be simply awful - crunchy and non-absorbent, I assume, since those are the things it would take to make TP simply awful in my book.

I know what I'm talking about.  In England on my honeymoon, years and years ago, I stayed in the World's Worst Hotel, near Paddington Station, which we thought would be cute - but it wasn't. 

There was no bathroom in the room itself, just a little water closet ("loo") up half a flight of stairs.  And the paper in there was absolutely awful.  It was that folding, single-paper dispensing kind that we'd had in my elementary school.  However, unlike anything I had ever seen before, each "sheet" of this paper was treated with some sort of smelly antiseptic chemical and then - mysteriously - waxed so that it was guaranteed to never absorb a single drop of anything.  It was crispy, it was stinky, plus, it simply did not do the job.

Compared to that, anything is better, and as I said, toilet paper in Israel is way more than halfway decent.  It's soft, it's 2-ply, and there are cute puppies on the brand we buy.  There are even premium 3-ply grades you can buy for extra indulgence.

But I still think it’s gross how everybody uses it to wipe their noses.  Maybe this happens elsewhere, too, but I have only ever observed it on a sweeping scale here.

Sure, actual "facial tissues" (aka Kleenex, but they're called "tissue" here in Hebrew) are available, in various colours, small and big packages.

But forget about all that.