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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Should you hang with other English speakers? Yes, and here’s why.


Having spent two evenings last week socializing exclusively with English speakers, I’m feeling guilty.  And lazy.

Why?  Well, Thursday night was my monthly English speakers meeting of children’s-book writers and illustrators (SCBWI*), and Friday was our community’s English Speakers Oneg Shabbat. 

At the book meeting, I mentioned the oneg, and one of the Israelis there asked, “Why only English speakers?” 

So then I felt ashamed.  And lazy, like I wasn’t making an effort.  And I almost felt racist (linguist?) for eliminating Hebrew speakers from my social circle so deliberately.  Why move to Israel and then spend so much time hanging out in English??? 

I didn’t even mention that we’re going to the annual Nefesh b’Nefesh Go North English-speaking Shabbaton next week.  Even more English !  Are we just obstinately refusing to integrate into Israeli society?

On the way home from my SCBWI meeting, and for the 2 days since, I’ve put more thought into it.  Because this is something all olim will have to balance in their lives somehow: how much time will you spend “out and about” mingling with the natives and how much time will you spend all huddled and insular with your Anglo “peeps”?

I’ve concluded that it’s not just about laziness.  Though your mileage may vary, here are 5 really good reasons from my own life that I deliberately spend time hanging out with English speakers…

1.  Israelis are busy

Israelis have lives here that are busy and well-established.  Sort of the way we did back in North America.  Many Israelis are too busy to stop and realize that we are here and we need a little extra TLC. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Chanukah in Israel: why it’s simply better here


"Do they really celebrate Chanukah in chu"l???" (Outside of Israel - see this post!)

This Sunday, I brought English Chanukah songs for the girls I tutor.  One of them was amazed and asked me this outright.  She couldn’t believe that even in Canada, we celebrated Chanukah.

She knew that Jews everywhere celebrate most holidays, but Chanukah is so tied up in the Israeli psyche, our most nationalistic holiday besides Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), that it must have seemed impossible to celebrate anywhere else.

And I have to admit: she’s right. 

Sure, you can celebrate Chanukah in chu”l, but you can’t feel it the way you do here.

I've always been humbug about Chanukah.  It's not that I hated it, but when we lived in Canada,

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A not simple time: the stolen Yemenite children


In Hebrew, instead of saying something in the past was "difficult" or "complicated," the phrase is softened a little.  They say, "it's not simple."

One such not-simple period is the stolen children of Yemen. 

Here's the nutshell:

When Yemenite Jews came to Israel in the 1940s and early 1950s, some children were often taken and given away to Ashkenazi families, some of whom were survivors of the Shoah.  Not all, and perhaps not even many; but some.  The actual number doesn’t matter.  There’s no number that would have been acceptable.

Sometimes, Yemenite parents were told that their children were sick and needed to be in the hospital.  I read the story of one man whose adoptive mother simply showed up at the hospital and was told, "Pick a baby."  His birth mother, like most of the Yemenite parents, was told that her child had died.

Having seen so many Ethiopian families trying to adjust to life in modern Israel in the years we’ve been here, I find it

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ordinary bad things


You never think about the ordinary bad things when it comes to living in Israel.

Years before we came here, I read about a family who made aliyah, and then one of their sons was killed riding a bike.

It really made me stop and think.  These kinds of things happen in Israel?  Ordinary, bad stuff, like bike accidents, car accidents, slipping, falling, all the normal terrifying things that can happen to anybody, anywhere in the world?

Yes, sadly, it’s true.

It’s the extraordinary tragedies that people expect here, and then the everyday, ordinary bad things kind of sneak up instead.

When we first made aliyah, I slept with a tichel (head scarf) handy every night, in case I had to get up and make a run for the shelter in the middle of the night.  True, things were “hotter” then in the north, with Syria making all kinds of threats, and Israel getting in the way as it does. 

But also, I just expected it.  This was Israel, after all.

Gradually, I let down my defenses.  The extraordinary bad things that one expects from watching too much news simply weren’t happening.

Now, our gas masks are

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.