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Friday, July 3, 2015

Welcome to Chu”l, and have a nice stay!


If you ask an Israeli, there are two places in the world:  Israel… and chu”l.

Chu”l, like every Hebrew word with a “choopchik” (double-quote) in it, is an abbreviation.  In this case, it stands for חוץ לארץ / chutz la’aretz, or “outside of Israel.”  (Sounds like “chooool.”  Rhymes with “rule,” like the Golden Rule.)

And yup… that means, “every place in the world besides Israel.”

Because, you know, Israel is just so very, very big.  Kind of dwarfs the rest of the world by comparison, don’t you think?

Well, okay.  We know Israel is not very big.  But Israel is a tiny country with a HUGE ego.  A big sense of itself and its footprint in the world.  Not utterly unjustified, given its continuing prominence on the world stage, but still… sometimes, Israelis do push it a little.

This happened in ulpan once.  My teacher handed out a list of celebrities and we had to decide if they were “famous” or “famous only in Israel.”  Some were obvious, like Madonna and okay, Benjamin Netanyahu.  That was about it for famous Israelis.

I was trying to be honest, but I didn’t want to break her heart by telling her that for the most part, all the “famous” Israelis she’d listed  would be persona non grata if they showed up in Canada or the U.S.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review: Dialogue in the Dark / דיאלוג בחשיכה, Children’s Museum, Holon–Attractions in Israel


Picture yourself in a world of darkness, groping around, not knowing where - or what - anything is. 

You're lost in a hopeless, unsolvable maze.  Are you near a wall, a door?  Are you about to bump into something?  Your only hope is to trust in the skills of your guide, an all-seeing miracle worker who can somehow navigate her way through total darkness.

Last month, I finally got to visit the blind museum in Holon.  Okay, it's not really called the blind museum.  Part of the Israeli Children's Museum there, it's an exhibit called Dialogue in the Dark.  And it’s been on my “Israel Bucket List” for about ten years, since I first read about it in a magazine.

Your own personal Virgil

When you go in, you enter a world of total darkness.  You leave everything behind in a locker – glasses, keys, phones (except a small amount of pre-counted money for the snack bar). 

Luckily, you're given your own Virgil, a blind guide who knows her way around like the back of her hand.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A few prickly questions– the lie of the sabra


Do you know what a sabra is?

It’s the fruit of the prickly-pear (Opuntia) cactus.  It looks a little like the picture up above.

Ironically, the sabra, the very fruit that Jews around the world identify with Israel is actually not a native here.  It was imported from the Western U.S.

By the way, the word and concept “sabra” are not pronounced “sabra” in Hebrew.  Another of those Big Lies of Hebrew school.  The Hebrew word for this North American transplant, this “oleh,” so to speak, is  צַבָּר / tzabar.

According to Wikipedia, a “Sabra” is an “informal slang term that refers to Israeli Jews born in Israel.”

A few weeks ago, someone I knew decided to make trouble, and at a mixed gathering of Arabs and Jews in Haifa, asked an Arab woman if she considered herself a sabra.  She said, “of course.”  (I love getting to know troublemakers.)

Friday, June 26, 2015

12 of the most surprising, tantalizing gifts from Israel–dirt cheap


Are you sick of all the standard, cliché Israel souvenirs:  olive wood plaques, “SuperJew” magnets, cheap metal kiddush cups?  Do you feel like a sucker every time you walk into a souvenir shop and pay too much money?

I know I do, and I’m not a tourist – I actually live here.  (Maybe you live here, too, and you wish there was something different you could bring back with you the next time you travel back to visit family and friends?)

I bet you wish there was something original you could bring them instead without spending a fortune.

Why not gift your friends and family where their stomachs are - with the gift of special foods from Israel? 

Here are twelve tantalizing suggestions to tickle their tummies:

1.  Bamba

These are Israel's most beloved snacks.  If you live in a major Jewish centre, then forget this one, because you can probably buy them closer to home.  If not, share the crazy novelty of Israel's beloved "peanut-flavoured cheesies," now also available with a variety of fillings.  There's also Bissli and other crunchy snack aisle faves to round out the gift basket.


2.  Olive oil

They're all local and delicious, so just pick the most beautiful or unusual bottle.  If you know someone who's in the know about olive oil, get them to introduce you to a truly special "vintage" or artisanal producer, or to an organization like Galilee Green, which is working to revitalize a regional economy.


3.  Fancy salts

Even the "plain" table salt we buy says it's from the Red Sea,

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Should you plug it in? Adapters vs Transformers and what to use where.


Before you plug anything in in Israel, stop and check.  Is it safe, or will it send your house up in smoke?  Do you need an adapter, a transformer, or can you just plug it in as-is?  The wrong answer is one you’ll deeply regret. 

Before you plug in any appliance, you’ll need to understand the basics of Israeli outlets.

Disclaimer:  I’m not an electrician.  In fact, whatever the furthest thing is from an electrician, that's me. That said, I do know a thing or two, both from wikipedia and from harsh personal experience.

Here’s the least you need to know: 

Israeli outlets have more electricity in them than the ones in North America.

Here’s what a standard 3-prong (grounded) outlet looks like here:


If you peer at the holes very closely, you’ll see that they accommodate both “slot” plugs and “round” plugs.  The round ones are European and the slots are distinctly Israeli.


Standard outlets here have 220V running through them instead of 120V.  If that sounds like a lot of juice, it’s because it is (I think it’s the same amount that powers those jumbo dryer outlets in North America).

So it goes without saying – you can’t just plug stuff in willy-nilly.  Unless you want it all to catch fire.  And yes, I mean this literally.  I literally saw a beloved telephone we’d shlepped across the ocean go up in smoke.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The taste of home: What foods do foodies miss in Israel?

1940s b&w image showing Lena Horne demonstrating a "modern" gas stove.  Israeli flag superimposed on oven door.

What foods do foodies miss most when they move to Israel?

Maybe they dream about sitting down to a plate of nachos with tangy cheddar cheese… or a fruity flan with tons of fresh berries?

When I first started thinking about aliyah, in the early 1990s, reports out of Israel were dire.  There were no chocolate chips - you had to chop up chocolate bars and hope for the best.  Also, no canned tuna.  Also, though perhaps unrelated, the toilet paper was really, really bad.

Today, things are different.  Israel prides itself on being a haven for kosher foodies.  (You can even visit them at the Israeli Foodies facebook group.)

Depending on where you're from, there are still many local treats and delicacies that you'll either not be able to find, or will have to reserve as a special treat. 

Take graham cracker pie crusts, for example.  Graham crackers don't exist here, and stores don't usually sell ready-made crusts.  That doesn't mean you can't find them.  This is the year 2015, and almost everything can be had - for a price.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Baby, it’s cold outside: packing for winter in Israel.


If you’re making aliyah over the summer, you’re probably wondering how much winter stuff you should pack.  Israel is hot, right?  And dry?

Sure it is, but it definitely does get cold here in the wintertime.  And I’m Canadian; when I say cold, I mean COLD.   

The tricky part is that it gets cold… but only for a few weeks.  Just because it's shorter, though, doesn't make it any less cold.  Dumb and obvious but true.

(Okay, Canadian friends and relatives, feel free to mock me now at the thought that anything above freezing can be considered truly cold.)

How can I, a proud Canadian, whine about temperatures in Israel?

The cold here seems way colder than it did in Canada.  That’s because coming inside doesn't help: there's no central heating.  So warm jammies or nighties is a smart choice to pack, as much as you’ll curse the space they take up for such a short period of use over the course of a year.

It also means that kids in schools can get COLD.  Schools are not adequately heated and air conditioners (yes, they also have a “heat” setting) are often old and bad.

As tough as people outside of Israel think Israelis are, my kids' school was cancelled once this year due to rain (field trips are cancelled if there's any CHANCE of rain!), and more than once they brought the kids hot tea and soup to warm them up (on days I didn't consider particularly cold, but whatever).

So should you pack parkas, hats, and fluffy winter boots?