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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Do you know how to protect yourself on Jerusalem’s sidewalks?


This is actually more of a public service announcement than a blog post.  Know what the biggest threat is to pedestrians in Jerusalem?  From what I’ve learned this week it definitely isn’t terrorism… it’s slippery sidewalks.

Yup, those fabulous shining stone walkways that make Jerusalem look so lovely for so much of the year… are apparently (almost literally) deadly.

If you’ve ever walked through the Old City at night in the rain, you probably figured that already.  But maybe, like me, you thought you were the only one.  Nope, nope, nope.  If you’ve ever stopped yourself from running for a bus in our nation’s capital because you were scared you’d slip and fall and break your neck… it turns out you’re not alone.

Except some people aren’t just afraid of falling.  They’ve actually fallen, and maybe not suffered

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Weird, wacky, wonderful (Hebrew) words: לְהִתגַעגֵעַ / To Miss


When you move to Israel, there’s inevitably going to be stuff you miss: people, places, things. So it’s important to be able to talk about missing stuff in Hebrew. On the oral part of the ulpan exam, that was one of the things they asked us about: how we’re getting used to life in Israel.

In English, we talk about missing stuff all the time. When I say “missing,” I mean the feeling of longing when you’re not around.

What do we mean when we talk about MISSING?

We do have other types of “miss” in English, more than one, in fact, like...

  • Missing a train, which is לְפַסְפֵּס / le’faspeis in Hebrew, lo aleinu (we should never know such sorrow).
  • Or missing out, לְהַחמִיץ / le’hachmitz, as in the FOMO (fear of missing out) when all your family back in Toronto is going to see The Book of Mormon while I’m stuck here in Israel going to see some two-bit circus (you may recognize the root of this word from the word chametz at the seder... it also means when something ferments, or goes sour, meaning you’ve missed the best-before date).
  • Or missing the mark, לְהַחטִיא / le’hachtiy, as in a blog post which promises to talk about one thing and then goes on and on about all kinds of irrelevant homonyms.
  • There’s even the kind of missing where you’re just about to make challah late, late, late on a Thursday night and discover that you’re missing flour – לַחסוֹר / la’chsor, meaning “to lack.” (You can also use it as in: חסר לי הקמח / chaser li hakemach / “I’m missing the flour”.) This is the kind of missing that is sometimes translated as “want,” as in, “for want of a point, this blog post was lost.”


But none of those is what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about missing your mother, your sisters, your son in Toronto—they don’t call, they don’t write (except when they do, but I’m practicing to be a bubby someday), and some weeks we are reduced to merely clicking Like on each others’ things to remember that we are all out in the world somewhere.

In English, the word “to miss” is nicely transitive, meaning you can’t just miss, in the same way you can’t say, “I love” or “I admire.” You have to miss something; you miss somebody.

Hebrew has that word too, fortunately. Unfortunately, it’s a silly word. A word you might not be able to say without giggling, and which in fact sounds a heck of a lot LIKE giggling when you say it. Here it is: לְהִתגַעגֵעַ / le’hitgageya.

(What? I put it in the headline so the surprise was ruined? Drat, drat, drat... my

Monday, January 29, 2018

Seasons Change: Dreaming of Spring in Israel


Moving to Israel, everybody told us, I’d have to give up on spring – there are no seasons here. I wish I didn’t love spring so much – it’s such a cliché – but how could I not? The smell of rain clinging to everything in sight, the soft bounce of the dirt underfoot. Mud everywhere, but also life.

I only learned to love the seasons when I started gardening in our last home, a tiny Toronto bungalow with an equally tiny lot.

The backyard was a mix of sand and shade – a gardener’s nightmare where only ants could play. Grass refused to grow, though many attempts had been made over the years.

But over the eight years we lived there, with the help of two compost piles and countless experiments with hardy native species (and countless hours weeding out perennial sunflowers), things improved, slowly.

I knew it was getting better when I spotted snails. Though many gardeners are horrified at the thought of snails, chomping up pretty hosta leaves and oozing slime trails, I took them as a compliment. Where there are snails, there is moisture and decay. And where there is moisture and decay, there is life.

My backyard had come to life.

When we moved to Israel in August of 2013, it was more of a nightmare than a season. Back in Toronto, it was also the full heat of the summer, but there was hope of fall, and the ripening of tomatoes to console us from the heat, or what we called heat.

In Toronto, the heat isn’t an enemy. It doesn’t leap on your chest and keep you down for two months, three months, four. It doesn’t make you stop, panting, for water, every block on the way to the grocery store. It doesn’t make you duck into banks just to enjoy the air conditioning. It doesn’t make the kids cry as you weave drunkenly down the sidewalk, in and out of every patch of shade. It goes away at night and lets you sleep, or at least sit on the porch with a glass of wine.

Here, it was hot. And it wasn’t summer as I knew it. Nothing was growing – well, nasty-looking succulent plants with bulbous, waxy leaves, or spikes, or unattractive protuberances. Lizards skittered in the dappled light beneath trees. When lizards are happy to play in the shade, it’s truly a hot day.

But one day, well into what I used to think of as fall, it rained. Just a little – the random specks they call teef-toof. But then it happened again, and another evening, I had to buy the kids umbrellas. The rain had stopped by the time we got out of the store, but everyone around us knew – winter was on its way.

And suddenly, suddenly, the world came alive.

Another day, a sandy front yard I passed every day on our way to my son’s kindergarten was full of green stubble – grass! The next, all the bushes, it seemed, had new, pale-green leaves; a few, here and there. The ground was awakening at last.

Now, months later, we’re nearing the end of winter. We haven’t had enough rain, everybody agrees, but all is green and lovely. Cool breezes blow through the window, citrus trees exuberantly flaunt their colourful baubles: lemons, oranges, kumquats.

It turns out there are seasons in Israel, just not the ones I’m used to. Every Israeli knows them intimately.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Book Trailer: I is for Israel - An ABC of Peace


I wrote a new book about Israel!  It’s a little different from some of what I’ve written before – it’s a rhyming book about peace and coexistence called I is for Israel, which I wrote in response to a book that just came to my attention recently called P is for Palestine.  Rest assured – my book is better. :-)

I invite you to watch (and maybe even like!) this trailer:

I kind of vowed that this trailer would be one of the first things I’d get around to doing once the wedding was over and done with.  To find out more about the amazing process of creating this book, please see this post on my other blog.

Or – just check out the book itself!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Unseens: How NOT TO learn English in Israel


If you're a native English speaker, you've probably never heard of unseens.  I sure hadn't.  But if you are coming here with school-aged kids, you’d better find out quickly, because sooner or later, you’re going to have unseens in your life, too.

The first year I was volunteering to teach English in our local public library, my first kid sat across from me and said we needed to practice unseens.

Now, at this point, I barely understood Hebrew, so I had absolutely no idea what word he was saying.

"What?" I asked.
"Ansinz."  Like it was obvious.
"What?" Me again, in full idiot mode with this fifteen-year-old boy.
"Ensigns."  Now that sounded like an English word... but nothing at all that I could connect with learning the language.

I seem to recall that he had a book with him and at some point, he decided it was easier just to SHOW me what he meant by pulling out the book.


(See?  Unseens! What’s so hard to understand about that???)

Thus, I was introduced to the word of unseens, otherwise known as, "the way most Israelis learn English."
Otherwise known as, "the reason most Israelis don't speak or understand English."

It's true: I believe that unseens MAY be the single biggest obstacle between Israeli schoolchildren, who generally spend ten years learning English, and the mastery of the English language.  The only reason I say MAY is because the biggest might be English teachers who are afraid to speak English because they don’t know it well enough.

I mention this here – I actually wasn’t sure which blog to post this to because my other blog, Adventures in Mamaland has far more education-related posts – because a lot of English speaking olim wonder how it is that kids here spend ten years ostensibly learning English, and in many parts of the country, STILL come away knowing virtually nothing and unable to carry on even a basic conversation in English.

The Israeli Ministry of Education has recently called for something like 6,000 new English teachers.  Some friends of mine, native English speakers, are actually doing a free upgrading program this year that lets olim turn almost any Bachelor’s degree into a teaching certificate.  The Ministry is emphasizing fluency in spoken English as a goal for grads, which is fantastic.

In the meantime, what they have is unseens.

So what are unseens?

In the early grades, kids learn English the way

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Are you ever too old to make aliyah?


I'm no spring chicken.  Are you???

I've always been amused by the fact that we happily admit that someone's "no spring chicken," but at no point in their life does anyone admit to actually being a spring chicken.  We only use it to define what we and others are not.

But if you, like me, are no spring chicken, then aliyah is going to present you with some special challenges.

Last week, I asked readers to share their biggest aliyah questions with me.  I was surprised, amazed, touched - you choose the right word - at how many did.  And at how many different questions there are.  So much for my big idea of offering advice.  It's humbling sometimes how little I know.

A few questions that keep coming up again and again, sometimes in slightly different form, are:

How can I make aliyah at my age?  Will it be too hard?  Can I do it?  Will I be okay?

I'm not going to lie to you.  When you are no spring chicken (like me!),

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