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Sunday, November 5, 2017

Unseens: How NOT TO learn English in Israel

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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.

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(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?

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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

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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:

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(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!)

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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:

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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.)

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(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!

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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…

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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

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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. 

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