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Friday, September 4, 2015

On Rosh Hashanah, it’s BYOM (bring your own machzor)


Rosh Hashanah’s coming, so it’s time for a public service announcement. 

Things here in Israel are NOT the same as they are wherever you come from.  That includes shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

You probably won’t need tickets, and I don’t know of any shul in Israel that will kick you out if you haven’t signed up ahead of time, but depending on the shul, they might not have a lot of space for you. 

Also, check around your neighbourhood carefully – the davening (prayer services) is very different in different types of shuls.  And I’m not just talking about Ashkenazi and Sefardi (Mizrachi) shuls. 

Yeshivas, for example, may have a longer, more drawn-out davening that’s enjoyable if you like something more spiritual, while “stam” Israeli shuls may have more of a “get in, get out, get home” type of approach.  Most shuls start at 8 am on yom tov, but the ending time really varies, from 10:30ish across the street from me to as late as 1 or 2 in some places.

(So if you’re expected somewhere for either of the lunch meals, it’s extra important to co-ordinate with your hosts so you get there when they want to start.)

If you’re new to your area, ask around to find out which shul is more likely to offer you the best experience.  That depends, of course, on what your criteria are.  Such as whether you like singing or prefer to avoid it at all costs, like at the shul across the street from me, where any necessary musical touches are grudging at best.

Also, if you’re a woman, ask other women – your experience might be very different from what a man would encounter in the same shul.

One thing you won’t get here that you may or may not be used to – calling out page numbers.  Most Orthodox shuls outside of Israel don’t do this either, but our shul in Toronto did because it had a kiruv (outreach) bent. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

How to survive the most brutal 6 months of your life


Here’s the truth that nobody is going to tell you:  you may just be in for the worst 6 months (or so) of your life.

That’s the side of aliyah that you don’t see in the ads, or the videos, or the posters or the shots of smiling, happy families at the airport.

My family’s not in those shots.

You won’t see my son, lying kicking and wailing on the floor of the airport.

You won’t see my daughter, weeping because she misses our family in Canada.

You won’t see me in our apartment at the merkaz klitah, screaming and crying in the middle of the night because my husband cannot make the cruddy Israeli beach karaoke – literally the loudest music I’d ever heard, and I’ve been to more than a few concerts – go away at 3 a.m. on Shabbos morning until I finally fell asleep with a pillow over my head.

Or the kids lying in bed calling out, “Juke! Juke!” (cockroach, cockroach)

I don’t know if I’d call it the worst six months, but it was definitely a difficult period.  A very difficult period.

Friends of ours spent 6 months in Israel a year or so before we came.  They'd just had a baby, so he had parental leave, and they’d always wanted to spend time here.  Everything went wrong - absolutely everything.

Monday, August 31, 2015

What should you buy where? Smarter online shopping in Israel

photo depicting various online shopping options in Israel

It’s back to school time here in Israel.  And we all know what that means:  online shopping!

I can’t be the only one, right?

In Israel, just like around the world, the hottest shopping site these days is Aliexpress.  There, you can buy directly from China, mostly with free shipping, cutting out the middleman and saving a bundle.

That's the theory, at least. 

In practice, it's not so simple.  The quality is usually low, and it's better in theory to buy Israeli (or local, wherever you happen to be).   Sometimes, though, when buying Chinese is the only option anyway, things do work out much better, price-wise.

But there are many downsides to Aliexpress, including:

  • Long shipping time
  • Dubious quality merchandise
  • No recognizable brand names
  • No brands, price comparisons or reviews (sometimes there are reviews, but rarely)
  • Merchants don't speak English


The biggest down, however, is that for higher-value items (I think it's over $50), you could get hit with a big tax bill.  The same thing was true in Canada - there, anything worth over about $20 could get opened and dinged for import taxes.  And there are added fees you have to pay as well if you're billed for taxes.  Sometimes, it's just not worth it.

That's why it's nice to know that there are online-shopping alternatives that let you buy "locally" here in Israel.  The goods may still be made elsewhere, but you're dealing with local suppliers who know how to get stuff to your door quickly, and can often save you that big tax bill.

The best place to start is on ZAP -  There, you can search (in Hebrew, so use Google Translate if you're not strong at it) for whatever you want, and hopefully, you'll get a whole bunch of good results.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Just when you think you miss Walmart...


Here I was going on and on about how much I loved Walmart while we were visiting Canada, but you know what...? School supply shopping here may be even easier.

Everything is laid out in one reasonably sized section, for decent-enough prices...

"Attention, Max Stock shoppers..."
There were literally employees in every aisle.  Not the pestery kind you usually meet in Israeli stores who are just after their commission.  These asked if we were finding everything and then, when I asked where to find calculators, she started to say, "over there in the next aisle," and then said, "wait, I'll take you."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Should you change your name when you make aliyah?


For years, I thought this was a no-brainer.  When in Rome, pick a name like the Romans do… or something.

Apparently, I was dead wrong.  It turns out there are a million reasons not to change your name when you make aliyah:

  • it will confuse and perhaps anger your family and friends
  • people will think you've become more religious (maybe "crazy religious")
  • people will think you're turning your back on your old life
  • you've built a career and reputation in your name
  • you'll have legal problems using the new name
  • you'll never adjust to being called something new

Interesting.  Notice that these are the same reasons many people give to not make aliyah in the first place?

Since you're already taking that giant step – or thinking of taking it – it seems a much smaller leap to give yourself a shiny new handle.  Especially one you've chosen yourself, that you'll love hearing every day and seeing on all your shiny new paperwork.

[By the way, the Hebrew words in the image above are “olah chadashah,” which means “new immigrant to Israel” in the feminine form.]

My grandparents’ “aliyah” to Canada

My grandparents were olim, of a sort.  Well, they were immigrants.  Same thing, right? 

Separately, they found a way out of Poland, where they'd grown up as "Wolf" and "Chana Rivka."  When they came to Canada, they morphed into "William" and "Rose."  They named their kids Albert, Charles and Dorothy.

Monday, August 10, 2015

How to choose YOUR OWN best destination in Israel


How up are you on your Israeli geography?

One of the things I found most maddening before we moved to Israel was place names.  Beyond Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, I had barely heard of other places here.  Maybe Beersheva, because it’s in the Torah.  Some places were in the news (Chevron), so they were somewhere in my consciousness.  Others, not so much.

That quickly became a problem when we started planning to move here.

Maybe this is something you’ve experienced? 

Anyone who has been anywhere in Israel, even if they’ve never lived there, has anywhere between three and a dozen places to recommend.  They’ll come up to you anywhere, anytime, and spout this list like it’s gospel (or, you know, the Jewish equivalent).

Telling Kiryat Arba from Kiryat Shmona

These places are not all cities.  Some are cities, some are neighbourhoods within cities, some are kibbutzim or moshavim, some are, I don’t know, hilltops somewhere with a few idealists in trailers parked on top.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Home Sweet Home: Sorting us all out


Did you have one of these shape sorters as a child?  (Maybe your kids did!)

Look at all those shapes.  Some of them are very similar - the pentagon and the hexagon; the trapezoid and the square; the triangle and the little rounded cone-triangle (is there a name for that shape?). 

(Babies were smarter in those days, I guess - newer shape sorters are much simpler.)

The fascinating part was that no matter how similar the shapes, they wouldn't slide nicely into the wrong hole.

So I think I'm like that, a bit.

We're back in Israel now.  We got home at midnight last night. 

And so now, I can tell you my secret:  I was half expecting to hate it here.  Maybe more than half.  My daughter was in tears as the plane was taking off, leaving behind so many of the people she loves in Canada.  I braced myself, just in case I got here and felt SO depressed to be back.