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Friday, July 18, 2014

Things that are weird in Israel #10: Celery


Does my hand look disgusted in this picture?

It should.

This is a stalk of what passes for “celery” in most parts of Israel.

The celery here came as a bit of a surprise, because of what everybody (truthfully) says about the produce here in Israel – which is almost universally fantastic.


We have found a few exceptions. 

Early oranges, for example, are not inspiring in the least.  But they sell like crazy anyway, because people are so eager for oranges after months without them.

The cucumbers here are tasty, but they are tiny, more like little pickles than a full-blooded cucumber.  Most people don’t bother peeling them, making them a convenient snack (for most people). 

But in me, the peeling habit has become ingrained, making them a totally annoying treat.  I’ve read too much about all the pesticides and bad stuff in the peels to just munch away on them.  So I have to peel and slice four of them to have enough to serve even me and the kids.  (slicing is optional, I admit)

And as for celery…

In some stores, we have found what’s known as “American celery” (סלרי אמריקאי/ selery Amerikai).  I believe one even had a star on it, to show off just how American it was.

When I Googled American celery just now to find pictures, though, this image popped up, as a reminder of what else is wrong with celery here:


Bugs.  According to this page, or at least, Google’s charming translation of it:

Many are infected insects on the leaves and on the cob. She touches insects such as caterpillars of various moths also pecking on the cob, leafminer larvae [found in leaves and stems], aphids, whiteflies tobacco thrips and Fsokaim.

[another page’s Google translation tells me that Fsokaim are “A group of about a millimeter in length tiny insects, lice are similar at first glance.”)

Yum.  So yeah, not only is it measly, but unless you want to spend all day checking it, you have to throw away the leaves.  Then scrub it thoroughly and inspect every nook and cranny.

But there is one good thing about celery here.  It’s easy to pronounce – you say it exactly the same as in English:  סלרי / sell-e-ry. 

So you can ask for it easily, anywhere you go!

That is, as long as you haven’t lost your appetite for celery altogether.

Shabbat Shalom from the holiest place on earth!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Know where it’s dangerous?


Outside of Israel, that’s where.

It’s kind of interesting sitting here facing headlines like these.

(click the images to read the stories)

 image image image image

LA, Frankfurt, Paris, Mississauga (Ontario, Canada). 

Most of this makes our life here in the Krayot seem calm in comparison. 

Actually, life here in the Krayot IS calm.  There is no “seem” about it.  No sirens here so far, which sets us apart probably from most Israelis at this point, both north and south.

As opposed to France.

These days, if you mention France to any Jew, anywhere, they shake their heads glumly.  “Oh, France,” they say, like it’s obvious that France would turn into the clearly dangerous place that it is for Jews today. 

Just look at the Dreyfus Affair, they say.  Over 100 years ago, it was clear that they were likely to blame Jews for all their troubles. 

But since the 1950s, a lot of Jews thought France was a pretty good place to wind up.  Especially Jews from increasingly Muslim-dominated places like Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.  With these influences, Jewish life grew and even flourished there – for a while.

These days, it’s pretty clear that this era – the golden age of Jewish life in France – is coming to a close.  Indeed, dozens of olim this week made the decision to move to Ashdod rather than stay in France. 


Natan Sharansky, chair of the Jewish Agency (among many other things), said of their decision, "no one doubts that French Jews have a future in Israel."

Funny that such a hopeful, upbeat story has a picture of rockets instead of smiling French olim, like these guys:


(photo credit:  Jewish Agency for Israel)

Sure, the headlines and images coming from inside Israel have been pretty dire this week.  Yes, life has been dangerous – even deadly – for many Israelis, forced to live under fire day and night.

But what most of us here in Israel see when we look out our windows is something more like this:


Umm… nothing much.  Blue skies.  Green trees.  Not much grass at this time of year.  A pizza shop.  The sheer ordinariness of it could kill you – if it wasn’t so beautiful in contrast with what the world sees.

Is Israel a dangerous place?  Perhaps.  (Though the average life expectancy is actually higher here than in the United States and Canada.)

You know where it’s really dangerous to live?  Anywhere you can’t see your enemies until it turns out you’ve been living among them for 20, 30, 50 years or more.

And the least dangerous place in the world?  The land where Hashem promised he would guard… forever.

וְיִשְׂמְחוּ כָל-חוֹסֵי בָךְ, לְעוֹלָם יְרַנֵּנוּ--    וְתָסֵךְ עָלֵימוֹ;

So shall all those that take refuge in You rejoice,
they shall ever shout for joy,
and You will shelter them.

(Tehillim 5:12)

It’s been an interesting shift in perspective.  Outside of Israel, all I saw was the chaos, the headlines.  I never expected the ordinary, the boring, the calm… the “sheket,” as peace (usually temporary) is euphemistically described, even in the midst of turmoil.

Violence is all around, everywhere in the world.  Here in Israel, for many of us, life is actually… weirdly ordinary.

Share your stories – of weirdness or ordinariness – in the Comments section, below!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Kill or be killed… ?


Nope, nothing to do with the “matzav” (current situation).

Sorry if you clicked through because of that.

Nope, if you know anything about me, it’s that spelling and grammar mistakes on Israeli signs amuse me to no end. 

Two things about this sign intrigued me. 

(Three if you count our biggest question – what the $#!% is the name of the street we were standing on, with the missing street sign?!?  To this day, we still don’t know.)

Following this post the day before went to Tzfat about the mystery of English place names in Israel, I was reminded by about a million highway signs that the main spelling of the city’s name, in English, is actually Zefat.


Beyond the weird spelling, on the sign up on top, there’s also a subtle grammatical mistake that makes, in this case, all the difference in the world.


This street is named in memory of the 12 22 children of Tzfat (thanks to a reader for pointing out my mistake with the numerology), it says in Hebrew, who were killed in the 1974 massacre in Maalot

But that’s not exactly what it says in English; there, the passive voice has been mangled to an extreme, turning the 12 victims into murderers.

Given the tragedy behind the story, perhaps it’s disrespectful to find fault with something as nitpicky as a translation.  And yet… and yet.  How else are you going to get your nation’s story across, if not with language?  It’s not like there are no English speakers in Tzfat who they could have asked for the proper translation.

I guess my serious point is that if your lousy translations make the history of a place seem clownish or insignificant, there’s a big chunk of visitors who aren’t going to appreciate the important stuff.

By “big chunk,” I mean me.  And others like me.  There must be others like me… right?

Put up your hand:  are you a spelling-and-grammar stickler, too?

When is the right time to make aliyah?


Wondering when to make aliyah?

I don’t mean what time of day, week, month or year.  I mean what stage in your life.  The answer is far from obvious. 

But, as writer Judy Resnick (not the astronaut) says in her poignant comments to this blog post, sometimes, if you wait, the right time never comes along.

As soon as I read this, I realized I had to share it with you.  It is so true.  Read what Judy has to say and let me know what you think:

The funny thing, every time I considered making Aliyah, some expert told me it was the wrong time in my life.

When I was a single young woman, somebody pointed out to me that the highest rate of Aliyah failure (e.g., giving up and leaving Israel) was among single young women.

When my husband and I were first married, somebody told us it was best to wait until we had more years of experience in our respective professions to make ourselves more valuable in the Israeli job market.

When my husband and I started having children, somebody told us that it was best to wait until we had five children, then my husband would not have to serve in the Israeli Army, only in the reserves.

When we bought a house, somebody told us it would be best to wait until the house increased in value, then we could sell the house and make enough money to buy an apartment in Israel.

When our children were babies and toddlers, somebody told me that the costs of full-time daycare and Gan in Israel swallow up most of an Israeli working mom’s take home salary.

When our kids started getting older, somebody told us it would be a major disruption for them to uproot them and force them to start learning Ivrit and getting used to a whole different school system. Better to wait until the kids were grown and out of the house.

When our kids were grown, somebody told us to wait until retirement, then we would have American pensions and American Social Security checks and income in American dollars, rather than trying to earn an Israeli income.

Now that we’re older, it’s still the wrong time to make Aliyah. Our grandchildren and married children staying in the U.S.A. will miss us too much, and our combined savings and pensions will not be enough to make ends meet over there. Plus the sale price of our house will not cover the cost of an apartment.

So when is it the “right” time to make Aliyah?

[republished with permission from BeyondBT]

In case you were wondering – I picked up a newspaper this morning and saw that, even while Israel was under fire, 64 Nefesh b’Nefesh olim got on board to make aliyah from the U.S.  The youngest olah was 8 months… and the oldest was 91.

When is the right time?  Generally, about 12 hours after you step on the plane.  Unless you’re stopping over somewhere… but I think you get what I mean.

If you’re already here, how did you decide to come when you did?

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

[photo credit:  JAFI Israel via flickr]

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Should you cancel your vacation to Israel?


Allow me to spoil the surprise:  I’ll tell you the answer up front.



But there’s another thing I wanted to share first, which actually also came to me via facebook.  This isn’t something I usually do; I figure if you want to follow me on facebook, you can.

(Didn’t know that yet?  Follow AliyahLand on facebook!  Follow me personally on Twitter!)


[can anyone tell me why all my graphics are surrounded by this annoying white frame?!?!]

Like I said, normally what happens on facebook stays on facebook.  But in this case, these two things felt more important than most given the barrage of “stuff” that’s been falling on Israel over the last few days.

A not so fun-and-games kids’ video

I shared this video, which came with the following caption, from The Jewish Standard’s facebook page:

This song was composed by a local teacher and has been taught to hundreds of schoolchildren within firing range of Gaza's rockets to help them deal with the fear and trauma of having 15 seconds to run for cover when the Color Red siren sounds.

Despite its cheerful tune and praiseworthy goal, I was crying by the end.  It’s only a minute; please watch at least a few seconds.

And I don’t cry about stuff… well, almost never.

When I shared it, I said, “It is not fair that children have to learn this song. Kind of catchy, but if you're like me, you may cry anyway.”

But when a friend added a comment to the effect that she admired our courage… and that she didn’t think she could live here, all I could think of to say was, “It’s nothing like courage.  It’s just… life.”

I think it’s not a bad answer.

A question that answers itself

The second facebook thing I wanted to share was in response to this article on by Ariel Chesler:  Should I Cancel My Family Vacation to Israel?  He writes: 

I wish I could tell them, and you, that I am taking this trip no matter what. I wish I could tell you that I will not be deterred by terrorists attacking civilians. …

On one hand, how can I tell my family who is living this reality every day that I will not be visiting? How can I tell cousins with young children that their country is too dangerous for my children and not theirs? Isn’t the best way to support Israel to travel there …

On the other hand, I wonder will I need a gas mask to see my grandmother? Will we land in Israel and be rushed into bomb shelters? …

(read the rest)

My comment was short, but – I think – encapsulates exactly what I believe about this situation and every other situation that could possibly develop here.

Jews outside of Israel often forget that our destinies are linked. As Mordechai told Esther, "Don't think that just because you're in the palace, you alone out of all the Jews will be spared." We are all in this together, and you are not safe anywhere if we are not safe here.

You know my answer… now here’s why

Here’s what it comes down to:  “The truth is,” Chesler writes, “I don’t know what will happen.”

We sure don’t.

In Israel or in North America, you don’t know what will happen.  That’s because you don’t run the world. 

What do I mean by that?

Your decision to get on a plane does not in any way affect Hashem’s decision to keep you alive (or not).  If your time is up, your time is up, whether you’re in Machane Yehuda or driving on the Long Island Expressway when that moment comes.

But the one thing we do know from our history is that it’s impossible to hide.  If “they” are coming after the Jews, they will find you wherever you happen to be.

Does that mean you should run into a burning building?

No, absolutely not.

But Israel is not a burning building.  Israel is the promised land, a land of peace and opportunity, and there is no Jewish place like it in the world. 

Sharing Israel with your children keeps them safe in a way huddling with them in the illusional “palace” of North America never could.  It teaches them that we are Jews; that we are strong. 

That we will win.

It doesn’t take courage to come here.  It’s just life.  The kind of Jewish life the terrorists (in this and previous generations) have dedicated themselves to eradicating.

So… should you cancel your vacation? 

Another tidbit I posted on facebook yesterday that might answer your question:  I booked a plane ticket to bring our older daughter back in September.

Sure, I’m hoping there will be peace by then.  But whatever is going on around us, as a Jew, she belongs here… and so do you.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The mystery of English place names in Israel - SOLVED.


Tomorrow, we’re going to visit our friends who live in… Tzfat?  Tsfat?  Maybe its ultra-weird English name, Safed? 

No problem, though, we’ll just catch a bus from where we live in Kiryat… no, make that, Qiryat… hmm, or Qeeriyat… Shemuel.  Shmuel?



English place names here can make you crazy.

If you’re lucky, the English version bears some resemblance to the actual place name, ie what the people who live there call it.  Sometimes, it doesn’t.  

A minor example:  Haifa.  Before I lived here, I had no idea, really, if it was a “H” or a “Ch” at the front.  Is it “Hi” as in, “Hi, howya doin’?”  Or “Chhhhhai” as in “Le’chhhhhayim!”  (turns out it’s a Ch)

Some places are impossible to guess.  For various historical linguistic reasons, even one of the most currently newsworthy areas, the Gaza Strip (let’s think of it as part of Israel for a moment) is actually called Aza in Hebrew. 

Blame it on the Crusaders

But the city spelled “Acre”?  Let’s pronounce it Akko.  I think that one is the Crusaders’ fault.

Safed?  Hmm… better pronounce that one Tzefat.  If you’re Ashkenazi and not going anywhere other than shuls and graves of holy people, you may be able to get away with calling it Tzefas, but don’t try it in the rest of the country.

Some of this is the fault of Christianity, which has popularized these ridiculous names.  It’s hard to unlearn 2000 years worth of Bible study.  Here are some of the good place names Christians have ruined permanently.

Joppa?  Say it Yaffo

Tiberias?  Teveria.

One of my favourites, for the way it fails to trip of the tongue, is the now no-longer-a-town, Capernaum… or, in Hebrew, kfar Nachum.

Halfway through her school year, our older daughter started referring to the city where she lived, most pretentiously, as Jer-oo-zalem.  Another Crusader / Christian legacy, I’m sure.  The rest of us stuck with Yerushalayim.

Sometimes, Israelis are so confident in the rightness of their pronunciation that they act like they don’t care a bit how it’s written in English.  After all, it’s right there in Hebrew character, and Hebrew (unlike English) is a totally phonetic language. 

So who needs English?

English speakers, that’s who.

Somebody has already (in Hebrew) beaten me to the punch with this article (here’s the Google English version) to complain about street signs here in the Krayot, with a pretty funny collection of signs spotted in Kiryat Bialik, considered one of the “nicer” Krayot… but not, I guess, in terms of its English literacy.


Yes, they have spelled the name of one of the world’s best-known Israeli military leaders and statesmen “Mina Aham Begin.” 

Remember, these signs were all collected from the SAME very small city.  Somebody in City Hall could probably just keep a list of all the street names and consult it when they need to order a new sign.

The secret – revealed!

But they probably do more like what they were doing in the passport office where we happened to be waiting for another reason a few weeks ago. 

Here is the secret of English place names in Israel and how they come to be so very, very wonky.

When the clerk had to transcribe a person’s name into English for his passport, she called out to the office in general, “How do you spell ‘Danny’ in English?” 

When one of her clerk friends started guessing (wrong; she left off the extra “n”) I called out the answer from where I was sitting in the waiting area.

The guy was doing about thirty passports, I think, for every living member of his family, and eventually – literally after 40 minutes - we left in disgust.  But not before helping out with the spelling of 5 names in English that would have been transcribed disastrously wrong had we not been sitting right there at the time.

THAT, my friends, is how street signs are made in Israel. 

I have solved the mystery, and here is how it happens:  the clerks call out to their friends, “How do you spell ‘Menachem’ in English?” … and whoever answers first calls it.

More signs of madness

One that really drove me crazy when I saw it in person was a street in the Old Port of Jaffa (Yaffo?) named after famous French guy Louis Pasteur. 

image image

(“How do you spell PASTER?” the clerk called to her friend.)

(I took this picture myself while my sister was begging me to come see the sites; I knew it would come in handy someday!)

It’s not like this is hard.  He himself personally wrote his name every day in English (well, French) characters.  So on the sign, you spell it… like he spelled it.  Apparently, that type of standardization and reliance on others goes against the Israeli spirit.

One of the wonkiest signs I turned up is nearby in Haifa, though I haven’t seen it in person:  Captain Steve Street / Rechov Keptin Steve.

You can see the main illuminated sign above, but what I love is that sometimes in and around Israel, we’ve seen these smaller signs that don’t light up but do tell you a little bit about the person for whom they’re named.  Usually they’re a general or politician, but occasionally, you come across something interesting.  Perhaps someday soon I’ll go there in person to figure out what this sign is telling me.

image image

In the meantime, I have the Internet, which tells me – in this article from December, 1966, that he was a Spanish captain who brought “illegal immigrants” during the British mandate (those are the article’s quotes quotes, not mine; to me, they were actually illegal at the time; it was just a bad law):

The street… was named “Captain Steve Gate” for Captain Esteban Hernandorene, who was known to the “illegal immigration workers” as “Steve.” Born in Spain in 1905, he died in Haifa last year after serving the Zim lines where his son is now an officer.

Attending the ceremony were Jewish seamen, veterans of the second wave of prestate immigrants, naval officers and Catholic clergymen. The latter took part because Captain Hernandorene had been a Catholic. Poet Nathan Alterman said of the Spanish hero that “we shall yet read songs and poems of this fleet small and grey, and of you, too, Captain.”

Now there’s a story (to read more, here’s Captain Steve’s story in his own words).  I guess there is one, behind every one of those wonky street signs and place names.

Want to know something else weird?  Did you catch the name of that poet?

Here’s where I got off the bus this morning to walk in to work.


Natan Alterman Street.

Until I sat down to write this, I had no idea who he was either.

Not only is there a story behind every place name… but it seems they’re all connected in this tiny, besieged land of ours.  Pray for the peace (piece?  peece?) of Jerusalem and the country that surrounds her.

To the stories, to the connections, to the wonky street signs… to life.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Things that are weird in Israel #9: bathroom windows


Do you like your privacy in the bathroom?

Hello, yes, it’s me, still obsessing over the bathrooms here.  I started this series thinking I’d better get down the stuff that tickles me while I can, before it all starts to seem commonplace.

But (and maybe this is just because I’m a bit juvenile that way) bathrooms continue to amuse me everywhere we go (one reason I enjoy Batya’s infrequent series, A Pisher’s Guide to Jerusalem).

Something tells me I’m not the only one.  My fifth most popular post here is a Things that are cool in Israel episode all about Israeli bathrooms.  And people are apparently Googling Israeli bathrooms at an astonishing rate.  I hope I can help satisfy your curiosity and earn myself a slice of immortality.

(How can I blog about bathrooms when other Israelis are running to shelters?  Listen, as my mother says, if I wasn’t laughing, I’d have to cry.)

In some ways, Israelis seem to “get” the idea of bathroom privacy, even more than in North America. 

In public bathrooms, for example, the stall walls usually go almost all the way to the floor (except the annoying modern ones that seem to be copying the North American model).  Generally, public bathrooms, even the most rudimentary, are more sturdy, soundproof and private here.

(Though I shouldn’t be too smug; it’s more likely here than in North America that the seat itself, a valuable amenity, has mysteriously either been forgotten or stolen.)

Yet in the midst of all this privacy, there’s also an obsession with putting a window in every bathroom.  Ideally, in every stall.  It’s like they think that the fumes are going to kill you if you have to be closed in with them for too long.

I already shared with you the pictures of our bathroom window in the merkaz klitah.  In this picture, the right window is the bathroom; the one on the left is the shower room, which was separate in that apartment.  This is the “outside” of the windows.  This style always opens downward into the bathroom.


Our new apartment has a different style – your basic swinging-on-a-hinge design which, when open, affords absolutely ZERO privacy.

Here’s the view from the inside.  Akiva’s working in the kitchen, but I called him over to say hello.


On the kitchen side, the view looks like this:


This lets me spy on the kids’ bathtimes, or, in this case, figure out what Naomi’s trying to do to her Barbie doll’s hair (ruin it with overbrushing, then overbrush it in a frantic attempt to smooth it out again).


One more weird thing about Israeli public bathrooms.  In North America, when you get into the stall, the door swings freely, and then there is some type of mechanism to latch the door. 


The mechanism varies, but in general, a single mechanism does both things – closes the door AND locks it.  So when you’re done, you only have to unlatch the door and it’s pretty much open.

Here in Israel, for whatever reason, they have made this a two-step operation.  Almost every public bathroom has two things:  a handle (not a doorknob) to open and close the door, and a latch to lock it. 

To get out, you have to reverse things:  unlock the door, then open it with the handle.  I don’t know why this is, at all. 

I’m thinking maybe they should visit North America and see how productively we use all the nanoseconds we save by not having to repeatedly rescue ourselves from bathrooms (or, in my case, trying to shove the door open because I’ve forgotten there’s also a handle).

Are you willing to bear with me for one more potty-related quirk?

Wherever you are, it’s easy to tell which room is the bathroom, without asking for directions, because every bathroom door seems to have one of two things:  a window or a peephole.

In the merkaz klitah, we had a window.  They’re frosted, of course, for privacy.


You might think they’re there to let in light, but in this case, more light would have come in the window above the toilet, because the bathroom door opens onto a hallway.

Our current apartment’s bathroom door features the Mysterious Hole instead.  Here’s the outside view.


Close up, you can see that it’s not just a hole… it has a weird, broken kind of mesh over it to – um, what?  Stop lizards from creeping in while you’re bathing?  Stop people from peeking in?  (See aforementioned GIANT GAPING WINDOW.)


Here is the inside view.


I literally haven’t figured out the useful purpose of the peephole.  It’s not big enough, plus it’s too weird and dusty, to provide significant ventilation or light. 

And if somebody comes a-knockin’ at the door, what are the odds that they won’t be able to just say their name when you ask who it is?  It’s not like you need to peek out to see who’s there.

This post has gone on too long, but remind me sometime to tell you about the Crusader Bathrooms in Akko.  Really, truly.  It’s a Real True Thing.

They say Israel is a Land of Mystery.  Well, actually, I didn’t read that anywhere; I just made it up.  But it could be true. 

As you can see, there is plenty here that is mysterious. (Where do those toilet seats go?  Are people too cheap to buy them, so they have to steal one from the Afula bus station?  Who are these people who are googling “bathrooms in Israel” and driving up my rankings?)

Until I find out, you have my promise that if something bathroom-related happens in Israel, I won’t stop blogging until I get to the bottom of it.

(“Oooh, she said ‘bottom!’” all my British readers are cooing.)

I mean… until I have plumbed the very depths of the mystery.

You know what I mean… right?

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה