Sent on the go in the Holy Land - please excuse my typos!!
Friday, August 30, 2013
Sent on the go in the Holy Land - please excuse my typos!!
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Just got home now to discover that the elevator is working, after a 2-day hiatus. Thank you, Hashem, for small mercies... and maybe you could also help Syria sleep very, very well the next few nights?
Sent on the go in the Holy Land - please excuse my typos!!
p.s. wanted to include these pics to not dwell but quickly sum up what happened next.
After 7 more hours’ waiting (nearby, in Kiryat Motzkin this time) on Monday…
We have gas masks for the whole family!
Let’s hope we will never have to see what’s inside the boxes…
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
It turns out I’m not supposed to take pictures of GZ’s gan, but I managed to snap a couple before I was informed, first in broken English and then in Hebrew as it became clear that even though I didn’t know the rule, I did know enough Hebrew to understand it now and would be sure not to take more pictures in future.
(It was kind of a nice milestone, in fact: the first time, in negotiating the language barrier, that the three Hebrew speakers in the room realized that my Hebrew was better than their collective English, so they just dropped the effort and started speaking Hebrew.)
I am actually pretty pleased with the gan so far. It’s not huge, the teachers seem reasonably warm and nurturing (as compared to the mainly-punitive itinerant music teacher who – after she informed me of the taking-pictures rule, resumed snapping at the kids to go back to their places and stop bugging each other), and the kids seem happy. The rooms themselves, with their charmingly miniature furniture, are spotlessly clean and the playground outside, though the kids haven’t been there yet according to GZ, is quite nice, with a big shady tree.
The school isn’t Montessori by any means, but when I left this morning, GZ was working very seriously at a peg board and when I came back and asked him what he’d played, he said they didn’t play at all. I love that attitude: I don’t know if it’s the school or just his innate seriousness, but I think the activities there are treated, as with the Montessori way, as the “work” of the children, and handled with respect and set procedures. Like I said, charming.
Yet I did somehow think he’d be in gan with kids named Shmuel or Yaakov or Moshe or … I dunno… Yair and Tzur or whatever and not… um, Almansh and Bekalo? But I did the default and cheapest thing and registered him in the gan of the merkaz klitah, which – until GZ came along – was 100% Ethiopian.
Still, they’re cute kids and they haven’t beaten him up yet, so there’s a plus.
Another interesting, but unrelated, plus of living in a mainly-Ethiopian building is that the women dress very modestly, even the ones who don’t seem like they’re typically observant: long sleeves, skirts, headscarves. Except for the teenagers, none of the girls would dream of wearing pants.
They are not all religious – some men wear kippahs, some kids attend secular schools, etc – but they all seem very close-knit from up here, and very far from us, culturally, a distance I suspect we will never really begin to traverse.
Monday, August 26, 2013
Batya over at me-ander has written before (I swear, that post originally had pictures) about the practicality of Israelis when it comes to shoes, and this is something I’m finding very refreshing. (I always wore what was comfortable, especially since my ankle was broken two years ago, but at least now, I fit right in!)
And yet, every day I puzzle over chayalot travelling around the country in pretty much full army gear like their male companions… but with very cute and not-exactly-practical-for-battle model sandals. These are about average; some are prettier and less practical, others closer to the basic army-boot model.
(typical chayelet shoes, seen on the train from the airport to Haifa)
I don’t know if they carry their battle shoes with them or (more likely, I think) if they’re doing the sorts of jobs that can be done in pretty sandals.
Meanwhile, these are not the shoes of a chayelet:
That’s my daughter’s friend, from Canada. I picked the two of them up at the airport today and they’re off to start seminary in Yerushalayim tomorrow.
(Atypical sem-girl shoes, seen on the same train from the airport to Haifa)
Oh, yeah, the chayalot also usually carry purses. I guess it’s just strange to me because any time I’ve seen women in the Canadian military (rare; I have a cousin in the army but haven’t really seen her in all her gear), they are ALL done up – hair up, boots on, the whole nine yards; as indistinguishable from male soldiers as possible given their obvious physical differences.
Hmm… if women have to be in the military, I think I like the “softer” Israeli model better…
So you are probably going to get sick of me bragging about the mind-blowingly delicious produce here. I promise, I’ll keep it to a minimum and not praise every pomegranate we see growing freely in people’s backyards. (Also, to be honest, the cucumbers are cheap and plentiful but are teeny weeny and don’t taste fantastic.)
But I just have to mention – pineapple!
If you have never had one of these fresh, local teeny-weeny little palm-sized pineapples, you are in for a REAL treat.
First of all, if you are used to super-sweet imported North American supermarket pineapples, as we are, you will not be disappointed by the sugar level in these sweeties. They may look pint-sized, but they pack a huge wallop of sugar. But the first thing that hits you isn’t the sweetness, it’s the fragrance – you can easily smell them across the room, if not farther.
But beyond sweet, there is another flavour element that’s completely missing in import pineapples. These ones are almost salty, definitely a savoury layer that explains a lot about why pineapples are so often found in meat dishes (they probably have a marinating/tenderizing effect as well, like papaya does).
And the third important thing about this cutie is that it is SOFT, almost mushy. Not as mushy as the mango we ate yesterday (well, the kids ate it; I am still a fruit xenophobe and cannot eat any fruit I was not served as a 3-year-old), but definitely not firm enough to stand up to the rigours of being tossed in a crate and shipped across an ocean, then via rail, to Canadian supermarkets. Which is probably why, if you’re not here, you’ve never tasted a pineapple quite like this before.
Back in Canada, I used to marvel at all the people who’d buy raspberries when we had the most amazing, bursting-ripe berries free in our backyard. Raspberries simply cannot be shipped and sold when they are ripe – they’re too fragile. So, by definition, raspberries in stores (and to some extent, at farmers’ markets) are not in prime eating condition.
I always thought pineapples were almost like coconuts: rock hard and willing to travel anywhere. Now I realize that they probably shouldn’t go more than a couple of hours if you’re going to experience them at their best.
(Did I mention the produce is often ridiculously cheap? Two of these little pineapples cost 10 shekels, about $2.75 or $3 Canadian!!! Almost but not quite makes up for the high prices of everything else…)
Like I said, I promise I won’t write about every bite of Israeli produce I consume (and some produce, like garlic, still is imported, often from China).
But I’ll probably reserve some future space here for rhapsodizing about my first local grapefruit, in the wintertime. And I do believe that if we have to live in a tiny besieged little country, a nice side effect is the equation that makes it ridiculous to import – perhaps impossibly or at great expense – produce that will more than happily grow in a field somewhere in the Galil…
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Sent on the go in the Holy Land - please excuse my typos!!
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Day Nine – The Photo Essay of the Beach
So, you want photos? You want laughs? And DANGER?
Tonight’s post has all of that and more!
First, the funny part!
As you know, the kiddies and I usually finish the day with a quick swim as well as some serious sandcastle building (RE: photos)
By quick swim, picture me standing in waist deep water holding onto one or both kids as they are helplessly tossed around by the relentless waves of the Mediterranean Sea.
We call the big waves “The Baddies”, which come every 15 to 30 seconds and I love how the giant waves splash over the kids heads.
It like watching someone throw a bucket of water right into their face!
Let us pause and look at Naomi resting in the water with an endless beach behind her and the city of Haifa on the hills behind her (which you can't see because of the humid fogginess in the background) Oh yes, that is our apartment in the background on the left.
Where was I? Oh yes, getting hit in the face with a wave being like getting a bucket of water in your face! Hilarious and cruel all at the same!!!
CHECK IT OUT!
And now for the danger part!
Between waves, I do sort of cringe a bit feeling the undertow rush between my legs, and while holding onto Gavriel’s arm, watching his little body start pointing out toward the open sea.
Though I did a test today, of not holding on to the kids, and as I thought, the undertow did pull them a few feet away. But they would then stand up during the lull in the waves, run over to me and start “the funny game” all over again!
Hmmm, I’m not sure what is the dangerous part in this story is; the undertow itself or my willingness to test the survival of the kids in rough waters…
I’m sitting outside a bank in Haifa while Tzivia Jennifer MacLeod is inside trying to extract some money. Sure, she’s probably NOT having the happiest time in the world, but I think I’ve got it worst. Twenty feet away from me is one of those buskers playing away on his cheesy, 60’s sounding electric organ. While I don’t mind the kitschy sound itself, (in fact, I really enjoy it), the guy keeps playing “Spanish Flea” over and over and over again. I think it is the only song he knows how to play.
That, in itself, would be fine, except for a few odd elements to his playing.
So far, he has run through the same song about five times already and I keep waiting to hear the chorus to the song, which I am now convinced that he has no clue how it goes. Whenever it is time to play the actual chorus, he bridges off into some Russian song, or sometimes I suspect he just makes up a few bars of something that could almost be “The Girl From Ipanema”, but not quite.
And if you think playing the same song over and over could get monotonous, every few minutes, he will try to mix it up, by switching the organ from Brass Horns to Harp Strings or whatever settings he has, to make it sound different. This is what he calls changing it up??? IT’S DRIVING ME INSANE!!!
(So we figured how to get the money we desperately need right now, without having a bank account yet, by using the “InnerNet” to wire money from our Canadian bank accounts to the nearby Western Union office here in Israel. A temporary fix, but what a production!)
Day Seven - One Week Down, A few thousand more to go…
“Attention group of swimmers from the school trip!” said the Hebrew lifeguard on the beach this morning, “STOP pretending to be drowned and floating lifeless in the water, IT IS NOT FUNNY!”
How many times have I seen Israeli kids plop down in the water and act like this? More times that you would think, it must be some universal public beach joke that I don’t know about. Weird.
This morning I set out on my own (in a foreign, non-English speaking country) to exchange that broken fan from yesterday. I took the same 59 bus, so getting there was no problem. When I got to the “electricity store”, with my head full of possible confrontations that I would be expecting for having the gall in trying to return a broken item, I set the fan down on a counter and waited for someone to notice me. Yeah, I know, such un-Israeli behaviour. Nevertheless, I immediately spoke to a nice clerk at the store in English and quickly exchanged the fan for a new one that typically of this store, would be ready for pickup TOMORROW. Oh well, at least I didn’t have to shlep to a service center.
After this easy task, I walked next door to a huge grocery store to see what was what in the world of different groceries. I found some old favs like Helman’s mayonnaise and Nutella on sale, so I picked them up so we would have some “comfort items” in the house. The meat selection was pretty good, although frozen salmon was so expensive. Like 60 – 70 shekels each, which is more than $20. Fruit and veg were extremely cheap, but I was puzzled that I couldn’t find ANY macaroni and cheese for the kids.
I ran into Tzivia and the kids at the local market after my bus ride back and we swung by a park on the way home. Right beside the park was Naomi’s possible Grade three classroom for the next few months. I thought it looked nice and had a little girl feel to it, although Naomi didn’t think much of it.
Once home, Tzivia immediately went out shopping as well as to enjoy a bit of kid-less freedom, while I planned to take the Littles down for their daily beach run. Just as we were ready to go, there was a knock at the door. A new OLIM (immigrant) named Eva had just arrived today and didn’t know anyone who spoke English, so the social worker downstairs, Nitsie (I think her name is) brought her up to chat. I talked for a bit and then invited her to come back at 6:30 for dinner, remembering how nice it was when someone made dinner for us on arriving in Israel last week.
So we went swimming and when we returned, Tzivia also arrived with raw chicken for tonight. We cooked it up in a home-made white wine sauce (wine is cheap here, but cooking sauce is expensive, go figure) and had Eva over for dinner. Eva’s story is a bit different than ours. She is from New York and is here to go to school, taking Nutrition courses or something, and is more interested in touring the country and making friends. Making friends, please… young people…
Okay good-night everybody! I’m going to taper off these notes a bit after this week because I need to concentrate of finding a job now, (ugh!), so I am going to redirect these creative energies a bit. I will now only be writing the really interesting stuff that happens from now on, such as the hassles we've been having all week trying to open a bank account before our on-hand money runs out, yikes!
Day Six – Fanning the Flames of Anger
“ATTENTION ALL SWIMMERS!!!” said the Hebrew speaking lifeguard over his bullhorn, ”the black flags we put on the beach means it’s too dangerous to swim in the water!! Don’t any of you idiots get it?? TOO DANGEROUS!!!!! Aww, forget it…” (At least that is how I translate what they are saying)
Yeah, I just read this pamphlet about swimming in Israel and how there are white, red and black flags indicating various levels of danger. All this time, the kids and I were swimming between the red and black flags because we thought that is where the lifeguards were most intently watching us.
So we took the kids down to the Camp they run here in the building for all the kids. For today’s project, they were making a large six foot sailboat out of a wire frame, newspapers and paint. A little ambitious, I thought, but you know what? The kids were really into it and I started to see how this could be an ALL DAY activity that would keep the Ethiopian Jewish kids busy. (Tzivia reminded me that they are not just Ethiopian kids, they are also Jewish. Good point.) The Russian Jewish teacher started to nickname Gavriel “Gavi”, which he didn’t seem to mind and Naomi really enjoyed the focused, non-verbal group activity with the other little girls.
After lunch, we took the 59 bus over to a nearby plaza where Tzivia had ordered a fancy, new fan from one of the many electrical stores there. I think the store was called “Big Electricity”. Anyway, Tzivia got all excited when she spotted an IKEA sign nearby, which we found out later, would open in another six months. We got the fan and had to leave quickly, to avoid a toy store the kids wanted to stop at. As a result, the kids also missed out on getting a treat from the store that we promised them.
I took Gavi home while Tzivia and Naomi got off the bus to do a little grocery shopping. Once home I thought I would be awesome by starting to put together the fan together before my dear wife got home. I actually had most of it together when she arrived. The grand moment was when I turned on the fan and it rattled a strange thin whirring sound from the motor.
“Are you telling me you didn’t test the motor before putting it all together?” I admit that I still had that North America faith in consumer products that actually work when you bring them home. Oh, I have so much to learn. I didn’t realize this, but you can’t return items to the store you bought them back in Israel. They won’t take them. You have to go to a specific company service center to get it fixed, which I have to do tomorrow. Ugh! You can say this little situation caused some testiness this afternoon!
At six-thirty, I took the kids for our ritual, before supper swim, this time staying on the safe side of the red flags. The kids had asked their mother if I would buy them a Popsicle after swimming and I was surprised that she agreed. (They missed out on a treat at the plaza…) So after a bouncy swim, (Were the waves a little higher tonight or am I now paranoid?), we stopped at the beach bar where they serve food, booze and a crazy array of Nestle popsicles and ice-cream bars. The kids picked a Popsicle that comes with a toy inside and we raced home for supper, followed by a Popsicle dessert.
And now I sit here waiting for the kids to stop whispering in their bedroom and go to sleep.
Planning our aliyah, I said over and over that I didn’t think we could live in Yerushalayim, for many reasons, but that there’s no point in living in this country if we can’t get there on a regular basis.
The answer is: it’s an easy trip – for an adult. For the kids, it’s a bit much.
For an adult, it costs ₪42 (about $12-14) from the Haifa bus station, plus the local fare to get to the bus station. Normally, that’s ₪5.50, but because they’ve just unveiled and are working the kinks out of a new super-duper high-speed Haifa transit system, the Metronit, it’s temporarily free to get to the bus station – bonus!!!
Time-wise, the Metronit makes it much easier, replacing a bus that was annoyingly slow the 2-3 times we had to take it during our short stay here. But in order to get to the station free and save the ₪5.50 (per person!), we have to walk to the Metronit, which is not exactly close. So what with kid-walking-speed taken into account, the travel time to the Haifa station is still about one hour. Drat.
The bus to Yerushalayim leaves once an hour (a bit more often during rush hour). Once you’re on the bus, it takes exactly 2 hours to get there, not a bad stretch of time, but a restless one for little people. We brought books and other forms of entertainment, but it still felt a little on the long side.
(The bus was full both ways. On the way home, as luck would have it, the last seat on the bus, ie mine, was waaaaay up at the front of the bus, far away from Ted/Akiva and the kiddies. So I had a nice, relaxing ride while they made him crazy the whole way back to Haifa. The last couple of passengers, both times, spent the trip sitting on the floor.)
Arriving in Yerushalayim, I noticed a difference in the weather immediately. They say it because it’s true: “It’s a DRY heat.” Yerushalayim is bone-dry right now. So’s Haifa, but here, we have the damp, salty Mediterranean air, with a humidity often reaching into the 90% range. There, you drink and drink and drink and drink… and it all evaporates out your pores.
It is VERY dry in Yerushalayim; did I mention that? But that means that when there’s a breeze, it feels nice. In the shade, it feels nice. Most importantly, the stickiness that has clung to our skin for the last 12 days finally evaporated, leaving us feeling slightly human again.
Our “errands” for the day were: daven at the kosel (kotel, western wall), find lunch somewhere afterwards, get ice cream at the place I saw near the kosel back in February, stroll through machaneh yehudah market (shuk) and then meet an old friend so our kids could play with her kids. Oy – too much for one day out with kids!!!
By the time the bus pulled into the merkazit (central bus station) in Yerushalayim, the kids were starving and melty, so we shuffled the priorities and added Aroma iced coffee to the list, stopping at the super-cool Big Apple Pizza near Yaffo Street.
The pizza was very nice, though I refused (now that we’re officially Not Tourists) to let the kids buy sugary drinks to go along with them. They knew we planned to get ice cream later anyway.
However, stopping off BEFORE the kosel meant a longer walk to the kosel itself… a hot, sunny shlep until we reached the Old City, where all the weird covered alleyways were about 15 degrees cooler.
Eventually, we made it to the kosel:
It sounds redundant to say it was sunny there, too, but the big open plaza made it feel EXTRA sunny. Some of the ladies were taking shade under a temporary construction bridge across the ladies’ section, but most of those seats were taken. Anyway, I told the kids we wouldn’t stay long, and just did a couple of chapters of tehillim (psalms) before turning around.
Well, not literally. There’s a minhag (custom) to not turn your back on the kosel, just as you wouldn’t turn around and walk away from royalty; it’s just rude. Some people don’t know and just turn around and leave; others take it to an extreme and walk backwards the whole way out. I kind of do a compromise where I go backwards until I feel I’m not really “there” anymore and that it would be ridiculous to back up any farther. Then I turn around.
By the time we’d worked our way back through the warrens of the Christian Quarter, the rest of the plan had kind of gone to pieces because we were late. My friend was very time-constrained, as her son was coming home from school soon (chareidi boys’ schools started back on Rosh Chodesh Elul).
We tried to catch a cab, with no luck, so took the train to machaneh yehudah instead. Then we caught a cab to the park where we were to meet, only 15 minutes late. Found our friends and it was a nice playground; the kids had a good time, if not for nearly long enough.
They walked us back up almost all the way to machaneh yehudah (the shuk) and then left us on our own. Both kids were starting to complain about their legs hurting, so I promised that by the time we got to the other side of the shuk, they would have a) fresh juice drinks, b) halva, and c) a train ride back to the merkazit.
Happily, I was able to make all those dreams come true – cups of fresh limonana (icy-cool lemon-mint slushy) and countless halva samples later (yes, I bought some to bring home, but not much, because we’re NOT tourists!), we caught the train back to the merkazit.
Quickly checked the time and we had FIVE minutes to catch the return bus to Haifa!!! Pre-emptively, I had demanded a complete schedule and platform information when we arrived in the morning, knowing it might be a rush on the way home.
(Note about the bus station – if you go to a “tickets” window and ask for information, they will yell at you; if you go to the “information” window, they may still yell at you, but they will also happily give you all the information you need, and it is very, very useful!)
(She yelled because I asked for the schedule and then clarified because I didn’t think she’d understood me, so she yelled that she was getting it already. It may not have been actual yelling, but it was scary to my Canadian ears.)
I was happy now that I had done all that already, but I also knew that when security is tight, it can take way more than five minutes just to line up and get in to the merkazit, let alone three floors up to the departures platforms (ratzif, ratzif, ratzif… must stop calling them “ritzpah” (floor) instead of “ratzif” (platform).)
Weirdly, for some reason, there was NO security. Like, the door was wide open and the security guy was doing something else. He didn’t even wave us in; he didn’t even look. We ran up the escalators, ran to the platform (ratzif!) and eventually made it into the last four seats.
Exactly two hours later, we pulled in to the Haifa merkazit, and an hour after that, we tumbled sleepily into the apartment, two hours late for a Skype call with my mother, which lasted about two minutes.
Ted / Akiva had the BRILLIANT idea of having hot dogs for supper (oops, yes, we are eating a lot of meats-with-preservatives these days; hopefully it will average out over a lifetime). I was totally craving them after the delicious-smelling hot-dog stand we always pass in the merkazit in Yerushalayim. It is very, very nice to be able to find kosher buns at any hour.
GOOD: When we got home, a fedex was waiting for me with the replacement for my VISA card which was cancelled last week. They refused to mail it to my mother’s house but spent however-much to fedex it to me across the Atlantic. Whatever; I’m happy it’s here. Also, we found a bank machine that worked with our cards, all the way down there in Yerushalayim. Good to know, though it may be the only one in the entire country!
BAD: We dropped off Ted / Akiva at the store to buy the hot dogs and I took the kids home on the local bus (yes, I spent the ₪5.50 per person – GZ was so tired on the Metronit that I had to give him a Werther’s candy to keep him awake.) Naomi sat by herself in the back of the bus and I didn’t notice she got off without her “teek” – the brand-new extra-huge-for-school Roots backpack her Aunt Cheryl bought her when she came to Toronto 2 weeks ago. :-( So I have to call Egged Haifa lost-and-found in the morning and figure out how to tell them we moronically lost our bag. Also, our teudot zehut (identity papers) are officially lost and we have to spend tomorrow shlepping around replacing them. That’s actually kind of good news – by this time tomorrow, we may have them at last.
Friday, August 16, 2013
It wafts up to the window here on the fourth floor (which, like in England, is really the fifth floor), and while we get a stronger signal at night for some reason (maybe because the sun / heat isn’t interfering?), evening is prime-time for everybody else in the building who wants to use the wifi signal.
So the image started out pretty good but deteriorated pretty quickly. Still, it was nice to chat with friends. So far, we have skyped with Ted’s father in Ottawa, these friends in Toronto, and YM (our older son in Toronto), who interrupted this conversation to say hi to the kids. I told him we’d call him right back and the kids got to say goodnight, then I bentsched him.
I know it’s not the same as a real playdate, but honestly, this is simply marvellous. It has never, ever, in the history of anything, been easier to be away from your most beloved people and still feel like you’re right around the corner… (and did I mention, all 3 calls were FREE???)
Monday, August 12, 2013
Day Five (Sunday)
Woke up again to the comforting Hebrew words of the lifeguard on his bull-horn this morning. “Hey, you MORONS, don’t swim out so far!! Don’t you know there are sharks in the area?”
Went downstairs with the kiddies and were told to come back at 11:00 for a big “clown” show that they were putting on for all the kids in the building. So we came back at the designated time as the show was beginning. The show, which consisted of the typical speaker setup that all Israeli shows have, (playing upbeat, yet mournful music), a laser light machine, a bubble machine, a small stage decorated with a playful pirate theme and the “clown”. The clown being a guy in a sweaty t-shirt and a silver hat.
The clown did a few kid-friendly tricks such as setting a book on fire and making things with balloons, among others, a toilet seat that he hung around a kid’s head. Then he really put the kids through their paces with tug of war games and potato sack races, all within the fifteen foot confines of the stage.
My kids sat watching, probably in horror, at all this culture shock. At the end they had the dancing part of the show. Imagine a room full of about 30 Ethiopian kids dancing first to the Macerena, followed by the embarrassing Gangnam-style, with a few stern Russian teachers trying to encourage my two little white-bread, home-schooled children into participating. Forget it!
Later on in the day, we went to the beach before supper. I was hoping to tire them out, so the bedtime routine would be easier, which it never is. It usually ends with GZ shouting that he “ISN’T TIRED!”, followed by a little bit of bothering of Naomi, before he finally settles down.
(the picture isn’t Ted’s, it’s mine, and shows Naomi Rivka’s school, which I found on my way home from the optometrist, where I went to fix Gavriel Zev’s broken glasses – which they did for free, and even complimented me on my good Hebrew!!! Note to self: “ofen” means nosepiece. I think.)
Day Four of the Israel Initiative
Okay, there you go! Our first Shabbos in Kiryat Yam, what an… interesting experience! Last night I was sent out to find a shul (synagogue) that someone told Tzivia Jennifer MacLeod was just down the street at number 25. Only problem is that none of the apartments or houses or whatever has an address written on it! It’s like no-one wants anyone to know where they live. So I walked up the street looking for a shul among a group of dingy apartments. (This really isn’t the richest part of town. Compared to Haifa next door, with its amazing architecture and quaint shops, Kiryat Yam is a bit ghetto)
Suddenly, boom! Like somebody plopped this beautiful building down from heaven, there was this grand, menorah topped entranceway to a clean, spacious courtyard leading into a stately entrance of a shul. “This must be the place” I thought, “that, or a great movie set for some probably tragic, Jewish movie.”
I went in with my little English translated siddur (prayer book), sat down and scanned through my book to see if I could find out where the congregation was in the davening (prayer service). And so I’m scanning and scanning, still waiting to see if I can pick up any key Hebrew words that will indicate where they are. And I was scanning for a really long time before I finally heard the beginning of the Shabbot night prayers. There was like 20 minutes of stuff that I’ve never heard before. What kind of a place had I stumbled into???
I went home to tell Tzivia Jennifer MacLeod about how this crazy place added about 30 to 40 minutes of material that was in MY book. “Are they Ashkenazi?” Tzivia Jennifer MacLeod asked. I wasn’t sure, but I said I would go back the next morning and look a little closer to see there were any clues to indicate that the heck was going on.
The next morning I sat there again and yes, right away they were adding more material. One guy came up to me out of the blue with a basket of little velvet pouches and said “take one” in Hebrew. I gave him the international expression of “what-is-this-for”? “Bar mitzvah” he said and walked away. The pouch was filled with candies, so maybe you are supposed to throw them at the bar mitzvah boy, as is traditionally done? But then I saw that all the men were putting the pouches away for later. When things started to get going, the women began to throw more candies, which maybe because there weren’t too many kids around, the men picked them up and also kept them for themselves. Crazy!
So I noticed the following things. Not too many kids around. Weird. The men there all looked like burly construction workers. It actually reminded me of the movie Goodfellas with all those mafia hitmen. Then there were a bunch of guys doing sign-language all over the place. Was it the Deaf Guy Construction Workers Shul? Or something far sinister???
The good thing about it all was the Kiddush (lunch after the services). They had a large table full of all sort of amazing treats and delicacies that I have never seen before. THEE freshest, light rolls and little sweet buns and cakes and small mini-bowls full of some creamy delight and… so MUCH STUFF that you don’t see in Canada!
Tzivia Jennifer MacLeod and the kids came just as the food was being served, “good timing” I thought. Oh yeah, the davening ended at 10:00 AM, so the whole day was still ahead of us!!! The kids split this giant, fluffy cupcake and fought briefly over the cherry on top, but they were quite content. I myself tried about five different pastries and downed it with about a litre of water in one gulp.
Which reminds me… How can I drink two litres of water on average, every day now and never really have to go to the bathroom? It is quite the mystery. I know that I wrote about arriving here and sweating like a stuck pig, but after that first day, I don’t really sweat like that anymore. Sure, I will start perspiring if I put on more than two shirts at a time, but thankfully, I’m pretty dry except for the occasional moist upper lip if I am in a room without a fan.
We spent the rest of the day walking around, locating various playgrounds for the kiddies and just enjoying the cooling, ocean breeze on a hot day. At one park, Naomi was suddenly surrounded by a dozen girls who wanted to play with her. They tried to explain the rules of some complicated game of Tag with her, using Tzivia Jennifer MacLeod as their Hebrew interpreter, but I think that overwhelmed Naomi and she went all shy on them.
After Shabbos, we were completely out of bottled water, (we haven’t worked up the courage to drink the tap water yet. I’m holding out until we can get a Brita water filter deal), so I walked up to the local corner store to pick 3 two litre bottles. On the way back I saw this pizza place buzzing with people so I went in and brought home a large, double cheese pizza for Tzivia and I to share. (Double cheese, kosher and very delicious for only $12, not bad!)
So that’s it. Judge my life as you see fit.
Day Three of ProjectIsrael
J went grocery shopping and for some reason it took three hours...
I took the kiddies to the beach for sand and surf for about two hours...
Getting ready for Shabbos, kind of an all day job.
Okay, it's a short one today... later!
Tzivia Jennifer MacLeod Took 3 hours because a) I was finally able to read posters as I walked without you people making me hurry up, and it takes me 15 minutes to read each poster, b) 15 minutes in each of the Bamba, wafers, and frozen meat aisles, then 30 minutes in the "salads" aisle trying to find one that wasn't hummus-based (I did it - beets!), then c) 20-minute wait for the 4-minute bus ride I treated myself to to shlep it all home... hard work, all of it, I tell you!
I was also thinking about how run-down, yet oddly pretty this little seaside town can be from certain angles…
Here’s the view to the sea, wafting lovely breezes all the way to the grocery store (co-op shop):
Roundabouts everywhere means nobody has to stop except at a major intersection – smart! A few roundabouts are lovely, well-decorated and neatly maintained. Some are not, but here’s a good one:
Surprisingly, the drivers here are very courteous in one important way. They never EVER violate the stripey crossing-lines if a person is in them. They pull to a stop most obediently and will wait ages to let anyone cross, even a series of people. I was marvelling at this but then, later on, stepped out where there is no zebra crossing – BAD MOVE! Those same courteous drivers will run you down and KILL you if there are no stripes on the road. I guess courtesy is a 2-way street… so to speak.
Weirdly green in a few spots, most of which are carefully fenced off:
It’s not exactly what I’d call grass, and close up, you can see that there is quite some distance between the blades of whatever-it-is, but the overall effect, especially from a distance, is shockingly welcome and restful on the eyes.
So that’s what took me 3 hours just to do the grocery shopping. :-)
I meant to send this last night but you know...things happen
Anyway, here is Day Two of Project Israel
So, I forgot to mention that we live on the seashore, beside a resort called The Amigos Bar, where every morning at 8:00 AM sharp, we are awoken to the sounds of the lifeguards yelling in Hebrew through mega-phones at the early swimmers. Naomi asked me what they were saying and I paused, pretending to listen and said “Oh, he just told Shmueli to not stand on his brother’s head because he can’t breathe underwater.” Or another classic, “Hey you swimmers! Have a nice day!”
Today, we went to open a bank account, but because we didn’t have all our immigration papers completely processed yet, they wouldn’t let us open the account. So now I have to walk around with money falling out of my pockets all over the place, Oy Vey! Amir Tamari told me that Israel is “99% a great place, but there is always that 1% that screws things up”, which I am finding to be an incredibly accurate analogy.
So we turned the rest of today into a tourist day and bussed it over to the Haifa Zoo to look at things like catatonic African Lions sitting in the shade, oddly, big furry Syrian bears (how do they stand the heat?), a million kinds of snakes including the Palestian Viper and also surprisingly, some Honey Badgers (which the kids liked because it had ‘honey’ in its name).
We stopped at the Mama Shnitzel restaurant on the way home for yes, you got it, some schnitzel (glorified breaded chicken fingers). Later at home, I took the kids swimming again, this time they were a little more calm and even introspective, if you count Naomi rolling around in the water, gazing at the waves in deep thought.
And now, winding down this evening, things are still hopping over at The Amigos Bar as I can hear some horrible Karaoke singing drifting into my open window. I can’t exactly make out the words of the songs, but I think the woman with the sad voice may have won some sort of prize. Oh well, this reminds me so much of the time “The Mexicans” as I called them, lived in the house behind our backyard and used to have three day parties every weekend.
I just went to ask Ted / Akiva’s permission to repost the updates he’s been sharing on facebook and after a week of jetlag, he’s passed out asleep, yay! Which gives me total permission to share. Here’s his first update, from the first day – uncut, unedited, and utterly, utterly raw (seriously, I love Ted’s writing because it is so uninhibited, completely unlike mine).
But first – a disclaimer. This is not MY writing, it is just copied and pasted from my very talented husband, Teddy (now Akiva) MacLeod. If you like his writing, you’ll love his graphic design portfolio… when he gets around to creating one. :-/
Okay, time for the 24 hours in Israel Recap:
Left home at 2:45PM and arrived in Kiryat Yam (near Haifa up north) at 11:45 AM T.O. time (about 7PM here). That’s like 21 hours of airplanes, buses, shuttle taxis and minivan taxis with an impatient and tired five year old who at one point, lay on the floor of the airport, screaming “I WANT TO GO HOME NOW!!” Poor, poor kid.
Highlights are I finally saw Iron Man 3 on the plane, a family made a lasagna dinner for us and brought it to our door and at the end of the day we went for a walk along the miles of beach here outside of Haifa.
Spent the night sweating like crazy. So humid and I am not used to it. I'm not usually a sweater (er, yeah) but here? Man, I hope my body adjusts to this, but then again, it is the middle of August and it's supposed to get cooler come September.
This morning, a hot Russian chick who works here at the Mirkat Klita (spelling...whatever... the place we are staying temporarily for the next five months) took us for a tour of the local market place, where GZ got overheated and started screaming again. Later Jfer and Naomi went off to a bigger mall while I took GZ to the beach to look for shells. He had a great time running around, this was more his element. I promised we'd go swimming later when we got our swim suits on.
On the way back from a fruit stand, loaded down with bags of fruit, I was stopped by a black guard who said in English "Wait a minute, YOU live here????" I forgot to mention that this place is home to like 95% black Ethiopian Jews and 5% white dudes, mostly Russian, so I guess I stick out around here, but the black people here are amazingly nice. They will do anything to help you.
Anyway, the guard held out his hand and said "Welcome then, my name is Negga" and I just smiled back and mumbled my name to him. (Yes, I know I am immature and racist)
Later, I took both kids swimming in the Mediterranean Sea as the sun was beginning to set and I didn't realize it, but this was their first time swimming in an ocean with big waves and salty water. They loved it and were squealing with delight every time they were knocked over by a wave. I had to drag GZ off the beach after the sun set and it was starting to get really dark, but it was weird because we all had the awake energy of someone at one PM, which it was in Toronto.
I threw them in bed and I think they went to sleep. I don't know, I ran down to the lobby here to use the free wifi and update you with what is going on.
Okay, see you tomorrow.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
There is the "traditional Israel" way, which is the "mi acharon?"
method: when entering the office, you ask who's last ("mi acharon?")
and then, you're next. You are entitled to ask other questions of the
person in front of you, like who's in front of them and whatnot.
And then, there is the "modern Israel" way of "taking a number", which
seems more civilized to North Americans because you don't have to talk
So, fine; the post office. I arrived bright and early this morning to
mail a letter to Canada (shh... it's YM's birth certificate, but I
wrapped it in some decoy papers so it doesn't show through). I showed
the guard my bag, which annoyed him and he waved me in but said
something about a number.
There was a number machine, so I pressed the button. Nothing.
Everybody yelled at me and I quickly gathered the machine wasn't
working. (lo poel)
Happily Canadian-like, I sat down to wait my turn. I was just happy
there were lots of seats, and in my happiness, forgot to ask "mi
acharon?" which is the default system when the numbers fail. As a
Canadian, I suppose I was simply prepared to wait until all others had
But then it all fell apart when the NEXT persons came in, pushed the
button, and got yelled at in turn.
The next person shouted, "mi acharon?" and finally I squeaked "ani."
The next person asked "who's before you?"
Umm... happily, a Filipina lady who was far better-oriented than me
pointed out a man with a blue hat. Good, blue hat; I can remember
that. Kova kachol.
More people came in and figured out the line and all was progressing
nicely except that there were only 2 counters open and neither was
moving very fast.
Remember, I was there to mail ONE letter, and maybe buy a few stamps
so I wouldn't have to wait in line there next time. One letter. This
was maybe 15 minutes worth of waiting.
So anyway, all was tootling along, all nice and orderly until... a
computerized female voice loudly called out a number and announced
that the lucky person with that number should go to a particular
At which point, chaos broke out. Minor chaos, for an Israeli; major
chaos, for a Canadian.
The security guard rushed inside to tell everybody that there were no
numbers. A clerk behind the counter was (I think) insisting that
she's only serve people with numbers.
Everybody got up from their chairs and lined up, in more or less the
right order, at the number machine. No, no, no, insisted the guard.
It's not working, the numbers come up randomly, don't take a number.
Keep your turn. Or something.
So everybody sat back down again.
But somehow, as people started coming in, they were taking numbers,
until there were many people in the post office with numbers. The
line was "mi acharon" up to a point (maybe 5 or 6 after me), and then
after that, everybody had nice, sequential numbers.
And then the computer called a number again and a person with a number
went up to the counter and got pushed aside by a person without a
Time for the guard again!
In the picture here, blue-hat guy was sitting calmly, but just about
everybody before him had mobbed one of the counters to prevent a guy
from walking straight up to the counter from the door without a number
OR a "mi acharon." Chaos, I tell you. Everybody was shaking their
heads and muttering, "balagan" (chaos), which was about all I
understood because most of these people were speaking Russian.
Eventually, after the guard restored order AGAIN, everybody in the "mi
acharon" line decided to try a third lining-up strategy, since both
previous methods were failing: get in line behind the counter. I
stood behind blue-hat guy, who was behind a middle-aged Indian lady.
Now, again, I'm Canadian - I'm VERY good at lining up. This felt
okay, this felt familiar.
But then... mysteriously, the line shifted. The counter closed or
another one opened up further down. Somehow, because all the rules
had broken down, blue-hat guy ended up before the Indian lady, who
looked at him kind of betrayed, to which he shrugged. She'd snoozed
and losed: too darn bad.
Somehow, the security guard managed to restore order. He counted off
the dregs of the "mi acharon" batch behind the Indian lady, everybody
stating their place so everyone else in the office would know. Then,
he found the first "numbered" person and established her as the first
of the next batch.
And I made it to the counter, where my five-stamp transaction took
about three minutes. It would have taken less except the counter
person tried to upsell me a packet of Rosh Hashana cards.
Which I absolutely refuse complain about, even though they were tacky
cards, and overpriced, because - REALLY??? - the post office wants to
sell me a packet of Rosh Hashana cards? This is WHY I'm in a Jewish
country, however annoying the actual Jews and non-Jews residing in it
may be when their arcane line-up customs break down.
only ONE brand of most appliances... or rather, one cheapo brand that
is half the price of the costly Euro-brands, three times the price of
the familiar Canadian brands (proctor-silex, and the various cheap
wal-mart store brands etc), and made in China out of the chintziest
breakable plasticky materials available.
The brand is Gold Line, and it's everywhere, with its ludicrous
American flag and proud claim on the box of "America USA" (but
seriously, made in China). And it feels so terrible compared to the
stuff I'm used to... the parts are the wrong texture and fit together
either too tightly or too loosely, so that you know it's going to fall
apart or crack or wear out or just NOT do the job it's meant to do.
Bought a blender, toaster, and a second fan today (the apartment came
with one fan; this is the second we've bought) from a store called
something like "Electricity World." Because electricity is something
fantastic and new, so they have a whole store to sell things that use
Tomorrow, I think we'll go back to buy a Gold Line toaster oven for
₪269... by my estimate, about $90 Canadian, which is less than
everything else I've looked at for a much bigger oven. Currently, we
have NO oven and this will expand the range of home cooking / baking
we can do, thus ultimately saving money (perhaps).in the long run.
We have to go back, anyway, because the fan was out of stock and they
are shipping it from the haifa store. And secretly I was happy about
that, because I didn't want to shlep it on the bus with the other
things I bought. If we buy the toaster oven tomorrow, we might take a
cab home - it's really not too far, and it may add up to around what 4
x bus fare might.
Still have to figure out how/where to buy a Rav Kav, a bus pass that
allows you to save money. And how to get reduced-price bus fare for
Life feels a little like we're settling in, but there are always
things going on to remind you just how foreign you are. Like these
crazy Israeli "crappliances." Grrrr...
By the way, I have long said that we in North America don't pay
anywhere near the true price of the fancy appliances we take for
granted. There's no way you can make an alarm clock, toaster,
blender, etc., and ship them from China for under $20, yet they all
cost well under that in Canada. Someone is paying the price, and it's
mainly folks who have to deal with pollfution and poverty in China.
Meanwhile, here in Israel, I am grateful after the fact for the good
appliances I've enjoyed my whole life... and starting to plan what I
want for my next birthday!!!
Friday, August 9, 2013
Now you may say, "Tzivia, I know you very well and you have never even mentioned this dream!" (thanks for calling me Tzivia!)
Sent on the go in the Holy Land - please excuse my typos!!