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The Little Words

So what are we learning in ulpan??? 

Well, mainly, I’m NOT learning what the other people in my class are learning – namely, words.  I know all the words. 

If that sounds like hubris, it’s not; Ulpan Alef is designed to introduce a rudimentary vocabulary, including some 200 verbs and a whole lot of useful nouns and adjectives.  Most of which I know already.

Also, because of the way Hebrew is based around a system of roots which are then drawn out and conjugated in various forms, even if I don’t know a word, I can often figure it out based on the root.

Sure, there are some new words:  I can now announce how disappointed (me’uchzevet) I am or that I prefer (ma’adifa) bananas or life in the big city.  And in many cases, though I knew the words, I wasn’t entirely confident about the vowels or pronunciation and now I am way more confident.

image But the main challenge, as far as I’m concerned, are the LITTLE words.  My teacher calls them prepositions, but I’ve never known what those are in English, either (my sister Abigail would know; she’s book-smart that way).  The little words are the glue that links sentences together – they are the reason I have never been able to speak sensibly, even though I knew a lot of words all along.

Some of the little words come easily:  the two kinds of “eem” (עם  and אם), one of which means “if” and one of which means “with.”  My main problem is the CONNECTING words.  In English, we are very casual about connecting words, in most cases, dropping them altogether.  Not so in Hebrew; most Hebrew verbs automatically come with a connecting word which must be used to connect it to the rest of the sentence.

In English, we say things like “I threw the ball” without worrying about how the throwing transfers itself TO the ball.  It just works – magic!  In other cases, we do use connecting words:  “I waited FOR Naomi.”  But even this doesn’t help, because in most cases, the connecting words don’t translate.

Like the phrase “I’m afraid of dogs.”  First of all, “afraid” isn’t exactly a verb (you could say “I fear dogs,” but nobody does unless they’re being needlessly melodramatic), but anyway, in Hebrew, it becomes a verb, l’fached (לפחד).  But the little connecting word is more like “from” than “of” – “I am afraid from dogs” (אני פוחד מכלבים).  Sure helps you understand why Israelis speak English so clumsily. 

Some translations  are fairly close - “I waited for Naomi” translates to “I waited TO Naomi” (חיכיתי לנעמי), and the little word “l” often does double-duty this way, so it’s kind of predictable.  Others are not close at all.  “I’m mad at Naomi” translates to “I’m mad ON Naomi” (אני כועס על נעמי), which just makes me giggle every time.

And what about those cases where we don’t have a connecting word in English?  Then, you have to remember which of the three or four main connecting words (prepositions, milot yachas - מילות יחס) that verb takes. 

Like “to guard.”  In English, you just say you “guarded the safe,” or “guarded the schoolyard” (okay, in English-speaking countries, maybe it’s not necessary to guard a schoolyard.  Stay with me here anyway.  In Hebrew, you don’t just guard something… you guard ON it (לשמור על בית הספר).  You don’t just play a sport… you play IN it (לשחק בכדורגל).

Of course, as with all things grammatical, there’s a loophole.  If you follow a verb with an infinitive (the “to” form of a verb, like “to eat”), then you don’t need a connecting word.  “I forgot the backpack” needs the word “את” (becoming שכחתי את התיק) but if you say I forgot TO EAT (שכחתי לאכול), you don’t.  However, working around the connecting words is an awkward and only partial solution. 

What it comes down to is that these little words simply don’t translate word for word, and there’s no use trying to make any sense of them whatsoever.  The only way through it, as they say, is to do it, memorizing long lists of verbs, practicing them in sentences, and remembering which connecting word goes with which. 

There are some “memory tricks,” for example, many, many directional verbs use the word “el” (אל)– words like run, walk, climb etc.  However, some of the words my teacher sees as clearly “directional” are not really, in English, like “to get used to” (להתרגל) and “to miss” (as in the people you miss back in Canada) – לְהִתגַעגֵעַ.  Those also use the word “el” even though they don’t seem to have a particular direction.

All of these tricks and traps are, I fear, ruining my perfectly good English. 

I’m not imageslipping up just yet, but I’m afraid from the fact that there may well come to me a time when I tell to somebody that I miss to them or that I will watch on their backpack while they go play in the piano.

Ah, just a few humdrum thoughts on these little words I’m mad on cuz they’re currently breaking my brain.

Taking their money…

IMG_00002434Some controversy in the online world today, in which religious Jews in charge of a well-known interfaith organization have appealed to Christians to build churches here, made me think again about these signs.  I photographed them a while ago, when we were new here, but now barely notice them every day as I walk past… 

These both reflect what was probably a minor campaign for this huge organization, the John Hagee Ministries, but still, some very substantial donations raised to help the Jewish Agency build this Merkaz Klitah in 2005, presumably – at the time – to house incoming Ethiopian families. 


Hagee himself – a controversial figure in some circles – is known for being very pro-Israel.  Now, when evangelical Christian organizations come out as “pro-Israel”, usually what that means is that they need us all to be here so that the messiah can return, which will preface untold years of suffering and varying degrees of torment (depending on the denomination) for the perfidy of not believing in him all these years.

However, unlike some of these organizations, Hagee’s organization (based in Texas) does not try to negate the significance of our eternal covenant and seems to take a softer-sell approach.  On their website, they list 7 points outlining why Christians must support a Jewish Israel, including the fact that gentiles only deserve blessing if they have done something practical to bless the Jewish people.  For attitudes like this, Hagee has been lauded by organizations like Bnei Brith

Still, I don’t fully trust it, especially when I find writing like this on the same website, about the same Jewish people: “Today, the Jewish people are still Christ’s family and they are still the apple of God’s eye.  No, they don’t see Jesus for who Christians believe He is, but they will in the future when He comes to deliver them.  Until then, we, like Esther, have a duty to speak out and defend them.”  Friends, sure, but perhaps an uneasy kind of friendship, given that they believe we will ultimately be persuaded.

However, this is a complicated issue and I haven’t even scratched the surface.  It’s my understanding that some of the money Nefesh b’Nefesh uses comes from Christian organizations.  Not only that, there are other organizations which exist independently to assist Jews with the aliyah process, and our family personally may or may not have received aid from one or more of them.

It’s hard to shake off the creepy feeling of being nothing more than a pawn in someone else’s eschatology (end-times theology).  And it feels slimy to take their money and run, taking advantage of people we ultimately believe are misguided in their heartfelt donations. 

Let’s be honest:  we think they’re WRONG.  They think we’re WRONG.  Not everything is black and white like that, but in this case, that’s how it comes out:  flip of a coin.

So I guess we just have to go on believing we’re right… at the same time as they believe just as resolutely (putting their considerable financial resources where their mouth is) that they are.  Fortunately, it’s not up to me:  I plan to sit back and let Hashem flip the coin…. but that doesn’t mean we don’t know how it’ll turn out in the end.  :-)

Colon Cleanse? Brand-name blooper

IMG_00003101 Really???  In a country with however-many English speakers, where English is pretty much mandatory for every student over Grade Three, an entire corporation decided that a good name for their detergent line was… Colon!

I wonder if anybody told them it means kishke?  Or if the first thing that comes to mind is not purity and shiny-brightness IMG_00003102of dishes, clothing or anything else.

I didn’t buy these, but not because of the name.  Other brand names of detergent are almost equally weird:  Sod, Hepi, Fairy, Persil (these last two are British brands I’d already heard of).

A few old favourites are here, but generally, North American brands are way more expensive.  I have, however, stuck with our old favourite detergent, פלמוליב (Palmolive), since I have found it for reasonably comparable prices to the unknowns.

And then, of course, what could be better - after a shopping trek through the holy land – than a ride home on a bus driven by a guy who looks just like Tevye the Dairyman, from Fiddler on the Roof???

IMG_00003107 (640x360)tevye


Taking it on the chin

IMG_00003100 (575x1024)

This little person had a not-very-happy run-in with a sidewalk today and ended up with a piece of something embedded in his chin (סַנְטֵר/santeir, which I kept saying over and over to myself on the way to the doctor so I wouldn’t accidentally say פְּסַנְתֵר/p’santeir, which is piano).

(Here’s the spiel I rehearsed silently all the way to the clinic:  בני נפל מה”סקוטר” שלו בדרך הבייתה מגן וקיבל מכה על הסנטר.)

I don’t know if our experience was typical, but this incident happened just before 2:00 pm, and we were home, after having been seen by one doctor and at least three nurses, in two different health care locations, via public transit, by about quarter to 4:00.

Needless to say, though I’m sad he got beat up, I’m happy that this was one of those times when everything works.

Within about a minute of the accident, on a sidewalk on a main street, we were surrounded by a) a woman who gave me a whole package of baby wipes to clean him up with, b) a bunch of teenagers, girls and boys, offering water bottles and asking me if I wanted help to get him to the hospital (or an ambulance), c) a couple of cars pulled over asking if we needed a ride. 

I almost accepted the offer of a ride, and perhaps should have, but as it turned out, the buses were working well and we didn’t have long to wait.  Plus, bus transfers are good here for 90 minutes, regardless of how many stops you make, so we were able to get to both locations quickly on the same fare.

In fact, the only actual delay was when we arrived at the local kupat cholim, health clinic, to find that the nurses were still on “yeshiva” (literally, their “sit break” in the middle of the day).  Fortunately, there were only 10 minutes left of that, and the woman with the number before us let us go first (a screaming kid will do that).

One slightly off-putting thing:  arriving at the trauma area of the “mirpa’at” (local urgent-care centre) and being asked, up-front (after presenting GZ’s health card), to pay ₪23 for our visit.  I assume this is a flat rate, as nobody had examined him.  I don’t know if it’s a “child” rate or if it’s standard for everybody. 

So here’s the thing:  I know that is a very, very, VERY low price for the excellent medical attention he received immediately (we were in and out in under half an hour).  In Canadian dollars, it’s less than $8.  Maybe I’m just spoiled:  this is the first time in my entire life that I have ever had to fork over money to receive care.

Then again, maybe I’m also a little scarred by a lifetime of raising children without ever having enough money to do the job exactly right.  I keep wondering what they’d do if I didn’t have enough, if my bank card was declined, if, if, if… if we were in a situation where that ₪23 was a make-or-break.  Seems unlikely (and as a parent, part of me wants to say “If you don’t have ₪23 to spare, don’t have kids!”), but I wonder.

On the other hand, maybe paying a little has helped me appreciate what we have here even more.  When it was free, I never thought about the value of the services we received.  But having paid ₪23, I cannot help thinking, “wow…”  This is a country where you can barely buy a lightbulb for ₪23, or a big bag of chips (bear with me here – imagine a REALLY big bag of chips, and a huge colourful lightbulb).

For his part, however much I’d paid, GZ did not initially want to cooperate while the doctor stuck a needle in his face.  He thought they’d have to poke right on the bleeding scrape, but even when I explained that it would not be right there, he squirmed and said no.  The doctor walked out and said if he didn’t co-operate, the stitches would have to be done in a hospital under general anaesthesia (or so I gathered from the sign language of a mask-shaped hand the nurse put over her own mouth for illustration). 

They kept saying to explain to him that it wouldn’t hurt after the initial sting, “like a mosquito,” that his chin would go to sleep.  “Hisbarti!  Hisbarti!” (I explained!) I said in my newly-perfected past-tense Hebrew.  Finally, I told him it would be like the dentist, where he has always co-operated nicely.  I also told him that, very often, when mommies took their children for stitches and there was a mall next door that had a kosher smoothie shop, they often felt like buying their child a smoothie with his own choice of fruit flavours.  That worked.

I have no idea what kind of mosquito stings four times with a long injecting needle like the doctor did.  GZ really did scream blue murder, and then the hard bit was done.  Although GZ now claims he felt everything, he was very calm and in fact asked “what’s he doing now?” several times during the scraping and stitching – suggesting to me that he couldn’t feel a thing.

Four stitches later, the only little-bit dumb part was when we had to go into the Dr’s office to “receive the letter.”  I went and sat and handed over the health card again and he gave us the letter and a few words of instruction, then continued typing.  After I sat there for a few moments, awaiting further direction, the doctor said, “we’re done – you can go.”  So we did.

My smoothie was strawberry-banana.  GZ’s was strawberry-melon; his own creation, and he said it was delicious.  The two small-sized smoothies, it has just occurred to me, cost ₪24, exactly ₪1 more than the doctor visit.  I guess I really have very little to complain about.

And so I must end with a request that Hashem help all our life’s problems here in Israel be solved as easily, smoothly, inexpensively… and sweetly as today’s turned out to be.

Since you were wondering (maybe)… the Israeli mikveh

mikvehI had been led to expect horrors from mikvas (mikvaot) here.  If not horrors, well, something “less than” in terms of what I’m used to.

Um, did I say mikveh?  Sure I did. 

I have always been honest, if discreet, when blogging about this aspect of Jewish life.  It’s certainly important:  one of the three main cornerstones of Jewish life (along with Shabbos and kashrus), in some opinions.  (I learned this, by the way, long, long ago from a Conservative rabbi…)

So I will tell you my guidelines:  I never mention specifics of my life and personal situation, such as, for instance, the actual date and time I or any other specific person went to the mikveh, and I would certainly never say anything about who I’d met there. 

So yes, just like we keep Shabbos and keep kosher, we keep taharas hamishpacha, so there it is.  Fun!

In any event, my fears were unfounded.  The one Israeli mikvah I have been to so far (an unspecified number of times, on unspecified date(s)) is really very, very nice.

mikveh (1) On the “basic” side, true.  Not quite as clean as I have seen outside of Israel, where we have out little phobias about even seeing another person’s hair, floss or toenail clipping… but nice. 

There are a few little touches, like flowers, here and there, but some of that may have been because this was sort of a “bridal suite,” with the bathtub, toilet, shower, all in the same room as the mikveh.  Most of the rooms – here and in other mikvaot I have visited – just have a bath or shower in a small preparation room which opens out into a central mikveh, which only one woman uses at a time.

 mikveh (2)

Speaking of bridal suites, there was actually a party going on on the day I was there taking the pictures… a whole bunch of women in what seems to be the “party room” of the mikveh, celebrating the impending marriage of a woman who just dunked.  What an awesome thing!  I resolved then and there that if one of my sisters ever gets engaged to a Jewish guy, I am scooping her up (with all the proper timing, of course!) and hauling her off to a mikvah for a party.

This shows the water temperature, I think:

 mikveh (3) 

(something they could have used at the mikveh I went to once in midwinter in Western Canada that turned out to be completely unheated and my lungs practically collapsed the minute I dunked)

This is the standard list of preparations, but if anything I am more careful here, because it takes me so long to read the list…

mikveh (4) 

Button to call the mikveh lady when you’re ready.

mikveh (6) 

The ladies working at this particular mikveh seem to have just the right mix of pleasant impartiality with love an enthusiasm for the mitzvah.  Mikveh ladies I’ve known generally check you for things like stray hairs, hangnails, rough foot skin, toe fluff, etc, though I believe the extent of the check should ultimately be up to the woman.  (ie some women want to be checked more meticulously than others are comfortable with). 

mikveh (5)In any event, my favourite part – am I allowed to have a favourite part?  I suppose any mitzvah has its pluses and minuses – is after each dunk (some women do three, some do seven; there are probably other customs), the mikveh lady shouts out “kasher!”  And at the end, it’s her turn to shower you with brachot.  They do this at some other mikvaot I have been to, but in this one… boy, do they pour on the brachot, in true Israeli style.  Of course, I only figured out half the things she was blessing me with, but I’m sure it was all good, and all I had to do was say “amen!” at the end of it, which is better than most situations I encounter here, conversation-wise.  What a fabulous way to start a new month!

So what’s the biggest difference between a mikveh in Israel and a mikveh elsewhere???? 

The biggest difference is in the women themselves.  At any mikveh I’ve ever been to, you’ll see an assortment of women, with varying degrees of religious attire:  tichels, sheitels, formal suits, loose swingy skirts.  All religious women, of course.  Generally, too, everybody waits their turn quietly, discreetly.

Of course?

mikveh (7)Well, not here.  I won’t say everybody uses the mikveh here in Israel, but I will say – if you’ve only ever been to a mikveh outside of Israel, you will be surprised the first time you see a woman in jeans and a tank top heading into or out of the mikveh like it’s just part of her regular monthly… stuff.  Maintenance, like a manicure, pedicure, haircut, and mikveh visit.  And the waiting isn’t necessarily quiet, women chat just like they would at a salon or anywhere else (I’m told) that women gather to do womanly things.

And honestly, this is one of the most stupendous, wonderful things I have encountered here, even if I do have to be a little discreet about who I share this revelation with. 

Just like many, many people here eat kosher food just because their food happens to be kosher, and keep holidays just because those happen to be the national holidays, it seems that many, many women go to the mikveh here just because… well, there’s the mikveh, and it’s time to go, and it’s just what everybody does.

Amazing, just amazing.  Mi k’amcha Yisrael?!?  (who is like Your people, Israel?)

Starry-eyed, and misty-eyed

IMG_00003087Yes, another starry-eyed, in-love-with-Israel post to say… awesome postage stamps!!!  

I didn’t need to special-request these or anything; just asked for stamps and she handed over a bunch of these lovely ones, highlighting a museum collection of etrog (esrog) boxes.

However, like the title says I’m also a bit misty-eyed over the contents of the envelope on which I pulled out the stamps to stick.  [Okay, that sentence didn’t come out exactly right – up with which I must not put.  I cannot handle more than one language in one day, and my brain is currently in Ulpan Overdrive.]

IMG_00003086Anyway, the kids wrote letters to friends back in Toronto, and here is GZ’s, which says he will miss his friend “for the rest of my life??” 

I must say, as obnoxiously noisy and dramatic as he can be when he’s angry and disturbed, he is equally dramatic and heartfelt when he actually sits down to write these letters.  I wish he’d give us a glimpse into this quiet, sentimental side of his world more often.

Speaking of stamps, Naomi was both fascinated and horrified the first time she saw the postage stamps here.  “You mean you have to lick it??” 

As if she’d discovered that you had to lick your bus tickets or your bank card.  I guess if you’re used to the peel-and-stick kind, it does seem equally unlikely, but indeed, the stamps here all seem to be of the old-fashioned, lick-em and stick-em variety.

Things that are weird in Israel #3: Fireworks

No, the fireworks here aren’t, in fact, weird, or different at all from chu”l (pronounced “chooool”, meaning “outside of Israel”) fireworks.  Still, my post a while back lamenting the loss of fireworks was premature, as it turns out:  there are lots and lots of fireworks here.

Apparently, it’s customary to have fireworks at Muslim weddings, but we have seen a few in Jewish areas as well.  There’s one area just beyond our window where we have seen fireworks a few times just since we’ve been here, and just now – what prompted me to think, “weird,” was another display just north of here, probably halfway to Acco. 

Some of those could be Muslim, but some probably are not.  There were city-run fireworks right here in Kiryat Yam, I think, during chol hamoed Sukkos (or maybe the night after Sukkos at their “hakafot shniyot” party; I forget).

I am jumpy, still, when I hear them.  But Israelis, generally, are not.  There was a huge boom sound during ulpan yesterday (also just north of here, up the coast) and everyone in the class got a bit jumpy, but the teacher just said, in her “easy-Hebrew” rendition, “zeh lo ba’aya; harbeh boom-boom b’Yisrael.” (it’s not a problem, there are many “boom booms” in Israel)

So my jitters are apparently the mark of a newbie.  Real Israelis know what a crisis sounds like, and it’s not the same as fireworks.  This is reassuring, I guess; I pray we never have to know what the real thing sounds like.

Small things to measure our lives by

Canada has many wonderful features, but one less-than-wonderful feature is that it is STUCK when it comes to a few things, like measurements of temperature and weight, and writing the dates.

Officially, Canada went metric in the early 70s.  No problem, right?  Except for our great big honking neighbour to the south (despite ALSO officially having gone metric around the same time) continuing to insist on using antiquated, kings’-feet and ancient-British butcher type measurements.

Doctors in Canada may officially chart your baby’s weight in kilos or your child’s height in metres, but the numbers they tell you are usually in pounds, ounces, feet and inches.  Ask somebody what they weigh or how tall they are and you’d be very surprised if they answered in any type of measurement that even vaguely resembles what the rest of the world uses. 

Ditto in grocery stores:  the butter in Canada may SAY it weighs 454 grams, but everybody calls it a pound.  Prices for things sold by weight are often listed in pounds (with kilos in small print that nobody ever sees).

Also, probably around the same time as the metric thing, but maybe not, because I have done ZERO research into this, it was determined by the Powers that Be that Canadian dates should run the European way:  day, month, year.  It’s a reasonable order, smallest to largest, as any kid could tell you.  Except for our great big honking neighbour to the south telling us that it’s more sensible (why, exactly?) to list the month first.

For whatever reason, and again, this could just be me, I never was able to determine what it meant if a best before date said something like “9.10.13”.  If it was September 12th, was it expired?  What about October 12th? 

And as if it wasn’t hard enough to maintain our Canadian date-identity, along came… 9/11.  Not 11/9, the Canadian way – no, the Americans had to impose their strange dating system on impressionable minds all over North America and the world.  Confusion!

(again, maybe it’s just me?)

Also, temperatures.  Sure, the weather forecasts are all in metric, but if you ask around what the temperature will be, it depends who you ask:  anyone over about 45 will tell you in fahrenheit; anyone under, in celsius.  Speed limits are a little easier, because there are signs and actual law enforcement behind that.

In any event… none of that is a problem anymore.  All has become – if confusing – also beautifully simple.

Dates are small-to-large:  no ambiguity.  Today is 15.10.2013, period.  Temperatures are in Celsius and even expat Americans have to use them, though it’s funny hearing people with “die-hard” American accents telling you it’s 30 degrees out.  (maybe only funny to me?)

Of course, this also means I have no idea how much I weigh (not much!), how tall I am, or how much butter I want to buy.   In the store, I just guess at quantities of things, and had to stop myself, on our pilot trip, from asking for a kilo of almonds, because that really would have been too much for a snack.

Also, did I mention the dates are all standardized, European-style?  Not exactly; not quite.  Although it’s true that today is 15.10.2013 for all standard government-type documents, cheque-writing and whatnot, it is also, in every legal sense, the 12th day of Cheshvan, 5774 (which happens to be the memorial of Yitzchak Rabin, killed 18 years ago today). 

Though he died in mid-November, this is a government which has no problem shoving the secular calendar around a little to accommodate the rhythms of the Jewish year.  Indeed, the whole country will be heading to the polls soon to vote in municipal (city) elections, on a date which happens to fall next Tuesday, October 22, but which – it is clearly announced on our voter registration cards – will take place on the 18th of (mar)Cheshvan.

(Cheshvan is sometimes called Marcheshvan, for a number of reasons, including the idea that it was “bitter” (mar) because it doesn’t have any holidays of its own.  Perhaps a good reason for calling elections then, too… and maybe another explanation for the bitterness if its favoured candidates don’t win?)

I won’t lie; it’s tough getting used to (l’hitragel in my new boot-camp Hebrew!) the rhythms of life in this holy land.  Most of the time, we feel like the six-day weeks (no weekend!) and 6:00 am mornings (no sleeping in!) are killing us, slowly or quickly, depending on our mood.

But in some of these other small ways in which we measure the size, warmth, breadth and length of our lives, things have gotten infinitely simpler, more understandable and familiar.

Just in case…

ice cream (800x449)

… anybody was thinking of feeling sorry for us.  They’re even on sale, right now, although just like in Canada, slightly out of reach even at ₪16-something.

Still – nice to know there’s comfort food!!!

The happy couple

IMG_00002912In Toronto, there are so many beautiful pictures to have wedding pictures taken:  parks, indoor conservatories, historic buildings.  Especially at picturesque times of year (which, in Toronto, is anytime there isn’t snow all over the place), you can see couples having their pictures taken in all these spots.

Here, some couples seem to prefer a more prosaic, down-to-earth style, like this happy pair I spotted yesterday in Machane Yehuda, a busy, crowded, pushy, shove-y, noisy shuk (middle-eastern market) in the most traditional sense.


I wonder if they deliberately picked late on a Thursday afternoon, knowing it would be the busiest and thus most atmospheric time to have their pictures taken.  In any event, the shuk-sellers, regular shoppers and legions of tourists like me were very friendly and accommodating, most smiling as they watched what was going on.

Here they are a bit later on and farther down the road, enjoying a quick (kosher) Re:Bar break, as their photographer and crew run around snapping bazillions of photos:


Looking at these pictures after the fact, I was startled to realize that most of the people in the crowd weren’t religious; I don’t know why, but because everything (or almost everything, I haven’t checked every single stall) is kosher, I tended to assume the shuk had a more frum clientele.  Weird.  Not bad, just interesting.

Home now after extensive U-shaped travels around this marvellous new land of mine.  Good Shabbos!!!

Things that are cool in Israel #2: Bathrooms

IMG_00002934Okay, you’re probably sick of my potty-themed posts, but bear with me:  there is no actual bathroom in this picture, just the handwashing area outside the bathrooms at the Rami Levy supermarket beside where I met Batya last night for my trip to Shiloh.

What is extraordinary about this bathroom / handwashing area???  Well, besides the fact that it is spotlessly clean, which is rare and happy for a bathroom in a very busy supermarket. 

Look up, up, and left.  It’s a bracha!  Discreetly but professionally printed, the bracha traditionally said after going to the bathroom, hanging right there as a reminder.  I love it!!!

More in this series of Things that are cool in Israel: 

Skirts that are not pants, and vice versa

These are super-popular among certain religious women here, but I think they just look super weird, and that they must be highly uncomfortable, given that it is like a skirt that grabs onto your ankles. :-/

Have you ever seen / worn these???  Are they as uncomfy as they look?   Is this a passing fad,or lasting contribution to the tznius fashion repertoire? 

(Google says they are called "Aladdin pants," for obvious reasons...)

Sent on the go in the Holy Land - please excuse my typos!!

Buses, and Hope

Another week, another bunch of intercity buses,as I make my way out to historic Shiloh, home of as well as a small monthly women's Rosh Chodesh davening/Torah gathering. 

I'm sure I will have much to report afterwards, But meanwhile, I just need to mention one of my favourite Israel things ever: when a bus pulls up after a long wait, everyone, no matter where they're going and, seemingly, no matter how long they've lived here, piles randomly into the doorway to ask the driver if he's going to their destination.
(and yes, I have had only one female driver, out of probably >200 male ones)

Asking is almost always pointless; the routes rarely, if ever, change magically to accommodate every single passenger's deepest desires.  But the drivers, blunt and rushed though they sometimes seem, and as annoyed as they usually act when forced to give directions, for example,  apparently never tire of answering.   

It's not just because they love to say no (though that's probably part of it!)... the bus I'm currently sitting in, stuck in traffic, goes to a shopping centre called Sha'ar Binyamin.  There must have been 20 passengers who asked, getting on board, "does this bus go to Sha'ar Binyamin?" (in Hebrew, of course!)  the driver happily, patiently, politely, said yes to each and every one of them.  (I thought Egged should probably make a sign, since that seems to be this route's most popular destination, but that's just me...)

In any event, this asking of the driver seems to happen throughout the country, and - judging by their accents - native Israelis seem to do it even more than newbies.  "do you go to _____?" [fill in location completely different from whatever is written on the front of the bus to which another bus at the stop will go directly, but which bus is inconveniently not arriving as quickly as the traveller would like]

I personally think this habit is awesomely beautiful, a reminder of the kind of hope-after-millennia-of-hopelessness that earned us our own country back after all those hundreds of years of "pointless" tefillah. 
Sent on the go in the Holy Land - please excuse my typos!