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Monday, September 30, 2013

Things that are cool in Israel: Crossing the Street

Sort of an upbeat counterpoint to my “Things that are weird about Israel” posts

Crossing a street is not a simple matter here.  Minor streets are crossed at zebra crossings, which is easy here in Kiryat Yam, which seems to house the only laid-back Israeli drivers, but challenging elsewhere.  Still, zebra crossings are a breeze next to major intersections with stoplights.

Major intersections are usually divided into a couple of different sections, and each section has its own pedestrian signals, and often, a button to request the crossing.  I have no idea if the buttons actually do anything to speed up the lights. 

At some intersections, the greens “line up,” so you have a second or two to run across the whole road; in some cases, however, you have a second or two to run halfway, followed by another delay on another median.  This was a lesson I learned very, very quickly, basically the first time we were almost killed expecting the intersection to let us cross peacefully, like in Toronto.

Here is a typical button at one intersection I was crossing today.

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Here are two others, at different stages of the same intersection.

 IMG_00002894 IMG_00002895 

So why is this cool?  Two reasons.

One is just a small personal victory:  a couple of weeks ago, I finally figured out what the button says when you push it.  Oh, yeah, forgot to mention that for all their complications, every attempt has been made to make these into “blind-person friendly” intersections.  Not sure they’ve succeeded, but anyway, the buttons talk when you push them.

What do they say, you ask?  A very stern, Israeli lady - who sounds like a longtime smoker yet fanatically correct ulpan teacher – announces, “בקשתך התקבלה – נא להמתין בירוק” - “bakashatcha hitkabla; na lehamtin bayarok.”  “Your request has been accepted; please wait for the green.”  (mea culpa; any errors are mine and NOT the stern Israeli lady’s)

But here’s the other cool part, which I also figured out very recently.  Every one of these buttons has a yellowish panel on the side with slide-in plastic bits that look like part of a Rubik’s cube or another sort of puzzle.

Here are two:

 IMG_00002897 IMG_00002898

In a couple of places, I’d even noticed the “puzzle” was missing one of the yellow pieces, meaning that the others could slide around freely.  Anyway, the cool part is that these are actually a LEGEND, in braille, describing the structure of the intersection so that a blind person could, theoretically, cross it without being killed. 

In the one on the left, for instance, the dot represents the pedestrian waiting to cross.  There are two lanes of traffic to cross (on the right), followed by another median (where the blind person can find the next map / button).  The one on the right shows a pedestrian, a single lane of traffic (on the left), and then another median.

Cool, huh?

The button boxes also make a noise.  Kind of a mellow ticking after you’ve pressed the button (accompanied by a light flashing, presumably for deaf people who might not hear the ticking); when the light finally turns green for that section, it makes a frantic loud “run!  run!  run!” tickticktick noise.

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All of this crossing was, however, necessitated by a very worthy purpose:  Getting the Girl Dancing Again.  Somebody posted an ad for a dance “chug” – after school activity group – in nearby Kiryat Shmuel (aka “k-shmoo,” its rapper name). 

Anyway, the journey, street-crossings and all, was a great success, and Naomi Rivka is now officially enrolled in her first extracurricular activity here.  The price is reasonable, and although it was less dance-y than I would have liked, she loved the teacher and came home declaring, “it’s my thing.”  So that’s settled.

Easy pickin’s

(Hmm… where do the apostrophes go in the word “pickin’s,” anyway???  Theoretically, you need two, one to replace the G and one to add the possessive S… hmm.  So, anyway.)

One of the people who works here is extremely friendly and helpful.  She is not from Israel or anywhere English-speaking, but nevertheless speaks mainly-great English and has done a lot for us, always enthusiastically, with a smile.  But her written notices are generally – though enthusiastic – more than a little flawed. 

This one was posted on her office door today, and although I love to mock English signage here, it seems cruel to make fun of anybody who’s so hard-working and earnest… but here I go nonetheless.  Okay, I won’t make fun, just post the note for your silent, complicit, enjoyment.

IMG_00002891Like I said… no comment.  Okay… I can’t help it.  “Repatriations”???

Ongoing wish list

If anyone’s coming from North America, and there is a chance they will see me, here’s what I want…

(a partial list, to be added to and subtracted from)

  • Starbucks instant coffee
  • Rubber gloves
  • Vanilla extract (yes, I do know I can make my own with a vanilla bean… and eventually, I probably will)

Bigger items “To Buy” wish list – stuff we need for our home, now or eventually – would make excellent big-ticket / birthday gifts for grown-ups!!!:

Big-ticket purchases we will need when we leave the merkaz klitah:

  • washer/dryer (maybe don’t need a dryer, at first?)
  • stove, or countertop two-burner thingy like we have here.
  • maybe a full-sized oven?
  • fridge, with an actual capacity to hold things
  • beds
  • other furniture… ???
  • large freezer, eventually?

What we own here so far:

  • clothing
  • boxes, artfully arranged to resemble a bookshelf
  • suitcases
  • two fans
  • a broken blender
  • toaster
  • toaster oven
  • books
  • folding table
  • shelf thingy in shower room

Things that are weird in Israel #2: Plastic Toilets

IMG_00002901I was astonished when I first saw it, but now I’m already starting to get used to seeing these everywhere we go, so I wanted to post before the novelty wore off…

Actually, there isn’t really much more to say.  There is a toilet, and it is plastic.  All the visible parts are plastic, including the seat, the bowl, the part that holds water.  I haven’t looked inside to see if everything inside is plastic, too.  Oh, and the brand name – which is ubiquitous here – is “Plasson.”

Some toilets have dual-flush handles (plastic), a little one inside a big one; ours has flush buttons, but the “large” flush gets stuck so I have taped over it.  (You can always use two small flushes if need be, but the truth is that small is always enough.)

This is actually what we call the “potty room,” given that the two functions of our former bathroom are divided into two different rooms, a pretty common design for Israeli homes.  It is literally, a potty, in a room.

  IMG_00002902

Next door is the “shower room,” where the sink also lives.  You’d think it would make sense to divvy up the tasks this way, but in fact, I don’t like it very much.  You always have to wash your hands after using the potty room, and if somebody is using the shower room, you have to go all the way to the kitchen.  However, since this is a smallish apartment, that’s not much to complain about, I guess.  But the nice soap is in the shower room.

Some homes avoid this difficulty by having a “spare sink” just floating somewhere in the hallway; also useful for negel vasser (morning handwashing) on awakening, as well as netilas yadayim (washing before a meal with bread).  However, as one of our family members has already gleefully noted, the shower room, since it does not contain a toilet, can be used for handwashing and bracha-making anyway (which isn’t usually fitting to do in a room with a toilet, though some halachic authorities have ruled that a modern bathroom is nowhere near the same as the kind of toilet facilities that existed when the Talmud was being written and so a bracha might be able to be said in there… but we don’t anyway).

So enough of that.

Another weird feature worth mentioning about Israeli bathrooms is the window.  Ours, though tiny, has not one but TWO windows.  The first is on the door – almost every bathroom has this, for some reason.  It’s translucent; perhaps so you can see if somebody’s using the bathroom by the light coming through?

 IMG_00002903

(notice the door handle, and taped-over lock – I had to put masking tape over both sides of this because of a peeking little boy)

The other window is above the toilet, and it’s huge – it’s the sole “ventilation” system for the bathroom – which opens up right into… the “utility porch,” a little sunroom just off the kitchen where I hang our laundry.

Here are the two windows, from the shower room (left) and potty room (right), opening, essentially, right into the kitchen:

IMG_00002904

Notice that you can see right in.  Comes in handy for passing stuff to somebody in the shower, like if they forgot their towel.  Not so handy when somebody in the shower hangs her towel over the window and it falls out into the kitchen.  Just saying.

Notice the little air freshener lurking in the corner, just to the right of the potty room window.  I have scrubbed and scrubbed the floors and other surfaces within an inch of their lives, but there is STILL a little bit of a smell if I let the air freshener expire.  I’m normally pretty offended by artificial scents like this, but frankly, the smell it’s covering up is worse.  Plus, there’s a huge open window right next to the air freshener, so most of its smell wafts away.

Okay, I seem to be blogging a lot about smells, and the downside of life here… so my next post will be (slightly) more uplifting, I promise.

Previously in this series…

Sunday, September 29, 2013

On Stink

DSCN1384It’s true, I’m getting used to it.  But it still bears saying:  stinky smells jump out at you here on every corner.

Like you’ll be walking along and all of a sudden, you will be surrounded by an odour, overwhelmed, buried alive with a stink the likes of which you have perhaps never experienced before in your life.  Then if you keep walking (which you must, in self-preservation!) it’s gone a second later.

To be fair, I’ve decided this is mainly because of the heat, because it wasn’t so bad in the areas where we were last winter on our pilot trip, and because I don’t notice it as much now that the weather has cooled off by a few degrees.  (a few!  not a lot!)

In certain areas, there’s not only the heat to contend with but also the fact that the air isn’t moving around much; without a breeze, a smell can linger noxiously just about forever in one spot.

But it’s also because of the garbage.  Depending on where you go in the country, it’s everywhere.  This picture is in no way representative, in fact, because it shows a garbage bin with the garbage placed nicely inside, no debris casually tossed on the ground nearby and there’s a mattress propped up neatly nearby.  (This wasn’t even meant to be a picture of garbage; it was just a random shot snapped from the top of a double-decker tour bus last week in Yerushalayim.)

Ah, but if I actually wanted a picture of garbage, I’m sure I could find a great one.  Here in the krayot (burbs of Haifa), things are actually pretty neat – depending on what area you end up; I’m not counting the dead cat I saw on the way to GZ’s gan this morning.  Here, street sweepers putter around and men trim grass and bushes and pick up litter seemingly all the time.

(Even with all that, it’s nowhere near as clean as Toronto, or anywhere else in Canada that I’ve ever visited – okay, maybe Montreal, which I love, but is an older and grittier-feeling city than Toronto.)

But certain parts of Yerushalayim are absolutely awful.  Soda bottles and cans and laundry detergent bags and diapers and discarded whatever that somebody didn’t want anymore.  And then once seven people have used a yard to dump their stuff in, there’s very little to stop the next seven, and the next seven, and… well, everybody.

But this post really isn’t about garbage, I promise, and it’s not about the spiritual tragedy that  is a few ratty diapers cluttering up Yerushalayim.  I’m sure others have ranted more capably about that.  (and I don’t actually believe it IS a spiritual tragedy; so there)

It’s about smells.  And how they jump out at you.  It takes getting used to, and so far, they have predominently been BAD smells.  Rancid smells; manure smells; rotting vegetation smells and many others that probably cannot or should not be named. 

Part of it is dog owners.  Despite signs warning them that they will be persecuted to the fullest extent of the law, they never seem to notice what their dogs are up to when they’re off the leash (aka always). 

Probably a thousand times in the last couple of decades (usually when my children beg for a dog), I have told myself that I am above stooping to pick up a dog’s disgusting waste, and so have never bought a dog.  Israelis, on the other hand, seem to tell themselves they are above stooping to pick up a dog’s disgusting waste – so they look the other way and then keep right on walking.

But dog messes are not what this is about either; just smells.  And how they pounce and take you by surprise, stealing your breath like a cat might do to an unsuspecting infant if that legend were indeed true.

The good thing is that if you keep walking, the smell is gone quickly.  The bad thing is that if you walk the same route day after day, sometimes the same smells are waiting there to jump out at you, day after day.

As I write this, I’m standing in my window overlooking the Mediterranean, a slightly-salty sea breeze making my skin cool but a little sticky (as it usually is here).  And there is a bit of a garbage-truck smell wafting in, lightly, hidden away like it’s been tucked in lovingly by the sea.  Just the slightest hint of eau de garbage.  Creepily enough, I don’t mind it all that much.

With the weather changing, there are some good smells creeping in, too.  I find that I can smell the bakery from farther away, or maybe it’s my imagination.  When we were here in February, I remember thinking (did I blog it?) that the whole country smelled like a good bakery, yeasty and floury-sweet.  And I can smell a little of that now, even over the faint nastiness of the breeze.

As in other areas, perhaps it’s just that this crazy country is not shy, cannot be shy, is incapable of being shy or coy about anything.  If there’s garbage, it’s gonna stink; if there’s a bakery, it’s gonna make you drool.  And yes, even both happening at once, the bitter and the sweet, or Naomi Shemer’s poetic dvash, the sweet honey, along with the oketz, the painful sting…

or is that stink?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Chol HaMoed in Israel!

Utterly exhausted… and here’s a slideshow that maybe explains why.  :-)

Creepy Dolls Museum

dolls (5) (800x449)I’m sure you can find creepy olde-tyme dolls anywhere; it’s just somehow charming and reassuring that you can find them in Israel, too.

We found some really creepy ones as part of an exhibit of historical toys in the otherwise quite interesting Madatech – Museum of Science and Technology in Haifa, to which we were admitted FREE!! thanks to our still-valid Ontario Science Centre museum membership, which reciprocates with many other science museums around the world. 

After enjoying the science museum for a couple of hours – perhaps the subject of another post! – we happened to wander into this room, which is the creepy-doll exhibit.  The exhibit features this charming poster in English and Arabic; I didn’t spot a Hebrew version, but perhaps it was elsewhere.

dolls (1)

Elisheva in particular was deeply tickled by this invitation to go “back in time… to a time when playing with toys meant taking them down off the shelf, and not downloading them from the internet.”  Hmm… is that really what “playing with toys” has come to mean to our kids today?

[Although it seems to me that if you got a good enough 3-d printer, you could indeed download your toys from the Internet, or at least, printable schematics for print-your-own assemble-at-home toys.]

In any event, I’d hate to mock “toys that succeeded to survive, and thus enable a glance at toys… manufactured by… craftsmen, carpenters and peasants…”

Yes, these are truly a peasant-crafted wonder, with their strange, beseeching expressions, cast in plaster or rubber or china, bodies stuffed with sawdust or horsehair or something else similarly historic, each one more precious and/or creepy than the last. 

Can’t you just hear them screaming out at you from the pages of history???

dolls (12) (800x449) 

Here’s a motley group of mainly rubber dollies…

dolls (22) (800x449)

I guess it’s not fair to single out this one because she’s a puppet and her mouth is weird cuz it has to open and close.  Tough; I did it anyway.   dolls (13) (800x449) 

Kiss, kiss?  Just a little bit psycho dollies…    dolls (11) (800x449)

dolls (7) (800x449) 

 

 

 

Very busy dollies – yo-yo’ing…

dolls (8) (800x449)

Hosting a tea party…

dolls (20) (800x449)

Or just hanging out with a very similar but shorter friend…  dolls (6) (800x449)

 

  

 

 

This doll didn’t look like she could be trusted with her scissors, quite…

dolls (19) (800x449)

“Hey, I’d better get off these train tracks before someone runs me down!!!”

dolls (18) (800x449)

“To infinity and beyond!”

dolls (16) (800x449)

And one final deeply flawed attempt at dollie winsomeness:  dolls (17) (800x449)

Mainly, I think we all left the exhibit convinced that despite random moments of coolness in the past and despite how that meddlesome Internet spoils the fun and innocence of children’s play, most toys today (except for the very cheapest, which includes many of the lower- and medium-end ones sold here in Israel) are better – cuter, better-working, longer-lasting and funner – than toys a long time ago.

(Note:  if you are making aliyah OR spending large amounts of time in Israel, check for deals like this because FREE!! is a great price!  This membership is still good until December and also gets us into the Weizmann museum which is a shlep away in Rehovot but apparently includes some great stuff including dinosaurs.  I will also here point out that my friend Shira mentioned this long before we made aliyah and I totally forgot, then thought of it “all on my own”!)

Even if you have no membership from outside of Israel, entrance to Madatech, all of these dolls included!, is a deeply discounted ₪20 for new olim within the first year of aliyah!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Israeli packaging…

In the grocery store today, I was tempted to buy these “On-U-Mind Stacking Newness Barrels”, just to own the delightful packaging (“best choice for children”!)…

IMG_00002705

… but opted to buy one of these instead:

 IMG_00002707

Have I mentioned that grocery stores, heck, any stores, are totally cool sources of Judaica (and Judaikitsch)?  Oh, yeah, I already have

Weird moments of holiness…

IMG_00002711… when you buy a clock at the supermarket and the cardboard packaging includes a rabbinical quote:

לא כל הימים שווים ולא כל השעות שוות. יש ימים ארוכים ויש קצרים, יש יום שנדמה לו לאדם כשנה, יש שנים שהן בעיניו כימים אחדים. יש רגע שנראה שהוא לא יסתיים לעולם ויש חיים החולפים כחלוף עין.

- הרב חיים סבתו

IMG_00002712A bad translation is provided – the verse says something like [my translation], “Not all days are equal and not all hours are equal.  There are days that seem long and days that seem short; a day can seem to a person like a year, but there are years that can seem like single days.  A moment can seem as though it will never end, but there are lives that are over in the blink of an eye.”

Thank you, Israeli wall clock, for that sobering dose of reality.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Two family emails: Two, Sukkos

This is my mother’s annual poem-invitation to her sukkah, cc’d to the entire family… and my reply, below.

THEY SAY THE WEATHER’S COOLING OFF
AND FALL IS NEARLY HERE.
SO WE’LL BE BUSY BUILDING
THE SUKKAH, NEVER FEAR.

PLEASE COME AND HELP TO CELEBRATE
OUR TIME OF THANKS THIS YEAR.
WE’LL EAT AND TALK AND LAUGH AND DRINK
[LET’S HOPE THE WEATHER DOESN’T STINK]
WITH  FRIENDS WHO ARE HELD SO DEAR.

My reply:

Ha!  Cooling off?  We wish, we wish,
As maple leaves, so distant, swish;
We cannot build a sukkah now,
And live five flights up anyhow..

For years and years, you've come to us,
And given us a chance to fuss,
And build and cook and clean with love
And pray the rains hold back above.

So as you eat and talk and drink,
(Assume the weather just won't stink!),
Consider us 'neath sunny skies,
Awash with sand and salt and flies.

But there is comfort here, at least,
Though we'll be lonely at the feast,
Connected through these ancient lands
Our ancient family walked these sands.

Though we miss friends and family dear,
We're loving every yomtov here.
We hope you'll all come very soon...
Perhaps next Tishrei's bright full moon???

Okay, this is completely rotten.  There is no way this Sukkos won’t suck.  I would appreciate nobody sending a deluge of “told you so” emails.  I already know – we chose this, nobody forced us to come here.  :-(

Thank you.

Two family emails: One, Rosh Hashanah

This is my mother’s annual poem-invitation to Rosh Hashanah, cc’d to the entire family… and my reply, below.

Blow the shofar! Sing a song!
Soon it's Yom Tov--won't be long.
The New Year's coming--5774
In just 3 weeks--practically knocking at the door.
Hope you can join our luncheon fete,
On foot, by car, or even jet.
Please let me know; I'll wait to hear
If you'll join in celebrating the coming year.

Here’s my reply:

While shofar-sounding we will hear,
Sadly, we cannot be near;
Yet we will keep you all at heart
And weep for hours spent apart.
Please eat some honey cake with joy
And scream so loudly, like our boy.
We love you all and hate to miss
A time so awesome quite like this.
As new year's moon begins to dawn,
Please think of us... and carry on.
:-(

Missing these family times is terrible.  There are no two ways about it.

Random notes from Hebrew Boot Camp

ulpan

Know what really gets old fast?  Having everybody in your low-level ulpan [a term I’m translating for blog purposes as “Hebrew-language boot camp”] act as if you are the saviour of the world just because you know a little Hebrew.

What about having the teacher literally mime a little jump for joy (there were two in the room; I think they were BOTH jumping) when she found a word I didn’t know?  Ugh.  And believe it or not, in real life, I am NOT a person who enjoys having attention paid to herself.

Every time they praise me, I blush and try to sink lower and lower into the floor.  Sadly, it’s made of stone and willpower alone has not allowed me to penetrate it so far.

This is just one of the unhappy “perks” of making aliyah to a place where few Jewishly-educated North American olim choose to live.

Since most olim here in our ulpan classes are from the former Soviet Union and presumably received little or no Jewish education – indeed, may not even be Jewish at all since Israel uses the same “one grandparent” rule as Hitler did – the fact that I know any Hebrew at all seems to be the exception.   No, not the exception – it’s like a revelation to them; bizarre, enlightening, extraordinary.

Sure, there are many Ethiopians here as well, but somehow, I doubt their parents carpooled them to Hebrew school three times a week until they did.

“Where did you learn Hebrew in Canada?” everybody keeps asking (in Hebrew).  As if we were so far in exile that we must have been beyond the reach of rabbis and expat Israelis looking for a nifty teaching income on the side.  Sure, everybody here knows somebody Israeli (or knows somebody who knows somebody Israeli) in Canada, but still – how the heck did Hebrew get so far from its native habitat?

I switched ulpan classes this week when I finally got up the nerve to ask for something a little more challenging.  (No, I did not say “a little more challenging” – if I could have, I probably wouldn’t need ulpan in the first place.)  They put me in a class about two months ahead of the one (pictured at the top), where we were placed initially, without any kind of interview or checking process or asking if we’d ever seen or heard of Hebrew before in our lives.

So now I’ve been fast-tracked, which is great, but because my language-acquisition has been patchy and independent, I don’t exactly fit at this level either. 

Random example:  my first day in the new class and she asked somebody to read the “story” she’d just given out.  I thought, “cool – at least I don’t have to sit learning letters anymore.”  Excitedly, I stuck up my hand to read – dumb.  Apparently, given 20 years of siddur, Tanach and stumbling through Hebrew kids’ books, not to mention 2 years of Jerusalem Post Ivrit Kal, I read like some sort of prodigy.

When I finished scraping everybody’s jaws off the floor at the bottom of the page, I did my best to shut up and never speak again for the duration, but it was too late:  I’d already been dubbed “class whiz kid everybody hates.”

Yet when it came to naming the binyanim (conjugation-groups) to which certain verbs belonged, something they covered almost from the beginning, I was like, “duh – binyanim?” 

I had never even HEARD of binyanim and their conjugations until I took a 3rd-year Biblical Hebrew course at U of T (I chose 3rd year because there was no prerequisite and I thought first year would be too easy), and then I was plunged right into them and had to fake my way to a good solid B, figuring out the rules as I went in what has turned out – on the street in Israel – to be a lousy, haphazard fashion.  A Tanach (Hebrew Bible) has patience to lie there while you translate it into an approximation of legibility; turns out actual Israelis don’t.nosmoking (2)

The problem is that my learning isn’t mesuderet – organized.

I know 800,000 nouns and verbs, or so it seems.  I know every Israeli folk song – okay, not all, but many.  I have stumbled through Hebrew picture books with my kids for over a decade and can read without stumbling.  I have been davening in Hebrew for two decades and can follow and parse most important prayers easily.  I know every shoresh (root) under the sun, which is useful for figuring out words I’ve never heard before.

But all of this is like knowing what soy sauce is and knowing what honey is and knowing what garlic is, but being unable to come up with any ideas for making teriyaki sauce:  how do you put all of this together?  Indeed, it’s almost like never having tasted teriyaki sauce – what is the end result supposed to be, anyway?

So we have a new plan:  Ulpan Alef, the current, fast-tracked class I’m in, which will resume after Sukkos (they call it Sukkot, but they cannot break me!)… plus, two evenings a week, Ulpan Bet, the smarty-pants ulpan for people who know where they’re at a little more than I do.   (Never mind, someone took my ego down a notch this week by saying that when she finished, she was in Ulpan Gimmel.)

The mesuderet part, my new teacher assures me, will come in her class.  And the evening class will help me progress to the next level.  More work, yes, but hopefully, in a couple of months, actual fluency.

Meanwhile, she has embarked on a program of humiliation, which seems designed, in a cruel way, to improve my language skills, somehow. 

It’s actually kind of clever:  instead of translating every new word into Russian or English or whatever, she just explains the word well ONCE, then gets the brightest Russian- or English- or Spanish-speaker to say the word in that language to anyone else in the class who might not have caught on so fast.

Guess who is her new favourite “English translator”???  Yup.

Which would be fine, well, no, but anyway.  Except that after she handed out a bunch of homework for our Sukkos vacation today and I needed to translate the instructions for each exercise, one at a time.  A few minutes passed smoothly, until she decided she didn’t like my English.

השלם את החסר, said the exercise.  “Fill in the blanks,” I said.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “I have to stop you.  It says, [in her decent English] ‘complete the missing.’”  Okay, I said, and went on.

לכתוב את הצורה הנכונה – “Write the correct form [of the verb],” I said, only to be corrected:  “it is, ‘write the form correct.’”

This happened a few more times, but I have decided to forgive her since a) it’s erev Yom Kippur and she asked, and b) she is such a grammar stickler (like me!) that she must have a point even if I don’t get what the point is.

postofficeWe had a visiting dignitary from the Ministry of Absorption visit our classroom to say hello and after he left, she said, “he said  ?מאיפה באתם [may-ayfo batem, where are you from], but you all know this is incorrect – on the street, they say it, but it is only correct to say מאין באתם? [may-ayin batem, where are you from].”

This is the English equivalent of insisting on asking immigrants, “From where have you come?” or whooshing the little “h” hiding in the words “whale” “white” and “whac-a-mole.”  In other words, I can relate.

I guess if the worst I can say about my ulpan teacher is that she loves Hebrew, and enjoys helping newcomers learn to speak it correctly – albeit geekily, in a way that will have street Israelis pointing and laughing – well, I’m probably on the right track.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Grocery packages spotted today

My favourite finds from today’s grocery outing – note that I didn’t buy either of these items:

IMG_00002661 IMG_00002663

Note also that I didn’t check either of these packages for a hechsher, so please don’t buy them solely on my “recommendation” of their lousy English.  :-)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Rosemary’s Baby

IMG_00002653Well, okay, it’s my baby, but it is rosemary, and somewhere, it must have had parents that were rosemaries, right…?

I’m sick of buying herbs in a country where the stuff grows like weeds by the roadside (but also where it might have been sprayed by the roadside, so I’m not going to pick any).

Also, I went into the plants store because I wanted something green for yom tov that wasn’t cut flowers.  They had cacti and they had this.  I think they were surprised somebody bought it; it was just sort of tucked away as part of a display.

Must find a better way to secure it up here, however.  The bungee was expensive and we need it for other things.  I don’t trust string.  Any other suggestions?  We get some pretty stiff breezes up here, by the sea… (thank goodness, because there’s not even a hint of air conditioning)

Bored & doodling in Ulpan

IMG_00002637We learned about Rosh Hashana today!  And also the numbers 10, 20, 30… all the way up to 100.  We know so many numbers now.  And also a few letters.

Don’t get me wrong – the teacher is wonderful, friendly and enthusiastic, as are some of the students.  But they are almost all beginners, and I’m not. 

I thought they’d do a test or something, at some point, like maybe just say hi in Hebrew as you walk through the door the first day. Maybe ask how you’re doing or how long you’ve been in Israel.  I could answer those things, but probably pretty badly, and then they’d know what level of ulpan I belong in.

Instead, they herded us in, gave us name tags (mine was spelled wrong; that darn yud.  Most people couldn’t read theirs.) and began at the beginning:  “ani Tzivia.”  Now, five days later, we’re up to “korim li Tzivia – ani ola chadasha miKanada; ani gara b’Kiryat Yam bi’rechov Sapir, b’Merkaz Klita; ani talmida b’ulpan.”

IMG_00002634Here, the teacher – TeeLee – is drawing “sameach” (happy) on the board.  I have known how to say this word since infancy, as far as I can remember.  Yet many people in the class can’t even seem to fathom the concept of language at all. 

When confronted, a few of them will answer in Russian, even though they have presumably signed up for ulpan to learn Hebrew and understand on some level that, in class, they should attempt to speak it.  The truth is that you could get by – probably very easily up here in the north – with just Russian, and maybe a smattering of Hebrew.

More boredom doodles – drawing each item as she introduced it.

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Later, there was a festive balloon release for Rosh Hashana, carrying greetings of peace and bracha perhaps as far as Lebanon or Syria.

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The more advanced ulpan groups got to show off their Hebrew at the ulpan party; I don’t know how they got into those groups, but I get the sense that a) they have been here for a while, and b) they are more demographically homogeneous – ie one group all-Russian, one group all-Ethiopian, etc.  Okay, no etc; those are the two demographics here.  We are the anomaly.

And in our class, I am the anomaly.  Grrr… more boredom notes to come.  I may switch after Sukkos, although, of course, they keep calling it Sukkot, for some reason.  :-)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Know what's cheap here???

Almost nothing...well, fruits and vegetables. And Judaica. Most of you will be nodding, like, duh, but believe me, it pops up in surprising places, like Kiddush cups in the grocery store, where they also had a special on white tablecloths this week, or even the tacky nameless little 2-shekel shop which we have dubbed "sheklorama," where this decent-looking (though plasticky-krinkly on the underside) cost 18nis (shekels), maybe around $6 Canadian. 

I am growing less afraid of the tiny neighbourhood store shopping experience here... Ironically, just as we're discovering some decent big-box stores right around the corner, like Mega, a nice big grocery store, and Shazar, a decent big "hardware" store, not quite as wonderful as HomSenter, a truly immersive and practically North American shopping experience for any sort of thing a person could want. 

No matter where you shop here, it's nice knowing you never need a special "Judaica" store... because every store, pretty much, is a Judaica store. 

(Okay, okay, before anyone leaves an anxious comment, desperate to prove me wrong,  I know there are lots and lots of actual  Judaica stores here, that carry both a better variety and a better quality of items, along with sifrei kodesh (holy books) that Steimatzky (the ubiquitous main bookseller here) is unlikely to stock.  Also, these specialized shops are more likely, I would think, to be owned by holy people who are completely Shomer Mitzvos.  Maybe I will venture into one someday, when we're in the market for that sort of thing... for now, all I wanted was a cheapo challah cover.)
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Sent on the go in the Holy Land - please excuse my typos!!

Rosh Hashana on my mind

Something a bit more lighthearted to help you get in the holiday spirit...which, by the way, is everywhere here!  The secular high school across the street took 5 minutes out of recess this morning to blow a shofar, sing "chatanu lefanecha" (we have sinned before You) and give a little speech about the significance of Rosh Hashana.

Oh, yeah, plus, I finally crossed the "chicken barrier" (not a literal barrier, just one in my mind) and bought beef for yom tov.  Albeit not the aforepictured brains.

Although, face it, nothing says "Thinking of you" like brains for the holidays! 

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

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