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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Aliyah: Roseanne, Ethiopians, and the French

imageYears before we arrived, one of the things I said I would miss the most is French.  Turns out I might not have to give it up after all.

Batya asks this week on her Israel blog Shiloh Musings, “From where will the next wave of immigrants come?”  I’m going to spoil her surprise – the answer is France. 

She’s not alone in thinking that:  this Tablet Magazine article blames the 63% increase in French aliyah in 2013 – up to 3,120 – on economic malaise in Europe and rising antisemitism in France.

Most and Least Favoured

3,120 olim – and exactly one of them has made it into my ulpan, by the way.  As favoured Western olim, they most likely have ideas about where they’d like to settle.  And the Krayot are not where they’re going to end up.

Meanwhile, stories like this one about nearly 4,000 Ethiopian Jews who have appealed to come in since Ethiopian aliyah was officially closed last year receive significantly less attention.

Up around here, we get a lot more of the Ethiopian olim, and those from the Former Soviet Union (a flood which doesn’t seem to be stopping) than those from France or the United States.  Not necessarily because the region appeals to them for any particular reason – just that they don’t have as much choice.

That article answered some of the questions that I had about the incoming Ethiopian olim, anyway… like, where are they coming from and why are they still arriving? 

The Klitah Machine

It is heartbreaking, sometimes, watching these Ethiopian families struggle to manage here.  The parents are often illiterate – both Akiva and I have been approached in the grocery store to interpret packages or prices for Ethiopian shoppers. 

But the Klitah (absorption) machine eventually works its magic on all of us, some more quickly than others, and it is also very, very nice seeing how well some of the second generation are getting along. 

One of my students is “Ethiopian,” but even her mother speaks Hebrew like a native – way better than I do, that’s for sure. 

I figure she must have arrived as a child, like Knesset member Pnina Tamano-Shata, who has railed against a system which doesn’t let her donate blood in Israel because she’s from Ethiopia – even though she’s lived here since she was 3.

“I am good enough to serve the state and in the Knesset,” Tamano-Shata told Ynet. “But for some reason to give blood I am not good enough. This is insulting.”

I disagree with her that this is racism; I suspect bureaucratic idiocy.  I’m not saying there isn’t racism here, or that it isn’t blatant, but I don’t think this is a country that would waste precious donated blood for anything other than the most idiotic reasons.

And there is no denying that, racism or not, Ethiopian Jews – at least those who have survived a generation or two – have reached a reasonable level of success here.  Again, the Klitah machine, chugging along, turning out Israelis (mainly through its school system and the army).

…And Celebrity Aliyah

However, without any involvement in those two primary means of Klitah, it remains to be seen how well the government will manage to absorb Roseanne Barr if she goes ahead with her hinted plans to make aliyah in 2014. 

Will she get sent to the north, like us and the Ethiopians?  Or find her way to some shiny American community full of sculptures and treed roundabouts in the merkaz (centre of the country)?

image

Okay, it doesn’t remain to be seen… we know which she’ll pick, and it won’t be Haifa.

Nevertheless, it makes me happy that the Knesset is considering a bill to make the 10th of Nissan “Yom Haaliyah,” a national holiday celebrating immigration to Israel.

"Yom HaAliyah is a chance for Israel to reach out to all Jews throughout the world and say that Israel is not a place for them to just consider living in; this is their Home… with this new national holiday, the Jewish People can celebrate Israel as the country to come to by choice, not just as a refuge from adversity.”

Our stories are all so different, but ultimately, this country draws us in and slowly, slowly, knits us into a people again.  It may be a Disneyfied oversimplification, but I believe with all my heart that it not only will happen, it is happening here every single day.

And I feel so honoured to be a part of it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ten favourite selfies in Israel! (#4 blew me away!)

According to Definition #7 at Urban Dictionary, a selfie is “An over used word meaning taking a picture of your self. This is mainly used by people who are too lazy to say "take a picture of myself."”

So that’s what these are – my ten favourite selfies since we arrived here in Israel.  If you’re interested in seeing the egg-shaped top of my head, you, my friend, are in for a treat!

Here they are in order… starting with #10:

#10:  Family bus trip to Nahariya (full story here)

 IMG_00003312

Kind of a lousy picture, actually (I look like I’m kind of squashed back into my seat and / or about to leap up and eat the camera) but I had to get the obligatory “Egged bus” shot in this list somewhere.

#9:  Entering the Carmelit with Elisheva (full story here)

abigail haifa (3)

The world’s wonkiest subway, captured perfectly in this shot of two homemade crocheted hats.  Hard to think way back now and remember this cold December weather… and it’s only March now.  Sheesh.

#8:  The Bay at Old Yaffo (full story of my sister’s visit here)

abelish (6)

I like how I pretended I was taking a picture of her but managed to sneak in my own big, egg-shaped head.  Urban Dictionary says this is called photo bombing, “Intentionally posing in other people's photos, for a later surprise.”  She’s known me for a long time, though, so I don’t think she was really surprised.

#7:  Harem in Old Akko

IMG_00003430

This was our Nefesh b’Nefesh Chanukah tiyul… Akko was kind of boring, though there were some highlights, like this nice dappled treed area.

#6:  Food Court in the Yerushalayim Merkazit with Abigail & Elisheva

abitrip - Copy (3)

This was nice.  My sister, my daughter.  Fleeting moment captured perfectly over a delicious fast-food lunch.  Well, fast food for me.  Salads for them… they’re both always eating salads.

#5:  Kotel with Abigail (once again, read the full story of her visit here)

abitrip (27)

Me n’ my sister n’ the holiest place n’ the world.

#4:  Waiting for Yerachmiel in the Airport

 IMG_00003115

It was a Friday, very rushed, very crazy.  But since he would only be in Israel for 8 days, we figured it was worth it to drive down and meet his plane.  Crazy how excited you can get about seeing your own kid.

(If you came straight from the headline, sorry.  This picture is not actually likely to blow anyone away, but apparently, when creating a “viral-type” list headline, the Thing to Do Nowadays is choose one to get your readers hooked and scrolling.  Since you’re here anyway, keep on scrolling!  You’re nearly at the bottom… and #1 is worth it, I promise!)

#3:  New Ikea Store with Elisheva (full story here)

IMG_00004232

Fun, fun, fun, ‘till the cows come home (or in this case, two really cute stuffed toy mice for about 6 shekels each).

#2:  The Knesset (full story here)

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Playing at Cub Reporter – having fun, getting paid.  This is the real reason I’m here!

And finally…

#1:  My most-favourite selfie since we came to Israel.

DSCN0601

Well, I didn’t say they had to be of ME, right???

Like food photography (the amateur kind), selfies are a quintessentially modern preoccupation.  In the old days, film used to be way too expensive to waste on potentially-lousy pictures of oneself. 

Still – I think it’s a great way of getting a shot of yourself at times and places when nobody else is there to do it for you.  You just remember stuff better when you’re in the picture yourself!

Do you take selfies?   Do you usually share them, or keep them hidden in some metaphorical “drawer” on your hard drive?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Big Bad Corporations? Bring it on.

IMG_00004232

It feels like the sort of thing I should have strong feelings about, like “Get your #$!% hands off my Israel!”  But I don’t.  Somehow, I’m happy as anything that Ikea is here, and would be thrilled to see more big chains like it moving in.

WalMart?  Maybe not.  Not much chance of that happening, but I do wonder where we draw the line.

I’m no economist, but as I understand it, there are a few arguments against big companies coming in and staking a claim here or in any small, threatened economy:

  • Destroys local industry.   I hope you’re not talking about furniture manufacturing here.  There IS no furniture manufacturing here, or hardly any.  Nothing to make it out of.(palm trees?)
  • Crushes local retailers.  I don’t think that’s a big risk in this country.  It costs a lot of money to bring stuff in, even if you’re Ikea.  I priced out some of the furniture at Ikea before we went… and we bought our shelves and bedroom aronot (closets) at our local HomeCenter instead.
  • Disrespects local culture. If you’ve ever been to Kiryat Ata, you’ll know it’s a factory town without much culture to begin with.  I think Ikea probably improves the ambience.  Plus, they sell 5-shekel falafel at the hot dog stand by the exit – something I don’t think they offer at their Canadian, U.S. or Swedish stores.
  • Channels money out of the local economy.  True, but if I buy a shirt at an Israeli chain, much of the money for the shirt is probably going to manufacturers in China or abroad anyway. 

True, buying “kacholavan” should be a priority (although do I really want more and more and more plastic products manufactured half an hour away in the Galil where our veggies are grown???).  But it’s not always possible.

Here are my arguments FOR our local Ikea store, in Kiryat Ata:

  • It’s an island of sanity for olim.  Seriously, nice to walk around in a store this BIG, with such a huge selection.  The entire selection; everything I could have bought in my Toronto Ikea store is here.  Even after seven months (not a long time!), life in Israel is a nonstop daily assault of foreignness.  A little touch of familiarity… not a problem.
  • They’re supporting Torah study.  Really!  I just found this article while looking for pictures I could use with my post.  It says they’re looking to hire guys in kollel to work in their off hours – a win-win (+win for klal Yisrael!).
  • IMG_00004238Convenience isn’t a sin.  Sure, our puritanical nature tells us that if something is too easy or too fun, it shouldn’t be allowed.  But the truth is that if Israeli stores don’t know how to create a great shopping experience – or don’t care whether they do or not, perhaps they will lose out to the competition.  Thanks, Darwin!

It’s funny.  I’ve received two very similar objections to posts and emails lamenting the incursion of “American” culture into Israel:  once when I ate at McDonald’s (“I’d rather have falafel!”) and once when I shopped at Ikea.

Both were from non-Jewish relatives, one of whom hasn’t even been here, let alone lived here.  They’re entitled to opinions, but you’ve got to weigh that against the feelings of people who live here. 

Judging by the numbers of Israelis in the Ikea store the day we went – many are quite strongly pro-incursion.

IMG_00004242Now, you may be wondering… did I buy anything???

Nope. 

Well, hardly anything.

(tee hee)

Two herb plants for 6 shekels each.  Some drinking glasses for Pesach.  A cute toy for Elisheva in the bargain-basement damaged-goods “metzion” section near the exit.

IMG_00004241 Oh, and we ate in the restaurant!  All-kosher, with two sections, one a dairy espresso bar and one a meat/fish family cafeteria-style restaurant.  Not amazing prices, but very tasty food.

They do serve tasty meatballs, but they don't call them Swedish, and, disappointingly, don’t offer lingonberry jam on the side – even though it is depicted on their website.

Ikea has now become Elisheva's top  "thing to do in Haifa, " displacing the Bahai gardens, which she didn't really like anyway.

Maybe somebody should make a rule that these big conglomerates should ONLY be allowed to expand outside of North America in the future. 

That way, North Americans can be self-righteously rid of them for good… while those of us in the rest of the world can be grateful and thrilled that somebody is paying attention to us, and giving us the chance at a fun shopping trip even if we don’t end up buying a thing.

The new Ikea store (they pronounce it “ee-kay-ah”) in Kiryat Ata is only about 10 minutes away by a very convenient city bus, by the way.  Doesn’t mean I’ll be there all the time, but it feels nice to be at the centre of things for a change. 

Next stop… and no, I’m not joking.  Pizza Hut in the Malha Mall in Jerusalem, tomorrow.  I have to be in the area on an errand – it’s not a special trip, I promise!!!

Maybe someday I’ll get this junk food / junk culture thing out of my system… until then, bring on the Big Bad Corporations!

Okay, I will open it up, since I know mine isn’t the only opinion… What do you think of all these foreign interlopers?  Are they Good for Israel???  Leave a comment and let me know!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

My mivta (and a great shopping tip!)

Walked into the hardware store to buy a replacement light bulb last week, when suddenly, my Hebrew FAILED. 

(Understandable after a week of Purim-related festivities.   I could barely speak English by that point!)

“Ani mechapeset... (I’m looking for...)” - blank, sigh, “kazeh (like this),” i said, giving up and holding up the defunct bulb.

(Yes, of course we have gotten smart and learned to bring whatever it is we want with us to the store.)

 

Good Immigrant Habit #77:  When buying something, try to bring along one of the “something” with you when you go to the store.  If you don’t have one, bring a picture of it.  Or a dictionary.  Be prepared to wave your arms and flex your fingertips to show exactly how high, how big, how long.  And be prepared; even with all that preparation, they still may not understand.

Cheerful sales dude, “Ah, mivta Amerikani”  Big, knowing salesguy smile.

Ha!  I thought.  I’ve broken through!  At last, a salesperson is helpfully telling me the name of what I’m looking for! 

I nodded, as if to say, “yes, yes, my good man, go on, lead the way... show me more of these ‘mivta Amerikani’ bulbs.”

Then, as I followed him through the store, I remembered… slowly, it dawned… I knew where I’d heard the word before. 

Mivta = accent.

No, he wasn’t talking bulbs at all...he was just talking about my own lousy Hebrew:

mivta Amerikani

= מבטא אמריקני

(also sometimes  מבטא אמריקאי)

= American accent

Naturally, I didn’t get into a discourse on how I’m not American.  Or how I am Canadian, which really is American, even though what most people here think of as American is the same as what I, in my head, call “United Statesian.”

Nope, I just paid for my bulbs and hightailed it home.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Coming soon to Israel… my books!

Just ordered a whole bunch of my books on the slow boat from CreateSpace, the publishing company I use.  This is GREAT NEWS for any friends and fans here in Israel, because once they arrive, I can remail them to you at a significant savings over what it would cost to order these yourself.

These prices include mailing within Israel!  Since the price to mail is the same up to 200g, I will take $1 off the price if you order any two books – or two of the same.

Outside of Israel, please check out this great twofer offer for my newest books!

(Click any cover to see full information and look inside the book on Amazon.  To order, email me at Jay3fer “at” gmail “dot” com.)

Cover Description Price
1482018497
Naomi Shemer:  Teaching Israel to Sing

Acclaimed as the "First Lady of Israeli Song" and the author of unforgettable classics like Jerusalem of Gold (Yerushalayim shel Zahav), Naomi Shemer is almost unknown in the English-speaking world. Come find out what made her special.

$7
     
148235537X
The Marror Man

"Run, run, as fast as you..." Think you know the next line? Maybe not... as you'll discover in this lively Passover twist on a classic tale.

$7
     
1482779501
What Maya Wants to Be

There are so many things Maya wants to be when she grows up... what will she choose? Or does she really HAVE to choose?

$9
     
1490455337
Hashem Never Forgets

Faigy knows how old Buster is in dog years. But if a thousand years is like a minute to Hashem, then how old is Buster to Hashem? This is a story about memory, both ours and Hashem's, as Faigy learns that Hashem never forgets and always loves her... even after a thousand years.

$9
     
1490539689
Seven Special Gifts

Come meet the Seven Species! These five special fruits and two grains, the Shivat Haminim, are listed in the Torah in the book of Devarim.  Now, these seven special crops come to life, with rhyme and full-colour illustrations, revealing the true plan behind Israel's delicious bounty!

$9
     
1490581839
Zoom!  A Trip to the Moon
Come explore Hashem's amazing world by flying OUT of this world in a fun, fantastic erev Shabbat adventure. $9
     
1490904182
We Didn’t Have An Etrog!

What? No etrog?? What will we do? It's just not Sukkot without a lulav AND etrog! These children have worked hard to grow their etrog... but even hard work isn't enough without a bit of patience and some help from Hashem!

$9
     
1494843773
Ezra’s Aliyah

Join Ezra and his family as they prepare for the journey of a lifetime - saying goodbye to family and friends and heading excitedly towards their new lives in the Land of Israel. Addresses children's common concerns about aliyah in a friendly, positive way.

$9

I think these are all great books that I’m proud of.  Happy that I’ll soon be able to share them with folks here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Keeping our phone: one good decision, one bad one.


Signing off after chatting online with a prospective olah this evening, I added a tip I haven’t mentioned here yet that I decided I really must share right this minute:
You can keep your phone number!
Yes, it’s true:  you can bring your North American landline number with you to Israel by switching it to a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service before you move.
Why this was a great decision for us
I’m very attached to our number because I’ve had it for over 16 years, longer than any phone number in my life.  More importantly, everybody who’s known me during that time knew that was my number.
A few reasons you might consider keeping your phone number:
  • It’s pretty cheap – between $5-15 per month, depending on your service (you can also buy a device like a MagicJack that includes a certain number of months – but read all reviews carefully!).
  • You get to call North American 800 numbers easily and “free.”
  • You want to retain business contacts and/or keep doing business seamlessly in your old area.  It’s a lot easier to set up an interview and tell the person to “call me back at 416-555-1212” than to tell them “okay, dial 011, then 972, then 54, then 5551212.”  I do entire interviews where I don’t tell the person I’m in Israel… I love it!
  • You have elderly or low-tech and or dumb friends or relatives who might be scared to call a 972 number or still think long-distance is expensive and want to talk for only 30 seconds so they save money.
  • You want your kids to be able to call relatives and friends easily, and vice versa.
  • Extra VoIP services that may be included, like Call Answer that sends your voicemail straight to your email inbox.
  • Extra services, like our local public library’s “Dial-a-Story” line.  (Who in Israel is going to read my kids a story in English over the phone???)
A few reasons you might NOT want to keep your phone number:
  • You’re not moving into your own place right away, and don’t want to pay the full amount every month until you do (we “parked” the number for 6 months while we lived in the Merkaz Klitah, but still had to pay; I did continue to receive voicemail, though)
  • You aren’t leaving a lot of friends / relatives behind in the area code where you were living.
  • You don’t want bill collectors to find you.
  • You don’t want relatives to find you.
  • You’re happy using Skype / facebook / email and so are the people on the other end, so why should you bother paying?
  • You don’t want to bother futzing around with technical stuff (but it’s not all THAT technical!)*
  • You’re getting a great Israeli landline and/or cell plan that includes unlimited North America, and don’t see the need to complicate things with another phone option.
* Don’t be scared by the word “router”!  It’s just the modem box your internet line hooks up to.  If you have internet at home, you have a router, and to use VoIP, you usually just plug a box into the box and you’re good to go.
Does this mean we don’t use Skype, like everybody else?
We do use Skype.  It doesn’t work all the time, with every relative, in every situation.  We like Skype, and still use it when we want a video connection.  We have found that every Skype conversation begins with a lengthy preamble where you talk about Skype, get everything set up and then marvel about Skype some more.
It’s not the same as picking up the phone and just talking.
I also have some dollarses in a Skype-out phone account so I can call actual home telephone numbers on Skype.  This was a great option when we were in the Merkaz Klitah because it didn’t hog a lot of bandwidth or require access to a router, which we didn’t have.  But it’s NOT the same as picking up the phone either.
Young Boy Pretends To Talk On Phone Stock PhotoFunny true story:  last week, the Toronto phone rang and it was a telemarketer, saying, “We’ll be in your neighbourhood next week installing windows and doors.”  It was all I could do to not ask, “What neighbourhood is that, exactly?  Are you going doing Kuwait tomorrow?”
What NOT to do if you move your landline
So if that was the good decision… what was the bad decision?
The outlets here in Israel are different.  You know that already.  They have more electricity in them than the ones in North America – 220V instead of 120V.  That’s a lot of juice!
(It’s the same amount of juice that goes into those jumbo dryer outlets in North America.)
So it goes without saying – you can’t just plug stuff in willy-nilly.
Well, I certainly knew that already!  You don’t have to tell me!  I could teach a class on this stuff!  At least, I could have, until I did something really, really dumb.
adapter!There are two ways to plug stuff in that comes from North America:  an adapter and a transformer.  This deserves a blog post of its own, but basically, an adapter (shown here) changes the plug-holes ONLY; it doesn’t change the electricity.  So you still have super-strong Israel juice going into your appliance.
This will fry most appliances in seconds.
The only thing it works for is chargers, shavers, computer plugs and a few other things, because these usually have a transformer built in, in the form of that black “brick” thing at the end of the wire.  And somewhere on that “brick” in teeny tiny print is written how much juice it can take. 
It’s usually a range – like 100-220V.  The brick will automatically take the electricity you put in and switch it to the amount your device needs.  Nifty!
But it’s not always the SAME range, which means you must always READ the brick!!!
As I discovered, just because it’s a brick doesn’t guarantee that it will give a safe amount of electricity to your appliance.
Like the cordless phone that we shipped all the way here from Toronto… only to fry it like so much cheap bacon the first time I plugged it (with an adapter) into the Israeli powerbar where I plug my laptop (with an adapter).
The bad decision:
  • Adapter + Laptop = many happy computation-hours
  • Adapter + Cordless Phone = “what’s that funny smell?”
It never worked again. 
Happily, I was able to order one online from my favourite Israeli shopping website and it arrived at our door within a week.  So all’s well that ends well, as long as you toss enough money at the problem.  And the new one is better quality, with this ringtone that just makes me want to get up and disco.
One last reason why keeping the phone number was a good decision
I just want to end on a high note (instead of on a “how stupid can you get?” note) with one last reason that I didn’t mention above. 
The fact that my kids can pick up the phone and, with seven quick digits, have my mother, my sister, their friends, the library, on the line… well, it’s more than priceless:  it makes my heart sing.   And the fact that an old friend called my mother last week to get our number, and discovered that it was the SAME number; no dozens of digits to write down.  Again, when the phone rang and it was her, my heart was happy.
(I am careful to unplug the phone at night, with all our tech stuff, because 2 a.m. telemarketers are not quite as charming as 2 p.m. phone calls from an old friend.)
Yeah, your heart can be happy with an Israeli phone as well, and maybe eventually, when life here feels more settled, we’ll wean ourselves off this Toronto landline.  But maybe not… because it feels like such a good decision so far.
Just be careful what you plug in where!
If you’ve made aliyah, did you keep your number?  Was it a good decision?  If you’ve used a VoIP option that you’re happy with, feel free to leave the details in the Comments section!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Purim, not purim, and my not costume

To celebrate Purim outside of Israel (or, as people here say – “in chul”), you have to wade through a whole lot of not-Purim to get there. 

Maybe you're lucky, and live in a Jewish neighbourhood, so you don't have so much wading to do. 

(Probably not luck; you probably chose to live around other Jews, and good for you.)

But either way, you've got some wading to do. 

I use that word deliberately. Wading isn't easy ; it's not swimming, it's not walking... It's kind of like the worst of both worlds. 

It's not something fish do. It's something we gawky humans do when we're out of our element. 

Hmmm.

Purim outside of Israel can be a fun bubble, unlike, say, Yom Kippur in chul.  If you see someone in costume - and I always made a point of wearing a costume - you wave, shout greetings… it's tons of fun. 

Me in costumes past:

This year, I didn’t care so much whether I wore a costume, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. 

Okay, partly it’s because I’m a bit blue, or blah, or whatever you want to call it.  I’m away from everyone I love (except 4 important people I love!) and don’t always feel that festive.

But also – here, you don’t need the costume to feel like it’s Purim.  It just is.

A Conservative rabbi once tried to convince our conversion class – and it took some doing – that there was no such thing, really, as “having a bar mitzvah.”  All you have to do to is wake up on your thirteenth birthday (or the day after; I forget) and you are bar mitzvah.  You can’t make it happen, and neither can you stop it.

Sure, you can get all dressed up, have an aliyah (great!), have a party if you like.  But none of those things make you bar mitzvah… you either are or you aren’t.

It’s either Purim or it isn’t.  Here, it is.

I feel like, all those years outside of Israel, every year we’d get dressed up and pretend it was Purim.  Now that we’re here, we don’t have to pretend.  No more wading – here, we’re in our element.  It’s all around us… Purim is in the air.

Even if you do nothing at all, it really is Purim.

I felt the same way on Yom Kippur, when the thousands of Jews around here who aren’t shomer mitzvos (observant) brought their lives to a standstill.  For 25 hours (give or take), they didn’t go to the beach, didn’t drive their cars, didn’t open their stores.  Because whatever they personally happen to believe, it really WAS Yom Kippur.  You can’t argue with it, it just is.

IMG_00004147 So we did the mitzvos of the day, and celebrated with friends (KShmu BBQ!), and it really was kind of great, despite my semi-funk.

GZ really really really wanted to dress up as a pirate, so he dressed up as a pirate and had a wonderful time. 

Naomi Rivka had a couple of costume options, but really really really didn’t want to get dressed up, so she simply… didn’t.  She wore the same clothes she wears to school every day.

IMG_00004148

(Believe it or not, she really is having a wonderful time in this picture – she’s just rapt, surrounded by English-speaking teenagers, which, for a displaced 9-year-old, is as close as you can get to heaven in Israel.)

Slightly dishevelled pirate after a few minutes of partying hard with strawberries:

IMG_00004152

(Yeah, these people really do have a beautiful backyard.  They’ve been here many years and own a private villa (house) in the nice part of KShmu.)

Ted/Akiva got dressed up, of course.  There’s a Superman shirt underneath the suit, which is itself the “Clark Kent” part of the costume, so the whole thing really IS a costume… he didn’t actually WEAR a suit to bike to an Israeli BBQ on a hot sunny day!

IMG_00004153

And I didn’t have strong feelings one way or another – and didn’t wear a costume… sort of. 

Akiva bought me a clown nose, and at first, I was just going to pin it (still in the packaging that says “clown nose”) in a half-hearted way to my regular clothing.  But at the last minute, I pinned it in a half-hearted way and added a toy stethoscope, becoming, in the process, a medical clown.

It turned out, I was not the only medical clown there.  It’s a popular profession here in Israel, and one of the aforementioned teenaged girls dressed up as one as well.  Her costume was better than mine - her father works at the med school at the Technion and she had a real lab coat, as well as a colourful clown wig (scroll up and you’ll see it in the picture of Naomi Rivka).

Mine was a costume, but low-key; it wasn’t really a costume.  And I was okay with that.

Here’s the thing:  my secret Purim shame.

Growing up, we dressed up every year… for Hallowe’en.  And it was great!  We could dress as anything we wanted, the sky’s the limit.  Trick or treating, UNICEF boxes, the works.  I loved it.

Then, a few months later, along would roll Purim.  Which wasn’t a “real” holiday, because nobody outside of our family and Hebrew school had ever heard of it.

It also wasn’t a real dress-up holiday because… my mother’s rule… you could ONLY dress up as someone from the Purim story. 

As a mom, I think I can understand her reasoning now:  why not take advantage of this “duplicate” costume opportunity to strengthen and reinforce our Jewish education?

Even better:  why not take a real stand against the non-Jewish majority culture, emulating Esther, even, by being super-Jewish in your story-of-Purim costume?

But there are only so many characters in the story, especially for a little kid who’s never actually read the whole megillah.  Not so many characters, and I think I was all of them at one time or another:  Haman, Esther, Mordechai, the king, Vashti.  Lather, rinse, repeat. 

Booooooooooorrrrrrrring!!!

(Oops – I guess my Terrible Purim Secret is not so secret anymore!)

It wasn’t until I became religious, as an adult, that I realized this wasn’t an actual rule.  I learned the rules, and not only were costumes not even IN the rules, but among frum families I met, I discovered that the kids could dress up as anything they wanted. 

Barring tznius concerns and what Elisheva likes to say in a thick chareidi accent, “tarbus hagoyim” (non-Jewish culture), the sky’s the limit.

Not just because they don’t get to celebrate Hallowe’en (poor frum kids), but because they probably aren’t so concerned that their Jewish education will be watered down or threatened by a non-megillah-related costume.

And I guess it’s the same thing here.  My wearing a costume or not wearing a costume wouldn’t have changed anything about the nature of the day.  I could wear one, if I wanted to, but there was no pressure. 

So I sort of did, and sort of didn’t.

I can’t say what I’ll do next year.  We’re living minute to minute here, so I really can’t even say what I’ll be doing next week, let alone twelve months from now.  Will I wear a costume?  Maybe, maybe not. 

But whether or not I join in, it will be Purim, in a way that I’ve honestly never experienced before. 

I suppose it helps also that if you do wear a costume, you can actually WEAR it, rather than toss a parka on over it so you can slip and slide across the ice to shul to huddle in the warmth as you hear the megillah.

The one constant of Purim, wherever you may find yourself, is the theme of “venahafoch hu” – “and it was turned around.”  The “fate” of the Jews turned from bad to good, while the “fate” of Haman went “from bat to verse,” as the terrible vampire poet joke goes.

Whatever we may be wearing a year from now, I’m excited to see what next Purim in Israel will bring… and may there be many more to come.

A quick tour of K Shmu aka Kiryat Shmuel

Enough of you seemed interested in my descriptions of Kiryat Shmuel, our new neighbourhood, to warrant another post with a quick tour of the neighbourhood.

First, like almost any place in Israel, it can be ugly here.  This is our building, which I’d classify as Pretty Darn Ugly, even by Israeli standards.  It is redeemed a bit by the beautiful little girl standing in front.

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That flowery “lawn” will be a dust bowl within 2 months, so it’s probably at its most charming right now.

But the upside of Ugly is Cheap – apartments here range from ₪1800 for a 2-bedroom (that’s what we’re paying) all the way up to about ₪3000 for the same number of rooms in a heck of a lot more spacious layout in the good part of “town.”

Some houses in the good part of town.

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These are nicer than where we live, obviously. 

Basically, you get what you pay for.  Cheap = Ugly; Expensive = Pretty.  But it’s nice to know, if you are thinking of moving into the area, that there seem to be rentals available in just about every level and price bracket, as well as a good assortment of properties for sale.

The last house pictured, by the way, has been under construction since we moved here, with no end in sight.  They are making progress… just very, very tiny progress.

I’ve referred a few times to “downtown” Kiryat Shmuel, and here it is… a makolet (mini grocery store) and a post office.  I think there’s a hair dresser somewhere as well.  Upstairs, tucked in and hidden around the back, is the local “vaad” – the folks you pay for your water and sewage.  Somewhere near there is a teeny tiny public library, but we have yet to find it.

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Someone in the post office is apparently learning English (notice the sign taped up to the partition):

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Notice they’re not post-office related words at all:  strudel, milk shake, stereotype?   Weird.

This is the Merkazi Beit Knesset (central shul - Sefardi):

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Downtown KShmu also features a really nice park with actual, natural shade trees (a rarity around here):

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… Right across from a very noisy, active Bnei Akiva “sneef” (branch).

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… and a community centre where Naomi goes to dance classes once a week (doh, forgot to take its picture). 

This corner is quite the hangout on a Friday night, after all the sensible people are tucked in safely at home with a book.  Teenagers take over the playground, the yard, the street and don’t give it back until morning.

Back to the central part of KShmu, where we live, we have the “main park,” a huge Shabbos hang-out for families and kids.

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And the nice new food store – it just opened right before we came.  There’s also a Clalit health clinic, if you peer at the top-left corner.  It’s bigger than it looks, taking up the entire second storey above the food store.  Naomi Rivka says the food store is a trick because it looks like it’s 2 levels, but it’s really not.

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And then… it’s back towards our block, the old part of town.  No idea when this area was built, because my theory is that the salt air ages everything to look decades-old inside of, well, a decade. 

There are a few private houses here, along with some older ground-floor apartments that are “almost” like houses because they’ve been built out with patios, etc.

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(Notice the motorcycle parked just inside the doorway?  Not that there is a door.  Most of these older buildings omit that nicety.)

In my experience, most places – even those that look terribly run down on the outside – look decent, and even possibly VERY nice, on the inside.  I think nobody bothers with outside maintenance unless they have to, ie if something is threatening to fall off their house with disrepair.

Naomi’s teacher, for instance, lives in a building with a dingy entrance very similar to the one here with the motorcycle in it.  But when we went in a couple of weeks ago on Shabbos, it turns out the apartment itself is beautiful, modern, and spacious, with a full-sized ground-floor patio.

I guess folks here take the Pirkei Avos saying “don’t look at the jug, but rather, at what it contains” seriously.

This is our nearest miklat, shelter, because these old buildings and houses were not built with shelters of mamads (part of the current building code). 

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Conveniently, but mystifyingly, there’s a shul that uses the shelter as well (see the sign above the door).  And there’s a sign on the door that says something about where the keys can be found.  This sign fails to reassure me.

A parkette with bench across the street that is pleasant right now, in the spring, but probably brutally hot in the summer:

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And we return, at last, to the dingy apartment block we call home.

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Thanks for stopping by!!!

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