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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Savouring the soil: exploring Kiryat Shmuel with Nefesh b’Nefesh Go North pilot trippers

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Talk about sudden transitions.  A year and a bit ago we were here on a pilot trip.  And yesterday, we stepped into the role of olim vatikim (experienced, or long-time olim) met and spoke with a pilot trip of 20 prospective olim coming to check out northern Israel. 

Our task, along with five other KShmu residents’, was to speak briefly about What We Like About Kiryat Shmuel.

I really should put the word “hosting” in quotes, because the event wasn’t at our tiny place, but in the lovely home of true veteran olim – a couple who have been here for 17 years and raised 5 kids in Kiryat Shmuel. 

Pit stop between Akko and Haifa

As part of a packed Nefesh b’Nefesh Go North pilot trip itinerary, KShmu wound up as one very quick stop on the journey between Akko and Haifa (which, okay, the whole Krayot region kind of is).

The highlight of the event was the 5-minute bus tour of KShmu, which left from our friends’ house and did a nice, leisurely figure-8 around the neighbourhood, ending at the train station – one of the area’s best features (having grown up in a suburb, I don’t count it as a strike against KShmu that one of its nicest attributes is that you can get out of it easily… but some might!).

It was great to get the bus tour… not least because nobody gave us a tour when we first moved in and we’re still trying to figure out where the library is.

On our own pilot trip, beyond the 3-day Nefesh b’Nefesh intensive tour, we got a couple of brief private walking tours (Maaleh Adumim, Ramat Beit Shemesh) and one private car tour (Rechovot), and I think it really made a difference in helping us get a feel for each city.

(Although in the end, we didn’t choose any of those places!)

Questions from the pilot trippers

The pilot trippers asked a variety of questions about life in KShmu:

  1. Does Kiryat Shmuel have its own ulpan?  (No, but the one in Kiryat Yam is very close.)
  2. Is there a Young Israel shul here?  (No, I think the only northern Young Israel is in Karmiel; there are a variety of shuls, but none with davening and/or shiurim in English.)
  3. What kinds of schools does KShmu have?  (A variety, for all ages, including dati le’umi torani, yeshiva-type schools and Chabad, plus a very active Bnei Akiva branch.  Many residents also choose residential schools for high school, either in the north or in the centre of the country.)
  4. What is there for Anglo retirees to do here?  (umm… umm…)
  5. How much do apartments and houses cost?  (It varies; from $250K and up to buy, from $600 and up to rent.)
  6. Where’s the nearest hospital?  (There are 3 in Haifa, including Rambam, a tertiary-care facility; plus, Clalit has the big Zevulun clinic a few minutes away beside the Kiryon mall; plus, there are good clinics of Clalit along with Macabi and others, in the area.)
  7. What are the work opportunities here?  (There are lots of medical-related jobs in Haifa.  For high-tech, jobs, you can either working from home, in Haifa, or in nearby communities like Yokneam… it’s also very easy to commute to other areas – I work one day a week in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, and know somebody who takes the train every single morning to Nahariya.  I also know lots of olim who have found factory and other employment in the area.  Plus, you can always tutor English!)

All great questions, none of which I thought to ask when we visited communities on our own pilot trip.  Though, to be fair, others did a lot of the asking for me.

Apples to oranges?

I don’t know how KShmu stacked up against the other towns they saw. 

To be fair, a place like Akko, Maalot or Karmiel is a city, while KShmu is just a neighbourhood, and a small one at that (so small that when I talk to people who live in Haifa, I have to explain that yes, I do live in the same city as them, and tell them exactly whereabouts we are…).

I hope a few of them were able to see possibility in the place, in any event… or at least, not come away thinking we’re crazy for choosing to live here.

The pilot trip blur experience

On our own pilot trip, last February, we shlepped around from place to place, gathering information, but also meeting people, seeing the inside of Israelis’ houses for the first time (nicer houses than we’d be able to live in, but that’s mainly because of the logistics of fitting in a big group). 

Picturing ourselves living here every day of our lives.

You don’t have a lot of time for musing on a pilot trip.  You don’t have a lot of time for personal reflection… and if you do the group thing, you’ll spend all your time in an English-speaking Nefesh b’Nefesh bubble, not exactly feeling like you’re in the “real Israel.”

Separating terroir from trivialities

Most of the thinking I did on our pilot trip was influenced by small and insignificant things.  Like if someone had a nice painting in her house when she welcomed our group, or  they served tasty cookies, it counted (subconsciously) as a plus for that city. 

When you only have 20 minutes to decide if you’re going to live in a place, you can’t really pick up a ton of meaningful information, no matter how many questions you ask, so the trivialities take on a disproportionate significance.

But maybe as you walk from house to house, view to view, city hall to city hall, you soak up through your feet a little of the soil of each place, its terroir, as the French say [thanks to an astute French friend for fixing my spelling!].  A little of what makes it and its produce – in this case, the people living, growing and thriving there – special and distinct.

I don’t know if KShmu is right for any of the potential olim who were here yesterday, but I wish them and all pilot trippers a klita ne’ima, a pleasant absorption; sinking and being absorbed gracefully, and peacefully, into the dusty terroir of this eternal land.

[photo credit:  Akiva Teddy MacLeod]

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Things that are weird in Israel #8: Plus Signs

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There’s a classic Jewish joke about a boy who was failing math. His parents tried everything and finally enrolled him in a Catholic school.  His grades picked up almost immediately.  Curious, his parents interrogated him as to the secret of the nuns’ success.  Was it the tutoring?  The texts?  The instruction?  "No", said the boy. "On that first day, when I walked in the front door and saw that guy nailed to the plus sign, I knew they meant business!"

So here, at least in some places, they don’t have a guy nailed to the plus sign… nor do they have regular plus signs at all.

Here are two typical pages from one of Naomi Rivka’s math texts this year:

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Notice what’s different? 

The plus sign is missing its bottom “stick” – making it an inverted T, which Wikipedia says is used more in elementary than in secondary schools (perhaps because many Haredi kids don’t learn math beyond the elementary level?).   Here’s what Wikipedia says:

The usual explanation for this practice is that it avoids the writing of a symbol "+" that looks like a Christian cross.[16] Unicode has this symbol at position U+FB29 ﬩ hebrew letter alternative plus sign.[17]

I don’t know if the regular plus sign is “forbidden by law,” as some of the more rabid anti-Jewish sites claim.  (From one post – don’t read on if you’re easily offended! –  “The word “Kike” derives from the propensity Eastern European Jews had to write a circle (Yiddish. “kikel”) instead of a cross (“X”) on immigration papers, when entering the US at Ellis Island in Upper New York Bay early last century… So it’s not surprising to find the Kikes refuse to allow the use of the plus sign (“+”) on a computer keyboard in schools and universities in the antichristian, apartheid state of Israel.”)

I do know that our two older kids attended religious schools all the way through and there was never an issue using regular plus signs.  So this is something new to me, but I don’t think I have strong feelings about it one way or another.  It seems like it would be slightly harder to draw the inverted-T plus sign, but then again, with practice, it probably wouldn’t take longer than the regular one.

I would suspect it’s not a law, but a practice designed to avoid offending the Haredim… while not overly inconveniencing anyone else along the way.   It’s not like kids aren’t going to know what a regular plus sign is, even if they use the “frum” one for math class.

However – while I don’t have strong feelings about this particular plus sign, the “not inconveniencing anyone else” thing can turn into the kind of political correctness I do object to… especially when it comes to bowing to the demands of Israel’s increasing Haredi populations.

I think as long as it’s not mandatory, I don’t have a problem with it.  But I’m not going out of my way to start using it myself.

Here in our religious neighbourhood, the pizza shop across the street, Pizza Plus, would certainly not want to be identified with such a controversial symbol as a CROSS – so this is their logo:

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And here’s a “one-plus-one” ad from another blog post about this phenomenon (it’s from a Hebrew-Christian blog, so although I want to give credit, I don’t want to link directly.  You’ll find the address below the picture if you really want to read their post.):

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(photo credit:  http://maozisraelblog.blogspot.co.il/2010/09/back-to-school-political-correctness.html)

However, although “one-plus-one” is a common sales tactic here (it’s known as BOGO, “buy one get one,” in some English-speaking places), I haven’t personally seen a sign like this one anywhere.

What do you think????

Is this “new” plus sign silly… or meaningful, in some way, to help our kids focus on more appropriate symbols?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Ezra’s Aliyah, a book review

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(…cross-posted with a few changes from my Write Kids’ Books site – something I do very rarely and only when a post is highly relevant to both blogs…)

Very pleased today with this positive review of my kids’ book about aliyah, Ezra’s Aliyah, which appeared today on the me-ander blog.  Very widely read and covering all aspects of life in Israel, the blog is written by a fellow olah who’s been here for 40 years already.

Calling it a “fantastic children’s book,” Batya wrote, “I loved it. It's just the right length for young kids and brings up the subjects parents must speak to their children about.  Ezra's Aliyah is short enough so that young children won't get bored…”

Plus, she actually tested the book out on her grandchildren – always the best way to tell if a book really WORKS or if it’s just there to impress the parents.  Read her full review here.

image Interestingly, the blogger, Batya, insisted that I send her a hard copy of the book, while every other reviewer and prospective reviewer has been happy to accept a PDF or other e-copy of the book.  Definitely cheaper to send that way, but this way, she was able to include a picture of her granddaughter actually holding the book, which is kind of sweet.  (She has a policy of not including face shots of people on her blog.)

You can buy Ezra’s Aliyah on Amazon.com or save the shipping cost and buy it directly from me if you're in Israel for only $9 (including mailing).  I have copies of all my books available here for anyone in Israel who’s interested.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Going south: thoughts on a bus from Eilat

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Christians have an easy mnemonic to remember Israel’s four seas:  “the Red, the Med, the Dead and the Bread.”  To some Jews, that last one’s a little obscure… it refers to the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), near where they believe JC performed the miracle of the Loaves and Fishes.  Thus, “the Bread.”

Three of them are easy enough to get to, but the first one, the Red, involves a trek to what seems like the ends of the earth… Eilat.

Here’s an interesting point of Jew-trivia a friend passed along a couple of months ago:  Eilat is technically not in Israel.  Though that depends how you define Israel.  If you’re talking Biblical boundaries, it’s out.  (Nonetheless, you’ll be happy to know that people who live there still keep one day of yom tov.)

Certainly, it still feels like Israel – or at least, like some weird, remote outpost of Israel.  The presence of an airport smack-dab in the middle of the city (getting in the way whenever you want to walk anywhere) is an irritating reminder that Haifa is basically just an hour away, for anyone who has the means to fly instead of taking the 6-hour bus trip.

We went by bus.  Thus, four hours of THIS out the windows:

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The goal of the trip was Togetherness, with a capital-T, and spending time relaxing with the Big Boy, who is on his way to Thailand to be swallowed up by the rebellion that has apparently just erupted there and have big-boy Adventures.

As you can tell, Togetherness was achieved, in the sense that he posed for Naomi Rivka’s many pictures, like this one.

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We spent just a little over 24 hours in Eilat, which isn’t really enough.  Not because it’s such a great city, but because of the tremendous effort it takes to get there if you don’t have the wherewithal (ie money) to fly down.  I’ve heard the same thing about Australia, only more so:  unless you have a month to spend there, at least, it’s just not worth the crushingly long travel time and adjustment to not just a time but a seasonal difference.

Things to do in Eilat if you have only 24 hours:

Coral reef observatory!  Way cool.  Way overpriced.  Admission is good for 3 days, which is awesome, but it’s so far out of town that you have to either pay 40nis for a cab or memorize the bus schedule (after one cab ride, we did the latter), because they only come once an hour.

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Dip in the red sea!  We did!  I did!  See picture, above.  This is a huge accomplishment… my first time getting completely all-over wet in one of Israel’s seas.  Yeah, I know: we’ve lived ten minutes away from the Med… and I still haven’t gone in, after nearly 10 months.

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Dry off in a lounge chair!  This being Eilat, with 40 degree temperatures and dry, dry air, this only took about 20 minutes.

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Eat a nice meal!  Yum… steak house.  Not the most mindblowing steak ever, and it cost a fortune.  Not a great reason to go to Eilat; there are better kosher steakhouses all over the country.  But Naomi Rivka was very, very impressed.

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Sleep!

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Pose!

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Leave!  Here’s the bus station, where everybody is hanging around doing just that – waiting to catch buses to almost impossibly far-off cities.  It’s funny to imagine how far apart these places feel, like Eilat and Tel Aviv, when a 5-hour car ride was our standard way of visiting my in-laws up until last summer.  Somehow, here, the distances feel greater.

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And now, as I “type” this message on my little tablet, we’re in a bus on our way home… in the middle of nowhere.  Here’s where the tablet’s built-in GPS says we are:

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At last, after nearly 10 months in Israel, the landscape feels truly foreign, in a way that northern Israel never has.  Down here, at the ends of the earth, or so it looks through the bus window, it’s desperately dry and hot hot hot.

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Definitely the dry heat everybody promises won't kill you like the muggy slap of the steamy Krayot heat last summer.  Even at 40 degrees in Eilat, with a gentle breeze and a dip in the ocean, it didn't feel a bit over 30, and we were very comfortable walking uphill to the bus terminal.

Everybody compares Eilat to beach towns and resorts:  Venice, Coney Island, Miami Beach. To me, it has a real element of Niagara Falls to it. Not quite as tacky, but a few more haunted houses and 3d ride simulators will take care of that.

There’s the same strip of attractions leading away from the beach and away from the desirable hotels - many of which, like the Hilton and Herod's, are truly fabulous (or at least look that way from the outside).  Incidentally, just as in Niagara Falls, that uphill trek leads to the only kind of hotel / hostel we can afford to stay in – the weird kind. 

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Don’t worry:  it was weird but GOOD, a creepy little collection of teeny-tiny cabins…

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Interspersed with papier-mache figures, so every time you go outside, you feel like dozens of people are watching you.

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There are lots of the same  vendors of cheap trinkets and fast food... a key difference being that much of the fast food is kosher (while in Niagara Falls, you're lucky if there's one fly-by-night pizza place).

Between the tackiness and the off-the-beaten-path motel, it felt very familiar indeed.

But now, as I write this, I'm somewhere in the desert, a Biblically big desert, on the way from the Red Sea to Beersheva, where Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov had their main stomping grounds. 

So strange to think that this awful, bleak desert, too, is part of my heritage.  Even safely and sure-footedly within the Biblical Land, this terrain is  unconquerably alien and unfamiliar.

And yet!  And yet!  Here in Beersheva, the “capital of the Negev,” I found this outpost of sanity in an otherwise gusty, bleak, hot, dry world:  Mr. Corn!

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I was heading somewhere else for dinner, so I didn’t stop to see if it was kosher (I thought I saw a Pesach teudah – indicating that they had sold their chametz – as I walked past).  But what a wonder!  This is a concept that the world is MORE than ready for:  corn, in all its wonderful forms.  Boiled corn, popcorn, together at last!

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Corn! 

(For anyone who isn’t part of my immediate family… corn is easily my favourite food, and quite possibly, my favourite substance in the entire universe.)

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I had to actually go back – to the irritation of my kids – to get a picture of this sign, which says, “Corn or potatoes?  Now you don’t have to choose anymore.”  I think it’s saying you can get both, maybe even mushed into the soup shown in the picture.  Not exactly sure… they were both in a hurry to get going and wouldn’t let me gaze at the sign.

Here’s the mediocre Asian-inspired supper I was rushing to get during our one-hour stopover in Beersheva.

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And here’s the train that took us, in comfort and style, all the way home to Kiryat Motzkin, from where we had a comfy 7-minute walk home (it’s usually 5, but we were tired and loaded down).

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Forget buses… train is definitely the way to get around this country in comfort and style – not to mention the ability to stretch your legs a little and use the washroom whenever you like.

I don’t think I’ll be heading back south anytime soon.  But dreams of (Mr.) Corn are flitting through my mind, teasing, tantalizing me still, even as the twinkly lights of Haifa’s green mountain welcomed me back to an area that is feeling  more and more normal, more and more like home, with every passing month.

I may be a stranger in a strange land (a very strange land), but with wonders like Mr. Corn lurking out there, who knows what other awesome experiences there are, still waiting to be discovered in this (huge) and holy place.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Haveil Havalim, Behar / בְּהַר Post-Party Edition

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If you weren’t in Israel, you missed Yom HaAtzmaut.  Sure, you may have celebrated even if you don’t live here, as I did for many years before we made aliyah.  But I’m going to take the self-righteous leap and say that you haven’t truly experienced it if you haven’t been here.  It’s not just a party… it is a celebration of national pride, on a spiritual and physical level.  Awesome.

Now the party’s over, but don’t worry – there’s more fun coming, in the form of Lag b’Omer and then Shavuot.

So what are we doing here?  Hosting Haveil Havalim, of course!

imageThis is a weekly roundup of what’s new and great in the Jewish / Israel blogging world.  If you haven’t checked out these great blogs yet, you really should. 

  • Last week’s was hosted by Batya over at Shiloh Musings
  • Next week’s will take place at Esser Agoroth.  Submit your posts to esseragaroth “at” gmail “dot” com.
  • For more details and a complete schedule, please join the HH facebook group.

So while we’re recovering from the party (and waiting for the next one to begin) let’s check in with what’s late & great from around the Jewish World!

Normally, I split the links up into categories… but absolutely everything this week was about Israel, from start to finish.  As is probably fitting this week.  So I made up  my own “categories.”  Enjoy!

Setting off Fireworks

Before we came here, I always assumed there wouldn’t be fireworks in Israel.  I guess I figured there was too much stuff exploding as it is.  But as Batya points out in Yom Ha'Atzma'ut Explosion of Joy 66!, there’s also a spiritual side to the celebration.

Lemon Lime Moon comments on tensions that broke out during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s presence at a Yom HaAtzmaut ceremony over his decision to free prisoners in Netanyahu ' Honors' the Dead, saying “In what far out universe does one honor the dead by freeing their murderers?” 

The Spiritual Side

Yerushalayim wasn’t the only location liberated from Jordanian rule in 1967.  The ancient Biblical site of Shiloh was also reclaimed in the 6-day war, as Batya explains in Women, Join Our Rosh Chodesh Prayers at Shiloh HaKeduma, Tel Shiloh.  Join her each month in the monthly women’s Rosh Chodesh tefillah on Tel Shiloh, the site where the ancient Mishkan (tabernacle) rested for almost 400 years.  (I did!  It was great!)

Fascinating historical fact:  “it is no idle coincidence that the Treaty of London, which would drag Britain into the conflict after 75 years, was signed on Friday the 5th of Iyyar 5599 (19th April 1839), the same date and the same day of the week on which Israel would become independent 109 years later.” writes Devash in Restored-Jewish-Sovereignty-in-the-Land-of-Israel Day.

 

Getting Your Facts Straight

Still believe that “Israel was brought into existence by the European powers in order to ease their consciences after the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed”?  It’s a myth, says Brian (a fellow Feb 2013 NbN Go North pilot tripper, now living in the north!) in Misconceptions Concerning Zionism and Against Founding of IsraelWhat are the other misconceptions?  Read it and be forearmed against those who would delegitimize Israel.

“The… adversarial statements by United States Secretary of State John Kerry…could be a harbinger of troubling times,” writes Brian, yet in Would Loss of American Unquestioned Support Destroy Israel? he says he’s unafraid.  Whether you agree or disagree, it’s worth a read.

As a victim of a past terror attack, Esser Agoroth also takes issue with the abuse of the rhetoric of terror in the recent death of 20-year-old Shelly Dadon, saying in his post Believe it or Not, Shelly Dadon was Killed by Arabs, not Jews, “To refer to graffiti, even to the slashing of tires and other vandalism as an act of terrorism is more than ludicrous; it is truly offensive.”

 

Simply Proud

Sure, we’ve all heard of SodaStream (now!), but I had no idea that Fiverr and many other companies are based in or were started in Israel.  Naomi Goldberg shares her favourites in 66 companies that make me proud to be Israeli.

Interested in exploring one of the country’s natural wonders?  The Eilat Coral Reef Reserve is a great place to start, writes tour guide David Ben-Sira.  It’s not overrun with tourists, he says, but there’s a snack bar and on-site gift shop, as well as changerooms with showers, so you’re never too far from civilization.

For me, being Israeli is still a strange, new thing.  Mostly good-strange, but sometimes disconcerting.  Two posts this week deal with different aspects:  one, Learning patriotism, for Canadian beginners., is all about my adventures in discovering patriotism (relatively) late in life, and the second, When chummus comes a-knocking… is a lighter comment on my distaste for this beloved national “dish.”

(Or Not)

“I do not celebrate the birth of the State of Israel, because I despise it,” writes Rafi Farber in Why I do not Celebrate the Birth of the State of Israel.  An unpopular sentiment, perhaps, but it’s seems that it’s more statehood that he opposes than Israel.  I’ll let you get the details from him – you may still disagree, but do read the piece before forming an opinion based solely on its (inflammatory) title.

Ariel ben Yochanan writes, “Let's call a spade a spade and say that these are pogroms!” in reply to some discouraging news in This Is Terrible!

The media here has been abuzz with an incident concerning the trial of David HaNahalawi, mainly because so many soldiers and civilians have reacted in unprecedented numbers through the semi-anonymity of social media.  Esser Agoroth stands with the soldier, saying “There are plenty of additional injustices being executed by the Israeli Government against its own constituents,” in I Stand with David the Nahal Brigade IDF Soldier!

The Israel Prize is the country’s highest honour, handed out once a year on Yom HaAtzmaut to to an Israeli citizen or organization who has “displayed excellence in their field(s), or have contributed strongly to Israeli culture.”  In The State of Israel Awards One of its Loyalists a Prize: Big Deal!, Esser Agoroth takes issue with one of this year’s selections.

The Sting with the Honey

The flipside of happiness is sadness, and there is plenty of it in Israel on Yom HaZikaron.  This country which we celebrate with joy was won with tears.  “All of the pain, all of those wonderful people dead,” says Batya in Understanding Israeli Independence, No Fairy Tale.

Sometimes, celebrating Israel comes down to the small “everyday” moments, touching ones and happy ones, as Mrs. S. asks, “What small yet meaningful moments defined Yom HaZikaron/Yom HaAtzma’ut 5774 for you?” in A Tale of Two Moments.

Hope you check out at least a few of these posts… and tell their authors HH sent you!  Remember to submit your posts for next week to esseragaroth “at” gmail “dot” com.

[photo credit:  Chris Young, via flickr]

Monday, May 5, 2014

When chummus comes a-knocking…

image Ya know, it’s the worst cliché about Israeli society, but like many bad clichés, it turns out to be a true one: 

Israelis love them their chummus.

When I saw this truck parked outside our building this morning, I called Akiva to take its picture.  Just too funny to think about chummus being delivered to your door in just about the biggest truck I’ve seen since moving here.

I got so excited when I saw this. I imagined some sort of spigot at the back where you could just get the stuff on tap, but Naomi Rivka said, very seriously, "no, you need olive oil." Hmm... maybe from a separate tap?

image In the crazy Adam Sandler movie, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, he plays a chummus-obsessed former Mossad agent who moves to America and reveals that all he wants to do is style women’s hair.

And he LOVES chummus, at one point even going so far as to use it as a hair styling product.

In that, he’s a typical Israeli, which I suppose was the idea in the first place.

Me, I don’t even like the WORD chummus, because, in English-speaking countries, they call it “humus.”  Little suspecting that there is ALREADY a word “humus” in English, and this is what it looks like:

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(photo credit:  Wolfgang Berger, via flickr)

Ew.  Just a little too close for comfort.

So even back in Canada, I made an effort to pronounce it right:  “chhhhhoooo-mooos.”  With a topping of “techeeeeena” - no Anglicized taheeeneee for me.

When we did our little home matzah-baking workshop before Pesach, I bought a variety of condiments for the kids to enjoy on their homemade matzah:  butter, cream cheese… and, as an afterthought, chummus.

Let me tell you, there was no other condiment in the WORLD, as far as the Israeli kids were concerned, that could top the chummus.   They didn’t even glance at the butter (my kids’ choice) or cream cheese; just shmeared their matzahs with great generous dollops of chick-pea lotion. 

Like, I had to bring out more knives so they could devour it with greater rapidity.  Children don’t lie:  they are the true harbingers of Israeli culture.

So this might be a good time to mention that I don’t like chummus? 

Not just the word, the foodstuff.  It’s not exactly true; I’m coming around and will tolerate a streak of it in a falafel or wherever.  Even better if it’s tinged with roasted red pepper or something else to give it an actual non-grimy taste.

You heard me – grimy.  And don’t tell me you can “brighten” the flavour with lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, paprika, hair tonic or puppydog toenails.   I have MADE chummus that other people have told me is fantastic, and I still didn’t like it.  So don’t tell me I haven’t met the right chummus yet.

My favourite homemade “chummus” back in Toronto, when I still had a food processor, was made with black beans.  Second best, kidney beans.  Actual chummus made with chummus aka chick peas aka garbanzo beans (ew, garbage-o beans!), came a very distant ninetieth.

Like humus, chummus is not particularly photogenic.  If you ask Wikipedia what it looks like, you’ll find out soon enough…

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(photo credit:  Donovan Govan via Wikimedia)

(I love the looming shadow on that picture, as if the chummus is evilly plotting to kill you in your sleep.)

Various attempts are often made to disguise it with condiments.  These often end up just making things worse.

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(photo credit:  Gilabrand via Wikimedia)

It seems that there is even no word for chick peas in this country – it’s all just chummus.  The bagged chick peas in the freezer section of the grocery store:  chummus.  The dried beans lurking on the shelf:  chummus.  I imagine if you could find them in tins, those, too, would be chummus. 

It’s all just chummus waiting to happen.

I know it’s ubiquitous throughout the middle east, but really, there is no more Israeli food than chummus.  It’s cheap, plentiful, supremely nutritious, savoury and goes with almost anything (if by “goes” you mean, “contributes a grimy taste”).

So in honour of Israel’s 66th birthday, let’s raise up a glass… of this quintessential Israeli food!  Or just style our hair with it and say le’chaim.  Oh, yummy yum.  I just can’t wait!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Learning patriotism, for Canadian beginners.

image  To say I’ve been surprised by Yom HaAtzmaut isn’t quite true. 

All the chagim have been so much more vivid here that it stands to reason.  And this is THE chag, the Identity Festival that celebrates exactly what this little country stands for and all it’s accomplished in 66 short years.

Back in Canada, I noticed that I only really started taking Canada Day, the July 1st national holiday, seriously after we decided to make aliyah.  With a great big dollar-store flag flapping out front and crafts and activities for the kids (like this Canada Flag activity), we did more than most people I knew. 

imageOkay, we also did the obligatory Big Family BBQ.  Everybody does that, but it’s more about kicking off the summer than celebrating Confederation.

Every time we’d drive south of the border, even when it wasn’t July 4th, I was always struck by the number of flags and the sheer shamelessness of Americans, hooting and hollering about living in the greatest country in the world.

Canadians don’t do that. 

Oh, sure, I think most of us secretly believe it.  It’s a great country:  second-biggest in the world, unspoiled, beautiful, friendly. 

But in general, we will not crassly stick our nationalism in your face – even if your face is marching up and down the streets of our biggest city on our national holiday.  Fireworks and beer, yeah; flags and hoopla, no.

Face it:  Canada just doesn’t do patriotism very well.

We have earned our reputation as the meek among the nations of the world, never offending anybody (except people who don’t like beer or socialized medicine).  Standing in line.  Accommodating.  Apologizing.

I like to tell people here of the time I went shopping, shortly before making aliyah, and in the supermarket, my cart almost made contact with the cart of a woman going in the other direction up the aisle.  Almost; we almost touched carts.  And as we passed each other, like strangers in the night, we whispered to each other that most Canadian of utterances:  “Sorry…”

Yes, we both apologized, instantly and automatically – for NEARLY entering each other’s personal space.

Quebec is like Canada’s crass little brother in this regard.  Even though it’s technically part of Canada (and so, not a nation at all, really), each year on June 24th, they make a big blue and white to-do over their “Fête nationale” (national holiday), St. Jean Baptiste Day (its origin as a saint’s day reflects the province’s Catholic beginnings).

imageOutside of Quebec, the actual national holiday on July 1st gets considerably less attention.  Like I said, there seems to be the prevailing idea that if you like the country, you should keep those feelings tastefully pent-up inside. 

Oh, sure, buy a bunch of made-in-China flags and merch (hats, beer cups, tacky garden ornaments).  But don’t go too far overboard into thinking you or your country are something special.

Israel is a horse of a different colour.  A soos b’tzeva acher (סוס בצבע אחר = “horse of a different colour”), if you will… and that colour is firmly, starkly, proudly KACHOLAVAN.

Flags are everywhere.  Not just on government buildings, although they are all dolled up, of course.  Even the normally pretty dumpy streets of Kiryat Yam are all fancy, with that bunting stuff that flaps and rustles in the breeze.  Here’s Batya at me-ander blogging about setting up the flags at the store where she works.

image (Flags are even on the challahs!  See this post for more.)

Passing through the Herzliya train station the other day, just an ordinary train station, and being literally stopped in my tracks by the beauty of the flags everywhere and what they stood for… goosebumps.

The whole country is covered in flag upon flag
The nation is dancing in wave upon wave
The nation is happy, the nation is glad
It is a festival today in Israel

image כָּל הָאָרֶץ דְּגָלִים דְּגָלִים,
עַם רוֹקֵד גַּלִּים גַּלִים
עַם שָׂמֵחַ, טַף צוֹהֵל –
חַג הַיּוֹם לְיִשְׂרָאֵל.

Read and listen to a scratchy 1956 recording here.

Or watch it as part of a mix of Israeli “chag” songs here (starts at 2:15).

For one day, it seems, for all its flaws and hiccups; for all the bickering and disagreement, for all the pressure from every possible direction to be something else entirely… for one day, Israel is proud of Israel and all it stands for.

It’s nice.

In case you were hoping for something shocking, or controversial or au courant political insight (do you know me???) or at least a mild-mannered kvetch, don’t worry; all that will resume again in a couple of days.

In the meantime, I’m just proud to be Israeli… at last.

(Photo credit:  אורן פלס, Wikimedia)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Things that are weird in Israel #7: School Buses

image Know what I haven’t seen since we got here?  Oops, did my picture and headline give it away? 

Okay, you guessed it – one of those junky yellow school buses with their rubbery, incident-proof seats and the SMELL that hovers around you the minute you walk in, no matter how many of those rattley windows you open.

For some reason, they don’t seem to exist here.  And I say that having visiting many cities now… let me know if you’ve seen them where you are, but I simply haven’t.

For the first few weeks after school started, I remember thinking, every single morning, “hmm… there sure are a lot of tours coming and going from this area.”  Tours?  To Kiryat Yam?  Every single morning?

Silly me:  those were the school buses.  They look like regular coach buses, with coach bus company names on the side and the ubiquitous – yet somehow slightly sleazy – curtains on the window. 

image

I have often watched kids clambering aboard (the stairs seem impossibly high for very young children) and thought about asking them if they knew how lucky they were.

Lucky to have air conditioning, arm rests, cushioned seats covered in REAL fabric (do Israeli children have fewer incidents on buses than in North America???).  Seats shaped roughly like actual human spines, rather than bookshelves:

image 

(photo credit:  Bill McChesney)

Rather than children going off to a mundane day of study, they look like tiny tourists, off to see the world.  Of course, it’s a lovely metaphor, but it probably feels just as mundane, after the first day, as travelling on a city bus, or a plain ol’ yellow school bus. 

But to me, it nonetheless says something about how this country treats its children.  That they are to be trusted, and driven in both safety and comfort.  That the destination is important, even if it feels like dull routine.

Whatever you think, one way or the other, don’t do what I did and google “Israeli school bus.”  Take my word for it: this post is the most cheerful one you’re likely to find on the subject.

(top photo credit:  H. Michael Miley)

Flags, flags...

Nowhere special, really; just an ordinary train station in the most extraordinary place in the world...
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Sent on the go in the Holy Land - please excuse my typos!
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