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Chanukah in Israel: why it’s simply better here


"Do they really celebrate Chanukah in chu"l???" (Outside of Israel - see this post!)

This Sunday, I brought English Chanukah songs for the girls I tutor.  One of them was amazed and asked me this outright.  She couldn’t believe that even in Canada, we celebrated Chanukah.

She knew that Jews everywhere celebrate most holidays, but Chanukah is so tied up in the Israeli psyche, our most nationalistic holiday besides Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), that it must have seemed impossible to celebrate anywhere else.

And I have to admit: she’s right. 

Sure, you can celebrate Chanukah in chu”l, but you can’t feel it the way you do here.

I've always been humbug about Chanukah.  It's not that I hated it, but when we lived in Canada,

A not simple time: the stolen Yemenite children


In Hebrew, instead of saying something in the past was "difficult" or "complicated," the phrase is softened a little.  They say, "it's not simple."

One such not-simple period is the stolen children of Yemen. 

Here's the nutshell:

When Yemenite Jews came to Israel in the 1940s and early 1950s, some children were often taken and given away to Ashkenazi families, some of whom were survivors of the Shoah.  Not all, and perhaps not even many; but some.  The actual number doesn’t matter.  There’s no number that would have been acceptable.

Sometimes, Yemenite parents were told that their children were sick and needed to be in the hospital.  I read the story of one man whose adoptive mother simply showed up at the hospital and was told, "Pick a baby."  His birth mother, like most of the Yemenite parents, was told that her child had died.

Having seen so many Ethiopian families trying to adjust to life in modern Israel in the years we’ve been here, I find it

Ordinary bad things


You never think about the ordinary bad things when it comes to living in Israel.

Years before we came here, I read about a family who made aliyah, and then one of their sons was killed riding a bike.

It really made me stop and think.  These kinds of things happen in Israel?  Ordinary, bad stuff, like bike accidents, car accidents, slipping, falling, all the normal terrifying things that can happen to anybody, anywhere in the world?

Yes, sadly, it’s true.

It’s the extraordinary tragedies that people expect here, and then the everyday, ordinary bad things kind of sneak up instead.

When we first made aliyah, I slept with a tichel (head scarf) handy every night, in case I had to get up and make a run for the shelter in the middle of the night.  True, things were “hotter” then in the north, with Syria making all kinds of threats, and Israel getting in the way as it does. 

But also, I just expected it.  This was Israel, after all.

Gradually, I let down my defenses.  The extraordinary bad things that one expects from watching too much news simply weren’t happening.

Now, our gas masks are

Who Israel has instead of rock stars and supermodels (and why I’m glad)


Sure, supermodel Bar Refaeli captures her share of headlines here.  But you know who's a real celebrity in this country?

I'll tell you.

I was sitting down this afternoon in a little cafe in the mall, revving up my voice recorder, buffing up my pen & notepad, or whatever I do before an interview… when I noticed a woman standing outside the cafe, staring intently. 

After a second, she started waving - at the guy I had come to interview.  She waved timidly at first, shyly, and then a little more crazily when she saw that he'd spotted her there.  "Todah," she mouthed at him.  "Todah."  Thanks.

"He's like a rock star here," said the translator.

I nodded, numb, amazed.

Who was this instantly-recognizable mega-star that I had come to interview?

It was this guy:


What’s that you say?

Exactly!  Yeah, this guy.  (The one in the vest.  No idea who the guy in the white kippah could be.)


Yup, him.  Desmond Tutu’s buddy.

Why “Aliyah” is one of the hottest baby names in America


Here’s one fact that maybe you didn’t know about aliyah:  it’s an incredibly popular baby name in the U.S.

Since this blog is dedicated to covering All Things Aliyah, I thought I’d explore this phenomenon.  Maybe I’ll inspire someone to choose the name for their baby!

In the year 2011, “Aliyah” was actually the 133rd most popular name in the U.S.  It beat out far more common and predictable names, like – um – Jennifer.  And also classics like Mckenzie, Haley, Michelle and Stephanie.

Here’s the name Aliyah in Hebrew letters:


When writing it without vowels, people often include two lettter “yuds,” like this:


The Hebrew meaning of the name is absolutely beautiful.  It means “going up,” “ascent” or “rising” (though here in Israel, this could refer to a spiritual ascent or just gas prices!). 

The main meaning of the word, for Jews all over the world is the “going up” involved in moving to the Land of Israel.  Which is, in fact, what this blog is all about.  A secondary meaning is “going up” for an honour in the synagogue, such as when people are called to read from the Torah.

But mainly, those are not the reason that people are giving the name Aliyah and related names to their babies in record numbers.

Most people are still naming their babies in tribute to the dead superstar singer Aaliyah Dana Houghton, better known just as Aaliyah (with two A’s at the beginning). 

But now that it has been a few years since her death, many more people are picking the name simply for its beautiful sound or meaning. 

This is a name with quite a few variants.  Some other common variations are Aliya, without the H on the end, Aleah, and the Hawaiian Alia, who apparently was a princess, and which means “great joy.” 

What’s my kid learning??!? A guide to school subjects in Israel


Prepare to feel like a moron, that’s all I can say.

The first day my daughter came home from school in Israel, I thought I was going to cry.  I had put 2 kids all the way through Jewish schools in Canada, with plenty of Hebrew along the way.  I really believed I had a handle on things. 

Reading the schedule

Turned out I knew nothing and couldn’t even read her schedule.  And that was Grade 2!?  Oy.

I plowed slowly through her timetable trying to make sense of it.  A few words, I did understand (Torah! Chagim!).  A few words, I knew, but they didn’t make sense.


Why was a second-grader learning “Engineering”?

זה"ב/Zahav?  What was the point of studying “Gold”?

Oy, did I have a lot to learn.

So you won’t get stuck like I did, I’ve put together a yet another handy chart of Hebrew/English school subject names.  If your kids are in a religious school, chances are they’ll be learning most of these and possibly some more (if you have additions, let me know in the comments!).

Scroll down to see that full list!

The biggest difference

Even learning the names of subjects won’t help completely, but it is definitely a start on understanding the differences between schools here and schools “out there” in the rest of the world.

However, the biggest surprise so far (this is now our third year, making us veterans!) is the number of “subject” teachers. 

Don't make these 5 mistakes when you're opening a bank account in Israel


Quick, where will your first bank account in Israel be?

One of your first tasks when you step off the plane is opening a bank account so you can start getting sal klitah, the six months of “absorption” money that you’re entitled to when you arrive in Israel.

So that’s why many olim feel rushed into opening their first bank account, and don’t think the process through as much as they should. 

Sure, you can always move your account later, but you might not want to once you have an established line of credit, “standing orders” (הוראות קבע/horaot keva – fixed monthly payments), government deposits or debits, not to mention (hopefully) payroll deposits coming in and out of that account every month.

So you do want to put some thought into opening your account, even if it seems like you don’t have a lot of choices.  When you look back on your aliyah process in five years’ time, these are some of the mistakes you may end up regretting…

1) You didn’t set aside enough time

I’ve opened bank accounts in Canada where I’ve walked in, plunked down ID on the counter, and walked out 15 minutes later with a bank card.  That’s not how it works here. 

Arabs, on the train


I'm sitting on the train, it's late, and I'm on my way home.
Far too exhausted to be paying attention.

I step past a family of Arabs, their boxes spreading into the aisle.  There are grandparents, parents, a little girl.  They chatter all the way north.

I may be exhausted, but I can't help paying attention.  My life depends on paying attention around Arabs, I've been told. 

Even when they're travelling as a family?  Even when they've got a little girl babbling on their laps?

I don't understand their language.  Are they talking about me?  Arabic sounds horrible, guttural and strange.  I know Hebrew must sound that way to others; to me, it sounds like the Tanach, like poetry.  The Arabs' Arabic is sprinkled with Hebrew here.  They say "b'seder," and other Hebrew words.  Do other Arabs outside of Israel feel like they are contaminated with Jewishness?

I don’t know if they’re talking about me, but I’m thinking about them.  Not them, exactly. 

You know:  Terrorists.

Oh, yeah; that.

I'm writing a blog post about terrorism in Israel.  I start hunting for a picture of a knife to go with the post, then realize my screen faces towards them.  Will they know what I'm thinking about?  Will they think I am thinking about them? 

I quickly search for the word "girl" even though I do not want a picture of a girl to go with the post.  Slowly, I creep back towards the pictures of the knives, choosing a relatively tasteful one instead of something bloody and garish.  Not my style, anyway. 

The child is facing away from me, sitting with her parents.  The older people are facing in my direction.  Perhaps their eyes are old; perhaps they can’t see what I’m doing.

I modify the picture in furtive bursts,

Dear Family: she is safe, so please stop asking


Hi, all!

Just wanted to let you know that although we are all worried about E_____ when terrible things happen in Jerusalem, it doesn't help to email her to let her know about them or to ask if she is safe. 

Telling a person in that situation to "stay safe" implies that anyone who gets hurt is simply not making an effort.

If you want to send her a note, try something constructive, like, "I'm praying this will end soon," "I hope you're still finding ways to enjoy life," or simply, "we love you."

Please remember that, in Jerusalem as in any other place in this world, a person is safe until the moment they are not - whether that moment comes in a car, on a city street, in Canada's parliament buildings, in a hospital, or at the hands of a terrorist.

Statistically, her life expectancy here is higher than in most countries of the world, including the US. Though none of us know when our moment will come, for this moment, right now, she is safe.

I spent last Tuesday afternoon with her in Jerusalem.

On a roll (it’s not what you think it’s about)


Have you tried Israeli toilet paper lately?

It's actually quite good – as toilet paper.  Definitely better than it was, I'm told.  Which is good, because good old TP has been re-imagined (or perhaps always was) the National Nose-Wipe.

In fact, the toilet paper here is quite good.  Apparently, it used to be simply awful - crunchy and non-absorbent, I assume, since those are the things it would take to make TP simply awful in my book.

I know what I'm talking about.  In England on my honeymoon, years and years ago, I stayed in the World's Worst Hotel, near Paddington Station, which we thought would be cute - but it wasn't. 

There was no bathroom in the room itself, just a little water closet ("loo") up half a flight of stairs.  And the paper in there was absolutely awful.  It was that folding, single-paper dispensing kind that we'd had in my elementary school.  However, unlike anything I had ever seen before, each "sheet" of this paper was treated with some sort of smelly antiseptic chemical and then - mysteriously - waxed so that it was guaranteed to never absorb a single drop of anything.  It was crispy, it was stinky, plus, it simply did not do the job.

Compared to that, anything is better, and as I said, toilet paper in Israel is way more than halfway decent.  It's soft, it's 2-ply, and there are cute puppies on the brand we buy.  There are even premium 3-ply grades you can buy for extra indulgence.

But I still think it’s gross how everybody uses it to wipe their noses.  Maybe this happens elsewhere, too, but I have only ever observed it on a sweeping scale here.

Sure, actual "facial tissues" (aka Kleenex, but they're called "tissue" here in Hebrew) are available, in various colours, small and big packages.

But forget about all that. 

How to choose a health care provider (kupat cholim) in Israel


Let's assume you'll never get sick in Israel, shall we?

My teacher in ulpan had a cute habit.  When we were learning about ailments, she refused to use the first or second person - "you're sick; I'm sick."  She would only let us talk about ailments in the third person:  "he's sick; she's sick; they're sick."

So in honour of Morah Sarah, let's do that here, too.  Let’s assume you’re going to pick a kupat cholim (health care provider) and never need to use it.

Because, I'll admit, I've been holding back. 

In all these years of blogging, I haven't really said anything about how to choose a kupat cholim, one of the four healthcare provider networks that exist in Israel.  I feel like I don’t know enough, but the truth is, I’ve been navigating this system long enough to know a thing or two.  So I’ll try to help you straighten things out as far as healthcare is concerned.  If you have questions, ask below and I’ll try to answer.  I’ll also give a list of links for good information at the bottom of this post.

What are those words again?  Practice saying them; you’ll be using them a lot here (but hopefully never in the first person):

  • קֻפַּת חוֹלִים / kupat choleem = sick fund, usually translated into English as “HMO” for people from the U.S. who don’t understand any other approach to healthcare
  • Note, the above is the vowelled spelling.  Without vowels, it’s usually spelled “קופת חולים” for clarity.  Pronunciation is the same:  kupat cholim.
  • It’s sometimes abbreviated as קופ"ח / koopach
  • קֻפָּה / koopah = “fund,” like a supply of money, but sometimes people use this as shorthand to refer to your particular health plan
  • The plural is  קופות חולים/ koopot choleem = sick funds.

How do I choose???

Here are the 4 choices (4 kupot cholim), in English alphabetical order:

  • כללית / Clalit
  • לאומית / Leumit (not to be confused with BANK Leumi!)
  • מכבי / Maccabi (pronounced ma-KAAAAA-bee, not the way English speakers say it in the Chanukah story)
  • מאוחדת / Meuhedet (the "h" is actually a "ch" but this is how they spell it)

All of these 4 have offices all over the country, though one may be more prevalent in a given area, which will probably factor into your decision-making.

These days, most new olim are asked to choose their kupat cholim at the airport when they arrive.  If you don't know your choice, however, you can still do it at the post office like in the old days.  There may be other ways to do it as well. 

Don’t let anybody force you to pick at the airport if you aren’t sure yet!

But the question everyone asks is:  how do I choose???

(Assuming, of course, that you and your family will never get sick!)

Don't forget! Nine things to remember before you fly

Even with the best-laid plans, there are some important things that can fall through the cracks.  Here are 9 of the most important reminders – things you’ll want to take care of before you pull on that spiffy new Nefesh b’Nefesh ballcap and hop on the plane to Israel:

1.  Medical Check-In

Sure, health care in Israel is free.  But you’ll be sitting in front of a doctor who doesn’t know you, doesn’t have your records, and perhaps doesn’t speak English.  (Medical clinic receptionists will insist that “all the doctors speak English,” which means they know the names of medical conditions, but many still can’t carry on a conversation.) 
There’s also a different cultural approach and you may not have the confidence as a dripping-wet oleh to be pushy enough with Israeli doctors to make your concerns known.
If you have any medical worries, even little niggling things that you’re concerned might get bigger before your Hebrew gets better, get them taken care of ahead of time.

2.  Prescriptions

This could have been part of #1, except it’s so important I’m giving it its own bullet point.  Get a copy of all prescriptions, and a six-month supply of any medications you take on a regular basis. 
Keep these prescriptions in your carry-on baggage along with a few days’ supply, at least.  Checked baggage does get lost, and stuff gets lost inside checked baggage (especially if you’re bringing a dozen or more huge suitcases!). 
You don’t want to deal with a medical crisis immediately on landing.

3.  Dentist

Read everything I just said about doctors and multiply it by ten.  Then take out the part about it being free – you will have to pay for dental care in Israel, after you’ve figured out how to find it and how much it’ll be. 

On Rosh Hashanah, it’s BYOM (bring your own machzor)


Rosh Hashanah’s coming, so it’s time for a public service announcement. 

Things here in Israel are NOT the same as they are wherever you come from.  That includes shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

You probably won’t need tickets, and I don’t know of any shul in Israel that will kick you out if you haven’t signed up ahead of time, but depending on the shul, they might not have a lot of space for you. 

Also, check around your neighbourhood carefully – the davening (prayer services) is very different in different types of shuls.  And I’m not just talking about Ashkenazi and Sefardi (Mizrachi) shuls. 

Yeshivas, for example, may have a longer, more drawn-out davening that’s enjoyable if you like something more spiritual, while “stam” Israeli shuls may have more of a “get in, get out, get home” type of approach.  Most shuls start at 8 am on yom tov, but the ending time really varies, from 10:30ish across the street from me to as late as 1 or 2 in some places.

(So if you’re expected somewhere for either of the lunch meals, it’s extra important to co-ordinate with your hosts so you get there when they want to start.)

If you’re new to your area, ask around to find out which shul is more likely to offer you the best experience.  That depends, of course, on what your criteria are.  Such as whether you like singing or prefer to avoid it at all costs, like at the shul across the street from me, where any necessary musical touches are grudging at best.

Also, if you’re a woman, ask other women – your experience might be very different from what a man would encounter in the same shul.

One thing you won’t get here that you may or may not be used to – calling out page numbers.  Most Orthodox shuls outside of Israel don’t do this either, but our shul in Toronto did because it had a kiruv (outreach) bent. 

How to survive the most brutal 6 months of your life


Here’s the truth that nobody is going to tell you:  you may just be in for the worst 6 months (or so) of your life.

That’s the side of aliyah that you don’t see in the ads, or the videos, or the posters or the shots of smiling, happy families at the airport.

My family’s not in those shots.

You won’t see my son, lying kicking and wailing on the floor of the airport.

You won’t see my daughter, weeping because she misses our family in Canada.

You won’t see me in our apartment at the merkaz klitah, screaming and crying in the middle of the night because my husband cannot make the cruddy Israeli beach karaoke – literally the loudest music I’d ever heard, and I’ve been to more than a few concerts – go away at 3 a.m. on Shabbos morning until I finally fell asleep with a pillow over my head.

Or the kids lying in bed calling out, “Juke! Juke!” (cockroach, cockroach)

I don’t know if I’d call it the worst six months, but it was definitely a difficult period.  A very difficult period.

Friends of ours spent 6 months in Israel a year or so before we came.  They'd just had a baby, so he had parental leave, and they’d always wanted to spend time here.  Everything went wrong - absolutely everything.

What should you buy where? Smarter online shopping in Israel

photo depicting various online shopping options in Israel

It’s back to school time here in Israel.  And we all know what that means:  online shopping!

I can’t be the only one, right?

In Israel, just like around the world, the hottest shopping site these days is Aliexpress.  There, you can buy directly from China, mostly with free shipping, cutting out the middleman and saving a bundle.

That's the theory, at least. 

In practice, it's not so simple.  The quality is usually low, and it's better in theory to buy Israeli (or local, wherever you happen to be).   Sometimes, though, when buying Chinese is the only option anyway, things do work out much better, price-wise.

But there are many downsides to Aliexpress, including:

  • Long shipping time
  • Dubious quality merchandise
  • No recognizable brand names
  • No brands, price comparisons or reviews (sometimes there are reviews, but rarely)
  • Merchants don't speak English


The biggest down, however, is that for higher-value items (I think it's over $50), you could get hit with a big tax bill.  The same thing was true in Canada - there, anything worth over about $20 could get opened and dinged for import taxes.  And there are added fees you have to pay as well if you're billed for taxes.  Sometimes, it's just not worth it.

That's why it's nice to know that there are online-shopping alternatives that let you buy "locally" here in Israel.  The goods may still be made elsewhere, but you're dealing with local suppliers who know how to get stuff to your door quickly, and can often save you that big tax bill.

The best place to start is on ZAP -  There, you can search (in Hebrew, so use Google Translate if you're not strong at it) for whatever you want, and hopefully, you'll get a whole bunch of good results.

Just when you think you miss Walmart...


Here I was going on and on about how much I loved Walmart while we were visiting Canada, but you know what...? School supply shopping here may be even easier.

Everything is laid out in one reasonably sized section, for decent-enough prices...

"Attention, Max Stock shoppers..."
There were literally employees in every aisle.  Not the pestery kind you usually meet in Israeli stores who are just after their commission.  These asked if we were finding everything and then, when I asked where to find calculators, she started to say, "over there in the next aisle," and then said, "wait, I'll take you."

Should you change your name when you make aliyah?


For years, I thought this was a no-brainer.  When in Rome, pick a name like the Romans do… or something.

Apparently, I was dead wrong.  It turns out there are a million reasons not to change your name when you make aliyah:

  • it will confuse and perhaps anger your family and friends
  • people will think you've become more religious (maybe "crazy religious")
  • people will think you're turning your back on your old life
  • you've built a career and reputation in your name
  • you'll have legal problems using the new name
  • you'll never adjust to being called something new

Interesting.  Notice that these are the same reasons many people give to not make aliyah in the first place?

Since you're already taking that giant step – or thinking of taking it – it seems a much smaller leap to give yourself a shiny new handle.  Especially one you've chosen yourself, that you'll love hearing every day and seeing on all your shiny new paperwork.

[By the way, the Hebrew words in the image above are “olah chadashah,” which means “new immigrant to Israel” in the feminine form.]

My grandparents’ “aliyah” to Canada

My grandparents were olim, of a sort.  Well, they were immigrants.  Same thing, right? 

Separately, they found a way out of Poland, where they'd grown up as "Wolf" and "Chana Rivka."  When they came to Canada, they morphed into "William" and "Rose."  They named their kids Albert, Charles and Dorothy.

How to choose YOUR OWN best destination in Israel


How up are you on your Israeli geography?

One of the things I found most maddening before we moved to Israel was place names.  Beyond Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, I had barely heard of other places here.  Maybe Beersheva, because it’s in the Torah.  Some places were in the news (Chevron), so they were somewhere in my consciousness.  Others, not so much.

That quickly became a problem when we started planning to move here.

Maybe this is something you’ve experienced? 

Anyone who has been anywhere in Israel, even if they’ve never lived there, has anywhere between three and a dozen places to recommend.  They’ll come up to you anywhere, anytime, and spout this list like it’s gospel (or, you know, the Jewish equivalent).

Telling Kiryat Arba from Kiryat Shmona

These places are not all cities.  Some are cities, some are neighbourhoods within cities, some are kibbutzim or moshavim, some are, I don’t know, hilltops somewhere with a few idealists in trailers parked on top.

Home Sweet Home: Sorting us all out


Did you have one of these shape sorters as a child?  (Maybe your kids did!)

Look at all those shapes.  Some of them are very similar - the pentagon and the hexagon; the trapezoid and the square; the triangle and the little rounded cone-triangle (is there a name for that shape?). 

(Babies were smarter in those days, I guess - newer shape sorters are much simpler.)

The fascinating part was that no matter how similar the shapes, they wouldn't slide nicely into the wrong hole.

So I think I'm like that, a bit.

We're back in Israel now.  We got home at midnight last night. 

And so now, I can tell you my secret:  I was half expecting to hate it here.  Maybe more than half.  My daughter was in tears as the plane was taking off, leaving behind so many of the people she loves in Canada.  I braced myself, just in case I got here and felt SO depressed to be back.

Take me with you: How to make aliyah with pets


Would you make aliyah and leave your family behind?  If you've got a precious fuzzy (or scaly, or slimy) friend at home, you probably wouldn't consider a big move without them. 

Your dog, cat or reptile may not be exactly Jewish, at least according to the Law of Return, but that doesn't mean they aren't family.

Before we go on, I’ll admit something.  Two things, actually.

One, I have owned almost every kind of pet there is except dogs and birds.  Lizards, guinea pigs, ferrets, cats, frogs, hamsters, turtles, fish.

Two, when I found out I was expecting my son, twenty years ago, I got rid of every single living thing in the house.  I love animals.  But I knew I could either raise animals and plants... or I could raise a kid.  I wasn't responsible enough to do both. 

We've had a couple of near-brushes with cats since then, but so far, nothing has stuck.

So when we made aliyah two years ago, we were petless.  To get some advice on what it's like doing it with a fuzzy (or otherwise) buddy, I turned to some reliable sources on Facebook, as well as personal friends who brought their sweet (ginormous) doggie to Israel from Canada.

Clearing all the hurdles

Most important:  don't assume that just because you've mentioned your pet to your Jewish Agency rep that it's all taken care of.  The Jewish Agency is in charge of HUMAN aliyah. 

Pet aliyah is governed jointly by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Nature Reserves Authority, along with the Director of Veterinary Services.  All of which will require a whole slew of paperwork of their own (some no doubt redundant and - seemingly - unnecessary).

Brother, can you spare an agora?


Know what's nice about being in Canada?

Stepping out of a nationwide cash-coinage crisis, that's what.  In Israel, for whatever reason, you'd swear there was a shortage of coins.  Maybe there is, for all I know.

You know you're not in Israel anymore when you shuffle through your wallet to find the 15¢ (for the overpriced $4.15 iced coffee), and the cashier is mystified, and not particularly grateful that you're giving her your pocket change.


(pocket change in Canada)

For whatever reason, that same pocket change in Israel is precious.

Maybe the mentality started back in 1948, when the government recalled all British Mandate small bills and refused to issue new ones.  At the time, stores in the new nation had to resort to issuing "chits" (like a raincheck?) instead of giving change.

Whatever the reason, you must hold onto every single agora (though you won't find anything less than ten agorot in circulation these days; the single-agora coin shown here, my mother’s, is more of a metaphor now). 

3 not-entirely-unpleasant mikveh surprises you’ll discover in Israel


If you're a religious woman, you know all about going to the mikveh.  Once a month or so, for much of your married life, it's just that - a fact of life.

Women who move to Israel sometimes expect the mikveh to be pretty much the same as what they’re used to.

And (pretty much), it is.  But in a few important ways, it's different.  Not necessarily worse, just different.  Since I’m still in Canada, a friend back in Kiryat Shmuel helped put together this list of three things that may surprise you when you go to the mikveh in Israel.

1.  Bring your own supplies.

Depending on where you are, mikvaot in North America can seem almost like a luxury spa

Cooking Toronto soup–notes from a vacation in chu”l


Here in Toronto, the celery is normal.  The carrots are normal - all year round.  The onions are clean; how awesome is it to peel open an onion without the nasty surprise of mould or flaking dirt tumbling every which way?

I'm cooking in my mother's kitchen, and this isn't the first time this visit.  It's odd, because, growing up, I used her kitchen very rarely. It was HER kitchen, and trespassers - even kids - need not apply.

These days, I'm more bold, I suspect she's more tired, and there is my hungry family to feed.

And even though we've never lived in my mother’s house before this month of vacation, I feel myself slipping into old, familiar patterns. 

For one thing, we are only 2 blocks from where we used to live.  Our old house has been torn down to build a monstrosity, but the view doesn't look too different from my mother's front porch.  Neighbours walk past with their dogs, their kids on bikes.  Police swoop past on bikes or in patrol cars.  No horses sighted yet, but it feels like they could be on their way any time.

We're also back to recycling, the Toronto way.  Recycling, the Israel way, involves rounding up any bottles that don't have deposits and dumping them in the big communal recycle bin across the street. 

Why do Israelis hate you so much? Dealing with the cold shoulder.


Aliyah is hard work.  As far as I’m concerned, you deserve a medal just for considering it.  And hey, so do I.

But as far as the average Israeli is concerned… well, nope.  Nothing.  Silence.

Most Israelis are just going to give you the cold shoulder.  They won’t care that you’re an oleh.  They won’t be handing out hero cookies at the airport.

Many olim have been griping about this lately, and in a way, they’re right to complain.

Once you’ve been in Israel for a while, a refrain like this, from a fellow oleh, will start to sound very familiar.  I spotted one person’s sad message on Facebook this morning:

All our lives, we kept hearing “Come make aliyah”, “It’s your place, you belong here”... And than, once you arrive... “You made aliyah. Mazal tov, I’m busy.”

“Israelis you meet are nice and curious of your life and life decisions,” he wrote, “but that is it. Before each holiday. .. silence. We end being among other olim hadashim, because Israelis are busy. 

I’ve been here a year and 4 months. Every day, someone asks me why I made aliyah.  More and more, when I’m asked, I don’t remember the answer... I wish the same people would ask, “Do you want to join my friends and come to a movie, the theater, the beach, on a trip...?”

One man agreed, “It’s not easy to break into Israeli society.”  He’s been here for nearly 40 years, and most of his friends are still other Anglos.  (The blanket term for English speakers, no matter where they come from.)

5 ways Facebook will save your sanity during the aliyah process


If you're not using Facebook, I don't blame you.  I know a lot of people who have quit using it in the last couple of years - with great reason.

But I believe that Facebook, for all its evils, is a Very Good Thing to have in your life while you're making aliyah.

What are the evils?  Maybe you know about them already.

Facebook offers a weird combination of intimacy and distance.  I read a quote recently:  "I hate learning about major life events buried in a timeline between photos of fresh pedicures and pictures of lunch. When someone close to me has a baby or goes through emergency surgery, or suffers a loss, they deserve more than a Like."  (It's from the otherwise-blah memoir I Regret Nothing, by Jen Lancaster.)

Sound familiar?

The bad side of Facebook is that it gives you just enough superficial glimpses of a person's life to make you believe you know them... but not enough actual interaction to actually understand what they're all about.

"Facebook friend," you probably realize now, is something far, far less than a real friend.  It could even be shorthand for “someone I don’t know at all.”  So why keep it around at all?  Good question.

Israel’s Children: A Christian Perspective from 1897


I’m not blogging this week, as we are away, flying to chu”l (what the heck is chu”l???).

But I was fascinated a while back to stumble across this old public-domain article from 1897, first published in a Christian periodical called The Biblical World. The article is called Children in Palestine, written by Anna H. Jessup.   (It’s available in the public domain here.)

Interestingly, this was the same year as the First Zionist Congress.  The author doesn’t seem to know yet that big changes are in the wind for Israel, then known as Palestine.

Certainly, the author doesn’t seem to like any of “Palestine’s” children – except perhaps the Christian ones.

I sort of love how this article reflects all the weird racisms and prejudices of that time period.  Of course, I’m also horrified by it as well.  (Don’t read it if you’re easily offended, maybe?)

But I think it’s helpful to think about how the situation has changed and evolved over the last 120 or so years, so far beyond what any of the players, either at that Zionist Congress, or reading that Christian magazine, could have envisioned.

I’ll be back to blogging in no time.  In the meantime… I’d love to hear what you think about this crazy, racist report on the State of Affairs in Israel (aka Palestine, back when the Jews were Palestinian) circa 1897.

  Children in Palestine

In writing of the children in Palestine at the present day, it must first of all be clearly understood that the people who live in Palestine are not all of the same race; that the inhabitants of different sections, or sometimes even of two villages near together, are of different religions, with sharply drawn lines of separation in customs and beliefs.

Thus we find Druses on Mount Carmel ; Metawileh in northern Galilee ; Bedouin in Jericho to the south and throughout Moab ; Circassians in their colonies east of the Jordan ; both Catholic and Greek Christians in Haifa, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and nearly all the cities; Jews in Safed, Tiberias, Jerusalem,

Welcome to Chu”l, and have a nice stay!


If you ask an Israeli, there are two places in the world:  Israel… and chu”l.

Chu”l, like every Hebrew word with a “choopchik” (double-quote) in it, is an abbreviation.  In this case, it stands for חוץ לארץ / chutz la’aretz, or “outside of Israel.”  (Sounds like “chooool.”  Rhymes with “rule,” like the Golden Rule.)

And yup… that means, “every place in the world besides Israel.”

Because, you know, Israel is just so very, very big.  Kind of dwarfs the rest of the world by comparison, don’t you think?

Well, okay.  We know Israel is not very big.  But Israel is a tiny country with a HUGE ego.  A big sense of itself and its footprint in the world.  Not utterly unjustified, given its continuing prominence on the world stage, but still… sometimes, Israelis do push it a little.

This happened in ulpan once.  My teacher handed out a list of celebrities and we had to decide if they were “famous” or “famous only in Israel.”  Some were obvious, like Madonna and okay, Benjamin Netanyahu.  That was about it for famous Israelis.

I was trying to be honest, but I didn’t want to break her heart by telling her that for the most part, all the “famous” Israelis she’d listed  would be persona non grata if they showed up in Canada or the U.S.

Review: Dialogue in the Dark / דיאלוג בחשיכה, Children’s Museum, Holon–Attractions in Israel


Picture yourself in a world of darkness, groping around, not knowing where - or what - anything is. 

You're lost in a hopeless, unsolvable maze.  Are you near a wall, a door?  Are you about to bump into something?  Your only hope is to trust in the skills of your guide, an all-seeing miracle worker who can somehow navigate her way through total darkness.

Last month, I finally got to visit the blind museum in Holon.  Okay, it's not really called the blind museum.  Part of the Israeli Children's Museum there, it's an exhibit called Dialogue in the Dark.  And it’s been on my “Israel Bucket List” for about ten years, since I first read about it in a magazine.

Your own personal Virgil

When you go in, you enter a world of total darkness.  You leave everything behind in a locker – glasses, keys, phones (except a small amount of pre-counted money for the snack bar). 

Luckily, you're given your own Virgil, a blind guide who knows her way around like the back of her hand.

A few prickly questions– the lie of the sabra


Do you know what a sabra is?

It’s the fruit of the prickly-pear (Opuntia) cactus.  It looks a little like the picture up above.

Ironically, the sabra, the very fruit that Jews around the world identify with Israel is actually not a native here.  It was imported from the Western U.S.

By the way, the word and concept “sabra” are not pronounced “sabra” in Hebrew.  Another of those Big Lies of Hebrew school.  The Hebrew word for this North American transplant, this “oleh,” so to speak, is  צַבָּר / tzabar.

According to Wikipedia, a “Sabra” is an “informal slang term that refers to Israeli Jews born in Israel.”

A few weeks ago, someone I knew decided to make trouble, and at a mixed gathering of Arabs and Jews in Haifa, asked an Arab woman if she considered herself a sabra.  She said, “of course.”  (I love getting to know troublemakers.)

12 of the most surprising, tantalizing gifts from Israel–dirt cheap


Are you sick of all the standard, cliché Israel souvenirs:  olive wood plaques, “SuperJew” magnets, cheap metal kiddush cups?  Do you feel like a sucker every time you walk into a souvenir shop and pay too much money?

I know I do, and I’m not a tourist – I actually live here.  (Maybe you live here, too, and you wish there was something different you could bring back with you the next time you travel back to visit family and friends?)

I bet you wish there was something original you could bring them instead without spending a fortune.

Why not gift your friends and family where their stomachs are - with the gift of special foods from Israel? 

Here are twelve tantalizing suggestions to tickle their tummies:

1.  Bamba

These are Israel's most beloved snacks.  If you live in a major Jewish centre, then forget this one, because you can probably buy them closer to home.  If not, share the crazy novelty of Israel's beloved "peanut-flavoured cheesies," now also available with a variety of fillings.  There's also Bissli and other crunchy snack aisle faves to round out the gift basket.


2.  Olive oil

They're all local and delicious, so just pick the most beautiful or unusual bottle.  If you know someone who's in the know about olive oil, get them to introduce you to a truly special "vintage" or artisanal producer, or to an organization like Galilee Green, which is working to revitalize a regional economy.


3.  Fancy salts

Even the "plain" table salt we buy says it's from the Red Sea,

Should you plug it in? Adapters vs Transformers and what to use where.


Before you plug anything in in Israel, stop and check.  Is it safe, or will it send your house up in smoke?  Do you need an adapter, a transformer, or can you just plug it in as-is?  The wrong answer is one you’ll deeply regret. 

Before you plug in any appliance, you’ll need to understand the basics of Israeli outlets.

Disclaimer:  I’m not an electrician.  In fact, whatever the furthest thing is from an electrician, that's me. That said, I do know a thing or two, both from wikipedia and from harsh personal experience.

Here’s the least you need to know: 

Israeli outlets have more electricity in them than the ones in North America.

Here’s what a standard 3-prong (grounded) outlet looks like here:


If you peer at the holes very closely, you’ll see that they accommodate both “slot” plugs and “round” plugs.  The round ones are European and the slots are distinctly Israeli.


Standard outlets here have 220V running through them instead of 120V.  If that sounds like a lot of juice, it’s because it is (I think it’s the same amount that powers those jumbo dryer outlets in North America).

So it goes without saying – you can’t just plug stuff in willy-nilly.  Unless you want it all to catch fire.  And yes, I mean this literally.  I literally saw a beloved telephone we’d shlepped across the ocean go up in smoke.

The taste of home: What foods do foodies miss in Israel?

1940s b&w image showing Lena Horne demonstrating a "modern" gas stove.  Israeli flag superimposed on oven door.

What foods do foodies miss most when they move to Israel?

Maybe they dream about sitting down to a plate of nachos with tangy cheddar cheese… or a fruity flan with tons of fresh berries?

When I first started thinking about aliyah, in the early 1990s, reports out of Israel were dire.  There were no chocolate chips - you had to chop up chocolate bars and hope for the best.  Also, no canned tuna.  Also, though perhaps unrelated, the toilet paper was really, really bad.

Today, things are different.  Israel prides itself on being a haven for kosher foodies.  (You can even visit them at the Israeli Foodies facebook group.)

Depending on where you're from, there are still many local treats and delicacies that you'll either not be able to find, or will have to reserve as a special treat. 

Take graham cracker pie crusts, for example.  Graham crackers don't exist here, and stores don't usually sell ready-made crusts.  That doesn't mean you can't find them.  This is the year 2015, and almost everything can be had - for a price.

Baby, it’s cold outside: packing for winter in Israel.


If you’re making aliyah over the summer, you’re probably wondering how much winter stuff you should pack.  Israel is hot, right?  And dry?

Sure it is, but it definitely does get cold here in the wintertime.  And I’m Canadian; when I say cold, I mean COLD.   

The tricky part is that it gets cold… but only for a few weeks.  Just because it's shorter, though, doesn't make it any less cold.  Dumb and obvious but true.

(Okay, Canadian friends and relatives, feel free to mock me now at the thought that anything above freezing can be considered truly cold.)

How can I, a proud Canadian, whine about temperatures in Israel?

The cold here seems way colder than it did in Canada.  That’s because coming inside doesn't help: there's no central heating.  So warm jammies or nighties is a smart choice to pack, as much as you’ll curse the space they take up for such a short period of use over the course of a year.

It also means that kids in schools can get COLD.  Schools are not adequately heated and air conditioners (yes, they also have a “heat” setting) are often old and bad.

As tough as people outside of Israel think Israelis are, my kids' school was cancelled once this year due to rain (field trips are cancelled if there's any CHANCE of rain!), and more than once they brought the kids hot tea and soup to warm them up (on days I didn't consider particularly cold, but whatever).

So should you pack parkas, hats, and fluffy winter boots?

Weird, wacky, wonderful (Hebrew) words: כַּדּוּר / Ball


There are many Hebrew words for which there’s no tidy English translation. 

Like what?  How about lehitlabet/ הִתְלַבֵּט, which means “to be conflicted about something” or have doubts, be uncertain, or be in the middle of pondering something.  The word just doesn’t exist in English.

But sometimes, it happens the other way around as well…

Like the word kadur / כַּדּוּר, which technically means “ball.”  Simple, right?

Except that the concept of “ball” in Hebrew extends far beyond where its boundaries are found in English.

Haveil Havalim: Bye-bye, Beha’alotcha


Yup, I’m super, super, super… late.  This will be my last time hosting Haveil Havalim, but I apologize to those who submitted posts for my lateness; it was not intentional.  I was supposed to post motzaei Shabbat, and it totally slipped my mind.

What is HH?

imageIt’s a weekly roundup of what’s new and great in the Jewish / Israel blogging world.  I host once a month to give you a taste of what other great blogs are out there that you might enjoy.  Hopefully, you’ll find some new favourites.

  • Next week’s carnival will be hosted by the indomitable Batya over at Shiloh Musings

  • For more details, a complete schedule of future issues or to host an upcoming issue, please join the HH facebook group.

Don’t forget – the point of social media is… SOCIAL.  Stop by and visit some of the other blogs listed here.  Leave a comment to let them know you came from HH!


How is 2015 different from 2005?

The good (?) news is that there aren’t a lot of people participating in HH, or any other collective bloggy endeavour, these days.

Is this because personal blogs are “over,” at least in some way?  It’s possible.  It’s hard to believe that people in 2015 aren’t as interesting as they were in 2005, the heyday of blogging.   In fact, I don’t believe it.

Pre-Aliyah Stress: A Guest Poem by Yehudit Batya Shrager


Yehudit posted this to the Nefesh b’Nefesh Making Aliyah 2015 group (if you’re not on there yet, you should be), and I couldn’t wait to share it with you, with her permission.

Zip-lock bags?
Put it on the list.
Whose list is this?
Is this my list?

Everyone has one.
The list of things
That you cannot find
Or have to overpay for.

So the pressure is on
To get it while you can.
The things
You want to have.

Cozy Coupe

Old Navy

What is that?
Can I find it there?
Put it on the list!

Here is everything
That I need.

Now I will put it on a boat
That will sail across the ocean.
I hope it does not

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה

[stress photo © Firesam! via flickr]

When you’re visiting the President: the secret to my success.

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin and Canadian foreign minister Rob Nicholson, June 3, 2015 in Jerusalem

I don’t like to brag, but I’m kind of a big deal.

How big?

Well, I spent this morning hobnobbing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.  Does that count as a big deal?

Okay, we weren’t exactly hobnobbing

Actually, neither of those guys has a clue who I am… and I’m okay with that.  I’m kind of shy in real life.

But one of the things I’ve loved most about my time here in Israel is putting on my cub reporter hat and attending events (fun and not so fun) with ambassadors, ministers, in the Knesset, and various high-level government offices.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Canadian foreign minister Rob Nicholson, June 3, 2015 in Jerusalem

If you’re not planning to spend time in the upper echelons of government, maybe my secret isn’t so relevant.  But I’ll tell it to you anyway.  Here is the secret to my success:  leave an hour to go through security.

Getting in to see these guys is like an airport, only more so.

Remember – Netanyahu is one of the most hated people in the world (and I don’t just mean outside of Israel).  As a nation, we have far more enemies around the world than friends.  As far as his security folks are concerned, you are one of those enemies, until proven otherwise.

So smile, relax, and bring a nice blended iced coffee with you to help make the process go smoothly.  I recommend Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf – you’ll be standing around for an hour, you’re worth it. 

While you’re waiting, be prepared to:

Trains and buses: Getting around in Israel (with a helpful vocabulary list!).

As I write this, I'm getting ready to take a couple of buses and head over to Teveria (Tiberias).

Taking buses and trains is fun and easy in Israel, and it’s been a core part of our experience here, in mostly good ways.  If you’d asked two years ago, here's what most olim could have told you about taking public transportation:
  • Israeli bus drivers make change - if not cheerfully or graciously, than as an accepted part of their many duties. 
  • Israeli public transportation is, mostly, prompt and on-schedule.
  • Trains in Israel are a pleasure - except when they're closed or on strike.
  • Drivers are not so helpful if you're looking for a particular destination, but passengers universally are.
  • Local bus fares are generally good for 90 minutes, with any number of stopovers, in any direction.
  • Buses never have washrooms – even long-haul buses like the Haifa to Eilat run (6 hours).  There are 2 stopovers in miserable little truck stops.
  • Trains are generally more comfortable than buses – especially if you need to get up, walk around and/or use the washroom.  You might pay a few shekels more, but it’s worth it.
Haifa's wonderful new high-speed "Metronit" buses.

Though Israel is low-tech in a lot of surprising ways, there is one bit of high-tech that has made travelling by public transit a real pleasure, and that’s…

The Magic Info Number

The other half of Israel: do religious Jews hate Arabs?

Last week, a friend who volunteers teaching English to kids in an Arab village near Karmiel mentioned an informal survey he’d done among the kids he teaches.  He asked them, hypothetically, who they wouldn’t want living in their village. 

He listed a whole bunch of different types of people:  Arab Christians, Americans, religious and non-religious Jews.

It turned out that the main group of people that the kids didn’t want coming to live in their village was religious Jews.


Because, according to the kids, religious Jews hate Arabs more.

In other words:  not because they hate us, but because they believe we hate them.

I was astonished, but actually this makes sense.  They probably figure that the people who are most passionate about the religion are also the most passionate Zionists.  And thus, the most passionate Arab-haters.

To me, being a religious Jew is totally about Israel.  But it is not at all about hatred. 

I always figured that when I made aliyah, I’d understand the situation here a lot more clearly.  You know, being actually present on the ground, as opposed to being way off in North America.

That’s about as accurate as a flea expecting to understand a dog’s life just because it lives on the dog’s back.