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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