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.
Recycling, the Canadian way, involves painstaking sorting of every trash morsel into categories: food waste, which is everything that is or was once edible; recyclables, which is almost everything by now, and trash, which is everything that doesn't fit into one of the other two categories. The idea here is to have as little trash as possible - the city charges you more for trash pickup, while the other two categories are basically free with your tax bill.
Behind this recycling is the mindset, the basic core assumption, that you care. To be a good Canadian, you MUST care.
We're also back to being in crowds, the Toronto way. This generally involves making as little physical contact as possible. And if you must make contact, you apologize. This apologizing is the quintessential Toronto middah, personality trait.
In a jumbo grocery store before we moved to Israel, I was pushing my cart and came a little close to another woman's cart. I apologized to her - it was totally reflexive. "Sorry, I know I'm too close to your personal space."
And she, simultaneously, apologized to me. She had the exact same reflex.
Last Tuesday, our first day here, we had five kind of tedious errands to run right away: phone, bank, driver's license, library and grocery store. We finished them all within an hour.
(here I am in Wal-Mart!)
Sure, we had my mother's car, but that can't entirely explain the difference. It doesn't just come down to waiting in lines; life here is somehow, magically, simpler.
There's nothing new here that hasn't been said a million times before. Canadians are, for the most part, polite and courteous. The vegetables are clean and the store cashiers are mainly helpful - and speak my language, most literally.
And it's easy to forget how mind-blowing the produce is in Israel in the midst of a shemittah year when you haven't seen bananas in a month and the few remaining lemons are secretly brown and shrivelled inside.
That's another thing that's easier here, of course - no shemittah, as long as you avoid Israeli produce. Which isn't the right thing to do, but honestly, there isn't much right now to choose from anyway.
So - yup. It's smooth sailing here. Life in Canada is easier, sometimes painfully so. Is that possible? Am I seriously complaining that it's too easy here?
Not at all - but it is really nice to come for a vacation to a place I know so well, to family who knows us and loves us. There is something to be said for spending a couple of weeks wrapped in cotton wool, cuddled and cradled and nurtured and living this soft, green Canadian life.
No, being here hasn't made us love Israel any less. When we flew back to Israel after our shiva here in Toronto last year, it felt like diving back into the deep end. But warts and all, dirty onions and all, cranky clerks and all, it also felt familiar.
Israel is like that family member we all have, who's not easy to get along with. A tough nut to crack.
Do you have somebody like this on a branch of your family tree?
Whether they're difficult or not, they're still family (at least in my family, where we don't write anyone off). You may find other people you enjoy spending time with more, friends you hang out with who are totally sympatico.
But when it comes to the truly important occasions, this person's at the top of the guest list. More than that, you're usually glad to see her. Because, after all, she’s family.
In that way, too, Canada is absolutely a great place to visit... but Israel is family. It’s home.