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Explaining Israel: What the heck is going on here???


Do you know how to explain “the situation” in Israel if you had to?

If so, good for you.  I mean it.  I couldn’t – up until very recently.

Maybe you’re a keen Israel advocate, but I never have been.  I mean, I liked Israel, I thought in some vague and Biblically-informed way that we had a right and indeed a halachic obligation to be here.  But if you’d asked me about specifics, I would have been mighty short on details.

Which was why I was surprised when a friend sent me a link the other day to a typical article, at the BBC website, with the headline, “Israel postpones vote on new Jerusalem settlement homes.”  And she asked for my “take” on the situation.

The surprising part – to me, at least – is that I actually DO have a “take” now.  That’s strange because I’m not a “politics” person.  Never have been.  I avoid news if I can help it at all, and perhaps articles like this, shallow and lazy, are one reason why.  But when I sat down to share my views, I realized I needed to share a whole lot more by way of background. 

So I started to type, and this is what I got…

The Truth About Israel and the Middle East

I actually thought the situation in the Middle East would all become a whole lot clearer “on the ground,” you know; once we lived in Israel it would all make sense. I laugh now at how naïve that belief was.

Still, at least I do know some things, and I do have a “take,” for what it’s worth.


First of all…

Nobody wants to build where anyone lives, but it's a small country and we're all very close together. As Harper said when he was here, it is surprising (and probably feels very wrong) that Ramallah, capital of the Palestinian Authority (PA) region, is less than half an hour from Jerusalem. So things get a little squishy sometimes.


Second of all…

None of this has anything to do with Arabs who live in the non-disputed borders of Israel, squishy as it is. They are full Israeli citizens and enjoy – on paper and in many cases in reality, though I will admit that the reality isn’t 100% where our dreams are – full rights and privileges of citizenship, including health care and the right to celebrate the end of Ramadan in front of me in line at McDonald’s in our local mall so we have to wander around looking for seats and muttering, “what kind of Jewish country is this…” only because we are so obviously in the minority here in the North.

That’s not what the media mean when they say “Palestinians.” What they mean are the cousins of those Arab Israelis who live under the authority of the PA, formerly known as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the terrorist organization.

For a while, they were considered “peace partners”

Top 5 non-touristy things to do with your mother in Israel


My mother left last week after a too-short 2-week visit before which she insisted that all she really wanted to do was “take the grandchildren to school.”  Fair enough.  It can’t have been easy coming back to Israel after the vacation of a lifetime she spent here with my father 9 years ago.  Basically, she didn’t want to do anything touristy… so we didn’t.

Instead, here are five of the activities I enjoyed most during her visit:

1. Haifa – why not?

I think this was the first full day my mother was here, and it was basically a “Why not?” inspiration.

My mother had spent about a week in Haifa on her trip with my father, so she was already familiar with the city, unlike 95% of tourists, and actually liked it… unlike me.  Okay, yes, I technically live in Haifa, but I’m kind of ambivalent about the city.  But we were sitting home one morning, it was a sunny day, and the shuk is literally one bus ride away.

So there was practically nothing to lose.

Oh, the other reason was that I’m crocheting a blanket and I needed a ball of yarn to match one I already had because otherwise I would have run out mid-project.  And there’s a yarn store I go to quite close to the shuk. So off we went, hopping on the bus and paying our 10 shekels or so for the pleasure.

The yarn store was actually a minor hit – nothing like the fancy stuff my mother buys, but it was mundanely familiar and she bought a little stitch-counter accessory for another 10 shekels.  Down the street was a store selling socks that actually go over the knee, which I desperately needed, and we each picked up a couple of pairs. 

(Though I confused my mother by asking the shop lady for “tights,” and she said they didn’t have “tights,” and my mother kept insisting they had tights right over there, until eventually I had to explain that “tights” in Hebrew isn’t the same as tights in English.  In Hebrew, it means leggings or bicycle shorts, depending on the length.)

While downtown, I also introduced her to Cofix and the pleasure of 5-shekel coffee, which we took with us to the shuk. 

And the shuk, as it turned out, was more charming than I’d remembered. 

I hadn’t been in over a year because I avoided it during shemittah – most of the vendors are Arab and I wasn’t sure about the produce there.  Also, all the citrus stuff was in season and every single vendor was offering samples.  I think my mother managed to eat the equivalent of about 5 oranges, just from samples.  I bought some small stuff, including local garlic, because more and more stores are just carrying the stuff in nets that comes from China, for no good reason that I can tell.

The best part was that with a short walk out of the shuk, we were back on the same bus, headed home, and inside of 25 minutes, we were here lounging on the sofa.

Or, perhaps the best part for you reading this, is that there are NO pictures.  I brought my phone, but it remained a phone for the entire time.  In Haifa, I guess, I’m not really a tourist at all.

2. Get your mother lost in Akko


This one was another “why not?”

Definitely not for everybody, but it’s super-close to here, so I figured it would be nice for a sunny-day wander through the Old City.  Unlike Jerusalem’s Old City, it’s easy to get to and on a weekday morning, there was plenty of parking (don’t try that on Shabbat, as I understand that Israelis from all over the country travel up there for hummus and more). 

Does terror in Europe mean the world has gone mad?


Does terror in Europe mean the world has gone mad?

Not unless you’re blaming the victims.  And you’re not doing that… or are you?

OK, sorry; probably you are.

Others have said this more eloquently than I, but I can’t sit silently snoozing through what I’m seeing. Here is just one of many memes going around Facebook last week.


Source: Twitter

The commentary seems to be of the opinion – and yes, people have actually said this – “The world has gone mad.”

Here’s just a random sampling – these all came up when I searched Google for “Aleppo, Zurich, Berlin,” and I don’t know any of these people personally.


That’s a whole lot of solidarity.  So why does everybody seem to think the world has gone mad?

Because terror has left its nice cozy boundaries.

Where are those boundaries?  Well, you know, the dangerous places, where presumably, it belongs.

I think we all do this to some extent.

Since 9/11 the world has experienced the same thing, to varying degrees, in just about every country I can think of. The Hype cachere incident in France was just one of a number of attacks around the world that stood out. For me and those I know, the 2014 incident in the parliament buildings in Ottawa struck home since the person who did it was a convert to Islam and could have been anybody’s neighbour. Then there was the attack in Nice earlier this year.

(Okay, I have to share the following tasteless meme…)

What I Am. (a small poem)


I am gauze and ether, I am mist and veil

I am centuries of Torah, thousands of years of cracked Hebrew feet walking these sands

I am Abraham

A swirling twisting dust

A pillar of salt

I turn around and look backwards

Though it is forbidden

I see my family rising from the bitter ashes of Europe

I see my family spread like butter across the smooth green hills of Canada

I see my family sprinkled like dust in a new and old and holy land.

I turn one more time to straighten my scarf in the mirror

Then face forward – it’s off to the mall.

Things that are cool in Israel #10: Holy Sandwich Bar, Batgirl!


Since my last post about restaurants was kind of kvetchy, I figured I’d balance that with a quickie about something that was awesome the same evening we went to a place and they started giving me THE STORY (read that post and you’ll understand!)

Want to know what’s cool here???

You go to order your sandwiches, and they’re served up with a side of scripture.  That’s what.

Here you go, your typical Israeli deli takeout place, at the Kiryon, our local mall.  Notice anything?


Eating Out: How Kosher is that Restaurant?


There's a story some restaurants will tell you here if you ask if they're kosher.
It's a long, long story.  If you don't speak Hebrew, it can be daunting to understand the gist of what they're saying.
They'll take a long time telling it.
They'll pull out all kinds of documentation.
They'll explain some more.
They'll point all around the place.
They may even raise their voice, which is scary for a nice Canadian like me.

You may even buy food there, just to shut them up.  After all, they sure wave around a lot and pull out letters that look like they're from rabbis.

See, the problem is that Israelis know about kashrus.  I remember the first time I was shooed out of a non-kosher restaurant because I was obviously religious, but it has happened a few times since. 

Even coffee, which I might have no qualms about buying in a non-kosher place in Canada, whereas here, they might practically refuse to serve me, which I see as a kind of respect for my practice - even if it's different from their practice - and I like it very much, except the one time, very early on, I had to pretty much beg a server for coffee and then decided it wasn't worth it and left.

In Toronto, if I stuck my head into a typical restaurant and asked if it was kosher, they'd probably say something like...
"Ummm, I dunno..."
"We do have vegetarian items..."
"Let me check with the chef..."
"I think so..."

One of the ways that you can tell, outside of Israel, if a place is kosher is to look at the clientele.  If people with kippahs are eating there, it's a pretty good sign.  In Israel, that doesn't always fly.  A totally-kosher mehadrin place may be full of people who look completely non-religious, and there may just be a few kippahs in the crowd at that local non-kosher McDonald's branch.

The other thing about Israelis is that they know how to talk.  Think the Irish have the gift of the gab?  Well, they may, but Israelis are super-good at pretending it’s theirs.

Here, we've also learned early on that you don't ask if a place is kosher.  You ask if there's a certificate, the teudah.  The teudah means everything, almost always.

If you ask if it's kosher, they may say yes.
Ahhh.... but if you ask to see the teudah, that's when you get the long, long story…

The road less settled: 8 reasons to consider living in the REST of Israel.


I love Israel – absolutely every inch of it.  But as you may have noticed, we’ve made the decision to live outside of the centre of the country.

Not that I’m knocking the centre of the country – it’s great.  I love it, and I travel there regularly.

But there is life for English-speaking olim beyond Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv, Raanana, Rechovot and Beit Shemesh.  With that in mind, here are eight great reasons why (whether you’re here already or thinking of aliyah) you really ought to consider the REST of the country…

1) It's ALL holy.

It says in Kesuvos 112 that “anyone who walks four Amos in Eretz Yisrael is guaranteed a share in the world to come.”  Now, there is some dispute about the Biblical boundaries of the country, and so some bits of desert around Eilat may not count.  But the fact is that the mitzvah is to live here in the country itself, on the holy land Hashem gave to Avraham Avinu.  Not just one or two selected cities.

2) It's not THAT far away.

Things that are cool in Israel #9: Tripping over history


Are you a dummy about history?

Don’t know your Maccabees from your Hasmoneans?  Can’t tell Greeks, Romans and Babylonians apart?  Well, relax – there’s no way you could be dumber about Israeli history than I am.

And the great thing about living in Israel is you just kind of ABSORB history by living here.  It’s all over – so much so that at certain times and places, you’re actually tripping over it.  Like today, when we went and visited a whole bunch of graves.

Even if you find graves kind of creepy (who doesn’t?), even the gravest sites in Israel have been thoroughly sanitized by time and by the nice archaeology people who are in charge of removing the bones to Elsewhere for a proper burial before they swing the doors wide to tourists.

Sure, Israel has some big-name graves (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Maimonides being two of the biggies), but we decided to head a little off the beaten path today to celebrate one of Northern Israel’s cultural treasures – the grave of Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nassi (Judah the Prince), otherwise known throughout the Talmud as “Rabbi.”  Why does this guy merit the one-name appellation, out of all the rabbis who have ever lived, throughout Jewish history?

Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nassi is better known as the REDACTOR of the Mishna.  He was the editor, the guy who pulled together all the oral traditions floating around and single-handedly, perhaps, saved Judaism as we were poised on the brink of a very long exile.

After Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nassi requested to be buried there around the year 217, the village of Beit She'arim in the Jezreel Valley became THE trendy burial site for Northern Israel.  Lots of famous and wealthy people hurried to follow his example.  So there are lots and lots and lots of long-ago relatives to visit, in a lovely park-like setting on a deliciously breezy hillside.

Weird, wacky, wonderful (Hebrew) words: שַׁלֶּכֶת/ shalechet


It’s way too early to be thinking about fall, but there you go – that’s what I’m thinking about.  I accidentally put on my “Elul Hebrew Songs” playlist before Shabbos and ended up listening to a whole bunch of pre-Rosh Hashanah songs and getting into THAT kind of mood.

And with all these songs comes a word that comes up all the time in the fall in Israel that I had never really even thought about before… שַׁלֶּכֶת/ shalechet.

Morfix translates the word as “fall (of autumn leaves) ; (botany) exfoliation.”  Google, as “autumn, fall, or effoliation.”  But you’ll have to take my word for it – nobody says this in English the way Israelis do here, with its many heaped-on layers of meaning.

This is a lovely word that is a haiku unto itself.  It means, vaguely, “fallen leaves on sidewalks.”  But it also refers to the crunchiness of the leaves and the mood of the leaves and the ending-and-transitioning that is fall and even, kind of, winter in Israel, which isn’t really a season but more a dampness that descends for a while and then lifts.

It’s certainly not just “falling leaves” – because when people want to talk about falling leaves, they say עלי שלכת/alei shalechet, which would be redundant if shalechet was all about leaves.

Things that are cool in Israel #8: Barbie’s Book of Tehillim


You know what's cool about about Israel that I don't write about often enough?  Prayer.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, kindly overlook the fact that I haven't blogged here in over a year.)

Because I really want to talk about prayer for a second.
Prayer so cheap you take it for granted.
Specifically, books of Tehillim (Psalms).  Here in our local "stock" shop (Max Stock Kiryat Chaim), they sell bulk packages of keychain sifrei Tehillim, 7 for ₪10.  If you're in the U.S., that's less than $3. 

How awesome is this?


Should you hang with other English speakers? Yes, and here’s why.


Having spent two evenings last week socializing exclusively with English speakers, I’m feeling guilty.  And lazy.

Why?  Well, Thursday night was my monthly English speakers meeting of children’s-book writers and illustrators (SCBWI*), and Friday was our community’s English Speakers Oneg Shabbat. 

At the book meeting, I mentioned the oneg, and one of the Israelis there asked, “Why only English speakers?” 

So then I felt ashamed.  And lazy, like I wasn’t making an effort.  And I almost felt racist (linguist?) for eliminating Hebrew speakers from my social circle so deliberately.  Why move to Israel and then spend so much time hanging out in English??? 

I didn’t even mention that we’re going to the annual Nefesh b’Nefesh Go North English-speaking Shabbaton next week.  Even more English !  Are we just obstinately refusing to integrate into Israeli society?

On the way home from my SCBWI meeting, and for the 2 days since, I’ve put more thought into it.  Because this is something all olim will have to balance in their lives somehow: how much time will you spend “out and about” mingling with the natives and how much time will you spend all huddled and insular with your Anglo “peeps”?

I’ve concluded that it’s not just about laziness.  Though your mileage may vary, here are 5 really good reasons from my own life that I deliberately spend time hanging out with English speakers…

1.  Israelis are busy

Israelis have lives here that are busy and well-established.  Sort of the way we did back in North America.  Many Israelis are too busy to stop and realize that we are here and we need a little extra TLC.