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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Our bad neighbour–a Yom Kippur story without a happy ending


There are a few things that make me sad here in Israel, believe it or not.  I’m about to tell you about THE thing that has made me the most miserable over the last 2-3 years.

EDITED TO ADD:  Before you read on, be aware – I was attacked on Facebook about some of the strongly negative thoughts I’ve expressed in this post.  I know it’s unlike me.  I’ll get back to the happy stuff soon, I promise – I am still in love with this country, don’t worry.  And I’ll share a couple of those negative comments below – just for fun.

I believe it’s important to share not just the good stuff.  Everyone who works in aliyah, whether professionally or just for fun, like I do, has a responsibility to present both the good and bad side of what goes on here, and I hope you know I always try to do that.  I love Israel, love aliyah, love our lives here -- but I'm also realistic and try to present the reality on the ground, not the rose-coloured glasses version some people claim is all they get before they arrive.

I’m saying this because I’ve gotten in trouble for posting negative stuff before.  Even though this site is about 90% gung-ho and positive, there are some people who simply won’t let you share your thoughts if they’re at all down.  If you’re one of those people, I suggest you st0p reading right now even though there’s an exciting bit with firetrucks a little further along.

So.  Still with me?


What's making me miserable these days is our neighbour.
We live in an almost completely religious neighbourhood, and he wears a kippah and you know, I wouldn't have been surprised if you told me before we moved here that there were evil, horrible people who wear kippahs.  I would have said, "Of course there are."  But meeting one in person is just making me sad, sad, sad.  It's bringing down my whole experience.

He plays music.  Super, super loud music.
We're on the ground floor.  In an apartment which is nearly perfect in terms of almost all

Saturday, September 22, 2018

What should you bring on aliyah? What should you leave behind?


Should you bring Ziploc baggies?  What about furniture and appliances?  One question every single oleh is going to have to face before moving to Israel is – what should I bring with me?

So I thought I’d turn to the real experts – olim who are already here. I asked the following question on two major aliyah groups on Facebook:

What ONE item did you (or should you) have brought with you when you made aliyah? Bonus: what ONE item did you bring that turned out to be utterly useless? (ours was snowsuits!!!)

I’ve divided up the responses into categories to make it easier for you to read. But essentially, there's no one answer that works for everybody. Some people bring several lifts' worth of items, others come with just a backpack.

The advice here is also sometimes contradictory. I’ve met people who say, “Don’t bother bringing anything major, you can get everything here.” And then there are others who tell you to bring everything you possibly can. It really depends on who you are and regardless of what other people’s experiences have been, what you choose to bring is up to you.

That said, hopefully we can all learn something from what people chose to bring (or what they regret bringing...).  Spoiler alert – not one person mentioned ziploc baggies.  Or toilet paper, tuna, chocolate chips, or any one of a huge range of items that they would have been begging for 10, 20, or 30 years ago.  You can get zipper bags of various kinds (though they’re still not very good, in my opinion!), the tuna is excellent, and they even have Godiva chocolate for sale here now.


(Mmm… I saw these in a store the exact DAY my husband surprised me by showing up with one as a Rosh Hashanah present!)

Here are the major categories of people’s MUST-BRING items as well as their aliyah REGRETS.

The very biggest regret, hands-down, is a category

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Israel: Where everybody knows your name (sort of)


There's good news and bad news when it comes to names if you're making aliyah.

The first and very best news of all -- Because Hebrew is a phonetic language, Israelis are utterly awesome at pronouncing obscure last names.  Take mine, for example: MacLeod.

In English, we've gotten every possible pronunciation, from "Mak-Lewd" to "Mick-Clod" and everything in between.  It's actually MA-CLOUD.  That's it.  Very simple, actually.  Some Canadians get it, albeit tentatively, but usually only those of Scottish

Thursday, September 6, 2018

You speak Hebrew: now what? Top 5 tips to keep on learning!


Full disclosure: my kids laugh if I say the words “I’m bilingual” out loud.  And with good reason.

I’ll be the first to admit that Hebrew is not, and never will be, my first or best language.  I probably won’t ever be as good as they are (even if my vocabulary is technically better than theirs, in terms of sheer number of roots and words I know).

It’s true that I have an accent, and that’s never going away.  I can’t help feeling insulted when people hearing my accent, though they’re trying to be helpful, switch into their terrible English.  What, my terrible Hebrew isn’t good enough for you?

It’s true that I will probably never be comfortable with a fast blast of Hebrew shouted at me over the phone or from across the room.  Stand in front of me, let me see your lips move, let me see your body language.

But still.

What has most made me realize I actually have become bilingual is that

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Three things that are better in Israel since we came


A few months ago I was interviewing longtime olim and they all talked about the different ways that Israel was different since they came 20, 30, or even 40 years ago.  Which is nice, to think that the general trend is onward and upward, but not always so encouraging for those of us who are coming now (for example, hearing that you don’t have to wait a year to get a phone line when we’re already used to it being practically instant back wherever we came from!).

But things aren’t just changing in the long term.  We’ve only been here for 5 years (Five?!  How did that happen??!?) and already there are things that I’m noticing that have changed in little ways, making life better and better still…

Here are 3 of my favourites.  If you’re here in Israel already, I’d love to hear yours in the Comments!

1) Fruit

Actually, I didn’t think the fruit situation here COULD get much better.  Except for the fact that a) fruit here is so seasonal, and b) we sometimes like frozen fruit for baking and smoothies.  In Toronto, we used to just keep a tub of blueberries, some strawberries, mangos, whatever, in the freezer to toss into things.  Here, we couldn’t really do that, creating the irony of a bounty of strawberries davka (exactly) during the chilly winter season when you really don’t feel like an icy smoothie.  Where were the strawberries during the summer when I desperately wanted them? I wondered.

And now, guess what?  FROZEN fruit has come along to solve some of our fruit problems including strawberries, blueberries (impossible to get fresh where we live), and more. 


There are even these smoothie-oriented mixes, though they all have “weird” stuff in them like

Thursday, July 26, 2018

What’s cheaper??? Three things you’ll love paying less for in Israel


We all love to kvetch.  Or maybe I’m just speaking for myself.  I definitely love to kvetch!  But sometimes, it’s worth stepping back and looking around at how much is truly wonderful about this unbelievable place we live.

Here are three that I’m really enjoying this week:

1. Public Transportation

This is my number one.  In fact, this was what caught my eye on Facebook today.  Someone was kvetching about the high cost of buying and renting a car—and they were right.

True, cars are expensive, but public transit is almost laughably cheap.   It’s even cheaper than when we arrived in 2013.  In an era when nothing goes down in price, fares were actually LOWERED around most of the country a couple of years ago!

Here’s what I’m talking about:

I took the kiddies to Jerusalem two days ago.  The three of us went from north of Haifa to Jerusalem and back, taking local buses in both cities, inter-city buses, and trains.  The train was an hour, a one-hour bus ride, then several local trips within Jerusalem.  Then, five hours later, an inter-city bus ride back to Haifa and one local trip to get home.

Total cost?  ₪60 per person. That’s under $20 (US).

Oh, and we could have traveled for another 12+ hours on the same fare, had we been so inclined, because it’s good for 24 hours from purchase.

Where, outside of Israel, can you get around cheaper than that?

(NOTE:  This isn’t what trains look like in Israel nowadays!  This is an authentic 1970s-era train on display in the Railway Museum here in Haifa.  Photo © Deror Avi via Wikimedia)

Two years ago, we were in Ottawa and I wanted to leave my family there and get back to Toronto by bus.  It’s a five-hour train ride, so farther

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Weird, wacky, wonderful (Hebrew) words: Time (זְמַן) after Time (פַּעַם) and more…


I figured it was time for a new post!  I know, I haven't posted anything in so long, and now this is like 3 in a 2-week period.  Blogging is like that sometimes.

And speaking of TIME... this post is all about time.  Specifically, the words we use to talk about it in Hebrew.

We use words for time a lot, which makes them extremely useful.
We say things to each other like:

  • "What time is the party?"
  • "How much time do you have?"
  • "How many times have you eaten blue cheese?"
  • "I sometimes think I'll try it someday."

In English, all four of those are the same word: time.
Not so in Hebrew.

  • What time is the party? / be’eyzo sha’ah hamesiba / באיזו שעה המסיבה
  • How much time do you have? / kama zman yesh lach / כמה זמן יש לך
  • How many times have you eaten blue cheese? / kama pe’amim achalt gevina kechula / כמה פעמים אכלת גבינה כחולה
  • I sometimes think I’ll try it someday. / leefameem ani choshevet she-anaseh yom echad / לפעמים אני חושבת שאנסה יום אחד

What are the time words I’ve used here?

  • Sha’ah / שעה – usually, hour
  • Pa’am / פעם – usually, time as in “how many times” (think of it as “occurrence”)
  • Zman / זמן – usually, time as in the abstract noun, like “we don’t have much time.”

For the fourth sentence, with sometimes, you're going to need a

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Weird, wacky, wonderful (Hebrew) words: אֶפְשָׁר / Possible (efshar)


You've been reading these posts for a while.  How about I reward you with a gift?

It's a single word that works as a magic key, opening doors here like no other word can do -- including "please" (בבקשה), which really doesn't go a long way at all in Israel.

Actually, I’ve come to believe that saying please is actually a cue for whoever is supposed to be helping you--in restaurants, government offices, or wherever--to ignore you for a certain period of time.  Like counting to 10 when you're angry.  At least, they kind of stare at me cluelessly when I do it.  I’m not kidding.  It will only slow you down here.  Try it!

So what's the word?
Well, it's a little word that makes everything POSSIBLE...

Because it means "possible"!
And the word is... אפשר / efshar.

(And okay, since I’m not the grammar maven that you might be—technically it means something a lot more like “possibly,” but for the rest of this post, you and I are going to agree to overlook  grammar and technicalities almost entirely… if you want a more linguistically inclined site, check out Balashon – currently on hiatus but nonetheless packed with great info!  Also a terrific pun: balash means detective, lashon means language.)

Now, in English, the word “possible” isn’t used nearly as often in Hebrew. Here, you can use this little word instead of “please” in a huge variety of situations.

For example, in a restaurant:

  • Efshar ketchup? / Literally, “possibly ketchup?” but it means

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Two countries, two passport offices: Israeli bureaucracy in 2018


Let's play a game: see if you can guess which country is which!  Two countries, two passport offices.  One of these experiences took place in Canada; the other in Israel.  Let’s let them go head to head.


Walk into passport office, get in line.  Wait in line an hour, reach wicket.  Lady inspects documents: birth certificate, passport application, passport photos, signatures, guarantor form and signatures, old passport, miscellaneous other ID.  "Great," she says, "Here's your number.  You can go get in line in the other room."  Half an hour in line in the real passport room waiting for the number to be called, go up, hand in documents, pay fee, leave.  In and out in under two hours!


Walk into passport office five minutes early for appointment made online.  Enter info into computer at entrance, receive a number.  Sit down for 2 minutes until number is called.  Go up to wicket, hand over old passport and ID.  "Great," she says, "Here's the price."  Tell her I already paid online.  "Oh, right, no problem.  Here's your receipt."  In and out in under ten minutes!

Now... in which country did I have which experience?

You probably already guessed, but

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani shot near Gaza: A Canadian in Israel responds


You know what this blog post was going to be about?  Volunteers.  And about how Israel doesn't appreciate volunteers who come here from places like United States and Canada. 

It’s an important topic, right?  Too bad that’s not what I ended up writing about.

Volunteers are people of all faiths and all ages who don't have to come here, and who work for organizations like Sar-El (which places volunteers on military bases), on farms, in schools, all over the country.  They must contribute millions of dollars to the Israeli economy, which is absolutely fabulous.

I was talking someone a couple of weeks ago who had been here volunteering on farms for two months, and she started telling me about how she and the others were forced to work half a day on Yom HaAtzmaut, while the farm's owner slept in, then lounged around the house with friends and family (later, the volunteers were invited to join the BBQ -- once they were done work).  She noted that the paid migrant workers weren't in the fields... probably because it's illegal to make them work on a national holiday.

Volunteers can work whenever they want, I guess.

That made me mad, and I also, somewhat guiltily, realized that my daughter has had a volunteer from the U.S. teaching English in her school this entire year and I hadn't even met her, let alone thanked her (she's been working one-on-one with some of the native English speakers), until someone invited her to our Lag Ba'omer BBQ.  So I felt bad that she's been in the country so long and probably barely acknowledged by the community, and finally, belatedly, invited her over.

Like I said, that's what this blog post was going to be about. 

Because seriously, with the feeling towards Israel in North America these days, it's not at all obvious that someone would come here to volunteer, paying their own airfare and often also paying to volunteer, just so they can show up and be ignored at best and their goodwill abused at worst.  Israelis probably see volunteers as "freyers," suckers who are easily conned and therefore aren't worth very much.

File:Flickr - Israel Defense Forces - Sar-El Volunteers at Lebanon Border (4).jpgFile:Austrian Volunteers in Ein Hashofet July 19731.JPGimageimage

(All freyers????  L-R: Sar-El volunteers 2012 photo © IDF via Wikimedia; Austrian Kibbutz volunteers 1978 photo © Robert Schediwy via Wikimedia; American volunteers at Masada meeting George W. Bush 2008 © White House via U.S. National Archives; Farm volunteer © WWOOF Israel)

I wanted to write about that because I was mad.  But then…

Then I saw something that made me even madder, and also -- I found out about people who abuse their volunteers even more than Israel does:  Gaza.  Or rather, Hamas, its quasi-elected dictatorship.

Gaza has had a humanitarian crisis over the last few years due to its leadership's terrorist policies.  Hamas is a government that's in power on a one-plank platform: eliminate Israel.  Once elected in 2006, they dismantled electoral operations so nobody could un-elect them and proceeded to take money out of children's and families' pockets and dedicate it to building terror tunnels and rockets with which to bombard nearby Israelis.

Hamas may be many things, but they're not stupid.  So in addition to these operations, they have poured a ton of work into the PR battle for the hearts and minds of the world.  It's a humanitarian crisis, they weep to the world, which is absolutely, 100% true.  And then, they point to Israel.  That's the whole PR thing: point to the crisis, point to Israel.  Repeat until hearts bleed and journalists cry.  It doesn't take much to make journalists cry, especially if there are pictures of children.

But courting NGOs and liberal media outlets is easy, hardly a challenge anymore.  Like I said, they cry easily.

So if I was in charge of the Hamas PR machine, then the thing that I would want most of all, more than anything else in the world, is a Canadian. 

The world loves nobody more than a Canadian.

To the world, Canadians are innocent, naive, the ultimate freyers, really.

Yup, that’s what would head up my wish list: A nice Canadian frayer, a volunteer who could

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Nine (9) things I wouldn't have to tell a Canadian neighbour


I get alarmed sometimes, living in Israel.  There truly are moments when I just look around and realize we’re living somewhere utterly foreign, and I ask myself what we think we’re doing here, when it is so, so painfully clear that we don’t belong… such as when we have less-than-pleasant encounters with various neighbours in our building.  Sheesh.

This is a neighbourhood full of “characters,” and sometimes it’s fun and you can laugh it off.  But sometimes, you just want to cry and wish everybody could be Canadian, so you wouldn’t have to fill them in on the basics, such as…

1. Turn off your music -- it's 2 a.m. and I'm trying to sleep.

Israelis are sometimes strange about noise.  I have a personal theory that because it's such a small country, and you really can't get away from other people, they don't even bother trying.  There are no boundaries.  "If I feel like listening to music, then you feel like listening to music," is pretty much how many Israelis feel about their tunes. 

Also, this particular neighbour is a weird, too-thin skittish little guy who you just figure has got to be on a pile of something addictive, though obviously, we have no proof.  His behaviour has been pathological in the past. 

The fun part is him trying to convince us that this is what Israel is like, and if we don't like it, we should go back to Canada, where people are quiet and polite.  Which brings back memories of calling the police on inconsiderate neighbours in a few different situations... and, yes, of having them called on a party I held at one point.

But I think one difference is that this guy doesn't care, he'll just turn it right back on after the cops leave, just to show me he can.

2. That's not music, it's cats yowling.

I may not be the best candidate to move to the Middle East.  Some people really enjoy "Mizrachi" music, the swirling, wailing sound of notes that go up and down seemingly at random.  Then again, some people like chummus, which tastes like dirt paste.  Okay, to be honest, everybody here likes chummus—with a passion.  Except me.

I want to show up outside this neighbour’s door at 7 a.m. with

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Do you know how to protect yourself on Jerusalem’s sidewalks?


This is actually more of a public service announcement than a blog post.  Know what the biggest threat is to pedestrians in Jerusalem?  From what I’ve learned this week it definitely isn’t terrorism… it’s slippery sidewalks.

Yup, those fabulous shining stone walkways that make Jerusalem look so lovely for so much of the year… are apparently (almost literally) deadly.

If you’ve ever walked through the Old City at night in the rain, you probably figured that already.  But maybe, like me, you thought you were the only one.  Nope, nope, nope.  If you’ve ever stopped yourself from running for a bus in our nation’s capital because you were scared you’d slip and fall and break your neck… it turns out you’re not alone.

Except some people aren’t just afraid of falling.  They’ve actually fallen, and maybe not suffered

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Weird, wacky, wonderful (Hebrew) words: לְהִתגַעגֵעַ / To Miss


When you move to Israel, there’s inevitably going to be stuff you miss: people, places, things. So it’s important to be able to talk about missing stuff in Hebrew. On the oral part of the ulpan exam, that was one of the things they asked us about: how we’re getting used to life in Israel.

In English, we talk about missing stuff all the time. When I say “missing,” I mean the feeling of longing when you’re not around.

What do we mean when we talk about MISSING?

We do have other types of “miss” in English, more than one, in fact, like...

  • Missing a train, which is לְפַסְפֵּס / le’faspeis in Hebrew, lo aleinu (we should never know such sorrow).
  • Or missing out, לְהַחמִיץ / le’hachmitz, as in the FOMO (fear of missing out) when all your family back in Toronto is going to see The Book of Mormon while I’m stuck here in Israel going to see some two-bit circus (you may recognize the root of this word from the word chametz at the seder... it also means when something ferments, or goes sour, meaning you’ve missed the best-before date).
  • Or missing the mark, לְהַחטִיא / le’hachtiy, as in a blog post which promises to talk about one thing and then goes on and on about all kinds of irrelevant homonyms.
  • There’s even the kind of missing where you’re just about to make challah late, late, late on a Thursday night and discover that you’re missing flour – לַחסוֹר / la’chsor, meaning “to lack.” (You can also use it as in: חסר לי הקמח / chaser li hakemach / “I’m missing the flour”.) This is the kind of missing that is sometimes translated as “want,” as in, “for want of a point, this blog post was lost.”


But none of those is what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about missing your mother, your sisters, your son in Toronto—they don’t call, they don’t write (except when they do, but I’m practicing to be a bubby someday), and some weeks we are reduced to merely clicking Like on each others’ things to remember that we are all out in the world somewhere.

In English, the word “to miss” is nicely transitive, meaning you can’t just miss, in the same way you can’t say, “I love” or “I admire.” You have to miss something; you miss somebody.

Hebrew has that word too, fortunately. Unfortunately, it’s a silly word. A word you might not be able to say without giggling, and which in fact sounds a heck of a lot LIKE giggling when you say it. Here it is: לְהִתגַעגֵעַ / le’hitgageya.

(What? I put it in the headline so the surprise was ruined? Drat, drat, drat... my

Monday, January 29, 2018

Seasons Change: Dreaming of Spring in Israel


Moving to Israel, everybody told us, I’d have to give up on spring – there are no seasons here. I wish I didn’t love spring so much – it’s such a cliché – but how could I not? The smell of rain clinging to everything in sight, the soft bounce of the dirt underfoot. Mud everywhere, but also life.

I only learned to love the seasons when I started gardening in our last home, a tiny Toronto bungalow with an equally tiny lot.

The backyard was a mix of sand and shade – a gardener’s nightmare where only ants could play. Grass refused to grow, though many attempts had been made over the years.

But over the eight years we lived there, with the help of two compost piles and countless experiments with hardy native species (and countless hours weeding out perennial sunflowers), things improved, slowly.

I knew it was getting better when I spotted snails. Though many gardeners are horrified at the thought of snails, chomping up pretty hosta leaves and oozing slime trails, I took them as a compliment. Where there are snails, there is moisture and decay. And where there is moisture and decay, there is life.

My backyard had come to life.

When we moved to Israel in August of 2013, it was more of a nightmare than a season. Back in Toronto, it was also the full heat of the summer, but there was hope of fall, and the ripening of tomatoes to console us from the heat, or what we called heat.

In Toronto, the heat isn’t an enemy. It doesn’t leap on your chest and keep you down for two months, three months, four. It doesn’t make you stop, panting, for water, every block on the way to the grocery store. It doesn’t make you duck into banks just to enjoy the air conditioning. It doesn’t make the kids cry as you weave drunkenly down the sidewalk, in and out of every patch of shade. It goes away at night and lets you sleep, or at least sit on the porch with a glass of wine.

Here, it was hot. And it wasn’t summer as I knew it. Nothing was growing – well, nasty-looking succulent plants with bulbous, waxy leaves, or spikes, or unattractive protuberances. Lizards skittered in the dappled light beneath trees. When lizards are happy to play in the shade, it’s truly a hot day.

But one day, well into what I used to think of as fall, it rained. Just a little – the random specks they call teef-toof. But then it happened again, and another evening, I had to buy the kids umbrellas. The rain had stopped by the time we got out of the store, but everyone around us knew – winter was on its way.

And suddenly, suddenly, the world came alive.

Another day, a sandy front yard I passed every day on our way to my son’s kindergarten was full of green stubble – grass! The next, all the bushes, it seemed, had new, pale-green leaves; a few, here and there. The ground was awakening at last.

Now, months later, we’re nearing the end of winter. We haven’t had enough rain, everybody agrees, but all is green and lovely. Cool breezes blow through the window, citrus trees exuberantly flaunt their colourful baubles: lemons, oranges, kumquats.

It turns out there are seasons in Israel, just not the ones I’m used to. Every Israeli knows them intimately.