31.12.09

Celebrate Sylvester! (Or don't. Nobody really cares.)


No, not this Sylvester. (Source: http://www.swapmeetdave.com/Humor/Cats/Sylvester.htm)



New Years Eve was actually the first "holiday" I ever experienced in Israel, on my Birthright Israel trip as a sophomore in college. (I went to Israel just because it was a free trip and I liked to travel... I didn't expect it to change my life so drastically and ultimately send me here!) On December 31, 2001, our group was staying in a hotel in Jerusalem. The Chabad rabbis leading our trip bought us fairly massive amounts of alcohol, and at midnight we stood on the balconies of a party hall near the top of the hotel, sipping vodka and orange juice screwdrivers, and waiting for the fireworks to mark the start of 2002.

They didn't come.

We finally saw a few little pops and fizzles way off in the direction of Bethlehem.

This was perhaps my first introduction to the vast differences between Israeli and American culture. I wasn't surprised by the lack of Christmas decorations in Israel, but no celebration of New Year's Eve?? 

To Israelis, New Year's Eve isn't really our holiday. Yes, we might think about going to a pub (especially in Tel Aviv, den of heathens that it is), or we might go for a late meal at a restaurant, but if January 1st falls on a weekday, we'll be working. In fact, the very name by which Israelis call New Year's Eve implies that it's a Christian holiday: "Sylvester," which refers to the anti-Semitic pope whose saint's day falls on New Years Eve. (To boot, "Silvester" is the term used by Germans for New Year's Eve. Nothing like the dual connotation of Nazis and Jew-hating Popes to dampen celebration!)

Because most Israelis are off on Friday, more Israelis are going out to celebrate Sylvester this year than normal. However, when one of my friends posted a call for Sylvester plans on Facebook, she got back the following  suggestions: prepare cholent, clean the house, go to sleep early. (And for the record, my friend is about as secular as they get!) There may have been a banner wishing Kiryat Bialik a Sweet New Year and "only good things" in September, but the only sign of Sylvester here was a sale on sparkling white wine at the Super, and that could be coincidence.

So, celebrate Sylvester tonight. Or don't. Either way. Shabbat Shalom, and oh, what it is those Americans say? Eppy New Year?

P.S. My husband and I are going to stay up and celebrate with strawberries and champagne... what can we say, we'll always be American. :)

P.P.S. Heh... I just caught a typo in the version of this message that I posted originally. For the record, we were not partying on top of a hotel in Jerusalem on January 31, 2001, although that would certainly have explained the lack of fireworks... 

27.12.09

Work doesn't stop at the end of December!

In the US (and in the blogosphere), almost everything comes to a halt between Christmas and New Year's day. Even all my Jewish family and friends in the US are on vacation. It's the US equivalent of the "achrei hachagim" phenomenon that sweeps Israel every fall and spring.

Here in Israel, though, Dec. 25 is just another day. My husband and I went out for (amazing) sushi for lunch on Friday not because only Asian restaurants were open, but because we felt like soy sauce and wasabi with a little raw fish on the side. (Or maybe that was just me.) I went fabric shopping and got a great deal on Ultrasuede to reupholster my sofa. Our only rush was to get all our errands done before Shabbat, because everything shuts down from Friday night to Saturday night in Israel-- it was only part way through the day that I realized Americans were celebrating.

By the way, here's one of my favorite ways to identify true Sabras: ask them when "Chag HaMolad" (Holiday of the Birth, aka Christmas) happens. If they guess the wrong day in December, you know they're the real deal. The one possible exception might be the armies of young Israelis hawking Dead Sea products in US malls-- believe me, they understand the concept of a "holiday season."

My husband is back at work, so I've been using this time to catch up on my own rather intense backload of work for my day job. And, oh yes, Sunday's a work day. If you're an American coming to Israel, prepare for your internal clock to get confused.

There are, though, signs that Christmas happened here. Russian grocery stores send out advertising circulars covered in Christmas trees, which makes me kind of sad. I mean, yes, I know that the communists did a good job of convincing Russian Jews that these are secular New Year's Trees and should be in everyone's homes, but come on, Russim-- you're in Israel now. In the Arab neighborhoods in Haifa, a few strands of Christmas lights blink from balconies. Other than that, though, life carries on. I saw menorahs dripping in stores and booths in the mall during Chanukah, but no Christmas garlands or sales the past few days. No "Happy Holidays" from people who really mean "Merry Christmas."

It's nice. :)

22.12.09

Question from the comments: Where can you buy an in-cabinet dish rack?

In response to my post about washing dishes in a water shortage, Rivka recently asked:

Do you know how I can buy one of those in the cabinet dish racks? I am very familiar with them.... used to live in Israel and now I'm back in the US. I really would love to have one of those!
This is the rack she's talking about:




As this blog is all about the joys of living an Israeli life (whether you live in Israel or not), I thought I'd turn this question over to you. I do know that these cabinet dish racks aren't unique to Israel-- I remember a thread about them on Apartment Therapy once, and many Europeans said they use these racks as well. Anyone know where to find them in the US?

To the uninitiated, these racks fit into the cabinet over a sink (or over a counter, but the drips are better dropped into the sink). They hide most of my drying dishes and free up counter space. Mine slides down on springs with the weight of dishes. My rack also makes an ear-splitting whine when it slides down, reminiscent of a metal rake being dragged across a chalk board, but nothing is perfect.

Please help Rivka!

By the way, there were no posts the last few days because my husband and I were off celebrating our fifth (!!) wedding anniversary in a tzimmer in the Galil. Must Israeli insanity ensued, and posts will follow. For the record: tea candles are best not placed in metal bowls with star-shaped holes in the sides, especially when extra matches dropped on top of the candles function as extra-long wicks/wax exit ramps. And jacuzzi water actually makes a wax fire get bigger. Just saying.

16.12.09

The Maccabis aren't just part of Chanukah

If you live in Israel, the Maccabis quickly become more than just characters who lit a lamp in the Temple way back when. Instead, the name "Maccabi" shows up everywhere in the names of organizations, streets, towns, and even beer brands. In celebration of Chanukah, here are a few of the places that the nes gadol of the Maccabis is still happening here.

1. Cheer on Maccabi Haifa! (And Maccabi Netanya, and Maccabi Tel Aviv, and...)



Most of the Israeli sports teams grew out of the original labor unions in Israel, which is why most Israeli sports teams are named either Maccabi-Something or HaPoal-Something, with a few "Beitar-Somethings" thrown in for good measure. Really, the only soccer team worth caring about is Maccabi Haifa, the Israeli champions and hands down the best "football club" in Israel. Oh, yes... I went there, rabid Beitar Yerushalayim fans. You're no match for Yaniv Katan.

2. Go to a doctor's appointment at your local Maccabi clinic.




Israel has an effective form of socialized health care-- it involves the right balance of free-market competition and government funding. We choose between a handful of providers for our health care, and whichever provider we sign up with gives us basic, free service (with additional coverage you can pay for). We're members of Maccabi health care, and I'm guessing by the logo that this is another instance of the same labor union still influencing modern Israeli organizations.

3. Compete in the Macabiah games.



Ok, you know how the Olympics were originally Greek? And you know how the Maccabis fought against the Greeks? So you know what Israel calls its Jewish version of the Olympic games? Welcome to the Maccabiah, which proves that Jews actually are athletic after all.

4. Drive down Rechov Yehuda HaMaccabi 


(source: http://www.mynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3639464,00.html)

Here's a good one from the comments-- many cities in Israel have a street named after Yehuda HaMaccabi, leader of the Maccabis. Above, Rechov Yehuda HaMaccabi in Kfar Saba. (You can ALMOST read the street sign.) There are also numerous Maccabi museums, clubs, and even Maccabi towns.

5. Drink Maccabi beer!


(Source: http://www.winet.co.il/he-IL/185/1797/)

NB reminded me of this one in the comments, and it was too good to leave out. Yes, we have a popular beer brand named after the Maccabis. Don't you love this country?

Let me know if you think of any more!

15.12.09

The Commercialization of Chanukah (Dreidel washing machine, anyone?)

Nah, this post isn't actually a rant about how commercialized Chanukah has become. In fact, I love Chanukah in Israel-- everyone gets together with family members, but gift-giving isn't the norm (although parents tend to give gelt money to their kids). Because Chanukah celebrates the burning of oil in a lamp for eight days, we eat all kinds of food fried in oil... mainly jelly donuts, or sufganiot.  Oh, and we don't light a "menorah"-- a "menorah" is what we keep on our bedside tables so that we can read books at night. (Menorah just means "lamp" in Hebrew.) The actual Hebrew word for menorah is "chanukiah"-- just so we're clear.

In other words, Chanukah in Israel is just what it should be: a celebration of light, oil, and family. (And the triumph of Judaism over assimilation. Nah, mostly just light, oil, and family.) Just as the four sons from the Hagaddah showed up in Passover advertising, so do ads around this time of year reference Chanukah.

An oleh named Jacob Richman does an amazing job of encouraging aliyah and gathering resources to help olim. For Chanukah, he collected a number of Israeli chanukah ads. Here are a few of my favorites:



Translation: "No matter how to turn it, this is the number one tuna in the world."

 
Translation: "The Mall of the Negev invites you to celebrate the holiday exactly like the Maccabis." (I'm honestly not sure what that means, but that's a wonderful picture of a sufganiah. Mmmmm.)


Washing machines and ovens in the shape of dreidels. 'Nuff said.


Ok, the thing I like about the one above is the punning. Up top, it says "A great miracle is happening here," which is a pun on what our dreidels say in Israel: "A great miracle happened here." (In the US, dreidels say "a great miracle happened there."  Ha. :)  The second line essentially says "Amazing sales for Chanukah at the Mashbir for the consumer" However, instead of "amazing," it actually uses the word "madlikim," which literally means "turn on" or "light up" and is slang for hot, super, great, cool. Get it? Get it? The Chanukah sale lights you up. 


Here's a clearer example of the same pun:

Translation: "Happy Chanukah at Auto Depot. An Amazing (madlikah) Present for those who buy more than 399 shekels..." I'll admit that sales are often referred to as "madlik" all year round, but I prefer to see this word choice as a pun at Chanukah.

Jacob Richman uploaded many more and provided translations of all of them, so definitely check out the full collection here.

After years of lip-service to Chanukah in the US (hey FarmVille, just because you call it a "holiday tree" doesn't mean it's part of my holiday), it's refreshing to actually see Chanukah reflected everywhere around me, from the Chanukiot glowing in the windows to the displays of chocolate money, jelly donuts and candles in the corner supermarket.

Chanukah Sameach!

14.12.09

Oh right, my list...

In April, I posted a reflection on my first year of Aliyah, and I set some goals for the next year. Now that I'm more than half way through this next year, I was a little nervous to look back at the list-- I hadn't thought about it since April, and I didn't think I'd accomplished any of the goals. But if you're curious, here's how I'm doing.

In April, I wrote...

1. I will read five more full-length books in Hebrew this year. Er... no comment. I've read parts of a few books, but I need to get cracking. Does the Hagaddah count as one? Btw, I welcome suggestions of books that are easy to read in Hebrew. I think I'll start with books I've already read in English, as well as books written for younger readers.


(One of the books on my shelf... can you figure out the English title?)

2. I will go back to studying a half hour of Hebrew every morning. ... Maybe I'll subscribe to some kind of fun Israeli magazine? Let's see... umm.... no. I do this off and on, but I need to prioritize this again and stick to it. I am now a subscriber to Menta (essentially the Israeli Shape), though, which works really well on the months when nobody steals my magazine before I find it!

3. I will find a new volunteer opportunity that will put me out in my community, speaking Hebrew. I've been slow in getting this going, but just last week I made contact with an organization that tutors autistic kids. I found them through this excellent portal: ivolunteer.org.il

4. I'll try to watch Israeli news more often. I do this sometimes, but not enough.

5. I'm going to start exercise classes so that I get out of the house and learn how to say "downward-facing dog" in Hebrew. :) Yes! Finally something I can say I've done! Over the summer, I took a number of aerobics classes with a friend (which were pretty hilarious-- half the time the instructor and the women in the class talked about craving falofel), and during the past month I've started a yoga class along with my husband. I'm still not quite sure how to say downward-facing dog (the instructor usually use tells us how to move into the movement, not the movement's name) but I have learned about 10 different words for "relaxation." Yesterday we did the gesher malei for the first time, and I feel it today.

6. I'll make plans with Israeli friends (or at least, friends I speak with only in Hebrew-- two of my best friends are Brazilian!) more often, for more informal Hebrew practice. Yay! I've done this too! For example, now I go walking three days a week with one of my Brazilian friends (who has amazing Hebrew). We may do more talking than aerobic exercise, but it's more than an hour of Hebrew.

7. My husband and I will celebrate "Hebrew-only Fridays," in which we only speak Hebrew for 24 hours to each other.Oh, right... that... um...

8. We'll figure out which shul we actually want to join. Done! We're paying members and everything.

9. I'll try to remember to be kind to myself, because one year really isn't that long and I don't need to become perfectly Israeli all at once. I've been really good at this one. Maybe too good. But I still maintain that this is perhaps the most important item on my list, so I'm ok with that.

So... I have a ways to go. I often find, though, that the act of writing a list of goals pays off in the long run. Even if I don't accomplish everything immediately, the fact that I once stated a goal sticks in my mind and motivates me to say yes to opportunities as they come along. A stack of Hebrew books is waiting for me...

By the way, after I wrote that post in April, I started Olim Omrim, a Hebrew blog written by immigrants to give me (and perhaps you!) opportunity to practice my Hebrew. I let it slide, but I'm reviving it now with a new format-- go check it out and write a comment! All levels of Hebrew are welcome, as are comments both by olim and non-olim.

Do you have any Israel-oriented resolutions?

13.12.09

Don't Call Between Two and Four


 Our adopted street kitten Pixel (back when he was little and cute) demonstrating appropriate Israeli behavior between 2-4


In the US, I knew it was rude to call someone's home before, oh, 8:30 AM or after 9:30 PM. But in Israel, there's an extra layer to this rule: don't call between 2 and 4 PM. This is reserved as siesta time in Israel, perhaps because in the days before air conditioning it was too hot to do anything but nap at this time. In fact, lots of stores and offices in Israel are open from 10:00 to 1:00 and then again from 4:00 to 7:00... the middle of the day is reserved for lunch (the biggest meal of the day in Israel) and sleep.

Me, I don't nap. I can sleep in in the morning as late as my schedule lets me, but I can't lie down and sleep in the middle of the day. But whether you nap or not, remember: don't call any Israeli friend between two and four! When I forget and violate this rule, I'm often greeted by groggy, irritated Israeli voices. On the other hand, this is a good way to learn some new words.

P.S. Happy Chanukah! The menorahs are out in full force in Israel... :)

9.12.09

Be a Sexy Bride

In the US, I think brides usually try to achieve a look that says "dewy," "virginal," "elegant." Israeli brides, on the other hand, tend to go for... well... not so virginal.

Take a look at the wedding dresses in this clip from a show by the Israeli comedian Adi Ashkenazi, whose insights about Israeli culture inspire me to write this blog:



There's a powerful trend among Israeli brides to wear, basically, thin polyester lace over white bra cups. If you dare, take a look at this Yediot Ahronot article about trends in bride dresses for winter weddings-- I would place the top photo here, but it is literally too skimpy for me to post on this blog. Winter weddings, people. Those girls look cold. (The bride looks cold, too.)

The thing that is especially impressive about these gowns is that they will inevitably be worn in traditional Jewish weddings, presided over by orthodox rabbis. My wedding in the US was performed by a Chabad rabbi, so I made an extra effort to insure that not even my collar bone was showing-- I modified the McCall's pattern for a long-sleeved dress so that its neck reached even higher than on the dowdy bride on the pattern bag. In this dress, on the other hand, I'm pretty sure I can see the bride's belly button:

 

In reality, I don't think Israelis look at these dresses and think "sexy." They look at them and think "yafefiyah" (soooo pretty)... which, as we know from Isra-fab home decor, usually involves dangerous levels of crackle paint and glitter. Furthermore, Israelis believe that showing skin is snazzy, not skanky. (See some terrifying examples of snazzy Israeli fashion in this post.) To the average secular Israeli, covering up too much skin is sad, while wearing skin-tight spandex at age 60 is festive. By logical extension, on your wedding day you should wear almost nothing with maximum sparkles and embellishment, and all eyes will be on you! Er, parts of you, at least.

If you're invited to an Israeli wedding, wear whatever you normally wore on Friday night in Jewish summer camp, and you'll be dressed appropriately. See this post from What War Zone??? for more insight into the frightening and festive beast that is the Israeli wedding. But if you're the Israeli bride, ask yourself whether Madonna would have worn your dress in a music video during the 1980s. If the answer is yes, your dress is probably yafefiyah.

Have you had any adventures in Israeli weddings? Was your wedding dress "yafefiyah"?

7.12.09

Only in Israel...

...is this a Facebook group (with 100+ members and counting):

גם אני שונא שהגרעין של הלימון נעלם לי בסלט (ושונא יותר לתת ביס ולמצוא אותו)

Translation: I, too, hate it when lemon seeds disappear into my salad (and hate it even more when I take a bite and find one of them)

Update: follow my recipe for Israeli salad -- still one of the top search entries into my site-- to understand why seeds in the salad is such a pressing problem. Also, as of today, this Facebook group has over 200 members.

Also, check out this week's Haveil Havelim (the Jewish blog carnival)!

6.12.09

How to Shrug like an Israeli (a Quick and Easy Guide to Nonverbal Hebrew)

Israelis are addicted to their cell phones, and despite this being illegal, love to talk on their cell phones while driving. This is especially terrifying because A) Israelis continue to drive like maniacs even while talking on their cell phones, and B) talking in Israel is a full body sport. I have actually seen Israelis take both hands off the wheel to gesture while driving and talking on their cell phones.

But if you want to talk like an Israeli, you'd better master the art of Israeli body language.

To assist me in this lesson, I'm going to draw examples from the PSA that a bunch of Israeli celebrities filmed to protest the 30% raise in insurance prices for scooter and motorcycle riders. My husband commutes by scooter, so he's been involved in these protests. Basically, our government is raising two-wheeled-vehicle insurance to rates higher than semi-trailer truck insurance, and many times the rates of two-wheeled-vehicle insurance in Europe. The government is delaying a decision on this insurance hike because they hope the organized movement to protest this hike will peter out. Let's hope it doesn't!

Here's the PSA (there's a little bit of crude humor in the middle, but if your Hebrew is like mine, you probably won't get that part anyway):



Now, let's break down the classic Israeli body language at play in this clip.

1. The Lip Shrug
 


Seen at 0:16 in the clip, the lip shrug involves pulling down the corners of the mouth and pushing up the lower lip in an exaggerated frown. Often accompanied by a slight shoulder shrug and the extension of one open hand, the lip shrug indicates, "Ani yodeah? Nu, who knows? I have no idea. Not my job. I am also slightly disgusted."

2. The Instructional Finger

 

Seen at 0:18, this gesture demonstrates the authority of one who DOES know. Commonly used by Polish grandparents alerting grandchildren to certain danger and drivers explaining to fellow drivers how to drive, this gesture indicates that the listener should sit up and pay rapt attention. To correctly execute the Instructional Finger, raise your hand so that your palm faces your intended target. Keep both your finger and your head erect. In one swift motion, accent a particularly cogent point with an emphatic head nod and finger point.

3. The "I Really Really Mean It" Forefinger-Thumb Touch



Seen at 0:26 (and again at 1:02, to accent the phrase "b'emet") this is perhaps the most crucial gesture for would-be Israelis to master. It indicates that what is being said is urgent, crucial, and true. To execute the "I Really Really Mean It" Forefinger-Thumb Touch, place your thumb and forefinger together, keeping your other fingers loose and your palm facing towards your body. Accent your words with a shake of your hand and your listener will understand you to be earnest and sincere (or at least really emphatic in your attempt to swindle).

Note: Combine this with the final gesture-- pointing your other three fingers up rather than to the side-- and this gesture means "Techake Li Rega! Wait a second!" and need not be accompanied by words.

4. The Cooperative Two-handed Beckon

 

This gesture is at a more advanced level, and should not be attempted until gestures 1-3 are mastered. To execute this gesture (common among salespeople who are putting all their cards on the table and giving you the sincere advice that you should purchase their most expensive model, because they like you), move into your intended target's personal space. Extend your arms to the side and back from your body, so that your wrists are even with your hips. Raise your chin and eyebrows, open your palms, and say, "Tish'ma achi, what an I say? You want your water to taste like plastic, buy the cheap kumkum!)

5. The "Nu, Zeh Barur, Lo?" Shrug



At first glance, this gesture might seem to resemble the Cooperative Two-Handed Beckon, but note the key differences. In the "Nu, Zeh Barur, Lo?" Shrug, the shoulders are raised, the chin is lowered (and turned slightly to the side), and hands are extended out beyond the body. This gesture also differs from the Lip Shrug in that rather than indicate that the shrugger does not know, this gesture indicates that what the shrugger is saying should be obvious to any sane person listening. In fact, what is being indicated is so obvious that you shouldn't speak while making this gesture, because nu, it's clear, no?

6. The Two-Handed Precision Gestures



This encompasses a whole range of precise, two-handed movements. Using two hands together at close proximity indicates that the reader must pay close attention to follow the complex point the gesturer is making. (In this case, the gesturer is indicating the one spot in Tel Aviv where, just maybe, between 6 and 8 in the morning, street parking is available.)

7. The "Zeh Oh Zeh" One-Handed Swipe

 

In another gesture that is executed without talking, this gesture involves a dismissive sweep of the hand from the center to the side. This gesture indicates that all worrying is over (that's it-- zeh oh zeh) and a situation has been taken care of. If the gesture's recipient still worries, click your tongue and make a patting gesture to the side. As a side note, the person in this picture looks eerily similar to our landlord.

8. The Emphatic Finger

 


This gesture-- seen in the clip at 1:28 and elsewhere-- might at first be confused with the Instructional Finger. Not so-- this is the Emphatic Finger, and the palm facing the body makes it completely different. Execute this gesture by leaning slightly forward, raising your eyebrows, and shaking your hand forward slightly with every word. Frequently accompanied by baffled outrage at the government, this gesture indicates not only that the speaker really, really means what he is about to say, but that he has a very important point to make. 

Now go and gesture like an Israeli! Which gestures are your favorites? Which ones do you actually use? Would you add any to the list?

3.12.09

Shop at Ikea!

Israel has one Ikea (in Netanya), and this store probably attracts more Israeli pilgrims each year than the Kotel. I've been there once, and I barely found parking twenty minutes before the store was to officially open. The restaurant features Swedish meatballs and Israeli salad. Our Ikea gets all the same products as other Ikeas, so it's kind of fun to be able to buy a cheap wok and look at the same sofas I see on American design blogs. (Yes, I read home decorating blogs. I am a woman of many obessions, or perhaps of too much free time. :)

The bad news is that according to the Ikea Billy Bookshelf price index, Ikea products here are more expensive than anywhere else in the world. Our Billy Bookshelf costs the equivalent of 103 US dollars, compared to 59 dollars in the US. I knew our prices were expensive here, but... that's ridiculous. We even beat Kuwait, and prices in Europe look cheap by comparison. The Billy Shelf costs only about $60 in Japan! I think Ikea might have the reputation of being a little more up-scale in Israel than it actually is, although maybe the fact that almost all our furniture is made from cheap particle-board also raises the Ikea profile. Seriouly, though, Israelis tend to overestimate the quality of things that come from chul. The GAP recently opened a store in Israel, and Israelis act as if it's Ralph Lauren.

I'm going to stick to www.yad2.co.il for most of the furniture in our new apartment.

Still, I went to Ikea about a month ago and found a fun office chair in the scratch-and-dent section, which I went on to cover in fabric that's even more fun. My chair is featured today on the cool blog Ikea Hacker (which features creative modifications of Ikea products), so check it out! (More pictures on the Ikea Hacker site.)



Have you had any adventures in Israeli Ikeas? Can you vouch for the craziness? Why do you think Ikea products are so expensive here?

2.12.09

A second spring...

Back in Pennsylvania, December always ushered in months of monochrome: gray trees, white snow, brown grass, sometimes a little tan mud. Here in Israel, though, everything is just starting to turn green again after the long, dry summer. On my morning walks with a friend, I find myself captivated by the lush grass growing in a ditch or the feathery shoots of dill in a farmer's field. (This isn't exactly conducive to maintaining a brisk pace!) Even the courtyard of our apartment building is getting green again.

Remember, this was the tree in our courtyard in June, when a branch fell off from lack of water:


And remember, we had three more months of NO rain after that (although nightly light watering kept the grass somewhat alive).

Here's that same tree now, as seen through the bars in our kitchen window:


The grass is still patchy, but it has that vibrant green of spring growth.

Except that it's December.

I love Israel. :)

30.11.09

Water saving measures actually save water!

In late June, I posted about living in a water shortage and about the new measures we were taking to save water. I have to admit that for some reason I never think what I do actually makes a difference. I don't actually USE electricity when I leave the light on in the bathroom, do I? The fridge doesn't actually get dirty if I don't clean it, right? (Er, don't answer those questions.)

But since we started taking some simple measures to save water, this happened to our water bill:



Now take into consideration the fact that Hebrew goes from right to left, and look at that bill again.

That's right.. we went from using more than 20 cubic meters of water every two months (for just two people-- yikes) to using, recently, just 10. We literally used half the water in September-October this year compared to September-October last year. I'd call that results!

These are some of the things we started to do differently... I'm going to be really honest here, so I'm sorry if this means you no longer want to sit next to me on a bus or set foot in our apartment. :)

1. We don't flush our toilet every time. You know, "if it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, wash it down." When I do flush, I always use the little "half-tank" lever rather than the big "full-tank" lever. (Israeli toilets have two different flush settings.) Yes, letting yellow mellow is a little gross, but on the plus side it has made me much better about remembering to put the toilet lid down. (Putting the top lid down was a really hard skill for me to learn. I have much more appreciation for my husband's consistency in putting the seat down now!) This alone saves a TON of water, especially because I work from home and have a notoriously small bladder. Isn't it insane how much treated, cleaned, potable drinking water we just flush down every day? We started being strict about not flushing in the spring of this year, and you can see the difference in our water usage. In our next apartment, we're going to hook up our toilet so that we can flush using the "gray" water we collect from our shower. Which brings me to...

2. We save water from our shower, mostly just from that cold water that runs as we wait for the hot water to arrive. We put this water into buckets and use it for things like watering plants and mopping the floor. Again, it's insane just how much perfectly good water we were throwing away. I end up with more water than I know what to do with.

3. We take quick showers and turn off the water while soaping up. I don't shower every day, or if I need to shower every day, I don't always wash my hair. Yes, I know this sounds really gross. But showering every day isn't actually healthy for your skin-- it strips your body of natural oils. I once heard a beauty expert (an expert!) liken washing hair every day to scrubbing a delicate silk blouse daily. I don't smell bad, really! (Aren't you glad you interact with me via the Internet, not in person?) Once again, this saves a TON of perfectly good drinking water.

4. I wash dishes like an Israeli Follow the link to learn how. I've now started to put all my dishes in the sink when I rinse off the soap, so the water rinsed off one dish starts to clean the next. I'm thinking now that I can start collecting that mostly-clean water in a bin and use it to soak my dishes for next time. I don't have a dishwasher, so this is the best I can do for now. I'm trying to convince my husband that we never need to wash dishes at all... imagine how much water we'd save. (I'm kidding! Mostly. Some of you suggested switching to plastic plates to save water, but because our shortage is year-round, I think we'd do more harm to environment than good that way.)

5. I don't do silly things like wash my sheets every week or my jeans and sweaters every day. It's for the Kinneret, people.

Now that it's winter, we need to make even more effort to saving water so that we have water to use next summer. 2.5 cubic meters per person per month still sounds like a lot, though, and I want to try to cut our water usage down more. Any suggestions? What do you do to save water? How much water do you use each month?

29.11.09

Listen to David Broza!

A few weeks ago I went to my first concert where I knew most of the words to most of the songs performed... and no, I don't mean Madonna or Leonard Cohen. (I was probably one of the 47 or so people in Israel to not see either singer when they came to Israel recently!)

Instead, I saw David Broza, an Israeli/Spanish singer who could be considered, oh, the Israeli Bruce Springsteen. David Broza was born in Israel but spent most of his childhood "b'chul." (Israelis have a wonderfully self-centered way of talking about the world. We refer to Israel as haAretz ("the land") and everything outside Israel as chul, which is an abbreviation of chutz la'aretz-- "outside the land.") Broza sings some songs in Spanish and English, others in Hebrew. The Argentinians in my ulpan class knew many of the folk songs that he translated into Hebrew (and turned into Israeli hits). The "David" in "David Broza" is pronounced in the English/Spanish pronunciation (Day-vid) rather than the Israeli pronunciation (Dah-veed)... as I learned after attempting to sound Israeli in my pronunciation of his name for years and actually making myself sound a little clueless.

The concert was incredible. Broza came out saying that he was putting on this concert to spoil himself, and the pleasure he took from singing and playing guitar was contagious. Oh, and the man is an AMAZING guitar player. In concert, he seemed to tickle his guitar and incredibly complex melodies and rhythms just flowed out.

So if you want to be Israeli, get to know the singer who (like all good olim) took pieces of other cultures and made them very Israeli.

This song ("Mitachat LaShamayim"-- Under the Sky) is one of my favorites, and for once it isn't a translation of a Spanish folk song! The story Broza tells at the start of the clip is about the origins of the song, and you can see a translation of this story if you click through to youtube.



Here are the words (from MP3Music.co.il), along with my own rough translation. One caveat: at some point during the David Broza concert I had to ask my husband if one of Broza's new songs was about a girl growing up or a girl being kidnapped. You might want to take my translation with a grain of salt.

 באנו לכאן
מתחת לשמיים
שניים
כמו זוג עיניים

We came here
Under the sky
The two of us
Like a pair of eyes


יש לנו זמן
מתחת לשמיים
בינתיים
אנו עוד כאן


We have time
Under the sky
In the meantime
We're still here


את ואני
את ואני
את ואני
והמיטה רחבה
לתת אהבה


You (feminine) and me
You and me
You and me
And the bed is wide
to give love

לילה ויום
לילה ויום
לילה ויום
והחיוך מתנצל
שהוא מתעצל

Night and day
Night and day
Night and day
And the smile will apologize
for being lazy

באנו לכאן
מתחת לשמיים
שניים
כמו זוג עיניים

We have time
Under the sky
In the meantime
We're still here

שנינו אחד
שנינו אחד
שנינו אחד
אחד שלם ועגול
שלם וגדול

The two of us are one
The two of us are one
The two of us are one
One full and round
full and big

בואי ניתן
בואי ניתן
בואי ניתן
אני אתן לך לתת
לתת לי לתת לך

Come and let's give
Come and let's give
Come and let's give
I will give you to give
to give me to give to you

באנו לכאן
מתחת לשמיים
שניים
כמו זוג עיניים

We came to here
Under the sky
The two of us
Like a pair of eyes

ולמרות הפער
ולמרות הכאב
ולמרות הצער
אני אוהב
ואוהב
ואוהב...

And despite the divide
And despite the pain
And despite the sorrow
I love
and love
and love...

(In the performance above, David Broza adds a final verse. I'll leave that one to you.)

Hmm. On second thought, in English that comes across as a) incomprehensible or b) a ploy to get a woman into bed. It's much better in Hebrew. Trust me. Or it might be a better song if you only understand about half the words, which could possibly be why I like Hebrew music so much.

This next song ("Cmo SheAt"-- "How you are") is not "pretty," but it moves me and sticks into my soul each time I hear it. The performance that I saw was accompanied by three young musicians on violins... it was intense. The version below isn't as good (I think Broza's voice has become more gravely and moving with age), but it gives you the idea. And, er, you might not even want to read my attempt at an English translation down below.  (For the record, though, I like this song even more after learning the words.) Just watch the video:



Here are the lyrics (once again from MP3Music.co.il):

חיי הם אבן,
כמו אבן,
אבן הם חיי.

My life is a stone,
Like a stone,
But it's my life.

כמו שאת אבן קטנטונת,
כמו שאת אבן נזרקת כמו שאת.
כמו שאת זמר של הלך,
כמו שאת אבן של דרך כמו שאת.
כמו שאת אבן של נחל,
כמו שאת אבן שוקעת כמו שאת.

Like you are a tiny stone
Like you are a tossed-away stone as you are.
Like you are a song of a wanderer,
Like you are a stone of the path as you are.
Like you are a stone in a river,
Like you are a settled stone as you are.

כמו שאת אבן קטנטונת כמו שאת.
כמו שאת אבן של נחל כמו שאת.

Like you are a tiny stone as you are.
Like you are a stone of the river as you are.

כמו שאת ביום של גשם,
כמו שאת אבן שקר לה כמו שאת.
כמו שאת אחר כך נוצצת,
כמו שאת חצץ של רכבת כמו שאת.

Like you are on a day of rain,
Like you are a stone and you feel chilly as you are.
Like you are afterward sparkling
Like you are gravel of the train as you are.

כמו שאת אבן קטנטונת כמו שאת.
כמו שאת אבן של נחל כמו שאת.

Like you are a little stone.
Like you are a stone of the river as you are.

כמו שאת אבן מתלכלכת,
כמו שאת אבן מתהפכת כמו שאת.
כמו שאת לא אבן של חן,
לא אבן חומה,
לא אבן שלמה,
כמו שאת.
כמו שאת.

Like you are a stone that gets dirty,
Like you are a turned-over stone like you are.
Like you are not a stone of beauty,
Not a stone of a wall,
Not a complete stone.
As you are.

כמו שאת אבן סוררת,
כמו שאת אבן מתפוררת כמו שאת.
כמו שאת אבן נזרקת,
כמו שאת אבן קטנטונת כמו שאת.
כמו שאת.

Like you are a rebellious stone,
Like you are a crumbling stone as you are.
Like you are a glittering stone,
Like you are a little stone as you are.
As you are.

David Broza has so many other incredible songs that I have to make myself stop... look up "Yiyeh Tov" (which is kind of the Israeli "We Shall Overcome"), "HaIsha SheIti" (a great Spanish-inspired song), "Shir Ahava Bedui" ("Bedouin Love Song"), and so many others. Just search for David Broza on Youtube. And if you ever get a chance to see him in concert, go for it.

What are your favorite David Broza songs? Who are your favorite Israeli musicians?

25.11.09

Nazi plate update

You will remember that a few weeks ago, my husband and I made a disturbing discovery: one of our serving platters used to be in the possession of the German Luftwaffe. It has a swastika on the bottom and everything. Thank you so much for all of your ideas and suggestions in response.

I contacted Yad Vashem to see what they suggested and received this in response:

באוסף החפצים של מוזיאון יד ושם נאספים פריטים
ומוצגים ששימשו את הנאצים ואחר כך נלקחו על ידי הניצולים לשימוש פרטי.
כדי לאפשר את העברת הכלי לידי המוזיאון ביד ושם, את מוזמנת ליצור איתי קשר.


If your Hebrew isn't quite up to translating that, here's the bottom line: they have a collection of artifacts like these, and they're interested in receiving this item as a donation. Next time we're in Jerusalem, we'll deliver the plate to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. I'm excited to make a donation to such an amazing museum, and I'm glad they want the plate. I do feel that this item represents a pretty interesting history, and I'm happy that it can be stored in a place that will set it in the appropriate context.

I'll let you know what happens when we actually make the donation!

24.11.09

My first Israeli recipe ever: Ketzitzot!

This week, I plan to subject my husband's Israeli family to a full Thanksgiving dinner. I ordered a full turkey from a butcher shop-- they thought I was crazy, and I'm not sure the turkey will fit in my oven, but it's on its way! I found kosher frozen cranberries in Tiv Taam. I bought fresh sage (which is for some reason readily available, while dried sage isn't), and I am planning to boil down the chunks of pumpkin sold in every veggie shop into pumpkin pie.

The last one is almost guaranteed to disgust my guests, because Israelis see pumpkins as a purely savory food-- I guess they see pumpkin dessert the way I see those Asian bean curd pastries. Is it bad that I am highly entertained by the idea of inflicting American recipes on Israeli guests?

Anyway, trying to cook American for a change made me think about the first Israeli recipe I ever managed to cook, way back before I made aliyah. I had eaten at my Israeli mother-in-law's house countless times and attempted to duplicate her cooking, but whatever I cooked always tasted so... American. I began to think that something on my birth certificate made it impossible for me to get the seasonings right. Finally, I sucked it up and figured out the Hebrew in one of my M-I-L's cookbooks, and I made these meatballs (ketzitzot). They were a revelation! My food finally tasted completely Israeli! 

After that, I began to improvise my own Israeli-tasting dishes simply based on the confidence (and seasoning insight) I gained from this one recipe. I also learned that it pays to use Hebrew cookbooks. Not only do they help me cook like an Israeli, but they improve my vocabulary-- I may not be able to tell you what the word for "shoelaces" or "steering wheel" is in Hebrew, but I know how to say "frying pan" (machvat) and "minced" (katzutz dak)!

This recipe is found on page 136 of the book BaRega Aharon (At the Last Minute) by Benny Saida, one of the foremost Israeli cookbook authors. Saida's recipes are easy, delicious, and very Israeli. The Hebrew he uses is simple and the directions concise. I've never been disappointed by any recipe from any of Saida's books. You can order this cookbook online in the US here.

Veal Meatballs with Green Tahini Sauce

Click on the image below to see a larger version. The translation is my own... it may not be perfectly accurate, but hey-- I've made this recipe many times, and the ketzitzot are always delicious! Comments in italics are from me.


Prepare large quantities, because these meatballs will disappear from the table even before you have had time to fry all of them.

5 servings

Ingredients 

For the meatballs:

700 grams (1 1/2 pounds) ground veal (Ground turkey and ground beef also work well)
1 cup chopped parsley
1 onion, grated (or chopped finely)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 eggs
4 tablespoons bread crumbs
salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sumac (sumac powder might be hard to find in the US, despite the fact that sumac bushes abound. You can harvest your own from a weedy patch-- being careful to avoid the poison-ivy-like poison sumac-- or check out a kosher, middle-eastern, or possibly Indian grocery store. You can try replacing the sumac with paprika, although the bittersweet flavor of sumac adds something special to this recipe.) 
1 teaspoon cumin

oil, to fry (Just enough to coat the pan is ok. I never deep-fry these.)

For the green tahini sauce:

1 cup tahini (available in most grocery stores-- this is sesame seed butter, and it's an ingredient in hummus as well as halva. In Hebrew, tahini is pronouned tachina.)
4 cloves garlic (Yes, 8 cloves garlic total. Israeli food is FULL of garlic!)
1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup water
1 1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley
salt
  1. To prepare the meatballs: Mix all the ingredients of the meatballs in a bowl, and form the mixture into oval-shaped balls (kind of flat and long, like in the picture). Heat up the oil to fry, and fry the ketzitzot in the hot oil (high heat, fry until they are firm and golden). 
  2. To prepare the tahini: Put all of the ingredients of the green tahini into a food processor, and mix to a thick sauce. (If it's too thick, add more water. If you want it to look more like the picture rather than a green paste, add in the parsley only at the end.) Taste, and adjust seasonings.
  3. To serve: Divide the meatballs onto individual serving plates, and spoon over them three tablespoons of the green tahini. Serve with hot pitas.
So that was my first Israeli recipe. By the way, ketzitzot are a very popular Israeli food, which makes it all the more strange that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs became Geshem shel Falofel (Falofel rain) when it came to this country. If you've never had Israeli meatballs, definitely try this recipe-- no spaghetti involved!

What was the first time you felt like an Israeli cook? What are your favorite Israeli recipes? What Israeli foods would you like to learn how to cook?

22.11.09

Are Israelis rude?

I was actually just going to post a link to today's Haveil Havelim blog carnival, hosted by A Mother in Israel, but as I was browsing her wonderful blog, a post about Israeli "rudeness" struck a nerve with me, and I had to add my own thoughts. (I agree with A Mother in Israel's response to this question... I'm not ranting against what she said, but rather at the attitude she addressed!)

We've all heard that Israelis are rude, and to some extent this is true. More often, though, Americans coming to Israel are ruder than they realize. What is polite in America is not the same as what is polite in Israel.

For example, I've posted before about the way the relationship between Israeli sales people and customers is different from the relationship in America.  In America, the customer is always right-- and the customer is therefore entitled to demand service RIGHT NOW, monopolize a sales person's time and then walk away, ask to speak to the manager if anything is wrong with service, etc. In Israel, on the other hand, the sales person sees himself as an authority-- and is therefore entitled to take his sweet time in coming to serve you, give you advice you didn't ask for, and refuse to sell you a more expensive product if he's convinced a cheap one will do. The flip side of this, though, is that sales people usually feel invested in helping you find the right product, and they often have good advice to offer. Americans who come in expecting sales people to be subservient come across as arrogant and demanding... sounds familiar?

In other situations, I think Israeli "rudeness" stems from the feeling that we're like a big family crowded into a too-small apartment. Of course we tell each other what to do! Yes, strangers might ask pointed personal questions after spending two minutes with you in the supermarket checkout line. (If you don't want to respond, adopt the teenager-tested strategy of refusing to give away information. "Where are you going?" "Out." "What are you going to do there?" "Stuff.") Imagine if a family member was simply indifferent to you-- wouldn't that sting more? And here's the thing: when Israelis yell at you, it's something like your brother yelling at you. At the end of the day, he still loves you and you love him. It's not personal. Two strangers in Israel can have a loud, heated disagreement, and at the end of it clap each other on the back, call each other "achi," and buy each other coffee. An American after the same disagreement might nurse a grudge for years, while Israelis were just voicing their opinions and having a little battle of wills.

Israelis see Americans as friendly and polite on the surface but aloof and insincere in this kindness. Imagine: Americans see someone else's child misbehaving or crying and don't do anything! Americans might obey traffic laws, but they don't pick up the teenagers hitchhiking along the side of the road or invite strangers into their homes for a meal. When Americans give directions, they rarely offer to show the asker to his destination. Americans don't offer coffee to repairmen or shots of homemade peach liqueur to customers in their shops. When a friend of mine moved back to America after a decade of life in Israel, she was shocked by the dirty looks she received in American supermarkets when she accidentally nudged strangers with her shopping cart, and by the indifference of fellow travelers on American city buses as she attempted to lug around a baby and a small child. Again: Israel and the US have different definitions of "polite." Americans are offended that someone bumps into them in the grocery store yet don't consider that giving a dirty look in response could be rude.

In the US, social norms often call for you to be indirect and perhaps even passive-aggressive in how you state your opinions. You smile when you don't mean it. You say "thank you" when you don't mean it. You complain to everyone except the person with whom you have a problem. In Israel, social norms call for you to be direct and assertive. You honk your horn and flash your lights at the car that is going too slowly in front of you, and then pull over if they seem to need help. For me, the Israeli system works so much better. I hate being around people who might be upset by my actions and not say anything. I'm notoriously bad at picking up subtle non-verbal cues and like it when people are direct with me and I can be direct with them. It's tricky to nail the right degree of assertiveness (rather than combativeness) in your interactions with Israelis, but when you find it, you develop a relationship based on mutual respect. If you avoid confrontation at all costs, on the other hand, this might not be the country for you.

I feel for tourists-- I really do. The American strategies of smiling and being polite (until you're REALLY upset) send the wrong signals to Israelis and so elicit responses that only make Americans feel more attacked and annoyed. Because Americans assume you have to be furious to shout at a stranger in the street or lay on the horn, they must get freaked out by fairly normal interactions in Israel. Yes, Israel might gain a better reputation in the world and among visiting tourists if we learned about tact. But if you're in Israel, maybe you should try acting like an Israeli. People are so much nicer that way!

Ok, that's my rant. Told you that touched a nerve. What do you think? Have you had experiences with "rude" Israelis (or rude Americans)?

20.11.09

Hebrew words that sound like English but mean something else


One of the more confusing things about learning Hebrew is that some words sound like English but don't have the same meaning as their English counterparts. Or rather, their meaning has taken a life of its own in Hebrew, such as the way "super" means "grocery store" here. (In many cases, these words came to Hebrew from a different language, like French.) We all know of הוא (sounds like "who," means "he"), היא (sounds like "he," means "she"), and דג (sounds like "dog," means "fish"). Here are a few examples you might not learn in Hebrew school:

Hebrew word: cuckoo (קוקו)
Sounds like:

Actually means:

"Cuckoo" in Hebrew means ponytail. Does anyone have any idea why? Maybe ponytails swing off your head like the weight in a cuckoo clock?

Hebrew word: mommy (מאמי)
Sounds like:

Actually means:
This is Miri Mesika's absolutely gorgeous song, "Mami," and no, she isn't singing to her mother. In Hebrew, "mami" actually means "sweetie," and it's a term of endearment you might use for a friend as well as a lover. Another term of endearment is "boobie," but I didn't want to post a picture of what that sounds like.

Hebrew word: bagel (בייגלה)
Sounds like:

Actually means:

Bizarrely enough, bagels are pretty hard to find in Israel. When someone asks you if you want a "bageleh," they're usually not offering a little bagel-- they're offering a pretzel.

Hebrew word: nylon (ניילון)
Sounds like:

Actually means:

Who knows why, but a plastic bag (particularly the kind that you can get at the grocery store) is called a "nylon" here. (Sometimes you hear "sakit nylon," nylon bag.)

Hebrew term: kabob (קבב)
Sounds like:

Actually means:

When I was first offered a "kabab" in Israel, I expected a shish kabob-- in other words, chunks of meat and veggies roasted in a stick. Instead, "kabab" in Israel (and it most of the Middle East, I suspect) means ground meat and spices shaped into a kind of sausage. Traditionally, they're shaped around a stick, but not always. If you actually want a shish kabob, ask for a shishlik (שישליק).

Hebrew term: salat mayonnaise (סלט מיונז)
Sounds like:

Actually means:

Actually, potato salad basically is mayonnaise salad, so maybe that one is not misleading after all. Israelis just have a more honest take on the salad's primary ingredient.

Hebrew word: Mafia (מאפיה)
Sounds like:

Actually means:

(That isn't an Israeli bakery. If it were, some of those pastries would be mushroom-filled.) Technically, the Hebrew word for bakery is pronounced ma-a-fi-a, and it comes from the verb "leefot," which means "to bake." I was relieved to discover this after being told to go down the street to buy bread from the mafia. On the other hand, if someone tells you to buy your challah from one of the mishpachot pesha... you're probably in Netanya.

I can think of a few more. French fries are "chips" (although that should come as no surprise to anyone who has traveled outside the US), the secular New Year's Eve  is "Sylvester," etc. To me, "arse" (the term for a slicked-up, dressed-to-the-nines in too-tight and overly-trendy-clothing young-mizrachi-guy) always sounds like the British word for, er, hindquarters. This blog post offers a great list of some more Hebrew faux-amis.

What are your favorites? Have you ever been confused by a sound-alike Hebrew term?

18.11.09

Grocery shopping like an Israeli

There are a lot of differences between Israeli and American grocery stores, as I learned on my very first day in Israel. I was strolling down the street, feeling all cool and Israeli, and I decided to look around the inside of our local Machsane-Lahav.

By the way, basically half of the big stores in Israel these days is calls Machsan-something. Machsan means "warehouse" (or storage room, as in the machsans on the ground floor of most apartment buildings) and I guess it indicates "cheap" and "big" to the Israeli consumer. I bought our fridge in Machsane-Chashmal (Electrical Warehouse), I passed a lamp store called Machsan-Teorah (Lighting Warehouse) last night, a butcher shop might be Machsan-Basar, etc. Machsane-Lahav means "Flame Warehouse"... I'm really not sure where that one comes from.

Anyway, on my first day in Israel, I strolled into the grocery store (known as a super in Hebrew--pronounced "soo-pear" and short for "supermarket," I guess). A guy standing at the door tried to get my attention as I waltzed in, but I had heard Israeli men tend to be aggressive. Was I going to be the clueless American who made eye contact and encouraged Israeli pickup artists? Not me! I was Israeli! Cool as a melafafon, I strolled towards the bread section, only to see the guy coming after me and shouting... and he had a gun.

Turns out he was the security guard at the door who was supposed to check my purse before I entered. Oops. And for the record, having pretty decent Hebrew when you arrive backfires when you need to convince a security guard that you are a fresh-off-the-plane olah who didn't know any better.

These are some other fun things you should know about shopping in an Israeli super:
  • Be nice to the security guys. If they get to know you, they'll let you go in without being searched. Also, they can watch your little-old-lady-wheeled-cart (post about that later) or your bags of veggies from the yarkan (post about that later too) or your stroller at the door while you go shopping.
  • The grocery store (unless it's a non-kosher basar-lavan-selling chain like Tiv-Taam) will close early on Fridays and be closed all day on Shabbat and holidays.
  • If you have just one or two items, Israelis almost always let you cut in front of them in line if you ask.
  • The check-out lady might not say "thank you" or "have a nice day," but she will tell you that you have only bought one bottle of olive oil when you get a better price for buying two, and she'll wait for you to go get another bottle. She will also attempt to sell you a range of products from dark chocolate to hand lotion that she has sitting on her checkout counter. She will also do this for all of the people ahead of you in line, which means you should be prepared to wait for a while to check out.
  • Buy-one-get-one-free in Hebrew is denoted in simple math: 1+1 (echad ploos echad). Buy two get one free is 2+1 (shteim ploos echad) and is WRITTEN as 1+2... Hebrew goes right to left, remember? (Thanks for a commenter for reminding me of this!)
  • You probably need to bag your own groceries and you probably need to ask the checkout lady to throw some bags up on the checkout counter for you.
  • When you buy more than, say, 200 shekels of groceries, you will be asked "kama tashlumim," which means "how many payments?" If you want to pay everything at once, you can say "echad" or "ragil" (normal). A rumor circulates among olim that the way to ask to pay everything at once is to say "makah" (hit), but when an Argentinian told me this in the checkout line once, the checkout lady said she'd never heard it before.
  • On your receipt when you pay with a credit card will be two lines. The top is for your signature, and the bottom is for your phone number. To be really Israeli, don't write your phone number in this space unless the checkout lady insists. This would be giving away information. I've barely ever written my phone number on a receipt, despite the fact that every receipt contains a spot for it.
I think I'll devote a whole post some time to the differences between food packaging in Israel and the US. What general super shopping-tips did I miss? Have you had any adventures in Israeli grocery shopping?

17.11.09

It's winter, so go eat a krembo!


Source: http://www.tipo.co.il/news.asp?nid=40860

Most Americans associate Israeli food with falofel or shwarma, but the Krembo is just as iconic and unique to Israel. In fact, it has its own Wikipedia page.  My husband has a theory that the Krembo grew out of the fact that Israelis traditionally do not eat ice cream in the winter-- in fact, you used to not even be able to find ice cream in grocery stores in the winter. Krembos, on the other hand, are very delicate and melt in the summer heat, so they are the Israeli winter junk food... and they're soo good.

Although I have a sweet tooth, I didn't like the American junk foods like twinkies or hostess cupcakes that are JUST sweet and fatty with no taste or texture. But Krembos taste light and melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and the mocha-flavored varieties are luscious. The base of a Krembo is a pretty tasteless round cookie, topped with a dollop of cream, and then covered in a thin layer of chocolate. (Here's a youtube video in Hebrew showing how they're made... they actually have to be wrapped by hand!) The "cream" isn't really cream-- my husband thinks it's made from egg whites, though it tastes something like a cross between marshmallow fluff and miracle whip. Then, of course, there's the foil wrapper, which my husband insists on smoothing out until every wrinkle is gone (another tradition from his childhood).

As the Wikipedia page attests, the most important question when you eat Krembos is whether you go from the cream side down or the cookie side up.  From the Wikipedia page:
In Israel, the krembos are a seasonal treat and the "krembo season" is very short, only four months a year, from October to February. Nevertheless, 50 million krembos are sold each year—an average of 9 per person in Israel. According to a study funded by Strauss, Israel's leading krembo producer, 69% of Israelis prefer to eat krembos from the top down (starting with the cream), and only 10% start with the biscuit at the bottom; the rest had no preference.[1]
What I find most significant about that statistic is that almost 80 % of Israelis have a clear preference... Krembos are such a ubiquitous snack that you practically aren't Israeli if you don't know how you eat your Krembo!

Personally, I'm actually an eat-in-from-the-side kind of gal. I like to have a little bit of cream, a little chocolate, and a little cookie in each bite. How about you? Have you started on your nine-Krembos-per-winter allotment yet? :)

16.11.09

New Haveil Havelim!

Here's a link to an excellent edition of Haveil Havelim, the Jewish blog carnival: http://imabima.blogspot.com/2009/11/haveil-havalim-243-nablopomo-edition.html

This edition is especially readable and engaging, so enjoy!

I'm sick right now and have been staying up all night coughing... not so fun when this is on my plate. All I care about is not getting laryngitis.

Of to go eat some soup...

12.11.09

You are more Lebanese than you think...

My husband and I have a good friend whom I met on my birthright trip to Israel, and who eventually was my fellow board member at our campus Chabad House. After college, he worked as an Arabic translator for the US Army in Iraq. He is now studying for his master's degree in Beirut, and he'll probably get his doctorate in Middle Eastern politics in Israel. Altogether, he's a pretty incredible person.

Anyway, it often strikes me that we live SO close together... if our coastal highway and train service didn't end before Rosh HaNikra, we could probably get to our friend's apartment in a few hours.

He reads this blog, but for some reason he can't post comments directly onto it. The other day, he wrote a bunch of comments on the version of this blog posted on my personal Facebook account.

On a post about the recent heavy rains: Ouf. The water was about half as much up here but we have the same problem.

On the post about Isra-fab decorating:  I broke my camera recently, but you will get pictures of my VERY yafefiyah apt soon. I was looking at what you were putting up and the similarities are eerie.

On the post about medusot: They're called "Medusin" here, but they all make their way up north!

On the post about not giving away information: It's a very similar dynamic here. Though facebook is an exception. In fact there is a saying here: "What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, but what happens in Beirut goes straight to Facebook!"

(My favorite comment!) On the post about what's missing in America: We have the mop issue here too. In fact when I moved into my first apt with an American roommate here, when we went to clean he found the squeegee and said "I don't know what to do..." I responded "Wait! I have a friend from Israel that wrote a blog post on just this problem!" (I really did.) and explained based on your blog just how to use it!

Striking commonalities, no?

People from the blog Israelity (which talks about Israeli culture) have been working on world report videos for CNN. I agree with them that the most striking comment from this video is that the Jewish and Arab youths making a music video together look so SIMILAR:



I don't want to downplay the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or even the difficulty of making peace with Lebanon. I doubt I could meet a member of, say, Hamas or Hezbollah and glibly celebrate our similarities. Our country faces deep, difficult issues, and I am not comfortable making many of the concessions that Palestinians demand (or that Syrians demand in exchange for peace with Israel, which would lead to peace with Lebanon), and I see most of Israel's security measures as justified.

But the fact is that it's so easy to dehumanize any Muslim country as the "enemy" in this conflict, despite the fact that we're both sprinkling our pizzas with Zaatar and eating watermelon with labaneh in the summer. (I just made the last one up, but I bet they do that it Lebanon too.) We experience the same weather. We watch the same imported American and British TV shows. I mean... at times, Israel really does feel like one country among neighbors. My blond, blue-eyed friend says that in Lebanon (as opposed to Iraq) he is often mistaken for a native, and I guess I have a similar experience in Israel.

And yes, for the record, relations between Lebanon and Israel are not as fraught as Israeli-Palestinian relations. In fact, my friend says that there is deep discrimination against Palestinians in Lebanese society. But our two countries haven't exactly gotten along in recent years. I can't travel to Lebanon with an Israeli stamp on my American passport, let alone my Israeli passport. Lebanon is now upset at Israel for laying claim to hummus, and I got an anonymous comment on my hummus recipe informing me that hummus is Lebanese, not Israeli. (I didn't post the comment. To me, that's like claiming that Apple Pie isn't American because it has its origins in Europe. I don't think you need to have invented a food to have it be central to your culture.)

Maybe the more important point is that we're both swiping up hummus with our pitas.

11.11.09

What War Zone?? T-shirts!

One of my favorite funny blogs about Israel is Benji Lovitt's What War Zone?? If you haven't checked it out, do so now... and you might just be able to catch Benji's standup act in the US!

Benji also just came out with a line of t-shirts featuring from his his favorite Israeli-isms and humorous lines. Click here for the full line. The "yiyeh beseder" t-shirts are great, because they capture the Israeli attitude towards everything from nuclear bombs to clogged storm drains, but I have to say that this one is my favorite:


It says "everybody loves a HOT guy," which only makes sense if you realize that one of Israel's two big cable companies is called HOT (with that logo). This results in fun conversations:

Me: I asked a HOT guy to come over this morning while you were at work.
Dear Husband: Oh? Why?
Me: Well, I was in the mood for some HOT Fun! but I couldn't seem to get it started on my own, so I called the HOT guy.
DH: You know, I really prefer it if you let me take care of this kind of thing myself. 
Me: Well, the HOT guy went back to his truck and called a few other HOT guys, and they got Israeli Entertainment going, but then...

Riiight.

I'm not sure that I can wear these shirts on the Israeli streets (well, maybe one of the yiyeh beseder ones... those might even catch on among regular Israelis!) but they would make hilarious gifts for anyone you know who has spent enough time in Israel to get the jokes.

What would you put on a t-shirt to celebrate all of the quirks of Israeli life? I'm very tempted to make bumper stickers saying "honk if you're Israeli." Get it? Get it?

Good times. :) 

10.11.09

Aliyah after the honeymoon...

I think I'm one of those people who is happier after the "honeymoon" wears off. My relationship with my husband, for example, is better now than it was five years ago when we got married. Of course, we have bad days, especially when it's... er... the time of the month when I just NEED to sink my teeth into some petty argument and shake my head around. In general, though, we are kinder to each other now, less likely to freak out at little faults, more vulnerable, better at giving each other what we need. Most of all, I value being comfortable together. I can dress in a ripped t-shirt and sweatpants and feel as attractive around him as when I'm dressed up. (Well, mostly. Regular showers are also important.)

I've been thinking about this a lot, lately, because in my life in Israel, I think I've moved past the honeymoon stage. And I love it.

First, a disclaimer: I know I'm very lucky, and I also know that I have probably moved to the phase of feeling comfortable in Israel faster than most olim. (I've heard it takes about three years, and I've been here for a year and a half.) I mean, this blog didn't grow out of nothing-- I was obsessed with becoming Israeli for years before I actually made aliyah. I came here with pretty good Hebrew and an Israeli husband, so I have someone to throw the phone to when I'm not sure whether the dentist is suggesting a teeth cleaning or a root canal.

When I first moved to Israel, though, I got easily embarrassed in stores when I couldn't communicate what I wanted or when the owners of the vegetable stand yelled at me for squeezing their peaches. I forced myself to read a whole novel in Hebrew, to cook from Israeli cook books, to eat salad for breakfast. I was like a person in the early stages of a relationship who is determined to prove that she has everything in common with her guy, that she is the perfect girlfriend and he a flawless paragon. Just as that isn't a realistic formula for a relationship, it's not a realistic expectation for aliyah.

There were good things about these early stages, too. Every holiday thrilled me (wow, we have concerts on Yom HaAtzmaut! People other than me are celebrating Sukkot!) and I generally looked at the world around me with shiny, love-struck, oil-glazed-from-too-much-falofel eyes.

Today, though, I forgive myself for reading newspapers in English or eating muesli and yogurt for breakfast. In some ways, I'm much more Israeli now-- I have grown to love nescafe, for example-- but I'm also comfortable with the ways in which I'm American. While driving somewhere strange in Haifa used to be a terrifying ordeal, it's now simply a trip to the nearest city. I expect to walk out the door and speak Hebrew. I listen to Galgalatz in the car and NPR over the internet at home, although many aspects of American culture and politics seem irrelevant and a little annoying to me now. And... please don't shun me, siblings... but I'm just as excited by a victory for the Maccabi Haifa football (er, soccer) team as the Pittsburgh Steelers. Whereas we used to go hiking to see as much of this beautiful country as possible, now we go because this, here, is our life, and we want to enjoy it. It's hard to explain this shift in feeling, but it's powerful. I live here. This is now my life.

I'm also much more comfortable acknowledging the imperfections of life in Israel. I look at politicians on TV and am more likely to think "scum bag" than "champion of Zionism." Before I came here, I idealized Israelis-- I saw them as more real and profound, less inhibited and fake. Some of that's true, some of that isn't. Israelis have shortcomings just like Americans.

The aliyah-as-marriage analogy works in many other ways, too: you must get to know each other first, you must be committed, you must discuss money and how to raise the kids and where to live. (I bet that the percentage of people who "divorce" aliyah over financial concerns is at least as high as the percentage of marriages that dissolve over money.) I once heard someone say that the best indication of how happy you will be in a marriage is how happy you are out of it. In other words, if you are miserable, don't expect marriage (or aliyah) to transform you. We are responsible for our own happiness. As I waited for aliyah, I reminded myself to practice enjoying life then so that I would be able to enjoy life in Israel.

Yet the fact is that I am happier now than I have ever been, just as I am so much happier and so much more myself with my husband than without him. I am growing into myself in Israel. The honeymoon is over, and life is good.

Now, if only Israel would remember to put the toilet seat down...
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