9.12.10

Signs you may be becoming more Israeli than you realized...


 I had one of these moments today. The inimitable (and hilarious) Benji Lovitt of What War Zone??? posted a picture of Jerusalem's weather report (rain!!) on his Facebook feed, and for a second I was really confused by it. Then I realized that I was trying to read it from right to left, so I couldn't understand why the "first" day listed was Tuesday.

So, in honor of that moment, here are a few signs you might have noticed that this whole "absorption" thing might be going better than you'd thought...

1. You see just one clove of garlic listed in a recipe and assume there must have been a mistake (and put in five cloves, just to be on the safe side).

2. You use "walla!" in conversation.

3. Someone asks your shoe size, and "41" is the first number that comes to mind. (Yes, that's really my European/Israeli shoe size. Even though I'm only 5'5" tall. Yes, I'm bitter.)

4. You think of the first rain as the sign that winter has arrived, not the first snow.

5. If someone serves you hummus, you automatically look for the pita to wipe it up with.

6. You find yourself singing along to a Mizrachi song.

7. You think instant coffee is a perfectly good morning drink.

8. You no longer look at the speedometer on your car and panic when you see a number over 90 (it's kilometers, people...)

9. Someone asks you for directions and you actually know how to answer.

10.The pro-Israel comments that your American friends post to their Facebook pages start to seem a little... naive. (Don't get me wrong, I'm very pro-Israel... but, well, it's much more complicated than that when you live here. A blog post for another day...)

11. When you pick up a Jewish book, you automatically try to read it from right to left.

12. The names "Inbal," "Elmog," "Dudu," "Hadas" and "Tal" no longer sound funny to you. Ok, so Dudu is still funny. As is any name paired with the last name פינס. Because we all have an inner fourth grader. 

13. You can't think of the right word in English.

Have you experienced any of these moments? Which would you add to the list?

7.12.10

A tale of two fires...

 Our menorahs last year... this year I remembered to put down foil first! 

Sorry I didn't post last week-- I hope I didn't make too many people worry that I was somehow injured in the Carmel fire. We could see the smoke from the forest fire on the Carmel mountain from our apartment, but we weren't personally impacted beyond spending way too much time watching TV news and calling up friends close to the affected areas to see if they needed to be hosted.

Still, the disaster hit close to home, literally. My husband ended up riding his scooter through the thick smoke of a smaller fire lit by arsonists. On the first day of the fire, he rode the train back from work with the hysterical girlfriend of a rescue worker and some shell-shocked prison guards who weren't sure which of their colleagues were among the 40 killed as they evacuated prisoners from a prison on the Carmel. His cousin worked all night for days in a row on security at the Haifa University central command, leaving his wife to take care of their newborn daughter alone. Ordinary life came to a pause as we all watched the smoke rise off the Carmel mountain and mourned both the devastating deaths of more than 40 victims-- who died after protecting and evacuating others-- and the loss of a million trees in a country in which every tree ekes out a dusty, precious existence.

We lit Chanukah candles every night, but somehow posting about the grease-fest of Chanukah or the way Menta magazine takes all the fun out of 500-calorie Sufganiot didn't seem so appropriate just then. (Maybe tomorrow. :) Celebrating the persistence of flames burning for 8 days and 8 nights seemed inadvisable. (An unfortunate ad surrounding the Jerusalem Post coverage of the Carmel disaster read "Keep the flame of the Jewish people burning." Um, no, we're trying to put it out. Today, I notice that this tag-line finally changed to "A flame of resolve in the face of the inferno"... whatever that means.)


Finally, on Sunday night, it rained. Our first real rain of the year, our first rain that did more than dampen the dust floating in the air and paste it to our car's roof. And thanks to the supertanker from Russia, the Bulgarian firemen, the Turkish planes and-- in a bit of Chanukah irony-- firefighting assistance from the Greeks, the fire went out. And now we can think, again, about inviting friends over for jelly donuts (sufganiot) and candle lighting, of going out to the Chag HaChagim holiday celebration in Haifa, and of perhaps buying better housing insurance or taking the claims that Israel is unprepared to face a serious earthquake (something pundits have also been saying for years) seriously.

On the plus side, I now know how to say "firemen" (caba'im) and prison guards (soharim), that the same verb we use for clearing a table ("lefanot") also means "evacuation," and that the same word we use for the flames on the burner on my stove ("lehavot") can refer to 30 meter high flames. "Burn" (lesaref) has been transformed into the noun, srefah. On Israeli TV, the fire became simply known as "the Disaster on the Carmel": "ha'Ason baCarmel."

I hope everyone reading this blog is safe. Happy Chanukah! Were you following the disaster? Did it affect you in any way?

23.11.10

How to host Thanksgiving like an Israeli...

(From http://simplyrecipes.com/photos/pumpkin-pie.jpg)

Ok, so if you really want to host Thanksgiving like an Israeli, don't host it at all. (Yeah, that whole "It's an American holiday" thing.) But unlike Easter, Christmas, Halloween, New Year's Eve, and Valentine's day-- also holidays not really celebrated here-- I feel Thanksgiving is worth keeping, in a nostalgic and let's-force-Israeli-friends-to-eat-American-food kind of way.

The problem is that celebrating Thanksgiving in Israel is a lot like celebrating Jewish holidays in America-- this country really isn't set up to take Thanksgiving into account. So here's a way around a lot of the problems you might encounter if you try to host Thanksgiving dinner in Israel.

1. Be flexible about dates. Thursday night is a great night to have people over, because it's right before the weekend (Friday to Saturday). However, chances are, something else will already be scheduled for that night, even if you're doing something with the English-speaking community. (Those Brits just don't seem to understand the importance of gorging oneself with Turkey in solidarity with Pilgrim forefathers.) I have a memorial service to attend this Thursday night, so we're doing our Thanksgiving dinner on Friday night.

2. To buy a turkey, go to a butcher shop. Preferably one that specializes in turkey and poultry. And you'll need to order it in advance and probably pluck a few final feathers when you get it. Sadly, no, turkeys don't go on uber-cheap sale around the holiday-- I'll pay 25 shekels a kilo for mine. But you can shock all of your Israeli friends with the size of a full turkey! And, er, don't forget to specify-- several times, in as many languages as possible-- that you want a whole turkey in one piece.

By the way, last year the butcher thought I was crazy. This year he invited himself over for Thanksgiving dinner. Progress?

3. To find cranberries, look for Russians. And then follow them until you figure out where they shop. This year I bought my frozen cranberries at a little Russian macolet (mini-market), and while they appear to be manufactured in Israel (and are kosher parve and everything), the writing on the clear plastic container is Russian, not Hebrew. You can find dried cranberries in almost any supermarket.

4. If you need sausage for your stuffing, buy chorisos. Last year I went on an epic sausage-finding mission in which I ended up using pieces of kabobs, kabanos and kishkes in my stuffing. It tasted fine (it's pretty hard to mess up stuffing), but later this year I realized that choriso sausages-- available in the frozen food aisle-- actually have the right taste. Israelis don't do breakfast sausage or turkey sausage, so you need to be a bit creative.

5. Find sage fresh, not dried. Sage is another one of those crucial "Thanksgiving" flavors, but for some reason you'll find it more readily in the fresh leaves section (or even in a greenhouse) than in a bottle, dried.

6. Make your pumpkin pie from scratch! You will not find pre-prepared crust, canned pumpkin, or pumpkin pie spice in any ordinary Israeli supermarket. You will, however, find large chunks of ginormous pumpkins (wrapped in seran wrap, in the fresh foods section), butter, flour, and every spice that goes into pumpkin pie spice. While our pumpkin isn't technically sugar pumpkin, I've found it makes a mean pie filling. Just steam it and then (this step is important) puree it in your food processor... the texture of our pumpkin is stringier than a sugar pumpkin. Last year I used this recipe for my pumpkin pie, and it was delicious. Oh, and two things-- 1) if you use an Israeli-size pie pan, double the recipe for filling and crust... those pans are huge. 2) Don't expect actually Israelis to like your pumpkin pie. To them it's a little bit like eating, say, a sweet broccoli custard. They don't get it.

7. Make sure your turkey actually fits in your oven. You have an Israeli-size oven. This is an American-size bird. Make sure you do the math. :) Also, you won't have any automatic timer to tell you when the bird is ready, so make sure you know how long it will take to cook.

Now if anyone can help me find real apple cider in this country, I'll be eternally grateful!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. :) Is anyone else hosting a Thanksgiving in Israel or for Israelis?

17.11.10

How to signal like an Israeli driver...

Don't try these techniques when you are a Hyundai Getz going up against a semi-trailer.

"What??" you're saying, as you read the post title. Israelis don't signal while driving! After all, as I shared in my guide to driving like an Israeli, "Everyone Else on the Road is an Idiot," there's no point in sharing information like, say, the intention to shift lanes with drivers who are too stupid to understand.

But Israelis do have their own form of non-verbal communication while driving. To pass as an Israeli, master these techniques.

1. The Ex-Post-Facto Turn Signal. 

Signaling before turning or making a lane shift would be giving away information (and might result in the person you're trying to cut off speeding up so you can't cut them off). But Israelis do know that signaling while changing lanes is mandatory. The simple solution? Signal after you change lanes. Barur. 

2. The Nu-Pay-Attention Honk.

I come from a small, friendly American city in which someone at an intersection will only honk at you if you forget to turn left in front of them (cutting them off) after the light turns green. If people in my home town do honk in traffic, they're seriously upset-- blaring the horn is one step away from jumping out of your SUV and bashing in an offending driver's window with a baseball bat.

In Israel, on the other hand, honking (like shouting) is just another form of social interaction. Situations in which honking is expected include:
  • Another driver seems to be pondering the idea of pulling out of a driveway or parking lot anywhere in the vicinity of your moving vehicle. Because they are idiots, you assume that they will pull into your car unless you honk.
  • Another driver does not appear to have his feet poised above the gas pedal the moment the light flashes yellow (which happens before the light turns green here, in a little NASCAR "start yer engines" moment). If said driver hesitates for more than a millisecond or, G-d forbid, actually waits for the light to turn green, HONK. 
  • You see someone you know.
  • You see people standing on a street corner holding signs.
  • You feel happy and you know it.
3. The Hey-Get-Out-of-My-Way Headlight Flash.

If the driver in front of you is going too slowly (i.e., only 10 kilometers over the speed limit), you should flash your lights urgently into their rear view mirror until they pull over or shift lanes. (You, obviously, are in too much of a hurry to be bothered to lane shift.) My husband and I were recently driving along a country road in northern Israel and a car started flashing his brights at us from about 100 meters back. This is the most annoying behavior of the Israeli driver, and you have my permission to block this car in and drive as slowly as possible instead of pulling over.

By the way, something good to know: Israeli traffic police drive with their blue-and-white lights flashing. This does NOT mean that you need to pull over. They'll put on their siren if you do. On the other hand, if American traffic police drive behind you with their lights flashing, you DO need to pull over. My husband learned this the hard way when he came to the US in his teens. Luckily the cop liked Israel.

4. The How-You-Doin' Intersection Stare.

Ok, this is one of those things I'll never really feel comfortable doing, but apparently when Israelis stop at a traffic light, it's considered polite behavior to turn and stare at the people in the car next to you. I learned this when I watched an Israeli morning show segment about body language b'chul (abroad), and the Israeli host was shocked to learn that in certain parts of the world complete strangers will get mad if you scrutinize them while waiting for the light to turn yellow, er, green.


5. The Tut-Tut-Tut Finger Shake.

The driving version of the Instructional Finger (which I discussed in my guide to Israeli body language), this is the gesture you make when someone does something foolish or misguided (like attempting to cut you off) while driving. Like a wise grandmother from a children's story, put a pained expression on your face and shake your finger sadly at the offending driver. Alternately, raise your hand in the air with your palm towards your face. Both of these are more effective than actually, say, giving another driver the finger, because these gestures indicate an extra level of parental disappointment at another driver's failings. And we all know how effective Jewish Guilt can be.


6. The No-Really-I'm-Cutting-You-Off Nose Nudge.

This maneuver (familiar to anyone who has attempted to drive in New York City) indicates your seriousness about actually cutting off the driver in the next lane. If you nudge the front end of your car into the other driver's lane, some of the time he'll brake to let you in. Most the time he'll swerve around you. Once I saw this result in the Slowest Accident Ever: we were driving in rush-hour traffic through Kiryat Ata when a Hareidi guy tried to nose-nudge his way in front of a young female soldier, who wasn't having any of it. She nose-nudged him back, blaring on her horn. Over the next ten minutes, they each jerked forward inch by inch, screaming at each other (and not the friendly kind of Israeli yelling), until finally-- at about the speed of a dandelion growing in a nature documentary-- they collided into each other and dented their cars. Am I a bad person if that made my day?

Then, of course, there's the art of communicating on a cell phone while driving like an Israeli, but I'll save that for another day. (Here's a sneak preview: it involves lots of hand gesturing.)

Anything you would add to this list?

10.11.10

This blog has been shiputzed!

Well, not really. But I just wanted an excuse to use the Hebrew word "shiputzim" (rennovations) as an English verb. Isn't that a great word? Shiputz. Sheepootz. Shipootz.

Today I did two things I've been meaning to do for a little while.

1. I brought back my blog roll! Thanks to your suggestions, I discovered some blogs I hadn't known about and added some of my favorites as well. Let me know if you think there are any more I should add and if importing the title of recent posts makes this page load too slowly.

2. I set up Facebook Networked Blogs! I mainly did this so that I could stop importing my posts to my personal Facebook account as notes, which A) makes my old college friends think I'm oddly obsessed with Israeli celebrities and B) means that sometimes the most interesting comments on my posts appear on my personal Facebook page rather than on this blog. Plus I want people to read my blog here rather than as a note because it looks prettier here and comments on this page make it look like more people read my blog. :) (Never mind that failing to post for three months tends to make comments go away... have I mentioned how incredibly lucky I feel that some of you still read this blog??) Anyway, my vanity will be infinitely flattered if it looks like I have more than three Facebook Networked Blogs followers, so feel free to add yourself to the list. :)

To see both of these changes, scroll down-- they're toward the bottom of the sidebar on the right. 

Now if I only could get our neighbors to stop shiputzing their apartments, we could all be happy. I'm working from home to the sound of jackhammers and people shouting at each other in Arabic. At least it's better than when our downstairs neighbors sing...

9.11.10

On going home again...

This is the home of some other rich Jews (ya know, the one 
designed by Frank Lloyd Wright), not my home, but I visited 
it when I was back in the US. Because I get to be a tourist now!
And that's my beautiful niece, Sarah.

This past August I went back to the US for the first time since I made aliyah in the spring of 2008. I honestly didn't know what to expect. Would buildings and cars in America suddenly seem gargantuan? Would the green scare me? Or (and this was honestly the most frightening possibility) would I go back to the US and feel so comfortable that I wouldn't want to return to Israel?

The culture shock started for me on the flight to the US. I was sitting next to an Israeli couple, and before the fasten-seatbelts signs on our Continental flight turned off, I found myself as the one better at communicating. I was the one explaining what "ginger ale" means and translating their requests for "no ice" to the stressed-out American flight attendants. Yet I felt relieved, for some reason, that I was sitting next to Israelis. I eyed the American couple in front of me-- an overweight family in sweats and t-shirts, squabbling with each other about things that seemed so trivial. The Israeli couple next to me talked with me about their feelings about religion, about aliyah, about cultural differences between Israel and America, about already missing the people we had left behind in Israel. To my surprise, I didn't want to stop speaking in Hebrew just yet. Interacting with the flight attendants in English seemed so... easy. Mechanical. They were polite but not kind; they smiled but seemed annoyed. Huh. Maybe this whole "Americans are nice" thing won't be so compelling after all.

As I waited for my transfer flight in Newark, I got a taste of what it means to be "Israeli" in the US. The former homeschooling mom (who reminded me of my own) with the blue T-Shirt LOVED Israel, in fact they celebrated the Holiday of Booths with their church! She looked at me expectantly: I was from the Holy Land. I felt like she wanted something from me, but I wasn't sure what. The reality of living in Israel feels so different from the idealized version that American Christians and even American Jews believe in. I felt like my own country, my own Israel was already being traded for the Promised Land, for some shiny myth rather than the complicated, vibrant, hilarious reality I had left behind.

On my transfer flight to my destination, I found myself (by complete coincidence) sitting next to an Israeli girl. She felt that she didn't belong in Israel and was about to end three years in the city where I grew up to travel to the Netherlands. Yet there was a kind of... commonality in our conversation, an ease of expectations, an honesty. For the next three weeks, this would be the last time I would speak Hebrew to a stranger.

During my time back in the US, I discovered a few things.

1. It was wonderful to see my family and friends. At the same time, being away from them for two years didn't matter as much as I worried it would. I was most worried about what it would be like to see my nieces and nephew-- two years in the life of a one, five, seven, and nine-year-old is a very long time. But after a bit of initial shyness, they were inviting me to go pick flowers, have tea parties, watch movies, run around, and play dress-up as much as ever before. And my one-year-old niece was just getting to know everyone, so I seemed no stranger to her than her grandfather or the dog. (Ok, so she did like the dog better.)

 The pinkies in the air make it fancy. The expression on my face makes it creepy.

2. American service people ARE nice, though their niceness feels impersonal. One of my favorite I'm-not-in-Israel-anymore moments went something like this...

BARNES AND NOBLE CHECKOUT GIRL: You're paying by credit card? Ok, let me just see some photo ID.
ME (searching in my wallet): Oh, crap... The only ID I have in English is my Israeli driver's license... and I changed my name completely when I moved to Israel, so it doesn't match any of the names on my American credit card...
BARNES AND NOBLE CHECKOUT GIRL: Oh, that's ok. I just needed to see your photo.
ME (trying to figure out this logic): Ok.... um, great! *Shows her my photo while privately thinking, freyerit!*

To be fair, the American checkout girl was simply following procedure. I used my visa, so she had to see a photo ID. Never mind that the name on the visa and the ID didn't match up. An Israeli, on the other hand, would have been very suspicious of my credit card but then would probably have lent me enough change to pay in cash. Or maybe the innocent face that gets me through mall security with barely a swipe of the metal detecting wand also works in the US.

Oh, and a word to the wise: never try to give extra change to American checkout people so that they can give you fewer coins in return.  In Israel, if I give 20 shekels to pay for something that costs, say, NIS 15.60, the checkout person is likely to ask if I have 10 agurot so that I can get one coins in change rather than four. (Israeli checkout people take great pride in conserving spare change.) Don't try this in the US. Unless American checkout people can enter in the total amount of money you give them into their cash machine, they get very confused.


3. The US is saturated in green, and what Americans (in the Northeastern US, at least) think of as "hot" Israelis think of as "early winter." I had to buy a jacket. But while I absolutely love the greenery of the US, I found myself missing the rockiness of Israel.

4. Things in the US are cheap. (It also helps that dollars are worth more than shekels... something that costs one dollar will always seem cheaper than something that costs 3.70 shekels.) Walmart and Target are amazing stores. Sam's Club is a little overwhelming. And it's really nice to be able to find size 9.5 women's shoes in any shoe store.

5. Teenagers in the rural US and teenagers in rural Israel have basically the same reaction when they learn you come from far away: man, I really want to get out of here.

6. A Cafe Latte is nowhere near as good as a Cafe Hafuch. 

7. Those people who sell carved wooden animals "from Israel" in American craft fairs actually see themselves as being "from Palestine."

8. Wearing 3D glasses and going to see Step-Up-3 in 3D makes you cool. I don't care what anyone else says.
My sister and I in the packed movie theater on Step-Up 3, 3D's opening day.

9. If you want to buy second-hand bonnets off of old-order Amish women, it helps a lot to be able to say you come from the land of Israel.

10. No matter where I go from now on, I'll miss somebody and something. In Israel I'll feel American, but in America I'll feel Israeli. I guess that's a sign of progress?

A lot of other things I learned while in the US are harder to pin down in words. I realized that knowledge I now take for granted in my life-- the spices I use to cook, the Hebrew I read effortlessly, the Israeli cities I now have mapped in my mind-- isn't at all obvious to most Americans. I'm so used to thinking of my Hebrew as "not very good" that it was bizarre to me to realize that my brothers couldn't read the label on the halva I brought back as a gift (and, in fact, had never tasted halva before). Something about being in America made my Hebrew seem totally fluent... I got a little charge from speaking to my mother-in-law in Hebrew on the phone and knowing that nobody around me knew what I was saying.

Three weeks and two flight transfers later, I was back in Israel. My husband met me at the airport. And as we were driving back from Natbag through dry, brown, beautiful rocky hills, I felt like my mind was coming back to life, as if it craved the challenge of deciphering Hebrew. (I admit that I'm a bit of a masochist.) I missed the smells. The landscape. The sense of deep, long history. The sense of reality. I found myself laughing. I turned to my husband. "I get to live here!"

While it's nice to go on vacation, nothing quite compares to going home again... to Israel. 

How does your perspective on the US change when you visit it from Israel?

7.11.10

What are your favorite Israeli (or wanna-be-Israeli) blogs?

As part of Mission Convince Google my Blog Isn't Spam, I deleted my blog roll. Now I want to get it back! I have a few blogs in mind already, but I want to know which blogs you think I should add. In the comments, please tell me about your favorite Israeli blogs. If you have a blog, feel free to tell me (and other readers) about it, too!

Todah raba!

P.S. Israeli moment of the week: the waiter at Shipudei HaTikva (or as my husband and I like to call it, Shish-Kabobs of Hope) turning his back on us and walking away while we were in the middle of placing our order. Hey, he's a professional, and he had more important things to attend to at that moment. He also refused to sell us soup because "it's not winter yet." Discuss.

2.11.10

The remarkable inconsistency of Israeli telephone numbers



Maybe I've just been thinking about phone numbers lately after, er, my own cell phone spent a night in the toilet (I have a new one now) but this is also one of those little things that struck me a lot after I moved to Israel.

In the US, telephone numbers have a very, very set format: (XXX) XXX-XXXX. This format is so rigid that US phone number forms can't handle an Israeli number. (In general, Americans seem confused by the concept of life outside the US.) When you tell someone your number in the US, you always pause after the first three digits and then say the final four. If my number were 123-4567, for example, I'd never dream of telling someone it was "twelve thirty-four five sixty seven."

In Israel, on the other hand, the number of digits in a phone number is in a state of basic flux. Most area codes are only one digit long, because, let's face it, we're pretty unlikely to ever need more than 9 major area codes in a country that could fit comfortably inside New Jersey. On the other hand, cell phones (somewhat inexplicably) come with their own two-digit area codes. In addition, certain phone providers come with two-digit area codes-- we originally got our phone number through HOT cable, so our home phone area code is "77" even though most landlines in our area start with "4." (When you dial area codes from within Israel, you always add a "0" at the start of the number.)

In theory, though, most phone numbers after the area code are seven digits long. (I say "in theory" because I'm pretty sure I've seen numbers of other lengths... eh, yiyeh beseder.) Israelis, though, never got the memo about three digits followed by four. I've seen numbers written like this: XXXXXXX, like this: XX-XX-XX-X, like this: XX-XXXXX, and in basically every other combination of clumps of letters. This really confused me at first, because Israelis WILL say their number as "twelve thirty-four five sixty seven," a possibility that boggled my American mind.

So anyway, if you need to ask your friend's telefone nayad (cell phone) number, be prepared. Oh, and if I had your telephone number, um... give me a call. Most of the numbers in my phone sank into the depths of our asla.

Btw, some useful Israeli phone etiquette:

To answer the phone, say "allo." If you don't pronounce the "h," "allo" is transformed into Hebrish. Nobody (that I know, at least) outside of a formal office says "shalom" when they pick up or hang up their phones. If the person on the other end of the line asks you who is speaking, do not answer the question. This would be Giving Away Information. Instead, play a game of Israeli phone etiquette chicken in both you and the person on the other end of the line ask who is speaking, eventually negotiating release of first names (never last names!) and reasons for calling. The proper way to say goodbye is "yallah bye," followed by more conversation, followed by insistence that you really have to go, followed by a little gossip, and finally closed with a resounding "yallah bye."

Oh, and all of the paragraph above is basically useless, because Israelis communicate primarily through text messaging-- "ess-em-ess-im"-- anyway.


Was anyone else surprised by Israeli phone etiquette? What did I miss? 

31.10.10

Things *NOT* to do if you want to seem Israeli

Here's a list of things I've noticed Americans doing that they (ok, we) tend to think makes us look Israeli... but that actually make us look like fresh-off-the-Nefesh-b-Nefesh-flight olim, or worse: here-for-a-year-on-a-gap-year-program Americans.

Disclaimer: these are great things to do if you want to seem Israeli when you're in America. Just not in Israel.

1. Wear wrap-around pants. 

 Yes, these pants are comfy, cool and only cost about 15 shekels in the shuk. But unless you're either A) cleaning your house with bleach on a Friday morning or B) Idan Raichel, don't wear these pants in Israel anytime someone else can see you.

2. Call the New Israeli Shekel a "shek." 

This seems to be slang popular among the Jerusalem English-speaking crowd, but I've never heard it from Israelis. The formal term for the shekel is "shach," short for "shekel chadash," which could be the source of this bit of Anglo slang, but "shach" is only used by newscaster-types. Say it with me, folks: they're called are sh'kalim.

2. Wear tzahal clothing when you aren't in the army.


Yes, I'll admit that I went on Birthright when I was 18 and bought the requisite army shirt. (Hey, it matches my eyes!) But in Israel, wearing army clothing means you're actually serving in the army. In fact, Israelis get so sick of wearing army clothes while they actually serve in the army that you would be hard-pressed to find any olive green in an Israeli wardrobe. So save that tzahal shirt as a gift for your friends back in the US.  In fact, wearing basically any shirt with Hebrew writing on it, in Israel, is a decent indication that you aren't Israeli (unless that shirt has a cut-out neck and says "madrich"-- counselor-- on it somewhere).

4. Wear a kippa when you aren't orthodox.

My parents are very active members of a reform congregation in the US, but dress my ex-hippie dad up in the right clothing and he could pass as a chasid. I have literally never seen his chin. When they came to visit me in Israel last year, my dad decided to celebrate being in the Jewish state by wearing a kippa (yarmulke) all the time. Problem is, like a tzahal uniform, a kippa has a specific meaning in Israel. At the very least, it means that you are either on your way to a synagogue or shomer shabbat and shomer kashrut, so for my dad to wear a kippa while touring the country on shabbat... confusing.

5. Say "shalom!" to strangers.

My husband and I were recently in a national park when a couple walked past us, smiled brightly, and said "shalom aleichem!" We were not at all surprised when they turned out to be German Christian tourists... we would have been shocked had they turned out to be native-born Israelis.  On the other hand, feel free to strike up a conversation with any shop owner, bus driver, or waiter that you see, and say "shabbat shalom" anytime to say goodbye to any Israeli you meet any time past Thursday morning. By Israeli standards, anyone you actually interact with for more than 30 seconds is no longer a stranger, so it's fine to greet them/share your life story.

6. Be loud, angry and combative.

"What??" you're saying. "Israelis are loud, angry and combative!" But here's the thing: Israelis are loud and combative, but they aren't usually angry. To Israelis, being loud and combative is all part of normal social interaction, and it's usually followed up with "shabbat shalom" and "tell Moshe I say hi." When Americans are loud and combative, on the other hand, we get angry, and we tend to leave in a huff with red faces and resolutions to never buy sandals in Israel again. As I said in another post, Americans are ruder (by Israeli standards) than we realize. If you want to seem Israeli, a better bet is to attempt to connect personally with whoever you meet. Being loud and combative is a higher level of Israeli-ness that we usually can't pull off.

I feel like there's more I should add to this list. Have you ever seen people on the street and just KNOWN they're not native Israelis? How did you know?

Then again, we American olim ALWAYS seem Israeli in America and American in Israel, so maybe we should just embrace it...

19.10.10

Israeli Famous People who look like American Famous People

I bet this has something to do with the Mosad.

If you watch Israeli TV for long enough, everyone starts to look familiar. We seem to have only about 15 actors, who get cast in every series, game show, or what have you. The same politicians trade minister slots in the government... over and over and over again. However, some of these figures look familiar not because I've seen them before, but because I've seen their American doppelgangers. Take a look:

1.  Israeli news anchor Yanun Magal (pronunciation?) and American president Barack Obama.  It's in the ears, people. And the haircut. And the skin tone. I'd like to see Obama's birth certificate for proof that he doesn't put his teleprompter skills to use on Chadashot Eser.

 
2. Israeli opposition leader Tsipi Livni and US vice president Joe Biden. As Isreallycool so astutely pointed out, these two looked like long-lost siblings on Biden's awkward trip to Israel. Or maybe there was something in the water.




3. American comedian Steve Carell and Israeli Serious Dramatic Actor Lior Ashkenazi. Seriously, these guys could play twins. My theory is that Steve Carell is secretly fed up with playing the repressed idiot all the time and moonlights in Hebrew in dramatic roles. My husband laughs at me for always calling Lior Ashkenazi "the Israeli Steve Carell"... and then for calling Steve Carell "the American version of the Israeli Steve Carell."



4. Israeli actress Maya Maron and American Comedian Sarah Silverman. Actually, considering they're both Jewish, these two actually could be cousins. From the shoulders up, this is also pretty much exactly what I looked like when I was twelve.



5. Israeli "model and actress" Orit Fox and American "model and actress" Pamela Anderson. Ok, so Orit Fox is actually a terrifying premonition of what Pamela Anderson is going to look like 20 plastic surgeries down the road, but still-- isn't the resemblance kind of striking? I love how they are both attempting to give the same sexyface in the picture above. Or maybe Orit Fox is trying to smile. It's really hard to tell.



6. Israeli "Monit HaKesef" guy Idan Rosenblum and American Australian "Was in a Chick Flick with Jennifer Lopez" guy Alex O'Loughlin. When I was flying back to Israel from the US this summer, I watched "The Back-Up Plan," a really dumb chick flick starring Jennifer Lopez. The whole time I kept staring at the male romantic lead, Alex O'Loughlin, thinking, "Wow, he looks just like the Israeli money cab guy." What? Of course that's why I was staring!


 7. The Israeli "Bachelor" and Nate Berkus, Oprah's design guy.  Among the many reasons why I couldn't take "HaRavak" seriously: Guy Gior, the bachelor himself, is probably the only person in Israel to have Nate Berkus's hair. And face. And taste in clothing. And... 

8. Israeli celebrity chef Aharoni and Mr. Miyagi. Just kidding-- Aharoni doesn't actually look like anyone. Nobody, not even Spock, can match those eyebrows.

9. My scuba instructor and Javier Bardem. Imagine Javier Bardem with George Clooney's hair and Homer Simpson's belly, plus an endless supply of Turkish coffee and cigarettes, and you'd have my Israeli scuba instructor.

Then there's the newscaster who looks exactly like Rupert Everett, and the Spanish/Israeli actress who looks exactly like Andie MacDowell, but I haven't had much luck trying to figure out their actual names in Hebrew.

Have you noticed any Israeli-American dopplegangers?

13.10.10

Wahoo! Problem fixed!

Google no longer sees my site as an attack page... we're up and running again!

Maya

P.S. Tip for anyone who faces a similar problem: I ended up finding the bad link by downloading my site and doing a search in the code for the lines that Google had flagged. It turned out to be surprisingly easy. I also ended up deleting my blog-roll in case that was contributing to the problem, so if you want to be re-added, let me know! 

12.10.10

I think I found the problem...

The domain indicated in the warning message was the source of one image in my post about foods difficult to find in Israel. I removed it and resubmitted my post for review. Thanks for the help!

11.10.10

Any tips on how my site can be removed as an "attack" site?

Hi everyone! I really do want to get back into blogging. In fact, I've been tossing around a lot of fun ideas. (Two posts I want to write soon: Things Americans Do That They Think Makes Them Look Israeli But Really Makes Them Look American and its sister post, Things Israelis Do That They Think Makes Them Look American But Really Makes Them Look Israeli. Just, um, maybe I have to work on snappier titles.) Problem is, I can't actually view my blog. When I try to open it in Mozilla Firefox, I get a message that it's been reported as an attack page, and these are the details I get when I click on more info (I'm cutting out the links to the attacking page in case that sets off more alarms):

What is the current listing status for howtobeisraeli.blogspot.com?
Site is listed as suspicious - visiting this web site may harm your computer.
Part of this site was listed for suspicious activity 1 time(s) over the past 90 days.
What happened when Google visited this site?
Of the 6 pages we tested on the site over the past 90 days, 1 page(s) resulted in malicious software being downloaded and installed without user consent. The last time Google visited this site was on 2010-09-23, and the last time suspicious content was found on this site was on 2010-09-20.Malicious software is hosted on 1 domain(s), including ****
1 domain(s) appear to be functioning as intermediaries for distributing malware to visitors of this site, including *****
This site was hosted on 1 network(s) including *****
Has this site acted as an intermediary resulting in further distribution of malware?
Over the past 90 days, howtobeisraeli.blogspot.com did not appear to function as an intermediary for the infection of any sites.
Has this site hosted malware?
No, this site has not hosted malicious software over the past 90 days.
How did this happen?
In some cases, third parties can add malicious code to legitimate sites, which would cause us to show the warning message.
Next steps:
Updated 4 hours ago
 
*********
I AM the owner of this website, but I can't for the life of me figure out how I'm supposed to use Google Webmaster Tools to solve this problem. I gather that some people can still view my page, so if you're one of them, please help-- and don't click on any links posted in the comments, just in case.

I'm going to turn on comment moderation so that I can actually see your comments-- I can't open up my blog itself at all.

Thanks!

24.9.10

I'm alive :)

Hi everyone! I just wanted to post quickly to let you know that I'm still alive, still Israeli, and still sweating even though Israel went onto "winter time" almost two weeks ago. Something about Israeli summers tends to sap all the post-writing energy out of me. I just checked in to see 58 comments to moderate, many of which were NOT trying to sell me Viagra, and I was really touched. I've been tossing around some new post ideas, and I hope to get back to posting soon...

Happy Sukkot, everyone!

2.6.10

Come see me perform with the Haifa English Theatre!

Hi everyone!

Tomorrow night marks the first performance of an evening of one-act plays from the Haifa English Theatre. I'll be performing in the second play, a comedy called "The Bear" by Chekhov. It would mean so much to me if any blog readers show up... stick around afterward to say hi!

Here are full details:


LOVE UNREQUITED, an evening of one-act plays produced by the Haifa English Theatre, opens in June at Haifa’s Beit Hagefen Auditorium.  The three plays focus on the inner psyches of the characters--their loneliness, longing and needs for love. 

The plays included are Something Unspoken and Portrait of a Madonna written by Pulitzer Prize winning American playwright Tennessee Williams, as well as The Bear, a farce written by the well-loved Russian author Anton Chekhov. 

In Something Unspoken, Williams draws from his Southern background in his portrayal of the imperial Cornelia Scott, and of her long-suffering secretary-companion Grace.  The two of them share a silence “that nothing less than dynamite could break though.”

In Chekhov’s The Bear, Madam Popova (me!) is mourning her late husband when Grigory Stepanovitch comes to collect a debt.   Popova’s loyal servant Lukeria witnesses the beginning of their romance. 

In Portrait of a Madonna Williams explores the tragic story of Lucretia Collins who has aged in isolation. When she asks the building manager for help, he sends the elevator boy and the porter instead.  They watch silently as a doctor and nurse enter.  Time has run out for her.  

LOVE UNREQUITED is directed by Murray Rosovsky and will be performed by the Haifa English Theatre on the following dates at the Beit Hagefen Auditorium, 33 Zionism, Haifa.

Thursday 3 June -- 20:30
Saturday 5 June -- 21:00
 Tuesday 8 June -- Matinee 17:30
 Thursday 10 June -- 20:30
 Saturday 12 June -- 21:00


Tickets are available at the door and by mail order.  For more information please call Hazel
at 04-872-7940 (evenings).

*****

All the plays look great in rehearsal, and I can't wait to go to performance tomorrow. I hope you can show up to support the Haifa English Theatre!

P.S. I also blogged about the Krayot recently at a new blog a friend started encouraging olim to move to the northern coastal areas. You can find my entry here, along with great info about all the coastal communities: http://go-coast.blogspot.com/

25.5.10

How to tip like an Israeli

 Yeah, your ulpan teacher may have told you that the 
Hebrew for "tip" is "tesher," but it's not: it's "teep."

This is one of those random topics that seems inconsequential, but it's what visiting friends tend to ask about the most. So, here's a quick and easy guide to tipping like an Israeli. Hint: it involves exact change!

1. Most Israelis tip between 10-15 percent. This is something I'm still uncomfortable with... I get flashbacks to my college friends working in Chinese restaurants for 2 bucks an hour, plus tips and assorted leftover boxes of beef broccoli, and I almost always leave 15 - 20 percent as my tip. In my experience, though, most Israelis tip less.

2. Guard your tip with your life. When some of my Israeli friends leave tips, they cover their assorted shekels with their hands, flag over the waiter, point at the money, and in general operate with covert prowess. I guess the thought is that someone else might walk along and scoop up the ten shekels if you aren't careful. I don't worry about this one much either, but it's worth mentioning.

3. Most important of all... that little line below your total on your restaurant credit card receipt? It's not for your tip. I always wonder how many Americans shortchange their servers out of blissful ignorance this way. Yes, in the US this line usually lets you add in a tip to your credit card total, but here this line on your credit card receipt is for your telephone number. Which, by the way, you should never write down on any receipt unless someone insists... that would be giving away information. I've never found a way to tip using my credit card in an Israeli restaurant, so bring cash.

4. Aside from restaurants, you're expected to tip workers in a number of other random transactions. Honestly, I still haven't figured this one out, so your best bet is just to ask the person recommending something to you whether you should tip. For example, we paid our movers 700 shekels and then tipped each worker and the driver 50 shekels each-- another 150 shekels. (They were worth their weight in shekels, btw... hiring movers was one of our best decisions. Aleks could lug 20 boxes up two flights of stairs in one trip like nobody's business.) Other transactions, such as getting our washing machine fixed or receiving a mattress delivery, didn't involve tipping. Remember, though, even if you don't plan to give a service person a tip, make sure you offer them coffee... failing to do so would be simply inhumane.

Ok, this appears to be a very simple topic. Is there anything I left out? How much do you usually tip in Israel?

6.5.10

Foods surprisingly hard to find in Israel (and foods to try instead!)

One reason that I use a lot of Israeli cook books (in addition to the fact that they help me learn words like "diced," "sauteed," and "minced garlic" in Hebrew) is that some common ingredients in the US are hard to find in Israel... and some common ingredients in Israel are really hard to find in the US. Here are a few foods I was surprised to have trouble finding here, along with suggestions of Israeli foods you could eat instead.

Caveat: you usually can find these foods, especially if you go to a big grocery chain specializing in imports, like Tiv Ta'am. But it's harder, so why not adjust to Israeli supermarkets??

Hard to find: bagels & lox


This one took me by surprise when I made aliyah, because in US bagels and lox seemed like the most Jewish food in existence (after, maybe, matzo ball soup). Here, bagels themselves are almost impossible to find! Jewish state, indeed.

Instead, try: ikra! (Hebrew: איקרה)



I first ate ikra on Yom HaAtzmaut, at a barbecue with a bunch of Romanian Israelis. It's a salad made from fish eggs, cream, lemon juice, and a few other ingredients-- here's a recipe (in Hebrew) from Yediot Ahronot. The Romanians called it "poor man's caviar," but I'd say the taste is actually very cream cheese-and-lox-esque! You can find ikra in the salads section of any supermarket-- in our local super, ikra is behind the deli counter, next to the cheese and smoked fish. Good luck finding a bagel to eat it with.

Hard to find: molasses

I've actually never been able to find molasses in Israel (though I haven't looked all that hard in Tiv Ta'am, and my ginger snap cookie recipe has had to slum it with dark brown sugar instead. I guess Israeli grandmothers don't go for this "surprise" natural sweetener-- whatever that means. 

Instead, try: silan! (Hebrew: סילאן)

 
Silan is date honey, and while it's a common ingredient in Israeli recipes (particularly savory recipes that need just a bit of sweetness), I never knew it existed before I made aliyah. It has a milder flavor than molasses or even honey, so I'm not suggesting it as a molasses substitute, but it's awesome on yogurt, in meat dishes, in desserts. Try to get 100% silan rather than a mixture of silan and sugar-- for some reason, I am able to find pure silan in our super around passover, but not at any other time.

Hard to find: grated mozzarella (forget about fat free!) 

 It's actually pretty difficult to find any kind of fat free dairy products in Israel. 1% milk, yes-- you can even buy it in plastic bags! Skim milk, what? You can find fat free yogurt, but you're much more likely to find 1.5% or 3.5% yogurt. Fat free cottage cheese is unheard of, though 5% is very common. I guess Israelis just aren't willing to sacrifice that much taste. Add to this the fact that mozzarella cheese isn't very common here, and you'll need to find a substitute for all your diet recipes that call for low fat mozzarella. Never fear!

Instead, try: crumbled emek! (Hebrew: פתיתי עמק)

Emek is more flavorful than mozzarella, and I'd say it's one of the major reasons why Israeli pizza is so delicious. Emek packages are marked with the percent of fat in the cheese, and the lowest-fat good-tasting variety is 22% fat. (Stay away from 9% emek. I think it's mostly plastic.) 22% fat sounds scary, but it's actually fairly equivalent to part-skim mozzarella-- according to nutritiondata.com, 100 grams of part-skim low-moisture mozzarella is 302 calories and 100 grams of regular part-skim mozzarella is 254 calories, while 100 grams of 22% emek is 299 cals. And did I mention that Emek tastes much better? On the other hand, if you want cheddar cheese or (chas ve'shalom) processed American cheese food, perhaps aliyah is not for you.

Hard to find: chili powder



I've actually made my own chili powder spice mix-- you can easily find recipes for chili powder online. But you won't find anything exactly like American chili powder on our shelves.

Instead, try:  Tunisian Harissa Seasoning! (Hebrew: תערובת לאריסה תוניסאית)

Tunisian Harissa (in Hebrew, "Larisa Tunisait") is a chili pepper spice mix pretty similar to chili powder, but (big surprise!) more flavorful. Use it on fish, in soups, anywhere you want a bit of a kick.

Hard to find: fresh pineapple


We buy canned pineapple all the time, so you certainly don't need to go without pineapple in your salat peirot here, but you probably won't find fresh pineapples at your local veggie shop. Pineapple grows in hot, moist climates, while Israel has a hot, dry climate. So your oranges, avocados and bananas were probably picked yesterday at a farm an hour away from your veggie shop, but you won't find pineapples. I mention this because pineapples are just about the only fruit I don't find here, with the exception of more delicate berries like raspberries. Have I mentioned that I LOVE Israeli fruits and veggies?

Instead try: fresh shesek! (Hebrew: שסק)


In English, shesekim are actually called loquats, but you didn't know that anyway, did you? These taste nothing like pineapples, but they're absolutely amazing little fruits with a taste like a slightly tart, extra juicy apricot. Here's a gushy article about the loquat from NPR's foodie show, The Splendid Table, which makes them sound all exotic and rare. I bought a kilo of loquats from a fruit stand by the side of the road. They're slightly messy to eat because you pull out the seeds and the ends before popping them into your mouth, but they're delicious. Other fruits to try in Israel: persimmons, pomegranates, sabra fruit, passion fruit, and those big stinky wrinkly fruits that you should avoid storing in a close space...

Hard to find in Israel: corn chips.

My husband and I don't buy much snack food, but we once tried to find tortilla chips to serve with dip for a party. Eventually we realized that while supermarkets in this country sell dozens of varieties of potato chips, corn chips are basically nonexistent. Sorry. 


Instead, try: bissli! (Hebrew: ביסלי, meaning "my bite")

Bisli are traditional Israeli snacks that started out as deep fried, spiced pasta back in the days when Israel really didn't import food from abroad. Each flavor has a different shape, and they're all delicious. Oddly enough, even though chips and salsa (let alone tacos) are pretty much unheard of here, you can find taco-flavored bisli. If you want to get the full Israeli experience, on the other hand, try the falofel flavored bisli. Just don't plan to breathe on anyone for a while afterward.

Hard to find in Israel: M&Ms, peanut butter cups, peppermint paddies, snickers bars...


If you're considering aliyah, take a deep breath, look at the picture above, and ask yourself if you can live without everything in it. Now stop hyperventilating. Breathe into a bag! In! Out! In! Out! I've never found M&Ms, Hershey's kisses, or anything combining mint and chocolate in a regular Israeli supermarket. However, never fear...

Instead, try: Israeli chocolates! (Hebrew:  שוקולד)


I grew up a few hours from Hershey, PA, so I feel a little disloyal for saying this, but Elite brand Israeli chocolates can definitely give Hershey a run for its money. If you want peaunut-chocolatey goodness (along the lines of a snickers bar), try a pesek-zman bar. If you want a kit-kat, try a kif-kef. Personally, I love the 60% dark chocolate bars... I almost always have some in the house. But if you want an M&M or a Hershey's kiss, well, you're still out of luck. But did I mention that we have chocolate spread?

I could go on. For example, it's not easy to find drip coffee here, although we have some pretty good instant coffee-- I highly recommend Jacobs brand (the green lid, not the gold). You won't find "Italian Seasoning" on our shelves, but you can always mix together basil, oregano, and paprika... or go for a middle eastern spice blend, zatar. You won't find tylenol, but we have acamol. You won't find graham crackers, but Israeli tea bisvitim usually do the trick. For everything American you can't find in this country, you'll find three other products that Israelis can't find in the US... as I found when I translated an Israeli article this old blog post, What's Missing in America.  A lot of the fun of living in Israel is discovering the local flavors that are "gourmet" in America and available in any corner macolet here.

What foods would you add to this list?

Be'tei avon! (Bon appetit!)

27.4.10

How to run a race like an Israeli

I started running 5ks when I was ten or eleven, and in my early 20s (just a few years ago) I ran three marathons. But since moving to Israel, I've run two 10ks and, er, a 5.7k and a 4.9k, and I've come to realize that road running in Israel is in some ways completely different. So here's a quick and easy guide to running a race like an Israeli:

1. Go to shvoong.co.il to find races and registration info. The racing season in Israel runs from September to May, without many races in the very hot summer months. It seems more common for races to start in the afternoon or evening in Israel than in the US, so read starting times carefully. You'll see a lot of 10Ks and some other distances-- serious runners usually compete in the 10Ks. "Amami" means a fun run, "tachruti" means a competitive run.

2. Be prepared for any race info to be posted only a month or two before a race and for it to be changed at the last minute. Apparently, Israelis see posting definitive times and dates for a race as like putting on your turn signal-- it's better to do this at the last minute so that nobody else can speed up and cut you off. Kiryat Motzkin and Kiryat Bialik both posted 5Ks taking place around the same time, and after a little bit of chicken, Motzkin moved its date up a few weeks and Bialik moved its race back a few months. The brand new Tel Aviv marathon changed its date about a month before it happened, as as someone familiar with marathon training plans, that really, really isn't beseder. I can only imagine the runners who made it all the way up to their 20 mile long runs and prepared to start the taper in training before the big race... only to discover that they actually had to extend their training by four weeks. If you want a reliable marathon in Israel, go for the Tiberias marathon-- it's been going for years and draws international runners. Last year, I got to see a spidery Ethiopian runner cross the finish line in not much over two hours. The Tel Aviv marathon should be awesome when it gets its act together, but I want to wait and see.

3. Arriving at a race in the morning and picking up your race packet is basically the same as at any road race in the US, except that you might see this while you wait in line at the port-a-potties:

Yes, he brought his own toilet paper. Oh, and an uzzi M-16.

In all fairness, though, I only saw lots of machine guns at the race in the picture above because it was the army championship, so lots of Tzahal divisions bussed in to compete. I really wanted a picture of the girl in short shorts, pink shirt, and machine gun, but the guy above will have to do.

4. Israelis tend to take a pretty relaxed attitude towards the starting line (kav hazinuk). Why be a fryer and wait behind the line? At the most recent 5Ks that I've attended, most of the group started a good couple of steps in front of the line. Yiyeh beseder.

5. Race t-shirts in Israel tend to be pretty awesome. So far I've received three micro-fiber shirts (one that was Adidas brand) out of four races... the only lousy shirt was from the 10K at the Tiberias marathon, because it's one of those prestigious races that doesn't need to lure runners with nice shirts.

6. "Field races" mean that you will literally be running through fields. And trampling corn stalks.

7. Aside from blips like the Krayot (where I live in and train), Israel is very, very hilly. I don't think I'd be brave enough to run the Jerusalem half-marathon, and the Haifa 10K was intense. Check the elevation of the races you choose to run.

8. Israeli races have a slightly casual attitude towards actual distances run. The Tavor race was supposed to be a 5.5K (who knows why!) but it turned out to be a 5.7K. The Motzkin race was supposed to be a 5 K, but due to traffic re-routing, it turned out to be 50 meters short. Yiyeh beseder.

9. There are relatively few female runners in Israeli races, so sometimes our division gets awarded fewer prizes and less prize money, but that seems to be improving even in just the last few years. In the Har Tavor 5.7K, I won a trophy for second place in my age-category... wahoo!

10. The feeling of crossing a finish line is just as sweet on any continent. Enjoy!

 Me getting REALLY excited to finally pass the guy right behind me 
as my friend and I cross the finish line in Kiryat Motzkin's 5K

Have you ever participated in any road races in Israel? How about triathlons or field races? How was your experience?

26.4.10

I'm back!

  Part of what has sucked away my time this month: our new living room! It's much prettier now. 

First, I never ever want to move again. We can make do with four rooms forever. (Four rooms = three bedrooms and a living room... if you want to understand how Israelis calculate "rooms" in apts, read this post.)

Ok, maybe that's not entirely true... someday I want a house with a yard so I can grow lemons and maybe get a dog. But this move was utterly exhausting, perhaps because I astounded every Israeli I know by insisting on doing most of the painting myself. We did hire four strapping Ukranians to move our boxes and furniture, and it was blissful... they hoisted our boxes about 20 at a time out of our old apt, into their truck, and into our new one all in two hours on a Thursday morning.

But it certainly is worth it... it's amazing to live in our OWN walls, and we love our new apartment. We wake up in the morning to the sound of birds, not cars (to the delight of our cats). Our cabinets are clean and white. My oven has a "convection" setting. Yes, little things make me very excited.

Anyway, I've missed a pretty momentous month of blogging. There was the end of Passover, Yom HaShoah, Yom Hazikaron, and Yom HaAtzmaut. (You can always read about what I did last year... it pretty much still applies.) While I agree that it's pretty shameful I didn't post for Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), in my defense I was very Israeli... I stayed out really late Yom HaAtzmaut watching fireworks and free concerts by singers with the last name "Peretz," and then ate myself into a semi-comatose state at a "mangal," a barbecue, the next day. Between those two sources of brain cell death, and all the paint fumes, you should be glad I've recovered in just two weeks. (I also discovered that cotton candy in Hebrew is called "searot savta," Grandmother's hair. Isn't that awesome and mildly disgusting?)

Another day this month was momentous for me: on the day we moved into our very own apartment, I also hit my two year mark in Israel. It feels at once like it couldn't possibly have been two years and like it's incredible that I lived in the US just 25 months ago. I'm working on a post about that soon!

We've also been busy in other ways... my husband and I participated in a few Israeli 5Ks (well, actually a 5.7 K and a 4.9 K... Israelis aren't big on details) and I accepted a last-minute role in a Chekhov play (come see me with the Haifa English Theatre in early June!). I've also been painting some creepy Russian Orthodox Christian-esque props for said Chekhov play. Introducing the icon my husband and I have dubbed Gregor, Patron Saint of Constipation:

This is something I definitely wouldn't have predicted aliyah would lead me to paint.... 

My day job apparently also hasn't gotten the idea that it should stop demanding my attention when my life gets busy. Still, it was really nice to log in and discover that I have 90 followers and 15 comments to moderate. Wahoo!!

So I'm back... and this last month has definitely given me plenty of material to blog about. :)

How was your month? Anything interesting happen to you while I was busy inhaling paint fumes painting our new apt?

22.3.10

Ode to my First Israeli Apartment

To my first Israeli apartment:

First, I'm sorry that we're leaving you in April. Well, ok, that's not exactly true, but trust me-- it's not you, it's us. We wanted to buy our own place, have one more room, and live on a quieter street, but we really appreciate you having been there for us throughout these first two years in Israel.

You've been taking a lot of abuse lately. Strangers have been walking over your mismatched tiled floors and criticizing little things like the way your 70s-era wood paneling is peeling off the walls or the paint on the bathroom ceiling is chipped. They laugh at your .5 room (the dining area) and complain about the car alarm going off outside your tinted, patterned windows. They also don't seem too impressed by the doorways that have been turned into shelving units and don't see the beauty in the fact that our cats can crawl through the bottom of the shelving units to go from room to room.

These low orange velvet chairs actually came with our furnished apartment. 
Our cats loved them. As scratching posts. And wrestling arenas.

But hey, at least you put yourself out there. It's not your fault that your owner thinks you are worth hundreds more shekels a month than we currently pay and that the arnona taxes are high here. Yes, you suffer daily rejection, and yes, you are quite possibly wet between the walls, and yes, the bed that you came with creaks like it is undergoing torture whenever anyone breathes, but... what was I talking about again? Oh, yes, you suffered rejection daily while our landlord was trying to rent you out, but we're still proud of you, and there are things I'll never forget about our first apartment in Israel. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

1. You made 70s style Isra-fab. From your brassy, curvy ceiling lights to the naked Grecians silkscreened on our bathroom tiles to the plastic wood paneling on the kitchen cabinets, you truly showcase the one time in your life when anyone living in this apartment did "shiputzim" (renovations-- and a fabulous word). 

2. The views from your windows were always interesting. Our cats will miss staring at birds, bats, and autobusim outside our window, and we'll miss watching them stare down at us in shock and concern when they see us approaching from the street. Every community parade in our town (as well as a lot of traffic) passed right below our front windows, including the traffic safety parade last Purim and the veterans parade on VE day. All the loud traffic passing outside your window only made the stillness during the siren on Yom HaShoah and YomHaZikaron more stunning. And the view outside your back window proves that Israel really does have seasons! Really! Take a look:

During July (when a branch fell off because of the drought):

In early December, when the grass started to come back:


Today (spring-- note the flowering trees!):



So yellowing grass isn't quite as pretty as yellow fall leaves, but it's still nice to watch time pass. Also, aren't those metal "soragim" (bars) kind of beautiful?

3. You have a different tile floor in every room, which helped us decide if we want to do any shiputzim of our own! (For the record, the dark brown tile in the shower room hides cat hairs much better than the light white tile in the toilet room.)

4. You taught me all about how to turn on a dude (er, not a guy... a water heater), how to close my trisim in a sandstorm, and how to flip the switch on the circuit board of our house each time you objected to the idea of me running the kumkum (electric teapot) and the stove at the same time.

I'll also miss your huge kitchen and the high ceilings in your living room. I'll miss having a random little closet to put the litter boxes into. I'll miss the time we looked at the uneven tile in the bedroom and hypothesized that your previous elderly residents had buried lirot in the sand beneath the tiles. I'll miss living within a block of any kind of store I could ever want, from a guitar store to a petshop, with a bridal store, a health food shop, three yarkans and a super thrown in for good measure.

Our landlord finally came down in his asking price and found a nice mother with three kids (!) to move into this one apartment. The new people seem to appreciate you more than we did-- the mother looked at that gold chandelier in the living room and thought it was ya-fe-fi-yah. The two eight-year-old boys in our building seem excited about playing with the two eight-year-old girls who are moving in. But don't forget us, ok? You were a very significant 100 meters during my first two years in Israel, and I know we'll never forget you.

Now, excuse me while I go pack.

P.S. Yep, we're moving in just over a week!! Wahoo! Blog posts might be pretty infrequent as we move, though I have some ideas I'm kicking around. The thing I'm most worried about: canceling HOT cable... any suggestions about how to keep HOT from taking any more of our money?

9.3.10

If you want to understand Israelis, read this book...

We have an amazing library just down the street, housed in an old building from the Turkish period. It's just a few aisles of (mostly) paperback books, in Hebrew, English, and Russian (with a new Spanish section), and browsing its stacks is like looking through a friend's bookshelf. I get overwhelmed when I have to choose between all the many categories in a major library-- in our library, on the other hand, I always find a few books that I want (and have discovered the wonder of British chick lit). There's nothing fancy about our library, but that's part of why I love it: my library card consists of a number scrawled on a bookmark, and I've never been charged a late fee, even when I was pretty sure I was returning a few books a month late. I have to admit that I stick to the English books, but I often see translations written in spidery Hebrew above tricky words.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I borrowed Ask for a Convertible by Danit Brown from the library, and I've been meaning to recommend it to everyone I know ever since. In a series of beautifully-written (and funny) short stories about the same set of characters-- primarily a family who makes "yaridah" (moving out of Israel, the opposite of aliyah)-- Brown conveys the Israeli mentality better than any book I've read. Danit Brown (not to be confused with Dan Brown) is a close observer of both American and Israeli culture. I like to think that this book is what my blog would be if it became hyper-intelligent, self-aware, and moved back to the US. :)

The main character in the short stories is named Osnat, which is one of the names my husband and I joke we'll name our hypothetical future children so that they will never move to America. (As someone in the stories says, "What is it with Israelis being named after bodily fluids?") Osnat is transplanted from sun-baked Tel Aviv to cloudy Michigan at age 12. Through the course of the stories, she attempts to figure out where she belongs, even moving back to Tel Aviv as a young woman.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the way Brown gets details right. She shows Osnat's mother attempting to find self-rising flour in Michigan-- I remember seeing self-rising flour on my post-yaridah Israeli mother-in-law's shelves, and now I realize this is what most Israelis use rather than plain flour and baking powder.  Brown conveys the gulf between the ways Americans and Israelis see Judaism and Israel. In one story, a burned-out driving instructor moves to an American small town and meets the town's one Jew and a staunch Christian. They end up in a coffee shop, and the Americans want to know what it's like in the Israeli army. The Israeli starts to tell them his arsenal of funny, raunchy stories about his time in the army, and the Americans grow increasingly confused and shocked at this image of the "holy land." Yet the Israeli is also burying the pain of a family member dying in a terrorist attack; this isn't the kind of thing he talks about, even though perhaps it's what the Americans would rather hear. I could also relate to the emotional strain of moving to a new country, whether that country is America or Israel. I have felt the plunge in IQ that comes with not being able to remember the word for "pants" in a clothing store and the slow process of finding friends and the different sound of Israeli apartments compared to American wood-frame houses.

One of the most thought-provoking stories was called "Your Own Private America." In it, Osnat struggles to be Israeli while all of the Israelis around her are looking for an idealized version of America. Here's an excerpt:
There was something about the way her aunt was always urging her to buy, buy, buy that made Osnat feel like the fat girl whose skinny friend kept encouraging her to eat and eat. "That's just how much stuff costs here," her aunt liked to say. Or, "Surely your parents can help you pay." It didn't matter that she had the same number of televisions and drove the same kind of car as Osnat's parents. There was simply no arguing with the spacious homes and glitzy automobiles you saw on TV. It was easier to believe in those than in the pasty, blubbery people who lived in trailer parks and sometimes came to blows on American talk shows. If one of these realities had to be rigged, then let it be the poor one.
I see this attitude so often in Israel. Israelis yearn for their "private Americas," despite the fact that most of my Israeli friends vacation in resorts while almost none of my American friends did. Israelis constantly use "cmo b'chul"-- like outside Israel-- as a sign something is truly nice, and they find it hard to believe that I honestly think quality of life is better here. Yet life is noisy and stressful in Israel, and as Osnat says, "America was nice, with its air conditioners and manicured lawns." This book put my fuzzy, conflicted feelings about the emotional distance between America and Israel into focus like no other book I've read.

One small disclaimer-- if you're easily offended by language or sexual content, you might not like this book, although to me it seemed pretty mild.  Also, this book risks keeping you up at night. I don't usually like short story collections, but this one pulled me through to the end.

Have you read Ask for a Convertible? Do you think you can relate?

P.S. I'll probably mess up the formula for choosing the links that appear below this post by writing this, but it strikes me that Danit Brown wrote about every one of the topics that appears below this post for me: getting an Israeli driver's license (and failing the test the first time, as an American), running into celebrities on the Israeli streets, and even experiencing a chamsin. No wonder I loved this book!

3.3.10

How to Wait in Line Like an Israeli

Contrary to popular opinion, Israelis do wait in line.  We do have, shall we say, a different line-waiting etiquette, as my sister discovered when she returned to NYC after a year in Israel, shoved her way onto a bus (elbows flying)... then realized that all the other passengers were staring at her from the pavement where they stood in a polite queue.  So here's a guide to how to wait in line like an Israeli.

1. Ask "mi ha'aharon"? (Who's the last?) When you come to a meat counter or post office line in Israel, ask who is last in line. It often won't be the person who is actually standing in front of you-- it may be the person off in the corner getting stamps out of a vending machine or feeding a baby. This is probably why a lot of Americans get really upset when they wait in line, because they think Israelis are cutting in front of them when, really, Israelis simply have a more casual attitude about what "standing in line" actually means. 

2. If you need to step out of line, remind the person in front of you where your spot is. This was a little odd to me at first. For example, if I were in a grocery store check-out line in the US and realized I had to grab one thing off a nearby shelf, I would ask the person behind me in line if they could save my space-- the reason being that they're the person who would be disrupted when I came back. But for the exact same reason, Israelis rely on the person in front of them to save their spots. After all, why would the person behind you ever give your spot back?? That would be being a freyer! The person in front of you, on the other hand, will defend you if the person behind you complains, and Israelis do have a strongly-ingrained sense of line-standing ethics.

3. Stand really close to the person in front of you. Honestly, I'm not even sure if Israelis do this... my sense of personal space has shifted since coming here so that now I feel no compunction about nudging my shopping card actually into someone else when I try to make it down a narrow aisle in the Super. (Israelis look at me like I'm crazy if I apologize for something like that!) So the fact that Israelis don't actually touch each other in line or (mostly) breathe on each others' necks seems like plenty of space for me. But if you're an American from one of the northeastern regions, you may need to take a few steps forward. If you leave too much space in front of you, you aren't asserting your spot in line and someone may cut. (Watch out for spots in which you might think you're waiting in one line for multiple cash registers-- your body language has to be assertive for people not to cut in front of you then!)

4. Let someone else cut in front of you if you decide to, and be ready to wait for a while. Israelis are generally pretty rushed and stressed out, but for some reason they have a more relaxed attitude towards line-waiting than most Americans. If you come to a supermarket line with just a few items, Israelis with lots of items in their carts will almost always allow you to cut in front of them. Cashiers will wait for five minutes while you go back to get the third bag of shnitzel that will round out your 2 + 1 free deal. The bank teller will make four phone calls about the missing card for the guy in front of you before she looks for your checkbook. Any you know what? I actually think this is kind of nice. I like that when my time comes, the cashier will give me her full attention and let me take the time I need. So what if I wait a few extra minutes in the process. (Or, ok, a few extra hours back when we were applying for our mortgage... waiting in lines in banks is basically an all-day affair.) And definitely, complain loudly if you feel someone is taking advantage of a situation.

5. In some spots (bus stops, train stations, traffic circles, mortgage brokerages) there is no clearly-defined line, so instead you need to push your way to the front. This is where marpekim, elbows, are essential. Push your way up there!

Did I leave anything out? What have you while waiting experienced in Israeli lines?
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