Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Fill 'Er Up

This blog post has taken two years to write....

In the US, I took gassing up the car for granted; it was a simple little errand that I usually did at one of the 5 or 6 gas stations that were within a mile of our house.  Self-serve and keep on driving.  Then we moved across the world and I discovered that things are not always so easy when done in a new language and in a new culture.

To begin with, there are no gas stations in our neighborhood.  The nearest gas station is either about 7 minutes away in a direction I rarely need to go in, or about 12 minutes away in the main city that my neighborhood is part of.  Okaaaay.  At least I can usually figure out an errand or two to do in the main part of town, to make it worth driving almost half an hour round-trip.

Self-service is quite different here.  Don't know your car's license plate number?  Walk around and take a look because you'll need to input it to pay at the pump.  Once you've done that, put in your national identity number.  Don't know enough Hebrew to understand the words displaying on the pump?  Head on inside to (try to) pay at the cashier.  Don't know how to say "fill it" in Hebrew?  Yeah, you need one of those phrase books from the 80s.  You may never need to say, "my friend and I are making a small dinner party and were wondering if you'd like to attend?" (my favorite phrase), but you DO need something other than waving your hands around while looking panicked and finally saying, " umm, everything on (pump) number 4" and then saying "yes" when the cashier says some sort of questioning words that you take as confirmation that she's saying "fill it?".  Invariably, the cashier then asks if you'd like to buy headphones, an electric nose hair trimmer, or a small espresso maker from the display on the counter.  Since the cashier usually points while saying this, you are able to figure out what she's talking about and politely decline.  These experiences often leave one on the verge of tears (not that I'm, erm, speaking about myself here.  Oh noooo). 

What about full-serve?  That's actually a very nice experience here--they even clean your front- and back windshields, which I haven't seen in the US since I was a kid.  Except that even full-serve has incomprehensible questions, like "Do you want the number of your license plate printed on your receipt?"  ("What?  Can you repeat that?  Say it slower, please--I don't understand why anyone would want that?!".  A gas station employee who spoke English finally tipped me off that it's in case people want to use the receipt for reimbursement or tax purposes.  This in itself was a very inspiring-yet-humbling moment--the Russian guy who works at the gas station speaks English better than I speak Hebrew.  Sigh).  The next question is something like, "Would you like to buy a package of baby wipes or an espresso maker from the display outside?"  (Israelis drink a LOT of coffee and those espresso makers seem to be everywhere).

Anyway, yesterday I gassed up at the lovely new gas station that's *halfway* to the big city.  It felt so near (and yet, frankly, still rather far to go just to get gas)!  And I did self-serve and I understood all the questions and got them all correct!  Yay!  Give the lady a full tank of gas and get her back on the road!

Sunday, November 5, 2017


Short post:

Penina and Ilana are in the choir for what I'm pretty sure is the biggest English-language play production in the country.  The Zir Chemed/Regal Productions musical happens in January and sells out the 600-seat Jerusalem Theater for each of its 6 shows.  This is also the biggest yearly fundraiser for Zir Chemed a non-profit that helps couples with fertility issues.  As such, each cast and choir member is required to fundraise a page of ads for the adbook. 

Thanks to my brother-in-law Stephen's cleverness, no one need pay $50/line to join with us in wishing the girls well on all their hard work (and it has been hard work--this week the choir will be meeting at 4 a.m. to catch sunrise for a video of one of their songs!), you can just email me with your message and the amount you'd like to donate.  Don't have my private email address?  Then please ignore this message--this post is only for friends and family ;)

Friday, October 20, 2017

Library Life

I don't think I've ever written about the library situation here, but as they are just reopening after being closed for the Holidays, library life has certainly been on my mind.

While I have heard that public libraries do exist in Israel, there are not any near us.  Therefore, we belong to three separate private libraries.  Each one has a yearly membership fee and also a limit on how many books may be checked out at a time.  The biggest library, for example, charges about $25 for a yearly membership that allows us to take out 5 books at a time.  We have two memberships :).  The big library reminds me a lot of the Winthrop Public Library children's room--very small, but with a nice feel to it.  Which makes it feel a little odd when I'm in there and turn the corner of a display shelf and come face-to-face with shelves in Amharic (the neighborhood has a large Ethiopian presence).  The whole library is about evenly divided between books in Hebrew, English and Amharic!

The smaller library, which is much closer to us, has books mostly in Hebrew and English.  It's open one morning a week for two hours, and then 3 afternoons a week for two hours.  Definitely not your average US public library!  The books there tend to be older and well-worn, and I have had many frustrated thoughts about all the boxes of books we gave away before making aliyah and how our donations could have truly made a difference to the library here (and we had extra space on our lift, too).....

The last library is right near our house and is housed in a synagogue.  Unlike the other two, this one only contains Jewish-themed books (lucky for us there is a thriving business publishing Jewish fiction) and is open only one morning and one evening a week.  This library has been closed since Rosh Hashanah and just opened again last night!

We also use Overdrive (which allows reading US library books online) to help supplement our reading.  Together, we manage to cobble together what to read, but it is a big change from the US, when we would go to the library Friday afternoon and return with 40 or more books.  May it be our biggest problem, right?!

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

High Holidays

Rosh Hashanah is the only two day yontif in Israel and, thus, can be the only one that goes into Shabbos and makes the rare Israeli three day yontif.  This year, was a three-day-er.  Thankfully (for I find the food prep for long holidays difficult, as I lack the suburban luxuries I had back in the Old Country--a second fridge, second freezer and counter space for a warmer so that I can leave the stove on and cook over the holiday), we were invited out for three of the seven meals, but we hosted our maximum of 12 people for the other meals--a nice mix of buddies and new olim.

Our shul davens neitz, so we had the additional challenge of waking up super early, since shul started at 5:45 a.m.  As an early riser, it worked fine for me, and I loved being out and about so early.  There are many plants that only bloom at night and the air smelled absolutely incredible and very different from how it smells two hours later, when we're usually leaving the house.

The air was also filled with the sounds of children blowing toy shofars.  One day on the phone, I told Chana to hold on because I was outside and our 4 year-old neighbor was tooting too loudly on her shofar for me to hear her. ;)

Most amusing moment of the "10 Days of Repentence" between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: when Penina walked out of a routine appointment at Hadassah Medical Center and was accosted by a medical clown who immediately started doing kaparos over her head with a RUBBER CHICKEN! Sure beats live chickens, in our opinion ;).  (By the way, medical clowns are all the rage in Israel.  Penina even saw an ad on the back of a bus encouraging people to take courses to become medical clowns.  I see a future for Cousins Eli and Sela here!)

Chana came home from college in NY early the morning Yom Kippur started.  I got to discover that there is zero traffic between our house and the airport at 3 a.m. erev Yom Kippur.  Not that I was particularly worried about it.   By arriving at that time, she was able to spend her birthday with us!  Happy Birthday, Chana!!!!!

If it's possible to say that one had a great time on Yom Kippur, then I'd like to say that.  The davening was very meaningful and had lots of good singalong moments, we had great seats in our tiny shul (we were not near either the bathroom or the entrance door, which is hard to do in our very small and very crowded women's section), and it was so good to have Chana back.....

Preparations for Sukkot are supposed to start right after Yom Kippur, and, indeed, while we were still finishing our bagels, sounds of drills and hammers were drifting over from neighbors who eat quicker and also clearly have a lot of energy after fasting.

Two days ago, I saw a sign announcing "two bochurim available to build your sukkah".  As I read the sign, my eyes moved a few inches higher and saw a neighbor's "sleeping sukkah"  and the wheels started turning.  12 hours later, two creative 15 year olds (I was a little worried when I saw how young they were: "have you guys done this before???  Don't hurt yourselves!") had (with immense creativity because the way Shalom Shachne and they originally thought to build it didn't work, and he told them to just forget it.  But they kept at it!) helped make us the happy owners of a little sukkah on the balcony of our second floor.  Now the sukkah on the first floor will only be for eating and the upstairs one for sleeping.  The inevitable complaints of "but I liked getting to lie down and rest between meal courses" will hopefully resolve themselves ;)

The girls and I went out at 11 last night to check out the scene in the mercaz.  TONS of vendors selling lulav and etrog (there are pop-up stands everywhere around the city.  I was walking home from ulpan the other day and suddenly smelled this powerful citron smell.  Turns out that behind the small wall I was walking by a young man had set up a table to sell lulav and etrog). 
We got some exuberant decorations (I prefer not to use the words "slightly tacky") and even got some clothes shopping in because vendors of all kinds were open crazy late.

Wishing everyone a Chag Sameach and to our friends and family outside Israel who are about to have a three-day yontif both this week and next, my hat is off to you.  Good luck and may you really enjoy being "in the flow" of extended holiday time.

Friday, September 15, 2017

It Rained!

For the past few mornings, it's been very overcast.  In Boston, I would definitely say rain was moving in.  But here, alas, it's early in the season (we didn' and nothing happened.

Driving the kids to school today, there was a lot of talk about how "it looks like it's going to rain" and, then....it actually did!

I even put the wipers on for about four times ("Okay, kids--get ready!  Something we all haven't seen since March--the wipers on!)

And it got wonderfully cool and the air smelled so good (Question: "When is something negative really positive?" Answer: "When negative ions make the air smell so good after it rains!").  I was so looking forward to getting home and jogging in the great weather.  Oh well, the morning rain was shorter than my morning commute and it was partly cloudy and warm by the time I got home.  But those ten minutes sure felt good.

PS: "Famous Rabbi" (not sure those two words go together), Rav Shalom Arush, author of "Garden of Emunah" spoke at Penina's school yesterday.  Coooool!

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Shalom Shachne's Guide to Household Pests - Israel Edition

From Shalom Shachne:

As in every other facet of Israel, things are different than what we are used to in USA.  This includes the varieties of household pests.  Some of those are more familiar to Americans, for example, the ubiquitous pigeons roosting on roofs and balconies of all the houses in our neighborhood.  However, nothing we had in Massachusetts compares to a quiet, yet always unexpected house guest: the lizard.  Or more specifically, the gecko.

Geckos, are kind of cute, although a bit eery, due to their very large eyes.  And when they unexpectedly run across the floor of your house, your initial thought is that you just saw a centipede out of the corner of your eye.  However, once you focus on the little critter, you realize that all the legs you thought you saw are really just a set of four moving really fast.

Hemidactylus mabouia (i.e. gecko) courtesy of Wikipedia

I've tried to convince the girls that having a lizard in the house is actually kind of cool.  (When I was a kid, I always wanted to have various types of lizards as pets.  And actually, our former housemates, Howard and Paul Savin who had the bedroom next mine in our house in West Windsor NJ, had a family of garter snakes as pets in a terrarium in their room.)  But my best efforts are to no avail, and inevitably there is a lot of screaming when a gecko is unexpectedly encountered inside the house.

To their credit, the girls feel a lot more sympathy for these guys when they are outdoors.  We recently had one take up residence in the archway outside our front door.  I haven't seen her in a while, but she used to come out night and hang upside down in the archway.  The girls got kind of used to her, and we nicknamed her Lizzie, in honor of Miss Frizzle's lizard mascot (in the Magic School Bus series).  Penina especially got attached to Lizzie, and we used to open the door at night to watch her crawl around upside down.

In an effort to further increase Penina's good feelings toward our reptilian friends, one night as we were watching Lizzie, I told Penina:  "You know lizards are really good, because they eat bugs".  (And probably the only thing that makes my daughters scream more than lizards are bugs: moths, beetles, what have you.)  Sure enough, no sooner had the words come out, when an innocent little moth fluttered down on the archway to bask in the glow of the outdoor light bulb.  And, as following the script perfectly, Lizzie, made a quick lurch toward the moth and swallowed it whole before our very eyes.  Point made...

Our story begins a few weeks ago, when poor Ilana, feeling very over tired, was making her way upstairs to bed, when she let out a blood curdling scream.  I ran out of my office (working at night as usual) to find out what happened.  Through the sobs, I made out the words "centipede" and immediately suspected one of our little gecko friends.  After a few minute stake-out, my suspicions were confirmed, when I saw a tiny gecko, not much bigger than top joint of my index finger, scurrying around on the landing.

It was fruitless for me to continue trying to convince Ilana that she should not be scared of such a tiny creature.  (And a very cool lizard type of tiny creature at that!).  And despite marshaling my best arguments, all 3 girls were now huddled on the sofas refusing to let their feet touch the floor until our lizard problem was solved. 

So I had to somehow catch it and remove it from the house.  (For those of you who have been in our house, you know that I do not like to kill any pest, and always do my best to catch them alive and release them back to the "wild".)   But this little fella was really fast, and I wasn't sure how to get him. 

So we turned to that great solver all problems, the Internet.  Chana Googled how to catch a lizard, and turned up the sage advice to try to entice to run into a box.  We happened to just have an empty box of Ortega Taco Shells handy in the kitchen.  (Disclaimer: no money was received for product placement in this blog post.)  So I put the empty taco shell box near the tiny gecko, who was otherwise trapped against the wall under the bookcase on the landing.

Much to my amazement, the little fella was completely cooperative.  After a short moment of indecision, he scurried into the box, and waited there patiently while I ran around trying to find something to seal the open end of the box.  I transported him safely out the front door, and he was eventually convinced to run out of the box to freedom.

Sensing a good system here, I saved the taco box in my office for future episodes.  Score another win for the Internet.

A few nights ago, (Thursday night to be exact), I was working in my office when I saw out of the corner of my eye, what looked like a centipede running across the floor of my office.  (At this point you are all trained to understand that centipede is what people of slow reflexes and vision see when a gecko is in the house.)   Since my office is filled with all sorts of delightful devices and stray possessions (including a set of barbells left to me by a former employee), I didn't have any illusions that it would be easy to do a repeat performance.

However, I set my trusty taco box by the back of the bookshelf where I last saw my friend dart.  This gecko was a bit bigger than the last one, about the length of my middle finger, and I was also concerned he might put up more of a fight.  After a few minutes lackluster chasing around the office, I decided to let bygones be bygones, and get back to work, while my gecko friend did whatever he had to do.   After a few hours, I didn't see him any more, and I optimistically thought that perhaps he had gone back out of the house the same way he had gotten in.

Motzei Shabbos, while Ellen was cleaning the Shabbos dishes and I was in my office learning Daf Yomi, I heard a yelp from Ellen saying that she saw a (you guessed it), centipede.  I called out to let her know it was just a lizard, not to worry.  Sure enough, she confirmed the lizard hypothesis shortly afterward.

A few hours later, after everyone had gone to bed, while I was finishing up in the living room.  I saw the gecko (same one from my office on Thursday.  I'm sure of it), proudly standing in the middle of the living room, as if he owned the place.  I rushed to do battle with my trusty taco box, however, similar to my office, the living room also has lots of juicy places to hide, where a determined little lizard can squeeze into a small space out of reach of the humane but equally determined opponent.

This time there was no cooperative traipsing into the taco box, and despite my skillful placement of the taco box by each of his hideouts, the little bugger instead ran from one place to the next with impunity.   Finally, he made a serious blunder, running to hide by my sefarim bookshelf, behind the twin owls floor statue.  Here everything was flush against the wall.  "Ho-ho, I've got you!", I thought.  However, he again evaded the taco box, and made another dash for it.  However, making a "V" of my feet (heels together, toes out), I trapped him as if in a very short taco box, shaped like a pair of shoes.

At this point I wasn't sure what to do, and was contemplating just plucking him up into my hands.  However, he made the first move, and decided for whatever reason to climb onto the side of my shoe.  I had a brief moment of panic as I imagined him running up my leg inside my pants.  But, thank G-d, he seemed well contented just to cling to the side of my foot.

Sensing imminent victory, I began gingerly walking to the front door, being careful not to put my foot down in such a way as to crush Mr. Gecko.  I walked as quickly as possibly, given my gecko-burdened food.  It seemed like time was of the essence, since at any moment, I was sure he would leap off and we would begin the chase around the living room again.  I got to the front door, which one of my daughters had considerately triple-locked especially to add more time for the lizard to escape, and thankfully made it out the door before he realized what was happening.

After going down two steps, Mr. Gecko decided he had hitched a ride long enough, jumped off, waved goodbye (I think) and was off into the night.
or maybe he's just hanging out on the ceiling right outside our door?!

I have more to say on the subject, but I've just seen a cicada dart across the floor of my office, so I'm going to be otherwise occupied.

שבוע טוב
Shavua Tov
(Have a good week!)


Friday, September 8, 2017

The Incredible, Changeable....Living Room

It doesn't slice, dice or help prep dinner, but it does accommodate a larger number of people than we usually can.

Here is what our living/dining room usually looks like:

This setup is fine, except when we are more than eight people for Shabbos meals.  Which is almost all the time, since we try to have guests for both dinner and lunch (we try to have a balance between people we are already friends with and new folks

After a meal when we opened the table and put all the kids on the side near the sliding glass door and told them to crawl under the table if they wanted to get out ("not ideal" is really an understatement, although the kids were all 9 and under [i.e. so they thought it was really cool that they had permission to crawl under the table]), Penina came up with the genius idea to try to move the living room around.   And it worked! Everything fits exactly when we move it around (i.e. we are very happy the living room club chair is not 2 inches wider, or it wouldn't fit).

First thing: the shtender (to stand and learn at) goes into the office, as does the ottoman.

Second step: all chairs to the side and club chair in interim mode.  We can't move the table with the club chair in its usual spot (have I mentioned it's a bit of a tight squeeze here?!)

All done!  Now we can fit ten to twelve seats for Shabbos!  The club chair is to the side in what we refer to as "the reading nook" (during the week it holds Shalom Shachne's dining room chair that is now up against the sliding glass door).  The nook is cozy and out of the direct line of the air conditioner (the largest sofa is right under the a/c and usually requires a blanket if one plans to sit there for more than a few minutes).

Now if I can only get the same expandable model in the kitchen ;)

Shabbat Shalom!