Monday, December 11, 2017

Take Two of Batsheva's Blog Post....

Hello Dear Readers,
I am doing the heretofore never-done and republishing a blog post, since Batsheva's photos didn't make it in the first time (the tech support elves here have worked hard to fix the problem and would like to take full responsibility for the techno-goof.  And the photo of her first day at Microsoft--the mix of excitement and nervousness in her eyes--is just too good to miss).  --Ellen

Hi everyone! Batsheva here with a special Seattle edition of We Made Aliyah

As many of you know, I moved to Seattle just over 2 weeks ago to work at Microsoft as a program manager (aka technical product manager). I'm working on their developer documentation, docs.microsoft.com, which recently underwent a huge transformation to become an awesome modern open-source platform backed by Github . (If none of that made sense to you, just replace it with "everything is shiny and nice now".) I'm specifically working on the user experience and user interface of the site, which is really exciting because it gives me a chance to use my visual creativity and design skills. 

Me on the first day of work. Orientation started at 7:30 AM! 

I've had a really busy 2 weeks since starting. After a half day orientation, I had a little bit of time to start setting up before jumping into a 2.5 day team training on how to use customer interviews to build and refine products. Then this past week was quarterly planning, which meant that the part of the team based in Shanghai flew in for a solid week of meetings trying to figure out what we're going to do for the next 3 months. 

In between all the meetings I have had some time to do "real work". I've written 2 small specs so far (detailed documents that specify how a feature should be built) and am gearing up to start work on some really big and cool things soon. :) 

I'm also still adjusting to working at such a big company (my previous company was about 300 people [which already felt "too big" to me], Microsoft is 124,000!). The Redmond campus right outside Seattle where I work is 500 acres. 


This was parked outside my building one morning. I asked the driver about it and he said he'd always wanted one, so he went out and bought one. :) Never let it be said that Microsoft doesn't pay well.

There's a ton of amenities on campus, including a makerspace with all sorts of tools and machines, a shopping mall, shuttles between buildings and to the city, arcade machines, restaurants, sports fields, and more. The coolest thing of all though, is…a treehouse! (3 of them, to be exact.) My team went and visited one this past week as a fun activity after our meetings. 





Outside of work, I'm still looking for a place to live along with my friend and future roommate. We're investigating the Lower Queen Anne and Capitol Hill areas and will probably wind up in Capitol Hill, which is an area very much like where I was living in Chicago. Hopefully we will find somewhere next week! Despite what "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody" led me to believe, living in a hotel isn't that much fun.

I've also been repeatedly blown away by how beautiful the Pacific Northwest is. I had never visited before my interview in October, and the first thing I thought after landing at SeaTac was that I had never seen so many trees before. The city is on the small side, but there's plenty of cool things to see and do. And the rain isn't that bad. :) (It's actually been pretty sunny the last few days!)





So far, I really love my job and the Seattle area. I'm looking forward to getting settled here!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Guest Post by Batsheva ;)

Hi everyone! Batsheva here with a special Seattle edition of We Made Aliyah

As many of you know, I moved to Seattle just over 2 weeks ago to work at Microsoft as a program manager (aka technical product manager). I'm working on their developer documentation, docs.microsoft.com, which recently underwent a huge transformation to become an awesome modern open-source platform backed by Github . (If none of that made sense to you, just replace it with "everything is shiny and nice now".) I'm specifically working on the user experience and user interface of the site, which is really exciting because it gives me a chance to use my visual creativity and design skills. 

IMG_20171127_074321.jpgMe on the first day of work. Orientation started at 7:30 AM! 7:30 AM

I've had a really busy 2 weeks since starting. After a half day orientation, I had a little bit of time to start setting up before jumping into a 2.5 day team training on how to use customer interviews to build and refine products. Then this past week was quarterly planning, which meant that the part of the team based in Shanghai flew in for a solid week of meetings trying to figure out what we're going to do for the next 3 months. 

In between all the meetings I have had some time to do "real work". I've written 2 small specs so far (detailed documents that specify how a feature should be built) and am gearing up to start work on some really big and cool things soon. :) 

I'm also still adjusting to working at such a big company (my previous company was about 300 people [which already felt "too big" to me], Microsoft is 124,000!). The Redmond campus right outside Seattle where I work is 500 acres. 

IMG_20171204_081145.jpg
This was parked outside my building one morning. I asked the driver about it and he said he'd always wanted one, so he went out and bought one. :) Never let it be said that Microsoft doesn't pay well.

There's a ton of amenities on campus, including a makerspace with all sorts of tools and machines, a shopping mall, shuttles between buildings and to the city, arcade machines, restaurants, sports fields, and more. The coolest thing of all though, is…a treehouse! (3 of them, to be exact.) My team went and visited one this past week as a fun activity after our meetings. 



IMG_20171206_164316.jpg
IMG_20171206_163717.jpg

Outside of work, I'm still looking for a place to live along with my friend and future roommate. We're investigating the Lower Queen Anne and Capitol Hill areas and will probably wind up in Capitol Hill, which is an area very much like where I was living in Chicago. Hopefully we will find somewhere next week! Despite what "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody" led me to believe, living in a hotel isn't that much fun.

I've also been repeatedly blown away by how beautiful the Pacific Northwest is. I had never visited before my interview in October, and the first thing I thought after landing at SeaTac was that I had never seen so many trees before. The city is on the small side, but there's plenty of cool things to see and do. And the rain isn't that bad. :) (It's actually been pretty sunny the last few days!)

IMG_20171126_141235.jpg
IMG_20171130_213649.jpgIMG_20171130_220953.jpg

So far, I really love my job and the Seattle area. I'm looking forward to getting settled here!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What's Cooking? A post (loosely) related to baking

Well, we already celebrated "Franksgiving" a few weeks ago, when my publicity-shy sister and brother-in-law were here (I think I'm allowed to say it was a GREAT visit, as long as I don't post photos [apologies to cousin Gil, who always says that there are not enough photos in my blog....]).

I had an interesting morning yesterday, when I got up early to cook for the Lone Soldier's Thanksgiving Dinner.  1000 soldiers who are here without family (and able to get the afternoon off, which evidently disqualified another 6000 soldiers) will be joining together for the meal.  It's quite impressive to see the loooong Google doc get slowly filled in as the weeks go by and more and more people sign up to bring parts of the meal.  50 people signed up to bring cooked whole turkeys!  I, perhaps not unsurprisingly, was not one of them.  I did, however, make two of the 25 pans of rice (much more my speed) and brownies.  Thanks to having a car this year, I am helping out two neighbors and taking their cookies and sweet potatoes up.  Teamwork!

I also baked for neighbors who had had a death in the family.  Walking down the street, I saw this taped to the wall:
This is how deaths are announced here (additionally, sometimes a car with a loudspeaker on top drives slowly around town announcing funeral details, as funerals happen here usually on the same day and many people are not on the internet either at all, or as much as their US counterparts.  Of course, I have also seen funerals announced on Facebook and via the city list-serv).

I don't really know these neighbors at all, and they are sitting shiva in another city, so I sent a cake over.  While baking, I thought to share this photo, as I find it hard to believe that this is how baking ingredients are sold here:
I have never seen boxes of baking soda (the ad campaign to pour it down your sink has not yet arrived here), and both baking soda and baking powder are sold in tiny packets.  The middle product is powdered sugar.  You need something like 1000 of them to frost a cake (to her credit, Penina pulled it off recently, when she made a cake for a girl in her school [love the school's program--when it's a girl's birthday, someone else in class makes a cake for her, rather than *her* bringing in a cake to share)
Anyway, while a kilo of white sugar is certainly not a small amount of a dangerous substance, there is nothing bigger--no "let's buy a 5 lb bag of sugar so all that Thanksgiving baking will be easily accomplished".  I also need to say that the idea of sugar in paper bags (that often leak) in a warm country is, while great for the environment, probably nicer to the local ant population than it needs to be.

A final note regarding food issues: while at a routine appointment at Hadassah Hospital yesterday, I wandered into the new mini market that had just opened.  I was surprised to see something I truly cannot imagine seeing in a US hospital:
Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Choir

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...

ACT I
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.

ACT II 
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.

ACT III
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!



Friday, September 1, 2017

Back in the Swing of Things

It's been an interesting week getting back in the swing of things here.  Being away has seemed to turn back my way of looking at things to more like it was when we first arrived (and a very happy two year aliyah-versary to us!).

For example, I walk around and can't get over how GOOD it smells here, due to the large amounts of herbs that are planted by the roadsides.  I'm walking to the mercaz and suddenly, pow, the smell of fresh sage washes over me!

It took us almost four days, but we're unpacked, we finally have a restocked refrigerator, all the glass recycling has been dropped off (that's a different post, but let's just say that those of you who can curbside recycle your glass are VERY lucky), almost all the crazy overdue library books have been dropped off with many mea culpas.....And, the big news in these parts--Ilana and Penina have started back at school (thankfully, I get until Monday for ulpan)

Schools have been starting slowly over the past few weeks--yeshivos started two weeks ago and Bais Yaakov schools started Wednesday, but today was the big day, with over 2.5 million kids in Israel starting back at school.  The traffic (such as it is, it doesn't hold a candle at ALL to Storrow Drive in rush hour) was bad today, as it seemed that every parent with a car wanted to drive their kids today (as one of those parents, I don't fault anyone else for the same attitude).  Wishing all kids everyone a year full of learning, fun, friendship and, of course, tasty snacks!

I had an interesting experience last night going to a vort.  My friend Moshe from ulpan, who is a great-grandfather many times over, called the day before to tell me his granddaughter had gotten engaged earlier that day and there would be an engagement part Thursday night (the timing is not an "only in Israel" thing, it's common in religious circles.  The couple will almost surely be married within 3-4 months).  I was very happy to go give a "mazal tov" to him.  When I arrived, I realized I had a slight problem--the party was in a synagogue social hall (i.e. much bigger than in someone's house) and there was a keyboardist (i.e. it was really loud and my friend is a senior citizen, in case that wasn't clear from the fact that he's a great-grandfather) AND there was a mechitza separating the men's and women's side of the event (ie. so I couldn't just go over and offer my congratulations) AND Moshe uses a wheelchair and was facing the other direction.  Doh!  Luckily, one woman I knew who was attending pointed out the kallah and her mother so I could introduce myself and say mazal tov to *them*.  The mother kindly got someone to go over to Moshe, explain the situation and turn him around so I could wave :).  It's another chavaya (experience)!


Monday, August 28, 2017

And, At Last, We're HERE ;)


We had a wonderful, amazing, incredible trip, but, boy, it is SO great to be back home!!!!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Guest Post by Cousin Sela!

Hi everyone- Sela here!

My Israeli experience has been amazing so far (I'm here in camp for the summer), but this has been the cherry on top of the ice cream!

The amazing weekend began with going bowling (where I totally got crushed by Ilana and Penina)



 and then eating my first Katzefet ice cream! (very much recommended for those who have not tried it).
After that Penina and Ilana gave me a tour of the mercaz and got me a tasty Israeli ice coffee (by the way I am not an ice coffee person but I have to say, it was pretty good!).

After I took a short power nap (camp is fun but tiring...), we all went to the Stalactite caves a few minutes away. We got to walk through and look at the beautiful stalactites hanging from the ceiling and growing from the floor up.



 "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo" said the Juliet stalactite to the Romeo stalactite.
Wow was that an experience!

Friday night was so nice starting with an insprining Kabalat Shabbat in shul, followed by a fun d'var torah filled meal with dairy lasagna for dinner! Mom and Abba did you hear this?? Lasagna on a Friday night!! For those who don't know me so well- I am made out of pasta. It is my favorite food of all time.

After dinner PB and Ilana showed me to the ultimate see-saw (probably not the smartest idea after we just ate lots of yummy food...) where we bounced each other up and down. Shabbat only got better when we had tacos for lunch! (Boy do I love vegetarians). Two super nice families also joined us for the meal! It was a blast. Catching up on some sleep and chilling with my cousins really was such an awesome off shabbat! I could not have asked for more!

Thank you for sharing your beautiful home with me and showing me around Beit Shemesh and adding to my amazing Israeli experience!

A special thank you to Penina who gave up her bed and a whole night's sleep by sleeping on a cot that was too small for her.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Chelm....We Live in Chelm"

That's the best quote I've heard in the ongoing "saga of the wild dogs", Chelm being the prototypical "city of fools" in Jewish folklore from Eastern Europe (I just had a flashback to my Folklore and Folklife days at Penn....).

As a "glass half full" kind of person, I hate to write anything negative about my new home country, but, as we're now approaching two years here, I think it's okay to  (occasionally) peep out from behind my rose-colored glasses.  It also feels appropriate that my first post since Ed's death is not a "happy happy" one.

When we arrived two years ago, we occasionally heard that there had been some wild dog sightings on the main street that our house overlooks.  Never having seen a dog there, I actually laughed it off the first time one of Penina's friends told her about it, and chalked it up to teenage hyperbole.  Within the last year, however, there have been more and more sightings, until, about six months ago, the dogs started (with great regularity) attacking and biting people.  Although the dogs are now wandering all over, our neighborhood has been an epicenter of the attacks, as we are at the very edge of the city.  Wild dogs feed largely off of garbage.  Our neighborhood's garbage cans being the closest restaurant for the hungry dogs, we have seen them a LOT.  We've each encountered them at one time or another (Chana had the scariest moment when she was walking on the stairs and encountered a pack of them.  Thankfully, they left her alone).  They are especially active on Shabbos as there are no cars to bother them.

The city has tried many things over the past months, including sending the city vet out with a tranquilizer gun so she can capture them and bring them to a shelter.  This has not worked out very well, as in the time it takes the tranquilizers to work, the dogs go off and hide, she oftentimes can't find them, the dogs wake up with a hangover and all goes back to as it was.  About six dogs were captured and sent to a shelter, where they were eventually euthanized, as wild dogs can't be rehabilitated for adoption.   The city also tried putting up traps, but they were broken by those who support freeing the wild dogs (clearly, these are people who either don't live here, or never leave their houses)

Recently, the city announced that they had approval from the Minister of Agriculture to have hunters kill the wild dogs.  The Mayor gave his approval to continue and then went out of town, leaving the Deputy Mayor to deal with it.  The city vet (who truly has seemed to work hard on this issue but may have been having a passive/aggressive moment.  Or maybe it was what she legally needed to do.  It's unclear) announced on Facebook something like "all dogs should be kept inside tonight, as hunters will be shooting on sight any dogs seen between 3-7 a.m.".  It spread like wildfire through social media (I got it forwarded on every single Israeli Whatsapp group I'm on) and prompted (as they hyperbole goes) "busloads of green-haired vegetarians from Tel Aviv to come to the city to protest".  Truthfully, that night, *I* saw neither wild dogs nor vegetarian activists around.  Too bad, because I would have been happy to invite them (the vegetarians, not the wild dogs) in for something to eat and to try to have a civilized conversation (the best the activists seem to come up with is saying that "they'd take a bullet" for the dogs, but, y'know, that doesn't really help the situation on the ground here OR they offer the solution that the dogs should be captured, spayed/neutered and then released, which also doesn't really help the situation, as we will still have roving packs of wild dogs until the current generation dies out).

Meanwhile, the Deputy Mayor decided he'd rather not be the fall guy, and put the whole thing on hold until the Mayor returned. Also meanwhile, Sara Netanyahu posted an impassioned plea on her husband's Facebook page (i.e. the Prime Minister's official FB page) asking that Beit Shemesh not harm the dogs and saying that "there must be a better answer".  And further meanwhile, the activists brought a suit to the Supreme Court (which does not operate at all like the US one, if you can't tell that by the fact that a case brought there was heard almost immediately).

Upshot:
--The Supreme Court put a stay on the shootings.
--The Mayor returned and fired the Vet.
--Some residents got extremely peeved and started contacting the Mayor on his cell phone.
--The Mayor re-hired the Vet
--The dogs are still doing as they please, including biting another neighbor of ours numerous times on the leg when she got off a late-night bus in the empty mercaz.

Chelm--we may, indeed, live in Chelm.



Friday, July 7, 2017

Passing of a Good Soul

From Shalom Shachne:


Thank you for helping us with your prayers and Tehillim.  With everyone's help we completed ספר תהילים twice in the past 5 days.  Ed was נפטר today, early yesterday morning.  May his soul be elevated in the merit of all the prayers and tehillim said on his behalf.

Ed was kind, generous, decent, intelligent, good humored, and always a pleasure to visit with.  While he was still working full-time, Ed was able to indulge in his love of history, earning a master's degree in History at Rutgers.   I want to share this story by one of his grandsons: "I was just remembering when we got your new computer and you were Skype-ing Margaret for the first time, and invited Grandpa to come say hi. He looked right into the camera, said "What hath Gd wrought?" and walked away. We all looked at each other puzzled, but I had just written my 7th grade history report on Samuel Morse, and knew that was the first message ever sent by telegraph. I went over to Grandpa, told him I was onto him, and he simply grinned mischievously. He was full of subtle surprises."

We will miss him very much. It was a real joy for us when he and Barbara visited with us in Israel earlier this year. I'll never forget the huge smile he had when we were at the Kotel on Bar Mitzvah day. He stood speechless, and smiling watching all the boys being escorted by musicians and drummers. It was a great day and a great visit.  

May his נשמה have an עליה בזכות כל התהילים והתפילות and may his memory always be for a blessing.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Summertime

We celebrated the end of the school year (way to go, gang!) with an overnight trip to Jerusalem.  I'm not sure I can give over the feeling I get when I'm driving on the highway and the signs start listing "Jerusalem" as a destination.  It's amazing.  It's crazy.  It's unbelievable that I'm driving on this beautiful HIGHWAY and I'm going to get off and be in the Holy City.  Makes my stomach flip-flop every time (and I really hope I don't lose that feeling as we're here longer).

We went to the Underground Prisoners' Musuem (I ignored the wisecracks about how I was starting our vacation on a high note), which, although not a "fun" place to visit, was quite interesting.  Deciding that we were also celebrating our "Aliyah-Versary" a month early, we went to Agas V'Tapuah, the restaurant we ate at the night we made aliyah, before touring the really incredible Jerusalem Light Festival and, of course, visiting the Kotel (if you are: Yehuda ben Sarah, Batsheva bat Yenta, Chana bat Perel, or Raizel Tzivia bat Chana Breindel, please know that we davened for you)

We've been (finally) reconnecting with some old friends we haven't yet seen since making aliyah.  Our friend Shlomo Avraham came for Shabbos a few weeks ago.  I haven't seen him in 18 years, although Shalom Shachne had seen him throughout the years on his trips to Israel.  We met Shlomo Avraham through our friend Zehava.  So sweet to reconnect with him after all this time.  He remains as gentle a soul as ever.

This past Shabbos, our old Malden buddy Yeuda Leib came to us.  It was very interesting to hear what his life has been like in the 8 years since he made aliyah, and to hear about his upbringing and how he got to where he is today (learning in a Yeshiva!).  Sorry we forgot to take photos.....I always think, in the pre-Shabbos bedlam, that I'll remember after Shabbos, but then that never seems to happen either.

We also said "farewell" to our neighbors who are making yerida and going back to the US.  They were here for three years, so at least they gave it a good shot.  We had them over for dinner a few hours before their plane left, so they just ended up hanging out here until they left.  Their furniture had gone on a lift a few weeks before, and, walking through their empty house, we all talked of memories of arriving here with nothing and having just a suitcase and an air mattress....We'll miss them and wish them luck in their new community.

Today, we're having a Malden Reunion with Eliana coming, and Michelle, Dan and the "Fab Four" (so glad we're getting to see them when they only arrived a few days ago for their summer visit).  Really looking forward to seeing everyone!

Last night, Temima from NY (see halfway down [and this is cool that I've been blogging long enough to reference previous WeMadeAliyah posts!]) came to visit while staying with her parents for a few weeks.  She has a really interesting perspective on life in Israel, having spent her life pretty much split between here and the US.  It was just so great to hang out with her again!
note the Winthrop July 4th 2017 t-shirts that my Mom sent ;)

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I would like to thank everyone who has said tehilim for SS's stepfather Ed, Yehuda ben Sarah.  Your tehilim are still needed.

http://tehilimyahad.com/mr.jsp?r=h797l0Onvp

Friday, June 30, 2017

End of the Year

It's been a big, busy time as Penina and Ilana finish their second year of school here.   (Last night found Chana and Penina arguing over who got the first turn to read Penina's summer Hebrew reading book-of-choice.  As the minor squabbling went on, Penina turned to me and said, "I bet this is a big dream of yours come true--your kids fighting over who gets to read a book in Hebrew".  I will say that it made me awfully glad that "Diary of Wimpy Kid" comes in Hebrew!)

Penina finished 1 1/2 weeks ago and has been very busy catching up on missed sleep since then :).  She came home from her last day with a certificate given to the student who made the most progress and worked really hard.  As a sucker for hard work, seeing that made me cry.  So proud of her.

Ilana finishes today and I end this round of ulpan on Tuesday. We fixed that scheduling disaster by my only going until break time on the days that we have things planned to do.  We went to Ashdod beach the other day, and Shalom Shachne and Ilana joined us on Sunday for our first trip to the Israel Museum.  I think we need another five or so hours there to really see everything there, but it was a good start!

The girls had their dance recital last week and it was amazing, b''H.  The women who run their dance school worked so hard to have a show that was interesting and full of good things to watch and listen to.   Ilana's Jazz class danced LIVE to singer Shaindel Antelis (if you are a teenage frum girl, you probably just squealed right now)!

Penina's Jazz class had a "Galactic" theme, and Chana and I showed up early to help with the groovy makeup

Ilana will be attending the camp that her school is running and Penina is gearing up for a daytime arts camp.  For now, though, it just feels nice to be at the time of year when, although it's busy, it's all suffused with that happy End-of-Year feeling.

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Please join us in saying tehilim for Shalom Shachne's stepfather Ed, Yehuda ben Sarah, who is quite ill....
http://tehilimyahad.com/mr.jsp?r=h797l0Onvp











Saturday, June 17, 2017

23rd of Sivan

This was a very special Shabbat because yesterday on the Jewish calendar was the 23rd of Sivan, and SS's dad's yarhzeit.  His 23rd one, in fact (a neighbor told Shalom Shachne that the date was a significant one since the 23rd of Sivan is when, according to the Purim story, Esther and Mordechai sent out the letters telling the Jews they could defend themselves against Achashveros' unbreakable decree against them).

Shalom Shachne made a siyyum yesterday on Megillah.  Here is what he said, and may it all have been for an ilui neshama for Irwin, Yitzchak ben Shalom Shachne, who we miss very much:
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Today is the 23rd yahrzeit for my father, יזחק בן שלום שכנא (Yitzchak ben Shalom Shachne), and last week was the first yahrzeit for my aunt, his only sibling, שמחה שרה בת שלום שכנא (Simcha Sarah bat Shalom Shachne).   

First off, I want to thank Mr. Shlomo Meyer for encouraging me to start learning a daf a day, giving me the suggestion to start with מסכת מגילה.  And of course I want to thank my family for all their love and encouragement, and giving me time for learning.

My father passed away suddenly, at the not very old age of 63.  He was playing tennis, which he loved to do, and had a fatal heart attack.  He had always told us that if he could choose how to die, this would be one of the ways he would choose.  My father never seemed particularly afraid of death and was a bit irreverent about it.  His nickname was “Goldie”, and he once told my step-mother that he wanted the epitaph on his tomb stone to say “Here lies Goldie growing moldy”.  Needless to say, we didn’t write that.

When the Rabbi was giving the eulogy for my father, he said that my father reminded him of כלב בן יפונה.  My father was never afraid to speak out, even against a whole group of people.  The board of directors of the synagogue were trying to remove the Rabbi from his position, and my father was one of the few voices speaking up for the Rabbi.  This trait frequently got him into trouble with college administrations, in his early career as a physics professor.   He learned to temper this in his later life as a businessman, where he learned the value of getting along.  But he was always a courageous and idealistic person.

Although he was not a very religious man, he put on Tefillin every day.  He started after my bar mitzvah.  I believe he started because I asked him, why should I put on Tefillin, when he doesn’t.  So he started doing it every day from that time for the rest of his life.   When he passed away, I made a resolution that I would put on Tefillin every day also, and also to say Kaddish for him 3 times a day for the whole year.   This was one of the major forces which made me into a בעל תשובה.

Now for the siyum.  In addition to covering the הלכות of purim and קריאת מגילה, the mesechet covers many laws of קריאת התורה and how we split the parshiot during the year.  A quick הלכה that I learned which surprised me was brought in the mishha on דף ח’: א:  

אין בין ספרים לתפילין ומזוזות אלא שספרים נכתבים בכל לשון ותפילין ומזוזות אינן נכתבין אלא אשורית. רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר אף בספרים לא התירו שיכתבו אלא יוונית

The הלכה goes according to Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, who says that a Sefer Torah can be written in Greek.  The reason for this given by the Gemara, is the ברכה given by נח to יפת,

יפת אלהים ליפת וישכן באהלי שם

And in fact, Rambam brings this down as halakhah in הלכות תפילין ומזוזה:


והתירו בספרים לכתבן אף ביווני בלבד. וכבר נשתקע יווני מן העולם ונשתבש ואבד לפיכך אין כותבין היום שלשתן אלא אשורי.


Friday, June 9, 2017

A Credit to Her Profession and Her Country

The other day in ulpan, our teacher told us about an amazing story that I'd like to share with you.  This nurse is truly a credit both to the profession of nursing and to the State of Israel.  Kol HaKavod, Ula Ostrowski-Zak, and may the injured mother and baby make full recoveries.

Baby of seriously injured Palestinian mother nursed by Jewish nurse
A couple from Hebron was involved in a car accident, the mother was seriously injured and the father killed; pediatric nurse Ula Ostrowski-Zak at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital volunteers to tend to their nine-month-old.
During an entire shift in the pediatric emergency room at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, nurse Ula Ostrowski-Zak nursed a nine-month-old Palestinian baby from Hebron whose mother was seriously injured and his father killed in a car accident.

"His aunts were surprised that a Jew agreed to breastfeed him, but I told them that every mother would do it," she said.

On Friday, Yaman's parents collided head-on with an armored bus on Route 60. The father was killed on the spot and the mother, who was not wearing a seatbelt, sustained a serious head injury.


Nurse Ostrowski-Zak with baby Yaman
Nurse Ostrowski-Zak with baby Yaman

The baby, who was lightly injured, was taken to the emergency room, but there was no one to feed him and he refused to eat from a bottle. For seven hours, until Ostrowski-Zak arrived, he didn't eat a thing and cried incessantly. His aunts were helpless.

"They asked me if I could help them find someone who would breastfeed the baby," said Ostrowski-Zak. "As a nursing mother, I didn't hesitate and suggested that I do it myself."

Thus, between caring for one child and another, the nurse fed the baby. "I fed him five times," she said. "His aunts embraced me and thanked me. They were really surprised and told me that no Jewish women would agree to nurse a Palestinian baby they did not know."

Toward the end of the shift, the question arose who would breastfeed the baby when Ula went home. The nurse posted to the Facebook group of nursing mothers titled La Leche League, and was amazed by the reactions.

"Within two hours I received more than a thousand likes and responses from women who volunteered to help, women who were willing to travel even from Haifa to breastfeed him. In between, I continued to try to expose the child to the bottle but without success," she said.

The baby's mother is still in serious condition. The baby is expected to be discharged from the hospital and will be staying at his grandparents' home in Hebron, where his aunt will continue to breastfeed him.

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4971345,00.html