Sunday, October 29, 2006

Who's Afraid of International Calls?

Remember when the phone rang and it was an overseas call? Maybe you don't have those memories but I can recall the summer when my father was on USY Pilgrimage as a madrich/counselor. He probably called once or twice to my poor beleaguered mother back in the US. Actually, we had a great summer. Originally the plan was for Jonathan and Sarah to go to camp - Cejwin, I believe, and I was to be shipped off to my Grandma Rena in Far Rockaway for the 6 weeks. This way, my mother would go with my father. It was 1967 and I was 5. My Mother informed my Grandmother that I was an easy customer - "Just give her peanut butter and jelly daily and she'll be happy." My Grandmother's reply? "I'll change that." My Mother decided that it wasn't worth the fight that would have broken out between the two of us - me and Grandma, that is. Instead, we all went with my mother to Far Rockaway. An apartment was available above my Grandmother and Grandfather's and we camped out in the upstairs apartment with borrowed cots and ate our meals at Grandma's house. We went to the beach every day and I started learning how to ride a 2 wheeler, courtesty of a local kid who had the most cunning mini bicycle. My other major memory of the summer is a food product called "Shake a Pudding." You mixed, shook for a long time (but it felt like it was instant pudding), then chilled for a while and voila! Instant but not really pudding.

My first trip to Israel was with my family in 1970. I'm sure that the very modest apt that we rented that summer in Kiryat Ha'yovel in Jerusalem didn't have a phone and I imagine that my parents didn't make overseas calls that summer - they probably wrote letters. My second trip to Israel was when I was 20. It was 1982 and I had just graduated from college. I worked on USY Pilgrimage as a counselor (just like my father had in '67) and then stayed on for the year. I called them for the first time about 8 weeks into the summer. In them thar days, you had to go to a calling center (if you didn't have access to another phone). You paid a certain amount in advance for your call and then waited to be told when it was your turn. Then, you'd go into a phone booth and the international operator would be waiting to connect you to your people. When the money was up, so was the call - it was always rather abrupt. Of course, there was, and still is, the time difference and that added a romantic and unexpected quality to those calls. You hoped you were reaching your party at the right time but it always seemed that whenever you wanted to call them, they were sleeping. Why were they always sleeping? In 1982/3, I was here for the year after college doing volunteer work (I highly recommend this to all those with children finishing high school and college - volunteerism is great). We didn't have our own phone - still a precious commodity for most. You had to buy these phone tokens - aseemonim (who still has a few saved?) - you plunked in a bunch (again, hoping that you had enough for a long distance call, not overseas, mind, long distance like T'zfat to Jerusalem), dialled your number and talked, listening to the aseemonim click as the time ticked by. Again, when they were done, you were cut off - no warning. It was always a little stressful but part of the game. International calls could be made from phone booths but required alot of patience and redialing and generally you were calling collect (which parents love so much) as you couldn't possibly collect enough aseemonim for an overseas call. You wrote letters, strange as that seems. Last year, while cleaning up and organizing for the move here, we came across Ira's letters to his Mother, and hers to him, when he came on a Ramah Seminar to Israel, when he was 17. Letters were so wonderful to receive when you were far away and although I'm not the best letter writer, or was not the best letter writer as in gen'l I'm a better emailer, I loved and still love receiving mail. It's so romantic - the letter, the stationary, opening it, sniffing the glue, rustling the papers, deciphering the handwriting. Things just aren't like that anymore with instant messaging and such.

Needless to say, when cellphones were first developed, Israelis were immediately enamored. By this point, one could get a home phone with ease, of course, and gone were the days of year long waits for getting a phone hooked up in one's apt. Yet, nobody had forgotten how hard it had been to be in touch in those not so distant days. I can recall back in the early days of the cellphones, sometime in the mid to late 90's, coming to Israel on a trip and visiting the big J'lem mall and EVERYONE, down to the little kids, had a phone. Maybe it's the Jewish mother thing and needing to let everyone know that you made it from point A to point B intact or maybe it's the love of technology that every Israel seems to be bred with. Either way, phones are everywhere and what's more, they work everywhere. It is unheard of to have dead spaces or blocks the way they occur in NYC all the time. Every so often, one loses a call and it's quite traumatic as you forget that it used to happen all the time. Cellphone politeness? Now that's a horse of different color but we won't discuss that at this juncture.

When my brother Jonathan and sister in law, Barbara, first moved to Israel in 1983, calls were really expensive. It was tough to be in touch and our phone bills were easily $100 more than most people I knew on an average basis. Sarah and Michael moved in 1985 and that didn't improve matters. Also, it was tremendously expensive to call from Israel, so they waited for us to call, leaving the financial burden on us. It was cheaper from the States but it wasn't like they were giving it away. My parents came to Israel in 1992 and things were getting better by that point - we all called each other at least bi-weekly and calling from Israel while not cheap wasn't as prohibitively expensive. During the 90's, Ralph and Lisa went to France. While we didn't talk a ton on the phone, it was fun to have another foreign location to call and certainly, I wasn't afraid of the process - it's just a bunch of numbers, other than that, it's a phone call. Ira travelled to London a few times during those years and by the time Jess came to Israel in 1995, I was accustomed to calling Israel at least once a week, if not more. Jess and I would talk all the time - we both needed it and why not? Knowing the nitty gritty of each other's lives was essential to both of us. If I needed a recipe, I could call Sarah and if I needed to talk and laugh, I could call Barbara, financial help, Jonathan and folk dancing steps, Michael. My parents would call to talk to the boys and hear about what we were doing. The cellphone just perfected the situation. In some ways it drove me crazy but my family could find me anywhere, anytime and they did - they called me when they were on the road, when they were together as a group or going or coming from a family event. They called me when I was on vacation and one memorable time, my phone rang while skiing down a run at Killington. It was Jess - she wished me good skiing and we hung up.

Ira and I are awash in long distance calling plans. We have a Bezeq line (regular phone service) and then we have cellphones (Ira and I and the boys). We have 012 service for long distance calls and Skype in and out for calls that can be received at the computer - this is great, stop hesitating and download Skype already. You can Skype from your computer (all you need is a mike and headset - just ask Mike Shelanski for instructions) and then, if you open an account, you can call a landline from your computer for literally cents per minute. We called Aunt Jo and Uncle Charlie today - Akiva was particularly in the mood and it was Sunday so we could catch them easily in the morning waking up - and talked for 30 minutes or so and it cost, 60 cents, I think? We may still do a Vonnage line or VOIP line so that all of you wusses who are still nervous about calling overseas, can have the pleasure of calling us via a 646 line - just like in NYC but haven't done it yet. Either way, getting decent long distance service and prices on calling is just so easy. Actually, my last few months in the States, I even had long distance service to Israel from my cellphone which didn't cost too much a minute. Certainly, it was fine for shorter calls and to check in on my folks especially.

Of course, nothing is as fun as Google talk or Skype on the computer because the voices come thru as if the person is sitting with you in the room and if you hook up a webcam, you can even pick your noses together or check out new purchases. I like these methods the most because of the magical quality of them. Even more so than phones, they seem rather mysterious and unexplainable to those of us who are more technologically challenged. Even my mother has Skyped, although she confesses, she felt a bit like she did when she first gazed on a TV set - "where's the little man inside the machine?"
Looking forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Last Friday night, we ate Shabbat dinner at Alan and Lisa's. Caleb, who is famous for his Calebism's - expressions of a certaintude and charm that often floor the listener - looked over at Natan and said, "You know, you are going to the war?" Natan, after a brief, digestive pause, said, "yes." Caleb seemed pleased, and responded, "So am I." End of discussion.

Natan actually had his first experience with the notion of the army. They had to fill out some sort of questionaire back at the beginning of the year. As well, a good friend of his, who turns 17 this January (6 months before Natan), received her "Tzav Rishon," essentially, her first call. All through 11th and 12th grade, kids have to show up at different times at the local army office for the beginning of their evaluation for readyiness for the army. They won't be called until they're 18 but they need to be assessed according to physical condition and strength, special skills and general wellness socially and emotionally. Our attitude at present has been not to dwell on these matters. I tell Natan that we can't worry about this as we have bigger fish to fry right now in terms of language and getting used to Israel. It helps that Natan has his cousins to talk to about these things as well as it gets closer. Leut. Dena, as my father likes to call her, is getting out in November. She's had a good experience working in educational programming related to the Israeli gadna program which is a weeks' trial of the army, usually in 12th grade. Benjy, is a driver to the Briagdier Gen'l in charge of the West Bank. He meets many interesting people, quite high up in the army command and overall is finding the experience interesting. Adam, Dena's younger brother, goes in in March. He's heading into an elite combat unit in the Paratrooper's brigade - kind of scary. Elisheva, Benjy's younger sister, will be going in in December, to the Press Relations Dep't, a plum opportunity that she's very excited about.

Suffice to say that as liberal, pacifist, left-wing politically, Jew from NY, I am somewhat bemused by the notion of my kid in the army. I actually think that service to one's country - be it any kind of service, is an excellent notion and that most teens of today, don't ever get a chance to consider how they can give back to society or serve society as they head from high school to college and from college to grad school and from grad school to the great big corporate world. It can take a person many years into their working adulthood to suddenly realize that they need to be involved in something else, something worthwhile and differently usefull than making a living. But, living here, oh, how many miles from Lebanon, Syria and Iran, one recognizes that a standing army is a useful thing. While I wish that the world was less combative and that people actually cared about something as mundane as peace on earth and goodwill to all humankind, reality tells us otherwise. We'll have to see as this thing plays out with Natan, how he deals with the idea of army and hope that he'll find the right kind of work that is suited to both his abilities and sensibilities as a new immigrant.

Big Sky Country

It has occurred to me that I live in big sky country. I mean, it's not Montana and I've never been to Montana but I understand the notion. Once in Brooklyn, for those who may remember, they tore down the municipal parking lot at the corner of Court and Atlantic (before they built the building where the Y is). I recall walking past there and standing there dumbfoundedly because I couldn't believe the vast amount of sky that had been revealed once the debris of the building was cleared away. For a few brief weeks, Cobble Hill was big sky country and I would make sure to pass by frequently during the week so that I could take in the space and the sky. In Jerusalem, for all the density and crowding, despite the dust and the mess, there is this blue sky to admire - every day (clouds notwithstanding). The skyline is barely a skyline by big city standards - a few tall buildings break through in different spots to punctuate a particular area but for the most part buildings are low rise, the tallest building is maybe 12 or so stories.

The sky is deeply blue - a cerulean blue, I think, and it's hue is deep with a saturation value that would need some careful mixing if I was to put the color to canvas. The sky extends over the city in a vast curvalinear shape, almost like a big bowl, and it extends out to the Jerusalem hills and beyond the edges of the city limits.

Yesterday, Akiva was visited by a social worker as part of a process by the local municipality that will get him some special services (not sure yet what these are but figure it can't hurt). Her name was Michelle and she's been here since '89, from Paris. We chatted about her experiences living here and how she felt about leaving Paris. I mentioned my love for NYC and that I miss the big buildings, the scads of people, the subway, the noise, the dirt. Michelle said she loves NYC and appreciates it as she appreciates the big cityness of Paris as well. But, she added, she loves the sky here and never tires looking at it, admiring it and reveling in it's vastness.

Akiva is starting a therapeutic riding program this week or next. It seems fitting for him to mount a horse here in the "Montana of the Middle East." The only question is, where do I pick him up a pair of chaps?

Friday, October 20, 2006


Survived the week well without Ira. Phone was quiet, then again didn't make too many calls, too tired in the evening as Akiva was waking up at 5:30am and appearing all chirpy and happy in my room singing anything from his Boker Tov/good morning song from school to "Sit down John," from 1776. Boys were helpful in the morning and we survived the rush for the bus/school/ulpan well each day - Gabe was the hero as Natan moves more slowly in the morning. Boys and I cooked together - a good pot of beans and Gabe made with some help a curried veg soup. Not bad. Banana bread in the oven now in the waning moments before candle lighting - Fayanne Salzberg-Smith likes our banana bread. Actually, I should say it's my friend's Elisabeth's banana bread, via the Laurel's Kitchen cookbook. Fayanne is settling in nicely, smiling and pointing and vocalizing at everything she sees and she even let me hold her for a minute this week when she visited my house. She liked Akiva's toys. Fayanne for those who might not know is our friends Lisa and Alan's new daughter, age 22 mos, originally from China. As my ulpan teacher, Tzipi said the other day, when discussing adoption, bringing new genes into the Jewish people, especially someone as cute as Fayanne, has got to be a good thing.

Met up with Ron and Marion Stein and Daphne and Gary, visiting in J'lem in preparation for Naomi's son, Tzvi's Bar Mitzvah. Nice to see familiar faces. Directed Marion to some good eats and good shopping. I sent them to a great restaurant last night. It's in an unlikely location, in the shuk (to the side) and specializes in meats mostly but has veg offerings as well and it's not in town which is nice. Town isn't so great these days. Sort of honky tonky like and in need of some serious redevelopment. There's a big fight happening right now with regard to a plan to develop into the Jerusalem hills, normally a sacrosanct location in terms of development because of environmental reasons. There's a feeling that developing this land is terrible in terms of ridding the area of enough green space but of course, developers feel differently. Many feel that Olmert, who was J'lem's last mayor, and the current mayor (who's name escapes me), care more about developers and the related kickbacks they may receive than in preserving the land. I don't know enough about it but that J'lem is a dense and expensive place to live and many live outside of the city because of those reasons. That said, money needs to be put towards restoring the downtown so that it's not just about tourist shops. Jessica says that Tel Aviv was an unexciting place to visit less than 10 years ago, and now it's been restored and money's been put towards improving infrastucture and places like Dizengoff, once the place to shop that had fallen on hard times, have come back as places to see, shop and be seen. Jerusalem needs that kind of attention. There has been indication of that kind of resurgence with the opening of a few new clothing shops downtown - shops with goods by Tel Aviv designers who had been disinterested in J'lem clientele in the past - that's a good sign.

Back to the here and now. 4:10pm. Akiva's on my lap, the banana bread is finished and I need to sign off and clean up and get to shul. A Shabbat Shalom and good weekend to all.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Rosh Ha'ayin

My sister Sarah, as many of you know, lives in Rosh Ha'ayin. In the 1950's, Israel helped bring many Jews from North Africa, Yemen and Iraq to Israel. Israel was a young country, it needed to build it's population and many of the Jews of North Africa and the Edot Mizrach - the more Eastern areas, weren't exactly living the easiest lives in terms of political freedom. It wasn't a perfectly executed plan. Unlike the Jews of Eastern Europe, who mostly came on their own or in small groups, either before or after WWII, these Jews came as whole families or even villages to Israel. They came to a country that wasn't that sophisticated in terms of how to help them acclimate. Most of the European Jews considered themselves the intellectual elite here in Israel and looked down on the Moroccan and Iraqi Jews as barbarians and too much like their Arab brethren. They ate Middle Eastern foods and listened to Middle Eastern music. It was all too close for comfort at a time when there was no hope for peace in the region. These Middle Eastern Jews were brought to Israel and first housed in tent cities, called "ma'a'barot" and pretty much abandoned to their fates - no job training, no ulpan to learn the language, no chance to feel that they could connect in to the life here. Their only hope was that their children would become Israelis and pave the way for the parents.

I saw a movie based on the writings of one such immigrant. He moved to Israel as a teen and lived in a ma'a'barah. He was offered the chance to be "retrained" on a local kibbutz with a group of Iraqi teens. The kibbutz was completely unsympathetic to the kids having left their families, their religious observance (as the kibbutz was secular), and even in some cases, their names (the kibbutz counselors changed most of their names as the kids had arabic sounding names). Interestingly enough, the kibbutnitzkim had names like Oleg, Sonia and Itka - European names, not Hebrew names but somehow these were "kosher" in their eyes. These Jews of Sephardic and Eastern Lands ultimately made good in Israel but it took a few generations to help right some of the ills of their difficult beginnings. The later immigration of Ethiopian Jews in the 90's, was also marred by some mistakes of how to properly integrate a different socio-economic group into Israeli society but there's alot more sophistication in how to make these things happen these days. The Russians have been a different situation entirely. They were a more sophisticated group entirely in terms of education and savvy. Their immigration is felt to have been a very successful and alot of their success had to do with their ability to come in and retrain for jobs and stick together to support each other as a group. There are Russian shops, restaurants, and television stations. The Russians have been successful politically as well, something that took Sephardic Jews many more years to achieve. Ultimately, the real measure of success is when people marry within the different groups.

I digress. Rosh Ha'ayin is a place to where Yemenite Jews were taken in the 50's and pretty much left there. When Sarah and Michael and their family moved there in the early 90's, it was a very small town. Sarah's neighborhood, Givat Ha'sla'im, was one of the first of a bunch of new neighborhoods being built as part of the Rosh Ha'ayin municipality. In those days, Rosh Ha'ayin looked like nobody had paid attention to it in years. The infrastructure, such as it was, was minimal - simple streets, almost no traffic lights, few shops and a general run down feeling. Part of this was cultural - people were used to it being that way. There's a certain for lack of a better way of putting it, white trash nature, to Rosh Ha'ayin. The older crowd built simple, boxy houses as they moved out of their tents. Most people built their own homes although there are also simple kinds of government apartment buildings in the older neighborhoods. As people moved up in the world and wished to upgrade their houses, they either added on wings, or just build a new house a few feet away from the old one, abandoning it and whatever else that was deemed old and in the way, sort of like a trailer park in a not so good part of town. Their children, as they married, moved a few blocks away and built houses that are newer and more sophisticated but the architecture tends to be flighty and fancifull and with many of the flourishes that one notices in Arab houses in Arab neighborhoods - decorative porches and flat roofs with cut outs and curvalinear shapes that Jews from Eastern Europe just don't do. As Sarah says, not unkindly, "they're Arabs."

Sarah has been singing in the Rosh Ha'ayin choir for more than 12 years. She is the only white person in it. Her choir members are proud of her. She's learned to sing in Yemenite and to ululate with the best of them but the one thing they don't trust her with is cooking. Now understand that my sister is an excellent cook, perhaps not as daringly original as her younger sister...anyway, once a month, the altiot (altos) eat dinner together. The menu never varies - fresh veggies and parsley, green onion and lemons for adding to your soup. There is lachuch which is like a yeasted pancake, and pitot and other Yemenite breads. (Yemenites make the best Everyone gets a deep, soup bowl filled with Yemenite soup (chicken soup with spices) and hilbeh, fenugreek paste and schug, a spicy, green condiment. Aseed - a semolina flour mixture is made right before you eat it and it goes into the soup but Sarah finds that it leaves her cold - "sort of like thick baby cereal in your soup." In your soup you get chicken, potato and aseed and then you squirt lemon and hilbeh and schug if desired and you eat your soup and chomp on your greens while eating. After the soup, you eat ja'a'leh which is all kinds of dried fruit and nuts. Sometimes the younger ladies will serve a sweet carrot salad or even a cooked kind of compote which the ladies acknowledge is somewhat Ashkenazic in style and that their mothers wouldn't have done it. Tea and coffee is served as well as some cookies and cake at the very end but again, that's less traditional, however, at this point the Yemenite community has lived in Israel for about 50 years and has coopted some of the local traditions for cake with tea by this point.

Sarah says that she had no idea what it would really be like to live in a Yemenite town when they moved here. It was a brand new neighborhood, complete with local shopping and ganim (kindergartens) but when it came time for regular school, her children ended up in local, religious schools with Yemenite classmates. They all have a mean yemenite "khet" and throaty "ayin" sound to their hebrew when they wish to put it on. What was harder was the close mindedness of the Yemenite community. Sarah said that the choir members welcomed her and she's been to a billion bar mitzvah's, weddings (the weddings are all huge, 900 people easily), and even funerals but she's not close friends with anybody. She loves singing in the choir, loves that the music is different than the average, Israeli choir and loves what she's learned from living cheek by jowl to such a culturally rich and diverse community.

The best things about living in a Yemenite community are the foods, specfically the breads. The foods are not that fancy, indeed it wasn't such a well to do community but they had flour and they made breads - kubaneh, a special Shabbat morning bread to eat after shul (meaning shul's over by 10:30am and you need a meal), melawach, a richer flatbread, and lachuch which I liken to a pancake not disimiliar to injera the Ethiopian bread, jach'noon, a rich, multilayered bread that's rolled and shaped into long rolls and baked, and f'toot, another yummy bread like object also eated in soup and there's even a Passover variety of it. Many of the breads are eaten with certain standard accompaniments - grated tomato, schug and a warm, hard-boiled egg, preferably brown colored (meaning the egg was boiled or baked with onion skins are something else that renders it dark). Melawach is used to make fabulous but indigestible sandwiches. Last Friday we ate them in the Rosh Ha'ayin shuk - Humous, schug, sliced egg, red stuff of some variety, perhaps some veggies but I can't remember exactly, all rolled up in to a hot, fresh, melawach. One follows such a sandwich with coffee, preferably turkish which is always strong, somewhat muddy in texture and somewhat sweet. Anything that can plow through the plumbing. A little Fernet Branca would probably do the trick.

The Rosh Ha'ayin shuk is my favorite. At the Rosh Ha'ayin shuk, you can get anything from underwear to radishes. We always work our way through the shuk, starting with the dry goods section - socks, undies, clothes, seconds of all sort of interesting clothing made in Israel, perfumes, fake Croc shoes in all colors. The middle of the shuk yields the food booths - the aforementioned Yemenite treats, basic felafel, candy booths, drinks and bourekas (filo dough savory pastries). Moving on to the other side, one can find produce, fresh bread for Shabbat, cakes and cookies and some prepared foods, mainly of the stuffed, filled and fried variety.

We immediately score some hits - socks, cheap pajama bottoms for 20nis or a little less than $5. Jessica is looking for Crocs for Aidan - they find fun emerald green ones for 30nis. I find camoflage painted Crocs for Natan and Gabe. Ira tries them on to determine size - the ones that are too big for him are for Natan and the too small for Gabe. We pick up some presents for Ira to bring to the US on his upcoming trip. By this point, we are deeply tired, not to mention hungry, desperately so. We breakfast - Sarah has kubanah which we all nibble on and the rest of us scarf down melawach. Daniel opts out of "harif," spicy sauce but the rest of us forge on and are surprised that it isn't that spicy. We wonder if we were given less spicy stuff given our white skin and delicate nature - "I have an order of 4 melawach for those white guys over there in the corner - they say they want harif....ha," we imagine the waiter saying this when she gives the order in to the sandwich maker. Replete, we stagger over to look at makeup - Shiseido compacts and name brand face products - who knows how old, who cares? Ira, Sarah and I have had enough and we head home.

Ira, the kids and I head back to Jerusalem at about 12:30pm. We barely make the cutoff for last minute pickup of food before everything closes. We make a quick run for Ma'a'danei Tzidkiyahu - assorted salads, plain and pickled, decent smoked salmon, some fried objects, a piece of cheese, a good bread (it's the last loaf and it looks like it was earmarked for one of the guys behind the counter but he graciously offers it up to us). We find one of the remaining Jerusalem Posts - always critical to have the Post and Ha'aretz on the weekend - and get a few last things at the over priced grocery on Emek Refaim. Fruit, veggies, some cookies, a bit of beer and a few more last purchases to see us through Simchat Torah. We head home to Akiva's Bayit house to get ready for Shabbat.


The Yoreh has come. Today, I got into the car and as I was driving up to Ramah Rachel for an early swim - yes, I could have walked - I noticed something odd on the windshield. I heard a sound of pitter, patter. Could it be? It was. It was rain. Just a bit of rain but actual rain droplets on the windowshield. I didn't need the wipers. As I stepped out of the car, I felt the rain gently falling on me. The air smelled wet and there was an earthiness to the aroma. I put my things down in the women's locker room and walked out onto the pool deck and it was really raining. There seemed to be no concern as to swimming in the rain - the lifeguard had put on a sweatshirt but that seemed to be his only concession to the weather. Locals passing by the pool area commented on the loveliness of the smell and how wonderful the rain felt. I swam my laps and reveled in the wetness surrounding me. It was alternately cloudy and sunny and by the time I had gotten out the Yoreh - the first rain, had long since stopped but we all felt a little blessed by it. My ulpan teacher, Tzipi, says that the verb "L'hit'gashem," to rain, not only refers to the water falling but also can be used metaphorically as if to describe something unbelievable or dreamlike which is how people feel here about rain. Considering that it last probably rained here in April or perhaps, early May, it is just about miraculous that the rain arrives again in the fall. I guess that's why there is a word to describe that wonderful first rainfall. And to think, we just said the prayer for rain yesterday in synagogue.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Sleeping in the Sukkah

Family day on Thursday. Beach on the edge of the Tel Aviv area - really more towards Herziliya area. It was HOT, hamsin hot - meaning hot and dry. We went late as who can bear to be out there baking earlier. The water was quite warm. That is to say it was warmer than I would ever imagine the Atlantic to be, even in early September when it's about as warm as it's going to get. We floated, splashed and swam until our eyes were red with the saltiness. I find the Med to be saltier than the Atlantic and wonder why this is. Akiva enjoyed himself as did the boys, until Natan sliced his foot on a sharp piece of shell. The medic in the first aid room was nonplussed as Natan dripped blood all over his clean floor. He informed us that stuff happens daily and that this cut was not a big deal. Natan is fine and healing nicely although walking a bit oddly as the cut was on his big toe. Jess and Daniel were there with their 2 girls and Sarah and Noam, Miriam and Peretz (Daniel's sister and brother in law) and their 23 year old son, Eliav, out of the army a year and starting University this fall and a family that are close buddies of Daniel, Arielle and Chaim and their 4 kids, ranging in age from 11 down. When the sun sank behind the sea - a beautiful sight, we headed back to Sarah's, where Michael had already fired up the barbie and was in the process of roasting various flesh foods. Joanthan and Barabara joined us with their 4. Everyone had made side salads and other contributions to the meal and we sat and ate and chatted. Beer rounded it all out just fine.

Natan wants to understand the focus on barbecue in this country. If you've ever been to Israel on Israel Independence Day you would know what I mean. There is literally a haze over the country from everyone barbecuing. Israelis love barbecuing. Daniel was shocked that Ira and I didn't ship a grill. Why wouldn't we want to join the fun? We barbecued on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashana. Why not? You can cook on the holiday, why not grill? I've suggested to Natan that we just go with it. Barbecue means good potato salad and that's always a good thing.

After dinner, we set up the sleeping arrangements. Jess and I were both sleeping over at Sarah's for the night. Sarah and Michael live in a 90sq meter apartment or about 1000 sq ft. It is not a big place but we like to say that it expands with ease. Everyone always finds a bed and always gets fed and entertained well. Jess and Daniel took one room and their girls took another room. Natan and Akiva shared the pullout sofa and Noam, Gabe, Ira and I, the sukkah. Their sukkah is a pleasant size and they have comfortable mattresses that we laid out sort of "family bed style." It was great. The weather had cooled down, the street construction that's been going on during the night because it's Ramadan and the workers work at night when they're not fasting, wasn't going on, the air was fresh and fragrant and Gabe wasn't snoring too much. I digress (I am know to snore as well but that's immaterial). Ira and I did well until about 5:30am when the street got a bit noisier and Ira started to sneeze from the flowers and the mattress got a bit too hard and we slept for the next hour or so in the two easy chairs in the living room - heaven.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Visting a Real City

Went to a big city yesterday. It's funny. We live in Jerusalem, which while not as big comparably to NYC of course, is a busy, grubby, crowded city. The streets are narrow and windy - there are no expansive avenues. As Natan put it, Jerusalem streets feel like they were designed originally for donkey carts. The bus system is vast and busy but there's no trains yet - light rail is being built with the expectation of it being in use in 2-3 years. Busses close up shop here at around midnight. This is a real comedown in life for us. Another shocker is no bus maps, at least we haven't found one yet. You have to get to "know" your local busses over time - sort of like the bank "getting to know you," in order to get a credit card. There are lots of shops and cafes but few 24/7 operations. When you have those late night munchies, you have to know where to go.

SoTuesday, we went to Tel Aviv. TA is a real city, with big streets (albeit with center medians replete with plants and treets and some,) and if you're really lucky, have an espresso joint on the corner. There were lots of people walking around and they had that "Je ne sais quoi" of city people worldwide - can't even explain it, they just looked better, more sharply dressed (anyting tho will beat some of the shlumpy, dressed up, religious crowd around these parts in J'lem). Interestingly enough, despite the big city air of Tel Aviv, the tall buildings (real skyscrapers, albeit spread apart across the skyline), people on the move, there is also the beach aspect of the city. It is a city built on sand and no matter where you are, the beach is never far away. The weather is hot and to our Jerusalem bodies, it felt much more humid and much hotter than what we are accustomed to of late but like New York, people walk around in all states of dress and undress, perhaps even more so because of that beach thing. We walked on the "tayelet," the boardwalk along the ocean. This of course, led to people wanting to be on the sand, which ultimately led to people wanting to be in the water but we found changing areas and indulged those needy swimmers, Akiva being most enthusiastic upon seeing the sand, sea and surf. Bathing suit styles range from small to micro, and often underwear, regardless of how seethru, will do just fine (and I'm not just talking about babies in states of undress). Like Europe, the bikini reigns but I find the sight of women of all ages in bikinis, regardless of shape, to be heartwarming and I mean that.

We spent some time earlier in the day looking at pianos. Contrary to what Ralph K and I thought before we left, Israel is a small country and nobody has owned up to piano rental as opposed to purchase. Natan and I are getting to know the different makes of pianos, mostly European, although one can find Yamaha and Kwai as well but the European pianos are quite good and we went to a place that had alot of beautiful, older, restored pianos. Piano shopping was followed by food as food is always the antidote to the exhaustion of spending money or even just preparing to spend money. As usual, coffee was necessary and sandwiches and pizza for those who felt that pizza was important. We ate sitting on the boardwalk, in the small area of shade that we found.

We drove home feeling content. We had been in a city. I was slightly depressed to remind myself that for all of the dirt and grime that makes Jerusalem comfortable for me, Tel Aviv is much more what I am accustomed to. What can you do? At least I'm not in New Jersey (with apologies to all of you suburbanites).

Monday, October 09, 2006

Moshav Band

Last night, we went to a concert - Ira and I, Jessica and Daniel and Miriam and Peretz (Daniel's sister and brother in law). We went to see the Moshav Band (with warm up by Makor - some up and coming group that has members related to Moshav Band guys). We arrived and wondered why the parking lot was so empty - we were a bit early, having eaten dinner out and the service was lousy (but the humous was excellent and different - it was Turkish humous, very creamy with a pleasant beany quality) and we figured we'd have coffee at the bar before they opened the doors. The concert started at 9:45pm but of course, The MoshavB didn't come out until about 11:00pm and that was late for us old people but we hung in gamely. There were people milling about - or should I say, there were children milling about. We gladly noted a few older types and then realized that they seemed to be chaperones of the younger crowd. Actually, that's not completely true but certainly if this crowd of concertgoers drives, they either don't have cars in Israel or are still in school/army or who knows what. We waited to pick up our tix behind a couple of young, religious guys who were querying the box office person, "hey dude, do you have more tickets?" The crowd was also unabashedly English speaking. Given our advanced age, we monitored the seating situation carefully and moved in quickly for seats when the doors opened. We were comfy, except for the continual ebb and flow of young things back and forth in the row the entire evening - is it that they all pee in groups or that they all have to pee alot or what is going on in the bathroom? Ok, let's not go there.

The Moshav Band was great. They are a band that has gone through alot of changes and developments over the years. They started out as a band with religous themed music, mostly in hebrew. Three of the main guys are all from english speaking homes but have grown up in Israel. Their music has a reggae feel alot of the time as well and the lead singer has a great voice with fabulous range and he does great scatlike stuff in hebrew and arabic. The drummer was a woman which was so cool and she was excellent. They did alot of cuts from their newest release and most of it is in english and while the themes are still often jewish, the music no longer has that jewish sound - sharp rock sound, lots of reggae and rap like stuff, always well executed instrumentally. They'll be touring in the US with Matisyahu, the reggae, Hasidic singer. Check it out.

Vacation days. The kids are all off. Akiva had school yesterday and today and his teacher reported that he sang lots of Sukkot songs in school. The big boys have been sleeping in and enjoying the relaxation. Gabe had a baseball clinic today which he enjoyed and he and Ira biked back and forth which was adventurous but not that bad - it's all a matter of figuring out the hills and getting onto the sidewalk when the roads are too narrow and traffic too busy. Natan and I went for a swim at Ramat Rachel. Tomorrow, we're off to Tel Aviv for the day.

Moadaim l'simcha to all enjoying Sukkot.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Holiday Prep

People walk the streets carrying palm fronds - these are not your average palm fronds, these are fronds from an actual palm tree. They are about 10 feet long and one shlepps them in order to use them to cover your Sukkah. I think of all of the different types of schach (sukkah cover) that I've used - Virginia, I don't remember, I'll have to ask my parents, Long Island - cattails and Brooklyn - evergreens and cedar branches ($20 a bundle, I think, as opposed to 6nis each or about $1 and change). Our Sukkah looks nice and familiar with our Bklyn decorations. Max, Natan's friend, when he saw an early webshot of the Sukkah wondered where was Saturn (a hanging deco version of the planet) and I can happily report that Saturn is hanging.

Ira bargained on his lulav and etrog and proudly bought two sets for us - he was pleased with his work. I read in the newspaper that there was a shortage of palms for lulavim and the gov't made sure to import more and now there's a surplus and some will go unused.

So as not to disapoint Jay Brodsky, I can report that we bought lots of good things to eat today in the shuk - cookies and breads at the healthy bakery, fresh figs, plums, various greenery and watermelon, some salads and our current favorite eggplant salad (no mayo with veggies and nice and burned tasting). We also got some roasted nuts and stuff as well as some special finds like hilbeh (fenugreek paste) and spicy peppers from this guy that I found a few weeks ago and some sort of pickled garlic from this old, cute, fat guy who was delighted that we liked it. I did manage to buy a cute tunic sort of thing - just 50nis (can't pass that up) and we also bought a bottle of hootch as we're totally out of scotch. It's a noname single malt but I imagine it will do the trick.

Shabbat starts early this week but managed to get Akiva to the pool for a quick dip with Jess this afternoon. It's hot today. Gabe went with my parents to sister Sarah for yomtov/shabbat and he'll return on Sunday. We're looking forward to a nice Sukkot vacation - no ulpan and no school until the Monday after next.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Israel. The land where you discover that you are no longer 25. Example - sitting in Ulpan today, we were asked to break into pairs and read an article from the newspaper and discuss it with our pair. I sit with a cute boy of indeterminately young years and we read an article about the Israeli ambassador to Norway. Mostly, we chat about where we each are from - Brooklyn for me and he's from the Upper West Side. I, of course want to know exact street address and so forth. Someone sitting in back of us (another young thing who made aliyah from Poughkeepsie and just graduated college) hears us discussing Camp Ramah (he went to Berkshires for a few summers). I ask him, almost fearing the answer, "how old are you?" He's not even 19, which really means that he's really 18 and 19 could still be quite far off. Ah, I say - where did you go to school? He just graduated from Heschel, he knows Becky Katz (Kane Street kid). There you have it - I am now meeting the children of friends of mine traveling on their own in Israel. His name is Jacob for all who'd like to know more (yes, he knows Jacob K - "right, that kid who transferred in last year from somewhere," - "France," I reminded him). He's taking a year off before college and was curious to know how I feel about Israel so far and how I feel about leaving NYC. We talk about missing the subway (which I do, desperately) and missing the grit and grime, although we grant that there's plenty of dust and dirt here in Jerusalem. He clearly feels that NYC is the place to be and wonders how Natan (once I tell him about Natan) is doing in school in terms of adjusting - "he must hate it," he says and I am quick to tell him that he doesn't hate it but is working hard to adjust and at least we've found him alot of things that are important to him to do after school - choral singing, acting, piano...

Actually, it's great how many young olim I have met. Many people take the leap and move here right after college or grad school. That's a great time to come. If they find work, make connections and develop a sense of community, then hopefully they'll be successful in their moves. The hard thing is those who move with little or no family. I can say that having family around is tremendously beneficial. Granted, I have more than most.

Akiva came home with a special gift from school before Yom Kippur - a little wooden apple on a stand with a tiny jar of honey. He also received a commendation - Excellent Student, it said. His hard work of the last month was noted - learning and remembering many new words in Hebrew. Ira stopped by the school yesterday and they spoke with great pleasure of how well he's doing and how they can't get over how rapidly he's aquiring language. He got off the bus today and asked Ira, "mah shlom'cha?" how are you doing? Akiva, when asked this question, says "be'seder," fine. Pretty cool.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Biking Day

For those of you who may be concerned that Jerusalem is a very religious town, you should have been here for Yom Kippur. Interestingly enough, there is no car use in this country on YK - at all. From sundown to sundown, cars are for the most part absent on Israeli roads. Even the busiest thoroughfares in our 'hood, like Derekh Hevron and Pierre Koenig and Emek Refaim, were devoid of car traffic. (I did see a stray motorcycle and late on YK day, the occasional car). The roads were full, though - walkers, strollers, bikers, roller bladers and skateboarders. The days before YK are generally the busiest in the country for bike purchases. Every kid spends the day out on the roads with their bike. Israelis have taken to biking in recent years and they appear to have the same love affair with the stuff that Americans do. Israelis in bike shorts, complete with Camelbacks, bars and goo to eat if they need some carbs. They are even wearing helmets too altho most do not.

Sunday night, on the way back home from Kol Nidre at Shira Hadasha (a woman did KN which was really nice), we walked on Emek Refaim and greeted people that we knew. Even Natan and Gabe met a few aquaintances from school, including Gabe's homeroom teacher, Irena. He was polite. We strolled, chatted and laughed - there was a holiday atmosphere to the evening, a giddiness brought on by lack of water (naw, we were all still sated from dinner) and the lack of vehicular traffic. We reached tzomet ha'bank'im - the bank junction (literally, a busy corner at Derekh Hevron and Rivka Sts that used to have 3 banks but now only has one but another is due to open in a month or so) and were stunned by all the pedestrians boldly walking on Derekh Hevron, a 6 lane thoroughfare (the two middle lanes are for busses and taxis) that is always busy. We pushed Akiva through the throngs of people and came home and went to bed - what else does one do on YK eve?

YK day went well. The day was short - the fast ended at 6:00pm!!!! That's because they changed the clocks on Saturday night. No one should have to fast for to long a time but to us it was short in comparison to NYC fast times. We spent the day at Ma'ya'not which was ok. Ira snagged himself a last minute davening/leading gig of YK Minhah service. For those of you snickering, I suggest you calm down immediately. He said it was odd to lead at a different place than Kane St but it went well and that was good. The person who was supposed to lead is not a good faster and tends to late day migraines and was grateful for Ira to stand in.

Break fast with Jess and her niece and nephew, Noa and Adin. We had a nice meal and it was good to relax in that post fast sort of way where all is well with the world now that we can all eat again.