Just Put it in Context

I would prefer not to use this forum as a way to gripe. Because I’m really very happy here and have been exceptionally lucky with the lack of  bureaucratic or scheduling snafus up until today. And, as is the habit of my life for everything to happen simultaneously, today was my day. May I just briefly outline what it is like to try to get into a new apartment when you speak only a few words of Hebrew? Thank you. I shall be brief:

1.  CABLE/INTERNET:  Your choices of cable are either YES or HOT. I stupidly chose HOT. I thought it would be funny to be able to say that I was waiting for the “Hot Cable Guy.” Joke’s on me. HOT ain’t so hot. Yesterday’s appointment was a bust (no infrastructure in the building they said). Today I waited 4 hours only to be told that the building WAS wired, but for YES (satellite), not HOT (cable).  I’d have to wait another 2 weeks while they wired the entire building. I don’t think so. I downgraded HOT to COLD and cancelled my order with them. I think I did it right. But I think I forgot to cancel the Internet, which is a separate company from the Cable (called “HOT INTERNET”). I shall see.

Next, called YES. They were thrilled that I dropped HOT. But couldn’t help me because there still is no street number given to the building that I’ll be moving in to. Well, I said boldly, that shouldn’t be a problem because there are 4 other families living in the building and I’ve been told that they are all with YES. Not to mention that HOT had no trouble sending anyone to my apartment. Twice. The answer? I should go knock on my neighbors’ doors and ask for their telephone numbers and YES account numbers. Yup. Right there in the Israeli version of How To Make Friends and Influence People. Sure beats baking brownies. I don’t think so.

I’ll call again tomorrow. Maybe I should forget about YES and HOT and look for MAYBE. That seems more my speed.

2.  ELECTRICITY: “Heshmole.”  Noun. Something that you are promised by your landlord, but whose promise is as invisible as the electricity. Equally invisible in English or in Hebrew.

You need something called a Tofes Arbah (Form 4) to get electricity into a building,  allowing the electricity to come in legally. We’re still waiting for it. Did I mention that there were 4 families already  living there? From whence does their Heshmole come? you might ask. Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Seriously.
3. AIR CONDITIONING: Noun. Something you absolutely must have in order to survive an afternoon of 43′ C (114′ F) weather.  Note: Without Heshmole there is no Air Conditioning, unless you consider sticking your head in the freezer for relief an acceptable substitute. (c.f. #2 and lack therefore).  Hmmm. That would mean another trip to Aroma coffee shop for a 17-shekel frozen iced coffee as the only viable alternative. No wonder they are making money hand over fist.

4. CLEANING WOMAN. I can’t even ascribe the term “noun” to this. Not sure how you define someone who takes 4 hours to clean 4 windows, using the same dirty water on all of them, managing to take them out of the window sill (and leaving you to go home without telling you she didn’t know how to put them back in), wiping down a counter (same dirty rag), and not being able to wash the floor because there wasn’t enough time. Truly. My apartment is not that big.

5. WATER: “Mayim.” Noun. Something Israel doesn’t have a lot of, however, there is enough so that you don’t wash windows with water so dirty that you can’t see through it. HOT WATER is another entry, but I can’t go into that since I don’t have Heshmole and I’ve been told by the Air Conditioning guys that if I turn on the switch that heats the water,  the Hot Water Heater will explode. Hmmm. Tempting prospect. Of course, I could rely on the solar-heated water. But you need nine families in the building before it works (how does the sun know how many people are living at the corner of Gilboa and Begin?????). And of course, you need piping in the kitchen sink to be connected to allow for the mayim to travel forth freely with great cold gusto! That won’t happen in my kitchen or in my shower (lack of shower knob) for some time. I won’t hold my breath. There’s no hot water where I’ve been living the past few weeks anyway, but it’s so hot that a cold shower actually feels rather refreshing!

. . . and finally

6. ELECTRICAL PLUG PLACEMENT. Again, no part of speech can quite define this. Obviously, it is counter-intuitive to think that an electrical outlet should be placed within proximity to the electrical appliance. Case in point: My oven and cook top (two separate items). Only one outlet. Not even directly underneath where the cook top should be—it is on the wall (a “10” for effort), but is on the other side of the wall that separates the lower cabinets. Which means, they’ll have to drill a hole through the cabinets to plug things in. Which we’re not in any hurry to do, nor can we do if the worker has an electric drill because . . . all together now. . . :

We don’t have any HESHMOLE.

Did I mention that I can’t call my landlord because his cell phone broke and it will take 3 days to get it fixed? I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

No. Scratch that. I’d rather wait.

 

 

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Phew! Glad it’s almost Shabbas!

I’m beginning to really understand what it means to look forward to Shabbas.  It is an entirely different experience here, regardless of one’s level of observance. These past days have been particularly introspective and special (all meals are dairy), as one prepares for  Tisha B’Av. The city seems a bit quieter, the radio is filled with mournful tunes.There have been no outings for the kids here, despite the incredible heat. The impending holiday seems omnipresent.

During the past few days,  however, I’ve been in the midst of a whirlwind of activity.  A trip to Hadera to visit a home for severely challenged adults was a wake-up call for the immense dignity shown by  Israel  for its less fortunate adults. I simply never considered the existence of such a place. We live in such a sanitized and white-washed world. The center was home to perhaps 100 adults, ranging from 24 to 84. When we arrived, there was a magician holding his audience in rapt attention. The residents were warm and eager to welcome strangers with a warm and sincere hug.  As you walked around, you saw that, despite the very basic surroundings and facilities, everything was clean and kept up. The residents were so obviously well cared for. It is my understanding from this experience, and from the explanations of others, that one of the things Israel can be very proud of is the respect and attention it gives to this population, to those who aren’t able to take care of their own basic needs. In all, a rather sobering experience.

This was followed by a trip to Jerusalem and a much sought-after opportunity to meet the women in the British Emunah  headquarters. As you might imagine, the offices bustled with activity and purpose. These are women who have dedicated a great deal of their life to the care of at-risk children in Israel via the different Emunah centers. It is an important reminder: don’t ever fail to appreciate the benefits of having a purpose in life. Existence is one thing Purpose is quite another. The work is energizing (or energising, as the British would spell it) and the women know that all their time and effort result in bettering the lives of children, most of whom they’ll never even meet.

– – – – – – – –

Back in quiet old Afula, we’ve said goodbye to two more very sweet young volunteers: Ezra from Rhode Island, and Eliana from London. Like Seth Bader, who left last week, these kids have dedicated a good part of their summer vacation to living with the kids, “winging it” with the very flexible schedule, and finding ways to overcome any language barrier, although Ezra and Eliana were quite fluent. Notice to communities are reading this blog: Contact me now to organize who this opportunity can be made available to your children. I can assure you they will remember it for their entire lives!).

I enjoyed the company of these two, spirited young adults and made sure to see them off while waiting for the bus to their next destination. As soon as they left, and I turned to walk back to my room, I realized with a great deal of profundity how much I miss my own children, Max and Zoe. I’ve been guarding my feelings and putting off thinking about their absence for quite a while now.  I must admit how wonderful it would be to sit around a table with some cold water and other simple pleasures, and just laugh about the day. I want to share this with them. I want them to share their daily adventures with me.  And I realize, once again, how fortunate I am. Although circumstances brought me here to work and technology allows me to speak with them daily, it’s still a far cry from what the children here at the Center have. While these children have at least one parent, they don’t have a choice in being separated from their parents. Their presence here is based on hard realities: safety, three meals a day, school every day, and consistent, gentle kindness. Things that our children take for granted. And so, Max and Zoe, if I write about my time and attention to other children on these pages, I want to reiterate that they are not replacements for my love for you. Quite conversely, I realize how important and profound our sense of family is and I ache for these children that just don’t know it to the extent that we take for granted. So you will forgive me if I extend myself to these incredible children here who are just trying to snatch up a gentle pat on the shoulder, a little tickle on the belly, and an occasional hug. If I didn’t know how wonderful it felt to hold my own children, I wouldn’t be able to reach out to these children. Thank you both for sharing me. I know it comes at a great cost to you.

Ezra and Eliana posing with Kelev Gadol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK. I needed a moment there. All better now.

So . . . going forward, I’ll busy myself with work at the Center, seeking out a workable and affordable non-profit donor software program, researching the different grants we could apply for, and  think ahead to when my own kids will  come to visit  (during winter break). We are making progress. My appliances were delivered yesterday (I got my keys to the apartment!!!) and then realized we couldn’t plug in the oven because there was only one electrical socket in the back of the cabinet (I need two; one for the oven, one for the cooktop). And of course, there is presently no place for the plugs to go through the new cabinet walls into the plug, even if there two sockets! When the delivery man made a motion to indicate  he’d snip off the end of one of the plug to jerry-rig  a split, I went into a wild (though utterly internalized) panic. I momentarily pictured blowing up the apartment and my new appliances in one fell swoop the first time I  plugged in the oven. “Lo, Lo, bevakasha,” I said, hiding my panic and worry that I might insult the electrical prowess of the delivery man.  I’ll call the landlord and get this fixed, I mimed in my best Israeli Charades performance. Of course, all this moving and negotiating was done by the tiny light of my iPhone’s trusty flashlight, as there isn’t any dedicated electricity in the apartment yet, and added to the fact that the appliances were delivered at 8:30 pm. I’ve got to tell you. By the time Rocco and I got back to my “moadon” (little classroom dwelling) at the Center, we were literally bathed in the humidity. (I won’t even go into the effort it took to get Rocco to walk into the tiny Israeli elevator and see the panic on his face as the door closed, shutting us into a port-a-potty size elevator —thought extremely elegant, modern, and with colored touch-sensitive controls). I let him loose in the apartment to get the lay of the land. When he walked out, he left behind him giant white paw prints  (like a Goliaht-sized Easter bunny) from stepping in the plaster dust. A new twist on Hansel and Gretel and the breadcrumbs, I do believe.

Thursday is shuk day (so is Monday, but this is Friday, so I’m telling you about yesterday). The shuk is about a mile walk from the Center (and much less from my new apartment).  It is a collection of scores of vendors under one large, open roof, located on the outskirts of the town. By 8:00 a.m. the heat and humidity were fierce (probalby at least 85 degrees + humidity), but Rocco and I trudged on, regardless. I had heard that it was vegetarian heaven, and I needed to see it to believe it. . .  I saw it, and couldn’t believe it. I realized I was laughing with delight at the abundance of stands in the midst of setting up their fruits and vegetables. Olives of every kind were piled next to one another, looking very much like a palette filled with glistening colors in brown, green, and black squishes of fresh paint. And the aroma from them and that of the spice vendor was absolutely inspirational. Dates, figs, fresh pita, melons, white peaches, huge and sweet grapes, fresh herbs whose smell directed you to them with far more clarity than a Google map, abounded. I do believe I could buy a week’s worth of basics there for between 50 and 80 shekels (less than $20).  And if you listened carefully through the shouts of the vendors, the haggling for lower prices in Hebrew and Russian, you could hear those ever-present words, “Wow! Kelev Gadol!”

I know where I will be each Thursday morning at 9:00 am!

Kelev Gadol models his mom’s new straw hat. Note his new, yellow, squeak tennis ball that he proudly guards. All in all, a rather happy Rocco!

 

And lastly, seen trying to travel inconspicuously during his much-awaited trip to Afula is the Geico Gecko. He was kind enough to pause for a brief photo before scurrying away to visit his Israeli family.  Shabbat Shalom to you all!

The Geico Gecko stops for a quick photo before scurrying off to visit friends and family.

Forget the Big Box Store, Buy from the Local Kibbutz!

I gave in. I couldn’t deal with the shopping around and trying to compare apples to watermelons any more. I needed to find the appliances for my apartment and have that checked off my major “honey-do” list (I’ve taken to calling myself “honey” lately, so I don’t feel that I have to do all the errands myself. I  just split them up and put some on the “honey-do” list. It’s much less anxiety-provoking that way!)

These appliances are for my new apartment that still doesn’t have running water or electricity. But it does have an elevator that works (Yee Hah!) and I noticed there were finally mailboxes, already stuffed with junk mail from the local restaurants. And the rooms all have doors on them. At some point this week, there should be air conditioning. We. Are. Making. Progress.

I met a new friend who has moved to the area and he shared that if you go to the local Kibbutz (Kibbutz Mitzree), you can buy the appliances at a cheaper price than those at the local stores (I’d been to two others to try to compare. Not possible. Don’t try it. No two stores carry the exact same products). And as I had been warned to stay away from machines made in Turkey, I found the supply of possibilities dwindling. But finally, I just couldn’t take the time suck anymore. So we drove to the kibbutz where I was astonished to find a warehouse filled with rows and rows of every kind of appliance. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. It was better! And so, my guide/salesman, Chaim, and I roamed the crowded aisles as I asked about point of origin for all the bizarre, new machines I saw, and asked him the question I always ask a salesperson when I know I am out of my element: “If I was your mother, what would you tell me to buy.” Damn! They hate that question! You can see them calculate the loss of sales commission in their heads. So, as long as I could see the energy-efficiency ratings, and the instructions were simple and not in Chinese (or Turkish), I figured, what the heck. And so, I am now the soon-to-be owner of a new refrigerator (made in Israel . . . I heard they were the best and knew how to deal with the heat of an Israeli apartment), a new oven (made by Bloomberg— how nice of him to take time from being mayor of New York to make my oven!), washing machine (Westing House! 7 kilos! Oy! I can get as dirty as I want now!), and a TV (a Phillips, flat screen!). If all goes well, these will be shipped to my apartment, the one that is still  at the corner of Begin and Gilboa but, as of yet, has no number on the building.  No worries! I will just stand outside the building the day the shipment comes and wear my NYU baseball cap, or something else obviously “American,” and they’ll know where to stop the truck.

At least this is what I think happened at the kibbutz. To tell you the truth, I had to do the entire transaction in French. I imagine that when I left, the sales man doubled over with laughter at many of my faux-pas, since I’ve spoken more French in the past 3 weeks than I have in 20 years! But we shall see. If they deliver a dishwasher, exercise machine, stand-alone freezer, and deluxe juice maker, then I know I need to go back to school and review my vocabulary. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. I’d better put on my NYU cap. Just to get ready.

—————————–

A Jerusalem Update: Rocco and I had a most wonderful time in Jerusalem. His days there was well spent, chasing city cats (as compared to the most suburban cats of Afula), smelling more wondrous detritus, and lounging on my friend Jill’s terrace in the cool Jerusalem evening air.

While there, I spent a beautiful afternoon at my friend Benny and Rivka Dorfman’s home (together they total 176 years of age and have been married for 67 years). We met years ago while working on a book (Benny and Rivka have more than 32,000 photographs of old synagogues throughout Eastern Europe and have been getting their photo archive updated) and have remained dear friends since. Benny is also passionate about his garden, and I left with my arms full of exotic cuttings from his garden. His plan is that I should begin my life here in Israel with a direction connection to him and Rivka and their love of plants and all things of simple beauty. The cuttings are now brightening up my temporary kitchen counter as they each have a new “home” in plastic soda and water bottles. Now all I need are roots, planters, dirt, and some rocks to put on top of the dirt to hold in the moisture, and there will be greenery on the seventh floor of Begin and Gilboa. Actually, I’m rather excited about it. Like me, these shoots are transplants. A little out of place. A little fragile, but the product of a strong home base. With some good attention, patience to ups and downs and a new environment, they have every chance of thriving and growing.

Oleander, Donkey’s Tail, Peppermint, Spider Plant, and a variety of other beauties hold the potential of my new, beautiful terrace garden.

The bus trip back was as slapstick as was the trip from Afula. Rocco’s terror of the escalators has abated a little. Nothing like immersion therapy (meaning 3 flights of escalators) to habituate him to what must be an extremely odd sensation to a dog. After getting onto the bus without much mishap or tripping (me, not him), we shared a challah and Camembert sandwich, he put his head down, and collapsed in new exhaustion.

A pooped poodle rests in his mom’s lap after a long weekend in Jerusalem.

The ride back was as beautiful as the ride there. The road cut through groves, fields of hay, and rolling hills, some actually making me think of previous trips to the Berkshires.  Other spots were mini-forests of pine trees, with small, white cities gleaming on the distant hilltops. As with every trip to Jerusalem, I felt as if I had been thrown back in time. It is impossible to walk those streets and not contemplate the history and the humanity that flow through its tiny, winding streets. If only these were currency, Jerusalem would be the richest city on Earth.

Wheat fields and rolling hills on the ride back from Jerusalem to Afula.

Kelev Gadol Speaks

Rocco has been nudging me to allow his input. After all, he’s been the one with his nose to the ground, literally, these past few weeks. And this is his first Shabbas in Jerusalem. Since he’s been so good, I’ve relented and allowed him to share the following:

Oh my goodness!  I am beyond exhaustion! I don’t even know where to begin. Every where I go, people stop and stare at me. If I hear “Kelev Gadol!” one more time, I’m going to bite someone. I know I’m big, but do they have to rub it in? Haven’t they ever seen a dog before? Really! I mean, I do love it when all the beautiful kids at the Emunah Center play with me. I feel their love and their need to share that feeling with someone who can reciprocate without any demands. It’s fun when people stop  me on the street and pay me attention. On our morning walks (Ellin needs the exercise), there’s this one Russian man who waits on his park bench every morning to see me and tells me I’m “crasavitzeh.”  And I love it when the blonde policewoman on her way to work shakes her beautiful long locks (she looks just like this afghan hound in my dreams) and gives me a little scratch under my chin.  I’m used to that. After all, I am a Standard French Poodle. But there is something special, unspoken, in my exchanges with the kids at the Center.  They take turns walking me around, have fun saying my name (they roll their reshes so excellently that Rrrrrrrrrocoo takes on a much more elegant, continental  sound! I get a kick out of it when they continually ask  if I bite or if they can ride me (that one is really getting old!). But I have to say, I can feel that I actually bring some special joy to the kids there. Actually, not being able to speak Hebrew has been a very freeing experience for me. It’s all about our eye contact and what they say with their hands and hugs and pets and gentle kisses. I feel like I am really important to them, and it feels so good. Talk about being a BDOC (Big Dog on Campus!). I am just too cool for arfs.
But I’ve got to tell you. This heat is killing me. Whose bright idea was it to bring a big black dog to one of the hottest places on earth? This weekend, Ellin decided it would be fun to go to Jerusalem and see our friend Jill Rosensfield. My family first met Jill as a tour guide in Israel seven years ago, but in typical Ellin fashion, the role of guide soon morphed into  dear friend. So when I heard we were going to see Jill, I got really excited. . . . until I saw the muzzle. Are you kidding? Where did that come from? What did I do? Whose rule is it that all dogs on buses must wear muzzles! I’d rather get into a cat fight with all the stupid kittens on campus  than have that awful thing strapped to my snout. You think it’s funny? Why don’t you try it!

OK. We made it on to the bus. I felt great because even though I was wearing a muzzle, Ellin had to pay full fare for me (serves her right!). We went to back of the bus and I was so emotionally spent that I got on the seat and just laid my head on her lap where I slept for the 2-hour ride to Jerusalem. She kept waking me up to point out all the sites along the way. She’s such a pain sometime. Why should I care if I can’t smell what she was showing me. Some humans are just so dumb.

Arriving at the Jerusalem bus station, we had to get to the street level to try to find a cab. ESCALATORS?  No Way! They petrify me! I couldn’t do it at Newark airport before we came. What on earth made Ellin feel I’d do it in Israel. But she pulled and finally won and I found myself standing in sheer terror on this moving stair that kept going down, down, down. I’ve got to tell you, I had puppy nightmares all night about it.  But Ellin got hers! She thought we’d take a cab. No way, Jose! Not one cab driver in Jerusalem would take us in their cab. I think it’s because somehow they knew she’d make me go on the escalator and were punishing her! Certainly it had nothing to do with the fact that I am a Kelev Gadol and they wouldn’t take me in their car. That meant that poor Ellin had to figure out how to take the bus to Jill’s house. Ha ha! She pissed off everyone in the bus! One woman kept yelling at her in Russian, but my human put on her Israeli face and pretended not to notice. And then she missed her stop, even though Jill kept calling her telling her where we should get off! But the prerecorded and written announcements were in Hebrew and they were so fast that she had no idea. Ha Ha HAAAAA!!!! Karma back at ya!

Long story short, we arrived late in the evening and I was just too exhausted for arfs and woofs! I collapsed on the cool tile floor and was so not interested in doing anything. Even the fireworks and gunfire celebrating Ramadan didn’t phase me (although I did see Ellin jump a bit a first).

One pooped Poodle. “How nice of Jill to have arranged a special bed just my size!”

Cut to the next morning: a good, brisk walk along the beautiful old railway/boardwalk where I could bask in every new smell that the streets of Baka (the area in Jerusalem where Jill lives). Heaven, heaven! Lots of trees to mark, real grass to walk on, lots of cats so scare, lots of places to stick my nose. And then to breakfast at a lovely little café, where everyone absolutely adored me! I just layed on the ground next to the table, making everyone walk over me. POODLE POWER!!!

“Kelev Gadol” charms Israelis! (Who says dogs can’t smile???)

So now we’re getting ready for Shabbas. We did our morning shopping at the little shops. What fun! We’ll be 7 humans tonight and Jill is such a fabulous cook that I can’t wait! We’ll eat out on the porch. Under the stars. With the cool evening breeze blowing in my curls. I can’t wait.

Life is good.

It’s Been a Quiet Week Here in Lake Oy-Vey-Be-gon

Actually, any activity in this heat (it was 45 degrees C here today —that’s 113 degrees F) is a little daunting. And so, for a few days after the jubilation of exploring my new town had settled down a bit, I’ve been enjoying the brilliance of a working air conditioner in my room. I do look forward to my walks, but at the saner hour of 8 AM and then 8 PM.  Walking around, you can’t help but notice the tremendous variety of stages of dress: the young girls barely wearing a pair of shorts and a camisole. Then there are those who wear the camisole, but are wearing skinny jeans. Have you ever tried to put on a pair of jeans in 100 degree weather? It is torture that surely the Geneva Convention would have a problem with. And then we have the orthodox girls. Long tights, long skirts, long shirts over which they wear a sweater or short-sleeve T shirt. I can’t bear to watch them walk up and down the street. I marvel at their steadfast faith.  Not to be sexist, I’m also  getting used to the ultra orthodox men wearing the long coats and hats, but I admit that I can’t relate to that. I just think about the women. But then, women in the Victorian era must have fainted daily (corsets pulled so tight you couldn’t breathe, then the varying layers of proper under garments, then the long-sleeved, high-necked dresses. I just can’t imagine. Hold on. I need to get a drink of cold water. . .

That’s better. Now, what else does one do on such a hot day? Of course, one drives three hours to Beersheva, down in the desert. Shlomo Kessel, the director of the Center, invited me to join other members of the staff as they trekked down to the main court house where they had to testify so as to ensure the protection of a family of young children who currently  live at the Center. The drive was, of course, extremely interesting, as it is all new to me. Miles and miles of Arab villages border the main conduit that bifurcates the country. You leave the lush Jezreel Valley with its fruit groves, melon patches, and rows of greenery and descend to the scraggy, rocky, low-lying hills of the desert. And there, jutting out of the landscape like some white, futuristic outpost on a distant planet at the far reaches of the galaxy, there is  Beersheva. It’s a city of about 200,000 people and home to one of the hottest (double-entendre intended) universities in Israel.

The courthouse was tall, modern, and very organized. I sat outside the courtroom, watching the pre-dramas enfold as families and lawyers prepped to go before the judge, who today was a very well-respected Bedouin judge. Custody and child protection cases are messy and complicated. The child is very often  the pawn. Israel provides their version of a guardian-ad-litem, an attorney who is there representing the best interest of the child. These cases relating to the children of the Center are in an entirely different category than those who are  the push-me/pull-you’s of kids caught in divorce. We are talking about children who social services has deemed at-risk to live at home. It’s tragic, confusing, and sad because the right answer is rarely the easy answer. But this story ends well in that the children are safe for another year. What this episode did allow me to see  first hand was the dedication of the staff who routinely travel  great distances in extreme weather, fully prepared to fight for the safety of their charges, ending their day totally drained and exhausted, but satisfied in the knowledge that they made a difference in the life of a particular child. Again. Tomorrow is another day, where they get to do it all over in varying degrees of need, dictated by the ever-changing saga of these children.

But it’s not just paid staff and the orthodox girls here who are doing “service” instead of going into the army. These past few weeks have been full of young volunteers who are staying and working at the Center. Seth Bader, a terrific young man from Trumbull, CT (and a member of Congregation Beth El in Fairfield, CT), has been an absolute delight. Language barrier aside, the kids adore him. He plays basketball and soccer with them, goes with them to the local pool and takes photos of them under water with his special camera, plays tag on the grounds, and walks around here followed by a posse of boys who are enjoying all the fun and attention he heaps on them. Tomorrow is Seth’s last day here and we’ll all be sad to see him go. But he’ll take with him memories that he’ll keep forever, and promises to share his first-hand experiences with all that will lend him an ear.  We also have a young girl who has just graduated from Haverford College, a junior from the University of Nottingham (and no, her name is NOT Marion), and a lovely young man entering his senior year of high school from Rhode Island who is spending a week here after already spending a week at a camp for Israeli children who have lost a parent because of terrorism.

Seth Bader, Ezra (from RI) and the kids.

And what did YOU do on your summer vacation?

Back to the Bank . . .and Yes. They Did Remember Who I Was.

Well, I promised you that today I would go back to the bank to try to figure out why the ATM from Bank Leumi wouldn’t recognize me before last Shabbas, but was only to happy to give me 150 euros. Next time you see me, tell me to keep the girl scout zipped up in my backpack.

The scene went like this:

I walk up the street from the Center to Bank Leumi. The guard at the front door knew me. The girl greeter in the lobby who makes sure you put in your ID number and get your “to be served” number knew me. Even the old beggar outside the bank knew me. I’ve made so many new friends.

I ask the girl greeter if she speaks English (I remembered she did, but I wanted to be polite). She looks at me as if I just asked if there were any Jews in Israel. I smile. I explain what happened: I put my card in to test it on Friday morning. I put in my pin number. I pushed the “Proceed in English” button. The ATM froze. I pushed the screen in different places to wake it up from its nap (I anthropomorphize everything, don’t you know). It kept sleeping. I got frustrated. I pushed “end transaction,” took my card, and started to walk away. The machine whirred and gave me 150 euros for my inconvenience. Had I been smart, it would have been end of story. But no. Jewish Jiminy Cricket sat upon my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “Hey! Maybe this was deducted from your account, or maybe it wasn’t. If it wasn’t, then it isn’t yours.” Damn my guilt-laden upbringing.

So…… I was whisked upstairs (I’ve been elevated to MAJOR-pain-in-the-neck-Olah-Hadashah). Not even two weeks here and I’ve hit the big time. Next they’ll give me a key to the executive sherutim (washroom).

The “hand-off” to the next poor banker went rather smoothly as she gave me the same “Oy! Meshugenah!” look that the girl greeter gave me. They must learn this in Israeli  driver’s ed classes.

When I explained everything to her, I showed her my card, the pin, and the 150 euros. Mistake #1. Don’t give them the euros. She quickly made a call, thanked me for my time, said there was nothing wrong with my card, said the money hadn’t been deducted from my account, and took the 150 euros. She said she’d investigate and let me know where it came from. If they can’t figure it out, they’ll credit my account. Right. Sure. Of course. Watch as I  multi-task—I’ll hold my breath while I’m purchasing a bridge across the East River.

Next time I’ll ask first if there was anything deducted from my account and  if she says yes, then I’ll give her the 150 euros.  Let’s chalk it up to my learning curve, shall we?

———————

Seen while walking Rocco early this morning:  A man grabbing something from the trunk of his car. When he stood up, I realized he was in full tallis and tfillin (over his head), reciting his morning prayers while bending over the trunk of his car. I wonder? Was the car facing east?

——————–

I love the coincidences that refuse to slow down in my life. Like when the handsome, black fellow who was my mover from Two Men and a Truck came to my house before I left Connecticut and told me his name was Izrael and then continued to speak to me in perfect Hebrew.

And while this one may not hit you right in the face, it certainly did so to me: Whenever I leave my room but don’t take Rocco with me, I leave my iTunes on for him, so he won’t get lonely. Aren’t I sweet? It’s on “shuffle,” so he won’t get bored of hearing the same artist. I was out for  a while and when I walked back in I thought I heard my voice coming from the computer. Only it wasn’t my my voice, it was my mother’s. Her recorded travelogue from the time  she went to China in 1983 was playing. My mother was a brilliant woman and an excellent story teller. It took me a few seconds to realize it was her voice (my mother died in 1989), and then I felt a rather unexplainable sense of comfort, as if she were waiting for me in the room until I returned, keeping sweet Rocco company. I wasn’t upset. I just smiled and turned around to see a plaque on the wall of the childcare room  that is for now, doubling as my temporary abode. The plaque is in memory of a woman who loved children and it lists the names of the donors. Or course, the first name on that list was Rhoda. Just like my mother. Rhoda (Yassky). Whose voice was concidentally playing on my computer in my room  in Afula. But of course. You’re not surprised, are you?

——————–

And finally, “Wear Stilts.” While giving a tour to a lovely young rabbi and his wife and their two beautiful children this morning, we encountered one of the kids from the Center walking around. Nothing unusual about that, except he was on stilts. He walked with such grace and agility that you would have thought they were actual extensions of his legs. This boy is around 10 years old, so fair of face, and so confident in his gate. It was clear he was intent on finding a solution to his present malaise. Why stilts? he was asked. Because I’m bored of being short, he answered, and simply walked (tall) away. I wish for him that the rest of his frustrations will be so deftly remedied.

 

 

A Closing and Closure: Musings on Moving Ahead and Using An Israeli ATM

If I believe the emails from my real estate lawyer, my realtor, and my friend who was my proxy, I no longer am the owner of a house in Fairfield, CT. Why shouldn’t I believe this, you might ask. Why, indeed. For those of you who have cleaned out a house in which you had lived for 20+ years, done the tag sale, the twenty trips to Goodwill, the selective gifting of things that you couldn’t just let go of to Goodwill, etc., you can’t really appreciate the physical and emotional exhaustion involved in this action. And you find it hard to accept the reality of it, so you lose yourself in the task rather than dwell on the reason behind it.

And selling a house, even if the emptying of it was not a major hassle (a shout-out and public thank to each and every one of my friends who came, gloves, brooms, bags, packing supplies, and donuts in hand to help), selling a house in this economic environment is a horror. In the end, despite all the tricks of emptying, “staging,” baking cookies for the yummy smell, paying for fresh mulch and landscaping that gets flooded away after the first big storm, you end up giving your house/home away . . .and are grateful for the opportunity to do so. I seem to remember that Money Magazine listed Fairfield, CT as one of the 9 best towns to live in just a few short years ago. Today, I received the news that the house I bought when I was pregnant with my son, my first child, is now officially the home to another couple with children. I wish them only peace, health, and contentment in their new home.

Did you hear the door slam?

And last night, as in a pre-celebration of this momentous occasion, I had dinner with Lina, the sweet, sweet Israeli girl who had lived with us when she was in Connecticut as an emissary. It was probably 6 years ago, yet we have stayed in constant touch. A beautiful young girl, she had a year of milestones when she lived here. She turned 18 (we had a surprise party for her attended by ALL of the emissaries). She also lost her mother who was already quite ill when Lina left Israel. And so, from the day she left at the end of her year in America, we have stayed in touch, seeing her on our visits to Israel, and exchanging pictures on Facebook and Skype. I did mention that she is from Afula, didn’t I?

We went for dinner at a restaurant that is attached to a gas station, right outside of Afula. Along with Lina was Lev and Dana ( pronounced “Donna.” I don’t know why she doesn’t spell it Donna, but she said that’s how she was taught to spell it in school. Why not Dahna? then, I asked. Because that’s not the way to spell it! she answered.). And when I showed them my new ID card, they all got excited and laughed, enjoying the irony that the woman who had once had a houseful of Israeli emissaries on various and plentiful occasions, was now an Israeli Citizen. Funny, but it didn’t really hit me until that moment. I’m an Israeli citizen. Sorry. No flip or clever comments. I’m still processing it all, but I’m happy.

And so, tomorrow begins a new work week (Sunday to Thursday). My first task is to trek back up to Bank Leumi and try to find out why new new bank card wouldn’t work in the ATM. Despite having an Israeli with me to coach me through the process, despite pressing the button that said “proceed in English,” the screen seemed to be frozen, even after I punched in my PIN number. You know how people press the button to cross the street a million times while waiting for the light to change? You know the people who press the call button on the elevator a billion times in the ridiculous believe that the elevator didn’t pay attention at first, but their insistent pressing would get it’s attention? You know the people (eh hem . . . ) who press all over a frozen ATM touch screen? Well. I’m here to say, Don’t Do That.

After several tries to get just a tiny bit of shekels out of the machine (to make sure my new card worked), and seemingly to now avail, I got frustrated and decided to cancel the transaction. Remember that pressing all over the screen that I just talked about? I shouldn’t have done that.

As I walked away from the machine, I heard that familiar whirring sound that comes when a machine is about to dispense your cash. And le Voilá!!!! Out popped three, freshly printed 50 Euro bills! Your guess is as good as mine.

But first thing tomorrow I’ll be back up at Bank Leumi, asking the pretty Israeli girl who is the greeter, which button on the “get your number” machine I have press to try to return this money I didn’t ask for in the first place and then figure out how to get it returned to my account, once again as shekels.

I can almost hear them now as I open the door and walk into the lobby: “Vey iz mir! Here’s that Olah Hadashah again! Quick! Hide!” . . . .

. . .You Could Fry a Felafel on the Sidewalk!

Right. You know the joke: “How hot is it?” “It’s so hot you could fry an egg . . . ”  Except we’re in Afula. The felafel capital of Israel.

It’s true! I’ve already waxed poetic about the lightness of these chickpea balls as they fly gracefully through the air, tossed up by the masterful hands of the Golani felafel chef, reach their apogee, and then float (NOT thunk) down into the equally fluffy pita that awaits it, like an open-mouthed bass waiting for a fly to alight on its tongue (do fish even have tongues?). But I wonder if this felafel stand arrives at their secret flavor by pre-frying them on the sidewalk, in the mid-day sun, behind their food stand. They could just take a golf club and gently nudge them back and forth across the green of the Astro-turf.  I imagine a mini felafel-golf course except the “balls” would be brown instead of white. Actually, it makes sense if you really think about it.

Must be he heat. I digress.

Since I knew it was going to be a scorcher (forgive citing the obvious), I decided to take Rocco out for an early “shpazir” around the neighborhood. There was almost a hint of a breeze, rustling the varying flora that demarcates our morning walk: oleander bushes (I’d only seen them in Impressionist paintings until I vacationed in Sicily, another “hot” spot), an etrog tree (yes, they do exist and the fruit actually doesn’t look like a lemon, but rather does look like an etrog), a pomegranate tree (I could write an entire series about my love for pomegranates and their beauteous herbage), things like look like really hearty morning glories, and every variety of palm  tree that you could imagine. Not bad for the first 15 minutes of your day.  But even at this nascent hour of the day, it was too hot to walk all the way down to the end of the street. “Aliya Street” is its name. I kid you not. I could not even make that up.

After doing some work (I am here to be useful, after all), I learned the fine art of squeeegie-ing a floor. It’s an Israeli art, perfected almost to the level of felafel tossing, and is probably the cleverest way to wash a floor quickly and with a minimum of water. Why we didn’t have these in America, I can’t tell you. II guess that would just be too simple. At any rate, I left with three errands on my list. Three. I began at 10:00 a.m. I finished at 7:30 in the evening. But I accomplished quite a bit!

First was the walk to the Maccabi Health Clinic to upgrade to Maccabi Gold. It’s an extra level of goodies in my health care “basket” that I received within minutes of landing at Ben Gurion. I think this extra level of protection is going to set me back about $6 a month. I also managed to make an introductory appointment with a few English-speaking doctors. And I was even able to request women doctors! Not so terrible. But you do have to take a numbered ticket from one of those round red jobbies that they have at all respectable delis in the supermarkets. I certainly hope that isn’t a very subtle comment on our bodies just being slabs of meat, waiting to be attended to. That would be especially rough for this vegetarian olah!

Having accomplished this, I was ready to take on the world! Two blocks over to Bank Leumi to pick up my checks and bank card. Simple. Easy. Piece of cake! Two hours. I kid you not. Two. Hours. By the time I left, I had to be let out of the bank by the guard, because I was the only one left being “served” as my needs took up two tellers, two different numbered waiting slips, and about 15 minutes of the bank’s lunch hour. But I didn’t sit idly by. Actually, I learned a great deal and here’s just a peak:

Afula really is a microcosm of Israel. Waiting (almost) patiently were Israelis of every stripe: a strikingly handsome, tall Ethiopian soldier. Moroccan women with their dark, dark eyes and layers of long, modest clothing. Young blonde Israeli girls in shorts that must have been sprayed on, and camisoles (not tank tops, but thin-strapped camisoles . . . like those of the bank tellers I described the other day) that I would not let my beautiful teenage daughter leave the house in. There were European Israelis, and the Russian Israelis. The hot-headed Israeli who went “quasi-postal” because his number never seemed to come up on the tripartite television screen. And then there was the man that really stopped me. The very, very Asian-looking man who spoke both Russian and Hebrew. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Exhausted, but clutching my two books of checks and shiny new bank card (my Israeli friends will have to show me how to use it and where to press on the screen when I want to use an automatic teller), I dripped back to where I was staying, had a brief lunch, and did some more work. To be honest, none of this was as arduous as it sounds. I actually have expected the bureaucracy to be worse and harder, especially since I haven’t advanced, linguistically-speaking, all that far past “kelev gadol” (big dog!).

And here is the denouement to my day’s activities: I signed my first lease to my first apartment as a new olah. That’s right. Right at the corner of Begin (as in the prime minister . . .not the word “begin,” which is part of what the reason I’ve moved to Israel . .  . to “begin” again) and Gilboa. So new that the building isn’t even finished, nor does it have a street number. But that’s not a problem. Just ask anyone how to find the new building at the corner of Begin and Gilboa, and they’ll direct you right to it. I may not know the address of the new building into which I’m moving every stick of furniture and nick-knack that I own, but I know that I signed a lease for Apartment Number 14. On the 7th floor. Of the new building on the corner of Begin and Gilboa. The negotiations took two hours, as Rachel, my patient, sweet, and clever hostess, read through every word of Hebrew, making sure I was signing something that was in my favor. Thank you Rachel. You held my hand through one of the biggest moments of my life, it didn’t even phase you. And it hasn’t even sunk in for me. At least not yet.

So now is the close of another day. I’ve done doctors, bankers, and realtors all in one day. Rocco is so exhausted from hearing about all of this that he’s passed out on the cool tile floor right in front of the A/C vent. Yes, it’s tough to be a kelev gadol with an owner who is trying to get her life organized in the blazing, Mid-Eastern sun.

Tomorrow brings Shabbas. A bit of work in the morning, and then reuniting with Lina, the Israeli emissary who lived with us a few years ago. Of course, she is from Afula. We wouldn’t have it any other way. And she and I will giggle like school girls, even though she’s young enough to be my daughter. But that’s OK. I feel like I’m 20 years old, anyway. After all, what 50-plus-year-old woman in her right mind would hit the reset button on her life and move to Israel in the middle of the summer. She’s have to be one big meshugenah. Can you imagine? What would make it even funnier would be if she moved to Israel with a huge, dumb, black, standard poodle.

Nah. . . No one would ever believe that one.

 

One Week Ago. . .

One week ago, I was so jet lagged that I could barely stand up. I had engaged in the wrenching goodbye’s at the airport (my daughter was smart enough not to come and said her goodbye that morning at my friend’s home), had been up the requisite endless number of hours, and gone through the requisite processes that all new Oleh go through when they make aliyah. You are dead tired, but are in your own, private, varying degree of shock. Like the first day of college, when you look at your clean, unused three-ring spiral binders (do kids still use them?), the colors of which were selected with arduous attention, you sense the endless possibilities. You can fill those pages with anything.  It’s like standing in front of the  university library for the first time (I’m dating myself, I know)—you realize the magnitude of what there is to learn if you only take advantage of what’s behind the library’s massive doors. Somehow, with this next generation so accustomed to the Internet and its instant gratification and limitless possibilities, not to mention its unwavering sense of entitlement that all this information was put there just for them  (how it got there, they never ask), waiting to be accessed with just the blur of fingers tapping out queries on the keyboard in a dizzying effect, I somehow think that this particular sense of awe is missing for them. Am I the only one who remembers waiting for hours to find the sought-after information locked in books shelved in the stacks at the NYPL on Fifth Avenue? Surely, that was what Patience and Fortitude (the names of the lions that guard the library’s massive, Beaux Arts entrance) were trying to tell this poor researcher: you’re going to need plenty of fortitude to help you find the patience you’re going to need as you embark on the endless wait for books requested from the stacks that probably won’t have the information in them that you were hoping for anyway. “Roar” yourself, Leo.

One week ago,  Rocco, was just let out of his 14+ hour ordeal from his airline-approved crate. It took him two days to get over his own canine jet lag, realize I was not going to incarcerate him again for no good reason and take his sweet time deciding whether he was desperately in need of my company, or was going to shun me for what I had done to him. (Shunning is a very poodle thing to do. And Rocco is a shun-er par excellence!) Thankfully, one week later and now accustomed to his 4 to 5 walks a day, most of them led by the kids who live here at the Center (albeit too many taken in scorching heat and higher-than-expected humidity), he lays on my feet once again, a sure sign that all is forgiven. Perhaps sharing my freshly baked pita with him has assuaged his anger.

In the span of a short week I have found an apartment, opened a bank account, registered for all my health and new immigrant benefits, signed up for Ulpan to begin next September, and befriended some new children here at the Center while reacquainting myself with some I had met several week back when they traveled as the “Emunotes” to America. This small city will be my home now, and like when I stood in front of the library doors as a freshman at Franklin & Marshall College too many years ago, I realize the potential here. Only this time, the potential is different. I’m not filling my head. I’m filling my heart.

I’ve pressed the restart button. As they say in the music business, “once again, with feeling.” But I’m not eighteen this time, naive and blocked by expectations of the milestones that I had forced upon my own psyche. I don’t have to worry about getting good grades, finding a cute guy, landing that perfect job that would allow me to have enough money to marry, have a family, go to grad school, buy a house, a car, get a nanny, and all the other things that I thought I needed to be happy and feel complete. By amazing grace, I have been able to separate the disappointments from the sublime (my children), and try it all over again, this time with priorities completely rearranged.

And keeping me in line will be the push and pull of my children, brother, family, and friends back home, and the lives of the children here at the Center. This isn’t summer camp, even if the surroundings are so pleasant as to seem like Camp Ramah transported to Afula. These children are not here by their choice, but by the choice of a court that feels they are safer growing up in this group home, this group foster home. Some have parents, some don’t. Some have small issues, some have ones that can only be described as titanic. And unlike we “grownups” who have had some control and responsibility for our own disappointments, these children simply are caught in the middle. And all they really want is just to be a kid like the others they attend school with, or see walking hand-in-hand with a parent or grandparent, or who whiz by in the backseats of passing cars with ice cream cones stuck in their mouths as they attempt to ameliorate the July heat. If you think you’ve had a bad day at the office, think about these young kids, many of whom live here with 4 or 5 siblings. Kids today complain about not having control over their lives. They don’t know what control they really have and take for granted.

. . . One week ago I had good-bye parties. I had  information. I had exhaustion. I had tears.

. . . One week later I have glimpses of my new reality. I have new challenges. I have new possibilities. I have the Internet, Skype, and MagicJack to keep me  instantaneously connected with my children, family, and friends. Add to that the much-needed sense of purpose. Goodbye self-defined irrelevance. Hello the chance to make a difference. Goodbye Planned Obsolescence of skilled workers in return for cheaper help. To Hell with quality. It’s overrated. Hello to the unique staff of this Center who have seemingly boundless energy and endless hearts as they brave the heat and the myriad frustrations, fears, sadness, and sense of loss that many of these children live with on a daily basis. They are the ones who make miracles happen every day here.  They are the ones who get these children to smile, giggle, run, jump rope, and see themselves as important and valuable human beings with the same future due to them as all the other kids whose lives they privately covet.

Of the hundreds of thousands of buttons, both physical and metaphorical that I have pushed over the years, I think I’ve finally hit the right one.

We shall see.

A 2 1/2 Hour Walk Reveals Some Interesting Conclusions.

This evening, as the temperature dipped down to the 80’s, Rocco and I decided to simply meander. The meander turned into a two-and-a-half-hour walk. In a city the size of Afula, which I believe is about three miles in diameter, you can see quite a lot. But if you really look, you can see much, more more.

Afula is famous for its felafel. I’ve been here now 7 days and hadn’t even smelled this delicacy,  let alone tasted it. And so I decided that it was high time to walk to the world famous shop, Golani, and order “the real deal.” Golani is  near the bus station and is purportedly frequented by the soldiers passing through the  station on their weekend leaves. And the chef there is supposed to throw the felafel balls in the air and catch them in the pita pocket. This I had to see.

Kelev Gadol (“Big Dog!”, elsewhere known as my constant traveling companion, Rocco) and I set out to sample this delicacy. Anthony Bourdain, where were you? You could easily have made an hour-long show just on the beautiful two-foot cone of grated vegetables, arranged in a glorious explosion of color, from green to orange, that served as the “mattress” upon which the felafel balls were placed. This display was so beautiful that I almost cried out when the chef plunged his spoon, banging it musically from one pan to the next, and scooped out a helping of vegetables, forever ruining this masterpiece of verdant deliciousness. But true culinary greatness requires some sacrifices, and so . . . .one piping hot, fresh pita and its filling later, I was handed my first “Afula’s Finest.” Truth be told, the paper wrapper that served as the pita’s armor, inhibiting the possibility that the tahini and other condiments soon to be added would not find their way onto your shirt, reminded me (for a nanosecond) of the thin paper wrappers that MacDonald hamburgers used to come in back in the early 1960s, before the advent of Styrofoam and other such horrors. But the resemblance ended there.

Who knew? Who knew that fried chickpeas could be light and fluffy, bursting with pungent Mid-Eastern flavors that make the rock and golf-ball “contrafaçons” of our American Israeli fairs seem like the projectiles that find their way into the southern regions of Israel. I was stunned. Rocco was famished. I ate. I dripped (on purpose), he gleaned, I tore fresh pita and gingerly, but begrudgingly, placed it near his teeth, which seemed fang-like in the haze of the blistering heat and our mutual exhaustion.

It was heaven. Did I mention that I also felt very “Israeli” by this point in the day as I had just received by Tudah Zehut, my Israeli Identification card. Plus I had successfully navigated through the Misrah Ha Klita (Office of Immigrant Serivces) in a mishmash of English and French that morning. Not to mention the fact that I was also carrying two cell phones (one for America, one loaned to me to receive Israeli phone calls until AT&T and the Second Coming mutually agree to provide miraculous terminations of their appropriate contracts). I just felt sooooooo Israeli. Of course, walking through the streets of Afula with a Kelev Gadol Standard Poodle probably detracted from the scene just a bit. But maybe I’m just being insecure.

The interesting conclusion? It has nothing to do with felafel. I just had to share the experience with you. The conclusion came toward the end of our enormous, blister-inducing trek across rock and bottle-strewn fields that dot the city grid like empty spaces on a checker board. As I zigged and zagged, trying to emulate a Tom Tom GPS and find the shortest route home, I cut through micro neighborhoods, filled with Russians upon Russians. And as I looked at all the ladies sitting outside in their house dresses, inserted formally into their ubiquitous white plastic chairs, I realized that they all looked like Betty Yassky, my paternal grandmother. Never before had it occurred to me that she was so very Russian looking. Yet, there she was, in almost every face on every woman, in every house dress, seated in every white plastic chair. All I could think of was, “Gee. I hope they’re  better cooks than she was!” (no offense, Grandma Betty).

My conclusion? Half a world away from where I was born and I’m actually closer to my roots than I ever was.

. . . And Rocco? What on earth was going through his mind? A mind that can’t form thoughts in words. Just sensations and visual memories. Much like a new-born I suppose. Rocco was in smellin’ Heaven. Not sure, but I guess Israeli dog pee has an irresistible je-ne-sais-quoi to it (better him than me). He reminded me of a Parisian parfumer, nose a-quiver as he sorted through the nuances of fresh, semi-fresh, and stale scentings. I could almost see his mind at work, like when Neo would look into the monitors of the Matrix and see not streams of numbers flowing downward, but cities, interiors, scenarios of the most extreme intricacies.  Rocco was a “scentorial” Magellan, an Amerigo Vespucci in a curly black coat, a Vasco da Gama who really kept his nose to his maps. For him, I think it was his first occurrence of Stendhal syndrome, a psychosomatic illness causing rapid heartbeat and dizziness and/or hallucinations when over-exposed to large amounts of particularly beautiful art all in one place.  According to Wikipedia, “the term can also be used to describe a similar reaction to a surfeit of choice in other circumstances, e.g. when confronted with immense beauty in the natural world.”

Or maybe it was just the heat.