Friday, December 23, 2011

'Bye, Cats!

Shalom, chaverim! As Elul and I make our lurching, halting progress towards completing our packing, I took some time out to make my last visit to our local no-kill animal shelter to engage in what has to be the best volunteering gig ever.

My wonderful cat, Man Ray, died this past year after spending all his fourteen years on earth with me. I miss him tremendously. We knew it was very complicated and expensive to bring in a cat to Israel when making Aliyah from America,  though, so we chose not to adopt a new cat while we were still here. But since I went into unremitting, full-blown, kitty withdrawal psychosis, that's how I ended up volunteering to be a Cat Cuddler.

Man Ray expressing his intense interest in the practicing of my Torah portion

Being a Cat Cuddler means I go to the cat department at the shelter, sit quietly in a corner, and just pet cats and let them sit on my lap. The staff is stretched and overworked, and while they give every animal there the best of care, they really don't have the time to just sit around and cuddle them. Some cats are very hungry--not for food itself, but just for loving attention, soft words, and the lap of someone who doesn't care if they shed on it.

As Elul will somewhat grimly attest, he did not marry me because of my clothes-horse nature. In fact, I'd be more likely to wear the clothes OF a horse. That's why whenever he picks out clothes for me to buy and I wear them, I always get compliments. Whenever I wear something I buy, however, the roar of deafening silence fills the room. So it's no big thing for me to come home with pants covered in cat hair, dried drool, or even the finest traces of litter "remnants."

But while talking about cats is fun (for me, at least), posting pictures of them and trying to write amusing captions in their voices is even MORE fun. So without further ado, here are some pictures of cats at the Tri-County Humane Society of Boca Raton, Florida. (

"Are your heart strings being sufficiently jerked to the point of breaking, as I give you my best Stoic Forlorn Stare? Good, it's working!"

"My eyes may be a little goopy, but I'm still a stud--the ladies can't get enough of me! Too bad we've all been spayed or neutered."

"Yeah, I came down from Jersey for a little business deal dat didn't go down too well. Whaddyagonnado? Fageddaboudit!"
"You are getting sleepier...and sleepier...and when I meow you will feel an irresistible compulsion to shove that other cat off your lap and let ME have a turn."
"Yes, it's true that my refusal to use the litter box caused three different adoptive families to return me. But hey, I'm still the cutest one in this joint!"

I don't know much about the state of animal shelters in Israel, but I'm determined to put out feelers as soon as we get to Nahariya. In the meantime, please don't forget the enormous number of animals who are ending up in shelters in record numbers as this relentlessly crappy economy grinds on, and drives more people out of their homes and into places who can't or won't accept pets. Even if you don't have money itself to donate, shelters can always use old blankets and towels, throw-rugs, grooming items and all sorts of other things. Just call one up and ask what they need the most, and they'll be happy to tell you.

And again, Happy Hanukkah!

P.S. If you're getting this blog post by email and the pictures aren't showing at all, just go directly to the blog site itself at

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Big Student

Shalom, chaverim! We are now officially one week away from making Aliyah, and I'm starting to sweat--er, glow. My brand new JanSport "Big Student" backpack arrived yesterday, and I wanted to share with you how I am preparing to be a student again, but this time taking into account some necessary accommodations to my "middle-agedness."

As you can see from the video (if it isn't showing on the emailed version of this blog, please go directly to the blog itself, which is at, I am fully prepared. In order, I pack:
  1. One massive Oxford English/Hebrew Dictionary, guaranteed to cause lower back pain from its heft.
  2. 300 Hebrew flashcards, which I can't read yet, but hey, think positive!
  3. One pair of eyeglasses so I can see the whiteboard.
  4. Another pair of eyeglasses so I can see what I'm copying down on my paper from the whiteboard.
  5. Large economy-sized bottle of ibuprofen.
  6. Thermos of coffee as a chaser. Coffee and ibuprofen: snack break of champion mature students!
  7. And last but not least, a butt-pad with the tailbone part cut out. This is an absolute necessity for the hard plastic chair I will be sitting on for twenty-five hours a week. The cut-out tailbone feature should obviate the need to pack Preparation H in my Big Student backpack as well.

My mother should be happy seeing me with a backpack large enough to contain my Big Student Butt-Pad, which is one of the reasons I wanted to have Elul shoot this video of me packing it. I'd asked her last summer if she'd consider quilting me a kind of butt-pad snood I could use to attach my pad to the outside of my purse. Very intelligently, she gracefully declined my request and urged me to see alternative devices for butt-pad transportation. She should be doubly pleased that I chose to buy a JanSport backpack, as the company originated in Seattle--her hometown and my place of birth.

Happy Chanukkah, everybody!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

We're Not Dead Yet!

Shabbat Shalom, chaverim! Elul and I are still slightly reeling from last night's Shabbat service at our wonderful Temple Sinai in Delray Beach, Florida. We were enormously surprised when Rabbi Greg Kanter and Cantorial Soloist Margaret Schmidt summoned us to the bima. In fact, when we were called up from our seats in the choir loft, my first response was to blurt out "why?" But up to the bima we went, where we were given a farewell blessing by Rabbi Greg, Margaret, and the entire congregation. As we were standing there, I gazed out into the congregation and saw so much love and support that I burst into tears. My mission to keep everyone at arm's length so I wouldn't feel bad about leaving? EPIC FAIL.

Of course, I hid out in the sanctuary after the service as usual, fiddling with music and otherwise stalling, as I am always uncomfortable in large gatherings. If by chance you see me at any sort of party at all, I'll be the one standing in the corner, looking at books, or hiding under the coats on the bed. But when I finally emerged, so many people came up to Elul and me to wish us well. I will never forget how Temple Sinai met us as strangers just one year ago, but took us in immediately as family. Oy, what will I do now without Tuesday Night Choir Practice, or shooting the breeze with the librarians on Tuesday afternoon when I did a miserable job selling things at the Sisterhood Judaica Shop?

To add to the surprise of the blessing, what struck me as very funny indeed is that while it was going on, I kept thinking of a particular scene from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." The truth is, we aren't leaving for another ten days, so last night's Shabbat service was not actually going to be our last week's is! I kept wondering if we should just not come next week, so as to avoid questions like "why are you still here? I thought you'd left already!"

So we're not dead yet! And we'll show up and take the heat of being an anti-climax in human form, because it's worth it to spend just one more evening with these lovely, lovely people.

In other news, it's been a big week for us. Elul sold our car on eBay, to a nice man from Michigan. We're able to get by this week by using my mother-in-law's car while she is away on a cruise, but next week we'll be officially without wheels. We also met with the auctioneer, a very nice man who ended up living across the street from us, even though his auction house is ten miles away. Of course, we ended up getting offered much less for our furniture than we'd hoped for, but isn't that always the case? The very good news is, though, is that he was kind enough to let us keep the furniture until the day before we leave, rather than picking it up yesterday, which had been originally projected. So that means there will only be one night spent on air mattresses and in a furniture-less apartment, instead of ten nights. That convenience alone is more than worth the loss we incurred (against projected earnings) on the sale.

 In the meantime, we have made a few scurrying, squirrel-like trips to Wal-Mart, CVS and the local dollar stores to collect just a few more items to stick in our suitcases. In a future post, I will share with you a picture (or maybe even video, whoo-hoo!) of my new JanSport "Big Student" backpack, which is now winging its way from the Zappos warehouse in Vegas. As a soon-to-be adult student, sans voiture, I realized I will be needing a strong, sturdy, and waterproof backpack to carry back and forth to Ulpan (the government-run Hebrew classes for new immigrants to Israel). But in the meantime, here is one example of a product we got.

In our new lives in Israel, we will never have to peel eggs again!

Anyone know the Hebrew for "As Seen On TV"? Israelis, you have no idea what you are missing by not having products like "Eggies," "Forever Lazys," and machines that give you rock-hard abs with no exercise or dieting! This process reminds me of Golda Meir's memories of packing for her move to then-Palestine. She was convinced that they'd be living in tents, so she brought a lot of blankets. But she also insisted that they bring their wind-up Victrola and their collection of records, too. Somehow the record player made it, and she said that it was an attracting factor that helped them make friends and connections with lots of people. Perhaps our Eggies will draw lots of new friends to us!

P.S. I understand that if you're getting this blog emailed to you, it may not show certain photos or links to videos, e.g. Betty Boom Bah and today's YouTube link to a scene from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." The way to view these, I guess, is to go directly to my blog at But otherwise, do continue to sign up to have this emailed to you, so you don't have to keep visiting and checking to see if I've posted something new. And again, have a peaceful and happy Shabbat!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Making Aliyah with Betty Boom Bah

Shalom, chaverim! It's a rainy Sunday morning here in Boca Raton, and Elul and I are enjoying our morning routine of coffee and internet surfing, before we breakfast and go out for our walk. As I write, I'm listening, comme d'habitude, to Reshet Bet (Station B) on the Israeli Broadcast Authority's internet radio streaming service. Elul has still been dutifully hacking away with Rosetta Stone, whereas I have basically punted. So now I am starting to experience procrastinator's remorse with regards to my lack of progress in Hebrew. Language learning, like mathematics, is something for which you really can't do last-minute cramming, particularly as a beginner. While I have managed to memorize an Israeli radio spot for a mysterious product called "Mega Glu-flex," I'm not sure how useful that will be in the long run.

On the other hand, I had a fleeting glimmer of desperate hope as a result of a conversation we had last night. Friends from our former temple in Las Vegas, Marty and Miriam, came into town for the night, between returning from a cruise and flying back home the next day. In addition to having been to Israel many times themselves, one of their daughters has a job leading tours to Israel. Miriam said it took her daughter one full year of immersion in Israeli culture to become fluent in Hebrew. Given the inverse correlation of age progression and language acquisition (the greater the age, the slower the rate of acquisition), I calculate it should only take me about four years to crack the Hebraic code! So there it is, I've set my goal for my 50th birthday: fluency in Hebrew, all in the period of one U.S. Presidential term of office.

We are thrilled to announce that we now have a solid bid for our car, which Elul put up for auction on eBay a couple of days ago with the headline "A Sweet Ride!" We started the bidding at what was essentially our reserve price, and last night we got our first bid. ("Mustang3564" eBay bidder, may you be as truly good as your feedback score indicates.) As for you other eleven auction watchers, get out those wallets, set reason aside, and bid like crazy!

It's funny what strange thoughts come to you just upon waking. This morning, I found myself wondering if the shipping company would do a good job of packing our "Betty Boom Bah" dancing, grunting, farting doll. Betty was what I call a "revenge gift"-- a gift given to me in retaliation for the equally silly "Harvey Nagilah" dancing doll I gave my friend Harvey one year for Hanukkah.

Betty is the height of good taste in novelty gift ware, lifting both her dress and her leg while breaking wind and squealing with surprised delight. It would be so sad if Betty met a grisly end: crushed in our lift, seized by customs for some obscure obscenity violation, or sunk to the bottom of the sea by Somali pirates. So just in case, I want to give her a kind of lifetime achievement award by preserving her work in cyberspace. Ladies and gentleman, it is with great pleasure that I bring you...Betty Boom Bah!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Back from the Cruise

Shalom, chaverim! Elul and I are just back from a cruise in the Caribbean, hence my online silence lately. We got back this morning, and are still facing quite a few loads of laundry to do and quite a few hundred emails to answer--or delete, more likely. Not to mention a practically empty refrigerator, too, but fortunately we had some of my homemade Egyptian Spicy Red Lentil Soup in the freezer. With luck it will thaw before dinnertime.

I discovered the joy of cruises relatively late in life. Several years ago, Elul's father's 80th birthday came around. To celebrate, he took his adult children and their families on a Holland America cruise. I was one of the lucky in-laws, and when I found out what cruises were really like--as opposed to my mental picture constructed from my days as an avid fan of "The Love Boat"--I cursed myself for never having tried them before. I just have two words of advice about cruises. They are:
  1. Go on one as soon as you can; and,
  2. Get a room with a balcony that has an unobstructed view: you want to spend your time sipping champagne while gazing romantically at the moon, not a lifeboat.
That's it! We went to San Juan, Puerto Rico; Grand Turk; and St. Maarten. San Juan is a beautiful city that has done a terrific job at architectural preservation of its buildings in the Old City, but was showing the effects of the grinding economic slowdown by the large number of empty storefronts and "for sale" signs.

There wasn't much going on in Grand Turk, really, although we did manage to see the space capsule that John Glenn splashed down in, in 1962. It was slightly surreal. Instead of lounging on the beach, we decided to do our daily fitness walk by simply walking down the road that led out of the port into the town, then turn around at the thirty-minute point and walk back. The port is near the tiny airport of Grand Turk, so we spent most of the walk trudging by not-very-charming sheds and outbuildings. But seemingly out of nowhere, we spied the original space capsule, surrounded by a white picket fence! Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera at the time, but here's a link to a picture of this strange piece of history:

St. Maarten is a great island for a thrifty, coupon-clipping gal like me, in that it's a kind of cultural two-fer: there's a Dutch side called St. Maarten, and a French side called St. Martin. We spent $25 each ($20 a head plus a $5 tip) for a 2.5 hour bus tour of both sides of the island, which was fun and very interesting. There was not much ado about crossing the "border" between the Dutch and French areas, other than being asked to salute the sign indicating the border as we drove by. For some reason, our guide wanted us to make a stop at a "clothing optional" beach, so we did, for about twenty minutes. While there wasn't enough time for our group to go into the water, we could certainly tell that some of the other patrons were going to be investing in ample amounts of after-sun lidocaine lotion that night, from "tip to toe," if you catch my drift. Ouch!

And of course, no cruise would be complete without the charming and artfully created "towel animals" left on our beds each night by the cabin stewards, complete with gold-foil-wrapped chocolates and a little card wishing us a wonderful night's sleep. Here are a few:

I'm not sure what this octopus with a strange head? It's cool, though.

Towel Gorilla!

Wrinkly dog, tragically blinded by a gust of wind.
On our days at sea, I used the time to reflect on changes I need to make in my life, in addition to the seismic shift that is coming twenty-three days from now! There's nothing like waltzing around in a bathing suit to make you consider making a little extra effort in the areas of diet and exercise. Therefore, I had a blast "devouring" Tim Ferriss' fascinating book "The Four Hour Body." Ferriss is the author of the bestseller "The Four Hour Workweek," which, I'm embarrassed to say, I have not yet read. But since the ship's library had this other book, that's the one I read. Trying out his dietary advice was not hard on a fabulous cruise ship, since every type and amount of food on Earth was available as long as you can shuffle up to the Lido deck. "You would like fried eggs, lentils, sauerkraut, stir fried vegetables, peanut butter and ice water for breakfast? No problem, madame!" Applying this eating plan to our daily lives, however, on our rather more frugal budget, will be a greater challenge. Thank G-d for Aldi and Wal-Mart!

Modesty trumps vanity. A slightly more flattering picture of me was available, but since it showed a reflection of Elul taking the picture in his underpants, I chose this one.

I'm glad I found this book. Now I know I really have to stick to the diet, because once we started checking our emails when we got back today, we discovered we've been selected to be subjects in an Israeli documentary about people making Aliyah! Watch out, Kardashian sisters!

Friday, November 18, 2011

How to Take a Year Off--Whether You Planned One or Not

Elul and I moved to Boca Raton, Florida, nearly a year ago. Leaving all our furniture and much of our personal property to be cleared out and auctioned off in our absence, we drove across the country from Nevada with our one remaining car stuffed to the gills. Although we'd signed a one year lease for an apartment in Boca, at the time we really had no idea what we were going to do once we got here. Would we end up staying for years, letting our dream of making Aliyah fade away?

We had a strong sense that being in Boca was a temporary situation, but one that was very important to take advantage of. We already knew the job market was terrible--just as bad, if not worse, than the one we'd left in Nevada. Sure enough, my attempts to find work in education did not succeed. Attempts at switching fields also failed, and there was neither the time nor the money to invest in going back to school for retraining. I was not the only one facing this problem; as I filled my time with volunteer activities in the Jewish community here, I saw employees--some who had been employed for more than twenty years--get laid off as the "soft money" dried up. "Hard money" also flew out the window at lightning speed: teachers, bus drivers and paraprofessionals also got the axe as the county faced shortfall after shortfall.

I'd left a job and a small part-time business in Nevada, and Elul had been laid off just before we moved. When we moved, we both suffered the loss of our friends at our temple in Las Vegas. Losing our social network was just as difficult, if not more so, than leaving our respective jobs. When I was in my twenties, I bounced around several European countries and always managed to make new friends. I now realize that it is relatively easy to do that in one's twenties, and it's often really hard when you're in your forties and fifties!

Middle aged people have lives, careers, homes, and relationships they've nurtured for years and even decades. Their lives are full and often very, very pressured. Middle aged people are often more suspicious of strangers, and this suspicion is often sadly based on past experience. Middle aged people have more to lose, and therefore more to protect. We protect our time, our assets, our careers, our physical health, and our mental and social spaces. The time has not yet come to completely relax, as we hope to do in retirement. Instead, we need to step it up so we can go the final distance in our careers. We are also noticing that our co-workers (and our competitors) seem to be getting younger and younger every day, ever so softly nipping at our heels.

Despite arriving as total strangers, Elul and I kept our guard up socially this past year. While we have made a few friends through our wonderful temple here, we also are aware that we have held back quite a bit. We have only entertained family at our home, and we have only been to the homes of a handful of people we've met here. I am absolutely certain this is because we have somehow sent out the vibe of  "don't  get too close," to these lovely people. This has nothing to do with them, but only ourselves: we are holding back because we don't want to go through the pain of leaving again. Rationally, I know this is a silly way to think. After all, "'tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."

Elul's father died in October of 2010. My father also died in February of that year. Although our respective mothers and siblings are alive, we have all been very closely involved in the process of death and mourning. Elul's mother broke her collarbone last summer, and my mother had a surprise stay in the hospital last week, which scared the crap out of everyone. Our bodies are so fragile, and the "stuff" of our lives--careers, homes, jobs, identities--is so transient. How ironic it is that just as I started to feel more like a "grown-up," everything shifted beneath me and some of it disappeared altogether.

Pema Chodron's excellent book of essays, "When Things Fall Apart," discusses this essential transitory nature of life in detail, and I often turn to it. It reminds me to come back to the present moment, and pay as much attention to the "small" things in life as the "big" things. A teacher--I believe it was Joseph Goldstein--once said that boredom is merely a symptom of being in a state of inattention. Living this quiet, transitional year "off" in Boca has allowed me to slow down and pay attention to my life, even if it is merely paying attention to my perceptions of the past and the projections of the future. It has allowed me the time to let creativity and wonder arise again, and to experience the thrilling anticipation of life in Israel.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How To Twiddle Your Thumbs While Waiting to Make Aliyah

Shalom, chaverim! I've been absent a few days because several days ago, I received the alarming news that my mother was in the hospital. Since I want to protect her privacy, I don't want to discuss her actual health problem. But happily, she is on the mend now and should be going home fairly soon. She is bored, irritated, and sick of the crappy hospital food. In other words, she sounds perfectly normal. At the outset, though, it was a very scary time, and I was hovering near the phone and computer for updates. Time takes on a different quality when a loved one is in the hospital!

Prior to this unexpected event, however, I'd been planning on writing about how Elul and I have been basically twiddling our thumbs these past months, waiting to make Aliyah. Of course, in addition to studying Hebrew using Rosetta Stone, Elul has been very busy dealing with the seemingly unending tasks involved in organizing an overseas move. He found us an apartment, of course, and has arranged for someone to buy our furniture. He is working on leads for a buyer of our car, when the time comes. We have also been consolidating bank accounts and tidying up our personal business affairs.

As for me, I've been doing research on what types of physical goods we should stock up on here and bring with us. It sounds silly, but I am very attached to the "secret formula" of hair colors I use, and don't know if I can get the same brand in the same shade in Israel. As part of our earlier, and ultimately successful, efforts to get out of debt before making Aliyah, I cut out expensive salon visits and started coloring my own hair again. Later, I even learned to cut my own hair, but that's a different story! An Israeli friend told me I should definitely come with a few months' worth of hair color, so that's what I'll do.

Another item we're wondering if we should take with us is protein shake powder. Elul and I both exercise daily by walking for one hour, but we also lift weights--Elul in our apartment complex gym, and me to DVD's at home. My brother is very fit and an experienced weightlifter, and he swears by having protein shakes before lifting weights. He's right--they really make a difference in your energy and in building muscle. Of course, I'm sure we would be able to find shake powder in Israel, but at Wal-Mart prices? Probably not!

I've wound down some of my volunteer activities with our temple, but fortuitously, I was approached by a composer to perform some of her works on an album she's producing. That will take up some time and artistic energy, and there's also my last blogging class tomorrow night. (God bless the Palm Beach County School System's Adult Ed program!) I'm also singing a couple of duets with our temple's excellent Cantorial Soloist for a Hanukkah concert, just before we leave.

On a daily basis, though, there's actually not a lot to do that doesn't involve some form of "detaching" activity. I've detached from buying any non-essential objects, since I'll just have to pay to move them to Israel. I still keep finding things to donate, recycle, or discard altogether, so more things become detached from our household. I am discarding useless old paperwork. We are using up everything in our kitchen cupboards, which is producing some unusual dinners and freeing up space. By the way, does anyone have a recipe that would use up a whole bottle of maraschino cherries in one fell swoop?

Elul and I constantly listen to the internet radio stations of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority. It's amusing to hear two men arguing about Israeli soccer (kadur-regel, literally "ball-foot,"), and hearing them say "blah blah blah...BULLSHIT!...blah blah blah." I guess if you swear in English on a Hebrew radio station, it doesn't violate obscenity laws. We also provide endless amusement for ourselves by singing the "Reshet Gimmel" jingle as a duet, both of us singing in silly falsetto voices. When I can learn how to upload an audio file to this blog, I promise to share this tuneful effort with all of you!

We also speculate on what kinds of jobs we might get in Israel, or what kind of businesses we could start. My intention is to try to get work as a Cantorial Soloist (i.e. singing sacred music in synagogues), but that may take time and may not even happen at all. We could work as English tutors. Elul might work in journalism, and he's even thinking of starting a blog dealing with Middle East politics. Perhaps I can make amusing art work and sell it, or make gluten-free baked goods and sell them to local cafes. Elul has considered becoming an importer of motorized trikes. Or maybe we could open a kosher hot dog stand!

As can be seen from this free-wheeling daydreaming, neither of us is really that certain about what we want to do, or what's even possible there. We both recognize that learning Hebrew, and learning to be as fluent as possible, must be our first priority. The rest will have to take care of itself, in time. But we've got six more weeks of twiddling to do, so that's what we're doing!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Our Nahariya Apartment!

Today we signed the lease on our new home in Israel. We did it! Rather, Elul really did it, what with his countless Skype conversations and emails with our real estate agent and, more recently, our new landlady. So without further ado, please find a little pictorial introduction to Nahariya and our new apartment.

A view of the coastline, looking south towards Nahariya from Rosh HaNikra, very close to the Lebanese border.

Part of the beautiful Nahariya beach promenade.

Downtown Nahariya, from Gaton Street. Our apartment is a five minute walk from here.

The approach to our apartment building, on Aliyah Street. What an auspicious address!

Our building. Modest on the outside, but lovely on the inside. We're on the top floor.

The wall along the entry hall downstairs. I like the plaques! I wonder what the ads say on the bulletin board?

The living room, with the breakfast bar and a bit of the kitchen showing.

The kitchen. Note our landlady next to the fridge, trying to stay out of the shot.

The seating area. How am I going to keep that furniture clean? Note to self: pack slipcovers!

The master bedroom. It also has a large wardrobe, since older Israeli apartments don't always have closets.

The guest room. Simple and cheerful.

One of the bathrooms. The shower area is literally an area, with a drain on the floor. We're lucky to have a bathtub, though!

A work of seriously badass public art. I think this is in Acco, though, which is the next town south of Nahariya.

Last but not least, some great commercial art in Nahariya. This sculpture greets guests at The Penguin Restaurant. The Penguin is the oldest, most famous, and most loved restaurant in town.
As you can imagine, the thought of making this journey is both exciting and daunting. With less than two months to go, I am resisting the urge to start packing now, since I know we will need most things until the day before we leave. For the things we will put on our "lift"--the stuff we will have shipped to Israel--we have to let the shippers pack all that stuff themselves, so that they will insure it. Because of this, I really can't pack anything, which is strangely frustrating. 

We're shipping our personal effects (clothes, books, art, etc.) and a very few bits of furniture. But we have an apartment full of furniture here, so we've been puzzling over how to get rid of it in one fell swoop without simply giving it away. We will be immigrants who won't be working and don't speak the language in our new country, and it will probably stay that way for at least six months, if not more. Every NIS (New Israeli Shekel) we can scrape together and/or avoid spending, the better.

Today, Elul arranged for a furniture buyer to come to our apartment on December 15th. If we make a deal with him, the buyer will return a few days after that to pick up nearly all our furniture, minus the bed, two office chairs and small desks, and our recliners. This means we will be living out of our suitcases and eating dinner on our laps for about ten days, since we won't have our dressers or a table anymore. I'm telling you now, during this time of "fun camping" in our apartment, I will be thinking "I'm getting too old for this crap!" more than once!


Sunday, November 6, 2011

What I've Been Reading to Educate Myself about Israel

For the past two days I have engaged in the sin of gluttony. Namely, video gluttony. Comcast hasn't made Season Four of "Mad Men" available on their On Demand series yet, and we missed it when we were living in the Southwest. But last week, my stepmother gave me the brilliant idea of checking out the Season Four DVD set of "Mad Men" from my local library.

I have struggled with "Mad Men Deprivation Syndrome" for many months. This syndrome manifests itself in vague yearnings to smoke cigarettes at work, tease my hair,  and wear a nosecone-shaped bra--er, "foundation garment"-- under a twinset with pearls. Ironically, I was reminded a few months ago of the actual technique of hair teasing by watching an HBO special on Gloria Steinem!

Anyway, back to "Mad Men." The DVD set arrived at the library early last week, and we picked it up. After putting up a weak pretense of self-control, our willpower faded into nothing. Following services on Friday night, we spent all of Shabbat watching the entire thirteen episodes of Season Four. We are looking forward to watching the special features later this week, including "Don Draper's 10- Point Blueprint for Success." Oh, Don Draper, you dashing anti-hero! Given that my father-in-law (of blessed memory) worked in the garment industry in New York during the Fifties and Sixties, Elul has found "Mad Men" to be particularly fascinating.

Reading books about Israel may not be quite as titillating as watching "Mad Men," but they too can be extremely entertaining as well as informative. There are literally thousands upon thousands of books about Judaism--how to be a better Jew, how people came to be Jews, what does it mean to be a Jew, who is or is not a Jew, and so on. But I had a very specific interest in learning about modern Israel, and by modern, I mean from the run up to statehood in 1948 until today.

I have always enjoyed reading history in a sociological context. Rather than memorizing dates and players in battles (boring!), I was always interested in what factors brought people to the battlefield in the first place. When teaching American history to teenagers, I developed a particular interest in the American Revolution when I took a closer look at the complexity and remarkable nature of how America came to be a republic. So when I reflected on the establishment of the State of Israel, I realized that because of Israel's young age (in terms of formal statehood), it was as if the Israeli equivalent of John Quincy Adams were alive today. The descendants of these amazing people--David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, for example--were not only still around, but they were writing books, giving television interviews, and showing up on YouTube. You can even get footage of Golda Meir herself talking to Barbra Streisand on YouTube! How cool is that?

My baby-steps self-education in Israeli history were not--by definition--guided by a college reading list. I have skimmed some early works on Zionism, and frankly, I have found some of David Ben-Gurion's writings a bit stiff and heavy going. But I have also found some highly readable and very entertaining books that I can sincerely recommend. Some are historical fiction, some are actual accounts, and one "autobiography" was actually ghost-written by a friend of the author!

So here are some highlights of what you might find interesting to read. Of course, you can get them on (I've added a handy widget on the side of this blog for this purpose, so you can research the book without leaving the blog), but don't forget to support your local public library, either!

"My Life," by Golda Meir. A fascinating and highly readable account of Meir's early life in Pinsk, Russia, to her youth in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and her amazing journey to Palestine, all the way to the birth of the State of Israel and beyond. (This is the one that was ghostwritten, and it does leave out the stories of her various affairs with powerful men along the way, but it's still a great read!)

"Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation," by Ruth Gruber. The only foreign correspondent given permission to cover the conditions in the Displaced Persons camps following the end of WWII, Gruber documents the true story of one of the "illegal immigrant" ships filled with Jews trying to get to Palestine after the war. A shocking, but ultimately very inspiring, true story of hope, courage, and incredible determination.

"Raquela: A Woman of Israel," also by Ruth Gruber. Biography of a ninth-generation Jerusalemite woman named Raquela, born in the 1920's and lived and worked as a midwifery nurse for Hadassah, in the DP camps in Athlit and Cyprus, and later in the Israeli Defense Force. Her encounter with Henrietta Szold (one of the original honchos of Hadassah) at the end of Szold's life is poignant.

"Rescue: The Exodus of the Ethiopian Jews," yet again by Ruth Gruber. I didn't know that the Ethiopian Jews who came to Israel primarily got there because of a secret Mossad airlift operation, did you? Fascinating stuff! I have a particular interest in this group of people because there are a large number of Ethiopian Jews who live in Nahariya.

"The Hope," by Herman Wouk. Skillful weaving of fact and fiction that uses men and women in the Haganah and, later, IDF, to interact with the giants of David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir from the establishment of the Israeli state to the Yom Kippur War. I have Wouk's sequel, "The Glory," waiting for pickup at my local library!

Finally, everyone raves about any Daniel Silva book that features the "retired" Mossad operative/art restorer Gabriel Allon in it. Based on our temple librarian's recommendation, I checked it out and have just started it. So far, I can say that this spy is one cool cucumber!

What about you? Any suggestions for further reading, while I'm still here and can't read Hebrew very well yet? I can already tell by the comments that I'm attracting an audience of pretty smart cookies!

Shavua tov, chaverim! (A good week to you, friends!)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Winding Down One Life to Start Another

I have noticed that the older we get, the more deeply entrenched and enmeshed we can become in the matrix of life. As the wag said, "if you think no one cares about you, just try missing a car payment or two!" In the past two years we've been planning to make Aliyah, we have done the following:
  • Paid off both of our cars and sold one of them;
  • Decluttered to the degree that would make Niecy Nash of "Clean House" beam with pride;
  • Gotten our names off umpteen mailing lists;
  • Gotten out of ALL credit card debt--woo-hoo!
  • Rented out our upside-down house, which we left in the real estate vortex that is Southern Nevada.
Believe me, we would not feel comfortable in making Aliyah if we were still in debt, had car payments to make, and hadn't rented out our house. When trying to start a new life, it is very important that you have paid for your past before you try to spring for a brand-new future.

Of course, I'm talking about the mechanics of setting up a "new" life by moving overseas and into a new culture, as opposed to going into the Witness Protection Program and disappearing! While extricating oneself from payment plans, possessions, property, and so on can be a large job indeed, the most difficult thing is not leaving stuff behind, but  leaving people behind. For example, we were asked about this in our interviews with Jewish Agency and Nefesh B'Nefesh officials. It's good they ask this of prospective olim. It's easy to get caught up in the exciting dream of making Aliyah; so much so that some people fail to deeply consider the ramifications of being far away from their family and friends. In my case, I responded that I have lived far away from my mother for most of my adult life. At this stage of the game, she doesn't really care what airport I'm flying in from, as long as I'm flying in to the airport where she lives!

As a side note, every day I thank my lucky stars that I'm alive and well during the age of the internet. I did a great deal of travelling when I was younger, and "back in the olden days" (!) you could meet amazing people and only get their name, and if you were lucky an address and phone number. But I was meeting young people who were rolling around the planet as much as I was. Addresses and phone numbers became useless quite quickly. I am still searching, in fact, for a dear friend in London whom I haven't heard from since 1995. Nowadays, we are practicing using Skype with Elul's mother and her caregiver. My own mother is seriously wired, so Skype won't be a problem for her--she posts photos of her quilts on Facebook! Nothing can be as good as being in the physical presence of a loved one, and of course we can bemoan the lost art of writing and mailing letters on paper. But being able to see a talking, smiling, laughing video image of a family member, for free, is fantastic!

Apartment Hunting Update: Elul and I seem to be in the final throes of negotiations involving the rental of an apartment in Nahariya. This is great news! I say "Elul and I" as if I've actually participated in the negotiations myself, but that's not true--Elul has done all the work, really. It has taken literally hours and hours of Skype "phone" calls between Elul and our wonderful real estate agent, Yoram, to go over the apartment by close scrutiny of photographs, and back-and-forthing between the landlord, Yoram, Elul, and the landlord's lawyer. Just before leaving for my blogging class (which I'm attending now as I write this), Elul worked out some final details regarding the "who pays for what kind of insurance?" question. The apartment is very nicely furnished, but we will have our own things as well, including a stove and dishwasher we'll need to buy. So the question is, who pays for the contents insurance? I think the question was settled between Elul and the landlady, and it just may be the last thing to cover...I hope!

I have restrained myself from posting the many pictures we have of this apartment. This for two reasons. First, we haven't signed the lease yet, and I don't want to end up with egg on my face if it doesn't work out. Second, this is only my second night of my blogging class, and I haven't figured out how to post photographs yet. I suspect it is ridiculously easy, but even if we learn how to do it in class, I don't have access to my home computer here. But I am itching to show them to you--they are so cool!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Apartment Renting, Israeli Style

It's Sunday morning, and Elul and I have just returned from our morning walk. We walk every day for exactly one hour, which gives us our daily sun exposure for maximum Vitamin D absorption, cardio exercise for belly-fat fighting, and the added bonus of premature skin aging. It also gives us a chance to let our minds wander.

This morning we spent some time speculating about a prospective rental apartment in Nahariya we virtually viewed last night. We have booked our flight to Israel, and we will be leaving on December 27th, 2011. We don't have anywhere to stay yet, but we are working with an Israeli real estate agent named Yoram. Yoram comes highly recommended by a friend of ours who already made Aliyah three years ago, and also lives in Nahariya.

Renting an apartment in Israel is not--repeat NOT-- like renting one in America. For starters, there are virtually no apartment complexes in Israel that have a central management and leasing office. Instead, everyone owns their apartment individually, and if they want to rent it out, they have to find their own renters. Second, there is no MLS (multiple listing service) in Israel, so a buyer, seller, or renter has to really hope they get a good agent who has lots of contacts and experience. Third, and this is the real "ouch factor," it is customary that a renter pays the real estate agent a fee equivalent to a month's rent for the place they end up renting. If a renter works with two different agents, and the renter views the same property with each of the agents, the renter will have to pay BOTH agents their respective fees if the renter takes the apartment!

In Israel, if a renter decides to take an apartment, the landlord presents the tenant with a lease to sign. However, these contracts are not necessarily standardized, so all tenants are strongly advised to have their attorney review the contract and suggest any changes, if necessary. Woe to the hapless immigrant or other trusting soul who doesn't get their lease agreement reviewed by an attorney! Our friend in Nahariya is in this mess himself now. He didn't want to pay an agent to find his last rental, so he drummed up a vacancy himself through his contacts with friends. Another friend looked through the contract and told him it was a good one, so he signed it. Unfortunately, that friend mixed up the language that distinguished between "landlord" and "tenant," and it turned out that the contract was entirely in the landlord's favor, not the tenant's! Yoram is helping him sort this out right now, and it will take a bit of tact, diplomacy, and "getting to yes," given that the contract really does just have our friend over a legal barrel.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, which includes high-speed internet, Skype, and digital cameras, Yoram was able to show us a dozen pictures of a prospective rental last night. It looks good--very good. The location is great for us, in the middle of town and just a couple of blocks from the beach. Being in the middle of town means it will be easy for us to get around on bikes, since we won't have a car right away. It's on the third floor and there's no elevator, but that just means consistent exercise for the glutes, which, I've found, have a worrying tendency to sag in middle age! Furthermore, nothing encourages you to buy less food at the market than knowing you've got to haul it down the street and up three flights of stairs!

Yoram is a chatty, talkative fellow who spent a few years living in Southern Florida himself. His English is very good, and he's generous enough with his time and patience to give Elul free conversational Hebrew classes on Skype. Elul is improving by leaps and bounds, and can now string intelligible, if simple, sentences together, including the "fancy" ways of speaking in tenses other than the simple present! I, on the other hand, am a rank beginner and can manage saying fascinating things like "the cat is on the table," "he runs," and "the girl has books." On the other hand, I do spend at least an hour a day listening to "Reshet Bet," which is "Station B" on the Israeli Broadcasting Authority's internet radio station.

We like "Reshet Bet" the best because it features lots of talk shows, many of which are phone-in shows. Because of the time difference, we often hear conversations between radio hosts and apparently insomniac and elderly, listeners. I'm sure I'm missing much of what they are actually saying about these things, but I have figured out that there are plenty of parents and grandparents calling in to gripe about their ungrateful children who don't call enough, don't visit enough, are marrying the wrong people, and who aren't speaking Hebrew properly because they are watching too many American movies and music videos! Since Israelis also tend to get very excited and enthusiastic in discussions (which sound more like loud fights to me), I've also picked up some phrases that mean "Wait, wait!", "Hold on!", and "No, you're wrong!" I'm glad I'm learning these now, so I'll know when my Hebrew teacher is correcting me.

Here's the link to the Israeli Broadcasting Authority, by the way. It's . It can take awhile to load, and the radio streaming works a lot better than the television streaming. There are tabs that will translate some of the pages into partial English. The other radio options are "Reshet A" (Station A), and "Reshet Gimmel," which you could call either Station C (in sequential order, since Gimmel is the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet) or Station G, since Gimmel makes the "g" sound phonentically. Reshet Gimmel has more Israeli popular music, and boy, is it an eclectic mix! Sometimes the DJ's will put a show together featuring songs of all styles and ages that deal with a theme. For instance, last night's theme seemed to be about the seasons. Every song had something about spring, winter, fall, summer, or a particular holiday. A few nights ago, the theme seemed to be about family relationships, e.g. "Mommy, I Remember You," and so on. One night it was Israeli musicians doing covers of Frank Sinatra songs!

Do you know of any good Israeli radio stations that stream over the internet? Do you have any more tips about renting apartments in Israel, or even horror stories? Let me know!

Friday, October 28, 2011

We Got Our Visas!

Elul and I are so excited. Two days ago, we received our Aliyah visas so we can move to Nahariya, Israel. It was a long journey leading up to this point, starting more than two years ago when we lived in a small town deep in the American Southwest. While we were reasonably comfortable and in work, we were disturbed by the crash of the economy and the increasing nastiness of the political rhetoric flying around. We wanted to be part of a country that we felt needed our presence more.

I am in my mid-forties, and my husband Elul is in his late fifties. I don't have children, and Elul's children are young adults now; one son is in his third year of university, the other is a junior in high school and lives with his mother across the country. While moving to Israel is usually something people do when they are either quite young and just starting out in life, or completely retired and looking for a different way of life, we are doing it now. Frankly, we have little to lose at this point. Elul was laid off from his job last year, and a week after the layoff, his father died. We moved across country, to Southern Florida, in a hurry. I resigned from my job and we delayed making Aliyah for approximately six months, while we helped Elul's mother adjust to her new life as a widow. Fortunately, Elul's sister lives in the same town, so she will continue to be near my mother-in-law.

The entire Aliyah process is something I'll have to go into in subsequent posts, as it was fairly complicated and had quite a few twists and turns along the way. But the punchline is, as I've already revealed, that in the end we did manage to get our visas, Category 4-B (Law of Return), and we're going at the end of December!

Now, I must consult my English-Hebrew dictionary and see if there's a translation for "woot"!