Friday, December 28, 2012

Happy Aliyah Anniversary to Us!

Shalom, chaverim! Well, we did it. Our first full year in Israel is officially over, and it feels great to be at this point. One of the interesting side effects of aging is that our perception of time passing actually speeds up as we get older. For example, when you are six years old and are told that your birthday isn't for another three months, it seems like forever. And when you are forty-six years old, the fact that an entire year has gone by since you last took proper notice, just makes you say, "Huh?"

I am trying to think back to the stages of our experience as new immigrants, or "olim chadashim," to Israel. First, there was definitely a very long honeymoon period for us, in which we woke up elated, excited, and incredibly grateful to be here. We were amazed that we had actually been able to pull it all off, and I personally had that nagging little feeling in the back of my mind that sooner or later, some authority figure would knock on our door and say "no, sorry, it's all a mistake and you need to leave now." That feeling is still there to a certain extent, but now that I can go down to a government office first thing Sunday morning and rightfully apply for my full Israeli passport, I feel a little bit more secure.

Then there was the stage of simultaneously trying to set up a new life in terms of its physical infrastructure, and its social infrastructure. This involved a deep and fast orientation to our community, learning where and how to find and buy what we needed, and meeting new people who rapidly became our friends. We were extremely fortunate in that Nahariya is a very friendly town for new English-speaking immigrants, and that we were also given a wonderful "buddy family" from our Nefesh B'Nefesh local coordinator, Steven Rosenthal.

Ice in bags just blew my mind.

We then plunged into the collective swimming pool of intensive Hebrew study, known as Ulpan. Here again, we were incredibly fortunate. We were put in the class of a very gifted Hebrew teacher, Yael, who patiently and enthusiastically help us toddle towards our first words and verb groups in Hebrew. Oh, that Yael could teach me Hebrew for the next fifteen years!

Yael was and is the best Hebrew teacher ever!

Once our apartment and our social lives had been sorted out, and Ulpan was absorbing most of our available brain power, we felt settled enough to notice the gap in our lives that was left when my cat, Man Ray, died. He died a few months before we made Aliyah, at age 14. The minute I got to Israel, I started yearning for another cat, but it wasn't the right time when we were so busy getting acclimated. But finally, after a few false starts and constant pushing, we got our two little litter mates, Pini and Dudu, from an animal rescue center in Kiryat Biyalik. They are so much an integral part of our lives now, that it's hard to remember what life was like without them. They make us laugh every single day, and despite all the things they've broken and all the furniture they've damaged, I wouldn't trade either of them for a million dollars. They are funny and affectionate and smart, and we're completely smitten with them.

First week home. Dudu snuggled up to Elul, ears sized at a 1:1 ratio to her head.

Pini and Dudu now, all grown up. Sort of.

After the party of Ulpan was over in June, it was time to get serious about finding work and really making a life for ourselves here. We ran into the usual challenges of competition, ageism, geographic self-selection (Nahariya is not a center of work for any jobs except work-at-home jobs, so we had to stretch in this respect), lack of sufficient Hebrew for many jobs, and not having some of my key professional qualifications being recognized. Sometimes I got interviews, oftentimes I got ignored, and once an interviewer went out of her way to write me to tell me that she thought I sucked and that there was no way in the world they'd ever consider hiring me. I was not the only new immigrant this happened to, by other erstwhile employers, by the way.

Sometimes, job hunting really makes you want to know what the Hebrew words are for "pain in the a**."

A few jobs materialized, while others were offered but then disappeared like the morning dew. One employer took three months after I was hired, for me to actually start working for them. Elul got a great job...until it wasn't a great job anymore, when his hours were cut by 50% a few weeks ago, so now we're still needing to hustle even more.

Of course, we've also had to spend quite a bit of money on reconstructing our own professional tools and equipment. Some of this was done by choice, and other purchases were driven by necessity. For example, in order for Elul to get his Israeli driving license, he needed to buy new prescription glasses before he would be allowed to take lessons. Those glasses cost close to $800 USD--yow! His computer died and needed to be replaced with one that was high-powered enough to do video editing; another way by which he earns money. Two weeks ago, the computer we both use for doing our voiceover work also died. It needed to be replaced immediately, so we could keep working. "Computer purchase" and "immediate" should never be in the same sentence if you want to get good deals, incidentally.

As for me, I needed some new clothes for my new job, and a sound system on European 220 voltage, so I can sing to earn money. Not to mention buying a few teacher's manuals for my work, some flyers and business cards for my budding businesses, and the bicycles and their accessories we needed to buy the minute we arrived, because we didn't have a car. Ironically, as Elul's job initially demanded that he spend a fair amount of time in the company headquarters that were more than a two-hour train ride away, we eventually gave in and bought a second-hand car. Just a few months after we bought it, his hours were cut, making the car now both unnecessary and unaffordable. We're now thinking about selling it.

Recently, we and all the other new olim here were also confronted with the realities of living on the outskirts of what people think of, when they hear of "trouble in the Middle East." Although rockets weren't landing in Nahariya, they were falling thick and fast in Israel, and tens of thousands of soldiers were called up from the reserve units from all over the country. It was a very tense time, and very unpleasant indeed. All I can say is that I'm glad it's over and I hope it won't happen again. We'll see what the politicos do about it all--that's the only type of blood sport I truly enjoy watching, anyway.

But all in all, neither Elul nor I regret one iota having made Aliyah. I am still as grateful today as I was the day I got here, to have the chance to not only live here, but also work within Israeli society and contribute to it in my own small way. We've been through the entire Jewish/Israeli cycle of holidays, and each event has been unique and special. I'm thrilled to be teaching again, and I love being around so many interesting, clever, funny, and extremely idiosyncratic people. If you are lucky enough to have the option of making Aliyah open to you, then I truly encourage you to consider it seriously. Israel is a blast...and I mean that in a good way!

A view of the sea from the shores of Nahariya. Pretty sweet!

Shabbat shalom, everyone!


Friday, December 21, 2012

It's Not the End of the World For Us Today

Shalom, chaverim! As said by our Rabbi Greg Kanter, of Temple Sinai in Delray Beach, Florida, Jews observe the Jewish calendar, so it's not the end of the world for us at the moment. But just in case it might be for some readers, I'll keep it brief. In fact, I now have to excuse myself so I can keep working on my spicy Israeli carrot salad side dish contribution. Elul and I are attending an "End of the World" party after services this evening, so we're helping everyone stock up on their internal resources of antioxidants. Who knows, we might be wrong!

So with that, I wish you all a Shabbat shalom from Israel!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Dodging the Drafts

Shalom, chaverim! All's well here in lovely, placid Nahariya, and as the temperature has finally begun to drop on a somewhat regular basis, we've broken out the extra quilts, new long johns, hats, gloves, and umbrellas. In short, we're now using all the cold-weather equipment I'd been stockpiling since last winter, through which we suffered from our being woefully unprepared. It feels great to have it all readily at hand.

In addition to winter clothing readiness, ever attentive to my public pleas, my mother was kind enough to make and send us several "draft dodgers."  Elul promptly filled them with dried navy beans, sewed them shut, and stuffed them around the apartment doors. This one technique has made an enormous difference in the feel to the apartment, since now we're not subject to screamingly cold drafts nipping at our feet at every turn. We've had to turn on the heat on a more regular basis, of course, but now that we've blocked the drafts, we're able to heat up the room more quickly and thus save some energy. Elul's hours at work were cut by 50% last week, which puts a cramp in our style, to say the least, so every shekel counts right now.

The mouse cat toy keeps the draft dodger company while it protects our home from stealthy drafts that seek to increase our electric bill.

Speaking of cramps, my mother also was kind enough to construct a microwaveable heating pad for me, which consists of two flannel pouches. The idea is that you fill the pouch with uncooked rice, sew up the top so the rice doesn't leak out, and then microwave the whole thing so it all heats up. Apparently, there is enough water in the "dry" rice that it will maintain heat for quite some time. The "ricepad" is more malleable than a typical hot water bottle, and so you can use it on your neck, lie on it comfortably, and so on. As I am not a sewer by any stretch of the imagination, and didn't even think of asking Elul to do it (duh), I took the pouches and the rice to a local Russian seamstress to do the job. My Hebrew wasn't up to explaining that these pouches were a "non-electric alternative to an electrical heating pad," but she immediately understood the concept when I mimicked being doubled over with period pains. Some things are just the same the world over.

This week has been especially nice because it's Hanukkah, and that means lots of parties. Nahariya is a very sociable town, and individuals and organizations have been having latke parties, concerts, plays, dinners, and all sorts of other fun events. Party pooper that I inevitably turn out to be, despite my most sincere intentions, I've missed two such events already due to getting last-minute work assignments. Worse, I'm going to miss another one tonight. Such is life when you build your career around what's happening in North America, which, because of the time zone differences, is still in the throes of the business week just when everyone in Israel is winding down for Shabbat. On the other hand, it's hard to feel festive when you're stressing about money and work, so, as the Israelis would say, "mah la'asot?" Translated, this means roughly, "whaddya gonna do?" Or, as Roseanne Roseanna Danna would say, "if it's not one thing, it's another!" Still, it's all good. We are in Israel, and we love it here.

The first night of Hanukkah. Note the ice cream tub lid serving as the wax catcher. Seriously, we need to make just a little bit more of an effort!

Shabbat shalom and chag Hanukkah sameach!


Friday, December 7, 2012

Happy Hanukkah!

Shalom, chaverim! We're well into the school year now, going full throttle, and it's been exciting to gradually chip away at the pile of paperwork and forms that appear at seemingly random times. These are the forms that are necessary for me to get into "the system" of being an Israeli government employee in the public schools. A friend who made Aliyah several years before we did wisely reminded us that when it comes to things bureaucratic, Israelis often won't give you the entire picture regarding what needs to be done, or when, or why. He was so right in his assessment.

Today, for example, I found out that I need to have a medical examination by my doctor; the results of which, I presume, will be part of my file. That seems more than a little "big brotherish" to me, but of course I had to remind myself, again, that this is not America. It's Israel, where concerns over individual privacy are not such a high priority.

However, notwithstanding the rite-of-passage medical exams and the warm welcome I've received from my fellow teachers at my school, it was harshly brought home to me this week that I am still not yet considered to be a "real teacher" in Israel. I found this during a recent interview with another public school in Nahariya. The head teacher was kind enough to tell me that while she wanted to hire me, she suspected my lack of a full Israeli teaching diploma would most likely prevent her from doing so, as it didn't tick all the boxes of the administrative regulations. However, she also told me that she would look into the matter to see if an exception could be made, and promised that someone would call me the next day to let me know the outcome.

To my surprise, I got the call.

"Hello? You are an English teacher and you talked about a job with us yesterday?"

"Yes, that's me! Thanks for calling back!" (Said excitedly, hoping I'd landed the assignment.)

"Yes, good. I am calling to tell you that we don't want you now. Maybe in some years we will want you. Goodbye."


Well, it's a good thing, then, that I was finally accepted onto what will hitherto be known in this blog as "THE COURSE." THE COURSE is a teacher training course for immigrant teachers to Israel, which meets once a week down in Kiryat Motzkin--just a few train stops north of Haifa. It meets every Tuesday from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m., between December 18th and the middle of July. At the end of it, I will be a licensed Israeli teacher, but not a certified one. Apparently, to get full certification, I also need to do another year-long course at a different college, which meets three days a week. But one step at a time, I will endeavor to lumber through these hoops. (I used to jump through them, but now I seem to only be able to manage a shambling gait.) Working with my Indian students online has been a great shot in the arm in regards to getting my professional development mojo supply topped up.

So on that note, I wanted to share with you one of the nicest moments I've had at my school, which was teaching "my girls" a Hanukkah song in English: "I Have a Little Dreidel." After I had them rehearse it across the course of a few lessons, I recorded it in our last session yesterday, just before the holiday break. Elul was kind enough to mix it with a video backdrop so it could be uploaded to YouTube. (If the link doesn't show up on your email, just go directly to .)

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, Miss Selah's English Class Chorale!

Chag sameach and Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Heat Is On

Shalom, chaverim! We seem to be dodging not only the literal bullets that were flying around Israel and Gaza just a week ago, but also the "bullet" of bad weather, which is lovely. As Elul and I enter our twelfth month of living in Israel, the weather is still generally very beautiful and warm. The grass is still green, we are still wearing shorts for our daily walks along the beach, and while it does get somewhat chilly at night now, we've only had to turn on the heater once so far. I can still ride my bicycle to work without wearing gloves in the morning, although I keep them handy in my basket just in case. Not bad for it being just a day away from the start of December!

Speaking of heat, as I have watched the rhetoric fly around, thick and fast, most recently about the Palestine/Israel problem here and the Obama/Romney divide in America, it has caused me to reflect more deeply on the issue of anger and conflict. Humans have always argued with each other, but until recently I never paid too much attention to how they did it. I have been paying particular attention, however, to how people try to convince other people to agree with them. Agreement about what, it doesn't matter, as people will argue about anything under the sun.

Some try to do it by reasoning and logical arguments, only to become infuriated when the recipient of these "change your mind so you agree with me" campaigns, frequently played out in public forums like Facebook, are countered by equally well-reasoned and logical arguments. And instead of agreeing to disagree and dropping the subject, people harshly judge their friends for their opinions and freeze them out of their lives, preferring only to interact with "like-minded" people. Mind you, many of the people with these incredibly strong convictions about how the world should operate actually do very little work to affect any positive or lasting change. It is far easier to sit and criticize, while pretending to contribute to change simply by pleading with other people to change their minds. No wonder it's a popular pastime.

Others try to do it by hedging their outright disagreement with others, by using modifiers like "I don't think you're bad for thinking the way you do, just misguided." Or, "you seem to be confusing your opinion with what I know is true." For me, the biggest howler of these dodges is, "I'm not judging you, but...." If you disagree with someone, why not say so? Why make it more clouded by pretending you're not upset if you actually are?

Still others try to do it with outright attacks and gross generalizations. I have both heard and read the insults "Idiots," "morons," "a**holes," and "real mother f***ers" to everyone who votes for a particular party or candidate, or has a divergent opinion on how problems could be solved. We're talking about calling millions of people terrible names, in one fell swoop. We are cursing our fellow man, many of whom devote their lives to public service (e.g. firemen, policemen, soldiers, teachers, nurses, doctors, and the clergy) by these statements. We, as a human race, often talk about how killing lots of people who don't live where we live, or believe as we do, as being a good idea. "Reasoning" doesn't work, so we resort to threats of violence, and then, finally, to acts of violence. Is it any wonder so many parts of the world are struggling with the effects of anger and rage? Why do we get angry at people who are angry at us, but still feel quite entitled to feel angry at others?

Bo Lozoff, who, with his wife Sita, founded the Human Kindness Foundation, eloquently put this phenomena into a song. A portion of the lyrics, reprinted in the HKF's Fall 2012 newsletter, go like this.

From the song “Everybody’s Angry” by Bo Lozoff, © 2005
Big man’s angry knowing big don’t count,
Little man’s angry ’cause he hasn’t found it out.
Poor man’s angry he can’t have it today,
Rich man’s angry he ain’t happy anyway. …
Even Jesus was angry at the moneychanger’s sin,
The moneychanger’s angry right back at him.
Anger, anger, everywhere I see,
Everybody seems to be angry to me,
Anger, anger at the drop of a hat.
Well it makes me angry and I don’t like that.
Also from that extraordinary newsletter was a quote from "Richard," an inmate in Maury, North Carolina, who reflected,

"The first step for me is accepting that the outside world is not the problem—my own selfish delusions about how life should be and how others should act is the cause of my anger."

Indeed. Yom Kippur is over, but it's never a bad time to reflect on how our anger just might be a reflection of our own selfishness. Look at it this way, if you forgive yourself and others, and stop cursing them with your mouth, your pen, and in your heart, it's just that much less you'll need to atone for. Plus, you'll feel a lot better and be much more pleasant to hang around.

And so, while all the human rage continues to sputter and strut itself around the place, the flowers still bloom. The birds sing, children play and run for the sheer joy of it, and cats nap peacefully in the sunshine, content with a warm patch of cement on the sidewalk. Israel is still a beautiful land and the world is still a beautiful home for us all. Don't let anger, whether of others or your own, ever make you forget that.

"What, me kvetch?" A cool cat hanging out on a street side wall in Zikhron Yaakov.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving in Israel

Shalom, chaverim! Well, the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza seems to be holding, at least for the moment, so that's certainly something to be thankful for. Last night we had our first Thanksgiving in Israel, and in true American style, the people in attendance at a small gathering of friends included four Americans, a Canadian, a Columbian-American-Israeli, and a Namibian.

We did it potluck style. Our job was to cook the giant, long necked, 18.25 pound kosher turkey, which was kindly ordered, purchased, and lugged upstairs to us by another friend. Whole turkeys are almost never available in Israel, incidentally, since generally no one has ovens large enough to roast them.

As we gazed in dismay at the aforementioned neck, wondering how we were going to remove it when poultry shears and brute force had already failed, we remembered that Elul had returned from his recent business trip to Germany with some marketing swag that included a "multi-tool." With it, he was able to saw that neck right off. We were also short one of those giant needles used to sew up turkey butts, so we raided my grandmother's old sewing kit and used the biggest needle and the strongest thread we could find. It had been so long since I'd roasted a turkey that I didn't have a turkey baster in the kitchen drawer, either. Fortunately, I remembered that I'd bought a new one to use for making handmade paper (a hobby of mine), but hadn't yet used, so I dug through my craft supplies and found it. Score!

Creating a gluten-free stuffing was a little trickier, but we used gluten-free bread for the breadcrumbs and it came out just fine. Our friends had a more difficult challenge, as they needed to make pumpkin pies that were gluten-free, sugar-free, and dairy free. They used chopped-up gluten-free cookies to make a crust, cornstarch instead of wheat flour, sweetener instead of sugar, and soy milk and a non-dairy whipped topping for the rest. Getting canned pumpkin was another challenge, because, with extremely rare exceptions, it pretty much doesn't exist anywhere in Israel. Our friends reported that when they asked for fresh pumpkin, they were led to a back room in the store, where a man was somewhat furtively cutting a giant squash that only vaguely resembled a pumpkin, into large slices. Our friends could see no obvious reason why gourd-slicing needed to be done in such a clandestine manner, but it turned the annual pumpkin procurement into a more adventurous event than usual. The pies turned out to be completely delicious.

"Thou preparest a table before me...." indeed!

In addition, our hosts provided guacamole, dill dip, an extraordinarily elegant Columbian sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and a green bean-cranberry dish, as well as plenty of beer, wine, and exceptional Columbian cofffee. The table groaned as we sat outdoors, eating, laughing, and giving thanks for our families, our friends, and for being in Israel, all the while overlooking the sea and the lights of Rosh Ha'Nikra. After we ate all that food, we were the ones who were groaning. I never really understood the French expression "crise des foies" ("crisis of the livers") that was used for when people over-indulged on food, until last night. Ooof!

Shabbat shalom, everyone!


Friday, November 16, 2012

Shabbat Shalom from North of the War Zone

Shalom, chaverim. I'm going to make this a very brief post today, because I really can't think of much to say that hasn't already been said a million times over, by people with far more experience than me. This is one of those instances that words really do fail me--or, more accurately, I have failed to find the words.

The deadly game of air strike ping-pong between Israel and Gaza has been going on for quite some time now, and things just seem to be ratcheting up with every passing hour. Meetings are being scheduled, speeches are being made, Twitter wars are raging, and the social media networks and the television stations have plenty of footage to roll and newsfeed to scroll.

IDF (Israeli Defense Force) reserve troops are being called up into active duty, including a friend's brother-in-law who is in his fifties. He has vast experience in the reserves, so perhaps the military choosing the most experienced personnel they can find. Tanks have amassed at the border with Gaza.

I am concerned about all the people in this land, whether they identify themselves as Israelis, Palestinians, Gazans, Arabs, Muslims, Jews, Druze, Christians, or whatever. I don't think I'm either baffled or surprised by all this massive escalation, but that doesn't make the fact of war any less painful or upsetting.

Two days ago, my permission from the Ministry of Education finally having arrived, I started teaching at the Nahariya religious girls' high school. It turns out that some other layer of bureaucrats also has to sign off on me, and I have yet to do the paperwork so I can actually get paid, but that's another matter for another day. There was a morning prayer service, at which many of the girls were plainly agitated and upset, as many had brothers or relatives who were in the army or had just been put on alert as reservists. Still, after the service we just got on with it and kept hacking away at the coalface that is the English language, together. I have always felt that there was an inherent sacredness in the act of schoolchildren coming together to learn, and was impressed to see that the drive to learn and carry on as normal was so strong in our school. In the south, where some schools may still be open, I am sure that same spirit is present.

May this conflict end as quickly as possible, with as little harm to any and all as can be managed. I, for one, abhor not only bloodshed and violence, but also can't stand to see children's childhoods squandered by fear, terror, anger, bigotry, and instability. Whatever seeds we collectively plant, will eventually bear fruit. And that is what will be on our plate, whether we like it or not.

Shabbat shalom, everyone. Please, if you pray or just want to send a kind thought or a good vibe, make them peaceful ones directed at everyone in this region. Hatred just doesn't get anyone very far at all.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Israeli Tax System and the Dark Arts

Shalom, chaverim! Well, after all the build-up, excitement, and preparatory skirt-purchasing for the new teaching job I was hoping to get, I have yet again been firmly placed in bureaucratic limbo. I did a sample lesson last Sunday morning, which was observed by the Principal and the head of the English department. It seemed to go well, and I was thrilled to receive a call that night, informing me that I'd gotten the job. I was to start teaching last Tuesday. Whoo hoo!

Here's the kicker, though. On Monday, I received another call from the school, saying that a particular form had to be filled out and sent to the Ministry of Education to get final approval for me to teach there. That process was only supposed to take a day or two. It's now Friday morning and I've heard nothing. Sigh. The weeks go on, and it seems that it takes forever for straightforward things to get done.

I have to take some responsibility in this, though. If I had started getting my degrees recognized the minute I got to Israel, just as EVERYONE told me to do, I might be further ahead in this process. But I did get them recognized, and ultimately a job was offered to me, so now it's on the Ministry to turn this puppy around quickly. Israeli ninth-grade girls are in desperate need of reviewing the correct usage of "since" and "for" in the present perfect continuous tense! Why isn't there a national sense of urgency about this pressing need?

Another little glitch we encountered in the labyrinth known as the Israeli tax system meant that, after a month's work in our new voiceover/narration jobs, the fact that we already were on the books for other jobs meant that our paychecks were taxed at the nose-bleedingly high rate of 60%. The intricacies of doing multiple and part-time jobs in Israel means you really need a professional working with you from the get-go to keep it all straight. You will need their help to fill in the tax forms correctly, file arcane forms in mysterious offices, and be ultimately be taxed at the correct rate. After speaking with our accountant yesterday, it appears that we will only be eligible for a certain piece of paper that will remedy this situation when we've been resident in Nahariya for a full year. In our case, that will be on December 28th. Once the form is provided to the tax ministry, we will be given a June or July of 2013. The dark art of working within the Israeli tax system is something that mere novices, such as ourselves and other new olim, should leave to a voodoo practitioner--er, accountant--who can counteract the spells.

The new immigrant gets the pin in the eye for not reading the tax form correctly. The pin in the knee is for not bowing  deeply enough in supplication to the tax authority deities. And the one in the heart is just...because. Thanks to for the image!

However, in happier news, I'm still having a blast teaching English for the Indian company I work for. In that job, I teach English online to Indians who want to improve their English, usually to enhance their career skills. Since many of my lessons are designed to improve the students' general conversation abilities, I've had to bone up on contemporary Indian culture in order to find common ground that students will feel comfortable in discussing.

Luckily, our satellite television package gives us access to an Indian channel operating out of Singapore. I'm able, if I want to, to watch Bollywood movies and Indian soap operas twenty-four hours a day. Some of the English used, though, just strikes me as being incredibly funny. My favorite ad, for example, is for a company that sells TV dinners, which are known as "ready meals." The company's name is "Git," which in British English is slang for an extremely stupid and annoying person.

The tag line for the ad is this: "Git's Ready Meals: Lingers On Your Fingers!"

Bon appetit and shabbat shalom, chaverim!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Skirting the Issue

Shalom, chaverim! It's been a funny old week here in Nahariya, with the weather swinging madly from cold and stormy, to hot and sunny, and back again. Not that I'm complaining; Hurricane-turned-Superstorm Sandy in America trumps pretty much everyone else in the world when it comes to having a legitimate gripe about the weather. Elul's been involved a major product launch at his company and has been putting in long hours. They launched yesterday, and everyone has high hopes that it will be a success after working so hard on it, for so long. I've had a quieter week, but it's given me time to work on other longer-term projects, like distributing a few demo CD's to bands and event coordinators, and continuing to work on my fledgling business, Aliyah Petsitting.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I've also been doing some volunteer English tutoring at a local high school. Being back in the classroom, if only for a couple of hours a week, is lovely. So, you can imagine my surprise and delight when two days ago, I received a telephone call from another local high school, asking me to come for an interview. The position is at a "dati" school, which in this case is modern orthodox. If I get the position, I will be teaching remedial English, on a very part-time basis, to a small group of ninth grade girls. This is an ideal situation for me. Some teachers find ninth graders a bit challenging, but I find middle school kids to be so hilarious that it makes up for whatever other issues they might bring into the classroom.

My interview seemed to go well, but of course you never really know how you did until they actually offer you the job and you start working. Everyone was very cordial and welcoming, and it appears like it's very warm and friendly school. I will be teaching an observed lesson this Sunday, and then, the Principal told me, "we'll talk afterwards." Gulp! I really want this job. It will allow me to teach reflectively, which is teacher-speak for having time to reflect on my lessons and think about how I can make them better. Since it's only teaching five hours a week, I'll still have time for my other jobs and projects, which I really enjoy.

After the initial call inviting me to the interview, I called a friend in a panic, trying to find out where exactly the school was located. She did me the enormous favor of reminding me that since I was going to interview at an orthodox school, I needed to wear a skirt that went below the knee, and observe the other style constraints that come with dressing modestly. Henry David Thoreau once wisely warned, "distrust any enterprise which requires new clothes," but in this case I went against his otherwise very good advice. Instead, I took the advice of Dr. Emily Lowe, my former voice professor, who observed that "people think with their eyes." I needed to purchase one item of clothing: a long skirt. I have skirts and dresses of my own, but as the reigning 2nd Place Champion of the 2004 Sexy Legs Contest of Pahrump, Nevada (I still have the ribbon and the bottle of Nair that was my consolation prize), all mine are at or slightly above the knee.  I didn't know exactly how "frum" (modest) this school would be, so I ran into a shop and bought the longest, blackest skirt I could find.

On the morning of the interview, however, I rummaged through my closet for something that would cover both my collarbones and my elbows, and also would look sharp enough for an interview. It was slim pickings indeed. Elul helpfully pointed out that my first attempt looked "absolutely awful," and the second was "horrible."

I ultimately found something, however, and when I put it on, I looked like one of those severe, school marm types. I looked so unlike "me" that I had Elul take a picture of me, clutching a grammar book, pointing my finger in admonition, and practicing my prissy, glacial, "Nurse Ratched Makes Lateral Career Move to Professional Educator" look.

"Now, girls, we shall recite in unison all the perfect tense conjugations of the verb "to be," complete with the modal verbs 'should,' 'could,' and 'would.' Won't that be fun?"
Of course, when I got to the school I found that every woman there looked perfectly normal--they were just all wearing skirts and nice, long-sleeved tops that weren't very low cut. Some were wearing their hair wrapped in scarves, some were wearing various types of caps and hats. Others had their hair pinned up, cut short, or hanging long and loose. Almost no one had long skirts, and I didn't see anyone dressed in all black. Women had makeup on and their nails done, and were wearing stylish jewelry. If I had only just gone out and bought a normal skirt and put a semi-normal top with it, I would have been dressed far more appropriately. Sigh.

Thoreau also said, "it's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." Hopefully, the school administration will look beyond my peculiar dress style and glaring fashion faux pas, and see some good.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Reductions All Around

Shalom, chaverim! Yesterday we had the first big thunderstorm of the fall, which was very dramatic to watch as giant bolts of lightning came cracking down into the sea and the cats ran for cover. The strong winds also reminded us of the draft-proofing we need to do in the apartment before it gets much colder. Having grown up in Michigan, at the beginning of winter, everyone I knew seemed to haul out their front and backdoor "draft dodger" apparatus, which took the form of a long, soft tube filled with dried beans or sand, which was laid at the foot of each external door to keep out the cold. Many of my friends had cute ones shaped like long dachshunds.  I think my mother sewed a cheerful cover for ours. I have not seen any draft dodgers here (the non-human variety, anyway), so I might just grab an old pair of pantyhose and fill each leg with navy beans. I don't sew, knit or crochet, either, so if anyone wants to contribute a draft dodger snood, I'd be very grateful!*

As the weather changes, it is nice to be able to walk two blocks without completely drenching my clothes with the fruits of my own built-in, personal evaporating cooler mechanism. It's also refreshing to wear clothing slightly more substantial and stylish than my Israeli summer uniform of shorts, sneakers, tank tops and my one, ever increasingly sweat stained, baseball cap.

Nahariyan women's clothing style seems to be heavily influenced by Russian tastes, which, for winter, seems to be comprised of lots of layered tops of varying lengths (but all with deeply plunging necklines), paired with crazily patterned leggings or teeny tiny miniskirts, with high-heeled shoes. There is nary a sensible preppy turtleneck, crewneck sweater, or a good pair of longjohns to be found, so I am already starting to worry about spending another winter here freezing my tucchus off. Beauty is pain, indeed!

It's too bad there aren't many used clothing stores or consignment shops in Israel. This is surprising, because Israel is ahead of the curve when it comes to conserving other things like energy and packaging. All new buildings are required to install solar heated water systems, for example, and just down the road there is a station that charges up electric cars. In Nahariya there is a recycling bin every few blocks. Whoever designed the Nahariyan recycling bins did a great job, in fact. Not only do they take plastic bottles, there are also two additional boxes in the unit for batteries and for CD-ROMs. Paper and cardboard go in the round bin next to it, and bottles and cans are returned to the stores from where they were purchased.

Cheerful recycling bins makes it fun to dump garbage through the center of flowers.

Another clever technique for reducing waste that would normally end up in landfills is what I like to call the "Israeli Bag 'O Milk." Instead of having a big, bulky, gallon jug for milk, a cheap way to buy milk here is by the bag. You can buy little plastic jugs that even have a built-in cutting edge incorporated at the spout, to make sure the angle at which you cut the bag is optimized for spill-proof pouring. Obviously, you keep the pitcher for good and just replace the bags of milk as needed.

I was sanctimoniously sure to take a picture of our 1% fat milk bag, rather than of the yummy 3.6-4.0% fat milk we use for coffee. Why be honest when you can be hypocritical?

Speaking of all things frugal, I recently discovered a way of simultaneously saving money, decorating our minimalist (read: nearly empty) apartment, and reducing landfill contribution. My method was to strip and dry the cut flowers we purchased for a Shabbat service, after they had wilted. Once they were dry, I stuck them into a thermos, whose cup had been broken while we were attending Ulpan. As long as you don't look too closely, it looks slightly "modern industrial." To prevent people from doing just that (looking closely), I put them far above eye level, on top of a tall bookcase.


Wilted cut flowers, as Pini looks on in disgust.


"These would look better if we dragged them onto the floor and chewed on them," Dudu pronounces.
Of course, if we ever buy an apartment with a balcony, or a house with a yard, I could always start a compost bin and use old cut flowers as part of the composting mix. However, despite the wonderful case made for creating homemade compost in the classic book "Worms Eat My Garbage," Elul has not yet consented to having a plastic bin full of simmering garbage and wriggling worms in the kitchen. I am baffled by his resistance to this wonderful, eco-friendly solution, but a happy marriage is all about choosing one's battles and effective compromise.

You might get the impression that with all my talk about finding junk and turning it into treasure, that I'm cheap and a garbage hoarder. In fact, I look at it more as a creative challenge and as a way to reduce my own footprint on the Earth. There are a million more ways I could help the environment, of course, so in no way am I trying to toot my own horn about this. The truth is, I spent many years being a real spendthrift. I bought stuff that I didn't need and couldn't afford, to impress people I didn't even know.

I have made studying frugal and simple living a hobby of mine for more than six years now, and my life has changed for the better for it. I turned to it initially because I was scared about my financial situation, and when I read Vicky Robin and Joe Dominguez's classic book, "Your Money Or Your Life," that's when everything started to change for me. I spent less, saved more, paid attention more, and worked towards getting my self out of the debt hole I'd dug for myself. I stopped spending mindlessly and stopped thinking of shopping as a diversionary pastime or as an antidote to loneliness.  It wasn't until we had to move from Nevada to Florida, however, that I really had to jettison my junk.

Fortunately, the combined pain of spending many years mired in the debt that I accrued when I was buying too much crap, along with the shame I felt when I was confronted with the enormous amount of stuff that I had to discard in order to free ourselves up to come to Israel, was enough to make me finally say "no more." I was ashamed of not only all the money I'd stupidly wasted, but also of all the natural resources I'd taken up for no good reason at all.

Living out in the Nevada desert for seven years certainly triggered a major attitude shift in me when it came to material desires and aspirations. It's not that I can't appreciate a fine Italian sports car or the impeccable lines of a gorgeous Chanel handbag. I still can, and do. But it's very liberating not to feel the nagging desire to own them anymore.

Moving across the world to a new country and a new career is not the most frugal move we could have made, of course. There has been the temptation to equate this "new life" with buying "new stuff" to go along with it. And indeed, there are some new things we needed to buy now, to adapt to the way we are living now.  But living simply is not about counting money and being cheap. It's a way of life and an ongoing process. Ten years ago I would have been drooling over an issue of Italian "Vogue," and seriously dreamt of building a giant collection of rental properties in glamorous and exotic cities.  I now get excited when I read something like "how to make your own button candles out of olive oil," or when I make an enthusiastic and impassioned contribution to an online discussion about the usage of handkerchiefs versus paper Kleenex.

Recently I found almost twenty discarded plastic plant pots that a sloppy landscaper threw on the ground when he was finished transplanting their contents into the property's flower beds.  I picked them up, washed them, and now have them ready to root new plants I will create out of cuttings from my friends' plants. This makes me far happier than I would have been if I'd just gone to a nursery and spent a lot of money on the same types of plants. Some might scoff and call me a cheapskate, but from my perspective I reduced some litter on the ground, saved some space in the landfill, didn't spend any money, and increased bonds with friends by trading cuttings for other little tasks I can give in exchange, like helping with their computer or clipping their pet's nails.

The only constant in life is change.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

*By the way, if you're going to the trouble of crocheting a draft-dodger snood for me, could you also throw in a crocheted toilet paper snood that has a legless plastic doll attached, so it looks like the doll's "dress" is covering the paper? My grandmother used to make them...they rocked! Thanks!

Friday, October 19, 2012

How We Made a Home Recording Studio Out of Garbage and Gifts

Shalom, chaverim! I know I've been banging on about work for the past several months, but as still relatively new olim, it is taking up the majority of our time and energy to create careers for ourselves out of virtually nothing. Fortunately, there is a lot of support available for new immigrants in Israel, thanks to Nefesh B'Nefesh's excellent job boards on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media outlets. In addition, there are plenty of other organizations that provide job postings targeted towards olim, such as, the AACI, the Jewish Agency's Aliyah Job Center, and numerous Facebook communities like the Anglo-Israeli Job Network and Digital Eve Israel. I found the leads to all of my jobs through these sites, so while the old maxim that you have to network when you get to Israel is true, these days it's possible to do this networking from your laptop and cellphone as well as in real life.

I shudder to think where we'd be at this stage if we'd made Aliyah thirty years ago. Before the advent of home computers, telecommuting, virtual call centers, cellphones, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on, it typically took every Israeli family about four years to have a telephone installed in their apartment. I kid you not--a friend our ours in Nahariya made Aliyah at that time, and she had to wait for four years to get a phone. When we moved to Nahariya, we had our phone, high speed internet line, and a 500-channel satellite television package installed within about three days of our landing in the country.

Other friends of ours came to Nahariya with four children in the early 1980's. The husband was (and still is) a doctor at Western Galilee Hospital. Back then, he worked as an emergency room physician for the grand sum of earning the equivalent of one U.S. dollar per hour. Fortunately, they lived on the kibbutz at Rosh Ha'Nikra, which allowed them the ability to survive on a non-viable wage.

What would we have done with ourselves, with regard to finding work, in the Nahariya of 1982? Well, to be chronologically accurate, if I'd made Aliyah in 1982 I would have still been in high school, but you know what I mean. Had we been the same ages we are now and had come to Israel then, I really wonder how it would have all gone down. We might have ended up on a kibbutz. That may be wishful thinking, however, as we are already too old to be considered for kibbutz membership in most places. I probably would have ended up teaching somewhere. Perhaps Elul could have cobbled together a career as a stringer (freelance reporter) for international news agencies, or could have trained as an English teacher.

We've had it extremely easy compared to our predecessors, thanks to Israel's wholehearted embrace of high tech and interconnectivity. Israel's rapid expansion into building software platforms used worldwide has created a demand for various high-tech programmers, web developers, and other white-collar workers who are comfortable with using computers and have an excellent command of English. This has meant that doors are opening to us here that we would have never even gotten the chance to knock on if we were still in America. This is not because we are such magnificent gifts to the labor landscape, but simply a matter of having skills that are in demand here, but are in a state of oversupply in America. No one would bother to put on their American resume, for example, that they are native speakers of English, but in Israel, that just might get you an interview.

Which brings me, finally, to the point of this post. While we were both actively job hunting, we came across an ad for a startup company looking for people who could do in-home voiceovers for video news clips. We submitted audition "tapes" (actually just .mp3 computer files) and crossed our fingers. Some time went by as the company got itself organized, and we finally went "live" last week in terms of doing hour-long shifts as real-time voiceover narrators. The work is very fun and very interesting, but in order to produce voiceovers that are of the level of quality needed by the company, we had to get very creative in building a home studio. I am proud to announce that we were able to assemble this studio, made entirely out of garbage and gifts.

This was a huge step up from my previous recording "studio," which was a crazy assemblage in which I sat on a pile of pillows on a bed and spoke into a recording device propped up on another pillow. I had a Petzl headlamp strapped to my forehead, and, for sound insulation, I covered myself and the recorder with a Snuggie. For good luck, I'd prop the recorder up on Chaim Potok's excellent "Gates of November."

Now just do this under a Snuggie, please. And make sure you do it with no air conditiong on. In August. In Israel.

I kid you not. I would routinely record thirty-minute scripts in this setup.

Clearly, neither Elul nor I wanted to do hour-long voiceover shifts sitting under a Snuggie. How did we do it? Well, to make a home recording studio, you first need a space. (My amazing brother Joe Milner, who owns and runs Puget Sound, a Hollywood sound production company, bought and renovated an entire movie theatre solely for this purpose.) We, however, chose our "guest bedroom," which is actually just where the cats sleep, eat, and do their business. Second, you need a work surface of desk height. For this, I chose the "desk" that I'd made earlier out of a portable piano stand and an old wardrobe door I'd found in the street. The chair was another dumpster find, which Elul reinforced with wood glue after it collapsed for the first time.

My piano stand with dumpster-find "desktop" and wood-glued, street-salvaged chair.

On the work surface was a laptop generously gifted to us by Elul's aunt Marlene, who had upgraded her own to another model. This laptop had a problem in that it tended to get overheated very easily, making it uncomfortable to have on one's lap, and putting unnecessary strain on the fan. The fan also makes noise, so that's not good for doing voiceover work. Elul solved this by cutting off four little pieces off a piece of scrap wood, which created little blocks for the laptop to sit on so the computer could ventilate properly and not overheat.

The microphone was a loan from the company, but before it arrived we used a microphone that was a gift from another client I do voiceover work for, when he was upgrading his own studio. We had the headphones already. The recording software we use is on a free trial, which we can either purchase at the end of the trial or simply switch to a free software program like Audacity.

Now for the most important thing: noise reduction. It is very important to create the most acoustically "dead" space you can for doing voiceovers. Otherwise, your voice can sound too hollow, too bright, too ghostly, too filled with echos, or any other type of effect that makes it hard for producers to work with. In Florida, for example, I used a walk-in closet to do my voiceover work, which was lovely and squishy and full of sound-absorbing clothes and a noise-crushing high-pile carpet.

Our apartment in Israel, however, like most older apartments here, is very poorly designed for doing voiceover work. Old wall-mounted air conditioner units run, traffic honks and beeps, kids run and shout joyfully outside, "discussions" take place at high volume in hallways and in adjacent apartments, and so on. Israeli walls are usually very poorly insulated (if at all), and windows are not double-paned. Furthermore, wall-to-wall carpeting is almost unheard of, and tile floors with plaster walls and ceilings are the norm. In other words, everything seems to be designed to create as much noise as possible. If we had a "safe room," or an in-home bomb shelter room, it would be much quieter in that room. But we don't, because our building was built before having private bomb shelters became the norm.

To make our little setup have the acoustics of a studio, we had to come up with some kind of insulating material. Of course, had we had plenty of money, time, and our landlord's permission, we could have gone all out and built a little drywall closet lined with studio-grade, sound absorbing wall covering. But we had none of these. What to do? We were pondering this very question while walking home a few days ago, and as we were passing a vacant lot, Elul spotted the answer. There, as if it had been put there for us specifically, were two large pieces of very thick styrofoam, about two feet by two feet each. I clambered over the wall to take a look, and passed them back up to Elul, who carried them home. It turned out that they were the top and bottom pieces that had been the packaging materials for a washing machine. Some litterbug had simply thrown the styrofoam and the carton in the field, but their slovenliness was our gain. Instant insulation!

Pini and Dudu oversee the installation of our "insulation."

Now, how to suspend it so we can have a facsimile of a "room," when there is only one wall to work with? Elul grabbed some scrap wood that he'd salvaged from the packaging that our oven was wrapped in, and had stuck in our storage room downstairs "just in case." The case being at hand, he then quickly hammered together a small frame on which to mount the insulation panel and some sound absorbing blankets.

Elul's ingenious L-frame. There was one sinkhole available in the "desk" surface, which he used to anchor the frame so the cats wouldn't be able to knock it over. That hasn't stopped them from trying, though.

Time to assemble.

Dudu oversees the installation. You can see Elul's hand securing the panel with zip ties. The bottom is supported by a mic stand we weren't using.

The other panel was mounted on the wall directly behind, and covered with one of the quilts my mother made for our cat Pini. The tile on the studio's other "wall" was also covered by an old packing blanket Elul had used for years, and another of my mother's quilts, which she had made for our cat Dudu. I'm not sure if the cats exactly agreed to "gift" us these quilts, but let's just say it was a family-based redistribution of wealth, in the name of the greater good.

Elul's legs show as he tests out our new studio. Hubba hubba!

So, we've now made our audible, if invisible, entry into the Israeli international media landscape. Today, we're doing voiceovers about Derek Jeter's broken ankle, Amanda Seyfried's dinner with a mystery man in New York City, and, invariably, Katy Perry's cleavage. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Shabbat shalom, everyone!


Friday, October 12, 2012

Getting My Work Groove On

Shalom, chaverim! Well, things are finally starting to take shape with my new business, Aliyah Petsitting. I took the leap and have begun running my first paid advertisement in a local newsletter that caters to English-speaking residents in the area. Even more exciting, I finally got my Hebrew flyer back from my graphic artist. She did such a terrific job that I want to share it with you.

Here it is:

This reads "Pet Babysitter" and gives a brief description of my services and contact details.

I hope the big picture of the dog will really catch people's eyes when they rush by a crowded billboard full of tattered flyers. When I get them photocopied on hot pink or acid yellow paper, it should even pop even more.

In other work news, my work life is finally starting to come together after the interminable--er, extensive--holiday season. After waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, phone calls are finally being returned, emails are flying thick and fast, and everyone, it seems, wants everyone else to rush hither and yon for various appointments and other types of meetings. It feels like some sort of national trigger has been pulled, and now everyone is frantic to get some work done.

It brings to mind something I read a long time ago, back in the bad old days of the Soviet Union. Then, it seemed like everyone had to stand for hours in line for bread, because there were constant food shortages. It turned out, though, that the citizens themselves actually ended up wasting enormous amounts of food. The wastage occurred because they felt they had to stock up so much, on the few times that there was bread available, that the food went stale and ended up having to be thrown out anyway. Hence, a vicious circle was established. People had vegetables and bread, but it was either too much, or too old, to eat. The poor supply line led to hoarding, which led to more breakdowns in distribution, which led to longer lines, which led to more hoarding, which led to more wastage.

I am seeing this phenomena show up in my work life, with all sorts of emails rushing in with urgent demands for all sorts of things. Had these issues been addressed in a more timely manner, they wouldn't be urgent at all. Likewise, the lines at the bank and the post office are laughably long as employees struggle to deal with the backlog, which leads to more time being wasted and less accomplished by everyone overall.

But, enough grousing about that, because certainly some work is far better than no work at all, and an open shop or office is better than a closed one! I now have two "official" part-time jobs with two different Israeli companies, which gives me a nice sense of security in that I'm protected by the strict labor laws here. Working for Israel companies also means that I will be paying into the the Israeli social security system, which is important for matters like my eventual retirement pension. I'm only 46 now, but as time seems to be moving even faster the older I get, it feels like retirement is just around the corner. I want to be covered, at least by a basic Israeli pension. It may not be much at all, but at least it will be something.

In addition to having finally started my official employment with the two companies, this Monday I also begin volunteering as an English tutor for high school students, as part of tutoring program put on by my local ESRA chapter. For any English-speaking olim who are planning to make Aliyah, I highly recommend that you join your local ESRA club. "ESRA" stands for the "English Speaking Residents Association." ESRA is a highly regarded and long-established organization for English speakers who live in Israel. They have branches all over the country, and do a number of worthy volunteer projects for the greater community. They also publish a very interesting and substantial magazine, which you receive as part of your membership. You don't even need to be residing in Israel in order to join, so you're welcome to join right away. Also, when you make Aliyah, your first year's membership is free, which is a great bonus. Our particular chapter, "North Coast ESRA," does a great job with putting on interesting activities, a Hebrew conversation group, and very fun coffee evenings.

So we are moving, gently, into our next stage of our new lives in Israel: working, paying taxes (!), and being active in the community. I am very happy about this, because I so dearly wanted to become an asset to Israel, rather than just a drain. I am so grateful for all the support given to new immigrants by the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency, and Nefesh B'Nefesh. Without this support, it would have been seriously doubtful if we would have been able to come here and make it at all.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!


Friday, October 5, 2012

Little Black Dresses and the IDF

Shalom, chaverim! I'm writing this on Friday morning, slowly descending from my post-performance euphoria following a concert I performed in last night. A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to join an excellent local choir. I'd heard them perform at Nes Amim, the world's only Christian kibbutz, last spring. When I saw the outstanding skills and musicality of the conductor, Chen Zafrir, and heard what she could produce from an amateur group, I immediately knew I wanted to join them.

However, I'd happened to attend the last performance of the season, so I had to wait until fall for them to start up again. Once again, our real estate agent and friend, Yoram Shurany, came to the rescue. He made a phonecall to Chen, got the details about the rehearsal times and locations, and was even kind enough to "pitch" me to her. So instead of needing to shlep out to her house to audition, I was allowed to start attending rehearsals right away. Not only that, but Yoram also contacted another choir member who lives nearby, who kindly agreed to let me ride along with him to rehearsals. Yoram, what in the world would we do without you?

I began attending rehearsals a couple of weeks ago. We meet at 8 p.m. every Sunday night at a community center for local kibbutzim and moshavim, and rehearse until 10:30 p.m. That's a late night for me, since I'm used to going to bed at 10:00 every evening. However, it's such a great group of people, and Chen is such an engaging director, the time just disappears. It's only the next morning that I start to feel it.

About a week after I joined, I got a rather panicked call from Chen. We were to perform at the Renaissance Festival on October 4th, at a nearby Crusader's fortress, which is part of the Yechiam kibbutz. One of the key pieces on the program was Vivaldi's "Gloria," in which there are several solos and one soprano duet. Israel being what it is, the second soprano of the duet had suddenly been drafted into the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), which meant there was a sudden opening for the"Laudamus Te" number. My big break had finally come. Time to go shopping...this olah chadahsa needs a little black dress!

I quickly enlisted the help of my good friend Jody Garbe, a sister olah chadasha from Canada and fashionista extraordinaire, who helped me find the gown of the century. After a few false starts at the local department store and some other boutiques, we finally found the dress at Dina's, a little place I'd passed on the way to Ulpan for months, but had never had the guts to enter. Trust Jody to find the store that is reputedly the most upscale one in town, where the Mayor's wife and other members of the Nahariya hoi-polloi frequent.

If you need a personal shopper, jewelry procurer, hatmaker, artist, or just a great friend in your life, talk to Jody. You can also visit her blog at

Jody is so cool that she even painted a card for me in honor of the event. Wow! The last time anyone ever drew a picture of me was when I was about five years old. She was even kind enough to use her artistic license to make my face look more sculpted (read: less jowly) than it actually is. What a mensch!

This card separates the women from the girls. I am ashamed to say I have offered words of congratulations to others written on postcards I've picked up for free.

The concert went very well. Since we were peforming in a stone room with vaulted ceilings and a dirt floor the acoustics were exeedingly live. Our amazing Ukrainian-Israeli accompanist, Ina, played on an electric piano that also had organ effects. Fortunately, it wasn't just a cheap Casio; rather, it sounded very good and, naturally, was also in tune. As the weather is so humid and changeable here, it is very difficult to keep acoustic pianos in tune, so tonal quality sometimes has to trump historic authenticity. (Although, to be honest, if we were really going for historic accuracy, we'd have had a chamber orchestra accompanying us. And that is not in the budget now, nor will it ever be.)

Here are some glamour shots from the event.

View from the Fortress itself, looking towards Nahariya and the sea. Invading infidel wanna-be's, beware!

Some of the choir. If I get a different camera lens someday, Elul will be able to take wider shots.

Left to right: Me, contralto Victoria, and soprano Sivan. Now, all we need is an agent.

Sivan's and my big moment of glory, performing "Laudamus Te."

Left to right: Accompanist Ina, conductor Chen, and me, enjoying the post-concert afterglow.

Finally, if you're interested in what "Laudamus Te" sounds like, here's a great YouTube video clip I found when I was rehearsing. In fact, I used the dress worn by the second soprano (the singer with her hair pinned up) as my shopping inspiration. You can't get any cooler than modelling sexy Italian sopranos, right? And of course, if you can't see the video, go directly to my blog at

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Our First High Holidays in Israel

Shalom, chaverim! The High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are now over, and this week moves us into Sukkot, which starts on Monday. The streets are slowly accumulating evidence of people building their sukkahs, which are temporary hut-like structures that are erected for the duration of Sukkot. During this holiday, Jews hang out together in sukkahs, sharing meals, conversation and fellowship, and sometimes sleep in them as well. Traditionally, the sukkah is covered with palm fronds and decorated with natural flora and foliage. I have noticed an increasing number of old ladies doing some guerrilla hedge trimming in the early hours of the morning, then gathering up their booty and quietly slipping away.

Of course, although the sukkah is a kind of representation of the tabernacle, Israelis do modern twists on building their own. Over the past few days, Elul and I have observed our neighbor across the street constructing his sukkah with aluminum poles and "walls" that look suspiciously like very large tablecloths. He's building it in his space reserved for parking his car, which is in a carport-like area on the ground floor of his apartment building. Other people are building them on their balconies, and the few Nahariyans with actual houses are building them in their backyards. Hence, the streets are accumulating evidence of people clearing away their collective outdoor crap, in order to make room for building their sukkahs. It reminds me of the old maxim that the best way to get your house cleaned is to invite people over for a dinner party!

The center of Nahariya is now awash in "etrogim" (etrogs), which are citrus fruits that vaguely resemble a large lemon. A good etrog, besides being unblemished, must have an unbroken nub on the end called a "pittem." The pittem needs to be there in order for the etrog to be suitable for a particular Jewish benediction at Sukkot called "waving the lulav." A lulav, or "the fruit of goodly trees" (Leviticus 23:40 - 43), is a bundled collection of four things: an etrog, a palm frond, three twigs of myrtle, and two twigs of willow.

A boxed set of etrogim.

A vendor's table sells etrogim in fancy presentation boxes, and bundles for the lulav.

I thought I had seen a lot of Judaica before, but this was the first time I'd ever seen a giant silver lulav holder. Wow!

At first, I didn't recognize these etrogim when they were being sold on the street, as I'd only seen them already as part of the lulav itself, by rabbis. But in Israel, each one was nestled in its own little doughnut of protective plastic webbing, making it look like a toy or some strange kind of candy. After a double-take, though, I realized what they were, and gawked at the sight of so many etrogim in one place. The one precious one I saw back at our former Florida synagogue in Delray Beach, for example, was carefully displayed by our rabbi. His goal was that after Sukkot, he would harvest the seeds from the etrog and plant his own etrog tree. I wonder if that tree ever took root?

Suitably protected lulav in weird plastic webbing doughnut. Note the intact pittem.

Mobile lulav vendors take it on the road.

Getting down to business: after energetic and protracted negotiations, an etrog deal is struck.

I had been wondering what Yom Kippur is like in Israel. Well, it's not so much that it's "like" anything in particular, but more that it's special because it's entirely unlike any other day of the year. Like appreciating a painting for the artist's use of shadows, or a piece of music for its beautiful space between the notes, having a complete absence of all car traffic and work for an entire day brought a hush to the country that was both precious and remarkable. All Israeli-based radio and television channels, and many internet websites, ceased operation from the night before Yom Kippur until its end at 6:08 p.m. the next day.  People went out walking and cycling, and children enjoyed having the total freedom to run and play in the streets all day. However, there was also a complete absence of loud noises, cooking smells, or any other sensory evidence of work being done. Many Israelis were dressed in white, but not all.

After sundown, traffic started up again and people began to emerge, waiting for a few businesses to open once again. After a stroll through town, Elul and I broke the fast with a quiet but lovely dinner at the home of our "buddy family," the good people Nefesh B'Nefesh connected us to when we first arrived in Israel.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and we noticed once again how incredibly fortunate we've been since we got here. We've been able to make new friends, receive enormous amounts of support and excellent advice from all sorts of people, and have been able to pursue professional goals quickly and relatively easily. There is really a lot of help to be offered new olim in Israel, provided you aren't shy or proud about asking for help, and also aren't afraid to "pay it forward" by helping others whenever you get the opportunity to do so.

Shabbat shalom, chaverim!