Friday, August 31, 2012


Shalom, chaverim! I awoke yesterday to see a mysterious, water-like substance dripping onto the ground from grey, puffy blobs in the sky. All of the cars had little speckles of this water on them, and when I walked outside, the sidewalks were slippery and the ground was soggy. I am still trying to figure out what this mysterious phenomena was--I hear the locals call it "rain."

Other than strange skyborne globules exuding droplets of water, it's been a fairly normal week here in beautiful downtown Nahariya. Elul has been very busy with his new job, which gets more interesting and correspondingly more demanding each and every day. From its point of origin as being a work-at-home, part-time sales job, it's turned into a full-blown REAL job, complete with a giant business trip to England, Canada, and the good old U.S.A.

Elul leaves this Sunday, and has been running around like a headless kosher chicken (not on Shabbat, of course--that's when the chicken hits the pot) to prepare for it. Yesterday he scoured the town for a cordless computer mouse and his own personal supply of dental floss and toothpaste. It's been so long since we've been apart for more than a day or so that we got used to having only one set of toiletries between us. As for me, I've been busy compiling my extensive and bossy "you have to get this at Wal-Mart for me, or don't bother getting back on the plane to come home" list. I just haven't lived in Israel long enough to be "okay" with spending $10 for a box of hair color, when I know darn well I can buy it at Wally World for $3.24. Plus, there are other items that I need, that are just too embarrassing to try to ask for in my stumbling Hebrew, with everyone standing around, listening and trying to help. If I tried, for example, to find an Israeli equivalent of Preparation H, it would probably go like this:

Pharmacist: "Ken, bevakesha." (Yes, may I help you?)

Me: "I need something...cream...(now pointing to my own rear end)...ouch! Very hot!"

Pharmacist: "OK, you speak Russit (Russian)? Anglit (English)?"

Me: "English, beseder (fine)."

Pharmacist: "What you are need?"

Me: " America, it's called "Preparation H."

Pharmacist: "Ah! Preparation H! Your ah-NOOS, it is uncomfortable?"

Me: "Yes! Exactly!" (Big smile of victory: communication successful!)

Pharmacist: "OK, beseder... here is cream. You put it on...the ah-NOOS, whenever you like it."

Me: "Todah rabah (thanks very much)!"

Nothing says "I love you" more than a special trip to Rite-Aid on a business trip. Thanks to the charming and informative website for this image.

Yeah. Never mind the orthodox guy standing behind me in his black hat, trying to cover his snort of laughter with a cough, or the old Russian ladies crowding in next to me, wondering what we're talking about that involves "hot" and my backside. There are just some words that will never be listed in my trusty "New Immigrant Hebrew Learner Dictionary."

Shabbat shalom, everyone!


Friday, August 24, 2012

Well, I Guess You Could Call it a Simulacrum...

Shalom, chaverim! We've been sweating away here in beautiful Nahariya, and our poor old apartment's electrical system is beginning to give up the ghost. Last night two of the breakers blew, which left us without lighting in the kitchen or air conditioning in the living room. Elul tried to flip the breaker back into the "on" position, only to be greeted with a huge blue spark that illuminated the hallway. The smell of burnt electrical wiring arose, which is not a good thing. Even though it still worked, we were reluctant to use the electric stove. If that breaker had also blown, we would have been without a working stove, microwave, or refrigerator, which means spoiled food and having to go out to eat. Boiled hotdogs for dinner it was, then--cooked on a gas stove illuminated by my super-chic Petzl (!) headlamp!

Fortunately, we found an electrician willing to come see us this morning. He did a temporary fix, but he will be returning next week to do a complete rewire of the electrical system. Our landlords have been very good about it and are not arguing about getting it repaired immediately, thank goodness. Hooray, I'll finally be able to use the washer AND the dryer AND the air conditioning AND the computers, all at the same time!

In other domestic news, I've been able to pull off a hat-trick of multi-purposing, dumpster diving, and frugal living. After my Israeli public debut as a torch singer last month, I thought it would be a good time to dust off my trusty baby Casio "keyboard" to pick out some more tunes. I put "keyboard" in quotes because it's a tacky little three-octave, battery-powered, orange specimen of a keyboard, not a magnificent 88-key Korg, or a Bechstein baby grand. But my old, flimsy keyboard stand had broken years ago, and I'd never bothered to replace it. So I went to Nahariya's local and most excellent music store, and got a super-duper, really sturdy keyboard stand.

I'd had delusions of keyboard grandeur, though, because when I took it home and put it up, my tiny keyboard was too short to rest on the stand. I also needed a writing surface in that room, since I intend to make it my music studio. Elul loudly and consistently objects to two of my favorite activities on a routine basis: collecting clutter and spending money to purchase clutter, so I knew that campaigning for a separate desk was going to be a non-starter. Hmm, what to do?

Coming home that evening from meeting friends at Cafe Aroma, I nearly tripped over the answer. Next to a dumpster, partially blocking the sidewalk, was a stack of beautiful wardrobe doors and shelves. I sweet-talked Elul into carrying one of the doors home, and after he removed the hardware and some nails, I now have a perfectly functional desk/keyboard stand. The cats love jumping on it, too, so I suppose it serves a third purpose as a kitty gymnasium piece. Our friends suggested covering it in leatherette to make it look really cool, but I know that any kind of covering other than paint will immediately turn it into just another scratching post for the cats. So now my next artistic/DIY task is to find primer that will work on laminate, and when the board is primed I'm going to go crazy with my stash of acrylic paints and decorate it like mad. Stay tuned!

Astute readers will recognize my other dumpster treasure: the found chair which I have "decorated" with an old remnant that I was too lazy to ever hem.

Finally, I've been debating with myself whether to post the following picture or not. I thought it was hilarious, but for my gentle readers who are sensitive to somewhat graphic images, you may wish to stop reading NOW. I'll give you some blank space in which to leave this blog until next week.

OK, they're gone! Now for my "earthier" readers who have stayed with me, here it is. A few weeks ago, I woke up and noticed that a peculiar image had appeared, overnight, on our white, sheer bedroom drapes. I honestly had no idea how it had gotten there, but it had a sepia-tone quality that reminded me of the Shroud of Turin. The image was far baser and less holy than the Shroud of Turin, though; nor was it like the face of the Virgin Mary showing up on a piece of toast. But it is a simulacrum of sorts. Here it is.

Did the pagan god "Ur" come to visit us at night? Is he trying to tell us something?

After the shock and awe had worn off, my analytical brain began to function again. I figured out that the air conditioner condensation had leaked into the boxed valence mechanism, and rusty water had dripped down onto the drape in that extraordinary pattern. Aha! The question is, what would a feng shui expert say about this giant floating phallus hanging in our bedroom window? What do you think, readers? Should I try to clean the drapes, or leave it for it's "positive male energy" contribution and to get cheap laughs from guests? I'm tending towards the latter, of course!

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

Friday, August 17, 2012

We Could Have Danced All Night

Shalom, chaverim! It's been a busy week here in Nahariya, with one trip to Tel Aviv and another one to Haifa. I've been pressing on with my job hunt, looking for assistance from job-seeker programs and (finally) performing the tedious task of getting my academic degrees recognized. The purpose of my Tuesday trip to Tel Aviv was to meet with the good people at Gvahim, an organization that exists to assist new olim in continuing their professional careers in Israel. I'd applied to be part of their upcoming Career Development Program, which provides six days of intensive work on interviewing (in Hebrew) skills, networking, education about the Israeli market and workplace, and so on. Sadly, it turns out that Gvahim does not assist English teachers in any way, but is more geared towards other professions, so I was out of luck there. However, they do have a good program, and if you are either thinking of making Aliyah or are already here and having trouble finding work, they may be able to help you. You can read about Gvahim here.

The purpose of my trip to Haifa on Wednesday was to visit the regional office of the Ministry of Education; specifically, the "Office of Foreign Degree Recognition." I was expecting to visit a typically dark and dingy government building, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that the office was located in Haifa's "Sail Tower," a giant white structure that looks like a huge sail. After passing through stringent security, I was whisked up to the seventh floor, where I waited about forty minutes for my turn. Next to me was a Serbian man who got immediately turned away because his documents didn't have the appropriate apostille of authenticity stamped on them. Woe betide those who don't observe bureaucratic regulations!

It personally took over a month to get all my crapola together for this meeting, including writing to both universities for not only transcripts, but also for "letters of attendance." These letters had to unequivocally and categorically state that way back in 1984 to 1989, and in 1995 to 1996, I'd attended both institutions as a full time student. For some reason, the Israeli Ministry of Education is obsessed with enrollment status. I'm sure there's a reason for this, but I can't, for the life of me, figure out why it would matter. Anyway, the turnaround time for foreign degree recognition is about a month. The letters will come in the mail, so at least I don't have to make a second trip.

Thursday meant a trip to our local Absoprtion Office counsellor. This time, it was to meet with an actual psychologist (I think), who administered the beginnings of a computerized test designed to discern...what? I'm not sure what it figured out about my psych/work profile, because it was very strange. The program would show a group of faces of men and women, designed to look like they'd been photographed in the late 1800's, in sepia tones and in "old timey" clothes. A typical round of questions (written in English, for our benefit) would be posed like this: "Click on the most sympathetic face. Now click on the second most sympathetic face. Now click on the most appalling face. Now click on the second most appalling face." Then a new assortment of faces would appear, and you'd go through the drill again. And again, and again, and again. And then it was over. Hmm!

Despite my interest in doing a mid-life career transition to becoming a welder, or a florist, or a massage therapist, or a professional ballroom dancer, the meeting pretty much determined that it would be best if I stayed in my current teaching profession. However, now it's a matter of getting onto a "conversion course," which trains olim to become English teachers. My own qualifications most likely won't be recognized here, and of course I've already been loudly informed that my Hebrew is NOT sufficient for working in the public schools now, even if I were otherwise prepared. I'm looking into doing this course in Haifa, at Gordon Teacher's College, that may be appropriate. The course doesn't start until October, and, this being August, everyone's on vacation and isn't answering the phone, so I don't know much more than that. However, that may be the next step.

Over the past months, I thought I had been pursuing a promising opportunity with an Indian company that teaches English online. Following a couple of interviews on Skype, I was verbally offered the job nearly two months ago, and was told I'd start work at the beginning of August. However, the first week in August slipped by without a word from them. When I contacted them to ask what was going on, I was told I'd be contacted within forty-eight hours with a firm start date. I wasn't contacted within forty-eight hours; in fact, two weeks slipped by with yet again no word. Finally, early this week I received an email offering me the job, saying I'd be contacted "shortly" about my training schedule. Now it's the end of the week and I still haven't heard anything. I can't tell if these extended bouts of "radio silence" is an Indian thing, a specific corporate culture thing, or just a plain old disorganization/disrespect thing. I'm giving the company the benefit of the doubt, but at the same time, I'm not counting my chickens before they're hatched, so I'm still applying for work whenever and wherever I can.

Finally, I've realized that I've been focusing this blog on work matters for the last few weeks, because of course that's what Elul and I have been concentrating on. However, we took some time out last Saturday night and finally saw a Nahariya tradition in action: Israeli folk dancing on the beach. During the summers, Nahariya offers free public folk dancing sessions, just after Shabbat ends on Saturday nights. (In the winter, it's held at some other time, but we never felt like going out anymore than we had to during that last freezing winter!) Anyway, Elul was kind enough to shoot some footage and put together a lovely short video about it. My favorite part is at the end, when we got one little girl to say "Shalom, chaverim!" to the camera. Cheesy, but I loved it! Here's the link to the video, and if you can't see it in your email version of this blog, just go directly to my blog's site at

Shabbat shalom, everybody!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Jackpot! That is...Er...Maybe.

Shalom chaverim! Well, the hard work seems to be finally paying off on the job front, at least for Elul. Last Tuesday, he went down to Hod Ha'Sharon, a Tel Aviv suburb near the more well-known city of Kfar Saba, and interviewed for a position. And he got it! Without going into too much detail, it's a work-at-home sales position for a software program and database that helps a certain business sector do its work more cheaply and more efficiently. The company seems reputable and has been in business since the 1990's, so that's a good sign. The HR director who interviewed him is a Russian woman with an MBA, who left another good job to take her position with this company, so that's also a good sign.

The only caveat that keeps us from breaking out the champagne just yet is that the job doesn't begin until next month, and although he left with a signed contract, it had no fixed start date. This is because the company is still in the process of hiring other employees and organizing a training program for everyone. Elul is determined not to get too excited until he's been trained, has started working, and receives his first Israeli paycheck. In Israel, as in much of the world of work today, nothing is real until it's real.

As for me, I've recently managed to secure some freelance writing work, which will hopefully continue on an ongoing basis. It involves writing content for SEO purposes, which means writing articles that get posted on various websites to help a company come up on the first page of search engines like Google. Of course, I will have to figure out a way to keep track of and pay the appropriate amount of Israeli and/or American tax on this income, so that's the next step. My employer is a mysterious man named Vladimir, whom I have only met over the telephone and by email.

However, yesterday I got a phone call on a job I'd applied for that involved my profession, which is teaching English as a Foreign Language. In short, after a very brief conversation, I was told that my Hebrew was not adequate for the position. She explained that her company needed all English teachers to speak, read, and write Hebrew at a fluent level, as well as being able to explain the English language to students in Hebrew. So, there it is. I may resign myself to not finding work in my field for at least another half decade, which is probably how long it will take for me to achieve that level of fluency in Hebrew. Fortunately, there is an "Ulpan Bet," the Ulpan that follows on from our first Ulpan Hebrew course, which starts in September.

I will learn this language if it kills me.

Shabbat shalom, chaverim!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Love is In the Air

Shalom, chaverim! Yesterday was Tu B'Av, a holiday celebrated in Israel to honor matchmaking and romantic love. In some ways it's similar to Valentine's Day--minus the Catholic saints of course. To celebrate, I had been asked to perform in a concert at a local Reform/Progressive synagogue, Congregation Emet ve Shalom (Truth and Peace), along with a number of very talented musicians. This past week has been a bit hectic, between continuing the job search and preparing for the concert.

The concert had an interesting format. Alternating between selected biblical stories about love, read aloud, were selections of love songs performed by the artists.  My responsibility was to perform four songs, so I chose one in Hebrew and three in English, but since the mood for the concert was a light one, I picked several old jazz standards. This was a big shift for me as a musician, as I have never, ever performed any jazz songs. The song in Hebrew--folk, not jazz by the way--was "Chorshat Ha'Ekaliptus," which Elul called, while he patiently endured my interminable practice sessions, "My Horse Shat a Eucalyptus." Oh ho, the fun we have around our's just like the Algonquin Round Table.

I have been searching for local musicians with which to form an ensemble ever since we got to Israel, but still haven't found anyone. As I had no accompanist, then, my solution was to buy karaoke backing tracks online, burn them to a CD, and have them played over the audio system for the performance. Jazz standards being what they are, the songs left large gaps for instrumental solos. In a live performance, of course, the singer can step aside and the audience can turn its attention to the other musicians. But in this case, there wasn't much to look at except at Omar--the man running the mixing board. I had to get creative. On "Dream a Little Dream of Me," I filled the space by bizarrely dancing with a large teddy bear, and during k.d. lang's fabulous tune "Miss Chatelaine," I threw handfuls of fake flower petals at the audience. I figured if I couldn't wow the audience with my singing, at least I could lean on some cheesy props for a laugh. K.d. lang, of course, has performed "Miss Chatelaine" in a lemon chiffon ballgown, complete with boa and bubbles, but I couldn't quite pull that off.

Mr. Teddy Bear, my dance partner. At least he didn't talk too much or step on my toes.

Pini, ever jealous, inspects Mr. Teddy Bear's collar for lipstick during the photoshoot.

Emet ve Shalom's Argentinian rabbi, Israel "Teddy" Horowitz, also happens to be a Cantor as well. He did a wonderful job, singing songs in Hebrew, Spanish, and even tackled the Beatles' "Yesterday" in English. I was far too chicken to even attempt anything in Spanish, so my hat goes off to Rabbi Teddy. He also performed with a very talented group of instrumentalists called "Conjunto Dorot," comprised of a lovely violinist and two excellent classical guitarists.

Another highlight of the show was the appearance of Marta Shumacher, an Argentinian cantor who sings at a Reform synagogue in Karmiel. The renditions of her songs, in Hebrew and Spanish, were heartfelt, beautiful, and deeply moving. There was a good turnout, too--I would guess that more than 70 people paid good money to come to the concert and support Emet ve Shalom.

Rabbi Horowitz, Cantor Shumacher, and me, enjoying the post-concert high. See that crazed grin on my face? That's what sheer and utter relief looks like.

After the concert, it was time to transform from Cinderella (in my brand-new dress, newly-painted fingernails, and salon-styled hair), back into Shlepping Selah, hauling my teddy bear, music and karaoke CD's back home. Well, not back home directly, exactly. Elul and a friend of ours did stop by Nahariya's "Murphy's Bar" for an after-concert drink, which felt very show-businessy and glamorous, even if the place was practically empty, had unisex toilets and was attached to a bomb shelter.

Based on last night's performance, I've decided that for my next Hanukkah present, I'm going to ask for prescription contact lenses, because at my age, I'm starting to need reading glasses just to see the music! Somehow I don't think Beyonce Knowles will be wearing reading glasses on stage when she gets to mid-life.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!