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!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Namibian Joke

Shalom, chaverim! I hope everyone had a beautiful Rosh Hashanah and that the (Jewish) New Year of 5773 is filled with happiness, sweetness, good health, love and prosperity for everyone. Now, if only I could stop writing "5772" on my checks.*

After a very enjoyable potluck supper with nearly a dozen fellow olim chadashim (new immigrants) on Erev Rosh Hashanah (Rosh Hashanah Eve), the next day Elul and I went to Zikhron Ya'akov with a lovely couple, Angie and Shimon. One of the most delightful things about living in Israel is that you get to meet people from so many different parts of the world, all of whom have interesting stories to tell. In fact, this week I learned that some Israelis refer to Israel as "the kibbutz of the Diaspora." This ingathering of exiles has allowed Cupid's pagan bow to create the most unlikely of pairs.

For example, Angie is originally from Colombia. (Ironically, she also lived for twenty-six years in southern Florida, just miles away from our last apartment in Boca Raton.) She met Shimon, the man who is now her fiance, while they were living in an Absorption Center in Karmiel. Since they were part of only a handful of people who spoke English (the rest of the olim were from the former U.S.S.R. and Ethiopia), they were thrown together a great deal, and things then took their natural course.

Shimon is a fascinating man from Namibia. I'd never met a Namibian before, so I really had no preconceived notion of what to expect. So based on my extensive sociological sample of one, I can tell you that this particular Namibian is funny, hard-working, and a very kind man. He's also completely head-over-heels in love with Angie, so they are a happy pair.

Shimon told us an old Namibian joke. This was fascinating, as I believe humor imparts a great deal of information about a culture. We're still laughing at this joke, but Elul and I cannot agree on the true interpretation of the punch line. Nor can I conclude too much about Namibian culture from it, either, except something, perhaps, about Namibian female hirsutism. Perhaps you can help, gentle readers. The joke goes like this:

An old couple, who have been married for a long, long time, are living way out in the Namibian countryside. One day, the wife says to the husband, "There's something wrong with the outhouse. You need to go out and fix it." The husband responds, "What are you talking about, woman? There's nothing in an outhouse except walls, a roof, a door, and a seat with a hole in it. What could possibly need to be fixed...there's nothing that can break!" The wife responds, "Just go out there, and you'll see what needs to be fixed."

The man goes out to the outhouse, and goes inside. He can't see anything that's broken. He shouts to his wife, "Woman, what are you talking about? There's nothing broken in here!" She responds, "Just stick your head in the hole and you'll see what the problem is." The man shouts, "I'm not going to stick my head in there!" "Just stick your head in there!" she shouts back.

The man sticks his head down the hole, and immediately screams, "Ouch! My beard got stuck in a crack in the wood!"

The wife answers, "Hurts, doesn't it?"

Interpretations of this joke are welcome in the comments section of this blog. Shabbat shalom and gud yontif, everyone!

*I wish I had been clever enough to think up this joke myself, but I got it from my Las Vegas "chaver" Adam Reisman. Adam, as it will soon be Yom Kippur, I ask your forgiveness for stealing your joke. Likewise, I beg everyone's forgiveness for my assaults on you with so many bad puns and off-color and scatalogical humor last year. This behavior is not likely to change, though, so you have been warned.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Why You Shouldn't Pass on the Gas...Masks

Shalom, chaverim! Well, I'd been wondering when I'd get around to this rather grim topic. As you are probably aware, there has been a lot of hysteria and terrible violence in some of our neighbors' countries, particularly in and around U.S. embassies and consulates in recent days. American residents in Israel have also been receiving numerous travel warnings from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, advising us to stay away from Amman, Jordan, and even, sadly, the Old City in Jerusalem. So it seemed a fitting time to talk about one basic element of life in Israel: the individual, free, and government-supplied gas mask.

Before making Aliyah, we had heard about this. "Oh my gosh, you're moving to Israel? The government gives everyone gas masks there! And there are bomb shelters everywhere!" And while we got settled in to our new lives here, we still had that nagging feeling that we just needed to get our own gas masks. Not that we felt any particular feelings of imminent doom or impending disaster, but that it was just one more thing, like always having an extra supply of batteries, water, canned food, and candles, that would just feel better to have on hand, rather than not. We know where our bomb shelter is in our building's basement, and now we've become adept at spotting the community shelters whenever we happen to be away from home.

After being here a few months, I eventually started bugging Elul about getting our masks. He quickly tackled the project of figuring out how to procure our gas masks with his usual aplomb. It was fairly simple: he went on the Nefesh B'Nefesh Facebook page where I had seen other olim advise each other on how to go about getting theirs, and he followed their instructions. He called a mysterious four-digit number, gave the person some information, and was told that for 25 shekels or so (about USD $6.25), the post office would deliver them to our home between 8 a.m. and noon.

We then more or less forgot about it, until early one Sunday morning a few weeks later, there was a knock at the door at 7 a.m. At the door was a man who, after confirming our identities, gave us our gas masks and promptly left.

We put them on the kitchen table and stood gaping at them for awhile, as they sat snugly and tidily packed in their brown cardboard boxes. Written in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, English and French were very clear instructions that we were not to open these boxes until we had "received instructions from the Rear Command." I was immediately reminded of the old spoof on an American civil defense poster, that used to be popular in the 1970's. On that poster was a long, long list of very official-looking instructions about emergency preparedness in the event of a nuclear attack. At the very end of the list, though, was the instruction that each person should bend over, grab one's own ankles, put one's head firmly between one's legs, and kiss one's own a** goodbye. So in that vein, from who else could it more apt to receive such gas mask usage instructions, than from the Israeli "Rear Command?"

"Where's MY mask?!" Pini silently, yet accusingly, asks.
On a happier note, it is now just before Rosh Hashanah, and I would like to wish each and every one of you "l'shanah tovah," or Happy (Jewish) New Year. May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for the (Jewish) year of 5773, and may your hearts, homes, and families be happy, healthy and whole. Thank you so much for reading and for your wonderful, positive, informative, and encouraging comments to me on this blog, through emails, and on my Facebook page. I really have only the vaguest idea about who's reads this, but I'm so glad you do. I hope it is useful, or at least somewhat interesting and/or amusing. If it's all three, then I will have truly succeeded in reaching my goal.

Here's a link to my favorite Rosh Hashanah video, so be sure to turn your speakers up. And as usual, if you can't see the pictures or the video link, please go directly to my blog at

Shabbat shalom, chaverim!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Aliyah Petsitting

Shalom, chaverim! Elul has been away this past week on a business trip. When I meet other people and I tell them that he's out of town, I usually get some form of "hubba, hubba!" in response. But, far from doing the naughty things that usually come to mind when "hubba, hubba!" is uttered, I've been busy launching my own small business, Aliyah Petsitting.

As I will freely admit, I am a true Crazy Cat Lady Wannabe. For example, just watching Halle Berry and her amazing abs--which should have gotten their own credit--last night playing the title role in "Catwoman" got me back to the gym in a (all too brief, I'm afraid) flash of motivation.

Fortunately, Elul wisely will not allow this, so we are limited to just two cats, Pini and Dudu. They are doing fine, by the way...Pini got neutered last week and Dudu got spayed on the same day. Our excellent Nahariya vet, Dr. Tzafir, did a wonderful job at a very reasonable price. They also got more shots and a treatment for worms, so they're good for now. In fact, after recovering for a few days, they are taking advantage of Elul's absence by being even more rambunctious as usual. Note Dudu, below, snugly wrapped in a plastic bag that she stole from the counter top as I was putting groceries away.

"Well, I dunno, it MIGHT start raining in here...I'm just being careful!"
And shame on me for forgetting the now cardinal rule in the Gitlin household: "Keep the damn bathroom door shut at all times!" That's because Pini has developed a fetish for unrolling the toilet paper from the roll, then playing in it and ripping it up.

This was funny exactly one time. Oh, and that stuff on the toilet is just some old tape and adhesive residue.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes: "Crazy Cat Lady Wannabe Turns Frustrated Pet Acquisition Desire into Massively Successful Business Empire." A friend of ours, whose two cats I adore, was headed to America for a couple of weeks. She asked if I could take care of her cats, take in the mail, and water her plants while she was away. She also insisted on paying me, so she wouldn't have to feel awkward about asking me to do it again when she needed a petsitter. What a mensch! So we made some arrangements, and I began my new career as a professional pet sitter two weeks ago.

There was something about walking into that apartment, and seeing those two furry little faces impatiently waiting for food and cuddles, that just rang a bell inside me. I thought "I want to keep doing this, for everybody's pets!" So I started a business, Aliyah Petsitting. Of course, I have yet to finalize the details, but in Elul's absence I've gotten an English logo designed, then got it redesigned into Hebrew, had a stop-animation video produced, a flyer written out in Hebrew (my neighbors helped me write it), a business card designed, and I've even designed work uniforms with "Aliyah Petsitting" embroidered on the top. The uniforms are only for when I call on the human clients, not the furry ones. Now all I have to do is get all this stuff printed up, and then I'll be able to start distributing flyers in the neighborhood.

In the meantime, I've been just using word of mouth to get the business going, and I've already been in touch with five different potential new clients. I've contacted an American-Israeli CPA in Karmiel who can help me set up my business bookkeeping and tax file correctly, and have found an Israeli printer who can make me those cool magnetic business cards that are so popular here.

Getting the design work done was incredibly cheap, thanks to a fantastic website I discovered called Essentially, people sell "gigs"--little tasks or products--for $5 each. One guy designed my original logo in English. Another guy is doing my video--again, for five bucks. And an amazing Israeli woman translated my logo into Hebrew and wrote out my flyer text--two gigs at five dollars a piece. Total spent: $20. I'll spend another five dollars to have her do a graphic version of my flyer that includes the text and the logo. The property is all mine now, so I can use it to get the embroidery done, and the business cards and stationery printed up. I spent about $1.50 on a book of Israeli blank receipts. Total spent so far: $21.50. The accountant will be more, of course, but I will ask him to train me on how to do nearly everything myself, so I can save money that way.

Here are my fancy new logos, in English and Hebrew.

I like the proportions of this logo, including the bunny that's as big as a house. Shades of the Killer Rabbit in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

Here it is in Hebrew. I'm not sure how to pronounce the word after "Aliyah," since there are no vowel marks.
Here's another version, this time with "Aliyah Babysitting" spelled out phonetically.

As you can see, my translator/designer gave me two choices for the Hebrew version of my logo. Ironically, she didn't know which Hebrew to use: "petsitting" doesn't exist in the Hebrew language, nor does the concept. "Huh? We have friends or family members look after our pets when we are away!" is the usual response I get when I've talked to native Israelis about my business. Now I have to decide which Hebrew logo version to go with.

Finally, in the spirit of "re-inventing myself" as a petsitting business mogulista, and having been left in complete control of the cat feeding/poop-scooping duties in my own home, I made an executive decision to upgrade both the dustpan and the litter scoop. The dustpan has an attached hand broom, unlike the one Elul used, which had no hand broom. He used a floor broom to sweep the litter remnants into a dustpan, which for me is physically awkward and quite inefficient. And if there's one thing you want to be when cleaning out a cat litter box, it's to be efficient.

The litter scoop also needed to be upgraded. I found a better one, with smaller holes, that more effectively catches those little bits and pieces of shattered clumps of what Elul calls "pee balls and Klingons."

The old scoop is the blue one. Note the design genius of the smaller holes of the fancy new red one. The badass dustpan set matches the cats' matching Burberry-style Snuggies.
So, on the note of cleanliness being next to not only G-dliness but also next to world fashion domination, I wish you all a very peaceful Shabbat!

Shabbat shalom, chaverim!