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!