Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tools Down!

Shalom, chaverim! Once again, my intention to post more frequently, and at a regular pace, has been an "epic fail." That is not to say I put this blog out of my mind, but rather, I kept making mental notes about what to write in the next post. The problem with mental notes, though, is that they are mental (duh), rather than physical. And as I operate on the assumption that most of you are not professional mind-readers, it puts the onus on me to get off my anus and actually write something. So here it is, warts and all, sans the fabulous "mental posts" I had dancing in my head.

Organ Recital

November and much of December have turned out to be a real hassle for me, with a couple of scary health incidents. On November 24th, I decided that since it had been about two years since I'd seen a dentist, it was time to get a move on and make an appointment. I did so, with a Scottish dentist in town who had been highly recommended by my Nahariyan friends. Since his tiny office is in a shopping mall in the center of town, I came to my appointment heavy laden with shopping bags, backpack, and purse. Well, to make a long story medium-length, once I got into his examining room, I realized the only place to put my stuff was at the foot of the dental chair, which was across the room. And instead of trying to get past the dentist, I went to the other side of the head of the chair and charged forward, hyper-focused on the one eensy-meensy place I could put my bags.

BANG! I absolutely cold-cocked myself on the top of my head, having walked right into the overhanging arm of the metal x-ray machine. I staggered back, seeing stars and nearly fainting from the pain and the shock. I had no idea what had happened--it felt like a hammer from G-d had just given me a big old b*tch-slap. Fortunately, there was a counter and a stool just behind me, so I was able to grab onto it and keep myself from falling. I howled.

The dentist and his assistant got me into the chair immediately, which helped. When I was able to stop crying, we laughed about it and we went on with the examination and the cleaning. At the time, since I was in the chair for nearly an hour and didn't have to talk too much, I thought I was all right, and even rode my bike home.

However, that evening, things started getting strange. My vision got a little blurry, and I was finding it difficult to speak coherently. It was hard to read, and I was very, very sleepy. After Googling "concussion," I knew I wouldn't be fit for work the next day, so I called in sick. I made an evening appointment with the doctor to get a sick note, but by the time it rolled around, Elul had to work and I didn't feel safe to ride my bike or drive--I was that gorked out.

Hospital Visit #1

Anyway, the next morning, Elul took me to the doctor to get my note. By this time, I was so drowsy and out of it that my doctor took one look at me and sent me to the emergency room at the hospital. Although they first thought I might be in that state from drug use (!), they soon sent me for a CT scan. Fortunately, there was no internal bleeding, so they sent me home with a note for two weeks off, and strict instructions to do "no cognitive work," including reading and writing. That kind of makes it difficult to teach English, write and narrate news stories, and do graduate work in education. But seriously, I was in no shape to do any of it. It was strangely restful, though, to be so damaged that I could easily sit in a chair for 30 minutes at a time without thinking about anything at all. No worries, no cares, no concerns, no self-criticism. Just a lovely kind of emptiness, watching the birds and the sun on the sea, watching the dust motes dance.

Pini and I take in the view of my own personal "Gorky Park."

Hospital Visit #2

So, ten days go by and I think I'm on the mend. I've managed to secure assignment extensions from my professors, and have filed the sick note paperwork for my teaching job. Then, once again, with all the charm of Emeril Lagasse, BAM! It's the middle of the day, and, like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky, I find myself first bent over from lower abdominal cramps, then, within minutes, literally down on the floor on my hands and knees, vomiting from pain. I got Elul to call our (WONDERFUL) Maccabi health insurance company to talk to their nurse. He explained what was going on and she gave immediate approval for me to go to the emergency room.

Elul got me there right away, but I walked myself in because he had to park the car. The problem was, I was staggering and crying and couldn't stand up straight. Some aides helped me into a wheelchair and got me into the emergency room, but I was crying so much from pain that I couldn't speak clearly. So a nurse decided that I was "hysterical," and to "snap me out of it," gave me an extremely painful Vulcan death pinch on my left shoulder! That just made me bellow and cry even more, and shout "please stop hurting me!"

Oy! They gave me a scan right away and admitted me to the hospital. What was eventually pieced together, from multiple scans and multiple doctors, was basically this: "Well, you have ovarian cysts, endometrial tissue all over the place, and a "mass" that we can't really identify, exactly. It also looks like something has twisted, since there's no blood flow to your right ovary. So we'll have to operate tomorrow. No food and drink for you until after the op!"

Pre-op. I wasn't that chipper post-op, believe me!

They did the operation, I went into post-op and recovery, stayed another night, and was out the next afternoon. They removed all the crap they could find, along with my right fallopian tube. I am now the proud owner of three new "keyholes" in my belly, stitched up with dissolvable sutures that haven't dissolved yet. I have to say, though, that one of these "keyholes" must have been designed for a mighty large key! Still, once again, just like my brief stint last year for the same problem, I had absolutely excellent care from every single member of the hospital staff. I was extremely well looked after, the ward was clean and quiet, and everything was very well organized. Everyone was supportive and kind, and answered all the questions I had carefully and fully. Rock on, the Western Galilee Hospital Nahariya!

Elul was great during all this, I want to point out to the world. He was patient, kind, supportive, and dealt with all the odds and ends of work communication that goes with any health crisis, not to mention multiple visits and hassles with parking in bad weather. Thank you, sweetheart!

At my follow-up appointment with my doctor, she told me to take a month off work. At first, I thought that seemed excessive. But now, it's just great. I can't believe how much time I've spent sleeping and just doing the bare minimum of my household chores. I haven't ridden my bicycle since the head injury, and I can only walk for about ten minutes without getting winded. Elul and I used to walk an hour a day, seven days a week! I've had to back out of a wonderful singing engagement for our local ESRA (English Speaking Residents Association) chapter, and have had to take a medical leave of absence from my M.Ed. program. I have just enough energy to work a little and do a little housework, and that's about it. In other words, my life has kind of gone off the rails. Where I go from here, I don't know.

Mystery UnDiagnosis

So, the final wrinkle in all of this is that I'm also being tested for Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness that I may have contracted many years ago when I lived in Ireland. Even though I have ALL the symptoms, I have to say I'm not holding out much hope for a positive diagnosis. This is only because I've been struggling for so long, for so many years, to get to the bottom of this mystery condition, this "great pretender," that is routinely misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's, sleep apnea, epilepsy, vascular dementia, MS, chronic fatigue syndrome, Epstein-Barr, irritable bowel syndrome, hypothyroidism, hormonal disorders, skin cancer, and perimenopause, to name but a few. I have been tested for, and have had ruled out, nearly all of these conditions. The fact that I now recall (thanks to Elul's detective work and careful questioning) that I once found an engorged tick under the bedclothes when I lived in Ireland, is what makes us think it may be Lyme disease. But like I say, I'm not holding out much hope. I feel discouraged and somewhat hopeless. My memory is getting so bad, and my fatigue is getting so out of control (11-13 hours a sleep required a day, anyone?) that I don't know where to go or what to do anymore.

The results of the "AB borrelia burgdorfer" panel blood tests should come back next week. I'll keep you posted.

Big Ol' Storm

In other news, Israel is just coming out of the worst storm it's had in the last 150 years. It's been freezing cold in our apartment, and we've been sleeping in our clothes for the past two weeks. I managed to ferret out a wonderful woolen blanket at the local charity shop, along with some woolen berets and a man's oversize turtleneck sweater, which I'v been wearing day and night during this last cold snap. We took one of my mother's quilts and hung it on a large dowel rod, which we then suspended over our leaky, single-pane home office window to keep the drafts out. The hanging quilt setup was completed by adorable duct-tape sealing, which immediately ripped the paint off the plaster when the cats pulled the quilt down by trying to climb it. To borrow from Willie Nelson's song, "Mothers, don't let your sons grow up to in old Israeli apartment buildings." I have just ordered a few pairs of silk sock liners, so as to be better prepared for next winter.

The Bright Side: Jon Hamm Doesn't Like Wearing Underoos

On the other hand, not all is terrible. I've been able to watch "Breaking Bad" from start to nearly finish. The apartment is reasonably clean. I've discovered the multitudinous benefits of chia seeds and have developed a crazy--but strangely tasty--"Chocolate Chia Seed Gruel" that I really enjoy, despite its turd-like appearance.

Don't hate me because my Chocolate Chia Seed Gruel is beautiful

Sometimes I walk a little on the beach and pick up sea glass for my friend Jody, who makes gorgeous jewelry out of it.

My friend Jody Garbe makes amazing Israeli jewelry and I'm happy to plug her business. Check her out on Facebook at "Twisted Sister Jewelry" and you can buy some yourself!

And occasionally, I get a really funny script to read for the voiceover work I do. Here's a recent one I did about Jon Hamm, the divine specimen of  hunky actor manliness who stars in "Mad Men":

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in "Mad Men." (Thanks, for the image!)

"Jon Hamm was spotted out and about in El Lay, with his lady love Jennifer Westfeldt, while getting some holiday shopping done at Barneys. Who knows what gift items they left with, but Jon was clearly not wearing any underwear. Maybe Jon should try buying some!"

Ooh, indeed!

Shabbat shalom, chaverim!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Emerging from the Deep Water

Shalom, chaverim! I must say, I don't feel like I've been a very good "chavera" in keeping up my end of this blogging relationship. I was shocked and horrified to see that it's been nearly two months (!) since my last post. Finally, with the words of my professor (more on that later), "It's better to turn in some crap on time, than it is to never turn in anything at all." So, keeping that in mind, here is my poor attempt to update everyone with what's been going on in my small life these past few months.

In a word, it's been busy as heck. September meant the shock of re-entry into the school year. After all was said and done, I ended up with a contract to work eight hours a week (4 hours on Mondays, and 4 hours on Tuesdays) at the Druze school. Sadly, it seemed that there was a major funding cut at the religious girls' school, where I loved working, and there was no money to hire me with unless I gave up my job at the Druze school. (This has to do with the Kafka-esque funding system of the Ministry of Education in Israel, which baffles everyone.) Since the Druze school was offering me more hours, I felt I had to vote with my wallet and accept the position there.

Once the High Holidays were over, and Israel grudgingly lurched itself back to life, the "machinery" really started working again. Back to teaching, and--even more fun--driving lessons! Since my school days start very early in Yarka--about 30 minutes away in rush-hour traffic--and Elul works late nights, it was vital that I finally bit the bullet and started going for my driving test. It took a couple of months, actually: a few weeks for lessons, and then having to wait for over a month to take my practical test. There aren't enough driving testers in the area, you see, so the waiting list is quite long. The process is tedious, time-consuming and expensive, and my experience as an already-licensed driver involves even less hassle than the poor suckers who need to learn how to drive "from scratch." But, even though the driving examiner was busy shouting at me and insulting my "too safe" manner of driving during my practical test, somehow I managed to pass. Whew! So now I'm on the road, all by my lonesome after not driving for almost two years. It feels great!

So, besides working my two regular jobs as a teacher and a newsreader/story editor for the media company Elul and I still work for, what else has been occupying my time? Well, of course I took on an extra assignment for a publishing company, writing college textbook chapter quizzes. For three different textbooks, actually--introductory anthropology textbooks, to be precise. With my stupid optimism and excitement about even being asked to do the assignment, I accepted it willingly.

Of course, I had no idea how many battles I would face with the assignment until after I took it, and was on the hook to deliver the goods on time. The first and most difficult battle I had to face, was my own horrible habit of procrastination. I spent more time worrying about not doing the assignments than it took to actually do them. And it took a LOT of time to do them, which was the second part of the battle! For some perverse reason, while I was procrastinating, I felt I shouldn't allow myself to do anything else that would "distract" me from the work I was (supposed to be) doing (but wasn't). Hence, the absence from the blog. "How can I spend time blogging/exercising/keeping in touch with friends and family/doing errands, when I have all of these chapter quizzes to do?" I would ask myself while lying in bed in the middle of the day. The paralysis was terrible, and I still don't know how to get out of this terrible habit. Can you believe, I'm now using writing this blog post as an avoidance strategy for doing my homework!

"What homework?" you may ask. "Didn't you just spend a year doing coursework at that religious college so you could get your Israeli teaching certificate?" Yes, I did. And to my utter amazement, when I finished the course I got invited to do their M.Ed. program. So, I've started that. And to help pay for it, I got enrolled in a program that pays graduate students for doing tutoring in the public schools for four hours a week. The rest of the money I'll have to make up with private students or doing extra hours on my news job, but all in all, the tuition fees are incredibly cheap when compared to America. Seriously, a full year of graduate school for NIS 10,000-- the equivalent of about USD $2,800? I'll take that, in a heartbeat!

So graduate school is fun and challenging, and goes every Wednesday from 8:45 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. at night. On Monday nights, I've also started attending a Hebrew class for immigrants, and also study with a wonderful Englishwoman named Jean, who kindly tutors me for an hour a week. Progress is slow and frustrating, but it's still being made. My M.Ed. program is all taught in English, by the way, except for one class in Research and Quantitative Methods, which is given in Hebrew. I've worked out an arrangement with the professor in that course to do self-study that parallels what he's covering in the class. Aside from having to significantly cut down my pleasure reading and television-watching time (a huge sacrifice, especially the television-watching time!), it's worth it. And I'll only have to do it once!

Finally, a lot of health stuff has been happening in terms of tests and the somewhat tense waiting periods for the test results. The good news is, I neither have epilepsy nor sleep apnea. That's thanks to the EEG I took during the summer, and a recent sleep study test I took a few weeks ago. The doctors still don't know why I'm having nocturnal seizures, memory loss, time distortion and daytime fatigue, but at least I won't have to use a breathing machine at night and disturb Elul. In the meantime, I'm using the games of to improve my neurological functioning overall, and have also installed a lot of external systems to keep me on track--things like electronic reminders on my phone about upcoming work shifts, a big diary I carry around with me everywhere, a computer-based program that allows me a way to manage projects and tasks, and so on. Unfortunately, I have also had to devise some rather sneaky methods of disguising my memory loss and bouts of confusion, which I am sure will be "outed" by others sooner or later, if they haven't noticed it already. The neurologist doesn't think I have Alzheimer's though, so that's good. Chalk it up to a mystery, I guess.

In other health news, I do have some suspicious skin conditions that my dermatologist was alarmed enough by to send me for a biopsy for one of them, and to have the rest surgically removed. That process is ongoing. The biopsy will be in a couple of weeks, and the surgeries will be done in December. Then there are follow-up visits, more waiting, and so on. Fingers crossed it's nothing serious, even though the thing that needs the biopsy clearly had been misdiagnosed by several doctors--and two other dermatologists--over the past five years.

Happily, today also happens to be Elul's and my fifth wedding anniversary! We're going to celebrate by going out to dinner tomorrow night after Shabbat--maybe to Acco, for a lovely meal by the sea. Our bigger celebration, into which we're rolling all our traditional anniversary gifts and Hanukkah presents to each other, is a trip to Rome we'll be making in December. That's why I took on that publishing assignment--to help pay for the trip. Whenever I got discouraged and frightened that I wouldn't deliver it on time, I simply repeated to myself, "When you're in Rome this winter, it will all have been worth it!" And so I succeeded--I turned in the last chapter of the last textbook, on the very last day it was due, a minute past midnight. Thank goodness that the midnight deadline was midnight on the West Coast, not midnight in Israel! Also, thank goodness I had an amazing supervisor who was so exceedingly patient--above and beyond the call of duty, in fact. Thanks, Kate!

So, now I feel "caught up" with all of you and I hope you feel the same. Thank you to everyone who emailed me out of concern for my well-being, due to my lengthy absence. I've been OK, just overwhelmed and very, very engaged. Making Aliyah is not for the faint-hearted. It stretches you, and pulls you around so much that (warning: mixed metaphor ahead!) you feel like a big piece of human taffy that has gone eleven rounds with Mike Tyson. But in the end, you still get the champion's belt!

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Happy Rosh Hashanah from the IDF...and from Elul and Me!

Shanah tovah v'metukah, chaverim! Chag sameach!

The above is poorly transliterated Hebrew, meaning that Elul and I are wishing you all a happy and sweet new year, friends. Happy holidays!

I picked this wonderful clip from the IDF because, well, if you're watching the news, you know why.

Stay safe, my friends!

Selah, Elul, Pini and Dudu.*

*Little Moe passed away in a freak accident last month--baruch dayan emet.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Rocket Ping Pong

Shalom, chaverim! Well, it's been an interesting time here these past few weeks here in sunny Nahariya, to say the least. I've found it quite difficult to get myself to sit down and focus on anything for any extended duration, especially writing that demands the slightest bit of creativity and organization. Still, many of you have kindly asked us how we are via Facebook, so I wanted to give everyone a fuller account of recent events.

On the hot and sunny late afternoon of Thursday, August 22nd, Elul and I were just finishing up and preparing to go to the annual Go North picnic, hosted by Nefesh B'Nefesh. It would have been our second picnic since making Aliyah, and we were really looking forward to it. It would be a chance to see our friends from Karmiel and other parts of the north we rarely have time to go visit these days, and also to meet the new olim who have recently moved to Nahariya. There are a lot of them, by the way...just last night I got a call from a lovely family who had just made Aliyah to Nahariya a few days ago. We're looking forward to meeting them, and paying for the packages of American cat treats they kindly purchased for us and shlepped with them in their limited baggage allowance. Thank you and welcome to Israel, Dennis and family!

Because we had to work, we couldn't go on the bus that Nefesh B'Nefesh had arranged for Nahariyan olim who didn't have their own transportation. This work commitment turned out to be fortuitous. All of sudden, I heard two or three large booms, and what seemed to be less than a minute later, loud sirens started wailing. Elul grabbed our cat Pini immediately, and headed out the door to the bomb shelter. I knew that trying to hold onto a fat, wriggling, and soon-to-be-panicked cat was a non-starter, so I stayed behind to get the cat carrier, which was inconveniently stored on top of a tall wardrobe. Our other cat, Dudu, I knew was more or less safely ensconced in her daytime siesta nook--an unreachable storage area over the laundry room.

Cat-carrier in hand, I headed downstairs to our bomb shelter, where people were slowly beginning to gather. Unfortunately the door was locked. Eventually, one resident came down and claimed she had a key, but it turned out to be the wrong one. As the second siren blast went off, she had to go back upstairs and rummage through her apartment to find the correct key. In the meantime, we all stood around with our, er, "mezuzahs" in our hands. Oy, vey!


Two rather damp young boys rushed in, wanting to take cover in our bomb shelter and use our cellphones. They had been caught on the street, halfway between the pool and their homes. Armed with nothing but towels, flip-flops, and soggy bathing suits, they promptly called their mothers like the good Jewish boys they were, and let them know they were safe. Of course, all the cellphone networks were temporarily overloaded, as everyone and their dog was calling everyone else and their dog at the same time. Eventually, however, they got through and reassured their mothers that they were all right and were in a shelter. They were trying to play it as cool, but they were really quite frightened, since they'd seen a rocket fly overhead, heading towards Haifa. The one they saw was most likely the one that landed in a nearby village called Shave Tziyyon. There were four rockets altogether: one was shot out of the sky by Israel's Iron Dome system; one landed in a field near Acco; one landed on a residential street in the nearby kibbutz of Gesher Ha'ziv, and the last landed in Shave Tziyyon. No one was hurt, thank G-d, but there was some property damage to homes, streets, and cars.

By the way, the rockets were sent to us by our neighbors in Lebanon. I don't know who sent them, exactly, but the Israeli media says that the Lebanese government was not behind it, and in fact they helped identify the perpetrators to us. The Lebanese government also cooperated with the Israeli government in helping us carry out a little tit-for-tat air raid. The whole thing seemed to die down as quickly as it had flared up, thank goodness. "Rocket Ping-Pong" is what I've dubbed this crazy game.

Back in the shelter, eventually we all used the power of collective psychic ability (!) to make an educated guess that it was safe to go back to our homes. This is because there was no "all clear" signal given, despite our having been assured repeatedly by a civil defense instructor in a talk he gave last year, that such signals would "always" be given after sirens were activated. It was really very strange. We found out later that there had been a giant civic outcry because Nahariyans who had been on the street, or who lived in buildings with no bomb shelters, had immediately gone to their nearest community shelter. Unfortunately, they were all locked, and there was no real plan in place to have people available to open them. Therefore, people were standing on the street all over the town, huddled before the locked front doors of bomb shelters! What a "balagan" (mess) that must have been. I'm sure some unfortunate local civil servants got severely called on the carpet after that fiasco. Hopefully the powers that be will figure out a better system than what had been in place--which was no system at all.

Our building's bomb shelter is stark, functional and quite unlovely. It has a giant tank of water in it, a sink and a partitioned-off toilet, some plastic chairs, one musty sleeping mattress, and, for some mysterious reason, two used (but luckily unbloodied) surgical gloves.

It's good to know someone left us some medical supplies, in the form of used surgical gloves-- just in case they might come in "handy."

Cellphone signals are blocked by the thickness of the walls and doors, so in order to communicate, one has to emerge into the front hallway of the building. Therefore, the two most important things that are required when under attack--physical security and a means of rapid communication--were operating at cross-purposes. You could have one or the other, but not both at the same time.

Seriously, where is HGTV when you need them ? They should be sending us a bomb shelter makeover crew with a wide-screen TV, sustainable bamboo flooring, and an "open plan design philosophy," stat!

After about an hour or so, we all drifted back upstairs and tried to recover from the shock, as well as to try to piece together from Facebook, phone calls, and the television what had actually happened. Truthfully, we've spent far more time talking about, and reacting to, the event than we did actually experiencing it. Still, it was a great kick in the behind to get us motivated to assemble our basic emergency preparations in the event of another attack. Since then, we've amassed a stockpile of bottled water, batteries, flashlights, non-perishable food, sleeping mats, a second cat carrier, and other supplies. We are keeping all these, along with our Israeli government-issued gas masks, near the front door. We also acquired our own key to the bomb shelter, thank goodness.

These preparations are even more necessary today, now that America seems to be champing at the bit to strike Syria over the regime's alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people. As of this writing, the U.K. government has refused to authorize its military to carry out any kind of strike against Syria at the moment. The U.S. has the support of France and a handful of other countries, and Assad seems to be moving troops and armaments around in preparation for some sort of aerial strike. Russia is dead-set against any sort of action, and they've moved their own vessels into the eastern Mediterranean. We are really hoping this whole thing gets defused in some way, since blowback against Israel seems to be a given. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done a partial call-up of reserve troops, and there are plenty of tanks stationed along the Syrian border in the Golan Heights.

Of course, this situation is changing extremely rapidly, from hour to hour in fact, and what I write here will undoubtedly be a completely different story in the days ahead. We've had a brief respite from worry now that the U.N. inspectors are in Syria and are able to carry out their duties, and the world awaits their report. I sincerely hope America also has the courage to be patient, and see what comes out of it. Even if the U.N. security council refuses to authorize any military action against Syria (which, with Russia being on the council, will be the inevitable outcome), it would be far better if the U.S. had a stronger justification for its actions than it does now. Sitting here in sunny Nahariya, however, it would be far better for Israel, at least, if Syria were left alone to deal with its own civil war in its own way. If, indeed, Bashar Al-Assad hasn't gotten the message already that using chemical weapons can lead to a major international crap-storm, he probably has now. Or maybe not. Who knows what, and who, we are dealing with?

All I know is, it would be better for everyone if we could avoid World War III, all right? After all, I need to do my M.Ed. in Education (I just got accepted to a program which starts next month), and, naturally, I want to get started on my next creative project of making furniture out of old car seats! In other words, we have more important things to do than to get our butts bombed back into the Stone Age, or become displaced (or dead) persons.

Please pray or send good thoughts for the peace of Israel and everyone in our neighboring countries. The Syrians, the Egyptians, the Turks, the Afghans, the Iraqis, the Libyans, the Tunisians...every country around us (ourselves included), has been harmed by bloodshed, violence, pain and disruption. Regardless of causative factors, the facts are that children's lives are being irreparably disrupted, families are being torn apart, and ecosystems and world archaeological and historical treasures are being laid waste. Collective social dysfunction is inevitably played out on the backs of society's most vulnerable, and the current situation is no exception.

I thank you all for staying with me, even though my output of work has been increasingly erratic. I know I have lost some readers because I don't post as regularly as I used to. Still, I urge whatever readers are left to share this blog with your friends. I ask you to do this not because I want to make money or "write epic sh%t," as professional bloggers urge amateurs like me to do in order to produce a giant fan base. Rather, I ask you to share it because our story of moving to Israel, with both our triumphs and our ridiculous prat-falls, gives people a chance to catch a glimpse of what it's like to live in this audacious experiment, this outrageous affront to anti-Semites around the world, this completely insane idea...that is Israel.

Chag sameach and l'shanah tovah!! (Thanks to for the image!)

L'shanah tovah (Happy Jewish New Year) to all of you, chaverim! Elul and I send you love and blessings of peace, health, and happiness.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Now Go to the Toilet and Wash Your Head In It

Shalom, chaverim! As summer's end approaches, we're getting into the nitty-gritty of the annual teacher draft season. Phone calls and emails are flying thick and fast. Will I get Door Number One (the Druze school), Door Number Two (the religious girls' school), Door Number Three (some teaching hours at both schools), or--for an extra frisson of excitement--Door Number Four: nothing at all? No one seems to know what's going on, and I have no hours absolutely nailed down at either school. So much depends on a myriad of factors I am personally unable to control: the school budget, the number of tenured teachers looking for work in the district who might have to take precedence over me, the number of students in need of a teacher, and so on. School starts next week in one school, and two weeks from now in the other school, so we'll see what, if anything, shakes down.

Fortunately, if I am unable to get any teaching hours through the public school system, I can always tutor privately (which is far better paid and doesn't require meetings or continuing ed), and do more hours with my narration job or my other job doing contract work for publishers. At the moment, I've just taken on an assignment to write the chapter quizzes for three new college anthropology textbooks. This is a personal triumph, as it is the first time I am specifically earning any money whatsoever solely due to my master's degree in anthropology, which I earned way back in 1996. Jeeze, only an 18 year wait for the first professional nibble of ROI (return on investment) on graduate school? Wow, that was quick!

On my last blog post, I'd mentioned that I'd been spending part of my summer "vacation" attending various medical appointments. One of these appointments was to have an EEG, which I received this week at the excellent local hospital in Nahariya. Although I'd never had an EEG before, I'd had my brainwaves monitored in the past when I'd taken part in some psychology experiments at a university. What I was expecting, therefore, is that the technician would have fitted me with one of those EEG caps, which looks like a swimming cap with a lot of wires sticking out of it. This, however, was not the case. Far from it, in fact.

Oh, Ben Stiller, you dog you!

Instead, the rather surly technician affixed the electrodes to my head and gave me rapid-fire instructions in Hebrew about how to position myself in the chair, and so on.  When I explained that my Hebrew wasn't very good, and asked her to please speak a little more slowly, she gave me a sharp retort that was equally unintelligible. Gradually, I realized that she was speaking to me in Russian. Apparently, she'd asked me to close my eyes, keep still, and keep my head tilted slightly back. Not understanding what she wanted, of course I opened my eyes, turned to her, and shifted my position. She gave me a sharp rebuke in Russian, and I finally just told her, in English, that I spoke English, not Russian.

That linguistic mess straightened out, we proceeded with the test. "You are opening. You are closing. You are not breathe. Now you are breathe," she instructed throughout the procedure. When it was finally done, she removed the electrodes, which had been attached with wads of a sticky substance that seemed to be a cross between white paste and snot. After lazily trying to extract a few globs of this mess, which was stuck in my hair like that classic Cameron Diaz scene in "There's Something About Mary," she got bored and wanted me out of her room, fast.

"Now you go to toilet and wash your head in it," she commanded, and dismissed me immediately.

So I did. Well, I tried to, anyway. What actually happened is that once I got out as much of it as I could in the bathroom, I ended up walking through the entire Nahariya hospital with this crapola all over me. I felt it softening in the hot sun as we trudged to the parking lot, and getting even more disgusting once we got into the hot car to go home. One commemorative photo and a long shower/shampoo session later, it was all over. I get the results next week.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

What I've Been Doing On My Summer Vacation

Shalom, chaverim! It is with a great sense of embarrassment that I return to writing this blog, since it's been so long since my last post. However, I have not forgotten it, and, after a few pointed emails from readers encouraging me to post again (and reassure them everything was okay over here), here I am. I hope the summer is treating all of you well--Nahariya has been its usual hot and humid self, but beautiful just the same. July and August are the months where you usually count on changing clothes at least two or three times a day, depending on how many times you go out, and showering once, twice, or even three times. So, weather aside, here's an update on what's been happening.


A lot has been going on since I last posted. First, I went through the craziness of attending the last classes, and getting all my final assignments in, for "THE COURSE." Frankly, even though it was very educational and worthwhile (not to mention mandatory for obtaining my Israeli teaching license), it was a lot of work. I spent many days off cranking out papers and projects, while Elul was either stuck at home and bored, or out with friends having fun. He's seen a lot more of Israel than I have now, because I've had to miss so many outings. But now THE COURSE is over and most of the grades are in. I did pretty well, which was a relief, although it really doesn't matter that much what one's grades are. The important thing is that you pass it and that your profile gets updated with the Ministry of Education.

However, now the job before me is to improve my Hebrew as much as I can, so I can get into the next round of 180 class hours (plus homework and exams) of coursework. I really don't know how I am going to achieve this. How do you achieve an eighth grade level of linguistic proficiency in a year and a half, when you don't have a private teacher, a class to join, or funds to pay for either? Hmm.

Anyway, that's the news about the first part of THE COURSE: an ongoing saga about which you will be sure to hear more over the coming months and years. The good news is, I finally joined the teachers' union--the Histadrut. Actually, the Histadrut is the union for all public servants, I think. It makes me happy that I'm part of the organization that Golda Meir first worked at as a cashier after making Aliyah, and then eventually headed up. From what I gather, teachers' unions are not terribly popular with teachers themselves here, but nearly everyone is a member anyway. There are two, in fact: the Histadrut covers elementary and middle school teachers, and the "Irgun ha'Morim" covers high school teachers. Since I'm teaching middle schoolers (G-d help me), I opted for the Histadrut.


The other major time-suck I've been dealing with during my summer vacation has been going to various medical appointments, hither and yon. A test for this, a scan for that, a committee meeting of doctors I have to attend in Tel-Aviv this week, etc. Nothing serious so far (fingers crossed), just a lot of nagging little things that need attending to.

Here's a hint: We recently purchased a heavy-duty hand fan that I can keep with me AT ALL TIMES.

I've also been sick for the last eight weeks with an upper respiratory bug, that resulted in the Mother of All Coughs. The cough took three stabs at medical treatments (one round of antibiotics, another series of cough suppressants and other remedies, and now another type of medicine) before any real improvement showed. This cough was so bad I've had to cancel or reduce my contribution to singing performances. The concomitant  hoarseness also negatively affected my work as a news narrator for one of my other jobs. This cough is no joke. Case in point: a friend of ours had the same bug. He woke up one night to have a coughing fit. He ended up passing out, falling to the floor, and fracturing his spine. He spent many days in the hospital, needs to be fitted for a heavy-duty brace, and can't work.

Driving Lessons

Elul and I finally girded our financial loins, so to speak, and have begun the process of getting an Israeli driver's license for yours truly. I had my first lesson yesterday, and as I haven't driven a car in over nineteen months (not to mention having barely driven at all since I sold my own car in 2010), my driving instructor was relieved that I hadn't forgotten how to drive completely. "I don't teach people how to drive," she said, wagging her finger threateningly. "I only teach them how to pass the test."

However, all is not completely "beseder" (fine) with my driving. "Clearly, you know how to drive, and you will be a good driver in Israel. However, you don't know, at all, how to drive to pass a driving test. They are two different things! You will need at least four or five lessons, I think," she concluded. At 100 NIS (about USD $30) a pop for a 45 minute lesson, that's a nice chunk of change.

Getting a license in Israel is a big deal and a big financial commitment, and it usually ends up costing about USD $500 to $600 just to convert a non-Israeli license into an Israeli one. Fortunately, I don't have to take the theory exam...yet. If I don't pass my practical exam two times in a row, however, I will have to take the theory exam as well. I'm hoping it doesn't come to that. One lady I know of has passed her theory exam, but has failed her practical exam three times already and still hasn't passed. Yow! Oh, and there's a long waiting list for driving exams, so I probably won't even get a chance to take my first exam until the middle of September or so. Still, it's a rite of passage that I want to go through. Driving in Israel can be a bit hairy, but frankly, most of the drivers I've seen here are not much worse than the drivers we encountered in Boca Raton, Florida, or California drivers who had moved to Las Vegas. The thing to remember, though, is that the prevailing Israeli attitude towards traffic laws is to treat them as "suggestions," as opposed to actual rules. Everything's negotiable!

So, that's all the news that's fit to print from our little corner in Eretz Yisrael. Shabbat shalom, chaverim!


Friday, June 21, 2013

Caternal Instinct: What Not To Do When Your Husband's Away

Shalom, chaverim! Well, I've finally made it to the end of my first (partial) year of teaching in the Israeli public school system. The past few weeks have been an absolute blur of meetings, report-generating, parties, assemblies, excursions, and general fretting about "THE COURSE." (If I spent more time working on my assignments, however, and less time worrying about having to do them in the first place, I would probably be done with them by now.)

Elul is back from his trip to America, where he was able to visit family and friends in North Carolina and Florida, and also see the youngest of his two sons graduate from high school. His boys have grown up to be fine young men with a good work ethic and good grades, so there is a collective sigh of relief going around the family network. We hope they will be able to come visit us in Israel soon.

I have been wrangling with a series of low-level flu bugs. I've even had to miss some work and a singing engagement at Emet Ve Shalom, the Reform synagogue in Nahariya--much to my disappointment. Perhaps my immune system is still getting used to Israel, and its local pollen and seasonal allergies, or perhaps I'm catching new bugs from being in contact with so many different groups of people (i.e. students) in close quarters. The body space ratio between people in Israel is much smaller than it is between people in America. Meaning, people in Israel are literally more "in your face" by standing closer to one another in conversation. When you have a group of middle school students surrounding you at your desk and literally breathing down your neck, plenty of bugs go around fast! (Note to self: start using homemade immune-booster poultice* again on a regular basis.)

Elul's ten-day absence did not lead me to start partying into the wee hours of the morning, nor did it result in my going on a monk-like retreat filled with detoxifying diets, intense journaling, illuminating personal growth experiences and marathon meditation sessions. Rather, I spent most of the time just sleeping and trying to ward off a series of debilitating headaches and flu bugs, as mentioned above. However, impulse did get the best of me on one of the few days I was feeling great.

A week ago Wednesday, I was coming home from the Druze school, happy and relieved to have made it through the day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, etc. I wasn't on my bicycle, which allowed me to slow down and take in the view. However, just two buildings from ours, I heard one of the loudest kitten cries I had ever heard. This kitten, wherever it was mewling from, was loud.

Thinking that a brick had fallen on it, or that it was trapped somewhere, I stopped and called out to the kitten. To my surprise, from almost twenty feet away, a tiny lone kitten came tottering toward me, bawling its head off. I could find no mother or other members of its litter anywhere. So, in a silly fit of non-thinking, instinctual, "caternal instinct," I scooped the kitten up in my hands and walked home with it.

You can probably guess what happened next. I scrambled around for some vaguely suitable kitten food, which it scarfed down immediately and straightaway howled for more. I cleaned the kitten up (it stank, but hooray, no fleas!), gave it even more food, and gave it a cuddle. After the cuddle came more howling for food. The food-cuddle-food cycle went on for quite some time.

Which is precisely when, of course, that Elul decided to call me on Skype. He was already cross with me because I'd missed several of his Skype calls because I was sleeping or working, so I took the call. Which is just when the kitten decided to wake up and start screaming for food again.

"What in the h*^l is that," Elul growled. Followed by, "what in the h%&l were you thinking?! We already have two cats and I don't want any more cats!"

After a series of lame apologies from me, I promised to do my best to find a new home for the kitten.

"That kitten better be gone before I get home," Elul stated flatly. I would do my best, I replied, and promised that even if it took "a few days" after he returned, due to my work schedule, the kitten's responsibility would be completely mine until I found a new home. Nor would it cost us anything.

Except for the 44 NIS (Israeli shekels) I spent to take it to the vet's, get a worming treatment, and some cans of some proper kitten food.

And except for the 36 NIS I spent a few days later on proper kitten food, since this kitten has the appetite of a carnivorous King Kong. Not to mention the new cat litter that quickly needed replenishing, since the kitten has its digestive functions working at top speed and maximum volume.

Yes, the kitten wouldn't cost us anything, and I would find it a new home immediately.

Which is why we now have a new member of the family, "Li'l Moe." I wanted to call it "Larry," but I gave Elul full naming rights, which he gladly asserted. I have no beef with that, as he wasn't even consulted about the whole thing, and has shown, after his initial, er, "hesitation," a lot of grace and kindness.

Because of this new addition, proud Aba Elul absolutely had to shoot some new video. This time, a poignant, French cinema style evolved as le directeur captured Li'l Moe's yearning for acceptance by Pini, his new stepbrother, and Pini's fear and rejection of his offer of fraternite. As for Dudu, she avoided Lil' Moe like the plague at first, but now, at least, she's roaming around the apartment again instead of hiding out in the laundry room.

So, without further ado, please find below our home movie "Li'l Moe and Pini"! (If you can't see the video because you're getting this blog by email, go to directly, where you can see it.)

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

*Homemade immune system booster poultice: Before you go to bed, mash up six cloves of garlic and mix with enough olive oil to make a paste. Rub the paste on the soles of your feet and put white cotton socks on--socks you don't mind permanently designating as your "phewie poultice socks." Go to sleep, fight off bugs, and wash it off in the morning. Repeat as necessary, or until your bed-partner calls "foul!"

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Stranded at the Drive-In

Shalom, chaverim! We're still here in balmy, sunny Nahariya, and the June weather has not been unbearably hot, thankfully. However, we have moved into the season where it is necessary to change clothes at least twice a day or more, depending on how many times you go out and get soaked with sweat.

I seem to have been walking in a gooey mess of mental quicksand and treacle lately, being able to only summon up just enough energy to get through the day and no more. I'm spending hours each day, lying down in a cool, dark room, trying to get my thoughts straight and get myself motivated to do whatever is next on this seemingly endless to-do list that is my life right now. Here's another misconception I had about making Aliyah: I thought the problem would be mainly about adjusting to cultural differences such as language, food, the rhythm of the calendar, the complexity of the religious and political landscape, making new friends, and so on.

However, what I didn't account for was the enormous amount of mental energy and time it would take to get my career back up even to the metaphorical starting block. I once heard of a book called "ODTAA," which was an acronym that summarized the basic flow of the plot: "One Damn Thing After Another." That's how I'm feeling these days. We're in the crunch time with THE COURSE, with final projects and assignments flying thick and fast, exactly at the time where we're preparing end of the year grades for our own students. This combination of simultaneously trying to wind things down and rev up to cram the last bits in can lead to some very uncomfortable situations.

On Thursday, for example, a carefully constructed lesson plan for last week's class with my 7th graders went right down the tubes when it was announced that on that day, all the girls had to turn in their course books to the library. Any missing books meant fines had to be paid by the girls, or else they wouldn't get their grades for the year, so the school wisely tries to take care of this a few weeks in advance. But as the FNG* that I am, I didn't know about this policy until it was too late.

Floundering for something to do, I passed out a simple word-find puzzle for the girls, which was intended to be used as an end-of lesson fun activity, which gave me some stalling time while I could do a quick mental re-boot and figure out what to do with no other materials. However, the time for b-s'ing was over and the chickens had come home to roost. One of the brightest girls in the class, who is ironically one of the most disruptive and inattentive, threw a full-blown hissy fit. "Why are you having us do this baby stuff? Why aren't we learning anything from the book? Your tests are too easy, we're not learning anything in this class, you're not teaching us English, this class is a total waste of time!"

Ouch. The truth hurts. Most of the students rushed to my defense, saying it wasn't my fault I couldn't teach them, because the speaker and a few other girls were so routinely disruptive that they knew it was impossible for me to teach them anything. This group attack made the girl even more angry, and she shouted more and more hurtful things to me and about me, until I said:

"Girls, she's right. I have not been able to teach you what I wanted to, and what you needed to learn, because I honestly don't know how to make you be quiet and pay attention. I see that many of you are working hard and want to learn, but many other students just like to play, and laugh, and talk, and run in and out of class and throw things. They're disrupting me and everyone else, and no once can learn this way. I honestly do not know what to do. I tried shouting at you, and all you do is shout louder back at me. So I'm not going to shout at you anymore. But I need your help. The problems in this class are everyone's fault...not just mine, and not just yours. But I really need your help or we will all lose here."

Somehow, by validating the girls' outburst, she felt heard and calmed down a lot. So did the class. We managed to do a few things during the lesson (practicing giving directions, some new vocabulary to talk about summer vacation, some pronunciation exercises), but not much. I came home feeling like complete crud and cried quite a bit, and bent my poor friend's ear on the phone for an hour and a half.

In other news, the most recent shakeup at the Gitlin household is that Elul lost his job two weeks ago. He went through an experience that I now understand is not uncommon for olim chadashim. He got a great job at a good company about three months ago, and all went well for the first six weeks or so. Then, two new people were hired, to do different jobs that had nothing to do with Elul's. Seemingly overnight, Elul the "boy wonder" became Elul "the black sheep." Now, according to the boss, everything Elul did was wrong, bad, terrible, stupid, late, etc. He also got the office shunning treatment from people he used to work quite closely and amicably with, which is basically an easily-read corporate indicator that one's days are numbered. Wonder of wonders, on Elul's 89th day of work (after which the company has to take you on as a permanent employee, start a pension for you, etc.), he put in a day's work and got called into the boss's office. And he got canned. "You suck, you've failed at everything, we paid you more than anyone else working here, blah blah blah."

In Israel, it is the law that if you get fired, your boss has to send a letter, in Hebrew, to you that lists all of your job functions. Elul only had to send it back once to get the year that he worked corrected.

What a surprise (insert sarcastic tone here) when, in the very next breath, the boss offered to "re-hire" him at half his wage, with fewer hours, to do the same work that he did such a terrible job at, which was mainly copywriting and editing. Elul, in the nicest and most professional way he could muster, told the boss he could take both his job and his offer, and place it...elsewhere.

Elul has now decided to try going out on his own in the world of e-commerce and internet marketing, since he's learned so much about the business from his last two(!) jobs. He may have to go job hunting for another day job if he can't make the business fly, but at the moment there is so much going on neither of us has time to think straight. Two days ago, Elul left for America to see his youngest son graduate from high school. A perfect time to be gone when trying to launch a new company, right? But man plans, and God laughs, and that is nowhere truer than here in Israel.

So the apartment is quiet and I'm girding my loins to get through the last two weeks of school. Seriously, both the teachers and the students have not-so-private countdowns going on in notebooks and on refrigerators all over the country. Teachers and students need to be separated, and fast, for the betterment of everyone's mental health!

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

* "F#!king new guy"

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Huge Sigh of Relief

Shalom, chaverim! Well, I'm happy to tell you that the big change I alluded to in my last post is actually NOT going to take place after all. But since I didn't tell you outright what that change was going to be, I'll tell you now. It's hard keeping a secret!


As you may recall, Elul took a job in Kiryat Tivon, which is roughly 32 miles southeast of Nahariya. He started at the end of February, and has been commuting five days a week, Sunday through Thursday. The problem was, his working hours were 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., which meant he had to travel at peak rush hour time each way. Additionally, there were a number of huge traffic bottlenecks along the way. Some of these had to do with poor planning (ill-timed lights, inadequate lane distribution), and others were due to ongoing construction to expand roads and, in some areas, the construction of new roads altogether. Additionally, there is a high incidence of our fellow Israelis being just plain old dumb-a**es on the road: stopping to talk to motorists going the other way, trying to change lanes at the last minute and forcing everyone behind them to stop, pulling onto the shoulder to make a call but not pulling over enough to allow traffic to pass, etc. In short, it all meant that another two to three hours a day was added to Elul's day, turning a 45 hour work week into a 55-60 hour one. It was making him crazy, stressed, tired, and cranky. This, to put it mildly, was adversely affecting our quality of married life.

Whither the Olim Chadashim?

After a couple of months of this, we began to seriously talk about moving to Tivon. Eventually, we decided to do it, which meant I had to start looking for work in a new town.This was not as easy a process as it sounds. Ultimately, I had interviews at two different schools in the area. I taught a demonstration lesson at one, which was followed up with a second interview and a request to teach another demonstration lesson for another grade. Both schools seemed very nice and good places to work, with a lot of potential for professional advancement and a great place to learn.

This was an awkward and difficult time for me, as I was still working for my schools in Nahariya and Yrka. At this time of year, school administrators are already beginning to plan for the upcoming school year, and need to get their staffing situation finalized so they know what, if any, teacher vacancies they need to fill. Early in this process, I was asked by the English coordinator at one of my schools, point-blank, if I intended to continue to work at the school next year. I was not ready for this question, as I didn't want to give an answer before I had something definitive lined up in Tivon. Rentals are more expensive in Tivon, and frankly, if I didn't have enough teaching hours lined up there, we wouldn't be able to afford to live there.

I was caught off-guard by her question and asked to speak to her outside the staffroom. I took a deep breath and told her what was going on. She understood completely, and even graciously thanked me for my honesty. She agreed to let me stall for a little bit, and in turn I promised to let her keep her posted as to what was going on. I'd been told by one of the schools I interviewed at that I would get an answer "very shortly." However, that has not been the case, and now, more than three weeks after that initial interview, I still have yet to be told one way or the other.

In addition to all the job-hunting gymnastics I was going through, we were also taking several trips to Tivon and various communities in the area to look at neighborhoods, housing prices, locations, and so on. Initially I had insisted that if we were to move, I would only agree to move to another seaside community, as I love the sea so much. However, those areas, collectively known as "The Krayot," (i.e. the plural for towns that start with "Kiryat," such as Kiryat Motzkin, Kiryat Chaim, Kiryat Yam, Kiryat Biyalik, etc.) pretty much suck in the areas that have affordable rents, and the nicer sections were too expensive for us. So then we shifted our search to look inland, such as in Tivon itself, and other places like Kiryat Atta, Afula, Nofit, and so on. This took Elul a lot of time and energy, as he did all of the real estate investigations.

Crunch Time

To make a long story even longer, earlier this week I went down for my second interview at one of the schools. During the interview, the Principal asked me to return on Friday (yesterday) to teach another demonstration for the lower grades. I understood her request entirely, as teaching large classes (35 or more students) of Israeli seventh graders is not for the faint-hearted, and agreed to come back.

The next day, I spoke to the English coordinator at one of my schools in Nahariya. At that time, she essentially offered me more teaching hours for next year than I had this year, on the condition that I be able to teach three days a week. As the commute from Tivon to Nahariya is very long and very expensive by public transport, and there is a limit to the travel allowance that the Ministry of Education will reimburse teachers, I told her I would talk to Elul immediately and get back to her.

To my complete amazement, when I told Elul about the new offer, he simply replied, "oh, well, then take the offer and we won't move. They've opened some new roads and the commute is getting shorter and easier every day. If we stay, we won't have to pay for moving or buying new furniture either, so we'll be able to save more for a down payment on a house."

Zoink! Problem solved. After picking my jaw up off the sidewalk, I hurriedly called my English coordinator and told her the good news. Both she, and I, were thrilled.

Ever Decreasing Concentric Circles

So, chaverim, after months of fiddling around, trying to simultaneously live our current lives while secretly trying to wind it down and prepare for a new one, we are back to where we started originally. I have to say I am overjoyed about this decision. It was a hard one for me to agree to move, because on the one hand I know full well what a crappy commute can do to anyone: it can turn a decent gig into a soul-sucking job and turn a happily married couple into a couple of roommates living separate lives. And I'm not willing to be in a marriage where one partner has to suffer in order to make the other partner happy.

On the other hand, I love the sea and I love Nahariya. It's hard to describe the feeling I get, riding around on my bicycle in this beloved city, glimpsing the glittering sea between the beautiful white buildings, ducking my head to dodge the palm fronds and flowering bushes that adorn the front of every home. It's wonderful to have a great doctor who actually knows me and appears to care about my well-being. My pharmacist and I exchange jokes when we see each other. The Russian lady who helps me mend my clothes knows me by name. I see my friends on the street and we stop to chat or have a spontaneous cup of coffee.  We have been so happy here, and have made such a wonderful and supportive network of friends and professional contacts, that it was both breaking my heart and completely freaking me out to think about starting over in a new town, less than two years after making Aliyah.

We moved from Pahrump, Nevada to Boca Raton, Florida, near the end of 2010. Then we moved from Boca Raton to Israel at the end of 2011. Now we're just into our 16th month in Nahariya and we had to move again? Oy va voy. Seriously, the older I get, the more anxious and fatigued I feel with every move. The idea of inevitably drifting away from our friends here, who make our lives so joyful, was just plain depressing. I knew we would eventually land on our feet and bloom wherever we were planted, but I just didn't feel like being transplanted yet.

And so, all's well that ends well. We are here to stay, job or no jobs. As many Israelis have pointed out to us, quite rightly, in Israel you build your jobs around your life, not the other way around. Jobs here can be very unstable, especially in the private business sector, and it just doesn't make sense to move your whole life around to suit the particular circumstances of one job that may evaporate just a few months later.

Ironically, the item that greeted me in my mailbox, the minute we had reached our decision, was a notice to go to the post office and pick up my brand-spanking-new Israeli passport. My dream has come true!

Yesh! (Got it!)

Shabbat shalom, everyone!


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Smells Like Israeli Teen Spirit

Shalom, chaverim! With schoolwork and "work" work increasing at an ever-frenzied pace, you may have noticed that my blog posts have become less frequent. This will probably continue until the end of the school year, which in Israel comes at the end of June. These days, my days are filled with running from one lesson to another, and if I'm not teaching, I'm either preparing to teach, or am cleaning up the "residue" of teaching (i.e. grading papers). When I'm not doing that, I'm studying how to be a better teacher and writing papers about it. My stepmother recalls that at a party she once attended, she met a new couple.  Enunciating each syllable with extreme precision, they said, loftily, "We are educators," by way of introduction. I'm not an "educator," I'm a teacher, and am so grateful to be one here.

The kids crack me up every single day, which makes coming to work a joy--albeit an exhaustion-inducing kind of joy at times. One girl in my 9th-grade remedial class deigns to take notes, but prefers instead to take pictures of the whiteboard with her cellphone after I've painstakingly filled it with carefully presented and "scaffolded" information. Given the big international pedagogic wheeze about turning our students into "digital learners in the e-classroom," her approach seems both elegant and logical. Too bad the testing procedures still insist that she actually writes answers by hand, with--gasp--a pencil, rather than text-messaging in her "evidence of competence." Making my best effort to put on an Emily Littella/Church Lady voice, I remind her of this fact frequently. "Osnat," (not her real name), "you need to practice writing English by hand, otherwise you won't be able to write quickly on the exams and you will lose points because of it." With a well-rehearsed shrug, a Gallic frown, and a fully raised eyebrow, Osnat tosses her hair and replies "mah la'asot?" This translates roughly as "whaddya gonna do?" Remembering the same charming teen attitude I used to throw at my poor mother and stepfather, enhanced by a sneer and a cold, unblinking stare, I ask myself, what am I going to do, indeed? Oh, the joy of receiving one's own karmic payback!

Some of the most interesting research I've been paying attention to lately is about teachers are "getting it" about how each and every classroom is full of individual students, each of whom has their own learning style preferences. This isn't cutting-edge research, of course, and some teachers pay more attention to it, and try to incorporate it more into their teaching methods, than others do. In a nutshell, the theory says that some students do better when they hear information explained to them verbally (i.e. auditory learners), but others may retain it better if they can read it or are shown diagrams (visual learners). Some are highly kinesthetic--in other words, they may not do very well with reading or writing, but they can fix anything that comes their way, or play an instrument beautifully, or create art projects of great creativity. Many are combinations of these learning styles, with one style perhaps dominating the other.

Further complicating matters in the classroom is discovering the students' cognitive and social strengths: are they social leaders or are they followers? Are they good at strategy, are they good at tactics, or both? How is their ability to maintain attention and focus, to follow rules and procedures, or to navigate their own physical body space and control their movements? How do they handle conflict? How do they express emotion?

Fortunately, I have a few perfect laboratories to witness these textbook concepts playing out in real life: my seventh grade classes at the Druze and at the religious girls' school where I work. I confess, I have come out of their classrooms on some days and have described them to fellow teachers as "a bunch of chimpanzees who have swallowed Mexican jumping beans and hit the crack pipe," in the past. Readers, if you ever come across a middle school teacher, please give them a big thank you and bless them for doing this holy work. Incidentally, "Bad Teacher" has become one of my all-time favorite movies.

In other news, there have been some changes going on at home that may lead to a rather big announcement in later days. (No, Elul and I are not splitting up, nor is either of us sick, so don't worry!) This is another reason I've been keeping somewhat quiet on this blog. However, I promise that as soon as things are finalized, I'll let you know all the details. I'll give you a hint, though: after every ending there is always a new beginning.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!


Friday, April 5, 2013

Blooming Where I'm Planted?

Shalom, chaverim! This has been the longest break I've taken from this blog since I started it, but now that the Pesach (Passover) holidays are well and truly over, it's time to get back to the business of talking about what life is like in least, what life is like for middle-aged American immigrants to Israel.

The past month has been a whirl of activities. In the run-up to Pesach, I found myself increasingly scattered and overwhelmed, as there seems to be a massive, national push to "get it all done" before the holiday started. Emails, letters, and telephone calls were flying thick and fast. Everyone and their dog seemed to want a piece of me, and of everyone else. Stores were crowded, women were angsting about not getting their houses cleaned in time, and as the holiday grew nearer, a typical refrain from everyone was "look, I'm incredibly busy right now, and nothing's going to get done until after Pesach, so call me back then, OK?"

And then, finally, Pesach came. Ours was very low-key and lovely, and we attended a beautiful seder at the home of our buddy family in Nahariya. This being a modern Israeli family, however, their children and most of their grandchildren were missing because they had moved to America a few months ago. Still, the tiniest granddaughter helped out by leading one of the traditional songs...via Skype!

I was also put through my paces, a week later, by needing to learn a few Pesach songs in short order for my performance at a local retirement home. As a relatively new "ger," (literally "stranger," but in the context of Judaism "ger" refers to a convert) my canon of Jewish holiday music is pretty meagre. Every holiday that comes up, it seems, I find myself scrambling around and asking other Jews "what songs are traditionally sung for this holiday, and is there a YouTube clip somewhere that I can learn it from?" Like a cutting from a hybrid plant, struggling to thrive in new soil, sometimes I bloom and sometimes I just wilt on the vine.

As the holidays came to a close, I reflected on my good fortune to have met some amazingly kind, funny, intelligent and courageous women here. All of us made Aliyah within the past year or so, and we quickly bonded. Before we all scattered to the winds of work and school again, I wanted to have them over for an afternoon of conversation and deserts...and belly dancing and hats. One of our friends, Ziva, is an accomplished belly dancer who performs and teaches. She brought over a collection of sparkly belts for us to wear, and in true Middle Eastern fashion, we had a blast dancing around together in the living room. Since it had been more than twenty years since most of us had done anything like it, it was funny to hear our pops, cracks, and groans erupt so quickly.

"My right knee is good. My left, not so much."

"Are we really supposed to be sweating like this? Is this normal?"

And my favorite: "Selah, you're not an airplane trying to land...just turn around and use the other foot to lead with!"

The hats element of the afternoon were courtesy of our friend Jody, who is a jewelry, hat and handbag designer extraordinaire. (You can go to her company Facebook page here:!/interestingstufff ) She takes found and donated objects, then repurposes and upcycles them into hats, bags, and jewelry of exceptional beauty. As we were being "ladies who were all fancy like that" for the afternoon, it seemed appropriate to don them and pose for pictures.

Five women and one bottle of wine between us--we get high on life!

So, now it's back to the fray in all its glory. Shabbat shalom, everyone!


Friday, March 8, 2013

An Ode to the Israeli Bicycle Pump

Shalom, chaverim! When I was growing up, a standing joke in our family was whenever someone was trying to guess the contents of a wrapped gift, we would be sure to ask, "is it a bicycle pump?" Looking back, exactly why that seemed to be terribly funny to us, I really can't say. Sometimes it's the little things that stick in our minds, though, more than the Major Life Lessons or the "teachable moments (eww!)."

Dedicated followers of this blog (and you know who you are) will know that Elul and I bought bicycles soon after we made Aliyah in December of 2011. While we are now a one-car family (we bought a second-hand Citroen C4 about six months ago), Elul uses the car on a daily basis to commute back and forth to work. This leaves me with the use of my feet and my bicycle with which to do my own errands, to commute to work, and to get to evening lessons in my private students' homes. Since I'm so busy these days, biking is also about the only exercise I get now, so it also performs that function in my life.

I had to address safety and practicality with my bike right away. As is true with all cycling, readers, repeat this mantra after me: "Visibility is my friend!" I got a bright white light for my handlebars (because I want to be seen, rather than go into it), and a flashing red light for the back of the seat. In addition to my protective helmet, I also acquired an abandoned road safety reflector vest that someone wadded up and threw into a bush. (After a few rounds in the washing machine, it came out just fine; not pretty, of course, but very functional.)

A friend had upgraded his bike and had a leftover white wire carrying rack for the bike, which he kindly offered to me; with a handful of zip ties, Elul fastened it to the back of my bike in no time. My bike started out as a sophisticated little Italian number,  perfect for Euro-posing with a fragrant bouquet of wildflowers and a round of Camembert in its elegant wicker basket. But now, between the front basket, the back rack, the lights, the vest, the helmet, and my wonderful "Big Student" Jansport backpack firmly strapped to my ever-broadening middle-aged back, any hope I had of  being mistaken for a willowy extra from the central casting agency of France has been dashed like the dreams of an avante-garde poet who has received his first (and last) royalty check.

Once I started truly relying on my bicycle for efficiency, convenience, and the shared responsibility of getting my behind to the classroom on time, however, I realized I had to start paying a little more attention to those little things that make cycle commuting so much easier. For example, I need to keep my tires properly inflated. With my bike, I quickly learned, even a small drop in tire pressure can make riding about as pleasurable as trying to pull a tank down the road with your knees.

Shamelessly playing "the girl card" with Elul, a la "honey, would you be so sweet and go down to the storage room and put some air in my tires for this week, flutter flutter," led him to use the hand pump to pump up my tires a few times. However, this was tedious and difficult for him since a hand pump (which I had sneakily given to him as a "Hanukkah present," which was all part of my evil plot) wasn't really strong enough to do the job easily. On to me, he used his high skill in marital jiu-jitsu by quickly presenting me with the solution. "You want your tires pumped up? Ride down to the grocery store gas station yourself and use the pump there! I'm not going to be seen riding a girls' bike!" Game, set, and match. Well played, Elul, well played.

So I did, and oh! What a pleasant surprise and wonderful use of technology! On the air machine, which everyone can use for free, you can actually program in the exact air pressure you want for your tires. I needed 90 psi, so that's what I put in, and when I began adding air to my tires, the built-in, real-time digital gauge said I only had 64 psi in them. No wonder I felt so out of shape and cycling was so hard! Not only that, but when the air pressure in your tires hits the desired level, the machine lets out a rousing and satisfyingly long and loud "beep" to let you know it's time to stop.

One does not simply...roll around town with 25 psi in one's bicycle tires.

I bend my knees in respect to the power of the Great and Wonderful Electronic High Speed Bicycle Pump.

Oh, you Israelis, whatever will you think of next? This is the most wonderful machine I've come across in a long time. Whether you invented it or not, I thank you from the bottom of my heart to have the generosity and intelligence to make it available to the public. Now my bicycle floats along the speed bump-filled roads of Nahariya like a beautiful black butterfly...ridden by a dork.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Chag Purim Sameach!

Shalom, chaverim! It's been a couple of weeks since I've posted, and I have no excuse for my radio silence except for the usual double-whammy of being either too busy or too exhausted to write, and sometimes both simultaneously.

The funny thing about working several bazillion jobs (at last count) is that one's time very quickly becomes spent only in three ways: preparing for work, doing the work itself, and recovering from work. When my life gets like that, my observational blinders go on, and I find myself noticing very little about my surroundings, and lose that sense of wondrous excitement that I had when there was more temporal (and mental) "space" to appreciate my environment. Spring is on its way, but it took a friend to point out that the cherry trees are just about ready to blossom, and the fields are full of poppies and other wildflowers. Likewise, Mr. and Mrs. Bird, a relatively monogamous pair of sparrows who nest in our neighbor's overflow drain, have begun trying to make more Little Birds. With great enthusiasm, I might add.

Still, I've had a little bit of a rest these past days because in Israel, Purim is a two-day school holiday. And this year, unlike last year, I didn't crap out and fail to attend a giant Purim party. Elul and I went to the kibbutz at Rosh Ha'Nikra, where they hold one of the biggest Purim parties of the year. The cost was 90 NIS per person (about USD $22.50), and featured an open bar, food, decorations, and a very good DJ, complete with lights, fog machine, disco ball and even a couple of dancing girls with multiple costume changes. The DJ had a great mix of music, and it was wonderful to see hundreds of people, all in costume, just shaking it out there on the dance floor. Especially when we were dancing to Abba tunes!

Dancing Queens, indeed. Note the smoky atmosphere, NOT coming from my fake cigarette.

My costume was not particularly funny or outrageous, but it still meant something to me. My father, who passed away just three years ago, was a doctor with a great sense of humor. He loved costume parties, and always served as the master of ceremonies at his clinic's annual Halloween party. My stepmother was kind enough to give me one of his old lab coats after he died, so I decided to wear it to take a little "part" of him to the party with me. My costume was as a Russian-Israeli doctor who worked for an Israeli health fund, complete with dark circles under my eyes, long hair falling all over the place, bluejeans, lab coat, sparkly top, and a (fake!) cigarette in my hand. "Subtle" is what I was going for, although others could have just as easily tagged my costume as "lazy" or "weak." Never mind--I was wearing comfortable clothes and I was doing something in honor of my dad, and that was the only way I was going to go.

Other friends of ours were much more imaginative and colorful with their costumes. My friend Angie (above) is a Colombian-American-Israeli, and she went to great lengths to construct an enormous Carmen Miranda-style hat, with a pile of fake fruit glued on top. Handily, she can also use that hat as a centerpiece for next year's Thanksgiving. Her fiance Simon went as a "gorilla fighter" (geddit?), complete with a toy machine gun, a banana, and a card on his t-shirt that had "gorilla fighter" written out phonetically in Hebrew. Lisa and Jonatan also picked up on the Latin theme, and went as citizens from somewhere south of the U.S. border. Carlos went as the famous, masked, "Blue Demon" Mexican wrestler.

Left to right: Yours truly, Elul, Lisa, Jonatan, Simon the "gorilla fighter," and Carlos the "Blue Demon." Behind Lisa's head is a rendition of E.T.

Elul went as Yair Lapid, the leader of the Israeli "Yesh Atid" ("There is a Future") political party, with which Benjamin Netanyahu may be trying to form a coalition. Since Elul resembles Lapid quite a bit, his costume was a simple matter of dressing the way Lapid usually dresses (black t-shirt, black blazer, black jeans) and touching up his eyebrows with an eyebrow pencil to make them a bit bushier. To his credit, a few customers did a double-take in the grocery store, perhaps wondering if he was, indeed, Lapid.

Hottie Israeli politico Yair Lapid--thanks to for this image. My hubby is hotter, though.

Elul. See? Told ya'!
So, we have lived to tell the tale of our first blow-out Purim party in Israel.  It's hard to believe this is actually our second Purim in this time last year, we were so dazed and out of it from being so new here, we really didn't know how big a deal Purim was. This year, we were too busy and tired to do much about it. I've had to turn down four other Purim party invitations because of work, in fact, but next year I'll know better and will clear my dance card in plenty of time. And I'll put some real effort into getting a great costume together!

Shavua tov, everyone!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Vanz More, Mit Feelingeh

Shalom, chaverim! While the northeastern states in America get their collective tucchuses clobbered by the Mother of All Blizzards, we've been ambling along in mostly sunny Nahariya with only a few days of rain. I never thought I'd be using the words "balmy" and "February" in the same sentence, but here it is: truth is stranger than fiction.

We had some good news earlier in the week: Elul got a new job! He starts bright and early next Sunday, and this time it's working for a successful and established online business that sells information and support services to the public. In other words, it's not a startup, which is a good thing. The job will make good use of his many talents in marketing, journalism and business management, and will be a great source of free Hebrew "immersion classes" (read: sink or swim in the office). For the lead on the job, we are once again extremely grateful to the amazing and wonderful Tamara Klinger-Levy, the employment coordinator for the Go North program of Nefesh B'Nefesh. Tamara truly works tirelessly to help olim find jobs and navigate their way through the Israeli work climate, and has helped us and a number of our friends find work here, which is vital for making your Aliyah a successful one.

In other news, I've been doing my first paid gigs singing at a retirement home just around the corner from us. While I had the idea to do these types of shows the minute I arrived, it took quite awhile to get my repertoire together, buy a good Shure SM58 microphone, and for our wedding anniversary to come around so Elul could give me the gift of a badly-needed sound system. Fortunately, it all came together and I made my debut a couple of weeks ago at the "Yarden" rest home in Nahariya. I was commissioned to do three one-hour performances, which luckily are scheduled in the tiny block of time I have on Sundays between teaching and choir practice. I've done two already and have one left.

The audience is extremely supportive and forgiving of my bad Hebrew that I use to fill between songs, but they are getting more than a little tired of me mainly doing songs in English and keep clamoring for more Israeli and Yiddish songs. Thanks to the internet and YouTube, this week Elul and I have managed to scrounge up backing tracks for the most popular tunes like "My Yiddishe Mameh," "Tumbalalaika," and "Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn." I will be working on extending my repertoire as time goes on, but I realize that as a musician, I sorely lack the canon of knowledge that comprises Israeli, but not necessarily Jewish/liturgical, popular music. I clearly need an "informant" who can help me put together a show-stopping set list that will ensure lots of repeat business.

Speaking of show-stoppers, as we were scouring the web for Yiddish music, Elul came across this gem of a Purim takeoff of "Moves Like Jagger," called "Move Like Graggers." (A "gragger" is a noisemaker used at Purim.) Not only is it an amazingly clever and funny piece of work, but I was proud to see it was created by the rabbis and cantorial soloists of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, Michigan, where I first got involved in performing Jewish sacred music in the (gulp) late 1980's. Rock on, Temple Israel!

Shavua tov, everyone!