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"