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!