Happy Purim!

Nitsah can wait to go as Sexy Hamentaschen until she's 13 or so...


How to give gifts like an Israeli

If you're at an Israeli wedding, don't look for a gift table... look for one of these.

In the US, gift-giving is something to agonize over. I'm pretty sure that half of the letters Dear Abby receives have to do with either how to ask for gifts in a non-tacky way, how to choose gifts in a non-tacky way, and how incredibly tacky it is when gifts are not properly recognized with thank-you notes in a non-tacky way.

Israelis, on the other hand, have no qualms about being tacky-- see, for example,  the Israeli Wedding Dress.  At the same time, Israelis definitely have social norms about how gifts should be given, though these social norms would make Dear Abby stuff her keyboard in her mouth.

First, gifts should always come with a gift receipt. ALWAYS. In the US, I think this is considered fairly optional and possibly tacky, but in Israel, a gift without a gift receipt is like hummus without pita. If you get a gift without a gift receipt in Israel-- especially one of candles and soap-- you can be pretty sure it was re-gifted. On the other hand, "registries" seem to be an unfamiliar concept here in Israel, so I guess gift receipts are really just a way to pick out your own gifts after the fact.

Second, gifts have a proper time and place. When your Israeli friend has a baby, do NOT throw her a surprise baby shower before the baby is born. Before the baby is born, its potential existence should only be noted with lots of spitting and references to the evil eye and "good hours." Most Israelis I know literally do not allow any baby furniture into their house until the baby has been safely delivered into a hospital bassinet-- they order what they want in advance and have it delivered during the mother's hospital stay. (Confession: we set up our crib and painted a mural on Nitsah's nursery wall months in advance. Tfu tfu tfu bli ayin hara!.) If you want to give a baby gift to an Israeli woman, bring it to the hospital or to her house in the weeks after the baby is born... with a gift receipt.

By the way, one proper time and place for a gift, according to Israelis, is when you get invited to someone's house for a holiday meal. We're not talking a bottle of wine... we're talking an expensive ceramic platter, a nice vase, a huge gift basket, a potted olive tree. All kinds of gift items go on sale around Passover and Rosh HaShana because Israelis are buying gifts for their holiday hosts. When I invited a huge crowd over for Thanksgiving this year, I got a hostess gift from every Israeli guest and few of the Americans, so this is why you should always make sure you have lots of Israeli guests. :)

Third, if you're going to an "eruah" (an event like a wedding, bar mitzvah, or brit), do NOT bring a gift-- just bring a checkbook. While Americans agonize over how to hint to their guests that, um, gifts of money would be great, thank you, Israeli event halls literally come with envelopes and lock boxes in which guests can deposit checks. In fact, there's a whole calculus involved in figuring out how much to give, based on your proximity to the wedding party and the cost of the event. If you throw an Israeli event, you can actually count on earning money off of the whole thing, which could explain the development of the "britta"-- not a water filter, but a brit for a girl, without any actual female circumcision involved.

Finally-- and this is where Dear Abby really loses it--thank you notes do not seem to be part of the Israeli event-gift-giving social norms. Either that or I have rude friends. ;) So, um, if you are one of the people who received a very late thank you note from me after my wedding seven years ago, maybe I was channeling my Israeli side early?

I have a guest post today up on A Mother in Israel, telling a story more serious than the ones I usually post on this blog. I also wrote a post about baby poop for the parenting blog Offbeat Mama-- read at your own risk. :)


Nitsah's Birth Story, or How to Get Your Way When Dealing with Israelis

First, a promise: I won't talk about mucus plugs, dilation, or enemas in this post.

Ok, maybe a little bit about dilation. But I'll really try to spare you what my husband calls the "gory details." (Though, for the record, the enema was AWESOME.)

I actually want to tell parts of my birth story on this blog to make a bigger point... how you can get Israelis to do exactly what you want. I'd heard so many birth stories from olim that centered around frustration with the hospital telling them what to do, like this horrific story about breastfeeding twins in an Israeli hospital from the amazing blog A Mother in Israel. I'd heard of people spending their birth on gurneys in hospital hallways, being yelled at by midwives, or having their babies disappear after birth for hours at a time.

But I got pretty much the natural birth and recovery I wanted, and I think this was partly due to good luck, but also partly thanks to my well-honed Israeli Wrangling Techniques. Yes, I freely admit that behind my big, innocent, I'm-an-olah-chadasha eyes lies a canny manipulator of sabras. (I have a bad feeling that this won't help me deal with my own little baby Israeli... I think she's already on to me.) Seriously, my Israeli-born husband lets me do the talking when we need to negotiate with someone or deal with particularly tough bureaucracy.

Israeli Wrangling Technique (IWT) #1: Don't ask "sheelot kitbag." Every oleh should be familiar with the concept of a kitbag question. The origin of the phrase goes like this: a group of tzahal soldiers are sold to run ten kilometers. One of them asks if they should carry their bags of gear with them as they run. Cue groans from all his fellow soldiers. If you ask, the answer is always yes! In dealing with Israelis, pick and choose the information that you share and the questions that you ask. Do ask questions about alternatives that Israelis might not bring up themselves.

When I arrived at Rambam hospital at 4 AM on Friday morning, we were told that a) I wasn't dilated at all, b) that they were very full and had no bed for me, and c) that I wasn't allowed to go home because my water had already broken. Rather than spend the next 24 hours in the Rambam hallway, I asked if I could go to a different hospital... and (here's the don't-ask-she'elot-kitbag part) didn't ask if I needed to get to that other hospital right away. They found that there were open beds in Carmel hospital, and let me go. I thought about going home anyway, but instead we went out for breakfast, walked around the block a few times, and finally checked in at Carmel about three hours later. I think I might have scared the cafe owner when I slumped over on his counter in the middle of a contraction, but it was all good. We also never asked if we were allowed to leave the birthing ward during all 20 hours of my labor in Carmel hospital... we just snuck out through a side door to walk the stairs. It is very, very often better not to ask. It is also very, very confusing to random janitors when they encounter massively pregnant women in the middle of contractions walking DOWN the stairs away from the birthing ward, but they deal with it.
En route to Carmel... very slowly.

IWT #2: Be persistent, and don't stop at "no." My husband might call this personal trait of mine "stubbornness" or perhaps "bull-headedness," but I prefer to think of myself as sweetly persistent. Rather like a kindly pit bull. So when the midwife at Carmel told me it was against their policy to let me stay in my own clothes during labor, I didn't rush to change into the hospital gown she offered. Instead, I explained that I was a lot more comfortable in my own dress, and yes, I knew it could get ruined, and was there any way I could do so? Nobody ever bothered me about what I was wearing again. In my experience, a "no" doesn't usually turn into a "yes"... it just fades away if you ignore it. Though wearing a gorgeous open-backed hospital gown might have made those stairway trips a little more interesting...

IWT #3: Smile and nod... then get a second opinion. This one I actually learned from my husband, and it's the best way to deal with Israelis who insist on giving you unwanted advice. This piece of advice also basically sums up the way I survived my pregnancy (and very literally, how Nitsah survived the pregnancy... but that's a story for another day).

Basically any time Nitsah cried when she was in the hospital, a helpful nurse would suggest that I didn't have enough milk... despite the fact that Nitsah was churning out dirty diapers faster than the hisardut.  I spoke to my doula (who doubles as a lactation consultant), read my crazy but crazy-useful La Leche League guide to the "womanly" art of breastfeeding, and kept similac bottles far away from my baby. Three weeks later, Nitsah has depleted our life savings in newborn-size diapers and is rocking serious thunder thighs. We're so proud!

IWT #4: Remember that you control your actions. I think too many Americans will go along with what Israelis tell them to do and try to argue after the fact. But if you've already paid the arnona bill that you think is inaccurate, you're probably not going to get your money back. Instead, remember that very few people can actually force you to do anything.

This was a factor over and over in Nitsah's birth, from when doctors tried to get me to lie still on my back or screw an electrode into Nitsah's scalp while I was pushing so they could monitor me more effectively (no, thank you-- so long as I could see my baby's heartbeat from time to time, I was going to take the position that was most comfortable to me) to when my husband insisted on holding Nitsah as she got her first shots and changing her first diaper, despite the fact that Carmel's official policy is that all family members have to stay at the doorway of the infant ward. Unfortunately, now my husband will never let me forget that he showed me how to change a diaper... a fact that I feel should be outweighed by relative percentages of diaper changes post-hospital. :)

You can't control other people's actions, but you can always try... part way through my stay in Carmel, I was surprised when nurses suddenly switched from barging through my door and flipping on fluorescent lights to tapping gently and waiting for me to answer. Then I realized that my husband had taped this sign to my door:
Translation: Please knock and wait for an answer before entering! Please don't turn on lights. Thank you!

The sign stayed up until the next morning, when a hospital worker felt it interfered with her serious task of taking my lunch order, but it had a nice run.

IWT #5: Don't take it personally. When an Israeli yells at you, he's probably not even angry... he's just being emphatic. Smile, stay cool, and respond as if the Israeli had just called you "motek" or "chamudah" instead... which he probably will do in his next sentence. And ok, sometimes the Israeli IS mad at you, as when the doctor who tried to convince us to do internal monitoring stormed out of the room as my baby was crowning, but that's ok... he ended up leaving me in the care of an awesome midwife, so it was win-win.

Most important of all... IWT #6: Don't be confrontational. This is the biggest way in which I think Americans misread their interactions with Israelis. Americans tend to get very frustrated and aggressive when they think Israelis aren't behaving properly. But dealing with Israelis is Judo, not Karate-- you don't get what you want by striking your opponent straight on but by using his weight against him. So instead of being confrontational, agree with the person you're talking to as much as possible. Smile sadly. Thank them up and down for their help, and explain that you understand why this is so difficult for them. Then, use the magic words that the Israeli cantor at my parents' synagogue taught me before I made aliyah: "az ma anachnu yecholim la'asot?" So, what can we do? By "we," you mean yourself and the Israeli you're dealing with-- you've redefined your enemy as whatever-is-keeping-you-from-getting-what-you-want. By this point, you have confused the Israeli so much that he thinks he was on your side to begin with, and he'll help you work your way through the bureaucracy until you get your way and probably grant you special protectzia for the rest of your time together and invite you to his mother's house for Rosh HaShana.

Typically, you spend 48 hours in Israeli hospitals after giving birth. But Nitsah was born in the middle of the night on Saturday, and after we spent almost two full days in the hospital recovery ward, my husband, Nitsah and I were DONE-- we didn't want to wait until morning on Tuesday to go home. My husband asked whether we could go home early, but a nurse told him no.  I went back and asked the nurse to explain the situation, as if that I didn't really understand what my husband had told me. I thanked her up and down for asking the doctor (even though I suspected she hadn't), explaining (apologetically, not angrily) that we were really tired and had been there almost 48 hours already, and I just thought I would sleep much better in my own bed. I thanked her again for trying so hard to help us, and asked her what we could do now? Is there anything I could do to help her convince the doctor to let us go early? She didn't give me an answer on the spot, but ten minutes later a nurse arrived at my room saying that the doctor could do a check-up on Nitsah to release her now. A few hours later my husband and baby were crashed together on the couch at home. :)

Before anyone asks, no, we don't fall asleep with her like this. But it's pretty darn cute when she falls asleep on her daddy's chest.
 What strategies do you find useful when it comes to Israeli-wrangling? What are your Israeli birth stories?


More Israeli than I ever will be...

Meet the newest Israeli in our household:

Inbal Osnot Hadas Nitsah, born on October 22nd.

I look at her and think: 

She will speak Hebrew without an accent. (Will she speak English without an accent?)

She will brave the Israeli school system, something I haven't had the guts to do. (I teach English online instead!)

She will serve in the army.

She will some day look at me and realize that I don't speak Hebrew as well as her friends' moms do, that our apartment doesn't look like other kids' apartment, that the way we cook and eat is "weird."

She will go the US only as a visitor. She'll probably have those quirks that I notice in the Israeli kids of Americans... they speak very good English but get idioms wrong, they know about Thanksgiving but aren't sure when Christmas is...

What books will I read aloud to her? What books will she read to herself? Will she still wear nothing but pink (thanks, hand-me-downs) when she is four? How soon will she be riding the streets on Yom Kippur, and will I be brave enough to let her careen around by herself?

But mostly I look at her and think: how beautiful, how bright. Right now she's mine, mine and my husband's, sleeping peacefully on my chest and speaking only in grunts. I wonder what it will be like to parent as an immigrant, if this will make her less mine as she gets older, if she will feel like she's foreign to me. Or maybe she'll pull me along with her, the ultimate lesson in how to be Israeli...

(Perhaps this is an even more interesting question... am I really thinking of re-starting my blog now that I'm already juggling work (sadly, teaching online means that I don't get to take advantage of the wonderful Israeli maternity leave) and care of a three-week-old???)


Signs you may be becoming more Israeli than you realized...

 I had one of these moments today. The inimitable (and hilarious) Benji Lovitt of What War Zone??? posted a picture of Jerusalem's weather report (rain!!) on his Facebook feed, and for a second I was really confused by it. Then I realized that I was trying to read it from right to left, so I couldn't understand why the "first" day listed was Tuesday.

So, in honor of that moment, here are a few signs you might have noticed that this whole "absorption" thing might be going better than you'd thought...

1. You see just one clove of garlic listed in a recipe and assume there must have been a mistake (and put in five cloves, just to be on the safe side).

2. You use "walla!" in conversation.

3. Someone asks your shoe size, and "41" is the first number that comes to mind. (Yes, that's really my European/Israeli shoe size. Even though I'm only 5'5" tall. Yes, I'm bitter.)

4. You think of the first rain as the sign that winter has arrived, not the first snow.

5. If someone serves you hummus, you automatically look for the pita to wipe it up with.

6. You find yourself singing along to a Mizrachi song.

7. You think instant coffee is a perfectly good morning drink.

8. You no longer look at the speedometer on your car and panic when you see a number over 90 (it's kilometers, people...)

9. Someone asks you for directions and you actually know how to answer.

10.The pro-Israel comments that your American friends post to their Facebook pages start to seem a little... naive. (Don't get me wrong, I'm very pro-Israel... but, well, it's much more complicated than that when you live here. A blog post for another day...)

11. When you pick up a Jewish book, you automatically try to read it from right to left.

12. The names "Inbal," "Elmog," "Dudu," "Hadas" and "Tal" no longer sound funny to you. Ok, so Dudu is still funny. As is any name paired with the last name פינס. Because we all have an inner fourth grader. 

13. You can't think of the right word in English.

Have you experienced any of these moments? Which would you add to the list?


A tale of two fires...

 Our menorahs last year... this year I remembered to put down foil first! 

Sorry I didn't post last week-- I hope I didn't make too many people worry that I was somehow injured in the Carmel fire. We could see the smoke from the forest fire on the Carmel mountain from our apartment, but we weren't personally impacted beyond spending way too much time watching TV news and calling up friends close to the affected areas to see if they needed to be hosted.

Still, the disaster hit close to home, literally. My husband ended up riding his scooter through the thick smoke of a smaller fire lit by arsonists. On the first day of the fire, he rode the train back from work with the hysterical girlfriend of a rescue worker and some shell-shocked prison guards who weren't sure which of their colleagues were among the 40 killed as they evacuated prisoners from a prison on the Carmel. His cousin worked all night for days in a row on security at the Haifa University central command, leaving his wife to take care of their newborn daughter alone. Ordinary life came to a pause as we all watched the smoke rise off the Carmel mountain and mourned both the devastating deaths of more than 40 victims-- who died after protecting and evacuating others-- and the loss of a million trees in a country in which every tree ekes out a dusty, precious existence.

We lit Chanukah candles every night, but somehow posting about the grease-fest of Chanukah or the way Menta magazine takes all the fun out of 500-calorie Sufganiot didn't seem so appropriate just then. (Maybe tomorrow. :) Celebrating the persistence of flames burning for 8 days and 8 nights seemed inadvisable. (An unfortunate ad surrounding the Jerusalem Post coverage of the Carmel disaster read "Keep the flame of the Jewish people burning." Um, no, we're trying to put it out. Today, I notice that this tag-line finally changed to "A flame of resolve in the face of the inferno"... whatever that means.)

Finally, on Sunday night, it rained. Our first real rain of the year, our first rain that did more than dampen the dust floating in the air and paste it to our car's roof. And thanks to the supertanker from Russia, the Bulgarian firemen, the Turkish planes and-- in a bit of Chanukah irony-- firefighting assistance from the Greeks, the fire went out. And now we can think, again, about inviting friends over for jelly donuts (sufganiot) and candle lighting, of going out to the Chag HaChagim holiday celebration in Haifa, and of perhaps buying better housing insurance or taking the claims that Israel is unprepared to face a serious earthquake (something pundits have also been saying for years) seriously.

On the plus side, I now know how to say "firemen" (caba'im) and prison guards (soharim), that the same verb we use for clearing a table ("lefanot") also means "evacuation," and that the same word we use for the flames on the burner on my stove ("lehavot") can refer to 30 meter high flames. "Burn" (lesaref) has been transformed into the noun, srefah. On Israeli TV, the fire became simply known as "the Disaster on the Carmel": "ha'Ason baCarmel."

I hope everyone reading this blog is safe. Happy Chanukah! Were you following the disaster? Did it affect you in any way?


How to host Thanksgiving like an Israeli...

(From http://simplyrecipes.com/photos/pumpkin-pie.jpg)

Ok, so if you really want to host Thanksgiving like an Israeli, don't host it at all. (Yeah, that whole "It's an American holiday" thing.) But unlike Easter, Christmas, Halloween, New Year's Eve, and Valentine's day-- also holidays not really celebrated here-- I feel Thanksgiving is worth keeping, in a nostalgic and let's-force-Israeli-friends-to-eat-American-food kind of way.

The problem is that celebrating Thanksgiving in Israel is a lot like celebrating Jewish holidays in America-- this country really isn't set up to take Thanksgiving into account. So here's a way around a lot of the problems you might encounter if you try to host Thanksgiving dinner in Israel.

1. Be flexible about dates. Thursday night is a great night to have people over, because it's right before the weekend (Friday to Saturday). However, chances are, something else will already be scheduled for that night, even if you're doing something with the English-speaking community. (Those Brits just don't seem to understand the importance of gorging oneself with Turkey in solidarity with Pilgrim forefathers.) I have a memorial service to attend this Thursday night, so we're doing our Thanksgiving dinner on Friday night.

2. To buy a turkey, go to a butcher shop. Preferably one that specializes in turkey and poultry. And you'll need to order it in advance and probably pluck a few final feathers when you get it. Sadly, no, turkeys don't go on uber-cheap sale around the holiday-- I'll pay 25 shekels a kilo for mine. But you can shock all of your Israeli friends with the size of a full turkey! And, er, don't forget to specify-- several times, in as many languages as possible-- that you want a whole turkey in one piece.

By the way, last year the butcher thought I was crazy. This year he invited himself over for Thanksgiving dinner. Progress?

3. To find cranberries, look for Russians. And then follow them until you figure out where they shop. This year I bought my frozen cranberries at a little Russian macolet (mini-market), and while they appear to be manufactured in Israel (and are kosher parve and everything), the writing on the clear plastic container is Russian, not Hebrew. You can find dried cranberries in almost any supermarket.

4. If you need sausage for your stuffing, buy chorisos. Last year I went on an epic sausage-finding mission in which I ended up using pieces of kabobs, kabanos and kishkes in my stuffing. It tasted fine (it's pretty hard to mess up stuffing), but later this year I realized that choriso sausages-- available in the frozen food aisle-- actually have the right taste. Israelis don't do breakfast sausage or turkey sausage, so you need to be a bit creative.

5. Find sage fresh, not dried. Sage is another one of those crucial "Thanksgiving" flavors, but for some reason you'll find it more readily in the fresh leaves section (or even in a greenhouse) than in a bottle, dried.

6. Make your pumpkin pie from scratch! You will not find pre-prepared crust, canned pumpkin, or pumpkin pie spice in any ordinary Israeli supermarket. You will, however, find large chunks of ginormous pumpkins (wrapped in seran wrap, in the fresh foods section), butter, flour, and every spice that goes into pumpkin pie spice. While our pumpkin isn't technically sugar pumpkin, I've found it makes a mean pie filling. Just steam it and then (this step is important) puree it in your food processor... the texture of our pumpkin is stringier than a sugar pumpkin. Last year I used this recipe for my pumpkin pie, and it was delicious. Oh, and two things-- 1) if you use an Israeli-size pie pan, double the recipe for filling and crust... those pans are huge. 2) Don't expect actually Israelis to like your pumpkin pie. To them it's a little bit like eating, say, a sweet broccoli custard. They don't get it.

7. Make sure your turkey actually fits in your oven. You have an Israeli-size oven. This is an American-size bird. Make sure you do the math. :) Also, you won't have any automatic timer to tell you when the bird is ready, so make sure you know how long it will take to cook.

Now if anyone can help me find real apple cider in this country, I'll be eternally grateful!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. :) Is anyone else hosting a Thanksgiving in Israel or for Israelis?
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