Make Aliyah!

(An adorable olah chadasha-- new immigrant-- from my Nefesh b'Nefesh flight)

If you really want to be Israeli, make aliyah! Aside from a mountain of paperwork, immigrating to Israel is not hard at all. The Israeli government paid for my plane flight and provided some money to support me for my first year here, and I became an Israeli citizen literally minutes after touching town on Israeli soil (well, asphalt. Kissing the dirt doesn't quite have the same power when it's a runway in Ben Gurion airport). The wonderful organization Nefesh b'Nefesh supported me in every possible way, from a group flight to a list serve full of people willing to explain to me what kinds of catfood are available in Israel.

Still, making aliyah is just the start of becoming Israeli. I want to understand enough Israeli cultural references that I can make it above 1,000 shekels on the game show Monit HaKesef ("The Taxi of Money." It's fabulous. I'll post about it some other time). I want to have close friends that I only speak with in Hebrew. I want my future children to grow up in a home that reflects not only my American heritage and my husband's Polish ancestry but also Morrocan cooking and Mizrachi music and... well, maybe not Mizrachi music. I can't bring myself to go much more Mizrachi than Boaz Sharabi. I doubt my husband and I will ever drive our Hyundai Getz down the street blasting "Ani Chai b'Seret." (Yes, I know "Ani Chai b'Seret is a pretty lame example of a Mizrachi song... as I said, we're pretty Ashkenazi.)

Anyway, that's what this blog is about: my desire for not just my identity card but my identity to become Israeli. And it's for anyone who wants to bring a bit more Israeli-ness into their lives. I've actually been on this quest since long before I actually made aliyah, and I'll continue on it long after.

It comforts me that Israel, even more than America, is a country of immigrants. Today in the supermarket I realized that my accent didn't sound that different from the accent of the old man in front of me-- who had probably lived in this country for more than 60 years. Almost everyone here has at least grandparents who speak accented Hebrew, and the effort those grandparents made to become Israeli dwarfs mine. They made the decision to speak Hebrew to each other even when it would have been so easy to make Yiddish or Polish or Farsee the language of this country. They forged this thing called "Israeli." So I think I can become part of it after all.

Shabbat shalom!

This is a Mop

After making aliyah, most of the life skills I'd acquired over 25 years of semi-competent existence were wiped out. I felt like a movie princess suddenly forced to live without her maids. How do I get an appointment with a doctor? Where do I go to rent a movie?? What should a lease look like? How do I pay taxes? Where do I write the return address on a letter?? What do people eat for dinner? And what should I wear if it's 20 degrees outside?!

So one thing I had to learn was how Israelis mop floors. I have yet to see a Swiffer or sponge mop here, and I only saw a traditional mop with spaghetti strands when a Brit provided one as a theatre prop. Instead, we have these metal poles that grip towels between their plastic teeth and wide base.

They are easy to use, really, except that getting the towel to stay on confused me at first. I attempted to wad both ends underneath the clamp in a ploy to approximate a Swiffer, but all four corners wouldn't fit. Then I think I let the towel drag behind the base of the mop, towel wistfully tickling the floor as I dragged the foam-metal base, squealing, along my poor tiles.

The secret to using these mops is that you put the base down ON the towel, as you see in the picture above, and push the towel around with the pressure from the handle. (My husband's aunt, the most meticulous housekeeper ever, just slings towels on the end of the thing without clamping. This, I believe, is an advanced skill.)

My next challenge-- getting the mop wet. I tried to dip the whole head in a bucket with the towel on, but it was too wide. I needed to take the towel off before wringing it off into the bucket. Then I tried to wash the dirty towels in my washing machine, but these are special cheap floor-washing towels (which you buy as a pack in the supermarket), so they ended up beading off into bits of lint. My husband claims the towels are supposed to be disposable. I still wash them, but now I mostly just rinse and hang.

The thing is that I now like this system better than a Swiffer or a sponge mop. The towel is nice and large, so it cleans my floors quickly. The towels last longer than those disposable Swiffer papers, and by reusing them, I save money.

A lot of people panic about all these changes when they make aliyah and try to bring everything with them from America. My advice would be to suck it up, and stalk an Israeli to see how she gets through her life. Yes, you'll feel like an idiot for a little while-- you'll have to ask a lot of questions about things your mother taught you to do when you were eleven years old. But it's worth it, because now I feel like an Israeli when I mop the floor, and I'm not begging Swiffer papers off of every visitor who comes to see me from America.

Now don't ask me about how to be TRULY Israeli and use a squeegee to clean the floor. That one still scares me. (I think it stands on a higher plane of Israeli-ness.)

If anyone reading this made aliyah, what life skills did you have to learn?


Conserve Water

During the last week, we've been drenched by SOME of the rain that we should have had all winter. Israel has a dry season and a wet season, but even at its wettest we get less rain than my hometown in Pennsylvania. I saw one short, spattering rainstorm after I arrived in April, then nothing but blue skies until October. This winter has been sunny and pleasant, mostly, which is a bad thing.

From the Ministry of Environmental Protection:

A report on precipitation and surface water in Israel, released in February 2009, confirms the dire status of Israel's water sources in the winter of 2009.

Main Findings:

  • Precipitation in the Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) watershed - between 20 - 40 mm in the month of January 2009 - was the lowest recorded since the 1920s!
  • The last recording of such low rainfall in the Jerusalem region - some 15 mm in January 2009 - was in 1895!
  • Despite the cessation of pumping, water level in the Kinneret increased by only 2 cm in January 2009, compared to a 17 cm increase in January 2008, standing at only 52 cm above the black line, below which irreversible damage may occur!
  • Water supply in the Dan springs was at its lowest point since measurements began in 1949. The data published by the Water Authority's Hydrological Service confirm the dire status of Israel's water economy and reinforce the necessity for water conservation by the public as a whole.
If you want to be Israeli, then, you MUST understand that water is a precious and limited resource. These are some things I do-- do you have other suggestions?
  • I turn off the water in the middle of a shower when I'm soaping up. Brrrrr.
  • I scrub my dishes with a wet, soapy sponge and the water OFF. Then I rinse all of the dishes at once. (We don't have a dishwasher.)
  • I don't run water while brushing my teeth or washing my face.
  • When the solar-powered water heater on our roof burst and started gushing water off the roof all day long, we fixed it. Go us!
  • We have only washed our car once, because we're lazy... I mean water-conscious.
  • I water my houseplants only rarely, because I'm forgetful... I mean water-conscious.
  • If it's yellow, let it mellow... :)
Someday when we're rich and have our own house, we want to set up a system to capture rainwater and also use our own wasted water for things like watering a garden. But for now, that's about my list. Our water bill spikes whenever we go over a certain limit, but so far we've only gone over that limit once-- during a month when our boiler burst AND we had family visiting.

The thing that's kind of crazy is that in some ways, worrying about water ISN'T an Israeli characteristic. Our government doesn't seem to react to the idea that we are in a crisis; our news is dominated by the (arguably more pressing) issues of forming a government and protecting civilians. All summer, a water sprinkler down on the corner-- funded by the government-- aimlessly sprayed tree trunks and passing cars. There were literally puddles in the road, in AUGUST, when it hadn't rained in months. This was a jarring contrast to alarmist TV ads saying we don't have a drop of water to waste. Watering grass makes no sense to me. I mean, I know that we won't HAVE grass in our yards if we don't water, because that long summer is punishing. But, um, maybe that means we shouldn't have grass in our yards?

Let's hope for more rain before spring starts in earnest here!

Listen to the Banot Nechama!

The Banot Nechama (Daughters of Mercy) are an incredibly talented trio of singers who made it big in Israeli with their 2007 debut CD. So they're exactly the kind of band that you can feel Israeli for knowing about. :) I've heard that one of the members (Yael Deckelbaum) is about to come out with a solo CD, so I'm not sure what's next for the Banot, but they're definitely a band to follow.

I have to admit that they're the kind of singers that aren't as impressive on CD as they are live. On CD, I could imagine that their exquisite harmonies were the result of over-production during lots of recording sessions. But live in a small club in Tel Aviv this August, their synch was stunning and their sound just as polished-- they would flick eyelashes at each other and then launch into three-part acappella harmony. They improvised riffs, harmonized spoken words, made up lyrics to fit the audience. And they were funny-- I wish I had a youtube of their musical jokes, the way they played with tempo and tune. If you can, catch them live!

This song and video shows off their playful side. Warning, though: this song is EVIL. It sticks in your mind. You'll have flowers coming out of your hair for days to come:

The Banot Nechma sing about half their songs in in English, partly because of their background: one singer was born in Kansas, another in Canada, the third in Kiryat Ono.To me, they don't really sound like any other group. What do you think?? I think they might, collectively, be the next Yael Naim. :)


Make Israeli Salad!

Israelis love to make fun of the way Americans prepare salad. "They just take a bag of lettuce out of the fridge," my husband's (Israeli) aunt says, gasping with laughter, "put it in a bowl, squirt dressing on top, and they think they made salad!" To Israelis, "salads" are haroset-esque mortars of diced vegetables, possibly including eggplant. In restaurant salads, you can sometimes spot small, shredded strips of lettuce gasping for air among the chopped peppers, sauteed mushrooms, sticks of cucumber, sprigs of cilantro, and chunks of goat cheese.

If you want to be Israeli, you must master the art of the Basic Israeli Salad.


Two small tomatoes
One medium cucumber (preferably, one tender enough to leave skin on)
One small onion (or half an onion, to taste)
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice (or juice of 1/2 lemon)
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: One bell pepper


Dice all of the vegetables into very small cubes (the smaller the better, as an issue of national pride). Add in lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. To make it even more colorful, use yellow peppers and purple onions. Mix and enjoy!

To be truly Israeli, serve this salad with every meal, especially breakfast. (No, really! Israelis love salad for breakfast, along with pitas and hummus and hard boiled eggs.) I thought it was weird at first to put salt and pepper on salad, but don't leave them out-- they bring out the flavor of the veggies beautifully, and I actually now use this same dressing when I have a fit of American rebellion and prepare--*gasp*-- salad with lettuce. (I'm so sorry. I do slip up. I also sometimes... I'm so embarrassed to admit this... I sometimes eat cereal for breakfast. In fact, almost always. I'm still working on being Israeli, ok??)

Betei Avon*! What are your favorite Israeli foods?

*Hebrew for "bon apetit."



I technically became an Israeli about a half hour after landing in Ben Gurion Airport. So even though I've lived here less than a year, I've already voted twice!

First, I voted in the most hard-fought mayoral election I've ever seen. In Kiryat Bialik, posters hung from balconies and papered fences in April, even though voting wasn't until mid-November. I was harrassed by candidates on my way into to the supermarket. My mikvah lady-- after she'd watched me dunk naked into water each month as part of a religious ritual-- took advantage of this vulnerable state by asking me to vote her son onto the city council. "He's a good boy. Will you vote for him?" she asked every month from May on. "Yes!" I would yelp. "Please hand me my towel!" Instead, she'd give me a glossy campaign flyer. (For the record, she is a lovely woman and she said "hi" to me one time at the fish monger's, which impressed me because I wasn't sure she'd recognize me with clothes on.)

Those elections reflected Kiryat Bialik's horror that it is being replaced by our neighboring town-- Kiryat Motzkin-- as the nicest one of the clump of towns called "Kiryat Something" just north of Haifa. A representative campaign flyer featured pictures Kiryat Bialik Now (trash at the side of storm drains) next to pictures of Kiryat Bialik Future (flowering traffic islands... in Kiryat Motzkin). Another ad trumpeted the fact that Candidate X was running second in the polls!! Even our mayoral candidates suffered from an inferiority complex.

When we walked to our polling station for the national elections early this month, the streets were wet and deserted. National elections are holidays here, and so the entire country emptied into the malls for election day sales. A few banners dripped outside polling stations.

Israelis literally cast ballots-- or rather seal our votes into envelopes and cast them into a locked box. No hanging chads here, but plenty of room fun kinds of voter fraud! (At one polling station, someone replaced the stack of paper for one party with paper that had another party's symbol printed on the back side!)

After presenting ID to the people manning our polling station (what a novel concept! I never had to do that in America!), I stepped behind a cardboard screen and chose a piece of paper with my party's "letter" on it. (I stole one; it's in the picture above.) Then I sealed the piece of paper into an envelope and brought my envelope out of the booth to deposit in the lockbox up front. I felt so sure of myself because I'd already voted once, as opposed to the municipal election when I got yelled at for possible attempted terrorism (I brought my bag into the polling room) until the polling people heard my accent, at which point they decided I was a dimwitted olah chadasha who deserved a bit of coddling, and a nice woman showed me what to do.

My husband's Israeli-Polish grandfather just said "Jews always lie about who they vote for" when we tried to ask him which way he leaned. (He lived through the Holocaust AND spent time in the Gulag, so his attitude is understandable.) I won't tell you who I voted for either-- but it wasn't Tsipi Livni or Bibi Netanyahu. Now I'm just trying to figure out who won the election...

65% of Israelis voted in the last elections, so if you want to be Israeli, definitely vote. Who would you have voted for? Do Jews always lie about who they vote for? Discuss. :)
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