Ode to my First Israeli Apartment

To my first Israeli apartment:

First, I'm sorry that we're leaving you in April. Well, ok, that's not exactly true, but trust me-- it's not you, it's us. We wanted to buy our own place, have one more room, and live on a quieter street, but we really appreciate you having been there for us throughout these first two years in Israel.

You've been taking a lot of abuse lately. Strangers have been walking over your mismatched tiled floors and criticizing little things like the way your 70s-era wood paneling is peeling off the walls or the paint on the bathroom ceiling is chipped. They laugh at your .5 room (the dining area) and complain about the car alarm going off outside your tinted, patterned windows. They also don't seem too impressed by the doorways that have been turned into shelving units and don't see the beauty in the fact that our cats can crawl through the bottom of the shelving units to go from room to room.

These low orange velvet chairs actually came with our furnished apartment. 
Our cats loved them. As scratching posts. And wrestling arenas.

But hey, at least you put yourself out there. It's not your fault that your owner thinks you are worth hundreds more shekels a month than we currently pay and that the arnona taxes are high here. Yes, you suffer daily rejection, and yes, you are quite possibly wet between the walls, and yes, the bed that you came with creaks like it is undergoing torture whenever anyone breathes, but... what was I talking about again? Oh, yes, you suffered rejection daily while our landlord was trying to rent you out, but we're still proud of you, and there are things I'll never forget about our first apartment in Israel. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

1. You made 70s style Isra-fab. From your brassy, curvy ceiling lights to the naked Grecians silkscreened on our bathroom tiles to the plastic wood paneling on the kitchen cabinets, you truly showcase the one time in your life when anyone living in this apartment did "shiputzim" (renovations-- and a fabulous word). 

2. The views from your windows were always interesting. Our cats will miss staring at birds, bats, and autobusim outside our window, and we'll miss watching them stare down at us in shock and concern when they see us approaching from the street. Every community parade in our town (as well as a lot of traffic) passed right below our front windows, including the traffic safety parade last Purim and the veterans parade on VE day. All the loud traffic passing outside your window only made the stillness during the siren on Yom HaShoah and YomHaZikaron more stunning. And the view outside your back window proves that Israel really does have seasons! Really! Take a look:

During July (when a branch fell off because of the drought):

In early December, when the grass started to come back:

Today (spring-- note the flowering trees!):

So yellowing grass isn't quite as pretty as yellow fall leaves, but it's still nice to watch time pass. Also, aren't those metal "soragim" (bars) kind of beautiful?

3. You have a different tile floor in every room, which helped us decide if we want to do any shiputzim of our own! (For the record, the dark brown tile in the shower room hides cat hairs much better than the light white tile in the toilet room.)

4. You taught me all about how to turn on a dude (er, not a guy... a water heater), how to close my trisim in a sandstorm, and how to flip the switch on the circuit board of our house each time you objected to the idea of me running the kumkum (electric teapot) and the stove at the same time.

I'll also miss your huge kitchen and the high ceilings in your living room. I'll miss having a random little closet to put the litter boxes into. I'll miss the time we looked at the uneven tile in the bedroom and hypothesized that your previous elderly residents had buried lirot in the sand beneath the tiles. I'll miss living within a block of any kind of store I could ever want, from a guitar store to a petshop, with a bridal store, a health food shop, three yarkans and a super thrown in for good measure.

Our landlord finally came down in his asking price and found a nice mother with three kids (!) to move into this one apartment. The new people seem to appreciate you more than we did-- the mother looked at that gold chandelier in the living room and thought it was ya-fe-fi-yah. The two eight-year-old boys in our building seem excited about playing with the two eight-year-old girls who are moving in. But don't forget us, ok? You were a very significant 100 meters during my first two years in Israel, and I know we'll never forget you.

Now, excuse me while I go pack.

P.S. Yep, we're moving in just over a week!! Wahoo! Blog posts might be pretty infrequent as we move, though I have some ideas I'm kicking around. The thing I'm most worried about: canceling HOT cable... any suggestions about how to keep HOT from taking any more of our money?


If you want to understand Israelis, read this book...

We have an amazing library just down the street, housed in an old building from the Turkish period. It's just a few aisles of (mostly) paperback books, in Hebrew, English, and Russian (with a new Spanish section), and browsing its stacks is like looking through a friend's bookshelf. I get overwhelmed when I have to choose between all the many categories in a major library-- in our library, on the other hand, I always find a few books that I want (and have discovered the wonder of British chick lit). There's nothing fancy about our library, but that's part of why I love it: my library card consists of a number scrawled on a bookmark, and I've never been charged a late fee, even when I was pretty sure I was returning a few books a month late. I have to admit that I stick to the English books, but I often see translations written in spidery Hebrew above tricky words.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I borrowed Ask for a Convertible by Danit Brown from the library, and I've been meaning to recommend it to everyone I know ever since. In a series of beautifully-written (and funny) short stories about the same set of characters-- primarily a family who makes "yaridah" (moving out of Israel, the opposite of aliyah)-- Brown conveys the Israeli mentality better than any book I've read. Danit Brown (not to be confused with Dan Brown) is a close observer of both American and Israeli culture. I like to think that this book is what my blog would be if it became hyper-intelligent, self-aware, and moved back to the US. :)

The main character in the short stories is named Osnat, which is one of the names my husband and I joke we'll name our hypothetical future children so that they will never move to America. (As someone in the stories says, "What is it with Israelis being named after bodily fluids?") Osnat is transplanted from sun-baked Tel Aviv to cloudy Michigan at age 12. Through the course of the stories, she attempts to figure out where she belongs, even moving back to Tel Aviv as a young woman.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the way Brown gets details right. She shows Osnat's mother attempting to find self-rising flour in Michigan-- I remember seeing self-rising flour on my post-yaridah Israeli mother-in-law's shelves, and now I realize this is what most Israelis use rather than plain flour and baking powder.  Brown conveys the gulf between the ways Americans and Israelis see Judaism and Israel. In one story, a burned-out driving instructor moves to an American small town and meets the town's one Jew and a staunch Christian. They end up in a coffee shop, and the Americans want to know what it's like in the Israeli army. The Israeli starts to tell them his arsenal of funny, raunchy stories about his time in the army, and the Americans grow increasingly confused and shocked at this image of the "holy land." Yet the Israeli is also burying the pain of a family member dying in a terrorist attack; this isn't the kind of thing he talks about, even though perhaps it's what the Americans would rather hear. I could also relate to the emotional strain of moving to a new country, whether that country is America or Israel. I have felt the plunge in IQ that comes with not being able to remember the word for "pants" in a clothing store and the slow process of finding friends and the different sound of Israeli apartments compared to American wood-frame houses.

One of the most thought-provoking stories was called "Your Own Private America." In it, Osnat struggles to be Israeli while all of the Israelis around her are looking for an idealized version of America. Here's an excerpt:
There was something about the way her aunt was always urging her to buy, buy, buy that made Osnat feel like the fat girl whose skinny friend kept encouraging her to eat and eat. "That's just how much stuff costs here," her aunt liked to say. Or, "Surely your parents can help you pay." It didn't matter that she had the same number of televisions and drove the same kind of car as Osnat's parents. There was simply no arguing with the spacious homes and glitzy automobiles you saw on TV. It was easier to believe in those than in the pasty, blubbery people who lived in trailer parks and sometimes came to blows on American talk shows. If one of these realities had to be rigged, then let it be the poor one.
I see this attitude so often in Israel. Israelis yearn for their "private Americas," despite the fact that most of my Israeli friends vacation in resorts while almost none of my American friends did. Israelis constantly use "cmo b'chul"-- like outside Israel-- as a sign something is truly nice, and they find it hard to believe that I honestly think quality of life is better here. Yet life is noisy and stressful in Israel, and as Osnat says, "America was nice, with its air conditioners and manicured lawns." This book put my fuzzy, conflicted feelings about the emotional distance between America and Israel into focus like no other book I've read.

One small disclaimer-- if you're easily offended by language or sexual content, you might not like this book, although to me it seemed pretty mild.  Also, this book risks keeping you up at night. I don't usually like short story collections, but this one pulled me through to the end.

Have you read Ask for a Convertible? Do you think you can relate?

P.S. I'll probably mess up the formula for choosing the links that appear below this post by writing this, but it strikes me that Danit Brown wrote about every one of the topics that appears below this post for me: getting an Israeli driver's license (and failing the test the first time, as an American), running into celebrities on the Israeli streets, and even experiencing a chamsin. No wonder I loved this book!


How to Wait in Line Like an Israeli

Contrary to popular opinion, Israelis do wait in line.  We do have, shall we say, a different line-waiting etiquette, as my sister discovered when she returned to NYC after a year in Israel, shoved her way onto a bus (elbows flying)... then realized that all the other passengers were staring at her from the pavement where they stood in a polite queue.  So here's a guide to how to wait in line like an Israeli.

1. Ask "mi ha'aharon"? (Who's the last?) When you come to a meat counter or post office line in Israel, ask who is last in line. It often won't be the person who is actually standing in front of you-- it may be the person off in the corner getting stamps out of a vending machine or feeding a baby. This is probably why a lot of Americans get really upset when they wait in line, because they think Israelis are cutting in front of them when, really, Israelis simply have a more casual attitude about what "standing in line" actually means. 

2. If you need to step out of line, remind the person in front of you where your spot is. This was a little odd to me at first. For example, if I were in a grocery store check-out line in the US and realized I had to grab one thing off a nearby shelf, I would ask the person behind me in line if they could save my space-- the reason being that they're the person who would be disrupted when I came back. But for the exact same reason, Israelis rely on the person in front of them to save their spots. After all, why would the person behind you ever give your spot back?? That would be being a freyer! The person in front of you, on the other hand, will defend you if the person behind you complains, and Israelis do have a strongly-ingrained sense of line-standing ethics.

3. Stand really close to the person in front of you. Honestly, I'm not even sure if Israelis do this... my sense of personal space has shifted since coming here so that now I feel no compunction about nudging my shopping card actually into someone else when I try to make it down a narrow aisle in the Super. (Israelis look at me like I'm crazy if I apologize for something like that!) So the fact that Israelis don't actually touch each other in line or (mostly) breathe on each others' necks seems like plenty of space for me. But if you're an American from one of the northeastern regions, you may need to take a few steps forward. If you leave too much space in front of you, you aren't asserting your spot in line and someone may cut. (Watch out for spots in which you might think you're waiting in one line for multiple cash registers-- your body language has to be assertive for people not to cut in front of you then!)

4. Let someone else cut in front of you if you decide to, and be ready to wait for a while. Israelis are generally pretty rushed and stressed out, but for some reason they have a more relaxed attitude towards line-waiting than most Americans. If you come to a supermarket line with just a few items, Israelis with lots of items in their carts will almost always allow you to cut in front of them. Cashiers will wait for five minutes while you go back to get the third bag of shnitzel that will round out your 2 + 1 free deal. The bank teller will make four phone calls about the missing card for the guy in front of you before she looks for your checkbook. Any you know what? I actually think this is kind of nice. I like that when my time comes, the cashier will give me her full attention and let me take the time I need. So what if I wait a few extra minutes in the process. (Or, ok, a few extra hours back when we were applying for our mortgage... waiting in lines in banks is basically an all-day affair.) And definitely, complain loudly if you feel someone is taking advantage of a situation.

5. In some spots (bus stops, train stations, traffic circles, mortgage brokerages) there is no clearly-defined line, so instead you need to push your way to the front. This is where marpekim, elbows, are essential. Push your way up there!

Did I leave anything out? What have you while waiting experienced in Israeli lines?


I'm in the Jerusalem Post!

So... apparently I was featured in the Jerusalem Post "Arrivals" column this past weekend! You can view the whole interview here:


As with any published article,  not every detail is entirely accurate-- for example, while I very much love and miss my mother, mother-in-law and grandmother, as well as my two brothers and my sister, I also very much miss my father, father-in-law and grandfather! (Not to mention my brothers-in-law and my sisters-in-law, and maybe most of all my six nieces and nephews-- two years in the life of a little kid is eternity, so I don't feel like I even know them any more, even if we sometimes talk on the phone. That's the saddest part about moving away.)

It's a great article, though, and I'm really flattered. The Haifa English Theatre very much appreciates the good publicity... the Haifa English Theatre is truly as awesome as I say in the article (see my post about the last HET performance), though I could also credit a lot of non-HET, non-Anglo friends for helping me in my aliyah. Check the article out if you're curious about my unusual childhood and pre-aliyah life, as well as a bit about my personal life in Israel.

And I guess my cover is blown... so here's what I actually look like (on a rare good-face day):

However, contrary to the impression you might get from the picture, I do have more than three fingers on my left hand. Maybe that's why they only used the top of the picture in the article. :) In the background you can see the amazingly beautiful castle Montfort... see my post about Montfort.

Now I need to figure out what to do about all the autograph-seekers who keep bothering me... at least, I'm pretty sure the lawyer was just using our final mortgage forms as a ruse to get my signature...

P.S. I actually did post one picture containing my face on the blog before... and now it's probably more obvious which post it was. :)

It's Purim, so go to the mall... to hear a megilla reading?

So, last year I posted about the way Israeli teenagers celebrate Purim: by going to the mall in costume (usually as sexy-something, including sexy Santa Clauses... it was quite disturbing). This year, though, my husband and I had other plans: we were going to go to our synagogue to hear a megilla reading. Problem was, we got the time wrong, so we showed up just as Haman's sons were being taken into custody and only about ten minutes before clowns arrived to entertain the kids who had been chattering throughout the whole thing.

We didn't have plans for the rest of the evening, so instead we decided to go to the mall. But something was missing... it didn't feel like a proper Purim without a megilla reading (and it obviously isn't a halachically proper Purim either). Just as we were leaving Steimatsky with a few books, we saw a bunch of young Chabad guys dancing past shouting: "just 10 minutes! Hear the Megilla! It's a big mitzva!" So we followed along, and there next to the Cellcom booth in the Kiryon Mall, we heard a full (turbo-speed) megilla reading.

It was one of those simple, awesome moments that could only happen in Israel-- there we were in a busy aisle between the food court and the Fox clothing store, along with about 15 young Lubavitch guys, a couple of teenage arsim, a few freichot, some 10-year-old boys who stopped by for the novelty value and hamentaschen, a few Israeli guys who looked like they hadn't worn a kipa since their bar mitzvot decades ago, and a security guard who was upset that we were banging on the mall's table too hard when Haman's name came along. These were all probably people who wouldn't go to a synagogue to hear a megilla reading-- they would be VERY sure you knew they aren't dati'im-- but they stopped and listened respectfully as the Lubavitch guy read through the Megilla so quickly that his face turned red. (He read it with feeling, though!) My husband's fingers whipped from line to line as he followed along in the little megilla pamphlet another Chabad guy gave us. After the megilla was finished and the blessing read, the people in the cellcom booth clapped as the Lubavitch guys danced around the table, singing. We left into the wet night air... a good Purim.

Happy (belated) Purim! Don't forget to check out Haveil Havalim, the Purim edition, over on The Israel Situation!
Related Posts with Thumbnails