The Israeli National Pastime: Mangal!

"Mangal" is the Hebrew word for "Barbeque," which always struck me as a little funny-- mangled meat roasting on a grill. However, "mangal" in Israel is a national pastime, and a very integral part of days off, going to parks, Saturday afternoons, what have you. Israel on the weekend smells like barbequeing Kababs (sausages), chicken, steaks. And it isn't Yom HaAtzmaut without some mangal, as well as the International Bible Quiz championship... which is kind of like the National Spelling Bee, only in Hebrew and about obscure portions of the Tanach.

We celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut yesterday at my husband's aunt and uncle's house. My husband's aunt (a good Polish mother) prepared about 500 types of salads--several involving eggplant and none involving lettuce. His uncle (a Romanian grilling master) cooked chicken breasts, kababs, spicy sausage, chicken hearts, a curious concoction of animal innards wrapped in foil, and more (the "more" involving what is delicately known as "basar acher"-- as in, the other white meat... oy... we didn't partake). And then about 12 kinds of cakes for dessert. Altogether, we passed out from calorie overdose after we came home from the barbeque... and I didn't get a chance to post yesterday. I think my brain is still swimming from the rush of sugar and protein.

I was just talking on the phone to another member of the Olim Omrim blog, btw, about how Independence Day in Israel is a much bigger deal than Independence Day in the US. On July 4th in the US you maybe grill, maybe go see fire works, maybe have a picnic... but here we have dancing, singing, concerts, speeches, candle-lighting, fireworks, parties. Then I realized that this reminded me of the description of Independence Day celebrations back in the wonderful "Little House Book" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Back in the 1800s US pioneer life, independence still meant something. Here, too, we know that independence can't be taken for granted and should be celebrated to the utmost.

Happy Yom HaAtzmaut (a day late)!


No barbeques or sales on Israeli Memorial Day

For weeks now, much to the consternation of our cats, we've had Israeli flags hanging off our balcony-- as do most Israelis. Right now, the sun is setting (in a perfect blue sky) on Yom haZikaron, Memorial Day, and we are moving in to Yom HaAtzmaut-- Independence Day!

In the US, "Memorial Day" meant little to me other than the start of the school year, a day off school, and maybe a picnic. I honestly never thought about what I was memorializing. I'm sure that Memorial Day has specific meaning for many people in the US, but to me it didn't. (UPDATE-- ProphetJoe reminded me that I'm thinking of Labor Day, not Memorial Day, which I guess proves my point: to me Labor Day and Memorial Day had about equivalent meaning.)

For most Israelis, though, Yom HaZikaron is the most solemn day on the Jewish calender. Tisha B'Av is easy to miss in a secular neighborhood; Yom Kippur is actually great fun for children who come out in droves to ride bikes in the car-free streets. (Seriously-- there are bike sales before Yom Kippur because of this.)

But Yom HaZikaron, for most Israelis, is "kashe," hard. Israelis know who they are memorializing. Their sons, daughters, cousins, friends, aunts, parents. Almost every Israeli knows somebody who died as a soldier or as a civilian victim of terror. So today, in private or public, Israelis mourn.

We hear two two-minute sirens on Yom HaZikaron: one last night at 8 PM and one this morning at 11. The one at 11 took me by surprise; I had to go grocery shopping, and I wasn't sure what time the siren would sound. So I was at the checkout when the siren sounded, and even though we could barely hear it inside the supermarket (a pity), immediately the checkout ladies froze, and everyone in the packed grocery store quickly hushed and stopped, standing, hands at their sides. Outside, shoppers waited half way to their cars with bags of groceries. When the siren was over, nobody spoke about it or even really acknowledged it, because the most powerful thing about the siren is that it is private. It is a shared public experience that is intensely personal. Nobody calls for a "moment of silence"-- we simply share one. The whole nation. For the same two minutes.

On Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), on the other hand, EVERYONE will be barbequing. Tonight we're about to go hear a free concert by several major Israeli singers including Sarit Hadad, Beit haBubot, and haDag Nachash. Every town and city draws singers to perform tonight after the fireworks, the candle-lighting ceremonies (in which kids light candles and anounce "letiferet medinat Yisrael"-- to the glory of the Israeli nation), the singing groups, whatever else our "iryah" puts in this year's ceremony. 61 years! We're not doing too badly for a baby-boomer nation.

The sun has set! Happy Independence Day!! In honor of Independence Day, I'm curious-- what is your favorite Israeli food or Israeli singer?


Images of Israel at 61 years...

At this link, you can see images of Israel chosen by Yediot Ahronot (one of our newspapers), representing different elements of Israel at 61 years old: http://my.ynet.co.il/israeli/

It's an odd, interesting selection. One of the pictures is simply graffiti saying "ein chanaya"-- no parking. I mean, I know this is a chronic problem in Israel, but surely we have more interesting graffiti? For example, look at this graffiti in a Syriana ruin in the Golan:

I also think the picture of the guy WEARING the Israeli flag as a sarong is a bit odd. I really don't see Israelis doing that kind of thing as much as Americans-- Israelis tend to use flags a flags, thank you very much.

My two favorite pictures are at the top: one is a prime example of Israeli body language, as a group of men looks at a map, and the other is an image of soldiers in an ancient synagogue, dancing so quickly (or on the right kind of exposure) so that they become a blur. Or perhaps the most representative picture is of the two men in short short bathing suits, speaking on cell phones.

What do you think of this picture selection? Ultimately, I think it represents a Tel Avivian view of Israel at 61 years... I think the selection from, say, Shiloh or even Haifa would be different.


The Israeli concept of "personal space" (or lack therof) applies to camping as well...

Americans visiting Israel are often taken aback by Israelis' concept of personal space. While in America we go to great lengths to avoid actually touching each other while, say, waiting in line, Israeli crowds rely on survival of the stubbornest-- you must stand your ground (and push into those around you) to keep your spot.

Over Chol Hamoed Pesach, my husband and I decided to go camping in the Golan. (Actually, I wanted to, and my husband-- after much prodding-- agreed. But only if we went to a campground with bathrooms.) I've done a lot of backpacking and some camprground camping in the US. At US campgrounds, you pay for a specific numbered patch of ground-- usually about the size of my entire apartment, delineated by boards, and surrounded by trees to separate you from anyone nearby. You have your own picnic table, fire pit, and parking space (where you can pull in your RV and have all the comforts of trailer park life right by the campfire). While I prefer camping deep in the woods where the only sounds are howling wolves (really-- been there, done that), campground camping isn't too bad.

In the Golan, on the other hand, our campground was a fenced-in square of land maybe 100 meters by 100 meters. We paid to sleep overnight, not for any particular plot-- instead we simply found a nice spot near a small olive tree and pitched our tent. Camping in Israel seems to be most popular among groups of high-school or army-age kids who hitchhike up to campgrounds with just a few sleepingbags, a gas burner, and a frying pan. This being chol hamoed, the campground quickly grew more and more full. We barbecued hamburgers to eat on Matzo meal buns, lent matches to the group of woefully underprepared American gap year students nearby, and eventually, settled down for the night.

Just as we came back from the bathrooms, though, we discovered new neighbors. Three Israeli girls in skirts had pitched their sleeping bags about a foot from our tent-- when they moved, their feet kicked our tent side. And when they talked, and laughed, and sang, and shouted at each other, we heard every word.

We also noticed an interesting phenomenon. During the daytime, we heard mostly loud English voices in the campground. At night, exclusively loud Hebrew voices. The Israelis in the campground weren't trying to be rude, but they seemed to see no reason whatsoever to even attempt to whisper. After all, the night was still young! Why should they go around whispering like fryerim? (I suppose it could be worse. When I camped out by at "Lavnoon" on the Kinneret in college, an outdoor dance floor pounded music until about 4 AM.)

To be fair, the girls next to us did quiet down after a few hours when we told them we were trying to sleep. But by that point, I was totally awake, and like the Princess and the Pea, I could feel every lump through the layers of blankets we were trying to cushion ourselves with. At about 3 AM, wind started to beat against our tent and I got up and walked around the now-silent campground, lit by moonlight and lamps, sitting in the shadow of the Golan mountains.

Next time we go camping (if I can ever convince my husband again), we're bringing an air mattress and ear plugs!


"Olim Omrim" is up and running!

No real post today, but I wanted to let y'all (or "yinz," as we say in Pittsburgh) know that our new Hebrew blog, Olim Omrim, is up and running. We already have a number of posts up from four different authors, and you should meet more of the participants soon! Please visit and leave encouraging comments-- our Hebrew isn't hard to read, I promise, and I made the font nice and big. Tip for reading my Hebrew: read it aloud. I'm sometimes, er, a bit phoenetic in my spelling.

Come stop by! All levels are welcome. :)

And a pretty photo from my recent trip to the Golan, just to remind you of how gorgeous Israel is in the springtime: (click on the picture to see a larger version)


Pause for the Yom HaShoah siren

Above is video that I took this morning during the two minute siren marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. There is something incredibly pure about the simple ceremony of sounding a siren on Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day). No police cars block streets, yet everyone stops-- even drivers in the middle of the street get out and stand next to their cars. It's a little hard to see that in my video, but a driver is standing next to the car in the middle of the shot.

Today we mark the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust with the siren that warns us of incoming missiles today. (The warning siren sounds different-- apparently, it goes up and down rather than staying on a high note.) Today we have defenses, today we have a nation, today we have a way to fight back.

Today is a normal work day, and for most Israelis not quite as heavy a day as Memorial Day, but Israel feels subdued. All TV channels (aside from those not at all rooted in Israel, such as VH1) either broadcast Holocaust movies, Holocaust documentaries, or a still screen recognizing Yom HaShoah. This is what you see when you go to the pay-per-view "Playboy" channel (which, for the record, we have never once paid for or actually viewed!):

The words say-- in Hebrew and English-- that broadcasts will renew at 10 PM. It's bizarre to see images of Holocaust alongside the Playboy bunny, but then maybe there is something appropriate about that, too. The History channel and the Playboy channel pause to remember the victims of the Shoah today.

If you were in Israel, where were you when the siren went off?


A generation without parents...

My husband's grandparents at our seder this year. At almost 90 years old, they're still smiling. His grandfather escaped the Holocaust by finding his way into service in the Russian army. (We sometimes call them "Shimon" and "Golda" because of their resemblance to two past Israeli PMs...)

Most Ashkenazim in Israel, like my husband, are descended from Holocaust survivors.

This Rosh Hashana, in synagogue, my husband's grandmother whispered stories to me that she hadn't told anyone else. That, after the war, she was excited to tell people she knew about being homeless, surviving labor camps, hiding -- "Nobody would have believed me!" she said, because she had been a spoiled child in an upper-class home-- only to find that there was nobody left to tell.

That once, she was caught by the Polish police and sentenced to be shot. While she was waiting for them to kill her, she noticed that she had holes in her socks, so she started to patch them. The police gave her their socks to darn as well. Eventually, they "looked away" and allowed her to escape-- "It's hard to kill someone who smiles," she says, crediting her survival to her friendliness.

That she had felt helpless as a young mother soon after the war because she had not known parents since her early teens.

She and my husband's grandfather (also the only survivor of his family) finally obtained visas to move to Israel ten years after the war. Israel is a land built by children without parents, teenagers who had just escaped death and were confronted with a new climate, a new language, and a new chance at life. My husband's parents grew up in a generation with few grandparents, uncles, or aunts.

The scars of the Holocaust never really heal: my husband's grandparents listen to the news on the radio every hour, just in case. They never throw anything away. They worry about my husband not wearing a rain jacket in the fall. They don't acknowledge tragedy, and yet they expect it every day.

The other day it struck me that my husband's grandmother is almost the exact age that Anne Frank would have been had she survived-- Anne Frank could be one of those little old ladies in the grocery store, struggling through English or Hebrew in a thick German accent, ushered around by a Filipini helper.

Tonight starts observance of Yom HaShoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Tomorrow morning Israelis will all pause at 10 AM as a siren goes off-- cars will stop in the middle of the road, construction workers will stand at attention on rooftops, even pets will somehow seem to freeze as we remember, one minute out of our good lives.

I'll post a video of the siren as my message tomorrow.

Never again.


Make your own hummus!

Contrary to the image portrayed in Don't Mess with the Zohan, Israelis do not brush their teeth or style their hair with hummus (chick pea spread, pronounced CHOO-moos). However, we do just about everything else with it. Eating a hot dog? Stick it in a pita with hummus. Eating bread? Dip it in hummus. Preparing chicken breast? Season it, sautee it, and serve it over hummus. In fact, just about the only thing that Israelis don't seem to do with hummus all that often is exactly what Americans do with hummus most often: use it as a dip for vegetables. (Am I wrong?)

Despite the fact that we can get about 100 different varieties of hummus in the grocery store, most Israelis know how to make their own. I find that homemade hummus is tastier and healthier (no preservatives) than anything in the grocery store, plus (if you use dry chick peas) much cheaper. It took me a while to post this recipe because I had to actually figure out measurements, but the hummus I made last night turned out really well-- AND I remembered to measure all the ingredients. My husband will vouch for this hummus!

My Humus

1 cup dry chick peas (garbanzo beans)
1 tsp salt
4 Tbs tahini (I use tahini made from the whole sesame seed-- it looks brown so I assume it's healthier :)
Juice from one lemon (about 2 Tbs)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp cumin (optional)

Optional toppings:
Olive oil
Zatar (a middle-Eastern spice blend)
Whole cooked chick peas


1. Soak the chick peas in plenty of cold water for a few hours or overnight. (The chick peas will just about cover the bottom of a medium saucepan. Fill water about half way up the saucepan.)

2. Generously salt the water (I take a few large pinches of kosher salt-- be generous because this is what will salt the hummus itself) and simmer the chick peas for a few hours, until soft. While the chick peas are still warm, spoon them into a food processor along with the rest of the ingredients. Using the food processor blade, blend to a smooth paste, adding enough of the liquid from the chick peas to make a smooth paste. (One of the great things about using warm, freshly-cooked chick peas is that the paste will get a bit more solid as it cools. So add plenty of water so that you get an easily-blended paste, about the consistency of mashed potatoes.)

3. Transfer the hummus to a serving or storage container. Add topings if you wish. The easiest topping is a bit of drizzled olive oil and a sprinkling of paprika. You could also drizzle olive oil and sprinkle a different spice or herb, such as cumin or zatar. Or, you could chop up some parsley and whole chick peas, set on top, and drizzle with olive oil. Chopped olives would be good too. Use your creativity! This recipe makes about a pint of hummus.

In my experience, hummus lasts over a week in a sealed tupperware in the fridge. In fact, er, we've probably eaten it when it's at least two weeks old. I've never tried to freeze it-- does that work?

A note about my recipe: I don't include as much tahini or lemon juice as some do, because I don't like a bitter flavor. I do like a LOT of garlic... so adjust according to your taste. :) I don't always add in cumin, and I sometimes add just a pinch-- I don't like a strong cumin taste. If you want to make reddish hummus, add some spicy paprika to the paste itself! Also, sometimes my chick peas never seem to get totally soft when I cook them, but if I blend them up when they're warm the hummus still turns out smooth and delicious.

And, er, if you want to make the presentation a bit nicer, pick a nicer container and wipe its sides after you put in the hummus. Sorry that the picture above is mildly disgusting.

Enjoy! How would you modify my hummus recipe?


Happy Mimouna!

(Not my mimouna table... picture from http://www.onejerusalem.com/)

Last night, my husband and I went out on a bread-finding mission... it's now no longer Pesach in Israel! (And, honestly, I barely felt the trial of Pesach-eating here. We'd barely finished seder leftovers and it's already no longer Passover! Maybe it's psychological: knowing that at any point during the holiday we could actually go out to eat in kosher-for-Passover restaurants made it much easier to feel unburdened at home. I LOVE having one Seder and only seven days of the holiday!)

At any rate, we ended up at our favorite local pizza shop, which is actually owned by Moroccans (you can order jachnun with your pizza if you'd like!). They had Mizrachi music blaring, and in front of hanging carpets, three generations of women in the owner's family stood selling cookie trays and frying mufleta, which are essentially a cross between a crepe and malawach. Mufleta are made of thin, flexible, buttery dough, and they're traditional on the north African Jewish holiday of Mimouna-- today! You eat mufleta covered in honey and butter, and they're delicious.

I'd never heard of Mimouna before, but you can read an excellent summary of Mimouna traditions here. It's a holiday celebrated the day after Pesach ends, and the name "Mimouna" is either (Depending on your interpretation) is based on the great rabbi Maimonedes or on the word "emuna," meaning "faith," or on the Arabic word for "luck." The essential idea seems to be that right after Passover we celebrate our deliverance from Egypt and G-d is specially open to our prayers-- particularly prayers for matchmaking. The woman making mufleta wished I might find a good man, and when I told her that I already had, she wished he might become better. :) I asked her if non-Moroccans can celebrate Mimouna, and she said that here in Israel, everyone can do what makes them joyful. (Still, I doubt I'll be serving platters of "live fish" the day after Passover from now on-- could the website about Mimouna really mean that one?)

So, happy Mimouna! Tarbechu vetisadu-- may you be prosperous and lucky.


Read Hebrew blogs (or write one... please participate!)

First, I want to direct everyone to the excellent new edition of Haveil Havalim over at another one of my favorite blogs, Shetl Fabulous. Shetl Fab isn't Israeli, but her humorous perspective on Judaism would make her right at home here, I think! Shtetl Fab, thanks SO much for including this blog twice!

If you're up for a Hebrew challenge, I highly recommend my husband's blog, israbloph: israbloph.blogspot.com I have to admit that his posts are sometimes way beyond my Hebrew level. My husband was born in Israel and moved to America as a teenager. I'm extremely jealous of his true bilingualism. :)

This brings me to the real point, though-- Muse gave me a great idea in her response to my long post about my first year in Israel. She suggested that I read Hebrew newspaper articles and write letters to the editor about them. This made me think about reading Hebrew newspapers and writing blog posts (in Hebrew! *gulp*) about them, which gave me the idea of a new blog: olimomrim.blogspot.com Olim Omrim... will be a blog challenging a few of us olim (immigrants to Israel) to write entries entirely in Hebrew.

I'm looking for about five or six olim (vatikim or chadashim) who will commit to writing a post entirely in Hebrew on one specific day of the week. I already have one or two Brazilian friends who would like to participate, meaning that this really will be a coming together of not-just-Anglo olim! Your posts can be short or long, edited or barely readable, in basic Ulpan phrases (I am Maya. I like cats) or "ivrit gavoha." You can write about newspaper articles, your daily lives, your cats, the weather, politics, or whatever. The strict rules: posts must be written entirely in Hebrew (characters, not transliteration) and must go up on the blog on your day of the week almost every week. We'll encourage each other and celebrate the guts it takes to put our work up in a foreign language.

You can see my introductory post (which my husband helped make grammatical... you'll see my true colors soon :) on the blog already. If you would like to participate, please leave a comment in response to this message (and give me a way to get in touch with you)!

Even if you don't want to join in, please read our blog and cheer us on. (You can leave comments in any language.) I'll post about it again when it really gets off the ground. I think I'll appreciate reading the easy Hebrew that my fellow participants post! Who knows, we might develop a following of olim wishing to read easy Hebrew (and Israelis entertained by our attempt). This endeavor scares me, but I make a point of never avoiding anything just because of that. There's no shame in making mistakes-- only in being afraid to make them!


You know it's Passover in Israel when...

Non kosher-for-Passover items covered up in our local grocery store

You know it's Passover in Israel when you go to the grocery store and find 200 varieties of kosher-for-Passover desserts and no remaining eggs. :)

No long post today-- I figure if you average this post length with my post yesterday, you get something reasonable. We're off to camp out for two days in the Golan. See you when I return!


Not so "chadasha" anymore...

Disclaimer: this post is really long. Sorry! I wanted to get all my thoughts about a year after aliyah out, even though in reality I could have written another 1000 words... read if you wish.

As predicted, I didn't have time to post before Pesach-- preparing WAY too much food for our seder kept me busy. But that's our seder table above. Pretty, isn't it? :) This was my first time hosting a seder since a little second seder for a few of my friends in college, and I'm happy to say that I actually pulled off not only sweet gefilte fish from scratch and matzo ball soup, but also compote for desert... in other words, all the components of a good Polish seder. :)

April 8th, the day of the seder, marked the one year anniversary of my aliyah. In a way, the one year anniversary is a little bittersweet. I mentally gave myself a year to be an "olah chadasha"-- i.e., a squeaky clean new immigrant, allowed to take time to get her feet wet. A year seemed like such a long time, and during that first year it was fine for me to still not be able to figure out which cut of meat in the grocery store is brisket (our cuts are numbered, and for the record-- number eight appears to be really tough shoulder meat) and to watch Fox News on cable TV more than Arutz 2. Because I was so new-- in Israel for less than a year-- I could still impress people with my fledgling Hebrew and use "just off the boat" (er, plane) as my excuse.

My legal status was also different during the first year: I received my "sal klita" payments from the absorption ministry, I was supposed to tell someone before traveling outside the country, and I was allowed to drive on my American license... at least in theory. (I realized in January that my American license had expired in August. Oops.)

Now, I'm not such a new immigrant anymore. Am I where I thought I'd be in a year? In some ways, further along. I've read my first full-length book in Hebrew, something I told myself I would do after one year. I feel very comfortable here. My husband has a good job, I get around, we have some friends. We have a good life here that feels natural and happy. I caught myself wondering the other day why Americans go out on Saturday night because Sunday is a work day... forgetting for a second that Fri-Sat is not the American weekend. (In Israel, the work week runs Sun-Thurs.) I truly love life in Israel and have not had a moment of actual regret at moving here.

At the same time, if I'm to be totally honest, I also feel frustrated with myself. I think I've been a bit too easy on myself this year. I actually came here with quite good Hebrew, partially thanks to four semesters of college Hebrew, but mostly thanks to the half hour of study that I did every single morning during the year before our aliyah. When I got here, I didn't really find an ulpan at my level, and after a few months of an informal class with some "olim vatikim" from Argentina, I stopped going altogether. And unfortunately Hebrew doesn't come automatically just from living here, much as I kind of let myself believe it would... and stopped studying every day.

There are days when I kind of feel surprised that I live in Israel... it's too easy to hole myself up at home and create a little America inside our apartment. It's too easy for my husband and I to speak English together at home. It's too easy to watch American TV (which airs on cable without ad breaks!) than Israeli. It's too easy to choose to stay home and interact with Americans online than push myself out into the Israeli streets or into the homes of Israeli friends. (I still don't like inviting myself over, despite the fact that that's a pretty Israeli habit.) So while my Hebrew has definitely improved this year, I am frustrated by the knowledge that it probably could have improved more, that I still struggle for words and quite possibly asked the fishmonger (on Tuesday) to grind up bones along with my carpion (for gefilte fish) instead of bones on the side. In my ulpan class, many Argentinians with worse Hebrew than me had lived here seven, eight years-- a reminder that it takes more than geographic relocation to learn a language and shift a mindset.

So what should I do this next year? I want to keep my online job interacting with American students, so I don't plan to get a job in Israel-- even though that's the best way to fully adapt to Israeli life. Instead, I want to make these "new aliyah year's" resolutions so that I can grow as an Israeli this next year...

1. I will read five more full-length books in Hebrew this year (starting with Water for Elephants in a Hebrew translation, which my husband picked up for me because he knew I wanted to read it). I'll post on this blog when I finish each book!

2. I will go back to studying a half hour of Hebrew every morning... I liked the time limit because it freed me up to do whatever I wanted with that time, like figure out the meaning of Israeli song lyrics, read a newspaper, or do a crossword puzzle. Maybe I'll subscribe to some kind of fun Israeli magazine? I love that kind of reading.

3. I will find a new volunteer opportunity that will put me out in my community, speaking Hebrew. (Any suggestions? I volunteered at a veterinarians's office for a few months after I arrived, which taught me how to say "neutered" in Hebrew but also told me I don't particularly like to be around blood. I'm thinking of volunteering at an old folk's home, but any other ideas are appreciated.) I might also start tutoring part time to get a bit of Israeli work experience.

4. I'll try to watch Israeli news more often. Israelis are news fiends, and the nightly news is usually very sensationalistic and entertaining. (More stories about, say, mothers reunited with the children stolen away from them at birth and adopted into ashkenazi familes than the war.)

5. I'm going to start exercise classes so that I get out of the house and learn how to say "downward-facing dog" in Hebrew. :)

6. I'll make plans with Israeli friends (or at least, friends I speak with only in Hebrew-- two of my best friends are Brazilian!) more often, for more informal Hebrew practice. Maybe I'll even set up something formal like weekly coffees (my treat) to work on my Hebrew? Hmm. I'll actually "jump" over to visit my husband's Israeli aunt more often, as she always invites me to do.

7. My husband and I will celebrate "Hebrew-only Fridays," in which we only speak Hebrew for 24 hours to each other. We did it two weeks ago, and it was incredibly frustrating but also helpful. Today I haven't been so good about it, because we're trying to make plans for pesach (going south fell through) and deciding where to go isn't our strong point. But enough excuses! Hebrew-only Fridays it is!

8. We'll figure out which shul we actually want to join. We've visited a bunch in the area, and have been surprised to feel most at home in a masorti shul mostly full of immigrants... but we aren't completely sure we want to join that community. We'll see.

9. I'll try to remember to be kind to myself, because one year really isn't that long and I don't need to become perfectly Israeli all at once. I'm allowed to watch Friends and Oprah on our TV, but I'll also try to get sucked into a few fun Israeli shows as well. I'll listen to Israeli music that I like for fun, not education. I'm allowed to have days when I'd rather stay home or go out with Anglo friends, and I'm allowed to not want to eat salad for breakfast. I'll continue to approach this journey of aliyah as discovery rather than burden. I will be learning "how to be Israeli" all my life, and it's fine to be American too.

Do any olim "vatikim" have advice for me? I would really appreciate it. Perspective can be hard to come by sometimes.

The first Hebrew that I ever learned (aside from a few rote recitations of blessings I heard at Hanukah) were the four questions, which I taught myself when I was twelve based on the tune in the back of our reform hagadah. I did not understand a letter of Hebrew, and I remember my father sitting and squinting at the letters, glasses off, to figure out their sounds so he could write them for me on paper. When I made my first Jewish friend, in college, we kind of bonded over both knowing "ma nishtana." This year at seder I could not only say the four questions but understand them (I was the youngest again, darn it), and most of the rest of the seder to boot. So I've come pretty far.

Two years ago, I remember saying "next year in Jerusalem" at seder and feeling special meaning resonate (next year in the Krayot!). This year, I really feel that, with our own seder, we're on our way. Even though maybe I'm still in the desert.


The Four Sons (and the Four Questions) Make Great Ads!

Maybe this will wear off, but I still get excited about the commercialization of Jewish holidays in Israel. I spent so many years hearing incessant Christmas ads in America that I love hearings spoofs of the four questions on our radio selling washing machines. And above is a great example of Passover-related advertising.

This is an advertisement for a local gym, or "kantri" as most gyms are called here--that is, "country" as in "country club." (That in itself is funny to me and probably has an interesting history. Did the original olim, fresh out of being denied entry to American and European country clubs, decide to build some "countries" of their own?) The name of the gym is another example of Hebrish: Sportli, as in "my sport." The headline overall says "Sportli: kantri mehahagadot" or "Sportli: country [club] from the hagaddahs/stories."

The hagaddah-looking text below describes the four sons. A translation:

Hacham [the wise son], what does he say? "I checked. I compared. I chose. All the amenities at the best price!"

[the evil son], what does he say? "I'm in the exercise room, my wife is in dancing, and the children are in the pool. So why should I pay more for another place?"

[the simple son], what does he say? "What do I know? [Actually he says "Ani yodeah?" ... is there a better translation for this idiom?] Everyone moving to Sportli is a sign that it's the best."

Veshe eino yodea lishol
[and the one who doesn't know how to ask], what does he say? "Don't ask! I'm running to make my subscription!"

I think it's funny that all the sons, even the evil son, choose Sportli. (And by the way, I know a lot of people who work out there-- it really is the best and cheapest gym in the Krayot.) I suspect that "evil" in this context means more "not a fryer." :)

Another irony to Israeli holiday advertising is that some companies-- Coca Cola in particular-- recycle their Christmas ads in the States to play around Passover here. (You know, those lavish ads with polar bears drinking coke in magical kingdoms.) Stores are full of holiday shoppers buying gifts to bring to seder. And I had better go buy fish now or else we don't have Gefilte fish tomorrow...

Btw, this Facebook Hagaddah parody is hillarious.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of my arrival in Israel!! I will try to post then, although it's likely to be pretty crazy here tomorrow. But in the meantime, chag sameach (happy holiday)!

What hagaddah ad parody would YOU like to see? What are your favorite pesach-related ads on Israeli television?


What's a chamsin?

Not a chamsin-- this is the view from Gan haS'laim, a few weeks ago

I come from Western Pennsylvania, so I'm used to bizarre weather. (I never quite understood the lyric "rain on a sunny day," because in Pittsburgh it was so normal for it to be sunny and raining at once.) We had hail, sleet, snow, sun, rainbows, the occasional tornado, what have you.

But Israel gets one weather pattern we didn't-- the chamsin. The encylcopedia at thefreedictionary.com has this definition:

A Khamaseen is a cyclonic type wind that is common in Egypt and Sudan towards the end of March and April of each year. Hot weather ensues, as well as sandstorms. According to the Turkish Calendar of Storms it is a storm of three days, to be expected around February 1. It is an oppressive, hot, dusty, south or south-east wind occurring in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Levant, intermittently in late winter through late spring. The name is derived from the Arabic for 'fifty', khamsun.
We're experiencing a small chamsin today, which means that it is suddenly in the upper 20s (that's the 80s for you Fahrenheit people) and a warm, dusty breeze is flowing in through my window. (I just noticed that the tree in my yard has leaves now, by the way-- when did that happen? I haven't figured out how or when trees in this climate lose or grow leaves.) Chamsins tend to last a few days, although it is supposed to cool down and possibly rain before Pesach. I just checked our weather report, and sure enough, the wind today is coming from the south, while the wind tomorrow is northwesterly.

It's kind of incredible to me that the breeze through my window could be blowing in from, say, Sudan (directly south of here). We share weather with countries I can't visit with my Israeli passport-- the puffy clouds over the Gan haS'laim might have drifted over from Syria to Israel, the drops of rain might have evaporated in Iraq. I have a friend in grad school 120 kilometers north in Beirut, and while I can't visit him, we probably are both feeling the same warm breeze from the south this morning.

Crazy world.


It's not soup without shkedei marak!

At least, that's what my husband believes. It doesn't matter what kind of soup I make-- pumpkin curry, for example-- he fills his soup with shkedei marak, which literally translates as "soup almonds." These cruchy, salty crutons are essentially osem soup powder in tiny cracker form.

I'm more and more convinced that the picture on our bag of shkedei marak above is not of a bowl of shkedei marak alone but rather of soup WITH shkedei marak, because the fact is that to many Israelis (especially those under 12, but who's counting?) the correct proportion of shkedei marak to soup is about 2:1-- two parts shkedei marak, one part soup. If it's possible to see the broth, you need more shkedei marak!

In fact, just yesterday my husband's aunt was talking about how (in the 60s) she used to eat shkedei marak by the handful-- her father ran a little grocery story (a macolet) and for some reason that meant shkedei marak were more plentiful than bisli. In fact, even though more Americans know of bisli's existence than of shkedei marak, I think shkedei marak are the true Israeli snack.

Why am I posting such a chametz-ish post right before passover? Because we recently discovered that Israeli grocery stores stock kosher for passover shkedei marak! Ok, so the kosher-for-pesach version tastes like potato chips and splinters (rather than crunches) in your mouth. I don't care. I love this country! And now I know my husband will eat my matzo ball soup... :)


Check out the new Heveil Heveilim! I love how easy it is to read this time!


Make Pesach Travel Plans (a crusader castle, anyone?)

Most Israelis get at least part of Passover off, which means that the price of bed-and-breakfasts (and flights to Turkey) double this time of year. My husband and I are planning to go down to the south to see friends who live in the "prairie" (arava) between the Dead Sea and Eilat-- we're very excited!! However, if you're still trying to think of a place to go, we highly recommend visiting Montfort, a crusader castle in the western Galil (about an hour's drive from Haifa). American tourists tend not to see the non-Jewish history of Israel, but this is a country that has archeological remains going back more than 20,000 years and all the way up to the present. Some of the Arab and Crusader castles are incredibly cool to visit... these are pictures from our hike to Montfort back in September.
Yes, I did say hike to Montfort. I believe there's a back way in by car, but the best way to get there is to hike the from the opposite hillside (where there's a nice little park for barbequing, as well as bathrooms). That IS the trail we hiked up.

Montfort is not treated like a "tourist attraction" per se-- there's some grafitti on the 600 year old walls, and there are no admittance prices or guards to tell you not to go too close to the edge.

My husband took full advantage of the "go as close as you want to the edge" thing... to my chagrin! These pictures don't do justice to the INCREDIBLE view because the sky was so sunny it washed everything out. Imagine a deep blue, cloudless sky above all of this.

So ok, I'm not too big a fan of the crusaders coming in and taking over our country, but they left behind incredible architecture like this in the middle of the wildnerness. Can you imagine being a European knight living here?

Btw, Monfort has a wikipedia page... go here for more info!

Do you have any fun pesach plans?
Related Posts with Thumbnails