Pride and Prejudice... in Israel??

My favorite book of all time would have to be Pride and Prejudice. In fact, I own Pride and Prejudice in a new Israeli translation that is supposed to be very good-- my theory being that since I can open up Pride and Prejudice to any page and understand what is going on, I can probably read it in Hebrew. I'll admit that it's a bit weird for me when Mrs. Bennet says "Oy, nachon!" Still, I actually love reading this book in Hebrew because lines jump out at me (when I'm reading at a rate of about 20 minutes a page) that I don't notice in the English version... in some ways it's like reading the book again for the first time.

At any rate, the translator of Pride and Prejudice, Irit Linor, recently wrote the script for a new mini-series on Israeli TV: Ma SheNachutz LeRavak, based on Pride and Prejudice! So obviously, I'm there. The first episode aired this week, and it was actually pretty good-- Fitzwilliam Darcy is now Nimrod Artzi, a multi-millionaire from Tel Aviv traveling up to an upscale tsimmer (a kind of bed-and-breakfast) in northern Israel for a weekend with his friend, Ben-Gal, and their respective sisters. (I think someone had fun coming up with those names.) Jane and Elizabeth are Anat and Elona, two divorced sisters who appear to be more thirty-something than twenty-something.

So far I most enjoy the characterizations of Bingley, Darcy, Bingley's sister, and Lydia-- who is recast as Elizabeth's daughter, born when Elizabeth was very young and entered into a disastrous marriage. Altogether, it's a little disconcerting but very clever. Elizabeth and Jane are recast as divorcees-- Elona (Elizabeth) years out from a terrible young marriage, Anat (Jane) newly divorced and devastated. Their mother, played by a famous Israeli actress whose name I forget but who looks eerily like my ulpan teacher, is cast and acted perfectly. It's a lot of fun to see how an Israeli Jane Austen fan re-imagines the novel to fit modern Israeli society!

Here's the trailer, if you're interested:

And yes, the word "sex" is repeated about seven times in this trailer. If you want to read a straight translation of the novel, read the book. Irit takes more liberties in the mini-series. :)

This made me think, though. If you would recast Pride and Prejudice in Israeli society... or any society, really... where would you set it? I've always thought that the orthodox community is most like the world portrayed in Jane Austen, especially given the shidduch system of match-making and the pressure to settle down and get married. My husband observed yesterday that maybe the reason I like the new show Srugim so much, which is about a group of young modern Orthodox singles in Jerusalem, is that it reminds me of Jane Austen. Maybe!


Happy Shavuot!

On Shavuot, both super-secular and super-religious Israelis stay up all night to celebrate the giving of the torah on Mount Sinai-- see this great post from Isreality: The White Holiday. Well, actually I'm not sure the Tel Avivians running around in white clothing all night are really thinking about the Torah... but then I doubt that all Americans on Easter Egg hunts are thinking about death on the cross. I honestly didn't realize Shavuot existed until college, but here-- like every other Jewish holiday-- Shavuot is celebrated on TV, in the crowded lines of people buying cheeses in the grocery store, in the homes of everyone I know.

We're staying home and eating a dairy meal: Spanikopita and Salmon, as well as cheese cake for desert. This may not sound particularly Israeli (and probably isn't), but I did decide to do something Israeli for my cheesecake: I followed an Israeli recipe.

Let me explain: you can get most of the same ingredients that we use for American cheesecake here, just as you can get coffee grounds. But this takes effort. American-style cream cheese, for example, is harder to find-- and it is named after places in the US, like "Philadelphia" and "Alaska." (On Shavuot, of course, the dairy and cream cheese section of our supermarket doubles in size, and I could have found "Philadelphia.") The more common Israeli cream cheese, on the other hand, which I used in my Israeli recipe this year, is a little more watery. Some Israeli cheesecake recipes even use labaneh (which is something between a cheese and a yogurt) in place of cream cheese altogether. I have not seen American graham crackers anywhere in Israel; instead, we have "petit-beurre" (or "peti-bar") cookies.

I decided to opt out of the more adventurous recipes in my Israeli pastry cookbook-- cheesecake with dates in the filling, for example. Maybe next year.

Like anything else, making cheesecake after aliyah takes an adjustment-- but the result (sitting in my fridge right now) looks delicious. Happy Shavuot!


The things you learn in Israeli tabloids...

(Click to see enlarged version.)

My husband has started bringing "Yisrael HaYom" and "24," free daily tabloids, home for me from the train station each day. They're great because they have big colorful pictures, easy-to-read text, and short articles. However, I suspect that much of the foreign "news" they publish is the result of faulty plagiarism from American tabloids... i.e., the reporters from these tabs read America media in English, decide they've gotten the gist, translate the parts they understand, and make up the rest. A few things that I have learned from these Israeli tabloids:
  • Madonna is engaged to her boyfriend (whose name is actually Jesus and is something like 20 years old... those parts are true. The engagement? Specially leaked to Israeli tabloids, I suppose. Maybe it's a kaballah thing.)
  • Hilary Clinton is divorcing Bill. (This was a big headline months and months ago. And while I find this rumor totally believable and overdue, Hilary and Bill have managed to hush it up pretty well, apparently)
  • Bar Refaili is dating that guy from Israeli Survivor. (Well, no, the tabloid probably isn't actually claiming this. The truth of this is that Bar Rafeili filmed one romantic advertisement with this hunky guy from our version of Survivor, about a year ago, and photos from this shoot are still running in Israeli press. And now apparently they've signed on again to do a winter ad campaign, so Israeli press's favorite make-believe relationship is back up and running! I wonder what Leonardo DiCaprio thinks?)
This is starting to sound like a game of telephone... you know, where one person whispers something in the ear of the next person, who whispers what they hear in the ear of the next person, and so on. Now, MY translation of inaccurate Israeli tabloid translations of American tabloids... this is how great rumors are born!

The motto of Israeli tabloids: if they can't read what we write, they can't sue.


3.5 Rooms for your 2.2 Children

The average number of children per Jewish household in Israel is apparently 2.2 , so where are you going to put that extra 1/5 of a child? In your half room, of course!

No, not really. But today I want to post quickly about something that mystified me before I came to Israel-- how Israelis calculate room numbers in apartments.

In the US, our current apartment would be considered a two-bedroom apartment, because... well... it contains two bedrooms. Simple enough. Here, though, it's considered 3.5 rooms. The living room (but not the huge kitchen) counts as our third room, and the little nook in the picture above-- officially a "dining nook" or pinat ochel, but for me it's an office-- as a "half" room. Our closed balcony, which we actually use as a dining room, and the separate toilet room and bathroom, and the "michpeset shirut" where we have our washer and dryer-- none of those count as rooms either. Nope, this apt. boils down neatly to 3.5 rooms, and that's that. (Btw, this means that a "one room" apartment in Israel is an efficiency, containing ONLY one room. Plus maybe a bathroom or balcony or kitchen.)

In about a year we'll start looking for an apartment or house to buy, and already I've been lusting over real estate and figuring out some more oddities of Israeli terminology. For example, a "cottage" (that's actually how you say it in Hebrew-- 'קוטג) means a house attatched to another house... which in the US I'd tend to call a duplex. A "duplex," on the other hand, which is also a term used in Hebrew (דופלקס), means a house or apartment with two stories. Then there's the difference between a "villa" and a "bayit prati," which I still don't understand. Except that maybe a villa is bigger.

Oh, and an Israeli "first floor" apartment is actually on what would be the second story in the US. (The ground level in our building contains parking and storage lockers.)

Check out Israeli real estate listings here, if you're interested!

The moral of this post? Don't assume that you know what terms mean-- just because words sound like English doesn't meant that they carry the same meaning.

P.S. Yesterday, for the first time, over 100 visitors came to this blog in one day! (We've been right up at about 90 visitors for a while.) That's so exciting! Thanks, everyone! Oh, and er, don't ask me how many of those visits were me checking back. I'd prefer not to know. ;)


The Miracle of NesCafe... (coffee cup aliyah)

In the US, I wasn't exactly a coffee snob, but I liked my fresh ground coffee dripping into my cup every morning. And maybe a few times each morning. And maybe with peppermint-flavored coffee creamer thrown in for good luck.

When I first arrived in Israel, in fact, ground coffee was one of the things I desperately missed-- I didn't feel the right buzz from instant coffee, which is all that was available in my husband's aunt and uncle's house. My husband earned huge points when he found me a French press in a department store, and I started preparing Turkish coffee in a French press every morning. It wasn't quite fresh drip, but it was pretty good. Already, though, my slippery slope into Israeli coffee drinking had begun-- for some reason, Turkish coffee tastes better without milk (but with plenty of sugar). For the first time in my life, I started to drink my coffee black.

Then I broke the glass part of the French press, so I started making Turkish coffee the Israeli way-- heating up the grounds in a little finjan (a saucepan, basically) on the stove. Ok, it wasn't totally authentic, because I wouldn't cool down my coffee and reheat it several times until it had truly become black sludge. But I used enough grounds that my coffee could still corrode metal.

Then I decided that maybe it WASN'T such a good thing that my hands were shaking for hours after my morning cup-- or two-- of Turkish coffee. I also decided that Turkish coffee is a huge pain to clean up, because rather than be filtered out, the grounds collect in the bottom of the finjan, the cup, and (of course) my sink when I tried to clean everything out.

So finally... somehow... I have become an instant coffee drinker, like most Israelis. In fact, you can go to coffee shops and order Nescafe (or in more generic terms, cafe namess). Somehow, this country of caffeine addicts subsists on expensive espresso and instant coffee with very little in between. So here I am, on the watery and light side (until I add in that extra spoonful of instant coffee granules, and plenty of milk and sugar)... maybe I really have become Israeli!

Oh, a word to the wise: if you want to order a latte equivalent in an Israeli coffee shop, it's called a "cafe hafooch"-- an upside-down coffee. I was mystified about this at first and used to just order whatever the person ahead of me in line had ordered. **Update-- Miriam offers a convincing explanation in the comments of why "cafe hafooch" is called what it is! **

What War Zone???, a hilarious blog about life as an oleh, is hosting Havel Havelim this week. (Actually, technically Benji is hosting. As far as I know, his blog doesn't spontaneously generate its own content. Although that would be cool.) Check it out!


A guide to monosyllabic Hebrew

It occurs to me that Hebrew ulpan and university Hebrew classes lack a major component of speaking Hebrew like an Israeli: grunts, "ehhhhs," and other monosyllabic Hebrew.

So here's a guide for the perplexed. In the comments, please add any monosyllables I missed!

"Nu" is basically a verbal nudge-- best translation into English might be "come on!" or "well?" As my husband says, it means "well?" in both the "how are you?" and the "what's your excuse for living" contexts. Gains extra power when combined with "cvar," which means "already." Expresses impatience.
  • Example: Nu cvar, are you going to call Dudu about the falofel?

"Um" in Hebrew is "Eh." They might not tell you that in Hebrew/English dictionaries, but I've found that a key to sounding like a foreigner is to fill your pauses with their version of "um"... In France, for example, say "euh" and you'll stop getting snooty looks.
  • Example: Dudu said... ehhhh... the falofel will be ready after he makes delivery to... ehhhh.... Caesarea.

(Alternative: "yoo")
This monosyllable is not actually the same as "yo" in the US. This isn't a greeting or an attention-getter. Rather, "yo" in Hebrew is what frechot (valley girls, basically) use to express shock or surprise. Kind of like the Israeli "Oh my gosh!" or "No way!" I learned this phrase from watching the Israeli version of "Beauty and the Geek"-- the beauties used "yo" as every other word.
  • Example: Yo, 20 shekels for falofel? Is Dudu crazy?

Ooo-wah (alternative: "eh-oh")
Ok, so this is really bi-syllabic. But you say "ooo-wah" when somebody does something surprising or extreme, like state a ridiculous price in the shuk or threaten a person carrying an Uzi. In contrast to "yo," which just expresses surprise, "ooo-wah" conveys gentle censure of the person engaging in the extreme action.
  • Example: Ooo-wah! You're calling Dudu crazy? You know he carries an Uzi, no?

Hmm, this one is hard for me to define. "Ooof" is the sound you make when something lands heavily on your stomach, so it's also the sound you make when something lands heavily in your lap in a metaphorical sense.
  • Example: Ooof, all these people complaining about the falofel.

While this one is mostly used by the elder generation, "oy" is alive and well as a complaint on Israeli streets. Gains extra power when combined with "gevalt," "vey," or "kashe kashe kashe" (hard hard hard).
  • Example: Oy, when will these young folks stop complaining? When I was in the Russian army...
Closely related to "oy," this is the Israeli "ouch." When something really hurts (either in a literal or figurative sense), can be extended to "aiyaiyai."
  • Example: Aie, Dudu! You just ran over my foot with your delivery scooter!

Oh-pah (Alternative: ooh-pah) **Update: BJ observes in the comments that "oh-pah" is probably borrowed from the Greeks... which fits perfectly with how it's used.**
This is the Israeli "oops"... or "be careful," usually spoken after the fact. You might say "oh-pah" to the woman who trips in front of you, spilling all her groceries on the ground. (Then, being Israeli, you would help her pick everything up while explaining in detail how she was carrying the groceries all wrong.)
  • Example: Oh-pah! Next time, don't walk out in front of Dudu's scooter!
This is really a word, so it's actually in the dictionary and will show up in Hebrew courses (and seder texts as "dayeinu"). However, this word-- which means "enough"-- definitely deserves a spot on this list, if nothing else for the way it garners Israeli parents dirty looks when they shout it at their children in American supermarkets.
  • Example: Nu, die cvar! Stop asking me about Dudu and his falofel!
Which monosyllables did I miss? I know I'm forgetting something!


Pickle Update

Ok, so I've been delaying actually posting about my pickles... in fact, I've been delaying actually tasting them. I was scared. Every time I would think about it, the word "botulism" would spring to mind and I would invent reasons not to.

But just now I tasted one of my pickles (now sitting securely in the fridge), and you know what? It was good! I think I might have put just a bit too much celery root/top in, which changed the taste somewhat. Next time I'll go a little heavier on the dill, a little lighter on the celery. The salt level is fine, so I'll keep it heavy next time.

The bottom line: I actually made pickles! Crisp, just slightly sour, juicy... pickles!!


Have Polish Grandparents

First, sorry so few posts this week so far. We were in Tel Aviv staying in "Hotel Shnitzel," otherwise known as my husband's grandparents' apartment. And it occurs to me that having Polish grandparents (or Iraqi grandparents, or Yeminite grandparents, or whatever) is a very Israeli characteristic. Before I met my husband's grandparents for the first time, he told me that they are "very Polish," and I wasn't sure what he meant. Israelis, on the other hand, know the stereotype of an "ima Polanit" very well, so they would have been prepared for the following representative conversation, which is all based on actual conversations with my husband's almost-90-year-old grandparents (follow the link to see their pictures) that we had over the past two days:

Polish grandfather: Do you wear sunscreen? Sun in Israel is very, very dangerous. On the television, from morning until night, all they talk about is how dangerous the sun in Israel is.

Me: Yes, we brought sunscreen with us. [Never mind that I'm actually sitting inside a house with all the windows closed!] Look, SPF 34.

Polish grandfather: It's not Dr. Fisher brand. I heard Dr. Fisher brand is the best. I don't know about this brand. We should check it.

Polish grandmother: Do you want this bottle of SPF 70 that I bought the other day? Here, take it, and I bought you bath foam also.

Polish grandfather: SPF 70 is unsafe! It is too heavy! It might give you cancer!

Polish grandmother: Nu, this is what the pharmacist told me was the absolute best.

Polish grandfather: Do you wear a hat? It is very, very important. The sun in Israel is very, very dangerous. All they talk about on the television from morning until night is how dangerous the sun is.

Me: I'm fine, thank you-- we have two bottles of sunscreen at home already. [Attempting to change the subject.] Lunch smells great! What are we eating?

Polish grandmother: What do you want to eat?

Me: Oh, I love everything you cook! Anything is fine with me!

Polish grandmother: Do you like salad?

Me: Sure, I love salad!

Polish grandmother to Polish grandfather: She wants salad! Go to the grocery store, I don't have vegetables. Nu, go now! Quickly!

Me: But of course, I'm fine without salad too...

Polish grandmother to Polish grandfather in Polish: Hurry! We must have food ready before the grandson arrives home from work so that he doesn't lose his job for spending too much time at lunch! All I prepared was shnitzel with garlic, shnitzel without garlic (so Grandson doesn't lose job over bad breath), meatballs, gulash, shell pasta with buckwheat groats, chicken soup, fried mushrooms, boiled potatos, salat chaztilim picanti, rolls, and hummus, all in varying shades of beige, but she wants salad!

Me: No, really, I'm fine.

Polish grandmother: Why didn't you tell us sooner that you want salad? We would have had salad ready for you!

Me: I don't think I feel like salad today.

Polish grandmother: Of course, I have vegetables in the refrigerator that I bought two days ago, but I'm afraid they aren't fresh. Grandson might get sick if he eats them. Nu, Grandfather, go to the store!

Grandfather leaves for the store. As he leaves:

Polish Grandfather: It is very important to put on a hat when you go outside, because the sun in Israel is very, very dangerous. When I was in the Russian army during the war...

Polish Grandmother: Nu, hurry! Grandson is on his way from work! They want salad! Why didn't you tell us you wanted salad?

Me: I'm sorry...

Polish Grandmother sits down in 20-year-old recliner with pencil, scissors, stapler, and a towering stack of papers.

Me: What are you working on?

Polish Grandmother: Oh, you said this morning that you wanted to learn how to make blintzes.

Me: Yes! You said you would give me your mother's recipe.

Polish Grandmother: Yes, I just had Grandfather xerox a book of blintz recipes for you.

Me: A book? I thought you said you were going to give me one recipe!

Polish Grandmother: Of course, the cookbook didn't fit on the glass in the copier, so I have to write in the edges of the recipes.

Me: Er, I'm sure I can figure it out!

Polish Grandmother: Now let me just cut the pages out and staple them together in order. Where is page 265? Never mind, I'll just rip it out of my book and include it that way.

Me: No, really! Please don't bother!

Polish Grandmother: You can call me if you can't read anything. That is, if you aren't too busy.

Polish Grandfather returns from supermarket with iceberg lettuce, radishes, and tomatoes.

Polish Grandfather: When I was in the Russian army, we were off in the woods and there was a very pretty young woman who was recently widowed, and...

Polish Grandmother: Nu! Get the salad ready! I'm too busy writing out these blintz recipes! And I have to sit by the phone in case Grandson needs to call!

Polish Grandfather to me: Do you want me to peel the tomatoes?

Me: What? Why would you peel the tomatoes?

Polish Grandfather: It is very, very dangerous in Israel to eat the peels of vegetables. All they talk about on television from morning until evening is how there are pesticides on vegetables.

Me: It's ok, really! Can I please help with something?

Polish Grandmother: No! Everything is ready and there is no room in the kitchen. Here, sit down. Why aren't you eating anything?

Polish Grandfather (as Polish Grandmother rolls up his sleeves for him one at a time): You know, I know how to cook too. I can make salad, soup, matzo brie...

Me: Oh, I love Matzo Brie!

Polish Grandmother: She wants Matzo Brie! Quick, go to the supermarket and buy Matzo! Why didn't you tell us sooner you wanted Matzo Brie?

Polish Grandfather: When I was in the Russian Army...
... and so on. I should caveat this by saying that I truly love my husband's grandparents. They are sweet, caring, and intelligent people, and they have lived remarkable lives. Nothing feels better than to arrive at the door of their tiny apartment and see their faces break into smiles that we actually showed up (I suspect they always worry that we will change our mind en route). But when I visit them, I find myself in a constant state of fear that I will say something that will result in them bending over backwards to, for example, buy us a lifetime supply of antiseptic ointment.

As my husband told me before I met them for the first time, they are very, very Polish.

Follow the link for a wonderful edition of Haveil Haveilim, from one of my favorite bloggers: http://me-ander.blogspot.com/2009/05/presenting-hh-217.html (Sorry I'm a bit late in posting this link, Muse!)


It's almost summer... close your "trisim"!

In the US, "blinds" were basically curtains, just not as pretty. They sat on the inside of windows a shielded us from views of neighbors. (And by "us," I don't mean my family in particular. We grew up on a farm and didn't even have curtains in our windows, which got tricky when clients of my parents showed up before my sister and I had woken up or showered in the morning...)

Israel's obsession with security, though, seems to extend to our windows here. The picture above are of "trisim," which cover the outside of the windows on all older apartments like ours. They crack open and closed, but luckily can be pulled aside by our panes of tinted, frosted glass on the windows. (Israelis also believe that everyone else is very nosy and has no business looking through their windows.) These old trisim are pretty annoying to clean and open with metal tabs that-- for me-- always get stuck when I slide open and shut our glass windows. Newer trisim are metal shades that raise up and down like mineature garage doors, sometimes with an electric switch. Trisim are really more like shutters than blinds, as they guard against inclement weather in addition to prying eyes.

It's finally getting hot here, and for many Israelis this means opening windows at night (to let in cool air) and then shutting up EVERYTHING during the day. I have a problem with this-- I LOVE fresh air, natural light, a breeze, even if this breeze is the dust-laden wind of a chamsin. I also don't like air conditioning (although done right, opening windows at night and shutting up during the day actually keeps apartments cool-- our entire buildings are built to chill, with cool tile floors underfoot). So I tend to sit sweating in the sunlight in the summer, a fan mimicking natural breeze.

Who cares. I love the heat, and I'm glad that summer is almost here! And my trisim will be open. For now.


You always know when a football game is on...

Actually, at first we often didn't. We would hear screams coming from our neighbors' apartments and we would think that masked gunmen had broken into several apartments at once... in neighboring buildings.

Then we would think again, turn on the television, and sure enough, there would be Maccabi Haifa battling HaPoal Tel Aviv... or Manchester United battling Chelsea, or Beitar Yerushalayim battling Maccabi Netanya. The screams are always loudest here in the Krayot when Maccabi Haifa is involved, but it doesn't really seem to matter who is playing-- most males in Israel over the age of 10 will be found clustered around TV screens whatever game is on, in falofel joints and coffee chops, shouting whenever a player has a near miss or a miraculous hit on the goal.

By football, of course, I mean soccer-- cadur-regel, the world's sport that the US has somehow missed out on. We've actually watched games in the Mexican internal league, broadcast on TV with Hebrew commentary (barely masking the muffled Spanish voices beneath). We've watched an Israeli coach bring England's Chelsea team to the Champion's League Championship (kind of like the super bowl)-- and lose, and get sacked the next day, but it's still pretty incredible to watch an Israeli coach marshalling players from England, Spain, Senegal, Russia, what have you. While American football teams might draw players from as far away as Alabama AND Ohio, European football teams are mineature UN coalitions. This is the world's game.

I come from a football city in the US-- when our team won the Super Bowl a few years back, I tried to call someone on the phone and the lines were jammed. (The only other time that ever happened to me was after 9/11.) But still, while you might wear team jerseys in the street in my hometown, we never actually heard our neighbors shouting at their TVs... like so much else in this small country, communal experiences are more strongly shared here. In fact, so strongly that fans have actually been banned from their own team's games, collectively, for little transgressions like storming the field and stripping clothes off all of their own players and hoisting them through the air before the game is actually even over. (Seriously. No exaggeration whatsoever. This happened last spring, and they had to call the game.)

Last night, Maccabi Netanya played Maccabi Haifa in the Israeli premier league semi-finals, and it was a grueling game-- it went into double overtime and then penalty shots, in which players and goalies go one-on-one... and then into extra sudden-death penalty shots when the score was still tied. When Maccabi Haifa finally won, we muted our television-- it was about 11 PM on a school night-- and listened to the screaming coming from neighboring apartments.

Another current shared experience (maybe followed by a different demographic)-- Eurovision!! Israel's duet has made it into the finals!


How to make Israeli Pickles

Mmm... Israeli pickles, melafafonim chamutzim (sour cucumbers) as they're known here. If you live in the US and haven't tasted them yet, you can buy a pale imitation at a kosher grocery stores-- but the canned variety doesn't compare to the jars of freshly made Israeli pickles that sit pickling in the sunlight on many Israeli counters counters every summer. (You can also buy other people's homemade pickles at all the little veggie stores here-- including some that are pickled in old soft drink bottles!)

As opposed to, say, kosher dill pickles in the US, Israeli pickles are pickled in saltwater only (no vinegar or pickling spices) and are exclusively made with small gherkins rather than big monster cucumbers. This also means that Israeli pickles are easy to make at home!

This is my first attempt at making Israeli pickles, following my husband's uncle's recipe. And, er, my pickles won't be ready for two days... so I have no idea how they'll turn out. However, I can tell you that Uncle Andrey's pickles are the best I've ever had-- I'll update later to tell you how mine compare!


All ingredients (except for the salt and water) are shown in the picture above!

Enough water to fill jar
Salt (1 TB per liter of water)
About 3.5 TB should be plenty, although I think put in more than that because I was nervous about not including enough.
2 kilos (just over 4 lbs) gherkin-sized, very fresh cucumbers. (In Israel, a special kind of cucumber called a "melafafon adama"-- soil cucumber-- is used for pickles. Wash the cucumbers well, as they truly are covered in soil!)
1 celery root with top (You could possibly use sliced up radishes and celery instead... although that's just a guess based on the taste of the root.)
1 head garlic
Fresh dill
1 hot pepper, halved (optional)


Salt water and bring it to boil on the stove.
While water is coming to a boil, peel the celery root and slice it thin. Coarsely chop the celery stalks and leaves. Peel garlic and slice each clove thin.
3. Place the hot pepper halves and one third of the garlic, dill, and celery (root, stalks and leaves) in the bottom of a large, sterile, resealable glass jar. Layer on half of the cucumbers. Add the second 1/3 of the celery, garlic and dill. Place the second half of the cucumbers on top of this, and finally add the rest of the celery, garlic and dill, filling the jar to the top.
4. With a metal knife stuck into the cucumber mixture to absorb heat and prevent the glass from breaking, carefully pour the boiling salty water into the jar until it is full.
5. Place lid on bottle, allow to cool slightly, and move to as sunny a spot as possible. Let it sit there (without opening the bottle) for three days, then let sit on the counter for a few more. Finally, chill and enjoy the pickles!

Waiting is the hardest part...

If you make Israeli pickles, how does this compare to your recipe?


It's almost Lag B'Omer... please secure your shopping carts and wood!

Picture from: http://ha-tikvah.blogspot.com/2007/05/lag-bomer.html

I attended a few Lag B'Omer bonfires in the states, and they were highly programmed affairs. A local Jewish day school purchased some wood and hay bales, brought in the local fire department to carefully light the materials, cordoned off a safe zone around the fire so that nobody would get too close, and organized singing and dancing activities to keep everyone busy.

Like so much in Israel, though, Lag B'Omer here is much more organic and authentic... and much less organized. For weeks, gangs of neighborhood kids (including the little guys in our building) have been using "borrowed" shopping carts to gather up pieces of driftwood, old furniture, crates, and basically anything else flammable that isn't tied down. In fact, it's a great idea to throw out things like old shelves before Lag B'Omer, because neighborhood kids will gladly strip them down and burn them. (We have a broken door-- with a broken glass panel in the middle-- that we want to throw out, but I'm afraid to because I don't want kids carting off the broken glass!) Kids gather these into piles of wood that they defend so that THEIR bonfire will be the biggest in the area. My husband remembers, er, a creative method he used to secure a huge log for his bonfire when he was a little kid... he can tell that story in the comments if he wishes. :)

Where the bonfires occur is at least somewhat organized-- in Kiryat Bialik, they happen underneath tall trees (yes, underneath... the trees actually get charred... it's pretty crazy) just outside the high school, alone the edge of the nearby fields. Different kindergartens and schools will congregate around different fires-- the younger kids first, then later the teenagers, who we found shopping for last-minute pitas and hot dogs as we went home AFTER the bonfire we attended with friends last year... their parties were just about to start. And yes, if you live in one of the apartments right next to where the fires burn... well... I hope you remember to shut all your windows before-hand.

If you fly over Israel tonight, you apparently see the fires dotting the ground everywhere. If you're on the ground, I hope you get to eat a hot baked potato cooked in one of the fires. Happy Lag B'Omer!


New Haveil Havalim!

Here it is-- thanks for putting together a great one, Jack, and happy birthday!

To my mothers...

So today isn't actually Mother's Day in Israel. "Mother's Day" in Israel has actually been renamed as "Family Day," and this year fell at the end of February. And it doesn't seem to be a big deal at all, based on the fact that I only know everything I just said in this paragraph from a Google Search and careful consultation of our Bank Leumi calender.

However, Mother's Day in the US is a big deal, and that is where both my mother and mother-in-law live. So I wanted to take this post to celebrate the wonderful women they are and to thank them for the ways they have helped me become Israeli. (They've helped me in more ways than that, but this is the focus of my blog, after all!)

Visiting Har Megiddo (Armegeddon) with my mother in December

To my wonderful mother-- thank you so much for...

  • Approaching my aliyah with unflagging enthusiasm and support.
  • Practicing reading Hebrew so that you can someday read children's books to hypothetical future Israeli grandchildren. :)
  • Teaching me how to live with curiosity, self-sufficiency, and a desire to self-educate.
  • Modeling positive thinking, frugality, and creative cooking!
  • Proving that it is possible to grow and change and learn even later in life.
  • Bringing me bulk supplies of Breathe-Right nasal strips when you came to visit in December. :) (Don't panic, potential olim-- they're available in Israel, too. But they're more expensive. If I could offer one suggestion to new immigrants, it would be that they don't bring a lift of furniture but DO bring several year's supplies of cosmetics and toiletries!)
  • Getting up early every morning so that we can say "hi" over AIM.
  • Serving as my employer and mentor so that I came to Israel with a job.
  • Letting me know whenever kids of friends of people you know move to Jerusalem temporarily and sending me their e-mail addresses. ;)
  • Inspiring me by example to study Hebrew before I came, thus making this whole transition SO much easier.
  • Being very resourceful guests when you visited in December, proving that it IS possible to tour all of Haifa on foot-- including Elijah's cave-- in one day!
  • Bubble-wrapping bottles of your homemade maple syrup to send with every visitor from the US so far, including second cousins I had never met before. I still like my French Toast with maple syrup. :)
  • Helping us out whenever we need someone to get something done for us in the states, whether it's transferring a check to our account to buy a car or Global Priority Mailing me my 1099 tax forms!
  • Encouraging me in every new thing I try, including this blog. :)
  • Becoming more and more of a close friend every year, even though I now live further away.
My mother-in-law and I in Seattle a few years ago... not the
greatest picture of either of us, but a good time!

To my wonderful mother-in-law-- thank you so much for...
  • Serving as my original role model of Israeli womanhood.
  • Introducing me to Israeli cooking, including the most amazing pashdidot I have ever had and the classic peti-bar ice cream cakes.
  • Being unfailingly loving and nonjudgmental, the complete opposite of the bad mother-in-law stereotype. In fact, I'm pretty sure you've made it clear to my husband that you would take my side in a fight. ;)
  • Helping me understand the Israeli attitude towards life and religion (such as why you don't really care about going to synagogue but DO prepare a huge feast on Rosh Hashana)
  • Buying me Israeli clothes whenever you went on trips to Israel so that I could pretend to look Israeli before I arrived here.
  • Modeling for me life in a foreign country-- you came to America 17 years ago and forged a thriving social life among Israelis and Americans, never cowed by a language barrier or cultural adjustment. I didn't realize how American you had become until I came here!
  • Proving to me-- through the way you devour novels in English-- that I CAN read novels in Hebrew.
  • Also bringing with you boxes and boxes of Breathe-Right Nasal Strips from the US, so that even now I'm nowhere near to running out of them.
  • Reading my blog on your e-mail and sending me comments about it. :) (There should be a link for you to follow to see it on its original website!)
  • Reminding me not to take life or myself too seriously.
  • Keeping me updated on all the latest news about family and friends in both countries. :)
  • Calling us every week, often right before my parents stop by to visit you-- I love that you all still act like family even after we've left!
  • Raising a wonderful son who I was lucky to marry.
And I shouldn't let Mother's Day pass without mentioning my wonderful grandmother, who herself moved from Brazil to the US at a young age and serves as a great model of resilience, wonderful cooking, strength, and engagement in life.

Thank you to all of the strong women who have served as my role models. Happy (American) Mother's Day!


Happy VE Day!

This is another one of those celebrations that I entirely missed in the US. This morning, though, I heard kids' voices outside my apartment window, and when I went to look, a little parade was forming to honor the victory over the Nazis in Europe. My favorite members of the parade were the WW2 Veterans, some of whom with enough medals to cover their sports jackets-- and a few who still seem to fit into their WW2 uniforms! Here are some pictures:


"Cat" is the new "Squirrel"

When Israelis heard I planned to bring a cat to Israel, their universal response was this: "Why? We have plenty of those here!"

I read recently that Israel has 6 million street cats, which means that the ratio of street cats to Jewish residents in Israel is about 1:1. (It seems higher!) And I realized a few months ago that I have yet to see a squirrel in this country: hardly a coincidence. As a consequence, Israelis see cats basically the way we see squirrels-- as ubiquitous, dirty nuisances. (Some Israelis do own pet cats, but more often they own pet dogs who bark crazily at the roaming neighborhood cats.)

Street cats lounge around the yards, sidewalks, and alleys of Israel wherever you look. At first glance, they look no different from house cats-- often they are quite well-fed, and until you approach to a dangerous proximity, they sunbathe and preen just as any other cat would. They are also very territorial: I recognize the cats (like the one in the picture) who live in our apartment building courtyard, and different cats live down the street where my husband's aunt and uncle live. The cats own their specific sections of the streets, just as Zeus and Pixel own my apartment.

Closer up, they do have a harder life. Sometimes people would bring street cats into the vet's office where I volunteered for my first few months here, and they bore the scars of life on the street*-- I won't go into detail because, frankly, there was a reason I wouldn't eat big lunches after working at the vet's office. Our vet would provide medical care at a big discount, and he would never let a street cat leave without spaying or neutering it-- marking that the job had been done by snipping the point off of one of the cat's ears. (All vets do this, so keep your eyes out for point-less ears!)

Quite a few people feed street cats, leading to immense feeding frenzies. My husband says that the cats now look much better fed than they did when he grew up in Beer Sheva in the 80s, leading to what he calls the "Street Cat Economic Index"-- the fatness of our street cats illustrates the strength of our economy. We have money to put out water, food, or throw precious scraps into our garbage, and the cats benefit.

I once saw a cat that seemed to have been twisted up into the fork of a small tree, and I panicked that the cat had been killed and put there by teenage hoodlums. (In fact, I told my husband not to look-- he has an even softer heart for cats than I do. His camera phone is full of pictures of cute cats he ogles on his commute to work. :) Instead, my husband approached the tree-- and the cat untangled herself, sprang down, and scrambled off into the bushes. She was simply catching a nap in her treetop hammock.

My cousin studying at a hareidi yeshiva in Jerusalem claims to have been told that cats are the reincarnated souls of prostitutes. In that case, I'm not sure what the sheer quantity of cats says about this country. :) (Maybe, based on my post yesterday, they are the reincarnated souls of women who DRESS somewhat like prostitutes, but who are actually very nice and chaste...)

*The cats, not the people


You are never too old to wear Spandex

I'm a junkie for wardrobe-improvement shows like What Not To Wear, in which fashionably superior women or gay men take people with poor fashion sense and teach them how to dress with class and age-appropriateness. Yet I have come to understand that Trinny and Susana's fashion choices simply don't apply in Israel.

For one thing, "age-appropriate" here seems to be defined like this: the older you are, the harder you have to work to flaunt your sex appeal. Otherwise how will anyone notice you?

The picture on the left is of Tsipi Shavit, a beloved Israeli performer for whom I have huge respect. I saw her as part of a three-woman show in Kiryat Chaim recently, and at 62 years old she sparked with energy-- doing high kicks, singing show tunes, running around the stage, cracking jokes about her sex life. My husband remembers Tsipi from his childhood when she became famous for her kids shows (and Hebrew translations of songs like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow). From an American perspective, this picture would land her on a worst-dressed list. In Israel, this would be appropriate wedding attire (and reminds me of what some Israelis wore to my wedding).

Israel is a country of schizophrenic dichotomies. In certain neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh, a woman can get beaten for wearing pants or (gasp!) jogging in the wrong neighborhood. After all, nothing is more provocative than a smelly, sweaty woman in a sports bra and a baggy t-shirt. In secular areas, on the other hand, it seems like the more (spotty, sun-damaged) skin you show, the better. "Proper work attire" might involve skin-tight, cleavage-bearing purple spandex. I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say that what slutty college girls wear to frat parties in the US is average attire for 50-year-old bank tellers here.

And the thing is that it's all about context-- while you might look sad and desperate in America wearing the same clothing, you'll look snazzy to your friends in Israel. If a middle-aged woman wears silver mesh over a black bra, tight embroidered jeans, and silver platform shoes in the US, she'll look like an aging hooker-- in Israel, she'll look like she really keeps herself up. If she, on the other hand, wears loose-fitting button-down shirts with a cardigan and straight-legged linen pants, she will probably look boring to her Israeli friends. (She's really let herself go.) Also, Israelis don't let a few fat folds keep them from wearing a bikini or spandex top-- and if you're male, certainly don't stop wearing your Speedo just because you can't see your toes.

I'm curious about what "What Not to Wear" would look like if it came to Israel. It would either involve a total reformation of Israeli fashion sense (Israelis love to critique each other and believe most things are done better outside Israel) or it would embrace Israeli sensibilities. I can see "Trinny and Shoshana" now: "No, no, you must wear POLYESTER to bring out your eyes!"


Close the windows during a sandstorm

This is definitely one of those lessons I learned the hard way. Yesterday we had hot wind from the south. The temperature shot up into the high 20s, and wind woke us up in the morning as it slapped date palm branches against our bedroom window. I love having open windows and was excited for it to be a bit warmer (ask me in August how I feel about warm weather then), so I opened our blinds and windows throughout the apartment. We are lucky enough to have three "kivunei avir"-- directions of air-- which meant the wind travels right through our apartment in the glories of cross-ventilation.

What I didn't take into consideration was that yesterday wasn't just wind from the south-- it was a sandstorm (known when it travels this far and is this diluted as a "dust storm," or sharav in Hebrew). I guess I'd expected "sandstorm" to look more like something out of Lawrence of Arabia-- you know, men hunched forward on camels with turbans wrapped around their faces, disappearing into the orange haze. And I'm sure that is what a sandstorm would involve if I were much further south. Here on this side of the Carmel Mountain, we are mostly sheltered, but I should have seen the signs: the sky looked cloudy, yet the clouds were yellowish. Shadows were still sharp on the lawn, indicating (if I'd been paying attention) that the clouds weren't actually thick cumulo nimbus (or whatever) after all. And yes, it did take a certain amount of willpower to ignore the fact that my hair, face, and hands were all starting to feel just a bit dry and gritty.

At any rate, this morning I was sweeping my floor when I realized that I was gathering a deep pile of reddish-brown dust. Then I wiped off our dining room table and was shocked by how quickly my paper towel turned reddish-brown. Basically, thanks to my obession with open windows (as my husband sometimes calls it), now the entire southern half of our apartment is covered in a thin dusty film... or at least it was until I spent a few hours attacking the grime this morning.

Live and learn! And now I REALLY need a shower.

UPDATE: Muse posted beautiful descriptions and pictures of the dust storm here. Also, apparently this weather is really hazardous to those suffering from breathing conditions such as asthma, and ironically enough today is World Asthma Day.


Visit the Hexagon Pool!

One thing I didn't realize about Israel before I moved here was that much of its mountains and rock formations are actually volcanic. This leads to some fascinating rock formations, some of which barely look natural-- but are. The picture above is of the Hexagon Pool (Birchat Meshushim) in the lower Golan, close to Nachal Yehudiah, and not far north of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). You can get a sense of the scale of this naturally-formed pool by noting the little heads of people along the bottom of the picture-- click on the picture to see a large version. The rock hangs down in naturally-forming hexagons that look as if at any moment they could break off and fall into the edge of the pool (and some clearly have). The rock is dark burnished grey. You hike down about one kilometer to get to this pool-- definitely worth the walk. Oh, and you get views like this along the way:

When we visited these pools during Pesach, the water was ice cold, and I doubt it gets that much warmer in the summer as it is fed by cold mountain rivers rushing down from the Golan Heights. It as wonderful to go swimming here on a hot day! This is the biggest of all the pools, but there are many more smaller pools accessible along hiking trails along the Nahal Yehudiah, including some fed by spectacular water falls. I'd never swum underneath a waterfall before coming to Israel-- now I've done so in both the north (Golan) and south (Ein Gedi). Definitely not an experience to miss!


New Haveil Havalim!

The new Haveil Havelim Blog Carnival is available over at a blog I just discovered, My Shrapnel. The author survived a terror attack and seems to have a lively, original take on life... I look forward to going back!

By the way, can anyone tell me how I volunteer to host Haveil Havelim?


Two sides of Israeli Race Relations on Yom HaAtzmaut...

Almost every city and town in Israel puts on a big show for Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day (yesterday). This year, Kiryat Bialik has a new mayor whose basic campaign platform boiled down to "Let's Spend Lots of Money so that We Look Better than Kiryat Motzkin," so true to form we had a fabulous Yom HaAtzmaut show.

Fireworks are just part: we also had a free concert from THREE major Israeli artists (Sarit Hadad, Beit HaBubot-- a really great young band-- and Dag Nachash, who sadly we didn't see because by that time it was midnight and pretty cold out). Israeli artists spend Yom HaAtzmaut eve traveling from town to town performing. The night after Yom HaAtzmaut, Sarit Hadad was on a comedy TV show joking about how she couldn't even remember which town she was in most of the time... although the punch line had to do with thinking she was in the Phillipines when she played for a community of mostly senior citizens. If you lived in Israel, you'd understand why!

As we waited for Beit HaBubot to arrive from wherever they had performed last, different youth singing and dance troops performed. Some of the performances were incredible-- the "prachei Bialik" were a group of Ethiopian young people singing Hebrew songs with that Ethiopian twist-- pure voices, swaying dances, harmonies. They sang one song that was a hit from the Sheba Choir, a choir of Ethiopian kids that was very popular in Israeli back in the early 90s. If you listen to music during sefirot, check out this youtube video to discover the Sheba choir:

(Our Kiryat Bialik kids actually sounded more beautiful, despite the fact that they were just a group of four or five!)

Celebrating Ethiopian singing seems to be trendy in Israel today, with the success of one of my favorite bands in the world, the Idan Raichel Project. I saw them perform in New York City and I'm very tempted to go see them again in Haifa in June. Idan Raichel gathered together singers representing all origins of Israeli life-- Iranian, Ethiopian, European, Yemenite, Argentinian, even Sudanese-- and forged an incredible blend. This video doesn't have the greatest sound quality, but it shows the magical visual and sound fusion of their concerts:

I love the way that immigrant cultures in Israel-- somewhat as they do in the US-- remain distinct to the point that the discussion around our barbecue table yesterday centered around Romanian vs. Iraqi cooking (and yet, this discussion was generated by a wonderful couple in which the girl is of Iraqi descent-- with a Russian name--and the guy is Romanian-Polish). I love that we celebrate Ethiopian dance as an integral part of Israeli Independence day. The Ethiopian aliyah has been a fiasco in some ways, with Ethiopian adults essentially time traveling hundreds of years forward into a modern world they were unprepared to handle. But Ethiopian kids seem to be proud and contributing parts of Israeli society, so I think Ethiopians will only become more prominent in Israeli life during the years to come.

Then, though, when one of the other (non-Ethiopian) youth dance troupes was performing, I saw something that honestly disturbed me. This group-- of about 10-12 year olds-- broke from the traditional songs of the other groups and instead performed a hip-hop dance montage to songs that included "I Like Big Buts" by Sir Mix-a-lot. Hardly what I would consider Zionist, but hey, it's a fun song. Then, towards the end of their performance, a kid came out with a mask that looked like Sambo-- a horribly caricatured black face. He was wearing a hat, overalls, and was dancing in those loose, floppy movements I have only seen in black-and-white footage. And nobody in the audience seemed to react.

I suppose to the dance choreographers, this was simply a "funny" iconic image from another culture-- one they probably didn't really attach to racism but more to a cute dance style. After all, they liked African-American culture enough to dance to a mix of hip-hop music on Israeli Independence Day. Obviously, we don't have the history of race relations that the US has had that renders the US-- finally-- sensitive to such horrible stereotypes. Israelis use terms casually that shock Americans, including, say, the n-word.

But I can't believe that those Ethiopian girls were entirely blind to the racist undertones in the performance after their beautiful dance. They actually walked past me in a line (returning to their own seats) as the performance was going on, and their faces looked grim... I felt like disappearing into my seat. I was once in a clothing store when a white sales girl tried to point out an Ethiopian sales girl by saying, "the black girl" (in English), and she got such a glare from the Ethiopian girl. It reminded me that not all Israelis see casual references to race as benign.

It is refreshing to live in a country that doesn't hold by "political correctness" and where people actually say what they think, but sometimes I wish Israelis were more sensitive. In fact, I'm hesitant to post this in a public forum at all, except that I want your opinions. Is this just my American-ness showing through? What do you think about the state of racial relations in Israel? Was I right in being shocked by this performance, and do you think I should do anything about it (say, complain to the city council)?
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