One of the most beautiful sights in the world...

Rain in Israel.

It has already rained a few times this year, but this morning we experienced one of the first rainstorms that was long and steady.


 What is left of the grass in our yard soaking in the rain.


A tiny iridescent-indigo bird hiding from the rain in a bush. 
(The picture is blurry, but the bird was gorgeous.)
Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Rain in Israel in the fall is like those first drinks of water after Yom Kippur. It doesn't go down easily, necessarily-- the ground is sometimes too parched to accept water-- but it's the start of renewal. Fall in Israel is a second spring. Flowers bloom. Plants return to life. The words we say in prayers gain extra meaning when we say them here:

You are eternally mighty, my Lord, the Resuscitator of the dead are You, abundantly able to save. You make the wind blow and the rain descend.


Dude! (Shemesh, that is.)

On the roof of every Israeli apartment building you find water heaters and solar panels-- the solar water heater is known (in one of the most fabulous Israeli appliance names) as a dude shemesh. In a country with this much sun, it only makes sense for us to heat our water using solar energy.

In the summer, this means that we have hot water all day long without paying a dime for heating. In the winter, you have to plan your showers carefully-- you can usually shower with hot water in the middle of the day, but in the evening you often need to heat the water using electricity (via a special switch in everyone's home-- if you flip a switch in your new Israeli apartment and nothing appears to happen, you may be heating your water). It takes about a half hour for the water in our dude shemesh to heat. Some people even use timers to insure hot water at specific times during the summer.

Don't forget to clean off your solar panels every so often! Dusty solar panels can't collect sunlight.

Are you a heat-at-specific-times or a flip-the-switch-and-wait kind of winter showerer?


A Quick and Easy Guide to Living in Celsius

When I first arrived in Israel, I had a very hard time gleaning anything meaningful from the weather report. Was I supposed to wear a coat in 20 degree weather?? What did it mean that the weekend would get up to 35?

I'm not alone. I once saw approximately this dialogue on Martha Stewart's TV show:

GUEST: It was very hot in Abu Dhabi. The temperature was about 37 degrees Celsius.
MARTHA: What is that in Fahrenheit?
GUEST: I think about 70 degrees.
MARTHA: Oh, that's not that hot.

(37 degrees Celsius is actually 98 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Yes, there are formulas to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit, but these usually involve complicated formulas and knowledge of the number of times a grasshopper's wings beat per second. What I really need to know is this: should I wear a coat?

So here's my handy-dandy guide to living in Celsius.

If the temperature is in the 40s: It's HOT. Going outside is actually dangerous. The ocean will feel like a hot bath. Even in the shade, sweat will stream down your body. Close all of the trisim, turn on the air conditioning and drink lots of water. Any food you consume should be cold. (Farhrenheit equivalent: 100 and above. It actually got to this temperature in Haifa just a few weeks ago.)

If the temperature in the 30s: It's hot, but not HOT. You can probably go outside with proper precautions. Wear shorts and sleeveless shirts or light cotton clothing. It's too hot to wear full-length jeans or socks. You can probably handle a warm falofel so long as it's accompanied by a cold drink... although be warned, ice does not come standard in Israeli soft drinks. This weather is typical of the entire summer in Israel, except when it gets HOT, and is perfect for a game of matkot on the beach and a dip in the Mediterranean. (Rough Fahrenheit equivalent: the 90s.) Note: the upper 30s are HOT. If temp is 37 or above, follow guidelines for the 40s.

If the temperature is in the 20s: This is known as "mezeg avir naim"-- pleasant weather. It is warm but not sweltering. This weather (typical for October-November in Israel) is perfect for strolling around outside in jeans, a short-sleeved shirt, and sandals. You don't need a jacket but you probably don't need air conditioning. Kick out the grill and mangal some meat! Keep a light blanket near your bed, but you might not need it. (Rough Fahrenheit equivalent: the 70s.)

If the temperature is in 10s: This weather is cool, but not cold. You will probably want a blanket at night and a light jacket if you go outside. You might even want to wear socks, and you will probably appreciate hot soup for dinner. (Rough Fahrenheit equivalent: the 50s.) This temperature is typical of the Israeli winter.

If the temperature is in the 0s: This is what Israelis consider cold (and Americans where I come from consider normal fall weather). Wear a fairly warm jacket and warm shoes. Israelis turn on their heaters and bundle up in hats and scarves in weather like this. Because your house will still not be very good at heating up and staying warm, sleep with a thick feather blanket at night. (Rough Fahrenheit equivalent: the 30s.)

If the temperature is below 0: Israelis consider temperatures below zero almost too cold to bear. They will avoid going outside and will sit around huddled under blankets at home. They may or may not own mittens and so will be cold and grumpy when they emerge into the freezing air. If you own a warm winter coat, wear it. At least, this is what I guess happens-- it never got below zero last year in the Krayot. (Rough Fahrenheit equivalent: 32 degrees and below.)


You WILL see a celebrity in the Israel streets

Israeli Judo Champion (and olympic bronze medalist) Arik Zeevi, along with my 
left eye and my husband's right ear. We're not that short; he is actually that tall.)

So far, I've seen the singer Miri Mesika in a mall, the fat and thin guys from the Israeli Amazing Race in a Tel Aviv coffee house, and some girl from the "Mifratz HaAhava" (who I'm ashamed to say I recognized) in a pizza shop around the corner. I've also actually met the Israeli judo champion, Arik Zeevi... and thanks to this post, I'm Facebook friends with Maya from the Israeli Amazing Race. My husband regularly sits next to the Israeli equivalent to Dr. Phil on the train to Tel Aviv.

This list isn't all that impressive, but in my defense, reality TV stars become actual stars more quickly in Israel than in the US. (The blondiniots from the Israeli Amazing Race are now doing condom commercials.) Yet in 24 years of life in the US, my closest encounter with a celebrity came from knowing someone who went to high school with people who went to high school with Christina Aguilera. I never once saw anyone I recognized from national TV without specifically going somewhere to do so. By contrast, we ran into all of the people in the paragraph above within the last year.

Here's the thing: Israel is really, really small. You are likely to run into people you see on TV because there simply aren't many places for them to go. National news in Israel is equivalent to local news in the US; you see a house fire and probably know someone who lives near that street. (This might be one reason why Israelis watch the nightly news obsessively, gasping at any act of violence, shocked that someone in their "neighborhood" could be capable of murder or theft.) Imagine if every reality TV show cast only people from the three cities closest to your home. If you don't see someone you recognize from TV in Israel, you probably just don't pay enough attention.

Have you had any close encounters with celebrities in Israel or in the US?


New Haveil Havelim...

I just wanted to point you to the newest Haveil Havelim (Jewish Blog Carnival) at artzeinublog.com.

Yisroel, great job, and thanks for including this blog! I tried to post a comment in response to your HH edition, but the comment link didn't seem to be working.

Get One Car Ahead

The car on the right in the picture above is not signaling-- don't worry. It's breaking as it figures out how to cut in front of the pickup flying the giant Israeli flag.

If you are an Israeli driver, remember: it is crucially important that you get One Car Ahead. You must reach the light before the car in front of you so that, as you both sit waiting for the same light to turn green, you can feel smug knowing that you are One Car Ahead. If you reach a roundabout, it is crucially important that you cut off the person about to enter it by entering first. If a lane is about to end (usually around a bend and without warning-- this is Israel, after all, and little things like advance notice of lanes ending are for goyim), it is crucial that you get IN FRONT of the car in the other lane rather than behind it.

There are two reasons why getting One Car Ahead is so crucial:

1. You are always in a hurry.
2. You are always late.

This actually mystified the Argentinians in my ulpan class; they came from a culture of manana, but Argentinians are late when they go places because they aren't in a hurry. Israelis are late when they go places because they are. If an Israeli just spends a little more time getting things done (and organizing combinot) before leaving home, he will surely get rich. Every Israeli, remember, is an expert on just about everything, which makes their time more valuable than yours.

Getting One Car Ahead is also closely related to the principle that every other driver on the road is an idiot. If another driver weaves in and out of traffic without using his turn signal, he is clearly an idiot because he is obviously not paying attention. You, on the other hand, don't need to signal because the other drivers are obviously not paying attention and therefore wouldn't notice if you did. Also, every other driver on the road is an idiot, so if they're all driving slowly, it's because they can't drive... not because, say, cows are wandering into Rt. 4 during the middle of rush hour. (We actually saw this happen. They were happily grazing on the median strip by the Lev HaMifratz mall.)

The other day I saw a car full of chassidic men, long payot and all, swerve between cars along the Derech Akko-Haifa. My theory is that they were on the way to a wedding in Nahariya, because they rolled down their window to ask me for directions before careening off.



Fall Foliage in Israel?


(See those bits of yellow on certain clumps of leaves? HA! Take that, Vermont!)

(What, you say the dried-up chives and thyme in my window boxes don't count?!)

[First three pictures were taken today (Oct. 22) out my windows; last picture was taken Nov. 29 2008 in the Golan Heights]


Remember the Lirah?

Before Israel switched to shekels, it used "lirot"-- the Israeli lirah. I was reminded of this when I reupholstered some chairs I found on www.yad2.co.il  and found these tax stamps on the base:

These stamps probably date the chairs to at least the 1960s, but I found someone selling an almost identical luxury tax stamp on ebay claiming that it was from 1951. (The stamp was selling for 24 dollars! Too bad I already covered these ones up!) I'm pretty sure that ל''י is the EARLIER abbreviation used for the lirah, before Israel switched to a symbol similar to the British pound in 1955. Can anyone confirm this? Can you help me date these tax stamps?

At any case, I love the chairs. Here they are pre-reupholstry:

I'm pretty Zeus preferred them when they were grimy and worn, as in the picture above.

Can anyone identify them? I think they're Yugoslavian versions of Danish Modern furniture, but I'm not sure. By the way, I'm discovering that flea markets in Israel aren't great for finding really old antiques but are awesome if you like midcentury/Danish modern-- a whole lot of people moved here in the 50s and had to buy everything from scratch. This country is also a treasure-trove of 70s decor... let's hope that becomes trendy. :)

Anyway, here's one of the chairs post-sanding and reupholstery. The new fabric is micro-suede because that's the only thing our cats have trouble destroying. I stained the wood to a reddish shade (sorry, purists!) to contrast more with the fabric. I'm still getting the hang of reupholstery, but I'm happy with how this chair turned out! Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Good times. (Can you tell yet that I'm a little obsessed with decorating and furnishing our new apartment? Too bad we don't move in until April!)


Make your apartment Isra-Fab!

Before I post this, I should say that Israel has fabulous designers and lots of Israeli apartments are gorgeous. At its best, Israeli style involves cool tile floors, white walls, textured carpets, modern lines, colorful ceramics, etc. But there's a certain trend in Israeli design that my husband and I call "Isra-fab."

I have to admit that I am sometimes drawn to Isra-fab myself... I was about to buy plates edged with fake gold for Passover when my husband's cousin pulled me aside and explained Isra-Fab to me. During our apartment search, we knew to be worried if a seller would describe an apartment as "ya-fe-fiyah"-- sooo pretty! An example of ya-fe-fiyah: we even visited a penthouse in Kiryat Motzkin in which the entire apartment was tiled in blue, red, and gold screen-printed floors. "Ya-fe-fiyah" basically splatters the Israeli epidemic of ADD all over otherwise nice apartments.

To transform your house into Isra-Fab, take note of these pointers (illustrated by pictures from www.yad2.co.il, the Israeli Craigslist):

Tip #1: The more baroque, the better!
Maybe this is because we live in a country without much actual antique furniture (that whole peopled-by-refugees thing meant that most people's grandparents barely brought a suitcase with them, let alone family heirlooms). Whatever the reason, Isra-fab style demands as much fake-ornate detailing as possible.

Tip #2: Buy mass-produced artwork in 70s-esque colors.
Ok, the artwork above isn't all that bad, and this wouldn't even make it on the list did not almost every apartment in Israel contain this identical "artwork."

A bonus point if the edges of the artwork are decorated with crackle paint. Double bonus points if the artwork is African-inspired and involves silhouetted figures. Triple bonus points if the painting involves glitter.

Tip #3: Real wood is curved! (And honey-colored!)

This cabinet is Isra-fab in so many ways. The honey-toned wood! The excess glass! The odd curves! Yafefiyah!

Tip #4: Simple curtains? Boooring. Go for creative draping.
I especially love the bit of red polyester curtain that hangs from the left side of each window frame.

Tip #5: If you can't go baroque, go Greek!

Or Roman. And I always get ionic and doric columns confused. The thing that makes this column plant stand especially Isra-fab? It's actually plaster.

Tip #6: Everything is better if it is shiny and gold. With sparkles.

Bonus points if said item involves crackle paint. Double bonus points if it is, in fact, a sign to go on the door of the bathroom.

Remember, if an Israeli tells you something is "ya-fey-fi-yah," be afraid... be very afraid.


About my sudden return to the world of blogging...

I haven't posted much at all in the past two months... this blog almost made it to the 100 post mark and then I petered out. I blame Israeli summers. It's really hard to do anything while melting. (Speaking of which, 41 degrees-- CELSIUS-- in October?? Really??)

I've been busy in part because of a writing project that actually propelled me BACK into blogging this week. The first paragraph of my novel-in-progress was selected as one of the ten finalists (out of 2500 entries!!) in a contest over on literary agent Nathan Bransford's blog. I didn't want to post about the contest while the voting was going on because we weren't supposed to campaign for our paragraphs (other finalists did seem to campaign... not that I'm bitter or anything), but I figured there might be some new hits to this blog from the contest, and I didn't want them to be greeted by tumbleweed... or whatever tumbleweed's Israeli equivalent would be. (I'm guessing roaming jukim. They'll totally outlive us.)

I also discovered that blogger lets me write posts in advance and automatically post them later! (Yes, I'm sometimes a little slow to catch on. Bear with me.) So I can absolutely guarantee that there will be a post here tomorrow. And the day after that. AND the day after that!

Anyway, if you're stopping by for the first time, welcome! Everyone needs a little more "Israeli" in their lives. (Well... ok... many would disagree. But let's not talk politics.) If any former blog readers are still out there... please... comment. I know that I broke your trust by walking out on you at the beginning of the summer, but maybe we can still be friends?

If you're curious, here's the first paragraph from my novel--
The pomegranate seeds burst between my teeth, releasing tart-sweet juice. Wind licked my eyelids, and the orchard rustled and creaked. I relaxed into the fork of the tree. In that moment, nothing mattered-- not marriage, not exile, not my mother's pursed lips. Persia became smaller than the nub of bark digging into the back of my leg.
It's historical fiction, so while I don't have all that much written yet (about 15,000 words), I've done a lot of research and now know more about... well... a certain time period than I ever thought I would need to know. Can anyone guess when and where this novel takes place? Double bonus points if you can guess the city!

Hint: the next line is this:
“Naara! Nehemiah! Get out of there, now!” Ah, our little chaperone.
It feels good to be back. Hope you're still out there!

Don't drive during the first rain...

The first rain in Israel-- after months of endless sunny days-- usually arrives in late September. This year it came on Rosh Hashana-- a driving rain that left puddles in the streets. The air smells like wet clay, like cool breath. I opened the sliding doors on the mirpeset of our apartment and let the raindrops flick in onto my boxes of herbs. The first rain feels like a shower at the end of a long camping trip, when your hair is greasy, bits of leaves cling in weird places, and you don't want to know how your armpits smell. It rinses dust out of the air so that we see the radio towers on hills along the border with Lebanon all the way from Haifa, and deposits this dust on cars: brown splats of raindrops cling to our windows after the first drizzle.

It also releases the motor oil and dust and grease from the asphalt on the roads. I bet a lot of olim aren't aware they need to drive carefully during the first rain, no matter how gentle. We scoff at the way Israelis might drive during snow and don't understand that this film of released grime can be just as dangerous. But Israeli drivers crawl along during the first rain-- and if you have ever seen Israelis drive, you know how significant it is when they actually go slowly.

I always get the urge to run outside and frolic during the first rain, but I settled this year for sitting on our balcony, feeling the water against my face, petting my freaked-out cats, and smelling the air.

Let's hope this winter is wet!


There's no pork in Israel...

...just a bunch of euphemisms: "basar lavan" (white meat), "basar acher" (other meat), etc.

Most grocery stores in Israel are kosher. At our local Machsane Lahav, I don't need to look for hekshers to know that all the meat is kosher and the margarine parve. This grocery store also closes every Shabbat, which means that if we run out of milk on Saturday, we have to wait until Sunday to buy more. This is one thing I love about Israel; keeping kosher in the US took real effort, but here it's effortless.

Eating treyf, on the other hand, takes effort. It might even involve a trip to the chain store Tiv Ta'am, set far back from the road-- and open on Shabbat. Tiv Ta'am specializes in imported goods and all those nonkosher meats that Israelis see as delicacies. (The difficulty of buying pork raises its value... many Israelis love ordering pig or shrimp when they travel abroad.) But even at Tiv Ta'am, delicate euphemisms prevail in place of the word "chazir," pig/pork. In the picture above, you can see pig parts at Tiv Ta'am ranging from tongues to hearts. Sorry, did I say "pig" parts? I mean "white"... "white tongue," "white heart," "white tail"...

I'll stick with the other other white meat. (As in, chicken. My husband felt I should specify. This is a no treyf zone!)


"Achrei haChagim"...

A phrase you quickly learn after moving to Israel is "Achrei haChagim"-- after the holidays. Every fall, national productivity ceases for almost a month for Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah. If you're trying to get a dentist's appointment any time in September, you will almost certainly be told to wait until achrei hachagim. If you want a bank to process your mortgage, wait until achrei hachagim. I even know a pregnant woman who waited until achrei hachagim to give birth, although I suspect that was involuntary. (In this country, you never know!)

These are a few of my favorite moments from the chagim in Israel...

Rosh HaShana: I love how connected this country is to old food traditions... especially our Polish and Romanian relatives. At a Romanian home for the first meal, we ate gefilte fish actually stuffed inside a large carp (gelled carrots for eyes and all), as well as beef aspic (take that, Julia Child!), tsimmes, and pomegranate seeds. The next day, my husband's grandfather was shocked that I knew how to make potato kugel and started telling me stories of his childhood (although I have to admit that my version contained some Osem soup powder).

Yom Kippur: From sundown to sundown, the world sounds and smells like no other day. Nobody drives-- and I mean nobody, except for the occasional emergency vehicle. Instead, the streets fill with kids on bikes (and the occasional roller blades or electric car). Pollution levels in Israel visibly plummet. The sounds from the street are hard to describe... the babble of voices, the echo of laughter, the buzz of the electric cars and the whish of skateboards. At night, our cats watch the fruit bats landing to suck on the dates that hang from the palm tree outside our window; in the morning, I wonder if this many song birds chirp every day. On Yom Kippur everyone takes to the street: parents pushing strollers down by the supermarket, kindergartners on training wheels at a roundabout, teenagers clumping in the middle of Rt. 4, sitting on the highway divider and lobbing twigs at the blinking traffic lights.

Sukkot: My husband was on holiday during Sukkot, so we spent the holiday together. Next year, we'll build our own Sukkah-- this year, the stores had sold out by the time we went to buy. One highlight of the holiday: attending a Renaissance Festival in an actual crusader castle.

Simchat Torah: Chabad rabbis dancing to Klesmer music in the atrium of of our local mall. Enough said. :)

My favorite part of this season: the first rain...

[Picture: A fruit bat hanging from the dates outside our window during one of the first rains. To give a sense of scale: the dates are 2-3 inches long.]
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