Water saving measures actually save water!

In late June, I posted about living in a water shortage and about the new measures we were taking to save water. I have to admit that for some reason I never think what I do actually makes a difference. I don't actually USE electricity when I leave the light on in the bathroom, do I? The fridge doesn't actually get dirty if I don't clean it, right? (Er, don't answer those questions.)

But since we started taking some simple measures to save water, this happened to our water bill:

Now take into consideration the fact that Hebrew goes from right to left, and look at that bill again.

That's right.. we went from using more than 20 cubic meters of water every two months (for just two people-- yikes) to using, recently, just 10. We literally used half the water in September-October this year compared to September-October last year. I'd call that results!

These are some of the things we started to do differently... I'm going to be really honest here, so I'm sorry if this means you no longer want to sit next to me on a bus or set foot in our apartment. :)

1. We don't flush our toilet every time. You know, "if it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, wash it down." When I do flush, I always use the little "half-tank" lever rather than the big "full-tank" lever. (Israeli toilets have two different flush settings.) Yes, letting yellow mellow is a little gross, but on the plus side it has made me much better about remembering to put the toilet lid down. (Putting the top lid down was a really hard skill for me to learn. I have much more appreciation for my husband's consistency in putting the seat down now!) This alone saves a TON of water, especially because I work from home and have a notoriously small bladder. Isn't it insane how much treated, cleaned, potable drinking water we just flush down every day? We started being strict about not flushing in the spring of this year, and you can see the difference in our water usage. In our next apartment, we're going to hook up our toilet so that we can flush using the "gray" water we collect from our shower. Which brings me to...

2. We save water from our shower, mostly just from that cold water that runs as we wait for the hot water to arrive. We put this water into buckets and use it for things like watering plants and mopping the floor. Again, it's insane just how much perfectly good water we were throwing away. I end up with more water than I know what to do with.

3. We take quick showers and turn off the water while soaping up. I don't shower every day, or if I need to shower every day, I don't always wash my hair. Yes, I know this sounds really gross. But showering every day isn't actually healthy for your skin-- it strips your body of natural oils. I once heard a beauty expert (an expert!) liken washing hair every day to scrubbing a delicate silk blouse daily. I don't smell bad, really! (Aren't you glad you interact with me via the Internet, not in person?) Once again, this saves a TON of perfectly good drinking water.

4. I wash dishes like an Israeli Follow the link to learn how. I've now started to put all my dishes in the sink when I rinse off the soap, so the water rinsed off one dish starts to clean the next. I'm thinking now that I can start collecting that mostly-clean water in a bin and use it to soak my dishes for next time. I don't have a dishwasher, so this is the best I can do for now. I'm trying to convince my husband that we never need to wash dishes at all... imagine how much water we'd save. (I'm kidding! Mostly. Some of you suggested switching to plastic plates to save water, but because our shortage is year-round, I think we'd do more harm to environment than good that way.)

5. I don't do silly things like wash my sheets every week or my jeans and sweaters every day. It's for the Kinneret, people.

Now that it's winter, we need to make even more effort to saving water so that we have water to use next summer. 2.5 cubic meters per person per month still sounds like a lot, though, and I want to try to cut our water usage down more. Any suggestions? What do you do to save water? How much water do you use each month?


Listen to David Broza!

A few weeks ago I went to my first concert where I knew most of the words to most of the songs performed... and no, I don't mean Madonna or Leonard Cohen. (I was probably one of the 47 or so people in Israel to not see either singer when they came to Israel recently!)

Instead, I saw David Broza, an Israeli/Spanish singer who could be considered, oh, the Israeli Bruce Springsteen. David Broza was born in Israel but spent most of his childhood "b'chul." (Israelis have a wonderfully self-centered way of talking about the world. We refer to Israel as haAretz ("the land") and everything outside Israel as chul, which is an abbreviation of chutz la'aretz-- "outside the land.") Broza sings some songs in Spanish and English, others in Hebrew. The Argentinians in my ulpan class knew many of the folk songs that he translated into Hebrew (and turned into Israeli hits). The "David" in "David Broza" is pronounced in the English/Spanish pronunciation (Day-vid) rather than the Israeli pronunciation (Dah-veed)... as I learned after attempting to sound Israeli in my pronunciation of his name for years and actually making myself sound a little clueless.

The concert was incredible. Broza came out saying that he was putting on this concert to spoil himself, and the pleasure he took from singing and playing guitar was contagious. Oh, and the man is an AMAZING guitar player. In concert, he seemed to tickle his guitar and incredibly complex melodies and rhythms just flowed out.

So if you want to be Israeli, get to know the singer who (like all good olim) took pieces of other cultures and made them very Israeli.

This song ("Mitachat LaShamayim"-- Under the Sky) is one of my favorites, and for once it isn't a translation of a Spanish folk song! The story Broza tells at the start of the clip is about the origins of the song, and you can see a translation of this story if you click through to youtube.

Here are the words (from MP3Music.co.il), along with my own rough translation. One caveat: at some point during the David Broza concert I had to ask my husband if one of Broza's new songs was about a girl growing up or a girl being kidnapped. You might want to take my translation with a grain of salt.

 באנו לכאן
מתחת לשמיים
כמו זוג עיניים

We came here
Under the sky
The two of us
Like a pair of eyes

יש לנו זמן
מתחת לשמיים
אנו עוד כאן

We have time
Under the sky
In the meantime
We're still here

את ואני
את ואני
את ואני
והמיטה רחבה
לתת אהבה

You (feminine) and me
You and me
You and me
And the bed is wide
to give love

לילה ויום
לילה ויום
לילה ויום
והחיוך מתנצל
שהוא מתעצל

Night and day
Night and day
Night and day
And the smile will apologize
for being lazy

באנו לכאן
מתחת לשמיים
כמו זוג עיניים

We have time
Under the sky
In the meantime
We're still here

שנינו אחד
שנינו אחד
שנינו אחד
אחד שלם ועגול
שלם וגדול

The two of us are one
The two of us are one
The two of us are one
One full and round
full and big

בואי ניתן
בואי ניתן
בואי ניתן
אני אתן לך לתת
לתת לי לתת לך

Come and let's give
Come and let's give
Come and let's give
I will give you to give
to give me to give to you

באנו לכאן
מתחת לשמיים
כמו זוג עיניים

We came to here
Under the sky
The two of us
Like a pair of eyes

ולמרות הפער
ולמרות הכאב
ולמרות הצער
אני אוהב

And despite the divide
And despite the pain
And despite the sorrow
I love
and love
and love...

(In the performance above, David Broza adds a final verse. I'll leave that one to you.)

Hmm. On second thought, in English that comes across as a) incomprehensible or b) a ploy to get a woman into bed. It's much better in Hebrew. Trust me. Or it might be a better song if you only understand about half the words, which could possibly be why I like Hebrew music so much.

This next song ("Cmo SheAt"-- "How you are") is not "pretty," but it moves me and sticks into my soul each time I hear it. The performance that I saw was accompanied by three young musicians on violins... it was intense. The version below isn't as good (I think Broza's voice has become more gravely and moving with age), but it gives you the idea. And, er, you might not even want to read my attempt at an English translation down below.  (For the record, though, I like this song even more after learning the words.) Just watch the video:

Here are the lyrics (once again from MP3Music.co.il):

חיי הם אבן,
כמו אבן,
אבן הם חיי.

My life is a stone,
Like a stone,
But it's my life.

כמו שאת אבן קטנטונת,
כמו שאת אבן נזרקת כמו שאת.
כמו שאת זמר של הלך,
כמו שאת אבן של דרך כמו שאת.
כמו שאת אבן של נחל,
כמו שאת אבן שוקעת כמו שאת.

Like you are a tiny stone
Like you are a tossed-away stone as you are.
Like you are a song of a wanderer,
Like you are a stone of the path as you are.
Like you are a stone in a river,
Like you are a settled stone as you are.

כמו שאת אבן קטנטונת כמו שאת.
כמו שאת אבן של נחל כמו שאת.

Like you are a tiny stone as you are.
Like you are a stone of the river as you are.

כמו שאת ביום של גשם,
כמו שאת אבן שקר לה כמו שאת.
כמו שאת אחר כך נוצצת,
כמו שאת חצץ של רכבת כמו שאת.

Like you are on a day of rain,
Like you are a stone and you feel chilly as you are.
Like you are afterward sparkling
Like you are gravel of the train as you are.

כמו שאת אבן קטנטונת כמו שאת.
כמו שאת אבן של נחל כמו שאת.

Like you are a little stone.
Like you are a stone of the river as you are.

כמו שאת אבן מתלכלכת,
כמו שאת אבן מתהפכת כמו שאת.
כמו שאת לא אבן של חן,
לא אבן חומה,
לא אבן שלמה,
כמו שאת.
כמו שאת.

Like you are a stone that gets dirty,
Like you are a turned-over stone like you are.
Like you are not a stone of beauty,
Not a stone of a wall,
Not a complete stone.
As you are.

כמו שאת אבן סוררת,
כמו שאת אבן מתפוררת כמו שאת.
כמו שאת אבן נזרקת,
כמו שאת אבן קטנטונת כמו שאת.
כמו שאת.

Like you are a rebellious stone,
Like you are a crumbling stone as you are.
Like you are a glittering stone,
Like you are a little stone as you are.
As you are.

David Broza has so many other incredible songs that I have to make myself stop... look up "Yiyeh Tov" (which is kind of the Israeli "We Shall Overcome"), "HaIsha SheIti" (a great Spanish-inspired song), "Shir Ahava Bedui" ("Bedouin Love Song"), and so many others. Just search for David Broza on Youtube. And if you ever get a chance to see him in concert, go for it.

What are your favorite David Broza songs? Who are your favorite Israeli musicians?


Nazi plate update

You will remember that a few weeks ago, my husband and I made a disturbing discovery: one of our serving platters used to be in the possession of the German Luftwaffe. It has a swastika on the bottom and everything. Thank you so much for all of your ideas and suggestions in response.

I contacted Yad Vashem to see what they suggested and received this in response:

באוסף החפצים של מוזיאון יד ושם נאספים פריטים
ומוצגים ששימשו את הנאצים ואחר כך נלקחו על ידי הניצולים לשימוש פרטי.
כדי לאפשר את העברת הכלי לידי המוזיאון ביד ושם, את מוזמנת ליצור איתי קשר.

If your Hebrew isn't quite up to translating that, here's the bottom line: they have a collection of artifacts like these, and they're interested in receiving this item as a donation. Next time we're in Jerusalem, we'll deliver the plate to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. I'm excited to make a donation to such an amazing museum, and I'm glad they want the plate. I do feel that this item represents a pretty interesting history, and I'm happy that it can be stored in a place that will set it in the appropriate context.

I'll let you know what happens when we actually make the donation!


My first Israeli recipe ever: Ketzitzot!

This week, I plan to subject my husband's Israeli family to a full Thanksgiving dinner. I ordered a full turkey from a butcher shop-- they thought I was crazy, and I'm not sure the turkey will fit in my oven, but it's on its way! I found kosher frozen cranberries in Tiv Taam. I bought fresh sage (which is for some reason readily available, while dried sage isn't), and I am planning to boil down the chunks of pumpkin sold in every veggie shop into pumpkin pie.

The last one is almost guaranteed to disgust my guests, because Israelis see pumpkins as a purely savory food-- I guess they see pumpkin dessert the way I see those Asian bean curd pastries. Is it bad that I am highly entertained by the idea of inflicting American recipes on Israeli guests?

Anyway, trying to cook American for a change made me think about the first Israeli recipe I ever managed to cook, way back before I made aliyah. I had eaten at my Israeli mother-in-law's house countless times and attempted to duplicate her cooking, but whatever I cooked always tasted so... American. I began to think that something on my birth certificate made it impossible for me to get the seasonings right. Finally, I sucked it up and figured out the Hebrew in one of my M-I-L's cookbooks, and I made these meatballs (ketzitzot). They were a revelation! My food finally tasted completely Israeli! 

After that, I began to improvise my own Israeli-tasting dishes simply based on the confidence (and seasoning insight) I gained from this one recipe. I also learned that it pays to use Hebrew cookbooks. Not only do they help me cook like an Israeli, but they improve my vocabulary-- I may not be able to tell you what the word for "shoelaces" or "steering wheel" is in Hebrew, but I know how to say "frying pan" (machvat) and "minced" (katzutz dak)!

This recipe is found on page 136 of the book BaRega Aharon (At the Last Minute) by Benny Saida, one of the foremost Israeli cookbook authors. Saida's recipes are easy, delicious, and very Israeli. The Hebrew he uses is simple and the directions concise. I've never been disappointed by any recipe from any of Saida's books. You can order this cookbook online in the US here.

Veal Meatballs with Green Tahini Sauce

Click on the image below to see a larger version. The translation is my own... it may not be perfectly accurate, but hey-- I've made this recipe many times, and the ketzitzot are always delicious! Comments in italics are from me.

Prepare large quantities, because these meatballs will disappear from the table even before you have had time to fry all of them.

5 servings


For the meatballs:

700 grams (1 1/2 pounds) ground veal (Ground turkey and ground beef also work well)
1 cup chopped parsley
1 onion, grated (or chopped finely)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 eggs
4 tablespoons bread crumbs
salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sumac (sumac powder might be hard to find in the US, despite the fact that sumac bushes abound. You can harvest your own from a weedy patch-- being careful to avoid the poison-ivy-like poison sumac-- or check out a kosher, middle-eastern, or possibly Indian grocery store. You can try replacing the sumac with paprika, although the bittersweet flavor of sumac adds something special to this recipe.) 
1 teaspoon cumin

oil, to fry (Just enough to coat the pan is ok. I never deep-fry these.)

For the green tahini sauce:

1 cup tahini (available in most grocery stores-- this is sesame seed butter, and it's an ingredient in hummus as well as halva. In Hebrew, tahini is pronouned tachina.)
4 cloves garlic (Yes, 8 cloves garlic total. Israeli food is FULL of garlic!)
1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup water
1 1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley
  1. To prepare the meatballs: Mix all the ingredients of the meatballs in a bowl, and form the mixture into oval-shaped balls (kind of flat and long, like in the picture). Heat up the oil to fry, and fry the ketzitzot in the hot oil (high heat, fry until they are firm and golden). 
  2. To prepare the tahini: Put all of the ingredients of the green tahini into a food processor, and mix to a thick sauce. (If it's too thick, add more water. If you want it to look more like the picture rather than a green paste, add in the parsley only at the end.) Taste, and adjust seasonings.
  3. To serve: Divide the meatballs onto individual serving plates, and spoon over them three tablespoons of the green tahini. Serve with hot pitas.
So that was my first Israeli recipe. By the way, ketzitzot are a very popular Israeli food, which makes it all the more strange that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs became Geshem shel Falofel (Falofel rain) when it came to this country. If you've never had Israeli meatballs, definitely try this recipe-- no spaghetti involved!

What was the first time you felt like an Israeli cook? What are your favorite Israeli recipes? What Israeli foods would you like to learn how to cook?


Are Israelis rude?

I was actually just going to post a link to today's Haveil Havelim blog carnival, hosted by A Mother in Israel, but as I was browsing her wonderful blog, a post about Israeli "rudeness" struck a nerve with me, and I had to add my own thoughts. (I agree with A Mother in Israel's response to this question... I'm not ranting against what she said, but rather at the attitude she addressed!)

We've all heard that Israelis are rude, and to some extent this is true. More often, though, Americans coming to Israel are ruder than they realize. What is polite in America is not the same as what is polite in Israel.

For example, I've posted before about the way the relationship between Israeli sales people and customers is different from the relationship in America.  In America, the customer is always right-- and the customer is therefore entitled to demand service RIGHT NOW, monopolize a sales person's time and then walk away, ask to speak to the manager if anything is wrong with service, etc. In Israel, on the other hand, the sales person sees himself as an authority-- and is therefore entitled to take his sweet time in coming to serve you, give you advice you didn't ask for, and refuse to sell you a more expensive product if he's convinced a cheap one will do. The flip side of this, though, is that sales people usually feel invested in helping you find the right product, and they often have good advice to offer. Americans who come in expecting sales people to be subservient come across as arrogant and demanding... sounds familiar?

In other situations, I think Israeli "rudeness" stems from the feeling that we're like a big family crowded into a too-small apartment. Of course we tell each other what to do! Yes, strangers might ask pointed personal questions after spending two minutes with you in the supermarket checkout line. (If you don't want to respond, adopt the teenager-tested strategy of refusing to give away information. "Where are you going?" "Out." "What are you going to do there?" "Stuff.") Imagine if a family member was simply indifferent to you-- wouldn't that sting more? And here's the thing: when Israelis yell at you, it's something like your brother yelling at you. At the end of the day, he still loves you and you love him. It's not personal. Two strangers in Israel can have a loud, heated disagreement, and at the end of it clap each other on the back, call each other "achi," and buy each other coffee. An American after the same disagreement might nurse a grudge for years, while Israelis were just voicing their opinions and having a little battle of wills.

Israelis see Americans as friendly and polite on the surface but aloof and insincere in this kindness. Imagine: Americans see someone else's child misbehaving or crying and don't do anything! Americans might obey traffic laws, but they don't pick up the teenagers hitchhiking along the side of the road or invite strangers into their homes for a meal. When Americans give directions, they rarely offer to show the asker to his destination. Americans don't offer coffee to repairmen or shots of homemade peach liqueur to customers in their shops. When a friend of mine moved back to America after a decade of life in Israel, she was shocked by the dirty looks she received in American supermarkets when she accidentally nudged strangers with her shopping cart, and by the indifference of fellow travelers on American city buses as she attempted to lug around a baby and a small child. Again: Israel and the US have different definitions of "polite." Americans are offended that someone bumps into them in the grocery store yet don't consider that giving a dirty look in response could be rude.

In the US, social norms often call for you to be indirect and perhaps even passive-aggressive in how you state your opinions. You smile when you don't mean it. You say "thank you" when you don't mean it. You complain to everyone except the person with whom you have a problem. In Israel, social norms call for you to be direct and assertive. You honk your horn and flash your lights at the car that is going too slowly in front of you, and then pull over if they seem to need help. For me, the Israeli system works so much better. I hate being around people who might be upset by my actions and not say anything. I'm notoriously bad at picking up subtle non-verbal cues and like it when people are direct with me and I can be direct with them. It's tricky to nail the right degree of assertiveness (rather than combativeness) in your interactions with Israelis, but when you find it, you develop a relationship based on mutual respect. If you avoid confrontation at all costs, on the other hand, this might not be the country for you.

I feel for tourists-- I really do. The American strategies of smiling and being polite (until you're REALLY upset) send the wrong signals to Israelis and so elicit responses that only make Americans feel more attacked and annoyed. Because Americans assume you have to be furious to shout at a stranger in the street or lay on the horn, they must get freaked out by fairly normal interactions in Israel. Yes, Israel might gain a better reputation in the world and among visiting tourists if we learned about tact. But if you're in Israel, maybe you should try acting like an Israeli. People are so much nicer that way!

Ok, that's my rant. Told you that touched a nerve. What do you think? Have you had experiences with "rude" Israelis (or rude Americans)?


Hebrew words that sound like English but mean something else

One of the more confusing things about learning Hebrew is that some words sound like English but don't have the same meaning as their English counterparts. Or rather, their meaning has taken a life of its own in Hebrew, such as the way "super" means "grocery store" here. (In many cases, these words came to Hebrew from a different language, like French.) We all know of הוא (sounds like "who," means "he"), היא (sounds like "he," means "she"), and דג (sounds like "dog," means "fish"). Here are a few examples you might not learn in Hebrew school:

Hebrew word: cuckoo (קוקו)
Sounds like:

Actually means:

"Cuckoo" in Hebrew means ponytail. Does anyone have any idea why? Maybe ponytails swing off your head like the weight in a cuckoo clock?

Hebrew word: mommy (מאמי)
Sounds like:

Actually means:
This is Miri Mesika's absolutely gorgeous song, "Mami," and no, she isn't singing to her mother. In Hebrew, "mami" actually means "sweetie," and it's a term of endearment you might use for a friend as well as a lover. Another term of endearment is "boobie," but I didn't want to post a picture of what that sounds like.

Hebrew word: bagel (בייגלה)
Sounds like:

Actually means:

Bizarrely enough, bagels are pretty hard to find in Israel. When someone asks you if you want a "bageleh," they're usually not offering a little bagel-- they're offering a pretzel.

Hebrew word: nylon (ניילון)
Sounds like:

Actually means:

Who knows why, but a plastic bag (particularly the kind that you can get at the grocery store) is called a "nylon" here. (Sometimes you hear "sakit nylon," nylon bag.)

Hebrew term: kabob (קבב)
Sounds like:

Actually means:

When I was first offered a "kabab" in Israel, I expected a shish kabob-- in other words, chunks of meat and veggies roasted in a stick. Instead, "kabab" in Israel (and it most of the Middle East, I suspect) means ground meat and spices shaped into a kind of sausage. Traditionally, they're shaped around a stick, but not always. If you actually want a shish kabob, ask for a shishlik (שישליק).

Hebrew term: salat mayonnaise (סלט מיונז)
Sounds like:

Actually means:

Actually, potato salad basically is mayonnaise salad, so maybe that one is not misleading after all. Israelis just have a more honest take on the salad's primary ingredient.

Hebrew word: Mafia (מאפיה)
Sounds like:

Actually means:

(That isn't an Israeli bakery. If it were, some of those pastries would be mushroom-filled.) Technically, the Hebrew word for bakery is pronounced ma-a-fi-a, and it comes from the verb "leefot," which means "to bake." I was relieved to discover this after being told to go down the street to buy bread from the mafia. On the other hand, if someone tells you to buy your challah from one of the mishpachot pesha... you're probably in Netanya.

I can think of a few more. French fries are "chips" (although that should come as no surprise to anyone who has traveled outside the US), the secular New Year's Eve  is "Sylvester," etc. To me, "arse" (the term for a slicked-up, dressed-to-the-nines in too-tight and overly-trendy-clothing young-mizrachi-guy) always sounds like the British word for, er, hindquarters. This blog post offers a great list of some more Hebrew faux-amis.

What are your favorites? Have you ever been confused by a sound-alike Hebrew term?


Grocery shopping like an Israeli

There are a lot of differences between Israeli and American grocery stores, as I learned on my very first day in Israel. I was strolling down the street, feeling all cool and Israeli, and I decided to look around the inside of our local Machsane-Lahav.

By the way, basically half of the big stores in Israel these days is calls Machsan-something. Machsan means "warehouse" (or storage room, as in the machsans on the ground floor of most apartment buildings) and I guess it indicates "cheap" and "big" to the Israeli consumer. I bought our fridge in Machsane-Chashmal (Electrical Warehouse), I passed a lamp store called Machsan-Teorah (Lighting Warehouse) last night, a butcher shop might be Machsan-Basar, etc. Machsane-Lahav means "Flame Warehouse"... I'm really not sure where that one comes from.

Anyway, on my first day in Israel, I strolled into the grocery store (known as a super in Hebrew--pronounced "soo-pear" and short for "supermarket," I guess). A guy standing at the door tried to get my attention as I waltzed in, but I had heard Israeli men tend to be aggressive. Was I going to be the clueless American who made eye contact and encouraged Israeli pickup artists? Not me! I was Israeli! Cool as a melafafon, I strolled towards the bread section, only to see the guy coming after me and shouting... and he had a gun.

Turns out he was the security guard at the door who was supposed to check my purse before I entered. Oops. And for the record, having pretty decent Hebrew when you arrive backfires when you need to convince a security guard that you are a fresh-off-the-plane olah who didn't know any better.

These are some other fun things you should know about shopping in an Israeli super:
  • Be nice to the security guys. If they get to know you, they'll let you go in without being searched. Also, they can watch your little-old-lady-wheeled-cart (post about that later) or your bags of veggies from the yarkan (post about that later too) or your stroller at the door while you go shopping.
  • The grocery store (unless it's a non-kosher basar-lavan-selling chain like Tiv-Taam) will close early on Fridays and be closed all day on Shabbat and holidays.
  • If you have just one or two items, Israelis almost always let you cut in front of them in line if you ask.
  • The check-out lady might not say "thank you" or "have a nice day," but she will tell you that you have only bought one bottle of olive oil when you get a better price for buying two, and she'll wait for you to go get another bottle. She will also attempt to sell you a range of products from dark chocolate to hand lotion that she has sitting on her checkout counter. She will also do this for all of the people ahead of you in line, which means you should be prepared to wait for a while to check out.
  • Buy-one-get-one-free in Hebrew is denoted in simple math: 1+1 (echad ploos echad). Buy two get one free is 2+1 (shteim ploos echad) and is WRITTEN as 1+2... Hebrew goes right to left, remember? (Thanks for a commenter for reminding me of this!)
  • You probably need to bag your own groceries and you probably need to ask the checkout lady to throw some bags up on the checkout counter for you.
  • When you buy more than, say, 200 shekels of groceries, you will be asked "kama tashlumim," which means "how many payments?" If you want to pay everything at once, you can say "echad" or "ragil" (normal). A rumor circulates among olim that the way to ask to pay everything at once is to say "makah" (hit), but when an Argentinian told me this in the checkout line once, the checkout lady said she'd never heard it before.
  • On your receipt when you pay with a credit card will be two lines. The top is for your signature, and the bottom is for your phone number. To be really Israeli, don't write your phone number in this space unless the checkout lady insists. This would be giving away information. I've barely ever written my phone number on a receipt, despite the fact that every receipt contains a spot for it.
I think I'll devote a whole post some time to the differences between food packaging in Israel and the US. What general super shopping-tips did I miss? Have you had any adventures in Israeli grocery shopping?


It's winter, so go eat a krembo!

Source: http://www.tipo.co.il/news.asp?nid=40860

Most Americans associate Israeli food with falofel or shwarma, but the Krembo is just as iconic and unique to Israel. In fact, it has its own Wikipedia page.  My husband has a theory that the Krembo grew out of the fact that Israelis traditionally do not eat ice cream in the winter-- in fact, you used to not even be able to find ice cream in grocery stores in the winter. Krembos, on the other hand, are very delicate and melt in the summer heat, so they are the Israeli winter junk food... and they're soo good.

Although I have a sweet tooth, I didn't like the American junk foods like twinkies or hostess cupcakes that are JUST sweet and fatty with no taste or texture. But Krembos taste light and melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and the mocha-flavored varieties are luscious. The base of a Krembo is a pretty tasteless round cookie, topped with a dollop of cream, and then covered in a thin layer of chocolate. (Here's a youtube video in Hebrew showing how they're made... they actually have to be wrapped by hand!) The "cream" isn't really cream-- my husband thinks it's made from egg whites, though it tastes something like a cross between marshmallow fluff and miracle whip. Then, of course, there's the foil wrapper, which my husband insists on smoothing out until every wrinkle is gone (another tradition from his childhood).

As the Wikipedia page attests, the most important question when you eat Krembos is whether you go from the cream side down or the cookie side up.  From the Wikipedia page:
In Israel, the krembos are a seasonal treat and the "krembo season" is very short, only four months a year, from October to February. Nevertheless, 50 million krembos are sold each year—an average of 9 per person in Israel. According to a study funded by Strauss, Israel's leading krembo producer, 69% of Israelis prefer to eat krembos from the top down (starting with the cream), and only 10% start with the biscuit at the bottom; the rest had no preference.[1]
What I find most significant about that statistic is that almost 80 % of Israelis have a clear preference... Krembos are such a ubiquitous snack that you practically aren't Israeli if you don't know how you eat your Krembo!

Personally, I'm actually an eat-in-from-the-side kind of gal. I like to have a little bit of cream, a little chocolate, and a little cookie in each bite. How about you? Have you started on your nine-Krembos-per-winter allotment yet? :)


New Haveil Havelim!

Here's a link to an excellent edition of Haveil Havelim, the Jewish blog carnival: http://imabima.blogspot.com/2009/11/haveil-havalim-243-nablopomo-edition.html

This edition is especially readable and engaging, so enjoy!

I'm sick right now and have been staying up all night coughing... not so fun when this is on my plate. All I care about is not getting laryngitis.

Of to go eat some soup...


You are more Lebanese than you think...

My husband and I have a good friend whom I met on my birthright trip to Israel, and who eventually was my fellow board member at our campus Chabad House. After college, he worked as an Arabic translator for the US Army in Iraq. He is now studying for his master's degree in Beirut, and he'll probably get his doctorate in Middle Eastern politics in Israel. Altogether, he's a pretty incredible person.

Anyway, it often strikes me that we live SO close together... if our coastal highway and train service didn't end before Rosh HaNikra, we could probably get to our friend's apartment in a few hours.

He reads this blog, but for some reason he can't post comments directly onto it. The other day, he wrote a bunch of comments on the version of this blog posted on my personal Facebook account.

On a post about the recent heavy rains: Ouf. The water was about half as much up here but we have the same problem.

On the post about Isra-fab decorating:  I broke my camera recently, but you will get pictures of my VERY yafefiyah apt soon. I was looking at what you were putting up and the similarities are eerie.

On the post about medusot: They're called "Medusin" here, but they all make their way up north!

On the post about not giving away information: It's a very similar dynamic here. Though facebook is an exception. In fact there is a saying here: "What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, but what happens in Beirut goes straight to Facebook!"

(My favorite comment!) On the post about what's missing in America: We have the mop issue here too. In fact when I moved into my first apt with an American roommate here, when we went to clean he found the squeegee and said "I don't know what to do..." I responded "Wait! I have a friend from Israel that wrote a blog post on just this problem!" (I really did.) and explained based on your blog just how to use it!

Striking commonalities, no?

People from the blog Israelity (which talks about Israeli culture) have been working on world report videos for CNN. I agree with them that the most striking comment from this video is that the Jewish and Arab youths making a music video together look so SIMILAR:

I don't want to downplay the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or even the difficulty of making peace with Lebanon. I doubt I could meet a member of, say, Hamas or Hezbollah and glibly celebrate our similarities. Our country faces deep, difficult issues, and I am not comfortable making many of the concessions that Palestinians demand (or that Syrians demand in exchange for peace with Israel, which would lead to peace with Lebanon), and I see most of Israel's security measures as justified.

But the fact is that it's so easy to dehumanize any Muslim country as the "enemy" in this conflict, despite the fact that we're both sprinkling our pizzas with Zaatar and eating watermelon with labaneh in the summer. (I just made the last one up, but I bet they do that it Lebanon too.) We experience the same weather. We watch the same imported American and British TV shows. I mean... at times, Israel really does feel like one country among neighbors. My blond, blue-eyed friend says that in Lebanon (as opposed to Iraq) he is often mistaken for a native, and I guess I have a similar experience in Israel.

And yes, for the record, relations between Lebanon and Israel are not as fraught as Israeli-Palestinian relations. In fact, my friend says that there is deep discrimination against Palestinians in Lebanese society. But our two countries haven't exactly gotten along in recent years. I can't travel to Lebanon with an Israeli stamp on my American passport, let alone my Israeli passport. Lebanon is now upset at Israel for laying claim to hummus, and I got an anonymous comment on my hummus recipe informing me that hummus is Lebanese, not Israeli. (I didn't post the comment. To me, that's like claiming that Apple Pie isn't American because it has its origins in Europe. I don't think you need to have invented a food to have it be central to your culture.)

Maybe the more important point is that we're both swiping up hummus with our pitas.


What War Zone?? T-shirts!

One of my favorite funny blogs about Israel is Benji Lovitt's What War Zone?? If you haven't checked it out, do so now... and you might just be able to catch Benji's standup act in the US!

Benji also just came out with a line of t-shirts featuring from his his favorite Israeli-isms and humorous lines. Click here for the full line. The "yiyeh beseder" t-shirts are great, because they capture the Israeli attitude towards everything from nuclear bombs to clogged storm drains, but I have to say that this one is my favorite:

It says "everybody loves a HOT guy," which only makes sense if you realize that one of Israel's two big cable companies is called HOT (with that logo). This results in fun conversations:

Me: I asked a HOT guy to come over this morning while you were at work.
Dear Husband: Oh? Why?
Me: Well, I was in the mood for some HOT Fun! but I couldn't seem to get it started on my own, so I called the HOT guy.
DH: You know, I really prefer it if you let me take care of this kind of thing myself. 
Me: Well, the HOT guy went back to his truck and called a few other HOT guys, and they got Israeli Entertainment going, but then...


I'm not sure that I can wear these shirts on the Israeli streets (well, maybe one of the yiyeh beseder ones... those might even catch on among regular Israelis!) but they would make hilarious gifts for anyone you know who has spent enough time in Israel to get the jokes.

What would you put on a t-shirt to celebrate all of the quirks of Israeli life? I'm very tempted to make bumper stickers saying "honk if you're Israeli." Get it? Get it?

Good times. :) 


Aliyah after the honeymoon...

I think I'm one of those people who is happier after the "honeymoon" wears off. My relationship with my husband, for example, is better now than it was five years ago when we got married. Of course, we have bad days, especially when it's... er... the time of the month when I just NEED to sink my teeth into some petty argument and shake my head around. In general, though, we are kinder to each other now, less likely to freak out at little faults, more vulnerable, better at giving each other what we need. Most of all, I value being comfortable together. I can dress in a ripped t-shirt and sweatpants and feel as attractive around him as when I'm dressed up. (Well, mostly. Regular showers are also important.)

I've been thinking about this a lot, lately, because in my life in Israel, I think I've moved past the honeymoon stage. And I love it.

First, a disclaimer: I know I'm very lucky, and I also know that I have probably moved to the phase of feeling comfortable in Israel faster than most olim. (I've heard it takes about three years, and I've been here for a year and a half.) I mean, this blog didn't grow out of nothing-- I was obsessed with becoming Israeli for years before I actually made aliyah. I came here with pretty good Hebrew and an Israeli husband, so I have someone to throw the phone to when I'm not sure whether the dentist is suggesting a teeth cleaning or a root canal.

When I first moved to Israel, though, I got easily embarrassed in stores when I couldn't communicate what I wanted or when the owners of the vegetable stand yelled at me for squeezing their peaches. I forced myself to read a whole novel in Hebrew, to cook from Israeli cook books, to eat salad for breakfast. I was like a person in the early stages of a relationship who is determined to prove that she has everything in common with her guy, that she is the perfect girlfriend and he a flawless paragon. Just as that isn't a realistic formula for a relationship, it's not a realistic expectation for aliyah.

There were good things about these early stages, too. Every holiday thrilled me (wow, we have concerts on Yom HaAtzmaut! People other than me are celebrating Sukkot!) and I generally looked at the world around me with shiny, love-struck, oil-glazed-from-too-much-falofel eyes.

Today, though, I forgive myself for reading newspapers in English or eating muesli and yogurt for breakfast. In some ways, I'm much more Israeli now-- I have grown to love nescafe, for example-- but I'm also comfortable with the ways in which I'm American. While driving somewhere strange in Haifa used to be a terrifying ordeal, it's now simply a trip to the nearest city. I expect to walk out the door and speak Hebrew. I listen to Galgalatz in the car and NPR over the internet at home, although many aspects of American culture and politics seem irrelevant and a little annoying to me now. And... please don't shun me, siblings... but I'm just as excited by a victory for the Maccabi Haifa football (er, soccer) team as the Pittsburgh Steelers. Whereas we used to go hiking to see as much of this beautiful country as possible, now we go because this, here, is our life, and we want to enjoy it. It's hard to explain this shift in feeling, but it's powerful. I live here. This is now my life.

I'm also much more comfortable acknowledging the imperfections of life in Israel. I look at politicians on TV and am more likely to think "scum bag" than "champion of Zionism." Before I came here, I idealized Israelis-- I saw them as more real and profound, less inhibited and fake. Some of that's true, some of that isn't. Israelis have shortcomings just like Americans.

The aliyah-as-marriage analogy works in many other ways, too: you must get to know each other first, you must be committed, you must discuss money and how to raise the kids and where to live. (I bet that the percentage of people who "divorce" aliyah over financial concerns is at least as high as the percentage of marriages that dissolve over money.) I once heard someone say that the best indication of how happy you will be in a marriage is how happy you are out of it. In other words, if you are miserable, don't expect marriage (or aliyah) to transform you. We are responsible for our own happiness. As I waited for aliyah, I reminded myself to practice enjoying life then so that I would be able to enjoy life in Israel.

Yet the fact is that I am happier now than I have ever been, just as I am so much happier and so much more myself with my husband than without him. I am growing into myself in Israel. The honeymoon is over, and life is good.

Now, if only Israel would remember to put the toilet seat down...


New Haveil Havelim!

Check out a last-minute edition of the weekly Jewish blog carnival here:


Thanks, Jack!


Come see "Just Say Yes" at the Haifa English Theatre!

If you really want to be Israeli, you all need to see the Haifa English Theatre perform "Just Say Yes" at some time during the next two weeks. It's practically a prerequisite. I have it on good authority that El Al will soon be quizzing you about the plot of this play as part of their security screening. Here's the blurb in the "Anglofile" section of the English version of HaAretz:
SAY YES TO LAUGHS: Life in Israel is tough, says Betsy Lewis Yizraeli, the chairwoman of the Haifa English Theatre, adding that her only goal is to counterbalance the daily stress and make her audience feel good. That's why the theater chose to perform Tom and Jack Sharkey's "Just Say Yes!" "It's a comedy all about the joys and the difficulties involved in living a life based on the power of positive thinking," the Washington, D.C., native explained, adding that in the theater's 29th year, both veteran immigrants, such as Murray Rosovsky, appear on stage as well as new immigrants who are performing for the first time in Israel. Rebecca Dekanu, for example, who moved here recently from Oregon, will start her army service next month. Directed by Ruth Willner, "Just Say Yes!" will open next Saturday. For tickets call (054) 539 8196.
More details:
You will JUST SAY YES! to this delightful Haifa English Theatre production opening in November at Haifa’s Beit Hagefen Auditorium.

Charismatic Blaize Caraway is a hard-nosed, ambitious self-improvement guru in the comedy JUST SAY YES! written by Tom Sharkey and Jack Sharkey.

Will Blaize learn something about life from his daughter Faye?  Or will one of the other women in his life show him the light?

Both his “irreplaceable assistant” Irene Joyce and her replacement Nell Eager have many ideas on the subject.  Arnold Adderby is the unlikely serpent in this hilarious “Garden of Ego.”

JUST SAY YES! is directed by Ruth Willner and will be performed by the Haifa English Theatre on the following dates at Beit Hagefen Auditorium, 33 Zionism, Haifa on

Thursday 12 November at 20:30

Saturday 14 November at 20:30

Tuesday 17 November at 17:30

Thursday 19 November at 20:30

Saturday 21 November at 20:30

Tickets are available at the door and by mail order.
And no, I didn't mean "Theater"-- by English, we mean "Angli," not "Anglit"! (However, they allow Yankees to participate too. :)

Fair disclosure: attending this production might not be the best way to be Israeli. However, it's a fun way to connect with the Haifa-area English-speaking community. A certain wanna-be-Israeli blogger is just possibly a cast member.

Please come!


A creepy piece of history

My husband woke me up this morning with an unusual question:

"Did you ever look at the marking on the bottom of our big serving platter?"

My husband isn't exactly the kind to get excited about porcelain makers. In fact, his main concern is usually the food on a plate rather than its brand name. So I was intrigued. He refused to tell me what the mark was until I went up to look at where it was drying on the counter top. (I'd used it to serve chicken on Shabbat, and it had sat in the fridge covered in plastic wrap since then. The plate is very large and heavy, but I manage to fit it into our microwave.)

I stumbled into the kitchen and saw this on the underside of the platter:

Didn't quite catch that? Maybe a closeup will help.

After a little bit of Googling, we learned that FI. U. V. stands for "Flieger Unterkunft Verwaltung"-- inventory of the German Luftwaffe (air force.)

I've been serving Shabbat chicken on a Nazi plate.


Now we are in a quandry. Do we A) continue to use this as a normal serving platter, B) save it as an interesting historical artifact, or C) try to sell it?

Option A doesn't feel right. For one thing, I can only imagine the reaction of my husband's Holocaust survivor grandparents if they noticed that I served fish to them on this Nazi platter. These are people who shudder at the sight of Volkswagons, let alone dishes marked with actual swastikas. Besides, I think I've lost my appetite.

Option B is kind of tempting. The platter was obviously brought to Israel by Holocaust refugees (and ultimately left in our cupboards by the previous tenants). In a way, it represents Jews rising out of the ashes of the Holocaust to live in freedom in our own nation. Take that, Nazi pilots! I served Shabbat dinner on your plate! On the other hand, it feels wrong to give any Nazi item a place remotely resembling honor in our home.

So then there's Option C, selling the plate. It's probably worth about 150-300 dollars (see similar, smaller plates here: http://www.redrumautographs.com/His2.html). But people who collect Nazi memorabilia creep me out...  this guy, for example, seems way too enamored with Hitler and swastikas. The ideal option might be to donate the platter to an Israeli museum, but I'm not sure which one.

So, that's how I woke up this morning. What would you do? Have you encountered any Nazi items in Israel? Any suggestions?


Stereotypes are fun! (Please help...)

Despite my complete lack of free time (believe it or not), I'm toying with the idea of creating a quiz to help y'all answer this critical question: what kind of Israeli are you?

Here are a few of the result categories that I have developed so far.

You love hair gel, polyester, skin-tight clothing, heavy perfume, and nightclubs. You are also quite possibly thirteen years old and/or in the Bublil family. Your home is an Isra-fab marvel. You believe in working hard and partying harder! If only it didn't take you so long to get ready for the club each night...

You connect to Israel through its nature. You love sweeping vistas, the smell of cow manure, and produce picked straight off the tree. You probably know how to milk a goat. In your daily life, you rarely meet anyone you haven't known since infancy. You favor peasant skirts, white cotton tunics, long hair, and quiet nights with the hooka. You probably know how to play acoustic guitar.

Your life revolves around Torah study and prayer. You may have more children than fingers. You are likely to live in Jerusalem or B'nei Barak. You know exactly what you will wear every day and exactly how you will spend each moment. You unwind on Friday nights with a good niggun and fabringen. If you own a cell phone, it's probably kosher.

American Oleh:
You probably live in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beit Shemesh, or Zichron Yaakov. Your first question when you go anywhere is "atah medaber anglit?" You've never quite mastered the Hebrew "r" or "ch." You were the only person applying for your job in a suit and tie. You actually allow other cars to cut in front of you on the highway, and you never forget to use the turn signal.

Russian Oleh:
You came to Israel because it was easier to get into this country than the US, but really you'd rather be back in Russia. This whole Jewish/Hebrew thing... not so much your style. You know how to hold your vodka and you can tear through pickled herring. In the wintertime, you like to turn on the Christmas tree lights and pretend that the sand on the beach is snow. Whether in chess or ballroom dancing, you are determined to turn your children into prodigies. Back in Russia, you were a nuclear physicist. Here in Israel, you clean floors. What? Bitter? You?

Tel Avivi:
You wear black, sip espressos in coffee houses, and recycle. You attend poetry readings in support of gay, underprivileged Palestinian youth. You are fairly certain that there is no civilized life outside a thirty kilometer radius of your two-million-shekel studio apartment, and you wish the rest of Israel didn't bring the reputation of your country down.

Ok, what did I miss? What would you change in these categories? What categories would you add?


It wasn't just Kiryat Bialik...

Here's a youtube video of Hertzeliya (near Tel Aviv) on Sunday:

Here's an even more impressive film: one of my friends took this video on his way to work through Haifa yesterday.

(I hope he had both hands on the wheel... those are geysers!) Last night, I was on one of the streets in the video. The water(falls) had cleared, but slabs of asphalt lifted from the road littered the parking spaces.

Kiryat Motzkin used to have the nickname "Agam Motzkin"-- Motzkin Lake-- because it flooded so often in the wintertime. As Doron said in the comments on Sunday's post, the primary reason that Israeli streets flood so badly when we DO get rain likes in Israel's "yiyeh beseder" attitude: ehhhhh, there probably won't be bad rain this winter. Why would be possibly need to clean fallen leaves and trash out of our storm drains?

On the plus side, though, the air smells like springtime, and the grass in the yard is already greener. A strong breeze whips in through my open window. The sky is deep, clear blue. Time to go hang laundry outside! (Did I mention that hardly anyone in this country owns a dryer?)

Every long-term Israeli I meet says that winters used to be much colder and wetter here. In recent years, winters have been warm(ish) and dry, plunging the water level in the Kinneret to dangerous lows. Let's hope this winter marks the shift of weather back to old patterns rather than a blip in global warming.

Bring on the rains!


You are TALL

In the US, I was considered a normal height. At five feet five inches (1.67 meters), about half the women I knew were taller than me, half shorter.

Here in Israel, this is me:

I cannot tell you how many times I have been called "gavoha" (tall) here. Sales people hear my shoe size and think I must be joking. (True, I have especially big feet, but size 9 1/2 shoes-- 41 European-- are at least usually available in the US!) When I'm with a crowd of Israeli women, I feel like that one tall girl in middle school... and I was really short at age 12.

Of course, it's not just me. In the US, my husband was on the shorter side of average, but now he is more often than not one of the taller people in a room. One of my olah friends is my height and bemoans the fact that it's hard to find guys who are taller than her. When the Israeli national soccer team plays, say, the Austrians, they can pretty much forfeit any head-butting duel.

To be fair, there are tall Israelis. I attended a bar mitzvah recently for a boy who had to be over 6'2". (His mother's speech consisted primarily of references to his height... in a loving way, of course!) If I hear about my height this often, I can only imagine what it feels like to be truly tall here. Does anyone have experiences to share?

So if you want to be Israeli, remember: you are probably taller than you think!

P.S. It's STILL raining. 


And then it kept raining...

One hour (and no additional rain) later...

Word to the wise: Israeli streets don't drain very well. Possibly because they don't usually need to.

P.S. New Haveil Havelim (the Jewish blog carnival): http://simplyjews.blogspot.com/2009/11/haveil-havalim-241-blogoversary-edition.html
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