view from my airplane seat

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mysterious page in today's newspaper

At first glance it looks like an ad, but it couldn't be. (for those who don't know, Israelis are forbidden to enter Syria, so there's no chance an Israeli newspaper could or would advertise tourism to Syria)
So what is this?

Feel free to vote or add your own suggestions:
1) An ad for advertising space (this is how desperate we've become)
2) Left-wing propoganda
3) Two Israelis made a bet in which the loser had to place a funny ad

other ideas... ?!

Friday, May 14, 2010

our Birthright and our freedom...

Last night I saw my dear childhood friend Jackie who is here on a Birthright trip. It felt like pure happiness just to stand next to her. We went to a classy bar-restaurant in the Tel Aviv port where we ate at the bar and the bartender spoiled us with free drinks to "start us off on the right foot" throughout the night. We were seated next to three non-Jewish Irish businessmen who work at Intel here and it was interesting to hear their perspectives about living in Israel. What was funny and frustrating about my time with Jackie was that she had a curfew - the Birthright participants were restricted to staying within the Tel Aviv port area, and they were threatened with being back at the bus by midnight on the dot (or else). Being 26 years old and with high-powered New York City careers, the participants were not amused by these rules to say the least. At the end of the night when I walked Jackie and her friends back to the bus, and I saw their typically American-anal counselors with name tags around their neck freaking out about how so-and-so was missing and the bus was going to leave without them, I just had to laugh to myself. Here was a group of adults, my age, who were being guarded like a bunch of prisoners that if let out of sight for a minute something terrible would happen -- while Israeli children are let loose to run wild across the country as they please. I have taken long walks through Tel Aviv and seen ten-year-olds beside me the whole way, unsupervised and unfazed. It's just funny how different the American and Israeli perceptions are of "what's safe" in Israel. But I understand Birthright. What they are doing is incredibly important, and Gd forbid the minute one bad thing happens to a Birthright participant, their reputation will be forever tarnished. And we can't afford to let that happen. So in a way I respect and accept Birthright's unbelievably anal rules- but as I walked away from my peers boarding that Birthright bus, I couldn't help but think to myself how grateful I was to be walking free through the Tel Aviv streets.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


No matter how far away the world is
or how much we try to forget
we'll always dream at night
and the past stays alive
and the people, dead or alive,
will never die
the world only gets bigger and bigger
and the wars we fight
just come closer and closer to our home.

Here in Israel
everything feels normal, if I let it
the sand of the beach is infinite
no matter how many thousands of bodies walk off with it
it doesn't recede one inch
and we are confident in everything we do here
so confident,
that even our small lies aren't lying,
it's how we socialize
it's the difference between life and a game.

And sometimes when I sleep in Israel
I get to go back
I get to be with my loved, loved friends
who feel like sisters I forgot I had
forgot to call
and I forgot how good it feels,
until I wake up
and then it's like I'm here, and everything seems normal,
until I remember I left my stomach
still digesting dinner at the kitchen table in Boston
and the highways run through my mind
like they'll never be forgotten,
like I'll never leave them
even as I sit here on the אדמה of the holiest place on our planet
I'm still riding the border of North America
and even as I'm being sung to in the holiest language of our history
I'm hearing my past
in my ankles and my elbows, aching up my back
in a whisper to me
where are you
where are you supposed to be
whose land is this really.

What's real suddenly seems so simple.
I miss my friends.

My friends, my friends, my friends.

And I don't know what's worse;
that none of you Israelis know how it feels,
or that none of my friends do,
or that there's no one place to be
to have everything you love all at once.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A question only an Israeli Jew would pose

Well I started up quite the thunderstorm at work today.

In my morning email I received the heartbreaking news that a close family friend (a girl I've known my whole life) has decided to raise her children Christian with her newly-engaged pastor fiance. The family is a mess, and I immediately felt sick to my stomach.

I shared the news with my friends at work, and one of them proposed a question to me. (Apparently, this is a common 'would-you-rather' that Israelis provoke one another with): Would you rather your child tell you that they're gay, that they've decided to become ultra-religious, or that they're marrying a non-Jew?

I almost laughed I thought the question was so ridiculous. OBVIOUSLY, marrying a non-Jew was the worst news a Jewish parent could hear from their child.
My response ignited a passionate tirade from another co-worker whom i adore dearly but i'm not gonna lie, she can be a bit intimidating on her soapbox :-) she challenged me with this question: what's more important, that your child be a good person or a believing Jew? she went on that this is exactly the problem today with the Diasporan Jews - that we still have the "ghetto" mentality. Not enough Jews in America think like the 'new, strong/Israeli Jew', where being confident in the Jewish people and focusing on being a good person and fulfilling one's individual potential are the primary values, and not merely blind survival. She said as long as Jews in the Diaspora think like an endangered species, we'll continue to be one.

I see her point (obviously) and she makes good, logical points (obviously) but -- as she herself pointed out to me -- she can only make this argument BECAUSE she is Israeli. Israelis think about the problem of Jewish continuity with a security blanket wrapped around their mind. They grew up in Israel, surrounded by Jews, and have no idea what it's like to grow up in the Diaspora.

Maybe shes right, that American Jews do think too much with a ghetto mentality, and maybe we do worry too much about survival rather than living life for life's sake. BUT - we are aware of the reality of the 'Jewish situation' in a way that most Israelis simply do not feel. (and this is not in response to anything my co-worker said, but I would like to now share my own thoughts). Jewish continuity is not a joke. The assimilation statistics are real. Here are the latest stats from the World Jewish Population site, just to back up my point:

"The worldwide Jewish population is 13.3 million Jews. Jewish population growth worldwide is close to zero percent.

Approximately 37% of worldwide Jewry lives in Israel. Israel's Jewish population rose by 1.6% the past year, while the Diaspora population dropped by 0.5%.

One study predicted that in the next 80 years America's Jewish population would decline by one-third to 3.8 million if current fertility rates and migration patterns continue[3]."

Not to mention the intermarriage rate in America fluctuates somewhere around 50%.

So while I agree that 'being a good person' if of COURSE a paramount value, there is good reason behind the 'ghetto mentality' that preoccupies so many Diasporan Jews.

None of us know for sure why the Jewish people continue to exist, after 3,000 years of persecution. Is it because Gd is watching over his chosen people? Is it a miracle? Is it sheer chance? Or is it because so many Jews worried about and made our continued presence on earth the priority?

We don't know. And we don't know what our future will be either - whether Israel's Jewish population will continue to grow to match the disappearing Diasporan population, or whether Gd forbid something terrible will happen to Israel and its population, or whether there will be a sudden revolution in the Diasporan Jewish population. What seems most likely of course is that the Jews will continue to populate the planet and continue to be persecuted.

So how should we think about those Jews that choose to intermarry/abandon the Jewish faith? In my opinion, it's all a matter of your frame of reference. It's good that there are Israelis who think the way my co-workers do, but it's also necessary that there are Diasporan Jews who consider our continuity our paramount value.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Israel - and 1-year Aliyah to me!

Summer is creeping into Tel Aviv and I'm loving it.
This Monday, April 26 marks the 1-year (Western-calendar) anniversary of my aliyah. On the Jewish calendar it happened on erev Yom Hazikaron last week, but I'm going to celebrate it by the American calendar with a few good friends and drinks. I can't believe it's been one year. So much has happened that it feels like the longest year of my life, and yet I remember everything so vividly, it can hardly seem like a year ago. But it was a wonderful year.
This past week we celebrated Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day - the 62nd year of the modern Jewish state. I think Yom haatzmaut is my favorite holiday - it's better even than my own birthday. Everyone's so happy and celebratory and patriotic and united - it really feels like the most holy day of the year in that way. Also I love the fact that basically nothing is illegal on Yom Haatzmaut - you can play music as loud as you want as late as you want and nobody can do anything about it. the parties are crazy. the streets are destroyed with garbage. and it seems every other building's rooftop is flashing with lights and dj's and dancers. There's simply no other night of the year that can compare!
I've learned many things about Israel and Israelis this year - most of them positive. But I do want to take a minute to note something new that I discovered recently about Israelis - to my horror - that I never knew before. Israelis (generally speaking of course) are seriously uneducated about STD's. It's crazy. Israelis just don't know much about them. Many schools (and of course the religious ones) don't teach sex ed. I guess the planners of Israeli education and society think they have bigger priorities than gonorrhea and chlamydia. But, it's really dangerous, because Israelis just don't know about these realities and the dangers of them - they think the only purpose of a condom is to prevent HIV/AIDS and pregnancy. And I've been taking a poll of my Israeli friends, and most of them tell me, most of the time, that they and their friends don't use condoms. Practically everyone's on the Pill and has been tested for AIDS, so what's the point of a condom? it's almost expected not to use one. and Israeli men can be aggressively antagonistic towards using one. But take for example genital herpes - there is no cure for genital herpes, and it can be a serious disease - women with herpes can't have a vaginal birth, for example. It's not a joke. And yet when I've asked my Israeli friends 'aren't you concerned about getting an STD like genital herpes' they say something to the effect of, well a lot of people have herpes, it's not a big deal. IMAGINE saying something like that to an American. It's just a completely different reaction. I was thinking about it and I realize that baby-making is one of the top priorities of Israeli society, so maybe it's not that shocking that condoms aren't as much of a given as they are in America. But as a friend of mine pointed out, if the country were under attack and the men had to go to war and half of them had herpes, we wouldn't be much of a fighting army. So maybe it is time for Israel to catch up with the Western world in this respect - put sex ed in school!!!
Thank you :-) That's enough of my tirade on that subject.
On a side note, hip-hop star Rihanna is coming to perform in Israel in May and the only way to get tickets to the concert is by volunteering 4 hours of community service. It's an awesome project that they set up, and I'd be all for it - except all the community service interferes with my work schedule. I'm hoping they'll set up opportunities in Tel Aviv on a weekend so I'll be able to get tickets... fingers crossed...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chag Pesach Sameach

Wow - it just dawned on me that it's been over a month since I updated my blog. (well, at least verbally). Many posts have been written in my head but sadly never made it to the keys. That's what happens when I feel like I'm always tired, I guess.
My father and stepmother have come and gone, in an incredible 2-week visit, deserving of its own post. Suffice to say for now that it was wonderful and comforting in a heartbreaking way to have them here. There's no better feeling than suddenly seeing your family on the familiar Tel Aviv streets - a shocking juxtaposition of the most familiar thing in the world in the most out-of-place setting. That is the stuff tears of joy are made out of. We spent an incredible Shabbat sight-seeing in the Golan (I posted pictures) and another Shabbat relaxing in Tel Aviv with friends. I feel like every time a loved one departs Israel my heart breaks a tiny bit, and each time Tzahi slowly picks me up and puts me back together. And yet every time I see another familiar loved face arrive in Israel, my heart surges in strength. It's a continual evolution; I hope Tzahi doesn't get tired of it! :-)
But in this post I want to digest the scene I just departed from - the Passover seder with Tzahi's family in Jerusalem. It was simply delightful. First of all, it was one of my rare tastes of Jerusalem from a secular point of view. Most of my visits to Jeursalem are spent with my religious friends who live there, and I don't often see the secular side of the city. Tzahi's grandparents - the grandmother immigrated from Romania and the grandfather from Turkey - live in a new housing development at the top of one of the highest hills in the city, which of course boasts a picture-perfect view both day and night. With the scenic location, however, comes cold winds. I would not want to live in Jerusalem - I didn't leave Boston to live anywhere less warm than Tel Aviv! We were a group of 18 people and I can honestly say I truly enjoyed the company of each and every one of them. The seder was not very different from most seders I've been to - the exception being the rice and hummus on the table, since their tradition allows for kitniyot. Tzahi brought his guitar and we sang songs around the table for hours. As the 20 bottles of wine started to take their toll on us, we cleared out the long table and began setting up camp in the living room. It was like a kibbutz, I'll tell you. Tzahi's sister and fiance were already falling asleep on the blow-up mattress, I was ready to pass out on my own portable mattress, while the grandfather and great-grandfather were engaged in a conversation on the couch beside me, and the 2-year-old girl wandered from lap to lap, too stimulated by all the action to go to sleep. Slowly slowly enough makeshift beds were made and we turned off the lights, and the group of us fell asleep together, like I did in summer camp as a girl. It felt disconcerting at first, and then comforting. That was until 7am when the sun and the two-year-old rose up and my hopes for continued sleep were permanently dashed. but that's ok. I had a chance for an afternoon nap after our tiyul to the old city and the kotel after lunch.
Like most of my experiences here in Israel, the language barrier runs through everything. It is everywhere, inescapable. It's like I have one leg, one arm, and one half of my face in the room, and the other half of my body caught in the door. I am a part of some conversations and not others. I can understand some members of the family and not so much others. When I was trying to get ready for bed and everyone was chattering away around me, I focused on reading my book. Tzahi's cousin asked me how I could concentrate on reading with all the noise, and I told her, it's hebrew. It takes effort to understand. If I want, I can turn off my head and not understand a word of it. I think that surprised Tzahi. But it's true. And the constant translation. Constant, constant, constant. Both my asking Tzahi and him asking me - and so many words turn into a discussion. Like how do you define what "literally" means? or "impact" or "buffalo soldier" or "jamming" or so many other words - it's just endless. Until either Tzahi or myself becomes fluent in the other's langugage, the translation discussions will be endless. Most of the time, it's easier just to do the fake smile. I had a talk with my friend Aliza about this, because she's American and over time became fluent in Hebrew. She told me the "fake smile" is a stage you go through in the process of becoming fluent, and I'll get past it in about another year or so. But it's an inevitable stage of the process. It's the point you reach when you can't ask everyone to translate every word they're saying - it's simply too tiring. and you can basically follow the conversation, albeit four seconds behind. So when the group bursts into laughter, you do too. You'll get there eventually, she tells me.
Hanging out with Aliza I realized I almost never hang out with Americans anymore. I guess I got into the habit because I wanted to surround myself with Israelis to acclimate and immerse in Hebrew. But then when I was hanging out with a group of Americans the other day, and realized how comforting and enjoyable and EASY it was, and that I find their jokes funny and vice versa, I realized I really miss this. I miss being around Americans. I need to do it more. It's good for my soul. So that's one of my new resolutions - to find the right balance of time with Americans and Israelis. I really am split down the middle.
After having gone with Tzahi to his office holiday party where they had a stand up comedian perform, I know that will be the ultimate milestone. The day I can attend an Israeli comedy show is truly the day I'll be a fluent Hebrew speaker. Until then, I can always try to laugh at myself :-)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Real job, real life

So what people call "the honeymoon of aliyah" must have definitely come to an end for me.
For the first time since my aliyah, it really feels like real life here. And I definitely attribute that to the start of my first real job in Israel.
And I feel very lucky. Even though it's a new stage of exhaustion, compared to many other olim I found a very good job within a relatively short period of time. I'm working 15 minutes from my house, with great people, in an atmosphere that allows me to both learn Hebrew and perform in English. So despite all the challenges, I am trying to focus on my gratefulness.
But challenging it certainly is. For example, staff meetings. While everyone in my office is extremely accomodating to my language barrier, it simply makes sense - and is most effective business-wise - to conduct staff meetings in everyone's mother tongue, Hebrew. For me I also wanted to participate in Hebrew meetings to help me learn. And I've been able to be a part of the conversation, here and there. But it's becoming apparent to me that it's a serious handicap. Missing one word can make all the difference in misunderstanding someone's intent. So I have to be careful. But little by little, I'm grasping the whole picture of my new company, and slowly starting to make the contribution that I aspire to make.
When I'm not coming home at 8pm and crashing nearly immediately, I've been enjoying this beautiful rare Tel Aviv winter. It's the warmest winter in 16 years they're saying. Every Shabbat for the past 3 Shabbatot have been beach days. I mean, literally beach days. Children playing naked on the sand, jet skis and sailboats trailing the horizon, tourists packing the boardwalk eating ice cream and crowding around street performers. I just returned from the beach now and feel really relaxed. The sun has a wonderful effect that I was painfully lacking all those winters in Boston and Montreal. I have said it many times and I'll continue to say it: If for nothing else, the weather is worth aliyah. You simply don't get better weather than Tel Aviv!
I hope it holds up to the coming week, when my dad and stepmom arrive. If for nobody else, I want them to enjoy this wonderful relief from the Boston temperatures. But I know even at its potential worst Tel Aviv will still be a welcome respite.
In other news, it seems to be engagement season... my sister Rachel just got engaged, as well as 2 close girl friends of mine. It's so exciting!!! There's no happier feeling. Just waiting for her to set a date and then I'll be counting down to my next America trip... this time with the Israeli boyfriend! :-) (who's never been to the USA before, so it will be especially exciting)

So now I'm a real Israeli with a real job and a real routine and a real salary... with commitment comes legitimacy as they say. Even though I am definitely going through a learning curve, every day that I'm on the job I think to myself: this is helping me cement more and more my successful future in Israel. And that's the best motivation there is.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Best first-day-of-work ever

I just had the most wonderful day. The timing of my new job couldn't have been more perfect -- the management had planned for today a staff-wide retreat to the north in honor of Tu B'Shvat, and I was invited to come along and get to know everyone before my first day at the office next week. The Tel Aviv office crammed into one car and we trekked north to meet the Kiryat Shmona office at a tree-planting site organized by Keren Kayemet Yisrael. There were 17 of us in total (I the only American) and it was my first time meeting everyone. It was a little nerve-racking at first with the language challenge, but I quickly realized that all my fellow co-workers were genuinely friendly, down-to-earth people who truly made an effort to make me feel part of the team. And it felt great to dig my fingers into the earth, smelling the familiar smell of moist dirt, planting a plant for the first time in I can't even remember how long. We split into two teams and participated in various challenges throughout the day. After the tree-planting we drove up to a magnificent view of northern Israel, above the border village of Metula. I had never been to Metula before and was shocked at how it literally sat along the border with Lebanon. From our high look-out point, the landscape at first appeared as a seamless expanse of beautiful green hills and majestic mountains. I assumed Lebanon was off in the distance. But as my eyes focused, I realized that everything I was looking at WAS Lebanon - the border was a mere fence right beneath me kissing the backs of the houses of Metula, and everything beyond was 'another land'. From our vantage point the fence was hardly visible and it was hard to cement mentally that concept of division from the aesthetically harmonious landscape. The most breathtaking part of the view was the Hermon - the tallest mountain in Israel, 3% of which is Israeli and 97% of which is Lebanese - which was whitewashed with snow. The snow looked so thick and creamy it was almost like you could imagine taking a teaspoon and dipping the cream off the top of the mountain. What was so incredible about it was that the whole view before us was lavishly green - green hills, green trees, green everywhere - and as you followed the green with your eyes up the mountain, at a certain point it just stops and turns to snow. The snowy cap literally looks out over kilometers of palm trees. It's such a beautiful paradoxical image. I had never before been that close to the Hermon, and none of us could stop staring at it. We learned a lot of interesting history about the area. For example, I never knew that when Israel pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, there were many Lebanese who had previously cooperated with Israel and worked doing various jobs in Metula, and when the surprise pullout took place and Israel locked down the gates, these Lebanese workers were desperate to cross the fence and return to their families before Hezbollah would shoot them down for having cooperated with the Israelis. Like my boss said, Israel is full of many sad and happy stories. From there we traveled to Nahal Ayun - a nature hike famous for its grand waterfalls. The hike took about 2 hours and along the way we stopped for a few team challenges, like skipping stones and racing each other and getting as close as we dared into the spray of the largest waterfall. Some of the most rare Israeli flowers were pointed out to me along the way. The hike concluded with turkish coffee brewed out of a backpack one of my co-workers carried along the way. From Nahal Ayun we traveled to Kiryat Shmona to the company's north office, which is really situated inside a small house on a moshav. It also moonlights as a tzimmur (an Israeli version of a b&b). Being one of the new people, I partook in the tradition of a walk along the river that runs behind the office. To get there my boss and the other new girl and I crunched our way through the deep underbrush of dark dried leaves alongside an orange orchard. The oranges were vibrant and lush and plenty. I'm sure we would have taken some from the ground if it were not for the modest fence attempting to protect them. As we descended upon the river the ground below us took the feeling of damp muddy sand, and we squatted to sway our fingers in the cool rushing water. Because of the recent rains the stream was very swift. We returned to the house/office, where everyone had a task in preparing our "al ha'aish" or barbecue. Unlike all my previous jobs where any office meal was either catered or ordered, this was my first home-made office meal. Everyone had a part. The men managed the chicken and meat on the grill while the women took care of the salads and vegetables and dips and drinks. We equally shared the clean-up, swept the floor, shook out the heavy weight of accumulated leaves from the netting looming over our cars, and headed on to Rosh Pinna. We drove straight up the steep hill of Rosh Pinna and parked on the cobblestone of the old moshav. (In fact, Rosh Pinna was the very first moshav of Israel, just weeks before Petach Tikva was founded - one of the many interesting facts I learned today). We made our way to the famous chocolaterie and our cozy reserved tables in a corner among low pillowed couches. The waiters brought us hot chocolate in cups decorated with chocolate and trays filled with a cornucopia of chocolate cake, pies, cookies and chocolate-covered fruit. They topped off our meal with chocolate shots in cups we could actually eat - true to Willy Wonka style. Our last challenge of the day was a trivia challenge about northern Israel. I knew none of the answers, but on the plus side I learned a lot. And it made me excited and motivated to learn more about Israel. After the chocolate shots the winner of the day's competition was announced, and it was my team! We all received mini-medals and posed in a picture together. We were exhausted, in fact it was more exhausting than a day's work, but it was a day good for everyone's soul. It must be the air of the north. Or the humbling feeling of gazing up at the majestic Hermon. Or the rushing rhythm of the roaring waterfalls. Whatever it was, the day was the perfect recipe for peacefulness.
And on top of everything, it was a maximum day of Hebrew practice. There was no way I was going to impose upon 16 Israeli adults to spend the day speaking English or translating for me, and besides I've already been here for 9 months; so immersion it was. I certainly didn't understand everything, and at times the language barrier made me feel like an outsider, but I've come to realize it's ok. You can't swallow Hebrew the way you can swallow a glass of water. It's like bending over sand at the beach, opening your palm, and one by one placing grains of sand into your palm. It's that tedious and exhausting and frustrating. But even though you're standing on a sand-covered beach, at the end of the effort you have a palm full of sand. So although I don't understand every sentence, with hard work I am gaining the gist of the conversation. And with more work, and more work, and more work, I'll eventually be walking freely in that conversation. I hope.
But I've had my Hebrew quota for the day. Now, to the bath. Layla tov.

p.s. unbelievable pictures VERY soon to come

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Becoming a real Israeli

So I have some exciting news to share... I got a job!!!
I'm starting Feb 1 as the Marketing Operations Manager for a Tel Aviv start-up company. I'm really excited, it should be a great start for me here. And the best part is I'll have a regular salary coming in which will relieve my financial stress. I'm finally going to be a real Israeli!
Although I'm sad to leave the girl I've been babysitting for the past 6 months... we've become close and I'm going to miss her. I realized the other day that even though she's only 9 years old, she has played a significant role in my aliyah adjustment. She's taught me about Israeli TV shows, Israeli music, Israeli celebrities... and what the realities are for children in Israeli schools. It was really a special and unique relationship. Well I promised her that I will always be in her life and I intend to remain committed to that! (As my mom said, who knows, maybe she could work as a babysitter for me one day! Wouldn't that be funny.)

My new company is taking the whole staff on a retreat next week to the north in honor of Tu B'Shvat. We'll plant trees, go on a hike, and bond as an office. I'm the only American in the company, so even though all the work is in English, the office conversation is generally in Hebrew. I'm looking forward to that challenge. I've now been out of ulpan for about a month and a half and I've noticed how dramatically my Hebrew learning has slowed. I'm still practicing daily and learning new words, but compared to the pace in the ulpan, I'm feeling the lag. I want to get back into a part-time ulpan class as soon as my schedule allows it.

Last week I celebrated my 27th birthday. My first birthday as an Israeli. It was really nice. I went for dinner at one of my favorite Tel Aviv restaurants (Zepra - I highly recommend it) with my close friends and Tzahi. We drank wine and had a fabulous time.
Over the weekend Tzahi took me to see "Avatar" and I absolutely LOVED it. It's an ultra-modern twist (futuristic if you will) on the classic imperialism story. It's amazing how they have you rooting for the blue aliens over fellow human beings. What I loved about the story was how they emphasize how everything in nature - and therefore in the world - is one big interconnected network of energy. I've learned this myself through yoga but it's so easy to forget or dismiss. But it's undeniably true. The movie inspires you to want to get back in touch with nature, the earth, life. Our world is just as amazing as Pandora (the planet in Avatar) we have just taken it for granted.

And then there's Haiti. I was discussing with my employer why it is that it seems every major natural disaster (tsunami, earthquake, tornado, etc) seems to be happening in the poorest parts of the world. My employer argued that its the other way around -- that these countries are poor BECAUSE of the fact that they experience so many natural disasters. But then I pointed out an example like California, who suffers many extreme earthquakes, but seems to recover from them much more efficiently. It's easy to blame imperialism for all the problems of the world -- but I can't help but wonder if it has something to do with this as well.

So there are lots of changes... but good changes. I'm excited to enter this next phase of my life in Israel - a real working woman. It's always hard for me when I make a change to leave those things behind. It's like the little anxiety that accompanies every birthday - questioning whether I'm "ready" to take on the next age, the next step. But I always seem to find that after I surpass the change, I'm even happier.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Struggling to keep up with genderized speech

Of all the things that amaze me about fluent Hebrew speakers, I think what amazes me the most is how people always automatically know the gender of the object of their sentences. When speaking Hebrew, you have to be constantly conscious of gender. Everything has a gender - nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, even words like "it" and "this" and "will be". everything. so when I speak, unless I want to sound like an idiot who only speaks in the singular masculine present (which I don't), I am always forced to slow down and think for a second - ok the object of my sentence is future female plural - and convert all the other elements of my sentence appropriately. but it just amazes me how Israelis just do it so naturally, automatically, they just KNOW the gender of whatever they're talking about, always. But when you're learning Hebrew they tell you, there's no way to know the gender of anything except for just learning it - memorizing. there's no trick. sure there are certain letters that make a noun more likely to be male or female (such as words ending in "mem" are more likely to be male and words ending in "nun" are more likely to be female) but a lot of the time, you just have to memorize. Like what makes a door feminine and a window masculine? Or what makes the word for "breasts" masculine and the word for "war" feminine? It's not logic. You just gotta memorize. So it's quite impressive to me when I hear little children around me babbling away, converting all their adjectives and such according to the proper gender, I'm just like -- how do you KNOW?!! amazing. simply, amazing.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Taking in Georgia – a beautiful bit of culture shock

Before yesterday, I didn't know very much about Georgia. I knew Georgians were kinda like Russians and there was a significant community of them here in Israel. But that was about it. So last night, my roommate, who has a Georgian grandmother, brought me to a full-on Georgian wedding at a hotel here in Tel Aviv. About 10 minutes from our home, I was not prepared for a night of serious culture shock. First of all, the dress. At all the Israeli weddings I've been to thus far, Israelis dress so casual I've seen grooms without suits and guests in jeans and flip flops. Georgians take it to the opposite extreme. The women are decked out to the NINES – we're talking full length, tight, scrunched, sequined, and diamond-encrusted ballroom gowns. Every single one of them had been to the hairdresser that day and their heads adorned bees nests of hairsprayed ringlets and glittering jewels from their collarbones to their fingers to the heels of their 6-inch shoes. And there was a lot of gel happening among the men, who proudly displayed their perfectly polished and cleavage-accented wives on their arms. Needless to say, my roommate and I stood out in our plainness. And our non-marriedness. This particular bride and groom had gone above and beyond a million shekels on this wedding. The food was first class, and abundant beyond imagination. The number one most powerful wedding planner in Israel was running the show. And a show it was. Around 9pm the guests were ushered from the preliminary cocktail room (which had a smorgasbord of food) to the chupa room – boasting a prominent raised white runway leading to a stage-size chupa blooming from every edge with white roses. They hired some famous singers who stood at the far end of the runway, singing hauntingly beautiful Judaic melodies to the family members as each made their way down the aisle. Now from what I understand, Georgians value nothing higher than family. You can see how big a role the family plays. (They also marry very young – I could have sworn the grandmother was the mother. She looked impossibly good to be a grandmother. But you can see that just about everyone over the age of 21 was married. Which was a shock to me all its own.) So the two mothers walked down the aisle together holding up beautiful tall candlesticks. The groom and his father came down the aisle, and then the bride with her father. The bride and her father stopped halfway, and then the groom came back down toward them, hugged the father, the father walked away, and then he took the bride, kissed her forehead, and lowered the veil over her face. She was stunning. An absolute Cinderella. The ceremony proceeded, and one thing I liked was that they incorporate actual dancing as part of the chupa ceremony. He lifted her veil once more to ascertain that it was she, broke the traditional glass, and then they finally kissed. From there we were ushered into the main hall. It was like a king's ballroom. After we had been seated and eaten enough salads and fish and appetizers to suffice a meal, the king and queen – I mean the bride and groom! - were heralded by a blasting trumpet and dimmed lights. They took the spotlight in a beautiful fairy tale dance, after which everyone else joined the dance floor. But there was no hora. No hora! A Jewish wedding with no hora! I couldn't believe it. The Georgians are big on the hand dance instead. Also they had hired a top-rate band which included a dozen professional dancers in moulin rouge outfits. The whole scene kinda felt like a blend of moulin rouge, a king's ball, and a high school prom. I just couldn't stop staring at everything. Also the bride and groom had made this video, it was like a music video, about themselves and imagining different scenarios they might have met (they actually met through a matchmaker). It was displayed on screens across the walls. It was cheezy and cute. The party was gonna go til 7am but after the meat course was served at 1am, we decided not to stick around for dessert. Georgia is just another world entirely. But definitely one that's nice to look at!

Monday, December 28, 2009

If there's any justice out there... please come forward now

This is what I call an I Hate Israel day. For those who don't know me too well don't take it too seriously -- I still love Israel with all my heart, soul and mind. It's just that I'm extremely angry.
Might we start with mentioning the fact that I almost got beaten with a cane by an old lady on the street today. It sounds funny until you're actually in the situation. I was simply waiting for the use of an atm, which an old lady was blocking and I couldn't tell if she was arriving or departing. I offered very politely in Hebrew to help her, and she shouted at me to back off. I took a step back, and as she was slowly moving away from the atm, I slowly moved forward. She got angry by my approach and suddenly lashed out at me with her cane. Luckily she missed, but I and the other pedestrians around me were simply speechless. That's what you get for offering to help!
But no. I would like to dedicate this particular blog post to my landlord, the one and only Yitzhak Gaffney. If there was ever any question in my mind as to whether someone could be both Jewish and pure evil, Yitzhak answered it. I could fill a book with the number of grievances my roommates and I have accumulated in a short 6 months against this money-making manipulative liar. But I'll spare you. This is just the update from this week. He calls us at 11pm to inform us that men will be doing renovations on the roof starting at 10am. At 7am I awake to what sounded like drilling on my head. We go up and find workmen beginning what would be a roof-replacement project. We call our landlord to ask what exactly is going on and all he tells us is that the contract we signed allows for him to do renovations of any kind at any time. And that we better move our things away from the part of the ceiling that will soon be open to the sky. One of the workmen who knows us pulled my roommate aside and tells her that he's only telling us this because he sees that we are good people - but the truth is that our landlord picked us as tenants this year because he knew he would need to do serious renovations on the apartment and wanted olim chadashim who would be powerless to stand up to him. And that we were going to be in big trouble if it rains, because without a roof, our entire apartment will flood. Oh, and because of the roof renovations, our dud shemesh (water heater) got broken and we have no hot water. My roommates and I didn't know what to panic about first. I called my landlord about the lack of hot water and he gave me the name of a fix-it man to call. The man I call tells me he's about to fly to Thailand and I should talk to his brother who will come in his place. When I talk to his brother he tells me he hasn't heard anything about this and isn't coming. When I call my landlord to tell him this, his phone is off and he doesn't call me back. So I went up to the roof and found one of the men working there, and asked if he would take a look at the dud shemesh for me. He told me he would. Even though this is absolutely not his project. But it is my only hope. Until then, I've showered at my boyfriend's parents' house, my friend Jen's house, and my neighbor Zevik's house. I'm starting to feel like a wandering showerer. Upon hearing this story, some of our friends have laughed that now we know what it feels like to be homeless and we should appreciate what we do have. I might feel more grateful if I wasn't paying so much rent to a man who doesn't have the decency to return his tenant's phone call, nevertheless supply us with hot water. Actually you know what he said? He told me to shower in the afternoon when the water would be naturally warmed by the sun. Because of course I'm home in the middle of the day with nothing else to do but shower! And what makes me the most angry is that our landlord is a millionaire who owns our whole building plus several hotels, and he doesn't have a shred of decency to see us as the zionist, optimist, young new immigrants that we are, demanding nothing more than a solid roof over our heads - he takes total advantage of us, and there's absolutely nothing we can do.
Oh, and is there any chance the drilling might start at a more reasonable hour, say 8am? Just be grateful it's 7am and not 6 was my answer. That's Israel for ya.
For anyone considering moving to Israel, always remember - we don't move here because Israel is a Mediterranean version of America. Far from it. It's the Jewish homeland, and we live here despite everything that comes with that.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chanukah in shorts and a t-shirt

The highlight of my Chanukah experience in Israel was definitely Festigal. "Festigal" is an annual Chanukah commerical performance for children, starring major Israeli music celebrities. I never would have gone had it not been for the girl I babysit for, who asked me to take her. I figured it would be good Hebrew practice, and had no idea I would enjoy it so much. I was very impressed; I truly didn't know Israel was capable of such a high-calibre musical show. What I really loved was the imparting message of the play-within-the play: there are two warring "sides" and at the climax they decide to choose love and peace over continued warfare. They come together saying "my grandfather's grandfather's grandfather was the brother of your grandfather's grandfather's grandfather", and one character even says, "It's just like us and the Arabs." It was so blatant that the mission of the play was to teach children love and peace over hate and war. I was so touched to see that, in a context where it wasn't even necessary to go there. This was simply a Chanukah celebration. But Israelis truly try to take every opportunity to impart messages of peace. I wonder if anywhere in an Arab land such a show would ever take place...

My Chanukah celebration concluded with a trip to the Dead Sea, which was wonderful. It was warm enough to sunbathe in a bathing suit, but the water was very cold. At first we were worried about traveling there in the first place because the rest of the country was experiencing heavy rain, and being that the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth, it can suffer from deadly flooding. Especially because you're driving down steep cliffs to get to the Dead Sea, flooding can make rocks fall, which is even scarier. But everything stayed calm and dry, and we had a wonderful, relaxing time.

It's funny that Christmas is in 2 days. It's impossible to know it here. Christmas is just a totally regular day. You wouldn't even know that it exists, except for the fact that Israel gets an influx of visitors now coming on their xmas break. Today was sunny and warm and I went for a run on the beach in shorts and a t-shirt. I can't believe it's December! It doesn't get much better than this :-)