Archive for September, 2010

First Sukkot in Israel

Sukkot is different this year. It is not just a little bit different — it is extremely different in almost every way.

Unwrapping the sukkah -- no assembly required

Let’s start with the sukkah.

In the past, I have used aluminum tubing to construct a frame. A canvas was then attached around the frame to create walls and bamboo mattes were rolled on top to create the roof.

Our current sukkah is a bit different. First of all, it came with the house that we are renting — the sukkah is basically the patio. I had to “construct” the sukkah by removing the plastic cover resting on the roof. The walls of the sukkah are composed of the house and the wall on the property line. No assembly required. Just unwrap and enjoy!

Our old home in Maryland did not have a deck or patio, so the sukkah was built on the lawn. It was generally raining in Maryland around Sukkot, so the lawn would get muddy and we would always track mud and grass into the house.

In Israel, the rain has not arrived yet and the weather is pleasant all through the night. It is actually enjoyable to use the sukkah. No eating in the rain or shivering in the cold.

Sleeping in the old sukkah was virtually impossible because of the rain and the slugs. The thought of waking up with a slug on my face always drove me inside the house. Sleeping in this sukkah is easy. I am no longer worried about waking up with slugs all around me, although perhaps I should worry about waking up surrounded by Arabs. I guess, in a manner of speaking, I am sleeping while surrounded by Arabs, but that doesn’t really bother me as long as they are not in my immediate area. Out of sight, out of mind.

My sukkah is not the only big difference. The fact that so many other families also have a sukkah is also a bit unusual for me. I used to walk around Columbia and see only a handful of huts. Here in Israel, there are sukkot everywhere — front yards, backyards, hilltops, restaurants, balconies, and rooftops. It is really awesome being saturated with the holiday.

The tops of each sukkah can be seen

Sukkah under construction before the holiday started

Outside the Old City

My old home was basically located in a Judaic wasteland with a small oasis called Chabad. We would sometimes venture from that wasteland to the holy city of Baltimore where we could at least experience a Judaic environment. Yesterday, we traveled to Jerusalem to experience the holiday in the true Holy City.

Jerusalem is always an experience. Because of the holidays, major portions of Jerusalem near the Old City were blocked to automobile traffic by police. We managed to somehow find a parking space that was only a 30 minute walk from the Kotel. It was all very orderly. Apparently, the annual rock throwing contest where Arabs throw rocks on Jews from the top of the Wall was abruptly canceled a few days earlier when soldiers broke up the event. Afterwards, the area on top of the Wall was restricted to those over the age of 50. I guess throwing rocks down upon Jews is a young man’s sport in the Arab world.

Entering the Old City

The Wall

The Wall again

Today, I traveled into the West Bank. It was my first time in the West Bank since arriving 5 weeks ago, but I’ll discuss that trip another time.


The Cough

I guess socialized medicine really does work.

Shortly after we arrived in Israel, I developed a really bad cough. I was coughing constantly — a really painful cough that sounded awful and included gobs of phlegm. After a week of it getting progressively worse, I decided that I really needed to see a doctor.

We use the Macabbi health plan. It is one of four competing, quasi-governmental health care organizations. I explained (in English) to the clerk at the Macabbi main office that I needed to see a doctor right away and she gave me a book. The book contains all the approved doctors (throughout the country) covered by the plan. It is a thick book. The book has small letters. The small letters are all in Hebrew. They don’t have an English edition.

Hmmm, one more time. I explained again that I needed to see a doctor right away and that I only speak English and that I didn’t know where any of the doctors are located and that I could not read the book. There was a brief pause while she stared at me and then, she suddenly realized that I was actually asking for help finding a doctor. She grabbed the book, leafed through it, and then circled an entry and explained that he speaks English and that his office is just outside the facility to the right.

The doctors don’t actually work at the facility; they have their own offices scattered around the county. This doctor apparently was located very close, although it did take me a while to find the office. I think the main problem was that the doctor’s office was actually just outside to the left.

When I entered the office and explained the situation, I was told that I needed to make an appointment. When I explained that I was there to make an appointment, I was told that I need to make the appointment over the Internet. However, since I was new (and didn’t yet have an Internet connection and wouldn’t be able to make the appointment on an all Hebrew website anyway), they would make an exception this time. My appointment was scheduled for later on in the early afternoon.

At the appointment, the doctor asked about my medical history and then listened to my lungs with a stethoscope. He then declared that my lungs sounded clear, that I probably just had a virus, and that it would all clear up by itself.

The coughing continued for a couple of weeks, but I just realized a few days ago that all my symptoms have vanished. I don’t know when it stopped, but it is now gone. So, the socialized health care really did work!

Categories: Israel Tags: , ,

Kohav Ya’ir

We had a change in plans on eruv Yom Kippur. My son had spent the night at a friend’s house and we were planning on picking him up. However, he called and asked if he could stay with his friend over Yom Kippur. We agreed, so we had to pick him up this afternoon.

However, the first thing each weekday is uplan. To the best of my knowledge, Israel is the only country in the world that actually knows how to start and end each week properly. Sunday is the first day of the week and Saturday is the last, so in Israel, the work days start on Sunday and the weekends are Friday and Saturday.

Anyway, today in ulpan (among other things), I learned how to ask about birthdays.

בן כמה אתה? אני חושב שאני בן ארבעימ וחמש.

That should translate to “How old are you? I think that I am forty-five”, but the literal word-for-word translation is strange: “Boy how much you? I think that I boy forty-five.”

Sixth grade cross guards

Enough Hebrew for now. After ulpan, I picked my daughter up from school. They put the 6th graders to work here in Ra’anana as cross guards at the intersections. They do a great job in the morning, but the afternoon shift can get a bid hot and boring.

I wanted to take some pictures of my daughter’s school, but the armed guard at the gate was not happy about photographs being taken. I can shoot with my camera and he can shoot with his sidearm, so I did a quick mental trade-off analysis and determined that the best option was to take no more photographs. As a result, I only have one distant photo from the school’s outer fence.

The Ariel Elementary School

This is part of the walk home.

Part of the walk from school to home

The trip to pick up my son was uneventful, but still a bit interesting. His friend lives in Kohav Ya’ir which is a small town to the north-east next to the West Bank. Since we are newbies in Israel, we were specifically told to avoid the shortest drive through the town of Tira, since it is primarily an Arab town.

Instead, we took a route that was only about 10 minutes longer. Along the way, we had a nice view of the city of Qalqilya which is definitely a primarily Moslem town. I know because I could not count all the minarets — there were just too many. Later, I looked the town up on Google maps and determined that it is in the so-called West Bank. The photo is terrible; there must have been at least 30 minarets that I could see from the road, but most of them cannot be easily seen in the photograph.

Minarets in Qalqilya

Kohav Ya’ir is a really nice, quiet town. Here are some photos of the drive through the town. Try to ignore all of the dirt on the windshield.

Categories: Israel Tags: , ,

An Odd Morning

The first overcast sky

Something very strange happened this morning — the sky was overcast.  It actually looked like it might rain. The rain never came and eventually the cloudy sky broke.

We haven’t seen any rain since we arrived, although, it did rain once in the night.  Most of the rain had already evaporated when we woke up, but we found the evidence on the car; you could see water trails through the dirt on the car.

Today is the day before Yom Kippur and Shabbat.  I am pressed for time. I need to leave in half an hour to pick up my son in a town about 30 minutes away. I don’t recall the name of the town, but I was told to take the long route to avoid an Arab village.

Categories: Israel Tags:

Less Is More

I finally gave up yesterday.  I was clinging by my fingernails in the “advanced-beginners” ulpan class, but on the morning of the third day, it was obvious that I just didn’t belong.  I interrupted  the teacher and tried to say (in Hebrew), “I understand very, very little.  Is this alef-plus?”  She looked at me like I was standing on my head wearing pink pajamas. This is what I was trying to say:

אני מוינ הרבה הרבה קצת. זה א פלס?

I just ran this through the Google translator and it claims that the meaning is:

“Do I Make over a long, long while. It’s a spirit level?”

After babbling along for a few more minutes speaking both broken-Hebrew and English and using the other students as partial translators, we finally decided that I should be in a lower class level.  So, just like that, I packed my things and left.

Last week, after speaking with my wife about her class, I realized that I should not be in an advanced class. She was learning things that I didn’t know.  I spoke to the clerks and the manager and we all agreed that I should just start in a basic beginners class. However, I was specifically told that I could not join my wife’s class since it was closed. Instead, I needed to come on Sunday and join a new class.

On Sunday morning, all the new students were directed to a big auditorium to get sorted into classes. I’m not talking about a few students; there must have been 150 students in the auditorium. One at a time, each teacher would stand on one side of the room while the manager called the names of the students in that class.  My name was called in the fourth class.  As soon as my name was called, the manager looks at me, talks to a few other people, and tells me that I’m not in this class and that I’ll be in a different class.  Later, my name was called again for the last class and that’s the class that I joined.  It seems obvious to me that they added my name to a beginner’s class, but didn’t remove my name from the advanced class.

After leaving the advanced class, I went back to the office and said it was too difficult and that I needed to join a beginner’s class.  Fine.  I was taken down the hall and brought into a new classroom.  There was an exchange in Hebrew with the teacher and I was told to sit.  The fascinating thing about this snafu is that my new class is also my wife’s class.

This class has been in session for over a week and they had already covered a bit of material. I made a great first impression.  The only open seat was right in the front next to a women from Venezuela (i.e., she speaks Spanish). The class was divided into groups of two (me and Ms. Venezuela were together) and each group was given a random photograph. We were suppose to create a story about the photograph using all the words that we learned. I figured we were just supposed to tell a story to each other, so me and Ms. Venezuela created a story with each other.  Meanwhile, everyone else in the class (behind me) was writing down the story knowing that they would have to stand in front of the class and tell it.  Ooops. The morah (teacher) started in the back of the room and had each group come to the front. The all did a really great job.  My wife was awesome. My group was the last. We went to the front and my extremely limited vocabulary suddenly plummeted to a level of a four-year old chimp. What a disaster. I forgot the story and I could not create a new one because I couldn’t remember any words. I think my wife is now more popular in the class because she married someone with a mental handicap.

Regardless, I can say that this is a much better class for me.  I am actually learning something.  Check this out:

עכשיו, אני לומד עברית ברעננה וגם אני גר ברעננה


Today, after class, my wife and I had a bunch or errands (this happens every day). Since this is a socialist country, the government gives money to everyone who has children.  It is a small, monthly payment paid directly into your bank account based on the number of children in the home. The catch is that the government has to be aware that you have children.

We received a letter (written in Hebrew) from some government ministry that listed our children. We figured it was related to the child allowance and we used it as a reminder to sign up. The ministry in our region is located in the town of כפר–סבא (K’far-Saba) which is a neighboring city. I didn’t know exactly where it was located and I couldn’t really read the letter, so I looked up the address on the Internet.

We drove to the location and discovered that parking in K’far-Saba is just as bad as it is in Ra’anana, i.e., you basically cannot do it.  We were in traffic trying to figure out what to do when a car pulled out in front of us from the curb. Great! My wife (who was driving) tried to jump into the spot, but couldn’t really get the angle right because of the car behind us. The car behind us also wanted the spot and wouldn’t back up. After a few minutes, the car behind us gives up, and double parks a bit in front of us. The driver jumped out of the car with some garbage bags and raced into a store. Fine. We parked!

I got out of the car to find the actual office location. I was looking for address number 39. On one block, the addresses ran 32-38, then there was a huge building under construction, followed by a block with addresses starting at 42. Hmmm. After a bit of confusion, my wife asked someone in a store and was told that the address was behind the building under construction.

Eventually we found the access to this building-behind-the-construction-area and the clerk at the desk told us that the ministry was no longer located there. Apparently it moved a while ago and the web site was not updated. However, he showed me the correct address on the letter that we received in the mail. I was able to find the correct address on my iPhone map. This whole process must have taken half an hour. During that time, my wife and daughter left to look for a snack.  When I returned to the car, I discovered that the car was gone, but the other car was still double-parked and blocking traffic in one lane. Unbelievable! Eventually, I hooked up with my wife and we headed for the new address.

The ministry was actually a nice office located in a mall. There were two security checks. The first was just a quick check of bags. The second included a metal detector and a more detailed examination of bags. This was a serious inspection. I had to go through the metal detector three times (it found my phone and then my coins). I also had a wand waved over me and they went through all of the zippers in my backpack. They managed to find my laptop and a small screwdriver and I was then informed that neither were allowed. However, they could watch my laptop (and screwdriver) at the desk. I was given a hand receipt and we moved into the office. My laptop was literally sitting on the desk. My daughter decided that she would stand by the desk and watch to make sure nothing happened to my things.

My wife and I came together to this office under the assumption that we both needed to be present. We didn’t really know if it was necessary, but it would just be to annoying to come alone and discover that both parties were required. We spoke to a very pleasant lady who explained the letter, made a phone call, and then explained that we were already signed up and didn’t need to do anything. Apparently, the health insurance company notified the government for us and the letter that we received was a notice that we were already signed up. So, although we assumed that both of us needed to be present, in reality, neither of us needed to come!

Categories: Hebrew, Israel Tags: , , ,

Rosh HaShana

Wow. I just had the best ראש השנה (Rosh HaShana) ever. I am really beginning to love living in רעננה (Ra’anana).

I’m quite certain that this must be some form of insanity. The house that we are renting is (still) a disaster. My kids complain that they don’t understand anything in school. You never stop sweating (because of the 90 degree heat and 70% humidity). People drive cars (and shopping carts) like they are in some third-world country (or Ohio). The streets in the town are arranged seemingly according to the design of some complete lunatic. Did I mention that it never cools down. It takes forever to do anything. Parking is…, well,.. actually it isn’t — parking is basically driving around the center of town endlessly until you forget what you want or get bored and go home. The traffic lights are timed and always too short. When you speak, most people don’t have a clue what you are saying.

And yet, it is really growing on me. The people in Ra’anana have been so inconceivably friendly and helpful that it defies all explanation and reason.

We joined the Beit Knesset Ohel Ari.  This is an amazing shul — simply beautiful. We joined because it is “the American shul where we will feel more comfortable because it is run like an American shul.” Hmmm, I suppose that might be true.  It does have a lot of American members and it does have a head rabbi and it does maintain a schedule.  I’ve heard that many other local shuls work differently —  local Israelis just get together at whatever time and argue about how to run the shul. I have not yet experienced this, although I plan on experimenting with other shuls since there are about 80 within a walking distance.

Having said all that, my first few visits at the Ohel Ari were underwhelming.  Back in Maryland, my local shul was a small Chabad.  Sometimes, my family would visit friends in Baltimore and we would attend services at a larger shul. The Ohel Ari, however, is huge — maybe I just felt lost (and clueless) in the crowd. But the services for Rosh HaShana were just awesome.

I started my ulpan class today. I thought ulpan meant something like “Hebrew Language Class for Dummies”.  I was wrong. I now know that ulpan really means “Hebrew Class for a Bunch of Smart Russians and Brits Along with One Dummy from Maryland”. Since I was advanced (I can spell my name) but not quite ready for aleph+, I was placed in the advanced aleph class. We “learned” at least 16 verbs (with conjugations) along with quite a few nouns. After we went over most of the verbs, the מורה (teacher) asked if anyone thought it seemed like a lot of verbs.  I raised my hand; actually I raised it only half-way. No one else bothered to respond at all.  The teacher looked at me, alone, with my hand half raised, and said, “I thought you might think so.” Then she goes on to give us more verbs.

Later, we broke into groups to work on creating sentences with all the new verbs.  We were each suppose to take turns creating sentences that everyone in the group would write. I thought trivial sentences would be fine, but I lost that vote. So, we had to create complex sentences using words and phrases that I didn’t know or understand. The group members were kind enough to explain the sentences to me though — even the ones that they wrote for me.

But it is all in good fun and I don’t mind the challenge of muddling through the super-advanced beginners class.

Categories: Hebrew, Israel Tags: ,

Eruv Rosh HaShana

Today is eruv Rosh HaShana, meaning the Jewish new year starts tonight at sundown.  Rosh HaShana is a two-day holiday and this year it leads into Shabbat. This is the only scenario for a three-day holiday for those living in Israel. It is a bit odd that our first holiday is a three-day holiday.

Things are still moving at a very fast pace, so it is hard to keep up and difficult to blog. Too much to do. Since I need to get ready for the holiday, this is all I’m going to write for now.  I’ll be back after Shabbat.

Happy New Year!

Categories: Uncategorized
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