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I’m Actually Living in Israel

It has been over ten months since I moved to Israel.  My life is pretty routine now.  I think I have already experienced most of the culture shock and things now seem normal to me.  And yet, I still have these odd, emotional moments when it suddenly dawns on me that I’m living in Israel.

It happens to me almost every morning like clock-work.  I’m inside my home desperately trying to get ready for work.  I have to meet the hasa’ah (company supplied transportation) at 7:35.  I’m focused on the things that I need to bring and making sure that I take care of everything before I leave.  Finally, I say good-bye to everyone, open the front door to leave, and this is what I see:

The view from my front door in Ra'anana

You’d think I would be used to it by now.  I’ve been doing this almost everyday for six months.  None-the-less, it hits me everyday: you’re not in Maryland anymore; those palm trees are in the Land of Israel. 

Awesome.  I still can’t believe I am fortunate enough to live here.  It is such a dream.  I cannot explain how ecstatic I feel.

It’s true that my Hebrew is coming along way to slow and I often have no clue what is going on around me.  Perhaps there’s a little bit of child-like innocence and naivety in this — I’m happy because I’m clueless.  But I don’t think so.  I like to think of it as being Born Again Jewish-style.

I work for an incredible, employee-friendly company.  A month ago, my organization went on a one and a half-day company sponsored trip to the Negev.  It’s a team build and every employee goes on one annually (different destinations for each group each year).

Last week, the company sponsored a brunch for our team at a restaurant in Jerusalem.  The restaurant was located in the Mamilah Mall outside of the Old City in Jerusalem.  Great food, good people, beautiful view,…in Israel.  It was really pleasant.

Afterwards, driving back to work,  I had another one of those moments.  I’m in the back of a car.  The car is driven by a Russian. An Israeli is sitting next to him.  They are talking in a language that I don’t understand.  I can understand the radio — it’s playing the song “Play With Fire” by The Rolling Stones.  We are driving through residential neighborhoods in Jerusalem.  It seems so surreal; something that you might read in a book or see in a movie.

Driving back to work is like the opening line of a joke: A Russian, an Israeli, and an American are driving through Jerusalem....

Looking out the side window listening to The Rolling Stones...

Sometimes, it is really hard to believe that we decided to take such a significant risk: closing my company, putting my career in limbo, and moving our family to a different continent where a completely different language is spoken.  I don’t really view myself as a risk taker, but I don’t want to live with regret.  It is better to pursue the dream and make it work then regretting not making the effort.

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Categories: Israel Tags: ,

The Ongoing Catastrophe

There is yet another anniversary being celebrated today. This time, it is the anniversary of the Six-Day War and our Muslim neighbors are celebrating with all the excitement, fanfare, and jubilation that we have come to expect.

Last month, it was the annual “Nakba” celebration.  They celebrated with a bit of rioting, driving huge trucks down sidewalks in Tel-Aviv, and storming the Israeli border.  “Nakba” is Arabic for “Catastrophe”. It strikes me as a bit funny.  Over the last few weeks, more than a 1000 people have been killed in Syria by the Syrian government, but that’s not a catastrophe.  Saddam Hussein used to routinely arrest, torture, kill, and gas Iraqi’s, but that’s not a catastrophe.   All of these Muslim countries routinely gun down their own citizenry, but that’s not a catastrophe.  Nope, that’s just business as usual in the Arab and Muslim world.

But a tiny sliver of land controlled by Jews — Holy Akbar Batman! That’s unbelievable.  That’s terrible. How could something like that happen? What a catastrophe.

Of course, after sixty years and several wars, this problem has only gotten worse. The catastrophe was the original 1948 borders.  Later, in 1967, the Arabs lost Judea, Samaria, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the Sinai, and Gaza. So if the founding of Israel is a catastrophe, what do you call the military domination of Israel over Arabs?

I don’t know what they call it, but I call it terrorism. If you can’t beat the military, maybe you can beat the unarmed, the defenseless, the women and children, and the elderly. Admittedly, it is a good plan. They attack the innocent and somehow convince the World that it is all Israel’s fault.

My wife sent me a quote last week in relation to a possible border clash on the 5th of June.  It is a great quote.  I’m not sure where it came from:

A fake people from a fake nation that “mourn” the anniversary of a real nation practicing democracy.  Why is it that middle-eastern countries that deny basic human rights celebrate days marking human destruction and mourn days marking freedom and liberty?

Quite true.  Anyway, the useful idiots, after having a bit of success last month, stormed the Israeli border again.  I guess they don’t realize it is an act of war. Israeli soldiers used loudspeakers to notify the gangs (in Arabic) that crossing the border would result in death. I guess it wasn’t a true statement: 225 people were wounded and only 14 were actually killed.

I suspect that the IDF could have killed all of them, but I guess that’s a job more suited for Muslim soldiers.

I have my own definition for “Nakba”.  I think it is the day that Barack Hussein Obama was elected as president and began a systematic destruction of the greatest country on Earth.  Now that’s a catastrophe!

Categories: Israel Tags: , ,

The First Job – Episode II

Being fluent in English is a marketable skill in Israel.  Over the last few years, I have toyed with the idea of writing a novel, but I never expected I would work as a professional writer.  Fortunately, I’m not.

I am working as a software engineer in Jerusalem.  I’m primarily using good old-fashioned C with Java on an embedded platform.  The C and Java I’ve done for years, although I have never actually been directly involved with embedded systems. Also, for the first time in my career, I am not actually doing software development.  Instead, I am working as an integrator. I don’t think I want to do this long-term, but it is interesting in a hectic, convoluted, mind-numbing, head-spinning sort of way.

My employer is NDS Israel.

Who?  You know…NDS…the world leader in digital pay-TV delivery services.  You can read about the company here: http://www.nds.com/about_nds/about_nds.php

At the moment, I’m working on an effort to bring a brand new IPTV service to the customers of Vodafone in Germany.

The effort is distributed among teams in Israel, France, and India. All the technical work is done in English and, obviously, English is used as the common language across the teams. However, that doesn’t make it easy for me. Normally, the Israeli team members speak in Hebrew and only use English when talking to non-Hebrew speakers.  With me around, everyone tries to speak in English, but it sometimes appears almost painful to watch because generally they cannot express themselves easily in English. Also, I am discovering that it is really difficult to communicate with someone in a precise manner when you cannot natively speak the same language.

So far, I have not had to do any traveling, but I’ve been warned.  Frequent trips to Paris may be necessary.

Paris? You’ve got to be kidding me.  Paris?

I think I would rather visit Tripoli then Paris.

Categories: Israel, Work Tags:

The First Job

I started working about a month ago.  It’s a bit weird — not the job… having a job. I spent the last six months goofing-off, waking up when I wanted, getting out of bed when I wanted, doing what I wanted, with no worries and no concerns.  Okay, that’s not quite true.  After all, I live in Ra’anana.

Here’s an old joke:  How do you make a million dollars in Israel?  Start with 10 million.

Here’s my New Age, 21st century version: How do you make a million dollars in Ra’anana?  Start with 50 million.

No joke.  It is expensive here in Ra’anana.

Here’s a true story: My wife and I were in Ma’ale Adumim (which is a settlement east of Jerusalem) and we decided to buy some coffee.  The coffee was half the price of a similar cup in Ra’anana, plus we also each received a danish.  My wife commented on how the coffee was inexpensive; hearing this, the guy selling the coffee asked where we live.  When he found out we live in Ra’anana, he rolled his eyes and said, “That’s where all the rich people live”.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, I had one real worry: money. We were burning through money fast, so I really needed a decent job.

I don’t know the language and I don’t know the culture, so you would think finding a decent job would take some time.  After all, back in the US, the official unemployment figure is around 10% and that doesn’t count the people who stopped looking for work and those who are underemployed. (I figure the real unemployment rate in the US is probably closer to 15% or 16%).

However, I found a nice job without much effort and I have my wife to thank for it.

It all started months and months ago when I was still in ulpan (yes, I quit ulpan months ago). My wife drove to a local bagel shop to buy some bagels. She was concerned that the car was parked too close to the curb and that the tires might get damaged.  She asked a woman who was walking by and the response was something like, “I don’t know, I don’t worry about that because my husband leases a car from work”.  They started talking about her husband’s work and  soon the word “Java” came up.  Not “java” as in coffee — Java as in programming.  By the end of the conversation, they agreed that I might be able to fill a position at her husband’s office.

It sounded like a long-shot to me; even so, I spoke to her husband on the phone that evening.  By the end of the conversation, it was clear that I might actually be a good candidate to fill an open position in the company.  At the time, I was still in ulpan and I didn’t really want to stop.  I was invited to visit the company — just to chat — to see if I was interested.  The chat was interesting and I decided to drop-out of ulpan to pursue employment.  I had a technical interview and a few days later I had three more interviews. A week (or two) later I had a meeting with HR and then an interview with the CTO (Chief Technical Officer).  During the interview with the CTO, I described the position as a “dream job” for me.  Really.  That good.

The company is in an office building that overlooks the beach.  It is a twenty-five minute drive by car and a forty-five minute ride by bike from my home.  Just perfect!

I was walking on the beach with my wife a couple of months after this process started when I received the phone call. They wanted to hire me! YES! AWESOME!

This is probably a good time to point out that I am not actually working there.

The employment offer was perfect in every way but one. That one little problem ended up being a show stopper.

During this whole process, my wife kept strongly suggesting that I should have a back-up plan.  I really didn’t see the need to bother (in this case) with a back-up plan because it was so obvious that I would get this “dream job.” After a while, though, I realized the “strong suggestion” might not be such a bad idea after all.  A friend in Ra’anana had previously submitted my resume to his employer.  He called to tell me that for some reason no one had looked at it. He was wondering if I was still looking for work. If so, he would stir the pot a bit. I almost told him that I was not interested, but I needed a back-up plan to make my wife happy.  I asked him to do a little stirring just in case.

I received a quick telephone interview that evening.  The next day a real interview.  Shortly after that, two more interviews.  Then I had to do some sort of psycho-analysis testing.  I think I may have blogged about that. Soon after that, I received a job offer.  Then I had to take a polygraph.

Finally, I had to let the “dream job” go.

So what is this “real job?” The details will have to wait for some future post.

However, I will say that it is located in Jerusalem.  That’s about an hour drive with no traffic.  The drive actually isn’t too bad.  I can listen to Hebrew language lessons, read the news,  e-mail on my iPhone, watch movies, play games, read books, and even sleep. I can do all these things because I’m not doing the driving.  The company provides transportation for their employees.

I will go into details about the work in some future post.

Even though this is not my “dream job”, it is a really nice job and I am thankful for having it.

Categories: Israel, Work Tags: , ,

Pizza

I like mushrooms and extra cheese on my pizza. Pretty simple, but that’s what I like.  My children do not like mushrooms nor do they like extra cheese; they just want a plain cheese pizza.  How can you have too much cheese on a pizza?  My wife seems to think that having only mushrooms is boring, because she often gets pizza loaded with veggies.  Fine. Different people like different things, but it all seems pretty standard.

It seems reasonable that there should be regional differences in pizza toppings.  For instance, Hawaiian pizza has pineapple slices. Fine. So what odd toppings are available on pizza in Israel?

All the “normal” choices are available and seem to be popular.  Corn is also a popular choice (although I haven’t tried it).  There are a few other odd or strange choices (which I also haven’t tried.) Im not afraid to try them — they just seem uninteresting.

Having said that, all the topping options seemed generally reasonable until I discovered… sunny side up eggs cooked on the pizza. Curiously, this is a disgusting enough idea that I strangely feel somewhat compelled to try it.

Yummy -- eggs cooked on pizza!

Categories: Food, Israel Tags: , ,

The Driving Test

Watch out… it looks like I’m getting a driver’s license!

Okay, so it isn’t that awesome — I’ve been driving in Israel for four months using my license from Maryland.  I can use the foreign driver’s license for only one year; now I’ll be able to drive in Israel for at least another 10 years.

To get the driver’s license, I first had to have my eyes checked with an optician.  This only took about 5 minutes.  I was given an official looking green form that specified (I think) that it is safe for me to drive with glasses.

Next, I had to go to my doctor to have the form filled out.  The doctor is supposed to specify any medical conditions that may impair my driving.  I’ve never met my doctor. I picked him on a recommendation and this would have been our first meeting. I picked him, in part, because he speaks English; however, he was on vacation and I met with a substitute doctor. The substitute doctor, of course, did not speak English. We stared at each other for about ten minutes. There was a crude attempt to communicate. I think she may have asked if I have diabetes. Anyway, she eventually decided that I was in good health and checked all the boxes in the “no” column. A few official stamps and a signature on the green form and I was done.

After getting the doctor’s approval, I had to travel to the Ministry of Vehicle Licensing to get the green form approved for the next phase. This simple service is only done at the district level offices. In addition, it is only done on Monday and Wednesday between 8:30 and 12:30.  After a 45 minute drive and a 30 minute wait in line, a clerk stamped and signed the form in three or four places.

The next step is the driving test.  However, to take the driving test, you need to be certified by a driving instructor. I found an instructor in Ra’anana who is originally from Great Britain.  He is a former Israeli police officer and a former driving test evaluator.  I took a lesson with him and he explained everything I would need to know for the test. For instance, I drive automatic cars using my left foot on the brake. That may sound strange since most people use the right foot on both the gas pedal and the brake, but that’s how I do it. My instructor informed me that it is illegal to break with the left foot in Israel.  If I do it during the driving test I’ll fail.

He went over all the basic laws and basically treated me like I had no clue how to drive.  I was tempted to argue with him on a number of topics (like breaking with my left foot), but what’s the point?  Turning right on red is also illegal in Israel.  He is pretty sure that the only reason why it is still legal in most US states to turn right on red is because of the existing infrastructure — it would cost too much to change it!  I really wanted to explain that turning right on red just makes sense — it allows traffic to flow without adding much risk.  The biggest risk is probably the risk of hitting pedestrians.  The cross-walks here are always full of pedestrians, so turning on red is impractical anyway.

Anyway, I took the test. It was pretty stressful. There were two other students in the car and we all took turns. I went first and my drive was by far the easiest and shortest. At first, I thought this must mean that I’m such an awesome driver that there was no point in testing me any longer. Later, I discovered that I actually committed a driving violation and that I could fail the test as a result, therefore, perhaps my test was short because there was no need to continue the test. What did I do wrong?  I approached an intersection and the road that I was traveling on turned into a one way road moving against me (so I could not drive straight).  I also could not turn right (because there was no road to the right), so I turned left. Oops. The road that I turned on to was also one way and, although I was heading in the right direction, I turned into the right lane instead of the left lane. The truth is, I didn’t realize that it was a one way road!

Apparently it was not a major concern because I passed the test. My instructor is handling most of the leg work which is really nice.  He is supposed to cough-up my temporary license this week and then the permanent license should arrive in the mail in a couple of weeks.

Categories: Israel Tags: ,

Four Months

I have now been living in Israel for almost four months.  I’m busier than ever trying to get things normalized.  Why the rush?  I’m hoping to be working soon and I’m trying to get things in order while I have the time.

We spent four days in Eilat last week.  Eilat is the southern most city in Israel. I was very happy to go to Eilat because it was starting to get cold here in Ra’anana.  When I say cold, I’m talking about less than 20 degrees!  I actually need to wear a jacket at night. I think 20 degrees Celsius is about 68 degrees Fahrenheit.  Eilat was a lot of fun, but it was also cold there at night.  I don’t think the pool was heated, so we only used it a few times.

Our hotel in Eilat

While in Eilat, I went SCUBA diving for the first time in about 15 years.  I stopped diving because of an ear injury — I wasn’t sure if I could equalize properly.  I was on a forty minute dive at a maximum depth of about 28 feet, so I think my ear is okay.  I’m going to try and add SCUBA to my list of activities.

I’ve been focusing my attention lately on getting an Israeli driver’s license.  Because I’m already a foreign licensed driver, the process is pretty simple — I think it is a 12 step process.  I’ve been working on it for three weeks and I’m already at step 5!

I find that when I have too many things to write about, I tend not to write about any — too many choices! I’m going to do battle with this problem and try to write blogs more often.

Categories: Israel, Trips Tags: , ,
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