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The First Pesach

I felt like such a goof-ball.

Until moving to Israel, I had never lived in a large, observant Jewish community. I learned most of my Jewish practices from the small Chabad in Columbia, MD. On the morning before Pesach, we would gather our remaining chumatz, bring it to the shul, and burn it.

A handful of families would show up at the appointed time for the burning. The burning always seemed ad hoc. It rains a lot in Maryland at this time of year; we never had dry wood or cardboard. Hopefully, we had kerosene. Eventually, we would manage to get a fire going and toast some of the chumatz, hoping all the while that the fire department would not show up.

This year, I’m living in Ra’anana. The city has about 80,000 residents and maybe 30% are observant. I am on the e-mail list for a couple of shuls and both shuls send weekly announcements via e-mail. The announcements specified the time by when the chumatz must be burned, but they didn’t specify the location.

I had a meeting with our Rabbi to arrange the sale of the chumatz that would not get burned. While there, I said to him, “Back in Maryland, we burned our chumatz on the morning before Pesach at our shul. Do we do that here?”

Our Rabbi definitely follows the notation that there is no such thing as a stupid question. I was asking if we burn the chumatz here at the shul, but he responded with, “Yes, we do that here in Israel too”. I had goof-ball written all over me.

I tried the question again: “Do we burn the chumatz here at the shul?”

The response: “No, the closest burning location is at the corner of Akiva and Swartz.”

At first, I was confused by this, but then it dawned on me: “Oh, it’s a public burning?” (Now there was goof-ball running down my forehead.)

He had a half-smirk at this point as he explained: “Yes, the municipality sets up several areas where the residents can burn chumatz.”

I thought this was really cool. It was one of those only-in-Israel moments, until I found out that most large Jewish communities have public burning locations set up by the fire department. It’s still very cool.

At the appointed time, I left with our box of chumatz. You could smell the smoke from two blocks away. Within 30 feet of the location, the smoke was so thick it burned your eyes. Burning chumatz is popular. It was not only the observant residence — people were pouring from apartment buildings and walkways carrying bags of bread and cereal. It was truly amazing to me. Some Jews in Israel don’t attend shul, but they still burn chumetz before Pesach.

In the evening, I attended my first seder in Israel. It was very exciting. I arrived home from the shul to the buzz of an excited household — literally. Moments before my arrival, we had some unexpected guests. A swarm of flying queen ants, seemingly attracted by the lights, flew through the screens and descended on our table. It was our very own mini-plague. It took us a while to figure out what to do. By the time I arrived, the windows were already closed, but the ants were crawling all over the table and flying around in the dining area.

Once we figured out that the ants were attracted to the bright lights over the table, we were able to move and reset the table.

It was a different experience this year reading the Haggadah. For instance:

It happened that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Tarfon were reclining (at the Seder) in Bnei Brak.

I’ve read this many times before, but “Bnei Brak” was just a name of some place in Israel. Now, I live a 10 minute drive away from Bnei Brak. I literally complain about the traffic on the highway around Bnei Brak. I know children that go to school in Bnei Brak. Wow.

On the topic of Passover and seders, I really have to say Obama is an easy person to despise. He makes it way to easy. How any Jew can support this destroyer is beyond my ability to understand. Wasn’t it just last year, after following the entire traditional seder reading (why is he doing it anyway?), that he refused to include the very last line which reads “Next Year in Jerusalem”. He didn’t want to make the seder “political”. This year, he equates the Muslim uprisings around the world with the meaning of Passover. What an ass. Obama’s new Passover message is here.

Yesterday, we decided to finally visit “Monkey Park”. Monkey Park is a monkey zoo and play area. It has a rustic feel to it (like most things in Israel). We had to drive on a narrow, dirt and gravel road to get to the dirt and gravel parking area. The area was pretty ad hoc, and I had serious fears that we would become boxed-in and would not be able to leave until most of the cars had cleared.

We had a nice time in the park. There were lots of crazy monkeys along with peacocks, goats, and an assortment of children-friendly play areas. The real adult “fun” began when it was time to leave. My fear that our car would get boxed-in was unfounded. However, we had to deal with a different problem. The parking areas must have reached capacity, because people parked on the side of the narrow gravel road leading to the parking area. This effectively left one lane for cars to both enter and exit — which they attempted to do.

About a quarter mile to go...

It was a huge log jam. No one could move back or forward — it was complete dead-lock. I think they had to back out most of the cars trying to enter. Some of the cars were able to advance with maybe a half-inch clearance. I’m sure the observing monkeys were very amused.

We finished the day with a trip to the mall. The food court was open and I couldn’t help but notice this:

Kosher for Passover Burgers!

You’ll notice the top-right corner of the signs: “ארוחות כשרות לפסח” — “Meals Kosher For Passover”. I think mall food courts that sell kosher for Passover fast food can only be found in Israel.

Burger!

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Categories: Food, Holidays, Trips 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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