The Person Behind The Posts

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Everyday Life: A Photo Blog

I walk around Israel like a kid in a candy store.  There are Jewish messages embedded everywhere.  Sometimes, my husband sees them first and he points out what he knows will delight me.  Here are some favorite scenes from my everyday life in Israel over the past few weeks.

At Elon Moreh, we were greeted by this homemade sign on our cabin door:
"Welcome Rav Elan and Rivkah.  Shabbat Shalom."
While waiting at the Cellcom service center in Jerusalem,
a mother and daughter passed the time reciting Tehillim (Psalms).
The same day, there was an Arab woman and a haredi girl sitting side-by-side,
also waiting for service at Cellcom.  More evidence that Israel is definitely an apartheid country (kidding!)
 All over Israel, there are displays of small kitchen appliances whose chief marketing ploy is to suggest
 that they are American made. I always find this deeply ironic.

On a frozen drink dispenser at a street festival in Tiveria (Tiberias), there was a bumper sticker that says:
"In every Jew, there is Moshiach."

In Israel, people post Biblical verses outside their homes.  In this case, the words come from
Tehillim 102:14-15  "Rise up. Comfort Zion... Because her servants take pleasure in her stones and love her dust."  Especially apt because the house upon which these words appear was built in the middle of an undeveloped area.

This is the house on which the verses from Tehillim are displayed near the front entrance.
In context, they make a lot more sense.

My favorite!  This one reminds customers in this produce store not to forget to say "In honor of the Holy Sabbath" when selecting fruits and vegetables that will be served on Shabbat.

POSTSCRIPT: After this post was published, comments led to this - one more picture, taken on an Egged bus by fellow blogger SaraK, who shares my proclivity for photographing "only in Israel" images.

"To the soldiers of Israel: Go and return home in peace!  We love you.  From the Nation of Israel."

Monday, August 29, 2011

It's All How You Spin It

For all the country's technological advances, there are few things in Israel more complicated for new olim than cellphone plans.  I was kind of getting used to calling our cellphone provider every month to have them explain some aspect of our bill, which varied widely from month to month.  Like many olim, I always had a sneaking suspicion that we were paying too much.  So when the opportunity to work with an English-speaking cellphone broker came up, I grabbed it.

It's his job to call all three Israeli cellphone players and negotiate the best deal for us.  I speak to him in English, he speaks to them in Hebrew and we save hundreds of shekels a month.


It's several weeks later, we've moved to a new cellphone provider and, due to compatibility and reception issues, in effect, we have close to zero cellphone service.  It's a long saga, and the final chapters are, as yet, unwritten.

But here's something I noticed.

If I think about it all the time, counting how many hours have passed since the last communication, worrying about what we're missing since we can't easily be in touch with one another during the day, kicking myself for messing with a system that was working, I basically burn a hole in my esophagus.

If I think about emuna instead, about believing that God runs that world and everything that happens to us is custom-designed and ultimately for the good, the hole in my esophagus begins to heal and my blood pressure returns to normal.

I'm doing all I can to solve the problem.  Eventually, we will have working cellphones.  In the meantime, we have electricity, no one in our family is ill or injured, we aren't sleeping in bomb shelters, we have food and enough money to refill the fridge when it empties, we have landlines at home and in our offices, so we're not totally cut off from one another all day, etc.

It's all in how you spin it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ani Ma'aminah

Although we've been down this road together before, I want to return to a subject that is both controversial and very, very close to my heart.

On September 11, 2001, I sat in our den in Baltimore and took a call from an old friend who had made aliyah  five years previously.  She told me that we needed to get to Israel soon.  And she told me something else too.  She said that Jews in Israel are able to see things more clearly than Jews outside of Israel - that something in the very nature of Israel makes it possible to have a kind of spiritual vision, a sense of Hashem moving in the world, and that ability is lacking for Jews who live outside of Israel.

At the time, I was offended by her assertion.  Ten years later, it's clear to me that she was right.

Yesterday afternoon, there was a highly uncharacteristic earthquake that measured 5.8 on the Richter scale on the East Coast of the US.  By most accounts, this was the largest earthquake on record in the region, centered near the Washington, DC area.  The quake was felt in Baltimore, 40 miles (about 65 Km) away.  Since we have a lot of friends in Baltimore, my Facebook News Feed was overtaken with firsthand reports of the experience of being in the first earthquake in Baltimore in our lifetimes.

Of course, the Facebook statuses of my Israeli friends were all hinting about the proximity of the quake to Washington DC, the seat of a foreign government which has been less and less supportive of the Jewish State.   It is also the seat of government of the country in which the largest population of Jews outside of Israel still lives, leading many to wonder what message Hashem might have been sending.

So I posted this status on Facebook: Raise your hand if you think the earthquake in Baltimore/Washington just might have some spiritual significance. Perhaps a message to American Jews??

As I write these words 24 hours later, there are 38 comments on my status and 14 thumbs-up "likes". Many people are clearly looking to understand the spiritual significance of the earthquake.

But a handful took great offense, accusing me of asserting some sort of prophetic message, as if I know what Hashem's message is. So, instead of hinting, I thought I would take a moment to explain, as clearly as I can, what I believe about the stage of Jewish history we are in and how yesterday's earthquake might fit in.

What I am about to say is clear to many, many people with whom I speak in Israel and to a rare few who live outside of Israel, but I am writing here as an individual and what I say here is my own truth.  I preface my remarks with two introductory comments:

1) I am not a prophet and I do not assert that I understand exactly what Hashem is "thinking".
2) I acknowledge that history may yet prove me wrong.

With this in mind, I believe:

  • that we are in a very significant stage of Jewish history, just prior to the geula shlayma, the complete Redemption of the Jewish people.

  • that the galut (Diaspora) existence of the Jewish people is rapidly coming to an end.

  • that the American economy will never rebound and things will never "return to normal" in the US.

  • that Hashem is trying to shake up and wake up the Jews outside of Israel to understand that they have no future in a land that is not their own.

  • that there is a finite, and rapidly diminishing, amount of time in which Jews outside of Israel will be able to make aliyah with dignity.

  • that we all, Jews the world over, must stop relying on anything (e.g., money, foreign governments, political machinations, military action, nature, etc.) other than Hashem.

  • that we all, Jews the world over, must do serious teshuva, separating ourselves from materialistic values and attaching ourselves to spiritual values, spiritual behaviors and to Hashem directly.

  • that we all, Jews the world over, must grow in emuna and understand that ein od milvado - there is nothing, nothing, nothing but God.

  • This is what I believe, and I live my life, and make daily choices, with these principles in my mind, in my heart and in my soul.

    Though I can't know for sure, it is entirely plausible to me that the earthquake was meant to be a reminder that God, and only God, controls everything, everything, everything that happens in the world and that we, as Jews, are called upon to follow His lead.

    And right now, He is leading all of us Home.

    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    Rivkah's Random Klita Tips

    Now that we've been here a year, I find myself dispensing tidbits of information to even newer olim.  So I started to think, what if I were to write down all my tips, or as many as I can recall, and let others add to the list?  These are things I had to learn, either the hard way, or from people who have been here longer than we have.  As Ruti Mizrachi always says, "Don't thank me. I'm a giver." But please do use the comments section to add your helpful tips.

    Mostly, these appear in no particular order, though I've divided the tips into those that are generally true in Israel (especially in the Jerusalem area) and those that are specific to my community of Ma'ale Adumim.

    General Tips in Israel (mostly in the Jerusalem area)

    The thickest grocery brand of napkins is sano sushi.  After a number of disappointing purchases of Nikol brand, we now always buy sano sushi white napkins in the double pack.

    Unlike table napkins, every brand of Shabbat toilet paper we've ever bought is pretty much the same quality, so it's fine to buy the cheapest one.

    We always buy Molett brand toilet paper and facial tissues.  We find them the closest to what we are used to.  Ironically, although economy size packaging hasn't really caught on in Israel, toilet paper is sold in giant packs.  The one we always buy has 48 rolls.

    Sale price signs on grocery store shelves generally list the last four numbers of the UPC code for the products that are actually included in the sale price.

    It took me months to figure out the trash bag situation.  Trash cans are marked in liters and bags are marked in cm, so there's no natural match.  Our 50 liter trash can is slightly smaller than a standard 13 gallon kitchen trash can in the US.  The correct size bags are 75x90cm.  We buy Nikol brand orange liners (though different brands may vary by a few cm).  They are much thinner than what we were used to, but they do the job.

    If you're looking for an American grocery item, the most likely places in the Jerusalem area are CheaperKol on Kanfei Nesharim in Givat Shaul, SuperDeal in Talpiot (which also has excellent prices), Chofetz Chaim on Aggripas (butcher shop with American-style deli plus some grocery items) or the local makolet in a neighborhood where a lot of former Americans live.  Meatland in Ra'anana is also a good source.

    Grocery stores in Israel deliver.  Some will deliver for free if your order is large enough.  But even if you have to pay, the delivery charges range from 10 to about 25 NIS.  Some stores charge more for deliveries closer to Shabbat and less for deliveries earlier in the week.

    Grocery stores have limited selections of spices.  But the Machane Yehuda shuk has a few really excellent spice shops and you can buy more exotic or hard-to-find spices there.

    It is possible to buy Philadelphia brand cream cheese here but it's very expensive.  Tnuva Napoleon is the most like whipped American cream cheese.  It comes in a few varieties in a 225 gram tub.  The plain variety has a daisy on the package.

    Dairy products generally list the percentage of fat on the label.

    Meat is sold by numbers and not by cuts.  For example, brisket is #3.  There is a diagram of a cow divided into numbers, but unless you happen to know which part of the cow your favorite cut comes from and if
    this description doesn't help you, you'll have to ask a neighbor or a butcher for help.

    For cholent meat, ask for basar chamim which comes boneless and pre-cut into chunks.

    Chop meat is much cheaper frozen than fresh.

    Rami Levi often sells whole chickens for a few shekels a kilo on Thursdays.  My husband hasn't quite mastered cutting a whole chicken into 1/8s, but he's definitely got the wings and legs down.

    Some stores (Rami Levy for sure) have "shuk day" early in the week when selected vegetables are just 1 NIS/kilo.  This is generally Tuesday and sometimes Wednesday.

    Grocery stores in Israel are tiered.  This is not a comprehensive list of all grocery stores, but it will give you an idea of how things work:

    Upscale, expensive
    Mega Ba'Ir
    Shufersal Sheli

    Middle class
    Shufersal Big
    Mr. Zol

    Mega Bool
    Shufersal Deal

    Stores that cater to haredi customers (e.g. Yesh, Shefa Shuk, Osher Ad in Givat Shaul and Sha'arei Ezra in Romema)

    Although we shop in other places too, our major weekly shopping is done at Rami Levy.  Their prices are routinely very competitive and the owner of the company is a mensch.

    Many chain stores, especially grocery stores, offer their own cartis mo'adon.  It's what we used to call a frequent shopper or bonus card.  Some of them are free and give you access to in-store special prices.  But some are actually credit cards which may be free for the first year, but then cost around 15 NIS a month.  The first thing the cashier will ask you in a store that has one is, "Cartis mo'adon?"

    Another question cashiers often ask is if you want to buy any of the specials that are available at the register.  There are generally 5-6 sale items that are pictured right on the shelf where you sign your receipt.

    After your groceries have been totaled, the cashier will also ask you how many payments you want your total to be divided into.  So if cash flow is a problem, you can arrange to pay in November for groceries that you ate in September.

    Credit cards in Israel are somewhat like a cross between an American credit card and a debit card.  Your bank will give you a monthly credit limit.  As you charge things throughout the month, your available balance is reduced by the amount you've charged.  Then, once a month, your bank will deduct your credit card balance from your bank account and your available balance resets to zero.

    Produce, meat and bulk foods are weighed in kilos.  A kilo is 2.2 pounds.  So half a kilo (500 grams) is approximately a pound and a quarter kilo is approximately half a pound.

    Israeli apartments don't have closets, so people buy free-standing aronot, which typically have hanging space, drawers and shelves.  There are hundreds of different styles and a very wide range of prices.  The best place we found, great variety and fair prices, is the Si Rahit furniture store, 15 Rechov HaTnufa in Talpiot.

    Talpiot is a Jerusalem neighborhood that has tons of furniture and housewares stores.  Furniture styles in Israel tend to be very simple and many stores have very similar styles of couches, desks, aronot, etc.  Unique items, imported from Europe for example, are available here, but only from very high-end merchants.

    AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) was established in 1951.  They have many services for English-speaking olim, but I particularly want to highlight their klita department for help and referrals for all kinds of bureaucratic problems and also their English language lending library.

    English books are definitely harder to find in Israel.   For some people, Amazon's kindle or another eReader is their solution.  There are used books stores in Israel that sell English books.  Check out the ESRAbooks shop in Modi'in.

    There are also a few companies that ship English books to Israel without charging an arm and a leg in shipping.  My two favorites are: Better World Books and The Book Depository, which offers free worldwide shipping.

    The best place we found to buy appliances is Salon Yerushalayim on Rechov Yafo right near the Machane Yehuda shuk.  We always deal with Nir Moshe who speaks excellent English.  Contact him at or cal 02-624-2535.

    To avoid mold, always leave the door to your front-loading washing machine open when not in use.

    eLuna is a great English website for reviews of restaurants all over Israel and also for 10% discount coupons.

    Easy Park is a small yellow device, sold in the post office, that allows you to preload money to use when parking in municipal lots all over Israel.

    If you don't have an Easy Park device, there are meters in some places, but more common are the kiosks at which you pay and get a paper ticket, with an expiration time, to put inside your front dash.

    Movie theaters in Israel show a lot of America movies, but it's wise to ask if there are subtitles because sometimes the films are dubbed into Hebrew. The Globus multiplex at Binyanei HaUma has the best popcorn and the Jerusalem Cinematheque shows the most eclectic films.  The Jerusalem Film Festival happens every summer with hundreds of films from all over the world.

    There are lots of festivals in Jerusalem in the summer but a really mammoth one is Hutzot Hayotzer, the International Arts and Crafts Festival, that happens every August in Sultan's Pool across from the Old City.

    Dates in Israel are written in the European style: day/month/year.  So 14-08-11 is August 14, 2011. And a range of dates, like 14-25/08 means August 14-25.  It takes some getting used to.  I tend to write dates like this: 14 Aug 2011 so it's clear to everyone.

    Women over the age of 60 and men over the age of 65 are entitled to half-price bus fare on Egged buses.

    Ask neighbors and friends for referrals to English-speaking service providers (e.g. insurance agents, appliance repair, bankers, travel agents, etc.)

    Tips Specific to Ma'ale Adumim and/or Mitzpe Nevo

    There are recycling collection bins for plastic bottles, paper and old clothing.  However, small beverage bottles (both plastic and glass) and wine bottles are each redeemable for cash (generally 25-30 agorot). The Blumberg family in Mitzpe Nevo collects these redeemable bottles and donates all the money to Ateret Cohanim.  Their address and phone number is listed in the Mitzpe Nevo directory.

    The best pizza in Ma'ale Adumim is Pizza Roma - 02-590-0232.  Pizza shops generally include a free 2 liter bottle of soda with every full-size pizza, in the store or delivered.

    Rami Levi stores distribute free calendars around Rosh Hashana time.  The best one for accurate times in Mitzpe Nevo is published by Pnei Shmuel (The Down Shul).

    Purim time, both the Mitzpe Nevo and Klei Shir neighborhoods operate communal mishloach manot projects.  You choose which neighbors you want to send mishloach manot to, pay a set fee per recipient and a team of volunteers designs, packs and delivers one package to each family.  Each Purim package from Mitzpe Nevo also includes a neighborhood phone book. The proceeds go to tzedaka.

    On the night of Yom HaAtzma'ut, there is music, fireworks and carnival booths on the lawn behind Kikar Yahalom.

    Mimi Faran is a former American living in Klei Shir who does all kinds of sewing and repairs.  Her work is fine quality and very reasonable priced. Contact me for her phone number.

    Frozen broccoli in the 800 gram package is one of the few items that are cheaper at Mr. Zol than at Rami Levi.

    There is a car wash on the very bottom level of the Ma'ale Adumim mall.

    If you live toward the top of Mitzpe Nevo, Egged's 175, 120, 124 and 126 stop just after the snail and it's a downhill walk from there.  Not as close as the #174 will take you, but good to know in a pinch.

    The hofshi hodshi is Egged's monthly pass that allows unlimited bus travel between Ma'ale Adumim and Jerusalem and within Jerusalem.  As of this writing, it costs 292 NIS.

    A one-way adult fare from Ma'ale Adumim to Jerusalem is 8.80 NIS.  There is a discounted multiple ride ticket (cartisia) that is 35.20 NIS for 5 rides.  Youth up to age 18 are entitled to a more deeply discounted cartisia.

    Graphos on the bottom level of the mall near Steimatzky's is a good place to make copies and send faxes.  It's also a good place to buy Hebrew letter stickers for your computer keyboard.  But be sure to buy them in a color that contrasts with your keys.  

    There is an English language book swap and sale in Ma'ale Adumim twice a year.  Used books are 5 or 10 NIS each and all the proceeds go to tzedaka.

    Annual car inspections can be done in Mishor Adumim.

    Disclaimer: This random collection of klita tips are all off the top of my head and, in many cases, reflect my family's idiosyncratic preferences. Some of them I figured out through trial and error, but a good portion of them I learned by asking olim who have been here longer than we have. This list was fun to compile but it's not meant to be comprehensive.  

    Remember to post your klita tips in the comments section.

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    The Soul of the Matter

    Generally, when I sit down to write a new blog post, I have a pretty clear idea where I'm going with it.

    This time is different.

    I've had a tickle in my brain for days and days, but no really clear direction.

    When I was in the throes of adolescence, I wrote poetry like a fiend.  I would be seized by a sudden itch to write.  A word, a phrase or a line would enter my brain, fully formed, and I could not rest until I committed it to paper (and back then, I composed on paper, literally).

    Sometimes writing is still like that for me.  But not this time.

    This time I have a vague sense that I want to write about how much the spiritual aspect of life has been at play for me, but I'm not sure where to start.

    I experience my life in Israel in two major ways.

    Often, I am thinking about logistical and financial worries.  How to get from place A to place B by bus.  Who to invite and what to cook for Shabbat.  How to pay for tuition. Where to get the best price on orange juice or a new ceiling fan.  Whether we can afford to run the air conditioning today. How to get all our remaining funds out of America before the whole economic system crashes. My mind often feels like it's chasing itself.

    But that's only part of the story.

    I also experience my life in Israel as exceedingly soulful.

    I live in a world where people talk openly about God and about the spiritual dimension of life.  I have tried, in recent weeks, to break my attachment to popular fiction and study more Torah.  I am almost through a 500+ page commentary on Sefer Yehoshua and plan to move on to Shoftim just as soon as I can.  I've all but stopped reading the newspaper and rely on the Facebook newsfeed to alert me to major events worldwide.  (You may laugh, but it's where I first heard about many recent global events.)

    Every day, there is another reason to add a name to my prayer list. An illness. A family crisis.  But also engagements, new babies, weddings. I see problems, mine and those of other people, as spiritual struggles.  I attend events around town and cherish feeling my spirit moved by them.  I think about God and easily tick off lists of things I'm grateful for.  I believe so strongly in the inherent correctness of Jews living in Eretz Yisrael that simple moments here bring me great joy.

    I once learned that, as we grow older and see the inevitable limitations of the physical, we come to better appreciate the meta-physical, which is infinite.  Although I am not yet old (except in the eyes of my children), I am already aware of this process happening within me.  It's one of the reasons why, statistically, outside Orthodox circles, adult Jewish education tends to attract people in their 50's and above.  Once the potent pull of the physical diminishes in power, the spiritual begins to attract attention, even if we don't fully understand the dynamic.

    Side-by-side with worries about the price of orange juice are repetitive thoughts of where we are in Jewish history.  What does it mean that there have been recent, tragic slayings in all segments of Am Yisrael?  I feel the breath of Moshiach on the back of my neck.  I worry about the price of orange juice, but I also anticipate Redemption any moment.  It's a ceaseless dialectic, an unending tension.

    This year, I listened to Eicha read outdoors, on an empty hilltop near our home, on land we don't build on because the US government pressures us not to.  But I am in Eretz Yisrael, listening to Eicha just a few kilometers from Yerushalayim.  The wind whips the pages of my sefer.  I am surrounded by Jews who also think it's important to come to this abandoned hilltop on the night of Tisha B'Av. My husband's voice leads the group in prayer and I feel the breath of Moshiach on the back of my neck.

    At a program marking six years since the abandonment of Gush Katif, I listened to speaker after speaker who all know that the spiritual side is what's really important in life.  I listened to Shlomo Katz, whose music never fails to move me, remind us that all this turmoil in the world is temporary.  We will return to Gush Katif.  We will reunite with the rest of Am Yisrael.  And we will live in a world more spiritual than physical.

    For now, more and more each day, I try my best to live with emunah, the unshakable belief that everything God does is for the good.  As time passes, I love God more and more and anticipate the Redemption with deeper belief.  I am, as I often say, unspeakably grateful to live here, where there are so many people who understand all this.