Half a Year Down

We’ve been here 6 months now.

At 6 months in, it still takes over an hour to go grocery shopping. Even with a car.

At 6 months in, it still takes a long time and a lot of paper just to deposit a check.

At 6 months in, I still hate that there is school on Sundays AND Fridays. (Should be one or the other)

At 6 months in, I still hate how people park in 2 spots at the mall, so no one scratches their car.

At 6 months in, customer service is still non-existent in most places.

At 6 months in, I still pretend I can’t speak Hebrew, if I think it will help my cause.

But, we’ve been here 6 months now.

At 6 months in, I can tell you which supermarket is open super early, and which one doesn’t open until 9am.

At 6 months in, I know how to get to the front of the line at the bank, (but not at the supermarket).

At 6 months in, I’m no longer surprised when 2/3 of my kids are home before 2pm most days.

At 6 months in, I can drive around Rehovot, and get to Modi’in and Rishon, and back, without using Waze.

At 6 months in, I can confidently argue with customer service until I either get what I want or get angry.

At 6 months in, I feel like I belong.

End of an Era: This is for you, Mum & Dad

This weekend, the Dublin Jewish Community is holding a kiddush in honour of my parents, Howard & Hilary Gross. For years, about 60 for my Dad, and over 40 for Mum, my parents have given themselves selflessly to the Jewish Community in Ireland. They are quite literally, the last hold outs of our extended family in Dublin. Everyone else left years ago.

Growing up, it wasn’t unusual for both my parents to be out at a “meeting” on a weeknight. Whether it was the shul, the school, the Kashrut committee, the Chevra Kadisha, Board of Guardians, Scouts, Wizo, Soviet Jewry, Rep Council, there is very little in the world of Dublin Jewry that my parents have not been directly involved in. My parents have literally dedicated their adult lives to the good of this community, often a thankless task. As one of very few kosher and shomer shabbat homes, theirs was always open to visitors to the community, and occasionally they became a boarding house, not just a place for Shabbat meals. They even sort of adopted a French Jewish “boy” (now a married father of 4), who lived with them for a while. He still calls them every Friday before Shabbat.

I left Dublin over 20 years ago, and as I’ve mostly lived far away, my visits back have  been short and sporadic. This weekend, my 3 siblings, Barry, Laura & Jeff, along with my sister-in-law, brother-in-law and nephews and niece, are all in Dublin with Mum & Dad. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there too, but it just wasn’t possible. In spirit I’m there, and if I could, I’d keep FaceTime on all through Shabbat, to enjoy the sibling rivalry (that I’m sure happens even when I’m not present!), and to watch my folks kvell with pride over their grandchildren.

Moving country, leaving behind your house,  your friends, your community, is not easy. I know. I’ve done it a couple of times. It’s hard to explain the emotions, the overwhelming feelings of sadness & fear, mixed in with the excitement of going somewhere else. For Mum & Dad, the next step is London. This makes sense – three out of their four kids live in London. Seven out of 10 grandchildren are there. While only an hour away by plane, London is a different world to Dublin. I know you’ll be successful in this next part of your lives. Retirement means a whole world of new things are open to you Dad. You’ll get through the rest of the Gemarrah much faster for starters!

From London you’ll be one flight closer to us in Israel. We are looking forward to seeing you again in March. Mum, you’ll have easy access to all those cuts of meat that you can’t get in Dublin, and bakeries galore! (I know you like to bake your own bread, but imagine, you really won’t HAVE to anymore!) Dad you’ll find a committee or two to get involved in, show people how it’s really done. Chagim & shabbatot can be spent with your kids and grandkids, without needing to do lots of extra laundry!

Enjoy your Shabbat with everyone but us. Enjoy your kiddush. And Dad, Mazal Tov on another siyum. Regardless of what I may have yelled at you as a teenager, I am honoured and proud to have you as my parents.

I love you both very much, and I wish for you that this new chapter be the happiest, and most successful yet in your lives.

Almost 5 months later

It’s almost 5 months since we arrived in Israel. Some days it feels like 5 years, others, 5 days.
Today we had our first Kupat Cholim (Medical service) experience, and it was superb – seriously, of the 4 countries I’ve lived in as an adult, nowhere tops Israel for how the health service works. It’s not perfect, nowhere is, but it’s damn good.

Since Chanukah ended, I have witnessed all 3 of my children speak Hebrew, and each of them has taken a test in school where they were required to write some kind of explanation in Hebrew, and they’ve each done it, and pretty well too.
Keith has started ulpan in the mornings, and hopes to go to a business ulpan when he’s done with the regular one.

Purchasing a car has made a world of a difference to our lives, as we can now get the kids to and from where they need to be, regardless of the weather and the distance, and no longer need to rely on the kindness of others to do a family sized supermarket shop.
As I write, a severe winter storm is about to hit the whole country. Currently in Rehovot, the skies are grey, and the wind is kicking up, but the rain hasn’t yet begun. But it will come, and in other parts of the country there will be snow. Most people are hoping that this storm will not bring the disruption that was brought by the storm this time last year, when parts of the country were without power for up to a week, and roads were blocked. We have witnessed the preparations for the storm – trees have been cut back and pruned, and the Transportation Authority says they will close roads into Jerusalem, Gush Etzion and parts of the north before the snow actually hits, to avoid the chaos of last year.
I’m happy we will not have to deal with snow – but my kids are disappointed.
I’ve stocked up on food for the next few days, so that other than dropping the kids at school and picking them up, I don’t have to go out in the nasty rain, and can make wintery comfort foods to warm our souls, while the weather rages outside.
Someone in the supermarket today made a comment about it being “like a hurricane” and I just laughed, because really, it’s not even close to a hurricane, I’ve been through a couple of those. But Israelis take their weather seriously, so I didn’t argue.

Some day I’ll turn around and realize we have been here for 5 years. Will it feel like 15? Or forever? Who knows. But I do know we’re here, in Israel, and it’s pretty cool, even with the winter apocalypse bearing down.

By Chanukah your kids will speak Hebrew

That’s what “they” said. Everyone we spoke to before we came, told us that our kids would be speaking Hebrew by Chanukah.
They lied!
It’s the second night of Chanukah, and my kids do not speak Hebrew.
Neither does my husband. Although he starts ulpan right after Chanukah, because I told him that I absolutely refuse to be his personal translator for the rest of our lives… (And also because we now have a car, which makes getting to ulpan outside of Rehovot more feasible).

What is it about Chanukah in Israel? Well, there’s a lot to be said for celebrating a holiday in the place where the original holiday events happened. Imagine if we were able to celebrate Shavuot at Har Sinai? or Succot in the dessert? (Okay, maybe not…)

Chanukah happened, a twenty minute drive from where I live right now, just down the road from here! How awesome is that? Here we are, a couple thousand years later, in the same place, celebrating victory over the Greeks, and the miracle of the little jug of oil that lasted 8 days.

And then there’s the sufganiyot (doughnuts). Frequently, the word “sufganiya” is translated as “jelly doughnut”, but if you have ever spent Chanukah in Israel, you know that the jelly doughnuts are kind of on the bottom of the hierarchy of Chanukah doughnuts. Gourmet sufganiyot – with creme brulee, butterscotch, caramel, dulce de leche, Irish cream, all kinds of chocolate, pistachio, pretzel, banana, the list goes on and on and on. I have given myself the difficult task of hitting as many bakeries as possible over Chanukah, to sample as many varieties of sufganiyot as I can get my hands on. I have yet to meet one that I don’t like…

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Back to the kids. While they are not yet conversing in fluent Hebrew, each of the kids has come a long way. They have all taken tests in various subjects (math, science, Torah, Gemara, Mishnah) in Hebrew and scored incredibly well (a couple of 100% grades even!). They all manage to communicate with their peers in school, and with their teachers, who do not all speak English. The older two even manage to use WhatsApp in Hebrew, and the youngest has been heard singing in the shower in Hebrew. So perhaps it’s a long shot to say “by Chanukah your kids will speak Hebrew”, but without a doubt, by Chanukah your kids will understand a lot more Hebrew than when they first arrived. And they’re happy, they’re all so happy, because Israel is a country where kids can be kids, and kids can be independent, something that doesn’t exist in too many places anymore.

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Aliyah: The Lift

So, you’re making aliyah, and you’ve decided to send a lift. You pick a 20ft container or a 40ft container, and then you try to figure out how to fill it up. If you’re already paying for a whole container, fill it to the brim, no point leaving empty space.
I took an informal poll (read I posted in a number of Facebook groups for Olim) to find out what people from North America wished they had brought more of on their lift, and what items they wish they hadn’t bothered with.
Things got heated, as they do on Facebook. It’s a very personal thing. Once the threads deteriorated into bashing people who bring a lifetime’s supply of white tuna and toilet paper, I simply took the information that was relevant to me, and started writing this post.

I’m not going to discuss furniture. I think that’s a very individual thing. We brought some furniture because if we had sold it in the US, as we would never have made enough money to purchase anything of quality in Israel. We brought some antique chairs that we plan to sell (if you’re in Israel, and interested in genuine antique Syrian chairs, with mother-of-pearl and ivory inlay, please contact me. We have 4 and will sell in pairs).

I’m only going to briefly mention large appliances:
Unless you know for sure that a US sized washer/dryer/fridge/oven will fit in your Israeli home, and you are certain that you will be able to pay the running costs for these appliances, I wouldn’t bother. From the research that I did, I found that the majority of large appliances available as 220V to ship from the US, are not energy efficient, meaning they use a lot of electricity. Electricity is expensive in Israel, keep that in mind.
In addition, a US washer may require to be hooked up to a hot water faucet – most laundry rooms in Israel do not have that option, plus, most people do not have constant hot water here. So if you use your washer with hot water, you won’t have enough hot water to shower, or, if you choose to leave your dud (boiler) on all the time, you’ll run up a massive electric bill.
Also, these non-energy efficient washers are also not frugal with water usage, whereas the European models available here are – I can wash a single shirt in my 8kg European style washer, and it will fill with just the right amount of water for that shirt.
Similarly, most Israelis do not use a dryer regularly. Clothes will dry outside pretty fast. Our landlord has a dryer that we can use, but we only use it for about 20 minutes to fluff up towels, or on really wet days. It’s really expensive to run.
As for refrigerators, space is again an issue – you can get really nice sized fridges here, and you get the warranty to go along with it (this applies to laundry machines too obviously). If you bring a fridge from the US with a built in ice maker and water dispenser, there may not be a way to hook it up in your Israeli kitchen. A lot of the newer fridges on the market here have a semi-automatic ice maker. You fill the trays with water, and when they freeze twist a lever to pour the ice into the ice bucket in the freezer – so you can have constant ice.
I don’t want to discuss ovens at all, because I miss my Frigidaire Professional oven terribly, and really dislike the built in teeny tiny oven that is in our apartment. Sniff.

On to tachlas. The little things. How to fill up that container with the stuff that really matters.
The most common things people wish they had brought more of:
Ziploc bags (available in Israel in Ikea in various sizes, but not everyone has easy access to Ikea)

Trash bags (Very hard to find here that don’t fall apart. Kirkland brand are now available at Osher Ad, but very expensive, so why not ship a few boxes to get you started?)

Plastic containers in all sizes – from food storage size up to clothing storage size (larger bins are easier to find, but are expensive. Purchase in the US and use them to ship clothing and toys instead of boxes. Smaller containers, for food, are crazy expensive here, and not so easy to find in the sizes for kids’ lunches. Had I know, I’d have shipped a case of Gladware containers in various sizes!)

Paper Towels – seriously, Israeli paper towels are not at all absorbant. (Kirkland brand paper towels are available in Osher Ad, again expensive, plus you may not have one near you, so ship as many packages as you can on your lift)

Trash cans (!!) – Kitchen garbage cans are not cheap in the US, in Israel they are exorbitant. Small trash cans, for the bedrooms/bathrooms etc. that you can find for $5 at Target or Walmart, you won’t find for less than $15 in Israel.

Kitchen items – EVERYTHING! Pots, pans, silverware, dishes, sink mats, drainers, baking trays (not too big, or they won’t fit in the oven), Tupperware, EVERYTHING!!!
8×8 Aluminum pans! You can get aluminum pans in Israel, and they’re not expensive, but you cannot get this size. They simply don’t exist here. Ship a case! I wish I had.

Paper products: Plates, bowls, silverware, cups, napkins. It is seriously hard to find good quality paper goods here, and until you find the one store in your area that stocks them, it could take years. I did manage to find our local store in time for Succot (the only time other than Pesach I use paper goods) but I wish I had sent a Costco sized package of plates etc.

Cosmetics – makeup, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, toothbrushes, razors, shaving gel, wax strips, cleansers, hair products, contact lens solution (and contact lenses)

Medication – anything you take regularly for pain or allergies

Small Appliances: I shipped my Cuisinart and my KitchenAid (and my Pesach Cuisinart). I purchased a heavy duty step-up step down transformer, and they work fine. From what I could find out, better quality small appliances that are not used for long periods of time, will work on the correct transformer for many years. Smaller, cheaper appliances that work harder when they are running, will blow quickly, and are probably not worth bringing. Not recommended: Vacuum Cleaner, steam mop, toaster oven, plata, shabbat urn, hair dryer, immersion blender, hand mixer, coffee maker, iron. If you want to take the chance, go ahead, but in most cases, you should just sell that stuff in the US, and replace each thing one at a time in Israel for a lot more money…
(Irons are so expensive here, that I ordered one from Amazon UK and had my aunt bring it from England for me! Although I believe Amazon UK ships to Israel).

I think I’m going to discuss food items that people send on their lift in a separate post.

Other things mentioned: Clothing and shoes, especially sneakers for kids. (If you’re lucky enough to have kids whose feet fit easily into shoes, go ahead and purchase the next few sizes up in shoes and sneakers. Sadly for me, my kids have super narrow feet and it’s really hard to find shoes in general, I can’t buy ahead). The younger your kids are, the easier it is to buy clothes in bigger sizes. As your kids are older, it’s harder because they want to do their own shopping… Someone suggested school supplies, such as crayons, markers, pencils – but not binders, folders or lined paper, as they sizes are wrong for here.
If your family has sensitive skin, and you use fragrance free detergent – bring as much as you can! It’s impossible to find fragrance free anything here!
If you plan on getting a dryer anyway, ship dryer sheets. They are available here, but they’re expensive.

Obviously, you cannot ship a lifetime worth of anything, but as many of the commentators said on Facebook, if you can make the early stage of life in Israel easier, why not? If it means you don’t have to schlep around trying to figure out where to buy plastic containers for your kids’ school lunch, go for it! Little by little, we all find our way around, and the longer you live here, the shorter the shopping list gets when you visit the U.S. But there is no harm in a little bit of home comforts.

Pack that container til it’s ready to burst!

Bed of Roses

A favorite Bon Jovi song, frequently sung by Jon at concerts on a special stage, that extends way out into the front rows of seats, and leaves you (me) swooning and light headed.

Click here for the video of Bed of Roses

And yet, as much as I love it, I often wondered about the thorns on the roses. He must mean a bed of rose petals, but that means the roses are cut and already dead, with no way to grow more.

Recently I’ve spoken to a fair few people who want to make aliyah in the next twelve months. They are mostly people who I don’t know at all, or know very minimally, most certainly not close friends. They come to me, because a)I just made aliyah with my family from the US and b)Someone told them I’ll be brutally honest with them.
Most of them, when they initially contact me, are gushing with excitement about aliyah, pumped full of Zionism, longing for a return to the land of our forefathers. This is awesome. All Jews should be this enthusiastic about moving to Israel. All Jews should be talking about making aliyah. We all belong here. It’s our home.

I try not to be be too harsh when I talk to prospective olim. I would never want to deter anyone from making aliyah, but I feel that it is so important to be honest, and open about every aspect of living in Israel. Yes, it is wonderful to live in a Jewish state, where Jewish holidays are the official days off, and where kosher is standard, and synagogues are plentiful, and “have a good weekend” is replaced with “shabbat shalom”. It’s special to see the streets shut down on Yom Kippur, and to have jelly doughnuts in the shops from after Succot until Chanukah time. It’s nice to have people wish you “Happy New Year” at Rosh Hashannah, and for December 25th to be a regular working day.

But there are challenges, and there are things that are difficult, even if you speak Hebrew, are familiar with the culture and have moved to a place where there are a lot of Anglos. I don’t think it is fair to share only the positive aspects of aliyah with people. It will be hard. No matter how prepared you are, no matter how realistic you are, there will be days that you say “what have I done? I want to go home!” But you are home in Israel, like you’ve never been home before.

It’s just that the bed of roses has the odd thorn here and there. Once in a while, you’ll get pricked, and it hurts. Little by little, you learn where the thorns are, and you avoid them, while tending to the roses. You water them, you prune them, you take pride in the beautiful flowers. From time to time you’ll still get stuck by a thorn, but soon, you’ll ignore the little stings and just enjoy the fragrance and the beauty that surrounds you.

If you live in Israel, and you are speaking to prospective Olim, be honest with them, give them the thorns with the roses.
If you want to live in Israel, talk to me, I will tell it like it is, I won’t put you off!

Living here is fantastic, frustrating, amazing and annoying. It is wonderful, worrying, terrific and tense. I don’t miss the US, or the UK, or Ireland. I miss certain things about each of these places, but I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

Lay me down on that bed of roses, I’ll moan about the thorns with my Olim friends.

“Acharei haChagim” – the return to “normal”

Around the time of the High Holy Days (“the Chagim”) – Rosh Hashanah all the way through til the end of Succot – things sort of grind to a halt. It’s busy season. Stores are full, traffic is crazy, it’s high season for tourists, and nothing much gets done outside of holiday prep. So, even though school began September 1st, we have known that only “acharei haChagim” would the kids start getting the extra Hebrew help they are entitled to as Olim. We knew that job hunting would be slow, because no one hires before or during the Chagim. There’s not a lot of point trying to accomplish very much at all.  Unless you purchase things for your kitchen or home – those are on sale before the Chagim, but never again afterwards.

So now it’s finally “Acharei haChaim” and things should start to get back to normal. The question however, is, what the heck is considered “normal” here?

The Holidays were wonderful. Our new shul was a great place to daven (pray) on Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur. My parents joined us in Israel for Succot, which was fabulous, and a large number of our friends from Boca were also in Israel over Succot, and we did get to spend time with most of them. We rented a car for the few days of Chol HaMoed, and were able to go to Gush Etzion, Jerusalem, Netanya – for a Boca bat mitzvah – and to an archaeological dig at Beit Guvrin. Not having school allowed the kids to relax and just enjoy life here. We built a large succah in our yard, and it was a lovely change to not need fans! What a difference to Boca – Succot in Israel is actually pleasant. I wasn’t yearning for the much coveted air conditioned succah of my cousin in Boca. In fact, we really dwelled in our succah this year. We didn’t sleep outside, but we ate our meals, sat reading, davened and simply hung out in the succah.

And then, after Shabbat, “chozrim laShigra”, as they say (return to schedule). The kids went back to school on Sunday. No, that wasn’t pleasant – I will always lament the loss of Sundays. It’s time for me to start my work, running a mobile manicure business. I now have full weeks to work, and hopefully the kids having full weeks at school (just not full days – the younger ones are home by 2 most days!) will allow me to at least get started. I also purchased a washing machine finally. After all the days of chag, and the excess laundry produced (plus excess sheets and towels from having guests), my neighbor’s generous loan of the little washing machine that leaks just had to come to an end.

I ordered the washer from the same store I purchased my fridge. They might not be the easiest to bargain with (they seem to stick to their prices and maybe knock off delivery at best) but they seem like decent people, and I’ve been told by others that they stick by their products. When we bought the fridge, it was next day delivery, and the delivery guy unpacked it and plugged it in. I did have to call a technician to come and validate the warranty. Yup – the guy from Samsung had to come to my apartment, look at the fridge and explain to me how it works. So I was prepared to be told that a similar system was in place for the washer. Correct.

So, the washer was available for next delivery. I was given a 7 hour window. Luckily it arrived within the first 2 hours. The delivery guys brought it up and then announced they wouldn’t be able to fit it through the door to the laundry room without unpacking it, and they are not allowed to unpack it. Only the technician can do that. So they dumped it in the middle of the living room. And left. But not without demanding a tip. Even though we paid for delivery and they did nothing but roll it into the elevator and then into our apartment. I could have done that myself. (They used a dolly – give me a dolly, I can move anything). So now, here is my  lovely new washing machine:

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See how the white contrasts so beautifully with the wood on the china cabinet? And clashes with the shiny tile floor? There it will sit for two days, because the earliest I could get a technician to come out is on Wednesday afternoon. He will hopefully not get annoyed that he has to move it into the laundry room. And then he will plug it in, hook it up and explain to me how to use it. I’m sure it’s more complicated than a fridge. I wonder how much more laundry we can drum up between now and Wednesday night…

So yeah, what is normal again?

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