Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Dear All,

We have been in Israel for almost four weeks and WE LOVE IT!! Our lift was delivered this past Tuesday and we were pretty much unpacked before Shabbos. We have a 3 bedroom apartment, large by Israeli standards, small compared to the house we left, and just perfect for us now. Without a car, we walk everywhere (my husband thinks I’m a wuss for taking the bus or a cab – he’s already lost 20 pounds by walking down the hill {big, big hill} and back at least once a day to the shopping area). There’s a small micholet (grocery store) up the hill from us (about 3 levels up) and we can get anything we need there. One level up is a J10 Pizza where David (Doug’s legal name now) can get an iced coffee for 7 shekels and I can get a fruit slushy (okay, it’s not 7-11, but it’ll do).

We really live in a pretty residential town. We’re in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph which is mostly religious but not ultra. David goes to a shul called Aish Kodesh, which is kind of like an Agudas Israel, but there are other dati (Young Israel modern type) shuls very close by. Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet is all chareidi (ultra orthodox). We know several families already here in Aleph, and are meeting others. Nefesh b’Nefesh, the organization that helped us get here, paired us with a buddy family, the Liebers. They’re pretty modern, in their 60’s, and have a whole group of retirees that they’re friends with. Since we came without kids, they want us to meet all their friends. I haven’t started looking for mah jongg partners yet … kind of hard to do that with a war on.

We’re in the middle of the country, so we don’t feel the full effects of the fighting. However, everyone in this country pulls together for each other. Now that we have our guest room mostly put together, we can host a family from the north. People are flocking here and to Jerusalem from Tsfat, Haifa, Kiryat Shemona, Nahariya and other smaller communities to get their children out of harm’s way. Some of the schools are having people sleep there and then pairing them with buddy families where they can shower and do laundry.

My desk is in our “salon” – combination living room/dining room – and near the sliding glass doors of our smaller merpesset (balcony). We’re on the first floor, which is one floor up from the “center” (main) floor. We only leave the air conditioning on from about 11 am to 6 or 7 pm because the temperature drops about 20 degrees after that, and the breeze blows through all the windows. There’s always a breeze and it won’t rain here AT ALL until at least October. As I write, I can hear the shelling in Gaza. David says we’re about 30 miles from Gaza, but we’re too far away for them to shoot at us. Weird to hear it, though.

Believe it or not, we feel very blessed to have come at this time. We don’t start ulpan (learning Hebrew) until September, so I hope we can get involved with some chesed organizations and do something to help the war effort. I emailed one organization that we could foster a dog (there are a lot of homeless pets now), but haven’t heard anything back.

We’ve met so many wonderful people. A lot of Canadians, South Africans, and Americans – almost everyone in this community speaks English. Many people have made aliyah in the past few years, although there are also many who have been in Israel for many years. It’s not so frustrating not knowing Hebrew, but it does make it difficult to get bills in the mail and not know what they’re for. And trying to buy something as simple as margarine or laundry detergent when there’s 3 or 4 of the same brand but in different colored containers (are they low fat, salt-free, have added fabric softener or what??) is very confusing. We’ve learned a lot already, like the fact that it costs 13 shekels to take a cab back from the mercaz (shopping center) and 20 shekels to take a cab to Beit Shemesh. Or we can buy a bus pass (which we did) and ride the #14 bus to Beit Shemesh, where we can take the train (for only 5 shekels!) to the Malcha Mall in Jerusalem where my husband discovered a store like Home Depot, surprisingly called Home. The shopping center in Beit Shemesh near the train station, called Big, has an Ace Hardware, a super Pharm (kind of like Walgreens), a dairy restaurant, a small Chinese Wok & Grill, and a non-kosher McDonald’s, plus several other stores. Beit Shemesh is bigger than Ramat Beit Shemesh and has a lot more shopping in different areas. In Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph we only have the mercaz, but it has a large totally kosher grocery store, a small hardware store, 2 candy stores, a dry cleaners, a smoothie store, a children’s clothing store, a men’s clothing store, a women’s clothing store, a shoe store, a computer store, a barber shop, a bakery with incredible freshly baked breads, a health food store, a florist, our bank and our chupat holim (our hmo), plus a few other stores – just about anything we’d need. This is good since we don’t have a car.

Within four days of being here we had to choose one of four medical coverage plans. As new olim (immigrants) we only have to pay about half price for the monthly payments for the first 6 months. It’s not expensive and the co-pay for doctor visits and prescriptions is incredibly low. But EVERYONE has coverage, which is really nice. The two internists at our clinic are supposedly great; hopefully, we won’t have to use them! But it seems everyone gets sick a lot their first year here, so we’ll be expecting it.

Banks here are pretty strange, too. You don’t need any money to open up an account, and when you open a bank account you get: a shekel checking account, a shekel savings account, a dollar account, an Isracard mastercard and an ATM. You’re charged for EVERY single transaction, so people try not to write checks. You can set up all your monthly utility, phone and cell phone bills to be put on your MC, and at the end of the month, your card is paid in full from your bank – so not only do you only have one transaction but you have a record of all the transactions on your bill (assuming you can read the bill…). If you want to make a large purchase on your MC, you call your representative at the bank (our guy’s name is Jeremy from New Zealand; really nice guy who also helps you with investments – assuming you have any money left after you move here to make investments…) and tell him or her how much you want taken from your account each month to pay off that debt.

We had Shabbos dinner last night with the Schwartzman’s, who are the previous tenants of our apartment. They moved here from Montreal a year ago with six kids and after they moved in, she realized she was pregnant. We still don’t know where all our stuff will go, and they had 7 kids here! We made our sealed room our bedroom (every apartment and home must have a sealed room) because it was the only one that our bed would fit in. In fact, the only thing in our bedroom is our bed! And 2 small 3-shelf end tables that are sideways on each side to put our clock radio, Kleenex, etc. on. There are no such things as dressers or closets in Israel; you have to have aron’s (wardrobes) built especially for each bedroom. Thank G-d our apartment was partially furnished, so we already have really tall arons in each room with space to hang clothes and a lot of drawers. Only the one in our room is recessed, but we can still barely walk around the bed to get in or out of the room. In the room that should have been the “master” bedroom (ha ha), there’s a nice sized bathroom (mine) and an even bigger one in the hallway (David’s). Also off the master bedroom is our large merpesset, which is now filled with lots of things that can’t go inside, like our sukkah, David’s bike, coolers, card table and chairs, lawn tools that we were told to bring in case we ever live somewhere someday with a yard, a hose, and other things like that. This balcony has no other ones over it so it’s the one we use for Succos. A big problem here is the pigeons. We’ve ordered a tarp that should be ready by this week to cover the balcony before all our stuff gets pigeon poo all over it. It was really disgusting to clean it all off when we first moved in because the other family had left 2 months previously for a bigger place. We also have a very small “machson” (storage room) in the basement that basically has David’s tools in it and some of the baldeera’s (landlord’s) stuff. Our Pesach dishes, boxes of winter clothes, and about 5 boxes for Nathan are now up in the top floor of the Turners “cottage” (what they consider a house here but is actually a duplex. They have 3 floors and a finished basement, but the top floor isn’t finished and they use it for storage).

We had Shabbos lunch today with Chanoch and Yocheved Turner (formerly of St. Louis for those of you who don’t know them) where we’ve been at least once a week since we got here. Yocheved was the one who found and rented our apartment for us. They’ve been great. While Chanoch was in St. Louis we were offered the use of his car, although we really didn’t use it much. A lot of people here don’t have cars, but the Turners have two, plus her father, Stan (who lives right up the street from them), has one and he still has his ex-wife’s car until she gets back from Chicago at the end of the summer. So we at least have access when we need. The Turners are about a 7 minute walk from here.

I can’t describe the feeling to you of sitting on our small merpesset (our patio table with 4 chairs barely fits) at night or in the morning, and hearing the sounds of our neighbors and knowing that EVERY PERSON HERE IS JEWISH. They’re not necessarily religious and it doesn’t matter. They’re all Jews! We’re at the very edge of the town, and we look out on two sides at the hills. We just can’t believe we’re really here – it seems as if we’ve always been here sometimes, but we wake up in the morning excited to look forward to another day. We wish all of you could come and see what it’s like here; nothing like what CNN reports. Did I mention that they have a television tax? Really! They just automatically send you a bill and you have to prove that you DON’T own one. Guess the government needs money from somewhere! We don’t intend to get one, although a lot of the “older” people have one.

Okay, now – how are those of you in St. Louis doing? I was so sorry to hear about the storm and the loss of electricity. I can’t imagine how horrible it must have been to be without air conditioning with the temps in the 90’s and losing everything in your frigs and freezers. I hope you’re all doing okay now. We miss all of our friends and relatives, but we really wish you were here with us! We can’t wait for you to come visit (our guest room is ready) or better yet, move here!! There’s no better time to benefit yourselves, Israel and the Jewish People!

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