Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I am now one of Israel's working class! I start tomorrow. Part of me is happy; and part of me is dreading having to go to work every day again. The past ten weeks is the longest I've ever gone in my adult life without having a job. Even when my kids were born I was working. It's been nice!

The job itself will be pretty good. By Israeli standards, the pay isn't bad, and they'll buy me a monthly bus pass. The commute will be the hard part. I really, truly don't like riding on buses, and I'll be getting on at the 2nd bus stop here in Ramat Beit Shemesh and getting off at the last bus stop in Yerushalayim on the #417 - an hour each way. And the bus stop, contrary to what I originally thought, is not so close to the office. Especially when it's 95 degrees. For those in the know, it's off Shimon Rokeach which is off Shmuel Hanavi in the Geulah neighborhood. My hours will be 9:30 am - 3:30 pm which sounds good, except I'll have to leave for the bus at 8:15 to catch the 8:30, and after work I'll have to catch the 4:00 to get home hopefully by 5, unless traffic is bad, which it probably will be since the bus winds all through Yerushalayim before heading for the highway. David said they were on the lookout for a suicide bomber today, and stopping cars on their way into the city. That explains why there was a security guard at all the bus stops.

You can look up yad-ezra.com on the internet to check it out. We supply 15,000 meals a day to low income families all over the country. And the office is on a side street; more of an alley, really, in a rundown building The rabbi who started it gave up his job and home and doesn't take a salary; he and his wife and 9 kids live upstairs from the office. I think he owns a gas station somewhere and that's his only income. Just one more incredible person in this incredible country of people who do so much chesed. It's like sitting on the bus when a young mother with a stroller and a baby and maybe another child or two struggles to get on the bus, and a guy without a kippah and spiked hair jumps up to take the stroller from her to help her onto the bus. Or kids that jump up to let adults take their seats. Someone might get on the bus with their hands full of packages or kids and they just go find a seat somewhere - but they ALWAYS make their way back up to the driver to pay the fare. And the bus driver might lay his hand on the horn for a good five minutes if another car gets in his way, but he'll sure be patient when an older person or someone with crutches takes a long time to make their way to a seat.

I'm sure there's crime in Israel, somewhere (Tel Aviv - big city?), but from where we sit, you mostly only see the kindnesses people do for others. It's such a blessing to live among people who really take to heart "do unto unto others the way you would want them to do unto you."

Got to go make my lunch for tomorrow!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

This has absolutely been the best Shabbos I think I've ever had. I think that every week, and every week it's true!

Last night we went to the home of one of my new mahj partners, Andrea, and her husband, Aaron David. They just got married three years ago and each of them has five kids from previous marriages. Andrea does cranial-something therapy and Aaron David works for a company in Ramat Gan that works with firewalls (computer security). That's something that David trained in this last year he was at Nexstar in the states, and they actually called this company in Israel for tech support. It's apparently a great company to work for, and they're looking for English speakers to hire. Aaron David suggested David put a CV together and he would take it to the powers that be. He would get a nice bonus if they'd hire David.

The funny thing is that yesterday before Shabbos I got an email from someone saying, "I heard you were looking for a job; I desperately need an assistant. Please call me if you're interested." I recognized the name from someone who had contacted Aish St. Louis to ask that Rabbi Grunberger contact her sister there and try to get her interested in going to Aish programs. I actually went to grade school and middle school with this woman and I remember her from Girl Scouts! She's lived in Israel for many years. It seems she was hired by a rabbi last September to do fundraising for his organization that provides food for hungry Israelis. She has a department of about 5 and needs an administrator to run the office. Right up my alley! It's in Geulah (in Yerushalayim), but it's right on the bus line and I wouldn't have to change buses. She thought the organization might even buy me a bus pass. I have an interview with her on Tuesday.

So here we thought we'd wait until after ulpan (January or February) to look for jobs, and on the same day, opportunities for both of us presented themselves. It's not so easy to find employment here, especially if you don't speak the language, but it seem Hashem is telling us to get to work! We'll have to do the 2 evening-a-week ulpan instead.

So anyway, we had a really enjoyable time with Andrea and Aaron David. We have so much in common with them and we stayed and talked until really late. When we got home, we sat out on our mirpeset and enjoyed the coolness and the view and the peacefulness and each other's company.

Today for lunch we had a family over who have six sons, four of whom are in the states (one married). Again, they were baalei teshsuva like us, former hippies (he hung around with Rabbi Carlebach in the late 60's - even tried to start a commune in Lake of the Ozarks!). The boys left after lunch and Naomi, Gedalia, David and I just sat and talked for several hours.

Naomi told me about a great shiur (lecture) at 5, so I found my way there and was so happy that I did! It was a group of 8 women at someone's house, and the woman who spoke was incredible (it turns out she's Rabbi Einzig's sister!). We talked about the month of Elul which just started, and about what we needed to do to "fix" ourselves before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Then we went around the room and each one of us spoke; we were supposed to give bracha to others and to ourselves. Each person told incredible stories. When it was my turn, I told how David and I had been planning our aliyah for the past two years and about the challenges we faced trying to get here. And then I said that after we moved out of our house in the states and lived in various places and traveled around before arriving here, and during the month we've been here, we have been surprised and saddened by discovering all the tsouris our friends have been having. Terrible illnesses, marital discord, loneliness, misunderstandings between friends and family members, financial difficulties - and of course the war in Lebanon and Gaza - sometimes the emails and phone calls I've been receiving just break my heart. I related that I felt guilty that we were so happy to be here, to be home at last, when others are going through so much, and that I wished for bracha and good health for all my friends and loved ones. I also know that when things look and feel especially bad, I need to remember that 1) Hashem is in control of everything and He knows what is best for us, and 2) that all of life is cyclical and that sooner or later (in my experience) things ALWAYS get better.

All of the women who were at the shiur go to the same shul we go to, and a couple of them recognized me from last week when I was there (didn't make it this week...), so it's almost like I'm getting a "circle of friends." Not that they could ever replace my dear friends back in St. Louis! But a whole new group of friends to start hanging around with and learning with.

You would think that all these nice things were what made Shabbos great. But there's more! For Seudat Shlishi (the third meal), our entire apartment building got together in the park in our front yard and ate together! Everybody brought something to eat, and tables and chairs had been set out and kids were running all over with balls and it was so nice! Our Vaad Habayit (the person who is in overall charge of taking care of the building) spoke for a few minutes (I have no idea what he said because of course, it was in Hebrew), and then everyone went around the circle and introduced themselves and said what apartment they were in. There are 14 apartments on five floors; we probably know or recognize about half the people. Everyone sang and talked, and when the men went back to shul for maariv, the women pulled their chairs closer together and kept on talking. They did havdallah together when the men came back, but David didn't know and went back up to the apartment when he came home from shul. By the time I came in, he already had the table cleared and things put away. It was very nice! (Actually, he even washed, dried and put away a lot of the dishes tonight - what a treat!)

So, from beginning to end, it really was a great Shabbos: meeting new people, words of Divrei Torah, relaxing. I feel so blessed!

I forgot to mention that on Thursday, which was Rosh Chodesh Elul (the first day of the new month of Elul), we finally went to the kotel. We got a ride with Chanoch and Yocheved in the afternoon, and spent a couple of hours there. Then we walked up into the Old City and met with Avital, a friend from St. Louis we hadn't had a chance to see since we've been here. She looks great! We had a nice visit and then David and I (we couldn't talk her into joining us), walked up Yaffo Street to catch a bus to the takanah merkazit (central bus station). There was a steak restaurant at Center One, a shopping center close by, but after we looked at it, we decided to grab another bus to the Malcha Mall and eat at a nice dairy restaurant there before taking the train back to Beit Shemesh. It was a nice day.

In St. Louis, we never went out to spend a day together, and here we do everything together. If one or both of us both start working, we may not have too many more opportunities. Sunday here is the first day of the work week. People have Fridays and Saturdays off, which doesnt' give you much chance to run errands and stuff. My mornings of sleeping in may be coming to an end...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

My husband thinks it's funny when he walks in and I'm blogging. I didn't even know what a blog was until a few weeks ago. Sometimes I'm writing an email to someone and then I think, "I should put that in my blog!" You know, I used to think I was a pretty unique person, and here I am blogging and buying crocs just like everybody else. I need to go find a niche somewhere.

David got on a bus today and went all the way into Beit Shemesh to get us set up for paying the Arnona tax and to talk to the gas company. Guess what? Government companies are closed on Tuesdays! Who would have thunk? And at the gas company, only one woman could possibly know anything about our gas bill and guess what? She won't be back in the office until next Sunday! Who would have thunk?

Sometimes the things that happen here just don’t make any sense. When we first arrived in Israel, we shared a cab to Ramat Beit Shemesh with a couple from our flight who I really liked. Zvi came to work for Aish and Toby was really friendly. All 4 of their kids live here; the 3 oldest are married, plus Toby’s parents and siblings live here; they’re so lucky. She came over tonight to play mah jongg but no one else showed up, so we sat and talked. She said that when they went to set up their bank account, they were ready to go to the bank on a Friday morning, but figured it would be closed because almost all businesses are closed on Friday and open on Sunday. So they waited until Sunday and when they got there, it was closed because they’re open on Fridays. Who would have thunk?

After awhile you get tired of asking, “Why do they do things like that?” and just go with the flow. After 2 other tries of going all the way to our health clinic to get some lab work done (the first time I got there too late even though I got there at 11 and the clinic hours were until noon, and the 2nd time I got there really early in the morning but no one told me I was supposed to have fasted), I went for the third time really early this morning and got done “chik chak.” That’s what they say when something happens fast and easy. It doesn’t happen often! Or maybe it does if you know how to read Hebrew.

I’m so scatterbrained sometimes. Tonight I went to get some ice and couldn’t find the zip lock of ice cubes we keep in the freezer (I have about 6 ice cube trays I make from bottled water and empty into a bag so I always have enough). I thought David must have emptied it and instead of re-filling it, thrown the bag away. When he came home from davening and went to get a drink, he asked, “Where’s the bag of ice?” I said, “I thought maybe you finished it; I couldn’t find it.” At the same time, we both had the same thought – check the frig. Yup! That’s where I put it!

So tomorrow I'm going to be all alone. Chanoch is picking David up pretty early to head up north. They probably won't get back until late tomorrow night. The first thing I'm going to do is check out David's bookcases in his computer room/Beis Medrash. Every time I go in there I find books I've never seen before. Tonight I found TWO, not one but TWO, sets of 8 leather family zemiros/bentchers on the top of one of his bookcases that he apparently bought in St. Louis before we made aliyah. His response? "Okay, now that you've seen them we can put them out and start using them." Hello! How many other books are there I don't know about?

This morning David disappeared for awhile, and when I called him on his cell, he said that the rebbe at Aish Kodesh had sent an email saying that anyone who wanted some books of his (the rebbe's) father should come to the shul and look through the books. So David left with our grocery cart. He came back absolutely filthy and sweaty with a full cart, and then left again with our luggage cart to fill that up as well. May I remind you that this is a much smaller apartment than the house we left in St. Louis? Might I also point out that he already has a set of shas (or two) and he didn't need another two sets? The books in one of the new sets he brought home are hughmongous (I have no idea how to spell that but you know what I mean), and of course they're all in Hebrew. I know, I know - they didn't cost anything, but - hello! They're full of dust and they're going to collect even more dust! (Just so you know, David likes me to write about him. He says it reminds him of Phyllis Diller always talking about her husband, Fang...)

I'm on a nefesh b'nefesh email list where new olim write to ask for or give advice about problems they've encountered or if they need help in knowing how to do things or where to get things done, etc. So last night someone wrote that she's been fostering a dog and cat for the past year that had belonged to a family expelled from Gush Katif, and she needed to find them a good home together. Apparently the two animals are very close; they play together and clean each other and sleep next to each other. I knew I should have just deleted it right away, but I wrote her to say we really didn't want them (especially the cat) but if she really couldn't find anyone, she should let me know. So what does she do? She sends me the cutest pictures of the two of them playing and sleeping cuddled up together! But we're not going to take them. For all of the reasons we didn't think we could bring Anton with us - we wouldn't be able to come and go whenever we want, the dog hair would be everywhere, we don't have a yard and would have to walk the dog, etc. And besides, the landlord probably wouldn't let us keep pets. If we asked. So we won't.

Monday, August 21, 2006

We’re sure learning the bureaucracy of this place! Well, maybe it’s just our own ignorance of Hebrew. I went to see a nephrologist last week, and he ordered some tests for me, to see how my kidneys are since I told him about my polycystic disease. The first time we went to our health clinic here in Aleph to get the blood work done (last Friday), we got there at 11 AM. The sheet that told us office hours were 8am – noon and 4-7 PM. It turns out that the labs go in by 9:30 in the morning, so you have to get there early. Then they told us that we had to go to Beit Shemesh for the urinalysis (or what we THOUGHT was the urinalysis). So we decided to wait and do them all on the same day. So this morning we went to the clinic and got there at 9:20. There was a line (you just go to the door you need and wait till it’s your turn), so I sat down to wait. After awhile a young mother sitting there asked, “Are we allowed to drink water if we’re fasting?” The woman next to me said, “Sure, if it says that on your orders.” I said, “Hmm, I wonder if I was supposed to have fasted.” The woman next to me asked, “Well, what does it say on your orders?” and I answered, “I have absolutely no idea; I can't read Hebrew.” So she looked at it and said, “Yes, it says it very clearly right here” and pointed to the top of the page. So I laughed and went to find David at the bank. We decided to go do the other test (which was in Beit Shemesh) and hailed a cab. The cab driver was very nice, and in broken English told us how important it was for us to learn Hebrew (his brother-in-law has been here for several years and hasn’t learned it yet and the cab driver was a little impatient with him). We assured him we would be taking ulpan soon. He dropped us off at the clinic in Beit Shemesh with instructions how to call him to pick us up (except that we recognized where we were and knew where the bus stop was). We couldn’t find Meuchedet (our chupat holim – health clinic), but found a medical office and showed them my order for the test. It turns out it was for an ultrasound. First they asked what time my appointment was (no one told us we had to make an appointment; they just told us where the place was and the hours). Then they said they could take me anyway and wanted to confirm that I’d fasted for 12 hours. We just started laughing. I made an appointment for Wednesday and we went upstairs and to the bus stop.
It turns out that upstairs was the DVD rental store, the only one in all of Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh. Yesterday I took the 14 bus to find it and didn't know what bus stop to get off at, so I rode the bus all the way to the train station where the driver made me get off. I had to get on the next 14 bus back towards Ramat Beit Shemes to get to it. It's a small store and not air conditioned and most of the titles are in Hebrew (they're all English movies with Hebrew subtitles) and from what I could tell, they weren't in any order whatsoever. So I rented 2 yesterday and I can return them on Wednesday.
David wasn't happy about me renting them. Here we are trying to improve ourselves and get the shmutz out of our lives, and then I brought home some movies. They were really pretty benign except for one (totally unneeded) nude scene in one (which happened to be on the screen right when David walked into the room); I guess he's right that most of them really do have those kinds of scenes. Once in awhile I just want to watch something, but maybe I should just be reading anyway.
Or playing mah jongg! I called some different women who had answered my ad, and I think I have a game going tomorrow (Tuesday) night. One of the women was on our flight and we had shared a cab from the airport and really hit it off. They both started working right away, plus they have married kids here, so they've been pretty busy. And Tobi's husband, Zvi (who works for Aish here in Ramat Eshkol in Yerushalayim), has been leining at the Renaissance Hotel for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for the past 32 years, so their whole family will be staying there for the chagim. That's so nice! Tobi says they're getting a car tomorrow. It's a whole balagan here to get an Israeli drivers license and buy a car. Zvi takes a bus to Yerushalayim every day, and sometimes his commute is over an hour, even though it's only 13 miles away. When I asked Tobi if he'd be taking the car every day, she said, no, only part of the week: she gets 4 days and he gets 3 - and his 3 include Shabbos! We both had a good laugh over that one. She actually works from home for her boss back in the states. I like that idea...
David is going to Meron and Tsfat with a couple of guys on Wednesday. On Thursday he and I are going to Yerushalayim (finally!) to go to the kosel for Rosh Chodesh. Yocheved and Chanoch were planning to go as well, so they may give us a ride. We're going in the afternoon and will probably find a place to go for dinner. Personally, I vote for Yossi Peking, but my husband may have other ideas. Actually, my blood pressure has been pretty high, so Chinese food would probably not be the best choice for me. It just sounds really, really good.
Did I mention how well our new oven (bought in America before we came) worked on Shabbos? We had just gotten it hooked up last week and I was excited to be able to use it. Before I lit Shabbos candles I put it on time bake so it would turn off just before my husband would return from shul. He warned me that I shouldn't do it because if it didn't work, it would really heat up the apartment all of Shabbos. But I showed him that it was digital and I set it for an hour and a half, and I saw that it was counting down, so I wasn't worried. Rivki and I were sitting here reading when we heard a "beep" from the kitchen. I went in to check and lo and behold, the oven had turned off! I was a little relieved, even though I hadn't really been so worried. The oven beeped again and I went back into the salon to continue reading the Mispacha magazine that Rivki had brought. A few seconds later we heard another beep. Six seconds after that another. And six seconds later another. By the time David got home we were a little on edge. We were starting to worry about getting our dinner out of the oven. David went to get the instructions that came with the oven (no, I did NOT read them beforehand - do YOU ever read instructions for appliances? I thought not.) It seems that you either have to disable the beep before you use it, or you have to press on the "clear" button for 3 seconds to turn it off. Otherwise it beeps every six seconds. Forever. And ever. Every 6 six seconds. Beep. Beep. Beep. All of Shabbos. Beep. Beep. Beep...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Wow, what a Shabbos. My counters are stacked with dirty dishes, but I just don't feel like washing them. Rivki Russom came for Shabbos and is staying until tomorrow. It was just the three of us for dinner last night. I made a roast in the slow cooker, but we weren't exactly sure what cut of meat it was. David tried to enter the words on the label into his pocket pc, but all he came up with was "rolled cattle." Sounds delicious, no?
For lunch I had invited a woman I met a couple of weeks ago, and her 14 year old daughter. We had such a great time! They made aliyah on the very first Nefesh flight 4 years ago, and went to Kiryat Arbah. It sounds like they had a great house there and they really liked it. Unfortunately, her husband now lives in Florida and she and her 3 kids moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh two years ago. I wish she lived closer to us, though - she's way over on Lakish which is a little shlep. Her youngest, Miriam (14) was really sweet. Hopefully, we can get together once in awhile.
Speaking of which - I had a mahj game on Thursday! David and I were out for awhile and when we came back, we found that our air conditioning was NOT WORKING. We got a handyman to come out about 3 hours later, but 3 women (actually 2 women and one's 20 year old daughter) had already come over to play. They had some pretty wierd rules, but I figured it was my house so it would be my rules (which are really the Mah Jongg league rules). Actually, on second thought, it wasn't ALL mah jongg league rules - it was the rules we played by in my previous group - so of course, it was the right way to play (right, girls?). We only played for about an hour and a half, but it was nice to be sitting at that card table again.
David just got an email about an entry level programming job in Beit Shemesh that could be either part or full time. I hope he looks into it. He really needs more structure in his life, plus he needs to stop shopping every day...
The funny thing is, Rivki brought her laptop and we have a wireless network, so all three of us are on our individual computers, checking our email and two of us are blogging. After Shabbos Rivki and I walked over to Lakish (does everybody live on that street?!) to pick up a necklace that she had left at someone's house after a Shabbaton the Neve girls had a few weeks ago. While we were gone, David fixed up her computer for her; like updating her virus protection, and taking care of some problems she was having. Wasn't that nice of him? You can take the guy away from his computer job, but you can't take the computer away from the guy. That might make sense - or, maybe not.
I have to answer a whole lot of emails now.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Okay, here's a couple more. The picture on the left is one of two in front of our building that look like this. Are we crazy or do we have a potato tree growing in our front yard?! I've attempted to grow potatoes before and I know good and well that they grow underground, but we (and others we've seen) are scratching our heads over this one.

The second picture is the view from our large mirpesset. Guess we should have moved the rag and the plastic gloves, huh? I had bought this spray of "Pigeon Away" and of course, couldn't read the directions. I may have been a little gung ho about spraying it all across the top of the railing. It turned out to be kind of like super SUPER glue, and David was not at all happy while he was hanging up the tarp and kept sticking to the railing (along with all the pigeon poo the pigeons left us as they flew overhead and knew enough not to land on). So I bought an entire bottle of vinegar to try to get it off, because we've tried other things (like brillo pads!) that didn't work. Haven't gotten out there since David tied on the tarp, but I'll let you know how it turns out.

By the way, if you double click on any of the pictures, they become full size.

Today we took a bus into Beit Shemesh and after we got off at the closest bus stop, we walked down a street to the "industrial" district. We found a store kind of like Partyland in St. Louis, a beauty supply store, and a couple of hardware stores. One hardware store sold Crocs, so I had to get a pair. Everybody else has some!

Well, I've been kind of avoiding the most serious issue(s) of the day. The cease fire yesterday, the horrific actions of our government, the repercussions of ending this war prematurely, the many mistakes that were made, the million people who have been homeless here in Israel and who may or may not have homes and jobs to go back to. Many people here are sure that it's so horrible because Moshiach is coming soon. There's no doubt in most peoples' minds that things are going to get a whole lot worse. All the Arab nations believe that they've won a great victory, and they're all banding together now with one goal in mind - wipe Israel off the face of the earth. And after Israel - the United States. Then the UK, and then France, and then everybody else one by one. Am I being pessimistic? No, just realistic. The editorials in all the papers here are saying the same thing. People here are angry, but they're just going on with their lives. After all, Olmert and Bush and Nasrallah are just pawns - and Hashem is the chess master. Whatever He has in mind, we have no control over. We should all just daven for mercy, for peace, for security. We need to just try to be the best people we know how to be; speak less gossip, help more people, be nicer to those we love. I've been frustrated because without a car, I wasn't able to help the "northerners" as much as I wanted to. Several people told me that the most important thing I could do was to pray, and that just by coming here, we were benefiting all Jews. When Hashem sends us troubles and challenges, it's because He wants to hear from us - He wants us to open up our hearts to Him. So let's do it!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I've been trying and trying to download two pictures: one of our salon looking out to the small mirpeset and the other from our mirpesset looking into the apartment, but the 2nd one just won't download for some reason. I'll try again in a couple of days. Tomorrow we have friends coming over for lunch, and then they're driving us into Yerushalayim because I have an appointment with a nephrologist there (who I really, really hope speaks English). I'm feeling fine but I need prescriptions refilled and when I saw the regular internist today he wrote me px's but said I'd have to pay full price unless a specialist prescribed them, so guess what? I made an appointment with the specialist. He could either see me tomorrow or at the end of October. Guess what again? I chose tomorrow!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

What a nice Shabbos! Of course, every Shabbos has been great since we got to Israel. It's so nice to meet so many different people. Last night we went to the home of a Russian/Israeli couple we had met at someone's house a couple of weeks ago. They came to Israel via Atlanta several years ago. Michoel told us how he was able to go to university in Russia in the late 60's and how he got into computers, and all the anti-semitism they encountered. He and Anna were lucky to be able to leave Russian when they did. They just brought his mother over from the states (also from Atlanta) this past December; she has to be in her 80's. She joined us for dinner. Mostly she lives with Michoel's brother practically across the street. It must be so nice to have family living close by! Michoel was so funny; he has that dry, Bob Newhart kind of humor where he says things with a straight face and you're left wondering if you should laugh or not. We were talking about tipping the movers when our lift arrived, and other peoples' experiences with the movers asking for more than what you had planned to give them. Michoel took care of it in a rather unique way. After his stuff had been delivered, the movers told him they wanted 200 shekels each as a tip. He offered 100 each. They countered with 175. He came back with 50. He said they looked at him like he was nuts and asked for 150. He told them, "25. That's my final offer." But then he gave them each 100 which was what he planned to give them, and they were satisfied, although he said they walked away shaking their heads at the "crazy guy." He was just giving them back what they were dishing out!
This morning I finally made it to the shul that David's been going to - Aish Kodesh. It had an Agudah-like atmosphere to me, although like all shuls around here, the women were actually in a metal-like building that had been added on to the side of the (small) shul, with 2 open and curtained windows between. I was a little nervous about going there, and more than a little embarrassed when I couldn't get the door open and a woman finally opened it from the inside. Seems I was trying to pull it open and all I had to do was push! I had brought a backpack with me with my siddur, a bottle of wine for our lunch hosts, and a bottle of cold water. They were in the middle of Torah reading, and I was actually able to find a Chumash on the shelf and find the right place pretty quickly, even though it was all in Hebrew. The family that we were going to for lunch were waaaayyyy over on Lakish; a pretty far distance, and they had said they wanted to eat by 11. Since Aish Kodesh doesn't even end until 11 and it was at least a 20-25 minute walk in the sun (with no shade along the way), David had told me he'd daven the mussaf Shemonah Esrei during the rabbi's speech (which is in Hebrew anyway). We hadn't exactly finalized those plans, but I went ahead and did the Shemonah Esrei and Ashray, and then packed up my backpack and went outside and around the building to wait for David. Unfortunately, the men were packed in like sardines (it's the only thing he doesn't like about this shul), and he didn't get out of there for awhile. I felt pretty foolish standing outside with my backpack on.
We got to the house we were eating lunch at by a little after 11 anyway, and they weren't ready for us because they thought we were coming later. They were such a nice family! I had met Sora Dina last Shabbos when I was walking home with Shifra Gitt, and she had called Shifra for our number. They moved to Israel 8 years ago when she was pregnant with their 6th child, and nefesh b'nefesh wasn't around to guide them through the aliyah process. Their kids were very sweet and helped their mother from setting the table to bringing out the food and then cleaning up. The older boys are normally at yeshiva but are home on break now, and the oldest girl is 17. She was telling me all the options she had for school next year. Baruch, the father, is originally from South Africa. We talked about how those of us who make aliyah just seem to have that spark inside us that makes us realize that Israel is our home and we need to be here. They've never gone back to the states in the 8 years they've been here! Their families come to Israel to visit them. Amazing.
David's going into Yerushalayim tomorrow night for a siyum at the convention center. He has a learning partner now every night, and that's the guy who's driving them. It'll be in English.
We finally got the tarp to put over the pergola on our large mirpeset. Just in the nick of time; we have a glider that we were going to sit on last night when we got home from dinner, but the pigeons beat us to it. At least on our smaller mirpesset we have our patio table with an umbrella and that seems to keep the pigeons from landing on the table or chairs.
Next Shabbos we're having company! Rivki, who's learning at Neve (a women's yeshiva) and got to Israel just before we did, is coming to stay with us. I hope Avital (also from St. Louis but has been here about 6 months already) will come also, but I haven't heard back from her yet. Rivki says she's working as a madricha (kind of a dorm mother) at Heritage House during their summer break from Neve. Heritage House is an outreach organization in the old city.
David keeps teaching me Hebrew nouns, and then later he'll ask me what the words are. Sometimes I remember...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

It's hard to believe that you can be so busy and not be getting up to go to work every morning. It seems like we haven't stopped but I'd be hard pressed to say exactly what we've been doing every day.
I think I have a new best friend (sorry, Shifra)! I finally bit the bullet and put an email on the Ramat Beit Shemesh list today to see if anyone plays mah jongg. My phone rang immediately from someone who lives around the corner. She even has a mah jongg set! We have a lot in common, just from the few minutes we spoke on the phone. I also got an email from someone who wants to learn how to play, and a phone message from someone I had actually been at the same Shabbos table with last Friday night who hasn't played in years but wants to play again. Unfortunately, when I tried to call her back, some pre-recorded message in Hebrew came on and I have no idea what it said. I think I dialed wrong, but I tried several times, and I don't know the woman's last name. Sometimes it can be very frustrating not to understand people. In person, you just smile and nod, and after they've finished speaking to you for about two minutes, you ask, "Do you speak English?" And I've gotten some phone calls from people who have the wrong number, but they can't seem to figure it out even when I speak English. They keep asking me questions and saying, "Mah?" (what?) when I answer.
Yesterday we had a fun day. We caught a bus for Jerusalem early in the morning and had brunch at our favorite restaurant, Cafe Rimon, on Ben Yehuda Street. Then we wandered along King George Street (I found 3 separate bookstores that sell English novels!) until our friend, Dov (Howard to you St. Louisans), told us where to meet him so he could pick us up. People with cars are sooooo lucky. He had taken his kids, Hudi and Chanita, to the dentist and was on his way back to Kochav Yaakov. I sat in the back with the kids and Hudi showed me magic tricks. As we passed through the security fence on the northern part of Jerusalem, we noticed that the fence came all the way to the road on both sides, and the checkpoint had gotten much larger. The road we turned on was the same road that takes you to Ramallah, although at a certain point we turn right and Ramallah is left (thank G-d!). We only had about 4 or 5 miles to go to get to Kochav Yaakov, and there's a lot of Arab villages along the way. About halfway there, Dov turned into a little industrial park that we had passed numerous times on previous trips. There had never been any buildings there before, but now there was an incredible grocery store. It was HUGE, with big wide aisles, lots of American products, and several brands of the same product (not usual by Israeli standards). The produce was gorgeous, as was all the selection of foods. And everything in the store had a good hechsher, so you didn't have to check labels for kashruth. There are several settlements in the area, so this store saves people from having to go all the way into Jerusalem for shopping.
Outside was a little pizza shop and Dov fed the kids lunch. Then we went to Kochav Yaakov. It's so beautiful there. We had originally thought we'd move there, before we saw Ramat Beit Shemesh. Housing is extremely affordable because it's outside the green line. A $200,000 house there would be $500 or $600,000 in RBS. You could even rent a big house for $400.
Lisa was busy working (she types legal depositions from e-tapes from American law firms), so I played with Chanita (okay, I snoozed on the couch while she put puzzles together) while Dov took the guys to Rimonim, a yishuv about 20 minutes away where they have an olympic size pool. David just sat in the shade while Dov took Hudi swimming. After they got back, the babysitter came over and Dov, Lisa, David and I went back to Jerusalem to Teddy Stadium. There was to be a gathering of about 25,000 people to hear Rav Amnon Yitzchak, who's big in kiruv apparently. He was going to speak (in Hebrew), and there was going to be musical presentations and a pyrotechnic light show to "light up the skies of Jerusalem." We picked up our free tickets (new olim get a few perks) and then we headed across the street to the mall where we had dinner in the food court, where all the restaurants are kosher. Unfortunately, about a zillion other people had the same idea. I've never in my life seen a mall so crowded before. David ended up pooping out on the whole evening; he couldn't keep his eyes open, so instead of heading back to the stadium, we went down to the train station where the 8:00 PM train was just heading out. So we waited for the 9:00. Only one other guy was there waiting, and he kept trying to engage us in conversation, even though he could only speak Hebrew. I'm pretty sure he lives up near Tel Aviv in a small community, and I know he likes dogs because he had pictures of his 3 on his cell phone, plus pictures of two others that I think belonged to neighbors. He tried to tell us where he lived and finally just said, "Boom! Boom!" I understood that he meant he lived where the katyusha rockets were hitting, but David thought he meant he lived in Gaza and was Arab. When I got up to look at the map of the train routes, he apparently reassured my husband that he was Jewish, but David seemed to be a little unnerved just the same. By the time we got back to Beit Shemesh, waited half an hour for the #14 bus and finally snagged a cab, we didn't walk in the door until after 10:30 PM. Did I mention how nice it would be to have a car?
Oh, we finally got our washer and dryer hooked up! We didn't have any more clean clothes or towels or dish rags or linens - it happened just in the nick of time. I've been washing like crazy. And unlike Israelis who hang all their clothes (including underwear) out their balconies and service rooms to dry, I used my clothes dryer. We shall see when we start getting bills how much we're paying for things. We may be in for a rude awakening.
Speaking of which, my new best friend (we're going to play jump rope tomorrow) told me that we were in our "honeymoon" period. For the first 6 months, new olim love everything about Israel and pretty much are just walking on air. After that they start getting frustrated with the bureacracy and say things like, "Why don't they do things like they do in America?" That period lasts until you've been here about 3 years, at which time you accept the way things are and start acting just like everybody else. I hope our honeymoon period lasts way longer than six months; I like being awed by the sunsets and the mountains and feeling so close to Hashem. I have a feeling that once ulpan starts, things are going to be a whole lot harder and more frustrating. David will pick up the language pretty easily; he's good at things like that. I, on the other hand, can't retain information much longer than the time it takes to repeat it.
Oh, we also got pictures put up on the walls in our salon. Our apartment looks so homey now! I'll have to try to take some pictures of it and have David upload them to the computer so I can share them with you.
I just realized that David probably went to bed. Guess I'd better go. I need to return lots of towels and linens to Yocheved that she lent us to use before our lift arrived, and I need to open up some boxes we stored in their upstairs because I seem to be missing a few things that may be in mis-marked boxes. Later!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

It's Tisha B'av today. All is quiet outside, with the exception of a few cars. David will be at shul most of the morning, sitting on the floor and reciting kinnos. I'm sitting on my kitchen stool, getting a neck ache from trying to reach my keyboard. Also hoping to get a ride this afternoon to a shul in Beit Shemesh to hear an expelle from Gadid in Gush Katif and see a film about it. There are other speakers at the matnas (community center) here in Ramt Beit Shemesh this morning, but I'm not walking in the heat to get there. Today is a fast day, for those of you who don't know.
I didn't need any help crying this morning. Olmert said yesterday that after this war is over, he'll be kicking out the rest of the Jews from settlements and giving it right over to the Palestinians! After all this country is going through - thousands of people having to flee for their lives, living without their jobs and their belongings and depending on the goodwill of others - he talks about giving MORE land back to our enemies who want to destroy us?! It doesn't make any sense whatsoever! Now they'll just be closer when they shot their bombs and missiles! What are our boys fighting for? If you don't already read Naomi Ragen's articles about the matsav (situation) here in Israel, please go to her website:
http://www.NaomiRagen.com. She tells it like it is from the point of view of people who live in the north, who have lost children, who care about Israel. If you need a good cry today, her articles will help you get there.
It's so calm here, so quiet and beautiful. And yet, just a few miles away people are shooting at each other with missiles and bombs and rifles. We're always fighting for our survival. For those of you who don't understand what Tisha B'av is, it's a day when we mourn for the destruction of our Temples. Many terrible things have hapened on this day in history, but what we mourn for the most is baseless hatred among Jews. Yes, among ourselves. We put up divisions between us ("you're not religious enough," "you're too religious," "you're not learning in the right yeshiva," "you drive on Shabbat," your kipah isn't the right color," ad nauseum. This is the day we stop looking for the differences and start looking for the similarities. This is the time that we stick together and learn to love one another and help each other and accept each other for who we are, and maybe we can all, by just trying to improve ourselves in little ways, bring Moshiach one step closer.
The rabbaim (rabbis) are asking that everyone take on one extra mitzvah that you'll do until the war is over, or until Yom Kippur. Just one small thing to do everyday - maybe read an extra psalm, say the Shema before you go to bed, smile at someone you have a hard time liking, whatever. If every single person does something, can you imagine the power behind it?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

This is the view from our smaller mirpeset, looking out at the traffic circle where Hayarden ends at Hayarkon. There are no traffic lights in Ramat Beit Shemesh; only traffic circles. If you turn right at the end of this street, it goes down the hill to the mercaz, and eventually to highway 38. Turning left will take you either to the back way of Beit Shemesh, or, in the other direction, to Beitar and the tunnel road to Yerushalayim. The rest of Ramat Beit Shemesh is to the right and back of our apartment building.
I just learned how to post pictures! So far we only have pictures of the outside of our building. This first picture is a view of the front of our building from across the park. We face Nachal Habesor, which is a pedestrian street only. To the left of our front door, we go up many steps to get to a street called Nachal Maor which crosses Habesor. At Nachal Maor is our mailbox, and the falafel and pizza stores. Up (and I do mean up) to the next level is Nachal Refaim. Up again and you get to Nachal Dolev, a major street that goes in a circle. Right at Dolev and Habesor is the micholet, small grocery store, that we just got back from. It was packed! The big grocery store at the mercaz is closed for the next week while they move into a new location, so we got what we needed to break the fast tomorrow night and for Shabbos lunch (our first Shabbos meal I get to cook for!).

Anyway, back to the pictures! The second picture is a view of the corner of our building. We're on the corner of Hayarden and Hayarkon (named after rivers. In fact, "nachal" means river, so a lot of the streets in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph are named after them). Our large mirpeset faces Hayarden; ours is the only one that does in our building. See the wood at the top? That's a pergola, which is used for putting schok (sp?) over your sukkah. We have a tarp ordered at the hardware store since all of our extra stuff is stored out there and the pigeons like to live us little presents... Yuck! Our smaller mirpesset is in the front of the building, right above the front door.

Okay, the 2nd picture should be the first and the 1st should be the second. The next picture is the front view of our building from closer up. If you look closely, you can see me in the mirpeset above the door!

It won't let me download any more pictures, so I'll do some more in another post.

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!