Aspects of Israeli Culture

Week of August 19th

Now that we are settling into a routine and school has started, it’s a little easier to keep track of what we’ve been doing.

Sunday was challenging for almost everyone. Chaim drove Yehuda to Maarava. I was going to take the bus to school with Moshe, but my wonderful neighbor offered a ride and an eighth grade boy to walk Moshe to class, much better than having Mommy do it. Chaim stopped by the cousins so Aunt Ronit could translate some documents. When Chaim got back, we went to the school to pick up Moshe. We met with the principal and gave the secretary all our information. Then we went to the girls’ part of the school and did the same there. At first Moshe was not so forthcoming about his day at school, but once he came home and ate lunch, we heard about what they learned. His Rebbe does not speak English. I’m hoping this will be a good thing in forcing Moshe to make himself understood, and not the opposite that he feels he can’t communicate to his Rebbe. Back to School Night, one of my least favorite activities, is on Wednesday. I am not thrilled about sitting in a little desk and listening, in Hebrew, about how much involvement I have to have in my son’s homework.

We were hoping the water company was open after their vacation. So the offices are open now, just not at the hour we went! Then we tried to go to the housewares store outlet. It was supposed to be just down Route 3 from our landmark, Latrun. We drove quite a ways, then decided we were wrong and turn around and came back. We did a big grocery shopping at Kimat Chinam, which translates to “almost free.” Then we stopped at several used car places in the Bet Shemesh Industrial  Zone. Again, the difference in price between a used car and a new car and whether it will last, and we know one of the used cars was definitely in an accident, and we don’t have a full command of the language, makes us tend toward buying a new car. At this point we have narrowed is down to a Hyundai (remember, it’s pronounced Yoon-Die) or a Mazda 6.

We got home, exhausted and sweaty as usual, and ate leftovers for dinner, with several family members vying for the taco salad.

Monday was yet another jam packed day. I started in the morning by doing laundry and changing the bedding. Then I took Moshe on the bus to school. As in my friend Ann Koffsky’s book, it’s nice to see a bus driver wearing a kippah. The bus ride goes around the circles in our neighborhood, then out to the main road. It’s about a ten minute ride. When we got off, there were four boys at the cross walk with lollipops (hand-held stop signs), and they stopped the traffic so the boys could cross. I left Moshe and took the bus back and continued straightening up. In Moshe’s room, I discovered several ant colonies that were attracted by his empty candy wrappers. We also found out that this will be an “in” Shabbos for Yehuda, so I organized more clothes for him.

Then, on to the errands: we went to the water company and changed the name on the account. There is currently a credit balance, so we are okay. Interesting to use words from our prayers in modern Hebrew. Credit balance is Z’chut (which we usually translate as “merit”) and Tokef is expiration date (like from the Rosh Hashanah prayer “U’nitaneh Tokef.” Then we went to pay our supplementary insurance at the Health Clinic. Our penultimate stop was at Cell Com, where we got the whole family kosher phones. These phones only have dialing options – no games, no texting, no pictures. I’m actually happy to trade in the Blackberry. For all its features, I never used it to its full potential, and it was a little distracting to have some much stuff on the phone when all I wanted to do was make phone calls. I felt a little like one of my favorite Roz Chast cartoons about “How Grandma Sees the Remote.” Much like Grandma, I felt if I pressed the wrong button, I might launch a nuclear attack.

We finished at the phone store just in time to go to Best market, known for a plethora of American products. We picked up some Cocoa Pebbles, but also the quintessentially Israeli corn schnitzels, and some hot dogs and hamburgers (on sale!). I had just enough time to put away the groceries before going out to the bus stop to meet Moshe, who was proud that he got home by himself. He had his first Ulpan session, and he understands  most of what goes on, as it is similar to what he did in the States – prayer, Chumash, Mishnayos.


After lunch, we began the afternoon errands. We drove out Route 3 and found the Housewares Outlet Store. We bought some coffee cups, vacuum seal containers in which to store things so they do not get infested with bugs, and some more laundry baskets. Then we went back out on Route 3, passed Latrun, and onto Maarava to drop off things for Yehuda. He was very cute. He was happy to see us, but a little self-conscious that his family was there. We left him a kosher phone, more clothes because he is staying through Shabbos, and some cookies. He called later in the evening because he is not thrilled with staying, but we encouraged him to stay. All his roommates are Israeli. I hope the logic was that this would be the best way for him to learn Hebrew.

Then we had one of the most disheartening experiences since we’ve been here. We decided that since the computer at the Superbus office in Bet Shemesh was not working, we would stop at the one in Modi’in Illit (Kiryat Sefer) since we were in the area anyway and get the “Rav-Kav:” the bus pass.
 The office was supposed to re-open at 5 PM, and by the time we got there at 4:30, there was already a line.

 When I told people I was moving to Ramat Beit Shemesh, they were concerned because they had seen stories in the news about people spitting and throwing rocks, Jewish women donning burkas, and men wearing cloudy glasses so as not to see immodesty. We assured our friends that these people were on the fringe and not accepted by the community, that most people here are lovely and normal.

Why I am adding this here? Well, when the door to the Superbus office opened at  5 PM, everybody just rushed in and started pushing and yelling. Out the window went any good manners, courtesy, love of fellow Jew. Also out the window went any adherence to Shomer Negi’a (touching members of the opposite sex) as people just kept jamming into the office. Everyone was pushing and yelling.  I was stunned that these people thought themselves religious Jews. After about ten minutes of being jostled, we pushed our way out the door. We decided to swing by the Superbus office in Ramat Bet Shemesh. There, there was much civility, as a Chasidic man urged two boys to get up so that my husband could sit down, the people in the office arranged themselves in order by saying who was last, and the process was much less arduous and suffocating.

We got home tired and hot, but with some feeling of accomplishment. Yehuda called on his cell phone, and we had an all skate for dinner, with Chaim and Moshe finishing the leftover cholent , and Dina and I eating tortellini.

Tuesday started with the blessing of a normal day. I walked Moshe to the bus stop, but he used his new bus pass to go by himself. Then I put in a load of laundry and began to straighten out all the papers that have accumulated. In the afternoon, we took care of a few things across the neighborhood. We stopped at the community center, and Dina checked out four books from the library. I volunteered to help out there. It could work out nicely because Chaim and I are starting Ulpan at the center, or MATNAS, next week. Then we stopped by Estie to drop off wedding presents for her daughter. After that, a quick stop at the supermarket for marshmallows with which to make Cocoa Pebbles Treats. In the meantime, Chaim got gas and took our new dairy coffee cups and the new vegetable peeler to the mikveh. I used it to peel the cucumbers for homemade sushi.

Later that evening, my neighbor gave a class about things to do during Elul to get ready for Rosh Hashanah. She is an excellent speaker, but after walking across the neighborhood to get there, I was exhausted. The owner of the apartment has a beautiful tabby cat and a fish tank with some sharks in it. I wonder how that works out for her.

Wednesday had a combination of good things, fortuitous timing, and some challenges. We went to Jerusalem via Beitar, which turned out to be much quicker and a much more pleasant ride, though the huge barrier fences and the tunnels were a little ominous. First stop was the Mazda dealer, where we bought the last gray Mazda 6 Hatchback. Purchasing a car is another bureaucratic nightmare, as everything has to go through customs and taxes, but then it’s multiplied because of the bureaucracy of getting an Israeli driver’s license. Hopefully we will be picking up the car sometime in September.

Since we were in the area, we went to the Talpiot mall and waited to get gas masks. Someone waiting took it upon himself to give people numbers. Then when the official number caller came, he switched the unofficial numbers for official numbers. The distribution began at 11 AM. There were some commotion from the people who walked around the mall and came back with their unofficial numbers, but it went rather smoothly, and we left with gas masks for the whole family by 11:30 AM. Not bad, considering we were number 48.

From Talpiot we drove to Givat Shaul to the Ministry of Education so I could submit my credentials. The parking was insane, but there was no wait, and I gave in everything. I still have to get official transcripts, but everything else was fine. I was also able to pick up Yehuda’s math book at a nearby bookstore.

Then came the challenge. We went to the Cell Com service center to cancel our Blackberry numbers. Chaim and I had spent two days on the phone trying to do it, and we got every excuse in the book about not speaking English, or someone needed to call us back, to being hung up on several times. In frustration, Chaim went back to the store and asked the salesman to help us. He called the number, and when they gave him the runaround, he started screaming in Hebrew. The gist of the argument was that no one wanted a cancellation on their tally.

So we sat in the service center for over an hour. They called our number, but when we went to the representative, we were told we needed to wait 2 minutes. Ten minutes later, we were assigned to someone else, who didn’t speak English. When we communicated that we needed to cancel two phones, he still needed a manager. The manager was busy, until when he could no longer find anything else to do, he came over, grilled us about why we were cancelling, and finally cancelled the numbers.

To add insult to injury, someone called later in the afternoon to make sure we were satisfied with Cell Com.

We got back from Jerusalem after 3 PM and stopped at the Felafel stand for a mental health lunch. In the meantime, Moshe was upset because he had to wait a long time for a very crowded bus, and we weren’t home when he got back from school.

I needed a big nap, and by the time I woke up, we had to go to Back to School Night. Moshe’s rebbe seemed very nice, but he doesn’t speak English. We sat there listening to him speak and only catching a few words.

When we got back, Chaim barbecued hot dogs, and he and Moshe saw a big locust on the porch. It was still 84 degrees in Bet Shemesh.

Thursday only involved two rounds of errands. We went out around mid-morning. Chaim went to the bus office and was able to get Yehuda a bus pass using a passport photo. In the meantime, I was able to go to a shoe store and get slippers and hiking boots – two polar extremes. Dina thinks they look like Granny shoes, but they are very comfortable – made in Israel, too. I just have to get the pronounciation right so I tell people they are Moran brand, not that I am wearing moron slippers. From there we went to Ramat Bet Shemesh center. They still do not have Dina’s math book at the book store, but we got notebooks for Yehuda and Moshe. We stopped in an accessory store to see if they had a wallet that would hold a bus pass and change, they had mostly hair stuff. We came home in time to meet Moshe.

In the early evening, we drove into Jerusalem and went to the Malha mall. It was crazy busy, filled with all kinds of people, notably tons of Arab women. I couldn’t help thinking that if they were in any other in the vicinity, they would be sitting home in burkas. I imagine this is what the malls are like in the United States on a Saturday.  Our original plan was to find a store with English books and to look for cases for our new phones. Chaim found a case for his, the rest of our mission was unsuccessful. The food court looked very appetizing, but we did not know for sure about the kashrut, so we made our way to the schwarma place by the gas station.

Moshe gets out of school at 11:30 on Friday. Then we will organize to stop and see Yehuda, then drive to Jerusalem to spend Shabbos with some old friends.



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