February

Week of February 3rd

What to do now that Ulpan is over?! I still have plenty of work on the project, and I can now start working in earnest on my presentation for June. I had to go through every book box in the basement to see if I could find some of the books I will be using. I found quite a few, and now the basement looks a little bit better.

I’m also doing a lot of sewing, trying to finish all the projects that I started and let “in process.”

We did some shopping. I love the paper goods store here. We got aluminum pans, some plastic containers and some plastic knives.  Then I went to the decorating store, which I love. Every time I go in there, I wish I had something to decorate instead of our present lodgings. I got a cookie tin for myself and my sister-in-law, a jewelry box for Dina and a “sweets container” for a bride. We also stopped at the big shopping center, and I got some shirts for Dina.

Monday was a gorgeous day. I walked to the commercial center, and I looked around in the stores. I was hoping the stores in the parking garage that sell head coverings and jewelry were open, but they opened later. It was very exciting to look around and see the stores full of Purim stuff.

The roof and attic man is supposed to come. Our gutter is leaking onto our neighbor’s property. We had been hearing “scurrying” above the bedrooms, and the property manager came over, popped the attic door, and saw four pigeons up there. We looked at the roof, and one of the screens on the holes had popped out. Hopefully Pinny will fix everything without charging, since he was just here in December. He doesn’t have the fancy equipment that the gutter cleaner in New Jersey had, so the gutters and leaders could still be clogged with leaves and dirt.

Tuesday was our regular trip to the supermarket. The aisles are filling with Purim goodies. We also went to the dental X-ray place with Dina. They took all kinds of pictures and X-rays, and they were sent almost immediately to the orthodontist. Dina is ready to have the braces put on; Chaim is waiting until we decide on a payment plan.

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Wednesday I went to the Ministry of Absorption to meet with the vocational counselor, who could probably be my daughter. We talked, in Hebrew, about what I liked studying in high school, and what I might like to do. She gave me a list of websites, in Hebrew, and a website of courses.  On the course website, a dialog screen popped up. I asked to speak to someone in English, and someone actually called me. All the courses on the website are given in Hebrew and only in Tel Aviv. I had asked the vocational counselor if I could get a civilian job in the army. She said no, but I could apply to the Mossad, so I filled out the application on their website. My next “counseling” session is in two weeks, and that is when I start to take the vocational tests.

Thursday was a nice day. Chaim continues in Ulpan, and he has the teachers that I had. I rode with him to the Matnas because I wanted to drop off a baby present on that side of town. I ended up visiting with my friend. She gave me a ride to the supermarket, and then a ride home. I started the cooking early, but I started working on the project a little late.

We heard the predictions for a major blizzard in the Northeast as we enjoyed a beautiful sunny day. We had a relatively quiet Shabbos. At Seudat Shlishit, we practiced spitting sunflower seeds, a rather disgusting part of Israeli culture.

Week of February 10th

Yay! When Adar arrives, joy increases! It’s very exciting to see all the Purim stuff all over the place – costumes, food, wine, music.   I am very happy to be spending my first Purim in Israel. The whole place has been a buzz since after Tu B’shvat with costume displays and candy displays.

My most recent reading, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (Doubleday, 2010), was very strange. When Rose Edelstein tastes the lemon cake her mother made for Rose’s ninth birthday, Rose discovers she has a talent: she can taste the emotions people were feeling as they prepared the food that Rose eats. Rose goes through periods of eating only processed foods or eating in certain restaurants. Meanwhile, her brother has a talent for disappearing (literally), her father cannot enter a hospital, even to visit an immediate family member, and her mother spends her time woodworking. As I mentioned, it’s a bit bizarre. Although the author is Jewish and the fictional family is Jewish, other than mention of a Lithuanian background, there is negligible Jewish content.

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What really stuck me is that my neighbor gave me lemons from her tree, and I baked a delicious lemon cake, and I was really happy baking in my kitchen with the gifted lemons. I wonder if anyone sensed that when they ate the cake?!  Here’s the recipe: http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/East-62nd-Street-Lemon-Cake.

The highlight of the week: attending the Jerusalem International Book Fair. I saw some old friends, met some new friends, and I had a great day in Jerusalem. I thought it would be like Book Expo, but there was no swag or author’s alley. There was also a lot less pushing and shoving to get swag and it wasn’t so crowded. I walked around the booths, and then I went to The Literary Café. It was set up with tables and chairs for the audience, much like a café, and on the platform there were chairs and a table for the speakers. I was looking for a place to sit, and this woman thought she knew me because we were at the same table at a wedding and I was made because I put my coat down to save a seat for my husband and someone sat there. I told her I usually don’t sit with my husband at weddings, and she asked me why. When I told her that we usually attend weddings with separate seating, she realized she did not know me.

Any-who, the session featured Judie Oron, the author of Cry of the Giraffe, yes the 2010 Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable for Teen Readers. She was interviewed by Dr. Chaim Peri, the former director of the Yemin Orde Youth Village. I was very happy that I understood the Hebrew, but I think it was because Judie is originally from Canada, so she and her interviewer kept the Hebrew simple. The book has been translated in Hebrew, and they both emphasized that many of the Ethiopians have not told their stories, much like Holocaust survivors, because they are ashamed or guilty about what happened to them, or they think people will not want to hear the graphic details.

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After that, I walked around and looked at the booth. At the National Library of Israel booth, I told the man I wanted a job. He showed me the website, which is in Hebrew. He told me I would probably have to start out at 30 NIS an hour working with one of the collections in the basement. As I rode home on the bus (see below), I pondered why I would want to ride the bus back and forth to Jerusalem every day when I making more money sitting in the comfort of my own home!

Looking for a place to sit and relax, I went back to The Literary Café. I walked in on a discussion between Literature researcher (what exactly does she do? I would like that job, but only if I don’t have to work in the basement and it pays more than 30 NIS an hour!) Bilha Ben-Eliyahu and two Israeli authors: Ronit Matalon and Ariel Hirschfield. Together they created their novel, Undue Influence, by corresponding as the characters – Lori and Netanel. The Hebrew was a little higher level, so I had to focus, but I was impressed that I got the gist of what they were talking about.

The next session was supposed to be in English, so it surprised me when the interviewer started with Hebrew and the Norwegian author started reading from his book, in Norwegian. Then the interviewer switched to some very broken English, and every comment she made, the author contradicted. If she said, “the first line of your book is very simple,” he retorted, “no, it’s quite complex.” After 20 minutes, I could not take it anymore, so I went in the room and sat and waited for a seminar entitled “Literary Criticism.com.” It was billed as “an open discussion between bloggers about cultural criticism on the web.” The participants were Mark Sarvas, author and sometime blogger; Maud Newton, blogger; Naomi Alderman, author, game writer and sometime blogger; and Boaz Cohen, Israeli blogger. They discussed the merits of blogging and how Twitter and Tumblr are the “new way to communicate.” I would love to sit on panels on like and have the lifestyle of being “too cool for school” and having publishers send me hundreds of books because they wanted my expert opinion. I really liked Naomi Alderman. After hearing about her novel, Disobedience, I expected a more serious, kind of aloof person, but she was quirky, funny, smart, and very down to earth.

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After the session, I did a little more walking around. I was basically killing time for the big panel discussion: Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Professor Moshe Halbertal, and Dr. Binyamin Lau, who spoke about “The Leader, the Rabbi & the Professor: Varieties of Jewish Leadership.” People lined up an hour in advance, the room was standing room only, and it was really warm. It was definitely worthwhile.

After enjoying these brilliant speakers, I had to deal with the diametric opposite: taking the bus home. The Chasidim crowded the door, so by the time I got on the bus, there were no seats left. I stood the whole way back, not one person offered me their seat (I guess I should be glad or I would have felt really old). I got home after 10:30 – hot, nauseous and very tired.

I spent the rest of the week working diligently on my project and trying to think of a Purim theme.

I think back to two seemingly unrelated events that are, in retrospect (or 20/20 hindsight), weirdly related. First event: wandering the exhibition booths, I stumbled upon the booth displaying books from India. While many of the children’s books are about Hindu folktales with stories of their various and sundry gods, I love the colorful and imaginative illustrations. One book looked interesting – To Each His Own, which had a picture of a woman with fish on the cover. I read the story and it resonated: the fisherwoman ended up in the house of a woman gardener. The fisherwoman couldn’t stand the smell of the flowers and the gardener could hardly bear the odor of fish. Unfortunately, the book is not available in Israel, nor on Amazon.com or Amazon UK. It would fit many places on the list of books that illustrate verses from Pirkei Avos including giving the benefit of the doubt and not judging people until you are in their position.

to each her own

Second event: I wanted to get up to the lecture hall for the panel presentation with Rabbi Sacks. The Book Fair staff had someone lead a group to an elevator in the back of the building. As we were walking, the non-religious staff woman asked me what the big deal was about Rabbi Sacks. I was explaining how many books he had written, what a great speaker he was, and what an excellent role model for Jews, etc. She had never heard of him and could not understand why so many people were coming to hear him speak. After she led me upstairs and I was waiting on line, I related the incident to a woman on line. She was incredulous that the woman never heard of Rabbi Sacks. I told the woman that the staff worker would not be surprised the following evening when Etgar Keret was scheduled to speak. My conversation partner asked, “Who’s Etgar Keret?” Well, just as the staff person did not know who Rabbi Sacks is, this woman had no idea who Etgar Keret is – to each his own!

Another interesting phenomenon is the observance of Valentine’s Day in Israel. There were heart-shaped boxes of candy, flowers, etc. We went to the jewelry booth at the mall to get DD a belated birthday present, and there were all kind of Valentine’s Day things there, too. When I asked the sales lady, she said it’s a big holiday. I told her I didn’t understand since it celebrates a Christian saint, but she said people enjoy giving gifts, etc. I’m anxiously waiting to see what Israelis do for St. Patrick’s Day!

We went to our neighbor’s bar mitzvah celebration Saturday night. I was nice to see our neighbors, and the party was in a beautiful building with great views of the city.

Week of February 17th

The week started with a visit to the orthopedist at the clinic. She went over my X-rays and gave me a script for physical therapy. People ask if I mind going to the clinic when I had private doctors in America. Are you kidding? When I went for a blood test in the United States, I sat in the waiting home at least 40 minutes, with people with whom I would not normally interact, serviced by a technician with an attitude. Here I wait 10 minutes, with my neighbors, and the technician wishes me “Shabbat Shalom” when I leave. I can print out my lab results for myself. For today’s visit, my appointment was on time, and I spent the 15 minutes with the doctor that I would have spent in the United States, without the long wait.

In the afternoon we did our Purim shopping. We went to the paper goods store and bought containers and bags, and then to the supermarket for small beverages and the ingredients we need. I’m making chickpea salad for distribution, and I need to bake for the festive Purim meal, which we will have with the cousins.

Wednesday was my meeting with the vocational counselor. I thought she said 10:15, but it was 9:15 (I don’t know how I’m going to be able to work in Hebrew if I can’t even keep my times straight). She did a series of tests which made no sense, but she assured me that they were very going for assessing what my strengths might be. After having to draw pictures, including a tree and a person, it should be obvious that my strength is not drawing pictures.

After my meeting, Chaim picked me up and we drove to Tel Aviv. We ended up parking on the roof of the parking garage, from which we could see the Mediterranean Sea. We were hoping to go to a Chinese restaurant for lunch, but it closed a long time ago. We walked around and found a used bookstore where I was able to get a lot of the books I need for my presentation. We went to another book store which specializes in English books, but they did not have what I wanted.  They had a lot of medical textbooks. After that we walked around a little more to try and find a restaurant, but we realized we were in the wrong neighborhood for glatt kosher food. It was nice to visit, but Tel Aviv felt very much like New York City with Hebrew signs. Everyone spoke to us in English, and it was very crowded. After being in our little suburb for so long, we felt very out of place.

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We did a little more shopping at the end of the week for stuff for Dina to give out to her friends and for Moshe to give to his teachers. We stopped at a liquor store and bought gluten-free beer from Belgium to drink at the Purim meal.

We had a rather quiet Shabbos.

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