Sunday, October 31, 2004

Transgender Words (You know words that cross dress)

I just finished another day of Ulpan, and I must say some things want to make me cry. Actually I cried in class over this issue. I was laughing at the same time. Everything is Israel is gender matched. You do not only need to remember the name of an item, but what gender it is. Gender is important as it effects how you write verbs and adjectives and all the other stuff in the sentence. So it turns out that one out of every so many plural words have a gender issue where they are written as if they are male or female but they are not. This probably does not sound like much of a problem to you, but to me with my dyslexic brain already maxed out this is just living hell. There is nothing I can do about it, but still it was enough to make me cry. The teacher did not understand what upset me, but that is just part of life.

I must say I am learning but it is slow and steady that might win the day maybe.


Week four of Ulpan

We are in the fourth week of Ulpan and I am still in the middle of the class. This is the week however that the instructor's decide if we get sent back 4 weeks to restart or not. Decisions Decisions Decisions, I do not want to be sent back, I actually want to go forward if possible, but we will see.

I had a really good shabbat. We had a guest, Emily who slept a lot, but really was a hit with the kids, They just loved her. She reminded them of Jackie her sister. It is so important to share shabbat with someone. I also made my decision of my first gift, I am going to be giving one of the Synagogues I go to 50 Artscroll Siddurs. They really need them, I can find them for $13 each in the US (, and I will put them on the next lift to here. Frankly I like to give especially if I can give in a targeted focused way.

I hope we get this apartment, Shosh is calling today, we bought a bunch of Antiques for it from a family that was moving. We even got a Tiffany style lamp that hangs in the dining room area. It is just really nice and will give a sense of color and style to the space. We also got a couple of small tables, and a nice china cabinet. We also bought their dishwasher, and washer and dryer. Now we just have to buy a fridge and I am going to do that today. We do not get the stuff until December 1st. (We can take the lamp sooner.)

It is going to be nice to have an apartment that is ours.

I hope everyone had a good shabbat and a blessed week.


Thursday, October 28, 2004

Full circles

When we moved into our house in Portland we moved into my grandparents house. It is not exactly the same, but the vintage, the style the build all evoke the life my grandparents on my father side lived in. It is a house that Granny Annie would have loved, would have felt at home in and would have be so happy to see her dining room table in.

Trying to find a home in Israel has been tough for us. First off we have been looking for something that would fit in America. We want an American sized place, and we want it to be large and we want it to make sense for us, but I will say that if we want it all we can not afford it. I can not stomach spending $1500-1700 on rent, taxes and maintenance for something that I do not own. Call me crazy, but I broke out into cold sweat when I looked at the numbers. It was not that it was that much money, but if we are going to long term be in Israel we need to be in an Israeli mind set and people raise a family, car and all for $1700 per month. The average wage here is about that pretax.

So when we walked into this apartment that we are hopefully taking, for Iris it was like walking into her grandmothers house again. What was scary was the stark difference between my grandmothers way of life and her grandmothers way of life. This apartment done up nice will be nice, it will work for us for maybe a couple of years, but most American double wide manufactured homes are nicer. It is amazing that in our life we are going to be going back both to my fathers childhood home and spend time in something that is similar to Iris's.

I must say that we can live in this apartment, but it will be interesting to see where we end up in 2-3 years.

I am not going to focus on spelling and grammar on this blog. This is not that I do not care, but I am trying to capture living here, and if I spend lots of time editing I will not do the writing, and what is scary is I need to write, I need to talk about what I am living through or else I am not going to make sense of my life.

Have a good Shabbat you all, and I hope you are getting something out of this, because I am really enjoying writing it.


The luck of the Irish (but I am not Irish)

Some days you have all the luck.

I must say that on my walk everyday from the Gan (where I drop the kids for the day) to the Ulpan (where I get tortured in Hebrew) there is this one really nice block. It has a park that is in between two streets and it has trees, and a play ground that by Portland standards is huge, but by Israeli standards is large. There are 4 floor apartment buildings on both sides and some are really nice and new and others are old and not so nice.

But the street is really nice, it is very central, but it is a one way one lane street so no one in their right mind goes down it unless they live on it, or unless the arts center at the end of the street is having an event, but on the whole it is a really nice street with nice stuff.

2-3 weeks ago I noticed a very little sign on a small apartment that was facing this park, and I was very excited and I had Shosh call on it. It was already taken, but I could still see living on the street. Today I was walking down and I saw a sign that just made me happy it was for an apartment that directly faced the playground area. Now if you are a kid living 50 feet from some kick --- play ground equipment is like living in heaven.

So I had to call on this one. I have gotten smart about this, so I took down the number and had Shosh call as she is much smoother them I am. The apartment was available, but it only had 2 bedrooms, and it was priced fairly at $650 per month.

She talked the guy into letting us see it and I liked it. Now I have to take Iris there tonight to see it. Frankly it is a come down from anything we have lived in since Harvard street in College. It really is a dive, but it is a charming dive, with 2 covered balconies, a large kitchen, a living room that is probably 30 feet by 13 feet, and a really nice new bath room. There are things that must be done to it to make it nice, but it could really be nice in a old Israeli sort of way. By London standards is a quite a nice apartment, but by Portland standards it would rent for $600 per month.

We can live really nicely here for under $1500 per month in rent, but if we are going to be on vacation that is fine, if we plan on staying we have to live in an apartment that matches our budget to what we make, and that means cutting back.

Ailyah is a process of rebirth, it is a process of going into a flame and either coming out stronger, or learning your limitations. One of the things I have been trying to do with this process is figure out what in life at this point is important to us, and what is superficial. Our cars have gotten older, our furniture is not as nice, we have no silver here for shabbos, and we are currently living in an apartment that is very nice for Ra'anana but it just is not home.

This other apartment is 1/2 the size of this one, but it seems to be an apartment that can have joy in it. I can see a set Friday night table, and I can see my kids going to bed in it. I can see shabbat coming in, and I can see sitting in the park using my laptop on Wifi talking on my phone all the while my kids are playing on the play ground.

We need silver for Shabbat, we need to cook and to feed people, we need some art, and we need our health, but we do not need quite everything we had in America. Now these are cheap words considering we still have our house in America and our stuff there. We can go back any day we want to.

To live in Israel is to go to the bone on what you things you can cut and then cut some more. If you are going to make it here you are going to need to be cheap, because after the taxes and the cost of stuff you are very broke. But we can live here on just about what it costs to have 2 kids in child care in America.


Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Renting an apartment

In America it is easy to get a place to live. You know the problems, you go down to Shadow Hills or some other place and you get your pad. It is just simple. Renting an apartment here is as complex as buying a house in America.

First you have to find a place, and frankly the fall is the worse time to find a place as most people move in the summers. Then you get the pleasure of paying one months rent to an agent plus VAT, 1/2 months rent to the other sides attorney, some sort of security deposit either a letter form or a bank guarantee for $3k, then you have to pay three months in advance. The total cash cost of moving in is around 7-8 months rent with only 3 months actually rent.

I must say that in America we have a credit reporting agency, I wish we had that in Israel, it is fairly easy in America to figure out how much someone can pay and to get them to pay. Here it is just messed up.

If you find a decent place at a decent price take a longer term lease as it is hard to move, and if you have to you can probably find replacement tenets.

Have a good day.


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Time and money

It amazes me how little the big things costs in this country. Ice cream can be had for under 2 NIS per scope at the local McDonald's (Yes it is Kosher), so for me and Avi and Sam we get a treat that we share three ways for 3.8 NIS, or 85 cents. It is soft serve ice cream but it still is food. Last week we went out to dinner, me and Iris at a nice French restaurant, we spent I think including tip 60 NIS or $13 dollars, the baby sitting cost more then the food.

In most places time is money. I can make oatmeal for breakfast and it costs pennies per day. I can also have Cheerios or eat out and it costs more, but takes less time. The real question is what is your time worth. In a country where eating out is as cheap as eating at home, it gets harder to cook. But in a country where eating at home is much more healthy then the fried Israel diet other things have to be taken into account.

Not that any of this makes any sense, but that is what is cool about a blog, you can talk at a wall and even if no one is listening it still can be said.



What an apartment costs

In America it is easy to get a place to live. You know the problems, you go down to Shadow Hills or some other place and you get your pad. It is just simple.

Renting an apartment here is as complex as buying a house in America. First you have to find a place, and frankly the fall is the worse time to find a place as most people move in the summers.

Then you get the pleasure of paying one months rent to an agent plus VAT, 1/2 months rent to the other sides attorney, some sort of security deposit either a letter form or a bank guarantee for $3k, then you have to pay three months in advance. The total cash cost of moving in is around 7-8 months rent with only 3 months actually rent.

I must say that in America we have a credit reporting agency, I wish we had that in Israel, it is fairly easy in America to figure out how much someone can pay and to get them to pay. Here it is just messed up.

If you find a decent place at a decent price take a longer term lease as it is hard to move, and if you have to you can probably find replacement tenets. Have a good day.

Eye glasses

My glasses finally broke, and I had to go get new ones. The interesting thing about Israel is that the stores are open and closed at very weird times. It took me two days to wait for the eye glass store to be open that I wanted to shop at. Once I got in, I got out quickly and only 550 NIS poorer. The only issue I had was the eye exam was the most jury rigged exam I have ever had. They did not change my prescription much but it still was rather short and sweet. I hope the new glasses work out and do not give me a head ache.

I had some deep and profound thoughts about Israel and life and apartments but frankly the thoughts are escaping from my head quicker then they can go in due to the mind chilling fighting of two kids who are just really tired and are fighting over a spoon. It amazing to me how they can have these fights and forget about them 2 minutes later.


Saturday, October 23, 2004

Up and down like a roller coaster

Israel is one big roller coaster,

Some days are up, others are down, and some days you have both ups and downs at the same time. The last couple of days have been like that. We have figured out that I am just wiped out from Ulpan, working and taking care of the kids. I have a level of tiredness in my bones that I have not done in the past and that frankly is just not cool.

So taking stock I have got to find an apartment, I have to stop treating it like I am buying and just take a place. We know roughly the neighborhoods we are interested in, and we know what we are willing to pay. The big issue on a house we saw was that it was a one year deal and frankly we have no interest in moving again quickly. We are either going to be here for a while and want to keep a place for at least 2 years. It just sucks to move and I do not want to do it lots.

We went to Ikea to look at stuff for an apartment, and we found that for 2-5,000 NIS we can get most of what we want. Ikea has some amazing dining room tables that fold in 1/2 and sit against the wall, what we are learning is that in a world where there is just less space we have to make do and make things work that in America would not be an issue. We are used to having lots of space and lots of time. The combination of working and going to ulpan on Sunday with Iris working and me trying to get things done in Portland means we just are wiping ourselves out on a regular basis. I am getting up at 6:00 and going to bed at 11:00 with rarely more then 1-2 hours of down time.

One has to question why we are in one of the nicest places in the world, and it seems we just set ourselves up to be really really really busy and it just is not healthy. I need to figure out what our priorities are and deal with them and let the rest of the stuff just go.

I am treading water and frankly I love it here, but some days I just feel like I do not have any space or time left and in the long run I have to find that again or else I am not going to live here long.

Lets see if I can live through 2 months of ulpan and then take some time down.


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Some days are perfect :-)

When no day is perfect here, but that is to be expected. Any place where paying a bill takes 5 stops, has its problems, but frankly if all the bureaucracy was removed they would have to beat people away from this place. I mean it is late in October, and I am still wearing shorts, the weather has not gotten cold, my kids are both in all day Gan (Preschool) that has good religious content, 2 square meals, and lots of love for $600 per month for both of them. Apartments are cheap, and did I mention the weather.

It is funny 15 years ago this place (Ra’anana) was by world standards one of the most expensive cities in the world. Apartments here went for more then Apartments in London or Paris. The apartment we are living in was bought for $250,000 15 years ago, and now it is worth maybe 280. Over the last 15 years the only other place that in Dollar terms did this was maybe Japan, and Philadelphia. From the peak (2000) the value of this apartment went down $80k which considering the value is huge money.

I was asked why I love this place, and I do love it, I love it with such ruach that it scares me some days. The answer is that I cannot explain the place. It has a Vortex of energy that makes it a place of great love and hate. You can go to places like Ako, and you can feel the tears of the thousands of years that people have fought over that pretty little port city. It is a seriously sad place. You can go to Caesarea, and walk along the beach in the roman ruins and look at the sea. You can go and have the best Chumus in the world at the end of my block. If you doubt that this Chumus is this good, you do not understand I have had a lot of Chumus around the world and this is the best Chumus in the world. It is amazing how 1 hour before dinner I start to think about all the things I want to eat. Back to the topic, I was asked by a secular jew why I love this place, and I did not say for religious reasons.

I was a better Jew in Portland, maybe not in fact, but in spirit. Here it is so easy to keep kosher, you can buy everything in most every store and its kosher. You can go to 98 different shuls, and did I mention that there are like 50 different places to eat within 4 miles of my flat that are Kosher. If I get to shul at the start or the middle of Davening no one cares, and to get guests for Shabbat takes 4 weeks of reservations. In Portland I just had to set some pots a cooking and I had a full table.

I do not love this place for the traffic, the religious issues, or the weather, or the horribly ugly buildings, I love this place because it is home. It is my home, I am so proud to be here, I am so proud to stand up and be counted. Just being here feels like the most important thing I have ever done in my life, and I have done some other neat things.

That leads to the crux of the problem with the place, ½ of my Ulpan class are Doctors (I wish I was kidding), there are more Harvard MBA’s wandering around then I can shake a stick at, and my Brandeis degree is downright embarrassing low key. The real estate has not gone up in value because people want to own part of Israel. Rent however is cheap.

I want to say that I want to go home to America, I want to say that I will leave in a fit of Anger, but I can tell you the time that we leave on the air plane to go back to America if we do, part of me will be crying.

Watching my kids learn Hebrew, being able to read a paragraph in Hebrew, watching Iris’s family sit down for a dinner, these all make all the pain and trouble of this place worth while. If I leave I might look back at these words as the words of someone who does not understand, and laugh, but I think that in so many key ways I have found a place that I can grow old, and if I get into a rut I will be so happy.

No matter where my body is, Israel is my home. Now If I can just fix some of the problems like those 5 stops to pay my ulpan bill. (Famous last words)


Sunday, October 17, 2004

Uplan is your friend

I thought I would be the worse person in my class at Ulpan, I based this on the fact that I was the worse person in my class for the last 5-10 times that I have tried to learn either Hebrew or Spanish. What is scary is that there are people who make me look good, not that many of them, but enough that I might not even be in the bottom quarter of my class. From my perspective this rocks, I have never been middle of the pack before.

It is getting harder, but in some ways it is getting easier, I need to go buy flashcards and I need to study more, but I am getting it.



Long borders make for difficult times

In Israel the borders that are guarded are very long, very convoluted and do not make much sense. First off it is very expensive and hard to guard different parts of Gaza that are owned by Israelis. I use the word owned as this land that we are guarding was bought and paid for in the 1920's before the state of Israel was even formed.
Now people are talking about pulling out of Aza, and I can see the point from all three sides. The Palestinians want continuous territory, the Israeli government wants less borders to patrol, and the Jews on the land have clear legal title to the land that predates the state of Israel. It is their home, they are invested in it, and the money that they will get for it does not reflect its value.

The issue here is one thing. No one in the middle east really cares about the settlements in Gaza, for the PA it is a step to getting us to cede Ashdod, or some other part of our southern coast line, for the government it is a very expensive political statement, and for the people who's home it has been for 80 years very few people are listening.

I want peace, heck everyone I know here wants peace, but I do not see the point of pulling back from Aza. Backing down like we did in Lebanon will just result in more attacks on Israel proper. What is so amazing is that this war has completely devastated the economies of both sides, but as the situation has escalated neither side can afford to pull back.

Frankly, I can see only one solution. Free WIFI piped into AZA, Free old computers with WIFI to any house with children in it, and a Radio Free America piped into the region in English and Arabic. Information is the key to solving the regions problems. Both sides need to see that the other sides claims have basis and needs to move ahead on that basis.

I can say that what is completely depressing, but yet reality, is I can not see peace in my life time. For us to get peace every Jew would have to leave Israel, and frankly I and 6 million others do not feel that we are willing to give this place up. This is my home, however long I stay here, I think for the rest of my life I will think about Israel as my home. I am happier here then I have ever been before in my life. I love the land of Israel. Heck I am even learning how to speak Hebrew, and for me that is saying something.

The fight is not for Gush, but for Tel Aviv and Ra'anana, the fight is not for the green line, but for the whole of our country.



Friday, October 15, 2004

Jackhammers are not your friends

Okay, this is a pet peeve, but the people upstairs are redoing their apartment. Now they could be jack hammering in the morning when no one is here, but instead the have been starting around 2:00. Now I must say there is nothing like being directly below a jack hammer. It just gives a certain brain tingling vibration that just can not be missed. It is even better if it happens after a day of brain tingling Uplan that comes together for some really special splitting head aches.

I am not yenting, but if you want to see me get excited about moving, my landlord could not have picked a bettor way to get us out of the apartment. Now we just have to find another one, which strangely is quite hard in October, there just is not that much available here.

Time to get my kids from Gan, go to the park and then come back here to clean, I get to have a date tonight as we have hired a baby sitter :-).


Wednesday, October 13, 2004


I can read Hebrew, well not that well, but I can read it better then I have ever in the past. For the first time in my life I can sit down and follow along in some text I have never heard of before and read it. Heck I read a book to Avi last night, he left after the first page as I was going at a snails pace, but I could still read it.

For me with my learning problems this is significant, now I am wondering what I will learn in the next 3 months of this Ulpan. It is amazing to be able to do something I have not been able to do in the past.

If I had known it would be this easy I would have done it ages ago, but maybe it is the fact that I now HAVE to do it to survive that is making me learn.


Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I started Ulpan, to put Ulpan in terms that other people can understand, for me it is a bunch of people talking to me in Hebrew and I do not understand it at all. The point is to learn via immersion. So I am doing Ulpan, and it is scary and hard, but I am learning and I really like it. I can not read Hebrew, I can figure out what the dots mean and how to put the little stuff together. I can not do it well, but I am learning and for me that is so amazing I just almost want to cry. It is hard to take risks and right now going back into the class room to learn Hebrew is the biggest risk I have taken in years. If I fail it will really hurt, but something tells me I will not lean completely, but I also will not fail.

Our phone service got cut off as the bill had not been paid. It would have been nice had the land lady given a copy of the bill, or switched the service over to us. We paid the bill online on the phone and the problem is solved, but it still is enough to drive me crazy.

We are looking for a new apartment and I might have found one, it will make the kids very happy, but for me it is a huge come down from where we were in the past. This apartment does not have a view, but it faces park blocks and it has a play ground just across the street. Sometimes we do stuff for our kids, as the view apartments are not kid friendly, you are trapped in them away from everyone.

I would like to live next to a huge play ground, I would like to look at the park when I work frankly It would be better then what I have now. I am going to call on it and we will see.We either are looking for low end or high end, but we first need to figure out who we are at this point in our lives and what we need space wise.


Monday, October 11, 2004

Tonight I took the kids for Ice cream

In some towns, going for ice cream means getting in the car. Where we live now going for ice cream is a completely different production. It starts with sandals, yes I know it is October, but the weather is still warm and we all have our sandals. It is hard some times to find all of them. Avi kicks them off where ever he can, and Sam takes extra time in taking them off, ideally in two different spots at opposite ends of the apartment. But if we are lucky we find them and quickly.

You see Avi knows all about ice cream and he is not opposed to the idea of opening the door to let Sam out into the hall just to make sure that I do not check email one more time or sit on the computer. For Avi a cone of Ice Cream is a sacred vow, and one that once made has to be acted on before the resolution to go has melted in the October sun.

Okay, maybe this is a bit corny, but to Avi Ice Cream always has capital letters and is key. Sam on the other hand will eat anything and for him Ice Cream is just more food, maybe if he had more then 5 words he could express his love of the stuff, but for now it is just another form of food.

When we final get the sandal's on, and get Avi and Sam on the single seat American oversized stroller, we are on our way for Ice Cream. Now tonight I had an alternative reason for going for Ice Cream, I wanted to talk to realtors. In reality I am a closet real estate junky and I managed to somehow talk ourselves out of an apartment by being nice, and now we had to find another one.

Ice cream is at the other end of Achuza street and there are lots of real estate offices in between. In China I learn how to deal with real estate signs, I learned what symbol meant what, and I was able to read them. In Israel I can check only a couple of things, number of rooms price, and amount of features. If an apartment has not so many word describing it, I know it does not have a balcony or a garden, or an AC or a stove, if the ad in the window runs 4-5 lines then I know it is for me.I love old real estate, I like the older buildings better then the new ones, but I also like the ability to go outside and I want a view. Frankly in a country where the difference in rent between the best and the worse 4 bed room apartment in town is $200, we can be picky, or so I hope.

Back to the quest for the Ice Cream, I was a little depressed about talking myself out of an apartment and now I needed to get out and see the world.The easiest place to be alone is in a city. People are always around you but you can easily hide in a city. It is so easy not to get to know people not to make friends, not to get out. In a less of a city people force themselves on you, people talk. What is scary is some of the best human contact I get here is with street musicians. There is one from Odessa that will always spend 5 minutes talking to you. Sometimes like tonight I will make it a point to cross the street to talk to him. Other times I wonder at the desire for the human contact.All of this happens on the way to Ice Cream.

Frankly for the kids Ice Cream is the end of the road, for me it is a way to keep the kids happy as I push them up and down the street looking watching, but not really joining in. For right now I feel like I am in Alice's Wonderland not quite here and also not there. There is opportunity here, people are blending in, but in some ways I still feel like I stick out.The ability to go for ice cream and hear music on the way, competing with the busses and the horns of the cars, the ability to have my eldest son be able to count both now in Hebrew and English, that makes it all worth it, but some days I wonder if at some point the looking glass will crumble and I will drop over to the other side.

Till next time,