Celebrate Sylvester! (Or don't. Nobody really cares.)

No, not this Sylvester. (Source: http://www.swapmeetdave.com/Humor/Cats/Sylvester.htm)

New Years Eve was actually the first "holiday" I ever experienced in Israel, on my Birthright Israel trip as a sophomore in college. (I went to Israel just because it was a free trip and I liked to travel... I didn't expect it to change my life so drastically and ultimately send me here!) On December 31, 2001, our group was staying in a hotel in Jerusalem. The Chabad rabbis leading our trip bought us fairly massive amounts of alcohol, and at midnight we stood on the balconies of a party hall near the top of the hotel, sipping vodka and orange juice screwdrivers, and waiting for the fireworks to mark the start of 2002.

They didn't come.

We finally saw a few little pops and fizzles way off in the direction of Bethlehem.

This was perhaps my first introduction to the vast differences between Israeli and American culture. I wasn't surprised by the lack of Christmas decorations in Israel, but no celebration of New Year's Eve?? 

To Israelis, New Year's Eve isn't really our holiday. Yes, we might think about going to a pub (especially in Tel Aviv, den of heathens that it is), or we might go for a late meal at a restaurant, but if January 1st falls on a weekday, we'll be working. In fact, the very name by which Israelis call New Year's Eve implies that it's a Christian holiday: "Sylvester," which refers to the anti-Semitic pope whose saint's day falls on New Years Eve. (To boot, "Silvester" is the term used by Germans for New Year's Eve. Nothing like the dual connotation of Nazis and Jew-hating Popes to dampen celebration!)

Because most Israelis are off on Friday, more Israelis are going out to celebrate Sylvester this year than normal. However, when one of my friends posted a call for Sylvester plans on Facebook, she got back the following  suggestions: prepare cholent, clean the house, go to sleep early. (And for the record, my friend is about as secular as they get!) There may have been a banner wishing Kiryat Bialik a Sweet New Year and "only good things" in September, but the only sign of Sylvester here was a sale on sparkling white wine at the Super, and that could be coincidence.

So, celebrate Sylvester tonight. Or don't. Either way. Shabbat Shalom, and oh, what it is those Americans say? Eppy New Year?

P.S. My husband and I are going to stay up and celebrate with strawberries and champagne... what can we say, we'll always be American. :)

P.P.S. Heh... I just caught a typo in the version of this message that I posted originally. For the record, we were not partying on top of a hotel in Jerusalem on January 31, 2001, although that would certainly have explained the lack of fireworks... 


Work doesn't stop at the end of December!

In the US (and in the blogosphere), almost everything comes to a halt between Christmas and New Year's day. Even all my Jewish family and friends in the US are on vacation. It's the US equivalent of the "achrei hachagim" phenomenon that sweeps Israel every fall and spring.

Here in Israel, though, Dec. 25 is just another day. My husband and I went out for (amazing) sushi for lunch on Friday not because only Asian restaurants were open, but because we felt like soy sauce and wasabi with a little raw fish on the side. (Or maybe that was just me.) I went fabric shopping and got a great deal on Ultrasuede to reupholster my sofa. Our only rush was to get all our errands done before Shabbat, because everything shuts down from Friday night to Saturday night in Israel-- it was only part way through the day that I realized Americans were celebrating.

By the way, here's one of my favorite ways to identify true Sabras: ask them when "Chag HaMolad" (Holiday of the Birth, aka Christmas) happens. If they guess the wrong day in December, you know they're the real deal. The one possible exception might be the armies of young Israelis hawking Dead Sea products in US malls-- believe me, they understand the concept of a "holiday season."

My husband is back at work, so I've been using this time to catch up on my own rather intense backload of work for my day job. And, oh yes, Sunday's a work day. If you're an American coming to Israel, prepare for your internal clock to get confused.

There are, though, signs that Christmas happened here. Russian grocery stores send out advertising circulars covered in Christmas trees, which makes me kind of sad. I mean, yes, I know that the communists did a good job of convincing Russian Jews that these are secular New Year's Trees and should be in everyone's homes, but come on, Russim-- you're in Israel now. In the Arab neighborhoods in Haifa, a few strands of Christmas lights blink from balconies. Other than that, though, life carries on. I saw menorahs dripping in stores and booths in the mall during Chanukah, but no Christmas garlands or sales the past few days. No "Happy Holidays" from people who really mean "Merry Christmas."

It's nice. :)


Question from the comments: Where can you buy an in-cabinet dish rack?

In response to my post about washing dishes in a water shortage, Rivka recently asked:

Do you know how I can buy one of those in the cabinet dish racks? I am very familiar with them.... used to live in Israel and now I'm back in the US. I really would love to have one of those!
This is the rack she's talking about:

As this blog is all about the joys of living an Israeli life (whether you live in Israel or not), I thought I'd turn this question over to you. I do know that these cabinet dish racks aren't unique to Israel-- I remember a thread about them on Apartment Therapy once, and many Europeans said they use these racks as well. Anyone know where to find them in the US?

To the uninitiated, these racks fit into the cabinet over a sink (or over a counter, but the drips are better dropped into the sink). They hide most of my drying dishes and free up counter space. Mine slides down on springs with the weight of dishes. My rack also makes an ear-splitting whine when it slides down, reminiscent of a metal rake being dragged across a chalk board, but nothing is perfect.

Please help Rivka!

By the way, there were no posts the last few days because my husband and I were off celebrating our fifth (!!) wedding anniversary in a tzimmer in the Galil. Must Israeli insanity ensued, and posts will follow. For the record: tea candles are best not placed in metal bowls with star-shaped holes in the sides, especially when extra matches dropped on top of the candles function as extra-long wicks/wax exit ramps. And jacuzzi water actually makes a wax fire get bigger. Just saying.


The Maccabis aren't just part of Chanukah

If you live in Israel, the Maccabis quickly become more than just characters who lit a lamp in the Temple way back when. Instead, the name "Maccabi" shows up everywhere in the names of organizations, streets, towns, and even beer brands. In celebration of Chanukah, here are a few of the places that the nes gadol of the Maccabis is still happening here.

1. Cheer on Maccabi Haifa! (And Maccabi Netanya, and Maccabi Tel Aviv, and...)

Most of the Israeli sports teams grew out of the original labor unions in Israel, which is why most Israeli sports teams are named either Maccabi-Something or HaPoal-Something, with a few "Beitar-Somethings" thrown in for good measure. Really, the only soccer team worth caring about is Maccabi Haifa, the Israeli champions and hands down the best "football club" in Israel. Oh, yes... I went there, rabid Beitar Yerushalayim fans. You're no match for Yaniv Katan.

2. Go to a doctor's appointment at your local Maccabi clinic.

Israel has an effective form of socialized health care-- it involves the right balance of free-market competition and government funding. We choose between a handful of providers for our health care, and whichever provider we sign up with gives us basic, free service (with additional coverage you can pay for). We're members of Maccabi health care, and I'm guessing by the logo that this is another instance of the same labor union still influencing modern Israeli organizations.

3. Compete in the Macabiah games.

Ok, you know how the Olympics were originally Greek? And you know how the Maccabis fought against the Greeks? So you know what Israel calls its Jewish version of the Olympic games? Welcome to the Maccabiah, which proves that Jews actually are athletic after all.

4. Drive down Rechov Yehuda HaMaccabi 

(source: http://www.mynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3639464,00.html)

Here's a good one from the comments-- many cities in Israel have a street named after Yehuda HaMaccabi, leader of the Maccabis. Above, Rechov Yehuda HaMaccabi in Kfar Saba. (You can ALMOST read the street sign.) There are also numerous Maccabi museums, clubs, and even Maccabi towns.

5. Drink Maccabi beer!

(Source: http://www.winet.co.il/he-IL/185/1797/)

NB reminded me of this one in the comments, and it was too good to leave out. Yes, we have a popular beer brand named after the Maccabis. Don't you love this country?

Let me know if you think of any more!


The Commercialization of Chanukah (Dreidel washing machine, anyone?)

Nah, this post isn't actually a rant about how commercialized Chanukah has become. In fact, I love Chanukah in Israel-- everyone gets together with family members, but gift-giving isn't the norm (although parents tend to give gelt money to their kids). Because Chanukah celebrates the burning of oil in a lamp for eight days, we eat all kinds of food fried in oil... mainly jelly donuts, or sufganiot.  Oh, and we don't light a "menorah"-- a "menorah" is what we keep on our bedside tables so that we can read books at night. (Menorah just means "lamp" in Hebrew.) The actual Hebrew word for menorah is "chanukiah"-- just so we're clear.

In other words, Chanukah in Israel is just what it should be: a celebration of light, oil, and family. (And the triumph of Judaism over assimilation. Nah, mostly just light, oil, and family.) Just as the four sons from the Hagaddah showed up in Passover advertising, so do ads around this time of year reference Chanukah.

An oleh named Jacob Richman does an amazing job of encouraging aliyah and gathering resources to help olim. For Chanukah, he collected a number of Israeli chanukah ads. Here are a few of my favorites:

Translation: "No matter how to turn it, this is the number one tuna in the world."

Translation: "The Mall of the Negev invites you to celebrate the holiday exactly like the Maccabis." (I'm honestly not sure what that means, but that's a wonderful picture of a sufganiah. Mmmmm.)

Washing machines and ovens in the shape of dreidels. 'Nuff said.

Ok, the thing I like about the one above is the punning. Up top, it says "A great miracle is happening here," which is a pun on what our dreidels say in Israel: "A great miracle happened here." (In the US, dreidels say "a great miracle happened there."  Ha. :)  The second line essentially says "Amazing sales for Chanukah at the Mashbir for the consumer" However, instead of "amazing," it actually uses the word "madlikim," which literally means "turn on" or "light up" and is slang for hot, super, great, cool. Get it? Get it? The Chanukah sale lights you up. 

Here's a clearer example of the same pun:

Translation: "Happy Chanukah at Auto Depot. An Amazing (madlikah) Present for those who buy more than 399 shekels..." I'll admit that sales are often referred to as "madlik" all year round, but I prefer to see this word choice as a pun at Chanukah.

Jacob Richman uploaded many more and provided translations of all of them, so definitely check out the full collection here.

After years of lip-service to Chanukah in the US (hey FarmVille, just because you call it a "holiday tree" doesn't mean it's part of my holiday), it's refreshing to actually see Chanukah reflected everywhere around me, from the Chanukiot glowing in the windows to the displays of chocolate money, jelly donuts and candles in the corner supermarket.

Chanukah Sameach!


Oh right, my list...

In April, I posted a reflection on my first year of Aliyah, and I set some goals for the next year. Now that I'm more than half way through this next year, I was a little nervous to look back at the list-- I hadn't thought about it since April, and I didn't think I'd accomplished any of the goals. But if you're curious, here's how I'm doing.

In April, I wrote...

1. I will read five more full-length books in Hebrew this year. Er... no comment. I've read parts of a few books, but I need to get cracking. Does the Hagaddah count as one? Btw, I welcome suggestions of books that are easy to read in Hebrew. I think I'll start with books I've already read in English, as well as books written for younger readers.

(One of the books on my shelf... can you figure out the English title?)

2. I will go back to studying a half hour of Hebrew every morning. ... Maybe I'll subscribe to some kind of fun Israeli magazine? Let's see... umm.... no. I do this off and on, but I need to prioritize this again and stick to it. I am now a subscriber to Menta (essentially the Israeli Shape), though, which works really well on the months when nobody steals my magazine before I find it!

3. I will find a new volunteer opportunity that will put me out in my community, speaking Hebrew. I've been slow in getting this going, but just last week I made contact with an organization that tutors autistic kids. I found them through this excellent portal: ivolunteer.org.il

4. I'll try to watch Israeli news more often. I do this sometimes, but not enough.

5. I'm going to start exercise classes so that I get out of the house and learn how to say "downward-facing dog" in Hebrew. :) Yes! Finally something I can say I've done! Over the summer, I took a number of aerobics classes with a friend (which were pretty hilarious-- half the time the instructor and the women in the class talked about craving falofel), and during the past month I've started a yoga class along with my husband. I'm still not quite sure how to say downward-facing dog (the instructor usually use tells us how to move into the movement, not the movement's name) but I have learned about 10 different words for "relaxation." Yesterday we did the gesher malei for the first time, and I feel it today.

6. I'll make plans with Israeli friends (or at least, friends I speak with only in Hebrew-- two of my best friends are Brazilian!) more often, for more informal Hebrew practice. Yay! I've done this too! For example, now I go walking three days a week with one of my Brazilian friends (who has amazing Hebrew). We may do more talking than aerobic exercise, but it's more than an hour of Hebrew.

7. My husband and I will celebrate "Hebrew-only Fridays," in which we only speak Hebrew for 24 hours to each other.Oh, right... that... um...

8. We'll figure out which shul we actually want to join. Done! We're paying members and everything.

9. I'll try to remember to be kind to myself, because one year really isn't that long and I don't need to become perfectly Israeli all at once. I've been really good at this one. Maybe too good. But I still maintain that this is perhaps the most important item on my list, so I'm ok with that.

So... I have a ways to go. I often find, though, that the act of writing a list of goals pays off in the long run. Even if I don't accomplish everything immediately, the fact that I once stated a goal sticks in my mind and motivates me to say yes to opportunities as they come along. A stack of Hebrew books is waiting for me...

By the way, after I wrote that post in April, I started Olim Omrim, a Hebrew blog written by immigrants to give me (and perhaps you!) opportunity to practice my Hebrew. I let it slide, but I'm reviving it now with a new format-- go check it out and write a comment! All levels of Hebrew are welcome, as are comments both by olim and non-olim.

Do you have any Israel-oriented resolutions?


Don't Call Between Two and Four

 Our adopted street kitten Pixel (back when he was little and cute) demonstrating appropriate Israeli behavior between 2-4

In the US, I knew it was rude to call someone's home before, oh, 8:30 AM or after 9:30 PM. But in Israel, there's an extra layer to this rule: don't call between 2 and 4 PM. This is reserved as siesta time in Israel, perhaps because in the days before air conditioning it was too hot to do anything but nap at this time. In fact, lots of stores and offices in Israel are open from 10:00 to 1:00 and then again from 4:00 to 7:00... the middle of the day is reserved for lunch (the biggest meal of the day in Israel) and sleep.

Me, I don't nap. I can sleep in in the morning as late as my schedule lets me, but I can't lie down and sleep in the middle of the day. But whether you nap or not, remember: don't call any Israeli friend between two and four! When I forget and violate this rule, I'm often greeted by groggy, irritated Israeli voices. On the other hand, this is a good way to learn some new words.

P.S. Happy Chanukah! The menorahs are out in full force in Israel... :)


Be a Sexy Bride

In the US, I think brides usually try to achieve a look that says "dewy," "virginal," "elegant." Israeli brides, on the other hand, tend to go for... well... not so virginal.

Take a look at the wedding dresses in this clip from a show by the Israeli comedian Adi Ashkenazi, whose insights about Israeli culture inspire me to write this blog:

There's a powerful trend among Israeli brides to wear, basically, thin polyester lace over white bra cups. If you dare, take a look at this Yediot Ahronot article about trends in bride dresses for winter weddings-- I would place the top photo here, but it is literally too skimpy for me to post on this blog. Winter weddings, people. Those girls look cold. (The bride looks cold, too.)

The thing that is especially impressive about these gowns is that they will inevitably be worn in traditional Jewish weddings, presided over by orthodox rabbis. My wedding in the US was performed by a Chabad rabbi, so I made an extra effort to insure that not even my collar bone was showing-- I modified the McCall's pattern for a long-sleeved dress so that its neck reached even higher than on the dowdy bride on the pattern bag. In this dress, on the other hand, I'm pretty sure I can see the bride's belly button:


In reality, I don't think Israelis look at these dresses and think "sexy." They look at them and think "yafefiyah" (soooo pretty)... which, as we know from Isra-fab home decor, usually involves dangerous levels of crackle paint and glitter. Furthermore, Israelis believe that showing skin is snazzy, not skanky. (See some terrifying examples of snazzy Israeli fashion in this post.) To the average secular Israeli, covering up too much skin is sad, while wearing skin-tight spandex at age 60 is festive. By logical extension, on your wedding day you should wear almost nothing with maximum sparkles and embellishment, and all eyes will be on you! Er, parts of you, at least.

If you're invited to an Israeli wedding, wear whatever you normally wore on Friday night in Jewish summer camp, and you'll be dressed appropriately. See this post from What War Zone??? for more insight into the frightening and festive beast that is the Israeli wedding. But if you're the Israeli bride, ask yourself whether Madonna would have worn your dress in a music video during the 1980s. If the answer is yes, your dress is probably yafefiyah.

Have you had any adventures in Israeli weddings? Was your wedding dress "yafefiyah"?


Only in Israel...

...is this a Facebook group (with 100+ members and counting):

גם אני שונא שהגרעין של הלימון נעלם לי בסלט (ושונא יותר לתת ביס ולמצוא אותו)

Translation: I, too, hate it when lemon seeds disappear into my salad (and hate it even more when I take a bite and find one of them)

Update: follow my recipe for Israeli salad -- still one of the top search entries into my site-- to understand why seeds in the salad is such a pressing problem. Also, as of today, this Facebook group has over 200 members.

Also, check out this week's Haveil Havelim (the Jewish blog carnival)!


How to Shrug like an Israeli (a Quick and Easy Guide to Nonverbal Hebrew)

Israelis are addicted to their cell phones, and despite this being illegal, love to talk on their cell phones while driving. This is especially terrifying because A) Israelis continue to drive like maniacs even while talking on their cell phones, and B) talking in Israel is a full body sport. I have actually seen Israelis take both hands off the wheel to gesture while driving and talking on their cell phones.

But if you want to talk like an Israeli, you'd better master the art of Israeli body language.

To assist me in this lesson, I'm going to draw examples from the PSA that a bunch of Israeli celebrities filmed to protest the 30% raise in insurance prices for scooter and motorcycle riders. My husband commutes by scooter, so he's been involved in these protests. Basically, our government is raising two-wheeled-vehicle insurance to rates higher than semi-trailer truck insurance, and many times the rates of two-wheeled-vehicle insurance in Europe. The government is delaying a decision on this insurance hike because they hope the organized movement to protest this hike will peter out. Let's hope it doesn't!

Here's the PSA (there's a little bit of crude humor in the middle, but if your Hebrew is like mine, you probably won't get that part anyway):

Now, let's break down the classic Israeli body language at play in this clip.

1. The Lip Shrug

Seen at 0:16 in the clip, the lip shrug involves pulling down the corners of the mouth and pushing up the lower lip in an exaggerated frown. Often accompanied by a slight shoulder shrug and the extension of one open hand, the lip shrug indicates, "Ani yodeah? Nu, who knows? I have no idea. Not my job. I am also slightly disgusted."

2. The Instructional Finger


Seen at 0:18, this gesture demonstrates the authority of one who DOES know. Commonly used by Polish grandparents alerting grandchildren to certain danger and drivers explaining to fellow drivers how to drive, this gesture indicates that the listener should sit up and pay rapt attention. To correctly execute the Instructional Finger, raise your hand so that your palm faces your intended target. Keep both your finger and your head erect. In one swift motion, accent a particularly cogent point with an emphatic head nod and finger point.

3. The "I Really Really Mean It" Forefinger-Thumb Touch

Seen at 0:26 (and again at 1:02, to accent the phrase "b'emet") this is perhaps the most crucial gesture for would-be Israelis to master. It indicates that what is being said is urgent, crucial, and true. To execute the "I Really Really Mean It" Forefinger-Thumb Touch, place your thumb and forefinger together, keeping your other fingers loose and your palm facing towards your body. Accent your words with a shake of your hand and your listener will understand you to be earnest and sincere (or at least really emphatic in your attempt to swindle).

Note: Combine this with the final gesture-- pointing your other three fingers up rather than to the side-- and this gesture means "Techake Li Rega! Wait a second!" and need not be accompanied by words.

4. The Cooperative Two-handed Beckon


This gesture is at a more advanced level, and should not be attempted until gestures 1-3 are mastered. To execute this gesture (common among salespeople who are putting all their cards on the table and giving you the sincere advice that you should purchase their most expensive model, because they like you), move into your intended target's personal space. Extend your arms to the side and back from your body, so that your wrists are even with your hips. Raise your chin and eyebrows, open your palms, and say, "Tish'ma achi, what an I say? You want your water to taste like plastic, buy the cheap kumkum!)

5. The "Nu, Zeh Barur, Lo?" Shrug

At first glance, this gesture might seem to resemble the Cooperative Two-Handed Beckon, but note the key differences. In the "Nu, Zeh Barur, Lo?" Shrug, the shoulders are raised, the chin is lowered (and turned slightly to the side), and hands are extended out beyond the body. This gesture also differs from the Lip Shrug in that rather than indicate that the shrugger does not know, this gesture indicates that what the shrugger is saying should be obvious to any sane person listening. In fact, what is being indicated is so obvious that you shouldn't speak while making this gesture, because nu, it's clear, no?

6. The Two-Handed Precision Gestures

This encompasses a whole range of precise, two-handed movements. Using two hands together at close proximity indicates that the reader must pay close attention to follow the complex point the gesturer is making. (In this case, the gesturer is indicating the one spot in Tel Aviv where, just maybe, between 6 and 8 in the morning, street parking is available.)

7. The "Zeh Oh Zeh" One-Handed Swipe


In another gesture that is executed without talking, this gesture involves a dismissive sweep of the hand from the center to the side. This gesture indicates that all worrying is over (that's it-- zeh oh zeh) and a situation has been taken care of. If the gesture's recipient still worries, click your tongue and make a patting gesture to the side. As a side note, the person in this picture looks eerily similar to our landlord.

8. The Emphatic Finger


This gesture-- seen in the clip at 1:28 and elsewhere-- might at first be confused with the Instructional Finger. Not so-- this is the Emphatic Finger, and the palm facing the body makes it completely different. Execute this gesture by leaning slightly forward, raising your eyebrows, and shaking your hand forward slightly with every word. Frequently accompanied by baffled outrage at the government, this gesture indicates not only that the speaker really, really means what he is about to say, but that he has a very important point to make. 

Now go and gesture like an Israeli! Which gestures are your favorites? Which ones do you actually use? Would you add any to the list?


Shop at Ikea!

Israel has one Ikea (in Netanya), and this store probably attracts more Israeli pilgrims each year than the Kotel. I've been there once, and I barely found parking twenty minutes before the store was to officially open. The restaurant features Swedish meatballs and Israeli salad. Our Ikea gets all the same products as other Ikeas, so it's kind of fun to be able to buy a cheap wok and look at the same sofas I see on American design blogs. (Yes, I read home decorating blogs. I am a woman of many obessions, or perhaps of too much free time. :)

The bad news is that according to the Ikea Billy Bookshelf price index, Ikea products here are more expensive than anywhere else in the world. Our Billy Bookshelf costs the equivalent of 103 US dollars, compared to 59 dollars in the US. I knew our prices were expensive here, but... that's ridiculous. We even beat Kuwait, and prices in Europe look cheap by comparison. The Billy Shelf costs only about $60 in Japan! I think Ikea might have the reputation of being a little more up-scale in Israel than it actually is, although maybe the fact that almost all our furniture is made from cheap particle-board also raises the Ikea profile. Seriouly, though, Israelis tend to overestimate the quality of things that come from chul. The GAP recently opened a store in Israel, and Israelis act as if it's Ralph Lauren.

I'm going to stick to www.yad2.co.il for most of the furniture in our new apartment.

Still, I went to Ikea about a month ago and found a fun office chair in the scratch-and-dent section, which I went on to cover in fabric that's even more fun. My chair is featured today on the cool blog Ikea Hacker (which features creative modifications of Ikea products), so check it out! (More pictures on the Ikea Hacker site.)

Have you had any adventures in Israeli Ikeas? Can you vouch for the craziness? Why do you think Ikea products are so expensive here?


A second spring...

Back in Pennsylvania, December always ushered in months of monochrome: gray trees, white snow, brown grass, sometimes a little tan mud. Here in Israel, though, everything is just starting to turn green again after the long, dry summer. On my morning walks with a friend, I find myself captivated by the lush grass growing in a ditch or the feathery shoots of dill in a farmer's field. (This isn't exactly conducive to maintaining a brisk pace!) Even the courtyard of our apartment building is getting green again.

Remember, this was the tree in our courtyard in June, when a branch fell off from lack of water:

And remember, we had three more months of NO rain after that (although nightly light watering kept the grass somewhat alive).

Here's that same tree now, as seen through the bars in our kitchen window:

The grass is still patchy, but it has that vibrant green of spring growth.

Except that it's December.

I love Israel. :)
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