Saturday, December 31, 2011

Date night in Ein Kerem

Ein Karem

Mr. Rosen and I celebrated New Years last night instead of tonight because last night we had free babysitting. Anyway, tonight is a regular school night. It's not a national holiday. No one has off. They don't even call it New Years here since the Jewish New Year is in September. They call it Sylvester. Or was it Putty Tat...What was I talking about?

Yes, New Years. Well our second shipment finally did arrive on Thursday so our house was once again inundated by boxes and hunkin pieces of furniture. Mr. Rosen's parents came up on Friday morning to help build things and watch the kids and then they actually took the kids with them back to Beer Sheva to spend the night leaving us an unprecedented 24 hours in our house to GET. SHIT. DONE. We still had the baby but he's manageable.

But instead of trudging ahead when they left we decided to take a break and treat ourselves to a date in a beautiful neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem and only about a 15 minute drive from where we live called Ein Kerem which means "Spring of the Vineyard" and yes, it's as charming as its name would imply. It has a long history which is why many of the homes feature Arab style architecture and many of the landmarks are Christian. John the Baptist was born there. But now there's a giant hospital on the next hill over so lots of people can make that claim too. Sorry John.  These days it's home to a lot of artisans and funky little restaurants and cafes and galleries. And there's a bunch of stuff open on Shabbat too which is nice.

We parked the car and walked toward the main street to see that a ceramic tile gallery was open so we popped in since the tiles on our coffee table (built by Mr. Rosen) broke in the container. We ogled for a few minutes over the gorgeous tiles and then walked up a side street and noticed this little shop full of beautiful goodies. I plan to go back when it's open and buy one of everything. Finally we decided on a place to eat - a small cafe where we dined on focaccia, warm wild mushroom salad, haloumi cheese sandwich and kabobs. Each dish was better than the one before. It might have only been December 30th, but it was New Years in my mouth.

And then we spent the last day of this unbelievably crazy year finally unpacking all of our things into our new house. We're not there yet, but we're getting close. And it feels good. Look out for a home tour in the coming weeks.

Happy 2012! xoxo

Ruth's Ceramics



Ein Karem



Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dress code

If only this post was about my son's obsession with his school uniform (which is basically a plain t-shirt and the school's logo). It's about what's going on only twenty minutes from where we live in Beit Shemesh, where ultra religious fanatics are terrorizing little girls for their immodesty. Little observant girls who are fully covered, but apparently still too provocative.

This is not a political blog but sometimes shit happens that is so unconscionable that I have to write something about it. Which I was planning to do and then Mr. Rosen sent out this email and I thought high time we had a guest blogger. So here you go.

Yes, we are all aware of this and watching it closely with concern.

The big concern is that if the government allows these idiots to behave this way and does not seriously crack down on them, this kind of behavior will become legitimate within that community.  Within the ultra orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem and a few other neighborhoods in Israel, similar types of behaviors have become acceptable or legitimate over the past 10 years, like woman sitting separately in the back of buses so as to not cause the men in the front to have a humiliating spontaneous erection.  The mistake Israeli governments have made over the years (and this is true for all governments since Ben-Gurion’s) was to let this behavior exist even as a grass roots phenomenon within the religious communities.  There are some very scary patterns within the Israeli religious communities (both orthodox and Zionistic) which in any other democracy would be considered religious fanaticism or racism.  Traditionally Israeli governments have been reluctant to tackle these issues head on because of the Israeli coalition structure which gives religious parties power that is disproportional to their represented size within Israeli society.  It is sad to see the racism that is so pervasive in this country.

Still, having said that, I think there is hope (I ask myself if I can live here long term if hope is lost).  Last summer there was a huge peaceful protest that was energized by the secular majority (80%).  These protests have had a minor effect, so far, on the way the country is governed, but it showed that this majority can snap out of its apathy.  I personally think that the secular majority, which includes the reform and conservative movements,  and the leaders of this past summer’s protests have to turn to the streets next summer and get political.  If violence is called for, so be it.  Human right issues have never been resolved peacefully.  Any racist political establishment anywhere in the world does not change wily-nilly due to peaceful protest.  One of the ways to make a big change here is to change the elected government structure to inhibit the disproportional power of elected small parties.  A constitution has to be written which puts democracy ahead of the state defined as a Jewish one.  I pray that the future will bring these changes.  Meanwhile I hope we find a way to live happily in our bubble of sanity.  We are surrounded by intelligent & open minded people that are passionate and thirsty for change.  Unfortunately my generation does not get to build a country from the ground up, but rather is tasked with shifting the sick trajectory this young country is on to one of democracy, human rights and religious pluralism.  I hope we do not pass these issues down to our children to tackle since by then it will be too late.  I hope the US president and the big American Jewish downers are taking note of this.  Tell your leaders we don’t need any more F-16s. We need more schools that teach poetry, music, math and world history.  It’s time to stop donating to the construction of Israel and instead pump cash into fixing what was badly engineered.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Notice the light  dancing around in little heart-shapes over my son's head. Like a tiara.

Well we are coming off of our eight day Hanukkah vacation. The kids are back in school tomorrow. Our second, smaller container, the one with all of the bookcases, storage units and hangers, the one that will help contain the piles of books, toys and clothes, is coming tomorrow. We've lit a total of 135 candles over the last eight days and the world seems a little brighter. I was happy to have this time off with the kids to be with family and friends. Trying to see everyone we know with only Saturdays to do it (six day school week here...) meant we might not get to everyone before we moved to some other country, so it was nice to have a little extra time for visiting. There were a lot of reunions. We saw friends who had moved to Israel three years ago who we hadn't seen since. And maybe for even a year before they left. The last time we lit candles together our oldest was two months old and their three girls (now nearly teenagers) took turns smothering him with love. We visited a family who we last saw in London seven years ago when our oldest kids were babies. Their daughter and our son are only two weeks apart and hadn't seen each other since. It didn't seem to matter. And of course we saw our son's betrothed, the little girl he's known since they were both a month old. Our families have grown at the same pace so get-togethers are especially easy and enjoyable.

It's hard to believe it was exactly a year ago that we told our parents about our plans to move back to Israel. Before they were even plans really. Just ideas. And now we're here a year later. We're eating sufganiyot. We're cleaning the floors with a squeegee. We're drinking coffee at 4pm. We're driving through check-points. We're paying bills at the post office. We're texting in Hebrew. We're parking on curbs. We're eating a lot of olives.

We're definitely here and we're starting to feel settled.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hanukkah at the Jerusalem Mall


Yesterday the baby and I went to the Jerusalem Mall. Yes, even Jerusalem has a mall. And a rather nice one too. It's about twenty minutes and two roadblocks from here. I'm still getting used to the whole West Bank proximity thing. In the United States you have all these ideals like that Palestine should be fully sovereign. No more settlements. Dual control of the borders. The list goes on. But then you live here and the easiest way to the mall is through the West Bank. Easy since no one bugs you because you and your pasty white baby and your Mazda 5 don't exactly fit the terrorist profile. There's an even shorter way too, according to my iPhone, which takes you along some unrecommended roads. I realized in time and aborted that mission. It's all very surreal.

As was the experience at the mall. My copilot and I browsed around for a few hours looking at all the shops with beautiful clothes and shoes. We found my favorite art/office supply store and bought some two ring A4 binders to get in step with Euro/Israeli style filing. And we breathed in the smell of freshly fried donuts for Hanukah. I even had a peek at the food court, which, besides offering more middle eastern faire in addition to Sbarros pizza and McDonald's, is pretty much as you would expect from a food court. I also loved the sign that listed a bunch of services down a hallway, including the bathrooms, tailoring, mall management and a synagogue. Once I can get some babysitters lined up, there are several pair of size 39 shoes with my name on them.

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukah at the Jerusalem Mall


Food court

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The empties


The best thing about this pile of boxes is that they're empty. This week started out great but quickly deteriorated. We were so excited to greet our container on Sunday, the one to which we bid farewell in California exactly two months ago. The one crammed with ten years worth of stuff we obviously don't need since we haven't seen most of it since we put our house on the market last February. The one that was full of plastic toys made in China only to travel back to China, switch boats, and then continue on through the Suez Canal to the Port of Ashdod. And while I should have been deliriously happy to watch the four delivery guys deposit box after box in what I thought was our largish new house, instead I felt an emptiness set in. Why do we have so much crap? Why did we pay money to move it here? How will I ever move back to America if all of my stuff is here? How can we unpack if the shelves and bookcases we need to contain all of our crap are only arriving next Wednesday on a different container? FUUUUUUHHHHH. K! And how the eff am I going to get through all of these boxes with Mr. New Tooth Bronchitis Walrus Snot Face McEye Boogers as my constant companion?*

It was not a great week. And yet somehow I managed to unpack the entire kitchen into a space that has half as many cupboards as our old kitchen.** And we managed to get the kids' room functional. And Mr. Rosen built our bed. The one I thought I didn't like but now I ABSOLUTELY LOVE. And all the bathroom stuff is in the bathrooms where there is incidentally a ridiculous amount of storage space leaving us to ponder whether or not it is inappropriate or even gross to keep our tupperware or ziplocks or wineglasses so close to the toilet. Chime in if you have an opinion about this.

We did have some wins this week. The kids continue to like school. We might have made some friends. The psychotic clown at the Israeli birthday party we attended did not give my daughter nightmares. Our kids have health insurance.

One day at a time.

* I love my baby.

** At one point there was one giant box remaining in the kitchen and I thought there is no way this kitchen can absorb even a single extra teaspoon, let alone a giant box of dishes. Miraculously I opened it to find a hamper inside of bigger hamper inside of a still bigger hamper. And the angels wept. Amen.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Bar on the Mountain

Cafe on the hill

It sounds better in Hebrew. Bar BaHar. It's a beautiful little cafe five minutes drive from our house that overlooks the Judean Hills. They serve delicious coffee and a killer shakshouka. If you follow a path just outside of the cafe you get to a charming wooden play structure. The path continues and is perfect for an after-school bike ride. And since our bikes and everything else we own is arriving tomorrow afternoon (!!!) we may be making Bar BaHar a weekly tradition. Did I mention the free wifi?

Jerusalem hills cafe


Stained glass




Friday, December 9, 2011

School Daze


Israeli kids are really exuberant and they move in swarms which can be completely overwhelming to a couple of sensitive kids from a culture that values personal space and manners above all. My kids didn't have a chance.

My daughter started preschool last Sunday (Sunday is the first day of the week here) and managed pretty well for a few hours. The problem is that prek and kindergarten are managed by a regional council of the Ministry of Education. So you don't actually pick where the kids go, at least when you move to town this late in the year. You get placed. And we got placed in the only place with space which is a kindergarten. Meanwhile my daughter won't be five until February. So she's the youngest by a lot. The idea is that she'll stay there next year too (but her friends will go to first grade). It's not ideal. And I tried to make a stink about it but no one would budge. So on her first day a gaggle of girls with the best intentions attack her wanting to do her hair and dress her up and draw pictures for her. All the while yammering in Hebrew. My poor girl basically curls up fetal-like in a corner and sucks her thumb.

That same Sunday we went to my son's elementary school to register him. He would only start the next day. While there he starts to complain of a stomach ache which I chalk up to nerves. When we get home he crawls onto the futon (our only piece of furniture currently) and stays there moaning for several hours. Then I discover he has a fever. And then he proceeds to throw up for the next four hours. May be more than nerves. He doesn't make it to school on Monday.

Meanwhile, our girl goes back to preschool on Monday and makes it through another day with the help of some puppets - Shmuli the hedgehog and Morris the Fox. Trooper.

On Tuesday my son is finally ready for school. He doesn't have his books yet but he does have his uniform. He wears his red hoody sweatshirt with the school logo and meets his teacher, the one we'd heard good things about and were hoping for, in the front office. Score. Turns out all the kids are supposed to wear green, yellow or red (was it Rasta Day?)* so he would fit in great. He gives me a kiss and walks to class with his teacher. I pick him up a few hours later and he looks worn out and like he is about to burst into tears. They had swarmed him apparently and pulled him in a million directions and wanted to show him their soccer trading cards and invite him to a birthday party after school and be best friends. And all he wanted was for everyone to stop talking. Which he made clear at some point when he couldn't take it anymore. Poor kid. He was hungry too and thought he missed lunch somehow. There is no lunch at school. It ends at 1:30 and the kids eat lunch at home or aftercare. Only snack at school. Aha. He also can't follow along in class because he doesn't have his books yet.

Mr. Rosen runs out to buy his books later that day and comes home $150 poorer with sixty pound of books. That's when Mr. Rosen and I hit a low. Why did we take our son out of his amazing school in California so he could sit in class and do workbooks all day long? And this was supposed to be one of the country's better schools.

The next morning he cries that he doesn't want to go to school. He hates school. Hates school? I had never heard him say such a thing. He once told me he wished he could sleep at school because he loved it so much. My heart breaks for him. I pull out whatever anecdotes I can think of. I remind him that his friends Ido and Leonard and Itzel all spoke other languages at home and had to work extra hard in the beginning of kindergarten to catch up and now in first grade they are all speaking and reading and writing beautifully in English. It takes time. He humors me and agrees to go to school. We don't realize it is his teacher's free day (or that there is even such a thing as a free day) and he has a bunch of other teachers for PE, music, road safety (this is a big focus in school apparently - probably because of the way people drive here). He has no idea what is going on and we are equally in the dark.

His sister, on the other hand, appears to be doing well and is making friends. We are fooled into thinking that she is fully acclimated.

On Thursday I pick up my son after school and he has another fever and a rash on his face and it is clear that he is not going to school on Friday. He's a mess. I'm a mess too. I just didn't think it would be this hard and I have to remind myself that it's only the first week and he's only seven and he is completely out of sorts. His Savta comes to visit and sits down with him when he's feeling better to do some of his workbook exercises to catch up. Turns out he likes working in the workbooks. He learns four letter in one hour. By the next day he's reading in Hebrew. A switch has been flipped.

By Sunday, he's ready for school and he's feeling himself again. I pick him up and he tells us about a friend, Roi, who he's been hanging out with at recess. Progress. His teacher and school counselor let us know that he is ahead of his classmates in math and following along pretty well in Hebrew. And that he is a clever and wise little boy. He has endeared himself to the authority figures, as is his way. This morning he tells me he loves his school. I feel like I won the lottery.

Meanwhile in preschool, our little girl is becoming more and more clingy at drop off. She understands that this is not just a temporary thing and she wants out. On Wednesday I leave her there sobbing. And I spend the whole day wondering if I should just keep her home. Or demand she be placed with kids her age. Or start my own preschool. Of course when I pick her up she's fine. She even has a new friend who asks for her phone number to invite her over. Progress.

This has been the hardest thing so far. Harder than the whole health insurance debacle. It's made us question all of our decisions. Was this move the right thing? Would they have gotten a better education in the States? It's obviously too early to tell but we are encouraged by their progress and by the willingness of their teachers to welcome them and ease their transition.

* I later realized it was national road safety day so the kids dressed in the colors of the stoplight.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fat and Fruit Salad

Fat and Fruit Salad

And on a lighter note, something I concocted to lift my spirits last week. All local goodies. I call it the fat and fruit salad:

tzfatit cheese (spongy and salty - feta probably works well too)
sun gold tomatoes
pomegranate seeds
olive oil

Beautiful in the bowl and tasty on the tongue. Apparently one cannot live on pita and Nutella alone. So says my colon.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How it hit the fan and then I lost it


Well it was only a matter of time before what all was on the sidewalk, would rise up and hit the fan. We are on the other side of a horrible week. Things were moving along and we were getting everything done but Mr. Rosen was soon to start work and there were still some bureaucratic items hanging in the balance. One of them was our residency status. As returning citizens of Israel we're entitled to certain benefits, one of which is an exemption on the social security we haven't been paying for the last ten years (since we've been paying into another country's system). The deal is that if you've been away long enough and you come back, you pay a bunch of money and then you get reimbursed by the government, half right away and half after a year. And paying into this system means you have health insurance too. Apparently when Israel went universal with health care many years ago they figured it was easier to run it through social security since that system was already in place. Easy peasy.

Turns out that my status is a little different since I am technically a new immigrant whose status was frozen when I left Israel eleven years ago and now resumes as do some of my new immigrant rights. Some of the rights are useful like financial help setting up my studio. Others are less useful. One thing is for sure: I have a six month waiting period for my residency to kick in and I used up my six months of free health care in 1998 when I moved here originally so we ponied up for private health insurance for me. Mr. Rosen and the kids were supposedly insured the moment they returned, so said everyone with whom we spoke. Not true. It took us two full weeks to get all of our residency paperwork in order, not to mention the strike, so the earliest we could pay this chunk of money was a few days ago. Then the website where you pay was down. FAAAA!!! Meanwhile the insurance we had through Mr. Rosen's former employer was going to expire November 30. And that's exactly when the baby and my older son came down with 103 fever and a horrible rash. Less horrible for the seven year old. Full blown on the baby.

I posed the question of how to get my kids seen by a doctor to a Facebook group I found of English speakers in my town and everyone was sure we could be seen in the clinic. Not true. I went to the clinic and explained our very complicated situation but the receptionist insisted we go somewhere else because we didn't have magnetic health insurance cards. That is when I went all mama bear and started shrieking about how my baby might have measles (it did in fact look like measles and about four other viruses according to Dr. Google). No dice. I walked out hysterical and a nice young woman offered to drive me to another town where she was pretty sure they would take us. We followed her through a checkpost into what is technically the West Bank to a religious town where everyone has twelve kids with rashes so they probably wouldn't even ask for a magnetic card. At this point I am on high alert having forgotten after being away for eleven years that it's totally normal to drive into the West Bank and go to a health clinic in an ultra-orthodox town. Our tour guide sits with us while we wait to be seen except they won't see us either. The kids national identity numbers are not yet in the system. It can take two weeks from the time you established residency. And this is when I ask why on earth would it take two frigin weeks for the country-wide computerized system to be updated? I mean it only took god one week to create all the world! How does it get updated? By hand? Courier pigeon? Maybe a tiny gnome writes the numbers down on a paper and brings the papers by bike to the Ministry of Health? I decide to take pictures of my baby and send them to my brother in law and my pediatrician friend and they both give the same diagnosis which I pretend is the same as being seeing by a doctor in person. Because our only other option is urgent care, which I would only resort to if the rash randomly turned into appendicitis or something.

We're on day five of the rash and it's slowly fading. And my disbelief and disappointment in what I once considered an exemplary national health care system is also fading. Every system has its cracks. We happened to fall into more of a crevasse. And all this during the same week that our kids started hating school. It was a little more than my delicate system could handle. It seems all that time in California made us soft. Got to get me some thicker skin, the kind with long, pokey spines. Stat.