Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jason at work.

Yes he actually has a desk. No never uses it. Yes Bubbie, it is clean, he just prefers to work in the living room.

Breaking through the language barrier

Channah and I have both made major breakthroughs on our hebrew learning this week.

The hebrew language consists of 7 families of verbs. Each family has it's own rules for conjugation with differences in subgroups and abnormal situations. Using verbs properly takes up most of our class time. We learn how to conjugate in the past and present tense.

On Tuesday the teacher put a list of 39 verbs we had learned on the board. We had to take the verbs and place them in the proper subgroup. I was finished way ahead of the class. I decided to use the extra time to review translating the different words. The teacher then announced that it was time to move onto the next family of verbs. I was really proud of myself.

Channah has been having a rough time in the hebrew enviornment at school. We have spent many nights dealing with her lashing out to the frustration of her situation. Since returning from the break she has been a different kid. Her best freind the only anglo only kid has been transferred to another school. Channah has responded by putting her full effort into school. She is particpating in school. She is bringing home art work. She is telling us what she learned in school and demonstrating her growing hebrew vocabulary. She makes brachas with a beautiful Israeli accent. She even made friends with one of the Israeli kids in class. Best of all she is happy.

We knew the hebrew would be hard. Channah and I both feel great about the progress we have made.

Election Campaign

Elections here are very different than what we are used to. When voting each party and candidate is assigned a letter or letter combination. A voter than chooses the letter corresponding to who they wish to vote for. I will discuss this more in depth after the November 11th municipal elections.

When we arrived in August election signs were already up. There are different strategies for elections signs. Some have pictures of candidates, some have the party name. The mayor has been running with the slogan יהיה טוב (it will be good). When his signs first went up it was not clear if it was political campaign or random anonymous Rosh Hashanah greetings. In the last few days the strategy is changed. Posters are up everywhere prominantly displaying the letter the candidates will be running under.

At around 6:45 tonight we heard loud music followed by the sound of cars honking. It was a 50(yes, I counted) car parade including the mayor's campaign bus. The cars had baloons and the letters עד (witness) prominently displayed. I must admit that I really don't get it, but it did add 10 minutes of entertainment to my evening.

Let's talk about the weather...

It has gotten Israeli cold here.

ISraeli cold is what I would call fall back in Toronto. you need something over your arms to protect you from the wind and a little bit of a chill, but generally any sort of windbreaker is okay. You start seeing people chasing their hats in the streets and you start giving a little bit of thought to where you stashed your winter coat, but on the whole it is not so bad.

you come home, take off your jacket, and walk around in socks.

Here it is a whole different ballgame!

First off, the parade of random clothing outside our window is cracking me up. ISraeli's think this is really cold. Like, wearing ski jackets cold. Yestarday I went ot pick Channah up from school and the sa'ya'at was wearing a t shirt, a huge ski sweater, a jean jacket, and a thermal vest.

I was shvitzing just looking at her!

Last night I went into Yerushalayim where it is roughly 5 degrees cooler than it is here. I wore a sweater. It was great.

On the other hand, in the house we are all bundled up. The whole building is made of stone and hold the cold so your bones feel like they are freezing. I have pulled out my shearling slippers and am actually wearing them (something I rarely did back in Toronto). We are all in sweaters and have gone into indoor "winter mode" with the windows all but closed, the fans off, and hearty soups on the menu.

On top of that, we are getting what I would call "Spring Storms". It is completely bass-ackwards (for those who do not get it, move the b to after the hyphen. thank you Mr. Mawsom for that wonderful turn of phrase). I know it rainshere in the winter, but this is insane. It is comming down in buckets. I was actually quite amused that the first major storm was the night we started davening for rain. Baruch Hashem that our tefillot are being answered, but even so, it is getting rediculously hard to dry laundry!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We got our Voter Cards :)

That means that somewhere, somehow, someone knows that the Swirsky family is now Israeli and living in RBS and needs to vote.

Sorry, this sounds silly, but it was a "living the dream" moment for me. I used to feel like I had no right to kvetch about Israeli politics as frankly, it was none of my darn business. Now it is :) It is my business (and in fact a major source of pride around here) to kvetch and bitch about the government!

Ok, Ok, so I know Jason is more the politics guy, but I think it is kind of neat.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Update: Bris, Job Hunting, Elections

Today I went to the first Bris Milah I have been to in Israel. It was for my roommate when I was in Yeshiva's third son. It was nice to see him and his sister who I am also friends with. I also met up with someone who used to be in my shiur in Yeshiva. We had a nice time chatting. He has been learning in Kollel and is now looking to doing an online nursing or paramedics program. He helped guide me through the social norms that I am not used to.

The first major difference was that davening was not part of the bris. It was called for 9:15 which was late enough in the day for people to have already davened on their own. The father had to put on his tefillin again for the bris. After the bris there was a small kiddush before the meal. The meal consisted of chicken. Being fleish at 10:00 am is a little early even for me. There were four a total of four speeches with everything wrapping up at 11:15.

In the afternoon I went to Jerusalem to meet with a job councillor. She made some suggestions to improve my CV and where to start the job search. If anybody is on linkedin and has not joined my network, please add me to yours.

We received our voters cards for next month's municipal election. I have updated my politics blog with some commentary on the upcoming municipal and national elections. Speaking of elections Channah had a great insight this week. She saw a bus with a Shas election sign on it. She asked me if it was a "Pirate Bus". Given the way the negotiations to form a new government broke down, she is not that far off.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Um, hi. Did someone forget to tell us something?

I just found out from a friend Deena L. who was in my elementary school class (who incidentally now lives in Vancouver) that her grandmother saw our picture in the Canadian Jewish News last week. She then saw it for herself today. In last week's paper.

Thank you to whomever submitted the photo, but it would have been kind of neat to know about it! In future, if anyone sees my picture where one would not expect to see it, please feel free to let me know :)

If anyone out there in cyberland has a scanner, would you mind please sending us a copy? Thank you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rain rain, here to stay...

I get it now.

I never understood what people meant by thunder "rolling". I got the thunder "crashing" thing. In Toronto, a thunderstorm meant listen to what sounded like two enormous pot lids with paper lining being smashed together repeatedly until your head hurt so much you were considering hacking it off (you're welcome for that lovely image).

Here it really does sound like you are underneath some divine bowling alleyand it sort of rolls towards you then away from you and you are sort of concerned that maybe you hsould duck before you get hit in the head with a bowling ball.

Not nearly as loud or annoying for the most part, but it sures as heck does last a lot longer.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A painful realization

Not being in Toronto for happy thing, or normal things is hard. Not being there for sad things is even harder. Today for the first time Jason and I felt like getting on a plane just to come home just to give someone a hug. We feel so lost over here. People we know are hurting and we can not be there for them in any of the normal ways.

For a simcha, you need weeks of notice. Even then, if there is a conflict, well, "you can't dance at every wedding". Those who know me well will know that I often comment on how strange I find funerals. In a few hours tens if not hundreds of people come together. Other plans fall by the wayside. Family and friends who have not seen each other since the last tragedy fall sadly into each-other's arms hoping that the next time they see each other it will be "oif simchas".

But here, even if I dropped all my plans, I could not have made it. By the time we found out there was physically not enough time to get there. Certainly no one would have expected us to show up at the BAYT this afternoon. But the guilt of not going, of not being there for a funeral of someone we loved and respected is hard to deal with.

Abba once gave me advice on how to decide whether or not one should go to a funeral or to a shiva. He said that if you knew the person, you go to the funeral. If you know the family, you go to the shiva. I have taken it as sound advice and in Toronto used it regularly to decide what my course of action should be. What Abba neglected to teach me though was what to do when you can not go to either, and want to be at both.

So we cried here, and we will call and send a card/donation. But I can not see how that comes close to replacing a hug or a listening ear.

I can not believe how much harder it is to miss something painful.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Easiest Israeli Transaction yet!

We just got our table pads (of course, the day after yom tov ends, but as we were not actually expecting them for another few weeks we can not exactly complain). They are exactly as ordered. The right colour, the right size. Delivered nicely, in a sealed box and in one piece (well, 3 pieces, but that is how we ordered them).

We gave them a crapload of money, they gave us what we ordered. Consumerism at it's finest.

You gotta love when it works.


Channah at Home watching a video

Channah doing an Arts and Crafts at the museum

Channah with her finished flower

Jason at the museum with Channah's finished flower

Model of the Beit Hamikdash and the old city that she loved

Channah with cotton candy the size of her head.

Random dancing tour group at the museum

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Simchas Torah

Simchas Torah has always been the holiday where I take time to reflect on how lucky I am to have Channah. It is supposed to be the absolute celebration of the culmination of the entire Elul/Tishrei process of moving closer to Hashem.

After Mincha the shul started their auction. As they are in a brand new building and 300,000 NIS in debt it was the first time they had an auction. Marriv went for 300 NIS. I don't know what happened after that as I went home to pick up Channah for hakafos.

People had tons of energy has they did not have the Yom Tov fatigue from waiting through chag before starting Yom Tov. Rabbi Myers gives out tea biscuits to the kids the way Rabbi Felder used to give out lollipops. He also went over to Channah numerous times throughout the evening to ask her how she was doing. I had a few moments of reflection thinking of the similarites and differences from what I was used to at Shomrai Shabbos. I have left a lot behind but what I have now is incredible.

The shul only has 2 Sifrei Torah. Each Hakafah had a theme. The first one was for the kohanim and they sang the kohen gadol song before starting. The fourth hakafah was for Olim Chadashim. As there were three of us, I lead while the other two held the sefer Torah. They sang Shavu Banim. They did a weird thing where they spun around the person as they were leading the hakahfah. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to spin or if I was doing something wrong and going in the wrong direction.

The level of energy was incredible. Everyone singing together was really beautiful. I was impressed with the amount of tunes that where connected to the tunes used during the Yom Nareim. The end of a hakfah would be announced, one more song would be sung and they moved onto the next one. Matsah Chen was the only song in English. It did not last long. A song about taking a 3 day holiday to Israel just doesn't have the same effect when you live here.

The pekalech were of a very reasonable size. There were no flags which was a change I was not prepared for. Part of the mechitzah was pulled back for the women to watch the dancing. Channah spent half of the time dancing. She also spent times with her friends, reading books in the women's section or simply standing outside the building.

We were home for dinner with our guests by 8:00. Dinner was really good.

In the morning I slept in until 9:00. I quickly davened Shacaris at home and got Channah ready for shul. We got there in time to catch some of the auction before hakafos. One person wanted to have a group donation of 5000 NIS towards wine for kiddush and havdalah with his own contribution of 1000 NIS. Rabbi Myers explained why there was no kiddush Friday night and the complications around havdallah. They raised the money and they had havdallah in shul tonight. They took contributions for 1000 NIS each to cover a month of electricity. Before kiddush a bottle of Blue Label was also sold. The opening bid was 700 NIS. I have no idea what the final price was.

Hakafos were a little more low key. There was more of a spirit of keeping things moving then the night before. A hassid who is supposed to be a world famous chazzan stopped by our minyan and lead a couple of songs. There was a Motzen style rendition of shechianu including a going incredibly fast. He also brought someone with him who plays the air shofar. Channah spent less time with me then last night. It was great having her enjoy the day with me.

Mussaf finished at 2:00. I stayed for the first Mincha before coming home for lunch. Lunch was low key and quick before taking naps until the end of Yom Tov. Simcha Yom Tov was incredible. It will be nice to get back into routine.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

עולה הרגל

The last little while has been so busy that there has not been time to post about our adventures. Today was another interesting day.

The original plan was for us to all go to Jerusalem. This plan has been postponed a number of times over the past two weeks. The plans once again had to be revised when Rachel woke up sick this morning. It was just Channah and I heading out to the Israel Museum while Rachel stayed home to rest.

It didn't take long to catch the 417 into Jerusalem. From there we walked across to the bus stop for the 17 by the tachana. After waiting for 45 minutes I decided to start pricing taxis. The first one offered 25 NIS for our trip. I decided to go for 20 NIS. The next ten or so cabs all wanted 30 NIS. I finally told one that other cabs had asked for 25 NIS and we were on our way.

When we got to the Israel Museum we found out that the main building is closed due to construction. They are hoping it will open by 2010. The youth wing and the 2nd temple period model of Jerusalem were open and they are what we came to see. Children were also free during Sukkot. We went to one of the Sukkahs for lunch before heading to the Youth Wing. Channah made a flower by deocorating an old water bottle with stickers. It was part of the recyclying exhibit.

On our way to the next stop there were four dancers setting up with two piece band. The first dance was more of a Greek or Celtic dancing to Israeli music. Then a tour group came through and said they wanted to participate. They ended up doing old style kibbutznic/Young Judea dancing with the professionals leading the group. One of the band members even started up Havnagillah before deciding to play something different.

We went to the Shrine of the Book. Underneath the main exhibit there was a huge amount of agurot pieces. Channah asked if we could go downstairs to see the rest of the exhibit. The money could not be seen from the lower level. Channah asked what happened to the 'gold'. We then spent time at the old city model. Since arriving here Channah loves them everywhere we go. It is especially fun when we connect the model to real places she knows. As we were leaving we happened to stop in front of a picture of the model for tour guide purposes. She asked me to find her the castle (Migdal David) and took a picture of it. I explained to her the I used to go the Kotel via Shaar Schem (Damascus Gate). She took a picture of that picture too. The description I ended up using was inside hole. She got excited when I pointed out the gate later on when we were on the bus. A post card later and when we were off to catch the bus again.

This time we did not have to wait long for the 17 bus. On the bus was a family we happened to know from the old country. They live in Kiryat Sefer and are friends with our Kiryat Sefer friends. We eventually transferred onto the 1 heading to the kotel. It was jam packed. A man made his son move over so that he could share a seat with Channah. She did not agree at first but after almost falling once she was agreeable to the arrangement. When somebody got on the bus with a stroller tried to tell him that it should be stored in the luggage compartment. I had to explain that only works for inter-city buses. She was fairly calm considering one guy kept coming close to ramming her had with his stroller and another man with his bag. At one point I pushed the stroller away to keep her from being hurt. I had very little sympathy when he had trouble getting off the bus because the stroller was wedged in the seat. Most of that came from trying to get off at the same time. I also held the guys bag away from Channah for the last 10 minutes of the bus ride for the same reason.

The kotel was packed. I ended up davening Mincha on the ramp down to the men's side. It was the closest I could get. Channah was great at sticking close to me and avoiding the scores of people. During Shomeni Esrei I had to push someone. He was walking backwards and almost ran into Channah. I just put my hand out in front of me to stop him.

We then went for pizza for dinner followed by cotton candy. It was the most generous helping of cotton candy I had ever seen for only 5 NIS. It was then time to start heading home. The busses were so crowded that there were Egged staff clicking people through outside the backdoors. We eventually made it onto the crowded bus. Once again there was a man sitting with his sone. He offered me his seat so Channah could sit on my lap. When the bus cleared up I was willing to sit backwards in order for him to reclaim the seat next to his sleeping son. Although I hate to say it the people who were careless with their stuff dressed a particular way and those that offered their seats to make life easier dressed another way.

We did not have to wait long to catch the 417 home. About 10 minutes outside of Bet Shemesh there was a major traffic accident. We came to standstill for about an hour. People were getting out of their cars and walking around. The a Zaka vehicle with full sirens came driving through. This was not a good sign. There was a Maariv minyan on the road just behind our bus. Two police cars drove through the minyan and traffic starting moving before everyone was finished. They just casually walked up to the bus. Our bus ended up being turned around before taking a detour around the accident. While our bus was turning around it was backing up towards van where the driving was learning or saying tehillim. As the bus got closer and those at the back of the bus yelled stop he had a look of complete fear in his face. We eventually made it home in over two hours in what should have been a 40 minute bus ride.

Despite our recent bad run with public transportation this week, Channah and I had a great time spending the day togther.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It is starting to feel a little like home

Our apartment has been a bit of a zoo for the last week. In spite of the chaos (or more accurately I think, because of it), it is finally starting to feel like home.

We had my cousin Micha here for yom tov. I can not believe how nice it was to have the comfort of family. She is far from being my closest cousin, but being able to share my home with family was a special feeling that I have been missing.

On the other hand, boy was having Micha wierd! As we have made aliya we now only keep a single day of yom tov. Micha and her friend were keeping 2 days. It was very strange to watch a movie last night (they had gone out for a walk) while it was still "chag" for them. Not only that, but I zapped dinner in the microwave, and they were allowed to eat it! This morning, after they packed off ot shul, I went to the makolet to get stuff for the party tonight.

Like I said, it was wierd.

Tonight we had our chanukat habayit (literally a dedication of the house, but used colloquially to mean a house warming party). The house was filled with friends both new and old. Jason's cousin's came. Even some of our friend's parents who we knew "in the old country" and who happend to either be living here now or on vacation came. There were even friends from Toronto who happened to be in Israel for the chagim.

There were people who went to elementary school with Jason or I. Friends from NCSY. Friends from high school. Friend's of Jason's from yeshiva. Although Rabbi Sack. did not make it out here, the rabbi from the shul we have been davening at did come by for a few minutes. It was actually the first time I have met him (as I am generally on the other side of the mechitza) but it did not take long to see why Jason thinks so highly of him.

There was music and laughing and for the first time I realized that living here is starting to feel "right". There is no question that the whole aliya thing is still a little strange and I still have loads of "oh-my-gosh-I-can't-believe-we-did-this-what-the-hell-were-we-thinking" moments, but they are spaced out by more and more "wow-I-really-like-it-here-and-am-glad-we-did-this" moments.

Moadim lesimcha

Our "industrial/shanty town" succah.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Shavua Tov

Well the place is a disaster but Hotel Swirsky is clearly officially open for business. we just had a family of 5, good friends of ours from Toronto who now lie just outside of Tel Aviv, stay with us for shabbat. By the end of the night all thek ids were getting on each others nerves, but kids will be kids. Frankly, there was enough room and I think overall it went really well.

The boys were in the studio, the parents in the main guest room, and the daughter in with Channah.

We also had theo ccasion to have our first "bachurs" from a local yeshiva and ended up with 2 Toronto guys, one of whom is a friend of my sisters. It was amusing. All our guests actually knew each other and we were actually the odd ones out! Bizzare how hospitatliy in Israel works out some of the time...

Be that as it may.

Good to know my sense of proportion is coming back. I made the right ammount of food. We have 2 ish pieces of sheppards pie left, a couple pieces of broccoli kugel, 2 pieces of dessert and some tuna from seudat shelishit. Not bad at all.

We went to Soleveitchik again, and I think I agree with Jason that Menorat Hameor is friendlier. Apparently the Rabbi came up to Jason at mincha to ask if eerything was okay since he had not been there in the morning. Jason invited him to the housewarming party we are having this Wednsday and apparently he is actually going ot try to come.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I have sinned for I did not know a good thing when I had it!

I can not believe how spoiled I was when it came to shlichai tzibur. I might hate "chazzonous" but boy oh boy so I miss having someone who was plesant to listen to.

The person (well, people) who davened yom kippur here sounded like they had heard it before, but never actually practiced doing it themselves. The chose decent enough tunes (although I did miss some of my favourites) but they seemed to have no clue how hey were supposed to fit the words into the melodies. (Hey uncle Robert- feel like visiting next year to give a few lessons?)

They were also so quiet half of the time that most of the women had no idea where we were. Ok, we had some sort of vague idea which page we were on, but on the whole it was incredibly difficult to try to figure out responsive readings.

Speaking of responsive readings, and parts that are done out loud- isn't the whole point to do them TOGETHER? I always thought that the tune for 13 midot (you know, Hashem, Hashem, kel rachum v'chaanun...) was because the idea was that when B'nei Yisrael said it all together in unison Hashem had to hear us. So how does everyone mumbling at different speeds work? Rather than a great pounding hammer of a voice we become a million little annoying mice trying to scratch our way into the palace gate.

I can not imagine it is nearly as intimidating (for lack of a better word).

On the other hand, I have to say that "L'shanah habah b'Yerushalayim habnuya" takes on a whole new meaning when you are living in what is considered to be a Jerusalem area city. You focus a lot more on the "rebuilt" portion of the sentence. It was actually kind of nice. Yes yes I had tears in my eyes but that should not shock anyone reading this blog by now! The real shocker would have been if I could have stayed dry-eyed!

There are a few things about the women's section that I find interesting. Firstly, and I suppose foremostly, it is empty. There is no baby sitting or childcare or junior minyan or anything else into which you can drop your children (not just at our shul, at anyone we have seen the the neighbourhood). Either children can sit with their parents, or they can't. And if they can't, someone needs to stay home with them. In Toronto this problem could have been solved with a non-Jewish babysitter, but here that is just not an option, Frankly, you would be hard pressed to find a shabbat-goy within at least 10km of here.

So if you are a mommy and your kid will not sit nicely in shul, you might buy a seat, but chances are you will not use it.

The other thing is that here most of the women do kneel right to the ground. I was taught in school it was not tzanuah for women to do so, and thus we don't. But I was one of maybe 5 women who did not. I just looks to foriegn to me. I see kneeling like that, and I think "Allah hoo Akbar" not "Hashem hu Hamelech". I dunno. Maybe it is just me, but I just can not see myself ever going along with this minhag. I told Channah she could if she wanted to (of course she did not want to as that is just the sort of grumpy little person she was being after being forced to sit in shul for a couple of hours- not that I blame her).

Last night we got the schach up on our succah. This is the first year put up our succah with no help from friends or family. It was an engineering challenge. The old tenants left us one of those steel and coregated plastic snap together succahs- with no instructions. We figured it out and mananged to get up the schach and make it stay, and tie it down. We are actually pretty proud of ourselves. We took what was an 8x8 succah, left one wall open (the wall at the front of our mirpeset so from about chest high you have a huge "picture window" overlooking the hills around Beit Shemesh) and turned it into a 12x12.

I think we should have enough room for everyone coming first day lunch. Don't know if we'll have enough table space, chairs or food- but we will have enough space!

It was actually really neat because most of the building was out on their balconies putting up their succahs. I wanted to snap a picture but it just did nto happen. Everyone was calling back and forth and making jokes between dropping things and trying to figure out what they were doing. Kids were up well into the night and could be heard whacking each other with random building implements. No one was seriously hurt and a modicum of fun was had by most.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

We are now officially

Drumroll please.

Tam pa ta da dum da tum


Yes ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, chez Swirsky is proud to announce the completion and total annihilation of our very last box!

Pictures and video to be posted after yom kippur.

We have Air Conditioning (now that we likely will not need it!)


3 1/2 weeks after reporting the problem we now have working central air. And boy does it work. we tested it last night and the place was cool in about 3 minutes!

Of course, the weather is cooling down to the point we do not even have anything other than the ceiling fan on at night (just for air circulation). Ah well, such is life.

It did take a while to fix, in truth a length of time that would never have been acceptable on Toronto, but by ISraeli standards it was not half bad. I think the landlord was getting just as frusterated at how often the repair guy was "supposed to" be here and did not make it as we were.

On the other hand, the whole thing was a royal pain in the tush. When the guy said he would be here one of us would stay home for him, but he would never show. Then he would come totally unannounced and complain and kvetch if we were not home. The repair guy was incredibly rude most of the time and screamed his requests for assistance and heaven help you if you were unavailable for a moment when he needed you.

Seriously, I was scared to go to the bathroom when he was here becuase I would get yelled at!

And, on top of that the guy only seemed to show up at night, (roughly 2 hours late most of the time) and needed teh power off, so we were stuck sitting in the dark! The unit is right outside Channah's window so she could nto go to bed while he was here. We put her ot bed in our room and moved her once he was done, but she di not sleep through the move and could not fall right back asleep, so it ended up being a real shlepp!

But, it works.

The landlord was here last night and told us he just got his electricity bill and it came in over 3500nis- seriously, that is over $1000 for the two months. I FREAKED. If that is what our bill is going ot be like, I do nto think we can offord to stay here. I called Lor in a panic, and she took a poll at games night at her place, and no one has even heard of such a terrible bill before. Most people said we should expect somewhere between 600-800nis every 2 months. I feel a lot better now, but am still going ot be nervous until we get the bill!

He also said something and I am not sure if it was meant as a complement or as an insult. He told us that when his son (the owner) was looking for a tennant for this place, he begged for "no new olim". Jason figures he would not hae told us that unless we allayed his fears- personally I think it was meant as more of a 'dis, but then again I tend to be a little (okay, a lot) over sensative!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ah Israel, where even the pop says Chag Sameyach

(If you click the picture to zoom in you can see it).

Hi Leslie.

Coffee Date

No no, not Jason and I (who has the time or the money for that?). Channah and Aunty Brenda!

Back in Toronto Channah loved to go to Aunty Brenda and Uncle Brian's house to play and sometimes even to sleep over. One of the things that was really special was that Aunty Brenda would make her a "special" hot chocolate. Before we left Aunty Brenda gave us some of the special hot chocolate ot take with us.

Tonight, we set up a "date" for Channah where she got ot talk to aunty Brenda while she had a hot chocolate!

She had a lot of fun and I think we will need to do it again. It was a great way of connecting with people she loves back in Toronto.

If anyone has any idea for other "phone dates" (or better yet "skype video phone dates") please let me know and we will be happy to arrange them from our end.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fitting In

There are two major complaints toward immigrants to Canada. One is their ability to pick up the local language. The second is the balance between accepting their new culture and leaving the ways of the old country behind. Here is not all that different.

It has been more than 14 years since I started keeping Shabbos. Around that time I had picked up the desire to wear a black hat. In order to fill the responsibility of dressing in such a way with the proper intent. I waited until my wedding before feeling comfortable that I was ready.

When I wore my hat it was for the intention of bringing Kavod to the occasions. I would wear it for Shabbs and Yom Tov. It was always on for kiddush and motzei as well when going out and in shul at times when a tallis is not worn. I would also wear it for simchas as long as I did not feel it would attract negative feelings from the Baal Simcha.

Before landing it was strongly recommended that the hat had to go. I decided to go with the more Israeli, white shirt and nice pants look. The advantages of the decision were quite clear in the 35+ degree sun. I found that the shuls that were black hat tended to be places I did not want to daven. The davening tends to be self contained where most davening is mumbling to yourself and often you cannot here the shaliach tzibur to figure where you are during davening. The shuls which davening I liked tend to be a more Israeli feel. An added benefit is not needing to worry about paying to dry clean a suit every week.

For Yom Tov we have been davening at a shul with some black hats, including the Rabbi. The davening is as nice as some other shuls but I really like the Rabbi. It is also the place where our friends are choosing as their shul. We will not make a more permanent decision until later on in the.

This Shabbos Channah kept asking why I wasn't wearing my hat. I am happy with the decsion. There are times I miss the feeling of having a special piece of clothing to mark the importance of Shabbos. In a few weeks we are planning on being in Kiryat Sefer. Everyone thinks that I will be happy to have an occasion to wear my hat. I didn't wear a hat on Yom Hadin and I am not planning on wearing it on Yom Kippor. Why in the world would I want to wear it for a community that wouldn't want me, if I had enough money to turn every shteibel into a full sized shul? On one level this is a change that just feels right. On another level, I still ask myself was I doing to right thing before.

For those who want ot make Channah really happy

If you want to make Channah really really happy, send her postcards. She keeps them and knows who sent each ones and loves to look through them and talk about fun things she did with the person she got it from.

She can not read or write yet, but she loves knowing that she gets mail from people and looking at pictures of places they have been. We read them to her and she memorizes them. Feel free to email me for our mailing address. Mail from Toronto takes about 2 weeks.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

now taking reservations at Hotel Swirsky- book early as spots are filling up fast!!!

This coming shabbat we are having a family of 5.

No problem. We can do that. Parents in the "real" guest rooms, 2 boys on inflatables in the studio, and the little girl having a sleepover on the crib mattress (covered in sheets and blankets) on the floor in Channah's room.

Succot is going to be a little more challenging. One family of 4 and 3 seminary girls (one of whom is my cousin and I am really looking forward to having her). Ok, the men out in the succah on the inflatables. The sem girls in the "real" guest room (seems only fair as they are here 2 nights becuase for the rst of us after day one it is chol hamoed and our other guests go home). Mom and baby (our friends) in the studio. Mom on Jason's mattress which we will move into there and baby in pac and play. Girl will have a sleepover with Channah using the crib mattress.

The only fly in the ointment is that the "real" guestroom only has 2 beds and we have 3 sem girls. I posted an add on the city email list asking to borrow another inflatable or something. Otherwise we will move my matress in there, and for one night I can use Channah's bed and she and girl 2 can sleep in the succah on the crib mattress and pac and play matress with their fathers, and baby can share with his mom.

For meals we have another family of 4 joining us. This should be interesting. Inflatable beds will be collapsed and put into our room, tables will be brought out. 2 folding tables (6 people each) and a fisher price picnic table for the kids. I really hope it will all fit in the succah. We do not have nearly enough chairs. We have 10. We need to borrow a few from the family coming for yom tov to make it through. And that is assuming we bring the dining room chairs outside (though truthfully I see no reason not to).

Serving space is going to be totally non existant.

Oh, and did I neglect to remind you that the two entrances to the mirpeset are through our bedroom and through the bathtub room that leads to the laundry room that leads to the mirpeset?

I have not even thought about the menu! Thank Goodness I do not tihnk I have too many really picky eaters coming. One friend can not have legumey sort of things, but other than that I think I have free reign.

Currently thinking fairly standard chicken and whatnot for dinner, and bubbie's cabage rolls for lunch.


The last few days have been mostly routine. On Friday the Vaad HaBayit came around to collect money (similar to condo fees). As soon as he identified who he was we just asked how much and who do we make the check payable to. He had this long speech about what it was and what it covered and how it was different then in North America. Clearly he is used to people arguing with him. The fees are quite reasonable especially considering how well maintained our building is and that our Shabbos elevator is used.

Our A/C is still not fixed. It was supposed to be done today, but the service has again been rescheduled for tomorrow.

My favourite announcement from Shabbos, "Tonight the country is switching off of daylight savings time. We urge you to consider changing your clocks ahead before going to bed tonight."

I did not realize there were people who wouldn't want their clocks to have the correct time.

The Rabbi had been so inspired by his Shabbos Drash that it inspired him to make sure their was an added level of oneg with his family on Friday night. To be able to be inspired by his own words speaks volumes about the Rabbi.

Friday night it was just us for a quiet dinner. Shabbos lunch we had our friends with their twin daughters. We had a great time.


There are a number of things that, although most of our boxes are unpacked, we still can not find and we are starting to fear may have been mislaid in our hurried exit.

  1. My favourite green winter skirt.
  2. Jason's shabbat shoes and belt.
  3. the nuts and bolts from Channah's crib. If/when we need to use it again we are going to need to write the manufacturer to get buy more. I am actually thinking of doing it sooner as I am worried the crib will go out of production. No whispers please.
  4. A short, wide, white bookshelf.
  5. My rain-boots (which will become a problem within the next couple of weeks and I think I am going to need to bite the bullet and buy a new pair. So long Eddie Bauer Ducks. It has been a great decade.
  6. Our oven mitts
  7. My favourite earrings (ok, really not such a huge problem since I made them the first time, and I can remake them- I just have not gotten around to it)
  8. Our sanity

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Studio

Ok, I know it may look like nothing special to anyone else, but it is awesome and perfect and organized and has loads of storage and work room. There is also a table that can fit on the left hand side as extra workspace or display space if I need it, but most of the time it is folded on the mirpeset.

This doubles as a 2nd room and has room to inflate 2 air mattresses on legs that are really comfortable.

Random Stuff

Firstly, I changed up the side panel "about us" to be a little more recent. If you are a regular reader here it is nothing you do not already know, but I figured I could take out the bits about putting things up for sale before we leave.

Ok, now that business is out of the way...


A post went up on the Beit shemesh web list that someone was selling old novels for 5-20nis a piece. Come today.

So I did. I am getting rather desperate for new reading material as we did not bring any but our most favouritists reading list with us. We decided it was not worth it to ship novels we had already read but did not love.

I scored 11 new books :)

Happy Rachel!

This should keep me busy until well after yom tov! Ok, at least a little after yom tov.

(In other news. For those who warned me about certain facilities of the roughly once a month variety here- seriously, if that is what is worrying you about aliya (and you know who you are) don't let it. Facilities were way nicer than in Toronto. Sorry this took so long for me to post, but I did not want ot post it until we were well after the fact. Sorry for this little tangent. Hamayveen yaveen.)

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Can't sleep.

I woke up with my head so itchy I thought I was going to scratch my skin off. Everyone here has me so neurotic about lice I god up, grabbed the lice comb, a loup and a mirror and went on a bug hunt.


Zippo, zilch, zero.

I bought a new shampoo this week (same brand I used to use back home) and stopped using Jason's head and shoulders. I have been itchy ever since. I think this hard water is wreaking havoc on my hair, and leaving me with a dry scalp that is, in turn, insanely itchy.

Which is, in turn, feeding my nerosis about lice.

Which is driving me insane.

I'm telling you. The big things I am getting used to. The little, tiny, creepy crawly things are going to drive me up a wall.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

One more thing

I forgot to add that it is rather neat to eat a rimon (pomegranate) that is kedushat sheviit (from properly grown shmita produce) that comes from a rimon tree in your friend's backyard.

Rosh Hashannah Back to the Beginning

The routine for the Yom Tovim has been the same for so long. Where we would daven and most of our meals were the same places year after year. This year everything was new once again. Planning in advance was not on the agenda.

We had decided where we would daven last week and decided to wait until we spent a Shabbos there before submitting our ticket request on Sunday. It was not until late Monday morning that we knew what the arrangements would be. I would be assigned a seat. They would try to assign a seat for Rachel but they were not sure if there was room. In the end she got a seat but moved around in order to be able to sit with Channah. There were sections of davening where friend's from Channah's class father had to struggle to daven while holding both of his twins on his lap.

On Sunday we had an invite for first night from our neighbours. The family was complete off the wall. I stunned the Uncle of the host by recognizing that he was from Toronto and father of some people we have a lot of respect for. He had the same off the wall personality as his sons. There was another family with Toronto connections. They took the simanim very serious. I am normally not a fan of segulahs. There was a great vort of why these ones are important that even I can live with. Channah was completely intimidated by the percoutious Israeli kids. First day lunch was just us, quiet followed by a nap. 2nd night we went to friends we decided to adopt as family for Yom Tov and they came to us 2nd day lunch. The food was really good through all of Yom Tov. Special compliments to the (#4) roast Rachel made for lunch and the pomegranate.

I am usually not a big pomegranate fan. This year we got some from our friends pomegranate tree. I was worried it would not be good because it was green instead of the red I am used to. Then I noticed in the stores that they were all green. I must say that it is the best pomegranate I have ever had. Plus there were no worried of red stains.

Shul was an experience. We really noticed how lucky we have been privileged we were to experience the abundant quantity of talent of Baalei Tefilah that Toronto has to offer. On the plus side there was no talking and almost everyone there was focused on davening. There is something to be said when the kehilah understands the meaning of the words. It was quite powerful when the kehilah sang together, which was quite often.

The first day Yom Tov the Rabbi spoke about the link between tekiah shofar and crying. The second day the Rabbi focused on the link between tefillah and crying. On second day the Baal Tokeah linked all three together. I cannot remember the last time I heard shofar where they missed a note never mind repeat the entire sets. The poor guy struggled through the first set. The Rabbi and a few others were giving him words of encouragement while cleaning the Shofars as he fought his way through. He looked completely dejected as soon as he was finished. He inspected his primary shofar and found some sort of flaw. He rushed to show it to the Rabbi. The Rabbi immediately pulled down various halachic seforim off the wall looking for an answer before the start of Mussaf. Dropping the bad Shofar helped a bit, but some of his sets were only passable at best. It was quite a change from the 40+ second Tekiah Gedolah I am used to.

The shul is one of the few (if not only) one that conducts some of their shul business in English. This meant I could actually understand the Rabbi's speach. On the first night he gave me a kind welcome to the shul. On second day before kiddush and after I had hagbah (before Mussaf)he came up to me and told me that it was a pleasure to have me at the shul. I went to all three of his shiurs before Maariv. I must admit the "what changes have you made in you life recently" speech did not hit home this year. The other two nights he covered various halachas. The shiur was interactive with some top quality participation. He took the approach where he doesn't just cover how he poskens but covers the various opinions and where they very in halacha. One of the topics today was that Ashkanezi hold you do not repeat Shmonei Esrei if you miss halmelch hamishpat but Sephardim do and the Rama says it is a good thing to do. He made it a point that because the other opinions are out there, the tefilah should not be taken seriously enough to treat it as if you did need to repeat.

Tomorrow I have my only day of Ulpan for the week. I wonder how empty the 'train' is going to be.

What a year

I look back at where we this time last year and it seems like last Rosh Hashanah was a million years ago.

I remember standing with my mom, knowing we were hoping to make aliya but not really believing it was going to happen, and getting weepy thinking it would be the last time I sat in our age-old family high holiday seats yapping my way through davening with my mom and my sister.

I remember going to my Aunts for lunch and thinking "this is it. This is the last time I have to do this".

I remember the annual family arguing over seder times and thinking "this is the last time I need to do this".

I remember going to my cousin's bar mitzvah and shmoozing with my entire extended family on shabbat afternoon while the kids all played in the yard and thinking "this is the last time I get to do this".

I remember going to the cottage and sitting by the bonfire pit and thinking "I don't get to do this anymore".

It was a year of lasts. Our last set of high holidays at the shul where I was a member since I was born. Our last year of obscene tuition. Our last year in that hellhole of an apartment we managed to make a happy home for so long. Our last year with the damn KIA-lemon we hated. A last chance to host certain meals we always hosted for and have guests we always had.

It was a year of hard things. Saying goodbye for now to people we loved. Saying goodbye forever to people we once loved. A year of purging things we thought we needed from our lives. A year of trying to decide if what we thought we could not live without was worth shipping. A year of assessing the value of everything we owned and trying to decide what would stay and what would go. And deciding what to do with what we could not keep. A year of figuring out what was really important to us.

But in the end it was also a year of new beginnings.

We got something that is more than anyone could ask for. We got a 2nd chance. We left behind everything we knew- everything we loved and everything we hated. We took a leap and with it re-took control of our own lives and regaurdless of whether we suceed or we fail, the burden is now ours and ours alone.

We have a new home, a new city, and a new life. And our life is what we choose to make of it. Who we meet and with whom we retain ties is completely up to us. We have no apron strings to hold on to anymore. We want people to visit, but have no control over how often we get to see our loved ones.

I have learned that there are always reasons not to follow your dreams. But our year of chances included the chance to follow ours. Though it was not easy, we went for it and, I think, are happier for having done so.

I wish for everyone what we are going to have. A shanah of chances to remake ourselves into who we want to be. To form ourselves into the image of ourselves that we carry in our heads and for various reasons can never create in reality.

Well that was interesting (Rosh Hashanah)

Well Rosh Hashanah is well and truly over around these parts (suckers!) and thus begins our first full year of Israeli living.

Rosh Hashanah itself was a roller coaster of emotion. I missed my mom like crazy. Shul seemed so lonely without mom and Deb and Bubbie. I know giving all that up was a decision that we chose to make, but it is really, really hard when it comes down to it to sit there davening, surrounded by total strangers.

There were tunes I knew and tunes I did not. Some that I knew made me cry for all the memories flooding into my mind of standing next to my mom. Some that I did not know made me cry for the loneliness of not feeling a part of the crowd. Some that I knew made me sing out loud for the joy of being able to follow my dreams. Some I did not know made me happy for learning of new and beautiful melodies and watching people from aroun the world come together in one congregation.

On the whole the people in the shul where we davened are friendly and welcoming, but like any shul there are those who are more concerned about themselves than anyone else. As we joined late there was only a seat for me, but we did not actually have one for Channah. The shul said not to worry, there were always unused seats, and we should just grab one. If it was needed, we could likely just move over one or two.

So we did. First day, no problem. The woman came, we moved down two. She said thank you and was friendly and understanding once we explained the situation. Today on the other hand, we sat down in a row that was totally open and a woman came over and started berating me loudly for sitting in her daughter's seat, and how dare I and who did I think I was. I got up to move, and tried to explain the situation, but she would have none of it. Her daighter was not there (and in fact never came!) but just in case...

Another woman who I know came over and said we should just come sit with her. We did and it was all fine, but even so it put a bit of a taint on the morning. Whatever. We got the more comfy chairs out of the deal anyway.

Yestarday the bal tefilah was great. Upbeat tunes you could sing along with. The Bal tokea (shofar blower) did a reasonable job (although boy did I miss DWM and Mr. B from back home as this guy had nothing on either one of them!). today was a whole 'nother ball game. The shofar blowing was quite possibly the worst I have ever heard. Jason told me after that the guy discovered a crack in his shofar that made it hard to blow, but even once he got a different one, I don't know, maybe his confidence was shot or something, but boy did it STINK!

The bal tefilah fancied himself a chazan but was, in truth, closer to a lemur with a kazoo. The tunes were so awful for the most part that I could nto make it through so Channah and I ended up leaving early before I pulled all the hair out of my head.

Meals were great. First night we went to a neighbour with a great extended family and had a really nice time. There were actually a lot of Toronto connections to people we knew and it was fun to hear some new stories about old friends. They took their simanim pretty seriously, and we did them all. The only exception was the animal head for which they pulled the heads off gummy fish v'zehu.

Lunch was just us and it was nice, quick and followed by a good nap. We did tashlich in the afternoon at "the Zoo Rabbi" 's house as he has a pond. Before we went we were wondering what sort of person living a half hour from the dessert in a country with water shortages has a pond. Then we found out. The sort of person that calls a water feature more akin to puddle than pond a pond.

It was cute. And little.

Dinner was at friends. They took their simanim less seriously and had givelte fish with carrot mouths and pepper ball eyes :) I love them.

Lunch today they came to us and we played for a while in the afternoon. All in all nto a bad yom tov. Ok, mostly not a bad yom tov.

But I did miss my mom.