Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Rick Steves is in Israel!

May 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Rick Steves is in Israel this week scouting locations for an Israel travel episode! Check it out! Yes, of course I commented on his blog to tell him he must go to Caesarea.

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Rockets Hit Tel Aviv

November 16, 2012 3 comments

I keep up with Israeli news mainly via the BBC. Wednesday afternoon I’d heard about escalating rocket fire coming from Gaza. I didn’t think much about it until I saw a Facebook post from a friend indicating the air raid sirens sounded in Tel Aviv. That was completely unheard of while I was living in Israel. Ashkelon yes, but not Tel Aviv.

I literally have chills as I write this. The BBC reported sirens in neighborhoods where my friends live. Sirens that had only been used for test drills or on national Memorial days for the last 20 years. I hope they can find a way to end this soon. I won’t address the politics of it because I just don’t feel qualified to do that. There’s just nothing like knowing people you care about are in real danger.

When I think of Tel Aviv I want to think of paddling with my dragon boat team on the Yarkon, going out to dinner with friends, being invited for Shabbot, my kite nearly missing a paraglider… Right now I cringe at the images that are coming from my one-time temporary home. These are the images (and the people) I keep in my heart:

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A Expat Adventure in Israel

May 27, 2012 1 comment

This post is reblogged from my company blog site.

I recently returned from an eight month expat assignment in Israel. Technically, it was my husband’s assignment, but since my organization also has a presence in Israel I had the opportunity to work there as well. It was a wonderful opportunity to immerse ourselves in another culture, expose our five-year-old son to some amazing experiences, and expand our professional skills. We lived in Netanya, 20 minutes north of Tel Aviv. My husband worked in Yakum and I split my time between Haifa and Petah Tikva.

People often ask about the experience, wondering about what distinguishes Israeli culture from American culture. My best answer is that it is a culture of juxtaposition. It is a very young country in a very ancient land. A landscape of lavish beaches and harsh desert. A society steeped in technology and old world mysteries. It is also a country that treasures and loves children. Real family values are supported here: high quality early childhood education for all, flexible work schedules so parents can care for children. I even heard a rumor that nannies are better paid than doctors!

The Israel that most Westerners see on the television is one of rockets fired from Gaza and protests in Jerusalem. While that is certainly a reality, what isn’t shown is the day-to-day lives of Israelis. Name any major high-tech, sports apparel, or pharmaceutical company. They have a presence in Israel. There are creative minds everywhere solving the problem of coaxing the most out of the “Land of Milk and Honey.” Huge strides in agriculture and water management are being made all of the time. When the rockets do fall, they pick them selves up and carry on. The way they celebrate their Memorial and Independence Days is very symbolic of this. A day of mourning is followed by a day of celebration.

I should add here that I felt very safe living in Central Israel. We were far from Gaza and knew what to do in an emergency. Our family policy for safety included:

  • No traveling to or through the West Bank
  • No traveling within missile range of Gaza
  • No border crossings into neighboring Arab countries
  • Avoiding large crowds
  • Avoiding public transportaion

Shopping in Israel is a real challenge for an American. They don’t have what we consider to be a full size department store like a Macy’s or even a Target. You have to shop in much smaller stores with limited and specialized inventory. I had to go to three different stores to get everything on my son’s school supplies list. That doesn’t sound too bad until I tell you that there were only six  items on the list. Add to that the parking nightmare that is Israel and it all becomes very overwhelming. You learn very quickly when the best times to shop are and where to get what. Israel certainly made me a better cook. You can’t find canned soup there. If you need broth for a recipe, you have to make it. Making a traditional American Thanksgiving meal was a challenge. There was wonderful amount of fresh produce available. In the absence of my usual brands, we ate significantly less processed food. Most everything was fresh or frozen. I’ve continued those shopping and cooking habits at home in the US.

Israel is a land of good eating. There is always an abundance of fresh produce in the supermarkets and shuks. There are spices in a rainbow of colors, thick fluffy pita, fresh falafel, flavorful shawarma…  I guarantee the best pita and breads in the world come from a vendor who sets up a table in Canyon Poleg on Fridays only. The braided challah is to-die-for-melt-in-your-mouth delicious. There is, however, a striking shortage of Mexican restaurants.

The (very) direct communication style of Israelis can be misinterpreted as pushy or rude. The Hebrew language is very concise with one word often having up to 3 meanings. Israelis don’t mince words. They don’t beat around the bush. There aren’t enough words in the Hebrew language to do that. They get to the point quickly. They are also some of the friendliest and most helpful people you will ever meet. If they realize you need help they will stop what they are doing and stay with you until they feel you have what you need. Then they will “cut” in front of you in a line. Lines don’t work quite the same there as they do in the US. 🙂 They take care of each other too, in an everyday no-big-deal way that you only see in small towns in the US. They are also bound by the experience of the Holocaust. Israel is the only country that pauses for 2 minutes of silence for Holocaust Memorial Day. It was the most profound emotional experience I have had since 9/11.

Israelis all seem to know each other. There are 7.8 million people living in a space the size of New Jersey (not nearly as much of it is as inhabitable as New Jersey), but two Israelis who meet for the first time will ask each other questions until they figure out how they are connected. Where did you grow up? What school did you go to? Where do you work? This will go on until they can come up with a mutual acquaintance. This actually happened to me the first week we were there. I participated in the first annual Israeli Dragon Boat Championship with a local team. We won first place in the women’s division. I proudly wore my medal to lunch after with some friends and a stranger congratulated me, mentioning that he had friends on the Haifa Lions team (not racing that day). I said, “Oh yeah, I know a couple of them through facebook.” and instantly we identified a mutual friend.

As I alluded above, were able to chase some personal passions during our time there. My husband found a roller hockey team in Netanya to play with. I found a dragon boat team in Tel Aviv. Both teams welcomed us with open arms and weekly tried to convince us to make aliyah and move to Israel for good. Israelis are proud of their country and encourage others to make a life there. Being a young nation, they are constantly trying to “recruit” talented people to make Israel a stronger country.

The biggest adjustment, really was the Sunday through Thursday work week. It takes a while to adapt to the flow of weekly life and the fact that (depending where you are) most things shut down between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening. Liberal cities like Tel Aviv never shut down, while very Religious cities like Tiberias completely shut down. It was always a thrill to remember I had Fridays off, but such a bummer to realize on Saturday night that I had to go to work in the morning. When my colleagues in the US would come into the office on Monday, I had already put in two full days of work. Then there was the concept of Tuesday as “hump day”. That was weird. The worst part was when people in the US would forget the differences and schedule a 6:00 PM meeting on my Thursday night… which would be the equivalent of scheduling a Friday night meeting for US attendees. Friday night (beginning of Shabbot) is a night  for staying in with your family, eating a big meal, and playing games. For all but the orthodox, Saturday (Shabbot) is a day for road trips with your family, visiting parks and zoos, and going to the beach. At sundown on Saturday, Shabbot ends and an hour later, shops, restaurants, and places of entertainment reopen. Everyone emerges to go out again.

My five year old son returned to the US nearly fluent in Hebrew… and in love with his teacher’s daughter, Rikiya. He will tell you that his favorite place in Israel is Masada. He loves riding the cable car to the top of the fortress and climbing the ruins. My favorite place is Caesaera.  I love spending an afternoon there or just going for lunch. It was only a 20 minute drive from my house so I was able to visit very often. I found myself wishing I could go there just this week. 😦

This assignment was an incredible opportunity for my family. It certainly wasn’t without its challenges, but I would absolutely do it again. Each of us brought back a little bit of Israel in our hearts, and left a little of ourselves behind as well.

Dragon Boat Israel on the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee)

May 19, 2012 1 comment

I had to share this post from Dragon Boat Israel. It looks like it was truly an Awesome Day. I wish I could have been there.

The Stack of Stuff Rides Again

April 23, 2012 1 comment

It’s moving day! We’ve come full circle and the stack-of-stuff is packed and being carted off as I type. In three days we head to Amsterdam for some R&R then home to the US.

Things I’m Going To Miss:

  • The friends I’ve made
  • Tasty gelato on every corner (my waistline won’t miss this)
  • Being close enough to walk to the grocery store
  • Running along the Med
  • Visiting Caesarea any time I want
  • The drive up the coast to Haifa
  • Shakshuka (I’m going to learn how to make it… I’m already working out the perfect hummus recipe)
  • Max Brenner
  • Paddling on the Yarkon

Things I’m Not Going To Miss:

  • Parking in Israel
  • Hand washing dishes
  • 3 hours to wash and dry one load of laundry
  • Concrete walls
  • Getting up at 5:00 AM to paddle on the Yarkon
Things I Wish I’d Gotten Around To Doing:
  • Banias
  • Mt Herman
  • Eilat (too many rockets this year)

Yom Hashoah: Holocaust Memorial Day

April 19, 2012 11 comments

Yom Hashoah marks the loss of six million Jews in the Holocaust. Six million. The current population of Israel is 7.8 million. At 10:00 AM sirens sounded for two minutes as everyone in the country stopped what they were doing to stand together in remembrance. Cars and busses pulled over. I assume trains stopped. I haven’t visited any of the Holocaust memorials in Israel, but today it felt like the entire country was one.

On the walk to school this morning I wanted to prepare Liam for the observance. I didn’t want him to be confused about what was happening or what was expected of him. It turned out to be a much more difficult conversation than I first imagined.

Me: Today at 10:00 you are going to hear a loud siren. It’s OK. It’s a special day and when we hear the siren everyone is going to stop what they are doing and stand still and quiet for two minutes.

Liam: What does it sound like?

Me: (Trying to make a siren sound and just sounding silly.)

Liam: OK. Why?

Me: (I try to keep it simple.) It’s to remember people who died.

Liam: (Thinks for a moment.) Like Daddy’s dad. He died and I never got to meet him.

Me: Well, that’s true, but that’s not exactly what today is about. These people died because of a war.

Liam: Soldiers?

(And now it gets more complicated. One of those moments when you decide if you want to shield your child from ugly truths for just a little longer or begin to teach them about social justice. He’s a smart kid. I go with social justice.)

Me: No, not soldiers. And that’s the really sad part. These were regular people. They were Jews. There was a bad man who wanted all the power for himself (he understands this concept) and he didn’t like the Jews. He had other bad people working for him. They killed a lot of Jews and other people who tried to help the Jews.

Liam: Who was he?

Me: His name was Hitler.

Liam: Hit who?

Me: Hit-ler.

Liam: And he wanted all the power for himself? Just like Garmadon?

Me: Yes. Do you remember what you need to do when you hear the siren?

Liam: Stand quiet and still.

When 10:00 arrived I was ready. I planned to stand on my balcony to keep the company of anyone else who happened to be on their balconies. The sound of the siren was really disturbing. It’s the same siren they use for air raids. I thought about the conversation I had with Liam and all the things that were left unsaid. Things that were too horrible to say. I thought about my sweet boy standing with his Jewish friends, whose families were likely affected by the Holocaust.

I thought about a woman I met at a teaching conference 14 years ago. We had lunch, really hit it off, and wandered into deep conversational territory. She told me she’d only recently learned she was Jewish. Her grandmother had survived the Holocaust and, when they came to the United States, warned all of her children not to tell anyone they were Jewish. The woman only learned of her ancestry after the Grandmother died. That family was terrified to tell anyone who they really were for nearly 50 years.

I thought about characters I’d read about in books: Ellen Rosen in Number the Stars, Max in The Book Thief, Bernie and his mother in Too Jewish. I thought about sweet Anne Frank too.

And I cried like a baby.

How Do You Say Goodbye To Israel?

March 28, 2012 5 comments

This is a picture of the temple ruins in Caesarea by the light of a full moon. It’s one of our favorite places in Israel. Part national park, part trendy dining district, it is alive day and night. It’s a place we take all of our visitors. I love to take them there after lunch so we can explore the ruins by daylight, watch the sunset over the waves as the entire place transforms, and have dinner at one of the excellent restaurants in the port. No evening there would be complete without gelato at Bella for dessert.

We will be home in the US in less than a month. I’m starting to think of all the things I will miss. Our little mall a block away with the grocery store, our health club, the pizzeria, our hair stylist, the pharmacy, the toy store, the cafe with the best shakshuka in all of Israel, and the baker who sets up on Friday mornings to sell the best challah and pita we’ve ever had. That little mall is such an anchor of the community. We are so close to the beach and though we’ve been there several times it seems like we’ve hardly taken advantage of it.

We have seen some amazing things here though: Jerusalem at night, Masada Fortress, Caesarea, the abundant and beautiful fowl of the Yarkon while paddling with my dragon boat team, man-made caves in Beit Guvrin, the grotto in Rosh Hanikra. My only real regret is not seeing Petra in Jordan, but the idea of taking Liam on a bus with an armed escort just didn’t set well.

Each time I do something I think it might be the last, or I think, “I’ll probably do this 2 more times before we are gone.” I’m trying to savor everything. I don’t think there will be any big rush to do anything we “missed” before we go. I’m pretty satisfied with what we’ve covered. I do think we might do a few things “one more time”. Liam wants to go to Masada again. I want to spend at least one more afternoon and evening in Caesarea and fly my kite on the beach one more time.

With any luck though, it’s not goodbye, it’s just goodnight.