Posts Tagged ‘moving to Israel’

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.


Israelis Have the Biggest Hearts

September 19, 2011 1 comment

There is a term to describe Israeli born Jews, Sabra, which means prickly on the outside, soft on the inside.

Israelis can seem very aggressive to Americans: the way they drive, the way they seem to “cut” you in line, their directness. Most Americans have a difficult time getting past this prickly skin. If you can just go with it and join in the spirit of beseder (Hebrew for “It’s OK.” They say it constantly.) you will greatly reduce your stress. If you are willing to ask Israelis for help, they will astonish you with the depth of their patience and willingness to spend time with you to make sure you are OK. Even complete strangers will do this.

Example 1:

My colleague, Hagit, offered to help with whatever I needed. I was struggling figuring out which stores to go to for what. (See An American Shopping in Israel) I sent her a list of things I was looking for and she suggested meeting at IKEA since it was close to her house. As we shop I say, “So, how far did you have to come?” She says, “Oh, not far–about an hour.”

She rearranged a meeting, drove two hours (round trip), and sacrificed a Thursday night (= Friday night in American society) to help me shop. She listened to me vent about the challenges we’d been having, and generally helped me feel more at home.

Example 2:

In the grocery store, I am completely puzzled by the garbage bag selection. I’m trying to convert centimeters to inches in my head and I have no idea what size bags to by. A woman walks by and I say “Slicha. (Pointing at the bags) are these big (making big gesture with arms) or small (small gesture with hands). I want big.”

She starts picking them up and reading them carefully. She points to Hebrew on the package and says “For big kitchen.” She would not leave me until she felt like I had what I needed.

Example 3:

In the same grocery store, I’m checking out with the cashier. She says something in Hebrew, I look confused, and she points to the readout: 190.22 NIS.

Me: Hand her 200 NIS

Prickly Cashier: Says more in Hebrew I don’t understand

Me: Check the readout again to make sure I didn’t really owe 19022 NIS–I sure hope not. I say, “It’s 200 NIS.” Give her my what’s-the-problem?’ look.

Nice Man Behind Me: “She wants to know if you have 22 cents.”

Me: “Slicha. I only have 16 cents. She can’t make the change?”

Nice Man Behind Me: “She doesn’t want to go to the trouble.”

Me: Give my so-what-do-I-do-now? look.

Nice Man Behind Me: Reaches into his pocket and pulls out 22 cents for the cashier. I try to give him my 16 cents, but he won’t take it.

Example 4:

Liam confused our couch with a trampoline and well… I don’t think I have to tell you the rest. We wandered around a street in Netanya with no signs in English trying to track down the medical clinic our relocation assistant sent us to. I can read (i.e. sound out) enough Hebrew to identify the sign for the place, but it looked like an abandoned warehouse. We found out from a nice lady on the street speaking broken English that it had moved to another location. Another lady out with her son spent about 10 minutes with us calling around on her cell to find an open clinic.
Instead of stitches they glued the cut back together, thank goodness. Liam was a real trooper and even though the staff spoke almost exclusively Hebrew he followed their requests (via gestures), was totally calm, and asked to go to McDonalds when it was all done.
This is what I mean when I say Israelis have big hearts. I don’t know how they fit them in their chests. ❤

An American Shopping in Israel

September 12, 2011 4 comments

I feel like all I have done for the last 3 days is shop. I’d forgotten what it was like to set up a household. It’s a full time job. The last time I moved house was July 2000. Below are my 3 rules for shopping in Israel so far… I’ll add others in new posts as I discover them.

Rule #1 : There is no one-stop shop.

I knew this before I came. At least, I thought I knew this. I still can’t believe I had to go to 3 different stores to get Liam’s school supplies. That might not sound so bad until you hear that there were only 6 items on his list. Here is how it broke down: Super Pharm had the tissues and wipes. Office Depot had the snap folder. Super Sol (סופר סול) had the lunch box, water bottles, and baggies.

Apparently grocery stores carry precious little baby products, no cosmetics, and no first aid products. You must go to the pharmacy for these things.

So how many ways do you think it takes to describe what a lunch box is to a grocery store employee who speaks broken English to get a result? (For the record, their broken English is always better than the few phrases I know in Hebrew.) The answer is, it doesn’t matter because they will just say they don’t have it, even if they do.

I literally held up a metal water bottle I bought in the States and asked if they had them.
Her: No.
Me: Something similar?
Her: Yes, similar. Follow her… (something in Hebrew I didn’t understand)
Her #2: (walks me around 3 different sections, then leaves me in a school-supplies like isle)

Guess what? They had water bottles EXACTLY like what I showed the first woman and these ridiculously tiny little lunch boxes. Oh well, I still win. Now I just have to figure out how to pack a lunch and 2 snacks in it.

Rule #2: Familiar stores carry an odd mish-mash of products.

Ace Hardware carries the usual fare, plus appliances, dishes, and God knows what else. It ends up being a little like a Home-Depot. Confusing, but helpful. The scary part of the appliances at Ace was the brand names: Kenwood (fake Kenmore?) Hemilton (fake Hamilton Beech?). You actually see this a lot, so I haven’t bought any names I don’t recognize if I can help it.

Rule #3: There Is No “Slow Time” and Parking Is a B*tch

Even at 10:00 in the morning on a Sunday, which is normally a work day for Israelis since they observe Saturday as Shabbot/Sabbath, the shopping centers are teeming with people. Most of the people I saw were between 20 and 40 years old–even families. I kept thinking, “Don’t these people have jobs?”

Truly I could (and probably will) do an entire post about parking in Israel. In summary, the parking lines mean nothing, crooked parking is expected, back-in parking is best for quick escapes, when the lot is really busy go ahead and park in the no parking area, and if you have 4-wheel drive you can just park anywhere you want.

I have discovered that the best time to shop for groceries is at 21:30 because most of the other stores in the mall have closed. Grocery stores and pharmacies are generally open late. Super Sol in BIG Poleg is open from 08:30-Midnight, Sun-Thur.

Fun With Appliances

September 9, 2011 7 comments

It took three loads of laundry, but I think I know how to use my washer now. I can only run it successfully  on one cycle, but it seems to work. (Ed.–I was wrong, I’m still completely clueless. My washer just ran for 3 hours while I was gone and I don’t know why. What a ridiculous waste of water.) If anyone out there has a washer like this, I welcome tips on how to use it. Our relocation assistant told me how to use it yesterday, but I was severely sleep-deprived. She also drove us around the area, showing us where to find a grocery store, post office, appliance stores. I remember very little of it. Her attempt at an orientation resulted in some major disorientation on my part.

We take so much for granted in the everyday things we are accustomed to using. I used the oven for the first time today and for a moment wondered why it only went up to 250 degrees. Then I shouted to Stace to get me a conversion for 350F = nC. It’s 175C in case you ever need it.

I also love that the German clothes dryer has a setting called “Summer.” Anyone want to enlighten me on that one? I can’t wait to buy a blender!

An Electrical Socket Made Me Cry

September 8, 2011 5 comments

What do you get when you mix a sleepless 10 hour flight, a mom whose patience has completely run out, an apartment that fell a bit below expectations, and a European outlet adapter that won’t fit into the Israeli socket when you need to dry your hair NOW?

A world-class temper tantrum. Complete with tears. Thrown by yours truly.

It was the “straw the broke the camel’s back.” What an apt metaphor. Isn’t it amazing how something small becomes so magnified when your defenses are weakened? These are the times when you need a bit of distance. I call it “stepping back from the Seurat.” For those who have yet to take Art Appreciation 101: George Seurat was an Impressionist who developed a technique called Pointillism. He used dots of color to create a scene—much like a dot matrix printer, only with paint. If you focus too closely on a Seurat, you only see dots of color. When you step back from the Seurat you see the bigger picture.

The tantrum felt like this:

Stepping back feels more like this:

Sometimes good friends can really help with this. Thanks Elodie and Jeremy for making us dinner, letting me vent, placing me on your balcony with a drink to watch the sun set, and helping me realize I needed to step back. ❤

The Stack-of-Stuff Departs for Israel

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment

T minus 19 days to liftoff.

Stack of boxes containing our life.

On Wednesday we said goodbye to our stack-of-stuff that was blocking the front room picture window. It is now in transit to Netanya, Israel. Our dog, Hachi, is thrilled to once again be able to monitor neighborhood cat activity from his window. Hachi will be staying with good friends while we are gone.

Now that the stack is gone I’m anxious to follow. We’ve been mentally preparing for this trip since March. It feels more real on some days than others. Our friends, the Coriells are already in Ramat Poleg and moved into their apartment. We will be living just a couple of blocks from them. Our friends the Grims leave next week and will live in Tel Aviv.

We told Liam’s class about our move today and read the book Let’s Visit Israel to give his classmates a sense of where he was going and the things he would see. They all thought it was pretty cool that Liam might have a chance to ride a camel!