Saturday, July 31, 2010

the purpose of a test

I'm learning as much about teaching methods in Ulpan as I am hebrew (and that's saying A LOT, considering I read a whole paragraph on day 5!)

We had our first quiz on Thursday.  Because most of the students are in that early college mindset driven by getting through to get the grade, there were groans throughout the room.  Talya, our fabulous teacher, reminded us of a very important principle of teaching/learning.  Quizes are for teachers to discover whether what THEY are doing is working, and to adjust their curriculum based on the results of the quizes.  Quizes are NOT to chastize us for getting things wrong.  Doesn't sound right?  Probably because we're too used to the morphed American education system.  We all know that education is falling apart in the US.  But the reasons may be a surprise (for more on that, check out the new book by Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education in the 1990's and Wellesley alum - the book is titled "The Death and Life of the Great American School System."

Ulpan is an entirely different experience for me than any other formal class I have taken.  I am not afraid.  Sure, I am a little bogged down with the focus and time required, as there are so many things I want to do here.  But I'm not afraid.  Not like I was when grades were on the line.  I am not afraid to show my ignorance.  To let her know that I'm not getting it.  I don't have to stay up all night studying and lose sleep worrying, because I know that if I don't get it, SHE needs to know that I need more help - i.e. more homework on that topic, more practice, or whatever it takes.  As long as I do everything she asks, if I'm still not getting it, that's ok. 

Imagine if we could remove the fear of failure in the US school system for kids, so they could fully participate without fear of repercussions (like bad grades that limit your ability to get into good schools, which can limit your ability to get a chance to prove yourself at a good job, earna good income, pursue a passion, etc)? 

And imagine if instead of opening a text book and insisting on memorization, the teacher approached the topic in a way that forced students to "think" about the issue, thereby retaining it for the long-term. Every experience I remember from K-12 involved an experience that did NOT include a text book.  Of course, there are great teachers out there (I had more than a few), but with "No Child Left Behind" increasing testing for the wrong reasons (to punish and rank students, instead of inform teachers how to best "teach" in their unique classroom), there are less and less.  And unfortunately, the Obama administration may be continuing rather than changing some of the policies put in place by the previous two Bush administrations.

A recent article came out about the drop in creativity of Americans.  It points to our educational system as a big part of the problem.

Not that the Israeli's have it all figured out.  But they do have more entrepreneurs per capita than anywhere else in the world.  And given their success breathing life into a dead language, and based on my personal experience, their teaching methods, at least with language, might be a good place for the US to look.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Getting my Visa

There are several ways new immigrants can come into Israel.  Most of them make "aliya" - that means, they are coming in to become a citizen.  Any Jew, from anywhere in the world, has the right to do this.  A non-Jew still can, but I expect it is not nearly as straight forward. (Anyone know or care to share via comment?)

As an expat coming into Israel who is not Jewish and not making aliya, I ordinarily would not be granted a work permit (B1), just a visitors permit (B2).  A B1 Visa is a temporary work permit - good for up to 24 consecutive months, but requiring renewal after 12. 

As the wife of an Israeli, I get to go through what they call the step-by-step process for gaining a B1 Visa which will allow me to work.  I came in on the B2 tourist visa (good for 90 days).  I have an interview this Sunday, August 1st, to review all the paperwork we've gathered.  This includes bank statements, pay stubs, photos, certified copies of birth and wedding docs, US police clearance (yes, I had to get finger-printed before I left - never done that before!), signed letters from Israelis who know us, our Tel Aviv apartment lease, passports, utilities statements, Tel Aviv city tax statement, Dan's Israeli ID that shows he is married, letter from Ford explaining why we are here, and more.   If the office decides it's enough (even the lawyers are kept guessing about what "enough" is), we get to actually be interviewed in separate rooms to prove the story of our relationship checks out.  Once we pass this, they may issue the B1 Visa to me on the spot, or it may take a while longer.  So, I could have it by end of August, or not until October, because everything shuts down for a couple weeks in September for the high holidays here.

Once I get my B1, I have to show up in person to renew it each year.  If our assignment gets extended to 5 years, I will have the right to become a citizen.

In the meantime, check out my Tel Aviv resident card:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Out my window

A wedding on the beach at sunset.  It's 85 degrees today, absolutely lovely.

Balagan in my brain

Chaos in my brain.  Resulting from 4 days of intensive hebrew studies so far.  From 8:30am-1pm every day I sit, focusing like a maniac on what our mora (teacher) is teaching us.  I've got 6 weeks of this.  Class all day, hours of homework each night.  Each week we'll take an hour and a half test, to help her gauge how we're doing so she can modify the course for us.  It's me, a German woman on her summer vacation, and about 20 college students.  We also have a teacher in training in the room helping out.  They are both great.

The methods are amazing.  I actually read a whole paragraph in hebrew today - on day 4!  Of course, that's in phonetic english, not hebrew characters.  Next week we switch to reading and writing only hebrew.  Each day this week we have learned 5-7 letters of the alphabet.  Then we practice writing the script versions (different characters from the script), and sounding them out.  Listening to me read is like watching paint dry. 

Time to do my shiurey bait...

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Language idiosyncrasies

You know how sometimes the way people say things can drive you crazy?  You know it shouldn't matter, but for some reason every time you hear it, you stop listening to the person and start thinking how annoying it is?  (Ok, it could just be me.)

So for years it has driven me crazy when Dan and his family end sentences with the word "no," as in "That is the one you want, no?"  I expected it was a language/translation issue.  Well I've noticed Dan's friends here do the same thing.  I haven't yet sorted out whether this is a Slovak language translation thing, or a Hebrew one.  If anyone reading knows, tell me!

Peter (Dan's dad) likes to teach me how to say "shit" in other languages (actually, he likes to try to get me to say it before I know what I'm saying).  In Slovak it's "hovno."  Well let me tell you how I remember it in Hebrew.  Many of you know about hallah bread even in the States, right?  (notice, I didn't end the sentence in "no").  Well, "harah" is the hebrew word for shit.  I have learned that I only have to switch one letter to go from bread to shit.

I start Ulpan tomorrow - intensive hebrew language school.  It's 8:30-1pm Sun-Thu for 6 weeks.  We'll see what other fun things I learn!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

International Healthcare

Why is it that I've worked in healthcare related fields for ten years now, and it still gives me more frustration than nearly anything else?  This month my major project has been figuring out how our healthcare here works.  I had a rather long draft of the steps I have been taking to learn the new process and succeed in getting some basic appointments, but I decided to scrap that in favor of a more summarized version, because I figured that it's been painful enough for me - why put all of you through it too?

The one thing I should mention is that you have to differentiate healthcare provision from healthcare insurance.  These are two entirely different things, as the doctor yesterday reminded us.  "First we talk about your health.  Then we talk about bureaucracy."

Healthcare in Israel (what I've learned so far)
- Citizens pay taxes (less than US insurance premiums) that guarantee them access to care
- They then have the right to pay a small additional fee for supplemental plans that give them access to additional services, and some of the private providers
- Appointments can be made with just a few days notice (I have been able to get same day appointments)
- They have better health outcomes than in the USA
        - Ave man lives to age 78, average woman to 82
        - Several of the practitioners I have met have practiced or trained in the US at some point, and all of them prefer the Israeli system
- They all still complain about the bureaucracy of the system here.

Healthcare in USA
- Quality of care is the same.  For me, it is easier to understand American practitioner's English (big surprise, right? But at least the Israeli practicitioners can speak it.  It's the office staff I struggle with).
- Choice of practitioner is much more restricted, unless you can afford to pay huge premiums (much higher prices than Israeli's despite the practitioners being just as qualified, and in some specialities moreso).
- Regular battles getting insurance to make payments for care.
- Access is linked to employment in the US.  In Israel, if you lose your job, your social benefits allow you to keep your healthcare, even if you can't pay your healthcare taxes, at least for a while (it's as if it is part of collecting unemployment benefits, which are also available here, although the unemployment rate is only 8%, so they have not extended benefits beyond the regular 6 or 9 months).

Healthcare Insurance
This is entirely different, as some of the bullets above outline.  I hope to learn more how it works for Israeli's, as we are waiting to hear from the tax specialists which status Dan should claim (Israeli returning citizen which gives him all the rights and responsibilities, or expat). 

Right now we have employer sponsored health insurance.  There was only one option given to us for going abroad - Cigna International.  Dan pays our portion of the premium through his paycheck, just like for US plans.  Then we have an annual deductible, and pay a % of all care after the deductible is met up to a maximum at which point they theoretically pay 100%.  They say there are no restrictions on which providers we can use (including private or public).  I haven't found a facility yet that will take the insurance directly, but past Ford employees say they never had a problem paying up front and getting reimbursed (I'll believe it when I see it).  They also offer a service called International SOS which is who Cigna connects me to whenever I request help finding a practitioner.  However, I have found them mostly useless so far.  They transfer me to Paris which is the office that supposedly "knows" Israel.  Well, they don't.  They have taken 10 days and still haven't found me a name and # for an accupuncturist (which is surprisingly a covered benefit at 90% for up to 15 visits per year, no particular diagnosis needed).  So I did a 5 minute google search, found a guy who runs a school as well as practices, and have already been in to see him.  He was excellent.  They also offer accupuncture at Ichilov/Tel Aviv Medical Center, which is about a 20 minute walk from our apartment.  I found their contact information myself while trying to get a nearby allergist to continue my shots that I brought from the US docs.  I've been transfered so many times via phone I can't recall anymore, usually because they want me to talk to the Medical Tourism office in each facility.  This is partly because of our insurance, and partly because speaking english with the receptionists is a nightmare.  Making appointments is so hard (due to language) that at least 50% of the time I've had to give up and have Dan call.  Then he gets me an appointment within a day or two. 

After the appointments,  I have to scan and submit a claim form, itemized receipts (which have to be translated), the doctor's explanation of why I was seen and what he did, as well as his suggested next steps (which also have to be translated) online, then wait 15 days for processing.  I am only a week into the waiting period on the first one, so I will update you regarding the reimbursement process when I have more to tell. 

With all the paperwork, confusion regarding benefits, and battles over reimbursement with US insurance providers, we wonder why US healthcare costs so much?  

Don't drive in Israel

Unless you're comfortable with driving in Boston or NYC, which will have given you about 80% of the training required to survive on the road here, don't do it.  When you come to visit us, I'll drive you around. 

Today was my 3rd or 4th drive out to Delek with Dan, to swap cars.  It takes about a half hour.  Today we went through Jaffa (his usual route during rush hour), which means less switching of roads, and no highway.  Every time I get in a car I am reminded why they don't bother to put cruise control in it.  Because there's no such thing as cruising around here.  They paint lanes on the road, but I think that if you're Israeli, you can't see them.  I must have special super secret vision, since I can make them out.

Anyway, if you don't like stop and go, weaving in and out, cat-like reflexes to avoid others who'd like their car to make out with your car in your lane, motorcycles squeezing between you and the rail or other car one foot away from you - then you should not be driving here.  And if you don't like horn honking because your foot wasn't already on the gas when the light turned yellow (it turns yellow briefly before green to let you know to rev your engines), or horn honking because you changed lanes, or because it's Wednesday, the sky is blue, or the sun is shining, you better bring some noise canceling headphones to wear while driving, or again, don't drive.  Of course the horn honking can't be avoided even while walking or taking a bus.  Or sitting inside.  I really can appreciate the NYC no honking laws now.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Guns at Ikea

I'm getting used to the hand guns on all the security guards outside of stores.  I'm used to the metal detectors and the guy who looks in your handbag too.  While these are not normal for most parts of the US, I did work in NYC in 2005-2008.

So the security guards packing heat stop you before you drive into the Ikea garage.  They ask you questions, and look inside your vehicle.  Then there's a line to go through the metal detector and have your bag looked at before you can go up the escalator to the main entrance.  Once inside, you could be in any Ikea in the world.  Except for one thing.  Some of the other shoppers are in military uniform after their day's work.  And some of them have an AK47 strapped over their shoulder.  Yes, while police can stop you anytime, anywhere, for any reason, you also have the right to carry a gun anytime (assuming you're trained, which any citizen over 19 is).  Dana, one of Dan's childhood friends here, was explaining that for a soldier who is assigned a gun like that, they are required to keep it in their possession at all times.  I guess that's why this guy had his gun over one shoulder, and his Ikea bag stuffed full of spatulas and bath mats over the other. 

I chased him half way around the store with Dan's Blackberry to try to get a photo to share with you, but alas, I failed. 

A visitor, well, almost

Last week our friend Alan contacted us because his sister's nanny has been traveling throughout the middle east and was coming to Israel next.  While we don't have room in our one bed hotel room for guests (bad timing, unfortunately, as once we're in our apartment, we are looking forward to hosting visitors!) we did offer to pick her up at the airport. 

So after almost daily email communications from her, we were coordinated to pick her up at arrivals at 6pm.  She'd be in a yellow tshirt with a red backpack.  And it's not that big of an airport.  There's only one way to come out of it.

We arrived just before 6pm, and Dan went in to find her.  After about 20 minutes, he came out empty handed.  He emailed her, and Alan just in case, then I sent him back in for another round.  This time he also went to ask at the police station inside, but they were closed.  Another 20 minutes later, still no luck.  Then I went in to use the restroom, and looked around briefly.  At 7pm the arrivals hall was nearly empty, so we did a loop via car from the departures (our trick for pick-ups at airports without getting harrassed while waiting), to the outside area of arrivals just in case, and still nothing.  So we left to meet up with Dana and Ronin for dinner. 

This morning we woke and Dan finally had an email from her.  The poor girl was stopped at immigration, as she was flying in on Royal Jordanian, from Jordan, after having traveled in Lebanon and Syria, among other places.  She said they held her for 7 hours, and went through her email as well as her belongs, so she saw the email from us but they would not allow her to reply or call anyone.  They stamped both her US passports and denied her entry, sending her back to Jordan on the next flight. 

Dan has to go to Dubai to meet with his bosses from the 24th-30th.  To do that, he has to fly Royal Jordanian through Jordan.  But he has official business reasons, and hasn't been traveling all around neighboring countries that are considered hostile to Israel, so should be fine.  Still, it's another reminder that Israeli's profile, and they take anything or anyone that appears suspicious very seriously.  That's what fear creates.   

Friday, July 16, 2010

Business Opportunities for Israel

We've been sorting out our banking situation.  First, we found a Credit Union in Michigan that doesn't charge ATM withdrawl fees internationally for the first 6 withdrawls monthly.  Then we got a credit card in the US that doesn't charge the standard 3% conversion fee.  Now we're considering opening a local bank account.  But here's the catch.  They charge you a monthly fee to have the account, and they don't pay any interest.  There are no promos for opening it, or for maintaining a certain balance.  Basically, they make money while using our money to make more money.  Huh?  Whatever happened to the basic idea that whomever loans the money earns interest, and whomever takes the loan, pays it?  Credit Unions don't appear to exist here.  Surprising, as this is a more socialized country than the US.  If I were in the banking industry, I'd open an Israeli Credit Union (assuming the local banks wouldn't have me thrown in the East River (or the Sea)) for doing so.

I've also noticed that despite the huge number of expats and general population's knowledge of the English language, it has been a real struggle to find online resources.  We had a favorite in NYC, called, which listed all the restaurants in the city, by location, by cuisine, and with reviews, pricing, contact info, hours, etc.  Israeli culture is much more human networked than online networked. 
But I would imagine there would be value in expat specific sites (given the large # of us) with restaurants, hair salons, grocery stores, and other useful listings/reviews in English.  Your ad revenue would be efficient and on the higher end of the pricing scale, as the target audience would be quite clear.

And one other thing.  It IS possible to put A/C in elevators.  Couldn't it be done at least in the ones that take forever?!?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Living in a Hotel

That's it.  We're in the Sheraton for the next 45 days. Thanks to Dan's Platinum Starwood status, we at least have a suite, which amounts to two sides of one long room.  It's not noise proof, but it will separate the work space from the sleeping space a bit, which is significant.  It's a good thing I'll be starting Ulpan on July 25th, as that will get me out of here Sun-Thu 8am-1:30pm until a week or so after we move back into our apartment.  Hope those Frenchie's take good care of it (and the couple plants I inherited from the last Ford Rep.)

We schweated our tails off with the final packing up and moving of stuff from the apartment to the storage room in the basement, and the car.  Michal, our landlady, was telling us how unusually chilly it has been in the evenings these past couple weeks, and how they have been eating on their deck every night.  Well, we've been eating outdoors after sunset at various restaurants in town as well, but I wouldn't exactly call it "chilly."  Maybe next summer I will think so? 

We don't have our Vonage phone here, so if you want to chat over the next few weeks, it's all Skype all the time.  I'll try to remember to leave it turned on. 

Happy Birthday Dita!!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Meathead on a skateboard scooter

Last night we walked a good half hour south to the cute and trendy neighborhood of Neve Tzedek.   We planned to go to an Italian restaurant for dinner that was highly recommended, in a quaint courtyard.  However, Dan tried to make reservations (this is another odd thing - nearly all restaurants require reservations.  If you show up without one, half the tables are empty, but they won't seat you except in the back corner, because in theory everyone will be arriving in 15 minutes.  Right.)

Anyway, the phone line was busy, so after a few tries, we figured we'd just head down there.  Of course, upon arrival, while more than half the tables were empty, they were only willing to seat us inside, as it was 8:45pm, and all the outdoor tables were reserved for 9pm.  Nahon? 

So we walked over to a great little place we ate at with Mazi on our pre-trip, just a minute away, called Suzanna.  They were packed, but seated us outside at the last 2 top I could see.  This place has a fairly large patio, and is under an enormous tree that shades it all.  They have lights in the tree, so it's has a wonderful atmosphere.  And the food was excellent, again.  We had a delicious beet/carrot/calarabe salad with grapefruit and nuts, and a mixed stuffed platter.  They stuffed peppers, grape leaves and a few pastry-like items, as well as apricots, fresh fig, and dates.  Delicious!  Suzanna has made our short list for visitors, so if you plan to visit us, plan to join us here for an evening. 

On the walk home, we saw the funniest site - a 20 something muscle beach guy riding one of those motorized skateboards with handlebars, all tucked up tight in the middle of it to maintain his balance.  Wished I'd had a camera, but a good laugh will have to suffice. 

Power Outage

Experienced my first power outage here today.  It happened just after 4pm.  Since I was home alone, and everything went out, including phone and internet, I went out into the hall to see what my neighbors were doing.  The unit south of ours had workers in it, and they had all the doors open.  The lady was very nice.  Not only was she there with a guy working on some kind of structural thing, she is the nanny for the couple's 3 kids ages 11, 5 and 2.  She tried calling a couple places for me, possibly the building Super.  It wasn't very clear, as her English wasn't stellar, and my Hebrew, well, you know the story with that.

Then we knocked on the door of the unit to the east of ours, as I could hear drilling in there.  It doesn't appear to be occupied yet.  There were two guys and an older woman (possibly the owner?) there, also not using power (I guess the locals really are used to 90 degree days!)  She called as well, and said the whole block was out of power.  That reminded me that last Friday, on the north side of Bograshov, that block was out of power (Dan couldn't get is coffee from our friendly neighborhood coffee counter that day.  Only the juice lady was working, running off a generator).  While they (locals/friends/family) have been telling me that power outages are rare (once or twice a year), I am beginning to wonder....

Monday, July 12, 2010

Saturday (I mean Friday) night out in Tel Aviv

Friday afternoon (after a painful trip to Ikea) we took a little nap (ok, not so little, I layed down around 6pm, Dan crashed at 7:30pm, and we didn't get up until 10:30pm!)  We showered, and went out around 11pm.  Went to the first restaurant/bar that was supposed to be known for it's carpaccio, among other things.  There was a line outside, and when Dan asked the girl at the door (surrounded by Russian meat-head bouncers) what the story was, she said it was "young night."  Ok, ouch.  I mean, I know there's no drinking age, and the others in line looked about 10 years younger than us, and there is a language barrier, but come on!

So we walked down King George Street to a place called King George, where they keep a lemonade dispenser outside for free for those in line.  No line when we walked in around 11pm.  Got seats at the bar, and ordered a salad, empanadas, and lamb kebobs - a real international bar menu.  Dan ordered a mojito, and I a glass of Gewurz.  The bartender was quite friendly, and the Arab American 20-something girls down the bar from us were quite entertaining.  A second mojito arrived compliments of the bartender, so I ordered a second glass as well.  When we decided to head out and the check came, neither of our second drinks were on it, so we tipped him so well, he thought we were asking for change, and then was so gracious, we decided to put this place on our short list for re-visits. 

We walked further down the road, then started to loop back, stopping in several bars along the way to see what they were like for future visits.  One was cheezy, complete with a bartender on the bar stopping those who entered to enforce purchase of a drink (in lieu of a cover charge, we guessed).  Another was a pool hall / bar which we mainly used as a pit stop.  On the way home, up a tiny side street, cops were sitting pulling over anyone with a motor vehicle (including a guy and girl on a scooter) doing breathalizers.  Sure glad we live in the city and can walk!  I have learned here that police do not need probable cause to stop you.  They can stop anyone, anytime, for any reason. 

We popped into one last wine bar back on Bograshov near our place, before calling it a night at about 3am.  We weren't the last ones to go to bed around here, by any means.  Instead of having a standard closing time like in the States, they all post their hours as "until last customer."  Well, we weren't going to be the last customer anywhere.  That will be a hard one to pull off I think.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


My new favorite word. 
It's what happens when driving down the road in Israel. 
Or when boarding a plane with Israelis.
It means "chaos."

However, when crossing the street, they act like they're in the Northwest, quietly waiting until the sign turns green.  Weird huh?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cloudy with a chance of kosher meatballs

Something strange is happening here.  It's nearly 8am, and it's still cloudy.   I just don't know what to make of this phenomenon.  Still 81 degrees though. 

I visited Delek Motors yesterday.  What a nice facility!  I went out to drive Dan home, after returning one of the previous Rep's vehicles.  We drove home a lime green Fiesta for the night, to see whether it's the car I want for the next 3 years.  While I like how small it is (you can't appreciate this until the entrance to your garage is so narrow you can nearly reach across to both walls), it doesn't have much power.  I floored it multiple times on the highway and got nothing exciting.  The Focus on the other hand is nice and sporty, but bigger.  Yes, a Focus is actually BIG here, and that makes it difficult to turn corners (sometimes I can't pull right into the garage, I have to do a 3 point turn to make the 90 degree angle around the cars parked on either side of the street, and right up to the entrance.)  But I do love the lime green.  Oh, such difficult decisions!

On the way home we stopped at a "real" grocery store.  The name of it translates to "Half 1/2" for half price I suppose.  The prices here were more in line with US prices, at least on the items I could compare (in Tel Aviv everything is more expensive).  I think I'm going to buy an English-Hebrew dictionary so I can look up ingredients i english, then compare the hebrew print to the signs in the store to see if I've guessed correctly.  Shopping by pictures on the containers is an interesting experience.  So we walk in (the guard checked my hand bag), and the place was larger than any store either of has ever seen!  Past long aisles of shampoo and lotion, we found the dairy, gigantic freezer section of various partially prepared meals, section of prepared salads (eggplant salads, hummus, tahina, etc) that was longer than many grocery stores entire cooler section, a large meat, cheese and fresh salad deli counter with delicious looking cabbage salads, pesto, and more.  At this point we realized it was a kosher store (no deli hams) and were terribly disappointed.  We'll have to find the Russian stores for that.  Then on past a separate fresh meat counter, through a bakery (again, each of these sections was bigger than an entire side of an American grocery store!) and they had packaged tortillas!, and into the fresh olive and spice counters where you can buy by weight.  The middle of the store was filled with shelves of packaged goods, where I discovered that they do sell peanut and other nut butters, they have quinoa, and an organic/natural foods section.  I found granola here to go with our yogurts.  Oh, and they have shelves full of various chocolate spreads!  At this point, are you wondering where all the fresh produce is?  We were too.  We asked, and found out that you go through the registers at this point and pay, then the doors shoot you out through a small food court, and into a whole separate store with produce!  The variety of options was pretty impressive (I found cherries and even corn on the cob!) although they didn't have everything (no strawberries or apricots for instance, which may be seasonal).  The pomegranates should start showing up in stores in a month or so, I've heard.  Yummy!

Discovered an excellent place for dinner in a new area of town last night, east of our place about a 20 minute walk.  It's a spanish Tapas restaurant - Tapeo.  We had roasted garlic, a sea bream ceviche with mango and pineapple, a roast lamb on an almond sauce, and beef carpaccio with manchego cheese.  Oh, and sangria of course.  Delicious!  

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Things you don't see at home

Good morning.  It's 7:23am here.  Came upstairs, opened the sliding doors to cool off from 29C to hopefully 26C or so, before reverting to A/C for the day.  A moment ago I watched a grey military cargo plane fly north along the shoreline, however it wasn't even as high as the high-rises along the beach, and not much off shore!  While I know Dad gets fly-by's in Anacortes no thanks to the base out there, this was "walking distance" from me in our apartment. 

Happy Fourth of July!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

4th of July on the 1st and White Night Tel Aviv

PART 1 - The 4th of July

On the evening of July 1st, we attended a reception at the US Ambassador's home in the ritzy town of Hertzliya Pituach (where all the embassy people live.  we looked at a couple places up there, but the value for the money was terrible).   We received our invite from the Dept. of Commerce guys who work with Ford to relax import restrictions on goods from the U.S.  I couldn't help looking at the whole evening from an events planning perspective.  It was big, apparently 2,000 invitees.  It was held on the back lawn (VIPs could go in the house, but we weren't on that list).  We wondered how they funded such a large event, but quickly realized it was a lot like a corporate employee fair.  Sponsors had tables, where they were giving away branded items.  Avis, Carribean Cruises, and the local ambulance company were there.  A Brooklyn Lager beer was being promoted, as well as a small local brewery run by Americans.  McDonald's and Dominos provided the main sustenance via free burgers and pizzas.  What a disgraceful representation of American food!  The only redeeming vendor was Ben & Jerry's, which is all the rage here from what I've seen.  The funny thing about that is, there appear to be many excellent gelato stores, much like in Italy.  Ben & Jerry's is good, but Italian gelato certainly can give them a run for their money!

At 9pm the ceremony started, which was the most interesting part of the evening.  US Ambassador Cunningham welcomed everyone, and briefly talked about the idealized significance of US Independence Day.  He attempted some poorly pronounced Hebrew, but then this was in English (of course, his Hebrew was still better than mine!). 

Then he introduced the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, who talked about his experience visiting with JFK after he was first elected but before he took office in late 1960.   Apparently Peres has always been one of the moderates here who worked with Rabin in the 1990's to try to bring peace via concessions to the Palestinians.  Finally, he introduced the guy with real power, the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.  He used the opportunity to reiterate comments about the ideals of America being good for the whole world, and then made a public call for the leaders of the Palestinians to meet with him and get back to negotiating peace.  After about 30 minutes of these little speeches (which reminded me a lot of the warm fuzzy US history curriculum we got in high school), they concluded with a 5 minute fireworks show, set to the USO band.  Being only a day and a half in the country, that was quite fun, knowing that I'm missing all the great 4th of July parties at home.  For those of you prepping this weekend, try not to burn the forests down! 

PART 2 - White Night - UNESCO

After the 4th of July on the 1st, we drove back into Tel Aviv, parked the car, and got on our walking shoes at about 11pm.  Tel Aviv has decided to take advantage of their UNESCO site status, bestowed on them in 2003 for the profusion of ‘white’ Bauhaus buildings, by holding a White Night.  Although these seem to be all night events held in northern cities, many mediterranean ones have launched their own (it's a great excuse for a city-wide street party).  To learn more, check out  We attended one in Rome several years ago by dumb luck.  This one was nicer however, as the events were well spread out so while it appeared that every Israeli within 50 miles was out on the streets, it wasn't over crowded.  We walked around for 3 hours, down Rothchild St with live bands and street performers, then into the Shuk ha Karmel area for a midnight snack of shwarma and a potato buraka.  On our way toward the beach we walked through a random street party where a DJ had set up on a small side street between two restaurants.  Everyone was drinking and dancing (no open container laws here).  A motorcyclist tried to break through the "dance floor" but didn't have much success.  We walked home up the beach where every beach bar had a party going.  Instead of pushing our way through the crowds on the boardwalk, we took off our sandals and walked along the water's edge.  Had to watch out for a few beached jelly fish, but otherwise it was wonderful! 

We got up late yesterday, Dan worked for a while and I measured spaces for Ikea furniture.  Then we went to a Thai lunch and Ikea before they closed at 3pm.  We stopped by Kuki & Ohad's place after and hung out with Benchik (their son).  Then came back into town for dinner at a good seafood restaurant, Goocha. 

A beautiful little black and electric blue bird with a long beek, not much bigger than a hummingbird, just landed on our balcony and chirped at me.  Good morning Tel Aviv!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

24 hours

What can you really say about a place after only 24 hours?  I'm here.  The A/C works.  My first meal was hummus, second was italian, third a typical Israeli breakfast (fried eggs, tomato/cucumber salad with sour cream that doesn't taste like sour cream on the side, fresh whole grain bread with little samplers of sundried tomato spread, tuna, and tahini, plus homemade fig jam and nutella.  Also a fruit smoothie of pineapple, fig and mango.) 

I have already been welcomed by what I affectionately call the Israeli mafia (due to the strength of the network) - phone calls/emails included Magda (mother-in-law in Prague), Miki (brother-in-law in Phoenix), Mazi (our local relo contact), and about a dozen offers via Dan for everything from sightseeing/aclimating, to helping find dance studios.  Talked to Dad on Skype last night.  Everyone at home is asleep by now. 

Working on getting signed up for Ulpan.  Our air shipment has apparently been sitting in the warehouse in Michigan all this time, but as of last night they seem to have realized this and started the paperwork to get it here.  Somebody was asleep at the wheel.  Good thing I know how to camp out.  :)  We're in our apartment until July 14th, then we go to the Sheraton until the end of August, when we're able to move in here for "real" with our own stuff.  We've been notified that our container has been scheduled to sail 7/3, with an expected arrival date of 7/20.  Then it will need at least a week to go through customs, maybe more.  We can't use it until the end of August anyway, so they'll have to store it somewhere if it comes any quicker. 

On Sunday I'll meet Dan at work to return Noah's car (one of the guys he's replacing), then we'll meet the moving company out by the airport to go over customs laws.  It's complicated with the whole expat vs. citizen thing that Dan has going on.  Hopefully we'll get some clarity on the best status for him to claim in terms of tax liability and social benefits.