Sunday, August 29, 2010

Burekas, Meze, and more (hungry yet?)

Foods (like languages and cultural traditions) are often more similar to their neighboring countries than they are different.  Even (and most often) between countries that fight like brothers.  I just read a great blog post by good friends Tracie and Wayne - "A Turkish Food Primer:  Borek and Beyond," about a common food found during their visit to Turkey.

Israeli's have their own version - burekas.  But it's basically the same idea.  Filo puff pastry stuffed with various cheeses, potatoes, mushrooms, etc.   We've had them several times these past 2 months, and they are tasty, but you better live in a walking city if you're going to partake in this calorie packed breakfast often.

If you read a few posts earlier on their blog, you'll also see a great photo of meze, or a HUGE tray of small plates of various salads.  This is a common approach at fish restaurants here.  You have to order a few less fish than people, as you'll all likely fill up on the salads before the fish (or mix grill meats if you prefer) even get there!  This experience has made our greatest hits list for any and all visitors who choose to make the trek across the Atlantic to see us while here in Tel Aviv. 

So, when are you coming to visit?

Left behind in Tel Aviv

On our walk back from dinner last week, we saw a little fuzzy lump on the sidewalk smaller than a softball.  Our first instinct was, "go around, it's a rat,"  but as we moved closer, it didn't move at all.    It was under a tree, so I wondered if it could be a baby possum.  But there was no tail.  Up close I could see a tiny pointy snout.  He was just curled into a little ball, and he'd move only slightly at the loud tap of a shoe, like he was startled.  But he wasn't otherwise going anywhere.  In case you're wondering, it was a baby porcupine.

Poor thing.  This isn't much of a picture, but it's all my phone could do in the dark, and I didn't want to keep traumatizing the little guy with the flash.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Moving time!

Yesterday was our first day in our new apartment (for the second time).  We met for the key exchange at 10am.  They did a good job of emptying it, and it's relatively clean, but the fridge needed a scrub down, as do many of the walls and switches, and the floors will probably need another round once we've tromped around in there with our cleaning rags, ikea boxes, etc.  After some kitchen scrubbing, we spend the afternoon building new Ikea furniture. 

Today we'll continue.  And I'll try to get some pics to load for you.  Tomorrow the movers bring our stuff (Sunday is the first day of the work week here, remember?) 

Yafo flee market

Last Thursday evening after sunset we went for a nice long walk down the boardwalk by the sea, into Yafo, the town directly south of Tel Aviv.  They hold a flea market in the central streets every Thursday evening.  While it is called a flea marketi, it has a mix of used and new goods and art for sale.  There's also food and music.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The passion that Israel draws out

When we learned we were getting reloed, word spread like wildfire through our Israeli network.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard from someone about how much I'd love it here, I'd be able to work for free for the rest of my life.

It wasn't just Israeli's spreading the love.  The two outgoing Ford guys were genuinely torn up about having to leave. 

Tonight at happy hour in the hotel we met a US Air pilot who does the Philly-Israel run 3 times a month.  He's been doing it since they started the route, and he has built local contacts where he is getting involved in local projects during his off hours.  Stories like this are a dime a dozen here.  There's something about Israel that brings out people's passion - strong opinions, desire to come here, or to get involved in something. 

Do you have a story?  I'd like to hear.  Share it here via comment.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The frenchies are frenching in Israel

We have quickly discovered that the French use Tel Aviv for holidays the way the Israeli's used to use Turkey (until the recent scuffle over the Gaza Strip, causing most Israeli's to boycott tourism to Turkey for the meantime). 

We're not sure there are any French left in France.  At least during August.  We hear more French in the hotel than any other language.  When Dan took the Bielik's to see our apartment last week, they had a pleasant interaction with the French family renting it right now.  Apparently they just bought their own condo here, but it's not ready for habitation yet, so they rented our place for their holiday this summer.  Until now, they always stayed at the Sheraton.  Of course. 

The frenchies are frenching all over town.  In fact, a news report said there are as many French in Israel in August as there are college students in Boston during the school year - 200,000!!!  But at least their kids aren't knocking on the door to our room at 1am and yelling in the hallways like the Spanish vacationers in July.  I wonder if I'd get treated differently if I went by my maiden name here?

Monday, August 16, 2010

chutzpah, they say

Parking in Tel Aviv is a lot like Boston.  Dan has a resident sticker on his car, so we've been trying to park it on the street overnight to save the hotel parking fee on a 2nd car.  (I don't have a resident sticker yet, thanks to the bureaocracy at city hall, but that's a whole other story).

So tonight Dan parked in the short-term hotel spaces that are reserved for 20 minute in-and-out visits.  On our walk back to the hotel after dinner, we saw a great spot close by, so I stood in it, while Dan went to get the Explorer and bring it around.  This is where it gets fun.

Within 30 seconds a guy pulls up to within a foot of my legs.  When I didn't move (I kept reading a little brochure I'd picked up on the way home), he got out and started telling me how you can't reserve city spots (never mind that I've lost oodles of spots to other people doing the same thing here).  How did I know what he said?  Because he used English.  I think he figured I wouldn't know how it goes here, and so began the game of Chicken.  While he continued his rant, a jeep started to back into the spot from the other end.  He came within a few feet of me as well.  Not sure what the two of them thought they'd do if I actually moved.  But I didn't.  The first guy got back in his car, rolled a few more inches toward me, and sat there.  The guy in the jeep now got out and asked me what was up.  I told him I was parking here.  So he gave up and drove off.  Guy number 1, still there.  After another couple minutes of trying to engage me in a heated debate while I continued to ignore him, he drove off. 

Another minute passed, and a third car pulled up.  This one didn't get out or ask anything, just tried to pull in.  When I didn't move from my strategically positioned middle of the spot stance, he drove off too. 

Next came a woman, on foot!  She walked up, and started asking me in English if I speak Hebrew or English.  I ignored her initially, but she was persistent.  She said, "it is a big spot, for two cars, no?"  I said, "well, I doubt it.  We're parking an Explorer here."  She gave me a confused look.  So I stretched out my arms wide and said, "a big truck."  At which point she lost hope and walked away. 

Another minute passed and Dan finally made it around the one-way streets and pulled up.  Here they call it chutzpah.  I call it survival in Israel.  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, eh?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Matkot - the new olympic sport

Matkot is a beach game that Israeli's love.  It's like ping pong without the table.  Each player has a slightly larger paddle than in ping pong, and a rubber ball is bounced back and forth in the air between players.  The edge of the ocean is lined with Israeli's playing this game on Friday and Saturday all summer.

Walking with cousin Tom the other night, he said, "Matkot should be made an olympic sport.  Israeli's would be great at it because there are no rules." 

Well, that sounds about right.  Israeli's are good at not playing by the rules, and quite comfortable in situations where there are none. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Learning for next time

There are a lot of "firsts" for things you take for granted when you move to a new country.  The first time I drove here.  The first time I got blocked into a parking spot.  The first time I got towed.  The first time I got allergy shots (and the second).  The first time Dan tried to cash a check at the bank. 

Yes, last Thursday I got towed.  I was parked in a zone that should have been ok.  But there was a sign in hebrew behind me (and the other cars around me) that apparently indicated an exception to the general rule during certain hours. 

Last Thursday I went to get my allergy shots.  At the clinic they told me to go get my payment voucher.  At the payment voucher office they told me to go pay, then bring back the receipt.  Then they gave me the voucher, sent me back to the clinic, where I finally got in the queue 45 minutes later.  Then I was going to have to wait an additional hour until I could leave, so I left and came back after Ulpan, rounding out a 2 1/2 hour process.  In the U.S. I would have been in and out in under 10 minutes.

Today we walked into the best known bank brand in Israel, Bank Leumi, where Dan has his business account.  However, because we were in the Tel Aviv branch, they weren't willing to cash his check for 400 shekels (that's about $100).  It took a call to the branch where the account was opened, a fax, a copy of his ID, and then they figured out he was listed by his US passport instead of his Israeli ID as the account owner.  Still, they had to deposit the check, then take out the cash.  They wouldn't just cash it.  Oye ve!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

US Embassy e-alerts

The below content was emailed to me by the US Embassy last week.  I thought it was rather interesting (I've been working on identifying adequate sources of news in English here).  For those of you worry-worts, this is at least a 6 hour drive from Tel Aviv.  Google the country of Israel, and you can see it's at the very southern tip.  I hear there was a sqirmish in the north with Lebanon as well, but that's about 2 hours drive north from Tel Aviv.

"Warden Message as of August 2, 2010

This morning, August 2, 2010, at approximately 0800 hours, five rockets were fired towards the city of Eilat, a resort town located in the south of Israel. Media reports that the rockets were fired from an area in the Sinai, with several of the rockets landing in open areas in Eilat. At least one of the rockets landed in Jordan causing several injuries. Anyone traveling to Eilat or in Eilat should be aware of this incident. Israel requires buildings to have bomb shelters. U.S. citizens should take steps to find out the location of the nearest bomb shelter."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sitting Shiva

I am sorry to be posting this one.  It is sad family news, but I wanted to share with all of you, as it has been the focus of the last five days here for us.

Dan's grandma ("safta", in hebrew) passed away Tuesday morning, August 3rd.  Aranka (Bielik) Tieger lived here in Israel, and was a big part of his life while growing up in Haifa in the 1970's-80's.  Dan's parents were on a plane from Prague and crashed with us their first night, Wednesday, before moving to Uncle Igor's.  His brother came in from Phoenix Wednesday night and is crashing with us at the Sheraton now.

Jewish custom is to bury those who have passed within 24 hours.  However, for families who live far apart, and who are not orthodox, this requirement is often relaxed by a day or two.  The funeral was held Thursday evening at sunset.  It took place in an open air ceremonial room with a rabbi singing the prayers for her. The children are the only ones to view the deceased, as a confirmation of identity only, and this is done privately, prior to the ceremony.  They do not prepare the body like I have seen at funerals with open caskets.  The body is wrapped in a simple white sheet, covered by a dark blue velvet cloth with the star of David.  It is the custom for the children of the deceased to have their shirts torn (men by the rabbi, women by another woman).  In more orthodox ceremonies, the men and women would be separated.  After about a 15 minute prayer ceremony, the funeral procession walked down to the grave site.  The cemetary staff carefully lowered her body under the white sheet into the space they had dug, a final prayer was said by the rabbi, and then the staff said prayers as they took turns replacing the red clay earth.  We placed small stones on the grave, as this is the jewish tradition, not flowers.  In a month the grave stone can be laid, and there is an additional ceremony that takes place in a year.

Any parents, children, and siblings of the deceased are expected to "sit shiva" which involves staying at home for 7 days (not include the Sabbath) to receive visitors.  Thursday evening there were at least 30 people at Uncle Igor's apartment.  The purpose of this time is to focus on family and friends to help those closest to the deceased move on.  They had visitors again Friday morning.  Then from Friday afternoon until sundown Saturday, there is a break.  I think that this is at least in part because for the orthodox, you can not "work" on the Sabbath, which includes pushing any buttons (like in elevators) or driving vehicles.  So in theory people wouldn't be able to visit.  Tonight after sunset they expect quite a few visitors again, and this will continue through Wednesday.  Grandchildren are not expected to sit the entire shiva.  We have been going out there every evening for a while though.   We will do that again tonight after dinner.

While I had met Aranka, I did not know her, as she had advanced alzheimers since Dan and I have been together.  She has an incredible life story, beginning in Slovakia, that took her to Australia, then Israel after the war.  I hope to help get her story (she recorded it in Slovak) translated to English, and maybe I can share more in a future post.  She will be missed!