Sunday, October 31, 2010

A treat for halloween

In mid September we met with a cabinet manufacturer and ordered the final furniture we need for our apartment - bathroom cabinets, filing cabinets, and professional assistance hanging Ikea cabinets in our kitchen so that they can withstand significant weight despite the plaster/concrete wall construction.

We were told 2-3 weeks to delivery and installation, despite the upcoming holidays at that time.  We left for 2 weeks, and were excited to get our place organized when we returned the first week of October.  After several unsuccessful attempts to get ahold of the guy, we were told 10 more days.  So we waited patiently.  At the 10 day mark, we again couldn't get ahold of the guy.  After round two of frustrating phone calls, we were told another week because their machines broke down.  Now the target date was Oct 26th.  Well, on Oct 26th, we were told they won't be ready until Sunday, October 31st. 

In the meantime, our kitchen has looked liked this for two months - a hurricane of boxes and cabinets.  The bathrooms and the office have been in a similar state of disarray. 

Today we finally received a happy halloween treat (thankfully, no tricks!)  Two guys arrived at 1:30pm, with 3 filing cabinets, 3 bathroom cabinets, and all the right tools to hang our kitchen and living room cabinets.  HOOOOOORAAAAAY!!!! 

I scrubbed  them out and started to fill them tonight, but I am still in disbelief. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Second time in four months

Woke up this morning and saw THIS!  It rained last night, and I missed it!  So sad... 

Social media and cultural exchange

Coincidentally, I saw two movies in the same night, thanks to an invitation by Triwaks Communications to the premiere of "Social Media," the story of Mark Zuckerberg (through a Hollywood lense of course), and "The Hebrew Lesson", a small independent film about Ulpan Gordon, the hebrew language school that I am attending right now. 

"Social Media"
This is the dramatized story of the founder of Facebook (founded in 2004).  It's shot on location at Harvard, and the jury is out on whether there was a brief reference to Wellesley in there.  It shows the interesting series of decisions and driving motivations behind a "genius mind."

"The Hebrew Lesson"
This documentary followed a class of students in 2004 from January through June.  These stories ranged from a Russian man who came here to be closer to his young daughter and astranged ex-wife, to a Chinese woman who worked as a housekeeper and married the man she kept house for, to a Peruvian woman who came here to serve in the army and stay with her boyfriend then becomes pregnant.  It is a movie about relationships and the process of adjusting to foreign culture.  A woman in my class hosted the screening at her apartment.  She is a German woman with an Israeli partner.  Watching the movie was a bit like watching our own class on film.  (albeit more dramatic than ours, but maybe I just don't know my classmates well enough yet).

These two movies together, which were not in any way associated, held common relationship themes that kept both of the stories engaging, despite completely different formats and content.  Both took us through the process of individuals coping with the challenges of trying to assimilate to a culture that was not their own.  Some "failed" and/or gave up, while some persisted and created a new reality for themselves and others.   Either way, time keeps passing for all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting out, getting around, getting immersed

Consider this part 2 of my "Brunch at the Ambassador's House" post.  Besides the "Embassy Wives Club," there are several other clubs that overlap members quite a bit.  The International Women's Club is one of them.  Their purpose is to "promote friendship among local and international women."

I attended a meet and greet for their fall membership recruitment last Tuesday morning in Herzilya Pituach.  This town, while 15 minutes north of Tel Aviv, is actually more expensive.  It's the Weston, MA/ Birmingham, MI of Israel. This is the town where all the Embassy employees live.  The American School is up there as well, creating a little slice of Americana here in Israel.  Literally.  Many of the residents have not learned Hebrew.  They are busy planning Halloween, Christmas and Easter parties for their neighborhood, and fundraisers for the school.  They are going on organized tours in order to get out in Tel Aviv.  Today, I heard one complain that they were at a restaurant recently and the waitress couldn't tell her the word for "beans" (in English).  I nearly asked her, "Well, did you know the word for it in Hebrew?"  Another said she doesn't buy meat here because she can't figure out how to ask for it at the store.  I understand the trepidation these women feel when interacting in this unknown culture, with an unknown language.  And to be fair, the women who made these comments have only been here a few months.  I have felt that way too.  And it's that fear that forces me to go out and conquer it. 

In an effort to interact locally, I used that same afternoon to go shopping for summer dresses in the tiny shops along Bograshov St., at the suggestion of an Israeli friend who said this is the month for all the end of season clearance sales.  I went alone, which I generally prefer (if I have to go shopping at all).  When I walked in, I used Hebrew.  And I got Hebrew in response!  While I didn't get much further without English, my attempts to continue with Hebrew were met with appreciation, curiousity, friendliness, and assistance.  And the sales were good.  Sticker prices of 199 shekels became 79.  I got 4 dresses for 210 shekels - $58.  Who knew there were such deals in this otherwise expensive city! 

I am beginning to experience the benefits of immersion.  I can confidently say, it's worth the struggle.  I'm still undecided about committing to IWC membership.  I want to explore more of what Israel has to offer, and I am not convinced that the IWC is representative of that purpose.

What flora can attract

There are plenty of pigeons and crows here, which quite frankly I could do without.  It's the little birds that have captured my attention.  There are the common chickadees and what look a bit like starlings.  But I am truly excited about the hummingbirds! 

Over the summer I saw pairs land on our balcony a couple times, so I finally had a chance to get out my hummingbird feeder last weekend.  I had a pair check it out within minutes of placement, but not a lot of interest it seemed. 

However, this morning, as we sat down for a quick breakfast, a bright shiny blue male came to survey the situation.  After a number of gulps, he flitted off.  Then a few minutes later his female mate came and did the same.  He came back again shortly after.  They've been at this for more than a half hour now. 

I've also seen a beautiful white crested bird that looked like a parakeet, from the window of my ulpan classroom.  And there was a speckled medium sized bird the flew past our balcony last week which I have not seen before or since.  Unfortunately, I have yet to capture these other ones on film, but here are a few of my little humming friends. 

In the top photo the male is at the feeder, and in the bottom one he's perched on top of my shesik fruit tree. 

What else do you see in the sky in the top photo?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Where there's a water shortage

We started putting together our new drip watering system tonight.  They are very popular here, for everything from patio gardens to city landscaping, to agricultural businesses.  Despite this efficient water delivery approach, Israel's major source of fresh "sweet" water, the Sea of Galilee, continues to see water levels drop, due to dryer summers and winters.  This winter is expected to be particularly dry.  We're having more stormy days here, but still no rain since the one hour downpour two weeks ago. 

Our little patio watering system consists of a separate line of hose off a splitter from the spout on the patio, which we then connected to smaller tubes that go into the pots.

Oh, and what can two weeks in the right climate do with green onion bulbs?  This!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ahmadinejad in Lebanon last Thursday

It was just another regular day here for us.  No talk about politics at Ulpan.  But it was all over CNN Thursday night.  It appears Iran is using Lebanon to build support and position itself against Israel.  Sounds like this isn't new, although Ahmadinejad's media exposure seems heightened.

I did hear at least one local perspective on the peace talks taking place right now.  It sounds like the American position is so concerned about trying to make the peace talks work that they are making huge concessions to try to temporarily hault construction in the West Bank now that the freeze on construction has ended.  The reason this is important is that the two sides won't have a meaningful conversation as long as Israeli construction is permitted there.

Another Israeli who says that she doesn't really follow the politics shared her sense of irony, in that Iran was one of Israeli's closest allies years ago.  In fact, her family even lived in Iran for a short time.  But changes from Kingdom to democracy changed the Iranian leadership's relationship with Israel (obviously, for the worse).

It seems to me that the middle east is like a family.  Fighting all the time, but more like each other than anyone else.  The ultimate, epic family feud.


Sunday, October 17, 2010


The sea was as warm as bath water yesterday.  Not bad for October 16th.

Sure would like a cooler afternoon today though. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Middle East meets Northwest

Breakfast today:  cinnamon walnut pancakes with pomello, pomegranite, plum, pear, and grape salad topped with maple syrup from Costco. 

Thank you shipping container, and thank you mediterranean agricultural climate. 

Save the fruit (tree)!

Yesterday we went back to the kangaroo nursery, Wendy, to replace this tragic Pomello, a victim of high sea winds just 2 days after purchase.  I tied and taped it back into place, but once a trunk gets bent at a 90 degree angle, it appears to be all over.  We also needed to purchase a drip watering system (and I was secretly planning to buy flowers to supplement the herbs in the pots, but don’t tell Dan.)

In speaking with the German manager, I learned something new about fruit trees. I asked her whether it was ok to pick the fruit in the first season, as with my apple, plum, and apricot in Michigan, I was told not to do this in the first couple years in order to enhance fruit production in the future. So I asked her, “Should I do this with my new citrus, fig, guava and chesic?” The surprising answer, “Only if you are religious.” She was quite confident that this is a religious observance which has nothing to do with the nature of the plant. She said that with “forest fruit,” as they call apple, pear, plum, etc. here, you do need to delay picking, but not with tropical fruits. Yippie! More fruit for me!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ulpan, take 2

ani lomedet ivrit. 

While 6 weeks (150 hours or so) of Ulpan helped me see the possibility of becoming bilingual, it certainly didn't make me that.  So, in order to make my first effort worthwhile, I have signed up for 5 more months.  This time however, I am attending Ulpan Gordon, which is walking distance from our apartment.  It is also 4 days a week instead of 5 - Sun, Mon, Wed, Thu.  However, it still goes until 1pm, which means 16 hours a week in class plus homework. 

Dan and I have made a new resolution to attempt a daily evening walk during which we practice speaking Hebrew (for my sake).  It's amazing how exhausting it is trying to get over the initial hurdle of speaking another language.  Being an introvert doesn't help with the motivation, but being stubborn does, so I think it's a wash.

Today I was reminded of both the advantages and disadvantages I have as an English speaker learning Hebrew.  On the one hand, I have never become fluent in another language, unlike many of my international classmates from Germany, Belgium, France, India, Japan, Sweden, even Canada.  I do not have the advantage of having my brain hard-wired for languages at an early age.  However, I also am not trying to learn Hebrew through a second language like they are.  For example, today, we studied the structural changes that must be made to nouns when you pair them, such as "bus station," "kitchen cabinet," and "table cloth."  These are a challenge in Hebrew because you have to modify for the gender of the noun.  And you also have to modify in plural.  It seems obvious in English that you would say "bus stations," "kitchen cabinets," and "table cloths."  You pluralize the second noun in English, but not the first.  It works the same in Hebrew  (despite the fact that in Hebrew you reverse the nouns, the same way you reverse a noun + adjective in many languages - "stations (of) bus").  The Swedish woman in class had real trouble with this concept.  She asked how you would say it when there are many tables and many cloths.  Of course, that doesn't even make sense - you would never need to say "tables cloths," but if your English isn't perfect, it's an easy mistake to make in such a context.  I have gained significant respect for those in class studying Hebrew, through English, when their primary language is something else all together. 

Learning a second language (again, as I tried once before with Spanish in high school), can make you more aware of the culture behind both.  I find it interesting that while in English we have a few contractions, like "can't," or "I'm," the entire Hebrew language omits vowels in written form, and they have contractions for phrases like bishvil-i - "for me/you/him/them,"  im-li - "with me/you/him/them," and shel-i - "of me/you/him/them," etc.  Talk about being efficient (and tricky!)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fig, olive, lime, guava, pomello, chesic, and bay leaf

What do these tropical trees have in common?  They are all living on our patio now!  Friday afternoon Dan and I visited a nursery about 40 minutes north of Tel Aviv.  They had just what I was looking for to green our patio, and the staff was helpful beyond my expectations.  They spoke English!  The owners are German and Australian.  I was able to get 6 fruit trees, a large bay leaf bush, 20 herb starts, and at the owner’s recommendation, a strawberry start.  Who are we kidding, it didn’t take much arm twisting on that one.
They lasted exactly 24 hours in their new pots before the wind blew the pomello over and nearly snapped the trunk in half.  All trees are now securely tied to the rail in addition to the bamboo poles in the pots.   They said these trees are hardy and can withstand the sea winds here....I guess we're testing that theory out nicely now.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Brunch at the Ambassador's house

On Wednesday last week I was forwarded an invitation from our relo agency, ORI, to attend a welcome coffee hosted by the US Ambassador’s wife. It said family members of embassy employees welcome, so I wasn’t convinced it would be open to me, but I called anyway. I was initially told I could attend future events, but not the one on Friday morning at the Ambassador’s house. However, I was given information about the International Women’s Club of Israel which I followed up on. Then I received a call back on Thursday inviting me, pending clearance via my passport #.

I drove to Herzilya Pituach, about 25 minutes north of Tel Aviv via car, for the 10am event on Friday morning. There was an interesting mix of about 40 women there. Most were wives of embassy employees, a few were employees themselves. Some had grown children and have lived around the world in places including Rome, Belarus, Jordan, Kuwait and Iraq. A few were on their first assignment abroad like us. Many were from Texas, most have lived in Washington, D.C. for some period of time, and a couple had lived in the Seattle area (UW grad and Fort Lewis).

I also met the Community Liason for the Embassy (the only man there), who is a BIG fan of the Sea Bear smoked salmon from the Skagit Valley – so much so that he gets it shipped here, and he plans to retire to Orcas Island.

The event was an informal networking opportunity, except for a brief introduction and presentation from the International Women’s Club President and the lead for the Embassy Wives Club. Apparently this summer brought one of the biggest turnover’s of embassy staff in a long time, which explained the large number of attendees who were as new as me. All of us newbies introduced ourselves, and the women who have kids at the American School knew Dan’s predecessor well, as he had 5 kids attending there during his assignment.

It was nice to spend time with people who understand the challenges of tiny Israeli kitchens, inadequate wiring, and limited storage space. I hope to find more meaningful commonalities as I get to know them better.

On a side note, just before we left the event, clouds moved in, thunder took over, and we got our first REAL RAIN STORM!! The streets were flooded as Dan and I drove out to run our Friday errands. Fall is finally here!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

turned off the A/C

Yesterday was the first day I survived an entire day at home without turning on the A/C!  I had the sliding doors open and a nice cool breeze all afternoon.  Hooray!  Unfortunately, this afternoon it's back on again.  Oh well.  At least it was a sign of things to come.  Now if only I could see a few rain drops...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

First impression of sustainability in Israel

For those of you who know something about my career aspirations, you know that when I graduated 10 years ago from Wellesley, I wanted to find a way to apply business skills to a social or environmental purpose.  That course in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Sociology really got me interested.  But first I needed to develop some basic real life business skills, hence the strategy consulting and CPG marketing jobs from 2000-2005.  I continued to look for opportunities to make an impact, and found that the Brandeis MBA in the Heller School of Social Policy and Management lets students learn about both sides of the tax fence - for-profit and non-profit.  At Brandeis, in a social entrepreneurship course, I learned about the blurring lines of for-profit and non-profit, growing interest in social enterprise, and a new term for these ideas about the interconnectedness of how we work and live - the word was "sustainability."  From there, I got involved with Net Impact.   Not long after I had the opportunity to get my feet wet in it, by joining the American Heart Association and working on the New York City launch of their newest cause marketing campaign - called Start!, the purpose of which was to engage Americans in becoming more physically active through corporate wellness programs.  This gave me first hand experience working with major corporations in New York City and Detroit from 2005-2009, helping them develop CSR strategies. 

In the U.S., interest in sustainability continues to grow.  Forward-thinking companies over the past 5 years have started implementing new functions in their organizations and producing sustainability reports to supplement their annual financial reports.  This growing interest has naturally created criticism and skepticism as well. But sustainability is being talked about and acted on more, and that at least seems directionally correct.  The organization that appears to be shaping the global approach to sustainability is The Global Reporting Initiative, based in the Netherlands.  Europe tends to be on the cutting edge of transforming it's businesses to sustainable enterprises.  If you're really interested in trying to understand sustainability (the word gets thrown around a lot, and the meaning as well as terms like CSR are always in debate), get ahold of the book, "The Triple Bottom Line," by Andrew Savitz. 

When we decided to move to Israel, I was excited by the prospect of living closer to the epicenter of this movement, and working more directly in it.  Israel has the most start-ups per capita of any country in the world.  They're in the middle of a desert, so natural resources, especially fresh water, are severely limited.  And they are surrounded by unfriendly neighbors.  These factors would suggest a strong impetus for sustainable development, i.e. figuring out how to be self-sustaining for the long-term.

I have been reading a blog this past year, CSR-Reporting, the author of which is based here in Tel Aviv.  The visibility of content coming out of Israel got me excited.  I connected with Elaine Cohen over LinkedIn, and she kindly invited me to an event in early September, just before we left for the holidays.  Her consulting agency, BeyondBusiness, organized a speaking engagement with Maala, the Israeli CSR Association.  They brought in Jo Confino, journalist for the Guardian in the UK.  He is a really interesting guy, having decided to work toward implementing principles of sustainability within his own organization.  This is particularly complex due to the purpose of his work in news reporting, as it has forced the organization to face more directly the reality that a news organization is never really unbiased.  The interesting thing to me is that they are aknowledging that they are not just there to "report" the news, but in some way to shape it (i.e. by encouraging greater organizational transparency, raising awareness about what sustainability is, etc).  I think this is promising.  Afterall, there is no such thing as unbiased news.  A person wrote it, which means that person had to decide what to include, and what not to.  They decided what the story was.  By becoming more transparent about the assumptions included, readers have the opportunity to possibly get closer to some kind of "truth."  Although, as my high school physics teacher always told us, "everything is relative."

Anyway, I like his ideas, I like that he is trying to raise awareness about the simple idea that culturally we've lost sight of planning for our future (that's what sustainability really is, afterall).  And I like that he is in a position of power that allows his voice to reach a broad audience. 

Regarding the event, I was surprised by the size of the group in attendance.  There were only about 30 people there.  I expected more, again, due to my assumptions about Israeli engagement with sustainability-related issues (which I am now questioning).

As I get settled here, I hope to learn more about what the impetus is locally for engagement in sustainable thinking and planning, and what the roadblocks are.  And I hope to find a place where I can contribute to overcoming those roadblocks. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Coming "home"

We arrived home yesterday at 4am from Greece, after two weeks of family visits in Paris, Prague, and Zilina, Slovakia, capped by a few nights in Greece.  We missed the September holidays here, a time that locals say is very quiet around town.  We discovered why – we weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the opportunity to go on vacation.  Greece is for Israeli's like Florida or the Caribbean is for Americans. 
Coming "home" felt interesting.  Our stuff is here, but it doesn't quite feel like home yet.  I'm struggling to recapture the little Hebrew I learned so far, and of course, daily activities are still a challenge. 
For instance, I went to the grocery store yesterday, Chetsi Chinam (literally translates to "Half Free"), and it took me over 2 hours.  Dairy is managable, as I can read the types of cheese (g'vina)because they use universal names like "edam" and "mozarella" written in hebrew.  And flavored yogurts are obvious (thanks to the pictures of fruit on the packaging). But I wasn't sure about plain yogurt vs. the wide variety of soft cheeses, like cream cheese, in the same types of containers, so I skipped that. 
They have great selections, but much of the good dairy, meat, and fish is behind counters with staff, which requires discussion.  They don't like to slice thin (I wouldn't even know how to ask for it anyway), and they don't like to provide small quantities.  I did fumble through at the lunch meat counter by pointing and asking for "mea" which means 100 (grams were inferred).  That's another thing I'm adjusting to - translating in my head the quantities I want in grams and kilos.  I didn't have to pay a lot of attention to the visual representation of weight for foods at home, as everything is pre-packaged and priced by the package, even the produce, meats and dairy.  Here they have the whole cheese wheel and the price per kilo.  When you read 119 shekels per kilo for parmesan, you have to divide by 3.6-3.9 depending on the exchange rate ($33/kilo), then divide by 2.2 to find out the $/lb price, which gives me a reference compared to what I'm used to paying in the U.S.  ($15/lb).  I came up with a few tricks to help - for instance, when I see something posted for 9.99 shekels per kilo (common price for tomatoes), that works out to about $1.20/lb.  Feel free to use this as a real life math lesson for those of you with kids in school this fall.  You can skype me to the homework table if you'd like. 
I also had an interesting interaction at the fish counter, where I pointed at the salmon filets (the only fish they had pre-prepared.  Most of the fish you order whole, then tell them how you want it prepared, get a sticker, and come back in 15 minutes when they've gutted and sliced it accordingly).  I pointed a piece that was about 0.4 kilo.  He picked it up, said something that was lost in translation, then handed me a different one that he said was "beseder gamur."  My general sense was that he was trying to tell me that the one he was suggesting was better.  It was a bit over half a kilo (i.e. slightly more than I wanted), but I decided to go with his recommendation.  It turned out ok, as it had no fishy smell and tasted excellent last night.
We're still waiting for the guy to bring the cabinets we ordered and hang the ones we already have on the wall.  Once that's done, I can finally clean up our kitchen, bathrooms, and office space.  I've always been an organizer, but it takes some skill to fit a 3,000 sq ft home into an 1,800 sq ft apartment.