Monday, December 25, 2006

Missing Out

I have already wrote about missing family and friends as a result of living thousands of miles (or kilometers I should say now) away.

Today specifically is very hard.

A very good friend of mine, let's just call him Chambre (to protect his identity), is getting married.

In lieu of embarrassing him in front of twenty friends at his aufruf I will embarrass him in front of the 100 or so anonymous and semi- anonymous people who stop by this blog (at least when my dad links to me).

I first met Chambre in summer camp around 10 years ago. One of my first memories of our friendship was when he checked me so hard during a hockey game that I literally flipped over. That's the kind of friend he is. In Yeshiva, Chambre was one of the few guys who did not think that I was out of my mind, and that a three- foot beard was actually a trendy fashion statement.

The Maharal explains the meaning of "u'kneh lecha chaver" in pirkei avos to mean,
"sheyihye nikneh lo chaver, shelo tusar hachaveiros mimeno clal (that the friend should be acquired to him, so that friendship will never leave him)."

Chambre is a friend in this classic sense, extremely loyal and honest. Our friendship is one of kinyan. He is the ultimate good guy.

As I said, not being there for this one is extremely hard, but we will be doing rikudim here in the holy land.

Mazel Tov

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Question of the Day

Does Hebrew sound dumber in an American accent or a fake Israeli one?

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Spurred by a discussion on the internet about quantum mechanics my Dad posted his own deep thoughts. (Linking to my Dad is kind of pointless-- you probably all just came from there-- but whatever)

Maiseh avos siman labanim.

How can it be that Israeli meat is so much worse than American meat? I mean a cow is a cow, no?

IH adds:
On the subject of meat, to simplify the confusing Israeli Hashgachot they should put different types of yarmulkes on the chickens. The Eda Charedit will be represented by a large velvet yarmulke, Agudas Yisrael a Ramalke, Machzikei Hadas (Belze) a bekeshe, and Charlap a srugi.

Much simpler.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

OOS starts work...

... and gets called an idiot

Well, not in so many words.

One of the major things taught to people involved in counseling is a pregnant pause. The counselor is supposed to interpret the meaning of the clients pause-- in other words, what is going on while nobody is talking.

One of the populations that I work with is the "shut- in" population. These are people who, for whatever reason never leave their houses. One of the first clients I recieved was a shut in. I called him to set up an initial meeting, and I spoke with his wife. We set a time, and our conversation continued:

Me: O.K. so 4:30 then?
Her: Yes
Me: And your husband will be home?
(pregnant pause*)
Her: Um, yeah

*pregnant pause interpratation: Of course he is going to be home you dimwit. He's a shut- in, where else do you think he'll be???
I think I want a new social worker.

An auspicious begining.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


One of the most difficult aspects of making aliya is, of course, leaving behind family. Olim who came here thirty years ago might read this, chuckle, and make a derogatory remark about the fragility of this generation's olim. And truthfully, they would have a good point. We are blessed with 516 area code phone numbers, internet video conferencing, and all the other goodies that vastly diminish the size of the world. So perhaps we are weak.

Yet there is something that cannot be overcome with any type of technology, which is the feeling of belonging that is present in an effective family system. Those sensations of togetherness and ease one feels at family events and smachot. A 516 phone number is good for venting to parents, and video conferencing enables my mom to see how chubby OD is getting, but no matter how hard anyone tries, we will inevitably feel somewhat excluded. It is nobody's fault, just the pitfall of living thousands of miles apart. It is the sacrifice that must generally be made in order to move Artza.

(Note: I am talking about cohesive families like my wife and I grew up in. I am sure that there are many people who move to Israel for the specific purpose of getting away from their families.)

The feelings of exclusion also exist with friends. No matter how many times promises were made to keep in touch I know that the decision to make aliya was also a decision to cut ties with 70% of my old friends. The fact that I am notoriously antisocial does not help. Because I am antisocial before we made aliya it would have been nearly unheard of me to call a friend just to chat. Yet, over the past two months I have found myself doing just that. The beginnings of our conversations usually have usually gone something like this (let's pretend my last name is Smith):

Me: Hi Friend its OOS.
Friend: OOS? Really? How are you doing? It’s great to hear from you.
Me: Yeah it’s good to speak to you too.
Friend: Wait, OOS Smith?

I make these calls and go against my nature because I feel myself being cut off even from good friends. These feelings of exclusion are one of the things that are anticipated at the outset of aliya, yet cannot be fully grasped until it actually happens.

So olim of thirty years ago laugh all you want, but a local area code can only do so much to narrow the vast distance that we have traveled.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Welcome to Israel you foolish American Part I

One of the first things that I learned about Israel is that no matter what a business or organization might say their working hours are, you always call ahead to make sure. When a business puts out its "business hours" it is more of a suggestion than an actuality.

So it was that when we signed up with Kupat Cholim Macabi (medical insurance) I called up the Macabi office to make sure of the hours and to clarify some issues with respect to the insurance.

A little background is in order: In general I try to speak Hebrew every chance I get in order to improve. However, when I take care of important or official matters I prefer to speak in English so that there are no foul ups.

Because I was fully expecting to speak in Hebrew with Macabi I was surprised to hear an automatic voice say, "For English please press 1." Quite pleased and somewhat relieved I pressed 1 and waited. After a minute, a woman got on the line for English speakers, and this was our conversation:

Me: Shalom
Her: Shalom
Me: Um, at midaberet anglit? (Do you speak English?)
Her: Lo (no)
Me: O.K.-- Yesh mishehu sham sh'midaber anglit? (O.K., is there someone there who speaks English?)
Her: Lo

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Checking in

It's been awhile.

Sorry to all of you who depend on me (Hooie), but I have been extraordinarily busy and have had no time to write.

Anyway, it seems that we have finally settled into somewhat of a routine, and things are slightly calmer than they were. I cannot say that we have fully adapted, because we still often feel like we have landed on some bizarre planet where nobody has manners and yelling is a way of life. But we are slowly getting into the thick of things. Truthfully, I don't think that we will ever fully adapt. My wife and I will always retain some America in us.

I have no energy to write Aliya Recap part II right now, but I do hope to finish it. I also have a number of extremely funny stories that must be shared, and I hope to accomplish that as well in the next few days.

Other than that what can I say? The kids are doing great, IH has put in superhuman effort to get us settled and she has been amazing.

Actually I can say something else: Despite all the stupidity and annoyances that we have put up with, and despite our lack of fluency, and despite the fact that we really have no friends in our community (you see we are the only ones who don't smoke weed), there is no feeling like walking down Rechov Betzalel or Sderot Herzl or any other street in Yerushalayim and knowing that we are here to stay. That makes it all worth it. From time to time one does get the feeling of living in the palace, as corny as that may sound.

Well, that is all for now. I hope to be back soon (because some of these stories that I've got really must be told)

Have a good Shabbos

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Magic of the Chagim

Call me corny, but I love that, in Israel, Coca-Cola bottles wish everyone a Shana Tova.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Aliya Recap Part I

Although we are still very much in the midst of the klita (absorption) process, much has happened since we arrived here two and a half weeks ago. It has been unbelievably hectic and we are far busier than we have ever been in our lives.

Here is a basic rundown of our experiences:

Our flight was scheduled to leave Tuesday, September 5th. On Sunday our real estate agent called to tell me that there was a slight problem with the apartment. The previous tenant, who is actually the son of the landlord, had not yet moved out. He assured me though, that he would fix everything and that the apartment would be empty by the time we arrived in Israel. Trusting that he would work it out I went to sleep Sunday night without any worries (This was an enormous mistake by the way. I was subsequently told that rule number one of buying or renting a place in Yerushalayim is that you never, ever believe what the realtor tells you.).

On Monday morning the agent informed me that, unfortunately, the tenant would not be out by the time we arrived, and it actually might be a while before he could leave. I will spare you the sorry details of the craziness that followed, but suffice it to say that the day and a half leading up to the flight was not pleasant. In the end we were not able to move in to our apartment. Fortunately, my sister in law and her husband are spending the year learning in Yerushalayim, so we were able to take over their, at the time, unoccupied apartment.

In any event, on Tuesday we boarded the Nefesh b' Nefesh flight somewhat discouraged but nevertheless excited for what lay ahead. With two kids under the age of 18 months, the older one being sick, we expected a difficult flight, but were heartened by our assumption that we would not be the only ones with crying babies on the flight. Things started fairly smooth. Our son (OS) was slightly cranky during takeoff but nothing major. However, it soon became apparent that he had no intention of going to sleep in anything but a crib. He began to cry hysterically; at one point he cried for an hour and a half straight (literally). Finally, with an hour and change left to the flight we overdosed him with Advil and he fell asleep. His parents were not so lucky. Our- at the time two month old- daughter, on the other hand was a complete angel and we did not hear a peep from her the entire way.

Landing was very nice, as was the reception we got at the airport (although we were a little too tired to appreciate it). The program was a real bore-- as the last flight of the summer we were given the low level bureaucrats. What happened after though is where things got interesting. A major perk of flying with NBN is that much of the paperwork is taken care of on the plane so that the olim do not have to wait for hours at the Misrad Hapnim. However, we were informed on board that the Misrad hapnim was under staffed and the paperwork could not be accomplished on the plane, but would have to wait until the airport. Fine- annoying, but not a big deal. We ended up waiting on lines in the airport for over three hours. Fine- the kids were ok so again, not a big deal. However, after the three hours of waiting we went to get our bags, and, lo and behold, one of them was missing (we still have not recovered it). That was the straw that broke the camels back. We soon realized that the bag contained our son's portable crib, and he would have nowhere to sleep. Consequently, while sleeping on a mattress placed on the floor he woke up in the middle of the night.

So, after learning that our apartment was being illegally occupied, frantically running around between the doctor and the pharmacy two hours before the flight, enduring eight hours of crying on the flight, plus three hours of waiting after the flight, losing a bag, and not sleeping for 36 hours, OS decides that two AM is a good time to get up.

But it was all good.

Coming Soon: You silly Americans

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Back Again

We finally got our internet up and running after two weeks of being cut off from the world.
I do not have time to post now but I have no shortage of material that I will iy"h post about.
In the meantime kesiva vechasima tova and shana tova

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Close Call: How OOS almost nixed Aliya

Remember all that nice stuff I wrote in the last post about how I didn't want marble floors or a second car to be the reason that we did not move to Israel? Well, every man has his limit.

A month and a half ago I was sitting in a particularly enthralling Foundations of Fieldwork class, doing what I normally do, which is doodling like a fifth grader, and suddenly I realized that Israel doesn't have Heinz ketchup. This void was a source of great anguish for me during my two years in Shaalavim. However, that was two years, this is a lifetime.

Let me explain the source of my distress. For years I have contended that there is no other line of food where the second best brand lags so far behind the first as ketchup.

Think about it. Is there any other ketchup besides Heinz that you would even think of eating given the choice? Unless one is in dire financial straits one would never even think about going for the bargain brand in the supermarket. It is not just that Heinz ketchup is good, but every other brand is so god awful. Ever tasted the pesach brands? And lets not even go into Israeli brands (tastes like rotten tomatoes mixed with raspberry vinaigrette).

This situation exists in no other food product. Hershey's has Mars, Oreos have Famous Amos, Coke has Pepsi, etc. etc. etc. Heinz ketchup is so much better than anything else that John Kerry came thisclose to being elected because of it (or something like that) (by the way, all you liberals out there who voted for Kerry should be happy that he lost. Power corrupts. Who knows what he would have done to the ketchup had he won-- Presidential version or something-- yuck).

Anyway, getting back to the point, I was getting ready to get in touch with our shaliach and just call the whole thing off when I struck up a conversation with an Israeli friend of mine who was in the same class. She assured me that indeed, Israel does have Heinz ketchup, and if I could not find it five years ago it was only because I was just looking in the wrong places. Furthermore, as more Israelis understand the greatness of Heinz ketchup its proliferation is expanding.

Aliya back on.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Background, or Why I Chose to Take a 75% Pay Cut

That is the real question, isn't it?

Why would anyone move away from a largely prosperous, safe, and comfortable existence to a country where parnasah, safety, and comfort, are in no way assured? I will do my best to explain our decision.

I have difficulty answering this question, mostly because there is no rational answer. As Rav Kook writes in Orot (My own (poor) translation).

The Land of Israel is not an external thing, a superficial acquisition for the nation as a means of unifying the population and strengthening its physical, or even spiritual existence. The Land of Israel is an inherent piece that is tied with the bind of life to our nation... Therefore it is impossible to assess the substantive qualities of the Land of Israel, and to bring into reality the depth of its allure with rational thought; Only through the godly spirit that is placed within the nation.
Rav Kook says a lot of different things with these words, but one of the points he makes is that our relationship to the Land of Israel is not merely a rational one. There happen to be many rational reasons why the Land of Israel is important to Jews such as history, safety etc. These are nice, but they alone could not persuade me to give up luxury and comfort. Jewish history I can find in that old Newport synagogue or on a trip through Europe. As for safety, at this point it is much safer for Jews to live in the United States than in Israel. Rationality comes and goes-- as circumstances change so does what makes sense. For believing Jews, Eretz Yisrael is infinite, it is what we dream of, its remembrance is what we place before our greatest joys.

However, the decision to move to Israel was not an easy one for us. It will be hard to leave family, friends and Entenmans cookies. There are reasons that prompted the move which, if not fully logical, are not totally archane either.

Put simply: we like it better there (Israel) than we do here (America). But there is more to it than that. If this was the only reason then we would surely be guilty of running blindly into something that we are not ready for. Our experiences in Israel up until now-- vacations and Yeshiva study-- have more or less been without responsibility, so, one could argue, of course we like it better over there.

But Israel has never been a vacation spot to us-- at least not since we spent an extended period of time in the country. Israel has always felt more like home to us than America ever could. This despite the fact that our Hebrew is not yet fluent, and we are often offended by the brusqueness of Israeli culture. There is something beautiful about seeing traffic signs in our ancient language (even if it is not loshon hakodesh), wishing Shabbat Shalom to a cab driver who is eating a cheeseburger, or chayalim saying tefilas haderech before leaving to battle. The language, the streets, the houses, the currency are not things that we are borrowing during a phase in our diaspora, but things that we created and we own. No matter where a Jew falls on the pro/anti state spectrum there is something special in that.

Although I disagree with most of his political stances, Daniel Gordis expresses this sentiment very nicely in his book If a Place could Make you Cry.

There's got to be a place somewhere in the world, I thought, that Jewish kids will feel is theirs, a place where the songs are theirs, where the history is their history, where the place doesn't just welcome them but is for them... We're here because as we ask ourselves what we ultimately want to leave our children, having them become part of this crazy, complicated, and wondrous place is the most important gift we can imagine. What, after all, can parent's give their kids that's more important than a home? (p. 110)
But, once again, there is more to it. We consider it home not just because it is a Jewish state but because, as Rav Kook put it, "The Land of Israel is an inherent piece that is tied with the bind of life to our nation." This is something that cannot be explained--only felt. Its why we shudder with excitement when our feet touch the tarmac in Ben Gurion and we cry when we first reach the Kotel. There is something in Israel that for a Jew does not exist anywhere else, and that is what we want to leave our children.

Most of all we are moving to Israel because we can and there is no reason not to. We are fulfilling a mission that generations of Jews have dreamed of, and in twenty years from now we don't want to look back and know that we did not move because of marble floors or a second car. My dad put it better than I ever could this past Shabbos as we walked to shul together. He said, "Most guys who had the chance to make aliyah look back and regret not having pulled the trigger even though they might have had legitimate reasons not to. You're pulling the trigger."

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Somewhat apprehensively, I hereby join the JBlogosphere.

I had planned on sending weekly Emails to family and friends in order to stay in touch. However, my father, the esteemed Mo Chassid, convinced me that a blog would be much easier.

I will try to post at least once a week about our experiences as we make Aliya.

p.s. If you are looking for sharp insight or exciting drama you have probably come to the wrong place.