Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I may have mentioned this before, but I often get asked, "How are things in Minnesota?". Really. Maybe they're confused by multiple words relating to geogrphaphic places that begin with the same letter. But they aren't asking me how things are in Micronesia. Or Mali. Or Michigan. No, they just can't remember that I live in Milwaukee and they figure that Minnesota must be close enough.

So today I went to Trader Joe's to get a few things before the impending blizzard. Yes, I've evidently turned into one of those people. Just for the record, I didn't buy gallons of bottled water (I figured I can always melt enough snow....). I'm checking out and I give the woman my re-usable bag and she comments on how short the handles are. So I tell her that I got it a few years ago in Maryland. And she says, wait for it..... "That's in Massachussetts, right"?

Really. She said that. And how am I supposed to respond to this politely and in public?! So I say, "Oh, I meant the State of Maryland". And she says, "that's the one that looks like a boot, right"?


It's true, they don't listen!

Well, it turns out there were really 17 voicemails on my phone. Not exactly on my phone, but on the phone that is supposed to forward to my phone. Which means that the people calling were spared my long "do not leave me a message" message but also did not hear those instructions at all and left a lot of messages.

Evidently, sometime after the first of the year, my phone got un-forwarded. Had it not taken more than 2 weeks to figure out how to forward the first time, I would not have been worried. It seems to have been resolved now, but I still have another 16 calls to return!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

No Messages

Before I left for Israel I changed my voice mail asking whoever called to please email me instead of leaving a message. I probably repeated myself three or four times and basically said I wouldn't be checking voice mail until the end of January.

Shock of all shocks - when I turned my cell phone in New York, there were no messages. None. Not one. Now it could be that whoever called simply followed my instructions. But since that doesn't usually happen, I decided that maybe it was the length of the actual message, and that at some point, they just gave up waiting for the beep. I remember leaving a fairly long message and I'm not interested in listening to it all again to time it, that's how long I think it is.

Mimi suggested I leave a new one that says something to the effect of, "I'm back, but I still don't want to talk to anyone...".

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Leaving Israel

I'm at the airport checking email yet again. I finally have my inbox down to 42 messages - the first time it's been so low in a few months. By next week I'll be lucky to have it down to 100.

When I checked in I asked if there was any chance a window seat had opened up. The woman told me I was asking too much. It was the only question I asked her! So I'm stuck with a middle seat but am thankfully only in row 24, which is about as close to the door of the plane as you can be, I think. There are a lot of our participants (and from other organizers) on my flight and they are all WAY at the back. One of our staff people is sitting in row 59. I could never do that.

Maybe there will be a good movie or two. The plane I came in on was a brand new fancy plane. This one isn't, but it doesn't necessarily mean there won't be a good movie....

Three completely different subjects

1. Katan o Gadol?
This question (small or large?) should not be asked after someone orders coffee. There should either be one size, or the questions should only be to confirm that you want a large coffee. I've met only one person here in Israel who ordered a small coffee. One. And this morning I finally met someone (okay, the waitress at the bagel shop) who completely agrees that the questions is a ridiculous one. Of course, she had to ask me first, but then she agreed with me. Who wouldn't with a question like that. It's a variation on the question, "Cake or Pie?" Why not both?

2. My Hebrew would be better if....
I spent more time in cabs. Because I've got the rental car here, I'm not in cabs so often. Yesterday was an exception. I left my car at the hotel, took a bus into Tel Aviv with the students, (more on that in the next section), took a regular bus back and had to take a cab back to my car. I jumped into the back seat with my three bags (don't ask). It was a spotlessly clean cab. At one point, I could see the driver weigh whether he should take the highway or the local road. He chose the highway and as soon as we made the turn we could see that cars were stopped for a construction project. So we started talking. And then I was told to sit in the front seat if we were going to have a proper conversation. Since we were essentially parked, I wasn't getting out of a moving car, which made the process easier.

One of my friends (who demands not to be named publicly in this forum) takes cabs fairly often and talks to the cab drivers all the time. She's Israeli, but her Hebrew is pretty good and I'm sure that's part of the reason.

3. Buying clothes in the grocery store
After nearly a month in Israel, I finally had plans to see a few family members. So I went to Tel Aviv and met up with Steve and Ayelet at the mall. (Full disclosure - I met up with Ayelet a few nights before, but it wasn't planned) . And I'd (almost literally) run into Boaz on the streets one night which also shouldn't count as a proper visit. So the three of us had lunch and afterwards I convinced Ayelet to go with me to the SuperSal.

We walked in and noticed it was more like a combination grocery store/Walmart. Before you got to the food section, there were sheets, towels, and then clothes. So Ayelet started looking at shirts. I successfully convinced her to try one one. But, you ask, are there dressing rooms at the grocery store? The answer would be an easy and resounding "no". So we took three hangers from the shirts, two big towels from the towel section and fashioned an improptu McGyver dressing room for her.


Ok, she tried the shirt on over what she was already wearing but then needed a mirror. I suggested finding the section of the store where they sell mirrors (she didn't believe they'd have one) and we finally settled on using her reflection in the door of the frozen food freezers. She did not buy the shirt.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Mimi and MLK, Jr.

Mimi gave me permission to tell this story, so I don't feel guilty writing about it.

Mimi and I work together in DC. Except that I don't usually work there, but that's not the point.

I got a call at 8:30am EST from Mimi. She told me that she woke up, made coffee, got dressed, and went to meet another co-worker to walk to work together. She got a little concerned when Mindy never showed up. I'm not sure how long she actually waited before she figured out that it si MLK, Jr day and that Mindy wasn't going show up because our office is closed today!

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Israel is NOT a third world country. You can buy anything here, even in the smallest town, except, evidently, sheets that actually fit the bed. So then how is it possible that hotels in Israel don't have sheets that fit the beds? And that they don't use mattress pads, especially when they don't have properly fitting sheets?

Basically, when you pull the topsheet up to get into the bed, the bottom sheet, which is not fitted, comes off too. Yes, you can tuck it back in, but then you get into bed and turn over once, it's back out. And by the next morning, you may as well never have had a sheet on the bed to begin with.

And hotel towels are still terrible. They are all the size of washcloths and threadbare. Now I realize that our groups are staying at the nicest hotels, but they aren't so bad....

Go figure.

Friday, January 18, 2008

McDonalds in Israel

Yesterday, in an attempt to find a bathroom, we stopped at a McDonalds just outside Tiberius. Technically, it's on a corner of Tzomet Golani, or the Golani Junction. When I was on Volunteers for Israel 20 years ago, my base was right down the road. There was most definitely no McDonalds on the corner back in 1985.

But that's not so important (is any of this, really?). The bathrooms there were the cleanest of any McDonald's I've ever been in. And that's also not so relevant. It was clearly not a kosher store (and no, before you even ask, I am not convinced that has anything to do with how clean the bathrooms were). As we walked out, a woman walking in reached up her hand to kiss the mezuzah on the door.

Yes, a mezuzah on the door of a treif restaurant. Only in Israel.

Later in the day I was actually at another McDonalds. This time a kosher one. Given that I never go to McDonald's in the US, walking into two in a day seems almost worthy of a shehechiyanu. Given that the only vegetarian option is a salad, the kashrut status is largely irrelevant to me. And here's the great thing about McDonalds, the french fries taste the same everywhere. I am convinced tat is why they are so successful. You can walk in and know exactly what the food you will be ordering will taste like. I did notice that the hamburgers are really huge there (surface area, not thickness) and I'm pretty sure they aren't in the US. But I bet they taste the same.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Spectator sports and wildlife

On the way out of Jerusalem Monday morning we got stopped for a good 30 minutes just at the edge of the old city. Traffic was just stopped. About 10 cars up we saw a police van and lights so we figured there was an accident. So we waited. And waited. And then we saw the little robot.

Evidently there was an unknown box on the side of the road and they brought out the little robot that checks on all unidentified packages and can blow them up if necessary. I should point out that one of my passengers had gotten out of the car to walk up and see what was going on. When he saw the robot come out, her RAN back to the car.

As far as we could tell, it was a box of water bottles and there was nothing that they needed to blow up. Which was good, but as a spectator not nearly as interesting.

And once again, I drove up the Bika road. I'm not really sure how that should be spelled in English.... It was particularly nice day and since it rained last week, there was a bit more green on the hills than usual. We saw a lot of wildlife - more than I'd seen on my two previous trips up.

First, there were the camels. A huge herd of them. Maybe a hundred scattered across both sides of the road. None in the road, which was good. And then we saw tree baby camels. Not just teenagers, but baby camels. Really, really cute. I'm pretty sure the cars behind me were annoyed that I slowed down as much as I did.

And then there were goats. And donkeys. And sheep.

And then we got into the hillier area approaching the foothills of the Golan. The hills are greener and very rocky with big boulder-y rocks just sitting around. More sheep, more goats. And then, just when we though we were passing another group of rocks, we realized that they were big cows (steer?) sitting down in the sun. White ones and brown ones and all really, really big.

They blended in well with the rocks, although I'm not sure that they necessarly think in terms of trying to fit into their environment to evade predators. I can't really see them as camoflage cows...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

In case you were wondering...

Pear-Kiwi juice is not as good as Pear-Kiwi-Banana Juice. Unfortunately, I have the former in my refrigerator and not the latter. And even though I know that kiwi is a primary ingredient, i still a slightly disturbing shade of green to consume.

I did finally have to use a map today. It wasn't actually so helpful because it didn't have the street on it I needed to find.I did finally get just a little lost today. Or, rather, I didn't really get completely lost, I just needed to use a map. Which it turned out didn't really have all the streets on it that I needed. So I was only 10 minutes late to my meeting.

And I finally have clean laundry. It's still sitting in the big plastic garbage bag it came back to me in, but it's clean.

The Amazing Race

When I'm working alone in my apartment, I often have the television on in the background. There are two main channels I usually toggle between - AXN and Star World. Neither has particularly recent shows and I can't really tell the difference between the two, except that maybe AXN shows more one-hour shows and Star World old sit-coms. And things that I'm pretty sure were cancelled years ago in the US. Needless to say, it's all pretty bad and therefore easy not to watch.

But today I noticed that they were showing reruns of the Amazing Race from a few years ago. I didn't see this season when it originally ran (or I don't remember), but I do remember seeing it on television when I was here last time (or a year ago). The same episode. Unfortunately it's one where they eat some fairly disgusting things.

Last night was another Avraham Infeld speech - 3 stories, 4 responses, 5 legs on the table.... There are a lot of us now who can pretty much do the speech from memory. Memorable lines include:
  • Judaism is NOT a religion
  • There's no such thing as Jewish history, only Jewish memory
  • I saw the suffering of my people

There may now be a video of the speech, which would be good. We may need to add a spray function to it though so viewers can get the authentic experience.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

President Bush

Whatever you think about the president, this much is true - he has terrible timing. He arrives in Israel tomorrow for a three day visit. Pretty much the entire city of Jerusalem is shutting down. He should have at least asked someone if it was a convenient time to visit. Let me be clear. It is not.

People who live in the area of the King David have to carry their apartment leases or deeds with them to be allowed accesss to their homes. Students at the Hebrew Union College are taking final exams across town. And several of the big hotels had to completely empty out to accomodate all of the people who come with the president and the press corps.

And no one knows why he is really coming to Israel.

Thankfully, he decided to take a helicopter from the airport to Jerusalem. The original plan was motorcade and the complete closing of the highway that runs between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. His schedule calls for a visit to Yad VaShem on Friday morning. The required visits for our buses had to be rescheduled, and some of our buses have to leave their hotels at 6:30am on Friday morning so that they get out before the roads are closed. I think I'll be doing a lot of walking the next few days....

It's a little surreal driving around the city. There are always Israeli flags everywhere, but now there are also American flags up all over as well.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Working at a Gas Station

Wireless internet access is virtually non-existant in Tiberius. This is a problem when I am up North for three days and we have a flight cancelled and participants to inform. I should be more clear. There is internet access available, but you have to pay for it, and that is not my custom.

So yesterday morning I went to Aroma - a cafe that has free wireless. It's about 10 minutes south of town, and while they have wireless access, they do not have outlets. Which means I have about 90 minutes to get work done, and then I run the risk of being shut down at an inconvenient moment.

But yesterday, I had more work to do. I went back up to town, checked in to my hotel, saw students on a Hillel Alternative Break in Israel, and then had to figure out how to get back on line. I had no charge on my computer, so I knew wherever I was going to go needed to have electrical outlets.

I figured I would try Hof Gai - a hotel that has free wireless in the lobby and a great view. And, they have outlets. I park, get all my stuff out of the car, pretend to be on the phone so security doesn't stop me at the front door and realize that the hotel is closed for renovations. That's a problem.

And because my battery hasn't been charged, I can't go back to Aroma. But then I remembered where I could find internet access and electrical outlets - the gas station. Yes, the gas station. They have a little convenience store, three tables along a wall, and wireless internet access. It's like working in a 7-11 cafe. I've never seen tables or anything resembling a cafe at a 7-11, but if you can imagine that combination, that's what it was. And they didn't have fountain soda, which is also a problem, but not as big of a problem as not having internet access....

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Not a Chalet

I checked into my third hotel in three days. It's a non-descript place in the middle of Tiberius. The manager gave me the key and said we have a lovely room for you with a view of the lake. Ok. He doesn't know I've spent the last two nights in chalets and so I'm convinced that my perspective of lovely may not be different than his.

I got in the elevator which was no larger than a phone booth. It didn't lurch much and whoever was pulling the wires at the bottom was doing a pretty good job.

I open the door and fine a regular hotel room. I'm not complaining at all. The bathroom looked clean as did the sheets on the bed. The couch is also set up as a bed. I think that this is probably the way the student rooms are set up, in which case I'm not sure where they have any room for their suitcases. There is very little extraneous floor space.

I looked out the window to see my lake view. I could see the lake. after first looking at the litter strewn on the roof and yards of the buildings immediately in front of mine. If my room is lovely, I'm nervous to think what kind of rooms the participants and the rest of our staff have....


I've stayed in chalets on two different kibbutzim/moshavim the last two nights. They're beautiful, well appointed, and in the middle of nowhere. A few things that make no sense:
  • Israel has a water crisis. There isn't enough. It hasn't been raining enough and water use in general is on the rise - for the general population, for agriculture, business etc. And yet every chalet has its own jacuzzi. Go figure.
  • Like I said, the chalets are very nice. But once again, they have the towels of a 1950's kibbutz. Thin, scratchy and the size of a postage stamp. And I guess if they are going to be thin and scratchy they may as well be small....
  • Lastly, in the first chalet, there was a build-your-own shower. The shower head was in the corner of the bathroom and the two other walls folded in so that there was more space to move around in the bathroom. When it was time to shower, you could simply unfold the walls and take your shower. People pay a lot of money to stay in nice places like this AND they still have to build their own shower?! Not to mention that unless you're handy with a squeegee, it once again feels like you're back at the old-school kibbutz bathrooms.