Thursday, August 28, 2014

Back to Life--Again

Shalom, chaverim!

Well, in the land that is known for reportedly having at least one spectacular case of resurrection, here's a far more modest example of revivification--I'm back!

I've been dithering about what to say here about why I haven't posted for such a long time (December of last year was my last entry...yikes!). To make a long story short, things really started falling apart for me last November, and they haven't really started to pick up and sort themselves out until now.

Mostly, the problems were physical and involved seemingly endless rounds of tests and visits to various doctors all over the country. Neurologists, endocrinologists, heart specialists--you name it, I was there. After going through all the investigations and tweaking a few things here and there, I think I finally have a handle on what my conditions are, what medications I need to treat them, and what lifestyle adaptations I need to make in order to stay healthy, happy, and functioning. There is certainly room for improvement, though--taking up regular exercise that won't trash my knees or my joints is next on the agenda. Middle age has its advantages, but really starting to "feel it" physically isn't one of them. So it's a work in progress.

It's been hard to come to terms with the fact that I may never be able to get back to my "old self," who used to be able to easily juggle multiple jobs, lots of projects, countless moves, and a social life. I can do a lot less now than I used to, and I need to sleep more and rest more frequently. However, living at a slower--and more mindful--pace doesn't have to be all bad. I know this in theory, at least. I've attended two ten-day Vipassana meditation retreats in the past which demanded total silence and abstinence from all reading and writing, so I should be better about being "okay" with slowing down, but it's still a struggle for me.

If you've been following the world news, you'll know that Israel and Hamas just signed a "permanent" (whatever that means in the Middle East) ceasefire after fifty days of hellish, destructive battle and countless deaths and injuries. We were fine, more or less, up here in the North--only a few jerks set off a handful of rockets towards our area from Lebanon and Syria, and it seems the perpetrators were quickly dealt with. Some damage was done, but thank goodness no one was killed.

Still, it was truly a rotten summer. No one really felt like celebrating or going out to have a lot of fun, and no one really felt like going too far away from home.  It just didn't seem right, and it sometimes didn't feel safe, depending on where you were thinking of travelling to. As for Elul and me, we usually just hung around Nahariya, except for during ceasefires. When the ceasefires held, the whole nation breathed a sigh of relief; it was a palpable feeling. When fighting started again, gloom descended along with it.

The propaganda wars on social media, and within the news media (due to the ability to "talk back" to internet news stories by commenting on them) were intense, unrelenting, and often extremely vicious. Some real-life friendships were made stronger, some were destroyed, and some were severely tested. The anti-Israel demonstrations within Israel and outside the country, particularly in Europe, were extremely upsetting and frightening. I've never seen anything like it, and hope to never again. I've lived in England and in France, and seeing these demonstrations on the news made me feel sick, sad, and baffled. How could this be happening now, in 2014, in the same streets I had lived in so long ago?

My teaching career in Israel is taking a few twists and turns. This year, I might not be teaching in any Ministry of Education schools, as I just found out yesterday that the job I had been promised at the Druze school at the end of last year has mysteriously disappeared. At least, no one has any record that the Ministry of Education has awarded me any teaching hours to work there.  However, I did manage to find a job teaching English online for an Israeli company. I've just started with them and they seem like a very nice group of entrepreneurs, so I hope my hours with them will grow.

Elul has been having his own struggles with his health over the past six months, and they are reaching a crisis point. At the moment, he is unable to work his job full time anymore, due to repetitive strain injury and chronic pain from arthritis. This development has placed him firmly into the quagmire that is the Israeli social security system, aka "Bituach Leumi." This Kafka-esque institution has more forms, committees, meetings, and chase-the-tail gyrations than I've ever seen. He is lost in the thicket, so to speak, and there's no real trail of breadcrumbs he can follow to get himself out.

However, all is not lost. We are getting help in the battle from the wonderful Yanina Muskinow of the AACI (Association for Americans and Canadians in Israel), who explained Bituach Leumi very elegantly. "With Bituach Leumi," she said, "you need to understand that it does not operate by laws, but by rules. The whole art is to find out which rules and forms support your intended outcome the most." There is an art to letter-writing that must accompany one's application for various services, and if the letter is not written in a certain way, an application may be denied. The good news is, you can always write another letter and submit the same information (e.g. medical records), and get approved. Zoink!

My pet sitting business, Aliyah Petsitting, has dwindled down to the grand total of one client, for whom I am extremely grateful. This has been entirely because I have failed to market my business, even though I have the advertising material prepared and ready for distribution. Such is the insidious and opportunity-robbing nature of depression and fear. It literally prevents money from coming into one's pocket, as if you were zipping your own wallet closed with your own hand. At least now, though, I am less afraid to answer the telephone if someone calls who doesn't speak English. I may have to muddle through in awful Hebrew, but at least I can give it a fighting chance.

At the end of December, we will have been here for three years. Time seems to pass very quickly in Israel, and there is a certain sense of time distortion that many olim seem to comment on. Perhaps this is due to our aging brains, as research has shown that the older our brains get, the faster time appears to pass. And even though I've been mainly whining about the tough times I've been having, please don't think it's all bad or miserable. We have made good friends, and Nahariya--and Israel--is still beautiful and full of life. We are supporting ourselves and working hard to build our future. We are seeing more of the country, slowly, and we can speak one heck of a lot more Hebrew than we could at the end of our first year. We're still glad we came and don't regret it at all. So, we're hanging in there.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to two great bloggers I am fortunate enough to know in real life. One is Shem Tov Sasson, who, like me, was born in Seattle and raised in Michigan. We met him while we were on our pilot trip to Israel and he was a young man in Ulpan. Now Shem Tov is older, and has been serving in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). He has a terrific blog, full of stories about the interesting places he visits all over Israel. We met up at the recent annual Nefesh B'Nefesh Go North Picnic (which was terrific, as usual), and he encouraged me to start blogging again, despite my embarrassment. If he can blog from a war zone, what's my excuse? I don't have one, period.

Shem Tov's blog is called "Israel's Good Name." Also, his parents own and operate Aliyah Lift Shipping, and handled our lift when we made Aliyah from Florida. We received wonderful service from them, and no, they aren't paying me anything to say this! The picnic was held at Michmanim, an ecological Biblical village far up in the hills of Karmiel. It was a fascinating and beautiful setting for the event, and it was great to catch up with some old friends there.

Pressing concerns: A picnicker examines an ancient olive press at Michnanim, the Ecological Bible Village

My kind of picnic setting--plenty o' rustic
A view from the entrance down to the picnic area

View from the mountaintop down towards Karmiel


The second blogger I want to support is that of a former colleague from our teaching days in Nevada, Alvaro Pico. "Mr. Pico," as we addressed each other back then (I was "Miss Lana"), has been blogging about his weight loss experience for the past month at "It Can Be Done - Dropping the Weight." He's going great guns, is dieting and exercising sensibly and with a great attitude, and is getting real results. Both he and Shem Tov inspired me to sit down again, stop making excuses, and start blogging again.

As for you, kind and patient readers, I want you to know I really appreciate the Facebook comments and emails you've been sending me over the past months, with your good wishes and encouragement to keep going. It's been tough, and I've felt bad that I wasn't able to pull myself together any sooner than this. Still, thank you for caring, even though I wasn't able to respond with any action at all--sometimes not even a thank-you. I heard you and I felt your care and concern, so believe me, your kindness did not go unappreciated. If any of you can spare a thought to send some prayers and good thoughts to me to help me get out of my own darn way, I will be exceptionally grateful. And of course, please pray for peace in the Middle East--everyone around this region needs all the help we can get with that one!


Shabbat shalom, chaverim!


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Tools Down!

Shalom, chaverim! Once again, my intention to post more frequently, and at a regular pace, has been an "epic fail." That is not to say I put this blog out of my mind, but rather, I kept making mental notes about what to write in the next post. The problem with mental notes, though, is that they are mental (duh), rather than physical. And as I operate on the assumption that most of you are not professional mind-readers, it puts the onus on me to get off my anus and actually write something. So here it is, warts and all, sans the fabulous "mental posts" I had dancing in my head.

Organ Recital

November and much of December have turned out to be a real hassle for me, with a couple of scary health incidents. On November 24th, I decided that since it had been about two years since I'd seen a dentist, it was time to get a move on and make an appointment. I did so, with a Scottish dentist in town who had been highly recommended by my Nahariyan friends. Since his tiny office is in a shopping mall in the center of town, I came to my appointment heavy laden with shopping bags, backpack, and purse. Well, to make a long story medium-length, once I got into his examining room, I realized the only place to put my stuff was at the foot of the dental chair, which was across the room. And instead of trying to get past the dentist, I went to the other side of the head of the chair and charged forward, hyper-focused on the one eensy-meensy place I could put my bags.

BANG! I absolutely cold-cocked myself on the top of my head, having walked right into the overhanging arm of the metal x-ray machine. I staggered back, seeing stars and nearly fainting from the pain and the shock. I had no idea what had happened--it felt like a hammer from G-d had just given me a big old b*tch-slap. Fortunately, there was a counter and a stool just behind me, so I was able to grab onto it and keep myself from falling. I howled.

The dentist and his assistant got me into the chair immediately, which helped. When I was able to stop crying, we laughed about it and we went on with the examination and the cleaning. At the time, since I was in the chair for nearly an hour and didn't have to talk too much, I thought I was all right, and even rode my bike home.

However, that evening, things started getting strange. My vision got a little blurry, and I was finding it difficult to speak coherently. It was hard to read, and I was very, very sleepy. After Googling "concussion," I knew I wouldn't be fit for work the next day, so I called in sick. I made an evening appointment with the doctor to get a sick note, but by the time it rolled around, Elul had to work and I didn't feel safe to ride my bike or drive--I was that gorked out.

Hospital Visit #1

Anyway, the next morning, Elul took me to the doctor to get my note. By this time, I was so drowsy and out of it that my doctor took one look at me and sent me to the emergency room at the hospital. Although they first thought I might be in that state from drug use (!), they soon sent me for a CT scan. Fortunately, there was no internal bleeding, so they sent me home with a note for two weeks off, and strict instructions to do "no cognitive work," including reading and writing. That kind of makes it difficult to teach English, write and narrate news stories, and do graduate work in education. But seriously, I was in no shape to do any of it. It was strangely restful, though, to be so damaged that I could easily sit in a chair for 30 minutes at a time without thinking about anything at all. No worries, no cares, no concerns, no self-criticism. Just a lovely kind of emptiness, watching the birds and the sun on the sea, watching the dust motes dance.

Pini and I take in the view of my own personal "Gorky Park."


Hospital Visit #2

So, ten days go by and I think I'm on the mend. I've managed to secure assignment extensions from my professors, and have filed the sick note paperwork for my teaching job. Then, once again, with all the charm of Emeril Lagasse, BAM! It's the middle of the day, and, like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky, I find myself first bent over from lower abdominal cramps, then, within minutes, literally down on the floor on my hands and knees, vomiting from pain. I got Elul to call our (WONDERFUL) Maccabi health insurance company to talk to their nurse. He explained what was going on and she gave immediate approval for me to go to the emergency room.

Elul got me there right away, but I walked myself in because he had to park the car. The problem was, I was staggering and crying and couldn't stand up straight. Some aides helped me into a wheelchair and got me into the emergency room, but I was crying so much from pain that I couldn't speak clearly. So a nurse decided that I was "hysterical," and to "snap me out of it," gave me an extremely painful Vulcan death pinch on my left shoulder! That just made me bellow and cry even more, and shout "please stop hurting me!"

Oy! They gave me a scan right away and admitted me to the hospital. What was eventually pieced together, from multiple scans and multiple doctors, was basically this: "Well, you have ovarian cysts, endometrial tissue all over the place, and a "mass" that we can't really identify, exactly. It also looks like something has twisted, since there's no blood flow to your right ovary. So we'll have to operate tomorrow. No food and drink for you until after the op!"

Pre-op. I wasn't that chipper post-op, believe me!


They did the operation, I went into post-op and recovery, stayed another night, and was out the next afternoon. They removed all the crap they could find, along with my right fallopian tube. I am now the proud owner of three new "keyholes" in my belly, stitched up with dissolvable sutures that haven't dissolved yet. I have to say, though, that one of these "keyholes" must have been designed for a mighty large key! Still, once again, just like my brief stint last year for the same problem, I had absolutely excellent care from every single member of the hospital staff. I was extremely well looked after, the ward was clean and quiet, and everything was very well organized. Everyone was supportive and kind, and answered all the questions I had carefully and fully. Rock on, the Western Galilee Hospital Nahariya!

Elul was great during all this, I want to point out to the world. He was patient, kind, supportive, and dealt with all the odds and ends of work communication that goes with any health crisis, not to mention multiple visits and hassles with parking in bad weather. Thank you, sweetheart!

At my follow-up appointment with my doctor, she told me to take a month off work. At first, I thought that seemed excessive. But now, it's just great. I can't believe how much time I've spent sleeping and just doing the bare minimum of my household chores. I haven't ridden my bicycle since the head injury, and I can only walk for about ten minutes without getting winded. Elul and I used to walk an hour a day, seven days a week! I've had to back out of a wonderful singing engagement for our local ESRA (English Speaking Residents Association) chapter, and have had to take a medical leave of absence from my M.Ed. program. I have just enough energy to work a little and do a little housework, and that's about it. In other words, my life has kind of gone off the rails. Where I go from here, I don't know.

Mystery UnDiagnosis

So, the final wrinkle in all of this is that I'm also being tested for Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness that I may have contracted many years ago when I lived in Ireland. Even though I have ALL the symptoms, I have to say I'm not holding out much hope for a positive diagnosis. This is only because I've been struggling for so long, for so many years, to get to the bottom of this mystery condition, this "great pretender," that is routinely misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's, sleep apnea, epilepsy, vascular dementia, MS, chronic fatigue syndrome, Epstein-Barr, irritable bowel syndrome, hypothyroidism, hormonal disorders, skin cancer, and perimenopause, to name but a few. I have been tested for, and have had ruled out, nearly all of these conditions. The fact that I now recall (thanks to Elul's detective work and careful questioning) that I once found an engorged tick under the bedclothes when I lived in Ireland, is what makes us think it may be Lyme disease. But like I say, I'm not holding out much hope. I feel discouraged and somewhat hopeless. My memory is getting so bad, and my fatigue is getting so out of control (11-13 hours a sleep required a day, anyone?) that I don't know where to go or what to do anymore.

The results of the "AB borrelia burgdorfer" panel blood tests should come back next week. I'll keep you posted.

Big Ol' Storm

In other news, Israel is just coming out of the worst storm it's had in the last 150 years. It's been freezing cold in our apartment, and we've been sleeping in our clothes for the past two weeks. I managed to ferret out a wonderful woolen blanket at the local charity shop, along with some woolen berets and a man's oversize turtleneck sweater, which I'v been wearing day and night during this last cold snap. We took one of my mother's quilts and hung it on a large dowel rod, which we then suspended over our leaky, single-pane home office window to keep the drafts out. The hanging quilt setup was completed by adorable duct-tape sealing, which immediately ripped the paint off the plaster when the cats pulled the quilt down by trying to climb it. To borrow from Willie Nelson's song, "Mothers, don't let your sons grow up to be...living in old Israeli apartment buildings." I have just ordered a few pairs of silk sock liners, so as to be better prepared for next winter.

The Bright Side: Jon Hamm Doesn't Like Wearing Underoos

On the other hand, not all is terrible. I've been able to watch "Breaking Bad" from start to nearly finish. The apartment is reasonably clean. I've discovered the multitudinous benefits of chia seeds and have developed a crazy--but strangely tasty--"Chocolate Chia Seed Gruel" that I really enjoy, despite its turd-like appearance.

Don't hate me because my Chocolate Chia Seed Gruel is beautiful

Sometimes I walk a little on the beach and pick up sea glass for my friend Jody, who makes gorgeous jewelry out of it.

My friend Jody Garbe makes amazing Israeli jewelry and I'm happy to plug her business. Check her out on Facebook at "Twisted Sister Jewelry" and you can buy some yourself!

And occasionally, I get a really funny script to read for the voiceover work I do. Here's a recent one I did about Jon Hamm, the divine specimen of  hunky actor manliness who stars in "Mad Men":

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in "Mad Men." (Thanks, GQ.com for the image!)


"Jon Hamm was spotted out and about in El Lay, with his lady love Jennifer Westfeldt, while getting some holiday shopping done at Barneys. Who knows what gift items they left with, but Jon was clearly not wearing any underwear. Maybe Jon should try buying some!"

Ooh, indeed!

Shabbat shalom, chaverim!




Friday, November 1, 2013

Emerging from the Deep Water

Shalom, chaverim! I must say, I don't feel like I've been a very good "chavera" in keeping up my end of this blogging relationship. I was shocked and horrified to see that it's been nearly two months (!) since my last post. Finally, with the words of my professor (more on that later), "It's better to turn in some crap on time, than it is to never turn in anything at all." So, keeping that in mind, here is my poor attempt to update everyone with what's been going on in my small life these past few months.

In a word, it's been busy as heck. September meant the shock of re-entry into the school year. After all was said and done, I ended up with a contract to work eight hours a week (4 hours on Mondays, and 4 hours on Tuesdays) at the Druze school. Sadly, it seemed that there was a major funding cut at the religious girls' school, where I loved working, and there was no money to hire me with unless I gave up my job at the Druze school. (This has to do with the Kafka-esque funding system of the Ministry of Education in Israel, which baffles everyone.) Since the Druze school was offering me more hours, I felt I had to vote with my wallet and accept the position there.

Once the High Holidays were over, and Israel grudgingly lurched itself back to life, the "machinery" really started working again. Back to teaching, and--even more fun--driving lessons! Since my school days start very early in Yarka--about 30 minutes away in rush-hour traffic--and Elul works late nights, it was vital that I finally bit the bullet and started going for my driving test. It took a couple of months, actually: a few weeks for lessons, and then having to wait for over a month to take my practical test. There aren't enough driving testers in the area, you see, so the waiting list is quite long. The process is tedious, time-consuming and expensive, and my experience as an already-licensed driver involves even less hassle than the poor suckers who need to learn how to drive "from scratch." But, even though the driving examiner was busy shouting at me and insulting my "too safe" manner of driving during my practical test, somehow I managed to pass. Whew! So now I'm on the road, all by my lonesome after not driving for almost two years. It feels great!

So, besides working my two regular jobs as a teacher and a newsreader/story editor for the media company Elul and I still work for, what else has been occupying my time? Well, of course I took on an extra assignment for a publishing company, writing college textbook chapter quizzes. For three different textbooks, actually--introductory anthropology textbooks, to be precise. With my stupid optimism and excitement about even being asked to do the assignment, I accepted it willingly.

Of course, I had no idea how many battles I would face with the assignment until after I took it, and was on the hook to deliver the goods on time. The first and most difficult battle I had to face, was my own horrible habit of procrastination. I spent more time worrying about not doing the assignments than it took to actually do them. And it took a LOT of time to do them, which was the second part of the battle! For some perverse reason, while I was procrastinating, I felt I shouldn't allow myself to do anything else that would "distract" me from the work I was (supposed to be) doing (but wasn't). Hence, the absence from the blog. "How can I spend time blogging/exercising/keeping in touch with friends and family/doing errands, when I have all of these chapter quizzes to do?" I would ask myself while lying in bed in the middle of the day. The paralysis was terrible, and I still don't know how to get out of this terrible habit. Can you believe, I'm now using writing this blog post as an avoidance strategy for doing my homework!

"What homework?" you may ask. "Didn't you just spend a year doing coursework at that religious college so you could get your Israeli teaching certificate?" Yes, I did. And to my utter amazement, when I finished the course I got invited to do their M.Ed. program. So, I've started that. And to help pay for it, I got enrolled in a program that pays graduate students for doing tutoring in the public schools for four hours a week. The rest of the money I'll have to make up with private students or doing extra hours on my news job, but all in all, the tuition fees are incredibly cheap when compared to America. Seriously, a full year of graduate school for NIS 10,000-- the equivalent of about USD $2,800? I'll take that, in a heartbeat!

So graduate school is fun and challenging, and goes every Wednesday from 8:45 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. at night. On Monday nights, I've also started attending a Hebrew class for immigrants, and also study with a wonderful Englishwoman named Jean, who kindly tutors me for an hour a week. Progress is slow and frustrating, but it's still being made. My M.Ed. program is all taught in English, by the way, except for one class in Research and Quantitative Methods, which is given in Hebrew. I've worked out an arrangement with the professor in that course to do self-study that parallels what he's covering in the class. Aside from having to significantly cut down my pleasure reading and television-watching time (a huge sacrifice, especially the television-watching time!), it's worth it. And I'll only have to do it once!

Finally, a lot of health stuff has been happening in terms of tests and the somewhat tense waiting periods for the test results. The good news is, I neither have epilepsy nor sleep apnea. That's thanks to the EEG I took during the summer, and a recent sleep study test I took a few weeks ago. The doctors still don't know why I'm having nocturnal seizures, memory loss, time distortion and daytime fatigue, but at least I won't have to use a breathing machine at night and disturb Elul. In the meantime, I'm using the games of Lumosity.com to improve my neurological functioning overall, and have also installed a lot of external systems to keep me on track--things like electronic reminders on my phone about upcoming work shifts, a big diary I carry around with me everywhere, a computer-based program that allows me a way to manage projects and tasks, and so on. Unfortunately, I have also had to devise some rather sneaky methods of disguising my memory loss and bouts of confusion, which I am sure will be "outed" by others sooner or later, if they haven't noticed it already. The neurologist doesn't think I have Alzheimer's though, so that's good. Chalk it up to a mystery, I guess.

In other health news, I do have some suspicious skin conditions that my dermatologist was alarmed enough by to send me for a biopsy for one of them, and to have the rest surgically removed. That process is ongoing. The biopsy will be in a couple of weeks, and the surgeries will be done in December. Then there are follow-up visits, more waiting, and so on. Fingers crossed it's nothing serious, even though the thing that needs the biopsy clearly had been misdiagnosed by several doctors--and two other dermatologists--over the past five years.

Happily, today also happens to be Elul's and my fifth wedding anniversary! We're going to celebrate by going out to dinner tomorrow night after Shabbat--maybe to Acco, for a lovely meal by the sea. Our bigger celebration, into which we're rolling all our traditional anniversary gifts and Hanukkah presents to each other, is a trip to Rome we'll be making in December. That's why I took on that publishing assignment--to help pay for the trip. Whenever I got discouraged and frightened that I wouldn't deliver it on time, I simply repeated to myself, "When you're in Rome this winter, it will all have been worth it!" And so I succeeded--I turned in the last chapter of the last textbook, on the very last day it was due, a minute past midnight. Thank goodness that the midnight deadline was midnight on the West Coast, not midnight in Israel! Also, thank goodness I had an amazing supervisor who was so exceedingly patient--above and beyond the call of duty, in fact. Thanks, Kate!

So, now I feel "caught up" with all of you and I hope you feel the same. Thank you to everyone who emailed me out of concern for my well-being, due to my lengthy absence. I've been OK, just overwhelmed and very, very engaged. Making Aliyah is not for the faint-hearted. It stretches you, and pulls you around so much that (warning: mixed metaphor ahead!) you feel like a big piece of human taffy that has gone eleven rounds with Mike Tyson. But in the end, you still get the champion's belt!

Shabbat shalom, everyone!




Thursday, September 5, 2013

Happy Rosh Hashanah from the IDF...and from Elul and Me!



Shanah tovah v'metukah, chaverim! Chag sameach!

The above is poorly transliterated Hebrew, meaning that Elul and I are wishing you all a happy and sweet new year, friends. Happy holidays!

I picked this wonderful clip from the IDF because, well, if you're watching the news, you know why.

Stay safe, my friends!

Selah, Elul, Pini and Dudu.*

*Little Moe passed away in a freak accident last month--baruch dayan emet.





Friday, August 30, 2013

Rocket Ping Pong

Shalom, chaverim! Well, it's been an interesting time here these past few weeks here in sunny Nahariya, to say the least. I've found it quite difficult to get myself to sit down and focus on anything for any extended duration, especially writing that demands the slightest bit of creativity and organization. Still, many of you have kindly asked us how we are via Facebook, so I wanted to give everyone a fuller account of recent events.

On the hot and sunny late afternoon of Thursday, August 22nd, Elul and I were just finishing up and preparing to go to the annual Go North picnic, hosted by Nefesh B'Nefesh. It would have been our second picnic since making Aliyah, and we were really looking forward to it. It would be a chance to see our friends from Karmiel and other parts of the north we rarely have time to go visit these days, and also to meet the new olim who have recently moved to Nahariya. There are a lot of them, by the way...just last night I got a call from a lovely family who had just made Aliyah to Nahariya a few days ago. We're looking forward to meeting them, and paying for the packages of American cat treats they kindly purchased for us and shlepped with them in their limited baggage allowance. Thank you and welcome to Israel, Dennis and family!

Because we had to work, we couldn't go on the bus that Nefesh B'Nefesh had arranged for Nahariyan olim who didn't have their own transportation. This work commitment turned out to be fortuitous. All of sudden, I heard two or three large booms, and what seemed to be less than a minute later, loud sirens started wailing. Elul grabbed our cat Pini immediately, and headed out the door to the bomb shelter. I knew that trying to hold onto a fat, wriggling, and soon-to-be-panicked cat was a non-starter, so I stayed behind to get the cat carrier, which was inconveniently stored on top of a tall wardrobe. Our other cat, Dudu, I knew was more or less safely ensconced in her daytime siesta nook--an unreachable storage area over the laundry room.

Cat-carrier in hand, I headed downstairs to our bomb shelter, where people were slowly beginning to gather. Unfortunately the door was locked. Eventually, one resident came down and claimed she had a key, but it turned out to be the wrong one. As the second siren blast went off, she had to go back upstairs and rummage through her apartment to find the correct key. In the meantime, we all stood around with our, er, "mezuzahs" in our hands. Oy, vey!

Welcome!


Two rather damp young boys rushed in, wanting to take cover in our bomb shelter and use our cellphones. They had been caught on the street, halfway between the pool and their homes. Armed with nothing but towels, flip-flops, and soggy bathing suits, they promptly called their mothers like the good Jewish boys they were, and let them know they were safe. Of course, all the cellphone networks were temporarily overloaded, as everyone and their dog was calling everyone else and their dog at the same time. Eventually, however, they got through and reassured their mothers that they were all right and were in a shelter. They were trying to play it as cool, but they were really quite frightened, since they'd seen a rocket fly overhead, heading towards Haifa. The one they saw was most likely the one that landed in a nearby village called Shave Tziyyon. There were four rockets altogether: one was shot out of the sky by Israel's Iron Dome system; one landed in a field near Acco; one landed on a residential street in the nearby kibbutz of Gesher Ha'ziv, and the last landed in Shave Tziyyon. No one was hurt, thank G-d, but there was some property damage to homes, streets, and cars.

By the way, the rockets were sent to us by our neighbors in Lebanon. I don't know who sent them, exactly, but the Israeli media says that the Lebanese government was not behind it, and in fact they helped identify the perpetrators to us. The Lebanese government also cooperated with the Israeli government in helping us carry out a little tit-for-tat air raid. The whole thing seemed to die down as quickly as it had flared up, thank goodness. "Rocket Ping-Pong" is what I've dubbed this crazy game.

Back in the shelter, eventually we all used the power of collective psychic ability (!) to make an educated guess that it was safe to go back to our homes. This is because there was no "all clear" signal given, despite our having been assured repeatedly by a civil defense instructor in a talk he gave last year, that such signals would "always" be given after sirens were activated. It was really very strange. We found out later that there had been a giant civic outcry because Nahariyans who had been on the street, or who lived in buildings with no bomb shelters, had immediately gone to their nearest community shelter. Unfortunately, they were all locked, and there was no real plan in place to have people available to open them. Therefore, people were standing on the street all over the town, huddled before the locked front doors of bomb shelters! What a "balagan" (mess) that must have been. I'm sure some unfortunate local civil servants got severely called on the carpet after that fiasco. Hopefully the powers that be will figure out a better system than what had been in place--which was no system at all.

Our building's bomb shelter is stark, functional and quite unlovely. It has a giant tank of water in it, a sink and a partitioned-off toilet, some plastic chairs, one musty sleeping mattress, and, for some mysterious reason, two used (but luckily unbloodied) surgical gloves.

It's good to know someone left us some medical supplies, in the form of used surgical gloves-- just in case they might come in "handy."


Cellphone signals are blocked by the thickness of the walls and doors, so in order to communicate, one has to emerge into the front hallway of the building. Therefore, the two most important things that are required when under attack--physical security and a means of rapid communication--were operating at cross-purposes. You could have one or the other, but not both at the same time.

Seriously, where is HGTV when you need them ? They should be sending us a bomb shelter makeover crew with a wide-screen TV, sustainable bamboo flooring, and an "open plan design philosophy," stat!

After about an hour or so, we all drifted back upstairs and tried to recover from the shock, as well as to try to piece together from Facebook, phone calls, and the television what had actually happened. Truthfully, we've spent far more time talking about, and reacting to, the event than we did actually experiencing it. Still, it was a great kick in the behind to get us motivated to assemble our basic emergency preparations in the event of another attack. Since then, we've amassed a stockpile of bottled water, batteries, flashlights, non-perishable food, sleeping mats, a second cat carrier, and other supplies. We are keeping all these, along with our Israeli government-issued gas masks, near the front door. We also acquired our own key to the bomb shelter, thank goodness.

These preparations are even more necessary today, now that America seems to be champing at the bit to strike Syria over the regime's alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people. As of this writing, the U.K. government has refused to authorize its military to carry out any kind of strike against Syria at the moment. The U.S. has the support of France and a handful of other countries, and Assad seems to be moving troops and armaments around in preparation for some sort of aerial strike. Russia is dead-set against any sort of action, and they've moved their own vessels into the eastern Mediterranean. We are really hoping this whole thing gets defused in some way, since blowback against Israel seems to be a given. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done a partial call-up of reserve troops, and there are plenty of tanks stationed along the Syrian border in the Golan Heights.

Of course, this situation is changing extremely rapidly, from hour to hour in fact, and what I write here will undoubtedly be a completely different story in the days ahead. We've had a brief respite from worry now that the U.N. inspectors are in Syria and are able to carry out their duties, and the world awaits their report. I sincerely hope America also has the courage to be patient, and see what comes out of it. Even if the U.N. security council refuses to authorize any military action against Syria (which, with Russia being on the council, will be the inevitable outcome), it would be far better if the U.S. had a stronger justification for its actions than it does now. Sitting here in sunny Nahariya, however, it would be far better for Israel, at least, if Syria were left alone to deal with its own civil war in its own way. If, indeed, Bashar Al-Assad hasn't gotten the message already that using chemical weapons can lead to a major international crap-storm, he probably has now. Or maybe not. Who knows what, and who, we are dealing with?

All I know is, it would be better for everyone if we could avoid World War III, all right? After all, I need to do my M.Ed. in Education (I just got accepted to a program which starts next month), and, naturally, I want to get started on my next creative project of making furniture out of old car seats! In other words, we have more important things to do than to get our butts bombed back into the Stone Age, or become displaced (or dead) persons.

Please pray or send good thoughts for the peace of Israel and everyone in our neighboring countries. The Syrians, the Egyptians, the Turks, the Afghans, the Iraqis, the Libyans, the Tunisians...every country around us (ourselves included), has been harmed by bloodshed, violence, pain and disruption. Regardless of causative factors, the facts are that children's lives are being irreparably disrupted, families are being torn apart, and ecosystems and world archaeological and historical treasures are being laid waste. Collective social dysfunction is inevitably played out on the backs of society's most vulnerable, and the current situation is no exception.

I thank you all for staying with me, even though my output of work has been increasingly erratic. I know I have lost some readers because I don't post as regularly as I used to. Still, I urge whatever readers are left to share this blog with your friends. I ask you to do this not because I want to make money or "write epic sh%t," as professional bloggers urge amateurs like me to do in order to produce a giant fan base. Rather, I ask you to share it because our story of moving to Israel, with both our triumphs and our ridiculous prat-falls, gives people a chance to catch a glimpse of what it's like to live in this audacious experiment, this outrageous affront to anti-Semites around the world, this completely insane idea...that is Israel.

Chag sameach and l'shanah tovah!! (Thanks to www.theshiksa.com for the image!)

L'shanah tovah (Happy Jewish New Year) to all of you, chaverim! Elul and I send you love and blessings of peace, health, and happiness.






Friday, August 16, 2013

Now Go to the Toilet and Wash Your Head In It

Shalom, chaverim! As summer's end approaches, we're getting into the nitty-gritty of the annual teacher draft season. Phone calls and emails are flying thick and fast. Will I get Door Number One (the Druze school), Door Number Two (the religious girls' school), Door Number Three (some teaching hours at both schools), or--for an extra frisson of excitement--Door Number Four: nothing at all? No one seems to know what's going on, and I have no hours absolutely nailed down at either school. So much depends on a myriad of factors I am personally unable to control: the school budget, the number of tenured teachers looking for work in the district who might have to take precedence over me, the number of students in need of a teacher, and so on. School starts next week in one school, and two weeks from now in the other school, so we'll see what, if anything, shakes down.

Fortunately, if I am unable to get any teaching hours through the public school system, I can always tutor privately (which is far better paid and doesn't require meetings or continuing ed), and do more hours with my narration job or my other job doing contract work for publishers. At the moment, I've just taken on an assignment to write the chapter quizzes for three new college anthropology textbooks. This is a personal triumph, as it is the first time I am specifically earning any money whatsoever solely due to my master's degree in anthropology, which I earned way back in 1996. Jeeze, only an 18 year wait for the first professional nibble of ROI (return on investment) on graduate school? Wow, that was quick!

On my last blog post, I'd mentioned that I'd been spending part of my summer "vacation" attending various medical appointments. One of these appointments was to have an EEG, which I received this week at the excellent local hospital in Nahariya. Although I'd never had an EEG before, I'd had my brainwaves monitored in the past when I'd taken part in some psychology experiments at a university. What I was expecting, therefore, is that the technician would have fitted me with one of those EEG caps, which looks like a swimming cap with a lot of wires sticking out of it. This, however, was not the case. Far from it, in fact.

Oh, Ben Stiller, you dog you!

Instead, the rather surly technician affixed the electrodes to my head and gave me rapid-fire instructions in Hebrew about how to position myself in the chair, and so on.  When I explained that my Hebrew wasn't very good, and asked her to please speak a little more slowly, she gave me a sharp retort that was equally unintelligible. Gradually, I realized that she was speaking to me in Russian. Apparently, she'd asked me to close my eyes, keep still, and keep my head tilted slightly back. Not understanding what she wanted, of course I opened my eyes, turned to her, and shifted my position. She gave me a sharp rebuke in Russian, and I finally just told her, in English, that I spoke English, not Russian.

That linguistic mess straightened out, we proceeded with the test. "You are opening. You are closing. You are not breathe. Now you are breathe," she instructed throughout the procedure. When it was finally done, she removed the electrodes, which had been attached with wads of a sticky substance that seemed to be a cross between white paste and snot. After lazily trying to extract a few globs of this mess, which was stuck in my hair like that classic Cameron Diaz scene in "There's Something About Mary," she got bored and wanted me out of her room, fast.

"Now you go to toilet and wash your head in it," she commanded, and dismissed me immediately.

So I did. Well, I tried to, anyway. What actually happened is that once I got out as much of it as I could in the bathroom, I ended up walking through the entire Nahariya hospital with this crapola all over me. I felt it softening in the hot sun as we trudged to the parking lot, and getting even more disgusting once we got into the hot car to go home. One commemorative photo and a long shower/shampoo session later, it was all over. I get the results next week.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!


Saturday, August 3, 2013

What I've Been Doing On My Summer Vacation

Shalom, chaverim! It is with a great sense of embarrassment that I return to writing this blog, since it's been so long since my last post. However, I have not forgotten it, and, after a few pointed emails from readers encouraging me to post again (and reassure them everything was okay over here), here I am. I hope the summer is treating all of you well--Nahariya has been its usual hot and humid self, but beautiful just the same. July and August are the months where you usually count on changing clothes at least two or three times a day, depending on how many times you go out, and showering once, twice, or even three times. So, weather aside, here's an update on what's been happening.

The COURSE

A lot has been going on since I last posted. First, I went through the craziness of attending the last classes, and getting all my final assignments in, for "THE COURSE." Frankly, even though it was very educational and worthwhile (not to mention mandatory for obtaining my Israeli teaching license), it was a lot of work. I spent many days off cranking out papers and projects, while Elul was either stuck at home and bored, or out with friends having fun. He's seen a lot more of Israel than I have now, because I've had to miss so many outings. But now THE COURSE is over and most of the grades are in. I did pretty well, which was a relief, although it really doesn't matter that much what one's grades are. The important thing is that you pass it and that your profile gets updated with the Ministry of Education.

However, now the job before me is to improve my Hebrew as much as I can, so I can get into the next round of 180 class hours (plus homework and exams) of coursework. I really don't know how I am going to achieve this. How do you achieve an eighth grade level of linguistic proficiency in a year and a half, when you don't have a private teacher, a class to join, or funds to pay for either? Hmm.

Anyway, that's the news about the first part of THE COURSE: an ongoing saga about which you will be sure to hear more over the coming months and years. The good news is, I finally joined the teachers' union--the Histadrut. Actually, the Histadrut is the union for all public servants, I think. It makes me happy that I'm part of the organization that Golda Meir first worked at as a cashier after making Aliyah, and then eventually headed up. From what I gather, teachers' unions are not terribly popular with teachers themselves here, but nearly everyone is a member anyway. There are two, in fact: the Histadrut covers elementary and middle school teachers, and the "Irgun ha'Morim" covers high school teachers. Since I'm teaching middle schoolers (G-d help me), I opted for the Histadrut.

Sick

The other major time-suck I've been dealing with during my summer vacation has been going to various medical appointments, hither and yon. A test for this, a scan for that, a committee meeting of doctors I have to attend in Tel-Aviv this week, etc. Nothing serious so far (fingers crossed), just a lot of nagging little things that need attending to.

Here's a hint: We recently purchased a heavy-duty hand fan that I can keep with me AT ALL TIMES.


I've also been sick for the last eight weeks with an upper respiratory bug, that resulted in the Mother of All Coughs. The cough took three stabs at medical treatments (one round of antibiotics, another series of cough suppressants and other remedies, and now another type of medicine) before any real improvement showed. This cough was so bad I've had to cancel or reduce my contribution to singing performances. The concomitant  hoarseness also negatively affected my work as a news narrator for one of my other jobs. This cough is no joke. Case in point: a friend of ours had the same bug. He woke up one night to have a coughing fit. He ended up passing out, falling to the floor, and fracturing his spine. He spent many days in the hospital, needs to be fitted for a heavy-duty brace, and can't work.

Driving Lessons

Elul and I finally girded our financial loins, so to speak, and have begun the process of getting an Israeli driver's license for yours truly. I had my first lesson yesterday, and as I haven't driven a car in over nineteen months (not to mention having barely driven at all since I sold my own car in 2010), my driving instructor was relieved that I hadn't forgotten how to drive completely. "I don't teach people how to drive," she said, wagging her finger threateningly. "I only teach them how to pass the test."

However, all is not completely "beseder" (fine) with my driving. "Clearly, you know how to drive, and you will be a good driver in Israel. However, you don't know, at all, how to drive to pass a driving test. They are two different things! You will need at least four or five lessons, I think," she concluded. At 100 NIS (about USD $30) a pop for a 45 minute lesson, that's a nice chunk of change.

Getting a license in Israel is a big deal and a big financial commitment, and it usually ends up costing about USD $500 to $600 just to convert a non-Israeli license into an Israeli one. Fortunately, I don't have to take the theory exam...yet. If I don't pass my practical exam two times in a row, however, I will have to take the theory exam as well. I'm hoping it doesn't come to that. One lady I know of has passed her theory exam, but has failed her practical exam three times already and still hasn't passed. Yow! Oh, and there's a long waiting list for driving exams, so I probably won't even get a chance to take my first exam until the middle of September or so. Still, it's a rite of passage that I want to go through. Driving in Israel can be a bit hairy, but frankly, most of the drivers I've seen here are not much worse than the drivers we encountered in Boca Raton, Florida, or California drivers who had moved to Las Vegas. The thing to remember, though, is that the prevailing Israeli attitude towards traffic laws is to treat them as "suggestions," as opposed to actual rules. Everything's negotiable!

So, that's all the news that's fit to print from our little corner in Eretz Yisrael. Shabbat shalom, chaverim!