Friday, November 18, 2011

How to Take a Year Off--Whether You Planned One or Not

Elul and I moved to Boca Raton, Florida, nearly a year ago. Leaving all our furniture and much of our personal property to be cleared out and auctioned off in our absence, we drove across the country from Nevada with our one remaining car stuffed to the gills. Although we'd signed a one year lease for an apartment in Boca, at the time we really had no idea what we were going to do once we got here. Would we end up staying for years, letting our dream of making Aliyah fade away?

We had a strong sense that being in Boca was a temporary situation, but one that was very important to take advantage of. We already knew the job market was terrible--just as bad, if not worse, than the one we'd left in Nevada. Sure enough, my attempts to find work in education did not succeed. Attempts at switching fields also failed, and there was neither the time nor the money to invest in going back to school for retraining. I was not the only one facing this problem; as I filled my time with volunteer activities in the Jewish community here, I saw employees--some who had been employed for more than twenty years--get laid off as the "soft money" dried up. "Hard money" also flew out the window at lightning speed: teachers, bus drivers and paraprofessionals also got the axe as the county faced shortfall after shortfall.

I'd left a job and a small part-time business in Nevada, and Elul had been laid off just before we moved. When we moved, we both suffered the loss of our friends at our temple in Las Vegas. Losing our social network was just as difficult, if not more so, than leaving our respective jobs. When I was in my twenties, I bounced around several European countries and always managed to make new friends. I now realize that it is relatively easy to do that in one's twenties, and it's often really hard when you're in your forties and fifties!

Middle aged people have lives, careers, homes, and relationships they've nurtured for years and even decades. Their lives are full and often very, very pressured. Middle aged people are often more suspicious of strangers, and this suspicion is often sadly based on past experience. Middle aged people have more to lose, and therefore more to protect. We protect our time, our assets, our careers, our physical health, and our mental and social spaces. The time has not yet come to completely relax, as we hope to do in retirement. Instead, we need to step it up so we can go the final distance in our careers. We are also noticing that our co-workers (and our competitors) seem to be getting younger and younger every day, ever so softly nipping at our heels.

Despite arriving as total strangers, Elul and I kept our guard up socially this past year. While we have made a few friends through our wonderful temple here, we also are aware that we have held back quite a bit. We have only entertained family at our home, and we have only been to the homes of a handful of people we've met here. I am absolutely certain this is because we have somehow sent out the vibe of  "don't  get too close," to these lovely people. This has nothing to do with them, but only ourselves: we are holding back because we don't want to go through the pain of leaving again. Rationally, I know this is a silly way to think. After all, "'tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all."

Elul's father died in October of 2010. My father also died in February of that year. Although our respective mothers and siblings are alive, we have all been very closely involved in the process of death and mourning. Elul's mother broke her collarbone last summer, and my mother had a surprise stay in the hospital last week, which scared the crap out of everyone. Our bodies are so fragile, and the "stuff" of our lives--careers, homes, jobs, identities--is so transient. How ironic it is that just as I started to feel more like a "grown-up," everything shifted beneath me and some of it disappeared altogether.

Pema Chodron's excellent book of essays, "When Things Fall Apart," discusses this essential transitory nature of life in detail, and I often turn to it. It reminds me to come back to the present moment, and pay as much attention to the "small" things in life as the "big" things. A teacher--I believe it was Joseph Goldstein--once said that boredom is merely a symptom of being in a state of inattention. Living this quiet, transitional year "off" in Boca has allowed me to slow down and pay attention to my life, even if it is merely paying attention to my perceptions of the past and the projections of the future. It has allowed me the time to let creativity and wonder arise again, and to experience the thrilling anticipation of life in Israel.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How To Twiddle Your Thumbs While Waiting to Make Aliyah

Shalom, chaverim! I've been absent a few days because several days ago, I received the alarming news that my mother was in the hospital. Since I want to protect her privacy, I don't want to discuss her actual health problem. But happily, she is on the mend now and should be going home fairly soon. She is bored, irritated, and sick of the crappy hospital food. In other words, she sounds perfectly normal. At the outset, though, it was a very scary time, and I was hovering near the phone and computer for updates. Time takes on a different quality when a loved one is in the hospital!

Prior to this unexpected event, however, I'd been planning on writing about how Elul and I have been basically twiddling our thumbs these past months, waiting to make Aliyah. Of course, in addition to studying Hebrew using Rosetta Stone, Elul has been very busy dealing with the seemingly unending tasks involved in organizing an overseas move. He found us an apartment, of course, and has arranged for someone to buy our furniture. He is working on leads for a buyer of our car, when the time comes. We have also been consolidating bank accounts and tidying up our personal business affairs.

As for me, I've been doing research on what types of physical goods we should stock up on here and bring with us. It sounds silly, but I am very attached to the "secret formula" of hair colors I use, and don't know if I can get the same brand in the same shade in Israel. As part of our earlier, and ultimately successful, efforts to get out of debt before making Aliyah, I cut out expensive salon visits and started coloring my own hair again. Later, I even learned to cut my own hair, but that's a different story! An Israeli friend told me I should definitely come with a few months' worth of hair color, so that's what I'll do.

Another item we're wondering if we should take with us is protein shake powder. Elul and I both exercise daily by walking for one hour, but we also lift weights--Elul in our apartment complex gym, and me to DVD's at home. My brother is very fit and an experienced weightlifter, and he swears by having protein shakes before lifting weights. He's right--they really make a difference in your energy and in building muscle. Of course, I'm sure we would be able to find shake powder in Israel, but at Wal-Mart prices? Probably not!

I've wound down some of my volunteer activities with our temple, but fortuitously, I was approached by a composer to perform some of her works on an album she's producing. That will take up some time and artistic energy, and there's also my last blogging class tomorrow night. (God bless the Palm Beach County School System's Adult Ed program!) I'm also singing a couple of duets with our temple's excellent Cantorial Soloist for a Hanukkah concert, just before we leave.

On a daily basis, though, there's actually not a lot to do that doesn't involve some form of "detaching" activity. I've detached from buying any non-essential objects, since I'll just have to pay to move them to Israel. I still keep finding things to donate, recycle, or discard altogether, so more things become detached from our household. I am discarding useless old paperwork. We are using up everything in our kitchen cupboards, which is producing some unusual dinners and freeing up space. By the way, does anyone have a recipe that would use up a whole bottle of maraschino cherries in one fell swoop?

Elul and I constantly listen to the internet radio stations of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority. It's amusing to hear two men arguing about Israeli soccer (kadur-regel, literally "ball-foot,"), and hearing them say "blah blah blah...BULLSHIT!...blah blah blah." I guess if you swear in English on a Hebrew radio station, it doesn't violate obscenity laws. We also provide endless amusement for ourselves by singing the "Reshet Gimmel" jingle as a duet, both of us singing in silly falsetto voices. When I can learn how to upload an audio file to this blog, I promise to share this tuneful effort with all of you!

We also speculate on what kinds of jobs we might get in Israel, or what kind of businesses we could start. My intention is to try to get work as a Cantorial Soloist (i.e. singing sacred music in synagogues), but that may take time and may not even happen at all. We could work as English tutors. Elul might work in journalism, and he's even thinking of starting a blog dealing with Middle East politics. Perhaps I can make amusing art work and sell it, or make gluten-free baked goods and sell them to local cafes. Elul has considered becoming an importer of motorized trikes. Or maybe we could open a kosher hot dog stand!

As can be seen from this free-wheeling daydreaming, neither of us is really that certain about what we want to do, or what's even possible there. We both recognize that learning Hebrew, and learning to be as fluent as possible, must be our first priority. The rest will have to take care of itself, in time. But we've got six more weeks of twiddling to do, so that's what we're doing!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Our Nahariya Apartment!

Today we signed the lease on our new home in Israel. We did it! Rather, Elul really did it, what with his countless Skype conversations and emails with our real estate agent and, more recently, our new landlady. So without further ado, please find a little pictorial introduction to Nahariya and our new apartment.

A view of the coastline, looking south towards Nahariya from Rosh HaNikra, very close to the Lebanese border.

Part of the beautiful Nahariya beach promenade.

Downtown Nahariya, from Gaton Street. Our apartment is a five minute walk from here.

The approach to our apartment building, on Aliyah Street. What an auspicious address!

Our building. Modest on the outside, but lovely on the inside. We're on the top floor.

The wall along the entry hall downstairs. I like the plaques! I wonder what the ads say on the bulletin board?

The living room, with the breakfast bar and a bit of the kitchen showing.

The kitchen. Note our landlady next to the fridge, trying to stay out of the shot.

The seating area. How am I going to keep that furniture clean? Note to self: pack slipcovers!

The master bedroom. It also has a large wardrobe, since older Israeli apartments don't always have closets.

The guest room. Simple and cheerful.

One of the bathrooms. The shower area is literally an area, with a drain on the floor. We're lucky to have a bathtub, though!

A work of seriously badass public art. I think this is in Acco, though, which is the next town south of Nahariya.

Last but not least, some great commercial art in Nahariya. This sculpture greets guests at The Penguin Restaurant. The Penguin is the oldest, most famous, and most loved restaurant in town.
As you can imagine, the thought of making this journey is both exciting and daunting. With less than two months to go, I am resisting the urge to start packing now, since I know we will need most things until the day before we leave. For the things we will put on our "lift"--the stuff we will have shipped to Israel--we have to let the shippers pack all that stuff themselves, so that they will insure it. Because of this, I really can't pack anything, which is strangely frustrating. 

We're shipping our personal effects (clothes, books, art, etc.) and a very few bits of furniture. But we have an apartment full of furniture here, so we've been puzzling over how to get rid of it in one fell swoop without simply giving it away. We will be immigrants who won't be working and don't speak the language in our new country, and it will probably stay that way for at least six months, if not more. Every NIS (New Israeli Shekel) we can scrape together and/or avoid spending, the better.

Today, Elul arranged for a furniture buyer to come to our apartment on December 15th. If we make a deal with him, the buyer will return a few days after that to pick up nearly all our furniture, minus the bed, two office chairs and small desks, and our recliners. This means we will be living out of our suitcases and eating dinner on our laps for about ten days, since we won't have our dressers or a table anymore. I'm telling you now, during this time of "fun camping" in our apartment, I will be thinking "I'm getting too old for this crap!" more than once!


Sunday, November 6, 2011

What I've Been Reading to Educate Myself about Israel

For the past two days I have engaged in the sin of gluttony. Namely, video gluttony. Comcast hasn't made Season Four of "Mad Men" available on their On Demand series yet, and we missed it when we were living in the Southwest. But last week, my stepmother gave me the brilliant idea of checking out the Season Four DVD set of "Mad Men" from my local library.

I have struggled with "Mad Men Deprivation Syndrome" for many months. This syndrome manifests itself in vague yearnings to smoke cigarettes at work, tease my hair,  and wear a nosecone-shaped bra--er, "foundation garment"-- under a twinset with pearls. Ironically, I was reminded a few months ago of the actual technique of hair teasing by watching an HBO special on Gloria Steinem!

Anyway, back to "Mad Men." The DVD set arrived at the library early last week, and we picked it up. After putting up a weak pretense of self-control, our willpower faded into nothing. Following services on Friday night, we spent all of Shabbat watching the entire thirteen episodes of Season Four. We are looking forward to watching the special features later this week, including "Don Draper's 10- Point Blueprint for Success." Oh, Don Draper, you dashing anti-hero! Given that my father-in-law (of blessed memory) worked in the garment industry in New York during the Fifties and Sixties, Elul has found "Mad Men" to be particularly fascinating.

Reading books about Israel may not be quite as titillating as watching "Mad Men," but they too can be extremely entertaining as well as informative. There are literally thousands upon thousands of books about Judaism--how to be a better Jew, how people came to be Jews, what does it mean to be a Jew, who is or is not a Jew, and so on. But I had a very specific interest in learning about modern Israel, and by modern, I mean from the run up to statehood in 1948 until today.

I have always enjoyed reading history in a sociological context. Rather than memorizing dates and players in battles (boring!), I was always interested in what factors brought people to the battlefield in the first place. When teaching American history to teenagers, I developed a particular interest in the American Revolution when I took a closer look at the complexity and remarkable nature of how America came to be a republic. So when I reflected on the establishment of the State of Israel, I realized that because of Israel's young age (in terms of formal statehood), it was as if the Israeli equivalent of John Quincy Adams were alive today. The descendants of these amazing people--David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, for example--were not only still around, but they were writing books, giving television interviews, and showing up on YouTube. You can even get footage of Golda Meir herself talking to Barbra Streisand on YouTube! How cool is that?

My baby-steps self-education in Israeli history were not--by definition--guided by a college reading list. I have skimmed some early works on Zionism, and frankly, I have found some of David Ben-Gurion's writings a bit stiff and heavy going. But I have also found some highly readable and very entertaining books that I can sincerely recommend. Some are historical fiction, some are actual accounts, and one "autobiography" was actually ghost-written by a friend of the author!

So here are some highlights of what you might find interesting to read. Of course, you can get them on (I've added a handy widget on the side of this blog for this purpose, so you can research the book without leaving the blog), but don't forget to support your local public library, either!

"My Life," by Golda Meir. A fascinating and highly readable account of Meir's early life in Pinsk, Russia, to her youth in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and her amazing journey to Palestine, all the way to the birth of the State of Israel and beyond. (This is the one that was ghostwritten, and it does leave out the stories of her various affairs with powerful men along the way, but it's still a great read!)

"Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation," by Ruth Gruber. The only foreign correspondent given permission to cover the conditions in the Displaced Persons camps following the end of WWII, Gruber documents the true story of one of the "illegal immigrant" ships filled with Jews trying to get to Palestine after the war. A shocking, but ultimately very inspiring, true story of hope, courage, and incredible determination.

"Raquela: A Woman of Israel," also by Ruth Gruber. Biography of a ninth-generation Jerusalemite woman named Raquela, born in the 1920's and lived and worked as a midwifery nurse for Hadassah, in the DP camps in Athlit and Cyprus, and later in the Israeli Defense Force. Her encounter with Henrietta Szold (one of the original honchos of Hadassah) at the end of Szold's life is poignant.

"Rescue: The Exodus of the Ethiopian Jews," yet again by Ruth Gruber. I didn't know that the Ethiopian Jews who came to Israel primarily got there because of a secret Mossad airlift operation, did you? Fascinating stuff! I have a particular interest in this group of people because there are a large number of Ethiopian Jews who live in Nahariya.

"The Hope," by Herman Wouk. Skillful weaving of fact and fiction that uses men and women in the Haganah and, later, IDF, to interact with the giants of David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir from the establishment of the Israeli state to the Yom Kippur War. I have Wouk's sequel, "The Glory," waiting for pickup at my local library!

Finally, everyone raves about any Daniel Silva book that features the "retired" Mossad operative/art restorer Gabriel Allon in it. Based on our temple librarian's recommendation, I checked it out and have just started it. So far, I can say that this spy is one cool cucumber!

What about you? Any suggestions for further reading, while I'm still here and can't read Hebrew very well yet? I can already tell by the comments that I'm attracting an audience of pretty smart cookies!

Shavua tov, chaverim! (A good week to you, friends!)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Winding Down One Life to Start Another

I have noticed that the older we get, the more deeply entrenched and enmeshed we can become in the matrix of life. As the wag said, "if you think no one cares about you, just try missing a car payment or two!" In the past two years we've been planning to make Aliyah, we have done the following:
  • Paid off both of our cars and sold one of them;
  • Decluttered to the degree that would make Niecy Nash of "Clean House" beam with pride;
  • Gotten our names off umpteen mailing lists;
  • Gotten out of ALL credit card debt--woo-hoo!
  • Rented out our upside-down house, which we left in the real estate vortex that is Southern Nevada.
Believe me, we would not feel comfortable in making Aliyah if we were still in debt, had car payments to make, and hadn't rented out our house. When trying to start a new life, it is very important that you have paid for your past before you try to spring for a brand-new future.

Of course, I'm talking about the mechanics of setting up a "new" life by moving overseas and into a new culture, as opposed to going into the Witness Protection Program and disappearing! While extricating oneself from payment plans, possessions, property, and so on can be a large job indeed, the most difficult thing is not leaving stuff behind, but  leaving people behind. For example, we were asked about this in our interviews with Jewish Agency and Nefesh B'Nefesh officials. It's good they ask this of prospective olim. It's easy to get caught up in the exciting dream of making Aliyah; so much so that some people fail to deeply consider the ramifications of being far away from their family and friends. In my case, I responded that I have lived far away from my mother for most of my adult life. At this stage of the game, she doesn't really care what airport I'm flying in from, as long as I'm flying in to the airport where she lives!

As a side note, every day I thank my lucky stars that I'm alive and well during the age of the internet. I did a great deal of travelling when I was younger, and "back in the olden days" (!) you could meet amazing people and only get their name, and if you were lucky an address and phone number. But I was meeting young people who were rolling around the planet as much as I was. Addresses and phone numbers became useless quite quickly. I am still searching, in fact, for a dear friend in London whom I haven't heard from since 1995. Nowadays, we are practicing using Skype with Elul's mother and her caregiver. My own mother is seriously wired, so Skype won't be a problem for her--she posts photos of her quilts on Facebook! Nothing can be as good as being in the physical presence of a loved one, and of course we can bemoan the lost art of writing and mailing letters on paper. But being able to see a talking, smiling, laughing video image of a family member, for free, is fantastic!

Apartment Hunting Update: Elul and I seem to be in the final throes of negotiations involving the rental of an apartment in Nahariya. This is great news! I say "Elul and I" as if I've actually participated in the negotiations myself, but that's not true--Elul has done all the work, really. It has taken literally hours and hours of Skype "phone" calls between Elul and our wonderful real estate agent, Yoram, to go over the apartment by close scrutiny of photographs, and back-and-forthing between the landlord, Yoram, Elul, and the landlord's lawyer. Just before leaving for my blogging class (which I'm attending now as I write this), Elul worked out some final details regarding the "who pays for what kind of insurance?" question. The apartment is very nicely furnished, but we will have our own things as well, including a stove and dishwasher we'll need to buy. So the question is, who pays for the contents insurance? I think the question was settled between Elul and the landlady, and it just may be the last thing to cover...I hope!

I have restrained myself from posting the many pictures we have of this apartment. This for two reasons. First, we haven't signed the lease yet, and I don't want to end up with egg on my face if it doesn't work out. Second, this is only my second night of my blogging class, and I haven't figured out how to post photographs yet. I suspect it is ridiculously easy, but even if we learn how to do it in class, I don't have access to my home computer here. But I am itching to show them to you--they are so cool!