Friday, May 25, 2012

Excursion to Acco

Shalom, chaverim! Last week I shared with you the nefarious doings of (allegedly) Israeli-trained spy pigeons and killer sharks.  However, that may be just a little too much excitement for you, gentle readers--especially those readers from Bellingham, Washington, or perhaps those from a  particularly small town in Wisconsin. So to make sure no one's resting heart rate and blood pressure rises to unsafe levels, I'll go back to a more placid subject--Elul's and my little day-trip to Acco, the town next door.

We had a day off from Ulpan a few weeks ago, and we were getting restless. I'd also finally received my belated birthday present, which was a killer new camera, and wanted to try it out. I'd been bugging Elul about an upgrade ever since we went on our excursion to Tel Chai with our Ulpan class. On that trip, I got a bad case of sudden-onset camera envy after seeing my Ukrainian classmate's impressive lens and snazzy eyepiece. Now the Ukranians are envying me! Hah!

The town is about a fifteen-minute drive from Nahariya, going south on the main road that leads to Haifa. It's a quick train ride there, but the train station is a twenty-minute walk to the Old City, so we took a "sherut" instead, which got us much closer for less money. Right now, you can't get from Nahariya to Acco by walking along the beach--Elul and a friend tried it, but were thwarted by a stream--but I understand there is a plan to connect those respective beach roads in the future.

Acco is an extraordinary city that is also Unesco World Heritage site. From what I saw, the national and local governments have done a very good job of simultaneously keeping the Old City intact and attractive to visitors, but also maintaining it as a living, functional, workaday place for local residents. True, Jews and Arabs tend to live in separate areas of the city, but Acco is known throughout Israel for its exceptionally peaceful relations between people of different religions. There also seemed to be plenty of work available, which is always good for maintaining harmony in a community. Acco also has a sister city in Deerfield Beach, Florida, which is where Elul's mother lives. Another mark of good taste!

Although we haven't yet forked out for tickets to visit these places properly, Acco has a number of shrines and places of worship that are important to Islam, Baha'i, Druze, Christianity and Judaism, which draws visitors from all over the world. Acco also is a small port city, and has pleasure crafts as well as fishing boats moored nearby. Not only that, but alongside the port is one of Israel's most famous fish restaurants, "Uri Buri." Speaking of food, the Shuk in the Old City is also where we always go to get our coffee beans, which we haven't yet found in Nahariya.

So now that you've patiently waded through all this informational text, now it's time for me to show you my snapshots. If they're not showing up in the email version of this post, please go directly to my blog at And, as your eyes glaze over, please be sure to slap a fixed smile on your face and maintain a steady rhythm of "ooh,""ahh," and "how fascinating!"

Partial view of Acco's Old City, from the seafront.

Typical street architecture surrounding the Old City.
Residential area, close to the Shuk.
"I wish I had a tee shirt that read 'My friend went to Uri Buri and all I got was this inedible painted rendition of fish!' "
Everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, seems to have passed through Acco at one time or another.
Emergency Vitamin C supplement station.
"Mommy, we're having a whale of a time!"
This fake foliage is looking pretty...tired. Ba-da-bump!
I have approximately four gazillion pictures more of Acco, including some very cool street art, but that will have to wait for another time. Shabbat shalom, chaverim!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Israeli Spies from the Animal Kingdom?

Shalom, chaverim! It's been a lovely week, with not all that much to report about our personal lives. After my brief stint in the hospital, life quickly got back to normal, and Elul and I attended Ulpan all this week. The weather has been so beautiful that's it's getting harder to want to sit in class for hours, then stay home and do even more homework. Also, we've become accustomed to having so many days off for holidays, it was strangely tiring to have to study Hebrew five whole days in a row!

But this isn't to say that life is dull here--not at all. On the contrary, sometimes just "opening the paper" (which for me now means loading a webpage) will give me enough laughs to last me the entire week. Apparently, over the past five years some of our neighbors have been accusing us of sending non-human Israeli espionage agents to their countries.

For instance, here's a link to a story about an allegedly Israeli "spy bird" in Turkey:,7340,L-4229295,00.html  (Turkey, geddit? Oh, the irony!)  I particularly enjoyed this story because it featured a quote from Yoav Perlman, an Israeli ornithologist whose pictures and expertise I have shared here, earlier.

And what about the accusation that evil Zionist spies are planting the Red Sea with killer sharks, just to disrupt Egypt's tourist industry in Sharm el-Sheikh?,7340,L-3995302,00.html

Further afield, and not naming Israel specifically, Iran has accused "the West"of sending "spy pigeons" to do reconnaissance work over their nuclear facilities.,7340,L-3611112,00.html

Finally, also pissing off the Iranian government was some unknown foreign agent's sending of fourteen "spy squirrels" which were duly "detained.",7340,L-3425130,00.html

Now, I do know that these four stories took place over the past five years. However, with the beauty of the internet's "related stories" feature, it's easy to get the impression that every neighboring intelligence agency is going completely bananas if you read them all at once.  On the other hand, these same stories would make for great movies.  Dan Silva's heroic Mossad agent-cum-art restorer Gabriel Allon could meet Chief Brody, and together they would craft a devious yet noble plan involving killer sharks, in a kind of "Jaws" meets "Israeli Mission: Impossible."

Or, in this post-9-11 world, "Groundhog Day" could be revisited so Punxsutawney Phil would spend his winter days underground, but underground in North Korea, equipped with a transmitter chip in his tummy and a webcam strapped to his furry little forehead. He would only emerge on February 2nd in America after his debriefing, and by making a great show of blinking and stretching, create a plausible alibi. Unless, of course, he's not really that bright and blows his own cover.

"What makes you think I'm a spy? Oh! Erm...oops."

Joking aside, lest we mistakenly believe that devious and dangerous wildlife--with nation-building ideologies and the technology to back them up--are something only of the modern age, I must remind you that history shows us that animals have been used for these types of black ops since the Middle Ages. (History, that is, as presented by Monty Python's Flying Circus in their movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail.") You have been warned! (If you can't see the video clip below, go directly to my blog at

And since what's good for the goose is good for the gander, be sure to check all the wildlife in your backyard for surveillance equipment. Shabbat shalom, everybody!

Friday, May 11, 2012

When it Hits the Fan in Israel, Healthwise

Shalom, chaverim! I'd planned to tell you all about a lovely "tiyuul" (excursion) Elul and I took to Acco earlier this week, but that will have to wait. Instead, I wanted to share my most recent experience with another branch of the Israeli healthcare system--that of being in the hospital in Nahariya.

Wednesday morning started like any other school day, but at 9:20 a.m., I was struck by excruciating pain in my lower abdomen, on the right side. "What the heck?!" I thought. About two weeks ago, I'd had an ultrasound that had picked up "something" on my right ovary. Cyst? Fibroid? Cancerous tumor? The doctors had decided to watch it for awhile instead of doing a biopsy, which was fine with me. But now at Ulpan, I was in pain and bleeding. Holy smokes, had the "something" burst?

I decided to go to the Maccabi clinic, which was conveniently located right next door to our Ulpan. My own doctor wasn't based at that particular clinic, but I knew that if I were to get a referral to the Emergency Room at the hospital, any doctor would be able to do it. It took some time, but eventually I did see one. After giving him my medical history (this was to be the first time that day), he immediately wrote the referral letter and told us to take a cab to the E.R.

The clinic staff kindly called us a cab, but while we were waiting outside--Elul pacing nervously and me doubled over in pain and clinging onto a handrail to keep from falling--an Israeli woman who was passing by stopped and asked if we needed any help. Elul told her we were waiting for a cab to get to the Emergency Room, and without batting an eye, she said "I'll take you. My car is right around the corner. Wait here and I'll come get you."

Of all things, our guardian angel had been an English teacher her whole career. Her name was Nomi, and while we were driving to the hospital we exchanged phone numbers. She even called me twice during my stay in the hospital. What a mensch!

You're in the system now! My hospital I.D. tag.

I'd been referred to the women's section of the E.R., and after some waiting time I saw the doctor. I gave him my medical history and told him about the tumor on my ovary as being possibly part of the problem. He immediately did a vaginal ultrasound on me and said "Tumor? What tumor? Who told you that you had a tumor? When did they tell you that? You don't have any tumor. Whatever problem you're having, it isn't anything to do with gynaecology, so go next door to the trauma section of the E.R. Zeho!" ("That's it!")

So I did, and that's where they starting thinking I might have appendicitis instead. Time started taking on that hazy, gauzy quality, which is what happens when you find yourself having fallen right through the looking-glass, like Alice. However, the staff were just so terrific and kind. One attendant, Daniel, looked after me (and the other ten or so other patients) during most of my hours there. He had a brother in Hollywood who lived very close to my own brother in Hollywood, and was familiar with their neighborhood. I still haven't stopped being surprised by the number of extraordinary connections Israelis have with America.

Eventually, I saw a resident doctor and then the attending surgeon, and gave each of them my medical history once again. Since the first doctor had dismissed any "female problems" as being the cause, and the pain was still mainly on the right side of my abdomen, the diagnosis shifted to being a possible case of appendicitis. I was hooked up to an I.V. and began fasting. They had me do a full ultrasound first, but didn't find anything wrong with my appendix. Then they did a C.T. scan (after drinking ten cups of dye--yick--and waiting for hours for it to "move through,"), and didn't find anything, either. Baffling!

Although it was subsiding, the pain was still there, so they decided to keep me overnight. Around midnight, I got into a room with two other women. With a new nurse and another new doctor I blearily went through my whole medical history for the fourth time that day. Everyone who's ever been in a hospital knows that hospitals have their own culture, and systems that are firmly in place and are hard to change. This one was no exception, in that even though it was the middle of the night and the two other women in my room were trying to sleep, when I came in, all the lights came on in the room and the interviews and temperature and blood-pressure checks began, complete with rattling carts and beeping machines. My poor roommates--I still feel bad for having caused them to awaken in the middle of the night.

Since I'd come straight from Ulpan, I had nothing with me at all. I'd given Elul all my jewelry and my wallet, since I knew things have a way of getting "lost" in hospitals very quickly, and I didn't want the mental hassle of needing to guard my belongings. I'd kept Elul's cellphone and a notebook and a pen, and that was it. Just keeping track of those three little things was difficult enough. I was given a pair of hospital pajamas and another couple of bags of I.V. solution, and then at last it was lights out.

That morning, though, I woke with a rotten headache that felt like a migraine.  I asked for some aspirin, but it took awhile as the beleaguered nurses needed to attend to more urgent needs, which I understood completely. But I was tired, and dirty, and upset, and scared, and hungry, and I just lost it. I started bawling like a baby and couldn't manage to control myself. In fact, the harder I tried to stop crying, the harder I cried. A nurse came running in, apologized profusely for not getting me aspirin sooner (!), and gave me some nasty-tasting liquid that she put under my tongue. I don't know what it was, exactly, but it sure did the trick. I was just bowled over by the fact that she was apologizing to me. I apologized to her for bothering her! There were people in that ward who were a lot worse off than me and had far more pain than just a headache, and I knew it.

The doctors and nurses in Israel are amazing. They get paid very little, have to maintain very high standards, and to top it off, most of them speak at least three, if not five, languages. My roommates spoke Arabic and Russian as their first languages, respectively. All of the doctors and nurses I came in contact with moved seamlessly between English and Hebrew with me, Arabic and Hebrew with my first roommate, and Russian and Hebrew with my other roommate. How many hours did all these people spend learning not only their medical professions, but also manage to become polyglots as well?

Later, a new doctor came in and I gave him my history for the fifth time. The pain was much less, and he determined that I wouldn't need surgery for appendicitis. I wondered aloud if the pain had been caused by the ovarian tumor having burst, which is why the first doctor couldn't see it anymore on his scan. However, this new doctor replied that he HAD seen the tumor on the CT scan.

I was confused. "But, the first doctor said I didn't have any tumor! In fact, he challenged me when I told him about it." And the new doctor, to my astonishment, said  "Oh, that guy's just a resident. I saw the C.T. scan myself, and it's still there. So I'm going to send you back to the same department, but with a more senior doctor who knows what he's doing." Zonk!

The good news was, the doctor also said I didn't need to be on an I.V. anymore and that I could eat and drink again. I'd been fasting for close to 18 hours, so that was wonderful to hear. I asked for some food and got some plain yogurt. But just as I was about to dig in, an orderly appeared to wheel me off to my next destination. No matter, I wolfed it down while being wheeled at high speed through the hospital, with the added bonus of receiving a lecture from another orderly in the elevator who insisted I should be adding sugar to my yogurt to make it taste better. I told him I was just grateful I had any yogurt at all.

So, like Bill Murray in an Israeli medical version of "Groundhog Day,"  we went back to the department where I'd started the journey, and saw the more senior doctor. Doing another scan, he not only saw the tumor, but he also saw some other little fibroids and clumps of stuff (this "stuff" had a name, but I didn't understand it) on my ovaries and uterus, and said that's why I was having pain and crazy bouts of bleeding. He said there was nothing to worry about, and that he'd prescribe me some hormone replacement therapy medicine. I finished with him at about 10:00 a.m, and he said that he'd write a letter giving permission for me to be released. "Bingo!" I thought. "I'll be out of here by lunchtime."

It only took them until 6 p.m. that evening to get their paperwork together enough to release me. Oy!

Elul arrived just as the final set of doctors came to spring me. He came with a change of clothes for me, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a thermos full of homemade coffee. We got in a taxi and I arrived home to a clean apartment, a beautiful welcome-home bouquet of flowers, a hot shower, and two kittens who appeared to have grown by 50% in two days. Heaven!
The Israeli medical system really did take incredible care of me. Had I been in America when this happened, even with the crappy insurance I had there, the 20% co-pay added to the $5,000 deductible would have bankrupted us. Since I followed the proper procedure by going to a clinic first and getting a referral to the E.R., my total charge for all that care will be a grand total of zero shekels. I knew moving to Israel was a good move in practical terms--I'm just surprised I was proved right so quickly. We've only been here four months!
Shabbat shalom, everyone!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Transition to the Workplace

Shalom, chaverim! We are now in the unusual situation of having had an entire week without any holidays. However, that will change once more next week, when we first have a day off from Ulpan on Tuesday because it's a teachers' inservice day. Lag B'Omer starts on Wednesday night, which means we also have Thursday off. And then of course it's Friday, which we always have off, and Saturday is Shabbat, so we have that off too. Given the amount of holidays Israelis have, it's amazing that Israel has accomplished so much in such a short time.  Also, given the national respect for Shabbat and time with family, I'm not surprised that Israel scores so high on indices for happiness and longevity. For example, the father of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just died this week, at the age of 102.

Speaking of time off, we are getting into a nice rhythm with our lives here. Sunday to Thursday, we get up bright and early at 6:30 a.m. and are in class at 8:00 a.m. sharp (with the exception of  holidays, of course). Class goes until 12:15, and then we usually do errands on the way home. Lunch is around 1 p.m., and then we mess around on our computers. I also clean house or do laundry, and we take numerous little chunks of time to play with our kittens Pini and Dudu.

At around 4 p.m., we have coffee, look at the sea, and watch "Mr. and Mrs. Bird," two sparrows who have made their nest in a hole in our neighbor's wall. We have figured out that "Blondini's" rendevous with her drug-dealing sugar daddy usually happens on Sundays and Wednesdays, early in the morning. Elul sees her more than I do, though, because she usually meets him when it's my turn to be in the shower. (Seeing them grosses me out anyway--eww!) Alternate afternoons, we go to the gym and work out, and then it's home for dinner, followed by homework, pleasure reading, or watching television. I'm in bed at 10:00 p.m. sharp, and then it's lather, rinse, repeat.

It's hard to believe that this honeymoon period will be over in less than two months now. For the past two days, we've been studying Hebrew related to "avodah," or the four-letter word known as WORK. "Interview," "experience," "character reference letter," and "college degree" have been taught to us as new and important pieces of vocabulary. Once Ulpan is over, we'll be registering with a government office that deals with job placement and unemployment benefits, and we'll get some counselling as to what types of work we might be suited for. I expect my counselling will go something like what is shown in the following "Monty Python's Flying Circus" clip.  (As usual, if you can't see this YouTube link below in your email of this post, please go directly to the website at

I don't think it will be easy for us to find work, frankly, given our respective ages and lack of proficiency in Hebrew. But we'll do our best and see what we can come up with. I have a wonderful Israeli relation who came here from Russia in the 1970's, having been trained as a medical doctor. She did Ulpan, then went to a second Ulpan for medical terminology. But while she was waiting for her first job in medicine, she worked as a cleaner. Now she works at a residential hospital and has her own clinic. Heck, Golda Meier spent some early years here when her only gig was washing baby diapers by hand! So things take time, and we need to be patient with ourselves.

One of the odd things about "starting over" in mid-life is that strange experience of feeling like a complete novice about some things, and a world-weary, jaded cynic about other things. I am still at the point where I get a flush of pride when I manage to answer a sudden question in Hebrew with even a tiny bit of skill. For example, the other day I was sitting on a bench on the sidewalk, and a woman asked me what time it was. Not only did I understand the question, but I also managed to stammer out a response. I also showed her my watch so she could check my untrustworthy answer against reality.

But while getting jazzed about telling someone the time is great, talking about finding work brings up an entirely different set of emotional baggage. It reminds me of exactly how long I spent in the workforce, and what games go on there. It reminds me that I am not a kid anymore, and I really don't have my whole life in front of me...only what remains of it. And when I hear from other olim about what to look out for--e.g. shady recruiting tactics, unfair employment contracts, and so on--it reminds me that I've experienced these abuses before and have the battle scars to show for it.

However, you only fail if you quit or you never try in the first place, so I am choosing to think positively and be open to continual professional evolution. Which brings me to this week's video, a happy, funny, seven minute piece called "The Evolution of Dance."

Yes, it reminds me of how old I am. But it makes me laugh even more, because I've done nearly all those moves myself, including learning "The Twist" from my mother!

P.S. If you go to the "Blog Roll and Links" section of my blog, you will see instructions on how to go to the Facebook page for "Temple Sinai of Nahariya." This is a non-orthodox, egalitarian synagogue Elul and I started here (in our home!) in March. Our rabbi is Rabbi Golan Ben-Chorin of Haifa, Elul does the yeoman's work of organizing, promoting and fundraising, and I am the Cantorial Soloist. Also, we could not have done this without the vital assistance of Temple Sinai of Las Vegas, Nevada and Temple Sinai of Delray Beach, Florida, for which we are eternally grateful.

While I don't intend to make my own blog particularly focused on religion per se, establishing this synagogue has become a major part of our lives here.  If you're interested, "Like" us on Facebook to keep up with what's going on. With Elul's talents as a television journalist and independent filmmaker, you are also sure to see and hear plenty of excellent video, too.

Shabbat shalom, chaverim!