Friday, July 27, 2012

Pounding the Pavement and Knocking on Doors

Shalom, chaverim! Well, our Ulpan exam results are in and we have received our official diploma/certificates from the State of Israel. I got a 100% in level Aleph, which is the highest you can go in that particular level. However, Elul did even better, getting a 89% in level Bet, which is an entire level higher than the level Aleph goal set by our Ulpan teachers. I am very proud of Elul, and he earned every single point through sweat and grit. I'm not so proud of my own score, but I am satisfied that I did the best I could. I am more proud that I didn't quit the class altogether, since there were a number of dark days when I really wanted to bail. We plan to attend Level Bet Ulpan classes when they start up in the fall, provided that we don't have work schedules that would prevent us from doing so.

As far as work goes, we're still looking. Once you finish Ulpan, the financial assistance you receive from the government drops precipitously--in our case, by about 50%. You first go to meet with your Absorption counselor and discuss your options. We met with ours just before completing Ulpan, and she told us to return shortly afterwards, with our resumes prepared in Hebrew.

The first order of business, however, was to get my English resume down to a manageable size, and in a format that, when translated, would make sense to an Israeli employer. I did this with the help of Tamara Klinger-Levy, a Nefesh B'Nefesh staffer who helps new olim find work in Northern Israel. She sent me a template to use, and I wrangled my life into even tinier, punchier bits of text. After Tamara made it even more concise, managing to get it all on one page, it was ready for translation.

Our Absorption counselor had given me the details of a wonderful woman who works at the Nahariya public library, who does free translations of English language resumes into Hebrew. A few phone calls and emails later, and bingo! It was done, and I now have a shiny new Hebrew resume.

However, the realities of being middle aged, car-free, living in the North, and not having fluent Hebrew are showing up in our job hunt results. Even though it has recently become illegal to ask this question in an interview, Elul and other friends have often called about jobs only to be asked, right off the bat, "how old are you?" One friend, who is in his fifties, stopped into an ice cream parlor that was about to open for business. When he asked if they were hiring, he was bluntly told "you are too old to scoop ice cream." We scan the job postings daily, and are steadily applying for work. We use LinkedIn, the Nefesh B'Nefesh Facebook job postings, the Jewish Agency jobsite for olim, and good old word-of-mouth networking. However, there just isn't a lot of work available in Nahariya for anyone, much less middle-aged olim with shaky Hebrew. So we have set our sites further afield, and are looking into as many telecommuting positions as we can find.

Other friends here, who have been here longer, are having mixed results with their careers. One, a former university professor with a PhD in education, but who for some baffling reason is not being allowed to teach in Israeli schools, is doing telephone fundraising work. Another, a former attorney and mortgage broker, is doing telephone sales for a foreign exchange trading company. A third friend has found part-time work as a fundraiser for another cause, which he hopes will lead to a full time job. Another friend, a nurse with more than twenty years' experience, finally found work in a nursing home. However, she left the job after her first day of orientation, when she discovered that she would only be paid 30 NIS (about $7.50 USD) an hour, which is barely above the Israeli minimum wage.

My own professional field, teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults, is one of those niche jobs that lends itself best to doing private tutoring. My teaching qualifications are from England, and since the curriculum was geared to teaching adults, not children, do not allow me to teach in the Israeli public school system. However, I have learned that even the private language schools here pay exceedingly low wages and do not offer full time contracts or guaranteed hours of work. With this kind of instability and low wage, it doesn't make sense for me to spend money commuting back and forth to the schools. So that's out, at least for now.

However, Israel is a place where you can reinvent yourself. Sometimes you can do this by choice, and sometimes you have to do it through necessity. Whether we like it or not, the entire North American/European job force is undergoing seismic shifts in the way business is done and how "career" is defined. I was never particularly orderly in my own "career," as it was something I rarely put in first place as a life priority. So I will tell my Absorption counselor, when I meet her in August, that I am interested in looking at opportunities to re-train for another field entirely. I want to find something that cannot be outsourced, and provides full time work in a "real" Israeli company.

In order to earn the rights to a full Israeli retirement pension, like the American Social Security system offers, you need to work for at least ten years for an Israeli company. (Either that, or your can be self-employed and pay into your own fund, but at a very high rate of tax.) What I have seen, in many of the jobs advertised for English speakers in Israel, is that the work is being offered by overseas companies. The worker is paid by PayPal or by bank draft in a foreign currency, and the employer does not have to abide by any Israeli employment laws. Likewise, these employers know that a foreign worker is highly unlikely to pursue the employer in the courts, so the worker is at a great disadvantage. There is a new class of highly educated and yet highly vulnerable worker, and these workers are being sought by an enormous number of overseas firms. The workers are vulnerable for a number of reasons: age, geographic location, physical limitations, lack of unionization or legal oversight, and the simple economic principle of supply versus demand.

Prospective olim need to consider their careers very carefully when thinking about making Aliyah. If you can arrive debt-free, enjoy living simply, and don't mind being flexible about your job and its wage, then you will probably be all right. But you need to know that there is a definite ageist bias in the workplace, and that's not likely to change anytime soon. Fair or not fair, it's the way it is right now. You will also need to look at the geographical availability of work in Israel, which is still centered around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. However, the cost of living in these areas is extremely high, almost prohibitively so. Finding work in and of itself may not be so hard, but finding work that is lucrative enough to maintain a lifestyle in these places might be very difficult indeed.

We're still glad we chose Nahariya, even though our location is working against us at the moment in our job search. Neither of us is particularly interested in a high-powered, high-stress career lifestyle, nor do we care that much about "stuff" or impressing anyone with it. We even like being car-free, as it keeps our overhead very low. But we are both going to need to be very creative and open-minded when it comes to building our work lives here. As one of our former Ulpan teachers said at the end of the course, we "are now like babies leaving the incubator!" Yes, we're out of the incubator, but we're not yet out on the cold, cold streets. Not yet, anyway!

Shabbat shalom!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Island of Lost Art

Shalom, chaverim! We are in the height of the Nahariya summer everyone warned us about, so I will leave it to you to fill in the blanks about what this is like. But just in case you really don't know, I'll give you a few Mad-Libs style sentences--so you literally can fill in the blanks. Shabbat fun!
  • It is so hot here that your                    (body part) sticks to your                   (kitchen appliance).
  • It is so humid here that a local __________ (clergy member) _________ (past tense verb) the _______ (noun) out of a/an ___________ (adjective) __________ (profession).
  • The sun beats down so _________ (adverb) on your _________ (body part) that you want to go sit under a __________ (type of plant) and cool your ________ (pair of body parts) with a nice mixture of _________ (vegetable juice) and _________ (industrial cleaning agent).
So weather like this drives us indoors for the heat of the day, which naturally leads to reveries about the finer things in life, such as art and music. And since I have yet to achieve my goal of getting my hands on an autoharp, I've had a chance to look at a series of photographs I took just before Ulpan finished. I call it "The Island of Lost Art."

Our Ulpan was held in a municipal building in Nahariya that held not only language classes, but also pottery, painting, music, dance, and martial arts classes. So many students over the years has led to many works of art being left behind, either as gifts to the school or just literally left behind.

These works are displayed in a haphazard way--some are so close to the ceiling that they are almost invisible. Some are hung in such dark corners behind doors that no one ever notices them. But I am a soft touch when it comes to strays, even stray works of art. Who made these pieces, and when? What was happening in their lives when they did this needlepoint, or this painting, or this ceramic work? They hang, gathering dust and grease and cobwebs, quietly radiating their energy into the space.

Sound the shofar and wave the lulav--and turn the light off while you're at it!

You might have to "crane" your neck to see this little piece...geddit? Collection of ceramic works on a stairwell wall.

Pictorial representation of Hebrew teacher doing her best to keep both successful and struggling students engaged in learning the passive tense. Painting on a stairwell wall.
This poor, beautiful piece of needlework! What good and patient person created this, just to have it so ignobly displayed, above the tops of two office doors and obscured by an electrical cord?
Some pieces show an impressive degree of artistry and technique. This work was hung very close to the ceiling in a hallway, for some unknown reason.

The Ulpan building itself is constantly teeming with activity, all generations gathered together in pursuit of one aspiration or another. The evidence of our equally committed predecessors--their works of art--hang in testament to this sacred quality of human creativity. As we remember the victims of the recent and horrific terrorist attack in Bulgaria, carried out against young Israelis celebrating the end of their high school days, may the spirit of joy, of accomplishment, and of the love of learning continue on within us all. Shabbat shalom.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Israeli Sea Legs

Shalom, chaverim! I write this hoping my sunburn won't get any worse than it already is, but any damage I incurred was worth it. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

I have fulfilled one of my life's ambitions. This ambition was not to have a boat, but to have a friend with a boat. And such a new friend has come into our lives--hurrah! Joel is a long-time oleh from New York who has lived in Nahariya for more than forty years. An orthopedic surgeon, Joel just retired from the local Western Galilee Hospital, so now he has plenty of time and energy to go sailing. Elul met him at a men's Torah study group a few weeks ago, and he was kind enough to invite us to come out for a few hours on his ship, the Optima.

The Optima is a dear old English lady who has seen her fair share of the Mediterranean, with countless voyages primarily to Cyprus, Turkey and Greece. She is a 32.5-footer (10 meters) and could probably sleep four adults in a pinch. For our outing, we were four adults and three young people. As the youngest of the crew was a twelve year old boy from Bellvue, Washington, there were plenty of sea legs aboard.

Joel keeps his ship moored in Acco, a gorgeous and ancient city a few miles south of Nahariya. The port is in the Old City, and while the types of craft docked there wouldn't exactly rival those you'd find in Monaco or Nice, it was a very relaxed and straightforward type of marina.

Acco Marina: Where the diehard casual meet the unapologetically informal

The last time I was on an actual sailing vessel, that wasn't a cruise ship or a ferry boat, was when I was about twelve years old and on my Uncle Mac's boat. At the time, we sailed on the Chesapeake Bay on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. Even though I didn't get seasick then or now, I am just as useless a sailor now as I was then. Joel, his friend Tal, and Elul did the lion's share of the work when it came to winching, tying, and performing other verb actions involving ropes and sails. They were gamely assisted by the younger members of the crew, who also really knew what they were doing. There's nothing like being put in one's place by a twelve year old boy, so I quickly relaxed and left the sailing to them. I was made, however, a Keeper of the Watermelon Chunks and Distributor of Peanut Butter Puff-Doodles. I was content with my rank and tried to live up to my pay grade. I only dropped two Peanut Butter Puff-Doodles, which was not bad for a novice.

As a surgeon and as a captain, Joel was very comfortable in making his wishes known to his crew.

Captain Joel, who needs no assertiveness training.

Gali, one of the younger members of the crew, was an experienced sailor and did a fine job assisting.

Gali assists in raising the jib. Getting a ship out of port is a hectic business.
It was a great chance to see Acco from the vantage point usually only seen on postcards. Joel explained that the pink boat was a glass-bottomed party boat that takes tourists out for spins. Furthermore, he said you can usually guess who's on the boat based on what music is being blared out of the speakers: Arab pop music or Hassidic dance music.
Acco's Old City. Think pink if you want to PARTY!

Our route went north towards Lebanon, giving the border area a wide berth, of course. Then we circled back, with a view of the Haifa peninsula on our return. My dreams of dropping anchor and jumping into the sea, a la "Shirley Valentine" were thwarted, however.

Acco and her sea walls, in all their glory.
The reason we couldn't swim was because the "medusot" or giant-a** jellyfish, had arrived, and they were partying like it was 1999. These jellyfish were white, enormous, and everywhere. And when I say they were big, I mean they were big. Literally as big as basketballs. Joel had some vinegar on board to treat possible stings, but no one wanted to chance it. Wise choice, I think.

Shabbat shalom, everyone!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Remembrance of VH1 Videos Past

Shalom, chaverim! As we settle into our post-Ulpan lives, we've been busy resurrecting our more intensive fitness regimes. This includes continuing to go to the gym three or four times a week, but also adding daily one-hour walks along the gorgeous seaside. Elul is even more gung-ho than me, and frequently goes on bike rides with our friend in the evening. He also gallantly rides to the store, often hauling back forty pounds worth of groceries on his back and lugging them up the steps. As for me, just getting my carcass out the door for a walk in the morning is a triumph.

Back in Boca Raton, where we lived before making Aliyah, we also did daily one-hour walks and went to the gym regularly. However, once we hit Israel and started Ulpan, my self-discipline was taken up entirely by homework, and my fitness routine went out the door. Studies have shown that people have daily allowances of will-power, so until a new practice (such as exercise) becomes a comfortable habit, you have to "spend" your willpower to make yourself perform the activity. For example, if you are trying to stop frivolous spending and diet at the same time, you shouldn't window shop before you go to a party where there will be lots of food. If you have to "spend" your willpower by not spending money in the stores, you're more likely to be unable to resist the extra food at the party.

Anyway, spending my willpower elsewhere led me to put on weight again, and now that it's swimsuit season, I really can't lie to myself any longer about this very visible evidence of months spent in sloth. This is a very vexing feature of being an aging woman: every year your metabolism decreases, so you either have to eat less or exercise more (or both) just to stay at the same weight. And heaven help you if you want to LOSE weight on top of that.  So now my job is to get serious exercise to become a comfortable habit again, so I don't have to use much willpower to get it done. Then I can "spend" my willpower on cleaning up my diet, cutting portion sizes and so on. Bah!

But, I mentally sputter to myself, being in Israel has had such a tonic effect on me! During Ulpan, I felt like a young woman again, full of hope and excitement, and living the life of the student--albeit a student in a much better dorm room. I also rode a big wave of personal triumph that we'd managed to make Aliyah at all. Now that it's over, it feels like we've been given a fresh start, and a chance to build new careers and a new (and happy and sane) way of living. I've already "scratched the itch" of becoming a home-owner, and of having a nice car, somewhat nice clothes, and a job with an impressive title (if not the pay), so I don't need to chase those things anymore. So has Elul, and as such we're on the same page about what is and is not important in our lives. Therefore, it's always surprising to look in the mirror and not see my twenty-something self reflected back. I feel younger, happier, and more optimistic than I have in years, so why don't I look that way? How did I get so...thick?

This sense of being in a kind of mental time warp hit me hard a couple of days ago. Elul and I were relaxing and watching television, and we found the music video channel VH1 broadcasting a countdown show of the top 100 one-hit wonders. Like Proust being triggered by his fiddly, fancy French cookies, I had a wonderful time watching these hits, because I remembered every single song and what I was doing at the time they were (so achingly briefly) popular. So I leave you with two of my very favorite songs from that countdown: "Dance the Night Away" by The Mavericks, and "The Macarena" by Los del Rio, which I humbly admit I hadn't thought of or heard in years. And what's really silly is that I realized I'm now closer in age to the Los del Rio guys in the suits than to the dancing girls!

Enjoy this blast from the past, chaverim, and shabbat shalom! And as usual, if you can't see the video links above, please go directly to my blog at  Don't forget to turn your up your speakers and boogie on down!