Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Israeli Style Repairs

Dealing with simple, day to day household tasks can sometimes be a little intimidating when you have very basic language skills. Making calls, understanding automated responses on phone lines, explaining your problem, arranging appointments and understanding customer service advisers all becomes a challenge.

For this reason I put off dealing with the rubber seal which was coming away from our relatively new fridge. I didn’t know the words to use to explain what had happened and I just didn’t get round to it. Over time the fridge started to drip a little and I knew that the problem had now reached the top of my ‘to do’ pile. Luckily a neighbor offered to handle it for me and I was extremely grateful. They had problems convincing the shop to deal with it as the fridge was now out of guarantee. However, finally they were successful in organizing a home visit for me.

I was a little perturbed when the repairman arrived without a spare seal for the fridge. It seemed obvious that he had already made the decision that he would not replace it for me and was going to fix it up instead.

I waited for him to produce some kind of professional tool or gadget to repair the broken seal but instead he asked me for a hairdryer. He used this for a while over the rubber seal, expecting it to spring back into shape. It didn’t. Finally he asked me for some cotton wool and appeared to be cleaning the seal. I didn’t like to hover over him and left him to sort out the problem.

When he was done he showed me the seal which appeared to now be working better. However, when you opened and shut the door it did not automatically stick to the inside of the fridge and a gap remained unless you pushed it hard to seal the contact. I was not particularly happy with this but before I knew it he was out the door. On closer inspection I could now see that the cotton wool had not been used to clean the seal but was in fact stuffed inside it bring it closer to the inner door and help it to connect. I made a mental note to learn the Hebrew for, ‘bodge job’, which I felt sure would come in handy on many future occasions.

Israeli repairmen always seem to come up with improvised and crude methods of fixing things.

I once had a gas man come to the house to investigate the smell of gas. I was expecting him to produce some kind of gas sensory device to take a meter reading but instead my Israeli ‘Mr Fix It’ simply poured washing up liquid over the pipes and looked for bubbles.

Somehow they continually fail to inspire me with any confidence and they just have a very amateurish air about them. They are rarely dressed in any kind of uniform, their tool kits contain general household items as opposed to technical gadgets and they always look for the cheapest way to resolve the problem, even if that means it is likely to recur.

Yet again the language barrier clouds my decision making. Do I bother my neighbor again who already took time and effort to arrange the visit? Do I phone up myself and try to express my dissatisfaction? Or do I simply shrug my shoulders and live with it?

What do you think?!

Sharona B

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Voting, Israeli Style

Yesterday was my first experience of carrying out my civic duty and voting in an Israeli local election. I guess that’s some kind of a landmark. I think however, those monitoring the election process must have wondered who on earth they had on their hands and whether I had the mental capacity to cope with voting at all! I must have seemed a little clueless whilst trying to cast my vote. The whole process is different to ‘back home’ and I didn’t really know what to do or fully understand the instructions I was given.

I was given two envelopes and for a while afterwards stood around searching for a ballot paper inside each of them and looking for pen to mark an x. After a while I realized things were done a little differently here and that I was standing the wrong side of a booth, which was hiding numerous slips of paper, two of which I needed to insert into my envelopes.

Having rectified the error I mustered as much dignity as I could and prepared to post my envelopes in the ballot box. The officiator, having surveyed my confusion repeatedly checked that I had managed to put the yellow slip in the yellow envelope and the white slip in the white envelope. I assured him that (even) I had managed this.

Later on I walked to the local supermarket and brought a trolley full of food. I asked for a delivery and was initially told there were none today (no reason given, just, ‘not today’). I stood for a while considering which items I needed the most and could manage to carry home. Suddenly the loud speaker unexpectedly announced that deliveries were back on.

Later on in the afternoon my delivery arrived whilst I was on the phone. I noticed the man deliver two boxes and then return to his van for more. I was conscious that I had a final box and assumed he was rummaging around in the van for this. Finally, call over, I peered outside to see what was happening. There was no sign of him. Realizing that my final box had not arrived I phoned the store. I established, in the best Hebrew I could, that I had just had a delivery but that my box of fridge and freezer food had not materialized. I gave them my name and address and waited for them to respond. The phone was passed around to a few people and finally I spoke to someone who acknowledged that one box was indeed missing. Rather than apologizing (An Israeli apologizing? Does that happen?!) I was asked whether they could now deliver my box tomorrow. As I needed some of the items that night I said, ‘no’. Their caring, customer-focused response was, ‘why not??’. I began to pull together a sentence in my mind in Hebrew, explaining that there were things I needed. Suddenly I realized that a better approach was simply to treat the question as an Israeli would. ‘Cacha’ I said (‘because’). Israelis rarely back up a ‘cacha’ with anything, a ‘cacha’ is simply enough. I am proud to say my tactics worked and my box arrived shortly afterwards.

So I guess I may be a little inept at all this new election stuff but I am starting to feel my way in dealing with everyday situations.

Sharona B

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Return to Normality?

It’s raining in Israel. Succot seems to have marked the end of summer with the swish of a lulov. Although September marks the return of many from vacation, the commencement of school and a change of mindset towards a new year, new goals, new priorities; in reality Israel plods along slowly and life does not really resume in ‘full swing’ until the holiday season is over. You can talk to people about any number of ideas or problems you are experiencing in September, but most will make arrangements to get things sorted, “acharay hachagim” – after the holidays.

So finally we have arrived. The New Year is upon us and life is returning to normal.

Although having said that, I think we are still trying to establish what ‘normal’ is for us. Two years down the line; two new businesses, a husband who travels abroad, kids who have changed schools, new work opportunities undertaken… things just keep changing around here. We even have an extra resident – we took pity on one of our ‘garden’ cats (a stray mother and kitten we fed and took care of but firmly kept outside the house) – following a fight and a nasty looking eye infection, we finally succumbed, paid a visit to the vet and now have the kitten fully installed as a house pet.

It’s not that I don’t like change, often it has many positives, it is just that after two years I am becoming a little ‘change weary’. I sincerely hope that by this time next year we will have finally gotten ourselves into a position where we have a ‘normality’ to return to.

On another note, election fever seems to have hit us. No, not of the US variety. There are local elections taking place in November and now national elections appear to be on the horizon. The Anglo culture in Israel is predominantly American and, as a Brit, I have been impressed with how the American’s here have approached the local elections.

In the UK people keep their vote quite personal and vote independently. I have seen how the Americans here have looked to find like-minded people, those with a common cause; be it housing, the environment, whatever, and looked to secure a block vote for the candidate that they feel best serves their purpose. I used to hear in England about the ‘Jewish vote’ in American elections and I really like the way that individuals have realized the power of grouping together and raising issues close to them with the candidates.

Much of the time I cling on to my British ways; I prefer our subtler, more ironic humor; I am more comfortable with a less aggressive approach to life and I sometimes raise an eyebrow at the directness of those around me. However, the elections have really brought home the positive qualities of my American neighbors.

So, with local and national elections over the coming months, yet more change appears to be on the horizon.

Sharona B

Friday, October 17, 2008

Succot in Israel

So here we all are again; sitting in our succahs, waving our lulovs and etrogs; celebrating Succot.

Succot in Israel has been a lovely surprise. It was a holiday that, in England, never quite captured my imagination. Eating outside in a coat and dodging the rain could seem a little farcical at times.

In Israel it is wonderful to hear the ‘tap, tap, tap’ of succahs being erected all around us. It is great to mill around Succot fairs and see a range of lulovs, etrogs and succah decorations for sale. There is just a real momentum in the lead up to the holiday, that I never really felt in England.

Making aliyah is a process and settling in here takes time (and money). The first year we were here we didn’t have a succah and our neighbors kindly informed us every meal that they were invited out so that we could eat in theirs. Last year we put our brand new succah up but we had no table and chairs, so we ended up eating from a coffee table whilst sitting on cushions and bean bags.

This year we bought a table and chairs but had no light.. so I guess next year that is on the shopping list. In a way, this gradual process of getting ourselves set up for the holidays is synonymous with our establishment in Israel. It also means that each little purchase we make is very much appreciated. Not only this but it is the kind of thing that builds family memories - we can tell stories each year; ‘do you remember last year when we…. sat on the floor… ate by candlelight etc.’

I seem to have created our own family Succot tradition too. We dislike the ‘xmas’ style decorations sold here for succahs, so last year I decided to weave some palm leaves into a Star of David. This year I did the same. My daughter also colored in some lovely pictures and the baby also had some lovely scribble pictures on the wall. We added a poster of the Rebbe and our decorations were complete.

Having been a hot summer and Autumn so far, it actually rained on the first night of Succot; so we awoke to a damp and disheveled looking Succah. And there I was thinking how different Succot was over here..!

Sharona B

Thursday, October 2, 2008

My Rosh Hashannah Prayer

Rosh Hashannah. It came… it went. We prayed… we ate.

We have now started the crazy season. Jewish holiday after Jewish holiday. You just get geared up and prepared for one and then another one is around the corner. Perhaps they are on special offer – buy one, get one free?!

But each one has a different character, meaning and role in our lives. Each one merits contemplation and reflection. Every holiday can teach us something about our past, which in turn can help shape our future.

Towards the end of the second day; having prayed, entertained and eaten, I took the little one out for a walk. We ended up at the park and as she worked her way enthusiastically around the swings, slide and other rides, I took in the wonderful view of the Shomron Hills. It is a view I always appreciate; hill after hill, cascading over each other as far as the eye can see. It was the afternoon and the low sun and drifting clouds spread lazy shadows over the land. The grass tones darkened in the shadows and the shades of green seemed to alter in front of my eyes as the clouds moved gently across the sky.

The infectious laughter of my daughter, delighted by her swift descents from the slide provided intermittent interruptions to the peace and quiet around me.

I thought about the recent articles in the paper; this land again appears to be on the chopping block – up for grabs, to be given away cheaply on the whim of a weak and misguided Government. Usually, at Passover, we say, ‘Next year in Jerusalem’; a 2,000 year old yearning that was finally realized with the creation of the State of Israel. This New Year, I had my own silent prayer, ‘Next year, and the year after, and the year after… may we still be living in this beautiful place; somewhere our forefathers settled; somewhere our patriarchs are buried; somewhere our future generations deserve to inherit.’

I don’t think I have ever appreciated living anywhere as much as I do living here.

I don’t think I have ever felt such gnawing fear that the place where I live, somewhere as precious as this, could be so easily discarded.

During this holiday period we consider our past and prepare for our future. We do this on an individual basis. It seems to me though, that we could do with doing this collectively.

Where are we going as a people?

How do we reconcile our own internal differences and integrate as one people?

How do we live in peace and protect our children without the need to chop more and more land away from our already tiny homeland?

And so as my daughter threw her head back in innocent glee, I said my silent prayer, hoping that faith and appreciation would in some way hold sway. Hoping that I could pause time, capture the moment, preserve our life here on this land of our forefathers; hoping , beyond hope, that it will be the land of our descendants too.

Sharona B