Saturday, October 10, 2009

Simchat Torah - A Grand Finale

And so the holiday season has drawn to a close. Here in Israel, since the August break, life has never really wound back to normal. Instead we had a leisurely change of gear during September, with the return of work and school, but with many big projects, reorganizations, after school activities and normal school hours, not resuming until next week.

Whenever you asked something of someone over the past few weeks, the answer was always the same, “acharay hahagim” – after the holidays. Life in Israel was paused on half speed and today signaled the end of the festive season. But Simchat Torah is not really an ‘end’ it is surely a ‘grand finale’.

Today’s, Simchat Torah celebrations were joyous and manic. I watched as the men raced around the bima, torah scrolls held in the air or over their shoulders, singing in unison; the women looking on, making their own circles to dance in; clapping and singing along. I smiled at the boy propped on his father’s shoulders, wearing his over-sized jacket and two hats stacked one upon the other. Everyone was happy, celebrating the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.

And so Israel cranks up another gear to something that resembles normal speed. The women all start their diets and the kids their after school clubs. Please G-d our year will be full of health, happiness and peace. Amen.

Sharona B

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Still New After 3 Years?

Forever an Olah?

We have been in Israel for nearly three years now. I have had a baby in this country and am raising a Hebrew speaker. My older kids use Israeli hand gestures and speak Hebrew slang. We make lasagna using cottage cheese. But do we feel Israeli?

Last week we were waiting at a bus stop. When we had been there for a short while, an Israeli lady sat near us under the shelter. The kids were talking to each other in Hebrew and I was talking to my youngest in (very bad, heavily accented) Hebrew too. After a while she said to me, “How long have you been here?”

Assuming she had picked up on our accents, I answered, “Nearly three years now.”

“No,” she said. “How long have you been here.” As she had stressed the last word, I assumed she meant our yeshuv. “We’ve lived here for nearly two years,” I answered.

“No,” she said again. “How long have you been here.” This time, as well as stressing the last word she pointed downwards to the ground. Finally, I understood. “Oh, sorry. We’ve been at the bus stop for ten minutes!”

The exchange, although a little silly/embarrassing/funny (delete as you see fit) got me thinking about the fact that I may have an ‘olah’ mentality. When will I actually feel so at home that if someone asks me the same question, I will cease to automatically assume they see me as a newcomer.

Sharona B

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Israel Sliding Into Recession

Until now it had just been headlines in the paper but my foray today into two local towns brought home the fact that Israel is sliding into recession, alongside the rest of the world. For a while it seemed to be defying the trend, with little visible sign of an economic downturn. Now though, the reality is kicking in.

Today I ventured out to two local towns. It was a beautifully, hot, sunny day. The palm trees were waving in the gentle breeze and life appeared to be going on as normal. Music could be heard from various shops and buses; people were busily going about their business, perhaps on work or shopping activities; motorists were impatiently jamming their horns.. all seemed to be as it always is. And yet…

Whilst visiting the first town I noticed that a café I frequented had shut down and now had a man selling soft furnishings within the stripped down shop. It resembled a market stall and was selling seemingly cheap but quality-looking goods.

At the next town my favourite ‘tastes like home made’ cous cous café was closed and had been replaced by a makeshift falafel stand. Again the shop resembled a carcass, having been stripped down of all assets, giving it the feel of a squat.

The slowly emerging gaps along the high street and the emergence of ‘market stalls’ in vacant lots perhaps made me observe my surroundings more carefully. I was sad to see several people rooting through the rubbish bins (trash cans). These were not traditional ‘vagrants’ but were quite well dressed.

There were quite a lot of buskers on the street too. I passed one man who, farcically it seemed, was playing a violin with a music stand and sheet music propped up next to him. He screeched away at his instrument, seemingly incapable of playing a note. As I walked passed I thought it quite comical that he had taken the trouble to have the music stand next to him – perhaps to give him the air of a professional! However, my eyes gradually drifted to his hands and I noticed him awkwardly holding one hand against the wrong side of the bow. I thought this strange and then wondered whether his clumsy position might actually be the result of a stroke.

By the time I had taken this all in I was some distance away from him and my initial amusement had turned to pity. My short trip out had certainly turned into a depressing eye opener. But for the grace of G-d go I.

Sharona B

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pesach Reflections

This pesach seemed to whizz by. We had a nice mix of going out to friends, venturing out on trips and spending time at home. We had seder by the Rabbi, which was most memorable due to the super strength maror which literally reduced us all to tears. I think steam was almost visible spouting out of our ears, in true cartoon fashion.

The kids had a great pesach break. Israel offers a wide range of chol chamoed family activities. Ours decided on a trip to the desert and learned a lot about the terrain – from identifying trees with hidden reserves of water within their branches to a bumpy camel ride.

I have decided that the magnetic messages we put on our fridge are a great barometer to life in the Benjamin house. They tend to sum up how we feel. We only have one of most letters so we have to be quite inventive in what we say. During pesach, this is what we wrote:

This week the fridge reads:

I will post up our fridge messages in my blogs; they probably say more about us than anything else I could write.

So, back to normal now. The kids are back at school and it is a return to the daily grind for us. When I dropped my daughter off at nursery today the pictures of matza and wine were down and up in their place were blue and white balloons in readiness for Remembrance and Independence Days. With hardly time to draw breath we seem to be moving on to the next holiday already. .

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pesach's A-Coming

Nearly there…. oven scrubbed, fridge dismantled, defrosted and de-chametzed, house starting to take shape. The pesach cleaning seems to be on schedule and, as fatigue starts to kick in, the end, thankfully appears to be in sight.

I’m looking forward sitting in my clean house without noticing a cobweb, some crumbs, some net curtains that need a clean. It will be nice to be able to sit down without subconsciously making a mental checklist of all those things still left to do.

Whilst my head has been full of the bigger picture it was interesting to find out via an email group posting, the answer to one of pesach’s timeless quandaries.

HOW TO CUT A MATZO IN HALF http://fun.mivzakon aspx?http: //www.mivzakon. es/matza. wmv Obvious when you know how!

Wishing you a happy and kosher pesach.

Sharona B

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pre Pesach Mayhem!

When you make aliyah there are many changes in your life – some big, some small, some expected, some not.

One of the pleasant surprises for me was the different array of nature I saw on an everyday basis. Now I am not talking about giant cockroaches or tarantulas here, I mean that I look up in at the trees in my garden and see colourful birds that I have never seen before. It occurs to me that perhaps the creatures I admire for being a little exotic and differing from the norm, are probably the Israeli equivalent of pigeons in the UK. However, I have retained an awe of all the different species around me.

This last week however, there was a less welcomed feathered friend on our patch. A stray chicken (yes you read that right!) seems to have taken up residence at the front of our house. I regularly feed a stray cat and from time to time I now hear an annoying, ‘peck, peck, peck’ as this nuisance of a fowl locates the cat food. Annoyingly, the cat is actually afraid of the chicken and allows her to steal her food.

My husband thinks she would make a nice Shabbat meal but I just want rid of her. I have chased her, thrown sticks at her, put emails out over the local network asking if anyone is missing a chicken and finally, changed the location of the cat food to the garden. The chicken does not seem particularly bright and, so far, has not realized what I have done. I am hoping the removal of the food will encourage her to find another foster home.

So, enough of my feathered fiasco... it is time to get cleaning for pesach. Perhaps, before she departs, I should pluck a feather from the chicken to help me search for chametz!

This post goes out to all those currently surrounded by buckets of hot water, bottles of cleaning products and an array of dusters and cloths. There is something quite therapeutic about pre pesach decluttering and cleaning but it is one of those things that you don't really appreciate until all the hard work is over and done with - whilst in the middle of the task you just have a never ending mental checklist of places still in need of a good scrub. Happy cleaning!

Sharona B