Monthly Archives: September 2013

Temporary Home

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It’s Sukkot which in Israel means a number of things.  Firstly it usually heralds the change in the weather.  Hooray.  The humidity goes down, the wind picks up, we even usually experience a few drops of rain (literally a few drops).  Sukkot also means that people’s balconies and gardens and kosher eateries gain an odd looking, temporary structure; covered in palm fronds and decorated with what I would refer to as Christmas decorations.  Of course they are only Christmas decorations if you come from a country that celebrates Christmas.  Sukkot in our house also means lots of children, open front doors, neighbourly kid-swap and a general raise in noise levels.

Cue quick explanation (Jewish friends look away now). Sukkot is a Jewish festival that commemorates the Jews 40 years of travel in the desert after their exodus from slavery in Egypt.  The structure or Sukkah is a reminder of the temporary dwellings they erected to live in during this time.  The word sukkah means booth or tabernacle and the roof is made from schach (try to say that after a drink) which are palm fronds or evergreen leaves.  During Sukkot people eat in the sukkah and some even sleep in the sukkah but as you know from previous postings about our garden, you would have to pay me A LOT of money to catch me lying out there in the dark.  The holiday is a week-long starting and culminating with special meals with friends and family.

(For a more in-depth explanation of the customs and religious importance of Sukkot http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday5.htm)

In our building we have a lot of kids.  Our 3 plus another 11.  8 of them are under 6  and by the way there are 5 sets of twins – yep, go figure – so you can imagine the excitement when the sukkah goes up in the gardens and behind the building in a communal area.  Don’t think you can have an invite only dinner as you are to be assured at least 4 small people will appear at some stage, joined later by parents.  I love it.

Husband built our sukkah and another one in no. 1 son’s kindergarten with a choice selection of bits of wood and old sheets.  Precarious was not the word to describe them, until they were tied to every available solid structure.  We are 4 days in and so far so good, as long as high winds stay away.  I intend to be out when he takes it down.

A little ram-shackled but we like it

A little ram-shackled but we like it

The roof is a bit more tricky because come a week before sukkot the council starts pruning the palm trees (of which there are thousands) and people  who look like they haven’t seen the light of day since last Sukkot come out of their houses to claim their share of branches.  Traffic jams ensue as elderly women, dazed by the sunlight, bent double, wander blindly across the roads oblivious to traffic ‘must get palms, must get palms’, cars randomly stop in the middle of the street and open their car boots all whilst the men up the cranes chopping the palms yell for people to ‘GET OUT OF THE WAY’.  I should mention that one palm frond is bloody heavy.  Surprisingly so.  A few years ago I stopped (in a layby) at the side of the road and claimed a couple of branches to bring home.  Problem was they were too big to fit in the car and in the absence of a roof rack I clung to one at a time on the roof with one hand on the steering wheel.  Not terribly safe and I almost broke my wrist but at least I bagged two beauties for free.  Yes, there’s the rub, if you don’t have your own (plus a tree surgeon to cut them down for you) or you don’t manage to catch the annual council chopping then you have to buy them!!!  At around 5 shekels a frond (£1 or $1.50) that makes for an expensive roof.

Since having the childers, Sukkot is by far my favourite holiday; a social butterfly such as myself who spends way too much time alone, really appreciates the many visitors, invitations and the comings and goings of the neighbours.  I seem to spend way more time outdoors, protected from bugs by our sukkah (although a large cockroach did fly on to me the other night) and there is something so holiday-like eating outside and (almost) under canvas.  Only a few more days to go until it’s over for another year and life goes back to normal after the holiday-fest which is August and September in Israel.  Better get back to the garden and enjoy the rustle of the drying fronds overhead.

Christmas decs sorry Sukkot decs

Christmas decs sorry Sukkot decs

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We’re S.H.O.P.P.I.N.G

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Shopping and washing, cleaning and sweeping, dusting and hoovering, washing up and wiping down surfaces.  Talk about groundhog day.  Whether you work, are retired, are a stay at home mum/dad, single or married these are a few of life’s constants.  Hmmm how dreary.

Of these my least favourite is shopping, food shopping that is.  Having had a taste recently of the joy of supermarket shopping in the UK (you can buy other stuff and have a coffee and there’s choice, and it’s clean, and they have trolleys with twin seats…I could go on), on my return to the Holy Land I found myself putting off the dreaded supermarket trip.  I hate supermarket shopping.  Buying shoes is so much more fun and in the UK you can do both, at the same time and cheaply.  So finally I could put it off no longer and dragged myself to the car to enter the time warp which is supermarket shopping in Israel.

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Here are a few things that you should know if you go to a supermarket in Israel (although why would you unless you lived here?)

– On entering a car park at a supermarket in Israel there are very few spaces ie 10.  Even if the store is a mega store and can cater for thousands you will have to follow trolley loaded shoppers to their car and bagsy (not a real word) a spot whilst they load shopping, kids, themselves into the car and drive off – anything between 5 and 30 minutes.

– Before you enter the car park there is an armed, usually elderly, guard who looks at you (do you look a threat?) and if he’s feeling frisky  will check your boot (trunk for the Americans) for unwelcome items, I am presuming explosives.

– Once parked you enter the supermarket to be checked again (handbag search) by another guard.

– You made it, you’re in.  Now the fun begins.

-Do not expect the organic in-store store in the supermarket to sell only organic produce.  In fact you will find many of the items available at a lower price on the main shop floor but they won’t be presented in stylish barrels with scoops and zip lock bags.  Many luxury imported items can be found in this part of the store, for example Weetabix which I have always thought of as luxury (?) and at 42 shekels a pack of 24 (£7.50 or nearly $11) it certainly has a luxury price.

– In an attempt to Americanize/Europeanize the shopping experience there are now more than just groceries available but beware the price tags, first of all they are often wrong and the deals so hard to understand (at least to a foreigner like me) that the price tag is really just a general guide.  Buy 2 get 1 half price – on a hoover – why would you want 3?

– Do expect to find a feast of middle eastern goodies; freezer cabinets bereft of the additive packed ready meals (EVERYBODY cooks here but why no fish fingers?) but filled with borekas, jachnun, malawach.  An olive selection to rival the best deli and a choice of humus and assorted meze to make your eyes water.  Deeelish (probably also additive packed too but what the hell).

– Fruit and veg at a third of the price of the UK and fruit and veg that looks like it was picked from a farm not manufactured by a robot.  None of that washed and shined display here which is actually way more appetizing.

– For someone who’s reading of Hebrew is sketchy anything that requires instructions is an effort. Cue me buying specialist laundry sprays instead of anti-bac wipe.  In fact in the early days I would come home with even the most simple item wrong, butter milk instead of skimmed, tangerine juice instead of orange and that was despite the product name written in English albeit in small writing.

– Check outs from hell.  Why oh why does a ‘superstore’ have 18 aisles and only 2 checkout people.  Insert irate customers, a very uncommunicative teller (no,’how are you today’ and mindless chit chat here), someone with a billion coupons that don’t work and you can easily wait 20 minutes to get to the front of the line.  Feel free to get involved in any argument between customer and staff, everyone else does.

– Expect a 22nd century price for your purchases despite feeling you have warped to 1978 for the shopping experience.

– Delivery – something I have NEVER done because a) I am too scared of pissing off the teller and fellow customers and b) because the crates that you invariably pack yourself and leave on the floor by the check out until the delivery man comes can sit there for hours getting in people’s way and melting – heat + ice cream – freezer = salmonella.

– Customer service.  There is none.  If someone is pleasant to me on the shop floor I am on a high for hours.  Most likely you will be argued with if you question anything and at the very least a few tuts will be aimed in your direction.

– On leaving the store the security guard will stamp your receipt.  This to me is one of the greatest mysteries of supermarket shopping here.  You could pick a receipt anywhere, he doesn’t check what you bought against what’s listed so what is the point?  I know they have a dull job but clicking their stamper onto a receipt surely doesn’t make it any more entertaining.  My kids love it though and fight for who hands the receipt in.

So have I tempted you to try out an Israeli supermarket? I could well be being harsh in my description although remember I am coming from a place of loathing of the whole ordeal and I am only recently returned from the holy grail of supermarket; Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose I miss you.  On the plus side as a visitor the produce is exotic and yet familiar so makes for an interesting trip out, you may get lucky and find a store that believes that the customer is always right (although I doubt it), and if you like sesame you’re in for a treat.  I am due another visit so am psyching myself up.  Positive thoughts, positive thoughts…

It’s oh so quiet

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Imagine your city, town or village without traffic, with all the stores closed.  No buses, trains or even planes overhead.  No open 24hr corner shop, no open petrol station.  Just quiet.

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Welcome to Yom Kippur in Israel. A 24 hour period from sunset until sunset the following day when the whole country falls silent.  Oh apart from the bike bells, the odd ambulance, the shouts of children as they race down the traffic free roads and invariably crash into each other, the calls for dogs that, left off their leads are prowling the bins in the neighbours’ gardens and running wild in a frenzy of new-found freedom. It’s now my 10th Yom Kippur I think so I am not as amazed as I was on the first year.  I remember it well.  We were pre-childers but had our lovely dog still and we walked down the 4 lane highway through the centre of Tel Aviv with the dog off the lead and no other people save from a few cyclists.  We had walked down to the beach in the morning and revelled in the quiet and the clean air (Tel Aviv is particularly bad with air pollution).  It had been a revelation to see that it truly is possible to turn off ‘modern’ living, at least to a degree, for a day.

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I soon discovered that for secular people Yom Kippur falls into certain routines, dependent on your situation.  Single 20 somethings use the time to sleep, go for a walk and watch as many films as they can squash into one sitting.  New parents use the quiet to sleep, one parent walks the baby for hours while the other rests and then they swap.  Parents of young kids teach their kids to ride bikes, scooters, roller skates and after the novelty of the first evening  wish that they too could sleep through the heat of the day and watch a movie that wasn’t animated.  Parents of school age kids hang around with other parents whilst their kids race off on adventures with an emergency mobile phone in their backpacks and the promise of keeping in regular contact. The teenagers are out all day or inside with their computer games and the adults enjoy the quiet, read a book, go to synagogue, think.  The day culminates (in my neighbourhood) with everyone appearing fresh-faced and smelling of shower gel, dressed in white shirts and either going to or standing outside the packed synagogue to hear the shofar being sounded.  A crazy mix of religion and secularism which still takes me by surprise and yet warms my soul.

So what is Yom Kippur? (as always if you already know/are Jewish I apologise and look away now).  Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement is the day in which Jewish people fast, confess and ask for forgiveness for their sins and misdemeanour’s from the previous year and for ones they may inadvertently commit in the new year.  It falls 10 days after Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and traditionally is said to mark the day that Moses received the second part of the Ten Commandments from God.  Unlike many of the Jewish fasts many secular Jews fast on this day – fasting is to concentrate your mind and soul on your atonement and not on earthly pleasures.  Wearing white represents the purity of confession and in basic terms the rules are: no eating, drinking, bathing, sex, no use of lotions or perfumes, no wearing of leather shoes.  As with all religion there are those who follow all the rules to the letter and others follow them to a degree.  For example the riding of bicycles etc is of course forbidden so only the secular kids take to the streets on wheels.

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Yom Kippur for me is obviously not religious at all.  It is instead a day of quiet.  When our family is together with no distraction from chores or outings, no television (although I confess to watching Peter Pan with the kids for the first time ever this year). Our Yom Kippur this year saw no.1 son gain enormous confidence both on his bike and from being set free on his scooter, no. 2 son learnt how to ride a bike (with stabilisers) and Princess daughter after a morning of bombing around on her push along bike retired to her throne on wheels (the stroller) in the afternoon so she could view her subjects from a reclined position.  We all slept in the afternoon – what joy during the fiercest heat and humidity to be cool, fanned and sleeping. As the sun went down husband and the childers went to hear the last prayer and the blowing of the shofar in the makeshift synagogue that appeared in the neighbourhood to contend with the masses who couldn’t fit into the local synagogue.

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So, when is she going to tell us what a shofar is? Well, its a ram’s horn that is blown on Yom Kippur to mark the end of the fasting after the last prayer.  It’s also used throughout the year at other religious ceremonies, not least New Year when it is blown 100 times on 2 days (no easy feat as to get a sound out of the horn takes practise and a lot of puff.).

Imagine your town without  TV and radios broadcasts,  no alarms going, no phones ringing.  Voices travelling down the street as there are no cars to drown them out.  Imagine a day when you pull the puzzles and books down from the highest shelves and have time to sit on the floor with your kids and play, when you chat to your family or friends without interruption from pinging emails, phone calls or text messages.  A day when you don’t cook (even if you don’t fast its not fair to have the waft of cooking smells spilling into the street), when you don’t dash out to get milk or petrol.  When the pace of life slows and the juggling stops.  Just for a day. And then it all starts again.

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It’s gonna be a long walk home

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The new school year started last week and the sound of way too heavy backpacks being pulled along on wheels by tiny people has resumed on the walkways outside our house.  Having not reached school age yet, our childers have yet to enlighten us as to the reason why a 6-year-old entering the school gates for the first time needs so much stuff in their backpacks on wheels.  I dread to think and will savour this last year that number 1 son is in preschool as I fear that next year will bring a whole new array of school-type pressures, backpacks being the least and homework in a foreign language being my personal terror.

For us this past week has been, (not wanting to jinx it) relatively quiet.  Having opened the nursery door to the sound of wailing and the sight of tens of tiny hands gripping their parent’s legs in an attempt to keep them from leaving, so far our twins have not shed one tear.  Yet.  Oh yes, actually they have, when I come to pick them up. Oh. Dear.  Not sure what that says about my parenting and I am trying not to dwell on it too much but when your 3-year-old sees you for the first time after a day in nursery, “go away, I want to stay here” screamed at 100 decibels is not the welcome you would expect.

The nursery and pre-school are literally 5 minutes walk from our home and 50 minutes seems rather excessive an amount of time to take to get 3 small childers from point a to point b.  In the heat.  And the humidity.  Cue crazed mother trying to carry 3 small backpacks and two 3 year olds whilst cajoling number 1 son to take his hands from his ears (so he can’t hear the screams of his siblings) and to “just keep walking”.  And this on the way home?  Hmmm

As parents we are too attuned to other’s opinions and the ‘right way’ to parent. I try to remind myself, and occasionally forget, it really doesn’t matter what other parents think nor what the parenting manuals say, sometimes it is just best to go with your instincts.  My instincts told me from day 1 to take the double stroller to and from nursery.  Yes the twins can walk but if you actually want to arrive at your destination (without losing 50% of your body fat through sweat and 50% of your sanity to boot) a stroller is the way forward.  Unfortunately I came upon another parent the other day (of a singleton I hasten to add) who made a flip comment about why such big kids need to ride in a stroller.  I took it to heart and left the stroller at home.  More fool me.

Shaking from the exertion of the 50 minute stop, start, weight lifting nightmare of a very long – short walk home, the stroller is now back in operation.  At least until the enticement of time home with Mummy is more appealing than the new nursery and all the treasures it has to offer.  Lesson learnt, Mummy is ALWAYS right (even if the childers’ actions suggest otherwise).

Wake me up when September ends

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IMG_0985After almost 2 weeks in the UK, husband arrived to spend the last week with us.  He kept asking, ‘how does England look to you’.  My answer was always the same, ‘green’.  Israel is now shrouded in heat haze with dusty roads and fields, sandy and burnt, so England was like a lush paradise in comparison.  I was told by just about everyone that they’d had fantastic weather but as it was raining when we landed and the gardens and fields were the green that only regular rainfall produces I figured ‘fantastic’ was sunshine and showers.  On leaving the airport no. 1 son shouted, ‘I told you it would be raining’.  Having not seen rain for many many months the kids thought it was great and revelled in donning wellie boots and coats to splash in muddy puddles.  To be fair we were lucky in that no one day was wall to wall grey skies and constant downpours.  We were never housebound as a result of the wet and that to me is indeed ‘fantastic’ weather.

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I have since considered hubby’s question about how I saw England on this trip and I realised that after almost 10 years in Israel I now see England through the eyes of an outsider.

Here are my top ten things to appreciate in the UK as a visitor or as a visiting ex pat:

1. The sound of church bells – nothing to do with religion but to me quintessentially English.

conway2. Fish and chips – as a resident Brit I never ate them, now I can’t think of anything tastier, especially when sitting on a quayside enjoying the sun.

3. Supermarkets – what choice, what prices, be still my beating heart and fight to keep the wallet in the bag.  Israel is so much more expensive in terms of consumer goods and the choice is limited so a trip to Tesco was heaven (especially when converting from shekel to pound)

4. Friendly service – shops, cafes, bars, National Trust staff (we met a lot of them),all so chatty and friendly.

5. People letting you pull out when indicating in the car and waving thank you when you do the same.  A–M-A-Z-I-N-G.

6. Booze.  Every social occasion involves booze.  This is not a complaint, a 5pm G & T with my old pops and a few glasses of vino with friends and family is always a winner in my view.  However what I didn’t bank on was my lack of resilience and the feeling of being more than a little under par first thing the next morning.

7. Following on with the booze theme – pubs and pub gardens: child friendly, day light throughout the evening and who doesn’t love bitter shandy?

0608. Fish fingers – kids loved them, I love them, why oh why don’t they have Birds Eye here?

9. CBeebies closing at 7pm.  Does that mean the childers go to bed at 7.30pm?  YES THEY DO – not that mine did (it was holiday time) but as I am slightly out of sync with most Israeli parents who put their kids to bed around 9pm I was happy to discover my 7.30pm rule is not mine alone.

10. Calm, a feeling of safety.  Partly because in my little corner of Cheshire I feel safe and the UK in general does not have the frenetic energy of the stressed and worried that often becomes the norm here, and partly because one can never feel 100% safe in Israel – especially at the moment.

So why do I want to sleep through September?  I am back and surprisingly not sinking into homesickness but Israel is still hot and as humid as the seventh circle, there is an ‘outbreak’ or not (depending on who you listen to) of polio, oh and Assad is threatening to bomb us if the US bomb them.  Back to normal then.  The heart racing, lump in the throat fear that pops up most unexpectedly when the words ‘gas masks’ are banded about.  Finally and perhaps weirdly, September is holiday season – Rosh Hashanah is firing us off this week into a month long holiday bonanza. Having survived happily with the childers being with me 24/7 in the cool UK for the past 3 weeks they went back to nursery and pre-school at the end of last week only to break up again on Tuesday.  Oh purlease – less than a week and it’s time for another holiday? In this weather!! I am hoping for a 10 degree temperature drop, peace in the region and a Shana Tova (Happy New Year) for everyone.

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