Friday, January 9, 2015

Holiday Candles, Birthday Candles, Emergency Candles

                 January 1st is known as Sylvester here in Israel. It always strikes me as funny, since it's named after St. Sylvester, a pope who notoriously hated the Jews. This year, it also happened to be the six- month anniversary of the day I moved to Israel! That's why I love the fact that I moved here on the first of the month- so easy to track how long I've been here! Since last I posted, I have moved into my apartment, celebrated Hanukkah, began looking for a job in earnest, hosted my family visiting from New York, and weathered my first "snowstorm" of the year. It's been hectic, but super exciting!
                 The day after I moved out of ulpan, Hanukkah began! I know this is controversial, but I really don't like "the holiday season" as they call it back in NYC. While many Jews I know live for the songs, and the tinsel, the trees and the Santas, I personally don't. I understand the appeal, the glitz and glamour, and the fact that it is in your face 24/7 from October through January, but I never shook the feeling that none of it was for me, and that it really distracted from my own joy when it came to Hanukkah. I don't want to have to compete for "holiday supremacy", and it would be silly to try! That's why I love living in a country where there is only Hanukkah! Sure, you see a random Xmas tree walking past a bar or in the Old City Christian Quarter, but for the most part, it's menorahs and dreidels, as far as the eye can see! I can not explain to you the feeling of seeing streetlamps festooned with menorahs, buses wishing us a "Hanukkah Sameach", signs exclaiming "We have the best doughnuts in town!" and nary a jingle bell anywhere! It warmed my heart for 8 straight days and nights! Not to mention the family and friend Hanukkah parties, intense games of dreidel, and general revelry around every corner. One night, I was invited as a "special oleh" to light candles with the mayor of Jerusalem, whom I adore. That was kind of a letdown, as it was packed with a million other "special olim" and I didn't get my selfie with the mayor, but it was okay! The next day, I was again invited as a "special recent graduate of ulpan" to a candle lighting ceremony with Bibi Netanyahu himself! I was super- excited, to say the least. I think you might guess where I'm going with this. Turns out, I was one of very many "special recent graduates of ulpan" along with 300 or so other recent olim, all assuming we were going to get some face-time with the Prime Minister. 
Jerusalem's Lamposts!

                      We had to wait two hours until he arrived, the room full to overflowing (and by that I mean only overflowing), while he lit candles and we heard from 2 recent olim. Again, this may be controversial, but I have to say it. Both olim gave moving stories about how they left situations (in France and Peru) where being Jewish was difficult and came here to live as free Jews. I understand how this is an important narrative, but just once, I want to hear this story on a podium: "I left all my family and friends, a great job, a new car and a big house to move to Israel. I lived in a huge Jewish community with 3 kosher pizza shops and 5 Orthodox synagogues in my area. I never experienced a smidgen of anti-Semitism, I never had to work on a Jewish holiday and life couldn't have been easier. And yet here I am, fulfilling my dream of helping to build the Jewish state." This is the narrative of myself and so many of my friends and family, and I think it's just taken for granted sometimes. Okay, back to the event. Bibi gave an awesome speech about how moving to the country is making a huge contribution and I was pretty inspired by the end of the night. Definitely a great way to wrap up the first half of your first year here!
                     After Hanukkah, when the rest of the world was celebrating Xmas, I was making a welcome sign for 3 of my favorite people in the world- my parents and sister! They decided to visit me during their work breaks, and were coming for ten whole days! I decided to surprise them in the airport, which felt like a great idea until they were the last people from their flight to emerge at arrivals. One look at the their excited-to-see-me but anxious faces, and I could tell something was amiss. Turns out, they got all their bags except one- mine. The bag they packed with all my winter stuff and all the things I bought Cyber Monday (so sue me, not 100% Israeli yet) was gone! They put a claim in and we hoped for the best, hopping a cab back to our rented apartment in Nachlaot.
Israel just got way more Brown-y!
                  In a perfect world, I would be living in that apartment- one bedroom, great location, nice size but plain. In reality, that place is probably twice the price of my studio and so it was not meant to be. The next 10 days saw me playing tour guide, a role which I would most definitely fill in another life. We went to museums and landmarks, we saw family and friends, but mostly-we ate. As one does while on vacation, we ate out non-stop, but unlike a vacation in Italy or Brazil, everywhere you looked was kosher! I'm not going to lie, not paying for one meal in ten days has got to be one of the best feelings on earth. And, dear readers, I was allowed to get dessert! See, while my parents were here, I celebrated my birthday, so aside from my birthday cake, I demanded every dessert that whole week come with a lit sparkler and a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday to You!" All told, I had about 8 birthday cakes (and waffles) and I'm thinking of just doing this year-round. I'll let you know.
One cake is never enough
                  While being without my family is extremely hard for me being with them in a one room apartment, 24 hours a day for ten days has it's own set of issues, as you can imagine. While it's great to get parental input on my life once a week, it's very different to hear my parents' views on all aspects of my life for over a week. In one conversation, I might hear their wisdom on: finding a mate, a job, the size of my apartment, calling distant relatives and staying safe on a city bus. In one lunch conversation. And while I was here, living life, my folks were on vacation- wanting to see, do and eat, and I was their logistics coordinator. Did I call that cousin? (Yes, they haven't picked up the last 3 times) Did I double check our reservation? (Who does that? The table is there, relax) What's the weather going to be? So cold?! Why? (Because I don't control the cold front). It was the most intense full-time, non-paying job I've ever had, and I was a Birthright counselor 12 times!
                But then when they left, I felt quite alone. And even though I had coffee with a friend right after, and fixed up my apartment, and my apartment is teeny, I felt more by myself in Israel than I have in the whole 6-months. Not to worry! Weather reports were predicting a huge snowstorm for Jerusalem, so instead of panicking about being alone, I could start panicking about being alone and frozen and stranded in the center of town! As you may have read, a snowstorm in Israel is nothing like a snowstorm in my native NYC. As they are quite common there, they are significantly more rare here in the Middle East. (Or at least, they were until last year, I guess!) Since the country had seen it's biggest storm in a century last year (I would tell you how much accumulation, but centimeters still makes no sense to me at all) everyone here was gearing up for a real doozy. The supermarkets were madhouses (pre-holiday level chaos) and road closures were announced. I'm not scared of snow (c'mon, I'm from Queens!) but I was imagining scenarios where pandemonium would break out in the Holy Land, electricity would cut out, rioting and looting would commence- I was expecting the very worst.
              I packed a bag full of sweaters and wine, and went to my friend Donna's to ride out the storm. We had a delicious dinner and discussed our game plan (We were running out of water and toilet paper and felt it might be in our best interest to replenish those.) The next day, still no snow in sight but with winds that could knock you over, my friend Yoni picked me up to ride out the rest of the storm with his family in Efrat. We had to hurry, since the roads would be closed in a veritable state of emergency. It was looking to be one for the ages. And then----
            Nothing. Well, I shouldn't say nothing. There was some freezing rain. Some scattered snowflakes. A lot of noisy wind. But the "storm of the century" turned out to be "the boy who cried wolf." And while I'm happy that it didn't shut down the whole country and cause untold damage, I am a bit disappointed that my first Israeli snowstorm was such a dud. And so I sit here in Efrat, watching the few flakes lightly fall on the porch, waiting for my hot mekupelet (like hot cocoa but 5 million times better), reflecting on the last few weeks of my first half-year as an oleh (Pretty weak milestone, I know, but I'm going with it.) Can't wait to see what the second half brings! 


  1. Love your blog, and totally agree with more acknowledgment needs to be given to those many olim who gave up lives of comfort, ease, tolerance and gainful employment to live in the land of Israel.

    1. Thanks for reading and yes! We need a parade and our own holiday! Just kidding (but a holiday does sound awesome)