Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
As soon as I stepped off the bus in Naharia the warm sugary aroma assailed my nostrils. I was virtuous and instead of dashing into the nearest bakery, I entered the health food shop to buy nuts as per my shopping list. Well, the shopping list had actually been forgotten at home but the part about nuts I remembered (the part about raisins I did not!)
Across the road from the health food shop is the most recently opened, and possibly most fancy, conditoria in Naharia. Dudu's shop is all dark wood, glass display cabinets and romantic lighting, and his prices are considerably more fancy than anywhere else in town. Though I feel obliged to admit that the cream cheese cake on chocolate brownie base was ridiculously delicious which another reason why I hurry past the shop safely on the opposite side of the road.
When I first moved into this area the most renowned conditoria in Naharia was Lahmi. On special occasions, such as my release from the army, my father-in-law would order one of their gateaux. Not only was the cake delicious and light but these were the first cakes I encountered in Israel that contained real cream. The added bonus was that the dedication on top of the cake was always piped onto a thin disc of marzipan. Yum marzipan. As other conditoria moved in to town Lahmi went commercial, the shop closed and they now produce an exclusive, read expensive, range of biscuits and cakes to be sold in supermarkets.
The first conditoria to challenge Lahmi was Pie. I heard the name and dreamed of all the delicious pies they might offer: Pies being a staple of the British menu but a rarity in Israel. Naturally, I soon discovered that in that peculiar Israel way Pie sold everything but: Cakes, biscuits, mini pizzas, even fruit tarts but no pies. However, I mustn't complain as thorough the years Pie has provided me with several very yummy, 40-portion, chocolate cakes for my children's birthday celebrations.
As it happened, my way through Naharia went right past Pie front door. And I confess I succumbed. The soft, sugary aroma was too much for my will power to resist. Like all bakeries they had developed a range of glazed doughnuts in order to circumvent the government price control on Hanukah doughnuts ,(yes that is Israel's socialist past you see peeking its head round the corner) however my taste doesn't run to these colourful confections and I chose a sugar-coated, price-controlled, jam-filled doughnut.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I didn't have to ask where we would be voting even though my husband managed to misplace the election cards. My children had a holiday from school today because it is the local election station and it is where we have always voted, at least since we have lived here.
In previous years I was an active participant in the election, after showing an interest in certain issues I was recruited to the campaign. I stood on street corners, visited various members of our community and spent several hours of election day hanging around in the booth near the election station with other volunteers who were there to arrange transport for those who had difficulty arriving, explaining to people exactly how to vote for us and generally chit-chatting about the day's progress.
Today when my husband got home from work we drove up to the school. As usual the place was packed and there was a festive atmosphere. There were banners for the various candidates hung on fences and posts for several hundred metres in every direction and there were ballot papers all over the ground. There are also the booths, recycled Succot booths, were the various candidates' supporters hang out. Someone had parked there car at the side with the doors wide open and the radio turned up as loud as possible belting out Mizrahi (Eastern) music.
The gate was surrounded by a herd of people chatting with the guard but we had no problem getting through.
Inside the school gate it was a little calmer: the ground was clean of papers and there was a plant smell of coffee as the inspectors stood, chatting quietly cups in hand, around the entrance to the election stations. A chubby, middle age guy lounging against a wall was in charge of the election lists and told us exactly where we needed to vote.
A man at the door checked we were at the correct place and let us in one by one. I went in, presented my id card to the panel, and in exchange received two envelopes, then I stood behind the screen and choose two pieces of paper - one for each envelope. I double-checked there was only one paper in each envelope, closed the enveloped returned to the panel placed my envelopes in the sealed box, retrieved my id card and exited.
Outside we chatted to a previous mayor for a while and then made our way home.
Elections in Shlomi tend to be rather emotional affairs. It is a small community and the electorate are often personal friends or relatives of the candidates.
This year, as in previous years, there have been physical altercations between the supporters while small forests and vats of ink have been sacrificed to create flyers making claims and counter claims of incompetence and even criminal misdeeds.
There is also no doubt that the 'reign' of the present incumbent has been coloured by alleged dodgy dealings and nepotism. In addition to all the officially printed posters and flyers there was a home printed flyer that appeared all over Shlomi in the last week.
It says "The Second Lebanese War: We won't forgive or forget" Despite the fact that two years have past since the war, it is clear to anybody who was resident in Shlomi at the time that this flyer refers to general resentment about the way the local council behaved during the war. Probably this issue will have most effect on how people voted today. Tomorrow we will know just how much of an effect it had.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Over the last couple of weeks, I have realised that the end of October is the perfect date, giving us a few days away to recover after the craziness of the holidays.
At first, I thought it was just me, feeling the pressure of working outside the home, particularly as I was working extra hours to compensate for the holidays and to cover for my colleague who was ill. I was also recovering from a nasty bout with the flu but unlike my colleague, I didn't have the option of retiring to bed until I felt better.
Now it seems that everyone has found this holiday season particularly difficult. The problem is the timing of all the holidays - they all fell mid-week.
Personally, I hate it when the holidays fall on a Saturday - I feel cheated - all that extra preparation and no extra day off work. Strictly according to the law employers are supposed to give an additional day for every holiday on a Saturday but my husband is unable to take full advantage of the holiday time he already had=s so that doesn't help much.
Holidays that fall on a Friday or Sunday are good as they extend the weekend. Holidays on Thursday or Monday can be fabulous if there is a 'bridge', ie the employer decided that bringing the workers in for only a half day on Friday or Sunday is not worthwhile, resulting in a 3 day weekend!
For those of you wondering what the heck I mean by half days - In Judaism a day starts at sunset. On holidays and Shabbat after a quick trip to the synagogue, we return home to a festive meal. Because work, lighting of fire and therefore cooking is forbidden on Shabbat or religious holidays the home and the meal must be prepared before hand thus requiring that on Shabbat or holiday eve there is only a half day of work . Or rather paid work - cooking and cleaning the house seems like more than enough work to me!
But this year was neither the disappointment of a holiday on Shabbat or the joy of a 3-day weekend. This year the holidays were mid-week giving us just enough time to fit in a few days of work on either side. It became a treadmill of work, cook, holiday, work, cook, Shabbat, work cook, holiday, work, cook, Shabbat. Exhausting.
For the last few years the factory where my husband works has giving us a weekend in Tel Aviv as a 'birhtday present.'
We would ensure that we were booked for the same weekend as his friends and I soon had made great friendships with the wives.
This year they chose to oofer us a contribution towards any holiday we chose. Some poeple went their own way but a large group of us decided we wanted to be together. Someone organised a deal with a family hotel and everyone booked.
We will be about 30 couples plus children.
So tomorrow, no today, we are leaving the house at 5am to drive to Eilat.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Within hours of the end of the Yom Kippur fast, the sound of hammering fills the air as all over Israel people start constructing their succot.
In England we relied on our synagogue to supply our succah requirements. We did have a garden and one year considered constructing a succah using the frame of our 5-man tent as a base but inclement weather soon put paid to our plans.
In Israel Succot comes at the end of a long, dry summer and the outside temperature is still warm even at night, often unbearably so. It is rare for the first rain to fall, as it has done this year, before the end of Succot.
Few Israelis have a house with a garden where they can build a succah so at this time of year when you look skywards you catch sight of various types of huts with leafy top coverings, perched on the balconies on apartments.
Shlomi was started as a development town. At first they build 'train' houses - small one-storey houses built in a line like railway carriages. But as Shlomi's population expanded and the need for government housing grew the authorities began to build low rise apartments blocks (four storeys - the maximum allowed without a lift). These are small, subsidised apartments without balconies. The only space for a succah is the area of communal space under and around the block.
Once the hammering has died down it is great to walk round Shlomi listening to the rustle of palm fronds on succah roofs and the flap of sheets used as succah 'door' coverings. Most succot are the same size as they are based on commercially built frames but the coverings are wild and various. Some use spare wooden boards, rescued from cast off furniture and saved in the store. Some use the green or blue 'juta', a plastic imitation of jute that is cheaper and much light than canvas.
One family built a succah in their parking space
A succah with political tendencies
"Welcome" to our succahWhen I lived in England I had mixed feelings about Succot. It was this funny little festival coming after all the hullabaloo of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.
When I went to cheder on Sunday morning there would be a couple of my classmates' fathers dangling from ladders in the JCC's small courtyard and our lessons would be accompanied by the sounds of rustling leaves and hammering nails. The younger classes would troop in after a while to hang their decorations. Inevitably it would rain at some point.
Following the Succot service itself the congregation would huddle in the cold, damp Succah and say a blessing. Then after devouring a symbolic morsel we would shuffe out again. It was all a bit of an anti-climax.
But the service itself held a touch of magic. In cheder class the teacher explained to us about each element of the Four Species letting us gently examine the lulav and etrog used in the synagogue and explaining a few basic rules of what made them kosher.
What stuck most in my teenage mind was the symbolism of the taste and smell of the various elements.
The lulav (palm) has taste but no smell, symbolizing those who study Torah but do not possess good deeds.
The hadass (myrtle) has a good smell but no taste, symbolizing those who possess good deeds but do not study Torah.
The aravah (willow) has neither taste nor smell, symbolizing those who lack both Torah and good deeds.
The etrog (citron) has both a good taste and a good smell, symbolizing those who have both Torah and good deeds.
All these elements must be combined for the Four Species to be kosher. If one is lacking then the mitzvah has not been performed. A good lesson in Jewish unity and heartening for those of us who weren't quite so expert in the laws and ritual of Judaism.
I would sit alone at the service, my friends with their families, my father in the men's section and my mother at home, glad to actually be able to understand something about this fascinating festival. As the lulav and etrog were shaken in my direction I would feel blessed by the power of these plants that had been grown in the soil of Israel and gave a wry smile as we half-heartedly repeated the prayer for the rain we could already hear pit-patting as it dripped through the roof of the Succah.
When I first came to Israel I lived on a Kibbutz. I remember the parties for Purim, yellow cheese on Shavuot and the disco turned synagogue on Yom Kippur but although I'm sure they must have built a succah I have no recollection.
In fact I have few memories of Succot in Israel until my parents moved here. Their second rental was an 'arab' (ie built of local stone in the Ottoman era) house in Akko and we constructed a thoroughly non-kosher succah under their pergola. It was kind of nice and we invited friends but most of the decorations were shop bought. And the shiny Christmas-style decorations that had made us laugh in the shop seemed sort of tacky when combined with the fruits of the Seven Species. For the next few years I always found building our succah a little disheartening and preferred visiting our friends in theirs.
And then we had children. The first year my daughter was in daycare she came home clutching a Succot banner and clear CD decorated with small circular stickers. By the time the both children were in kindergarten we had quite an assortment of banners and Torah scrolls, fruit and doves.
I threw out all the shop bought decorations, found a new set of lights adorned with pomegranates to make them look less like something destined for a Christmas tree, and decided that Succot was actually quite fun.
This year, between work and Shabbat, we were a little delayed and ended up decorating the morning before the start of Succot. After building the actual Succah we dug out the decorations. Or at least we intended to; problem was they seemed to have disappeared. Thinking back to last year we had vague a recollection of throwing out most of the children-made decorations, that had began to fall apart from years of use.
As my father was going to cook the meal I made a detour to the local office/craft supplies shop on the way home and instead of dedicating my afternoon to a siesta the children and I crafted doves, apples and Succot banners from card, crepe paper and glue.
Even the cats 'help' with the succahIn the evening we went as a family to synagogue and enjoyed kiddush together with our friends in the congregation's succah. We listened to our Rabbi's, now traditional, Succot sermon reminding us that Succot is zman simchateinu, the time of our joy, and that the Torah commands us not only that "thou shalt rejoice in thy feast" but also "thou shalt be altogether joyful".
When we pray for rain I though mean it with all my heart and am thankful for the cool breeze on my bare arms that brings with it the hope that the rain is not too far away.
The only thing I miss is the shaking of the lulav. In our congregation such pleasures are reserved for those able to convince their families to get up early for the Shachrit (morning) service. So far I have succeeded only once and that was the year Succot coincided with Shabbat when the shaking of the lulav is not permitted.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Yes, it definitely felt colder. Yes, my ears did seem to be hearing a pit-pat of raindrops. I took a deep breath. OMG was that the smell of damp earth?
I forced my eyelids up, grappled for my glasses on the bedside table, and rushed to the window. A flip of the shutters showed the tarmac outside to be a dark, WET, grey!!
The sky is grey with clouds, there is thunder rumbling in the background, and I can even hear the faint wa-wa of distant car alarms brought to life by the thunder and a violent cackle of lightening that my son claims woke him up.
Friday, October 10, 2008
As we walked through the door our friends, knowing that my husband comes from Akko, asked if we had heard the news.
We cut ourselves off from TV and computer during Yom Kippur so we had no idea that during the fast riots had broken out in my husband's hometown.
Akko Harbour, the Old City, in happier times
Akko is built around the old crusader city of Acre. The Old City, situated on a headland, is mainly populated by Muslims with the modern city to the north where there is a mixed population of Arab Christians and Jews. As the city has grown, the Jewish population has spread out to the East. In recent years with massive over-population and renovation of the Old City, Moslems have also moved from the Old City to the housing area in the East.
On Yom Kippur in Israel, almost all traffic ceases. The occasional car in mixed citied like Akko negotiates its way slowly and carefully though the Jewish residents who, whether fasting or not,
take advantage of the traffic-free streets to stroll along the boulevards in large groups enjoying the cool evening breeze while the children of the less religious race around on bikes and rollerblades.
This Yom Kippur was different. According to my in-laws and other local residents - in the eastern housing area of Akko an Arab drove through the neighbourhood, music blaring. When neighbours asked that he respect the sanctity of Yom Kippur he just became more provocative.
The situation then escalated, other residents were drawn into the conflict and some began throwing stones at the car. (Tell me: if all labour is forbidden on Yom Kippur doesn't that include stone throwing?)
Rumours then spread among the Arab community that the driver had been killed and residents of the Old City marched the couple of kilometres across town to retaliate.
A riot ensued and several people were injured. It was eventually broken up by the police who had been totally unprepared and slow to respond
Once 'order' was restored, the Arabs were allowed to return home to the Old City. En route they marched through the shopping centre systematically vandalising every Jewish run business.
As a result, on Thursday evening when the fast was over, the riots broke out again. Jewish residents complained that they were being restrained by the same police who had done nothing to prevent the Arab vandalism the previous night.
Now there are police and border guards positioned every few hundred meters throughout Akko.
As this will doubtless be classified as nationalistic violence, the cost of repairs to cars, homes and business will be met by the government. But Akko once again, as in the Second Intifada, is deserted and its tourist based economy will suffer.
A friend who owns a local restaurant has had to let most of his staff go home and is considering closing up for a while.
The Old City is hit hardest. The merchants rely on tourists and Jewish Saturday shoppers for most of their trade. The annual Succot Fringe Theatre Festival, a valuable source of income, has just been cancelled.
After the Second Intifada it took more that six months for people to feel safe enough to return to the Old City and by that time many businesses had gone bankrupt.
On a personal note: none of our family was injured and my in-laws say that it will be safe for us to visit tomorrow.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
However, I have spent the last hour or so translating this week's drasha (sermon).
The Torah portion this week is Ha'azinu in which Moses is informed he will not entering the Promised Land. Supposedly, this is a punishment for his disobedience to G-d in the water and the rock incident.What caught my attention as I was reading out the Hebrew version was the phrase במי מריבה- waters of contention. The phrase is used frequently in Hebrew when discussing an argument. Moreover, I know the story of the rock and the water quite well. But until now I had never connected the two
am not quite sure why but I am always delighted when I discover the source of idioms in common use in Hebrew especially when the source is Biblical. Israelis casually pepper their conversations with these thousand-year-old phrases in a way that most English speakers do not anymore.
In the same way that many Israeli pop singers quote prayers or refer to G-d in their songs without every considering themselves an Israeli version of 'gospel' , these biblical quotes are used without any reference to whether the speaker is religious or secular or Reform.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
I worked Sunday so I was free for the 'Welcome to 1st Grade!' ceremony on Monday morning - both my son and daughter were playing in the orchestra. In addition my daughter and the other vavs (6th graders) taking part in the actual ceremony.
To start the ceremony there is the entry of the first graders to lots of singing, flag waving and clicking of camera shutters. They do a round of the basketball court, in the style of a mini-Olympics, either looking scared and tearful or waving happily to their parents.
Once they are seated there are the speeches (why oh why does every single event involves speeches?) by the Headmaster, the chairman of the local council and the chair person of the parents' committee.
Luckily it is election year so the chairman of the local council kept his speech to the bare, boring minimum. Normally he arrives half an hour late then spends forty minutes thanking his cronies and telling us all the wonderful things he is doing for our town, in general, and our children, in particular. Brilliant for insomniacs.
Each child reads a line or two, which involves some complicated shuffling of the microphone and a lot of unintelligible mumbling, until they reach the end of a row: about half a dozen children. Then there follows an interlude with dancing and singing to badly amplified music.
Lather, rinse, repeat four or five more times until all the participants have either danced or spoken.
This year participation in the entertainment was allocated according to gender with the boys speaking and the girls dancing. Although one group of boys from a lower class gave a short display of their gymnastic ability.
Throughout the ceremony the class teachers do their best to keep the lower classes quiet as they wriggle in their seats. But by far the greatest disturbance comes from the parents.
When the first graders make their entrance their parents are so totally overwhelmed with emotion they run amok, squeezing both cheeks and shutter buttons with almost hysterical enthusiasm.
After a few minutes of patient waiting the headmaster, a stickler for discipline, calls them to order. Setting a great example for their children the parents ignore him. After several more minutes, with the help of a few teachers and judicious use of the microphone, the parents are herded to the back of the crowd.
In my day, oh so many moons ago!, parents sat on chairs while children sat crossed-legged on the floor. Not so in today's Israel. The chairs are all reserved for the children while the parents must stand at the back, shuffling round in the semi shade, straining to hear what is being said and doing their best not to miss their progeny's 15 seconds of 'fame'.
As time wears on they become more and more restless until they huddle in groups discussing in muted, and not so muted tones, various subjects only marginally related to their children's education and bemoaning the waste of a morning's holiday from work. A few give up altogether and go to sit under a shady tree.
Monday, September 22, 2008
It might be the slightly schizophrenic nature of the Israeli calendar where business life, doctors' appointments and the long summer holiday are calculated according to the dates of the Gregorian calendar. But the yearly cycle of festivals, minor school holidays and family celebrations is lived in harmony with the Jewish lunar calendar.
At least now we attend synagogue regularly the prayer of thanks for Rosh Hodesh (the beginning of the month) gives me some sense of my bearings as I make my annual trek through the seasons.
Another welcome sign that the holidays are imminent is my husband arriving home with gifts from work.
In England I remember people hoping for a Christmas bonus and there were always the staff parties but that was it.
In Israel it is traditional, even if your workplace is so small you are the only employee, to receive gifts from your employer at both Passover and Rosh Hashanah.
My husband's employer is quite generous and in addition to the gift vouchers which provide some welcome wiggle room in a budget well stretched by festive meals, they also send him home with a gift basket which maybe not be as useful as the vouchers but is much more exciting.(Did I ever mention that I just love opening presents?)
When my son asked 'what's that?' as he opened the door for my husband I knew there were goodies to be had.
After the usual greetings hubby carefully placed the box on the coffee table and I positioned myself as master of ceremonies.
Once we had thoroughly inspected the various delights and sampled some of the chocolates the children became fascinated by the hive shaped honey pot and wooden honey spoon.They filled the pot and spent the evening twirling the spoon in the honey and then letting it drip onto their tongues, I permitted this hedonism with the excuse that the honey was medicinal as an antidote to sore throats brought on by the autumnal night temperatures.
Monday, September 15, 2008
As we glide towards the end of September and Rosh Hashanah I am, as usual, totally fed up with the heat. I feel sick most of the time and have non-specific food cravings (basically, I crave anything but what I am actually eating)
My very sweet GP diagnosed it as 'an allergy to the Israeli Summer' and thinks the cause is psychological rather than a dietary deficiency. At least Goldstar makes me feel better and the Doc approved it as a treatment!
However, with a job and children to look after consuming large amounts of beer during the day is not an option and if I can't have beer baked goods make a decent substitute.
Unfortunately, our friendly local baker has moved his bakery to a location at the entrance to Shlomi, not within a distance I fancy walking in this heat. Over priced, over sweet synthetic cakes from the supermarket just don't do it for me.
So, during a momentary lapse of reason, in the middle of +30C temperatures I decided it would be a good idea to use up some ripe plums by making Marzipan Plum Buns
There was a major problem - The recipe involves yeast dough.
Now I am fine at baking basic bread and have even purchased a
Kenwood Patissier to aid me in my endeavours. However I never seem to have the time or patience for bread and can rarely roll it thin enough for cakes and cookies, resulting in an item that is all bread and little filling.
The rolling seems to be more successful if I make bread while annoyed. The kneading and knocking back take on the function of a punch bag. But I have to be rather intensely irritated for my bad humour to last through the hour of waiting for the dough to rise and I'm concerned that if my children only get to eat baked goods when their mother is feeling belligerent they will be scarred by some irreversible childhood trauma. - Do I really want them to hyperventilate whenever they encounter a doughnut?
So I was in a relatively pleasant mood when I made the dough and left it to rise. Then I stoned the plums and soaked them in wine. Once the dough had risen, I drained the plums. They were already suspiciously soft and I began to have my first serious doubts.
I was not reassured when I tried to 'stuff' them with pieces of marzipan and even the slightest squeeze turned the fruit flesh into puree.
Determined not to be defeated I knocked back the dough and divided it into sections.
Now I will be the first to admit that I am a failure at measuring by eye - size, weight, length, speed - I do not have the foggiest.
Luckily uneven portions are not a problem in this household where we all have slightly different appetites, but it can leave to more than a slightly hotchpotch effect when I am baking things in batches.
Such considerations aside I divided the dough as evenly as possible, rolled out each section, popped the marzipan stuffed plum on to the dough, and tried to massage it back into a bun shape.
This is where everything came unstuck - literally. The plums were so soft and wet they slid around on the dough which refuse to stick to itself. When I gently tried to shape the dough plum juice leaked out everywhere.
Eventually I had to fold the dough over the plum filling and pinch the edges into adhesion.
The doughy disaster cooked up quite quickly though most of the plum juice leaked out without making any attempt to soak into the dough and impart some flavour. Worst of all when I finally tasted the buns the marzipan, my main reason for endeavouring to bake these buns, was non-existent.
This plate was actually full a few minutes before the photo was taken
I have to admit that although I was disappointed with the results of my baking my daughter and husband were more appreciative. They consumed quite a quantity before I remembered to take a photograph and in the evening my husband begged me to hide them after he had already eaten half a dozen
Thursday, February 14, 2008
It is one of the advantages of working within the local system that although my children were home because the school was on strike I was at home to look after them because the local Matnas (community centre), where I now work as librarian, was also on strike.
The reason for the strike? As the posters say 'The Government is Losing the North'. In a play on words in Hebrew it also means 'The Goverment is Losing Direction'. Neither are sentiments with which I have great argument except that maybe to lose something you have to have had it in the first place.
Hizbullah has been relatively passive for the last year and so in its wisdom the Goverment has come to the conclusion there are no security concerns in this area, unemployment has come to an end and life is peachy.
Personally my life is quite peachy and I like living in Shlomi but if the Government removes tax relief and other subsudies we will not be able to afford to eat. This is not money for luxuries such as foreign holidays, sports cars or milllion dollar homes in Jerusalem, this is what we need to provide the basics for our families.