Kibbutz, Living in Community, Making Friends

What’s a little gossip?

You know when you’re having lunch with your friend in the local diner and even though you know you shouldn’t, you start gossiping about someone you both know? And all of a sudden you realize you’re in the local diner and the room just got really quiet, so you casually turn your head back to the left, then back to the right, and then back to face your friend? And then you continue the conversation, but this time in a hushed whisper, particularly hushed when mentioning names, and even more particularly hushed when you’re mentioning last names?

Yeah, you do. Don’t pretend like you don’t. Even though the bible prohibits it, the fact of the matter is, you likely engage in gossip on occasion.  Studies show that a little bit of gossip (done “correctly,” whatever that means) is healthy and the reason it’s so addictive is not necessarily because you like to speak ill of others, but because gossiping apparently “helps build and cement connections with others.”

This study makes sense to me. I consider myself a fairly good person and I never (okay, hardly ever) gossip about anyone with the purpose of “causing the subject physical or monetary damage, or anguish or fear” as “Lashon Hara” is briefly defined at If I were to analyze why I gossip, intentionally or unintentionally, it’s usually to learn more about the person I’m gossiping with or about. It’s more interrogative than vindictive or malicious.

When you live in a small community, gossip is inevitable. It may be outwardly or subtly discouraged. It may be frowned upon. It may be  practiced by some, and shunned by others. But, regardless, there’s a reason you get more than 5 1/2 million results when you google the words “small town gossip.”

On a kibbutz, take the diner example above, and multiply it by 100.

I kid you not, but on the (ahem) rare occasion when my husband, Avi, and I talk about one of our new neighbors, we make sure to turn our heads from left to right and back again, and carefully whisper — even when we are inside our own home. It doesn’t matter if we are saying something nice, or something not so nice. We don’t want to be known as those “gossipy new olim down the street.”

We look around. Are the windows open? Did someone just peek their head through the unlocked door? Are there any children in our home that don’t belong to us?

Today, my husband and I were returning home and drove down the main road of the kibbutz. The car windows were down a smidgen so I whispered to him when I asked, “Does Shlomo (names changed to protect the innocent) have a job?” Avi stared at me as he placed his pointer finger to his lips. “Shhh…”

In the States, I might have continued in broken Hebrew, but unfortunately, in Israel there’s no talking smack about people right in front of their faces unless I manage to teach my husband Gibberish.

As we approached Shlomo, he stared at me, as if he knew I had been asking about him seconds earlier. I’m sure I was just being paranoid. But maybe not.

What’s the big deal?, you might ask. Is it so wrong that I wondered, innocently enough, if Shlomo had a job? Perhaps not, but in a small town, or a kibbutz in this case, asking a question like this out loud is as dicey as playing “Whisper Down the Lane.” 

Your question, and your willingness to ask it, implies something about you. It implies whether you’re willing to let someone in or to be let in by someone else. It may be the make or break of a friendship. It may be the start of a rivalry or a resentment. As tells us, “Some statements are not outright Lashon Hara, but can imply Lashon Hara or cause others to speak it.” Meaning, much depends on who asks the question, in what context the question is asked, and who it’s asked of.

Therefore, wondering aloud if your new neighbor has a full-time job can be construed as gossip. Someone might think I’m implying Shlomo is a good-for-nothing, lazy bum because he doesn’t have a full time job. Someone might think I’m implying his wife thinks less of him or wears the pants in that family. Someone might think I’m sizing him up or down, and take it personally, even. Wondering, How do I measure up in her eyes?

It seems to me that the rules of Lashon Hara were created expressly for people living on a kibbutz. And if I want to play it safe as a newbie to this community, at least for a little while, I’d follow the Lashon Hara guidlines. (I’ve not yet read A.J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically, but maybe it’s high time I should.)

Or at the very least, gossip like I do “It:”

Only with my husband and behind closed doors.

Kibbutz, Living in Community

That’s So Country

Nowhere in his song “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” does John Denver mention anything about lizards. Or snakes. Or centipedes.

I’ll take the laid back life on the farm that Denver croons about any day of the week, but the truth of the matter is: I’m a suburban girl. And worse yet, I’m a born and raised Jersey girl.

Sure, I went to overnight camp in the woods of Pennsylvania and Maine. Sure, I camped out a few times as a young adult — happy to be cozy in sleeping bags with boys I had crushes on. But, I’ve never been the rough and tumble kind of girl who has embraced nature.

I blame this on allergies.

Since I had severe environmental allergies as a kid, and was literally allergic to everything on the scratch test, I was pretty uncomfortable out in nature. From the expected stuffy nose and watery eyes, to the unexpected over-reaction to poison ivy and mosquito bites. (Ask my USY friends if they remember an epic case of oozing poison ivy I was quarantined for one Spring Convention.)

Nature was never as kind to me as I was to her. Despite a run-of-the-mill fear of spiders and other insects, I’ve never been the sort who killed a critter with pleasure. Whenever possible, if a rogue bug makes it indoors, I either scoop it up into a glass and let it go outside, or I ask my husband to “take care of it.” The exception to this is cockroaches (I had an infestation in one city apartment) and mice (another infestation in a different city apartment) — those guys I kill with pleasure. After all, it’s not as if my exterminating a few is going to make any significant impact on their population density. Mice and roaches will survive 2012, if anyone will.

Here in Israel, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had to get used to sharing my home with the outdoors. This includes the mud my kids track in on a daily basis, the dust that flies in through open windows, and the creatures that make their way through cracks or doors left open by mud-stained children. A Daddy Long Legs has been hanging out in the same spot on my bathroom ceiling for three months now. He hasn’t moved. For a while, I used to check above my head while I was showering or on the toilet to make sure he wasn’t creeping down closer to me. At some point, I realized he was either dead or very comfortable in his spot on the ceiling, and I started greeting him with a smile in the mornings instead of worrying about him.

Lest you think I have made the transition to country life with ease, let me burst that bubble for you. Earlier this week, I went into my bathroom and closed the door. I sat down on the toilet and looked up at the ceiling to greet my long-legged friend. He wasn’t there. He was gone. But someone took his place.

This guy (or a close relative):

A lizard. About 6 inches long. Hanging on the wall above the bathroom door.

I had seen this guy before. A few nights prior, we heard some crickets behind the refrigerator door. Determined to quiet the noise, we pulled the refrigerator out from the wall to take care of it once and for all. We didn’t find crickets. We found a lizard.

Compassion, karma, fear of retribution…call it what you will, but there was no way I was letting my husband kill a lizard in my house. Standing on a chair and screaming like an old lady the entire time, I made him chase the lizard down until he caught it inside a glass and released it outside.

This time we were not so lucky. I called for my husband who went after the lizard in the bathroom in the same fashion. But this time, the little guy got away. He scurried under the bathroom door and hid — In the laundry basket? Behind the wardrobe? Under the bed? Who knows.

I didn’t sleep so well that night. I woke up constantly; peeking above my head to the bedroom ceiling, waiting for the other lizard to drop. To my knowledge, he didn’t. And he’s stayed in hiding since.

My mother-in-law says I should leave the lizards alone. “They eat the bugs,” she says. She makes a good point.

Next up, I’ll be instructed to ignore the snakes.  After all, they eat lizards.

Politics, Terrorism

In case you’re wondering, I’m okay

When you live in the States, unless you work for an American Jewish communal organization, an American Jewish newspaper (like I did at one point), or a synagogue, you are less than aware of the back-and-forth between terrorists in Israel and the IDF.

Unless there is a bus bombing.

Then, the major news agencies like CNN and MSNBC start paying a little bit of attention, and if Israel is lucky, the attack gets a minor International news headline somewhere mid-way down the list. Thanks to social media, a few more Americans might know when children are killed in Israel or bags explode near bus stations; but only because one of your Facebook friends works for an Israel-related non-profit or because your brother is there on business and checks in to let you know he’s okay. Or because your loud-mouthed blogging friend made Aliyah recently.

I hear a very deafening silence from my American friends today.

 Of the almost 700 friends I have on Facebook, not one has asked me if I am okay following the terrorist attack yesterday in Jerusalem, in which a British tourist was killed and 39 others wounded. Not one of my friends has posted on my Wall or sent me a message.

You might think this is because I am unpopular. Not so. Despite what my Facebook friends might think about me in real life, they do enjoy interacting with me on Facebook.

For instance, a month ago, I wrote on my Facebook status update that I thought I saw a UFO flying one night over my kibbutz in the North. About 20 people commented. Even last week, when I told my Facebook friends I wouldn’t be able to attend an adult Purim party due to a fever, I received about ten heartfelt condolences.

My friends care about me, and they interact with me frequently on Facebook.

Yet, no one seems to be worried about my condition following the Jerusalem bombing.

You might think this is because I don’t live in Jerusalem, and therefore my friends confidently know I am safe. But, how can that be? I’ve traveled to Jerusalem at least four times since I made Aliyah in December. My husband has been to Jerusalem for a job interview. The bombing occurred at 3 pm in the afternoon. For all anyone knows, my husband or I easily could have been at the bus station waiting for a ride back to HaMovil Junction, the bus stop nearest to our home.

You might think my friends were sure I would never take the bus, and therefore were positive I was not at the bus station when the bomb went off. Not so, either. Just last week I got on a bus at the Haifa central bus station after trying out an Ulpan class, and subsequently rode the bus home, sharing it with a wide variety of Israeli residents, Jews and Arabs alike.

You might think my friends are not worried about me because they know I am alive and well.

But that’s not what I think.

I think most of my friends don’t even know it happened.

I don’t think my friends — who have been glued to news stations and web sites for a week now following the earthquake, tsunami, and danger of nuclear fallout, or the uprisings and activity in Libya –have much of an idea that anything scary or dangerous has happened in any near vicinity to me.

Which is good in the sense that I haven’t yet received a call from a worried mother or father asking if we are all okay, and more important, “When are you moving back to America?” But it’s also makes very clear to me what Israeli citizens have been saying for years: Save for a few diehard Israel fans and outspoken opinionated members of the community, American Jews are extremely uninformed or extremely desensitized to what’s going on in Israel. To make it plain, they are unaware or just don’t care. 

Which one is it? Did you know there was a bus bombing in Jerusalem yesterday?
And if you did, why aren’t you concerned?

Where are you, my American Jewish friends? My friends who donate money to kindergartens in Beersheba? My friends who sit on Jewish organizational boards? Who send their kids to Jewish preschools? Who plan Solomon Schechter fundraisers? Who get drunk on Simchat Torah at that hip Jewish synagogue on the Upper West Side? Who lead Federation missions? Who read Lifecycle announcements in The Jewish Exponent?

Where are you today?

Please understand: I am not criticizing you. To be sure, until recently, I was you. The busy Diaspora Jew who counted on the mainstream American media to tell me the truth and to appropriately prioritize my news for me.

But I’m not anymore. Now, I’m the friend you should be checking in on when there is a bus bombing in Jerusalem.

If only you knew it happened.

Food, Living in Community, Parenting

You’re a mean one

I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that Israelis missed out on the pop culture icon that is The Grinch, the anti-Christmas, anti-fun Dr. Seuss character who ruins the holiday season for the people of Whoville. Whether or not there is an Israeli equivalent of the mean, green furry monster is unbeknownst to me, but I often feel as if I could fit the bill.
It’s not Christmas that I despise, though. Or any holiday celebrated here in Israel. My life would be a little less grinchy if it was a holiday I was in opposition to.
No. The offender in question is not a holiday, but a treasured Israeli institution.
The Makolet.
Here on the kibbutz in which I live, at the top of the hill, in a little trailer adjacent to the ganim is the quintessential Israeli convenience store. Open from early morning to late evening, with a short mid-afternoon break, the Makolet is a mini-mart which carries a variety of staples (milk, bread, cheese, sugar, instant coffee), as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, beverages, and newspapers. For those of you who have spent any time in New York City, the Makolet is basically the Jewish bodega.
If I was 21, the Makolet would be my second home, I’m sure. However, as a parent who is trying to raise healthy and health-conscious children, I find the Makolet to not only be an inconvenience, but an outright nuisance. My kids don’t see the Makolet as the place to pick up an avocado when we’re fresh out, or a tub of chummus. No, they see the Makolet as an all-day, every-day Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory!
Candy, “choco” (chocolate milk IN A BAG), gum, cake, cookies, lollipops: Half the products in the store are marketed to children; or worse yet, their parents who feed them this kind of junk every day after school. I want to assume the best: That my fellow parents here are not really aware of the kind of junk they are putting in their kids’ mouths. The sugar, of course, but worse the artificial sweeteners, additives, and preservatives. All chemicals that have been linked to not just cavities, but behavioral disturbances, sleep issues, and ADHD. They must understand, at least, the connection between feeding their kids this junk and childhood obesity? Right? How do they justify the daily indulgences? Is it yet another difference between American parenting and Israeli? Or is it ignorance?
It took us only a few weeks of living here before we created “Makolet Day;” one day during the week when each of my three kids is allowed to choose something to buy from the Makolet. We encourage cheap little toys like Gogosim over candy, but ultimately the decision is theirs. This works well for my four-year-old and two-year-old, who aren’t running around the kibbutz with other children who have their own accounts at the Makolet and the apparent freedom to buy whatever they want whenever they want. But not so for my eight-year-old who, in between Makolet days, mooches off his friends, his de facto dealers.
I’m not as bad as you might think. I’m not one of these moms who deprives her children of sweet treats. I, too, have a sweet tooth and a sugar addiction that I need to feed.  But the sweet treats in my house have always typically been home-baked chocolate chip cookies or cakes; not preservative-laden boxed cookies on a shelf.
I’m no Martha Stewart. I’m just a mom trying to raise healthy kids.
This was not an easy task in the States either. My eight-year-old son went to school with children who packed Coca-Cola and Cheetos for their mid-morning snack. But conscious eating is proving to be much more challenging here in Israel.
In the States, as long as I kept my kids away from the counter at CVS or Target, I hardly ever had to deal with the whining and begging that’s inevitable when a child meets the candy counter. Here in Israel, we pass by the open Makolet every day, where my kids’ friends are treated regularly to the junk of their choice.
In the States, there was a rule that restricted teachers from using any food for which the first listed ingredients were sugar. Here in Israel, on a recent tiyul, one of the items listed to bring was candy.
In the States, my kids would eye their friends’ snacks on the playground and I would begrudgingly let them mooch an apple or a pretzel if their friend’s mom offered. Here in Israel, my kids are swapping their organic raisins for their friends’ gummy worms.
All those years of educating my kids on healthy eating are getting flushed down the proverbial drain faster than you can say Kinder Egg.
Inside I am seething, but I remain silent. After all, I want to fit in, and nobody wants to be friends with The Grinch. Furthermore, I know the Makolet isn’t going anywhere any time soon. So, just as I’ve had to make my peace with the unleashed dogs, the mud-tracked floors, and the smell of cow poop in the afternoon, I will have to figure out a way to live in harmony with the Makolet.
Until I start a wellness revolution in Israel. Which, may end up being sooner rather than later.

(This was originally published at the Jerusalem Post Blog Central.)

Kibbutz, Living in Community, Love, Making Friends

Jew like me

I find myself in an odd predicament now that I live in Israel.
To touch or not to touch.
I like to think I’m a fairly affectionate person; though some would argue I’m a cold, aloof, you-know-what that starts with a B and ends in an itch. Nevertheless, I enjoy the freedom of being able to give someone an enthusiastic “nice-to-meet-you” handshake; a compassionate stroke on the back should a friend feel sad; or a warm hug to express my excitement over his recent achievement.
I’m an equal opportunity touchy feeler. Meaning: In the communities in which I’ve lived up until now, doling out such loving kindness to both men and women has always been socially acceptable and appropriate.
Certainly, I knew there were cultures in which touching a married man in any way would have been inappropriate, but I hardly came into contact with anyone in such a culture, including observant Jewish men.

In New Jersey, where I spent most of my adult life, the Jews I frequently interacted with were a range of Conservative to Reform to non-practicing. Certainly, I might see or even talk to a Modern Orthodox Jew, for instance, but the closest I came to social interaction with a man who considered himself observant enough to avoid contact with a woman other than his wife happened to be a client of mine.
One day, the client came to an event I organized and I was so pleasantly surprised to see him there that I gave him a big appreciative hug. Mid-hug, I realized my error and was so mortified I frantically looked around for a hole to crawl into. No such luck. It was too late to take the hug back and there was nowhere to hide. I smiled what I hope was an apologetic smile, and ran away.
There is no place to run here in Israel, where you encounter Jews of every shape, size, color, and denomination. At the bank, the post office, the grocery store. Of course, there is little reason for me to embrace my local postal worker (except for when he’s delivering a care package from the United States), but there are certain occasions in which I’ve been forced to consider how I might greet the man in front of me.
For instance, last week I was called in for a job interview. In advance of my meeting, I was asked by a Nefesh B’Nefesh coordinator if I wanted some quick tips about interviewing in Israel. At first, I felt a bit insulted. After all, I am a consummate professional with more than 15 years in the workforce. I’ve been on numerous successful interviews. What do I really need to know about interviewing in Israel?
Well…turns out I was wrong. “What are you going to do about shaking hands?” the coordinator asked me. “Um, shake with confidence, but not painfully hard?” I responded. “No,” she said. “If the person in front of you is a woman, go ahead and shake. However, if the person you are meeting with is a man, check to see if he’s wearing a kippah. If he is, let him extend his hand first to see if he is comfortable shaking yours.”
What? Since I was a young woman heading out for internship interviews in Washington, D.C., I was taught by my father that a woman should have a firm, confident handshake, especially when meeting a gentleman. What accompanies “it’s a pleasure to meet you” if not a handshake? (In the end, the individual who interviewed me was a woman.)
Back at home, on pluralistic Hannaton, I also need to tread carefully. Earlier this week, our neighbor gave birth. Her husband, who wears a kippah and whom I know to be from an observant background, came by to pick up his son who we were watching while his mother was in the hospital.

“So,” I asked him. “Is everything is ok?”
“Yes,” he responded. “We have a new baby girl.”
“Hooray! Mazal tov,” I shouted as I jumped up and down, leaning towards him for the hug. Mere seconds before touching him, I caught myself and asked. “Is it okay if I hug you?”
“Of course!” he responded, as if to say, “You silly American olah chadasha.” I was proud of myself for thinking quickly enough to ask permission before the embrace, instead of regretting it and obsessing about it with remorse and humiliation afterwards.
Pluralism is a hot button topic in Israel, I’m finding – The idea that religious and secular Jews can and should live in harmony together. It’s a dialogue we hardly ever have in the States. We’re too busy sticking together against the anti-Semites to worry much about embracing or rejecting our own intrafaith diversity.
The conversations on pluralism and acceptance are ones in which I’m interested in partaking. First, however, I need to figure out an authentic, yet appropriate way for a friendly Jewish girl to say, “Hello.”

(Originally posted by Jen Maidenberg on March 11, 2011 at  THE JERUSALEM POST BLOG CENTRAL)

Letting Go, Living in Community, Making Friends

This is Israel

This was originally posted on my blog “Israeli in Progress” on The Jerusalem Post Blog Central.

By Jen Maidenberg

“This is Israel.”
It started off as a joke between me and my husband’s first cousin, Jami (who is also a close friend of mine). Jami and I were lovingly making fun of my mother-in-law (also Jami’s aunt) whom, since retiring to Israel two years ago, would often say the phrase during a Skype session with one of us.
For instance, my mother-in-law would reach over to her kitchen counter, grab a grapefruit, and say, “See this grapefruit? It’s from my tree. Just outside in the yard. I picked it myself.” Sometimes she would peel a piece, too, just for effect and say, “This is Israel!” READ MORE…

Education, Food, Kibbutz, Learning Hebrew, Letting Go, Living in Community, Love, Making Friends, Middle East Conflict, Parenting, Politics, Religion, Work


Don’t worry.

We’re not moving anywhere.

But this blog is.

I’m happy to announce that The Jerusalem Post invited me over to blog about my Aliyah experience on The Jerusalem Post Blog Central. You can find my new blog there, “Israeli in Progress,” on the Blog home page in the Aliyah category.

Hope to see you join the conversation over there. And if you like what you read, please share with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, or via email.