Climate Changes, Community, Food, Survivalism

I’m really the farthest thing from a gardener

My photos on instagram paint a pretty picture.

broccoli 2013

The above broccoli and cabbage are part of the harvest from our backyard vegetable garden. We took advantage of the beautiful weather today (70 degrees and sunny) to weed and pull.

It’s the second season we planted; and the second season we’ve tasted vegetables we grew ourselves.

And, yes, our broccoli tasted delicious. And yes, it was exciting for us and for our children.


And, while I am so proud of us; because even a backyard garden takes effort and intention and love, part of me judges me in a way I imagine some of my Facebook friends silently judge me:


“Oh how quaint. Look at us. We grow our own vegetables. Look at us. We teach our kids how to get their hands dirty.”

I can see how people might say that when they see my posts.

I can see it…because … um … sometimes I have thoughts like that about you.

Facebook tends to make you look like a braggart, a goodie two-shoes, a whiner, or an asshole.

But the people who really know me, know that I grow my own food as practice.

Practice being the perfect mom I’ll never be, but moreso practice being Caroline Ingalls … for the day when the grid goes.

My green lifestyle … the green gardener I play on TV?

It’s still practice.

Every day I am practicing how to be less dependent on stores, stuff, and things.

Less dependent on electricity; less dependent on gas.

Less dependent on the internet, too, though that proves to be a bit more challenging.

I’m just a formerly semi-spoiled Jersey girl looking for meaning and hope on a semi-vanishing planet.

If I can do it, so can you.

Start small.

Buy less. Recycle more. Eat less. Grow more. Take less. Share more. Drive less. Walk more.

Find five minutes to talk to your kids about the impact of trash.

Find five minutes to talk to your neighbor about the impact of pesticides.

Find five minutes to strategize with your partner about taking small steps that make a big difference.

Then actually take those steps. Do something. Anything.

And then write about it. Talk about it. Paint about. Blog about it. Scream and shout about it.

Pass it on.

Climate Changes, Education, Environment, Family, Food, Health

What matters to me most

What matters to me most in life and politics is what’s closest to my heart. It’s related directly to my own personal experience.

Isn’t that true for everyone?

And, perhaps, why I haven’t connected to the elections in Israel is because what matters most to me doesn’t matter to most of the people voting in this election. Or most of the people that live in Israel.

But what I still don’t get is why?

In between fighting wars, and between reading the newspaper in the morning and watching the news at night, don’t we all need/want to live healthy lives?

Don’t my neighbors, friends, relatives understand that nothing else matters once your health is poor?

Taxes won’t matter.

Housing prices won’t matter.

Military duty won’t matter.

Statehood won’t matter.

Once a health crisis takes over, little else matters.

And each and every one of us are in some stage of a health crisis right now.

Many of us are only days, weeks, years away from cancer due to chemicals in our food and self care products.

Many of our children are only days, weeks, years away from debilitating asthma due to air pollution.

Many of our grandchildren are…

Many of our grandchildren are…

Many of our grandchildren are…

an impossibility

due to rising infertility rates … climate change … drought…. famine…diminishing resources on our planet.

Vote what matters.

Policy wordle

Culture, Family, Food, Parenting

Transforming duty into delight

Every once in a while, someone says to me, “I don’t know how you do it – work full time, parent, and still have the energy to blog.”

I smile bashfully (but secretly pleased), and explain that “writing is not a choice for me.” I’m compulsive. When I get an idea into my head, I can’t move forward until it’s on the page. Writing offers me relief.

Additionally, I’m the lamest mother on earth when it comes to holiday celebrations, which affords me more time to write.

As compulsive as I am, I can’t compel myself to make flowery Shavuot baskets or hand-sew Purim costumes for my kids to show off at school.

Photo credit: J. Whine

I have very mixed feelings about this. I love seeing my daughter wearing the exquisite crown of flowers her grandmother made especially for her preschool celebration. I am so grateful that she gets to feel like a princess because my husband crafted her a breakfast basket filled with carefully prepared dairy delicacies. I just can’t be bothered to make the effort myself.

I’m not lazy. (Note comment above.) I just completely lack holiday spirit; in particular, I loathe school holiday celebrations.

It could have something to do with how much I resent arts & crafts.

I stopped liking arts & crafts in 2nd grade when I realized precision was integral when working with glue and felt. It frustrated me that I was never able to generate in reality the beautiful concept I had envisioned in my mind.  It frustrated me even more when I couldn’t remove the excess felt from my fingertips. Now, even the words “arts and crafts” conjure up only feelings of frustration and inadequacy.

But to blame my resistance solely on the arts and crafts would be bogus.

Bottom line? I’m the Jewish Grinch. There’s nothing about holidays I like.

I know that depending on what we’re commemorating, I’m supposed to feel grateful, blessed, or triumphant. But, mostly I feel obligated, stressed, or depressed. In Israel, holidays usually mean my three children require three different outfits that I have to remember to launder in advance; three different lists of supplies to bring to school – from burekas to bisquits to bisli. And, often three different days on which they’re celebrating!

Holidays mean dancing in front of other adults, a fate worse than death for me. Holidays mean gathering around bonfires singing songs I don’t know the words to. Holidays mean eating foods that I’d otherwise avoid because they give me cramps, or turn my children into demons.

In Israel, like in America, holidays mean vacation for my kids and their teachers, but not always vacation for working parents. So, holidays also mean I need to figure out babysitting for my kids, so my husband and I can work.

I’m a bummer. I’m a buzzkill. I’m a Grinch.

I want to revel. But I can’t. I don’t feel it.

I didn’t revel in American holidays either. It drove me nuts there, too. Sign up lists at Halloween and Thanksgiving – Who would bake the pumpkin pie? Who would bring in the orange frosted cupcakes?

I vaguely remember once upon a time when I used to feel joy for holiday celebrations. The excitement accompanying unexpected Valentine’s Day cards. The joy with which I sang songs at my Hebrew school’s mock Passover Seder.

Where has that joy gone? How can I transform duty back into delight?

= =

There is a moment, I’ll admit it.

There’s a moment when my heart opens. It’s like a wisp of a memory that I can almost touch, but not quite.

It happens when I watch my daughter twirl in her white gown. When I see my five year old son and his classmates dance with glee in front of their beaming parents. When I catch my 9 year old laughing and leaping with his friends from haystack to haystack.

In those moments, I feel my irritability dissolve; my load lighten. I let joy in. I feel relief.

There’s a glimmer of hope then — that next time I’ll be able to enjoy it…not just blog about it.

Culture, Environment, Family, Food

Angry mom

This was originally posted as my alter ego, “The Wellness Bitch.” Please take that into consideration as you read it. The WB posts with a slightly different tone. Considering the relevance to my Aliyah experience here in Israel, however, I choose to re-post it, despite the chance that it might incite my friends and alienate my neighbors.

With any luck, though, maybe a few of you will join me in a “Makolet Ban” or an “Anti-Makolet March” or at the very least, one “No Makolet Day” each year. 

I feel blessed in my life for the moms who get it. I’m glad for the ones I’ve met in real life and the ones I have come to know and love virtually.

It’s these moms — the ones who struggle day in and day out to provide their families with their version of “healthy” despite society’s constant roadblocks — that bring me back down off the angry ledge. It’s these fellow moms who struggle as hard as I do; who understand the often daily battles I fight with myself and my kids. The struggle between giving my kids what they want and giving them what I think they need. The struggle between saying yes and saying no. The struggle between choosing to fight a battle and choosing to lose it. The struggle between choosing easy and choosing hard.

I need such a support group desperately here, in my real life community, where I am forced to make choices all the time between what I know is right for my kids and what other moms let their kids get away with.

I’m feeling very, very “angry mom” lately.

Here, in the small community in Israel where I live, there is so much I love. But what I hate to my utter core is the “makolet.”

The makolet is basically a corner grocery store. The Israel equivalent of a NYC bodega. Internally, I like to call it “the kiddie crack house.” Sure, conceptually, it’s nice to know I can run up the hill for a carton of eggs or a package of baking powder, but 99% of the time, it’s the bane of my existence here and representative of something I really can’t stand about Israel: For as advanced as this country is, it is still very far behind in the healthy eating revolution, and in denial that what you feed your kids contributes to their physical and emotional well-being.

Israel's national snack food, bamba

Every day here, it seems, the average Israeli child walks out from his preschool and is taken by the hand to the makolet where the average Israeli parent buys his child the average Israeli after-school snack — namely a popsicle, a chocolate milk, a snack pack of peanut butter puffed corn, yogurt topped with candy or just plain candy.

It’s the Wellness Bitch’s worst nightmare. Can you imagine?

A family "favorite"

For over a year, I’ve tried to make peace with the makolet. My husband and I have tried various incentive plans to get our kids on board with the idea that we don’t feed them makolet crack every day. These are kids who, up until a year ago, were happy to get candy once a month at a birthday party, and whose daily sweet treats included an organic sandwich cookie or a beet-colored fruit roll up. Now, these kids can be seen walking once a week clutching a bag of “Kliks,” slurping on sour gummy worms, or sucking down a spray bottle filled with the EU version of Red #40.

We’ve tried “Makolet Day,” one day a week when our kids get to pick something from the little store. But one “Makolet Day” a week suddenly turns into three when Saba comes to visit, or when the 3-year-old goes home with a different parent for a playdate and the two kids wind up sucking down “Shock-o,” the  chocolate milk drink packaged in sports bottles mechanically engineered for preschoolers’ tiny mouths. “Makolet Day” becomes a way of life here when my kids are treated to a “krembo” by their teachers or tutors or soccer coaches for doing a job well done. “Makolet Day” in not just a day here when it’s piled upon birthday parties and holiday celebrations and kiddushim, for which the focal point is sugary, processed crap masquerading as food.

Yesterday, I lost it because my daughter walked out from preschool with a snack bag full of candy thanks to an in-school birthday party (which they seem to have twice a month here). I told her she could have the birthday candy or “Makolet Day,” not both. She agreed. She proceeded to eat a handful of m-n-m’s and then ran to the makolet to pick out

"Krembo" the Israeli chocolate coconut cream treat

her weekly treat. When I reminded her of our agreement, she had a meltdown. That melt-down turned into a kicking and screaming performance for all my friends and neighbors (Did I imagine the tongues clicking in compassion for my daughter ?)

As I buckled her into her car seat, I screamed out loud in frustration to her and her two brothers, “That is it! No more makolet! I hate the makolet. I hate it so much I am going to come here in the middle of the night and spray graffiti all over the makolet! Do you hear me?? Graffiti!!!!”

Don’t you love days like that? When you are so angry, and yet so defeated, that graffiti is your best threat? (What would I even write? “F-off Makolet?” “Die, Makolet, Die?” And, really, how long would it take before they discovered the English expletives belonged to me?)

Don’t you love it when, in an effort to do right by your kids, you completely do wrong?

Don’t you love it when their meltdowns produce your meltdowns?

Somebody, please hand me a Krembo.

For years, I was luckier than I realized. I had a built-in community and support system in New Jersey. I lived in an educated, middle to upper middle class, health conscious neighborhood. I had a Whole Foods Market ten minutes to the West and one ten minutes to the East. I had a “Holistic Moms” network nearby, five yoga studios to choose from, a “green thumb” and a “wellness” committee at my kids’ schools.

For all that I gained when I moved to a small, country kibbutz in Israel, I lost that wellness-focused community.

And now I have two choices: I can stay angry or I can build…community, that is.

I do both really, really well.

I simply need to choose now, as we all do at some point, which one serves me best.

I recently mentioned to the members of my bi-weekly woman’s group that I think it’s time I start speaking up — getting “my leader on,” so to speak. On the one hand, it’s been nice living in my bubble, the one in which I pretend like I don’t have much of an opinion and don’t have experience leading community efforts for change.

Inside this bubble, I’ve allowed “little Hebrew” to become synonymous for “little voice.”

But the truth is, I have a voice. And it’s loud. And it’s lonely hiding here inside the bubble.

Climate Changes, Food, Kibbutz

Who Am I?

Somewhere, in the piles of bureacratic papers they handed us at Ben Gurion Airport last December, they must have hidden a green thumb.

For how else can I explain this new found commitment I have to what can only be characterized as…gardening? It’s clearly a bi-product of my Aliyah, this tender love and compassion for the newly sprouting and already rooted life in my yard.

My pre-Aliyah thumb was as black as black could be. I snubbed my thumb at greenery. I kept it safe and warm inside. My thumb knew only the tappity tap of the keyboard, whether it was the one on my laptop or the one on my Blackberry. My pre-Aliyah thumb did not know dirt; was not trained in carefully measuring the pressure placed on the nozzle of the garden hose; did not suffer the wounds of thorns.

My thumb…and I…wonder, “Who are we?”

Now we both suffer when we realize we’ve forgotten to water the plants. And we both yearn to be outside playing in the yard, rather than typing on a computer.

And we’re both, thumb and I, enjoying the fruits of our labor, and marveling at our transformation.

Growing fruit, veggies and art
Passionfruit vine spreading love
If you can't find 'em, grow 'em
Clementines are ready to pick
Culture, Food, Uncategorized

Will Israel Wake Up to Food Allergies?

((Originally posted on The Jerusalem Post blogs on July 22, 2011. I ask you to please pass on to your Israeli friends.))

Yesterday, while swimming at the pool with my kids, my friend Daniella called me over to ask me if I heard about the girl who died from an allergic reaction in Tel Aviv.
Immediately my heart leapt into my throat.
No, I said. What happened?
Daniella told me what she understood from the story and the blanks were filled in later when I got home and googled “Girl dies from nut allergy in Israel.”
In my mind, the girl was young, like my son, but in reality she was a young adult; independent and out for a night with her young friends. Presumably, she did everything right. She asked the waiter if there were nuts in the Belgian waffle dessert she ordered, including Nutella, a popular hazelnut-based chocolate spread. According to testimonies from her friends, the waiter told her there was not.
And so she ate it.
It’s a choice each food allergic individual and the individuals who parent kids with food allergies have to make each and every day.
Do we live in a bubble or do we venture out into a dangerous world and do our best to keep ourselves safe?
I don’t know if the woman had an epi-pen on her or if it was used. The details are missing from the story. I do know that we insist that my 8 ½ year old son carried a green canvas Steve’s backpack with him wherever he goes: to school, to camp, to a friend’s house, to the migrash, to restaurants, to sleepovers at his Saba and Savta’s. Some people have indicated they think it’s excessive. I worry it might someday be a lifesaver for him.

Inside the small pack is his “epi pen pack” a plastic bag with two pens of epinephrine, Benadryl and an instructions note that indicates his allergens (peanuts, walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts) and potential reactions to recognize.
Despite this visible reminder and verbal requests to keep him safe by keeping him away from nuts, I’m amazed at how often people forget. Or perhaps they don’t forget, but they don’t think that his allergy (or any food allergies) are truly life threatening.
I don’t know why, exactly, but Israelis, on the whole, do not take his food allergies seriously. This is in stark contrast to the States, where more and more parents are toting epi-pens as accessories.
In the weeks leading up to our aliyah, I anxiously researched schools and communities, but not so much to learn about education or teaching styles, rentals or housing markets. No, the most important information I needed to find had to do with food. And I was dismayed to find out that food allergy awareness, while growing, is still something that is not only severely lacking in Israel, but blatantly off the radar of important government officials and in schools.
I was shocked to find there was no school nurse on site to administer an epi-pen should my son need it. (We had to train him how to administer it himself.) I was shocked to find out that unlike in the States where there is some regulation on labeling, in Israel there was none; instead manufacturers slap everything with a “May contain traces of nuts, sesame, or gluten” label in order to avoid liability issues, leaving our food allergic children with no true concept of what they can and cannot eat from the packaged food selection.

Worse yet for us, my two kids with allergies react to nuts and sesame, I daresay two of Israel’s “national” foods.
I was not surprised to find out that parents here still served peanut butter-smothered Bamba at every childhood function, from birthdays to Yom Hatzmaut. But I was devastated to learn that most bread products in Israel, including pita, pizza and challah, are covered in sesame; and most ice cream and candy are swimming in nuts, from pesek-zman to kit kats.
Nothing terrifies me in this country more than the risk my children face when they eat outside their home.
Not terrorism, not kassam rockets, not enemy infiltrations into my small Northern community.
No, nuts and sesame scare me a whole lot more.
We’re doing what we can to try to eliminate our fear and to continue to empower our children to speak out about their food allergies. To make sure they ask adults to help them when we’re not around. To engage their friends in protecting them by keeping away from them their food allergens. Some of it’s working. I saw it yesterday at the pool when my son’s 5-year-old friend told him to stay away from his sesame covered sandwich.
But what can we do when we continue to find ourselves in situations where Israelis pooh-pooh food allergies; even when our child speaks up and requests assistance? Our son has been told by teachers and camp counselors that a food product does not contain nuts without reading the label. When he insists they read the label, they insist back that it’s “fine for him.” This is unconscionable.
This is contrary to what we have spent 6 years teaching our son and, while these laid back adults don’t mean my son harm, they do likely think, “Ze lo big deal.” But, I assure you, it is a big deal.
I’m sorry to say it, but somewhere in that café in Tel Aviv, someone thought “ze lo big deal” and a woman died. Or someone wasn’t thinking at all.
If we, as a country, can take so seriously the issues of kashrut labeling on our foods, we can and should take life threatening allergies just as seriously, if not more.
I’m seeing more awareness of Celiac disease in Israel and noticing more gluten free foods popping up even in the mainstream markets. This is great. But it’s just a baby step. In North America, there are eight common food allergens: fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, wheat, eggs, soy, with sesame and corn following close behind. And while there are studies that Israeli children seem to be less susceptible to peanut allergies than their Jewish American counterparts, considering the influx of their Jewish American counterparts as new olim to Israel, I suggest that Israel wakes up and starts treating this as a serious issue.
What do I mean by that?

1. Start by regulating labeling in the food industry. Require strict guidelines on food labeling and differentiate between CONTAINS and is PREPARED ON EQUIPMENT WITH. The government should monitor this labeling.

2. Hold restaurants accountable for what they serve their customers. Educate restaurant owners about the life threatening nature of food allergies. Some restaurant chains in the US have started preparing and offering food allergy versions of their menus so that guests can know which foods contain what.

3. Be closely in touch with FAAN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network), a US non-profit that has already made great strides in both creating awareness and supporting parents of food allergic children by creating local and regional support groups.

4. Educate ganim and school staff on the seriousness of food allergies. Suggest they incorporate food allergy awareness into their “diversity” and “good citizenship” programs. Bullying and teasing of food allergic kids is on the rise. 
Right now, there is no magical cure for food allergies. And even worse, the numbers of food allergic children are on the rise. (That’s a blog post in and of itself; if you want to get started, check out or read my friend Robyn O’Brien’s book The Unhealthy Truth.)
As Naama Katzir from the food allergy advice and counseling association says in the YNet story on the tragic death this week, “The Health Ministry has sadly been dragging its feet for over three years and is tarrying over launching regulations for the marking of food products. Over the last few years there have been a vast number of harsh allergic reactions, mainly with children. Sadly both cases ended like this tragic case – in death.”
Does Israel need another tragic death to wake up to a growing public health concern?
This very frightened mother of two Israeli food allergic children hopes and prays the answer is no.

Food, Kibbutz, Living in Community, Religion

I’ve got that Shabbat feeling…

For the first time in my life, I’ve got that Shabbat feeling.

Well, to be more precise, I’m basking in the afterglow of that Shabbat feeling. This past Friday, my in-laws invited my three children to their home (which is on a moshav about 30 minutes drive from us) to spend the afternoon, and sleep over. Since we arrived in Israel, my in-laws have been enormously generous and helpful. They’ve had one or both of my boys to sleep over; they’ve helped us out with childcare; they’ve hosted us for Shabbat dinner; they’ve helped us ease into this new culture and lifestyle with love and support.

But this weekend they granted us the wish my husband and I have been salivating over since we made Aliyah: They took all three kids off our hands for Shabbat.

And by Shabbat, I mean the weekend.

Here in Israel, Shabbat is the weekend and the weekend is Shabbat. In the States, Shabbat was something other Jewish people observed. The ones who wore kippot all the time and went to the grown up services, not just the occasional Tot Shabbat. Shabbat was for rabbis or rabbinical students or “real Jews.” More Jewishy Jews. People who kept kosher in the house and knew the entire Birkat HaMazon. People who weren’t us.

We were Jews with one foot in and one foot out the door. To be fair, I always liked the “idea” of Shabbat, but never could fully commit. And my husband, a Solomon Schechter graduate and therefore a much more learned Jew than I, would accompany me to the occasional Family Friday Shabbat Dinner at our synagogue kicking and screaming. As for Saturday, there was always too much to do. Birthday parties, laundry, errands, and soccer games. Saturday required too much attention. 

Not so here: I learned very quickly that keeping Shabbat is much less a challenge in Israel. For the simple reason that there is nothing to do on Saturday.

There’s nothing to do on Friday night either. Sure, there are a few bars open here or there, a few Arab restaurants or markets. But, pretty much from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, the entire country is observing Shabbat by default.  Most stores and restaurants are closed. No birthday parties are scheduled. Weddings and other big events take place on Thursday nights.  By Friday afternoon, the country shuts down.

Which means that while not every Israeli is at home lighting candlesticks or eating roasted chicken on Friday nights, they’re certainly not at Target either. The observant Jews are doing what observant Jews do in America: They’re praying, eating dinner with family or friends, and resting.

The secular Jews, though, don’t have much choice but to honor Shabbat, as well. They just do it a little differently. Some have Friday night dinner as a family, either minus the prayers or with a token kiddush. Others spend Saturdays hiking or playing together as a family. A lot of the secular folks I know use Saturday to go on walks, picnics, jeep trips or bike rides. They travel to see family and friends in other cities. Or go to the beach. No one I know is spending Saturday divvying up errands or soccer games. 

At first it felt really strange for me. Saturday felt empty. Almost boring. Sometimes I got a little agitated, even. But soon enough I started to get into the routine. And I started to enjoy it.

On Friday mornings, we bring the little ones to Gan and often spend the morning tidying the house or doing some last minute food shopping. In the afternoons, we relax, the kids nap or play quietly until the early evening when we clean up and put on our “handsome clothes.” As the sun starts to set, we leave the house together as a family and walk the path up to the Beit Knesset, the small synagoague on Hannaton. My kids look and smell of summer camp. We all do — the kibbutz dirt wiped clean off our bodies; our fragrant wet hair parted to the side. The sun slowly falls over the lake behind our home and we hear the crickets chirp.

It’s Shabbat.

It’s an essence I only read about it books before I moved to Israel.

We sit down for Kabbalat Shabbat services. For a few minutes, our littlest ones even join in the sing-songy prayer. Before long, they’ll be joining their friends outside to run around like maniacs, but for a few minutes they’re little angels.

Our big kids sit on their hands waiting for the end of Lechah Dodi, when they will be allowed to exit and meet up on the playground. At the end of services, we exchange “Shabbat Shaloms” with the friends we’ve seen all week running in and out of drop off. Many Friday nights we share a meal with those same friends. Or with extended family. Each Friday night, though, we’re together, the five of us, at a table sharing a meal.

Which is a funny, yet lovely surprise for this “Jew in Progress.”

Me: The American Jewish girl who went to Hebrew school, but still feels awkward at services because she can’t recite the Amidah by heart with her eyes closed. Me: The girl who grew up in a Jewish suburb, among Jewish kids, but only went to Shabbat services when it was someone’s bar mitzvah. Me: The girl who didn’t eat ham sandwiches, but certainly ate bacon at home. Me: The girl who swore she would marry for love, not for religion. Me: The girl who still isn’t sure she believes in God, and if she does, she’s not sure he’s a Jewish kinda God.

I never in a million years thought Shabbat would be something I would be able to commit to on any level, let alone enjoy. And yet, I do. I am. I am not only at peace with the idea of keeping Shabbat, but I am finding peace because I keep Shabbat.

So much so that when my in-laws took our kids off our hands for a night, my husband and I didn’t take in a movie. We took in Shabbat.

And it was perfect. We sat through the hour-long service without interruption. We walked down from the Beit Knesset hand-in-hand. We made a late dinner, which we enjoyed over candlelight and wine. We slept in. We had a lazy morning at home. We drove to a nearby national forest and went for a scenic drive and hike.

By the time we picked up our kids, I felt relaxed, rejuvenated, and ready to take on the week ahead of me.

If that’s not the Shabbat feeling, I don’t know what is.

Sure, it’s not going to be that awesome every weekend.  (I think my in-laws will need a few weeks/months before they’re rejuvenated enough to take on my little monsters again.) But, keeping Shabbat, at least on some level, is a shift that’s been healthy for me. I can sense it. I crave it now. I look forward to it.

It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.

Food, Kibbutz, Learning Hebrew

Let’s Make a Deal

Today, for the first time in the four months that I have lived in Israel, I went grocery shopping all by myself.

Aren’t I a big girl?

It sounds silly…I’m a grown up after all, but going to the grocery store when you live in the middle of nowhere in a country whose language you’re not even close to mastering is no easy task.

Up until now, I’ve been going with my husband or sending him off on his own. Not just because I’m scared of the cashier (which I am), but also because he is the only one of us truly able to read the ingredients list, which is crucial for a family with food allergies.  The good news (which is really bad news) is that our local supermarket has practically nothing in the way of organic or preservative free foods so the packaged goods we buy here are few. The bad news (which is really bad news) is that in order to buy the foods we need to maintain our nut, sesame, dairy, gluten, chemical free existence, we need to shop at 3-4 locations spread out through Northern Israel.

Today, I needed to go to Karmiel, a mid-size city about 30 minutes from my kibbutz. Karmiel is home to a large Mega Bol, which carries a few gluten free products you can’t get at the nearby Shufersal (which any new olah mistakenly calls Supersal for the first few months).

I decided it was time to break my proverbial cherry (food pun intended).  I had already been to the location numerous times as a tag-a-long with my husband. I knew exactly how to get there, where to park, and which aisles carried the items I needed.

Getting there was no problem. Finding a parking space was a piece of cake. The store was empty so I quickly grabbed what I needed. “Chik chak” as they say here. As I approached the checkout aisles, my heart began to race. Why? Because I knew what was coming.

In the States, you can probably get away without ever talking to the cashier at the grocery store. In particular at grittier stores like ShopRite or Pathmark, you don’t even have to smile or say hello. If the cashier asks, “paper or plastic,” you can get away with a grunt and point towards the bag of your choice. 

Not so in Israel.

I placed my contents on the checkout counter. I smiled at the cashier who did not smile back, but asked me in Hebrew, “Do you have a Mega Bol card?”

I was prepared. I knew what she was going to say before she said it. The big mistake I made, however, was in my answer.

“No,” I told her. “No, I don’t have one.” If I had added, “And no, I don’t want one,”  I would have been out of there. Chik Chak.

But, she asked me. “Why not?” Again, my mistake was in answering honestly. I should have just told her, “Because I don’t.” Zeh hu zeh. (And that’s that!)

Instead, I said, “My husband has a Mega Bol card and I don’t have his here today. I am fine. We’ll use it another time.”

Well, no Israeli is going to let you get away with that.

What? You don’t want a deal? You don’t want to save .o3% on your purchase today? You don’t want the free coupons you get in the mail when you sign up for your own Mega Bol card? But you get a discount on the card if your husband already has one! How can you call yourself Israeli if you’re not going to accept the deal?!? Accept the deal!! And while you’re at it, don’t you want this lipstick that’s on sale? Or the choclate-flavored dog bisquits? What about this imported liver pate? It’s only 50 shekels! 50 shekels! This liver pate normally costs 85 shekels. Why not buy this liver pate when it’s on sale? Who cares that you hate liver pate? It’s a deal! What about the ladies razors? They’re “1 + 1!” Such a deal!

The cashier (and subsequently her manager) came over to the cash register, both insisting that I sign up for the card. Insisting that I should reconsider. But I could not understand the particulars…no matter how slowly she repeated them to me. Not even when she repeated it for a third and fourth time.

Finally, I said to them in my baby Hebrew, “Please. I am a new immigrant. It’s hard enough for me to even gather up the courage to go shopping, let alone have a conversation or argument with you about why or why not I will accept your super bargain that is a Mega Bol card. I just want to pay for my things and leave with a scrap of dignity.”

I didn’t say it exactly like that. In fact, without the vocabulary to say it like that, I instead shrugged my shoulders and smiled; which led me to leave the very last shred of dignity I had at the checkout counter.

But at least I had my gluten free chocolate chip muffin mix.  And my two packs of razors.

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.)

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.

Food, Kibbutz, Letting Go

Supersize It

Our Rabbi (who is also our friend) and her family are coming to Israel in a few weeks on a synagogue-organized trip, with a special stop to our kibbutz. We’re really excited to see them, but their visit presents a moral and ethical dilemma:

How inappropriate is it to ask them to devote an entire suitcase to items we need from the States? And is it even more inappropriate to ask them to forgo an item of luggage so they can instead bring us an IKEA Expedit bookshelf?

I’ve only lived here for six weeks and already I completely understand with great compassion why our Israeli relatives and friends always asked us to buy shoes on or toys from Amazing Savings or tupperware from the Dollar Store to pack in our bags and schlep over here for them. For years, the reason eluded me. Why on earth would my father-in-law need coffee from the States? Is he that picky? Why did our little cousins get so excited by a cruddy little Fisher Price wind-up toy we spent 75 cents on?

Why? Because you have to be an Israeli millionaire before you can afford quality tupperware in this country. You need to be among the upper elite before you can buy a decent gift at Toys RUS. And home goods or kitchen supplies? Ha! What you pay here for a ripoff of a Made in China ripoff is the same as what you’d pay in Williams Sonoma for the Chef Michael Voltaggio brand in the States.

I am not kidding. Ask my mother-in-law. We were joking about it last night, but really not. In fact, we were not joking so hard we were crying real tears.

When she goes back to the States to visit, she brings an extra suitcase. On the last day of her trip, she goes to Costco and fills up that suitcase with everything from Kirkland brand white albacore tuna (you can only get Chunk Light here!) to Swiffer refills to Chinet paper plates.

But, then you return to Israel, and you can’t bring yourself to actually use the Chinet! It is like fine china — reserved for dignitaries and special Shabbat guests only.  I mean, what happens when it’s all gone and you have to go back to using the flimsy plastic plates they sell here?

It’s not like you can ask a friend visiting from the States to bring you over some Chinet.  When a friend asks you if you want anything from “back home,” she expects a “Please bring me a movie-sized bag of M and Ms” or a “Yes, I’d really love the new Michael Chabon book.” Your friend is not expecting you to politely beg her to bring you paper plates in bulk.

When my mother-in-law saw me unpack a bulk-sized Bounty paper towels from one of my kitchen boxes a few weeks ago, she audibly gasped. “Zvi, did you see? Bounty…,” she said longingly. I laughed at the time, but after one trip to SuperPharm, where I bought a pack of the paper towels you get around here, I told my husband, “Hide the Bounty! You are forbidden to use the Bounty for anything less than vomit! Do you understand me?!?”

I think about all the items we liquidated at our weekend-long garage sale right before we moved. Or, the leftover items that were donated to charity. Lord, how I wish I had my rusty old teapot (I can’t seem to find anything but an electric kettle here) or my kids’ less-desired Playmobil (I could have resold it here for a gajillion shekels! Or at least re-gifted it to my kids’ classmates at birthday parties.)

Today we re-bought gardening tools we didn’t realize we’d ever need in Israel.  With the rains over the last few weeks, our backyard has grown so tall, we’ve lost our two-year old. I don’t understand. Never, on any of my trips to Israel, have I ever seen a blade of green grass. I’ve seen sand. I’ve seen dry wisps of what may have once been grass. But never green grass or yards. Whomever would have thought we’d actually get enough of the green stuff to require a weed wacker? And yet, today we needed to buy a new one at Home Center. Don’t ask me what it cost — I had to barter one of my kidneys.

I’m a nice girl. I’ll never ask you to pack me a case of Rice Protein powder from Whole Foods or a family pack of Charmin toilet paper. But if you happen to have a little extra room to spare in your suitcase…consider going up to your attic and rifling through your “donate to charity” pile.  If you see an old teapot or some extra under-the-bed plastic containers, we’ll take ’em.

If not, I’ll gladly accept the remaining pack of travel sized Kleenex you didn’t use on the plane. Or the M-n-Ms.

Food, Kibbutz

Organically-grown foodie

Okay, I’m a little sneak. I previously wrote and published this post on February 6 for my wellness-related blog, The Wellness Bitch. However, its connection to Israel is clear and relevant, and has much to do with my making Aliyah. I even added a special little something to this version.

Some people mistake my interest in food for an interest in food.

By that, I mean just because I am constantly thinking and writing about food, people who don’t know me well automatically assume that I like to cook, enjoy food preparation, and think it’s groovy to come up with surprising new ways to prepare root vegetables.

This is not true. In fact, until I was practically forced to cook for my family when I realized that most of Trader Joes’ frozen meals were cross-contaminated with peanuts (a food my son is severely allergic to), I preferred to reach into the freezer for dinner, not the vegetable crisper.

I am not a foodie.

I do not enjoy watching anything on The Food Network, save for Ace of Cakes (I’m amused by the ingenuity and wit of Duff’s crew) and the occasional Jamie Oliver (because he’s so darn cute and an activist, to boot.)

I arrange food on plates with as much creativity and intention as a lunch lady. And I really, really hate the aftermath of preparing lovely meals — dishpan hands.

However, I have to admit since I started buying organic produce from a local farm, and my husband is closely watching whether or not this budget line item is worth it, I’ve become a lot more playful in the kitchen.

The first week I received the basket I discovered the many uses of cabbage. Shredded cabbage salad. Sauteed cabbage with onions, tomato, and garlic. And this dish I used to love to get from my local Ethiopian restaurant in South Orange, NJ.  I suddenly transformed into a little Jewish Julia Child, which I guess would make me a mini Joan Nathan, since she is already the Jewish Julia Child.

This week, I’m exploring fennel and peppers for a very simple reason: I need to make room in my refrigerator. There are so many peppers and fennel bulbs that I can’t reach the hummus.

When I lived in New Jersey, very close to a Whole Foods Market, I bought plenty of organic fruits and vegetables. But, despite the advice and urging from many of my foodie friends, I stuck with the stuff I knew, loved, and could be sure my children would eat. In the vegetable category, this left me with broccoli, spinach, and kale.  None of which has made an appearance in my weekly organic delivery basket. Are my kids enjoying the cabbage and fennel, too?

No, they are not. And this is the very reason I didn’t join a co-op or CSA in the States. However, as my access to organic food here is significantly limited, and gas is extremely expensive, this is the most practical and affordable option for our family right now.  (To learn more about why I choose organic for my family, please read more of The Wellness Bitch, or talk to the folks here in Israel who work on non-organic farms to learn about the unfortunate incidence of cancer among their co-workers.)

I seek comfort, though, in the knowledge that my children eat Israeli salad for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and that I brought the Jessica Seinfeld cookbook with me instead of selling it at my yard sale.

If I am really lucky, perhaps she has a trick for hiding fennel.