Culture, Family, Learning Hebrew, Letting Go, Love, Middle East Conflict, Spirituality

Daily practice

The other day I discovered the blog of writer, investor and entrepreneur James Altucher. Someone at work forwarded me a tech-related post Altucher had written; and after exploring his blog a bit I realized that 1) he has a foul tongue (and I like it!) and 2) has much more to offer than subjective evaluations of the market and tips for entrepreneurs: He’s insightful and introspective.

In particular, his August 20 post, “How to be a human,” was chock full of topics of interest to me — the end of the world, the fate of humanity, and the fear and anger that leads a person to spew hatred at a stranger on a public forum.  Certainly, as I am not addressing on this blog a virtual audience the size of Altucher Confidential, I don’t come up against as much public defamation as he might. But in the 15 years that I’ve written for public audiences — in newspapers, magazines, and extremely opinionated blogs — I’ve certainly set myself up to be taken down. And it’s a lot less fun than when someone shares your blog post on their Facebook wall; or when a more celebrated blogger mentions you in their weekly newsletter.

Altucher claims not to care; not to be impacted by what others write to or about him. He instead acknowledges their anger as representative of and outlets for dealing with past trauma (ie. “Their fathers or mothers didn’t love them;” Other kids beat on them; “Girls or guys didn’t like them or called them names.”)

Altucher credits his humanity for providing him with the ability to rise above his own past traumas; to stop him, he writes, from lying, cheating, stealing, and even killing. In particular,  Altucher credits what he calls “The Daily Practice” as the force by which he remains sane and suitable for society.

His “daily practice,” Altucher claims, is “the only way I’ve ever been able to rise above animal and be human.”

I like this. I like this a lot.

I absolutely agree with Altucher that the world is full of angry, scared, depressed people that often act like animals, but moreso I like how he offers useful tips in a frank, yet accessible voice. Tips that might, just might, lead an Average Joe to be more contemplative, seek help, or better yet, take action.

(In fact, he reminds me of someone I know and love who strives to do the same.)

In questioning the nature and formality of my own daily practice, I realized there is one thing I have committed to each and every day since I moved Israel — Something that is often difficult, very frequently humiliating, and yet so nourishing for my soul.

Every day, I choose to have one uncomfortable conversation.

Typically, my uncomfortable conversation is in Hebrew, but sometimes not. Sometimes the uncomfortable conversation might be with my English speaking neighbor or boss, on a topic that makes me squirm, like money.  And sometimes it’s on a topic I’m emotionally invested in, and the uncomfortable conversation is with my in-laws and or my kid’s teacher.

The more uncomfortable the conversation, I’ve found, the more I learn about myself. The more uncomfortable the conversation, the more I grow.

Particularly for me, the uncomfortable Hebrew conversations have been humbling…which I think my soul really needs. Like Altucher, my daily practice has taught me how to be more human. In particular, to listen, to feel, and to do both with compassion.

But uncomfortable conversations, I think, could be a useful daily practice for almost anyone.

For my shy husband, for instance, the daily practice of having an uncomfortable conversation might be empowering. Or, for my son, offer the thrill of independence.

The uncomfortable conversation can break down walls and stereotypes. It can open doors…and close them. The uncomfortable conversation is often less scary than you think. Instead, it’s often surprising and enlightening. It’s a daily opportunity to practice self-restraint, love, and compassion.

Based on the progress I’ve made since I started taking on the uncomfortable conversation as a daily practice, I daresay, it might be the key to Middle East peace. It might be the answer for world hunger and all that ails the world.

The key for progress and improvement lies somewhere within the uncomfortable conversation, I am sure of it. More specifically in the courage and compassion required to conduct the uncomfortable conversation (as opposed to the uncomfortable screaming match or the uncomfortable revolution or the uncomfortable war).

The uncomfortable conversation, by the way, doesn’t require two consenting participants. It only requires you: Committed, compassionate, humbled and empowered you.

You, as part of your daily practice, trying to be more human.

Culture, Kibbutz, Learning Hebrew, Letting Go, Living in Community, Love, Making Friends, Parenting

Ties that bind

Last night, underneath a full moon, within the sacred space of our kibbutz mikveh, ten women gathered to acknowledge our friend who will be bringing a new life into our community in a few short weeks.

Debbie’s due at the end of August and it’s become somewhat of a tradition on Hannaton to create a “birth circle” for pregnant women. We sculpt the pregnant mother-to-be’s belly into a keepsake “mask;” we drink tea, and last night, we shared our birth stories.

It’s taken me some time to feel comfortable in a circle like the one I participated in last night. I blame it on the fact that I grew up without sisters.

Others, like me, who grew up with only brothers, or those with no siblings at all can back me up: What might be seamless and normal for women who grew up alongside sisters often takes a lot longer for us.  When you grow up with sisters, you have years to learn the ins and outs of interacting with other women, of being comfortable in the girl group dynamic. Even if you aren’t close with your sister, you’ve likely figured out the subtleties and intricacies of female conversation.  You know how to fight fair and eventually make up. You’ve shared beds and clothes; you’ve taken your bras off in front of each other.

The rest of us arrive at summer camp or at college completely clueless – and it takes us most of our adult lives to figure it out.

Fortunately, as I’ve discovered, giving birth speeds up the sense of sisterhood. There’s nothing like the aches of pregnancy and pains of childbirth to bond you with other women. And, in all seriousness, there’s nothing that creates kinship like sharing birth stories…even when, like me, you consider your birth experiences to have been less than ideal.

Last night, I smiled when we were invited to share our birth stories with each other.  Having already experienced the intimacy that comes with sharing birth stories in a circle of women, I was really excited to be part of this exercise with this group of women…my friends in the making.  I saw this as the perfect opportunity to learn more about each other, to open up, to move past the everyday niceties, to connect.  

Until it hit me…again.

It would all be in Hebrew. I felt my smile fade and my stomach turn.

You would think that by now it would take less time to compute – the Hebrew element. But it doesn’t. There is still a time lapse during which it occurs to me that my understanding of how an experience might be is not how it will be in actuality. Meaning: Hebrew makes it harder.  Tiresome. And eventually, mind-numbing. When it’s in Hebrew, I find it hard to engage; frustrating to participate; challenging to connect.

So I disengage. And the moments that might have moved me instead become tests…not just of language comprehension, but of pure will.

I did my best to keep up. But then, as it often does in these situations, my mind started to wander. First to that insecure place that masquerades as boredom…checking my watch and checking out; wishing I could leave and go home to watch reruns of The Office (in English).

And then the transition to the outsider’s feeling of sadness and longing…The inner thoughts of “I bet I would have laughed too if I had understood the joke” or the inner shame of “I wonder if they know I’m just nodding along.”

And then to the place where fear and desperation lives: Fear that I will never learn Hebrew well enough to blend in; to feel a “part” of anything meaningful here. That my relationships will always be surface-based; that my interactions in Hebrew will always be met with challenges and confusions; that I will never be able to fully participate. That no one will really know me and I won’t really know them.

Which might not be a big deal for you, but is for me. Because meaningful connections are what moves me. And without them, my life suffers.

Despite my discomfort, I didn’t leave the birth circle. Instead, I stayed and shifted my focus. I ate watermelon. I observed instead of listened. And at some point, I realized I could follow the stories without understanding the words. I could hear the subtle differences in the stories coming from the veteran moms of three versus the new mothers. I could catch the different expressions on my friends’ faces…of wonder…of embarrassment…of confidence…and of pride.  And each was moving and telling.

At some point, I realized too that just being a part of this circle, no matter how little I comprehended or contributed to the conversation, indeed connected me to the women sitting there. I realized that these women weren’t strangers to me anymore. That at least half in the room were women I had already confided in on some level and the other half were women I would want to.

While not quickly enough for my taste, I am moving from outsider to insider. And it’s simply because I’ve chosen to show up, and be as “me” as I can be in spite of the language barrier, in spite of my insecurities, and in spite of my fears.

Much like giving birth. Much like becoming a mother. There’s only so much you can know and absorb from sharing information…the rest comes with time and experience…and the courage to simply show up.

(This post originally appeared as “Israeli in Progress” on The Jerusalem Post blog.)

Kibbutz, Learning Hebrew, Letting Go

Out of hibernation

I’ve woken up from my slumber.

You know how I know?

I’m starting to get pissed about things that matter to me again.

The stuff I used to bitch about, cry about, stress about, blog about, and try to fix back before I moved to Israel, but actively and intentionally pretended not to notice while I got acquainted with my new neighbors and surroundings.

 But now, seven months later I’m back!

Not in a bad way, mind you. And not unlike a mother who has given birth and finally feels ready to try out her pre-pregnancy jeans and leave the baby for a few hours, I feel as if I’m settled enough in my new life to start acting like me again.

The fog — that of getting settled, adjusting, figuring out who, what, where, and how– has lifted.

This is not to say I’m reinstating my New Jersey, east coast edge…I like the country girl I’ve become. But the Type A Jersey is itching to come out a little. I see this in the fact that I’ve started paying attention again to food (what I eat and what I feed my kids); I’ve started looking into holistic healers in Israel; and I’ve started to get loud about things that upset me in the community in which I live and at my work.

I’ve also started toying with the concept of making a difference here in Israel. Of being someone who influences and inspires.

My close friends, particularly those who’ve worked closely with me or coached me in leadership positions, won’t be surprised to hear this. They knew it was only so long that I could maintain this “under the radar” presence.

But Israel might be in for a little bit of an awakening.

I’m not yet sure how this will manifest itself: An Israel holistic health and wellness fair? a bigger presence at my children’s schools? in my yishuv? a book project? a professional collaboration? A new blog? A new endeavor?

Only one thing is for sure: It will not be a new baby.

That said, I still feel the little tugs of the hibernating me asking me if I really need to do this?

“Do you really need to do this?!?” She screams as she tugs.

“Wasn’t it nice to be ‘laid back’ for a little while?” She asks. “Wasn’t it easier to just let things slide? To let the world figure things out without your help? To be inwardly focused and not so concerned about whether or not people truly understand the impacts of toxins in foods or climate change or indoor air pollution???”

“I am what I am” says both the Buddhist and the Popeye in me.

Wish me both the peace of a Buddhist monk, and the courage of Popeye as I seek out and explore new endeavors that will satisfy the Leo and the leader in me.


Education, Kibbutz, Learning Hebrew, Letting Go, Living in Community, Making Friends

The Blooper Reel

In the movie that is my life, this period in time will be filled with perfect material for the end of film outtakes. The bloopers and practical jokes that roll after the credits; that end up on disc 2 of the DVD set.

Hopefully, by the time such a movie is made I, too, will be able to laugh at the time when I was a  consistent perpatrator of the Hebrew version of “Who’s on First?”

Let me explain by example.

Here is a loose transcript of the cellphone conversation I just had with an Israeli parent of a friend of my son’s:

Me (“my” Hebrew translated into English for your convenience): Hello [parent’s name]. Speaking is Jen. The mom of Oliver.

Other Mom ( in 100 mph garbled cellphone Hebrew): Yes?

Me: You call me?

Other Mom: Yes.

Me: Yes?

Other Mom: No, I was talking to Tal blah blah blah my laundry.

Me: Um. Ok. Did you call me?

Other Mom: blah blah sent a message blah blah blah

Me: You sent me what?

Other Mom: No. I didn’t send.

Me: What you no send?

Other Mom: No, you sent me a message.

Me: Yes, yes, I send SMS with new cellphone number.

Other Mom: Oh, ok. I wanted to talk to you.

Me: Ok. About what?

Other Mom: No, no. I don’t want to speak to you. I was speaking to my son.

Me: Oh, excuse me. I am so sorry.

Other Mom: (laughs and says in English). No, we will speak soon. Goodbye.


Every single day of my life in Israel is an exercise in embarassment and humility.

It sounds a lot worse than it is. Daily humiliation by no means leads to unhappiness.  I think, in fact, my willingness to speak Hebrew at all to these people is indicative of the fact that I am starting to let down my guard. However, as I continue to become more confident in speaking Hebrew to my friends, colleagues, and neighbors, I also continue to make lots and lots of mistakes. Something, generally speaking, I work hard at not doing.

Veteran immigrants to Israel, the folks who learned Hebrew 20 years ago in an ulpan, as opposed to “Jen Style” (ie. figuratively flat on her face with a dictionary in her hand) all recommend “making mistakes.”

“Don’t be afraid to speak Hebrew,” they tell me. “This is the way you will learn.”

The only problem with this advice is that most Israelis don’t have the patience for my learning curve.

When they speak to me in Hebrew (usually very fast), and I respond by saying, “What did you say?” they usually will do one of two things:

1. Tell me again, but this time in English

2. Repeat what they said the first time, just as quickly, if not more quickly, but louder

What I really need them to do is repeat it in Hebrew, but at the pace of a person who has just regained her use of speech after being in a coma for nine months.




On the other hand, when I try to speak Hebrew (and I deserve an A for effort these days), I find myself five words into my attempt and either:

a. I don’t know the word for…let’s say…”repulsive” in Hebrew and then I have to go about trying to describe what “repulsive” means using the limited Hebrew I do have. By the time I am finished with that task, I forget what was so repulsive to begin with. Or,

b. The person I am talking to looks absolutely and completely bewildered, though still hanging on to my every word hoping that by the end of my discombobulated, grammatically incorrect sentence she will be able to piece together something comprehensible from what just exited my mouth.

At the very least, thanks to a good job at a company in the hi-tech industry, I think I’ve managed to establish myself as a reasonably intelligent person…despite the fact that I walk around in fool’s clothing most days.

And considering that it must require a lot of patience for non-English speakers to interact with me, I suppose I should take it as a good sign, then, that some people continue to do so.

Hopefully, within time, we’ll understand each other, too.

Kibbutz, Learning Hebrew, Letting Go, Living in Community, Parenting

Yin yang

It’s almost 6 months since we moved to Israel…and I’ll soon compose a contemplative look back at our transition to life here. But in the meantime, I’m doing eight loads of laundry in a crappy stackable washer/dryer set that’s shoved in too tight into our bathroom and it got me wondering…how is my life easier and harder compared to my life in the NJ suburbs?

I recently discovered this blog post at in which they feature a film of people discussing their “perfect city.” I loved watching what people had to say about their ideal community, and then thinking about my own answer, particularly since I have been so immersed in and focused on intentional community since we moved here.

The answer for me, if I’m offering the simple one, is “my ideal community would make my life feel easy.” Why? Because I find that the “easier” my life feels, the easier it is for me to give and receive. To love and be loved. To enjoy life. To live in the present. To smile. To breathe.

Why “feel” easy? Because, as you must know, there is no easy and hard. There’s only what you feel is easy and what you interpret as hard.

Now, of course, living in (or participating in)  intentional community isn’t always easy. Like life, living in a small, intentional community is give and take; sweet and sour; hot and cold; easy and hard. It’s our job to be mindful of the balance, no? 

Much of what makes my life feel easier here has to do with living in intentional community. I’m very present to that fact, and thankful for it, because it really counterbalances most of what makes my life seem harder here:

  • Bugs
  • Parasitic bugs that like to live in your hair
  • Critters
  • Poisonous critters
  • Critters that hang out on your ceiling while you’re sleeping
  • Critters that hang out on your porch waiting to bite you
  • Dirt
  • Dirt that somehow ends up in your dryer, despite going through a wash cycle
  • Dirt that won’t come out of your laundry…ever
  • Dust
  • Dust on your window screen, on your floors, car windows
  • Cleaning dust on a tri-weekly basis
  • Being far away from family and friends
  • Being far away from family and friends, and trying to find a good time to Skype with a 7-hour time difference
  • Food
  • Food-centric society
  • Food-centric society that loves the foods my kids are allergic to
  • Food-centric society that isn’t necessarily mindful about how said food leads to rotten teeth, poor behavior, and childhood obesity
  • Crappy appliances
  • Foreign germs
  • Language barriers
  • Bureacracy
  • Crazy drivers
  • And, in a nutshell, a society that cares little for clear order, rules, organization, structure, or advance notice

When I get aggravated about, annoyed with, or frustrated by the things that seem to make my life harder here, I try to remind myself of what makes my life feel easier:

  • Intentional community: Neighbors that want to get to know me, and do
  • Family-friendly community (and by community, I mean both specifically the “yishuv” of Hannaton, and Israeli society)
  • The sharing, caring, and intimacy that comes with living in small community
  • Open space
  • Open space filled with children my children’s ages
  • Mild weather
  • The beach
  • Less time in the car (walking the kids to preschool, the bus stop, etc.)
  • Family nearby
  • Shabbat
  • Shabbat dinners at my house (where your kids to entertain mine)
  • Shabbat dinners at your house (where my kids eat your food and you clean up after them)
  • English-speaking co-workers
  • English-speaking neighbors
  • Hebrew-speaking neighbors that are tolerant of my “Heeblish”
  • Minimalistic lifestyle
  • Yoga on my neighbbor’s rooftop

  • Letting go…

The list is much longer than this, I am sure. And could get a lot more detailed and specific. And perhaps it will…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on your “ideal community.” What about where you live makes your life easy or hard? If you could live anywhere, would you live where you do? And if not, where would you live?

Education, Kibbutz, Learning Hebrew, Living in Community, Middle East Conflict, Politics


It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written a new blog post, and not because i’ve been empty of ideas or lacking in inspiration.  In fact, in the past two weeks I’ve been flooded with potential subject matter — from parenting sick kids to navigating workplace politics to acclimating to the onslaught of Israel’s national holidays–but I’ve had no time to breathe, let alone open my laptop.

It’s a funny switch for me. I used to live by my laptop, and when my laptop wasn’t in front of me, my Blackberry was. I wasn’t one of these high-powered career women whose fingertips seemed biologically bound to her smartphone, but I definitely felt the need to constantly information gather and share.

Perhaps, my head is so full from absorbing and processing both the cultural changes, and the foreign language, that I have no time or energy left to scour message boards for pertinent information related to the health and wellness of our children, or hop onto Facebook to spread the word to my minions. Getting used to life in a new country is a full time job, and on top of that, I now have an actual, real-life full time job.

Since we moved here my children have been tasting freedom — and it’s a taste they like, along with chocolate spread and mitz-petel. Since I started a full time job in April, they’re depending even less on me and in fact, are often belligerent about doing things by themselves: from dressing to preparing food to walking to school on their own.

Which makes the anecdote I’m about to share even more interesting.

Over the past few weeks, we in Israel have moved through a series of three national holidays: Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah (known colloquially as Yom HaShoah), “Holocaust Rememberance Day;” Yom HaZikaron, “Memorial Day;” and Yom HaAtzmaut, “Israel Independence Day.”  These holidays, for Israelis, are serious business. 

In addition to sirens sounding for moments of silence causing cars to stop in the middle of the highway; in addition to ceremonies in your communities and schools; and in addition to the endless television programming memorializing the fallen and honoring the heroes, our schoolchildren are really taught the real deal.

There’s no sugar-coating. There’s no vanilla version of what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust or what Israeli soldiers faced during Israel’s various wars. It seems as if Israeli children are indoctrinated (and I mean that in a good way) from a very early age with an understanding of what has been required to safeguard this country we live in.

The day before the Yom HaZikaron/YomHaatzmaut school and work holiday, my oldest son, who is eight and a half and in Second Grade in a public school came home with an interesting report of his day. He shared with me the news as if it was ordinary, but to me, it was a story you’d only hear in Israel. Or, at the very least, it was a story that would only be acceptable in Israel.

A game my son often plays with his friends is called “Ganav V’Shoter,” which is pretty much “Cops and Robbers.” That day at school, however, they came up with a twist on the original. They called it “Yehudim v’Nazim.”

Jews and Nazis.

Half the kids were the Jews and the other half were the Nazis, he told me. (The Nazis were the “bad guys.”) My kid and his classmates were creative. Some of the Jews got to be “partisans” and had more freedom to wander to various areas of the playground and were also granted the ability to free the Jews who were captured: They weren’t in jail, though, those captured Jews. They were locked  in the Ghetto.

Yes, a timely twist on an age-old game. But not unexpected considering the history lessons they were receiving that week in school and at home.

Can you imagine a game of “Jews vs. Nazi” in the States? Only in Oklahoma or Arkansas, or some other white supremicist stronghold. Some place where the school psychologist wouldn’t be called in immediately or the ADL had any influence. I can’t be 100% sure it wouldn’t happen, but I think Holocaust education is only briefly glossed over in the States, if at all, and then only in older grades. It’s deemed inappropriate subject matter for young children. Right or wrong, I don’t know. But this is how it is. Not in Israel, though. Kids here, even during more peaceful times, need to understand the price and the impact of war.

My oldest son is fascinated with history and a rough and tumble kind of kid. The stories he heard at school or saw on the roll out movie screens behind the presenters at the various ceremonies didn’t haunt his dreams or leave a trail of fear. But, I do think he understands a little better the difference between living here in Israel and living in New Jersey; what it means for him as a boy, and as a Jew.

It haunted me, though, as the mother of three children who one day may be required to fight battles that take place far away from the playground.

Yes, this month has so far been a busy month for us, from dealing with various viral infections to a new job to a change in season to the normal balagan of being new immigrants.  But it was also a practice in being Israeli citizens. In contributing to the economy. In remembering our fallen. In honoring our heroes. In crying over the losses of others. In celebrating the strength and beauty of a nation in which we now live.

And for my family, it was a practice in being independent in ways we’ve never been before.

Learning Hebrew, Letting Go

Q2 Progress Report

Now that I am officially in my second quarter of my first calendar year making Aliyah, I imagine it’s time for an assessment; a performance reviews of sorts, particularly as it pertains to my acqusition of Hebrew.

Conversationally, I’m proud to say, there has been a clear improvement.

While I am nowhere near capable of carrying on an age-appropriate two-way conversation with an able-bodied Israeli adult, I can certainly carry on a two-way conversation with an able-bodied Israeli dog.

“Lech!” I say to the unleashed dogs that poop on my front lawn. They understand me, I know they do, but they don’t care. They bark back at me as if to say, “Go ahead. Make me!”

I’d say that’s progress.

And my comprehension? Getting there. Every morning during the drive to my new job, I listen to the news on Galgalatz radio. I am pleased to say that while I don’t understand exactly what they’re saying, I understand enough to know the difference between when the newscaster is talking politics and when he’s reviewing culture or the economy. “Blah Blah Blah…Hezbollah.” Versus “Blah blah blah…William and Kate” or “Blah blah blah…dollar l’shekel.”

In fact, I have an easier time understanding the average Israeli reporter than I do the average Israeli neighbor of mine. This is in large part due to my Hebrew professor at The George Washington University, Yael Moses, who spent a whole semester focusing on “words they use in the news.” Subsequently, I have the strange and irreversible habit of using newsroom words in conversations with friends and colleagues. Words like emesh for “last night” and phrases like “af al pi.” I understand now why people have been taking me so seriously here. I speak like a square. They’re waiting for me to spit out statistics or weather patterns or other important data.

On a social level, I am breaking barriers, or trying to at least. The other day, I took a stab at sarcasm in Hebrew with my friend Talia. However, sarcasm is not as effective, I find, when you have to speak slowly enough to conjugate verbs. It’s also significantly less funny when you screw up your friend’s gender.

The biggest shift in my Hebrew is certainly my willingness to speak it. The first few weeks I lived here, I wouldn’t open up my mouth at all. Not because I didn’t have enough Hebrew to speak, but because I was convinced whatever I would say would be wrong. I’d draft a strategic plan for every in-person meeting where Hebrew might be required and script every dialogue in my head. I haven’t given that up completely. But I have given up the need to be right.

Now, I find myself just spitting Hebrew out. Not thinking so much before I talk; which is a habit that I perfected in English. There are certain words — the ones I knew confidentally before moving here — that come out of my mouth without first being translated in my busy brain.

There are still many others that don’t. Sometimes I find myself asking a question when I should be making a statement: As in, “Ani rotzah lasim bazal b’salat?” (“I want to put onion in the salad?”) And, my husband will look at me and say, “I don’t know, do you?” My question is not about the onions or my desire to put them in the salad. It’s about the verb. Did I use the right one?

What everyone here has said to me from Day One is true. L’at, l’at. Slowly, slowly. Slowly, my Hebrew is getting better. Slowly, I am becoming less fearful and taking more initiative. Whether it’s ordering from a menu, instead of asking my husband to do it for me. Or reading Hebrew emails from my new colleagues (with the help of Google Translate). Slowly, I’m doing what I have to do.

Step out of my comfort zone. Open my mouth. And speak.

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.

Kibbutz, Learning Hebrew, Letting Go, Making Friends, Parenting, Work


Spring is often used as a metaphor for rebirth. Combine this with the Jewish tradition of cleaning house before Passover and you’ve got yourself a good season for change here in Israel.

And so it is for our family.  Changes abound that are already impacting our immigrant experience…and more so mine than anyone else’s.

I blogged recently (in my regular column, “That Mindful Mama”) about our family’s “team trade.” More specifically, how I recently accepted a full-time position as a marcom specialist for a hi-tech incubator here in Israel, and will be leaving my position of the last five years: part-time primary caretaker and work-at-home freelancer. In addition, my husband will consult part-time (he’s a grant-writer and fundraiser, work that may be done from home), but will take over responsibility of caring for our kids and maintaining our home needs. 

This is a huge shift for us as a family, and for me as a new olah.

First of all, it means I need to leave my bubble. My safe little kibbutz cocoon. It means I need to get in my new car, figure out the different mechanisms (like how to work the windshield wipers), and brave Israel’s roads. Worse than navigating the hilly, foggy roads in the morning is navigating psychotic Israeli drivers who are either constantly riding up my rear or trying to run me off the road as they pass me.

Most of all, getting a job means I need to interact with a lot more people who might want to speak Hebrew with me. However, I have a feeling, that just like an enema, this decision might make me momentarily uncomfortable, but is likely exactly what I need to get things moving in the right direction.

My new job is at a mainly English-speaking company with many Anglos on staff. It’s also primarily an English-speaking position.  While a high level of Hebrew is not required for the position, the office is not a Hebrew-free zone. Mostly everyone except for me speaks a fluent Hebrew and when an Israeli is in the conversation, the language quickly converts over to Hebrew. Therefore, I’m required to listen and understand or, at the very least, nod as if I do.

Most of my new colleagues have been told that my Hebrew is still “a work in progress,” but that hasn’t kept all of them from trying. Which they should and which I reluctantly encourage. Reluctantly because it usually leads to some level of humiliation and discomfort for me.

At least twice during my first week here, I thought someone was speaking to me — they were looking straight at me, after all– but it turned out they weren’t.  I’ve also been spoken to without realizing it was me who was being spoken to. In those cases, I learned, a smile and nod only get you so far. If the statement ends in a period, there’s a 50-50 chance I can get away with a simple smile. If the statement ends with a question mark, however, I might be in trouble. “Ken” or “lo” only get you so far in the workplace.

Thankfully, I haven’t yet been made fun of or chided for my lack of Hebrew. So far, most people here seem to think my broken Hebrew is cute and endearing. However, I am fully aware the “olah hadasha” tag will only work its magic for so long.

The big question is: How long?

When are you no longer considered an new immigrant? When do you make the transition over to just plain old immigrant? Or “olah vatika?” (“Seasoned oleh”) How is my status measured? In “daylight, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee?” Is it when the sal klita ends? When my kids are fluent in Hebrew? When I make five Israeli friends?

I certainly hope getting a full-time job doesn’t prevent me from milking this status for as long as I can.

I need all the help…and breaks…I can get.

(This was previously published as part of my blog, “Israeli in Progress,” on The Jerusalem Post.)

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.

Learning Hebrew

Dreaming of the final exam

I have a theory. Technology is to blame for my inability to recall Hebrew.

Thanks to the internet, and Facebook in particular, I have to recall names, places, and events I never would have if it weren’t for technology.

Before people were able to stay connected and reconnect after years of forgetting each other, we had all this extra room in our brains to retain useful data, such as mathematical proofs, measurement conversions, and foreign languages we once learned.

If I didn’t have to use so much of my brain recalling interactions with people I used to share a cubicle with fifteen years ago when I was an intern in Washington, D.C., I just might remember how to say, “Taxidriver, please bring me to the nearest bus station.” Instead, I have to stay home and learn Hebrew with Rosetta Stone, which is useful if you’re interested in buying a map at a Jerusalem gas station, but is not as helpful when you need to confirm with your child’s teacher that he is up-to-date on the required vaccinations.

I’m convinced that the information I once learned studying Hebrew at The George Washington University resides somewhere in the recesses of my brain.  It’s true that I was always more confident reading and writing Hebrew, than speaking it. I never studied abroad in Israel like some of my classmates and friends, so I was never forced into a situation where I was immersed in the language. (Though, I have to wonder if it’s really considered immersion when you’re living at Hebrew University and socializing with the same people you spent the last five years making out with at camp or during BBYO conventions?)

That said, I must have learned something to make it all the way from Hebrew 101 to Advanced Hebrew Literature.  Recently, I even wondered out loud on Facebook to my friend Frayda, who is a clinical hypnotist, if it was possible to use hypnosis to recall three years of a language acquired as an adult. She wasn’t completely sure, but she was game to try it and so was I!

During our session, I was able to recall a small, windowless, dimly-lit classroom; a professor with a long gray beard (“Max Ticktin!” I shouted. “I haven’t thought of that name in years.”); and a xeroxed excerpt of a story from A.B. Yehoshua. When we were finished, I said to Frayda in Hebrew, “By George. I think I’ve got it!”

No, I didn’t. But that would have been something, right? It would have been even better if my head spun around and I shouted out in Aramaic the directions to find the Lost Ark of the Covenant.

While my one session with a hypnotist did not release the flood, it seems to have opened the floodgates. In my dream last night, I spoke a little bit of Hebrew. Nothing fancy. Just a conversation with another mom with whom I was discussing anthroposophical educational philosophies. For sure, the anthroposophical part was English. However, I definitely said the word, “holistit” in Hebrew.


I suppose there is no easy way. I can’t travel back in time and give my three-year-old self Baby Einstein flashcards; or nudge my college-aged self off onto an El Al plane Junior year.  For now, it’s back to imaginary conversations with sophisticated Israeli men and women on my computer. If I’m lucky, perhaps they’ll join me for a cup of tea at a nearby Bet Cafe.


Holistit = holistic
Bet Cafe= coffee shop

Learning Hebrew

Hebrew by osmosis

I’m thinking about taking the Dora the Explorer approach to learning Hebrew.

Somehow, by doing nothing else but placing my children in front of a TV for a half hour each day at 4:30 pm while I was making dinner, they somehow learned a little bit of Spanish.  Vamanos! Buenos Dias! De nada! (Who came up with the theory that television kills brain cells? I humbly disagree. I’m pretty sure my third child learned her colors from Moose E. Moose.)

All the Vatikim* I’ve met suggest the best way to learn Hebrew is to read the easy newspaper, watch the news on TV, or challenge yourself by placing yourself in situations in which you need to speak Hebrew.  I certainly appreciate this advice, and in fact, believe it to be true. But I’d also like to conduct my own little experiment.

Each Saturday evening before Havdallah, there is a study group that meets on Hannaton. Last week, my friend Shira invited me to the study group and I jumped at the opportunity. (This will probably surprise my beloved Rabbi Roston back in New Jersey since my greatest Shabbat achievement up until this point was learning the hand motions to “Shabbat Shalom” in sign language at the Tot Shabbat service.)

I figured that an intimate study session with the members of the kibbutz would allow me the opportunity to get to know everyone a little better; and I’d be able to partake in an interesting adult conversation. It only occured to me as the rabbi opened his mouth to welcome everyone into his home that the study group would be in Hebrew. Gulp.

(Idiot, by the way, is the same in Hebrew as it is in English. I’m not sure about, “No, duh.”)

But instead of being discouraged, I decided to stay for the remainder of the hour and do my best to understand what was being discussed. This effort lasted about ten minutes, until I realized that I wasn’t going to pick up much more than “Blah, Blah, Blah, Mitzrayim. Blah, Blah, Moshe, Blah, Blah, Yehudim.” Certainly not enough to contribute to the discussion or appreciate the contemplative points other participants were making.

So, I came up with a better idea. Hebrew by osmosis.

Of course, learning language through immersion is not an original idea. This is the theory behind Ulpan or semester abroad or Baby Einstein DVDs.  Would the same principles apply if I simply return to the Torah study group each Saturday night? Will I absorb the language simply by actively listening to my friends ponder Mishnah and debate the commentary of talmudic scholars? Especially if I look into their eyes, focus on their lips, and try really, really hard to understand?

Is it possible that one Saturday night, months from now, I will stand up, tug thoughtfully at my beard, and say in Hebrew: 

“And as Rashi said on the Tanakh — but particularly his commentary on the Chumash…”

I have a hunch this would be possible for someone else. But, not for me.

I’m not one of those unique individuals who has an ear for language. My ears are, in fact, a teeny tiny bit deformed. (It’s genetic and usually well-hidden by my hair; so stop looking.) While medical science has yet to prove this, I think my unusual ears are the reason I’m not such a good listener, and not too good with languages. I took four years of Spanish in high school — four years! — and the only thing I can say is “Yo Quiero…”

“Yo quiero” I could speak Hebrew without having to work really hard at it, but I don’t think that’s happening so I better get myself into an Ulpan before my husband finds a full-time job and I’m the one who’ll have to do drop off and pick up every day by myself at which point the hope of getting myself to an Ulpan four days a week will have been a thing of the past.

So, just to be safe,  I will keep my appointment with the Ulpan coordinator tomorrow. But I still plan on conducting my experiment. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Vatikim = Veteran immigrants
Yo queiro = I want (in SPANISH)