Monday, December 29, 2008


We're going away to celebrate New Year's in a couple of days! New Year's in Israel is called Sylvester and after you read the next paragraph, you will understand why it isn't a national holiday here. You may already know that Israel doesn't use the same Gregorian calendar that we do, so their new year isn't our New Year.

So what kind of name is Sylvester? It's a saint's name actually (who was also a pope):

"The year before the Council of Nicaea convened, Sylvester convinced Constantine to prohibit Jews from living in Jerusalem. At the Council of Nicaea, Sylvester arranged for the passage of a host of viciously anti-Semitic legislation. All Catholic saints are awarded a day on which Christians celebrate and pay tribute to that Saint's memory. December 31 is Saint Sylvester Day - hence celebrations on the night of December 31 are dedicated to Sylvester's memory." I read that Saint Sylvester died on December 31st. He also cured the afore mentioned Constantine of leprosy (after converting him). I guess if I believed that someone saved my fingers from falling off, I'd be thankful too, maybe send a gift basket...Syvester did a whole lot of good things too ( so let's not give him grief for rounding up a killing some Jews. If there is one thing I have learned here, it's that everyone, at one time or another, has persecuted Jews.

There are so many other stories about atrocities against the Jews on January 1st, and you can google them. But Sylvester? But why would Israelis, a country full of Jews, name this day after a Catholic pope who was not so very fond of Jews? I looked through the internets some more and found this:

"It's just because Israel is a Jewish state. The [Jewish] new year holiday is celebrated on the eve of Tishrei 1st. People who immigrated to Israel from western countries still wanted to celebrate the "old" new year, like at home, but could not say that they were celebrating the new year so they used instead the Catholic name of the day, Sylvester. That's why the Jews in Israel celebrate the event using a name of a Catholic saint."

Now that makes more sense. Jews from France, Germany must have started it. I guess it's like Valentine's Day, another secular holiday not celebrated in honor of a forgotten saint, but just on the same day. I could be wrong, but I think the legal holidays in Israel have to actually be mentioned in the bible (i.e. Hanukkah, not a legal holiday here because it's not in the bible).

So nope, it is not a national holiday here, but you wouldn't know it. Hotel prices are higher, and they are very booked. It seems like a lot of people go out or have parties just like in other countries. They just have to go to work the next day.
And it's my birthday again and we are finally getting a break and going out of town to celebrate too. We love Tel Aviv, and we are itching to see more of the country and the region.
So have a Happy Sylvester everyone!


By now, you've all seen the news, filled with the Hamas massacre, or as Jeff calls it, the Hamassacre. Though the conflict is very real, I want to let you all know that we are well and safe and many, many miles away in Tel Aviv. It is quite unlikely that the conflict will even dramatically effect us, other than what we see on the news and read in the newspapers and on the internet. I think security will become even tighter here, and I am okay with that. I also think that the conflict will not be over quickly.

Israel is a pretty safe place, relatively speaking. At first, a visitor may probably be shocked to see guards at every building's entry. One might even bristle a little when their bag is searched each time they enter a mall. But I have found comfort in that invasion of privacy. If they are scrutinizing an obvious American tourist so much, imagine the once-over they give someone who looks like they pose a threat.

Military service here is pretty much mandatory. Think about it: everyone has spent at least two years (if you're a woman) or four (for guys) years in the military. When you realize that almost everyone that you meet or talk to knows how to use a weapon, you get to feeling pretty safe.

While we don't even live anywhere near the border region where Hamas has been firing missles, I should also let you know that the people who do live there are protected by a complex warning system. If a missle is launched aiming at their area, an alarm is sounded and families can retreat to "safe rooms" in their homes and schools. The Intel plant, which is quite far away from the bombings, also has many "safe rooms". There have been very few casualties on the Israeli side because of these warning systems.

So, yes, bombs are dropping. But we are safe. Indeed, Israel retaliated against Hamas to keep its people safe. I have to add that I think Israel must be allowed to defend itself. Barack Obama, when he visited Israel in July, said:

"If somebody was sending rockets into the house where my two daughters sleep at
night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that, and I would expect
Israelis to do the same thing."

Monday, December 22, 2008


Happy Hanukkah everyone!

Last night we caught the Steelers game on the satellite tv. The channel that airs the game picks up everything, including the commercials. It was wall-to-wall Christmas ads. Jeff and I looked at each other and said, 'guess it's coming up. When is it, next week?' Oh no, we forgot, Christmas is Thursday!

It's more than a little wierd being in this country and not knowing that it's Christmas. It's not like the stores are all decked out for Hanukkah, but you do see displays of menorah and candles and dreidels. I guess it's just not a very materialistic holiday. People still go into work and things are open as usual. I think that people might leave work a little early so that they can get home in time to light the menorah, but that's it.

Even though Israelis aren't consuming material goods, they are very much eating! The newspapers and tv news, though lacking ads for gelt and gifts, are all over the sufganiot controversy. What is sufganiot? They are simply small jelly-filled doughnuts that have replaced the latke as the chosen Hanukkah food. All of the stores sell them, and the bakeries can get pretty fancy with the fillings and toppings. The newspapers and tv all talk of excessive calories of the sufganiot, and the weight people gain as a result of eating them daily.

Ine article I read lamented the loss of the latke. Barry Newman wrote in the Jerusalem Post:
I have often wondered how sufganiyot, and not latkes, became the Israeli symbol of Hanukkah. Avi, the owner of an industrial bake shop recently clued me in. Sort of.

"It was the Histadrut guys," he explained. "They were bothered by latkes being homemade and not something that was sold at grocery shops or kiosks, and felt that something was needed to keep workers busy...So they began to look for an alternative, you know, something that you need oil for but also something that people -- and especially kids -- would spend money on. Someone real smart came up with the idea of making the sufganiyot a Hanukkah treat, and bingo, a star was born"

Now that's innovation!

Jews eat food fried in oil because it represents the miracle of the small amount of oil last for eight days when the Maccabees purified the holy Temple in Jerusalem. I also read this:
Some rabbis have taken the explanation of why we eat fried food on Hanukkah one step further. They say that oil is like studying Torah in two ways.

1) Oil is not a food we eat by ourselves and not necessary for out daily existence. It simply adds pleasure to our food and life, as does the study of Torah.
2) Oil has the potential to illuminate. If you stand in a dark room you can light oil to see the room around you. Study of Torah can also illuminate our world for us.

Personally, we'll be enjoying both sufganiyot and latkes here in our household. I bought our sufganiyot from a chi chi bakery down the street. No cheap supermarket ones for me...if I am going to ingest 400 calories it has got to be good!

And the latkes? Well, I bought all the fixins for them the other day and will make them maybe for Christmas, when Jeff plans to take the day off. I am also going to make another Hanukkah treat this week, a type of cheese pancake (wait til you hear the story of Judith, the symbol behind the pancakes). So look for a post about that coming up. And, like a good Jew, I plan to serve Chinese (my own, not take-out) for Christmas.

But I am not foresaking Christmas, and I'm not becoming Jewish. And I do not mean to blasphemy either faith. It's just fun to go native and absorb oneself into the culture. And if that means eating doughnuts and lighting candles, so be it! BTW, did you know that "amen" is Hebrew in origin and means, "so be it"?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

To market!

The Shuk Ha'Carmel, or Carmel Market is huge. Though on Shabbat you could probably walk those half dozen or so blocks in 15 minutes, it can takes hours to get through the market on a Friday morning. On Tuesdays and Fridays, a large craft and jewelry market extends the market outward by a few blocks.

You can buy anything at the Shuk. Anything! Not to mention that there are multiple stands of each type. I think there maybe six or more olive vendors, a dozen spice stalls and the same number at least of bakeries. Produce abounds, as do cheese cases. And it's very inexpensive. Have I haggled? No, but I will when I learn my numbers in Hebrew. Things are so much cheaper at the Shuk than in the stores that it's no big deal to get even more off. I have caught two vendors trying to cheat me by not giving me the right change. One vendor, when confronted, smiled broadly and put another loaf of bread in my bag and gave me back the sheckels I was owed. Is it a game to them, maybe?

The things I like most at the Shuk are olives (dozens of varieties), the pickles (again, so many) and the bread vendors. I don't know what half of the spices are at the spice stalls, but I can recognize most of the herbs and veggies. One spice vendor was trying to tell me, I think, that some of the spice mixes are for pickling and pickled salads. Just like in Kosher markets, the meat stalls form on side streets away from the main streets. But I can't bring myself to buy meat there. It seems like the temp is to warm for safety and there are flies everywhere. There is quite a bit of cheese, including dozens of varieties of feta. From super-salty to super smooth, I never know what I am going to get.

The photo is of Jeff drinking freshly sqeezed pomegranate juice.

There also seems to be another outer-lying clothing market, but by the time I reached it I was too tired to shop. I think the Shuk is safe, but there are so many people it's hard to say if there are any pick-pockets. My neighbor's nanny told me that the had her purse stolen on our street, so I am assuming it's possible.

I love the Shuk, but it's more of an adventure or a pleasure outing than shopping trip. I know when I go that I will always buy olives, but other than that, it's a crap shoot. I don't go with a list, and I never know what I will come home with. Maybe after I go a few more times, I will have a better idea of what's there and what I can get.

More photos are here:

There is also a big, American-style supermarket that we drive to every week or so called Mega. This week they are having a big Hanukkah sale, hundreds of items for 8 sheckels (get it...eight nights, eight sheckels). If you spent a certain amount and had a member card, you got box of Sufganiot (a jelly-filled doughnut served for Hanukkah). At Mega we buy milk, eggs, beer, water, wine, yogurt...typical daily stuff. You could get all of these (and toilet paper too) at the Shuk. But you really can't drive to there since the parking in Tel Aviv is terrible. So if you get a lot at the Shuk, you can take a wheeled cart.

On another note, we decided to skip Christmas in Bethlehem. They expect 30,000 people a day. There was literally, no rooms available either. We will, however, drive to the resort town of Eilat in the South for New Year's Eve. After a couple of days there, we'll head to Petra in Jordan. So our first vacation is finally coming! And believe it or not, after living in Tel Aviv for just a few weeks, I think we need it.

Shabbat Shalom!

Only a few posts into blogging and I have already fallen behind. I didn't think that you were supposed to start making excuses for not blogging for months!

Our dear sweet dog Lucy got very sick last week. She was vommitting and lethargic and refusing food. We waited it out a few days, but she just got worse so we had to find a vet. After using Google translator (which has been our most used tool), Jeff was able to find a one that was a few blocks from our house. We had to carry her, she couldn't walk. The vet's practive was very small, just a few rooms. She examined Lucy and gave her a couple of shots and some medicine to take home. Just $50, the cheapest thing in Tel Aviv so far! Lucy is back to eating and walking and is doing much better. The vet thinks she must have just drunk some dirty water off the street or something.

Christmas presents came from my sister this week! We are waiting to open it. Thanks, Laurie!

My sister's family is also responsible for sending us our first mail. It was a Thank you note from my neice and nedphew! How nice! Since then, we have received Christmas cards and letters, and I want to thank everyone who has sent us something. I had forgotten how nice it is to get mail. Sure, I have been sending e-mails back and forth and Facebooking and Twittering. But there is something about a hand-written note that communicates so much more than what the words say. The tiny oil spot on the note means that you were eating lunch when you wrote this for me. And to see the so very familiar hand-writing of Ellen-Marie meant that it's Christmas back home.

Hannukkah starts on Monday, and we are hoping that the big menorah on the water tower in front of our house will light up. We are going to celebrate Hannukkah here. You know, when in Rome... But I have to read more about it. I plan to make latkes at the very least. I am not sure what other foods are served, but I am going to try to make them! I bought a menorah, just in case the big one doesn't light up.

The title of this post is Shabbat Shalom, and it essentially means, "Have a nice weekend." People say it to you at stores and you say it back. A few things are closed on the Shabbat, but a lot stays open. Walking the dog this morning, we saw a man and his son. The man was wearing an Oregon Ducks t-shirt. I asked him and yes, they are from Portland. What a small world. I guess they didn't realize how quiet things get for the Shabbat. Tel Aviv is a very noisy, crowded city. But on Shabbat, it gets very quiet here. Cafes and restaurants are open, and some markets are too, but there are literally 75% fewer cars on the streets. It is a very nice respite from the week.

So Shabbat Shalom! And we'll be back with all the news from Hannukah next week!

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Tomatoes and eggs. What culture doesn't have a dish with tomatoes and eggs? Uovo al pomodoro, huevos rancheros, and I am sure the French have done it in Provence. We've found it here in Israel and it's called Shakshuka, which literally means shaken up or mixed up(I googled it). But in the dish, the eggs are not shaken at all. They seemed to me to be cooked/poached in the pan with the tomatoes. Maybe the translation means that this is a meal that you can mix up with anything. It's good and hearty and perfect for the slight chill that was in the air when we walked to Cafe Noah, about 10 minutes from our apartment.

I'll get to the shakshuka in a minute, first I want to talk about the cafe culture in Tel Aviv. There are seemingly hundreds of cafes in the city and people hang out at them at all hours of the day. There is one cafe near our apartment which is packed every single time I walk past it. And it's really just a kiosk in the park. I have seen more cafes in Tel Aviv than I have in Paris.

Though the people of Tel Aviv party until dawn, they don't seem to drink very much alcohol. Where as in Paris you would see someone at a cafe in the late afternoon with a glass of wine, in Tel Aviv it is juice or coffee. Perhaps it's that 9pm espresso that keeps them dancing into the wee hours! All I know is that after a week or so here, J. and I have settled back into our American ways. We have been eating dinner kind of early for Tel Aviv...that means it is 7 or 8pm when we are eating, and we are usually among the first at the restaurant.

My usual method for finding restaurants in foreign countries is to just walk into a place that is crowded. If the crowds aren't dining until 9, then you have to be walking past some pretty good places. We found this out walking home last night from Noah; one of the empty restaurants that we passed on the way to dinner was now filling up on the way home.

So Noah is a cafe. There are maybe a dozen items on the menu, including two types of shakshuka. Of course one of us has to order that! There was no description on our English menu, just 'shakshuka' and 'shakshuka with bacon'.

Joan Nathan, my mentor for Israeli foods, writes:

Probably the most popular egg dish in Israel is shakshuka, one of those ono­matopoeic Hebrew and North African words, meaning "all mixed up." The most famous rendition of this tomato dish, which is sometimes mixed with meat but more often made in Israel with scrambled or poached eggs, is served at the Tripolitana Doktor Shakshuka Restaurant in old Jaffa.

Doktor Shakshuka, owned by a large Libyan family, is located near the antique market in an old stone-arched building with colorful Arab-tiled floors. "When I was a young girl at the age of 10 I liked to cook," said Sarah Gambsor, the main cook of the restaurant and wife of one of the owners. "My mother told me that I should marry someone who has a restaurant." And she did just that.

Every recipe I have looked at for shakshuka is just different variations on the theme of tomatoes and eggs. You can use fresh tomatoes or canned, and a variety of different seasonings. All recipies for shakshuka start with a large skillet, in which you you prepare your tomato base. You heat up and cook down the tomatoes with your seasonings of choice. Then you poach the eggs in that liquid. Some recipies top with cheese, some top with tahini. Some recipies call for scrambling the eggs into the tomatoes. Last night's shakshuka was poached and topped with some kind of melted cheese and a very thin tahini sauce.

Simple, hearty and delicious, shakshuka is sure to become a staple in our kitchen here. With tomatoes being so tasty and cheap here, delicious and affordable are key ingedients I want to cook with. And since 'all shook up' kind of describes our lives right now, the name works too.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Monday, Monday

Even though it is Sunday here in Tel Aviv, it's really Monday. Rather, it's the start of the work week. So this is our first day of real life here.

Our apartment has two floors. There are three bedrooms and two bathrooms on the bottom floor. On the top floor, there is a living room/kitchen area. One of the bedrooms has been set up as an office and that is where Jeff has been working today. I don't think he quite has the idea of working from home down yet. He is continually coming up to check on me! We've had breakfast and lunch together; it's very nice.

Tel Aviv is crazy expensive. Like Tokyo expensive. Groceries are outrageous. Before I realized it, I spent $100 on just a few simple meals from the grocery around the corner. Yogurt, just one typical cup of yogurt that costs 50 cents in Portland, is over $1 here. Milk...what you pay for a gallon is the going rate for a quart. The produce is gorgeous, though. And the variety of cheeses are great too. We found a Mega market whose prices are better, but it is still going to be costly. Restaurants are on the high side, too, but they are in Portland as well. Every meal we have had has been fantastic. Whether we eat in or out, though, we will eat well.

It's now about 5pm here and J. said he is stir-crazy. I told him to work for an hour more and then we could go and do something. He *is* here to work, after all! Working from home is still working. Sheesh! He said that I was underestimating his productivity.

We have had nothing but problems from the relocation people. What everyone has told us about the company has turned out to be true. But it is a good thing that I was born with teeth too! You must let them know that you will not be pushed around. And all of this for the simplest of things (an internet connection--without which J cannot work; a working phone; a bed big enough for two Americans). But we are getting all of them fast thanks to the bark and the bite. In America, the bark and the bite make me a, I am an Israeli!

Time to go for a walk along the beautiful tree-lined streets of Rothschild.

P.S. We have set up a flickr page here:

Another Day in Paradise

It's been 80 degrees every day since we arrived. The sunny deck of our apartment is littered with plants and overlooks the city and the sea. It's simply gorgeous here.

Getting into the country, despite the long flights, was fine. Lucy did quite well, though I think she was a bit dehydrated by the end of it. Once we landed in Tel Aviv, the rumours of a big security check were just that. Before we were taken into a little room a no-nonsense 17 year old girl told us that this was standard procedure for people with work visas. It took about 15 minutes to get Jeff fingerprinted and filed. Then we were on our way. All of our luggage made it here fine. There was a lot of traffic getting into the city, apparently, due to this:,7340,L-3631827,00.html

I'll have lots more in the next entry about life so far here in Tel Aviv.