Sunday, June 14, 2009

The singing mobile lending library

For the past 25 years or so I've been singing in a classical choir. It's changed hands quite a few times and now it is called "Kolot haNegev Choir" and is based in Beersheva.

One of the "perks" that emerged during the years is that the trip to the choir has become my mobile English lending library. The couple who pick me up and take me home are both English and live on Kibbutz Alumim which is near my Kibbutz, and they they are my main book suppliers.

I get my book package in the car - if it's light outside I avidly go through the package to see if I haven't already read the books, and if it's dark, well, then I have to wait until I get home to see what delicacies I've received.

Since I rarely get to the city, we have a sort of "lending library" going on between us and I get books from them whenever I ask. This means, however, that I don't get to pick up the book, read the cover, decide if I like it or not and want to buy it. It means that if I want to read, I read the books they give me - and many times these are books that I would never ever have considered reading!

It was difficult for me at the beginning to get used to this, but I've found that I am a much richer person for it, and that my reading habits have changed over the years because of this. It's a lot like getting presents for your birthday. You know you're going to get a present but you don't know what it is. For me, every book package is like a birthday present. I dig in and wonder what I'm going to get this time.

I'm always amazed when I finish a particularly good book and think - "if I had to choose that book I would never have even picked it up". I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the books I returned saying I couldn't read them. Some, I might put aside for a while and read later, or start, stop and then return to the book. But for the most part I read everything they give me, and I take my hat off to them for the "mitsva" they're doing and because of their good taste in books!

The choir pictured above is the Kolot HaNegev Choir under the baton of Esther Abramson - this was photographed during a performance at the Felicia Blumenthal Hall in Tel Aviv. Yonit Young is the photographer.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

American-Israeli and Israeli-American

I read Bayle's post :"I want to be there" where she writes about being in Israel 35 or so years, but still doesn't feel totally integrated into the Israeli culture, and it gave me a lot of food for thought together with a good bellylaugh!

I've been in Israel almost 4o years, but to Israelis I'm American and to Americans I'm Israeli. When I go to the States (which is very rarely) I get "Oh, how well you speak English - where do you come from!!".
They say I have an accent. But the Israelis also say I have an accent, and it's certainly not Israeli with the way I say the letter "r" - especially "Drora",and "Zaharira"!

I can't begin to tell you the amount of people who start to speak to me in broken English because they think people who have an American accent don't know Hebrew. Do people speak French to people who come from Morocco, or Tunisia, or Algeria and have accents, or speak Arabic to people who come from Yemen? Then why in the world do they think that people who have an Anglo-Saxon accent are illiterate and can't speak Hebrew?

My conversations with other "Anglos" take place in the "Hingloo" language. For those of you who have not heard of this language, it is half English and half Hebrew depending on the person I'm speaking with and which language I started out in in the first place! I find it very difficult to speak a full sentence in either language without running to the dictionary in the middle to find out how to say such and such a word, yet I know the word perfectly well in both languages! ! And of course there are words in Hebrew which are just not translatable in English and visa versa.

I'll close by referring again to Bayle's post, especially the clip from YouTube - "Here is there and there is here" from the Muppets because that pretty much sums up my situation as an Israeli American and American Israeli!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pets and strays

When I was a kid in NYC the only pet I had was a parakeet, so when I came to Israel I wasn't prepared for the amount of pets roaming around the Kibbutz.

At the beginning we started out with cats. One of my friends gave me a cat and assured me it was a male (what did I know?) so we named it Oscar. Well, Oscar as you have already guessed, turned into a female Oscar, and we had kittens (tongue in cheek!) and for about 8 years we kept kittens until one day one of my children asked if she could have a puppy. NO! was the consensus, so of course she brought home a puppy. And that puppy stayed "one week" in our house until she could find it a home, which in reality was 5 years until somebody disappeared the dog (no, I didn't make a mistake in grammar!).

However, after that the house didn't feel quite the same, so my husband went to the Israeli SPCA and came home with a mongrel white terrier, a wonderful "doormat" of a dog, just what a house with 4 kids needs. We had the dog a long time, and when she died, I sent my husband to get another dog and told him "I don't care what you bring home, just don't bring home a pinscher" - unfortunately the only thing he remembered was the word "Pinscher" and came home with a beautiful little dog - a pinscher. There were only two small problems - we couldn't eat anything because she would jump up and take it out of our hands and she would deposit little presents on the floor no matter how many times we took her out. We eventually had to return her to the SPCA and traded her in for ...another white terrier.

After that dog died I said I didn't want any more dogs, enough was enough, but one day a very cute white-beige terrier showed up on the grounds of the school near where I work - meaning she was thrown away by whoever owned her before. She came to "visit" where I worked, must be fate or kismet or something - I took one look at her and fell in love with her, but I put her back outside saying, no, not again. A few hours hours later, my son on his way home from the Army called and said "Mom, I hope you have room for a dog in the house" and I knew that he had met the same dog I saw earlier in the day. So that's how Mocca arrived in our house.

The bigger issue is how people can throw away animals in the first place - how can they take female dogs/cats, not neuter them and then throw the dogs away when they get pregnant - or throw the animals away if they have to go abroad - or just don't feel like taking care of them any more? What kind of lesson are they teaching their children?

Tell me, how can anyone throw a dog like this away?

Monday, May 18, 2009

How I came to Israel and ended up on a Kibbutz

One of the most difficult things I ever did in my life was leave the States and come to Israel, and not only come to Israel, but to a kibbutz. I'd like to dedicate this post to my first impressions from almost 40 years ago.

When I first came to to Israel in the summer of 1970 it was because I was looking for a cheap vacation - little did I know that this little vacation was to change the whole of my life. I was brought up in a household where Judaism was not a strong issue (to put it mildly). Yes, we celebrated some holidays - The Jewish New Year (not that I knew what it was), Passover (same comment) and Hanuka (presents!). No Synagogues, Jewish community activities or Jewish Youth Movements for my family. They celebrated these holidays as family obligations, although it seemed to me that they enjoyed themselves. They (read my father) kept himself outside of the Jewish Community. I have been in more Churches in my life than I have in Synagogues.

Anyway, that summer of 1970 was after I had played in an orchestra in Siena the previous year, and didn't feel like staying in New York City during the summer, so I decided to become a volunteer on a kibbutz - it's a shame I didn't read about Israel beforehand and discover that the heat is Israel was like the heat in New York and that nobody had air conditioning on the Kibbutz. How I got to the kibbutz I'm at today is the subject of another story, but I arrived in this kibbutz, about 7 miles from the Gaza Strip, which is situated in the beginning of the Northern Negev Desert.

I was given a single room with an outdoor bathroom and inside two iron beds, one table and one chair. I took one look at this room and my decision to come was shaking - take away the carpets and the curtains and the bedspread which appear in this picture and you might begin to see what I saw when I first came (there is no connection between this picture and my kibbutz).

Then when I went into the bathroom I saw a huge cockroach with wings (I never saw any of those in NYC) and I was almost on the plane going in the opposite direction. Sheer stubbornness kept me there at that time, because it certainly wasn't a 5 star hotel that's for sure.

For some reason, I and the kibbutz got along, although at that time there were very few volunteers. Most of the members were embarrassed to speak English (not like today in the computer age where everyone knows English) so in some instances I spoke French (heaven help us!). I learnt the language mostly by walking around with a notebook and asking everybody what everything was called. I decided that if I was going to spend the summer in this place, I wasn't going to do it as a JAP.

I was put to work in various places and eventually ended up in the dining room. I'll give you a few examples of language problems (and there were many) - I was working in the dining room one day and one of the members came to me, gave me pitchers of soda water (jugs to you Brits!) and told me "You must to divide the soda" - After my initial shock, I realized that I just couldn't understand what he wanted until someone explained to me that the word "to divide" in Hebrew ( לחלק) means "to give out" in English. I was meant to put the pitchers of soda water on the tables, and even now when I think about it I still laugh at it.

Another example is about food - in Israel there is a food that originally came from Yemen called "Schug" "Zhug" - no matter how you spell it it's a very sharp mixture of hot green chillies. Unfortunately for me, it's consistency looks like chopped spinach. One day I went to the dining room to eat and took a large helping of "spinach" and couldn't understand why everybody was looking at me and laughing. Oh how I understood later! But everybody has to learn, and that was my lesson for the day.

Two other shocks I received when I first came to Israel (among the many that I had along the way) - one was discovering that there were Jewish criminals! - (in our house, anybody who was a thief was either a goy and please pardon my very unpolitically correct English a "schvartze"-my father's language, not mine!).
The second thing that really shocked me was the number of soldiers I saw walking around in uniforms with Uzis. I was sure that war was going to break out any minute and what the hell was I doing there. It took me a long time to get used to that. I just don't remember seeing American soldiers on the streets of New York City in uniform in 1970.

After I left at the end of the summer, I remember the plane going over Idlewild airport I think it was called at the time (now JKF airport), and in my mind I saw how the kibbutz members lived in very small houses, with a minimum of furniture, but with grass and trees and small gardens around them, and then I saw Americans (please allow me the generalization), with their dens and 3 car garages and guest living rooms, and all the talk about "what movie did you see" and "which restaurant did you eat in",and "how much money do you make", and all at once I decided that I was living in the wrong country. So that's how I ended up on a kibbutz in the Negev near the Gaza Strip just 7 weeks after being a volunteer there (although meeting my future husband might have just had a little bit to do with it).

Friday, May 15, 2009

My Achilles heel (one of them!)

After I poked so much fun at my husband in the supermarket, it's only fair to make fun of myself. One of my Achilles heel (and it seems I have a few of them) is ironing (or not ironing, in this case). . I absolutely hate to iron - I don't iron anything!

Last year I bought a shirt - you know those sales where you buy two items and get two free - so I bought a shirt that had to be ironed. Where was my head when I bought it? I wore the shirt once, and it's been lying in my closet ever since. It's a beautiful shirt, but obviously, for me, it's not enough to take it out and iron it. A true story, I swear!

I grew up in a house where my mother would take the laundry, sprinkle it with a little bottle that had holes on the top, (see example below), then she would roll all the laundry in a ball and put it in the refrigerator. Then, when she would do the ironing she would re-wet the laundry and then iron it. I have nightmares of opening the fridge and finding clothes falling out instead of food! (I'm not making this up either!).

Once my sister-in-law came to visit from abroad. I came home and found that she even irons underpants (knickers to you Brits!)! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that people ironed underwear! Well as I found out, they do.

And since I love ironing so much, I can't find an outlet where I can plug the iron in and the cord of the iron will be long enough so I can open the ironing board and be able to stand the iron on it, and still have place to stand up - therefore I have to use an extension cord. By the time I've finished setting everything up, I say the hell with it all, put the ironing away for good and only buy clothes that don't need ironing - especially sheets!

As far as I can tell, hating ironing must be genetic - my mother hated it, I hate it, and none of my children iron their clothes as far as I know! Therefore, I've found the perfect solution (for me) - this is what I'll wear to work!!! Look Ma - no ironing!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Kassams or supermarkets?

I just read an article in the Jerusalem Post online today on husbands who are sent by their wives to go shopping in the supermarket. I must say I couldn't stop laughing. In a way I wish my husband was like those brave souls who at least make an effort to cross the door to the supermarket.

My husband has a trauma with shopping in the super. We live on a small kibbutz which has a small store with basic items. When I need to go shopping in Sderot, the nearest city, my husband starts having panic attacks - and not because of the kassams! In fact I think he'd prefer kassams to supermarkets!!!

His idea of shopping is how fast he can get in and out, or to be more exact, how fast I can get in and out.
Heaven forbid if I stop to compare prices, or even if I want to browse the aisles to see what's on sale. If I'm lucky, I can persuade him to go buy me something I don't need from another store so I'll have a few minutes of peace and quiet to walk the aisles. Most of the time I'm not lucky, so I've learned that if I can't find a ride with a friend and go shopping the way women usually go shopping, I send him shopping by himself. I give him a list with not more than 3 items - items he can identify and he has no problem finding. For him, this is a great solution. For me, it's a pain in the neck, because I never get to see the new products or see what's cheaper in the super than on the kibbutz.

The only thing I can say is that at least I'm not alone in the world - it seems that somebody should do a study on husbands and shopping! It might prove very enjoyable!

Monday, May 4, 2009

A young Jascha Heifetz?

Today I'm going to write a serious blog about a serious subject. I'm going to write about how I was taught to play the violin.
One day when I was 5 years old, my father walked into my room, placed a violin in my hands, and told me I was going to learn music. We're speaking about Jewish parents who were trying to make their place in the American society after the Second World War, and according to this mentality, children had to learn music. I wasn't asked if I wanted to play, and which instrument I would prefer (as if I had any idea of what an instrument was, and what they sounded like!). In those days, this is the way it was done. The father decided and the child obeyed, and so, this was the beginning of my musical education.

I can't say I was very motivated at that time. I practiced because my father came in my room and told me to practice. He accompanied me to my lessons, sat in on the lessons and then became my teacher during the week until it was time for the next lesson. As you can surely tell, I'm not very much in favor of this method of getting children to learn music, and none of my children (all of whom are very musical) ever learned music in this fashion.

At some point when I must have been about 6 or 7, I was placed in the Manhattan School of Music (at that time there were lessons for young players), and I had a very very patient teacher who tried every trick in the book to teach me to play without making mistakes. Therefore, I was offered a nickel (5 cents) if I could play a piece of music without making any mistakes. I though that the teacher was an idiot, and I was going to have an addition to my weekly allowance. Unfortunately, this never happened. The teacher kept his nickel, as I never quite managed to play without making a mistake!

He did teach me one very useful trick, which I use even today. He taught me to look two measures ahead all the time (he would cover the music with a piece of paper and I had to remember what was on the page). Because of this, I became a fantastic sight-reader, and it helped me out on many occasions when I played in orchestras as a "ringer" and hadn't seen the music before. A ringer is "a substitute or addition, as a professional musician hired to strengthen an orchestra" . But I'm getting ahead of myself, because this is the subject of another post.

I went from teacher to teacher (according to my family's financial status at the time) and played in student orchestras until I got to the stage when I realized that I enjoyed playing, was good at it, and didn't need my father standing over me to make me practice.

I know that there are many different viewpoints on this subject. The Suzuki Method is just one example of teaching music to very young children. Maybe I'll do a post on this method sometime. There are many many views on teaching young children, the younger the better. However, I think that music requires a certain maturity in a child - the exception being, perhaps, a child who shows exceptional musical ability.

Who knows if I would have become a musician if my father hadn't forced me to play at the age of 5? But then again, who knows if I wouldn't have become a much better musician, maybe on a different instrument, if I had been left to my own initiative? Food for thought.