Monthly Archives: April 2013

Almost another day in Israel

It was 10 am – still in my pj’s because I wasn’t feeling so well –  and trying to get Mo to take a nap. The siren blares. Oh yeah, it would be that siren. The same one that warned us of incoming rockets last fall and not the siren that ushers in Shabbat that I can barely hear most weeks.

My first thought is about the boys at school and wishing I had warned them and told them about Yom HaShoah. I hoped that they weren’t feeling panicked and wondered what their rebbes were telling them. The siren continued to blare loudly from above our patio.

Like most Americans, I usually have a hard time connecting to civil memorial days. I dutifully try to read an article in the paper about Memorial Day to remind me what the day is about. Otherwise I join the rest the country by focusing on barbecues and parades. I like the parades. I enjoy watching the soldiers marching and I can even feel a certain solemnity when I see them.

As the siren continued to blare, I realized this was different. This siren and all the cars stopped on the road right now had something to do with me. I was connected to them because we were all mourning our families. Our bubbes and zeides, great aunts and great uncles, cousins we would never know. This was my family’s story too.

The siren stops and I rock Mo to sleep. I need to get dressed and do more laundry. Life moves on as it must. While nothing dramatic has happened another brush stroke has been added to my connection to this crazy place.

Pesach, Part I: Preparation

Getting ready for Pesach is challenging under any circumstances. You have clean the house thoroughly for chametz, going room-by-room, and then take measures to prevent re-contamination. You have to do a tremendous amount of shopping, essentially re-stocking your food supply in its entirely, since everything has to be certified kosher-for-Pesach and cannot have been opened (for fear that it was contaminated with chametz), not to mention all of the food needed for the holiday (and Shabbos chol hamoed) meals. Oh, and you’ll need candy to give the children for good questions & answers at the seder, which really keeps them interested. All the laundry and dry cleaning needs to get done, because (except for kids’ clothes), you can’t do it even on chol hamoed. This is also a traditional time to get new clothes – in honor of the holiday, and because shopping for other-than-holiday needs also can’t be done on chol hamoed. You’ll also want to get presents (toys and books) for the kids before Pesach. Then there’s all the cooking, which can’t be done until at least part of the kitchen is cleaned and prepped to make it free of chametz.

Manifestly unbreakable if it can withstand a pre-Pesach shutdown of Jerusalem.

Manifestly unbreakable if it can withstand a pre-Pesach shutdown of Jerusalem.

Here in Jeruslaem, basically the entire city (probably the entire country) is out shopping en masse for the weeks leading up to Pesach. So, of course, this was the perfect time for a street-closing, traffic-jamming, city-paralyzing visit from the President of the United States! To be clear, on the whole, Israelis were and are glad for the trip (and many of his remarks were well-received). But there was a lot of grumbling about the timing. Case in point, I heard a woman on the bus refer sardonically to the upcoming Tuesday as “Yom Slishi, Erev Obama” (“Tuesday, ‘Obama Eve'”).

Obama: flagsThe President steered clear of the Old City, and we planned shopping locations around his visit, so we were largely unaffected. We did come back a bit early from our own ill-timed trip to Eilat (post coming) so that we could return the rental car to our local Hertz, right next to the King David Hotel where Obama stayed, before they closed down the street. The only other evidence of his trip for us were a lot of loud helicopter overflights for those few days. I tried to convince the boys that we were going to invite Obama over, since he’d be glad to hang out with some Chicagoans all the way over here, but they have become wise to my deceptions.

Jonathan Pollard has become a major cause célèbre here, and there were signs all over pushing for his pardon. I really don’t want this blog to get political (and I’m not putting up with any comment wars!) but, FWIW, my thoughts on the topic jibe fairly well with this.

Obama: Yes You CanObama: Shelach Et Achi








For those of us in the Rova, Pesach preparations were further complicated by a music festival whose timing and necessity were highly questionable. And, to my great amusement, both were indeed questioned in the English version of a notice to Rova residents from the police deparment. The Hebrew side of the notice seemed to play it straight, so I’m assuming that they asked some Anglo Rova resident to do the English version, with this result:

Rova parking notice

Although we managed to work around these complications, Pesach prep was an intensive experience. Being that this was our only Pesach here, we had no sets of dishes, cookware, or appliances for use on Pesach. We usually go to our cousins in New Jersey for the holiday, so we hadn’t had to do a complete house cleaning, including flipping the kitchen, in years. We also had to learn the ropes in terms of all of the extra kashrus issues there are here in Israel on Pesach.

In fact, Pesach shopping here was far more difficult than in Chicago. Lots of otherwise kosher-for-Pesach products here contain kitniyos (grain-like and legume products that are prohibited during Pesach to Ashkenazic Jews, for reasons described at the link), which Sephardim can eat. Given that half of Israeli Jews (and probably more than half of kosher-keeping Israeli Jews) are Sephardim, I understand the prevalence of kitniyos products. But why in the world do they put kitniyos in products – like macaroons – that no self-respecting Sephardi would eat?

Pesach hechsher madnessEven aside from the kitniyos issue, the mehadrin (higher level) hashgachos (kosher supervision/certification) here went crazy for Pesach. For example, on a tremendous number of products under the supervision of the (mehadrin) Eida Charedis, its hashgacha specifically excluded Pesach. This left them under Rabbanut supervision alone, which we don’t rely upon. In a few situations, it seems the reason was a halachic difference of opinion, such as with diet pop, because the Israeli mehadrin hashgacha considers aspartame to be kitniyos while the Rabbanut (and American hashgachos) do not. But there were other situations (like that pictured at right) where the Eida Charedis excluded Pesach, while a different mehadrin hashgacha (here, Chasam Sofer) did certify for Pesach, including that there were no kitniyos. Why the Eida Charedis said “no” is a mystery.

Between all of the kitniyos and mehadrin hashgacha issues, we never were able to find any margarine, pickles, olives, salad dressing, or non-beet horseradish. We found almost no cookies or macaroons (who would have thought that I’d ever be complaining about trouble finding macaroons?). Only at the last minute did I find candy to hand out at the seder. I don’t think we found any spreads, other than date spread, to put on matzah. All of this despite the fact that I even went up to shop at the big American-style Yesh supermarket in Ramat Eshkol.

By contrast, in Chicago (or NJ) I would readily have found all of this, and more. I’m certainly not complaining about spending Pesach here – to the contrary, it was wonderful – but the kashrus situation in Israel is ridiculous, and beyond ridiculous when it comes to Pesach and Ashkenazim.

Well, that sure was a whiny post… Pesach positivity to come soon in future Parts, IY”H!

The Apricot Pit Game (Updated)

Yitzi tossingAnother new day, another surprising Israeli phenomenon. Today’s is the Apricot Pit Game (I don’t know the Hebrew name yet). The kids save up apricot seeds, dry them out, and play a game where you throw them into a box with holes cut out in various sizes and shapes. Each hole has a point value, based on the difficulty of tossing in an apricot seed, from 3-4 feet away. The shooter gets back a number of seeds equal to his point total.

Deutsch fancy boxThe boxes range from the very basic – shoe boxes with holes punched in the top – to the very elaborate. One of our neighbors’ sons has one with an electric-turned wheel (pictured at right). Word is that the other neighbors’ son has an even more elaborate setup.

During recess, the front of Yitzi’s school is like a carnival. No, more like a casino:

There are a few things about this phenomenon that I find particularly difficult to understand:

C'mon, papa needs a new pair of ... apricot seeds.

C’mon, c’mon, papa needs a new pair of … apricot seeds.

  1. It’s all about apricot pits. That’s it. No other seeds/pits/etc. are suitable. It is a mystery why apricots were honored with this tradition.
  2. At no point are the apricot seeds redeemable for anything of real value. Yet they are highly sought-after.
  3. Even though the pits used have been saved for some time, even years, the game is only played in its season. It seems Opening Day was yesterday. There was no ramp-up, or early smattering of boxes; everyone shows up on the appointed day ready to go. It isn’t clear yet how long the season lasts, but I’m guessing it will be over long before the concurrently-commencing MLB campaign.

UPDATE: We have a new entrant into the apricot seed casino biz:

Yitzi with apricot seed boxes


We get asked a lot whether we’re planning on making aliyah and staying here. Especially by everyone here – and I do mean everyone: friends, neighbors, rabbis and students at the yeshiva, people at shul, our cleaning lady (who helpfully offered us a book explaining the religious obligation of every Jew to move to Eretz Yisrael), the nurse at the HMO, the checkout clerks at the store… It seems that the only thing that all Israelis can agree on is that the Shmiklers should stay.

There’s a lot to be said about this topic, and I hope to follow up with some of our thoughts. But, for now, suffice it to say that we have not changed our plans to return in August.


YY SG Purim costumesAlthough it is now well after the fact, I wanted to put up at least something about Purim. Truth be told, it felt a lot like in Chicago – only more so. In West Rogers Park, especially since Purim is usually on a weekday, even the minority of Jews in the neighborhood can make it feel full of costumes and revelry. So it wasn’t such a big change to have the Rova teeming with costumed, mishloachmanos-toting revelers.

Yitzi displays some of the lucre sent from America, where the streets must be paved with gold.

Yitzi displays some of the lucre sent from America, where the streets must be paved with nosh.

Shalom with some high-quality European treats sent to Israel from the USA.

Shalom with some high-quality European treats sent to Israel by friends in the USA.

Speaking of mishloach manos (a.k.a. “shalach manos“), it was much less hectic this year. Baruch Hashem, we have lots of friends in Chicago, which means preparing and delivering a lot of shalach manos. It can be pretty tight, fitting in hearing Megillas Esther in the morning, getting the shalach manos delivered, davening mincha, eating the Purim meal, and fulfilling the mitzvah of “ad shelo yada” (drinking enough that you don’t know the difference between “blessed is Mordechai” and “cursed is Haman”), all before sunset.

A member of the community, name withheld, who certainly fulfilled his mitzvah.

A member of the community, name withheld, who certainly fulfilled his mitzvah.

Having been here just a few months, we had considerably fewer shalach manos to worry about, and could focus instead on ad shelo yada. Through the magic of the Internet, we did send a few to people back in Chicago (er, if you weren’t one of them… I’m sure it was a computer error!). A couple of thoughtful friends even sent us some serious booty here, which was very touching.

Our neighbor needs to stay in the largely-pedestrian Rova, safe from points-hungry drivers.

Our neighbor needs to stay in the largely-pedestrian Rova, safe from points-hungry drivers.

One big difference was that, being in Jerusalem, we observed Shushan Purim. Okay, that one doesn’t actually feel like much of a difference, as it turns out, except that you celebrate Purim the day after seeing all the Facebook posts from your friends… just as Mordechai and Esther intended.

Oh, something else that’s different about Israeli Purim – fireworks. It is part of the overall fixation of Israeli youth on incendiaries, and the lax attitude of the adults to the activity. Kids were throwing “poppers” for weeks before and after, and fireworks-related injuries are common in Israel this time of year. Yitzi reported that some boys at his school were reprimanded by the principal because they made a big fire for Purim. Needless to say, we’re dreading Lag B’omer.

When Adar enters, it is traditional to put up on your door a picture of a woman with hairy arms.

When Adar enters, it is traditional to put up on your door a picture of a woman with hairy arms.

The “Purim season” really begins with the first day of the month of Adar. The Babylonian Talmud instructs, “mishenichnas Adar, marbim b’simcha” (“When Adar enters, increase [one’s] joy”) (Ta’anis 29a). You put up happy signs on the door or in the house, and start getting into the Purim spirit. Shalom’s class all dressed up as wine casks. Debbie saw them all tottering out of their classroom, and was nearly overcome by the cuteness.

Approximately 1/33rd of the dosage of adorableness that was irresponsibly unleashed on the streets of Jerusalem.

Approximately 1/33rd of the irresponsible dosage of adorableness that was unleashed on the streets of Jerusalem.

We had a very satisfying Purim. The yeshiva’s shpiel (show of Purim skits & videos) was held on motzei Shabbos, “regular” Purim. (The quality of the videos stunned me. Not only were they of virtually professional quality, but they were actually funny – a real rarity.) On Shushan Purim, we heard Megillas Esther at the yeshiva, evening and morning (both Yitzi & Shalom were able to sit through it – a milestone!), delivered our handful of shalach manos, received our modest rake of same, and had plenty of time to make our way leisurely to the group meal on Har Tzion, next door to the purported Tomb of King David. I did not shlep either of my traditional Purim costumes to Israel – my ape suit that scares away the kids, or my purple suit that scares away my wife – so we had to come up with something new. In keeping with our minimalist (read: “lazy”) approach to our stay here, I picked up a sea captain’s hat, put on a blue blazer, made Debbie a name tag that said “טנאיל,” and hummed “Muskrat Love” through the Rova. We never did find anyone both old and American enough to get it, alas.

Don't worry - the ages of the kids watching add up to nearly a teenager.

Don’t worry – the ages of the kids watching add up to nearly a teenager.

The meal was among some of the families of the yeshiva who live in the Rova, and was an enjoyable, laid-back affair with lots of wine and booze (only 30 days to get rid of chametz before Pesach!), and more food than we could eat. Oh, yeah, and fireworks.

Har Tzion is kind of a weird place. The Diaspora Yeshiva is there, along with the aforementioned asserted Tomb of King David. But there’s some sort of odd, hippy vibe on Har Tzion that I can’t quite describe or explain. Anyway, we had various randoms wander into our meal and ask for wine and food, which we supplied. I kept waiting for them to ask for a “miracle ticket.”

I’ll sign off with a video snippet from the raffle that concluded the Purim carnival at Yitzi’s school, held in the square near our apartment (Kikar Batei Machase). Warning: contains zany jeep noises.