Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fixing a tire -- and the highways in Israel

As we were leaving Kiryat Malachi for the North for Shabbat on Friday, June 23, a truck driver honked at us and pointed to the car’s right rear tire, so we pulled off the highway into a gas station and parked near the air pump. We saw that the tire was indeed flat, with just 5 psi instead of 29. The air pump listed all the common cars in Israel and what the tire inflation should be. There was no cost to fill the tire, so Howard did so and off we went. We stopped several times on the way North, but the tire was fine each time. The highway was nice and wide….and we marveled at all the new highway construction.
(See more on that at the end of the e-mail.)

On Saturday night as we left Kiryat Shmona, our cousin Boris saw that the tire was again low, so we stopped at a nearby gas station and filled the tire again. The next morning at Menahemia, the tire still looked OK, but Howard wanted to fix it before we headed up the Golan. Our friend Dalia directed to us a local “puncheria,” or tire repair shop.

Local "Puncheria" shop "Puncherit HaEmek"

The screw that caused the problem

For 35 shekels (US$9+), they took off the tire, removed a screw from it, patched it, and put the tire back on. Drivers of rental cars in Israel are responsible for tires, and this is the second time we’ve had a tire problem. The other I took care of in Kiryat Malachi a few years ago.

Highways in Israel really have improved since I first visited and lived here in the early 1970s.  Then roads were narrow, made more for smaller European cars.  Now that Israelis buy bigger cars and there are more big trucks on the roads, the lanes are wider and shoulders are decent size too.  Since the mid-90s, there has been an explosion of car buying also.  Many employees of big companies also get company cars as do my cousins in Holon.  She is a computer engineer and he a water engineer.

Road signs are quite good.  All highways are numbered, with the bigger roads having single or double-digit numbers.  Highway 6 (blue sign) is mostly a toll road, and the Israelis love it as it much faster than the other roads.  There are no toll booths.  There are cameras on the highway that take pictures of license plates, and people are regularly sent bills for usage. (The toll road part was built by a private company which will maintain it and keep it for 20 years.)
Most Israels do not know the highways by number (except for highway 6--kvish shesh--which is actually the Rabin Memorial Road) but just by direction and junction name.  Since the junction names are slowly changing to exit areas, it can sometimes be confusing.  Google maps now has many of the Israeli roads and towns labeled in English now.  My husband was delighted to have found a street map of Kiryat Malachi on his IPad.

a stretch of Hwy 20, the "Ayalon," the main road into Tel Aviv
Often the walls along the side of the road are covered with greenery or very nicely designed, like on the left. BTW, notice the clouds in the sky.  This summer, often before 10 a.m., there have been a LOT of clouds in the sky, much more than in the past....and sometimes dark grey.

A tunnel in the new stretch of Highway 6 in the North--a rather amazing site to see in Israel

A 2-lane road in the hills east of Tiberias taken through our car windshield.  See how wide the shoulders are.

A four-lane road, divided by a barrier--a safety precaution

New construction--widing of the road to a divided highway, in the lower Galilee

  Israelis mainly buy European  and Asian cars, including Fiat, Renault, Peugeot, a few VWs, Citroen,  Toyota, Daihatsu, Suzuki, Hundai, etc. Many are cars we don't see in the US. We are renting a Daihatsu, and getting a good 36 MPG.  (Tax on cars is quite high, often doubling the price of the cars. ) I own a Toyota Prius and have seen a number of them on the road.)

A site on the road near Kvar Tavor--a couple carrying cactus fruit in the trunk of the car with the trunk open so that the fruit won't spoil.  The driver is either taken them to market or to sell along the side of the road.  Many local Arabs sell produce along the side of the road.  We have bought from them occasionally.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Short notes/stories from Israel, July 15, 2010

We've just finished our second week in Israel, and I thought I'd send out some short notes, from the unusual to the mundane, but with an Israeli twist. Enjoy!

1. Friday afternoons at 3:00 and 3:30 there are programs on HOT regarding the weekly Torah portion. Rabbi Lau is usually the narrator of the show at 3:30. Our friend Haim told us that Rabbi Lau is the son of the former Chief Rabbi Lau, who was rescued from Dachau at age 8 by a group of African-American US soldiers, one of whom was the father of Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the former LA basketball star). Approximately ten years ago, Abdul-Jabbar visited Israel and was a guest of Israel's chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau. A friend of ours told us about this but I also found an article about the visitsent out by Jewish Telegraphic Agency on July 11, 1997, written by Naomi Segal.

2. Tuesday, July 6, and the biggest story on the news all day has been 2 car accidents where individuals were killed. At least one was a hit and run, and it involved a 19 year old who was high, probably on drugs. At 6 a.m. as he and his (girl) friend were returning from partying, they hit a 60+ year old man who had just left home to head for work, killing him instantly. The two fled the scene and were captured soon after. They were seen on TV in chains with their faces covered. It seems that serious hit-and-run accidents have become like an epidemic, with over 250 so far this year. And such accidents with the drivers high on drugs, which had not been so common in the past, are definitely on the rise.

3. Tonight (written last Sunday, July 11) is the final game of the World Cup. It just started a few minutes ago and it's amazing how quiet it is outside. Not a car is on the street, nor are people walking around and talking. Most are inside somewhere, watching the game!
4. Friday, July 9th, was the 12th day of the walk of Gilad Shalit's family from their home in the Galil to Jerusalem. Along the way, over 110,000 participated with them at different places during their march. Friends of ours participated last Wednesday. A few pictures of the walk are attached. They said that it was an amazing experience, one that they will not forget for a long time. Now that the Shalits have arrived in Jerusalem, they are camped in front of the Prime Minister's home and plan to stay there until Shalit is released.

5. We are renting a bright green small Daihatsu automatic from El Dan rent-a-car. We filled up for the first time a few days ago and we are getting 16 km per liter, which is about 37 miles per gallon, very good for rental cars in Israel. Gas, btw, is about $6.75 a gallon, but it is sold in liters, so the quantity and price on the gas pumps go up really fast.

Howard got this parking space after the other 2 cars were in their space.    Both of the other two had crossed over the white line....which about 25% of the drivers do in the big parking lot in front of the BIG center near KM.

6. Israel continues to widen and improve its highways. We drove today (July 13) to visit my mother's cousin Thea, who turned 90 in January. She lives in Kiryat Ono, an eastern suburb of Tel Aviv. We took the coast road. Howard was very impressed by the work done to improve the highway from Ashdod north, widening it and adding better entrances and exits. Highway 6 is the private toll highway that bipasses Tel Aviv to the East. Although it has only been open a few years, changes are already made to it too to increase the number of lanes, eliminating most of the grassy divided part between the north and south lanes. The main road to Jerusalem is still 2 lanes in each direction. To reduce some of the congestion, however, as one nears Jerusalem, there are others ways to go to the center or south of town.

7. This afternoon, July 15, I went to buy a few things at the supermarket, especially dairy products. (I had already bought some fruit and veggies at the twice-a-week open market across the street earlier in the day.) I was really happy to find a 5% fat goat cheese spread--it is delicious. As I was checking out, the woman in front of me bought paper diapers and 2 packs of cigarettes, a combination not too often seen in Seattle nowadays!

8. The currency in Israel is the shekel, and it is divided into 100 agarot. The 1 and 2 agarot coins have not been around for a number of years. Now the 5 agarot coin has diappeared. There are no longer ten-shekel paper bills in circulation, just ten-shekel coins (worth about $2.63). The smallest paper bill is for 20 shekels, or $5.26 US.) A new coin has come into circulation, however, and that is the 2-shekel coin. It is about the size of a US nickel.  All of the coins are pictured below except for the ten-agorot copper-colored coin.  From left to right:  10 shekels, 5 shekels, 2 shekels, 1 shekel, 1/2 shekel.

If one pays in the store with a 100 or 200 shekel bill, the clerk usually runs a special pen over part of the bill.  If it turns brown or black, it is counterfeit.   So far we have not had that problem!

9  Earlier this week, I went to a Shiva visit for the mayor of Hof Ashkelon, meeting up there with Ira, Itai and Revitla.   His mother, Ester Farjun had died the previous Thursday.  The funeral was the same day and I didn't get the SMS (text) message in time to attend.  The gathering was outside the home, under a tent-like covering.  It was similar to the picture below, only about 2.5 or 3 times as big, and it was full.

The Shiva tent to the left is just down the road from the volunteer apt in Kiryat Malachi.  It was set up a few days ago.  The family sits outside, and people come and visit. 

The shiva was being sat at Yair Farjun's family home, the first home at the entry to Moshav Brechia, where they settled almost 60 years ago.  As family members passed out fruit, cookes, and hot drink (cold drinks were already on the table), part of the time Yair talked for the family, using a microphone.  He told the story of how the family settled there, living in 45 sq. meters  about 550 sq fit) with 13 children.  The grandparents lived nearby as did other family members.  The Mom treated each child as if s/he were the only one.  Whenever someone was in need, there was always room for one more at the table, or for another spot on  a mattress on the floor to sleep--whether it was an abused wife or a farmer/peddler caught in a rain storm.  Yair told of bringing friends home spontaneously to eat and his mom giving all the food already prepared for dinner/shabbat and quickly preparing more, sending a younger child to the neighbors to get a fresh chicken.

10. Only in Israel--as I was making a spaghetti sauce about 6 p.m., I heard a loudspeaker blasting away. It wascoming from a car with an electronic megaphone/speaker on top, sending out religious messages the day before Shabbat!

11.  I've been working on the TIPS calendar which just will be distributed in Israel this year.  Ira and I worked on the wording for projects, and I typed it into my computer.  I don't have Hebrew letters on my computer, and he doesn't touch type, so I typed the Hebrew.  I have a Hebrew program with the keyboard shown on the screen.  By the end of the exercise, I found that I can pretty much touch type in Hebrew!  The printing is being done at Eddigraf, a local shop about 2 blocks from the volunteer apt.  Eddi Yosef, the owner, is on our TIPS steering committee.   The graphic artist that I worked with is Edward.  He made aliyah with his family at age 9 from the former Soviet Union.  He is a delight to work with.

     I was amused by the no smoking sign on the wall next to his desk.  (By the way, the second point is not to use cell phones in the area!)

12j.  This week (July 16) the main news has been:
    a)  The boat from Libya heading toward Gaza with Ghadaffi's son on board.  It ended up going to Egypt with some sort of an agreement and payment...but I could not understand the Hebrew.  The items will go through Egypt to Gaza.  Dan Meridor of the Israeli govt also said that they could go through Ashdod.
    b)  The budget bill in the Knesset for the years 2011 to 2013....and how much defense will be cut even though Barak is a big buddy of Netanyahu.  Many say he no way represents his party anymore.  He just represents himself.

Story of fixing the washing machine in the volunteer apt

July 15:  And now, the story of the washing machine repair man. About 4 or 5 years ago, the TIPS Partnership bought both a washing machine and dryer for the volunteer apartment. Adam Schwartz and family stayed in the apartment before us and found out that the dryer didn't work at all and the washing machine control had to be restarted after each cycle. So Monday, Dvora called a repairman named Dudi (a nickname for David) and gave him my number. As it turns out, Dudi's office is about a block from us.

His older son came over on Tuesday morning and said that the problem was the part that made the inside of the machine rotate. He replaced it for 450 shekels. He then fixed the dryer--it needed a new part for the starter. The normal charge was 250 shekels, but since he was already at the apartment, he charged only 200. When I was worrying about whether to fix the dryer or not (it isn't really necessary hereas it is easy to put clothes out to dry on the porch, but it is helpful for towels an sheets), I mentioned that we would only use the dryer until the end of the month when the apartment would be vacated. All of the appliances would be donated to the Social Services Department for the needy. So he lowered the price to 150 shekels -- just for the part and took away his charge. He also figured out the code for the downstairs air conditioner (86) and reprogrammed the remote....no charge. In all we paid 600 shekels (almost $160), which we were to deduct from the $50 US per week for the use of the apartment.
The bad part.

Unfortunately, the washer was not fixed. So the young man came back the next day (Wed.), and told me the problem could be the timer, which would cost 600 shekels to fix. Meanwhile he tighened a cord/wire. He didn't charge anything more. I tried to finish the washing cycle later...and found out there was still the same problem. So I called back Dudi and left a message.

He called me the next morning to find out if his son had come, then said that he had forgotten to remind him and that he was in Ashdod for the day.So Dudi himself came over himself an hour later. He took apart the rotator to be sure that it was kaput, and inside it was obvious that it had died (see the attached photo). He told me that when the rotator part goes, if the machine is still used, it can cause other parts to become damaged, including the timer. Older machines were made better and didn't not have this defect. Dudi, however, wanted to check out several things first.

One included cleaning a part with vinegar. There was vinegar in the house....however, only apple cider vinegar and wine vinegar, so I trotted down 2 flights of stairs, went across the street, and went to buy vinegar at the supermarket. I found 2 kinds, one for about a dollar, and the other about twice the price. I asked a lady nearby if she knew the difference, and she asked me if I were buying it to use on food or for cleaning. When I told her the latter, she told me to buy the cheaper kind! In the States I wouldn't ask a stranger such a question so easily, but here in Israel (especially outside the big cities), I am very comfortable doing so.

Back to the apartment, Dudi said that he was going to come back later with another small part to see if it would help. Howard and I were going out to lunch at a friend's (an English teacher at the high school), so Dudi said that he would return after 3.

new part
While he was working, he asked me where I was from in the US. Then he told me a story of 30 years ago, when a good friendof his was going to the US and invited him along. Dudi was interested, but his wife was not, so he stayed here. His friend did not return, and has since become a multi-millionaire in the US. He also told me that he lived on a small farm and sold it for about $60,000 US to move to Kiryat Malachi about 20 years ago. The farm--especially the land-- is now worth more than 15 times that, while his home in Kiyrat Malachi has not increased as much in value. He also showed me photos of his wife and her sisters. He told me she was 55, and I told him she looked much younger. He also told me that the son that had first worked on the washing machine the day before was getting married in 3 months.

I told him that Howard had met his youngest son 2 or 3 years ago when he was helping to interview candidates going into 9th grade for a special after-school computer training program called NETA. Dudi is also the father of Liron, a special needs young adult who used to be on the Young Council. All this from a visit of the washing machine repairman.

I haven't tried the washing machine yet but will soon. I hope the little part that he replaced will work. If not, we can always fall back on cleaning another part with the vinegar that I bought...that Dudi hasn't use yet.
Update:  Friday, July 16:  Sad news.....washer still stops at key points...sigh...

A few days later:  Dudu came back, tried something else that didn't work, and finally took out the timer.  He sent it to another person, who might be able to adjust it.

July 27th we got the timer back.  We could have gotten it back a few days earlier but Dudu had lost our # and kept on coming to the apt when we were not in.  Anyway, success! For another 200 shekels ($52), the timer was fixed and I did a bunch of loads of wash, including the dirty sheets from previous occupants!  Yay!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

First Full week in Israel, July 2010

Today marks a full week that we have been in Israel and both of us have fully adjusted.  Howard had not been here for 2 years, so he was excited to be back, and he is getting more involved more quickly....napping a bit less as we also have an extra room with air conditioning!

After a lovely restful Shabbat in Shuval with our friends Haim and Shunamit, we visited friends in Kibbutz Beit Kama Saturday night.  Our friend recently moved back to the kibbutz where he grew up.  His father is still very much of a kibbutznik, working in agriculture.  He used to work in cotton, but it is no longer grown beause of the amount of water needed.   The mother teaches at a university in Beersheva and is also a midwife.  Their other child also recently moved back to the kibbutz.  I'm envious. It iswonderful to have grandparents and siblings with their young children so close by. 

Beit Kama is also going through a kind of privatization.  The dining room is only open during the day, but because of requests, it will now be open one Friday night a month for a community Shabbat dinner.  Most of the businesses have been outsourced or are done in partnership with another kibbutz.  There are two new building areas for homes.  One is for returning "children" of members like our friends.  They are hoping to keep the same "feeling" of the kibbutz with homes that are not too big and nature surrounding them. The other  new building area is for people from "outside." Their homes are definitely bigger...  Howard and I like our friends prefer the older format!

This picture above is of very tall Yucca plants along the side of one of the older houses.  They must help keep the home cool in summer.This picture  belowshows how a new leaf is added to this fiscus tree.  It starts as a red casing which gets bigger, splits open, and then becomes a leaf.
We’ve kept busy since we arrived in Kiryat Malachi on Sunday.  Aside from Howard’s knee, we are feeling pretty good (as long as I take a Benedryl before going to bed).

We’ve been to two supermarkets and to the local shuk, which is just across the street. (I am always surprised at how expensive food is here in supermarkets.) The shuk (market) is open on Mondays and Thursdays, and on Thursday (today), it is mainly a food market—fruits, vegetables, and nuts. I came home today with my arms loaded with a watermelon, an Israeli melon (not as orange as a cantaloupe), a ½ kilo of fresh figs, tiny pears and small peaches, etc. I’m going to go back for fresh almonds in their original (green) casing and maybe some more fresh lychee.   You can see below the almonds I bought when I did go back.  The green shell is the actual shell of the almond.  What we know as the brown shell is actually soft at first and then starts to harden.  The taste is similar to that of almond flavoring...different from dried almonds.  (BTW, when I went back at 6 p.m., some of the produce venders had lowered their prices substantially....a good time to shop for bargans.  For examples, cucumbers were down from 1.5 shekels a kilo to 1 shekel per kilo (i.e. 28 cents for 2.2 pounds).

Howard has been busy this week and has gotten involved in 3 different places.

First of all on Sunday we together when to a program called Tzeva. It is an enrichment and homework after-school program during the school year to help some lower income children. Several national service young women volunteer there during the year. (They are Orthodox teens, recent high school graduates, who do this service instead of the army.) 2 days a week third and fourth graders attend, and another 2 days 5th and 6th graders attend. This summer, they have a three-week program, but just 2 days a week, Sunday and Monday. The coordinator, Merav, is great. She works very well with the children. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have enough volunteers to run it more days.

On Sunday, when we first went, there were 3 young women from national service came, plus another woman named Hadar who I later found out was Dvora’s daughter-in-law. She first got involved with Tzeva through a college community service class she took at Achva college, a program that our TIPS partnership once sponsored. She liked Tzeva so much that she continues to volunteer some. The next day, however, Howard was the only volunteer.  The program has a set of "golden rules:"

Don't abuse others; be respectful; come on time.

One ten-year-old boy named Ben latched on to Howard right away. Ben’s mother is French, and Ben speaks French and some English with her too, so he was excited to talk English with Howard, and his English was good extremely good for someone his age.

Howard also played hopscotch with the kids during a recess.  The next day, a petite Ethiopian girl, also the same age, came just because she knew Howard was there. Her English was good too—mainly from watching TV programs in English.

Howard painted with Q-tips with the kids while I did word searches in Hebrew on the topic of summer with others. Later, during large group activities, we learned the game “Yahm-Yavesha.” It is like a very simple Simon Says. There is a line in the room. One side is “yahm” (ocean) and the other is “yavesha” –dry land. When the leader shouts one of the words, each participant has to jump to the correct side.

We then played a bit of non-competitive volleyball as well as other games. One boy, David, was acting out destructively so he was sent to another alcove. Howard went over to him and calmed him down with a bit of attention—they compared watches.

Howard also helped an 11th grade girl named Sara prepare for the top level (5 pt) repeat Bagrut exam in English (like the SAT subject exams). She is in the alternative school program (Beit Novea)—less formal than in the US. She’s also Ethiopian and has learned a lot of English from TV too. Last year, when she started at Beit Novea, they didn’t know what test for her to try. She took the 3 pt exam and scored 100%. She’s quite sharp so I’m glad that she found her way back to a school program.  (This is a program that Shalom Eldar from our TIPS steering committee helps administrate.)

Atidim is a special program program to help disadvantaged youth prepare to become army officers. It starts with youth as young as 7th graders and teaches them many good life skills. The director for the local program in town wanted to run an English class for outgoing 7th graders, and because Howard was here, she could start it. Yesterday (Wednesday) was the first day. Howard had about 7 or 8 girls and one boy. The girls in skirts were from the religious public secondary school AMIT, and the others were from AMAL, the non-religious public school. He really is a born teacher, and it showed here from what he told me. He got the kids to talk a bit about their interests. He found out that they liked romantic movies. So he told them about the most romantic movie he has ever seen, “Casablanca.” He told them the story, briefly, but did not tell him which of the 2 men that the main star chose. (The teacher may get the movie so that he can show it to them and use it as a teaching tool.)

Howard also found out that they wanted to do vocabulary work, so they reviewed everything they could see in the room. New words that he taught included “elbow.” Then in the afternoon, we went to the library and took out 4 picture dictionaries that he could use with vocabulary by topic. I am so well known at the town library that they let us take the books, though the usual limit is just 2 books at a time.

He said that some liked to talk and others liked to listen, and he was happy to let them do either. They don’t want to do “activity book” work, and neither does he!

Last night Howard downloaded a bunch of pictures to his new IPad to take to class today, and the girls enjoyed seeing them. Three new people showed up today but the one boy was missing.

It says a lot if so many show up the second day….during summer vacation to a non-required class. He will continue next week from 10 a.m. to noon, but with 2 smaller groups, the AMIT group first and then the AMAL group. The AMIT girls want to practice writing, and came prepared today with notebooks and pencils. I’ll be happy to help him with writing starting on Sunday.

Last Monday, we went over to the new open mall just across the highway from town (about 4 blocks from us). In the side area of the parking lot, adjacent to MacDonalds and Cafe' Joe, there was Israeli dancing in the parking lot.

Ira (on the left in the 2nd photo) stayed for several hours, and I also ran into Esti, the science center administrative assistant. Esti invited us to go with her on Wednesday to participate in the walk with Gilad Shalit’s family to Jerusalem. It started at their home in the Galil (Galilee) and by Wed. would be at Latrun. I knew I had to work with Ira on the TIPS calendar, and also was concerned about being outside in the heat of the day. Today, she told me it was a fantastic experience. They waited for 2 hours in the open sun, but then walked with the family for an hour. If you haven’t heard of the walk, it is major news here, taking over a week total. The idea is to get enough attention to at least improve the conditions for Shalit and for some communication to exist and health visits.

Howard also found out that lattes at MacDonalds at the mall were just as good as those at Cuppa Joe or Aroma and a lot cheaper!  Howard picked out some Israeli style t-shirts (4 for 100 shekels, or about $7 each) at Tabun in the mall....

The TIPS Partnership (Tucson Israel Phoenix Seattle) that I’m co-chair of has had an annual art contest for 5th and 6th graders. This year the theme was partnership and the top entries from the 5 communities (Israel = Kiryat Malachi and Hof Ashkelon) are on display at the entrance to the town libraries. I’ve been helping to put together the format for the calendar that will be made for Israel this year. (The American communities have asked for note cards, something not used here in Israel as we do in the US.) I’ve been typing in Hebrew, and have gotten the basics down for touch-typing in Hebrew. I’m astounded!

News this week has included the following:
1)  World Soccer cup   (Yay Spain!  The final should be fascinating though I still find it hard to believe that Brazil and Argetina dropped out so early.)
2)  Traffic accidents--especially hit and runs....there have been more than 250 hit and runs so far this year leaving someone with serious injuries or killing the person hit
3)  The march of Gilad Shalit's family to Jerusalem (mentioned earlier) (In the 12 days of the march, which ended today, a total of 110,000 people marched with the family.)
4)  Netanyahu's visit to Washington

I'm working to see lots of people.  Life here is always hectic, with schedules filled from morning to night, so we are working on scheduling.  As one of our reps said, when living in Canada as a "shaliach" (Israel cultural rep) they had plenty of time to drink coffee but not a lot of friends to drink it with, but in Israel they have very very little time to drink coffee (i.e. free time) and many many people to drink with.  Israelis are very open, and one can drop by without an invitation, but there is less and less time to do so.)

Our plans for Shabbat are in place and schedule next week is filling up. We are going to visit our friend Dalia in Menachemia , just south of the Kinneret, stoping at Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve, on the way. We’ve never been there and it sounds fascinating. Check it out at :

Shabbat Shalom,

Dina and Howard