Thursday, July 31, 2008

Alternative dimensions and Beit El

I am thoroughly convinced that buses in this country exist outside of the dimension the rest of the world exists in. I don’t understand how it is possible for them to squeeze into these incredibly narrow spaces, spaces that I would feel uncomfortable going through on my bike. (The other day I was on a bus that was passing another bus in an extremely narrow road, and I swear that at some point the two buses intersected and were intersecting over one another-something that, as far as I know, is impossible!)
And even more so then the extremely narrow spaces are the speeds that they send these enormous machines through the street at. Yet they always manage to stop on a dime, and navigate through cars, other buses, and pedestrians.
Besides that today I had a great “only in Israel story.” I was on the bus from Beit Shemesh to Bene Brak, and at one of the stops in Beit Shemesh a man came speeding towards the bus on his bike, with his small son in a carrier on his back. The man pulled in front of the bus and asked if the bus would wait for him so he could run his son into his house (which was right in front of the bus stop). The bus driver asked if anyone minded, and no one had a problem with it. The man took 2 minutes running inside and then running back out, throwing his bike in the bottom of the bus and finally climbed onto the bus.
At the next stop we had a guy come onto the bus wearing his tallis and tifilin. Only in the country!
My trip for the day (after I went to Bene Brak to drop off my stuff-and by “Bene Brak,” I mean “Givat Shmuel” were I’m staying) was to Beit El to visit the Arutz Sheva studio.
I got to the bus station and was waiting for the 2pm bus when Walter Bingham, one of the radio hosts, sat down right next to me.
Just so you know who this is, Mr. Bingham made Aliyah 4 years ago from Britain. He is well into his 80’s and actually fought for the British during the 2nd World War.
So he gave me a little tour as we were driving through the Binyamin region of Israel. On the way he pointed out a few Jewish towns, like Kochav Yaakov, as well as Ramallah, which we could see in the distance.
The first person that I met in the studio was Ben Bresky, cool guy who does a lot of the audio editing and mixing for the studio as well as hosting a music show once a week on Sunday.
While I was there I actually recorded a commercial for the station, I send it out when it gets played.
After schmoozing for about and hour I headed across the street to the Yeshiva there to do some learning (with all of this running around I’m a little behind in the Daf). I had a great seder, and the yeshiva was quite impressive, about 200 boys, I’d say ages 14-18 all doing their afternoon seder in the Land of Israel. This is Judaism, Torah in the Land of Israel, you can’t get any better then that.
I went back to the studio a little while later to say hi to Goel Jasper and Dovid Gancher who were there to do the Aliyah show. They were interviewing the translator of the Eim Habanim Semeicha, Rabbi Moshe Lichtman (who I believe lives in Beit Shemesh).
I then when back to Jerusalem and treated myself to my favorite schwarama resteraunt, and had a Chetzi Chetzi.
Now for those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s basically a Schwarama, but with strips of Schnitzel in it. I don’t want to imagine how good/bad it is for you, but it was sooo good.
Anyways, probably won’t be able to post again before Shabbos, which I will be spending in Neve Daniel with the Eastman’s.
Have a great Shabbos!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pizza, Government Offices, and Cell Phones

Whew! A lot has happened in the past few days. The last time I posted I had gotten my name changed at Misrad Hapanim to the RIGHT name and had opened my bank account.
That was on Sunday. After I had posted that I went and got my cell phone (I’ll post the number at the end), and had a great experience at the Orange store. I understand that the workers there work on commission but this guy who I had was phenomenal. He spoke English, and was very upbeat and fun. After we had the phone set up he gave me first ringtone, a clip from Jeff Dunham’s skit of Achmed the Dead Terrorist, “SILENCE!! I -.”
Phone’s work differently here then they do in the States. As a tech guy I keep with all of the changing technologies and different services that are offered in different countries. In America, you are usually given a phone by the phone company (usually it’s free, but sometimes you pay a subsidized price) and then you pay a monthly fee for a set amount of minutes which either are not all used up at the end of the month, or if you use more then your quota of minutes you have to pay more if you go over. There are other perks in America, like free night s and weekends.
In you pay for your phone (as far as I know unsubsidized) but they you pay pennies for the phone service, and you only pay for the minutes you talk.
I’m not saying one way is better than the other, just the differences between the two.

Anyways, Sunday has for sure been my most successful day so far. Getting 3 things done in one day is apparently quite an accomplishment in this country.

I was speaking with someone at the Nefesh B’ Nefesh office when I was there on Sunday (not an NBN staff-someone else I knew), and he pointed out to me that what I’m doing is like registering for college. You have to run around going to from office to office for a few week’s… and then the REAL work begins!

Alright, so yesterday I went to Yerushalyim to take core of my health insurance at Bituah Leumi. I walked in thinking “here we go, a government office in Jerusalem.” I was expecting to have a 4 hour wait before I was able to get anything done.

To my surprise I was only there for about 40 minutes. I filled out my forms, and they said everything should be taken care of by next week. I was very surprised that it had gone that smoothly. And here I was at 10:30 in the morning with a few hours of free time on my hands. So what does any good Jew do when they have free time? Usually one of three things:
1. Eat
2. Socialize
3. Learn.

I did all three

I stopped by a pizza shop and had some early lunch, while listening to a shiur on my iPod. About halfway through my meal, one of my Rabbaim Rav Slifkin (the “Zoo Rabbi”) walked into the shop. He had just returned from a trip to Africa, and hadn’t know about my Aliyah. So we sat and schmoozed for about a half an hour.

Later in the day I met up with uncle to have lunch (again!...second lunch), and we schmoozed for a few hours. I then went back to Benei Brak/Givat Shmuel and picked up some stuff so I could be in Ramat Beit Shemesh in the morning to take care of bank stuff.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Teudat Zehut and other intersting things

Finally I got something done! Yesterday I went to the NBN office and picked up my Teudat Zehut without an issue. They sent someone to get it for me in Ashdod and it was waiting for me at their office in Jerusalem when I arrived.
An interesting side note, it's getting to the point now that I'm (and I'm sure other people as well) are getting very jumpy around tractors. I passed a group of Arabs working on the new subway system and one of them was in the tractor starting it up and facing right at me.
There wasn't an issue, I walked right passed, but it's just another thing to keep in mind when you're out and about. The only way to go about this is to live you're life as normally as possible and don't give into the fear. The terrorists want us to live our lives in fear and the best way to fight that is to live you're life as normally and as freely as possible.
From the NBN office I went to Maaleh Adumim to see the Adler's. I met up with the Schamroths there and we all went out to Malcha Mall for dinner (Kosher Burger King-I'll start posting pictures eventually).
Burger King was interesting, in America you have inter-transliterated siddurim, where they have the Hebrew transliterated into English. Here it's the other way around. I was staring at their menu trying to figure out what it was saying (Davel Vooper?) The Double Whooper was very good.
The one issue I had that I knew I was going to have to deal with when I got here was getting my name changed so that it included both of my middle names. I was already and Israeli citizen so when I made Aliyah I had to come with my Israeli passport. So I was back and forth to the embassy in Washington a few times between December and March. When I received my Israeli passport I opened it to discover that they had left out my 2nd middle name. My middle name is "Israel" -Yisrael, someone there must have thought that I had put nationality in the wrong box so they returned my passport without the correct name.
When I told them they just told me to go to Misrad Hapanim here and get it changed, because I would have had to wait another few months if I had gotten it done in America (they mail everything to Israel) and I needed the passport in order start being processed for Aliyah.
The truth is it was the smoothest thing that I've done so far. Thank you to Yehudis for driving me around to all of these places in Beit Shemesh to take care of my documentation-it is saving me a lot of time.
I walked into the Misrad Hapanim where the security guard-that's right, the security guard-helped me fill out all of my forms to have my name changed.
They were incredibly helpful and they changed my passport and Teudat Zehut for me right on the spot. It only took about 20 minutes.
From there we went back to Ramat Beit Shemesh where I opened my bank account-another thing that went relativly smoothly. I know when I get my first bank statement all hell will break loose-but that will be for another post.
So hopefully by the end of today (if everything goes as planned) I'll be able to check 3 things off my list:
1. Name change
2. Bank Account
3. and cell phone

We should be heading out soon to go pick up the phone. Hopefully that will also be a successful trip.
I'll update the insurance situation on the next post. NBN is going to try to help me with this.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Shabbos and more fun with Bituach Leumi!

So Friday, I got up at around 7am to go to Shacharit. Then I hung around Givat Shmuel for the morning doing some work on the computer, and getting to know my 2 other roommates, one who's Israeli, the other who's a law student in Chicago and was in Israel for the summer as an intern.
I got the bus to Ramat Beit Shemesh at around noon. It felt so good to be be back in RBS for Shabbos, where I spent Shabbos with my families good friends, the Schamroths.
Shabbos was awesome, you can't really compare Shabbos in Israel to Shabbos in America. Particularly when you spend it in an almost entirely religious community, and every single other person in the entire community is doing the exact same thing that you are. I remember seeing a list of "what we like about Israel" and one of the things on the list was "Shabbos, really feels like Shabbos."

I walked down to Ramat Shilo, where I will be moving to sometime next month, for Mincha and Shalosh Seudos, and ran into Dovid Gancher from the Aliyah show on Arutz Sheva. Nice guy, and he's a head hunter, and good person to know.
I had Shalosh Seudos with my Rosh Yeshiva, and had a very nice close to Shabbos with maariv in Ramat Shilo.

Today, more fun! I went down to open up my bank account at bank #1 and found that it was closed in Sunday. I went to bank #2 and found that they could do anything because of the situation with my tudat zehut. They can open up a bank account with me before my tudat zehut is issued, and they can open it up after I have my tudat zehut, but they can't open up the account after it has been issued but before I have it. I should be getting my tuday zehut today and will be able to open up the account tomorrow (hopefully will also be able to get my phone after that). Thanks to Yehudis for driving me around everywhere.
Another interesting story with my tudat zehut (which I'm hoping to pick up today from the NBN office), I got a call from Nefesh B' Nefesh saying that somehow my Tudat Zehut never made it from Ashdod to their office in Jerusalem! Would I mind if I could wait a day and pick it up tomorrow.
NO! I want my tudat zehut today because there are too many things I need to do that I can't do without it! I need the Tudat Zehut to open a bank account, and I need to open a bank account before I can get my phone!
Not to knock NBN they've been incredibly helpful throughout all of this, but if I'm going to be dealing with American's I have a right to act like an American!
I also went on trip #2 to Bituach Leumi (health insurance) today. The guy there was in credibly helpful but if I went through his office it would take close to month before I was insured (arrg, if only I'd remembered to go to Bituach Leumi at the AIRPORT!). He recommended that I go to the one in Jerusalem, I'll have a longer wait at the office, but I'll get insured faster.

So hopefully the next time I write I'll have my Tudat Zehut, and I might have opened my bank account and even gotten a phone. But I'm looking up! Because I know that it'll take a while but once everything is done all I'll have left are some great stories to tell.

Friday, July 25, 2008

To Yerushalayim

So yesterday was my first trip into Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). It was weird, it felt like I’d never left. There were some changes, the biggest one being the new bridge that they’ve installed right at the entrance of the city, but I walked past my favorite shawarma shop, and the Tachana (bus station) was as crazy as ever.
I decided to walk to the Old City instead of taking a bus, so I could take stop by some places along the way. One of which was the site of the bulldozer terror attack a few week’s ago.
My first stop was Mechane Yehuda (“The Shuk”) where I picked some bourekas (one thing I forgot about this country is how good the baked goods are). I then stopped by the Judaica Book Centre to take a look at what they had and to say hi to the owner.
From there I pretty much went straight to the Old City, I tore Kria right at the top of the stairs that lead down to the Kotel. Stayed for a little while, learned the Daf, davened Mincha, and then took the bus to Geula to catch a bus to Ramat Beit Shemesh.
It’s interesting, that my day in Yerushalayim seemed so routine, for 2000 years Jews have been praying to return there and now that we are back, it kind of feels like it’s taken for granted.
Anyway, short post for today, and some more press from this week’s flight.

The Baltimore Jewish Times:

Yeshiva World News (pics taken by my friend Yehuda):

Arutz Sheva:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Everything and Nothing" at the same time

Today's post will be in 2 parts

I forgot to tell one part of the initial experience after I got to Israel yesterday. After I left the airport and was driving on the Tel Aviv highway towards Givat Shmuel, my first thought was, "wow, the country looks goooood."
You kind of get a warped perception of what life is like here from America. Largely because the only news you hear is bad news. Not that you're not aware of bad news here, but here you can walk around outside and see a thriving economy, lot's of people walking around enjoying the sun, and the sun, you don't get it quite like you do in America, and you see life in the country. Quite a different experience then one gets in America.
Anyways, I had a Russian cab driver, who spoke about 3 words of English ("yes, no, pen"), so I got to practice some of my Hebrew right when I got here. I was actually surprised by my Hebrew, I guess it wasn't as bad as I thought. So far actually it seems that I've been speaking to everyone in Hebrew and they've been speaking to me in English. I'll say my Hebrew sentence with one or two English words substituting the Hebrew one's I don't know, and they'll respond in English with one or two Hebrew words mixed. It's kinda working… Anyways I'm already expanding my vocabulary, guess how you say "energy?"
"Cholesterol is… well, "cholesterol.

So I asked this cab driver where he was from in Russia. He told me he was from the town of Berditchev.
There's a rabbi, named Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who was famous for his Dan l'kav Zchut (giving everyone/everything the benefit of the doubt). So this was the name that immediately popped into my head.
I turned to ask him "Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev?" But before I got the chance, this not overtly religious looking guy, turned to me and said, "You know Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev? That was his place.

Part 2:
So today I went to Beit Shemesh to get part 1 of bureaucracy done…and walked away empty handed. I had to go to Betuach Leumi to get registered for health insurance and they had absolutely no one there who spoke English. I'm at the stage where I can mix up the two languages, but I'm not really conversational n Hebrew (yet!). So I'm going to go back tomorrow with someone who speaks Hebrew, and get this thing straightened out.
But the day was not a complete waste; I had the completely random experience of taking a cab with an Israeli who lived in Baltimore. He said he lived there from 1991-1998 and he told me there was one thing he learned there, and it took him 8 years to learn this, "In America you have everything, yet you have nothing. In Israel you have nothing, yet you have everything."
I'm heading to Jerusalem for the first time on this trip tomorrow, will write later.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

New York ===> Israel-SHALOM FROM ISRAEL

All right, I’m writing this from CafĂ© Aroma in Givat Shmuel, about 5 miles from Tel Aviv.
Yes I made it, and it was an incredible experience. I got to JFK at around 10:30 yesterday morning, checking in went very smoothly. We then we had the departure ceremony and before long I was going through security and down to the plane.
The plane ride itself was an interesting experience. Not like you’re normal international flight. As Jerry Seinfeld says “You know when you’re sitting in coach and the stewardess close the curtain to first class they give you a little look, ‘well, maybe if you’d worked a little harder.’”
There wasn’t really any of that in this flight, there were no curtain’s and I was walking back and forth over the entire plane. First class and business class was reserved for NBN and Misrad Hapanim staff, and press, including Baltimore’s very own Phil Jacobs of the Jewish Times. But anyone was allowed to visit anyone in these seats.
My Rosh Yeshiva was sitting in First Class, and at one point I went up to talk to him, and got to experiment with the very cool chairs that they have up there, chairs that literally folded flat into a bed.
The truth is besides the seat there wasn’t anything else impressive about First Class. At least on this flight, the food was the same as everyone else’s, the entertainment was the same, and (the moment of truth) the bathrooms are exactly the same as coach (except in First Class they had soap).
The landing also went very smoothly, we debarked the plane to a hoard of press with lots of camera’s including my friend Yehuda (I’ll post his pictures later this week.
We then boarded a bus to take us the “old” terminal of Israel’s old airport. This airport has pretty much become the Nefesh B’ Nefesh airport, and the new airport is used for everything else.
We were bussed into the terminal to, we were told, 900 people waiting to greet us. There was certainly a lot of energy in the terminal, something about Jews returning home, I don’t know it makes some people excited☺
There was a welcoming ceremony, including a special presentation given to the oldest member of our flight, an 88 year old woman, who had been on the ship Exodus 61 years ago. The ship tried to get into Israel, but was sent back to Europe. Now she finally made it to Israel.
I then went upstairs to start my initial process by the Misrad Hapanim, this is where I received the first lump of my absorption money (temporary ID card), my Tudat Zakaut and my voucher for my free cab ride to my first place in Israel and made my first big mistake. The mistake wasn’t actually in that particular place, it was after I’d gone downstairs to get my luggage, I went into the entrance hall and some guy swooped down on me asking for my travel voucher so he could get me a cab. I handed it to him and 30 seconds later he appeared with a driver.
My mistake was I forgot to go and get registered for healthcare and apparently about 2 minutes after I left, they were in there looking for me. So I’m going to head to Misrad Hapanim tomorrow and get to deal with my first taste of straight Israeli bureaucracy! That should be fun.
I’m staying in Givat Shmuel for about a month or so, and it wasn’t until I got here that all sense of my rational broke down. For approximately 5 seconds I stopped and yelled “I’M IN ISRAEL.”
That was it, went back in rational mode.
One last note, for any of you who were worried about today’s bulldozer terror attack in Jerusalem, I was nowhere near it. From what I hear 5 Jews unfortunately were injured, including one who will need to have his leg amputated. We should hope that they all make full recoveries, and the terrorist (who was killed by some quick thinking citizen and border guard policeman) is brought to justice.

For press on today’s flight:
(check out my guitar case)
I’ll post more as they become available. Anyways, it’s now about 11am in America? I’ve been up since 6am yesterday, and I’m going to go crash soon.

Monday, July 21, 2008


If anyone is interested, Nefesh B' Nefesh will be broadcasting the landing on their website at . The plane lands at about 1am EST, so if you're up and are interested, go ahead and enjoy.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Episode 1: Baltimore ===> New York

I’ve been pondering something. A deep question of the universe.
Can you get Listerine in Israel?
I’ve been pondering something else.
So after about 3 days of packing, I’m sitting here in Far Rockaway, NY about 20 min from JFK so I can take off in the morning.

(Now that you have the setting we will continue with post #1)
Before I start this post I want to thank a few individuals (and teams):

My parents for being very supportive of my Aliyah and for everything they’ve done for me over the years
Lenny & Glenna (Glenny) Ross for helping me convince other people that I really am working very hard, and for all of the incredible work that they do.
Rabbi & Rebbetzin Goldberger for their guidance throughout the years
The Baltimore Aliyah experts/motivators/coordinators who just do incredible work-Rabbi & Rebbetzin Adler as well as our incredible Shaliach Neil Gillman
I think that’s it...oh and the Shamroth’s, Eastman’s, and Bolthouser’s for allowing me grace their homes for my first 3 Shabbosim in Israel.
Now I am aware that there are some people reading this who may not be aware of the terminology that I use. You can just ask, or Google it, if you have a question on anything,.

Of course the past 72 hours haven’t been without its share of enjoyable moments. Like discovering that after weighting one of my bags, the scale said 120lbs (the limit’s 70). I do have reason to believe that the scale was toying with me (as I’ve been told scales sometimes do).
Or when we pulled into driveway of the house we’re staying at here in Far Rockaway, a certain unnamed person discovered that they had misplaced the keys to the house (gender-specific terms have been obscured to protect the guil- I mean innocent)
Anyways, I’ve been asked if I’m scared, nervous etc about tomorrow, and I’m still feeling really calm about it. It’s not everyday one decides to leave suburbia America to move to the Middle East.
So for any of those who don’t know (read: have not asked me sometime in the last 6 days-seems like EVERYONE’S done that) I’m going to be staying for my first month with a friend who lives in the coastal city of Ramat Gan, and goes to Bar Ilan University. After about a month or so I’ll be moving to Ramat Shilo, a new community located near Beit Shemesh, and will be working at Yeshivat Lev Hatorah.
So this first post will be short, I just wanted to get something out today because I promised some people that I would. Tomorrow bright and early (11am) gotta be at JFK for check-in, I’ll write more about it on the plane and hopefully the next time you hear from me I’ll be in the Holy/Homeland.