Thursday, August 31, 2006
Things are looking good for the apartment though. , more news tomorrow. Now it's time to go to bed.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
One of the problems with searching for an apartment in Israel is that there are no real "apartment complexes" with dozens of rooms for rent owned by one upper-class slumlord like my place back in Walnut Creek. Instead, here each apartment in a building has a different owner, so most apartments are three or four rooms. Until marriage, most people rent out a three-bedroom with roommates, and after marriage they buy a two or three bedroom apartment of their own. This makes it exceedingly difficult to find the sort of one bedroom, one living room apartment that I had back in Walnut Creek. They simply aren't made.
I have been using my internet resources but found that http://www.homeless.co.il/ doesn't have anything in the area I'm looking, and http://www.flathunting.com/is mostly for short-term vacation rentals. I emailed Nefesh B'Nefesh and asked them what I should do. They sent me a list of ideas. One of them was to call to a realtor named Shelly Levine who helps olim find apartments, so I did.
"Hi, my name is Ephraim, I just made aliyah and am having some trouble finding a..."
"- Mazal tov, Wooooow, MAZAL TOV!!!"
I managed to pull the phone from my ear fast enough to avoid any permanent hearing damage.
"So where do you want to live?" she asked.
"Well, right now I'm looking in Pisgat Ze'ev."
"Pisgat Ze'ev is a terrible idea, just terrible! Do you know where all the Anglo singles live?"
"Emek Refaim or Baka."
"Right, you'll be all alone out there, no singles, no Anglos."
"Well, my cousin lives there, and she's from Canada, and for singles stuff I can always take the bus or arrange shidduchim (matches.) What I really need is an office and a separate sleeping room."
"Oh, okay. I think that Pisgat Ze'ev is a wonderful idea!"
I hauled my backpack a couple of miles across town and landed in her office, and she gave me a list of forty apartments for rent in the area, for free (it typically costs about 200 shekels.)
"By the way, where are you from?" she asked me.
"Around San Francisco."
"Oh. And you're looking for a shidduch?"
"I mean, like, you're looking for a woman, not a man, right?"
I struggled not to roll my eyes.
"How tall are you?" she asked.
"Uh... six foot two."
"GREAT! My daughter is five foot seven, and doesn't like guys under six feet. Give me your cel phone number and when my daughter comes into town, you guys can go out. Don't worry, there's no connection between the date and the apartment list. I help all olim. Now give me your number. Oh, but she's not coming back until Sukkot. Tell you what, you can go out with her friend who'se here now, and if you don't like her friend, then I'll set you up with my daughter. I'm good at this really, I've made seven couples already!"
I came back to Pisgat Ze'ev, list in hand, thinking that I had just solved my housing problems. But then I started to read through the list. I realized that there are actually five Pisgat Ze'evs, there's Pisgat Ze'ev, then there's Pisgat Ze'ev North, South, East, and West, all of them built on separate hilltops and separated by open stretches of empty land. I live in Pisgat Ze'ev East, and so narrowed my search down to twelve units. But once I started calling, almost everything had already been taken. I realize now that every apartment here is taken within a week. Now I've eliminated all but one place, a two-room apartment that is broken off from someone else's villa. I had hoped that the bi-weekly newsletter, Kol HaPisgah, would give me a few more leads, but there was nothing except the one apartment I had already found. Now I'm just sitting here waiting for a call from the landlord.
The problem is that I need to find something very soon, because work is already beginning to sign me up for projects, and I need a faster internet connection, phone, and quiet work space in order to do my job properly. As of now, I can't make phonecalls and am doing everything by email. My employer has been very understanding, but I'm anxious to get settled.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Monday, August 28, 2006
A-Plus: 1 Week, 5 Days
Since I decided to make aliyah, I've been carefully planning every last aspect of my big move to maximize my chances of success. I'm single and I speak English. After diligently researching the topic, I eventually came to the understanding that unattached Orthodox Anglophones live in the Baka or Emek Refaim areas of south-central Jerusalem. My plan had been to find a place there so I could meet people my age, have a social life, go to expensive cafes, and do all the things that the kids on Beverly Hills 90210 used to do.
Yesterday, I spent the day hauling my brand new backpack (which I bought for only 138 shekels in Ben Yehuda) through South-Central Jerusalem looking at apartments. The first apartment was a studio in Talbieh (very close to Emek Refaim) in a very wealthy neighborhood. On the way there, I passed through a roadblocked checkpoint and walked by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's house. You can't miss it, it's the one with the huge riveted iron walls tipped with spikes, surrounded by angry looking men with machine guns. I wanted to take a picture, but thought better of it, given that I would rather avoid meeting some of the more unpleasant elements of the Israeli security apparatus. The studio apartment I was walking to was owned by a fellow American oleh who had come in December 2005. He was a great guy, and you can't do better than $300 for a studio in that neighborhood, but as the conversation went on, I came to the under the impression that they wanted me to do various housekeeping tasks in exchange for rent reduction. The final straw was that, "We will have to enter the apartment from time to time to do laundry, as our drier is in your closet."
Next, I headed to a new place on Naomi Street. The map showed it right next to the "Peace Forest" with a long promenade where I could go jogging, and the price was only $400 per month. Sounded great! But before I would view the apartment, I decided to go for a little walk to check out the neighborhood. As I walked down Naomi Street, I noticed that there were no longer any cars parked in the street. They were parked in garages, secured with King Kong shackle-thickness chains. Walking further down the street I realized that, while there were plenty of people on the streets, I was the only one who was Jewish. I had just walked into Israel's demographic front line with Arab East Jerusalem. Not wanting to be a martyr for the cause, I turned around before even reaching the place.
The more hiking I'm doing, the more I realize that South Jerusalem may not be the place for me. The fact is, I've already got plenty of friends, and I'm no social butterfly to begin with. Also, the fact that I'm a religious single means that I don't just go up to women and ask them for dates. Most dating is done through arrangements and set-ups. While the area is visually appealing, I don't feel at home there, as I have no relatives there.
On the other hand, I've been taking a closer look right here at Pisgat Ze'ev. I have loads of family here to help me get a place set up and getting myself acclimated. Also, the cost of living difference means that what I'll pay for a studio in Emek Refaim or Baka will get me a two or three-bedroom apartment here, and I'd like to have some breathing room, especially considering I'll be working from home. The neighborhood has every type of shul you could imagine, wide streets, and it quiets down at around 9:30 PM so I can get some sleep. If I were to find a place here, I could live like a human being. I've been living like a student/animal for the last 10 years, so it would be nice to see what it's like to live decently. The only disadvantage, aside from the lack of a singles scene, is that it's a bit far from the city, but really it's only a 25 minute bus ride, and people are always hitching rides into town. If I do end up finding a place here I may have to make a greater effort to have a social life, but I think that on the balance, it's worth at least looking into staying right here where I am.
Friday, August 25, 2006
After looking at an apartment yesterday, which I unfortunately did't get to before someone else had rented it, Moshe gave me a ride back to Pisgat Ze'ev. It's about a 15 minute drive from downtown Jerusalem on route 1. Prior to 1967, route 1 was the cease-fire line between Jordan and Israel, and after Israel's victory, the barbed wire and guard towers were torn down, and the strip of land that was freed up became the road. As you drive up towards French hill, you go on an overpass which marks the divide between the western and eastern slope of the Judean hills, the western side green, the eastern side more dry and rocky, and you are presented with a view stretching out all the way to the Dead Sea and the Mountains of Edom, today known as the Kingdom of Jordan. At this point, you have passed over the "Green Line" and entered post-1967 Israel.
Pisgat Ze'ev is situated along a ridgeline descending towards the dead sea, surrounded by a belt of empty land, with hilltop Arab and Jewish settlements stretching off into the horizon. The view is sliced by the enourmous concrete monstrocity Israel has been forced to build over the last few years, the Security Barrier. We came back to the house last night and nobody was home, so I used my new cell phone to call Rafi, who was at the Shul (synagogue.) We came up to the shul and heard Hassidic and Sephardi (middle eastern) tunes eminating from the building in thumping techno-synthesizer style. The shul was celebrating a Tehillim (Pslams) party. All year, neighborhood children came to shul on Shabbat and took part in singing Tehillim for hours on end. After reading Tehillim, the children who came were given tickets. Today was the final party, where they redeemed their tickets for board games, candies, even bicycles.
After the party, on the way out, I struck up a conversation with one of the parents from the shul. As it turned out, he was an unemployed electrical engineer. Most of the employers here were demanding his resume in English, and his English just wasn't up to par, so he came over after the party to show me his resume. We ended up sitting down for a couple of hours translating his resume into English. It was good practice for me, learning new words like "coordination" and "supervision." The house was crawling with very loud children until they clumped together. Some of the family's children went over to other houses. Some friends of the children stayed over here. It was catch as catch can, but there was enough room.
This morning I woke up a bit late, hosed off, and headed for shul. There are more in the neighorhood than I can count. As I was hiking up the hill, a passing driver spotted me with my tefillin and pulled over. I was able to pick out enough Hebrew words to understand what he was saying.
"Which shul blah blah you going blah blah today?" he asked, swinging open his door.
"Chabad. But I'm afraid I'm a bit late."
"You're never late at Chabad."
Today I wanted to go out hunting for apartments, but the house is such a catastrophe from last night that I'm hanging out here to help out a bit and do some of my own work. And besides, the Shabbat energy is already blowing in from the East, over the Hills of Edom.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
"Comprende, mi amigo."
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
I have cut through the Gordian knot at last. My appointment with Misrad HaKlitah (the Absorption Ministry) is tomorrow morning. I absolutely MUST have a bank account by then so that when I go in I can give them an account number to begin depositing the payments which are a part of the Sal Klitah (absorption basket) that every new immigrant gets during their first year in Israel.
My mind is numb to the endless stream of options and deals that the various major banking chains are offering, so I decided that I would just get an account in the center of Jerusalem, that way no matter where I end up I would always be at most a single bus ride away. I then talked to cousin Rafi, and he recommended Mercantile Discount Bank. They have good web accessibility, a reasonable fee schedule, and a good service reputation. Sold!
I went in and talked to the manager. I tried to negotiate a discount, as some banks negotiate lower fee schedules for new immigrants. The manager was quite enthusiastic about my aliyah, "Magia lecha mazal tov!" (you deserve a Mazal Tov), but no discounts. But I decided to open the account anyway. One thing I liked about the bank is that it was orderly, clean, and there were no lines for anything, even in the middle of the day, unlike the major banks (Poalim, Leumi, etc.) which I saw. As I walked out the door, the manager came and shook my hand, "I wish you an easy and painless absorption. Good luck and congratulations."
My new account in hand, I marched over to the Pelephone (cellular provider) office. I had already written down every offer and program from the three cellular service providers (Orange, Cellcom, and Pelephone) and performed a cost-benefit analysis in Microsoft Excel. Pelephone had the best deal, and I walked in there, bank account in hand, ready to order. While filling out the paperwork, the clerk looked up.
"You have an accent. Where from?"
"Aaaah. Beautiful city."
"Everyone says that."
"Yes. I've never been, but everybody told me so. So are you oleh chadash?"
He pushed aside the paperwork.
"Excellent. I have a better program for you than any of these. 38 agurot per minute anywhere in Israel. Any time of the day or night. Zero monthly fees. If you don't use it, you don't have to pay anything."
I pulled out my Pocket PC and punched the numbers in the calculator, comparing them to my Excel spreadsheet. He was right, that was by far the best deal in town.
"So why didn't they tell me about this at the Pelephone store in Pisgat Ze'ev?"
"They knew about it, but they couldn't tell you anything. There are only two authorized sellers for this program in the Jerusalem area, and I'm one of them. And I'm supposed to sell it door to door, so if anyone asks you, tell them that I knocked on your door. I am from Pisgat Ze'ev too, so it makes sense."
The semi-illegality made it all the more thrilling.
Looking down at the paperwork and beginning the purchasing process, he kept talking, "You were on that airplane with the 600 immigrants last week, weren't you?"
"Yeah, I was on the Toronto flight."
"Kol haKavod," (way to go), "It's very good that you made aliyah right now. It gives us strength. We lost 150 of our best soldiers up north, which was sad, so it's good we have olim. I made aliyah from Ukraine 15 years ago. But you speak English, you will do better. Nobody wants to hear Russian. You look like your people came from Russia, no?"
"I suppose about a hundred years ago."
We finished the paperwork and I had my phone. The Kupat Cholim (health fund, HMO) offices were closed, so I'll have to go tomorrow. But I will finally be on the apartment-hunting scene tomorrow afternoon, to check out a place in Talpiot, in central-southern Jerusalem.
And if any future or current olim out there want the name and number of the guy who gave me the great deal on the cel phone, be sure to email me!
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
BTW cousin Rafi may come in here at any second to use the computer so I have to type fast.
Well, in another hour I will have been here a week now. I wish I could say I'd gotten more on my list done, but I feel I'm doing okay.
Yesterday, I went to the Nefesh B'Nefesh center downtown and got my Teudat Zehut (Israeli identity papers), as well as my financial aid check.
My main priorities are cel phone, apartment, and bank account. I'm kina in a catch 22 (or 33 as it is.) To find an apartment, I need a cel phone. That way I can go downtown with an address in hand witout getting lost, and that way potential landlords can get a hold of me. Walking around in Israel without a cel phone is like walking around naked. People look at you with upturned eyebrows and tisk in disapproval if you can't give them an 05 (cellular) area code phone number. To get a cel phone, I need a bank account because they need somewhere from which to deduct the weekly charges, and no, they won't accept my American credit card. To get a bank account, I need an apartment, since in Israel you have to do all of your banking at one branch, and can't transfer from branch to branch, it's important to have an account next to your apartment, and since I don't know where I'll be living, I'm in a conundrum.
My buddy Moshe is coming over today so we'll see what we can figure out.
Monday, August 21, 2006
First order of business: I'm famous! Go to the following website and you can find an article about San Francisco olim, with some comments by yours truly, and my family:
Autoraph signing will be limited to appointment only.
I wanted to get started on my apartment search last night, but could not for the life of me connect to the internet from my cousin Rafi's computer. I worked for hours, plugging and unpligging connections, rebooting, but nothing worked. Then, I went to sleep, and when I woke up, I noticed an "Internet On/Off" switch had been set to off. It's sort of like having a "broken/running" switch on your car's engine. Like, why? Anwyay, back up and running now, trying to blog before Rafi gets home and has to use the computer for work.
Yesterday morning, I explored Pisgat Ze'ev and went to the new mall. I spoke with several cellular phone providers and reviewed the various packages, all in my pidgin Heberew, but I'm not sure if I understood exactly what they were telling me.
Later in the day I decided it is important to go check out the neighborhoods I've heard about, where I will be looking for an apartment. I hitched a ride downtown with cousin Galila and hiked through Kfar David, where the King David Hotel and YMCA are located. Walked on Jabotinsky street, and Emek Refaim. It looked lik a great area to live, with all sorts of things happening on the main street but nice and quiet further in the neighborhood. I then caught a bus out to Kiryat Mosheh, a National Religious (knit kippah-wearing) neighborhood. It looks nice and quiet, but based on the posters and banners hanging from everyone's balconies, it also looked to be of one mind politically. I'm leaning towards Emek Refaim, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to afford it. Rafi wants me to live out here in the Jerusalem satellite suburb/settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev with all the family (it's less expensive and cleaner too) but it's 2o minutes from the city center by bus, and it tends to be more 4-or-more child families than singles.
Today Nefesh B'Nefesh is having an aliyah fair where they will distribute my Teudat Zehut (Israeli identity card) which will allow me to open a bank account, fill out a cel phone contract, etc. Our financial aid packages will also be distributed there. Representatives from health funds, cellular phone companie, and banks, will be present so hopefully I will be able to backcheck the facts I collected at the Pisgat Ze'ev mall yesterday and see how good my understanding really was.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Friday, August 18, 2006
Israel secretly mastered atomic power forty years ago, and continues to make enormous strides in technology, from manufacturing Intel's Pentium chip to launching spy satellites, but for some reason the country has not yet discovered the concept of the insect screen. The windows here are either open or closed.
It's so incredibly hot and sweaty in Jerualem that last night I left the window open. In came the mosquitoes. Then I closed the windows, and the mosquitoes were trapped in the room with me while I tried to sleep, and I started cooking in my own heat. I would turn on the lights, hunt for half an hour and kill one, then try to sleep, only to hear the annoying buzz again as they swarmed and harmonized over my head, swooping down from time to time to steal a sip of my blood.
The combination of Jetlag, heat, and mosquitoes kept me up all night. I finally managed to kill the last one at 3:30 AM, and tried hard to sleep, but by this time I was cooking in my own heat. And I wasn't about to re-open the window. Eventually I gave in and broke a promise to myself not to take a sleeping pill. But I forced myself to wake up at 9:30 AM instead of noon like yesterday. I HAVE to get on schedule as fast as possible here. So now I'm exhausted, but I got some telework, so at least I'm busy.
This morning I talked to Leah about the mosquitoes. She said that they weren't a problem until three months ago, but the Palestinian Authority is no longer treating its sewage, which is now a mosquito breeding ground, so they all fly in from Ramallah. I suppose this has something to do with the Arabs' decision to elect Hamas and their "kill-all-the-Jews" platform, which forced the rest of the civilized world to withhold financial support, thus bankrupting public agencies.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Oh boy, have I just bitten off a HUGE piece of work for myself. From me to get to where I am; mooching off distant cousins, homeless, to where I want to be; in my own apartment, with an internet connection, cel phone, taking an ulpan, and doing my telecommuting job, is going to require my full and undivided efforts over the next several weeks.
While absorbtion will be much tougher than I thought, I do have a major head start thanks to the year and a half I spent here from 2000-2002. I woke up at noon today and had slipped into my pidjin Hebrew like an old pair of jeans. I can already miscommunicate with absolute fluency! My base at cousin Amnon and Leah's house established, I decided to make a reconnisance foray into downtown Jerusalem. I set out to find the Interior Ministry, Absorbtion Ministry, the Young Men's Hebrew Association (the YMCA of Israel, where my ulpan will be), and the Nefesh B'Nefesh main offices. Amnon and I sat down over a map and pinpointed locations based on addresses. We decided I need to take bus number 4. So off I went, with some of the money I got from the Absorbtion Ministry yesterday in my pocket, and went exploring downtown.
Now, my previous time in Israel, there were really only five places I went in Jerusalem. The central bus station, French Hill (where I am now), the Ben Yehuda mall, the Kotel (western wall) in the old city, and the suburb of Pisgat Ze'ev. Fortunately for me then, there was one bus, the number six, which could hit all of these spots. I thought I knew the city, but now that I'm trying to find government offices and other places, I'm realizing that I really don't know Jerusalem all that well.
So I took number four, and, based on my coordinates (Hillel St. and King George St.) jumped out and was on the ground. I wandered for some time looking for the address given for the Absorption Ministry, and eventually found the place. Then, I advanced on my next target, the interior ministry. I walked back and forth on the same street several times before I found an Ethiopian guard in front of a cafe and asked. He waved his metal detector towards a single door set into a limestone wall I had passed three or four times. Eureka!
Next, I decided to walk to the Kotel (western wall.) I knew the way and arrived directly. The Kotel certainly has changed! The main outdoor plaza, as before, is separated into a men's and women's section by a mechitzah (separation.) There's a tunnel adjascent to the men's section of the main plaza where one can find a continuation of the wall. It was always dank and poorly lit, full of praying chassidim and felt like a holy dungeon. Well, not any more! The municipality installed several halogen lamps shining towards the ceiling, so the stones on the archways over the ceilings look to be glowing. Better yet, the whole place has a powerful new air conditioning system. They also built an elegant women's section with separate access, so now women can see the inside of this tunnel, which they couldn't before. I caught a pickup minyan (quorum of ten Jews) for Minchah (afternoon prayers) with a couple of Yemenites, some Ashkenazi Soldiers, an American tourist, and a Moroccon Shaliach Tzibbur (prayer leader.)
The next stop was to get a map of the different bus lines so I could find my way around. I knew that, if such a thing existed, then I would be able to find it at the central bus station, so off I went. I could have taken a bus but want to conserve funds so I walked. It was only about 2 miles, and it was nice to re-familiarize myself with Jaffa street, which connects the old city to the city center. Wandered through the Ben Yehudah mall and saw a pro-Israel Christian demonstration. I ended up at the central bus station and found the information booth. I faked a heavy American accent so the clerk spoke slowly.
"I'm looking for a map of the intra-city bus lines."
"We don't have it."
"You mean you don't have it or it doesn't exist."
"It doesn't exist."
End of conversation.
I then continued wandering through the bus station until I found another information center, and this one had exactly the map I wanted, the one that doesn't exist, posted in the glass. I excitedly approached the clerk but forgot to put on my heavy American accent, and so had some trouble understanding the clerk.
"Can I get a copy of the map of the bus lines in the window there?"
"Blah blah blah for you, but blah blah blah twenty blah blah."
"Wait a minute, can I or can't I get a map of the city bus lines?"
She shot me her "conversation over" eyes.
I walked over to the map and took a digital photograph, and caught a bus back to French Hill.
I made good progress, and found two of the four locations I'm looking for, so the reconissance mission is deemed a success. Still, I'm a bit nervous about my living situation. I was only supposed to be here for a day, and I've already been here for two. I'm trying to contact my cousins Rafi and Galila, who said I could stay with them longer, and thought that I would be able to head over to their place today, but I still haven't heard from them. And I don't want to overburden the hosts I'm with now. Fortunately, I went to daven Ma'ariv (evening prayers) at the shul (synagogue) down the road here and ran into my old friend Shmuel Elitzur from my time here before, and received an invite for Shabbat, so tomorrow night is taken care of. But I'm antsy to get myself squared away, so I can start my telecommuting.
P.S. I took lots of photos, but have no way of posting them, so will send them later.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
"Where are you going?"
"What are your plans?"
"No, you've lost weight!"
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Today is the big day. I woke up a few hours earlier than planned and I'm not about to fall back asleep. I'm all packed and ready to go, not at all nervous or worried.
I suppose I'm totally free now. I gave my keys back to work on Friday and have no further obligations to show up in the office. I donated my car back to Chabad, and left the keys on Rabbi's chair, so I have no further responsibilities with insurance payments, driver's licenses, smog checks, or traffic laws. On Saturday night, I checked my mail box for the last time and slid my apartment keys through the mail slot at the front office. I have no rent to pay or apartment to maintian, no lease obligations. I have a good bit of money saved up and could go anywhere and do anything I like, and I don't even have any keys to take with me. There is no shortage of people who would love to be in my situation right now.
But from a Torah perspective, a Jew is defined not by his freedoms but by his obligations. In that sense, one might think that I'm nobody. But no matter where he is, a Jew always has his obligations to keep kosher, learn Torah, and behave properly. In that sense, Hashem always gives us a rope to hold onto, so a person is always a somebody.
As for me, right now I'm ready. I've got my foot on the starting block, I can see the track ahead of me, I know what I've got to do, and I'm waiting for the gun to fire. In the mean time, I have to go daven shacharit (morning prayers.)
See you on the other side!
Monday, August 14, 2006
I'm sitting here in Canada, getting through the day. Toronto is actually quite a thriving Jewish city. I'm here in Thornhill, where you can get kosher pizza, chinese, and burgers all within a few feet (or metres) of eachother. You can bump into visibly Jewish people in the grocery store, see kids with yarmulkes playing basketball, and hear Hebrew spoken in the street. It's a major switch from Walnut Creek, where you can't even get kosher bread, and where I did not once randomly bump into a visible (yarmulke or sheitl-wearing) Jew during my entire four and a half years there.
Like most Jewish population centers with a high standard of Torah observance, Toronto is a magnet for Israeli expatriates. Not that they are necessarily attracted to the Jewish religion, but it reminds them of home. Still, it saddens me to see all the Israeli business names, like "Halutz Cleaners." Halutz means "pioneer" in Hebrew, and is a name that many Jews gave themselves in order to erase their European or Western backgrounds and set new roots in the land of Israel. Yet, two generations later, here they are in Toronto.
Toronto is not a particularly "pretty" city, at lest the parts I've seen, but there are nice patches of wealthy suburbs here and there. It feels quite a bit like Be'er Sheva, with luxurious and scrappy places in close proximity, and endless amounts of space and land, and so no incentive to gentrify or improve the existing strip malls and empty lots. The weather is hot, rainy, and humid, rather than Be'er Sheva's hot, dry, and humid. It doesn't have the skin-deep flashiness of California, or the pumping energy of a New York City, where people really look like they're "going" somewhere. Here they just sort of meander around. Or perhaps that's just my exhaustion and jetlag kicking in. Either way, I don't think I could ever live here, it's far too blah.
So I'm spending the rest of the day here struggling to lift my jet-lagged body off the chair to sort through my things. When I checked in for my Air Canada flight they actually weighed my carry-on, and it was 44 lbs rather than the required 22 lbs, so I had to either throw away 22 lbs of DVDs and books or pay $75 to check a third bag. I chose to throw the stuff away, though I managed to later retrieve some. What a painful loss. Then I checked my email and read Nefesh B'Nefesh's message that my load limit for tomorrow's flight is 17 lbs for carryon items, so now I have to go through and throw out another 5 lbs. It hurts, but I suppose I can just buy it again when I start my new life.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Last Friday I finally closed up my life in Walnut Creek. I was up until 2 AM Friday morning throwing things out. I then collapsed and slept until 6 AM. Woke up, and continued throwing things out. I got in to work at noon, met with my boss who had come in during his vacation especially to meet with me on my new contract position and say goodbye, as well as to interview mechanical engineers, and then got out of the office. Cashed in four years worth of pocket change, closed two bank accounts, and then deposited the balance in the one American bank account I'm keeping. Then, I ran to the post office and mailed boxes and boxes of stuff I couldn't pack up to my parents. Ran to REI and picked up some shoes I had ordered, ran back to work, turned in my keys, cleaned out my office, and burned DVDs of data that I'll need to keep. Made it up to my shabbat hosts with 9 minutes to spare.
This morning, woke up restless at 4:30 AM, caught my plane and landed here in Toronto, where I'm staying with my friends Miriam and Meshullam, who moved here from Walnut Creek.
I'm reading the bad news coming from Israel in snippets. 24 soldiers killed, hundreds of rockets, civilian casualties, and, this may seem strange, I wish nothing more than to be there.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
I successfully transferred my phone over to Vonage (internet phone), but then AT&T disconnected my internet service a full two days before I had asked them to, so now I have no way of making or receiving phone calls from home. I can still receive messages, but I can only check them from a computer with an internet connection, so it may be a while until I can return phonecalls. I can still be reached at work until Friday. I can also be reached via email. Communications will be intermittent as I switch countries, but I will do my best to keep in touch with everyone. After landing I need to get up and running as soon as possible after landing so my employers don't forget about me.
I met with some of the partners and senior people here at work about how we're going to arrange things. There was a meeting where my situation was discussed, which I only heard about through the grape vine, at which there were both positive and hesitant voices as to keeping me with the company. I have been walking around the building popping into the offices of various partners to say my goodbyes, trying to probe which are the hesitant ones, then sitting down with them and outlining my telecommuting proposal to personally reassure them. Fortunately, both my supervisor and department head were in favor of giving it a try. The arrangement is that I will no longer be an employee but will be working part time on a contract (about 20 hours per week) for a trial period of 60 days. If, during this trial period I demonstrate that I can make this work, I will then be able to continue with them. Right now the company is swamped with work and inexperienced engineers, so I will be taking overflow work out of this office.
What this all means is that my postition with my employer is somewhat tenuous. It could be that they are waiting until they find someone proficient enough in what I do to replace me, or that they are going to keep me on until one of the more junior engineers reaches my level of knowledge, and then they will kiss me goodbye. It could be that they are going to hold onto me until the next recession. I don't know how long this will last, it could sixty days or five years. But the fact is, it seems unlikely that I will be growing old and gray with this company.
My attitude is.. whatever. I'll take whatever I can get. The part-time nature of the job means that I will have time to work and also to study in ulpan or yeshivah, so it can serve as a buffer, where I can still do productive work and not destroy my aliyah savings while I adsorb into Israeli society. If the job lasts longer, then maybe I can continue working part-time and go back to work on my masters degree during my spare time. Or perhaps the job will go back to full-time as they continue taking on more and more work.
I my coworker Rick and his wife Mary took me to dinner last night. We discussed the contractor's life, as he was a private engineering contractor for some time. I have friends who are freelancers, and the lifestyle doesn't appeal to me much, working 50% of the time and stressing out about finding work the other 50% of the time, so if this job doesn't work out, I will eventually end up looking for regular work in Israel, even though it might pay less.
Regardless of my worries about income, the fact is that I move out of my apartment tomorrow, fly to Toronto on Sunday, and fly to the holy land, Eretz Yisrael, on Tuesday, and I CAN'T WAIT!!
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
I'm running out of time here.
I need to finish a bunch of work up, negotiate my new contract with my employer, finish clearing out of my apartment, scan all relevant documents I will need for work, clear out my office, sell my car, and pack all of my bags over the next two and a half days. I'll need to make a trip to a food bank somewhere to get rid of my canned food. I've got a 6 quart kosher crock pot, if anyone wants a free one. I'm thinking I might need to take tomorrow morning off.
However, I'm making some serious progress.
-One suitcase is packed (I get two)
-My Vonage line is up and running, which took me three hours of working with tech support last night.
-My craigslist and ebay sales are finished.
-I have scanned many important documents to take with me.
-My kitchen is clean except for two ziplock bags of chicken for the next couple of nights in the fridge.
So it looks like I'll be working into the night.
Monday, August 07, 2006
I had a difficult night, tossing and turning. It was so bad I accidentally got my neck and arms tangled in the power cord of my alarm clock and yanked it from the wall (I sold my bed and am sleeping on the floor.) I woke up without having really slept, still jittery. Went in to work and couldn’t focus. Left work, drove around, dropped some things off at Goodwill. Went to the gym, lifted weights, ran, and, huffing and puffing, I remembered my time in Israel.
I remember when the Intifadah first broke out in 2000. It was right around Rosh Hashanah time so school was out and most of the overseas students had headed off to go touring in Europe. When the news broke on the major networks I received panicked phone calls from my fellow students from their vacation spots in France, Italy, wherever, asking me to go into their rooms, pack their bags, and put them on a shipping palate bound for New York. They weren’t even coming back to get their things. Almost none of the students returned to finish the semester. Of course, my first reaction was, “What a bunch of cowards.” But I had an even deeper sense of pity for them. It was as if something were lacking, some unfulfilled potential, a missed connection. Am I losing that connection now?
The decision is clear. I don’t want to miss my chance, to lose my connection, so I’m going without delay. And I feel more strongly about it now than I did a week ago. It pains me to see the situation in Israel today, but I’m not doing anything to help that situation by sitting here and waiting for someone else to make it all better.
Got back from my jog, washed up, came back to the office with a clear head, and checked my mail. There was an email waiting for me from the office manager.
My proposal to continue working for my company via telecommuting has been accepted! Hopefully I will, IY”H, be able to continue earning a living while re-building my connections there. So it’s full speed ahead!
Sunday, August 06, 2006
I'm not blind, and I'm certainly not the Aliyah poster child some of you (or I, for that matter) thought I was. I'm watching the news like everyone else. I'm seeing missiles slamming into buildings in Haifa, and it's pretty clear that Tel Aviv is not long in coming, G-d forbid. Hundreds of rockets are heading into Israel every day, there are massive numbers of internal refugees, and the Israeli military and leadership are physically incapable of protecting ther citizens. Diplomats are talking about cease fires and UN resolutions, but wars have a life of their own, and I have a feeling this isn't ending any time soon. The situation is quite serious and I am torn between many opinions on my options.
On the one hand, I remember life during the intifadah, seeing news reports which made life in Israel appear to be a confusing and terrifying whirlwind. But I also remember having my own two feet on the ground, realizing that, no, life goes on, and that terrorism, while frightening, is more of a vague sense of unease rather than an accute panic.
On the other hand, I want to act prudently and safely. It may be a lack of zealousness on my part, but the Torah does instruct us on not taking unneccesary risks. Of course, if everyone had taken this "path of least resistance," there wouldn't be a state of Israel to go to.
On the other other hand, a lot of my angst about making aliyah began before this situation started. How much of my gut reaction is just an attempt to avoid a massive life upheaval and the pain of separation from family and friends? Am I just shying away from confronting my own attachments?
On the other other other hand, I don't see myself being able to get married and start a family here and begin my real life. And if I am to build a life in the Holy Land, I am certain to encounter this sort of situation at some point in my life. Perhaps it's better to confront it now, while I'm single, only responsible for myself, and able to change course if necessary.
Were I to stay in the United States, I know myself well enough to know that I would immediately turn back to pining for the Land of Israel, to the point that I wouldn't be able to focus on the rest of my life. Were I to postpone temporarily, I would be in a miserable state of "neither here nor there," but I would be physically and materially well off. If I go... well, that is the great unknown.
This is definately a test, but I don't know of what kind. Perhaps it's a test of will, to see if I have what it takes to go through with this major decision. Perhaps it's a test of maturity. At what point does aliyah change from an act of mitzvah fulfillment to an act of pride? Or, more correctly, of not being able to swallow my own pride at having invested four years of working and dreaming to the point that I am not able to act prudently? Perhaps it is a test of emunah (faith.) I am deeply conflicted. I feel that I am not able to begin life as it's meant to be lived here, and yet that I am not able to lunge forward with the zealousness essential for success.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Today was Tisha B'Av. It's a 25 hour fast, with no food or water, in mourning for the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. My philosophy is that, if you're starving, you had might as well get paid for it, so I went in to work today. I spent most of the day scanning my design binders from all of my various projects I've done over the last four years. I can't fit all that weight in my suitcase, and I can't mail them now, so I figured I had better get them digitally.
In other news, I sold my bed. That was good news last night, since there's a minhag (custom) to sleep on the floor on Tisha B'Av, but now it looks like I'll be stuck on the floor for the rest of my week and a half here.
Not much else to report. Just exhausted from fasting, but glad it's over.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Now that my plans are public knowledge at work, I was able to respond to Nefesh B'Nefesh's request that I give an interview. So I spoke with a reporter by phone today. Should make an interesting article. Perhaps, "Local Crazies to Build New Lives in War Zone."
In the mean time, Operation:Trash Heap has entered its final stages. I am now starting to give away items I couldn't sell. If anybody wants some cleaning fluids, canned tomatoes, or USB cables, email me and they're yours.
For the last three weeks, we have been observing the "Three Weeks," mourning the period between the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and the destruction of the holy temple, a period during which the city was ravaged and destroyed by the Romans. One of the observances is that we avoid eating meat, so I've lost a few pounds by becoming an involuntary vegetarian. My grandfather took me out to a farewell dinner last night. Pictures below. I'll leave it to you to guess which one is me and which one is him. Notice how I seem to have inherited his right-leaning slouch.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Last night I disassembled my bike. Today I brought it to the box store and the clerk helped me select and modify some boxes. I used to have an ebay business, but it never really took off, and all I have left is the bubble wrap. So I took the last of the bubble wrap and stuffed it in to protect the bike, and shipped it off. Cost me $100 total to ship with UPS, but it's a $300 bike. I shipped it to my parents' house figuring I can reassemble it there and then I'll have some fun mountain biking. Hard to believe it costs more to ship a bike as it does to actually fly up there myself.
Then I went to the post office, mailed some other things on long-term loan back to their owners. The Philipino clerk remembered me from all fo my previous visits.
"You're still here? I thought you were going to Israel."
"Is your family there safe?"
"Seem to be. Most of them don't live up north."
I've been putting together another shipment of books for an M-Bag and was curious how expensive it is to ship 60 pounds, so the clerk punched it up on her computer.
She pointed to the screen.
Weight: 60 lb.
Parcel Post: $0.00
Surface Mail: $0.00
"You can't ship mail to Israel. It's closed."
Like, the whole country is closed.
"Mabye you can send it to one of the neighboring countries and then go and pick it up," she advised.
"The neighboring countries are the reason the mail has stopped going to Israel in the first place. I don't think they would be too happy to see me."
I'm thinking maybe I can leave the mail with friends here, and then have them ship it when the situation calms down. Whenever that might be.