Monday, July 31, 2006

Sunday, July 30, 2006


A-Minus: 2 Weeks

So what are my plans?

Don’t ask. I’ve been asked that question at least 20 times in the last week.

It’s odd because the last four years have seen me lying awake in my bed many nights hashing out some sort of plan of action. A year ago, I could have told you exactly what I was planning on doing. I knew when I wanted to land, which absorption center would absorb me, which ulpan would teach me Hebrew, at which yeshivah I would learn Torah, how I would make ends meet, and how I would hit the dating scene. But one by one, reality has blasted away my plans, and now I’m left with nothing.

It’s just difficult not knowing. The biggest factor is my job. I have no idea if they will accept my telecommuting proposal or not, which means that I don’t know if I will be able to reach some sort of financial self-sufficiency, or whether I will be in a race against the clock as I devour my savings. I’m planning on staying with some family in Jerusalem, but with the war against Lebanon appearing to be much longer-term than previously believed, and internal refugees finding shelter with relatives, I don’t want to be pushing others aside. I don’t know how long I’ll be welcome as a moocher. And who knows how badly this war will affect the economy? It is difficult to gauge my level of Hebrew while immersed in English, so I don’t know which ulpan I will need. Or if I will even need an ulpan.

I have therefore decided to “wing it.” I know that Nefesh B’Nefesh says that a successful aliyah is a planned aliyah, but I just can’t plan any further ahead than I am right now without actually being there. And so I proceed into the dark!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Word Isn't Out Yet

A-Minus: 2 Weeks, 4 Days

I'm still getting back into the swing of things after my vacation here. At the same time, I'm getting ready to leave.

I was walking down the hall and bumped into one of my semi-retired coworkers I hadn't seen for a while. His face beamed delight once he caught my eye.
"Oh, your here! Great!"
"Uh, yeah," I responded, "Good to see you too."
"I noticed you've been out of the office for a while. I thought maybe you had gone to Israel or something. I've been watching the news, it's CRAZY out there! What's that? You just went up north? What a relief!"
He clutched his chest, mimicking a near heart-attack.

Little does he know.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Giving Notice

A-Minus: 2 Weeks, 5 Days

Well now I've gone and done it.

I came in and gave notice to my supervisor. He was quite shocked. I eventually tried to explain how I'm torn between two countries.
"You picked a pretty lousy time to be doing this," he told me.
"I can understand why people would want to leave, but just imagine if you had a family member who was sick. You would want to be with that person, wouldn't you?"
After that, he seemed to get it.

Then I brought it to the partner in charge of our department. His eyes, grew round with surprize when I told him I was leaving. They grew even wider when I said I was going to Israel. He just sat there with a "Have you lost your [explitive deleted]-ing mind?" expression. I tried to explain it many different ways.
Finally, I said, "Well, you see, I feel like my career has been going very well lately, but my personal life is going nowhere," I told him, "I've wanted to get married and start a family for some time, but I'm having a lot of trouble around here. I've tried the internet, singles events, everything, and none of it seems to work. I figure that if I move over there, I'll have a better chance."
Finally he seemed to understand. Eureka!
"Yeah," he told me, "I get it. The women around here are too liberated. With us Indians, probably about half of the guys go back to India to get married. You need to find a girl who wants to stay home and take care of the kids."

I handed both of them copies of my resume and the telecommuting proposal I had written up. Their reactions were luke-warm. Once the shock wears off, they may wise up and see the logic of my proposal. Or they may simply hire someone else to replace me.

But it's out of my hands now.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mission: Accomplished

A-Minus: 2 Weeks, 6 Days

And now for some good news... I PASSED the Professional Engineering exam! I am now a licensed P.E. After three years of exams, working, and studying, it's encouraging to have something to show for myself. At this point, I have met all of the goals I set for myself upon returning to America:

- I am out of debt.
- I have a P.E. license.
- I have a modest amount of money saved with which I can return to Israel
- I have lost 45 lbs.
- I have gained experience in my profession.

With victory in hand, it's time to withdraw from the Walnut Creek theatre of operations and redeploy on my next target.

So, what is my next target? Well, for the past few months, I have been nurturing a little plan. I have noticed that, at my job, I am almost always doing design and construction work for projects outside of the area, often as far away as Missouri or Washington. I have done all of my communications via email and have never had to actually visit a job site. That means that there is no technical obstacle to my continuing to do my job from Israel as a telecommuter. All I really need is an internet connection and a phone line, and now that internet phone is commerically available, I can get a local Walnut Creek phone number but answer the phone in Israel. I spent the last few months, in my tiny amounts of free time, typing up an official proposal and a resume to remind my bosses about all the projects I'm woking on. Despite the fact that I personally know it can work, I also know that my company is very conserviative and does business the old fashioned way. Also, they may think they can find someone to replace me quickly, or the workload may be slowing down, so I would give my proposal one chance in five.

This morning I came into the office and had copies of my resume and proposal all printed up and ready to go. Then the partner in charge of the mechanical engineering group marched into my office with a big smile and an extended hand.
"I want to congratulate you on your passing the P.E. exam!" he declared pumping my hand.
I looked down at the proposal in my hand, the first line of which says, "For personal reasons I will be moving to Israel on August 13th."
I quickly flipped the proposal over as he handed me an envelope. Inside the envelope was a bonus check for $500 ($286 after taxes) for completing the P.E.
"Thanks," I said as I sat back down. It just didn't seem right to snatch up the check and immediately declare I'm leaving. But time is running short, so perhaps tomorrow is the big day.

In the mean time I'm continuing my packing, selling, and trashing. And of course, like everyone else, I'm watching the news very closely. I'd be an idiot to pretend that the Islamic world is not waging yet another major war against the Jews. At the same time, I'm not going to let it sway my decision. Aliyah, like all mitzvot (Jewish commandments,) is a commitment to persevere through the good times and the bad. Unlike most of the other American kids in my ulpan,I didn't run away from Israel when the intifadah started in 2000, and I'm not going to let the Hezbollah, The Party of God (really, The Party of Satan) determine my future. Hassan Nasrallah does not have a veto on the Jewish right to live in the land of Israel. At the same time, I will not needlessly endanger myself, so no sightseeing on the Lebanese border for the time being.

But the war is having some impact on my aliyah plans. I shipped most of my books in M-Bags, on the slow boat to Israel assuming they would be there when I arrive. Now, because Hezbollah is bombing Israel's largest seaport in Haifa, most of the new olim (immigrants) are having difficulty getting their shipments. The port is closed as the dockworkers are spending most of their time in bomb shelters, like the rest of the north. And I have another bag to send. Unfortunately, I don't really have anything else to do with it, so I will probably just have to ship it and hope it makes it. Still, it's a small sacrifice given the round-the-clock bombardment the rest of the residents of the Galillee are living through.

May Hashem send a speedy victory to the Israel Defense Forces and bring Israel's soldiers back to their families safely. And may He send Hezbollah's terrorists back to their families in very small pieces.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Back from Bellingham

A-Minus: 3 Weeks

I just returned from my final trip to visit the family up north before aliyah. I could write a thousand words, but I'll just post the pictures below instead:

Dad and Me in the Woods

Jake, our Jack Russel Terrier, enjoying his watermelon.

Me, sitting by the pool, prearing my resume.

Mom tripped over this root, breaking her ankle. Here you see me taking revenge, restoring the family honor.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Out To Lunch

I'm here up north on Vacation. I won't be able to write for a while, but I'll get back to blogging soon.

Saw a few anti-Jewish pro-Lebanese protesters downtown (the town is full of geriatric hippies.) Otherwise, just watching the televised war and relaxing.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Watching A War

Why is it that every time I move to Israel there’s a war?

I mean really, you would think they could keep it together for a month. Last time I moved there was August 2000. I got a good two and a half weeks to adjust before the Intifada started last time. Now Lebanon had to go crazy again?

Anyway, I spent yesterday’s fast working. I didn’t get hungry, but started getting dizzy towards the end of the day. I was constantly calling vendors and leaving messages, but for some reason not getting any response. The I get home and check my machine…

BEEEEP - “… Uh, Ephraim? Yeah, this is Bob from Acme Valve Corp calling you back.”

Turns out I was so punchy at work that I was giving out my home phone number for them to call me back when I left them messages. The funny part is my home message has a Hebrew greeting on it, so these guys were really thrown off.

Spent some time reading Israeli papers, watching videos of burning buildings and homes in the North, wishing I were there to help out in some way. Hang on guys, I’ll be there soon. I swung by some coworkers’ offices and had to explain what’s happening there and why.

Spent the rest of the day reading Lebanese bloggers rapidly posting and updating as Israel systematically knocked off buildings, bridges, and airports as if they were stepping on ants.

As a Jew and future Israeli citizen, I understand the need to immolate the country. If Israel doesn’t, then Israel will get it back ten times worse than it’s giving right now.

As an engineer, I see this as an unmitigated and tragic destruction. Such beautiful infrastructure is being reduced to rubble, and far worse is to come. Just wait until the ground invasion.

As a human being, I feel badly for the middle class Lebanese who were too frightened and weak to take control of their country before something like this happened. Despite the hatred many express for Israel and Jews, most of the bloggers I’m reading understand on some level that this would not be happening had Hizbullah not attacked Israel. Perhaps something good will come of this if they some day see that they have more to lose by passively standing on the sidelines as their country becomes a terrorist playground than they do by disarming Hizbullah. But the only way to demonstrate that fact is by making them lose big time now.

UPDATE 10:02 AM: Israeli Jets Blast Beirut Building Believed Housing Hezbollah Chief

Ooooooh, this is just too good to be true. Nasrallah isn't that stupid, is he?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My Brain is Burning

A-Minus: 1 Month, 3 Days

I'm just sitting here. Reading other people's blogs. Checking the news. I have work to do. Bags to pack. Things to sell. But it all seems such a waste.

Seven Israelis (Jews and Druze soldiers) died, two kidnapped. But I feel it's not right to say anything. I remember living in Israel, hearing the "go getum'" corus from America as my favorite little landmarks and my public transportation was repeatedly blown to smithereens for the glory of Allah the "merciful." But I never appreciated the gung-ho attitude I got from some of my American Jewish friends, praising every Israeli reaction to Arab violence, but when it came to actually contributing something, "What me, move there? But how would I make a living?"

So as long as I'm in America, I keep my mouth sealed shut. No talking about the disengagement, the Gaza kidnappings, the coming war in Lebanon. If you want my opinion, read my posts from 2000-2002. You can probably figure out what I think now.

In the mean time, the duct tape stays over my mouth. But only for another month.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


A-Minus: 1 Month, 4 Days

Operation Trashheap continues apace!

-I have someone coming over tonight to pick up a bunch of junk, someone else who wants one of my computers.

-Delivered three large boxes to the post office to be sent to my folks' up north.

-Packing three suitcases for my upcoming visit home to store at their place.

-And, of course, trying to continue with the rest of my life in the mean time.

There's an extra spring in my step every time I ship a box, sell a tool, or clear up a bit of floor space.

My exit comes not a moment too soon, as neighborhood I live in has been going downhill. Not that it was ever very high on the hill to begin with, but it's somewhere in the sewer now.

As rents have gone down and places remain vacant, management started renting to "Monument People," i.e., the crowd that hangs out on Monument Blvd. in downtown Concord. I.e. illegal - no, make that "undocumented" immigrants. And that includes the maintenance supervisor.

They have been congregating in the front courtyard of my neighbor nightly, engaging in rowdy gambling sessions that last till midnight or 1 AM. I would tell them to be quiet, but I don't speak Spanish. And I don't want to get shot.

A family moved upstairs from me, and I started finding crushed beer cans and burnt cigarette butts in my back yard. Not smart, considering my back yard consists of 2 foot high grass. I went up and tried to discuss the issue with them, but, you know, "No hablo Ingles." I immediately told the management and then took out a renter's insurance policy in case the complex burns down. Then, they started throwing feces into my back yard. Yes, you read that right.

After that, my next door neighbors tore out the bottom board of the fence connecting my back yard to their back yard. Then they got a dog, which is not allowed per the renter's contract, and trained the dog to crawl under the hole they made in the fence and "make" in my back yard.

That's not to mention the three automobile breakins, leaky sinks, ajar doors, flee infestations, broken heater, and peeling paint. No, I will definately not be missing this place.

Monday, July 10, 2006

My Two Worlds

A-Minus: 1 Month, 5 Days

It's difficult pretending not to care. Partners and project managers zip by my office with faxes. New engineers pop their heads in with questions. Office Services delivers boxes, Information Services installs patches on my computer, my supervisor reviews my timecard, and all the while nobody here has even heard of Gilad Shalit.

I'm checking headlines every few hours, hoping we'll get him back. I go to shul.
"Heard we got twenty bad guys last night," Pinchas tells me.
"Yeah, and they hit one of the bomb factories," I add.
We're both middle east news junkies.

But then we both go back to America, where nobody cares. And I'm getting tired of the double-life.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Camp BBQ

The barbecues continue! Been making the most out of July. This is my third barbecue in the last month. This time, it was for the Camp Gan Israel kids, and a bunch of us Chabad regulars heard that there would be burgers so we just happened to show up.

Flame broiled.

Art Zeidman, can't help being gabbai.

I decided to go low-carb.

The kinderlach at camp.

Their adoring parents.

Cousin Joe on his recumbant bicycle.

Pinchas (Paul) with Planet Israel (Ephraim)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Summary of Progress

Making progress, moving forward.

1. Finally got my 2nd computer up and running last night. It's almost ready for me to sell. Meanwhile, people keep buying my junk from what they see on Craigslist and my Website.
2. Took down my old word processor (it's basically a glorified typewriter with a monitor and memory.) Pulled up some old files that were in its memory from my high school years. My writing has certainly improved. I'll need to print those out so I can save them before I erase the thing.
3. Going through all my old records (car, medical, tax, etc.) trying to figure out what to get rid of and what to scan. Can't get rid of that old shredder just yet.
4. Got my 3rd computer up and running and ready to sell.
5. Set up boxes for shipment. Some boxes go to my folks' house up north, some directly to Israel.
6. Loaded up the car with stuff to bring by goodwill. I thought about salvation army, but I don't know if there's a problem giving to an organization which encourages proselytizing. Not that I have a problem with them, it's just a halachic (Jewish law) question I'm too lazy to ask.

And that's not to mention my having to do the usual stuff. You know, do the laundry, make dinner, clean the house, and all the other things necessary to maintain the facade of being a fully functional member of society.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Visa Issue Settled

I finally got my passport back from the Israeli consulate today, for the second time. Now, they have at last spelled my name correctly. I am Ephraim Aryeh again.  And so at last, all is right with the world. Or at least my paperwork.

In the mean time, I'm still waiting to actually receive my grant from Nefesh B'Nefesh. Emailed them and they said I might not get it until I'm actually on the other side of the pond. Ah, well, I've got plenty of other things to take care of for now.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Independence Day!

I will be spending my independence day off... working! Actually, I woke up at 5:30 AM, instead of my usual 6:30 AM, so I just got up, did the morning thing, davenned, and came straight to work at 7AM. I'm trying to make up 8 hours that I lost during my Southern California Adventure, so I decided to work 8 hours extra this week. Worked 1-1/2 hours extra yesterday, so if I work 6-1/2 hours today, that makes 8 hours. So I can be out of here at 1:30 and still have the rest of the day free.

Anyway, the Craigslist ads and website sales are doing quite well. Sold my media cabinet last night. That's the last of the major furniture except the bed and dresser, but I'm keeping those until the last couple of weeks while I'm using them.

I've had some debate with myself as to how to move my oil paintings. I've got four of them, about three feet by four feet. That's HUGE, and I can't trust the post office to handle them. They also happen to be worth thousands of dollars (one of of the perks of having an artist for a grandmother.) I finally decided to just take them off the canvas, roll them up, and stick them in a mailing tube. Yeah, it's not the best solution, but any other method is going to cost an arm and a leg, and I need my arms and legs for other things. So I've spent my last two nights picking the staples out of the canvas, ever so careful not to damage the canvas itself. I'm still a bit nervous about damaging the paint by rolling up the canvas, but I've talked to a professional (my friend Miriam in Toronto) and she says that there is no problem rolling them. So it's on her head if they are damaged. And that's enough to keep me busy from 1:30 today till bed time.

Monday, July 03, 2006


A-Minus: 1 Month, 1 Week, 5 Days

By far the most frustrating issue surrounding my upcoming aliyah is neither the endless reams of paperwork nor the bottomless pit of boxes to pack. It’s the constant discouragement I’ve received from friends and relatives, the very people I trust and respect. I first encountered the characteristic distaste many Israelis have for their country during my year and a half living there, many of whom made it crystal clear that they would like nothing better than to get out of the country as soon as possible. I slowly came to understand that this self-abasement was partially a consequence of the hardships of life in Israel coupled with post-Zionism’s value-free emptiness. But the attitude is also a disingenuous pessimism imported from the slums of eastern Europe hardened with a soldier’s toughness. Most Israelis moan endlessly about the good life they could be living in America, but they stay.

"You’re crazy for living here. What's wrong with you?" they would ask me.
"Well, you live here too."
"Yeah, but I don’t have a choice. I was born here."
"You’re forty seven. How many chances do you need to get out?"
"What?," they would ask in mock offence, "Are you calling me crazy?"

Of course, Israelis are still Israelis even in America, so I began hearing the same sort of talk from expatriates the minute I landed in Walnut Creek. "You’ll find a girl, settle down, and forget about Israel," or, "When you were there before, it was just a honeymoon, you won’t last a year after you move back." Over the last few years, one by one, they’ve learned to live with my "insanity."

But I couldn’t imagine that the fulfillment of the commandment to live in the land of Israel could generate such resistance from my own religious leaders here in America. When mentioning my aliyah intentions to my rabbis here, I’ve often received the same repetitive Yiddish refrain, "Mann tracht und gott lacht!" A man plans, and God laughs. In other words, don’t get your hopes up, you’ll probably fail. Imagine if a local Jew came to them announcing his intention to keep kosher, only to be brushed off with the same brusque terseness, "Ha ha, yeah right, I’ll believe it when I see it."

And they’re not the only ones. Now it’s my relatives in Israel too. "Why are you coming here? The government is just going to kick you out of your house like they did in Gush Katif," one cousin warns me, bringing up the bitter memory of the destruction of the Jewish community of Gaza last year. "You know," a friend tells me, "the mitzvah of living in the land of Israel is not obligatory. I mean, it’s good to do, but you’ve got a whole life here in America. You shouldn’t give that all up for some fantasy of a future."

Over time, I’ve come to forgive their resistance as a sort of defense mechanism, not for me but for themselves. There’s a fear behind their words that I’ll come back as a jaded realist. That if they were somehow involved in sowing great expectations in my mind, then it will cost them our friendship when reality causes those dreams to whither and die. But they can rest at ease, because there may be some truth in the Yiddish that Man plans and God laughs, but it’s important to remember the Aramaic expression that God helps every man on his way. That whatever goal a person strives for in life, God provides opportunities to accomplish it. And as I tape up the last box of books for shipping, I know God is on my side. So who’s laughing now, eh?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

2nd of July BBQ

Went to a barbecue with my old college friend Mike Karatov, who happens to live about ten minutes from me. The 4th of July falls on a Tuesday this year, so we had to improvise on the date.

My stomach seems to have expanded drastically after six hamburgers.

Sarah and Mike