Thursday, 17 December 2015

It's Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Flissmas!

And then suddenly, out of left-field, it became - DECEMBER. And, my favouritest ever festival - Chanuka, the festival of lights, which is when we eat these bad boys:

Israelis BAKE. It's why Westerners who move here get fat.
This time last year, everything was very, very different. I hadn't yet moved to Tel Aviv; hadn't started work and my entire life was about to massively change - new city, new career, new people, etc. Last year everything was so exciting (and non-Christmassy, because it's not really a thing here to my dismay) that I even forgot my own birthday ('Flissmas') was happening.

This year, I feel like I  received  everything I could ever want or need - the stable set up, with two added kitties (here they are, btw). I've basically transplanted my life from London to RG, continuing from where I left off, just in different surroundings and another language.
2015 was the year where I:
Tigger and Meshugana
It was also the year of filling in the gaps and the 'dead space' - a term I picked up (and hijacked) back at GCSE art, when I couldn't be arsed to paint anymore. It's where missed opportunities, laziness and apathy meet and conspire to keep you from doing anything productive. It's coming home from work at 5.30pm and slumping on the couch, not realising how it suddenly gets to 11pm and wondering what's happened; it's staying in at weekends, then becoming irritated that you didn't do anything - ANYTHING; it's not wanting to take on challenges, or improve yourself in some way, because, meh, you're alright as a person, I guess; it's watching your once toned and muscular body...drop, and feeling yourself wheezing up a few flights of stairs, and...well, we don't need to talk about it.

Ever since two months ago, when I accidentally broke that stupid area connecting the thumb/wrist/hand, I have been guilty of all of the above, although I had an excuse - that bloody cast weighed about a kilo, and it was nigh on impossible to actually do anything useful while schlepping it around (although the constant weight on one arm did act as a fun little hand weight, and I ended up losing a few lbs, so that was nice).

So I decided, while I was sitting there, that 2016 will be the year of change and improvement I feel that I've kind of exhausted the young and fun list. So, in 2016, I'll be focusing on growing AS A PERSON and being an adult.
Who needs food when you can feast on Tel Aviv's view from Jaffa?

Which honestly, is kind of overdue. Yeah, I moved countries by myself, and cities and blablabla, but these past few months have literally been the first time I've regularly had food in the fridge (and the freezer too, and the cupboards) and also had to go food shopping more than like every 6 weeks or so.

To that end, I've also started... exercising! Those of you who know me personally must have expected something completely NOT that at the end of that sentence (something along the lines of 'eating more biscuits', or fostering more animals').

The reason? It's time. As I'm nearer to 30 than 20 now (STILL NO GREY HAIRS OR WRINKLES, and still getting ID'd. So that's nice), I can see changes. I used to be able to eat pizza at 2am, like 4 nights a week, every week, and I wouldn't put on weight. Now...well, let's just say, even attempting that stuff -  it ain't pretty. Hell, I don't even think I can stay awake til 2am to do that in the first place.

This thing I'm doing is a horrible little 20 minutes everyday circuit-training jobby, called the 30 Day Shred. (Post to come on completion :D).

Otherwise, in 2016, I shall be:

  • Trying to be more healthy - exercising (regularly...ish) and stuff,
  • Making more of an effort to keep in touch with people (because I know I'm crap...),
  • Making time to spend with positive, fun influences, most likely while drinking hot beverages,
  • Cutting  out negative people (because they drag you down slowly and painfully),
  • Building on the existing stability I've managed to gather so far, 
  • Making the most of my weekends (because you don't live to work, right?)
And so on. Merry Flissmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Roll on, 2016.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

On Intifadas and a cast of thousands

Oy. Veys. Meer (There's no exact translation for this - look it up).

What may or may not be the long-expected Third Intifada is in full swing in Israel. At the same time, I managed to do my wrist in and was stuck in a cast for a month. But more on that later.

I always had a feeling I'd be here when (more) shit kicked off. After moving to Israel last summer, when the sirens were blaring and rockets were bloody everywhere (6am on a Saturday morning? Fuck you double, Hamas), there's always one more thing to adapt to in Israel. Yes, it is a bit terrifying, and I now have to wear a backpack (to prevent being stabbed from behind) when going outside, and really remain focused on my surroundings any time I step outside, but surely this will all die down once the world can see what's happening...

...Because it simply has to eventually. You know, back in England, I would do my very best to ignore virtually any discussion about Israel and remain apolitical in public, because people so often got it wrong. Non-Jews and Jews alike would utter the most horrendous, ill-informed and often outright ridiculous things, to me or in my presence. But more than that - there was just no point in wasting my breath in convincing them otherwise. It was like telling a smoker that it's a bad habit - would the smoker in question react and decide to quit, right there and then, because someone had told them the truth? Nope - because, with both addiction and long-held beliefs, it's really rather difficult to change peoples' attitudes.

You know, for starters, here's a tidbit of information that most people outside of Israel are clueless about: not all Arabs are Muslim; not all Muslims are Arab; not all Palestinians are Muslim; not all Israelis are Jews; not all Jews are Israelis. These are all incredibly important distinctions to make, and they often get massively conflated and/or oversimplified by people who try and put their ill-informed two cents in to the discussion, when they really shouldn't.

When I began my teaching carEer, having just moved back from Israel (what a culture shock that was, let me tell you) - a lot of the staff - yes, staff - the people educating children - had never met a Jew before. The pupils, living very near a charedi enclave in London, couldn't understand why I didn't look like the ones they'd seen before. One particularly enlightened soul on the staff (who actually happened to be very out and proud, and would spit histrionic feathers if anyone even used the 'g' word in any intangible way anywhere around the school), after forcing me to publicly declare that I wouldn't be partaking in a teacher's strike (I don't even think my union was striking, for the record) denounced me, frothing at the mouth, 'If you don't strike, you'll bring another Holocaust onto your people'. That's an actual quote. He wouldn't take it back (the prick), and the Head refused to discipline him. And none of this was out of the ordinary in my two years there. Here's the link to the article I wrote the second I left. And it doesn't even cover everything.

That's just one of the myriad of examples of antisemitism I've grown up alongside. In that one school alone, I'd get attacked by everyone and anyone - the kids (physical violence) and the staff ('nuff said above). And I remained polite, only ever fighting back when things got very, VERY bad (my job was on the line, and it really served no purpose, anyway, because the school, right up to the idiotic headteacher, were overwhelmingly ignorant, bar a couple of people, of  'Israelites', as she called me), usually refusing to engage in arguments or correct their frankly idiotic claims. My very first trip to Israel took place during the horrific and distressing Gaza pullout of 2005; I was later living there during the Mavi Marmara incident, and permanently made the move to Israel during the sirens and rockets last year, so I think I've got a bit of grounding and might know a bit of what I'm talking about more than someone who hasn't seen any of it with their own eyes, or even been to Israel/the West Bank/Gaza, for that matter.

Anyway. For years, I would sit and simmer and stew in my own growing rage at the idiocy and bias of it all: of the media (the BBC are particularly hateful, to my British dismay. After a Palestinian stabbed and murdered two men walking through the Old City, severely injuring the wife of one and also stabbing their two year old kid (!!!), the BBC's headline ran: 'Palestinian shot by police; two Israelis dead'. What the actual fuck? And this is just ONE incident of media bias - just look at this. There are hundreds if not thousands more examples), of the twisting of the truth (Palestinian and Arab news agencies fluctuate between promoting videos of the best way to kill Jews, celebrating terrorists as heroes <just as they did on 9/11 and have done ever since, with disgusting regularity> and denying the attacks <or 'actions', as they call them, distancing themselves from culpability, as if changing the language of it changes the fact that they've just murdered an innocent person> ever happened, and broadcasting as news that Israel kill 'innocent' Palestinians, and plant knives on them to pretend there was a stabbing attack. Which never really explains the seriously wounded person bleeding out right over there>, before posting vile videos, like this one, or faking Israeli aggression and brutality, which again is nothing new at all, as seen here, or just being open and baying for Jewish blood, like here,) and more and more...unfortunately, I could go on forever.

The point is, I would internally rage and question how none of these charmers I seemed to encounter everywhere could understand or were willing to see even a shred of the truth. Noone is perfect in this situation, and I'm not pretending Israel is either. Of course it's not. But especially when there are such clear parallels between, for example, the disgusting and public murder of Lee Rigby on a London street, and what's happening virtually every day here in Israel, the world's silence is deafening. It astounds me that, especially after the world remained silent during the Holocaust, there is still a different rule for Jews. Especially now we're self-determining. Damn straight.

Well, you get the picture. Now, however, that I'm in Israel, I'm surrounded by a country who understands and encounters the same situations, even if their reactions to these aren't always aligned with mine. I actually feel better here, oddly enough - yes, attacks happen way more frequently (average 3x per day), but they're put down quicker. Terrorism is recognised for what is is, and everyone is used to living on a high state of alert, which is much more than can be said for London. For all those lefty liberals, all those apologists and more - just wait, this wave is coming your way too. And, when it does, I'll be expecting the exact same shameful treatment and excuses which you'd previously directed at Israel ('But they're settlers', 'It's not terrorism, it's resistance', 'They had it coming to them') applied to your country when it happens. And it looks like it will be very soon indeed. Please don't think I'm referring here to the refugee crisis (another despicable story which really should have been handled better), but those home-grown citizens you've been excusing who are just biding their time, or the young 'uns I used to see radicalised before my eyes, and who that same stupid Head refused to report, or those who are clearly being open about their intentions towards any 'infidels' - and it's a very loose and inclusive definition, let me tell you, that essentially comes down to - if you're not with us, you're against us, and even if you're with us, it's only for a matter of time. Just look at Jihadi John.

That's another point - has noone ever considered that, with the Syrian refugees, Arab countries could have done more to help their brothers and sisters? Saudi Arabia has 3 million air conditioned tents, just sitting empty, and yet they won't take any refugees. How about the others? All that oil, that shared language and culture, and not one refugee allowed across any Muslim state? I'm not surprised - they haven't helped the Palestinians out either. In fact, it seems that Palestinians are pretty hated by the Arab states.

Please don't think this is my attempt to solve the current Intifada - have you noticed I've not offered any solutions? Because it's such a fucked up, complex and deep-rooted conflict, powered in part by intangible extras such as social media, historical prejudices and religion, meaning that I have no idea, or too many ideas, none of which would establish a long lasting resolution. No - my point is this: if you don't know your shit, you can't possibly comment, try as you might.

Long story short. After seeing yet another round of vitriol from people back in Blighty (again, Jews and non-Jews, if that matters to you), I decided to call it like I sees it for the first time in my life, spurting the news of new stabbing attacks, inciting videos and more as it came in all over my Facebook page, just to convey the sense of how all-pervading it is.

I'm not ashamed. Israel is my homeland. I waited long enough to be here, took more than my fair share of disgusting antisemitic abuse to get here, from all across the spectrum, and I firmly believe that if you know fuck all about a situation, haven't been in the place you're assuming all knowledge of, can't even tell the difference between a Jew and Israeli, or a Palestinian, an Arab Israeli, a Bedouin, a Circassian (or didn't know any of those people existed) and god knows what else, you better keep your goddamn mouth shut.

Anyway. In personal news.

Since making aliya over a year ago, I've had the pleasure of enjoying Israel's wonderful medical system. I've been on antibiotics eight times; had three trips to the emergency room (for a dog bite, an interesting bronchitis/laryngitis combo and my latest incident); one operation; two ultrasounds; five sets of blood tests; a visit to an orthopede (orthopedian? Orthopedician? Orthopediatrician? Orthopeatrist?? I swear I've never known this word in English) and other stuff.

Perhaps, as has just occurred to me, it could be the decades of rage spilling out from within, now it's got a release, which has caused me to fall ill time and time again. Or, having spoken to other olim, it would seem that it takes time getting used to all the germs et al in this here land. After the hives (pictured) and random heavy and unexpected nosebleeds, it seems there might have been an allergic reaction to...something, not to mention several tops ruined.

I had a bit of a silly accident on my bike, going flying headfirst onto a downhill slope.  At first, I just thought there were a few bloody bruises and nasty cuts (knees, chin, hands, elbow...), but then I feel a stinging pain emanating from my wrist. It was pretty tender, but then again, I had just body-smashed a pavement. 

After a few hours and some swelling, I thought it was maybe best to get it checked out at the emergency centre. Terem is amazing, as is most of the healthcare in Israel. It operates smoothly, with a bit of a wait (not like A&E's 8-hour whoppers!), with dedicated specialists for everything under the sun. I am always so impressed whenever I (unfortunately) have the pleasure of ending up there.

Following the X-rays and meeting with the hand-specialist, I was sent to get wrapped up. 
You know, I really think this is a case of 'be careful what you wish for' - even if it is 15 years later. Throughout secondary school, I would have done anything to have been in a cast - it would mean leaving class and school early to avoid stampedes, and getting out of PE, with added opportunities for random attacks of imagined pain which I could then excuse myself for. 

Casts are so uncomfortable and HEAVY. Try any of the following activities, using just one hand: 
  • Sleeping normally
  • washing your hands
  • getting dressed - including doing buttons, hooks and zips, 
  • trying to close a wallet, 
  • showering and washing your hair 
  • washing up 
and that's just a very basic list.

Now, thankfully de-casted, having got all that Intifada stuff off my chest, I've had a series of thoughts:

Be careful what you wish for, don;t take anyone or anything for granted, and, perhaps most importantly - be safe, because anything can and will change in an instant. And it's often beyond your control.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Closing the circle - the Ramat Gan chapter

Well, well, well.

I always knew there would be a day when the excitement and newness of aliya would wear off. Typically, it's the point where most people return home, once they realise it's not the fun non-stop action adventure they had anticipated.

Oh hi!
I have gone to the other extreme. While others return to their countries of origin (for several different reasons which are sometimes valid, such as not earning enough money/fear over security and constant existential threats/simply having made aliya for the wrong reasons), I have moved to the suburbs with my two cats. Yes, I'm up to two now, and they seem to be getting along very well.

I think this is the point where I realise that I have actually made my life here, just as I did back in London.  It's a scary and humbling thought.Not to mention - today I received my Israeli passport, so now I'm an official, card-carrying Israeli citizen.

The 'burb of Ramat Gan is a lovely place to live, but it ain't no Tel Aviv. It has everything you would ever need to raise a family - there's a bramch of my kupat cholim (health insurance branch) and bank, there's a nice high street etc - but not much in the way of nightlife. It's sort of like Stanmore in a heatwave. Even the mosquitoes prefer the hedonism and 24-hour life of Tel Aviv - the only time I've been bitten in these past few weeks was while I was at work.

 As I've mentioned before, moving is not fun in this here country. The entire process can take MONTHS - and this is just for renting a place!

A quick reminder of the order of events; when moving rented places, you have to:
  • Advertise/find someone to take over your room, 
  • Take yourself off the electricity and council tax bill by visiting the iriya (local council), and if you're moving to another city, visiting that city's iriya too, 
  • Make sure the tenant taking over has put themselves on the bills of the place that you're vacating,and nag them (for a long time until you get confirmation).
  • Move all your stuff. Sell your stuff. Get rid of your stuff. There's a lot of stuff.
  • Go to the Misrad Hapnim (Interior Ministry), wait in line for hours just to get your address changed or whatever.
  • Contact all your banks/kupat cholim/everyone and anyone who needs to know to say you've changed your address.
But this is fun!
It ain't fun.

Take my two attempts to change my address at the Misrad Hapnim. I've made trips to both the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv branches in the past - Israel's two biggest cities - and lived to tell the tale.

So up I rock to the Misrad Hapnim, Ramat Gan, at 7.10am, not expecting anything like the 3+ hour waiting time horrors of Jeru or TLV. Feeling smug that I'm the first one in line for when they open the doors at 8am, I'm told by a group of Russians that they are the first - all 11 of them, who arrived at 6am, and started a list.

So we all wait outside, as the crowd gathers on one of the hottest days of the year. It's already 30 degrees outside by this point and everyone is on top of each other.

The first time, I waited an hour and a half just to be seen and told I had the wrong documents and could neither change my address, nor apply for my passport. Off I stomped to work, which (now two hours late) was all downhill, so that was nice.

The second time was better. I managed to get everything done within an hour, but still got shouted at and told to return in ten days, do the whole stupid queuing system again, just to pickup a document. Grrrrr.
The Tiggeroo (half tiger, half kangaroo)

These bureaucratic pains in the arse aside, it's almost surreal to think that, at the same time I'm feathering my new home and worrying over connecting a bathroom sink pipe correctly, surrounded by grunge and water (DON'T ASK), there are other, awful things which concern me and my countrymen.

A 16 year old was murdered by a Chareidi while marching at Jerusalem's gay pride parade. A Palestinian baby and his family are killed and injured by religious extremists firebombing their house. A woman suffers first and second degree burns after a molotov cocktail is thrown at her car while she is driving, only because she was Jewish. A man is openly stabbed at a motorway petrol station, and Israeli soldiers are purposefully run over by a Palestinian driver. Iran has got away with bloody murder - in plain view of the world's watching eyes - while plotting to ensure my country's destruction.

And here I am, fretting about my sofa's pillows, or whether or not I can fit all my new crockery into my new kitchen's cupboards.

This is, I think, the dichotomy of living here. It's not a war zone, but we are all on alert, all of the time. You can get called up to reserve military service at any minute just from a phone call telling you to go. Everything can change in an instant, by any number of means. Better to be prepared though, than not at all (like some countries I know).

'Light relief': Tigger poos into the dustpan for some reason
Last Friday night, the rocket alarm system around Ramat Gan was broken. so the alarm rang continuously for 2 hours. Other than not liking the sound at all, that kind of thing does something to the nerves, especially after the war last summer.

But, despite all of this whingeing, I am really happy, if a bit bored (which is what I always wanted, so I guess I can't complain). I have my two beautiful kitties (just look at how beautiful they are!), a lovely flat and more.  I'm very lucky to have got to where I've got to.

But still. Would it kill my mates to come visit the 'Gan in a while?

Oh, and The Israeli Daily is now The Mideast Beast. Go stop by for some fab satire - because if you can't laugh...

Monday, 13 July 2015

One year on...

Well here I am, one year on. It's my official aliyaversary - as of today, I've been here a year! And what better way to celebrate than with my take on the nonevent recent Gaza 'flotilla'?

I remember how I felt at this point last year, sitting in my parents' kitchen and drafting the post that would become 'All Loose Ends Tied'. I was feeling so excited, and terrified, and certain, but also sad at what I'd be leaving behind, my friends, my dogs, my cat and more. I did with sorting out these hangers.

It was difficult, making aliya, not to mention making aliya in the middle of a war. Yet here I am, on the other side having battled and won against hitherto unknown entities, like the Misrad Hapnim (Interior Ministry), Iriya (local council), the Doar (the Post Office) and the Misrad Harishui (Licensing Ministry) - and got through it intact.

 I've managed to settle myself down not once, not twice, but soon to be three times - in three different cities. I've fended for myself and battled my way to the top when the circumstances (and some people, let's face it) have tried to prevent me or take advantage of me.

Tigger the kitty
Meshugana the beautiful
I'm the happiest I've ever been - finally, I feel that that hole I had always felt, but not really understood back in England has been filled! - and have everything I never thought possible. I really did it, and made it - I live my life partially in another language, in the one place I've always felt was the dearest to my heart, if not the most comfortable or easy of places. I've met some wonderful people, alongside the bad, and even picked up not one, but two kitties - Meshugana and Tigger, one of my foster babies who we've decided to keep.

Yes, life can be scary here - I still run whenever I hear alarms, thanks to the azakot of last summer - al-Nusra is knocking on the northern border, while ISIS await in the south, with Hezbollah and Hamas, and a million other lunatics besides surround us - but which country can't say the same of such an insidious threat? At least here we all know where we stand.

Going back to my old self one year ago, sitting in my parent's kitchen, waiting for Daisy, Imran and Shane to bring the pizza over, I wonder, if my present, one-year-older-self walked in and sat down, and told Past Fliss all about the horrors of the ulpan (which come to think of it now, boils down to a bad group of people, disgusting living conditions and boredom), the mysterious machinations of the Doar, what would be awaiting her with Sigal, or about the amounts of cats that she would see die (sometimes while holding them), would she still want to get on that plane (which would end up circling over Ben Gurion airport for quite some time, due to rocket fire) and change her life forever? Would she go for it?

Past Fliss would laugh nervously but still do it. Present Fliss would not only do it all again ten times over, but do it even better, just to feel a piece of what I feel now.

It takes a lot of balls, guts and more to want to change your life, and even more to change yourself as a person. Moving to Israel, I've done both, and in such a short space of time.

Because I am a different person, and July 13th will always be one of the most important days in my personal calendar, more so than my birthday. It's the day that I finally became who I am, and getting nearer to who I always wanted to be.

Yes, my hair doesn't remember how to be straight or flat; I've developed a disgusting habit of talking with my mouth full of food; right now I'm stressed off my face, which incidentally is covered in insect bites. I went to two iriyot (local councils) back to back last week, when I also had a massive and last minute work project. Two of the cats I was fostering needed urgent and very expensive vet treatments, and went to a new home to recover and be nurtured, as I work long hours and didn't have the time to look after them properly. On top of all that, I'm moving, which is a whole other subject in itself.

But it's still all worth it, just to be here, and be doing what I'm doing, with the people (and cats) I'm doing it with. Had I stayed in London one more year, it wouldn't have been...pretty. In fact, it would have been pretty damn awful.

Happy one year aliyaversary to me. And here's to many, many more!

...many, many more with this naughty kitty, at any rate.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Packages and Moves

First, let's take a moment to commemorate the first yarzheit (memorial) of one of my favourite living things ever in the whole wide world, my Black Beauty - Benjy the dog, who very suddenly died this time last year,  after being hit by a car.

I still think about him a lot. He was the best (if naughtiest) dawg you could ever wish for, and in this last year I've learned that it's true what they say - the pain you feel may get easier with time, but it will never fade completely.

Boots and Tigger nap together
Talking of beloved stuff and thangs, as most of you know, I have a certain predilection (in lieu of my doggies) for kittens, cats and fluffy animals. As such, I made a (not entirely thought through) decision to foster two little kittens a couple of weeks ago. They were brought into the Tel Aviv animal shelter, having been abandoned by their mother(s) on the street. I'm volunteering with a little grassroots rescue centre, which rescues street kittens, provides them with love and care and gives them to good homes for adoption.

They like to sit in, ahem, odd places
Snuggle time!
Little Tigger and Boots (as they have come to be called) are the sweetest little fluffballs anyone could wish for. I didn't initially fully think through the implications of having two little kittens with my country-wide schlepping schedule, but it has worked out surprisingly well.

They've already been schlepped around the country - first to Jerusalem, then on to Maale Adumim - toilet trained and socialised. in fact, they may even have become a little TOO socialised - people everywhere, seeing two tiny little kitties have to come up and talk to us - bus drivers, passengers, etc, and they simply must - must -  sleep on me at night. Not next to me (although, sometimes, it is amazing to see how a tiny little cat, the size of a hand, can take up a whole side of a double bed) - on me. And, if I don't snuggle little Boots properly, he will let me know about it, until I manage to get him snuggled properly.

Additionally, having seen Meshugana growing increasingly crazy (we've just had her neutered, which should solve part of the problem), we've decided to adopt her a little brother.

But first. because everything has been pretty boring lately (yes, really), let me relay to you one of the fundamental issues of this country - bureaucracy on acid.

A couple of months ago, I ordered some clothes from a UK shop which delivers to Israel. The past few times I've done it, the packages have arrived two weeks later with no issues.

This time, however, something went wrong. Having waited a month to get my stuff, I began making weekly trips to the Post Office, trying to locate where my stuff might be. I could see from the online tracking that it had reached Tel Aviv, but beyond that its whereabouts were unknown.

My weekly visits turned into thrice-weekly visits. I got to know all (and yes, I mean ALL) the women in the PO, and they got to know me. It turned out that my package was in a locally known hell-hole known as meches - Customs.

Meches had stolen my package and hoarded it for themselves. For 6 bloody weeks. Once we located the package, one of my new besties at the PO faxed them, called them - all to no avail, I was told I would have to go down there myself.

I did so the next day. Long story short, a quick ride to south Tel Aviv, 6 different people, a half hour and three phonecalls later, it turned out the package had been sent back to my local PO that very morning.

Ironically, and after all that balagan, I didn't even like what I had ordered, and sent it back the very same day I received it. Meh.

Eurgh.  But never fear. Onto the one exciting (in many senses of the word) thing to occur in my life - I will shortly be moving, yet again.

It's not out of whim, or sudden choice, or anything remotely frivolous. I'll be moving from my amazing place in central Tel Aviv, to slightly less exciting (but still pretty cool, and very nice) Ramat Gan, a 'burb of TA. I'll be living in a nice flat, with not one but TWO cats!  

Sounds fun, but I have to make sure everything is tied up when I leave my room, and sorted for my move at the same time. It's a teensy bit stressful to say the least.
Meshugana: Bored (pictured)

I have to:
  • ensure my bills (heating, electricity, council tax, internet, rent) are transferred to the new tenant,
  • register my new address at another local hellhole - the Misrad Hapnim (Interior Ministry)
  • register my new council tax liability a the City Hall
  • buy a crapload of furniture

You know, in addition to packing and moving and decorating and stuff...

I'm so excited! In a stressed, this-is-the-only-thing-happening-in-my-life-right-now kind of way!

It's been almost a year to the day since I made aliya, and I feel it's poignant that I left England in my own, cosy flat with Corny...and that 1 year to the day, I'll be in a cosy flat with Meshugana and baby kitty.

It's almost like I'm coming round full circle - spiral? Because there's an additional cat? - but all I know is, I couldn't be any happier.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Driven round the bend, Israeli-style

And I've just realized I've been here now for 10 months. Blimey! 
The time has really flown most respects. There are some times and places in Israeli society - Yom Kippur and government offices, namely - in which you can literally feel yourself growing old and slowly dying. The Misrad HaRishui (Licensing Ministry), a title which my non sabra-native tongue just can't make its way around, is one of these such places. 
I mentioned last post that I had passed my driving test in Israel, successfully converting my UK license to an Israeli one. What I didn't mention was the time frame and cost incurred in order to do this. 
Ain't that the truth
Have a gander at this here box; it explains (non dynamically, due to copy/paste) the different steps needed to convert a license: 
And no, it's not a joke.
That's 9 steps - 9. Fricking. Steps!!
Let me take you through each stage, with a little bit of Flisstory (Fliss-history) attached: 

1. Eye exam. 
Date I did it: August 2014
Location: Jerusalem
Cost: 50 NIS.
I first found the one of two (!!!) places in the whole of the sprawl that is Jerusalem which is licensed to do the (allegedly) ultra-specific eye exam. It took all of 3 minutes, consisting of a bored, questionably qualified girl (who sat on her phone throughout) pretending to listen as I read a chart.
2. Declaration of Health
Date: August 2014
Location: Jerusalem
Cost: Free. 
I actually cheated a little bit here; I thought that by attending a Nefesh B Nefesh (lit: Soul to Soul, an agency helping Anglos with pre and post-Aliya) Anglo-olim event, I'd manage to skip pretty much every other step. 
But nope. They actually created a lot more steps for me.
Long, long (like 3-4 months) story short, I had my form - 'tofes yarok' (lit. green form) sent off for special assessment by a panel based in Holon. I would get a ruling as to whether or not I could drive in 4 weeks. 
3. Visit a physician
Date: later that day
Location: Jerusalem
Cost: 100 NIS
And then, I went to my doctor. I whined and complained that this was getting ridiculous and I just wanted to do my bloody test while I still had relative amounts of free time. 
He wrote a strongly worded letter to the panel in Holon, but to no avail.
My doctor signed a form saying I was healthy and able-bodied, and that was that. But it's always nice to have that confirmation, innit.

4. Go to Misrad Harishui
Date: August, September and October 2014. 
Location: Jerusalem
Cost: Bus tickets to the sodding place each time!
I don't really want to relive it, but this step involved 3 or 4 (enforced amnaesiac) visits to the good old Misrad, where I had to deal with angry public servants, line upon lines upon lines and no fricking returned tofes yarok. Until October, that is, when I did the same thing but emerged triumphant with my tofes yarok stating - surprise, surprise - that I was fit and healthy to drive, end of. 

5. Schedule your lesson
Date: September, November 2014
Location: Jerusalem
Cost: 130 NIS a go
This one was time dependent, as I had to have a practice lesson or three, you know - what with driving and having the gear stick on the other side back in Blighty. But all was good, I could have taken my test right there and then if not for the next few steps...

6. Visit the Post Office 
Date: August 2014
Location: Jerusalem
Cost: 72 NIS (cash)
Here's a warning - if you ever need to pay for anything at a post office in Israel, always. Take. Cash.

I can't even begin to tell you the amounts of time (over 10) that I've waited a long-arse time to get to the front of the queue (other than when I pretend to not understand the system - one of the only benefits of looking different and having this stupid accent), only to have the person behind the desk tell me I have to pay in cash - and I am without cash at that moment. Like the Queen.

But eventually it got done.

And so, it came to pass, that the next three steps were easier. Whether or not this was because I had moved to Tel Aviv (and everything is better in Tel Aviv ;) ), or all of the balagan had just been before, these next three steps flew by.

Here's one important thing to note though - if you want to convert your license in Israel, the Misrad HaRishui only does this on Tuesday afternoons, when Saturn is in the path of Jupiter and only in a  schmitta year, and only then IF it's also a leap year.

Ok so maybe that's an exaggeration, but they're stupidly specific about their timings.

But, after contacting a driving instructor, the next three bits -
7. Take the test (Tel Aviv, cost: 450 NIS)
8. Return to Misrad HaRishui - My driving instructor did this for me, once he saw I had broken out in cold sweat at the mere mention of that name)
9. Return to the Post Office (Tel Aviv: Cost: 225 NIS)
Were comparatively easy and painless. I just need to wait 2 months (or more) for my license to come through.
Even the test was ridiculously easy - ten minutes of driving around some backstreets of north Tel Aviv, having the instructor shout 'yemina!' (right) or 'smolla!' (left) two seconds before the actual turn. In England, the process is about an hour long, and you have to demonstrate your parking skills, A-road driving, various manoeuvers and more.
So in total, the whole process (for me) took 8 months and cost upwards of 1300 NIS. That's roughly 215 quid!
Now look at this information, taking from the British government's website, on the same process in Blighty:

5 years? 43 quid? 3 weeks? APPLY FOR THIS WHOLE THING ONLINE?????

Is it any wonder that sometimes this here land seems like a second world country??

Well, even if it is, I still love it, and I have done for 10 whole months, and many more.

Otherwise, thank god - nothing exciting to report, other than I managed to -


Sunday, 26 April 2015

(Re)introducing Meshugana

Like I've done before, let me introduce my new kitten, Meshugana.

Hello kitty!
This lil lady has had an interesting start. Although she looks nice and content here, it's actually the first time in her life that she's been anywhere other than the courtyard of the ulpan.

Firstly, let's get down to the basics; 'Meshugana', if you don't know, is a Yiddish word, meaning 'nutcase': 

And, ever since she was born, she has displayed those nutcase-like qualities, time and time again. But, as they say, it takes one to know one, and I like her style ;) 

'Eze cador!' - snuggled like a ball
A few days old

'Aha!  SHOES!'
She was born during my time in ulpan, an event which I referred to in a previous post. Since she was barely a few days old, Meshugana has always been rather spirited and a little bit naughty. So naughty, in fact, that the new ulpan (as in, the ulpan after the horrific one that I left), with no previous connection to her, quickly picked up on these traits and named her 'that naughty little grey kitty'.
Feeding with her brother, Marcus. 

As soon as she could open her tiny little eyes, and as soon as she had strength enough to walk, she would jump out of the protective box her mum kept her in without really knowing how to climb, or jump for that matter. But she tried and tried until she finally succeeded. What a meshugana!

She's a charmer too! Meshugana was (back in the ulpan days) the talk of the town, being such a cutie. I mean, just look at that panim!

Nom nom nom

But anyway.

Back in those ulpan days I would sit with Mummy, Meshugana and her brother, Marcus (more of whom later) most of the time. I would literally leave class to play with the kitties; on my way to work, on my way back from work and in the evenings. They were one of the only good things about living in that horrible environment for so long.

And then, the day came when I had to leave and start my adventure in Tel Aviv. I often thought of Meshugana - indeed, it felt a bit like I was reliving the separation from Corny Wallace all over again.
Koala kitty

But, I knew I couldn't keep a cat, as my first apartment wouldn't allow it, and neither would my current. I had to keep telling myself that she was a street cat ('Street cat! Street cat! I don't buy that. But if they looked cloooserrrr...') and there was nothing I could do.

And then, due to an, ahem, 'positive change of circumstances', I found myself back at that bloody ulpan at least once a week (the weird shit love makes you do, amirite?), and seeing Meshugana every so often. She looked very thin, and Mummy was pregnant again, and I couldn't find Marcus (I surmised he had died), but she was definitely the Meshugana kitty I had raised and loved.

To put a long story short, the day came when I finally brought Meshugana home. It involved rather strange convolutions, such as a vociferous and self-proclaiming cat-hater, who suddenly fell in love with Meshugana ('but I still hate other cats'), several night shifts, and a very snuggly, purry kitty.

It took 5 months or so, but finally - Meshugana was mine (or ours)! I went to buy her all of her things and then to pick her up from the ulpan. After a quick stop at the vets, she was home - and soon, she was as meshugana as ever:

What a lovely, snuggly addition to my new(ish) beginning! Even though I don't get to see her every day, having her (back) in my life has made a difference.

Even when I am unwell. Such a nice kiiiitty. 
She also does a great line in posing. 

And that's really all there is to tell. Other than I passed my driving test (thank gd) and the State of Israel is willing to acknowledge that I can competently drive with the gearstick on the wrong side! 

And with these happy news items, I bid you 'raow'. 

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Riding into the headwind, minus a phone

Our title this post comes from experience.

But first! Your latest satire digest! I write here about the Zionist Conspiracy rigging the Israeli elections (a topic I covered in my last post) and a response to the worldwide surge in anti-semitism lately - brave crusaders searching for Israeli gold. 

As I've mentioned in an earlier post, I recently bought a bike and use it as my main means of transportation around this great city. It gives me a lot of time to think, not to mention helping me reacquire my once trademark muscular legs (phwoooarr).

I've never felt so free as when I'm tearing along on my bike, dodging people left right and centre and pretending I'm on a motorbike. But there is one problem.

As I ride over a lot of open spaces and bridges, I encounter quite a lot of headwind. Not really an issue, you may think, except for I have a predilection for skirts and dresses.

I have since developed a Filisiphy (A friend coined the term; Fliss philosophy = filisiphy. See also: soflisstication) - that riding into the headwind is thrilling and unavoidable, but eventually your skirt will blow up and everyone will see your knickers. There ain't nothing you can do about it but keep on peddling and continue your journey.

Sometimes it's anticipated, sometimes not. Either way, it's entertaining for others to watch.

And I've ridden into the headwind recently. An experience (which has now concluded, but it took a while) demonstrated the rarely-seen, awful side of Israel. I debated about whether to disclose it, but rationalised that this is something prospective, shiny new olim need to be aware of.

Mein damen und herren, let me preface this by reminding you that I am completely alone in this here country. When bad stuff happens, or potentially life-threatening situations occur, there is but one choice - to get through it.

That's mainly due to such positive experiences with Israelis themselves. Israel may be a lot of things, but I've never felt more at home anywhere else. Israelis are referred to as 'sabras' - a weird little fruit which is rough and prickly on the outside, but sweet and yummy on the in.

Israelis are, ahem, very 'passionate' people. They generally (not all, but...) shout and scream a lot at anything and everything, but the second they detect an accent, they'll embroil you in a long-arse conversation, about your life (where you're from, why did you make aliya, are you single? Oh, that's a shame. I have a son/grandson/great-grandson), if you happen to accidentally trip up in the street, 5 people will rush to help you from all directions. I've never seen anything even remotely comparable to that in London.

But, there are always those dickheads that have to go and ruin it for everyone. Back in my teacher days, I would very quietly but publicly single these kids out - before they even tried anything - and let them know it would not be tolerated, and due to the relatively good behaviour of everyone around them, they'd be held even more accountable. Sometimes, examples need to be made in order to teach a lesson - literally.

And here we go. I mentioned a while back that I was happy, living in Tel Aviv and it was all coming up Milhouse, right?

Pictured: Vertical and positive happenings for Milhouse

And I was. Until I noticed that the woman I was living with was using me as an accessory to illegal activity,was the filthiest person I'd ever met (and I used to teach teenagers, so that's quite a tough competition) and was definitely more than a few fish short of an ironmonger; a few sandwiches short of a picnic. A few tea bags short of a cuppa.

In other words, she was batshit insane.

It all began when I was searching wildly for a place to live in Tel Aviv. This is no mean feat, and schlepping to view places from Jerusalem, an hour away, was problematic. When I would turn up, it would be a popularity competition - who 'fits' the other flatmates best, for example, or (as in one memorable case) someone signed for the apartment as I was sitting on the bus between the two cities.

So when this older lady, who stressed the urge for privacy, wanted to take cash every month and a lump sum security deposit, I ignored my (scarily accurate) gut feeling, being so relieved at finding somewhere that I agreed to live there. I returned a few days later to sign something she refused to call a 'contract', insisting it was an 'agreement' between us. In it, she signed her name (twice) as the landlady, alongside the amounts I had given her and the dates.

The ins and outs are unnecessary to know, but the salient facts are these: The bitch ripped me off and stole my money, later refusing to give it back. She believed that according to our 'agreement', I had to find someone to replace me should I leave early. I did succeed in sending around numerous people, only for her to dismiss somewhere up to 15 of these people. She said she wouldn't return my deposit money until I had found a replacement. Noticeably, her behaviour changed once I'd told her I was leaving. She would burst unannounced into my room, waking me up purposely in the morning. On one scarringly memorable occasion, she burst in on me in the altogether, standing there screaming 'Dai? Nu?' -something vaguely translatable as 'Well? So?' while I struggled to sort myself modesty-wise.

Anyway. It transpired she needed girls of a certain look - dark haired, around 27ish, quiet and who wouldn't communicate with the neighbours. After moving into my new flat, an offhand comment from someone led me to think - maybe this mental case wasn't actually the landlady, and was renting the place. If so, she had no right to have taken - and refuse to return - my money.

After a lot of super sleuthing (Yeah. Badass) I had confirmation that she wasn't who she said she was, had given me a false ID number, had rented the place illegally and was using me as an accessory to her crime. After trying and failing to locate the landlord, I contacted Sigal (such a beautiful name for such a גועל נפש) and told her I knew what she had done and that I'd be contacting her landlord unless I saw my money back.

Oof, she did not like that! I suddenly got a stream of vitriol, after she had ignored my messages for upwards of a month:

Even her texting look kray-kray

If your Hebrew ain't up to scratch, it says something along the lines of: if I even dared to try to exhort her, she'd get the police on me and DO ME IN. I was offered to come and take a portion of the money on a Sunday, but I'm a disgrace to my country and a cheeky-arse bitch, long story short.

So, I got myself a lawyer - a solid bloke named Tzvika, who has a passion for helping olim out - for free. He sorted it out, communicating with the Sea Witch (she bore an uncanny resemblance to Ursula the Sea Witch from the Little Mermaid:)

Like it says on the tin

...and a very, two month-long story short, Tzvika got my money back, barring 11 shekels, which the Sea Witch refused to return out of spite.

All of this is a life lesson, obviously - be careful what you sign (and coming from a whole family of lawyers, barring 2 of us, I shouldn't have been so stupid), and take the good with the bad. But also, more importantly - ridiculous people like these need to be taught a lesson. Aliya is difficult enough without 50 year old lonely petty criminals taking you for a ride.

In other news, I managed to lose my phone...and all of my aliya pictures so far. It flew out of my aforementioned bike at some point when I was aforementionedly tearing along the streets of Tel Aviv.

Maybe it was just time for a fresh start and to fully absorb into my new Israeli identity. Either way, I'm one fake security deposit up and one phone down.

And onto my second-ever Israeli Pesach, starting tomorrow night. It's only the second time I've celebrated it without my family [YES ROBERT, I DID FIND THE AFIKOMEN FIRST AND YOU CAN'T DENY IT AS IT'S NOW IN WRITING], and my first as a real-life Israeli :)

חג כשר ושמח לכולם!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Election Selection

And so I am back from my trip to London, with a shiny new sister-in-law!

The wedding was lovely - very nicely done, fun to be involved in and my first time as a bridesmaid.

Four days was the perfect amount of time, methinks, to spend back in the Mother Country. The weather held out nicely, I squeezed in a few friends and had some time (not as much as I'd have liked, but 'some' is better than nothing at all) with my doggies, but unfortunately did not manage to hit up Primark.

And, with the wedding now out the way (until my sister's in August, BH) I turn my thoughts to the elections, Israeli and British. Because that's an apparent benefit of being a dual national.

Yes - once again, Israel is going to the polls. Today. Eek. I'm a newbie (yes, still, after 9 months) and it's a totally different kettle of fish to how we do it back in Blighty.

It seemed inevitable, really - a Middle Eastern nation, with security issues on all sides, full of hot-blooded natives, ever-increasing immigration (from 1st world and 3rd world countries alike) and using a highly contested electoral system. It's no surprise that agreements are unreachable and governments fall quickly. In fact, I'm surprised there aren't elections here every year. Having said that, during the last general election in Britain (which I also spent here in Israel), voters managed to break the country, bringing back the bad old days of coalition governments while ushering in the age of the ConDems.

Before we get into all that, let's take a second to compare these electoral voting systems.

Britain's First Past the Post (FPP) states that whichever party wins the most votes nationwide gets to rule. No fuss, Brit-style. Israel's Proportional Representation states that parties winning a certain amount of votes will get a certain amount of seats.

Now, before you say anything - yes, they are both shit. As my man Winny C once said,
“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” And it's true. 
Back when I was a young, green (so green. so many shades of green is so many ways) A level Politics students (*cough* A grade), this was something all of us kids, who'd never voted in our lives, were still at school and who had really no idea what we were on about, discussed endlessly. 
While most of what we said was a load of utter pretentious crap (and it really was) I do recall a few points of wisdom which have stuck by me throughout my aliya, and especially now that I'll be voting in both countries. 
First Past the Post can give rise to 'dictatorial' styles of government. What they say goes, whether you like it or not, as long as they have a nice majority in the government and can push legislation through. It's a more stable, British sort of government, with little fuss and no awkward silences.
Proportional Representation, in all its glorious forms, is both a blessing and curse. Yes, minority parties get to have their say and get into government, but think about the sort of parties which could get in. In Israel, it means the extremes of left, right and meshuganas all over. It's a very unstable form of government, hence the frequently recurring elections. 
But that's what makes the Israeli electorate such an involved one, with a high voter turnout. And we do get a day off. So that's nice. 
But there is one thing that I still can't really get my head around, as born and bred Brit - back in my old country, you do not, under any circumstances - when meeting new people, at work, in polite society etc -  talk about who you're voting for or your political beliefs, unless you want to start a quiet but heated discussion and cause widespread offence.  
Really. In England, even when there are only actually 2,.5 parties (I count the 'Dems as .5, as I'm still convinced that Cleggover is a crappy half-baked clone of Cameron), discussing political views is considered a terrible, highly personal piece of information which you should not disclose, on a par with mentions of sex or religion. Stick to the weather, and we're all fine. Noone can disagree about how much rain there is, can they (apart from that one time when we all disagreed about the amounts of rain, BUT WE AGREED TO NEVER SPEAK OF IT AGAIN)? 
Israeli politics is pretty confusing. Here, in the Holy Land, practical every day stuff  which is the main campaigning points for voters back in Blighty - taxes, petrol prices, employment - ain't the frontrunning issues.
Here, its about real, slightly more pressing things which could affect whether or not there's another war soon, if we're going to piss off the international community yet again, and if so by how much. Will people have to leave their homes if they live outside of the '67 borders, for example? It's all one massive mindf**k, and with the added Proportional Representation balagan, there is much less likelihood of a wasted vote. 
The candidates are just as confusing. There are so many names and histories floating about - this one used to be this minister; that one was a war hero; that one get the picture. 
It is much easier to work out who you don't want to vote for, and even that's saying something. Your average Israeli will outright ask you who you're thinking of voting for, shout you down for making a silly choice and then tell you about who they're voting for and why. 

Really. There have been very few things that have been difficult to adjust to since I moved here, but this is probably the biggest. Back in England, I didn't care who knew of my political views, partly because I advertised them and partly because it didn't really mean very much. 

Back in the old, pre-aliya days, I was a true blue Conservative. Hell, I even once represented them and dressed up for the  school mock-election as Maggie Thatcher (I won 2nd place. I lost out only to the Monster Raving Loony Party, because they bribed the electorate of impressionable year 7s with chocolate. I hold no grudges - it was a pretty good tactic). Dammit, I once appeared on ITV and Channel 4 news meeting then-Tory leader Michael Howard. I was on first name, letter-writing terms with my MP and was in touch with him until recently, thanking him for his support for Israel during last summer's war. 

Here though...where my vote doesn't just rely on 'what's my tax situation going to be?' and 'who's more friendly towards Israel?' it's actually very tricky. They all have different views of the settlements. On the two state solution. On the Jewish Home bill.

Extremes of any sort are bad, in my books - both the right wing (breeding fascism, religious nutcases) and the left (breeding communism, self-hating apologists). I like the centre. 

Which, you'd think, would lead me to a nice, easy decision. 


My two preferences, Yesh Atid ('There's a Future') and Kulanu ('All of us') are the main centrist parties, discounting Bibi's Likud. I actually like Bibi - he's a fantastic speaker and not bad on the eyes, but he's not been strong enough on several things. That leaves me with the above. 

A pictorial representation of this dilemma

The bloke leading Yesh Atid - Yair Lapid - is also rather nice looking (it is a pleasant change to have a good looking party leader - that's something we don't get back in England) and speaks very well. He's a former journalist and his party comprises olim from all over the place. I like that. 

However, as the bf pointed out, he was a jobnik in the army - someone who's not really much to write home about. I countered by saying he has some great ideas for the country - there's a future, innit - to which he replied, 'what, is he going to interview Hamas to death?'. Touche. 

Moshe Kachlon, of Kulanu, on the other hand, is hot stuff. Also good looking (yeah, I said it), he was the bloke who broke the phone monopolies in Israel, making it a more competitive market. He's promised to do the same for other areas of society, but - according to my work wife, this is unlikely happen as he is besties with these naughty societal overlords. 

So I got into the booth earlier today. I saw all of the parties' acronyms (the way voting actually happens here is strange - your ID number is registered and you receive an envelope. You choose the acronym of the party you're voting for, seal it into your envelope and drop it into the ballot box. Interesting) and felt overwhelmed. Immediately eliminating the extremes of both left and right, I was left with the above choices. 

I cast that vote. I cast it real good. 

Eventually, I went with Yesh Atid. Because if there's one thing Israelis - native sabras, we're talking - will never understand, it's life outside Israel - being raised there and all that. 

It's all nice and well making policies for and about Israel left, right and centre, but without considering (even in the slightest, teensiest way) the impact it could potentially have on world Jewry? Or taking into account what olim here need and feel? Well that's something that has been pissing me off for years, pre and post-aliya. 

So I voted for the party who have unofficially tagged themselves as the party for Olim. I feel pretty damn proud of myself too for having exercised my democratic rights. 

Newbie voting
Oh and the British election? I'm voting Tory. Because old habits die hard, and Thatcher4LYF.