5.31.2009

Two day yom tov (and tales from the trenches of pre-yom tov shopping)

I had a lot of work to do this past week (and the week before, and next week), so I did not cook. Instead, I went to two grocery stores and the bakery. It was quicker, but only by a small amount.

People treat two days of non-chol (i.e., Shabbat or chag) the way I imagine folks in the mid-Atlantic treat an impending winter storm that is predicted to drop 4-6 inches: with a touch of panic and several trips to the grocery store to stock up on large quantities of bread and milk. Although two days of chag are a dime a dozen in the Diaspora, it is something of a rarity here, only seen on Rosh Hashanah and when chag abuts Shabbat, as it did this past weekend.

The grocery store was already kind of crazy on Monday (people walking around with carts piled high as if they expected an impending week-long inability to purchase food, rather than two days with four holiday meals and two days with the grocery stores closed).

When I went back (poor planning) on Wednesday morning, I thought I was very clever to go before noon and on erev erev yom tov, not the eve of the yom tov itself. However, when I made my way to the deli counter in the back of the store to try to buy cheese, the line was...something else. I wanted to try some goat and sheep cheeses, since I am lactose intolerant and have found that they are easier to digest. The line was perhaps 10 people long, but it took me about thirty minutes to get to the front of it. Many people were purchasing multiple kinds of cheese, some shredded, some sliced, and all had to be carefully weighed before being shredded or sliced and then wrapped. I don't think they had extra people working behind the counter in anticipation of Shavuot, as would have made sense. No, they seemed to have the usual two.

Line gymnastics:


I.

I wanted to have a look at the actual cheeses before waiting in line for 30 minutes, only to find that they were all bovine. So I went up to have a look at the cheeses and almost before I had moved, the cart behind me moved up to close the spot. So I had to gingerly force my way back into the line that I had clearly not meant to leave, since I went from the cheese line to the cheese counter to look at the cheese.


II.

A woman came by and asked the man behind her to save her place in line behind him while she went to do more grocery shopping. This is the norm in Israel. It happens in the checkout line, too, but at least then they leave their cart in their "space." I always tell the people that I will save their spot (and even did this myself, once--whoops!), but if someone later comes and challenges their claim, I don't interfere beyond saying, "She came and asked me to save her spot ten minutes ago." If you don't engage in this practice, you're probably a friar [sucker], which I surely am, for waiting in long lines when it is not necessary since other people are waiting in the  line anyway.

Anyway, so this one woman asked this guy to save her a spot, and then she went off with her empty cart and returned to the line with a full cart five or ten minutes later. I had seen an Arab couple hovering behind/near the line, trying to decide if they should join it, for awhile. It was not quite clear when they joined the line, but they were definitely in the vicinity, and eyeing the cheeses, before the non-friar woman asked the man to save her a spot. The line-space-saver told the returning non-friar woman that she had a spot in the line, but it was behind this Arab couple, which I corroborated by saying that I had seen them in line before she got there. She was not happy.

But, no, that was not all!


III.

While she was gone, a man standing next to the front of the line (looking at the cheeses) had called out, apparently to no one in particular, that he was at the end of the line. So when the woman came back, and wanted to claim her space in front of the Arab couple, and was rebuffed and moved behind them, she also had to contend with this man standing next to the front of the line who claimed to be immediately behind the Arab couple and thus--you guessed it--in front of her!

I felt that she pretty much got what she deserved for trying to get around waiting in the damn line. If you're going to ask someone to save your (non) spot while you continue your shopping, you're going to have to accept that other people are going to come and verbally "save" spaces in the line in the interim. And you aren't really going to be able to contradict them because--guess what?--you weren't in line.

She was pissed off, but it was somehow resolved without coming to fisticuffs and everyone succeeded in buying their cheese for yom tov. 

[Interlude: I asked for 100 grams each of three different cheeses and in each case, the weight was over--once by 48%. He asked if it was okay and I wanted to ask him to take part off and re-weigh it, but then I remembered the long line behind me and said that it was not great, but I would accept it. I am such a friar. Don't people who cut and weigh cheese all day know approximately how much 100 grams is? Do you think, dear readers, that he purposely over-cut to get me to buy more? Or was he just not being careful?]


IV.

Not so with the two men arguing at the actual checkout line. Okay, so they didn't come to fisticuffs, but they were loudly screaming at each other. When the woman behind me in the express checkout line grumbled "איזה חוצפה!" ["What hutzpah!"] that the elderly man in front of us was in line with far more than 10 items, I pointed out that this line was for handicapped folks and he probably qualified under that, even though he was shopping with his younger daughter. (I only know this because I once made a face and someone pointed out that the person was elderly and thus entitled to wait in the express line rather than the very long, yet often faster, regular checkout lines.)  And then I said that the real hutzpah was the grown men (both customers) arguing loudly in the checkout line next to us. She gave me a look like I was crazy and she really did not understand why grown men arguing in the checkout line, delaying the purchases of everyone behind them, was hutzpahdik.


V.

On actual erev chag, I cleverly got up at the early hour of 9 am and went straight to a local dairy bakery. I say "cleverly" because things are still relatively quiet at 9 am on most Friday mornings (it's either like Sunday or a workday here, depending on who you are, meaning that people are either at home or at work at 9 am), and the grocery stores only get crazy at around 11 am. Only 9 a.m. is clearly not early on erev chag. The bakery was packed. I knew exactly what I wanted and so I went about, getting it, and then got on the end of what I assumed was the line. 

The line apparently had two ends, though, because there was nowhere--at all--to stand. So people just stood wherever they were when they picked up their last item and then found their way to the line eventually. So, for example, if you were by the borekas and wanted challah, you just got into the kind of line in front of the boreka counter and waited until the line got to the challah and then picked up the challah on your way to the kupot [cash registers--someone who works at one is called a "kupa-ee" or "kupa--eet"].

I, however, found myself in the part of the line that was behind a warrior Israeli woman--a non-friar to the core. She declared that our part of the messy non-line was The Line and she addressed each person waiting anywhere else and told them that they should get behind us. And they did! It was amazing!


VI.

When we--this warrior woman and I--got closer to the registers she started opening up plastic bags for people and handing them out, to speed things along. It was a lovely moment. She was so impatient that she was helping the cashiers.


VII.

There was a woman standing off to the side of the cash registers, not in the line but distinctly next to it. She was holding her purchases just like everyone in line. When the warrior woman imperiously informed her that the line started there (and pointed), she said that she was just waiting there, but she knew exactly where her "place" in line was and she wasn't cutting. This also seems to be a distinctly Israeli thing. Who remembers when she started standing there, watching the cashier? Why would she prefer to stand there rather than in her place in line, unless she is planning on fudging when she got into the line (in some imaginary fashion--since she neither informed anyone, unlike the folks at the grocery store nor put anything to signify her place in the line)? I mean, unless she was cutting she was not saving either time or energy, since she was still holding onto everything and the line was quite compact, although a bit windy. The whole thing couldn't have stretched more than fifteen feet around the innards of the store. Strange. She was probably cutting.


VIII.

There was a woman of small stature--they used to be called midgets but I honestly don't remember the PC term now--going shopping with her daughter. She went to the front of the line to pay for her things. The warrior woman complained loudly to the cashier. The cashier told her to pipe down since the small woman could not wait in line for all that time. The warrior woman's impatience clearly was not directed only at people slow at opening plastic bags, but also at people with legitimate reasons for cutting the line (and doing so in a non-sneaky manner).

This line was also about thirty minutes, in total, or maybe 40, but a lot more interesting because of my conversations with the warrior woman and others in line. Everyone in line seemed to be either an older woman or a man with small children. I guess the younger women were all at home cooking and the older men were...what were the older men doing? Hmmmm... Not being friarim by waiting for 30-40 minutes in line, that's for sure.

5.25.2009

Speaks for itself


The awesomeness of this book speaks for itself:
  • the idea
  • the title
  • the graphic layout
And it was on sale! I didn't buy it, though, because I rarely cook, and when I do, even more rarely from recipes, and when from recipes, never from recipes in metric, and even if I would cook from a recipe in metric, never in Hebrew.

5.24.2009

Israeli bus ride

I had a great experience on the bus this morning. I had to wait awhile (as usual), and it was very crowded (as usual), and so I took my place, standing at the far back of the bus. There were a lot of us on the bus--again, typical for this line. This line also swings around two particularly sharp turns at breakneck speed on the way into town, and I am often afraid I will lose my balance and fall onto someone standing next to me during these turns. I try to hold on to one thing with each hand for these turns, and usually place my backpack on the ground for the duration of the ride--you physicists can explain this, but it's easier to stay upright while speeding around sharp turns when you're lighter. There is also a place where we careen over a bump in the road (I think we may actually lose contact with the ground--we're going very fast then, because it's a straight part of the road where the bus stops are spaced far apart), but there's not much I can do about that except regain my bearings once we touch down again.

Anyway, it was quite stuffy in the back of the bus. Most of the windows were closed. It was a sunny morning, maybe 75 degrees Fahrenheit outside. (I still don't know what that is in Celsius. 20-something?)

One of the riders, standing like me, a young man in his 30s, shouted to the front of the bus to ask the driver to turn on the "mazgan" (air conditioner). This is a normal occurrence on an Israeli bus. We'll call him "irritated passenger." The driver did, but then one the elderly people sitting at the front of the bus complained so the driver said he had to turn it off. I tried to suggest that we open all of the windows in the back of the bus instead (I think this would have solved the problem--we were moving quickly and it wasn't too hot outside), but clearly, irritated passenger had a point he wanted to make and he was not going to stop until he had made it. Irritated passenger initiated, through shouting the length of the bus, a conversation with the driver and other riders. This is roughly how it played out (although in Hebrew):

Irritated passenger: "Look, we're choking back here. We're standing because this bus is too crowded for words, and it's hot back here. Please give us some air!"
Driver: "No. Older people in the front don't want it."
Passenger in the front of the bus: "Here, there's a seat next to me. Why don't you take it?"
Irritated passenger: "No, I'm standing because I am young and healthy and lots of people older than I are going to get on at the next stop."

He was right. I started asking the people around me to open windows, which they did, and I thought that solved the temperature/air problem quite nicely.

Irritated passenger: "There are so many people on this bus, it's illegal! If we got into an accident, people would get hurt! There is a 70 year old man standing because there aren't enough seats!"
Another passenger in the back pipes up: "I waited 20 minutes for the bus this morning!"
Irritated passenger: "That's right! There are not enough buses in the morning. I have not sat down on a #X bus in the morning in months!"
A third passenger in the back pipes up: "I often wait 40 minutes to get back from town in the afternoon!"
Irritated passenger: "That's why we need to do something! I am going to pass around this piece of paper with my name and cell phone number and ask you to add your names and numbers, and I am going to take it to Egged and will SMS you all the results. This is outrageous! They promise the hareidim, 'Call this number and we will improve your bus service' because they expect to get money from the hareidim [presumably he meant the hareidi elements in the government] and meanwhile, south Jerusalem suffers! Do you know how much better service is north of Jaffa Street than south of it?! I've complained before and Egged says, 'It's just you, nobody else feels this way.' We need to show them that a lot of passengers feel this way. They can't keep getting away with this! We're paying for our tickets; we need better service!"

He passes the legal pad around.

Another passenger, suspiciously: "What are you going to do with this list?"
Irritated passenger: "I am going to take it to Egged and show them all the people who are affected by bad service. And I am a lawyer. I will sue them if I have to."

I was kind of surprised by how many people were willing to sign a blank piece of paper with their names and cell phone numbers. I mean, I did, but I was sort of surprised that so many people did. We'll see if anything comes of it. In the early fall, I saw a petition in the lobby of my building from people who wanted Egged to provide more frequent morning and afternoon service on this bus line and, as far as I can tell, nothing came of it.

Then the irritated passenger/lawyer started getting into a conversation with another passenger, who was an olah hadasha (new immigrant--she was in level "bet" ulpan so the conversation was in English), about her arnona (expensive property tax that everyone, even renters, pay) and why the government wasn't giving her the reduction she was supposed to get as a new immigrant (90% off). He told her his father was also a lawyer and specifically, an arnona expert, and gave her his card so she could call him for help/advice.

To cap off my day, I had a nice conversation with the cook at a cafe that I frequent about life, politics, Israeli vs. American customer service (here, they make it hard to buy things; there, they make it easy), Wisconsin (his brother lives there and he visited in 1994 and thinks its great but his kids live in Israel and he isn't about to leave them to go to America, even though everything is better there and three of his brothers live there, although another one of his brothers was killed by a mugger in Chicago about ten years ago--that apparently wasn't enough to sour him on America), studying, Obama, Iraq, Iran, working, and masters degrees (his wife is getting one; I don't have one). The conversation was all in Hebrew and I remembered words I needed about two minutes after I needed them. My Hebrew is good enough that I can usually figure out a work-around for words I don't remember. I still don't know how to say "index" (as in the list of subjects with page numbers in the back of a book) or "non-fiction" (as in the kind of book that would need an index) in Hebrew, though.

5.21.2009

זכירת ירושלים

I bought a Tikun Yom HaAtzmaut at a used bookstore here a few months ago. (I loved used books. Even more than new ones, although that is a tough comparison since each brings me joy in different ways.)


It was published in 1956 (תשט"ז), and when I first leafed through it, I got chills at this page:


Here's a closer shot of the text:



I can't really imagine a time when the Old City of Jerusalem was unreachable by Jews. It's always been a part of Jerusalem for me, since my first visit in 1996. When my mom lived here in the early '60s, of course, she never saw the Kotel, but that seems so foreign to me. Seeing it here in a book--imagining a Yom HaAtzmaut without all of Jerusalem--felt sad to me, and I don't usually get sad about such things.

I then received a 1978 copy of the same tikun and it still had the "זכירת ירושלים" in it, and my chills went away.

I guess it's supposed to be about a rebuilt, messianic Jerusalem. I've never heard of anyone saying this now on either Yom HaAtzmaut or Yom Yerushalayim, so maybe it fell out of favor over the past 31 years.

In both editions, the "זכירת ירושלים" goes on for a few pages. I hope to look through it today. It looks like it contains some interesting texts that I wouldn't normally come across. (The rest of the tikun also contains many collections of texts that look interesting.)

Happy Yom Yerushalayim!

5.19.2009

A to...W

I've been spending a lot of time looking at and revising my resume over the past few months (the learning full-time thing didn't work out; more on that another time), and then someone asked me for some good resume verbs. So I went through my resume and deleted everything but the verbs. I was shocked to discover that I've done 49 different things in a professional or, in a few cases, volunteer capacity over the past ten years:
  1. Administrated
  2. Advocated
  3. Answered
  4. Assisted
  5. Attended
  6. Built
  7. Clarified
  8. Collaborated
  9. Compiled
  10. Copy-edited
  11. Created
  12. Delivered
  13. Designed
  14. Directed
  15. Disseminated
  16. Edited
  17. Evaluated
  18. Expanded
  19. Facilitated
  20. Formatted
  21. Initiated
  22. Led
  23. Located
  24. Maintained
  25. Managed
  26. Moderated
  27. Organized
  28. Planned
  29. Prepared
  30. Processed
  31. Provided
  32. Recommended
  33. Researched
  34. Responded
  35. Reviewed
  36. Rewrote
  37. Served
  38. Set up
  39. Sought
  40. Streamlined
  41. Suggested
  42. Summarized
  43. Taught
  44. Trained
  45. Updated
  46. Uploaded
  47. Visited
  48. Worked
  49. Wrote [written]

When I went back to looked to see what I had actually done, without removing duplicates, it seemed to be a more accurate reflection of my professional experience and strengths:
  1. administrated program
  2. advocated on behalf of students
  3. answered correspondence
  4. answered inquiries
  5. assisted semi-finalists
  6. assisted with activities
  7. attended professional meetings
  8. built webpages 
  9. collaborated with graphic designers
  10. copy-edited book
  11. copy-edited e-mail newsletter
  12. created a new filing system
  13. created and maintained office-wide calendar
  14. created resource binders
  15. delivered introductory remarks
  16. designed concert program
  17. designed, created, and updated web page
  18. directed webmaster
  19. disseminated information
  20. edited and made suggestions for grant proposals
  21. edited multi-chapter memoirs
  22. extensively edited individual parts of book
  23. facilitated changes
  24. formatted and copy-edited 280-page book
  25. honed course descriptions
  26. initiated and managed redesign of webpage
  27. led faculty meeting
  28. led feedback discussion groups
  29. led recruitment and retention efforts
  30. located missing references
  31. made recommendations to the board
  32. maintained and expanded webpage
  33. maintained contact
  34. moderated listserve
  35. organized and formatted footnotes
  36. organized conference calls
  37. organized panels, individual lectures, and a benefit concert
  38. planned programming
  39. planned Shabbat dinners and other extracurricular programs
  40. planned two seminars
  41. prepared press releases
  42. processed student applications
  43. provided support and advice
  44. researched foundations
  45. responded to semi-annual reports
  46. reviewed and evaluated dossiers
  47. rewrote material on website
  48. served as liason
  49. served on the board
  50. set up and moderated three listserves
  51. sought new instructors
  52. streamlined and clarified guidelines
  53. taught Biblical and Rabbinic texts
  54. trained new staff member
  55. uploaded information
  56. visited weekly and formed deep and ongoing friendships
  57. worked closely with web designer
  58. worked with faculty members
  59. worked with graphic designer, copy-editor, and printer
  60. wrote comprehensive evaluation reports
  61. wrote essays
  62. wrote grant proposals
  63. wrote successful grant proposal
  64. wrote, edited, and copy-edited text
  65. wrote, edited, and organized summaries
Some of these are things that I would quite happily do again (for money), some are things I would (and do) do for free, while others are things to which I would be loathe to devote significant time unless the money was really good or it was a cause to which I was passionately devoted. I really did have fun with a lot of this work, though, which is handy to remember once in awhile.

The things that are not on this list are the things that I would really like to avoid in the future:
  1. being passive-aggressive
  2. being stuck cleaning up after events while colleagues go home to their spouses
  3. being yelled at by irate students for anything, ever
  4. canceling classes due to under-enrollment
  5. disputes with colleagues
  6. getting yelled at for neglecting to look up a package's location before it was even supposed to arrive (I mean, really, why does it matter if it was last seen in Pittsburgh or Lexington, Kentucky if it isn't due to arrive until tomorrow?)
  7. having to correct basic spelling and grammatical mistakes in colleagues' work and then being yelled at for being too "picky" while doing this (basic verb-noun agreement, appropriate use of apostrophes, placement of quotation marks, use of commas to offset clauses--no rocket science, people, but it still matters)
  8. looking up zipcodes at usps.com
  9. not being thanked for hard work
  10. photocopying anything, ever
  11. picking up dry-cleaning for a boss
  12. resolving payment disputes
  13. retyping anything for anyone, ever
  14. scanning thousands of records in Excel, looking for duplicates
  15. showing colleagues, repeatedly, how to create folders in Windows, attach documents to e-mails, add columns in Excel, and other basic computer tasks that anyone working in an office should just know, regardless of their age
  16. showing up late (I want to get better at this. See #1, above.)
  17. stuffing envelopes
  18. white-outing little black specks off of documents that have been photocopied too many times
I'm sure that there is a lot more, but it's probably not so safe for the Interweb.

5.12.2009

Yom Ha...Never mind

Oh, that's right! It's Lag B'Omer!

I knew this quite well last night, when the skies of Jerusalem were filled with smoke and the aroma of lighter fluid, and even remembered during mincha, but forget when I went out to run an errand this afternoon. 

What reminded me? The mall full of merchants selling things, small children running about, and a cooking activity for children that involved cutting up mushrooms and two portable ovens standing at the ready. Now, it is true that I ran my errand after 5 pm, when both parents and children might be out and about on a normal day. 

However, the level of activity in the mall indicated that it was a school vacation day. On school vacation days, including Sukkot, Chanukah, election day, and Purim, I have noticed that the mall is the destination of choice. They advertise fun, free activities for children and some of the usual Friday merchants are selling their wares--everything from handmade baby bunting to home brewed olives and Tupperware. (On Friday, there are also a number of take-out stands, but none today.) 

The mall is a nice destination here in Jerusalem because it is out of the hot sun and once you go through the security area once at the entrance to the mall, you don't need to open all of your bags each time you go into a store, the way you would at a normal store outdoors. It has a bookstore, a drugstore, an electronics store, an appliance store, several clothing stores, several shoe stores (5? a lot), a grocery store, a toy store, a lingerie store, a stand that sells Judaica, at least two cell-phone stands, a pizza place, a Burger King (kosher), a meat grill, a sandwich store, an ice cream stand, and two coffee shops. What more could a family need on Lag B'Omer?

There is just something nice about a place where a packed mall reminds one that it is the 33rd day of the omer. Although, I suppose that people go to malls in the US (and elsewhere) when kids don't have school. I just happen to never have lived in a very mall-focused city or town.

My main memory of Lag B'Omer from childhood is of years of horrible, dreaded Color War. Color War is terrible for uncoordinated, socially-inept kids who tend towards sunburn and dehydration. It's like the worst of everything possible.

I hope to post on all of the "Yom Ha"s that we had recently soon.