When I studied abroad in Morocco, I spent a lot of time reading old issues of People magazine. The library for some reason never had issues from the recent several months, but instead all the issues were at least 4-6 months old. There was something weirdly comforting about reading the old issues. I knew which of the marriages wouldn’t make it through the year, and which TV shows had already been canceled. I didn’t miss being the US while I was in Morocco, and I don’t now, but there was something reassuring about having a slightly outdated dose of American pop culture.

Before we moved to Tel Aviv, I wondered what our inexplicably soothing shot of American culture would be. I think the TV show “Friends” is kind of the softball solution for this. It seems to be (still) on (multiple) times a day in every country I’ve ever been to. It’s easy access, and I don’t really like it: seems like a very good candidate for a weird, bland American cultural nugget to hold onto. I wondered if there was a new “Friends.” My money was on “Big Bang Theory” or “How I Met Your Mother.” I’ve described all of these shows as warm milk at least once: something that just sounds like a totally gross hot beverage with eerie filmy chunks, that I accidentally try.

I think, however, we have found our uncomfortable, weird, why-are-we-even-watching-this, (more than slightly) outdated, American crutch: the OJ Simpson trial.

Someone uploaded this touchstone of American culture to YouTube. In it’s entirety. 500+ hours. Will and I were around 8-9 when the trial happened so we were aware of it happening, remember seeing that it was on TV constantly, but really have no idea about the particulars of what happened.

So the other day, we heated up some frozen malawach, put out a bowl of honey to dip it in, and started watching the trial. I should add that the malawach, despite having no cheese, tasted unsettlingly like a quesadilla, which greatly enhanced this whole experience.


I don’t think homesickness or nostalgia is quite the right word for this (filling a homesickness void with the OJ trial would be bizarre, even I’ll admit that), but it’s related to that. It’s definitely some sort of staying (21 years out of date) relevant to the US, even though neither one of us really has any desire to move back. And the OJ trial may be ultimate in this not-quite-nostalgia. Especially with the pathetic retaped-over VHS tape quality of the video. Also since the trial seems to be seemingly endless (6 hours down, 500+ to go), we can work on this for a long time, without ever having to choose another warm milk alternative.

The Holiest Rollerblading Day of the Year.

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is always presented as the holiest day of the  year– a solemn occasion where you apologize to people, and spend the day fasting.

When I started Ulpan, we were given a schedule of all of our class holidays. We would have two days off for Yom Kippur, and we were warned that nothing would be open. Based on all of this, I assumed the city would be completely deserted, quiet, and somber. I even wrote a note to myself on the Ulpan schedule that nothing would be open.

Leading up to Yom Kippur, events confirmed that a serious holiday was approaching. Going to the market was a bloodsport. The markets were swarmed, and I waited in (kind of a) line to check out for a solid 15 minutes, after dodging what felt like half the population of Tel Aviv, and their semi-abandoned carts. Stores shut down early, and when we took Finnegan to the park, the streets were empty. By the time we left the park, it was almost sundown.

And I was not anticipating what I saw filling the streets: rollerblades. There were also bikes, dogs running around in the middle of the street, and skateboards.


From when Yom Kippur started on Tuesday evening, until awhile after it ended Wednesday night there were no cars on the road the entire city (or supposedly the entire country). The airport was even closed; no flights in or out of the country on Yom Kippur. Apparently, the pollution on Yom Kippur plummets, due to the lack of cars/planes for (more than) 24 hours. All night/day, the street was packed with people riding bikes, walking, skateboardingand, of course, rollerblading. I have never seen so many rollerblades in my life.


What was particularly weird was how quiet it was. Even though there were a million rollerblades, bikes, people moving couches into the middle of the street, the whole city was bizarrely hushed without cars. Our apartment looks over a major street, and it just sounded like there was a layer of cotton pads between us and the usual din.

A lot of my Ulpan class fasted for the holiday, but I think I’m on team Rollerblading > Apologizing.

Old Year, New Pics.

Since my last post was kind of a downer, here are some non-downer pictures. As of the other day (Rosh HaShanna), it’s a new year in Tel Aviv (5777), so here are a few pictures from the old year (aka the last month).

In my attempts to get a wedding present to send to the US, we went down to the Nachlat Binyamin Pedestrian Mall (which is cooler than the website makes it look). I ended up not getting a wedding present there, but we did walk by the Great Synagogue, which was not only a cool building, but had this super cool 3-D but very flat looking clock out front. It was a Cubist dream clock:


We have discovered a very nice park + dog park overlooking the Mediterranean. I hope Finnegan appreciates these dog park views:


I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned Cofix here, but I am in love with it. It’s a coffee shop, where everything is 5 shekels (like $1.25 USD). Muffins, sandwiches, carrot juice, really good coffee: it’s all 5 shekels. They also have a couple bars (again, everything is 5 shekels: beer, cocktails, etc), and markets (SuperCofix). The market is, once again, everything 5 shekels. Bread, yogurt, whatever. In the most exciting move of all time, a SuperCofix is coming in in our neighborhood. Not exaggerating, I gasped when I saw the sign go up, and have checked on the building progress multiple times a day, every day:


And here is a spread of all the pastries we got this morning for a grand total of less than $2 USD, and Will looking VERY pleased with his Birds of Israel and The Middle East book (also shout-out to our apartment in this picture):


Ulpan Has Taken Over My Life.

I’ve started intensive Hebrew (Ulpan). My class meets five days a week for five hours a day for five months. Getting back into the habit of going somewhere at a regular time every day, and then coming home and doing homework, meant that I spent most of last month shifting how I structure my days. Blogging took the brunt of the displacement, but now that I am a bit more comfortable in my Hebrew learning schedule, I can slip back into blogging more regularly again (hopefully).

I have always been kind of a language class junkie. I like to study languages, and I’ve taken quite a few of them to varying degrees of fluency and for assorted lengths of time. In chronological order I’ve taken: French, more French, Irish Gaelic, German, Arabic, Swahili, more Arabic, and now Hebrew. Tragically, my Irish Gaelic and Swahili are very limited (if you are looking for a weird song about greetings in Swahili, or need to know how to ask how to say something in Irish Gaelic though, let me know. I can hook you up with that vital information), but I feel pretty good about my levels of French, German, and (Modern Standard) Arabic.

With the exception of Irish Gaelic, I have taken all of these languages in an academic, university/school setting. Irish Gaelic I took in a theater in North Hollywood (right near the really good Gelsons, obviously) at the Irish Cultural Center (RIP, Irish Cultural Center. You seemed to have vanished while I was away at college). The class consisted of 16-year-old me, two retired couples, and one random older man. The teacher was a middle aged man from Connemara, and our textbook was a slim binder with the title “Irish for Parents.” During this time in my life, I never went anywhere without my DK Eyewitness Ireland travel guide, and my Oscar Wilde doll. When I signed up for the class (and the Irish Cultural Center membership), I was feverish with visions of learning of how stumble through the consonant-heavy Gaelic words. I drove by the Irish Cultural Center every day on my route to school, and I could not wait for the class. Unfortunately, it was not a very popular class at the Center (I’m not sure if anything was?), never touched on any grammar, and met probably once a week for like a month. The other attendees talked a lot about cruises. I was devastated.

Until now, my melancholy foray into Gaelic has been my only non-academic language class.

Before I started Ulpan, I did not really realize what taking a non-academic language class meant. In Ulpan (or at least the Ulpan I’ve been attending), grammar is doled out on a stingy, need-to-know basis. I have learned a lot of vocabulary, and I think the class is good, but it has made me think a lot about how people (or maybe just how I) learn languages.

I kind of feel like I’m circling Hebrew. Before we moved here, I tried to use some Pimsleur MP3s to learn some basic Hebrew. I ended up hating it since it was all oral; there was no written component, so I could not see the words written down. At the start of Ulpan, we had a substitute teacher for a couple weeks, who had us all write words phonetically in our native languages, instead of in Hebrew. We have finally graduated to writing things in Hebrew, but I do not recognize words that I’ve only heard or seen written down in my own phonetic English interpretation. Since we circumvent the stormy waters of grammar, I tend to guess more at prepositions, and lazily conjugate verbs poorly.

Being immersed in the language has been helpful, and I think it will smooth over these rough verb endings and preposition vowels, but I do not fully understand why the class is so grammar shy. I’m only a month in, so we’ll see if we start to build some sort of grammar escape ladder out of these conversational Hebrew confines as the class goes on.

And since this was a long, kind of cranky post, here’s a picture of the wine, jars of honey, and really good whipped cream + honey pastry bit thing that they handed out as a snack one day in Ulpan. I did love getting handed free wine as a school snack:


My Kingdom For Some Soda Water.

Before we moved to Tel Aviv, the appliance I had the most angst about parting with was our SodaStream. The SodaStream remains my favorite and most utilized kitchen appliance ever. Yes it only did one thing (carbonate water), but it did it flawlessly, and it was a vital task in my life. I like to drink soda water plain, I like to drink it with bitters or lemon when I’m feeling bourgie, and I use it to make my alcoholic beverage of choice: the red wine spritzer (to be more exact: I mix it with box wine from Trader Joe’s. It is cheap, delicious, and hydrating!). We had limited luggage space for our move (why did I bring so many sweaters?), and I seriously considered bringing the SodaStream with us. There was no way this was going to work, so we ended up giving it to our friend Peter (Peter, if you are reading this, I hope you use that beguiling appliance every day and treat it in the exalted manner it is accustomed to).

Based on the fact that the SodaStream is actually locally made, we assumed soda water would be a part of the vernacular beverage culture. I also assumed that since Israel has a lot of European influences (and residents), soda water would be as plentiful as it is in many European countries. Maybe I’m just not going to the appropriate markets (I’ve tried probably 6 in a 4 block radius. Yes, we have a lot of markets near our apartment), but so far my soda water font has run dry.

At first, I actually thought we had moved to the land of inexhaustible flavored soda water. I was thrilled. The non-alcoholic beverage aisles are packed. Unfortunately, they are not packed with carbonated water. There are quite a few options of flavored flat water (have not explored this genre; not interested. Though I am semi-curious about the prevalence of the aloe flavored water). There are also quite a few options of beverages that I thought were flavored soda water, but turned out to be soda. Initially thinking these were flavored soda waters made the disappointment upon realizing they were soda all the more potent. Particularly when I went to the Schweppe’s website to try to figure out what the flavors like “Russchian” and “Riesling” were and discovered that Russchian (which looks like a watered down red wine spritzer) was berry/hibiscus/carrot flavored. And comes in a winking can:


This seemed like my ideal drink. Carbonated, weird flavor combination, comes in a probably culturally insensitive can, and (I assumed) just sweet, sweet carbonated water. Alas, this was not to be. All of the flavored Schweppe’s here is just soda. Sugar is the first ingredient, followed by a litany of chemically sounding terms that I didn’t even read since I stopped at sugar. So far, I have found one brand of soda water, but I can only find it about 50% of the time at two of the six markets near our apartment. Here is the English label side of what I will be drinking non stop, when I can find it:


Note that it is half full, because I have started rationing soda water. I am taking solace in the fact that it’s a great brand name at least. It sounds like the bubbles are keeping time.

LaCroix, if you would like to expand internationally beyond Canada and the US, please, please consider Tel Aviv as a first option.



I’ve alluded to Tel Aviv’s dog-friendliness, but I do not think I’ve fully outlined it on the blog. This may, in fact, be dog utopia. There is a dog festival (Kelaviv–a portmanteau of Tel Aviv and the Hebrew word for dog) coming up this weekend, but I have been most impressed by the quotidian benefits of being a dog in this city.

Joyce’s pub puzzle for Dublin could probably be translated for Tel Aviv and parks. Seriously, it feels like there is a park (sometimes a mini park, but a park nonetheless) every other block. Within this plenitude of parks, 70 are also dog parks. Apparently, that is  1.3 dog parks for every 250 acres. When actually walking around the city, it means that we never seem to be more than a couple blocks away from a dog park. Many of the dog parks also have agility courses set up, which is great for Finnegan since his primary activity at the dog park is leering at the other dogs while they play, and periodically going up to them, sniffing them, and then running back to us with an expression of “can you BELIEVE I just did that?! Another dog! Their butt! Me!” Here’s a gratuitous picture of Finn being amazing at jumping on one of the agility courses:


In that picture, you can also see one of the water bowl set ups. All the dog parks have at least one water source–some have dog drinking fountains, others have spigots with bowls and jugs placed around the park, etc. At least one dog park also had a bookshelf:


More so than the dog facilities in the city, the responsibility of dog owners here has really impressed me. Everyone at the dog parks is very intent on making sure that the water bowls stay filled, or that there are full water jugs by the bowls so that it is easy to keep the water supply high for the dogs. Often at dog parks in LA, if dogs would bark or play a bit rough, their owners would immediately pull the dogs away, and leave. Here, people tend to let their dogs play a bit rougher, as long as the dogs are comfortable. If there are issues between dogs (either at the parks or in the streets), instead of pulling the dog away, people seem to let the dogs sniff each other and interact. Once the dogs realize everything’s fine, they chill out.

Dogs here seem to be a lot calmer than anywhere else I’ve ever been as well. I’m not sure if it’s due to the tactics described above, or just that dogs are allowed pretty much everywhere here. I think since the dogs are with their owners pretty constantly here (seriously, we brought Finn to the bank with us. Every bar and restaurant seems to have as many dog patrons as people), they just seem less anxious overall. I think wherever we move after Tel Aviv will probably be a serious downgrade for Finnegan, unfortunately.

Our block in LA had three poop bag dispensers along the sidewalk. When we moved there, I was thrilled that there were free poop bags on the street, and mentioned it to everyone as one of the selling points of our apartment. When the management of the buildings changed, they purposefully stopped stocking poop bags. The explanation was people who did not live on the street were using the bags as well (…to clean up their dogs’ poop on our street, but okay whatever. I’m over it. Not really). Here, in dog utopia, there are free poop bag dispensers in parks, on trash cans on the sidewalk, all over the city:


I’m not sure what it says about me that poop bag dispensers are the ultimate in urban luxury for me, but if I get free poop bags, I do not even care.

Photographic Interlude.

This is the Holocaust Memorial in Rabin Square. The Memorial is cool, but more of note are the number of people I have seen napping under it in chaise lounges. If you look under the Memorial, you can see a few of these chaise lounges set up in the shade provided by the structure:


These chaise lounges are also all over the city. Tel Aviv seems obsessed with providing outdoor seating for resting. There are benches seeming every five feet when you’re walking. These chaise lounges are fairly plentiful as well. The text reads: “Taking a free break in the nonstop city”:


These are 10 cent coins. I feel very strongly that they look like arcade tokens:




I’ve been very impressed by the graffiti here. Exhibit A:


And Exhibit B:



We have an apartment.

I do not recommend relying on Facebook translations, and Google Translate to sift through apartment listings. It worked out, and we actually got a good deal on a very nice apartment in an unexpected but remarkable location (shout-out to Yannai for reading over our lease! Thank you!!). But the process itself was fairly excruciating.

More onerous and unwieldy, I think, than trying to piece together translations of apartment listings, were the emails I had to send in English asking about the apartments. Clearly, apartment listings should be written in the language(s) of the country, and the burden should be on me, the interloper, to translate. It was murky, doing the translations, but manageable. What was difficult was having to be so arrogant and bumptious to respond to the listings in Hebrew with English. English is very widely spoken here, yes, but responding to listings in a completely different language than the listing thrusted me farther out of my comfort zone than anything else we’ve encountered thus far.

Google Translate: in action!

Primarily, apartments seem to be found here through agencies, Facebook, or yad2 (which seems to be Craigslist-y). Yad2 is entirely in Hebrew, so I tried to dodge listings there as much as possible. In theory, you can tell an agency what you want, and where you want to live in the city, and they will find something for you. In practice, I found that agencies only could do this within the constraints of apartments they had listed within their agency. Agencies also charged a month’s rent (plus a bit more) as a “finder’s fee.” This is fine.  However, I found many listings on Facebook without an agent, and then would find the exact same listings, through an agency with a fee.

All of this meant that I spent entire days on Facebook. I had not even logged into Facebook since April, so in order to do this, I had to spend a morning resetting my password since I had forgotten what it was. I also spent a solid hour scrolling through my News Feed, wondering who all these people were since apparently a lot of people had gotten married, and changed their names since April.

We ended up finding our apartment on Craigslist. Craigslist did not have many listings, but they did have a few, including ours. It was through an agency, so we had to pay a fee. Paying the fee and getting the apartment has allowed me to stop spending all day on Facebook though, so I’m considering it worth it.

Finnegan: pleased with our apartment decision. Also I had a really hard time putting on this couch cover.

Our landlord is supremely pleasant, the apartment is fully furnished (the landlord actually just showed up about 15 minutes ago with a kitchen mat, unprompted), and we live on top of a bar like we are in a sitcom. We had a frantic evening trying to get enough cash out for the first month’s rent (we did not have Israeli bank checks the night before we signed the lease), while not going over the daily limit of how much money can be withdrawn. It took several (very sweaty) hours of going to every ATM within a 2km radius, but we were able to hand over an envelope of cash the next day.

When we finally did receive our Israeli checks, we were able to write our rent checks. Rent check technology here is on par with the popsicle technology: lightyears ahead. Instead of writing a check every month, and sending it to your landlord, here you write all your checks at once, date them for the term of your lease, and hand the stack over to your landlord. So instead of paying rent the first of every month, we sat for about 15 minutes and wrote out checks for September, October, November, etc. The landlord then has all the checks ready to go, and just cashes them when the calendar catches up to the dates on the checks. Very efficient.

Popsicle Technology, and Ulpan

We are slowly, but steadily, inching our way into Tel Aviv-resident-dom. We finally have cell phones (previously, we had been using prepaid Israeli burner phone, that really should have lead to more Israeli-based dramatic reenactments of The Wire). We finally have an apartment. We finally found where to buy face sunscreen. We still don’t have internet (shout-out to the personal hotspot I’m using right now from my incredibly cheap Israeli data plan!). We still don’t have enough hangers to fully unpack. We still don’t have any idea what the labels on the yogurt we have been buying say.

I think I am probably presenting myself as the sweatiest, most frantic person ever to most Israelis. One of the perks we get of moving here, is that we get free intensive Hebrew lessons. Last week we went to the Ministry of Absorption to get our Ulpan (Hebrew school) vouchers, along with a veritable bouquet of other paperwork. I had been fairly indecisive about which Ulpan to enroll in, factoring commute, class intensity, timing, etc. Before we went to the Ministry of Absorption, I had finally resolved to go with the large, well-known Ulpan that happens to be less than a ten minute walk from our new apartment. When our “personal absorption counselor” asked which Ulpan I had selected, she looked up.

“When are you going to register?” She stared at me. Hard.

“I was planning on going right after this meeting?” At this point, I was already sweaty, but this conversation was prompting just utter buckets of sweat to appear.

“Okay, you better. The French will be coming this week, and they will take all the spots at the school.”

The meeting could not end quickly enough. I had to get over to the Ulpan to get a spot before this ambiguous inundation of “the French” arrived. Ulpan voucher in hand, I left the Ministry, and full on sprinted to the Ulpan. Will went back to the Airbnb to collect Finnegan, while I stormed the Ulpan. Once I arrived, I hysterically looked for the nearest office, or anything resembling an office, so I could usurp the French, and claim an Ulpan seat.

There was an office not too far from the entrance. Three women were in there, laughing. I stood in the doorway, feverish. Finally, they turned to me.

“I’m here to register.” My voice had taken on a grave, foreboding quality, and the women stared at me.  After an excruciating pause, one of them beckoned me over to her desk.

Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed, sweaty, and possessed with an engulfing desire to get in the best intensive language class I can, I become completely unable to coherently answer questions. The woman asked me questions about my occupation, level of education, name, etc, and I flubbed every question on the first try. At one point, she asked me for my phone number and I just went “In Hebrew? It’s temporary.” Which were two separate thoughts, that made no sense stitched together. During this entire debacle, I was sweating sunscreen into my eyes, and continued to dab my eyes with the corner of a kleenex. Most likely, I looked as though I were crying, vanquished by my emotion at signing up for intensive Hebrew.

Towards the end of the meeting, the woman stood up.

“I have a present for you.” She walked around a filing cabinet. Turning around, she handed me a backpack. It actually seemed very well constructed, with a key fob, and a headphone hole. Still frantic and dabbing sunscreen out of my eyes, I reacted too much to this backpack.


The woman was, clearly, unsure how to respond to me.

“We give these to all new students.”

I tried to calibrate my reaction to the backpack. Instead, I ended up awkwardly clutching it, as the woman told me I was registered. I had beaten the incoming French; I had gained a spot.

To make this sweaty, frenetic experience worse, I then had to pace outside the Ulpan for about 25 minutes, waiting for Will and Finn to come meet me. I must have appeared to be unable to wait for classes to begin, well-constructed backpack in hand.

Since I have no pictures of me not crying while registering for Ulpan, here’s a picture of what I thought was a slightly pornographic granola tagline:


I also want to mention the popsicle methodology I’ve witnessed here. I’ll try to get a picture. As I’ve been walking around, I’ve not only noticed an astounding number of people eating popsicles, but they’ve all been holding them so that the stick is at the top, and the popsicle faces the sidewalk. I couldn’t understand this the first few times I saw it, then I realized. It’s so the popsicle juices do not slither onto their hands, and create a sticky mess. Israel, you are lightyears ahead of the US on your popsicle technology. Mazal tov. Seriously.