Monthly Archives: September 2011

Rosh Hashana is in the air!

This past Thursday, I went to the supermarket and got a lot of the chicken on sale, intending to come back the next morning for more since I bought the last two whole chickens. But life being as it is, I didn’t make it there on Friday morning, and instead did the last of the Rosh Hashana shopping Tuesday afternoon instead.

I was unpleasantly surprised to see that just four days later, the chicken was double the price of what I’ve been paying until now, but there are so many nice things about being in Israel for Rosh Hashana that I’d rather focus on them! (Unfortunately, food prices shooting up like this right before Jewish holidays was common in the US as well.)

Firstly, the focus of all the advertising in the entire city is on the holiday of Rosh Hashana. In the US, Halloween advertising is in full swing, but here it simply doesn’t exist. Although Karmiel is a predominantly secular city, it’s still a Jewish city, and signs everywhere proclaim, ‘Shana tova!. People everywhere – cashiers, bus drivers, people speaking casually in passing – are wishing one another a happy new year. I enjoyed hearing the woman behind me on the bus blessing whoever she was talking to on her cell phone with beautiful wishes for the coming year.

In the produce section of the supermarkets, the symbolic vegetables and fruits eaten on Rosh Hashana are prominently displayed. Honey cakes, grape juice,and other Rosh Hashana foods are on the aisle end caps. As I was choosing some guavas to use for our new fruit this year, I asked the woman across the aisle if they can be cooked or are only eaten fresh. She told me she eats them fresh, and then added that she’s buying them to have for her shechiyanu blessing (blessing on a new fruit) for Rosh Hashana. This, from someone not visibly religious at all!

Dd15 and dd16 were on the bus on their way to do some clothing shopping for the holiday when some spikey haired teenagers with piercings got on the bus. Imagine their delight when these teenagers went around the bus giving out Rosh Hashana notes and samples of apples and honey to the passengers!

The younger kids were walking down the sidewalk when they suddenly saw a balloon blowing in their direction. They ran to catch it, and a man passing by ran to catch another one for them, thinking it was theirs. There was writing on it, and they brought it to me to ask what it said. Apparently, a class of schoolchildren had done a pre Rosh Hashana activity, and had been asked to write their wishes for the coming year on a balloon. On the balloons we have are wishes for peace in the coming year, and a hope that G-d will send rain. A beautiful thing to see blowing around.

In the US, I lived in a very large Jewish community, a wonderful community filled with everything we needed for our Jewish life. Just a five minute drive from my home was the largest kosher supermarket in the US, where all the foods for Rosh Hashana would have been prominently displayed, the advertising would have focused on Rosh Hashana….but here it feels different. Here in Israel, we’re part of our people, living in our country.

Shana tova u’metuka – a good and sweet New Year – to you all, and may we all see revealed abundance and blessings in all areas of our personal and communal lives!

Avivah

Rosh Hashana menu

I’ve really been procrastinating this year about putting my Rosh Hashana menu down on paper.  I usually keep holidays relatively simple, knowing that people aren’t really in the mood for heavy meal followed by heavy meal.  But somehow this year I started intimidating myself with thoughts of trying out lots of new and impressive sounding recipes, and that left me feeling too tired at the thought to even do anything! So it wasn’t until Sunday that I finally put pen to paper to decide what we’ll be having.

Here’s the basic list:

  • Round challahs
  • simanin/symbolic foods of Rosh Hashana:pomegranate, apples and honey, fresh dates, carrots, fish, squash, (forgot to buy leek), beets
  • chicken
  • potato kugel
  • sweet potato casserole
  • tzimmes (carrot/yam/apple) kugel
  • onion kugel
  • potato knishes (dough from this recipe)
  • roasted butternut squash
  • rosemary potatoes
  • stuffed peppers
  • pomegranate salad
  • fruity rice salad
  • crouton salad
  • avocado salad (still deciding on what recipe to use)
  • apple cake – we made a lot of small pans of this to give all of the neighbors in our building
  • rugelach
  • apple plum compote
Avivah

Picking pomegranates

Yesterday we had a fun pre-Rosh Hashana outing – pomegranate picking!

Pomegranates are one of the symbolic fruits traditionally served on Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year), and picking them was not only fun but very timely! We found several pomegranate trees in the vicinity on public land, and yesterday the kids picked a bunch for us to use.

Here’s the pickings, minus a couple of large ones that they shared when they got home.

Ds5 with the 'pickings'

I’ve always enjoyed pomegranates, but found them a pain in the neck to eat. They’re just so much work! But lo and behold, I’ve learned an easy and effective way to quickly deseed them, with hardly any juice stains – dd15 could hardly believe how easy it was when she tried it.

Rather than describe it for you,here’s a very short and clear video that I found very helpful: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnujQquKCQY&NR=1. It really is as easy as he makes it look.

This was a fun, frugal, and fruitful (no pun intended!) outing! And after seeing us picking pomegranates yesterday, a teenage neighbor today told my daughter her family also picked some for Rosh Hashana – they had seen the trees but never thought of it before!

I’m thinking of picking more pomegranates to preserve – but I’m not sure what to do with them! I need ideas! What do you use pomegranates for (juice, concentrate, seeds)?

Avivah

Imperfect produce equals great buys!

Since I’ve arrived in Israel, I’ve bought a huge amount of produce – it’s delicious and affordable.  I choose to limit myself to the purchases of produce that is 3.99 shekel a kilo (about .60 lb) or less but right now just about everything is within ten shekels a kilo.  We’ll see how the prices change as the season changes, but for now we’re enjoying lots of cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, onions, peppers (green, yellow, red, orange), cabbage, butternut squash, beets, and potatoes.

One vegetable that used to be a staple in our house that I haven’t been using here is yams.  Priced at 6.99 or 7.99 a kilo, it’s about double my predetermined limit.  However, on Thursday I was at a local store and saw yams for 2.99 a kilo. My stock up instinct kicked in but it was the end of the day and the supply was low, so I was only able to buy about 7 kilos.

Why were they so cheap?  Because of this.

Large potato next to super large yam

The yams on sale were all huge, not the typical size that is going for full price.  They might have been grown in the same field as the more expensive yams, and picked and harvested the same day, but because they aren’t standard, they aren’t seen as desirable.  We’ve become so used to perfect looking produce that people feel that something is wrong with produce that doesn’t look exactly like what they’re used to seeing, when in fact what’s normal is that fruits and vegetables have lots of variation in size and shape.  So that provided those of us willing to overlook what is considered cosmetically attractive the opportunity for a great deal!

For me, big yams like this aren’t an inconvenience, since when I get smaller ones I have to use lots more of them.  There’s more work involved in peeling smaller ones, more work involved in cutting larger ones, so they pretty much even out in terms of effort.  We enjoyed these for Shabbos in a sweet potato pie with crumb topping, and they were delicious!

Do you ever buy discounted imperfect produce?  What kind of store do you find it in?  What are the prices like?

Avivah

Helping kids adjust to a house that isn’t yet furnished

>>How have your kids responded to the time it has taken to set up a “homey home”?>>

When you’re just a couple, you can enjoy the adventure of living with nothing, being in a new country, and soak up all the new experiences.  But for a family with children, it’s very disconcerting and unsettling to be living out of boxes, not have ready meals, etc, and that affects their ability to positively perceive all the new encounters they have in the course of a day.  The more children you have, the more difficult this aspect of things can be, and their unhappiness can quickly dominate the home environment.  Kids need to have the security of home being home before being able to more fully embrace other aspects of their new lives.

Our priority was to get the most important things into place quickly so the kids would feel like we were living here, not like we were having a bad camping trip.  Part of why we elected to buy things at a second hand store that were overpriced and not exactly the quality we wanted was because we could get it quickly and we wanted the kids to have a sense of being settled.  It’s not a coincidence that the only furniture I haven’t yet purchased is what dh and I need; we don’t love not having beds or a place to store things, but we can manage without losing our bearings.

Having said that, I’ll share what we did in advance to make this aspect of things a bit easier.  Before coming, we spoke to the kids about the reality of different things we’d be facing as soon as we got here.  I know that most people focus on the excitement and privilege of making aliyah, and that’s wonderful.  But there can be a huge disconnect and letdown when those people arrive and see that there are very real challenges in living here.

I knew that an empty apartment would not be a welcoming place to live, and wanted our children to be aware of this in advance so they wouldn’t be disappointed by the difference between their expectations and reality.  I really tried to make sure they would have an accurate sense of the challenges we’d immediately have, and at the time I wondered if I might have been playing down the excitement of the move too much.  One time, ds12 said, “If everything is going to be so bad when we get there, why are we going???”  But I now see their amazingly smooth transition, and feel it was in large part because they were emotionally prepared for all of this, even though the time frame from the decision to move and the move itself were relatively short.

One of the issues I knew we’d face immediately was that we would have no furniture or appliances, and explained what that would mean.  I told them that meals would be very, very simple – that we’d be buying bread, yogurts, and vegetables daily for very basic meals until we got a fridge and stove.  I stressed this meant no hot or cooked food, and told them that there are no takeout places in Karmiel (with what we consider a reliable kosher supervision) so we wouldn’t be able to go out for a change of pace.

We used a large part of our precious luggage allotment (:)) to bring sleeping bags, to have a place for us to sleep until we got beds.  This wasn’t comfortable at all, but it was still a place to lay down, and we were able to tell the kids in advance that this is what would be happening so when they got here they were ready for that.

Another thing that I did that was to anticipate how we would keep things organized in the absence of closets.  It’s very hard to live out of suitcases for an extended period of time, and not being able to organize your things and find what you need makes a move to a new place much harder.  In order to offset this, I chose to bring 18 gallon Rubbermaid storage containers.

In the past, I had used these to organize clothing storage in the attic, and as I emptied the storage and gave things away, I stacked the emptied containers in a pile for use in our packing.  We filled each storage container with clothing or whatever else we were packing, then put each container inside a large box, and then packed things like sleeping bags or larger clothing in the space between the box and the container.  Almost every standard sized box that I packed was done in this way.

When we got here, I unpacked everything the first night, sorting everything into personal containers for each person. Everyone was then given his box, and these were lined up along the wall in the room their sleeping bags were in.  It was definitely squished, with sleeping bags almost totally lining the floors, but instead of the general chaos you might expect, each of them then had a way to keep their stuff relatively contained until we bought freestanding clothing closets.

This was a huge help in the house staying neat, and for all of us to find what we needed each morning.  As we’ve purchased closets for the kids, the emptied containers have been transferred to other uses around the house, so bringing them was helpful in the short and long term.

When we did get furniture, the kids were so appreciative for each item.  They knew what it was like not having it, and saw how much effort I put into getting it.

So emotional preparation was an important step for us.  The second aspect wasn’t about what we did in advance, but what we did when we got here.   Kids take their cues from us to a large degree, and we tried to focus on the positives of being here and not complain about the difficulties.  When things would happen that could have been very frustrating, I would think about how we were weaving a quilt of our aliyah memories that one day we’d enjoy reminiscing about!

Avivah

English speakers using Israeli classifieds

>>you mentioned that yad2 is in Hebrew; do you think that you could’ve managed all these purchases without the language skills, maybe just some broken phrases?<<

I think without Hebrew it would have been really intimidating to have gone through Yad2 or any other Israeli classifieds site.  My Hebrew is okay, but I have an American accent and find it harder to communicate by phone – I was procrastinating about making calls at first because I felt self-conscious about speaking to a stranger on the phone in Hebrew.  Then I told myself that people all over the world immigrate to different countries and have accents when speaking the language of their new country, so I shouldn’t be embarrassed.

But I did have one uncomfortable thing happen once!  I called about a set of twin beds, and when the woman answered, said, “I’m calling about the beds you advertised on Yad2.”  Sometimes people aren’t expecting a call about this and they for a minute aren’t sure what you’re referring to, so I wasn’t shocked when she said, “What???”  I repeated myself, and the elderly woman said to me, “I can’t understand you, what language are you speaking??”  I laughed and said, “Hebrew, I think!”  At the end of the conversation she told me my accent is so heavy that she couldn’t understand what I was saying (while it’s clearly an American accent, relatively it’s not overwhelmingly strong), and while she surely didn’t mean it this way, I felt embarrassed.  Generally Israelis compliment me on my Hebrew and ask me where in the US I’m from, but after hearing this for the next day felt very self-conscious when speaking to anyone in Hebrew.   Then I called back the next day for someone and realized she has a hearing problem, so that helped me to put her comments into perspective!

I think if you don’t speak much Hebrew, you’d probably be able to browse the classifieds and try to decipher the descriptions, but when it comes to calling people about it, you’ll be best off with someone willing to speak to people to you.  You’ll not only be asking specifics about the description of the item you’re interested in, but about making arrangements to see it, transport it, take it apart, addresses…you’ll want to be clear about what you’re saying, and know what they’re saying in response!

What I did in the US with Craigs List was to conduct most of this question/planning process by email, which was very efficient.  But my computer isn’t yet set up to send Hebrew (anyone with tips on how to switch over, please let me know!), and though many Israelis speak and read English, I don’t feel comfortable emailing in English; I feel like it’s presumptuous.

I met someone from Poland who made aliyah a few days before us – the only family in all of Poland in the last year to make aliyah, actually!  I asked her something at a bus stop, then we got into a conversation, and I told her when she was ready to buy furniture, that I would be happy to help her navigate the yad2  classifieds and could recommend someone affordable to help her get them home.  She doesn’t speak or read Hebrew at all, but when she came over a couple of weeks ago (we had just gotten our internet hooked up a couple of days before that), I went through the ads of basic items she was interested in so that she could get an idea of what the prices were on those things, for the quality that interested her.  She’ll be moving at the end of September from the absorption center and I told her to come back whenever she’s ready to do more focused looking.

People are willing to help but so far my experience is that you have to be very clear about what you need, because otherwise you don’t get any help, just lots of “Welcome, if there’s anything you need, let me know, have a good and easy adjustment.”  It sounds nice, but it’s of no practical use at all, even if someone is well-intended and really means it.  So let someone with the language skills know that when they have time, you’d appreciate a bit of help with this!

Avivah

Cooking chicken gizzards

Living here in Israel, my food buying habits have somewhat changed (I haven’t yet been able to find a bulk supplier and the stores here are obviously different), but overall my approach to shopping frugally has stayed the same.

One strategy that I consistently apply is to buy and use primarily what is on sale or cheap. This past week, I saw that chicken gizzards were on sale. In the US, gizzards were about $3.29 a pound, so they were always too expensive to buy.  But here, I was able to buy a kilo (2.2 pounds) for 7 shekels, which at about a dollar a pound, is the least expensive meat option I’ve seen so far.  So true to my pattern, I bought ten kilos (22 pounds); a few days before I had bought all they had left, just five kilos.

I brought them home and immediately put them all in a large pot to cook.  Gizzards take a long time to cook – if they are undercooked, they are chewy and have a not quite pleasant consistency – but if they are well cooked, they are as soft as butter and really tasty.  The key to cooking gizzards is to cook them long enough, until they are very soft.  My kids love these, and told me it’s their favorite kind of meat now!

The other thing about gizzards is they tend to be salty.  They become less salty with cooking, but still are saltier than your average cut of chicken.  The way I deal with this is that I use less salt in the recipe when I’m using gizzards, and it balances out well.

It takes the same amount of gas to cook a small amount as a large amount, so it made sense to cook all that I had at one time.  That helps keep fuel costs down.  Also, cooked chicken takes up less space in the freezer than raw chicken, so it’s more space efficient as well.

Once they were all cooked well, I drained them out, saving the gravy to cook with. I chopped them up since I plan to use them in various dishes and that’s the size that will work best.  Then I bagged them into one kilogram packages, and froze them.

Thirteen bags of cooked, chopped, and frozen chicken gizzards, ready to use!

What can you do with chicken gizzards?  Well, once prepared like this, you can use them in the same way you would use chopped chicken.  There are so many possibilities, and utilizing these inexpensive chicken parts has been a very frugal and delicious addition to our meals.   And preparing them in this way means that I have a nice supply in the freezer for a number of meals, ready to go!

Avivah

Furnishing our new home

We aren’t yet finished furnishing our new home, but we’re getting close!  Today I want to share with you what we bought, and how much we paid for each item.  Initially I was shying away from sharing these details, but then I thought about those who would find it helpful to have hard figures to work with in estimating costs of used furniture in Israel, and general comments about ‘finding a good deal here’ or ‘much cheaper in America’ aren’t super helpful.

To get an idea of what we’d have to expect to pay for used furniture, I casually skimmed an excellent website called yad2  for about three months before moving – this is the Israeli equivalent of Craigs List, and it’s very, very helpful.  The one caveat is that it’s in Hebrew.  When I first looked at it, I couldn’t figure out how to use it, but once I did, I loved it!

One challenge when buying used furniture and not having a vehicle is you have to figure out how you’re going to get your purchase home.  It took us almost two weeks to find a solution for this, and I’ll share what we paid for each item as well as how much we paid for delivery.  Because we weren’t able to do this from the start, we ended up buying some things from a second hand store because he offered delivery, something I generally avoid.

In the US, our kids shared bedrooms, with two bunk beds in each bedroom (ie four children in a room), and one child sharing a third bedroom with the inventory from my nursing pillow business.  When I talked to them about what kind of beds to buy, all of the older kids said they didn’t want bunk beds.  When you get older it’s not fun or cool to climb up, and they wanted the open space above their heads rather than another bed.  I still wanted to use the space well and have extra sleeping space for guests or possibly future children, so the below is what made all of us happy.  :)

For the first girls’ bedroom, we bought matching twin beds with spring mattresses.  Each bed has an additional bed frame (but not an additional mattress) that can be pulled out, in addition to two large storage drawers the size of the bed.  We went to buy these with the intent that they’d be for dh and I, but when dh got there and saw the color of the drawers below (in the one picture I had seen they weren’t visible), he decided to go ahead with the purchase but that they’d be better for the girls.  Dd15 and dd10 share this room and are very pleased with it.

Dh traveled to Akko to buy these beds, and paid 1000   shekels for both (they were asking 600 each but we got a lowered price since we bought both).  We paid an additional 200 shekels for delivery.  They are each 80 cm wide.

Now you can see the bed that pulls out

This is the four door closet for the girls’ room.  The previous tenants had originally offered to sell this to us for 1000 shekels; I offered 500, which I felt was reasonable based on my yad2 browsing.  They ended up leaving it behind after taking it apart and realizing it was too much work to get it down the spiral staircase from the upper bedroom.  They told us they were leaving this (and some other items upstairs that were equally cumbersome to get downstairs) in exchange for the paint they should have paid for.  It’s not exactly free but I think of it as if it was.

 

 

 

The next bedroom is our guest room that dd16 likes to call her room. I’m holding out on calling it hers as a matter of principle.  :)

Four door clothing closet with four drawers at bottom

This closet was one of several purchases we made at the second hand store a few days after arriving.   His prices were high (900 for an old fashioned 5 door closet), but when I asked about this closet, he said it was 400 shekels.   I asked him why the difference in price between a 5 and 4 door closet, and he told me this was an old style.  Lucky for me he didn’t recognize that this is a much newer and more popular color, and the other is about 25 years old!  He’s at least 75 years old, so that probably accounts for his perception.  He told me other things were ‘brand new’ when it was obvious to me they had been in style 20+ years before.  His prices included delivery.

This next bed took a while to find, since I was trying to find something that matched the wood of the closet we had already purchased.  (It’s not easy trying to match furniture just by the online pictures in the ads, since lighting affects the accuracy of the picture!)  It’s easier  to first buy the bed and then match the closet to it, but we bought what we did in the order that we found things.

This has an additional pullout bed, and two huge storage drawers (width and depth of bed) that also pull out.  The bed is 80 cm wide.  We bought this in Moran for 700 shekels, and paid 100 shekels for delivery.

Same bed with additional bed pulled out

On to the boys’ bedrooms.

Littles' bunk bed

This is one of the things we bought at the second hand store on a second trip.  The price and quality were actually decent, but it doesn’t look as good as what I usually look for (you can see the stickers on it which the littles actually were excited about!).  It’s all wood, and is 70 cm wide – there are three standard twin sizes in Israel (70, 80, 90), and 70 is called a youth size bed.  If you measure a standard American twin, you’ll begin to see how buying Israeli furniture allows you to use the space much better.  If we had US twin mattresses, we’d lose a lot of the floor space in between the beds and the closets, and the rooms would be much more crowded.

This was 700 shekels.

With additional bed for ds2 pulled out below

Below this bed is a pull out storage drawer (narrower than the beds), and I had the seller throw in an extra mattress.   I was ideally looking for a bunk bed that had a pullout bed and storage box included, but this is what I found, so I improvised.  The storage box is only 60 cm wide, but I cut down the foam mattress mattress to size, then resewed the mattress cover all around so it fits perfectly now.  I plan to replace this with a pullout that is 70 cm and to use the drawer for storage, since due to the narrowness I consider it a short term solution for ds2.  The delivery was supposed to be included, but the store owner called me when they were on the way and said he had made a mistake in calculating the prices, so he told me to pay the delivery guys 100 shekels when they got there, and he would also pay them 100 shekels.

Five door closet for boys

Across from the bunk beds is a five door closet that all of the boys share.  I measured the space in each bedroom and got the largest closet I could in order to maximize storage space.  The boys’ bedrooms are upstairs and due to the slant of the ceiling that starts at about 5’8″ high on one side of the room, this is the only space in the two rooms where we could put a full size clothing closet without blocking windows.  Our ceilings are high and you can see it goes almost to the top, so there’s loads of space.

We bought this from someone in Haifa, and paid 600 shekels.  Combined delivery with the fridge we bought the same evening was 550 shekels – the price was higher than usual because the closet had to be dismantled, and a refrigerator is a more expensive item to move.

Now the older boys’ room, shared by ds9 and ds12.

Second boy's bed (note additional bed peeking out at left corner)

This is a bed I bought at the same time as the bunk bed, because the wood colors matched perfectly  and I got it for a reasonable price.

This bed has an additional bed that pulls out from underneath, and the drawer from the bunk bed actually goes to this bed, which is where it will be returned to when I replace the pullout bed of the bunk.  I’m considering cutting the legs on this pullout bed down so it will fit under the bunk.  It was a little rickety when we got it but dh strengthened it with a few well placed braces and now it’s very sturdy.  300 shekels.

Boy's bed with three storage drawers and additional pullout bed (not shown)

Across from the above bed is this one.  This has three pullout storage drawers that are the width and depth of the bed, and an additional pullout bed.  I didn’t bother taking a picture of that since you can probably figure out how it works by now!  The pullout of this bed is what ds18 will use when he comes home.

I bought this in Haifa, and paid 500 shekels for the bed (he was asking 600), and 300 for delivery (delivery also included a stop at Kiryat Motzkin, to pick up most of dd16’s belongings that she had left there over the summer).  This bed also took some effort to find since I was trying for a close match of the first bed, which was difficult since the newer beds are a different shade.  It’s not perfect but it’s quite close and the room looks nice.

There’s also a small two door cabinet with two shelves and two drawers that was also left behind by the previous tenant that is a perfect match to the above bed that’s in this room. This allows the older two boys to keep a nice amount of their things in their room, though the closet is really just a few steps away.

Now back downstairs to the salon (living room/dining room).

Dining room set with eight chairs

Finding a suitable dining room set wasn’t easy. Most sets have just 6 chairs, so I was trying to match up different dining room sets from totally different areas, just by looking at the pictures online, so that we’d have twelve chairs.  I was trying to keep in my mind over two hundred sets and went back and forth between sets, looking at the wood shades, counting the wood backing strips of the chairs to get a close match…I was getting a big headache from this.  Since the sets were sold with tables and chairs, I would end up with two tables, and I planned to put one table in the kitchen, though I didn’t really want more than one table, total.

Finally, I decided to just look for one with eight chairs, and to supplement with folding or stacking chairs as needed.  There weren’t many sets available that had eight chairs, and when combined with the size table I was looking for and the price range I wanted to stay in, it took some looking.  I was pleased when I came across this set, which is solid wood and very well made.

We  bought this in Kfar Tavor, and it was 2000 shekels.  We paid 200 shekels for delivery of this, which included delivery of the oven the same evening.  I was pleasantly surprised when dh got home to see how heavy the table and chairs were.  There are two leaves of half a meter each that are added to each end (not pictured), which brings the table to a total length of 2.9 meters, large enough to comfortably seat 12.  We can manage to fit around here for regular dinners without putting the leaves in, by seating two people at each end.

Couch on left

We bought our couches from the second hand store on our first trip there.  Ds18 was with us and thought they looked decent, and since at that time we had no furniture, I expected the other kids to be excited when the couches arrived since we’d finally have a place to sit and relax.  They hated them!  Dd16 even told me they’re so ugly that she’ll be embarrassed to bring her friends over; I won’t share the more graphic comments about how ugly they were.  It’s more of a European style (which makes sense, since they were made in Italy), but they prefer American style couches.  They aren’t perfect, but I think they’re nice.   And the kids have gotten used to them by now.  (Sorry the picture isn’t so good; I took it for an intended post to show you the set up of the apartment.)

It’s a set of three couches, medium brown leather with solid wood frames.  In the picture you can see the big couch on the left; in the foreground is the edge of the matching chair, and across from that is a loveseat.  The way this second hand place is, things are stacked on top of one another and you can’t fully see what you’re getting, unless you insist that the owner take out every single item, which isn’t such a small thing to ask.  I asked him to take down the loveseat for me, and sat on it to see how comfortable it was; it looked good.  The two larger couches were in fine condition, but the matching chair looks significantly more used, which I didn’t realize until they arrived.  They were 900 shekels.

On to the kitchen.  I already wrote about the challenges of our fridge and stove, but these problems actually were the catalyst for a much better working solution for our appliances.  So I’m really glad that we didn’t have things that worked okay to start with, since we would have settled for them and it would have continually crimped my ability to function effectively in the kitchen.

After trying to use the standard size Israeli stove that was left behind (which only had one rack that was kashered), I realized that part of the problem we were having, is that we cook such large quantities that we simply needed something bigger.  I had planned initially to keep this stove and make do, but this realization got me thinking in a different direction.

I was up late one evening when I saw this oven come up for sale, and though I hadn’t specifically been looking for something like this, as soon as I saw it I knew that’s what would be perfect for our needs.  But I didn’t know if it would still be available by the time I was able to call about it in the morning.

This is the space intended for the fridge and the oven

I’ve rarely seen ovens this large for sale second hand, probably because Israeli kitchens aren’t sized to allow for something this large; it is 90 cm wide.  But when looking at the space in my kitchen, I realized I could put the oven where the fridge and oven were supposed to be, and then put the fridge across from that where the table would be (if we had one).

I was delighted when I learned it was available, then less delighted when I learned that although he advertised it being in Karmiel, it was actually located in a different town.  (This was only the second item I was buying directly from a seller, and I wasn’t yet comfortable with the idea of paying someone to travel there to get it, regardless of if I’d end up getting it or not.  I got used to buying something based on skimpy pictures followed by a phone conversation with the seller, rather than seeing it in person, pretty quickly.)  After speaking to him, I decided to send dh together with the delivery guy to go buy it.  Dd15 and dd16 had been very frustrated when trying to cook for Shabbos, and I didn’t mention to them that we were getting this, since I wanted to surprise them when it arrived.  They love it and so do I!  Cooking for our family got so much simpler with this purchase, and though it was more money than I could have gotten a perfectly good stove for, I feel it was a very, very worthwhile purchase and an effective use of our kitchen space.

And we did get an excellent price – we bought it from a seller in Rakefet for 1000 shekels.  As I mentioned above, we paid 200 shekels delivery including the dining room set.

Finally, our fridge.

Our wonderful new fridge

I’ll detail in another post how I decided on this model, but this has a good capacity (I think 568 liters, but I might be wrong on that) and I liked the setup of it.  The seller was asking 1900 shekels, and said he was slightly flexible on the price, so we paid 1800.  I know, not exactly major savings. :)  This is lots more than I initially planned to pay for a fridge (my original budget was 1000 shekels), but after our first fridge fiasco that ended up costing us 1400 shekels, I decided to get something newer that would hopefully last us for a long time.  The delivery cost was listed above, 550 shekels for this and the five door closet.

If you’re wondering what we’re doing with the old fridge, I found a solution!

An expensive 'lemon', but a decent cooler

The fridge itself actually looks nice (unlike the first one, which was not a bit attractive), but the fridge part is like a cooler and the freezer part is like a fridge. I decided to keep it to store the fresh fruits and vegetables in, which I buy in such large quantity each week that I really don’t have room in one fridge.  Before this I couldn’t buy enough in one trip to last for a week.  This also works well since it’s not opened as often as a regular fridge, so it keep the cold better than it did when we needed to open it often.  It’s next to the good fridge, in the kitchen, in the space that would have accomodated a kitchen table.

I didn’t take a picture of our washing machine, which I think is the only thing left.  We paid 900 shekels at the used furniture place, which was too much and I knew that when I bought it, but I needed something and I hadn’t yet figured out a way to buy directly from sellers.  Thank G-d it works and as long as it continues to work, it will be fine.  At the point in the (I hope, distant) future that I need to replace it, I’ll look for a ten kg model.  This is supposedly a 7 kg model, but I say supposedly because that’s what I wanted so that’s what the seller said it was.  I can’t find it written anywhere to say how much it actually holds, and since the veracity of his words has been repeatedly been shown to be questionable, I’m not assuming in this case he actually said the truth.

We still need to buy beds for dh and I, a clothing closet for our room, and eventually will need some bookshelves when the twelve boxes of books we’re sending on someone’s lift will arrive.  You might be getting caught up in how much more cheaply all of these things could be purchased in the US, and you’d be right.  But when you take into account how much it would cost to ship the items here, it changes the picture quite a lot.

These were all good buys, but if just getting basic furniture was my goal, I could have spent much less.  For example, someone offered us a free, wobbly table, and someone else offered us a fridge that doesn’t seal well.  That could have been fine.  However, this was my chance to furnish our home, and I was willing to spend more to get what I wanted and felt good about, while staying in my budget.  If I would have gotten things given to me, or bought very cheaply, the total spent would have been less but my home would be mismatched; I would have ended up keeping it because it basically worked even if it didn’t look great.  I’m a visual person and seeing nice looking things around me makes me happy, and seeing things that look junky doesn’t bring a smile to my face.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but I want what I buy to be good quality and hold up for many years to come.  To me, bring frugal doesn’t mean that you do without things that are important to you because you must get everything for the least possible amount of money, but is more about having the quality of life you want within the financial constraints of your budget.

Even so, you can see that the total (if you’re doing the math), though not small, even including the extra delivery costs, is still far less than the approximately $6000 to send a 20 foot lift, or $10,000 (36,000 shekels) to send a 40 foot lift (which is the size that would be big enough to have brought all the things we needed to buy).  (And I would have had to buy furniture to bring with us on a lift, so we had to take that into account, as well!)

We’re really happy to have bought the furniture we did here; not only was it a more affordable option, but equally important, it uses the space well and the apartment feels nice and spacious!

Avivah


Choosing not to bring a lift

I was asked a number of times, why didn’t we take a lift when making the move here?  Making a lift enables people to bring their furniture, appliances, belongings, and more to Israel, all of which can be purchased at cheaper prices in the US.  Combine the money savings with the comfort of having your familiar belongings with you at a time when everything else is changing, and bringing a lift seems very compelling.  So why didn’t we do that?

I had two main reasons.  The first was financial.  Bringing a lift is costly, and I didn’t have enough good quality furniture or other items that I felt justified the cost.  I knew that the replacement cost for all of our furniture would be much higher than what it would have cost to send it, but I also knew that if we were sending our furniture overseas, we’d be better off buying something in newer and better condition to send.  Our furniture was fine, but after life with nine kids, most of it had seen better days!

The second issue was that I didn’t know what the room dimensions of our apartment would be, nor how it was set up.  I wanted to maximize the usage of space in our new home, and felt it would be done best: a) after seeing it; and b) by buying Israeli furniture, which is more appropriately sized to the smaller Israeli homes.  This means that even if I had furniture that qualitatively was worth bringing (and I did have some), I felt that it would be questionable if it would be equally valuable once arrived, when taking into account the space constraints I’d be dealing with. Often Americans bring their furniture and find that it doesn’t fit well into the available spaces, and I didn’t want to have furniture I had paid so much to bring to Israel feel like a liability.

I’m very pleased with our decision to buy furniture here.  The main inconvenience was not having any furniture at all until we were able to buy something, but if someone sends a lift, they often have a period of time between their arrival and the arrival of their belongings in which they have to make do.  So this wouldn’t make much of a difference.

We haven’t yet purchased all of the furniture we need – I’m still looking for beds for dh and I, as well as a clothing closet for us – but we have everything else and can say with confidence that as much as we spent (and it was a lot more than I would have budgeted were I in the US), it was still significantly less expensive than sending even a small (20 ft) lift, which in any case would have been too small to have held all of the furniture we needed.

In my next post, I’ll share details of what I bought and how much we spent.

Avivah

Surprise Shabbos visitors

This week we had our first guests for Shabbos – I asked dh to invite a family of six that moved here three days before us, but they weren’t available this week.  (They’re coming for lunch next week.)  He took the initiative of inviting a lovely couple, probably in their mid forties, who are German and Ukranian, respectively.  It was interestingly coincidental that we had them this particular week, when dd16 invited a friend born in the Ukraine and raised in Germany, to spend Shabbos with us!

Our meal was a mixture of English and Hebrew – the husband speaks English, and the wife understands it – and it was nice to get to know them.  They told us how wonderful our kids are, and when the meal was over, dd15 commented to me on how quiet the meal was.  Sometimes meals are lots more lively but today was definitely sedate!

Dh went out to the porch after the meal to learn with dd15, when I suddenly heard shouting.  It was our downstairs neighbor, shouting at us from his yard down below for being so noisy.  He was ranting and raving about how we make noise nonstop, how our children aren’t a blessing but a siyud (sp?- siyut?) – neither dh nor I knew what this meant, but I asked an Israeli later that day who doesn’t speak English, and was told it’s a very harsh insult along the lines of a terrible tragedy.  This was, well, a little surprising to me.

When we lived in Baltimore, our neighborhood was about 50/50 Jewish/African American, and our non-Jewish neighbors all spoke very well of our children, even telling me they’d miss seeing the kids around when we moved!  Another non-Jewish couple, who generally oppose large families, told us we should have more since they were so impressed with our children (and this was when we had nine already!).

There’s no way a large family (or even small family) is going to be silent, but for a family our size we’re on the quiet side and I try to be on top of the kids when it comes to being considerate of neighbors and being quiet.  I didn’t expect our neighbors to actively be appreciative that the kids take off their shoes in the house, play quietly during 2- 4 pm every day (national quiet hours), whisper or speak in a low voice when in the building hallway coming upstairs, not play with balls, marbles, push cars, or anything else noisy at any time in the apartment, but this reaction seemed unreasonable to me, to put it mildly.

About a half an hour later, there was a knock on the door.  I glanced out the peephole and was taken aback to see two uniformed policemen waiting there.  I opened the door and welcomed them inside, and they told me they had received a complaint about our excessive noise.  They said the caller complained that we’re shuffling chairs around nonstop from 6 am, we have a synagogue in our house, and we’re disturbing the peace, that we had at least twenty extra people in our house that day.  The officer doing the talking went on and on about how I have to understand that people work hard all week and deserve a break on their day off, and I have to make an effort to have peaceable relationships with my neighbors.  It was as if he’d already decided we were guilty before he got inside, or maybe it was when we saw we were religious.  Fortunately, the house was very clean and quiet when they walked in, with kids all either resting, playing cards, or reading books.

I told him that my kids aren’t even awake that early, that we are very careful about quiet hours and as careful as possible during the rest of the day, too.  I explained that I realized that when one of the kids stacked the plastic chairs after the meal (it took about two minutes), it was too loud and we’ll be more careful about that in the future.  But, I continued, we don’t have a synagogue in our house and rather than the crowd they claimed we were hosting, only had a middle aged couple as guests.  It seems that when my husband, son, and guest sang three Shabbos songs together, this upset my neighbor and was what prompted his complaint about our in-home ‘synagogue’.

As far as trying to be peaceable, I pointed out to the policemen that they didn’t get calls from me when these neighbors are playing music until 1 am (or later), having loud parties and barbeques late in the evening – one has to be willing to close their eyes to annoyances for the sake of being a good neighbor.  I thought to myself that it was ironic that this woman, who told me the first morning we were here that I would be bothered by other people not doing things according to my liking, was reflecting the kind of person she was with her comments.

The reality notwithstanding, the policeman warned us that if they continued to receive complaints about us, they’d ticket us at 350 shekels the first time, with increasing fines each time they came, and once they received a certain amount of complaints, it would be very bad for us because then we’d be labeled a problematic address.  I asked what happened to the person who called in with unsubstantiated complaints, and he told me that he can’t say the caller was wrong – there wasn’t a synagogue there right then, but maybe I was the one lying about it.

No, this really isn’t the nicest welcome to the building!  I know that this neighbor had complained about us to at least two neighbors within a week of us moving in (and probably a lot more), because two people told us about it; they told her we’re a nice family and to leave us alone.  One of these was a neighbor in my building, and explained that they’re very difficult people and she herself had suffered a lot from these neighbors over the past twenty years.  This person came to speak to me when the neighbor complained that by leaving a stroller in the corner of the wide and spacious entryway, I blocked her ability to get to her front door when she was carrying groceries.  If you saw my building, you’d see how ludicrous this was, but the same unhappy neighbor took matters into her own hands by pushing my stroller outside the building because she was so annoyed – all of two times that I left it there in the first three weeks we were here (usually I bring it up a flight of stairs with me).

I met the husband the first Sunday morning we were here, when he knocked on our door and told me that he could hear by the way the water was running that we had a burst pipe, and he shut off our water.  Dd16 was frustrated since she was in the shower when he shut off the water, and dh checked it when he got home and said it was nonsense, there was nothing wrong and he suspected the person didn’t do it from a desire to help, but I couldn’t imagine someone would maliciously shut off our water just because the sound of it going through the pipes was too loud.

Then last week, my littles threw several olive pits in their yard on Shabbos before I realized what they were doing.  I gave them a stern talking to and said after Shabbos we’d go down, apologize, and pick them up. But we didn’t have time for that, since the father threw them back onto our porch – yes, all five of the pits!  I understood why he would feel frustrated, even though I didn’t think it was the most mature way to handle it.  But all in all, I was grateful that though they made it clear they weren’t happy we are living here, they weren’t constantly knocking at our door to complain.

Back to my talk with the woman asked to tell me to keep the stroller out of the entry (she’s the head of the building housing commitee) – I told her I realized it was probably hard for our neighbors to have a big family above them after being used to a small and quiet family (a couple, grandmother, and a young girl).  She informed me that they had bitterly disliked the last people, that it was a ‘catastrophe’ – they wouldn’t talk to each other, and the downstairs neighbors had constantly complained about the noise level of this family as well.  I couldn’t imagine this family could have made much noise; I remembered that the retired policewoman I met last week mentioned she had once been called to my apartment with a complaint, and I didn’t want to pursue it since I thought it might be gossip.  But after today, I strongly suspect that these neighbors were the ones who called the police on that family as well.

Later in the afternoon I went to the park, where I spoke with someone who lived here before the last family – I wanted to know if she had ever had any difficulties.  Oh, yes, she immediately said, they suffered terribly (interesting that both people used the term suffering to describe their experience) from these neighbors, they knocked at her door frequently to complain (though never called the police), they were bothered by little noises, even normal sounds of people living there.  The first thing her kids did when they moved to their own house was to loudly push the chairs back and forth in place, as a reaction to having been so constrained about every sound they made for so long, and relief that they didn’t have to worry about that anymore.  She told me to realize I’m not dealing with normal or reasonable people, and that there’s nothing I’m going to be able to do to make them happy.

Amazingly, I don’t feel overly bothered about all of this. I tend to get very uptight about bothering people, and tried very hard (though unsuccessfully) to find a ground level apartment so that I wouldn’t have to worry about downstairs neighbors, but in this case, the reactions to us have been so extreme that it’s hard to be too upset about them.  It’s almost amusing, except that it’s not.  I’ll try to find a solution to the plastic chairs that we use to supplement our regular dining room chairs, since they do make more noise when people sit in them and shift their position than wood chairs.

But I can’t make my kids or myself crazy about this – and the kids are already feeling anxious after seeing the police here.  Today ds2 started to cry, and ds5 told him, not as a threat but from alarm, to stop or the police would come.  Ds4 ran across the room in bare feet later in the evening, and when I asked him to walk quietly, he worriedly asked me if the police would come if he ran.  It’s hard not to feel somewhat anxious, knowing someone can call the police on you, and the police are totally subjective about determining if there’s a basis for the complaint – they stand outside listening before coming into the house (fun to picture police officers standing around listening when you don’t know they’re there!), and it’s up to them to determine if your noise level is reasonable or not.

I plan to call my new friend, the retired police officer, and ask her if there’s anything I can do to alleviate this issue from a police standpoint.  I’d love it if she had enough pull in the department to tell them that the real problem is the people continually making the calls.  But even if that’s not realistic, I’d like to get her suggestions on the best way to handle this.

Avivah