Free Flowing Tears, & Holding the Nasty In

Being pregnant is like a muddled up bundle of hormones in all of their forms. It’s tricky though. You never know when your hormones are justified, and when they’re just your body acting out at full volume overload.

 I can’t speak for other people, but I find that for the most part, just extremify my genuine feelings. If I’m frustrated, and in good right, it will come out mega blast, instead of the usual “I will hold it in and let it past”. Or if I’m worried about something, or anxious, instead of my being able to rationalize that worry and hold it in, like I may have been able to do in the past, it will come out in a flood of tears.

While my worry itself has a perfectly logical reason for being there, the flood of tears that follow seems to make me look like a bat crazy pregnant woman. On normal people, there’s a filter. You feel an emotion, you process how strong it is- and whether you should let it out or dock it, and then you react in turn, in accordance with what seems most fit.

If someone makes you really mad for example, your first instinct, pregnant or not, may be to yell at him “piss off you shmuck”. If you’re not pregnant, you might simply say this in your head, fake smile, and move on. If you are pregnant, the filter seems not to handle the process as well. You seem to have two options – one – yell it at the person really loud (which thankfully I know not to do most of the time) or two, burst into tears, at that moment, or at some later point during the day.

 It’s like the tears have a super low threshold tolerance. Every time something upsets you, you get closer to hitting that threshold. And it doesn’t have to be things that make you sad to set the tears off.  It can be things that give you anxiety, things that make you angry, things that make you frustrated, boredom that doesn’t find an outlet – all of those emotions seem to tick off the tear filter for me. Each time it goes ‘ ping!’ ‘pong!’ and gets one step closer to going off. And then “boom!” – at any given moment, when the threshold is hit, the flood gates open, and it’s all over. The tears flow freely.

Now if a stranger saw a pregnant lady crying, he may have a large amount of empathy for her, after all – who wants to see the pregnant lady cry? People generally tend to have excess empathy for pregnant ladies. They help them with their bags, they ask them how they are feeling, they pick things up for you when you can’t bend.

But husbands, husbands aren’t the same b/c they have to live with the pregnant ladies,24-7, for 39 weeks.

I suppose it gets a bit frustrating to be arguing with someone, and then have them pull out the secret card of tears, and suddenly, it goes from being a legit fight, to you looking like the bully, b/c the other side is pregnant and crying.

So maybe the first few times this happens, the husband side feels sorry he made his wife cry, and he will retreat. But after a while, I suppose it begins to feel like “what the heck, you can’t just start crying, and think that that’s it – you win the argument b/c the tears come out”

And so the husband starts ignoring the tears and continues arguing as if they weren’t there, and the wife suddenly feels very sorry for herself that she’s crying and no one seems to care – even if she may have been crying yesterday, and the day before that and the day before that.

And it becomes frustrating – those tears. The impediment to properly wage war and present your side, or the loss of the possibility not to wage war, b/c you just hit your tolerance threshold at full throttle.

They have that movie – the rules of engagement. I think the rules of engagement change entirely when you’re pregnant, and you have to learn to deal with your spouse differently, as overnight, they launch into somewhat of a different creature. At least in this respect.

Many people enjoy reading pregnancy blogs about how your body will change, or what your baby will look like at this and that stage. Not me. Maybe the first three months I enjoyed that. Now, if I want to read about pregnant people, I look out for funny stories of hormonal outbursts.

 I research what brought other pregnant woman to tears, so I can see that I’m normal.  My good friend lent me a pregnancy book by Jenny McCarthy (the former playboy bunny) and in it Jenny describes her mounting frustration with her husband, that culminated in her throwing remote controls at his head. I can totally relate to that, as sometimes, that is exactly what I want to do. And not just my husband, lots of people that upset me. I know I sound crazy, but I’m not. It’s just that my emotions seem to reach new extremes in my state. And as I’ve come to lovingly call it – I just have to learn to hold the nasty in.

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Finding the Perfect Bathroom

I am now 5 and a bit months pregnant. It’s taken me a while to feel comfortable writing about it publicly. But I guess now’s a good time as any. There’s so much to say on the topic – after all, it truly is a life altering occurrence (for me). You spend your childhood pretending to play mommy, wondering what it will be like to be one- placing foreign objects up your shirt – a basketball, a pillow – in imitation of a pregnant lady (or at least I did). When i told my 4 year old niece I was pregnant, she stood up on her kitchen chair and thrust her chubby little stomach out as far as it would go so that she could pretend to be pregnant along with me.

So here’s the story of how I found out I was pregnant….

It was a Saturday in June, and we were spending it with friends in Jerusalem. We were sleeping at an empty house, and eating our meals out. We had just finished lunch, and Kenny and I went in for a nap. I woke up starving, and the dry whole wheat pitas which we had brought with us suddenly looked amazing. I scarfed down two. A half hour later, I was still hungry. I felt a bit like the hungry hungry caterpillar. Usually shabbat lunch would last me until Saturday night. Now it seemed to have lasted me an hour…

We went over to a friend’s house for 3 seudot. Her table was filled with all these amazing delectable, as she had served a milchig lunch that day – my favorite! Leftover vegetable frittata, tapenade, plum pie with vanilla ice cream, homemade hummus and tehina etc etc. Usually I LOVE all things sweet. Especially with fruit. But strangely, I had no desire for her pie. She encouraged me twice to have it. “Taste it, it’s amazing,” but for some reason I did not want it. Nor did i want the frittata, something I would want on any other day of the week. All I wanted was her bread, and her butter. She had the fresh Lechem Shel Tomer crusty  kind. I sat there with a bread knife, carving piece after piece, buttering them up and snacking them down. They tasted so delicious.

I will leave out the details of the other signs I suddenly realized I had ignored, but it did occur to me, as I was eating all this bread, that perhaps i needed a pregnancy test. i couldn’t suggest it to Kenny. The idea seemed too far out. What were the chances? Instead i sat there repeatedly whining about the strange things I’d been feeling lately until; he suggested it on his own”hey babe – you think you’re pregnant?”.

“well i don’t know Kenny – you think?”

We agreed that right after shabbat he would run to the pharmacy and get me a test. i did not want to be part of it. It sounded so ridiculous. Me? Be pregnant? That’s for grownups. Not single pple that spend their life chasing after boys, and that just got married 6 weeks ago and still basically think of themselves as single.

So ken went to the pharmacy after shabbt and i cleaned up, as we knew we quickly needed to run to his friend’s birthday party at a comedy club soon thereafter. I was not anxious. I had put the matter in Kenny’s hands. This was his idea, not mine.

Ken came back empty handed. Apparently the pharmacy doesn’t open that quickly after shabbt. But now we both were openly curious. So we decided that we’d head to the party and try again to find a pharmacy that had opened once we got to town. Ken went straight to the correct aisle in the pharmacy. Me, embarrassed, wandered amongst the perfumes and moisturizers in search of a new scent.

AS soon as we bought the box he said “ok – you’ll take the test at the comedy club.”

Comedy club? That underground hole in the wall, which my mom would never let me use the bathroom of unless I toilet papered the thing from wall to all and brought in a breathing mask? Nah uh! I will not find out if I am with child over there!

 Lucky for us there was a Neeman bakery near the pharmacy. So ken sat outside waiting ,and I stepped inside. I took my time toilet papering the seat and reading the instructions on the pregnancy exam. It said to pee on the stick. That stick seemed to be covered in a plastic guard. I wasn’t exactly sure how it would feel that i peed on it, but i did what it said and I waited. And waited. Nothing. I realized I had peed in the wrong spot. It had a special little window that you have to make sure to pee on, and I had missed it! And now i had no pee left and we were late for the event. So I wrapped the stick back up and placed it in my pocketbook. Then I came back outside and ken expectantly stood up and waited to hear the announcement of the pivotal news. I told him “I don’t know – I missed the stick”.

Comic relief. We ran to the club, he got a whiskey, me a cranberry seltzer. He sat back to watch the show, and I sat back to refill my bladder. An hour in, I decided it was time to try again. At this point it was about 1130 pm. I headed out of the club in search of a respectable place to find out if I’d conceived my first child. My first stop – this place called Alice, a non- kosher restaurant. I approached the maître d, now growingly anxious about the results, and asked if I could use their bathroom. No, they responded, I could not. I was a little taken aback. Restaurant owners usually never say no. And if only they knew what an important mission I was on!

 I decided to go for more familiar territory. I headed for Burgers Bar. I went straight to their bathroom and toilet papered the seat, in anticipation of my exciting errand of momentous proportion, in which i must concentrate hard on aiming for the right spot on the stick this time. As i begin to crouch down over the seat however, there is a loud desperate banging on the door. It is the African American cleaner who tells me they are closing NOW and I must get out of the bathroom.

Well I certainly can’t be rushed – clearly this is not the bathroom for me. So I flush the toilet paper down and step out, in search of new facilitates, in search of the perfect bathroom.

Then I remember from my days in seminary that cafe Rimon has wonderful bathrooms. So again I approach the maître d and ask her if I can use the bathroom. 3 shekels she tells me (I guess everyone else likes their bathrooms as well!). I’ll take it I decide. Better to pay and get nice accommodations. Yes, this was clearly the bathroom for me. White, clean, modern sink with flowers – nobody rushing me and crowding my space.

I toilet papered that bad boy, gave the stick my best aim – and look- the sick says I’m pregnant.

I felt nothing at that point. I think I new it would do that. I had a pretty sure feeling. But just b/c the stick says it doesn’t mean that i am. People that get prematurely overly excited face disappointment later on. So I pulled out the other stick and peed on that too. It said the same thing. Hah, I thought. Now I have a problem, what if they are both mistaken. I head back to the club, the two magical sticks in my bag, and find Kenny chatting outside with this reggae guy in rastas. Kenny looks up at me headed over from across the block and screams –”so are you?”

Now what kind of wonderful moment is that- So are you?

Where was the pre-planned conversation, the candle lit dinner, the “sweetie prepare yourself for the news”?

So I ignored his question. And he kept talking to his friend. And I sat there willing him to cut his dumb conversation so i could properly tell him the news.

5 minutes later he did. He was ecstatic. I was not. Not b/c i didn’t want a child, or didn’t want to be pregnant. The opposite is in fact true. But rather b/c i was too petrified of it being not true, and this all being one big false alarm, and disappointment, and it being my pee that made the mistake.

Ken couldn’t fall asleep that night. He was too excited. He laid awake tossing and turning most of the night. I only found this out the next day, as i fell fast asleep and slept like a rock.

My excitement began three days later, when i headed to the doctor, who gave me a sonogram and confirmed for me that I was in fact 6 weeks pregnant. I got to see my extra-large uterus on screen, with this tiny little ball inside it, which looks like a little chirping bird, which I named “chirpy”.  That was at that moment at which I became thrilled.

Followed by many future weeks of intense emotions to come…

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Idiocyncracies

When you first get married, it’s like a big boom to the system. Whack. Everything changes. People back off. They give you your privacy. Your friends don’t call as often – definitely not after 8 pm. You have a new house. A new roommate. You can walk around naked. So can your new roommate – that’s weird. There’s the constant lovely little surprises.

Someone to appreciate you. To tell you you’re beautiful. Someone to kill the cockroaches, and even happily take pride in the act (or in our case – chase the birds out). Someone to hug you before you go to sleep, and then again when you wake up in the morning. Someone to dry your tears when you’re sad, simply b/c they can’t stand the thought of your crying.

..Then there are the less pleasant aspects of marriage that are also a shocker to your system – you need to take someone else’s needs into account. You have to check in with them when making your plans – strange when you haven’t “checked in” with someone else in years. You have to take their preferences into account when deciding what activity you do. So what if you want to sleep outside in nature with sticks in your hair, sans a tent. If he doesn’t want to, it will take some of that awful C word people like to mention in context with marriage – compromise. And then there’s sharing your food. I HATE sharing my food. Apparently marriage seems to dictate i eat a lot less whole cookies and a lot more half ones.

But after the dust settles regarding these major shockers, and you develop into somewhat of a routine, what you seem to be left with is the idiosyncrasies. The things your partner does, that you don’t, that you think are just plain “weird.” And when you think of the performance of that given action, the first thing you think about is THEM.
Take for example clean surfaces. If you have to ask Kenny what one of my idiosyncrasies are, he would probably tell you that i CANT STAND things piling up on surfaces. Surfaces need to be clean. In particular the dresser in our entry hall. And when it is not clean, I will remove the objects. And often times, throw them out.

I like to throw things out.

It gives me a sense of order and cleanliness. Feelings of renewal. The purging of the clutter. Out with the old, in with the new. No unnecessary, unidentifiable objects crowding my space.

Now let’s talk about Kenny’s idiosyncrasies, the main thought behind this post.  When i think of Kenny, i think of facial hair. Yes facial hair.

The first inkling i had of his obsession prior to our marriage was his purim costume. He warned me while we were dating that he likes to grow his facial hair out weeks in advance, so that come purim time, he can make all sorts of weird designs in it. Fine i figured, i can deal with that.If that’s his thing, let him enjoy.

The next encounter i had with this obsession was when I began dropping by his apt on Friday afternoons. Kenny is a man of routine. He likes his things to follow a certain order. I think it keeps him sane in this big bad world. One of his routines involves sitting outside Friday afternoon, drinking a beer, and trimming or shaving his facial hair.

Ok, i shave my legs in the shower with water and soap. He shaves his beard with beer and a cigarette. Whatever.

Anyways, those were about the only signs i had while we were dating. Not much to be suspicious of over there. Its only once we got married and began living together that I began to understand the extent of his craziness.

My next tip off on ken’s craziness was when we went to America to get married. His father bought him a brand name beard trimmer at Ken’s request. Ken was ecstatic with his new acquisition. But did Ken already have a beard trimmer? Yes! Did it work? Yes! But apparently he needed a new one. A better one.

Next was the Gillette razor. That very same trip he needed a $50 package of blades from costco. Why, i asked him, do you need a Gillette razor? You know that according to halacha you can’t shave your beard with one of those. He then pointed to two teeny spots perched on the upper parts of his cheek, which in order to get a clean shave with, he needs the accuracy of the specialized Mach 5 – for real men! $50 and a year’s worth of accuracy!

Once we came back to Israel and took up permanent residency with one another, the questions regarding my opinions and his beard trimming began: “Atara, should i shave, or just trim? Shaving is nice and smooth, but it makes my ears look bigger and it gives  me  a baby face. A short beard makes me look better, but its’ a bit prickly, what do you think?..”

Honestly, i hadn’t given it much thought. Truth be told, i shave my own legs once a week. When i remember.

Then came the kibbutz incident. We spent a weekend at the kibbutz. It had a bare bones bathroom. Big open room, shower head, chair. That’s it. Come Saturday night, i ran to pack our stuff and ken ran to
lock himself in the bathroom. Without a newspaper. 5 mins, 10 mins 15 mins go by. And i can hear a buzzing noise coming from there. Buzz, buzz buzz. “Ken, what are you doing in there, can you hurry up? I want to get moving!” “Oh babe, I’m just giving myself a good and thorough shave. I needed to” …Right.um hmm.

While i may not fully comprehend this obsession of his, once thing is sure. I understand it is not to be messed with. That i am not to get between my husband and his trimmer, shaver, razor, body hair trimmer, clippers, collection of blades etc. etc. And that if i do, it will not bode well..

Well like i mentioned, i like to throw things out. And i do not like things on my front hall dresser. One day i came home and there was a piece of plastic there. It looked comb like. Cheap. 99 cents. I wasn’t sure what it did, but i knew it didnt belong on my dresser. It looked useless. I may have thrown it out. I’m not sure…

48 hours later ken asked me if i saw the plastic comb like attachment for his trimmer. “Oh! That’s what that what that was! Um, I am not sure it i threw it out. Maybe…” Kenny is very upset. He is highly agitated. He just wants me to tell him if i did it. If I threw it out just tell him. Just tell him god damn it.

But I don’t know. I can’t be sure.

We frantically search the house, the two of us. In all the strange places you can think of that i would place something. Under cabinets, in random drawers…Nothing. We can’t find it.
He decided he must order a new one. Now. He can’t talk to me until he does.

I retreat to the bedroom in cowardice and defeat and leave him to the act. 2 mins in to his online surfing there is a neighborhood black out. The whole surrounding area has gone dark. Our internet is cut off. Ken has not yet ordered his attachment. He is in despair. I am toast.

“Use your iphone internet,” i pipe up from the bedroom. This suggestion temporarily soothes him. He’s off to reorder his clip. He puts hin a credit card number on the miniature order form located on his iphone. He is rejected. He tries another credit card number. Again rejected. Kennys anguish is beyond words, and my marriage is going to need repair.

i know my status in this relationship. I need to fix this one.

I know, ill email my parents. Maybe ordering from an American IP will work. I contact my parents on their Los Angeles vacation with an emergency imperative to please order a shaver clip replacement so that me and my husband can sleep  at night.

Ken insists on seeing the wording of my email. He needs to be sure i got the details right. i deny him this pleasure. There are boundaries to my love.
My father replies in 24 hours with confirmation details. Thank god, he has ordered the right item, and it shall be arriving with my mom when she comes in three weeks.

In the meantime, each time Kenny shaves i am subject to hearing about his missing trimmer attachment. My patience and remorse quite frankly have run out though. I don’t really care. Nor do i notice much of any difference. Eventually the incident falls into the background.

Last Friday Kenny was working. And i was cleaning. I reached on top of the fridge to put something up there, and low and behold, but what did i find? Kens trimmer attachment!!! Oh the joy, the jubilation, the relief. I called him with glee to tell him of my creative spot. How thoughtful i must have been to put it there.

What could he say? He knows who he married. He knew what he was getting himself into.
And putting stuff on top of the fridge? I guess you can add that to my list of idiosyncrasies. I seem to lose things there often.

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Yigal the Green Grocer

One of the things I mentioned in my previous blog post is my apartment’s close proximity to a cheap fruit and vegetable store. I love how easy it is for me to hop down my building’s stairs and pick up some fresh lemons and nana for my nightly fix. Or how I’m able to effortlessly mosey down the road on late Friday mornings (thanks to my extended coffee fix) and find all the fresh supplies I require for my latest cooking escapades. I love how their produce is almost always fresh, the selection is fine, and the price is CHEAP! Especially, after years of paying 5 shekel an apple at the closest produce place once available to me in central Tel Aviv.

The only problem with my fruit shop is the help they provide me with.

Let me provide some background:

I’ve noticed that most of the people that walk in there, of the populations I have previously described, will typically perform a frugal, well thought out, selective fruit shopping. If a customer comes in to buy cucumbers and a melon, then that is all they will purchase. And they will make damn well sure that they are getting their money’s worth. They will sit there banging on all of the melons for 10 minutes, haggling over their price, debating as to which melon will provide them with the sweetest choice, while at the same time making sure not to get ripped off or overpay an agura. A similar procedure will then follow with the cucumbers. Each one will be felt up with extreme precision until the customer has selected what they’ve deemed the perfect pick. Only then will the customer shell out the necessary 12 shekels for their purchase.

Me, I’m New York bred, and I’m all about speed. Swift foot, swift hand and swift mouth. The first time I walk in and ask the man behind the counter where I can find a basket for my produce, he hands me a huge empty carton and says “Here, put them in there”. And so I fill up my carton with a good 80 shekel worth of produce as his little young Russian helper scurries to assist me with my purchases.

All of his “assistance” is unnecessary but accepted on my part, until I have finished with my purchases but he apparently is not. He’s now calculating what else he thinks his I would like to purchase. “Red onions?” he suggests. “OK, red onions, you can throw those in.” “Zuchinni?” he asks. “NO, I don’t want zuchinni,” I reply. “Apricots?” “No, I don’t want apricots” I more authoritatively let him know. “Cherries?” He tries again. “Still no.” And then, the native Russian customer in line behind me comically points to the bread and says “rolls?”  It is then that I am positive that the joke is on me, because I’m an American. Presumably a rich American.

Next Friday as I do my weekly shopping, a similar experience is repeated. I’m greeted with big smiles by both Yigal the shop owner and his little Russian assistant. They rush to provide me with a carton and help me fill it up. And this time, already as I’m shopping, his assistant starts offering me things I may like to purchase, while Yigal stands behind the counter apologetically apprising me of the fact that he is out of cherries, though he does in-fact carry them in his stock.

When I return home, I complain to Kenny about how I’m just about positive they’re picking on me because I’m American. Ken than relays how he’s also had similar experiences in the store, and that next time I go in, I should explain to them nicely and firmly that it’s simply not enjoyable for me to shop in this kind of environment, and could they please stop.

Only I don’t. Because I don’t have the heart. They’re all just so friendly to me. And I need them. But I do continue to complsin to Kenny about it…

Come a few weeks later,Ken and I make a stop downstairs to load up on lemons and nana for my nightly lemon nana fix. As we’re approaching the store, he whispers in my ear – you’re not going to let them do it this time, right? You’re going to stand up for yourself! And I promise, that if in fact they pick on me, then I will speak up for myself,though by no means will I initiate a comment on my own.

Well everything’s going fine. Kens gathered a selection of the perfect fattest, juiciest lemons, I’ve picked out a sprightly, heavenly smelling batch of nana and we head over to the register, noticed, and yet so far unhassled.

And that’s when it happens. Yigal opens his mouth, “Papyas! You want Papaya’s? We have beautiful ones!”  Ken doesn’t wait for me to respond. He snaps to my defense – “No we don’t want papayas.” “And please stop asking us if we want things. You make it very unpleasant for my wife and I to shop here when you keep asking us if we what things. I know we’re American, so you assume we have money and want to buy things. But we don’t, and it’s a really unenjoyable shopping experience.”

Well big hairy Yigal, with his robust protruding stomach, is highly insulted by Kenny’s slashing remarks. You can see it in Yigal’s sweet face. He’s hurt. He plaintively replies to Kenny that “fine”, he will “Not speak to him or his wife while he shops here anymore!” He will “Not ask Kenny or his wife if they want anything!” He’ll make sure that none of his workers talk to either of us- ever!” Kenny’s ears turn bright red with the rebuff, as it is clear that Yigal is upset, and Kenny’s ears generally turn bright red when those sorts of things happen.

Damage control is now necessary. I quickly whisper to Kenny that I think he’s just had a cultural misinterpretation. While it’s true that often they try to schtup us with things we don’t need because we’re American, in this particular instance, that wasn’t the case.

Yigal wasn’t trying to schtup us with papayas as he does with other staple house hold goods. In this particular instance he was simply and proudly letting us know that he carries this most exotic unique seasonal fruit. Yigal’s reaction, along with my quiet explanation, made the Russian-American cultural gap that had occurred here quite clear. Ken quickly apologized to Yigal, telling him he’s sorry, he didn’t mean to tell him not to talk to us at all, he just meant that Yigal please shouldn’t suggest that we buy more things. And of course the papayas look wonderful!

Then Kenny tells Yoigal what a lovely store he has, what a nice man Yigal is, and how much we appreciate having him here to do our shopping.

I quickly chime in with an added, albeit exaggerated, cultural explanation – how in America (where I’m almost positive he’s never been) we don’t talk to each other while we shop – EVER! How it’s considered rude to bother the customer while they’re shopping. How Americans generally preferred to be left alone.

Between Kenny’s apology and my explanation, Yigal appears placated.  We’ve managed to restore some of his pride. And so Kenny and I continue on with our nightly errands…

A week later, as Ken and I are walking down the main Ave a few blocks away from the house, I stop outside a green grocer and mention how we need tomatoes. Ken waits for me to pick some out. I think for a moment and then ask Kenny if perhaps it would be better for us to get them at Yigal’s? Ken agrees, each of us feeling a combination of both self-satisfaction- at the thought of the seemingly altruistic gesture of saving him our business, as well as what I believe was a shared sense of – relief. Relief, that we’re both on the same page on this one.  Relief, in noting that the other had individually arrived at the same decision. That “yes!” we need Yigal, fruit suggestions or not- and we will remain loyal to his fruit stand!

As we approach the register, Kenny and I, we greet Yigal by name. He smiles back at us happily, toothy grin, belly and all. He doesn’t ask us if we would like anything else with our purchase, and Kenny and I- we’re most relieved to be back in his good graces.

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Jaffa Living

“You live in Jaffa?” they all ask. “How did you end up there?” Well, it’s really quite simple you see. My new husband, Kenny, did not want to move to Tel Aviv. Too urban he claims. And myself?  I was ready for a break from the high rent prices, the endless cycle of parking tickets and the pollution that would fill my lungs every time I opened a window or walked out on the central cross roads where I was then living.

And honestly? We also both just needed a change of pace. So I chose Jaffa, the up -and -coming trendy suburb of Tel Aviv. Just a stone throw away from the big city.

When a person chooses Jaffa, or more accurately, when I chose Jaffa, I had an image in my mind that resembled a cross between the ornate architecture of Th  Golden Age of Spain, and how I imagine things looked during the reign of the Ottoman rule over Palestine. I pictured a city interspersed with beautiful arches and arabesques, stone walkways and vibrant colors.  I pictured a diverse multi-cultural fusion of hip and trendy Israelis living side-by-side with  cultured working class Arabs and Palestinians.  I envisioned the Soho of Manhattan takes on the Jaffa of Tlv.

And in fact, I wasn’t too far off  my vision. The only part I was wrong about was the price tag. The scenery I just described belongs to Northern Jaffa, where the old city is located with its beautiful stone structures and its ancient sea port, as well as its overflow of hip Tel Avivian’s. That description also belongs in part to Ajami– the Christian Arabic section of the city, containing old Arabic houses with their classic Islamic architecture. Both neither the Old City of Yaffo, nor Ajami, seemed to prove much cheaper than Tel Aviv.

The section that we ended up moving into, Jaffa Daled, is still in Jaffa, but slightly different than I had envisioned. It does match the price tag we were looking for, and provide the much desired respite from the bustling city of Tel Aviv’s pollution and fumes. As a matter of fact, Jaffa Daled is covered with green grass, and parks, plant nurseries galore and roosters in our backyard, crowing at all hours of the day. Plus  Arabs riding horses along our sidewalk which greet us on our way home from work each day, along with  a goat or two that seem to emit a bleat out of nowhere every once in a while, thus infusing  instant moments of joy to what I can almost refer to as my country style living.

But Jaffa Daled’s apartment buildings resemble those boxy edifices common to any Proletariat neighborhood, and more importantly, the diverse population I so desired isn’t exactly the same one I had previously described.

Let me paint a picture for you. Two days ago, Kenny and I were riding our tiny little elevator (that fits 4 skinny people on a good day) down from our sixth floor apt to the lobby. The elevator opens on the fourth floor, and enter two rather heavy and short Russian neighbors of ours in their late sixties. His bald head seems to reach Kenny’s shoulder, her wild hair reaches mine. We smile at each other. Ken greets them in Hebrew.

The nice man replies in thickly accented broken Hebrew that he does not speak the language. Ken puts on a fake broken Hebrew of his own and replies in the same language “גם אני חדש. לא מדבר עברית כל כך טוב. Thanks to two years of working with a Russian coworker, I then throw in a dobre ootra and a pjaowsta. Ken, who has just begun working with Russians as well, throws in a Rabota (which means “work!”). The man’s face lights up and he burbles back a long string of Russian pleasantries (so I presume) leaving the two of glancing at one another and exchanging stares of cluelessness.

The elevator door parts and we go our separate ways. So goes another friendly meeting with our neighbors.

That meeting wasn’t particularly uncommon for us. You see, just about every single one of our neighbors, in my so desired multi-cultured neighborhood, are Russian, Ethiopian, Ukrainian, Muslim or working class Israelis.

The average attire seems to consist of mono-toned jogging suites for the middle aged population, skin tight pants with burbles of fat hanging over the top for the female population, and wife beaters with ¾ pants and matching Diadoras for the male population. The ‘average’ language is anything but Hebrew or English and the average vehicle seems to be a tustus (moped).

When Ken and I first moved to the building, as good Americans tend to, each of us had simply way too much “stuff” that refused to fit into our allotted closet space. And so we each vowed to start giving away. Ken got rid of a few pairs of his lightly worn yet out of style designer shoes, some t-shirts, a comforter that was a bit too lumpy, sheets that I refused to let into the house. I gave away some sandals I no longer wear, sample KMS hair products I never seemed to use, L’Occitane moisturizer Kenny couldn’t stand the smell of and some tank tops I never really wore.

Each time we would give items away, we would drop them on top of the local plastic recycling bin on our way to run a quick errand down the block. We’d generally be gone for no more than ten minutes. NEVER when we returned, were the items still there.

As we continued to deposit items on top of our bin, our fame in the neighborhood seemed to grow. One morning as I rode the elevator, my neighbor Simcha asked me if “we” were the new American neighbors. Then Simcha felt the need to enquire how many exactly “we” were. Another neighbor introduced herself on my way down the elevator and also asked whether I was the new American to move in. She then wanted to know if we had bought our apt (no), followed by the question of how much we were paying to rent it per month.

My favorite however, was the day I was crossing the yard on Shabbat afternoon toward the park, as I passed a young couple with their children. I tend to walk at a swift pace. Suddenly, panting from behind, I hear a little girl asks me in Hebrew if I’m “One of the new American neighbors?” “Yes,” I reply. “Why do you ask?” “My mother would like to know” she responds.

I jokingly suggested to Kenny that we should post an oak tag on the entrance of our apt building with a few necessary pieces of information about us – annual income, clothing size (though, they probably have it), plans for pregnancy, blood type, credit information- you know, the basics. He didn’t think it was too bad an idea.

Three weeks ago I decided it was time to clean my book case from bad books, as I seem to be running short on shelf space. I brought down five English books I didn’t like, or knew I would never read. I placed them on top of the recycling bin as usual. Those books are still there. I kid you not. Each and every one of them!

While my neighbors might not be the type I would have over for tea (if I did that sort of thing), or even feel comfortable borrowing a cup of sugar from, I can’t say I’m not happy with where we live.

I like being different. I like the challenge of carving out my own territory. I love the fact that I have Kenny as my partner in crime to do it with, and that we now have unchartered territory between us to call “ours.” I love that the rent no longer eats up my salary, and that the ocean is five minutes away. I love the cheap fruit and veggie store beneath us, and I love the random odd stories we now come home telling one each other about our eclectic neighbors (as I’m sure they do about us).

 

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Chickens, Cows and 50 Square Meters: Life on a Kibbutz

This weekend my husband and I (yea, it’s been a while since the last time I wrote) went up north to a religious kibbutz. I’ve stayed on kibbutzim before as a member of their guest house, but never as a guest of someone who lives there, as I did this time.

The anthropological experience was such a fascinating one. I currently live with my hubby in 70 square meters- and we manage to fight over space. There, when a couple has their first kid, they get bumped up to 50 square meters of space, which remains their allotted amount if and until they have their FIFTH kid! I was in shock. Total and utter shock. Both at the small amount of space a family is granted, and at the fact that, yes, they seem to manage to live happily that way, so what does that say about the rest of us?

The couple we were visiting, my cousins, bathed their one year old in his baby bath tub. You might refer to it as a plastic box. It’s all relative actually. If baby prada were to place that label on the plastic box, it would be considered the next hipster, trendy thing and all mothers would be running to buy one at a price of $500. But in his case I’m guessing the box cost no more than $2 and it really seemed to do the job just fine, as their baby sat in his water box on their porch, happily laughing and splashing about.

Then there was the stroller. Mothers on the kibbutz bounce their babies about in little portable metal cribs, with springs underneath that glide on wheels. You might say these vehicles look like animal cages with open ended tops. But they’re marvelous little cages and they cost a third of the price of a regular stroller. Plus, there’s only one model so you needn’t spend months agonizing over the baby buggy that’s more portable vs more sturdy for jogging with. And for an added bonus, you can fit your kid along with all of your groceries inside it. Just plop and go. Nifty, eh?

Then there’s the issue of work.  There are about 120 families on the kibbutz. Each person has the choice to either work in the kibbutz’s businesses, work in maintaining the kibbutz, or if it’s lucrative enough – work outside the kibbutz. If you work outside the kibbutz however, your whole paycheck is handed over to the communal effort. ALL of it. Your money is then realloted to your friends on an “as needed” basis. Thus, you have the guy clearing the muck out of the stalls, and the hi techiest programming server side applications, both earning the same amount.

And both living in 50 square meters along with their children and spouse.

Yes, I’ve heard about kibbutzim before. Yes I knew what they were. But hearing about it and seeing it in action are two entirely different things.

My thoughts on the topic throughout this weekend were constantly divided in two – “oh my god, I could never live this way!” and “wow, what a really nice quality of life. “

The kibbutz is filled with beautiful fruit trees, fresh cows you can milk, horses you can ride, yards for your children to run in and an unlimited number of friends for them to play with. Neighbors whose doors are always open and friends who have known you since the very beginning. You can breathe there. The air isn’t filled with pollution. You don’t have to worry about how you will save up for your children’s college education or throw their weddings, you know that the kibbutz has it covered. You may not always have your choice foods available, but you know that there’s always variety and that you’ll never go hungry.

The kibbutz milks its own cows, makes its own cheeses, and slaughters its own chickens. Do most little kids today even know where there chicken nuggets come from? Have they seen what a live chicken looks like, in person?

Given all of these benefits, I tried to think why I was equally so turned off by the concept. Is it the minimalist lifestyle – am I too spoiled from life in NY? Or is it the sharing – I really never have liked sharing my things much… Or is it feeling just a bit too cut off from society?

Well I realized that the part that actually disturbs me the most is the lack of ambition it seems to condone. Somehow I always have pictured myself at trying my luck to see how far up the economic line I could go. How much can I advance at my job, how much money can I earn, how will I allot my money when I receive it?

Perhaps if I knew all the people on my team were equally ambitious, I would be willing to share my resources with them. But what if they’re not as ambitious as me? What if they hold me back due to a lower rate of achievement? And if they make more than me, would I really want to go for the ride on someone else’s coattails? I’ve never really enjoyed free rides. They lack the self- accomplished feelings derived from hard labor and the joy derived from reaping its rewards

Then of course there’s the rules aspect of a kibbutz. I hate being told what to do and how to do it – and the kibbutz is all about rules. How much electricity to use and when to run it, what house you will live in, when you will have rotational duties, how much money your child’s bar mitzvah should cost, how many months after having your child will you go back to work. They rules might make sense and I may even agree with some of them, but I wouldn’t want to live a lifestyle in which personal decisions are dictated to me, rather than arrived at on my own.

And lastly, embarrassed as I am to admit this – although it is apparently possible for 6 people to coexist in fifty square meters, I don’t think it’s possible for me to ever do so. You can leave NY, and you can claim to be all Israeli and have left most of that material wealth behind, but there is a limit to these proclamations. The rope can only stretch so far. And my rope could never stretch that far!

So my final conclusions regarding this weekend and life on a kibbutz are as follows:

For the people who this lifestyle works for- it seems to work quite well. Could it work across a whole continent if properly implemented – like say the USSR?  I highly doubt it. Too many other people out there that share sentiments similar to my own,

But on the flip side, do the people up there on that kibbutz have a better quality of life then their fellow gush dan brethren, earning 5 digit monthly salaries and returning to houses one and a half times the size – for two – yet running a pressure marathon, living in a fog of pollution, and constantly racing to afford their next luxury purchase? Yea, I would say so.

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The fifth Day of Chanukah – A garbage Calamity

Ask me what I did last night? Ask me what I did? I spent the fifth night of Chanukah going through three garbage pals of soggy left over corn salad, shopped up slices of onion, gobs of jelly oozing out of donuts, tin cans haphazardly thrown about with their sharp edges just waiting to nick me, and smelly banana peels. In essence, smelly everything.  All garbage is smelly.

Now as me what I was doing spending my fifth night of Chanukah hunting through the garbage? I’ll tell you . Looking for my keys! My keys to my car, my keys to my house, my keys to my life. And no, to answer your question, I didn’t go straight to the garbage. I first checked the whole kitchen up and down, inside my newly dumped grocery bags which I had neatly deposited on the floor, and in the inner recesses of my fridge and freezer – four times!

And where did I get the energy for all of this from to conduct this mad search? I’m not quite sure. I can only chock it up to desperate despair, given the current state of my affairs. You see I had risen at 7 that morning to attend my cousins brit, zoomed off to hi tech land for a 9 hour shift, and then continued on to a one and a half hour grocery shopping stint to stock up my house for my Chanukah party, as well as  general food stock, so that I could find something to add to my daily diet, other than cereal and milk, and past with ketchup and cheese (when in the mood to get fancy) .

Now picture this, its 9pm, I still haven’t eaten dinner or lit candles, I’ve been out of the house for 14 hours,  I walk in my front door laden with groceries, and out pop 14 pairs of beady female eyes, all staring at me. They are all lined up, in a row, sitting in my living room. They are there to attend a hafrashat challah party, my roommate has made  and they are all staring at me.

I highly doubt you would feel comfortable, feeling like the stranger in your house being stared at. Add to that tired and hungry, with a full remaining trunk of groceries you know you still have to drag in before you can relax.  So I sprang into action. I dropped my groceries and started to unpack, in hopes of finishing this up quickly, and the promise of grabbing a bowl of cereal and milk, and retreating into my room for my first moments of peace that day.

Only it really didn’t go that way. At all! While I didn’t go any further than from my front hall to my kitchen, and I didn’t take any longer than three minutes to unpack the first bags in my first trip from my car, when I looked for my car keys to go for the second shift – they were nowhere in sight.

I tried to check the kitchen counter, but the girls kept coming in to clear off their dinner, plopping more and more dishes on my counter. I tried to quickly check the top of the garbage to see if I deposited them in there with myused grocery bages, but someone decided to dump in more garbage. I tried to check the fridge, but someone else was adding a new stack of perishables to my fridge. I felt invaded, tired, frustrated and hungry. And close to tears. Oh so very close to tears. But I wasn’t crying this time. I just cried over something stupid yesterday . Man up atara!  Man up! How far could those damn keys have gone?

I decided I needed to get away from the estrogen filled shrieking and fast. And I need to find a way to counteract always those female hormones that were literally starting to make me sick. I quickly slipped into my boyfriend’s sweatpants,   climbed into my bed, and placed an emergency phone call to my mother.

She suggested I get all those girls looking for my keys, but I told her I just couldn’t handle it. She pointed out to me that I will find them, they are there, and that I should just put earplugs in and go eat something. So I did. I slipped into my overrun kitchen, poured myself a huge bowl of American imported shredded wheat squares drizzled with a generous helping of agave, strawberries bananas and kiwis, and went in search of the milk.

And then I silent retreated to my room. By then I had surrendered to the fact that I wouldn’t be in bed with dinner eaten and my candles lit by this hour. Or have my car unpacked. It just wasn’t happening.

At 11:00 I resurfaced and sought the help of the four remaining girls in my apt. They began throwing out random suggestions of where my keys could be. The bathroom?  In a cereal box? My room? The garbage? I was desperate, I went out to the garbage, rolled up my sleeves, and dug into the three freshly planted bags.

I believe this is where my story began.

I’ll tell you where it ends.

Yes, I did eventually find my keys an hour and a half after I started looking. And I made a decision. I came to the sad conclusion, that as much as I want to – I can’t do everything. And I can’t compare myself to all those people that I think can. I’m just not them. I’m me. And me, doesn’t know how to do anything half- halfheartedly. She gives 110% to all her personal relationships, to her work, to her school, and to her social life. And at the end of the day, the person most short changed in the deal – the person whose needs dissolve first –are mine. No yoga, no jogging, no more clean laundry, and no more foods other than quick carbs, I’m so tired of it all.

And I have been trying so hard for the past couple of months to juggle seeing my boyfriend in another city, with going to work 9 hours a day and taking the two hardest classes in an economics degree – microeconomics and macroeconomics. And I’ve been doing well in the classes. Honestly, I have. And I’m so proud of myself for it.

But I don’t have a mom to stock my fridge with leftovers, or run to for shabbat when I don’t have time to cook. And no, I don’t have someone to go food shopping for me. And , I don’t have anyone to do laundry for me (as a matter of fact, on this given night, my clothes were scattered all over my room, as I need to do laundry, had finally found the time to do it on Saturday night- but it happened to be raining. And I needed a place to dry them…)

And I’m saying it now. I cant take it anymore. I JUST CAN’T TAKE IT. I simply can’t do everything. I want to, but I can’t. I don’t want to chase my keys, I don’t want to look through garbage, I don’t want to burst into random fits of tears. I want more hours of sleep, and I’d really like to start eating vegetables again. I haven’t quite figured out what it is yet, but something has got to give.

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