Getting to Know Us…An Interview with Donna Grushka

Thanks to volunteer, Irv Cantor, we present this second installment of our new “Getting to Know Us” blog series which began in December with an interview with Executive Director, David London. Watch this space for further articles acquainting you with the many members, employees, volunteers and donors who make AACI the place for English-Speakers in Israel.

 

Interview with Donna Grushka Donna at AACI  early 2000's

The world-famous anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The gentle force of her words can be heard in the  recollections and thoughts of Donna Grushka, an AACI volunteer. She has a  unique history with AACI, and we appreciate her taking the time to share her  insights with our blog readers.

Donna, thank you for agreeing to respond to our questions. Let’s start with how you came to AACI.

Let me start before that. In 1976, my husband Eli, who was born in Israel, was teaching chemistry at the State University of NY at Buffalo, when he received an invitation to be a visiting professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. We were here for nine months and I fell in love with the country, fell in love with being here. We went back to Buffalo, right into the Great Blizzard of 1977, which was a shock after being in Israel for nine months! We returned to Israel in the Spring of 1978. Eli is still teaching at Hebrew University, and is also busy with research and consulting.

I took an intensive ulpan and worked as a research assistant at Hebrew University and elsewhere. In the spring of 1983 I was looking for a new job. I had the idea that I wanted to do something with English-speaking olim, but I didn’t know exactly what. I saw an ad for a temporary job as a counselor at AACI. At the time, I knew very little about AACI.  My husband was an Israeli – if there was something to be done involving forms or procedures, my husband was my “in house” expert. But I responded to the ad, and even though I was not a social worker and had never been a direct service provider, AACI decided to take a chance with me. Luckily, the temporary job became permanent.  I was always grateful for that decision: working at AACI was the job of a lifetime for me!

I was intensively trained, which is important to note. AACI counselors are given in-depth training in order to accumulate the knowledge needed to be effective.

What is your academic background?

I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. But I knew already when I came to Israel that I did not want to work in the politically confrontational field of labor relations in Israel.

Although you’re not a counselor now, do you see a difference between being a counselor now and what you did as a counselor in the 1980’s?

Yes, there’s a definite difference. The organization was larger then, and there were more counselors. I became the third full-time counselor in the Jerusalem office. We were booked several weeks in advance with appointments. There were many new olim coming to the Jerusalem area. In the absorption center in Mevasseret Tzion, we had 50 families from North America. And in Beit Canada in East Talpiot, we also had about 50 singles and couples and young families. We were very busy, and, of course, there was no email or internet.

Visiting the absorption centers to greet olim and to provide counseling services was a very special part of AACI in those days. Volunteers went with the counselors to provide a personal connection. New neighborhoods were opening up, like Har Nof, and parts of Beit Shemesh, and AACI sent counselors to those areas to assist new immigrants.

Today, the counseling staff is much smaller. People have new resources, and sometimes rely on online information. However, when people have questions about their personal situation, they still need the individualized, specific hands-on advice and assistance that can only be provided by a real live person in a one-on-one setting. This is one of the most valuable benefits AACI provides to our members – to make an appointment and see a counselor in our offices (Sheila Bauman in Jerusalem, Miriam Green in the South Branch in Beer Sheva, Yanina Musnikow in the Central Branch in Tel Aviv, Netanya, and the North Branch in Haifa and other locations; and Helen Har Tal for employment counseling.)

None of us had computers in those days. We didn’t even have typewriters. I remember a counselors’ meeting where we were asked what our vision was for AACI. I responded that I had a dream that each counselor would have a computer on their desk. It seemed very far-fetched at the time.

Did your relationships with new olim extend beyond the initial weeks and months?

In many cases they did. People would come back months later, saying that they had accomplished certain goals and now wanted to move on to another set of goals. Education issues with children might not emerge until months later.

How long did you have this role? 

I began as a counselor in April 1983 and continued for about ten years. In 1993, I became the Assistant Director for the Jerusalem branch of AACI. There was a full time Director at the time just for the Jerusalem branch. The National office was separate. We shared the same building in the Talbieh neighborhood, with “downstairs” meaning National, and “upstairs” meaning the Jerusalem branch.

What were your responsibilities?

As Assistant Director, my main focus was on programs. I filled in for the Director when she was not around. I managed the production of the Jerusalem Voice magazine. I dealt with some outside organizations, and worked intensively with the Seniors group, as well as coordinating many of the volunteer activities such as the front desk.

What types of programs was AACI running back then?

We had presentations on the rights of olim, for example. The art class that is given today is a twenty-year-old program. There were music programs in the evenings. The old building was smaller, so we could not run many programs during the day. The Wednesday morning program for seniors (RAPS) is also one that has been in existence for a long time.

One of my most enjoyable activities at that time was working with the seniors. We had a nice garden outside our building. We had an end of season luncheon there every June.

Also, we held large yard sales in the garden area where we could accommodate 70 or 80 sellers and regularly attracted several thousand buyers.

The travel program started in the late 80’s and grew to the significant program that it is today.

For how long were you in this management role and what did you do after leaving?

I was in that role for about four or five years, and then at the end of 1997 I said I had to get out of the “ivory tower”. With some trepidation, I left AACI. I did a bunch of other things. I spent a year working for Birthright, when it was just a dream. It was a very small, modest role, similar to a secretary. The program was just being created, there was no real infrastructure. It was fun to support the dreamers.

After a short time working for Hadassah Women in Israel, I worked with Evie Weidenbaum, who had been the Director of the AACI Jerusalem office while I was at AACI, and who had become a close friend. We set up a small company which provided support services to families with elderly parents or spouses needing care. Then in 2004, I went to work, on a temporary basis that stretched into five years, for the Israel Government Coins and Medals Corporation. My job was to translate their public relations materials from Hebrew into English. I loved that job. The exposure to Jewish history and tradition was so interesting.  And after those five years, I retired.

When did you come back to AACI as a volunteer? How did that occur?

I have been active at AACI as a volunteer for about ten years, doing more and more as the years passed. Currently, I am Co-Chair of the Jerusalem Branch of AACI. Belle Fine-Cohen and I have just begun our second terms as Co-Chairs. We work closely with the AACI staff and other volunteers on programs and what goes on in this building. We sit on the National Board and also focus on cooperation with other organizations.

Towards the end of the ceremonyFor almost ten years, I have also been the Co-Chair of the National Memorial Ceremony that takes place in the Fall. I think that we, as the North American community in Israel, owe a debt of gratitude to our fellow countrymen who have come here and fallen, as members of the IDF or in other positions of service, or as victims of terror. We owe it to them, to remember them, to honor their memory once a year. So I have helped organize the ceremony along with my Co-Chair, Rabbi Jay Karzen.

On a totally different note, for three years I have been in charge of the art gallery shows in our building. It’s been a fun part of my work here, because I love seeing the artwork on the walls around our offices.

Visit our facebook album to view the rest of the photos. This is just a sample.

Visit our facebook album to view the rest of the photos. This is just a sample.

And I must mention the Children & Teen Art Exhibition which has attracted entries from kids around the country – English speakers, Hebrew speakers, and even international students.

I have worked on the amutot, the independent funds associated with AACI. Perhaps you are not aware, but AACI has three independent funds, including one that gives very small scholarships to school children in Jerusalem.

What skills do you think are necessary to be successful in these types of roles?

I think the essential skill is being able to get along with people who are very different from one another, and to be able to convince them to do things that need to be done. As a volunteer, you do not have authority to compel cooperation, so you have to use skills that convince and persuade.

What do you value most about the work you do and what AACI represents?

What I have always felt about AACI, and it is now thirty years that I am associated with the organization, is that we bridge the gaps between individuals. What do I mean by that? I mean that in this organization we have people from almost every part of the spectrum – politically, religiously, or any dimension you can think of. We are a diverse group. AACI looks to what unites us, as English-speakers in Israel. This is aside from all of the good work that we do, the support to olim, and the outreach to the community.

Does anything stand out as particularly rewarding?

This is not my project, so I cannot claim credit for it, but it reflects how special AACI can be. There was a project that Murray Safran z”l began over 20 years ago when there was the large Russian aliyah. He began a tutoring project to match up English speakers with these olim who needed to learn English, mostly for work. It was a huge project, and he did it as a volunteer. He did not have a computer – he had index cards with hundreds of volunteers and hundreds of students. It was a beautiful example of how AACI members reached out to the community.

It is rewarding when things you did many years ago have become the standard way of doing things for many other organizations. For example, AACI initiated a “Yom Aliyah”, bringing representatives from different government offices, from banks, and from the kupot cholim to talk to new olim individually, in one place at one time. Today, other organizations now consider this activity as the default for providing olim with needed information. I remember organizing the first one, when people came to the old building – some representatives even sat outside in the garden.

In the early 90’s we were all searching for ways to reach out to the Ethiopian olim. We invited Ethiopian children from the absorption center to come to a Hannuka party at AACI. We thought perhaps 20 or 30 children would come. Close to 100 excited kids came, many of whom spoke little Hebrew and obviously no English. It was a bit chaotic! But they sat on the floor next to North American olim children – and we lit candles, and sang songs.  I was very proud to be part of AACI that day.

During the Gulf War, when people were staying in their apartments, AACI volunteers living near the office, on their own volition, came in to the office and made phone calls to members who were living alone, to make sure they were okay, if they needed training on their gas masks, if they needed windows sealed with tape, if they needed medications from their kupat cholim, or had other concerns.

Let’s turn to the challenges. What challenges confront AACI as it supports its community of English-speakers in Israel?

I think the biggest challenge is always the financial one. We simply need more money to do all of the good things we want to do.

With the appearance of new organizations over the years that are addressing aliyah and klitah, we need to address our position relative to those organizations and what makes us unique. We need to communicate what we offer that cannot be found elsewhere.

We don’t have a timeline for our services. We don’t walk away when a new oleh has become “settled”. Yet many of our members, after two or three years, when they feel comfortable, let their membership lapse. When we contact them, we try to let them know that there are still many opportunities to work together, and that we understand that Aliyah Never Stops.  Our message is:  “We need you. We need your input. We need your time as a volunteer. We need your financial support.” It is interesting that we hear from members years later, when their circumstances change or they become elderly. The issues surrounding growing old in Israel can be difficult ones. We need to maintain an interested and supportive membership during that gap between growing comfortable in Israel and growing old in Israel.

Another challenge is to grow the number of young people to our organization. The J-Town Playhouse Theater is an effort in that direction. There is tremendous potential for young people to make a major contribution to AACI and support English-Speakers in Israel. And they can have a lot of fun at the same time. We need to develop ideas that will attract more young olim to AACI.

Are there parts of your work and volunteering that you would describe as fun?

I am not sure I am going to answer that question directly, but there is an important point I want to make. I think one of the nicest parts of being at AACI has been the friendships that I have made over the years. Some of these friends are former colleagues, and some are people who were “my” olim when I was a counselor. It is very rewarding – personally – when people say to me “ I remember when you were my aliyah counselor and you helped me settle in Israel”. To have helped people fulfill a dream is a wonderful feeling.

In the last year there were two events that brought together people who have worked for AACI in different eras. One was a birthday party for the former director of klitah and national executive director, Olga Rachmilevitch. A group of about 25 former employees went up to Netanya, where Olga lives, to celebrate. It was a great reunion. Second, AACI recently honored two people who have been working for the organization for 25 years, Carole Kremer and Helen Har Tal. Again, people spanning many years came together in this building to honor them. AACI has been extremely lucky that, despite modest salaries, the people who work at AACI have always been dedicated, caring, serious professionals. It has been a privilege to have known and worked with them.

What about your life outside AACI? Hobbies, interests…can you describe them?

My husband and I have been blessed with three wonderful daughters. One lives in the States and teaches as the University of Virginia. The other two live in Tel Aviv. We have three grandchildren, two of them in the States. Family is very important to us.

My husband and I are antique enthusiasts. We are especially interested in Israeli antiques and Judaica. We have collections of different things, for example old chanukiot. Not the fancy silver ones that came out of Europe, but Israeli ones from the 50’s and 60’s. We have old newspapers, and some framed newspaper stories for particular milestones, like the morning of May 14, 1948 saying the country would be established.

And we love Israeli art. We go to auctions and enjoy them. We don’t buy the big, famous names, but enjoy what we have. We also like going to concerts, theater, and the opera.  One more thing: we love watching sports on television, especially winter sports such as skiing and ice skating, as well as tennis and baseball.

Donna, thank you for taking the time to share your rich history at AACI with our readers, along with your ideas and insights. You should be an inspiration to readers to become part of the AACI family, to be members, to be volunteers, and to sponsor the remarkable work of AACI. Thanks, again.

To our readers, below are links to the services and programs mentioned by Donna during the interview:

Employment Counseling
http://www.aaci.org.il/articlenav.php?id=47
Art Class
http://www.aaci.org.il/articlenav.php?id=132#marcia
Seniors
http://www.aaci.org.il/articlenav.php?id=132#seniors
National Memorial Ceremony
http://www.aaci.org.il/articlenav.php?id=298
Art Gallery Shows
http://www.aaci.org.il/articlenav.php?id=351

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in

Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv,  Beer Sheva and Haifa.

AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center

Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall)  Talpiot, Jerusalem

MAP

Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.

(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

 

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Getting to Know Us … An Interview with David London

David London at opening of AACI-Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center – March 2010

by Irv Cantor, Volunteer

What is management all about? Lorne Michaels, the producer of Saturday Night Live, summarized it well when he said, “The show does not go on because it’s ready. The show goes on because it’s 11:30.” Management makes sure commitments are met, expectations fulfilled. For David London, the commitment is not just on a brochure, it is in his heart. The following is a summary of an interview with David, in his office on November 25, 2013.

David, thank you for agreeing to this interview and for letting us give our blog readers a chance to get better acquainted with you.

For starters, how did you come to AACI? What were you doing beforehand?

I made aliyah with my family in 1991. Before then, I was the director for Young Judea in the southeastern United States. In those days, there was no such thing as having a job in Israel before you made aliyah, and people didn’t commute for work overseas while in Israel. My aliyah shaliach said you take the first job you can take, because they don’t really think you are here until you have a job. We moved to a merkaz klitah (absorption center), and in those days, there were barely pay phones, cell phones, and certainly no email.

Was aliyah something you and your wife had been thinking about for a while?

My wife and I had each spent our freshman year of college in Israel on separate programs. We did not know each other then, but we both loved Israel and wanted to come back.

When we eventually made aliyah, I went to ulpan, and my class was made up of all Ethiopians and me. So if I missed class, it was kind of obvious. I needed a job, a simple eight-to-four type of job. I saw a job advertised for AACI, the lowest level job, a kind of “gofer”. They liked my background and they hired me. I found a wonderful home at AACI, but to be honest, I could not afford to work there. I was offered a job at USY (United Synagogue Youth) to work for just six weeks in the summer. The pay was excellent and included a free plane ticket to America. So I approached AACI about leaving, and they proposed finding a replacement for the six week absence, but continuing at AACI for the rest of the time. And we were able to work that out. For the next two years I was given different coordinator roles. I used to joke that every time I wanted to leave they would promote me.

After some time, I became the National Program Coordinator. When AACI eliminated that position, I became the AACI Director in Haifa. Although we had a number of wonderful friends there, it was too city-ish for us and our kids. And that feeling also made us think about my leaving AACI. We moved to Beit Shemesh. When the Director positions in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem opened up, I decided to take the Tel Aviv position and was there for a number of years. Subsequently, I took on a co-administrator position for the entire organization in the National Office in Jerusalem.

In 1999, the Israeli economy was not doing well, and AACI was informed of a large cut in funding from the Jewish Agency. The high tech sector was doing well; I was offered a position at Intel, and I took it. They were specifically looking for people with no technical background. The idea was to bring in new thinking, to break out of the merubah (square) thinking typical of engineers. There were 14 of us, and we went through a six-month university-type training before being put in administrative positions. As good as the position and compensation were, I quickly realized it was not for me. I am a Zionist in my blood, in my DNA. I like helping the Jewish world. I was unhappy, but stayed there because of the poor economy, and I did some volunteering at AACI. Until one day in 2001, when I got a call from AACI about the Director position in Jerusalem. They thought I would not be interested, but I was very interested. I later became the Executive Director.

Let’s turn to something more current and more specific. Can you describe what a typical day is like for you?

A typical day for me usually starts in the office at 7:30. I boot up my computer and try to take advantage of that quiet time to plow through my email.

You know, in a global volunteer organization, you don’t work from eight to four. If you’re up at two in the morning, you will very likely find someone else immediately responding to your email or sending you messages.

My schedule is often filled with meetings, but I need to find time to do other work as well. Often meetings start the discussion about an issue, but it is the follow up work that resolves the matter. Most staff arrives around eight. Around 8:30 our front desk volunteers come in. They are lovely people, some of whom have been with us for over ten years. I always like to go out and say hello to the front desk volunteers.

A normal day ends around six.

Do you travel much? 

Executive Director of AACI

Executive Director of AACI

There are two levels – I try to visit the main branches at Netanya, Beer Sheva and Tel Aviv, but I would like to spend more time there. We can do much on the phone or by email, but it doesn’t replace being there.

I travel on some of the AACI tours. We are very proud of the AACI Kosher & Fun Travel program that we have developed. The program serves as a gateway to acquiring new members. Very often people come on the trip knowing little about AACI, but they make friends, have a great time, and learn about us on the trip and end up using our counseling services and enjoying our other programs after the trip.

I think there’s a different mentality when you are an Israeli or when Israel is in the center of your heart which people often say to me. Very often English speakers from the US, Britain Australia etc. join an AACI trip and see the power of this kind of mindset, that we’re all very proud about being Jewish and Israeli. That it is in our DNA; that it is not just going on a trip, it is going on a Zionistic trip. We don’t go around waving an Israeli flag, but we are proud of who we are, we have made a decision. And it is also wonderful because we are a heterogeneous group with various levels of religious observance. What ties us together is that we want to have a carefree travel experience with English-speakers as leaders, companions, and tour guides.

More generally, AACI is an excellent meeting ground for the religious and the secular and everything in between to come together. And I like that. Focusing on what we have in common is amazing. In Israel, where so much is categorized and separated, our goal is to bring people together and to look at a person as a human being.

What skill sets do you have that you value the most for your effectiveness in your job?

I strive to make meaningful connections with people. In my job, I have to talk to different people about different ongoing issues, I have to plan programs and sometimes accompany them. I think the modern world requires multi-tasking and this is one of my strengths.

Was there a specific event or experience over the last few months that was especially rewarding?

I’ve held many positions at AACI, but the one position I never held, and the one I really wanted to have, was to be an Aliyah and Klitah counselor. To have the opportunity to help someone who is going through a difficult period; that is what it is all about. Everything we are doing to help with klitah (absorption) and help olim feel at home is well and good, but to help with a specific problem “hands-on” is truly rewarding and something I do not get to do too often. Every now and then I get to help an individual, and when that happens, I cannot tell you how good I feel.

Is there any part of the job you would describe as fun?

It’s fun for me when I see projects or events come together successfully. When I participate on a trip, when the trip ends and people had a good time, then I can look back on the trip as having been fun. During the trip, before the event, the work is very hard. But when we achieve the success, then all the work transforms to having been fun.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The toughest part is the financial end. We are blessed to have access to an amazing amount of ingenuity, talent and hard work both from our staff and our fabulous volunteers. But ultimately, it takes money to keep the doors open and to continue to meet the needs of our members. It is always hard to ask for donations, but that is something we must continue to do, every day.

It is a very difficult financial world; it is hard to get donations. I am not always good at it, and it is a challenge to ask for personal donations, solicitations, trying to figure out what will inspire a person to involve themselves with AACI and open their wallet so that our programs continue to serve everyone because we care about everyone. We don’t run campaigns for specific causes or groups, which sometimes seem more attractive to sponsors. Our goals and programs are important to thousands of English speakers every day, and we have to deliver a strong message that will compel people to act.

Can you describe the mission of AACI, in just a few words?

AACI represents the interests of English-speakers in Israel, with a tremendous responsibility of representing our entire community, and being many things to many people. We are part of this great mission of bringing all Jews home to Israel. And we know that aliyah never stops! It’s not just about making aliyah; it is about making Israel our home! And that requires the ongoing support and friendship that AACI is famous for providing. It is crucial to help olim during those initial weeks, months and years, and yet still be here when circumstances change. Help, information and friendship can still be needed years later.

You said before that funding is one of your biggest challenges. How is AACI funded?

At one time we used to receive a million dollars from the Jewish Agency. Now we receive nothing from the Agency. We have a budget of about $1.2 or $1.3 million. We are not a large non-profit. We receive about ten percent of our income from donations. We receive about 50 percent from all of our programs, including our travel program. The rest comes from advertising and some special programs.

Let’s turn 180 degrees and get personal. What are your hobbies?

London family photo

I’ve always loved cars. I own only one car now, but I used to do some repairs on cars and love reading about them. It’s a tough topic for living in Israel – I have not owned a new car since making aliyah.

To be honest, I don’t have time to invest in a serious hobby. I have four children, the oldest was recently married. The oldest is 23 and the youngest 14. My involvement with my family is non-stop. What I really need to do is join a gym.

Let’s consider the path you did not take. If you could go back to school now, what would you study?

My wife says I am a frustrated social worker. I love boxing, and when I was young I did some amateur boxing. But I was too slow to go far with that. And I do not have a good voice, so being a rock and roll star was not a possibility (laughing).

I would like to turn from the past and look to the future. What broad goals do you have for AACI? What is your vision, five years from now, ten years?

We provide service to the English-speaking community, and I think we can be much more. The medical area is a whole area that we can address. I am very proud of taking on the Shira Pransky Project whose purpose is to provide information, at this stage; to translate all materials related to medical services. We have the potential to do much more than medical services, but we are focusing on that first because, we would all agree, people should not misunderstand their rights in such a critical area. The project is going to translate all information currently in Hebrew. Our community often does not know its rights. Even Israelis, who know Hebrew fluently, often do not know their rights and benefits. So a web site has been developed called Kol zchut (Rights) that has that information, all in one place.

I would like to return to the issue of a very divided Israel. Unfortunately, it even penetrates into chesed organizations that do not want to help people who are not like the people in the organization. By having a platform at AACI that services everyone, it enables people to come together. When I was working with Young Judea in the United States, we always talked about the idea of doogma eesheet (personal example). We wanted to set the example of people pushing together toward a common goal.

Let me give you an amazing example. AACI had a trip to Russia around the time when the changes in that country were coming to a close. There was no Chabad or kosher food in those days. People could bring their own food, eat the provided food or eat vegetarian. I was Director of the Jerusalem branch at the time that several of these trips took place. The Board received a complaint from a group of members threatening to resign because AACI was sponsoring non-kosher trips. The Board took a vote that demonstrated the compassion and empathy that we had for each other. All non-Orthodox Board members voted to cancel the trip. All Orthodox Board members voted to have the trip. I was sitting there in amazement. I was so impressed with the mutual respect shown and the ability to think and feel outside the usual boxed-in categories.

Glassman center frontage 270 tallLast question: What do you want your AACI legacy to be?

When I leave I want to be remembered for making AACI an interesting place and a welcoming place that accepts everyone. I will be proud of having brought us back from a financial crisis to a position of greater strength. Finally, the move from our old Jerusalem facility to our new one here, filled with bustling activity, has been a significant improvement. All of these things were done with the assistance of remarkable workers and volunteers. They turned visions into realities, and I am confident we will continue on this path in the future.

David, thank you for your time and for sharing so much with the AACI membership and all of our readers.

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in

Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel AvivBeer Sheva and Haifa.

AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center
Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall) Talpiot, Jerusalem
Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

Live from Jerusalem! It’s Avraham Avinu!

So by now, if you are a member of AACI, you have received a letter in the mail. And if you receive our free enewsletter, or if you are like us on facebook, or follow us on twitter, then you may know that Avraham Avinu was recently sighted in our Jerusalem office in Talpiot.

Here are some highlights of his visit.

Please like and share the video. And of course, you can donate by clicking here.

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva and Haifa.
AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall) Talpiot, Jerusalem
Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

Off the Beaten Track

Welcome to our newest guest blogger, Dena Frenkel, an olah chadasha living in Beer Sheva. A version of this post originally appeared in a recent edition of The English Update. As always, the content of this blog represents the opinion of the author and does not represent AACI opinion or policy.

My husband and I made aliyah at the end of November 2012. Unlike most olim from the United States who head for Jerusalem, Ramat Beit Shemesh or Efrat, we moved to the south, to Beer Sheva. I am sure you are thinking the same question everyone asks us (including people who live in Beer Sheva): “Why Beer Sheva?”

For me, there were several compelling reasons to come here. The first and probably strongest reason was Avraham Avinu (Abraham, our father). He is my personal hero, and he made his home primarily here, setting the tone of the place by his presence. Even today, the general atmosphere here in Beer Sheva is one of helpfulness and hospitality. The whole town exemplifies the spirit of its founder, Avraham Avinu.

Second, although it’s located in a desert, Beer Sheva has natural underground water – hence its name which translates as “Seven Wells.” It’s not a total desert here, more like the edge of the desert. There really is a lot of vegetation throughout the town. In fact, the mayor of Beer Sheva, who everyone seems to adore, only gets one criticism and that is he has planted so much and put in so many water fountains to beautify the place that there has been a creeping up of humidity over the last few years. (More about the weather below).

My husband’s children and most of our grandchildren live in Israel and we had been planning to make aliyah for several years. Our children live in the center of Israel which is where my husband would have preferred us to go, but I wouldn’t want to live in the center of the country. I find it crowded with too many people and too many cars and crazy drivers, and it feels to me so polarized between different groups. I feel happier and more spiritually connected when I am in the north or in the south.

We actually spent quite a bit of time in the north looking at possibilities but never found a community we thought we could live in. Also, the weather was not good for me – in the summer, yes, but the winter is damp and rainy and I am very sensitive to being cold. And, since I had always had a fantasy about Beer Sheva, we decided to have a look.

My Decision Process

We came over a period of two years, meeting people, looking at housing, and getting a feel for the place before we made aliyah last year. Beer Sheva had much of what we needed to begin our life in Israel– a group of observant English speakers who live in the same neighborhood, a great medical system, good climate, and the lifestyle was that of a small city, lower key and more laid back.

I lived for 12 years in Oregon before moving to the Jewish neighborhood in Baltimore. Baltimore is a small town/city itself and the frum (religiously observant) section is a very livable piece of that. So I wanted to move somewhere similar with less population, more physical space, and not crammed full of only apartments.

Another consideration for me is that my daughter and grandson are joining us from the States, G-d willing, this summer. She has serious chronic pain issues so Beersheva with its excellent medical care and its dry moderate climate was a good fit.

Getting Around

For those of you who have not been to Beer Sheva recently or never have been, it is a great town to live in logistically. It is relatively small so most places are conveniently close by foot or by bus. (We don’t yet have a car). The city is almost all flat which makes walking very easy and comfortable.

The efficient bus system makes it possible to get practically anywhere you need to go. And we have the train down here so you can get to Ben Gurion airport or Tel Aviv in just one hour without even changing trains. The train is really wonderful and now goes from Beer Sheva all the way up to Nahariya. However, if you want to go to Jerusalem, the bus is probably your best bet with buses leaving every half hour and taking one hour and forty-five minutes. The train has a long stopover in Lod so the trip takes close to two and a half hours.

In fact, the public transportation system everywhere in the country is one of the perks of living in Israel. I am a pensioneret (female retiree), and it’s half price for me. That means a city bus ride costs me two shekels and going to the Merkaz, including the airport by bus or train, is 15 shekels. Is there a better bargain than that anywhere?

Beer Sheva is the capital of the Negev and a hub of public services, including Misrad Hapanim (Ministry of the Interior), Misrad HaKlita (Ministry of Absorption), the area’s government agencies, and also ulpan (Hebrew language instruction) services. I did not realize that at first, and thought it was odd that we were in the line at the municipality and kept getting asked if we lived in Beer Sheva. I thought to myself: Why would I be standing in line if I didn’t live here? But then I realized people have to come here from Netivot and Arad and all around the south. I can walk/bus there so I realized just how lucky and convenient services were for us.

Medical Services

A big factor in our coming to Beer Sheva was the medical system. In my opinion, affordable national health coverage is a big plus to living anywhere in Israel compared to the U.S. Consider the following cost comparision. Health insurance for both of us here with the best supplemental policies will cost us about NIS 550 per month, plus some co-pays. That is $150-$200 per month, depending on the exchange rate. In the States my husband’s job offered him retiree health benefits for both of us that would cost $1000 per month with $2500 deductible, plus it only covered 80% of the cost. That means we would have to pay $14,500 a year before they paid anything.

Beer Sheva has excellent doctors and facilities with Ben Gurion University Medical School and Soroka Hospital and an alternative medicine college as well. My husband belongs to Clalit (one of the 4 medical insurance services available to Israelis) which is affiliated with the medical school and Soroka. I joined Maccabi (another one of the 4 medical insurance services) because an English-speaking doctor who was highly recommended to me was a part of that system. So far, we are both very happy with the service we are getting and the quality of doctors we have seen. One drawback is that the forms or signs are in Hebrew, Arabic, or Russian, but not English. That is a problem I might not have living in a strong English-speaking community in the center of the country.

Israeli Health Insurance Associations Logos

Israeli Health Insurance Associations Logos; Maccabi, Leumit, Clalit, Meuchedet

Most religiously observant English speakers in Beer Sheva live either in Shchuna (neighborhood) Hey or Tet which are very close to each other separated by a small highway. We live in Tet for now, but just bought a place in Hey. Both Hey and Tet are centrally located so that the municipality, Old City, and the shuk for shopping are all about 15 minutes by bus or 30 minutes by foot.

Settling In

I don’t want to sugarcoat the process of making a major move like this because it is very hard to do – anywhere in Israel. It is probably harder in a place like Beer Sheva which is actually in Israel and not in an English enclave that happens to be in Israel. Luckily for me, it turns out that I like Israelis. They like kids and seem to have a real quality of life where family is of central importance.

A phenomenon in Israel compared to the U.S. is that even people who don’t seem religious usually have a strong sense of tradition and a basis of knowledge about being a Jew. And, the English-speaking community here is very nice. This does not mean everyone is already my new best friend because that does not happen overnight anywhere new, but people are genuinely helpful and welcoming which makes a big difference.

Housing in Tet and Hey includes apartments interspersed with cottages (two floors) and patios (one floor) and attached housing. Many of the cottages and patios are in Misholim which are clusters of houses bordered by roads but with pedestrian walkways inside. If you have been to Nachalot in Jerusalem, you have an idea of what I mean. They are very pleasant and quiet with respite from traffic noise. Also the Mercaz Klitah (Absorption Center) for new immigrants is in Hey.

The cost of housing in Beer Sheva has gone up a lot over the past years (as everywhere in Israel) but is still affordable compared to the center of the country. Apartments, depending upon which shchuna they are in, can run from NIS 400,000 to NIS 550,000, with houses running from NIS 600,000 and up. In Shchuna Hey, garden space is more limited as most people have expanded their homes at the expense of the garden, but still you have something of a garden. Housing averages 85-120 meters, not including the garden.

This is a big adjustment for me coming from Baltimore where I had a large house with a huge yard of about half an acre and a gorgeous garden which I planted myself. On the other hand, if we moved to Jerusalem, we would be looking at small apartments with a lot less space that cost a lot more than we paid here.

Am Yisrael Echad

Beer Sheva itself is a mixed community which I think contributes to its sense of harmonious living. There are all different kinds of people here, religious and not, Sephardic and not, Russians and Ethiopians, all walking around sharing space in peace.

I attend ulpan which has also made a big difference in easing my transition to living in Israel. I am in the pensioner’s ulpan which meets three days a week for three hours each time for 10 months, as compared with ulpan for younger folks which is five hours a day, five days a week for five months. I am the only American in my class but there are five other English speakers, a couple from Brazil, a couple from England, and a man from France. The rest are from Russia, the Ukraine, and Belorussia. My friends at ulpan are beside themselves with joy at living in Israel and especially living in Beer Sheva. I can see that they are going to be very good citizens with much dedication and appreciation for their adopted country.

Ulpan has given me heartfelt relationships with other people as we experience the same language and cultural hurdles. I love being there and come home feeling happy and cared about and I think everyone in the class feels the same way. Thank you, Israeli government.

Subscribe at http://ktzat-ivrit.ulpan.com/ (offered by Ulpan La-Inyan at AACI locations around the country

Subscribe at http://ktzat-ivrit.ulpan.com/ (offered by Ulpan La-Inyan at AACI locations around the country

The Biggest Challenge We Are Working On

Eating in Beer Sheva is difficult as we keep a stricter (kashrut) standard than Rabbanut. The idea that keeping kosher in Israel is a trillion times harder than in America really bothers me. We can’t go out to eat much here in Beer Sheva and finding a hechsher (symbol identifying who is certifying that the item is kosher) for meat and chicken is a challenge. Fruits and vegetables also require closer scrutiny. Fruit is more of an issue due to orla (prohibition from eating the fruit of a tree during the first three years), but we are managing. It just requires planning. Compared to the benefits of living here, the hassle of finding produce seems small to me. And the longer we are here, the more we discover shops for produce that is okay.

Adapting to life in Beer Sheva has been harder for my husband. First, he is not in ulpan since he would need an advanced level class which they don’t have, so he does not have the opportunity as I do to make heartfelt connections with other immigrants. Also, he is still looking for a kehilla (community) where he feels comfortable davening (praying) and learning. This is the biggest problem facing us here and it is not a small one.

It seems that Beer Sheva actually has hundreds of shuls (synagogues), but most are Sephardic with the majority being Moroccan. My husband found that he likes the davening in a Moroccan shul but he feels the language and cultural barrier interfere with real connection and friendships. On the other hand, most of the shuls where you find English-speakers are Mizrachi (Religious Zionist) and Young Israel (synagogue-based Orthodox Jewish organization) and he finds the davening does not suit him either. He has found a chassidic (branch of Orthodox Judiasm) shul down in the Old City where he likes the davening, but it’s a 20 minute walk, so right now he only goes on Shabbat (Sabbath).

This is a serious issue for him because he spends a lot of time each day in shul and he expects to find connection there on a personal level as well. Some of that is probably just being in a new place after living 20 plus years in a community where he had time to develop very deep friendships.

I might add that another drawback to living in a place like Beer Sheva is the fact that there are virtually no shiurim (lectures/classes) in English. Now I am personally a bit of a recluse and I need quality of life over access to English shiurim, but I can see that it could be an issue for another kind of person. Even I feel the lack when I read notices of shiurim being offered in Jerusalem.

AACI runs the largest English library in the whole country in Beer Sheva which is a big plus for me. Granted it’s not like the library I left behind in Baltimore, but having access to any kind of English reading material on a regular basis is a huge help.

AACI Beer Sheva

Weather

I have to admit the winter was shockingly cold to me this year. I actually gave away my warmest clothes before coming, on the assumption that we’d have warm weather all year long. During the winter months, it’s mostly very pleasant during the in the 50s to 60s F, but it cools off considerably at night. Like everywhere in Israel, houses lack insulation and good windows, and it’s cold. But by mid-February, the weather starts getting nice, and in the spring and fall the weather is fantastic.

Even when it gets hot during the day, it’s dry heat which means houses stay cool, sitting or walking in shade is cooler, and at night it cools off to the 50s F in the spring/fall and the 60s F mostly in the summer. So far we had a couple of heat waves but we just used fans, closing up the house during the hot part of the day and opening it back up during the evening. Mornings here are very comfortable and it really starts to cool off by about 4:30 p.m. when a nice wind comes up. What I was told by long-time residents was that I should stay indoors during the afternoon when it’s really hot.

Beer Sheva and Beyond

As I mentioned, we don’t yet have a car so we have not done a lot of exploring in the areas outside Beer Sheva. However, on previous trips we went to Mitzpe Ramon which is an hour south, and it is well worth the trip. Also my friend lives in Midrasha Ben Gurion where the BGU (Ben Gurion University) has an environmental studies campus, and it is right next to a wonderful nature reserve that we hiked in a few times. It has breathtaking views like looking at the Grand Canyon where it seems more like a photograph than a real place. Beer Sheva is also about an hour away from Massada, the Dead Sea, and Ein Gedi which is my favorite area in the whole country.

This is my personal view of life in Beer Sheva, and I hope it gave you a sense of the city. For those of you who are looking for somewhere besides the usual places to settle, it’s worth checking out as an affordable alternative. You might just fall in love with it like I did. I would be happy to answer any questions if you would like to leave a comment below.

A version of this post originally appeared in The English Update and can be viewed by clicking here.

We welcome you to be in touch with our Southern Branch office in Beer Sheva:

Miriam Green, Southern Branch Counselor
AACI–Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel
Matnas Yud-Aleph, 11 Mordechai Namir St., Beer Sheva
tel: 08-643-3953
mgreen@aaci.org.il

Subscribe to the AACI Beer Sheva newsletter

For more information about the Southern Branch in Beer Sheva click here.

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Food Shopping in Israel

This is a guest post used by permission of the writer. Perhaps you have already been reading Bat Aliyah, written by AACI member, Rivkah Adler. Thank you, Rivkah, for allowing us to share it on the AACI Blog.

This is a great example of crowd-sourcing (meaning that Rivkah posted in several places – facebook etc. that she wanted to compile some collective wisdom about a topic, and voila, people responded.) Kudos to Rivkah for turning all of their comments into a coherent guide. Since the blogpost was published and shared, there have been even more comments. Please be sure to visit Bat Aliyah for the original and the comments that follow the original post which are not included here.

If you are interested in seeing the additional post-publication comments from facebook, etc., please be sure to post your comments below to let us know, and add your wisdom to the collection. We are considering revisiting this with an update and compiling the addtional comments and perhaps adding more photos for a future post, but it all depends on you, dear reader. Tell your friends. Let’s take this great idea and run with it.

Whenever I have questions about how to translate it, where to buy it or how to prepare it, I find the people in my circle of olim incredibly helpful.

When I asked fellow olim to share their tips for food shopping in Israel, I was overwhelmed with hundreds of Facebook messages and emails. I went to work, culling the duplications, deleting the personal opinions (unless they were mine) and dividing the responses into information about specific food items and miscellaneous tips about food shopping in general.

This took many, many hours more than I intended, but there’s some really quality (and money-saving) information here.There is nothing about this post that pretends to be scientific or comprehensive. It’s information that a very giving group of olim thought to share. I did my best to organize it. In some cases, Hebrew names are transliterated and in some case they are spelled in Hebrew letters. It depends on how I received the information.

My deep thanks to the members of the anglo olim community who responded so generously.

And now, here are some things we have learned along the way that might make things easier for you, whether you’ve yet to make aliyah or have already been living here for some time. Naturally, I take full responsibility for any errors.

SPECIFIC FOOD ITEMS
Apple sauce: Canned resek tapuchim is not actually apple sauce.  It has pits and skin. It can be used
for baking.
Baking powder: Avkat afiya (אבקת אפיה) is baking powder, but it often says it in English as well.  Some advise importing baking powder. Sold in little packets, usually 10 per cellophane wrapper. One packet is about one scant Tbs.
Baking soda: Soda leshtiya (drinking soda) is baking soda.  It comes in little blue boxes next to the vanilla sugar. You can also find baking soda in decent-sized plastic containers (clear plastic, like the spice jars). It is sometimes labeled as Sodium Bicarbonate in English.
Bananas: It took me awhile to get used to Israeli bananas. They are slightly different. Although bananas are generally available year round, summer bananas often go from green to overripe without an edible stage in between. Winter bananas are much better. Also, Israeli bananas may look more brown and bruised than you’re used to on the outside and still be perfect inside.
Bread:
·        There is great bread in Israel, but it’s not always possible to find an exact duplicate for what you are used to.
·        There are a couple of brands of packaged, lower calorie breads that are widely available.
·        There is no such thing as white bread in Israel. The closest is called לחם אחיד,  a government subsidized light rye.
·        There is also a government subsidized challah. It’s very plain and very inexpensive.
·        Real Jewish rye bread is almost impossible to find unless you go to a special boutique like bakery such as Teller in Machane Yehudah (the shuk) in Jerusalem.
Bread crumbs: Come in cellophane bags, not cardboard canisters.
Brussel sprouts: Frozen only. Imported. Not widely available.
Buttermilk: Rivion is the closest substitute, but you can often substitute with gil or leben. Or use milk and a bit of lemon juice.
Chicken:
·         It’s often cheaper fresh than frozen.
·         If you buy frozen, check the date it was frozen.
·         Whole chickens cut in quarters or eighths are not sold here.
·         Buy a decent pair of chicken shears and learn to cut up whole chickens.
·         White meat is often cheaper than dark.
·         There is a difference between chicken wings for cholent and normal ones.
Cooking cream:
·         Called shemenet l’vishul.
·         Comes in 250 ml and 500 ml cardboard boxes like juice boxes.
·         Comes in 23%, 15%, and 10%.
·         There is also a pareve version, though that’s harder to find.
·         Half and half doesn’t exist here. If you want coffee cream buy 10% cooking cream.
Cornmeal/Cornflour/Cornstarch – “Cornflor” can be either cornmeal (sometimes called kemach tiras and sold in the same section of the store as beans) or cornstarch (sold in the baking aisle).
Cheese:
·         Lots of people mentioned that it was scary to use to cheese counter but so worth it.
·         Sliced and grated cheese are significantly cheaper when purchased from the cheese counters.
·         The cheese counter is also likely to have types of cheese that you won’t find in packages – like cheddar and feta.
·         If it’s not crowded at the cheese counter or the cheese stand in Machane Yehudah (the shuk), you can ask to taste different cheeses.
·         You can ask at the cheese counter to slice your cheese thin.
·         Tnuva makes cheddar but it’s very very mild. Ask for something “charif yoter” (sharper).
·         Many supermarket deli counters have pre-sliced packages of popular cheeses, such as Gilboa and Emek. This obviates the need to wait in line and is the same cheese that you have sliced to order at the counter. There are also pre-packaged grated cheeses, such as mozzarella and parmesan.
·         If you go to the cheese counter and ask for a mix you get shredded scraps of whatever’s left over at the time.
·         Gvina levana (white cheese) is like soft cream cheese, with a little less tang.
·         Hermon is like a salty farmers cheese or a way less salty feta.
·         Baby belle cheeses in the red wrappers are not kosher in the US but are kosher here.
·         The cheese market in Machane Yehudah (the shuk) in Jerusalem has amazing white cheddar cheese from England that is OU.
·         Israel has lots of other cheeses that you can’t get kosher in the US.
·         Tiv Tam cheese can most closely be described as pressed cottage cheese, but it’s actually strained gvina levana. It is also used as a substitute for Philadelphia cream cheese in cheesecake. It comes in a block wrapped in plastic see through wrap. It spoils quickly so buy it close to use.
Cream Cheese:
·         Philadelphia is occasionally found here, but it’s expensive.
·         Gvinat shamenet which is the cream cheese sold in the rectangular containers has a softer consistency. There is one in a black and white speckled tub that looks like a cow pattern and spreads like light cream cheese from the US.
·         The one most like whipped cream cheese here is Napoleon brand (gold & white container)  gvina shamenet b’signon Tzarfati and comes in cups in a few varieties. The one with the yellow daisy is plain.
·         Some people make their own cream cheese.  Take a cheese cloth and hang Israeli 5% cream cheese over night and in the morning you will get the cream cheese you are used to.
·         Another way to make your own cream cheese: add 1/8 teaspoon salt to shamenet and let it strain. You are left with whipped cream cheese.
·         Some use Israeli gvina levana instead of American-style cream cheese for cheesecake
Crembo: A marshmallow, cookie and chocolate confection that’s ubiquitous in the winter and nowhere to be found in the summer. Comes in chocolate, vanilla and possibly mocha.
Dairy products: Like milk in the USmany dairy products in Israel come in different fat percentages. This is true for sour cream, hard cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt and, of course, milk.
Deli:
·         Pastrama is not pastrami. It’s turkey breast in different incarnations.
·         Try קטף בקר as an affordable beef cold cut.
·         Pastrama cafrit is close to American turkey bologna.
Eggs:
·         There are two dates stamped on eggs. The earlier one is the freshness date if the eggs are unrefrigerated. The second is the freshness date when they are kept cold.
·         Egg shells are not, ahem… pristine here. Washing them introduces bacteria into the egg. They are, however, generally much fresher. You’ll get used to it.
Egg noodles: Called itriot beitzim
Fish: A great chart by fellow oleh Marc Gottlieb on the different kinds of fish available in Israel.
Flour:
·         White, whole wheat and 70% whole wheat are widely available.
·         Flour is sold by the kilo to avoid infestation.
·         Pre sifted is very expensive. Consider buying an electric sifter.
·         I have found the texture of the flour somewhat different, requiring that I add a bit more flour to some recipes.
Grains: Grains should not be bought in a corner store, but rather in one with a large turnover. When buying grains in cellophane, lift up one corner and check for webs, an indication of infestation.
Hawaij:  a Yemenite spice blend to give soups soup/cholent/stew a rich flavor.
Herbs:  Some herbs, including parsley (petrozilia), dill (shamir) and celantro or coriander (cuzbara) are highly perishable.  Cut them up and put them in small plastic bags and freeze. Use as needed.
Hot dogs:  Israeli hot dogs are generally chicken. Beef hot dogs are harder to find. Chofetz Chaim (a Jerusalem butcher that might be worth getting to know) sells beef hot dogs that are the closest to tasting like an American hot dog and they cost the same as the Israeli beef hot dogs. Also try the Tirat Zvi brand beef naknik americai which come in a package of six.
Ketchup: Israeli ketchup is sweeter. Heinz is widely available. We buy cheap Israeli ketchup for cooking and Heinz for french fries and burgers.
Lasagna: Comes in boxes about half the height of a 1-pound box. Dry lasagna is completely flat (no ruffled edges) and is both wider and thinner than lasagna in the US.
Leben: The pink and orange Yotvata brand leben tastes just like yogurt, is one-third the price and has natural colors  from carrots and beets.
Lemon syrup: Try Prigat brand lemon syrup to make lemonade and sweetened iced tea.
Margarine: One stick of American margarine/butter is 100 grams (half an Israeli stick). Blue Bond stick margarines are widely available and come in yellow wrapper (unsalted), blue (salted), red (butter flavored). Yellow is best for baking.
Meat:
·         Meat cuts in Israel take awhile to master. Here’s Marc Gottlieb’s great chart of the meatcuts you’ll find in Israel.
·         You can get basar chamim (chulent meat) already cut into chunks.
·         Check that meat is kashered–sometimes it’s sold without soaking/salting.
·         Ground meat is often mixed with soy.
·         Osher Ad and Rami Levy Mehadrin, both in Givat Shaul, have great selections of the OU Kashrut Israel line called “It’s Fleisch” frozen meats with the names we are familiar with, such as brisket, corn beef, etc.
Milk:
·         Skim milk is hard to find.
·         Generally, you can find 1% (red) and 3% (blue). Whole milk is basically 3%. These are the opposite colors from the US.
·         Sometimes 1.5% is available.
·         Milk comes in liter cartons and plastic bags. The bags are 1 liter, which is basically 4 cups.
·         Milk in plastic bags is price-controlled and should cost the same anywhere. It is also cheaper in bags than in cartons.
·         There are clear produce bags near the tubs of milk bags. I have found that the produce bags begin to tear if you put more than 2-3 bags of milk in them.
·         Milk doesn’t have vitamin D added unless you buy Yotvata or Tnuva brand 3% milks.
there is a coffee “creamer” that you shake before you use it to make it foam a little.
shake and use in coffee
Milk drinks: are milk with water and other flavors added
Oats:  Plain oats are found next to the sugar free stuff, or granola bars, health food, but never with flours, cereals, or grains. Instant oats can be found in almost any supermarket, but the price is around twice that of in the Machane Yehuda shuk, where you can also buy coarse oats. This is called Qvaker (from Quaker Oats.) There is Qvaker Dak-instant oats and Qvaker Ave-the coarse oats. You can also find these at a health food store.
Onions: Yellow (though they are called batzal lavan) and sometimes red onions are available. Raw onions are very strong here and peeling them is a challenge. I have never seen Vadalia onions in Israel.
Paprika: Paprika is sold with and without oil and hot and sweet. Hot paprika is not a bad substitute for cayenne pepper.
Parsnip:  Occasionally available in winter in limited markets.
Pastry:
·         Sufganiyot in Israel are not the same as American style donuts.
·         Herby Dan, Mr. Donut and Brooklyn Bake Shop have American style donuts.
·         Brooklyn Bake Shop has awesome black & white cookies (and a black & white cake) as well.
Pickles: come in brine or in vinegar. Brine is most familiar to Americans.
Potatoes:
·         Thin-skinned red and white potatoes are widely available. I hardly ever peel potatoes anymore.
·         If a grocery store sells potatoes in a mesh bag, it’s perfectly acceptable to open the mesh and take only the size and quantity of potatoes you need.
·         I have seen fresh new potatoes (small) in the gourmet produce section. They are expensive.
·         Since canned potatoes are hard to find here, I just use sliced fresh potatoes in my brisket.
·         No russet/Idaho potatoes here.
Poultry: Marc Gottlieb’s poultry chart.
Pizza sauce: יחין makes great lasagna and pizza sauce and they are very affordable.
Rubbing alcohol: comes in a tiny bottle and looks exactly like nail polish remover (acetone).
Salsa Rosa – a combination of sour cream and tomato sauce. Very common pasta sauce in restaurants.
Shamenet: Generally refers to sour cream (shamenet chamutza). But the word also refers to cooking cream (shamenet l’vishul), cream cheese (gvinat shamenet) and whipping cream (shamenet lhaktzafawhich is 38%).
Silan:  Date syrup that makes a great substitute for honey or molasses.
Soup mix: Available in 1 Kg bags as well as the more familiar plastic tubs. Chicken soup mixes are available pareve and meat. Osem makes both without MSG.
Sour cream:
·         Called shamenet.
·         Comes in 4-pack of small plastic tubs (200 ml each) or in 1/2 liter containers.
·         Sour cream is a perfect substitute for ricotta in baked pasta dishes such as lasagna.
Spices:
·         Spices are often located close to the meat counter and not the baking aisle
·         Here’s Marc Gottlieb’s chart of the names of spices in English, Hebrew and transliterated Hebrew:
·         Here’s Jacob Richman’s spice chart.
Strawberries: Strawberry season in Israel is winter.
Sugar:
·         Sugar (white and brown) is a bit coarser than Americans are used to.
·         White sugar comes in paper or 1 Kg clear plastic tubs. A kilo in a paper bag is much cheaper so I buy in paper and refill the plastic tubs.
·          I reuse the tubs to store bread crumbs, rice and other grains.
·         Brown sugar comes in the same 1 Kg clear plastic tubs.
·         Both dark and light brown sugar are available.
·         Dark brown sugar can sometimes be found in large plastic bags.
·         Light brown sugar is called demerara sugar.
·         Confectioner’s (icing) sugar (אבקת סוכר) comes in small packets. One packet is 3/4 c.
Sweet red pepperGamba
Swiss chard: the mehadrin packages of what is called alei selek is actually swiss chard.
Techina: buy plain techina paste, add water, lemon, olive oil, garlic and spices for techina. Add water and honey for halava spread.
Tomato paste:
·         Comes in cans and small red plastic tubs, generally two or four together.
·         There are codes on tomato paste that refer to the thickness of the paste.
·         Tomato paste concentration is measured in BX (pronounced ‘bricks’). The higher numbers are more concentrated (less water).
·         Tomato paste is typically sold in 22⁰BX or 28⁰BX. 22⁰BX is less concentrated than 28⁰BX.
·         Some say 22⁰BX is tomato sauce.
Vanilla: Imitation vanilla is widely available. Real vanilla is very expensive. If you’re a baker, you might want to import real vanilla or learn to make from vanilla bean and vodka.
Vanilla sugar: This is sugar made with vanilla beans or mixed with vanilla extract. Comes in small packets. One packet is a scant Tbs.
Vinegar: White vinegar here is synthetic. Natural vinegar here is light brown but tastes exactly like natural white vinegar from the states.
Yeast: Yeast comes in many different forms. Fresh yeast comes in 4 ounce cubes or in granulated form in packaged from the company Shmirit. Dry yeast is sold in the baking department, generally in 500 gram vacuum sealed foil packages.
MISCELLANEOUS TIPS
American products: Some stores in neighborhoods that cater to American immigrants carry a lot of imports that are not otherwise generally available.
Cartis Moadon: This is a store loyalty card. It’s usually the first thing a cashier will ask you in any grocery store. “Cartis moadon?”
Cleaning the kumkum: If you use your kumkum (electric kettle) for a long time you will get calcium deposits inside.  Put in a few tablespoons of lemon salt (melah limon), boil the water and leave over night. In the morning, rinse it out and it will be all clean with no scrubbing.
Cooking from scratch: You will likely do much more cooking from scratch since many prepared/convenience foods are not available in Israel. It’s often healthier, and definitely cheaper.
Grocery stores:
·         All grocery stores offer delivery service in Israel, but stores in charedi areas in cities will often automatically offer delivery, without you needing to ask.
·         Supersol (Shufersol) is a very good store brand and their products are worth trying.
·         It’s a different culture. In Israel, people will leave a half-empty cart on line, holding their place, while they finish their shopping. This annoys some people.
·         You have to visit a fair number of stores to understand the lay of the land in terms of what is available. Many interesting items can be found in health food stores such as Eden Teva Market in Ramot.
·         Prices are not the same in every branch of a store chain.
Kitniyot at Pesach: Oy! This is a whole separate discussion. Suffice it to say if you don’t eat kitniyot on Pesach, you’re going to need to take a knowledgeable friend to the store with you when you shop for Pesach. And you’re going to need to learn the words, lo chashash kitniyot which means there is no suspicion of kitniyot and you can buy it and l’ochlei kitniyot, which means it’s kosher for Passover for those who eat kitniyot.
Stores in certain neighborhoods in Jerusalem, in Modi’in Illit and other cities that specifically cater to American and/or Ashkenazim will have more options than in most of Israel where the majority are kitniyot-eating Sefardim.
Learn metrics.
Make friends with your grocer. He can teach you tips about how things are used in Israel with which you are unfamiliar — and you can get a Hebrew lesson in the bargain.
Packaging: Many more things are packaged in cellophane than in cardboard (e.g. bread crumbs, pasta, etc.)
Produce:
·         Eating seasonal is a new concept. You can’t always get what you want when you want it. On the other hand, it’s always a joy when new fruits come into season.
·         On Sunday evenings, the fruits and vegetables at the Jerusalem shuk are cheaper than usual.
·         The internet is a great resource for learning how to use ingredients with which you are not familiar (e.g. kohlrabi, dragon fruit, etc.).
Quantities:
·         Packages are generally much smaller in Israel. Perhaps that’s due to the fact that people have less room to store things and there are no warehouse clubs here.
·         The one consistent exception is toilet paper which seems to come only in large quantities.
·         Certain common spices come in very large containers.
·         If you are buying something that sells in packages of 1 liter or 2 – check the price. People assume that per liter, the 1 liter will be more expensive. Amazingly enough – a lot of times, it is cheaper to buy two or three ONE liter bottles than to buy the two or three liter bottle.
Receipts: Look at your receipts after finishing grocery shopping. Sometimes you are entitled to free gifts that you can claim from the kupa rashit (service desk).
Sales:
·         Sale price signs on grocery store shelves generally list the last four numbers of the UPC code for the products that are actually included in the sale price. CHECK THE CODE. Do not assume the merchandise above/below the sign is actually connected to the sale.
·         Look at the sign. See if it says mogbal l’ – restricted to x number of items- that means, you can buy only that number for the sale price; after that, it will be priced at full price.
·         When something is on sale “2 for…” or “3 for…” etc., you only get the discount if you buy that number of units.
·         1+2: This means, buy two, get one free, NOT, buy one, get two free as I once thought when buying pasta. Remember, Hebrew reads right to left 🙂
Translations: A GREAT tool in the grocery store is a smart phone and a translator app so you can translate words on packaging.
I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted now. Comments, corrections, clarifications are most welcome.
Thanks again to Rivkah and don’t forget to visit Bat Aliyah for the original post.
And of course, we always like to see you at AACI.
AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center
Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall)
Talpiot, Jerusalem
MAP
Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop  at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.

AACI has been “Welcoming Us Home” for many years… Remembering Lynn Davison z”l

As we celebrate AACI’s 60 year anniversary, we give tribute to the memory of a special woman who epitomized the activist, volunteer spirit of AACI’s founders  – Lynn Davison z”l.  Many of our members, including Executive Director David London, remember Lynn greeting them at the airport upon aliyah, with a warm “welcome home,” and assisting them in their first steps.

AACI was saddened by the death of Lynn Davison, who passed away on Oct 12, 2010, shortly before her 90th birthday.

Lynn grew up in New York at a time when ideologies were discussed, debated and argued with great intensity.  Lynn was a feminist long before it became fashionable, and was not afraid to speak up and fight for what she believed in.  In the US Lynn worked for the ILGWU, the dressmaker’s union, and she stood up to bosses who wanted to pay their workers as little as possible.  She picketed the White House when the Rosenbergs were sentenced to die in 1953.

Lynn made aliyah in 1970, even though the Shaliach told her to send her children, because Israel didn’t need people her age (she was a very sprightly 50 at the time).  She came anyway.  She worked for the Machon L’piriya V’Yitsur for a number of years and traveled around the country to help improve efficiency and working conditions in many garment industry factories.  When she sat down at the sewing machine and showed young workers how to do something, they immediately recognized that this woman was not a high and mighty manager, but one of them, who understood what it meant to sit bent over a machine without enough light to see what they were doing.

From 1980, Lynn was an active volunteer at AACI.  She was a board member of the Central Region (now Branch), Chairperson of the AACI Seniors and National Vice President for Klitah.  Her pet project however, was meeting new olim at the airport, helping them through all the paperwork and sending them and their luggage off to their destinations in their new home.  She loved to greet them with a big smile and a “Welcome home.”  For 13 years Lynn trained and organized the team of AACI volunteers, taking up the slack when no one else could meet a late flight, even in the middle of the night.  It was not unusual for Lynn to go to the airport up to three times the same day.  She was fierce in her conviction that this was THE most important service AACI offers, and it must be done properly!

On January 28, 2001 Lynn Davison was honored with a Volunteer Award by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.  Then-Minister of Klitah, Yuli Tamir, awarded the recognition, and Lynn was invited to the President’s house with other American immigrants who had made extraordinary contributions to Israel.

When she moved to Ra’anana and retired from those activities, she volunteered to tutor students in English, both for the bagrut (matriculation exams) at Ostrovsky High School and Bar Tov elementary school.

Lynn is survived by her daughter Judy Himmelfarb and son Michael Davison and 2 granddaughters.

As we witness the nation taking to the streets to fight for social justice, all of us at AACI who knew Lynn can imagine how she would approve.  This feisty, strong, determined, articulate, intelligent woman strongly believed in “social justice” and that government is obligated to take care of all its citizens equally.

Lynn’s daughter Judy said at the end of shiva: “I admired your courage, your integrity, your intelligence…I am thankful that you were the kind of person who deserves to be described with these adjectives.”

AACI thanks Judy Himmelfarb for sharing Lynn’s history and her memories with us.

More rave than rant

If this article sounded great to you, don’t miss the next session!
AACI Aliyah Conversations for Olim in the Absorption Process

Insights into Israeli Life and Culture through Song

You are invited to join AACI for our informal Aliyah conversations with olim to discuss the challenges—the highs and lows—you’ve been facing in Israel. Join us on Monday, June 6, at 7:45 p.m., at Merkaz Klitah Ye’elim to hear special guest Hector Marrero who will present a workshop on “Learning Israeli Culture and Language through Song.” Find out how some of the nationally known songs are key to understanding life and language in Israel. Please RSVP to AACI Counselor Miriam Green at mgreen@aaci.org.il. The sessions are geared towards olim within their first 5 years in the country, but we’re happy to make exceptions. We’ll meet at Merkaz Klitah Ye’elim on Rehov Ye’elim in Shechunah Hey, Beer Sheva. Entrance through the parking lot behind the “Gesher.” There is now a ramp for wheelchair access to Merkaz Klitah Ye’elim. Take the no. 9 bus!

 
 
 
By YOCHEVED MIRIAM RUSSO 
05/26/2011 13:07
in the Jerusalem Post

A new AACI initiative introduces English-speaking olim to Beersheba to the finer points of living in this country.

Eighteen months ago, something new and exciting started to happen down south. “For the first time ever, Beersheba began enjoying a large influx of English-speaking new immigrants,” says Miriam Green, Southern Branch counselor for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI).

Since 1948, Beersheba has served as “immigrant city” for tens of thousands of newcomers, but very few hailed from English-speaking countries.

“The change was amazing,” Green says. “I’d love to say the English-speakers were coming because we’re such a welcoming city and the word has gotten out. But realistically there might be several other explanations, including our local economy. It’s still easier to buy a house here than in the center of the country. Then, too, our schools – first grade through university – are great. There are lots of reasons why they may be coming, but whatever they are, for the first time, Englishspeaking olim are flocking in.”

Green, whose job involves helping new immigrants adjust to life in Israel, saw a common pattern among the newcomers.

“Many seemed to be suffering culture shock,” she smiles, noting that condition is hardly unusual.

“We all go through it, it’s common, but many of these newcomers were all expressing the same concerns and asking the same questions,” she continues. “I started to think about it.

One of the things AACI likes to do is connect people. Since we had a relatively small group of veteran immigrants from English-speaking countries, maybe we should put them together with the new immigrants to help the newbies through those first months. The older olim could help the newcomers see the bigger picture in the aliya experience. The new olim could gain practical advice about Beersheba in general, and seek help and advice for any specific issues they might have.”

AACI’s “rant and rave” sessions were born. New immigrants – up to five years was suggested, but in fact anyone was welcome – were invited, as was the English-speaking community as a whole.

“The idea was to let the newcomers ask any questions they had, seek advice on anything, whether it was where the best place to buy groceries was, how best to find a job, or tips on how to master Hebrew,” she says. “Whatever issues anyone needed help dealing with, we were ready to offer our own experiences.”

Aviva Weisel-Eichler, a long-term immigrant from Connecticut, was invited to chair the sessions, which started with a no-format agenda. She was just asked to make sure everyone had a chance to express themselves.

“I was delighted to do it,” Weisel-Eichler says. “It was a giant information-swapping fest – it sounded like a great idea to me. That first session – held a year ago, in a meeting room at the absorption center – attracted about 30 new immigrants. It was a very mixed group – all ages, backgrounds and professions. They came from the US, Canada, England, South Africa and Australia, but also included English-speakers from non- English-speaking countries.

A name change was needed, Weisel-Eichler said.

“I know they were called ‘Rant and Rave’ sessions at first, but I have to tell you, there wasn’t much ‘ranting and raving’ going on. No one did much ranting. It was all pretty positive,” she recalls. “Afterward, everyone was excited about how well it went. The new olim were grateful that we’d brought them together with the more senior immigrants. Everyone, new and old, seemed to enjoy the interchange.”

The second session a month later was a little more organized, Weisel-Eichler notes. “We had a discussion topic, ‘Dealing with Bituah Leumi’ [the National Insurance Institute]. That, too, went very well. But after that, the number of attendees started to drop off. Maybe they’d had their questions answered and they’d moved on.

“We started to offer something a little more structured, inviting a speaker who could offer specific expertise. A subsequent session featured Alan Cohen, a former Bank Hapoalim manager formerly from London, who talked about banking in Israel, explaining how the system worked and inviting questions. After that, we featured a speaker from Tnuat Or, an organization devoted to the development of the Negev. The number of attendees began to grow again.”

In the year since those first sessions, invited speakers have covered any number of topics, some requested by the newcomers, others by professionals who volunteered to come and share their expertise. Even the name applied to the group meetings evolved: “Rant and Rave” gave way to the less colorful – but probably more accurate – “Conversations with Olim.”

TWO RECENT speakers drew especially large crowds – not just of new olim, either, but of immigrants of several years’ standing.

In March, David Brock, senior lecturer in business management at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a 2001 immigrant from New Zealand, came to offer some tips on learning Hebrew.

“That was one of our best sessions,” Green says. “A primary concern for all new immigrants is learning Hebrew, and David offered some great ideas.”

One of Brock’s suggestions came from his own experience: As a new lecturer at BGU, he had to learn Hebrew quickly, so he contacted a retired gentleman, another scholar, who enjoyed visitors. The two would just get together to talk – in Hebrew – twice a week.

According to Brock, both benefited from the activity.

Following Brock’s presentation, several newbies offered additional advice of their own: “Repeat phrases until you know them by heart,” “Read short paragraphs from newspapers over and over again,” “Listen to the radio,” “Watch children’s television,” and “Borrow easy-to-read books – or better yet, borrow someone’s first-grader.”

In April, another top-ranked professional, Zvi Ophir, presented a workshop on “Reading Israeli Body Language: Rude Gestures and Other Cultural Differences.” Ophir, who presents his body-language workshops for business groups, teachers and the IDF, also teaches English at Yeshiva High School in Sussiya and Dimona, having made aliya from England with his family 41 years ago. Using film clips, photos and drawings, Ophir kept the audience both laughing and learning.

One of his drawings represented the quintessentially Israeli hand signal: all five fingers closed together, pointing upward.

“What does this mean?” Ophir asked. Only a few guessed: “In Israel, it means ‘Be patient.

Take it easy. Give me a minute.’” But make that same gesture in Italy, someone pointed out, and you might find yourself going home in a wheelchair.

Using the now-famous photo of US President Barack Obama talking on the telephone to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with his feet on the desk, soles to the camera, Ophir discussed the sensitivity of Middle Easterners to being shown the sole of another’s shoe.

“Keep your feet on the floor,” he suggested. “Don’t cross your legs so that the sole of your shoe shows if you’re sitting with an Arab.”

Looking at the group assembled to hear his talk, Ophir says, he could tell from their facial expressions, and where and how they sat in the meeting room, that the new immigrants were appreciating the presentation.

“They were very interested, many were leaning forward a little, which betrays strong interest,” he recalls. “It was a great session – fully interactive. It wasn’t a lecture. There was something going on between us, bouncing back and forth. We were learning from each other.”

“I’ve been to almost every ‘Conversation’ session,” says Hector Marrero, a sociologist who made aliya from Mexico four years ago. “They’ve all been helpful and interesting. The how-to-learn-Hebrew session was maybe the best… I just hope the sessions will continue.”

Not only will the sessions continue, says Green, but future topics are sure to keep people coming.

“Martin Stone, a veteran immigrant from London, will be making a presentation on how to read your bills and invoices. Another session will focus on what adult education is available in Beersheba. Finding employment is always a hot topic for new olim, and we’ll also have a session on nonprofessional jobs that might be an option. For newcomers who don’t have much Hebrew yet, a job such as working in a hotel might offer a chance to earn some income and learn Hebrew at the same time,” she notes.

Learning Hebrew should be viewed as a long-term process, Green adds. To put it into perspective, she tells of a conversation she had with a very new immigrant from Florida, one who’s been struggling with the language.

“At the end of one of the ‘Conversations’ sessions, this mother came up to me and said, ‘I just want you to know that today my son had the best day of his entire life,’” she remembers.

When Green asked what had happened, the mother said, “My son is in sixth grade. He doesn’t have any Hebrew yet, but today, after school, he went out with a group of his new Hebrew-speaking classmates. They ate pizza, they rode their bikes all over the city and played together until after dark, when he came home all by himself. I’ve never seen him so happy.

“You see, back in Florida, he had to stay in the house or the backyard. There was no way we could allow him to be outside playing like that with friends, riding their bikes all over, unsupervised. Kids don’t have that kind of freedom where we lived before,” she explained.

“So here’s how I see it,” the mother continued. “We’ll all struggle to learn Hebrew. But it doesn’t matter how long it takes, because we’re sold on this country. Already my son is flourishing here – what can be more important than that?”