Sunday, August 28, 2011

Faith ...again...

I spent this past Shabbat in Mercaz Shapira by my sister.  I am so glad that she and I are finally going to be friends...there is nothing like having a family member as your friend!

I was kind of flabbergasted at her menu:  Friday night we had stuffed peppers and for Seudat Shlishit we had corn fritters.  Not that those foods in and of themselves flabbergasted me.  It was the choices of foods.  You see, on Wednesday night I made stuffed peppers for dinner and on Thursday night Chloe made corn fritters for dinner!!  It was kind of a strange deja vu!!!  I did try to see or ascribe some meaning to this but, heck, this is just food, folks!  Good food to be sure, but just food nonetheless. 

While by my sister I was describing to her my "plans" on how to manage financially and was detailing my income to expense ratio and worrying myself over it.  Finally she told me that I am being to "medakdek" and that I need to relax and turn myself over to Hashem and let Him take care of things.  I can only plan just so much and then I have to trust in Him to make sure we will be okay.  

This is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.  I have always had trouble with this and over the past few years I have had to do this a lot so you would think with all this practice it would get easier.  But it never gets easier.  It is always scary.  But I am trying, I am trying. 

Today, I drove from Mercaz Shapira to Rami Levy at Shilat, then to the house in Hashmonaim, dropped off my stuff and the groceries I bought (drinks, drinks, drinks, biscuits, cookies, and plums) and then went to Nof Ayalon.  The kids loaded the car with their stuff then drove me back to Hashmonaim, to the house and they went up to Haifa.  I spent the next several hours sorting out my stuff and putting things into place and measuring and making plans for where everythign is to go.  When I was done I went to the Fulds, annoyed them for a bit, and then went to find Pizza Mia, the local pizzeria.  I ordered four pies of pizza for tomorrow for the workers,  then picked up an iced coffee at the makolet and hiked back to the house. At the house I gathered my things: laptop, overnight stuff, and then hiked back over to the Fulds.  I am here now. relaxing in the cook a/c with a tall glass of cold drink and some nice green grapes.  

Tomorrow will be a big and long day...I will be reunited with all my STUFF!!   I can't wait.   

Last night I sent out about 150 CV's to many different amutot (ngo's) in Israel.  I recieved a few responses, mostly that they have no openings, a few who are forwarding my CV to the proper personnel and one which wants to interview me.  I have a feeling I am going to wind up working full time and commuting, two things I did not really want to do. I wanted to work part time either nearby or from home....

Oh well... I need to pay the bills. 

Any sugar daddies out there???  (JK!)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cellphones and Twitter and Israel

I finally purchased a cellphone/plan.  I wound up going with Orange.  I am not sure I got the best deal possible, in fact, I am pretty sure I did not.  But it is not a bad deal. So, I can live with that. 

My initial foray into purchasing a cellphone was met with disappointment. I really wanted a plan that included the IPhone.   This was because my son-in-law has an IPhone and I had tested it and found that I could hear on it.  

Let me first define what that means.  As most of my friends and all of my family know, I wear hearing aids.  So, compatibility of phones to my hearing aids is my number one consideration when purchasing a phone.  However, finding a phone that I can "hear" on does not mean that I REALLY CAN hear on them:  it only means that the phone is compatible with my hearing aids and brings me enough clarity that when speaking with someone who does not have an accent, who is familiar to me, and/or when I know the context of the call ahead of time, I can manage with difficulty to muddle through the conversation.  Even with that I may frequently need to ask someone else to relay the call for me.  

So the iPhone seemed to deliver decently clear sound.  But, when I attempted to purchase an iPhone/plan I was told, by all three providers that in order to do so, I needed an Israeli VISA credit card.  I could not use Horaat Keva (standing order with the bank) or a debit card, or even a US issued VISA card.  So, I switched gears, and decided to look at other SmartPhones.  

The next hurdle I would have would be that I could not purchase any phone without first testing the phone.  I wound up going to the Orange flagship center in what is called (in English) the Craft Center in Modi'in.  I think they really mean Business District, but whatever.  At Orange was matched with an agent who spoke good English.  She was very nice and she spent a lot of time with me and did go out of her way to locate phones that I could test.  

The  Samsung Galaxy 2S was recommended to me, by a number of people. I was able to test it and disappointingly I could NOT hear on it. There was something in the hardware technology that was creating digital sounds that my hearing aids were picking up and causing interference for me.  Turning up the volume did not help -- it just increased the volume of the interference!! 

So, I asked to test the Blackberry.  My late husband had a Treo before he died and I inherited that from him.  I was able to use that somewhat reasonably so I figured the  Blackberry would be the same. I could hear on it, but I was not happy with either the max volume or the clarity either.  

Next I asked to test the Motorola Atrix 4g with Motoblur.  Voila!  This time I could hear almost as well I was able to on the iPhone.   Next step: make the deal.  Here I did not actually succeed as well as I have in the past with other things.  But like I said, it is still a decent deal, and only slightly more than I was paying in the States.  

Upon arriving home I began to play with my new toy.  I decided that now that I have a phone with the capability, I would become "connected" and link it to all my already linked accounts: Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and I added one more: Twitter.  

Since I did not have a Twitter account this meant I had to create a Twitter account first.  Which I did.  (!/rsusselj18).  I explored the Twitter options and noted in the Profile section a tab for Mobile.  So I went to that and saw that I needed to select my country from a drop down list to enable this.  I went to the drop down list and looked for Israel.  It was NOT in the list.  But what is this I see?  "Palestinian Territories" IS in the list.   Can this really be so? 

I have been trying with no success to find a good contact person at Twitter to inquire as to whether this is by design or by accident.   Why is Israel not on the list?  Can anyone tell me?? 

More on this later...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Banking games continued...

I finally did open a bank account!  Mazal Tov! 

I participate in several email lists, two of which are the Nefesh B'Nefesh list and the Tachlis list.  On those lists there has been much talk lately of banks and bank fees. I did quite a bit of research on many of the banks in Israel, using the Bank Of Israel website and asking many questions of my friends who have been living here  for a long time.  Of course, I did discover what everyone told me:  banks here seem to be in the business of parting one from one’s money, rather than in the business of helping one save one’s money.  That they have access to our funds and can invest and earn money on our money seems to mean nothing to them. 

Yes, I did discover that the four major banks do charge fees for EVERY transaction.  And yes, you CAN negotiate with them.  BUT…if one limited one’s research to just those four banks, then one would be getting a rather incomplete picture of the banking scene in Israel.   In my research I was told by a friend that Bank Yahav offers free banking.   Said friend does not have an account with this bank and I really do not understand that. He is banking with one of the big four – supposedly because all his business accounts are with them. 

Today, I decided to check out Bank Yahav.  I went to Bank Yahav at Modiin Center in …where else?  Modiin, of course!  I asked to speak with Jeremy Billauer.  His name was given to me by said friend.  Jeremy is a very nice young man, he speaks English very well.  He made aliyah with his family when he was seven, so he sounds like an Israeli. 

This is what I found out:  Bank Yahav DOES offer free banking.  For Olim Chadashim the first year is free  regardless of your situation.  After that first year, in order to continue with free banking one must meet the following requirements:
1.       Your salary must be direct deposited into their bank
2.       Your monthly salary must be 5K NIS or more

For that you will receive totally free banking, no fees, a debit card, a bank card.  If you want a credit card, if you have not been in Israel long enough you will be required to deposit a sum into the account equal to the amount of credit you wish to have as collateral.  After you establish good credit that may not be required. 

Students take notice:  Students (full time university) can receive free banking with no income required!  

I cannot imagine why ANYONE would choose to use  any of the four big banks with all their fees….if one could get free banking.

I hope this information is helpful to those of you making aliyah or who have made aliyah and are looking for more info about banking....

Monday, August 22, 2011

Banking games...

Believe it or not, I have been in Israel nearly a week and still have yet to open a bank account. This is the one thing we are exhorted constantly to be the FIRST thing we do.   Well, I have been a bit recalcitrant about this given that banks in Israel exist not to help you save your money but specifically to part you from it.  There are fees for EVERYTHING. Every transaction you might undertake has a fee associated with it.   

Now I am in a position wherein which I have a stable income from the US, obviously in USD.  Sal Klita is merely a few extra dollars in the  purse for me at this point.  But at the moment I do not have the guarantee of substantial ISRAELI income (in NIS) - and that is what I thus lack with regard to a good negotiating standpoint.  Everyone tells me negotiate negotiate negotiate -- but it seems to me that in order for one to do that one needs to be bargaining from a good position. I do not feel that way at all. 

BUT, I learned recently from the source of my US income that I CAN arrange to have that income direct deposited into my Israeli bank in Shekalim.  The trick then is to find out what the change rate will be and if there are fees for this.  There ARE some banks in Israel that do offer "free banking" but one must guarantee a specific set amount in deposits each month.  One bank, Igud, requires a monthly total deposit of 5000 NIS.  There is another bank I am looking at but I do not know what their requirements are - yet. Tomorrow is do or die day: I am going to open a bank account AND I hope to get a cell phone then too! But the bank account is A Priori right now.  

If the bank account is truly free, and if the conversion rates used are decent then I might actually be able to pull off getting free banking, and at the same time making it easier for myself to write checks to my landlord in shekalim off that account and not have to play games with my US accounts in moving money around.  Will update this as soon as I learn more...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Seriously Silly Stuff...

A funny thing happened. One of the people who wronged me grievously in the matter of my yerusha happened to read my blog and see what I wrote about it. The result: SHE was angry. SHE is angry???? She (and her co-conspirators) got EVERYTHING. They were the aggressors. SHE is angry??? Now THAT is seriously silly....

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mission Accomplished x3

I was told by several veteran olim that I should never expect to accomplish more than one thing in a day when I am in Israel, with regard to dealing with bureaucracy.  Today, I accomplished not one, not two, but three things! 

One:  I went to the Misrad HaPnim in Haifa and received my Teudat Z'hut
Two:  I went to Customs and opened a file with them as an Olah Chadashah so I would get my benefits for importing my shipment
Three: I went to the logistics company dealing with my shipment and arranged for the customs inspection and subsequent release of my shipment.  

EVERYONE I dealt with was nice, respectful, and courteous.  Even dealing with the parking attendant I was rewarded with a nice experience.  In fact, I was amazed. This was a parking lot where upon entry one takes a ticket from a machine and upon exit one submits the ticket so the parking attendant can charge you for the correct amount of time one was parked there.  Me?  I went and LOST the ticket.  So, I reconciled myself to having to pay the maximum amount.  We drove up to the attendant booth and I rolled down my window and said, "Ebadti et HaCartis sheli"  (I lost my ticket).  She then asked me how long I was there and I told her  "shaahtayim" (2 hours).  She charged me for 2 hours -- and gave me a receipt.  

Now, everyone knocks customer service here.  But let me tell you -- if this had happened in the good ol' US of A, I would have been charged the maximum amount - a full days parking!  I was very pleasantly amazed!!  

So far, so good...

Tomorrow: making potato kugel, going to Nof Ayalon for Shabbat, then on Sunday I go to the event in J'lem for the new Olim.  It is for Olim to get their Teudat Z'hut, but there will also be banks and cell phone distributors and other services offering their products/services  -- with special deals for Olim.  I am going to this event for that.  I am also going to be meeting my sister for lunch at Tmol Shilshom.

Next week, at some point will be MOVE IN week for me... I can't wait!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Taking it slow...

Today was my first full day in Israel as an Olah Chadashah.  The only thing I really did was go to Hashmonaim with my daughter and grandson to see for real, the house we are renting.  It was a good visit. We spent a few hours in the house, going over things, how it is arranged and how we think we want to use the space, where we will put our things, etc.  

We met our landlord, Alon ben David.  He is very nice.  He went through the house with us and answered all our questions about things.  There was some furniture in the house already and we asked about it.  He agreed that we can use whatever we want and whatever we do not want or have room for he will remove. He also offered us the use of a dryer, which is great since that is one of the appliances we do not have.

I also insisted that he paint the salon -- the walls are all marked up.  He did attempt to make excuses for NOT doing it but I never let him even get a word in edgewise on that. I told him it must be painted, I did not ASK him.  He did agree that he would do that.

Tomorrow I am hoping to accomplish TWO things. Both are in Haifa, near to one another. I hope to get to the Misrad HaPnim to pick up my Teuadat Z'hut (citizenship/ID card), and to the offices of the shippers to claim my shipment.  The second is only the first step in a multi-step process. I will also need to get to Ashdod to another office to clear my shipment with customs.  Then I go back to Haifa....

I think we will be in Nof Ayalon for this Shabbat.  I am still hoping to move in next week to my new place.

And that's all for now...not much to report. I am taking it very slow...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Aliyah Flight

It is now August 16th at 5:20 PM, my first day in Israel as an Olah Chadashah. My flight was actually pretty amazing. But let me start at the beginning:

I arrived at JFK airport in Queens, NY VERY early, at 8:45 AM!  The earliest we were expected was 9:30 AM and we had been told "ABSOLUTELY NO EARLY CHECK IN!".  Well, I was NOT the first to arrive -- there were MANY MANY young men and women already there -- most of whom were part of the contingent of over 100 young adults going into the IDF upon arrival to Israel (are you impressed?  You should be!).  Garin Tzohar was on my flight and I feel very honored to have flown with these amazing young people.  

At JFK, everyone was sort of milling around aimlessly but I got checked in at the NBN table and then went right ahead with checking in my luggage with EL AL.  I was kind of worried that my luggage would be overweight (we were allowed to check in two pieces, up to 70 lbs each).  B"H, each piece weighed in at about 69.2 lbs.  I did good without really having a good scale to help me!!  (I used my "guesstimation" sense by lifting each piece and deciding if it was over or underweight.)  

After I was checked and divested of the two large and heavy pieces of luggage, we (my parents, myself and my best friend, Jocelyn) just sort of hung out a bit before heading over to the area where the NBN ceremony would take place. Again, we were nice and early which was a mechaya considering that there were like about 4 dozen chairs available -- for a flight with 360 individuals making aliyah - and all their families and friends who were there to see them off and of course all the NBN personnel and EL AL staff, and VIPs who were there as well.  WE secured four chairs initially but as more elderly people showed up both Jocelyn and I gave up our chairs.  

The ceremony was, surprisingly, quite well done and actually felt good to me.  I thought it might be TOO "gushy" but it hit just the right note.  Of course my mom kept tearing up and I had to look away so that I would not tear up -- I was afraid of having a headache from crying on the plane! 

Then, after the ceremony we all made our goodbyes and went to go through security and to our gates.  I happened to be sandwiched between a group of the NBN vips and various Israeli ministry personnel.  They were all so nice to me, helping with all my "stuff" and engaging me in conversation in Hebrew.  Yay, I am speaking Hebrew and doing pretty good!!  I thanked them all for all their hard work on our behalf.  

I then headed to the gate, and was able to board the plane immediately  Upon entering the plane I was directed to my seat:  upstairs in the business class cabin.  I was SHOCKED!  I stood there, next to my seat, motionless for a moment and then did a slow turn around and said in a whisper, "What have I done to merit this?".  I made myself comfortable (remarkably easy in the spacious and QUIET cabin with the flying barcaloungers -- or rather, flying Lazy Boy's to the younger set who do not remember barcaloungers).  I then pulled out my cell phone to call my parents and tell them where I was seated.  I told my mom, "G-d is being very good to me", whereupon I finally proceeded to have a much delayed bawl.  Of course this made my mom cry too.  She gave me a bracha and then I got off the phone and settled in.  

Most of the other passengers in the upper cabin were "alte kockes" like myself.  The lower business class cabin was reserved for all the NBN staff and Israeli ministry personnel.  The coach class was FILLED TO THE GILLS with mostly YOUNG people -- who were all very active and very noisy and packed in like sardines in a can.  I am SO GLAD I was upstairs in the quiet cabin.  Nonetheless, despite the extreme comfort of my seat and space, I was unable to sleep.  This simply endemic to me and plane travel -- I am unable to sleep while flying.  

Finally, many hours later: I arrived at the airport, met each and every one of the chayalim who were there to greet us (each one had the same name: "guest"!), I gave each one a token "Todah Lach/L'cha" for their service (literally a token, with an invitation to us for a Shabbat in Hashmonaim!  I was then greeted by my sister, Phyllis and my niece Efrat and nephew Noam, and brother-in-law, Robert. I was also greeted by my daughter, Chloe and son-in-law, Jonathan, and my amazingly cute grandson, Gavriel.  As we entered the terminal, I was then greeted by Avi and Robin Schreiber, good friends of mine from Teaneck who made aliyah to Hashmonaim.  They came to greet me! 

My family and I decided to sit toward the back of the seating, which is very unusual for me since I always ask to sit in the front due to my disability -- but all the people and noise and music and general hullaballoo was just too much for Gavriel so we wanted to move a bit away from it. It was just as well, I got more "quality" time with my family.  My sister gave me a gift of three things:  the book, "Israel for Beginners" by Angelo Colorni, the book "The Book of New Israeli Food", by Janna Gur and an Israeli Hebrew calendar with beautiful photos of Israel. 

Then, while sitting there I look up and see in the distance, Jeremy Staiman.  I ran very quickly over to greet him and he told me Chana was there somewhere. They could not believe they missed me coming off the  shuttle bus.  They came JUST TO GREET ME!! I was so amazed and am SO touched. I met the Staimans when I moved to Baltimore and they are an amazing couple.  But I only really knew them for less than a year before THEY made aliyah.  So, the fact that they came to welcome me to Israel means SO MUCH to me!! 

On this flight and at the arrivals hall I met other people with whom I had only been in touch via Facebook.  I met Laura Ben David. I met Rabbi Yehoshua Fass who is really truly a special person.  I met Jacob Richman whose prolific presence on the web has shadowed mine since I got online for the first time in 1997.  It was really truly an amazing experience.  

When the ceremony was over, we bade all our family and friends goodbye -- or rather "l'hitraot" for were all staying. We just had to deal with some "klita" matters before we could leave the airport.  

I went upstairs to the area where the klita processing was to occur. The room was FILLED with olim chadashim. There were small offices to the left side of the room, each one assigned a different group of olim to process, according to last name alphabetically.  I went right to the one for my group. The klita processor was still getting himself situated. I realized how it would work. He would bellow out the name of the (next) person he would process.  I saw right away that I would NEVER hear that.  So I just barged into his room and said, in Hebrew, "I am hard of hearing, I wear hearing aids and I read lips. I will never hear you when you call my name."  He said, fine, sit down, I will process you now, first!  LOL! It was great! I was in and out in record time. I conducted the entire process in Hebrew. I am really proud of myself.  

Then I took the receipt he gave me for the monit and went down to secure a taxi.  NBN did not leave even this to be disorganized.  They took charge of this and organized this.  It was at this point, though, that  things finally went slight awry.  I was assigned to a sherut with four other individuals and all our attendant luggage. We were forced to SQUEEZE into seats that were highly inadequate for the combined girths and weights of us --it was really uncomfortable.  More so considering that we were going up North.  It was really weird though -- I was the one going the furthest North and the driver chose to take me to my place first.  But he took a cockamamie route there, ignoring my instructions for a more direct and easy route, and then he got lost and kept ignoring the instructions from his GPS!  He easily cost us an additional hour and he finally stopped and got directions from another taxi driver!  

But I did arrive at long last to my daughter's place in Haifa.  I ate, showered, and napped, in that order.  And now, I am penning (albeit virtually) this blog entry.  My daughter is making a peanut butter/banana smoothie and I am looking forward to it. 

With that I will sign off.  More to come...