Stefanella's Drive Thru

Israel, U.S., conflict, war, peace, humor, travel, romance, fashion, fun

Us and Them November 29, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — stefanella @ 5:22 pm

A danger most transplants lie prey to is the “we” versus “they” syndrome. “Back in Podunk, WE did it this way. Over here in Holy Land Central (HLC) THEY do it that way…How very ridiculously wrong of THEM

I, personally, never fall into this trap. Above it all, I weigh each situation carefully, giving others the benefit of the doubt because, after all, we are each and every one of us citizens of this Glorious Universe. Not, mere separate beings emerging from our respective corners to mete out criticism and retreat but a mass of living, breathing energy meant to love and support one another eternally.

Ptooey, Kaka. I am the very FIRST to jump into the ring for my daily, 10-round bash. Why this way? Why not that way? What’s wrong with them? Could it be any worse? Why did I come here? annessi e connessi, und so weiter.. It fills up time.

Today, however I caught a whiff of that universal groove, hippy goo love stuff, wrapped so delicately in nuance that it almost drifted on past.

My kid has been sick with the flu for a week now. Fever, stuffy nose, coughing, more fever, no school, birthday party cancelled, all three of us sick now , coughing, fevers, lovely, enough said.

The beauty of living in HLC, however, is generous health coverage benefits. For $1.50 you visit the doc and get treated, throw down another $3-4 at the pharmacy en route home and voila! Good to go.

When you’re a returning resident, HOWEVER, you have to wait a tad for the bennies to kick in. New law. Has to do with people moving abroad to find fortunes, contracting terminal illnesses and coming back to the mother land for government subsidized treatment. Awwwwwww. Hell Nahhhh…said the Israeli government and slapped on a waiting period to make sure you’re not back for the cheapie MRI.

ANYHEEEW, Turns out that even though a kid is entitled to healthcare no matter what, he can’t be signed up if his mom’s on hold meaning he can’t be seen by a doctor meaning he can’t be treated. You know where this is going and no, it wasn’t pretty. Why couldn’t his new-to-the-country dad sign him up, you ask? Because dad plays for the “other team” so he passes GO and collects bupkes.

So during round two in three days of sitting across from health clinic receptionists, I’m asserting myself between coughing spasms and chills, explaining that the child must be treated, his fever isn’t dissipating and haven’t they heard of the bloody Hippocratic oath? And then I laid in the final touch: When it’s time for army service, National Insurance won’t have any trouble finding him…But NOW when he needs treatment… Relevance? None. Effect? Sounds good but didn’t help.

After my bold declaration, I needed a lemon drop to calm the cough. Noticing that the woman seated opposite was sipping tea with lemon and having a rough time herself, I held out a drop which she gratefully accepted.

Innocent as it was, I’m convinced the lemon drop was what got my son signed up, myself mysteriously taken off the waiting list and both of us seen by a doctor the same day.

Maybe there is something after all to all that San Fran touchy feely stuff….Feechs!


Me Here…You There… November 27, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — stefanella @ 3:00 pm

Living far, far away from parents, brothers and sisters, nephews, nieces and grandparents is not an easy thing.

Even living a few, meager hours’ distance from loved ones – assuming relations are positive – at times creates longings for kitchen table gossip, a shared meal, hugs, arguments, biting humor shared between siblings alone and familiarity that lies solely within the circle of family.

Yes, long distance rates make calling convenient and affordable and e-mail and IM’ing allows for instant gratification. But living several layovers away is still…Well, a few layovers away.

HOWEVER, I am here to inform that viewing only the glum side of this situation would be a most unfortunate vantage point, indeed. For there are benefits, however few, to a continental divide.

How could that be, you muse? I’ll tell you:

I’ve bicycled past the families sitting together in Tel Aviv restaurants on Saturdays stuffing in cholent (a stick-to-the-ribs, brisket, barley and potato dish), chicken soup with matzoh balls and fried schnitzel in cream sauce. I’ve seen the miserable and longing looks on some of those family members’ faces as they see me free-wheel on past. Not meaning to gloat but: Ha Ha! This was one of the benefits written into my contract.

Friday night dinners with family is okay…Occasionally. After all, schlepping to the in-laws’ when it’s been a long day and an even longer week is….a schlep! Especially if they live a distance away. Isn’t it great that I can go to a movie on a Friday evening instead and not worry about offending anyone? Another contracted benefit down there in the fine print.

Holidays are optional. You can go for the fun ones like Hannuka and Purim and skip out on the heavier ones like Passover. Don ‘t feel like sitting through a four-hour Seder? No problem. No one to answer to. Not meaning to sound like a heretic but if there’s no one to offend and they won’t be checking up on me…

No stodgy, obligatory Saturday visits. The day’s all yours for bicycling, windsurfing, mountain climbing, hiking, sailing or sleeping.

Less grapevine evil amongst family members. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen because who are we kidding, eh? But you’re less prone to rubbishing your brother to your sister down the phone when you only speak once a week and you already feel guilty over the distance thing. Makes us all a bit more God-like.

No fighting. How can you fight with someone you don’t see? And we all know that this is a tremendous benefit; the sear of family feuding burns hottest of all because the hurts resonate deeply. Give it up? Don’t mind if I do, thanks.

Did I convince you? Good. Now don’t pick up and move on my account or anything silly like that. But if you find yourself missing your family, be sure to look over the benefits section of your contract. It helps.


It’s A Lie November 24, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — stefanella @ 3:30 pm

For all those out there with children contemplating a cross-state, cross-country, cross-Atlantic, cross-continent move, I’ve got news for you:

When They tell you “kids are flexible” “kids adjust” “it’ll be easier for them than you” “they bounce back quickly” ….and any other adage casually tossed about while you’re so busy packing, searching for new digs, closing up accounts, gathering information and saying goodbyes that you need to hear something comforting, Don’t Believe Them!

Because as we sidle up to month 3 of Tel Aviv occupation, I continue to feel pained while peeking through the window of our 4-year-old’s kindergarden as he sits inside sucking his thumb and twisting his hair during end-of-day circle time, oblivious to the story being read or song being sung. Walking home each morning, I cry harder than he has moments prior during dramatic, good-byes at the school gate. I pain for him as he pines for a first, special friend or a whole slew of friends and daily I long to cave when he begs to stay home from “that school I don’t like where they all talk in Hebrew.”

I know that a lot of this is normal but I don’t give a toss. Lurking on an ultra-conscious level is the sense that I may have wronged my son. Despite motives of coming here in order to provide him with the utmost possible within my means, a nagging sense lingers that I’ve uprooted him from popularity, from a fawning kindergarden teacher who fanned his ego, from a preschool where indulging in water play and nakedness (down to underwear) on a whim was acceptable and from an overall softer approach to living life and relating to others. And yes, I know that any life decision has its up and downside, but when I stand outside that window watching him twist his hair? …See line one of this paragraph for my take.

I can’t help but ask myself: Have I done to him what our parents did to my three siblings and myself by relocating from a mixed race, liberal, intellectual enclave during key, pre-teenage years to a Wonder Bread suburban setting where kids tipped cows for fun? To this day my sister and I still concur about how very wrong the move was for our inherent natures…

Will Rapha’s nature which incorporates a love of painting and art, a desire for brightly colored items like the pink bicycle he requested for his birthday (NO San Francisco jokes, please!), extreme sensitivity and an ability to intuit beyond his years get smashed here?

I can only hope not; I stop dwelling now as a small, Birthday Child begging to be photographed has awakened. A Happy Fourth to my Dearest Dear!…I wish I could shield you from the worst while knowing exactly how to give you the very best. While I’m figuring it out, however, You are MOST welcome for the Ooh They’re Beautiful, Thank You Mommy!! fairy lights.


Vive Le Turkey!!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — stefanella @ 3:34 am

…Happy Thanksgiving Day to all of my Americana-Fantocious Friends!!

(only 30 more shopping days left)


…livening it up a bit… November 21, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — stefanella @ 8:50 pm

For the five of us here in Israel divested of political immersion, the business of daily life at times necessitates a wee, waft of diversion. Or, as “Dr. Janet” of San Francisco’s Alamo Square dog park puts it: In our family, the rule is that once a week each person has to go somewhere or do something outside of the routine to keep life interesting and fresh

For some, it never gets boring. Buddha says: This is Good.

For others, a list of suggested things to try for little to no $$ if you live in or visit Tel Aviv:

1) Walk along the Yarkon River at sunset. The sight is truly to be cherished
2) Rent a bicycle at OhFun! (corner Nordau/Ben Yehuda), ride up to Jaffa and back down to the Reading Power Plant area. Sit for coffee at one of the seaside cafes
3) Go to a movie at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday evening …You’ll find peace, tranquility and row upon row of empty seats
4) Visit the Rabin Memorial at the municipality. It is chilling and humbling
5) Climb the stairs adjacent to the Rabin memorial, go inside the building and check out the local, photographer’s display on the ground floor. Good stuff
6) Stop for a coffee at either of the Rothschild Boulevard java stands just south of Sheinkin. You’ll feel oh-so-hip
7) Check out the Interior Ministry’s gorgeous, young security guards at the entrance and upstairs. Modeling candidates, every last one. While inside, view the acrylic and oil paintings on the ground floor and the photo-essay exhibit on the 2nd. Are we feeling cultured after our moment of lechery?
8) Get up at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday and go outside. Hear the birdies singing and smell that fresh, morning air? (this one also works outside Tel Aviv). Buddha likes this too
9) Go for Jahnoun at the stone restaurant overlooking Metzitzeem (Old Sheraton) Beach. Cheap, tasty eats inside an open fortress with a view
10) Spend 50 shekels for an introductory wind-surfing, kayaking or surf lesson at the club on Hilton Beach. They provide the wet suit and instruction, you get invigorating fun
11) Stroll the Opera House grounds and gardens. You’ll feel sophisticated
12) Go for gelato at Vaniglia on Ashtori Ha’Parhi 24 in the Basel compound. G’head already. You deserve it and it’s worth it


Just Like San Francisco…

Filed under: Uncategorized — stefanella @ 11:05 am

Only a lot less rampant


Tel Aviv Beauty November 19, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — stefanella @ 1:33 pm


Jaffa Cool and Not…. November 16, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — stefanella @ 3:15 pm

To break away from our North Tel Aviv neighborhood and pick up a rosary for devoutly Catholic, ex-neighbors back in San Fran, the family ventured out to Jaffa last night.

Each time I take the time to go there, I’m impressed anew by the architecture and history within the stone structures. Jaffa shares cousin Jerusalem’s historical and aesthetic beauty, but the port city lacks the holy city’s heavy sense of foreboding despite similar religious and political intensity.

Judaism cites Jaffa as a shipping gateway and fortress, mentioned in The Book of Joshua and ruled by Kings David and Solomon during the 1st Temple era and The New Testament stakes this as the place where St. Peter resurrected Jesus’ disciple Tabitha, the tomb site still intact.

More recently, King Richard the Lionheart took control of the city after Salah El Din’s, 5-year reign in the late 12th century and in the Here and Now, it’s a mixed Arab/Israeli, Tel Aviv outer limit which is way, way cool.

Yes, there’s Mafia-style killing, drug dealing and theft but there are also primo, abandoned, warehouse spaces partially occupied by live-in loft artists, world class eats and the lively, flea market. Read: Very, very hip.

The old men playing backgammon and swilling beer in the back alley bingo-hall-joint off Yefet Street have been there for at least 25 years (75, according to vendor ‘Moti’) as have some of the tired restaurants serving up Middle Eastern, kabob fare at huge prices to unsuspecting tourists opposite Moti’s chatchke shop where we bought Holy crosses, Holy dirt and Holy vials of water, all blessed by a Holy father. Amen.

I don’t fancy myself an unsuspecting tourist, at least not in these parts anymore, so how did it come to pass that my family and I sat for a meal in one of these truly awful, dives??

We were hungry, Tonny was carrying 40 pounds of sleeping, dead weight, aka Raphael, a wee voice inside whispered to give the place a chance despite appearances and we felt sorry for the restaurateurs: their place was barren.

For future reference: Toss pity out the window and press ‘mute’ on the inner voice. Now, vegetarian and vegan friends, why don’t you hop on out to the kitchen and fix yourselves a tofurkey sandwich with sprouts while we go over this next part, hmmmm?

Lesson #1: In years past, I truly savored grilled, goose liver. Loved the soft, fatty texture and gamey flavor. Sue me. Ethically, it’s a travesty, I know. So isn’t it wonderful to have put that craving to rest? I gagged after one bite.

Lesson #2: If the grilled turkey tastes like traces of ammonia are running through it, STOP EATING AT ONCE! Which is what I did. No matter how you cut it, ammonia is meant for cleaning toilets, not for recycling through one’s digestive tract.

Lesson #3: If the chips (french fries) are so heavily weighed down by the vat of oil they’ve been soaking in overnight as to droop forward when you pick them up, Put Them Back On the Plate. Your complexion and arteries will thank you in the morning.

Silly me, I asked these guys why business was so slow.

Next time, we’ll hit the galleries and then eat at Cordelia. My ridiculous pride of not seeing owner Nir Tzuk (Nikko, to me) for 4 years, assuming we’re on the outs and so having too large an ego to step into his divine place, kept me from enjoying what would definitely have been a sumptuous meal. Next time.

Vive Le Jaffa!!


Hair Salon Day, Tel Aviv November 15, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — stefanella @ 12:33 pm


"Foreign" Workers November 14, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — stefanella @ 1:48 pm

Disclaimer: I’m a Stranger Here Myself

I’m at Supersol’s deli counter waiting for the Russian lady to finish slicing my Tal Ha’Emek cheese – very tasty stuff: Swiss-esque flavor with a rubbery texture – when an aged gentleman clearly not getting enough circulation what with his tweed overcoat and cashmere glove ensemble on a 75-degree day, pulls up beside me in a wheelchair. Pushing him is a slight, mid-40’s woman with dark hair and dark eyes.

She: What do you want?
He: Nothing. I don’t want anything
She: But you said you wanted herring
He: Why are you bothering me? When did I say I want herring?
She: Nu? Ach! We get all the way over here and now you change your mind! I’m going to go crazy!

..and so on and so forth. Listening to these two go at I’m chuckling inside. Not because the exchange is unusual in these parts; This one was tame. More like: Since when did George Costanza’s parents move to the Middle East, learn to bicker in Hebrew and infiltrate the bodies of a crotchety, ex-European and a petite Filipina?

Ten years of not being here, the gradual influx of Asians has eluded me. These are people coming from Thailand and the Philippines via government or privately sponsored programs they pay to hook into. They stay, work and send earnings to family back home or settle in search of an improved standard of living.

They’re working in agriculture replacing kibbutznikim and moshavniks who have opted out for private sector jobs and they attend to the country’s elderly population, frequently as private home care aides. On any given day at the Work Visa Department of Israel’s Interior Ministry, a handful of Southeast Asians can be found in line beside employers clutching paperwork on their behalf, quietly listening to procedure and protocol explained in English.

Based on the VERY LITTLE I’ve read, they have been cheated and exploited throughout the years but Watchdog organization intervention and standardization of work permit procedures has led to some stabilization.

I am NOT going into depth on this one because the issues are vast: equal rights, equal pay, displaced, Palestinian laborers, sub-standard living conditions, absent health insurance and benefits, etc.

Mine is the perch of observation: On a tachles (bottom line) basis, the Asian population here has clearly integrated into and influenced society. Thai teenagers animatedly chat in Hebrew on the bus, Filipine men and women occupying park benches read books to their elderly charges or prop them up as they stroll the park, Thai and Chinese children are enrolled in nursery schools and kindergardens, couples converse in Tagalog over espresso at trendy cafes and numerous shops selling such items as galangal and lemon grass make preparation of an authentic, Tom Kha Gai a practical endeavor.

I’m pleased and tickled each time I hear someone of Pacific Rim origin utter a Hebrew phrase. It’s sort of a “does not compute” moment akin to first hearing the rumored name of NBC’s Egypt-based producer: Abdullah Schleifer….I wonder if he’s still around.