Coming to Israel? Things to do.

Recently wrote up some off-the-top-of-my-head Israel tourism ideas for a friend coming in the summer (with a 6-month-old baby).

So, while I’m at it, why not share, right?

Short-term rentals

There are quite often short-term rentals of apartments in Jerusalem and elsewhere, which is probably a better bet than hotel if you’re coming for a ‘longer’ term, staying in the same city, or coming with kids. Lotsa people are doing it nowadays. Janglo and Flathunting have listings, and homeless.co.il might also. A coworker of mine found a place for two weeks on Israel-local Craigslist, which was impressive to me since I never heard of anyone actually using it.

Activities

GroopBuy and Groupon are available here if you want to take advantage of deals for restaurants/activities. You can watch the lists in advance and snatch up the deals for your trip.

I recommend taking hikes around the Ein Kerem/Jerusalem forest/Mazleg area. Gorgeous nature for just walking around freely. Good thing to do with 6-month-old too, if you have a good carrier or backpack.

Tzimmers are awesome, and with baby – well, if you’re baby’s a good sleeper, hey, who knows, you could enjoy some romantic secluded quiet in the north. I’d ask for recommendations on Twitter/Janglo. Many come with access to pools, so find one with a pool or on a farm or somewhere where there are nearby activities.

A coworker of mine bought on GroopBuy passes for hot-air ballooning; I think it’s somewhere near the center, near Modiin but not totally sure.

With a baby, the activities get tricky. I remember I came to New York with mine at about that age. We did a lot of strollering through parks. So if you’re into things like museums, parks, tours, hikes, it’s good with a kid that young because they just chill, if they’re calm babies. We took him to the Biblical Zoo around that time too, though it was more for the walk around and ourselves than him. Herzliyah has a nice boardwalk area with shops and food and beach.

Modiin has a relatively new park called Anava Park; they created a lake and have boating there. It’s near the mall. Thing is, with the baby, it’s tough; we tried with ours at a year old, and the sun was too hot and it was kind of miserable. And if you’re not going to Modiin in any case, not necessarily worth the trip.

Food

Things to do and eat… Well, lately I’ve been hanging out in Ein Kerem, which is gorgeous in spring. It’s an old-style Christian area and on the outskirts of Jerusalem, so it’s a quiet funky place to hang out and get something to eat. There is a relatively new kosher meat place called Charlotte I’ve heard good things about, and an excellent dairy place called Beit HaMaayan.

Oh, there’s also an awesome dairy restaurant by the windmill in Jerusalem – it’s called Montefiore. Gabriel is a meat restaurant with French flair in town (on Shlomtzion Halmalka or near there). I also favor Buffalo steakhouse on Emek (South American-ish). I highly DON’T recommend La Guta on Emek – had two terrible experiences there, food-wise and service-wise.

Also, if you want the whole Israeli grill experience, my favorite is Tzidkiyahu on Yad Harutzim in Talpiot – all you can eat salad course (salads, felafel, fries, rice, and more) with your choice of shishliks (skewers) – chicken, lamb, steak, pargit, etc. Lots of places do this but they are by far the best in my opinion.

I recommend looking up info on the restaurants on rest.co.il. You may already know about eluna and that you can get 15% discounts when you print the coupons for specific restaurants.

Nesiya tova!

Good bras, good nursing.

Since having children, I have been on a journey. It’s not quite spiritual, but certainly challenging.

It’s about… finding the best nursing bras. Seriously, what’s the deal? At least half the women in this country breastfeed, yet it’s fairly difficult to find good quality nursing bras here. Forget the malls – Intima and the like have poor selection or questionable quality. And why are they so reluctant to fit you for size? And I don’t bother with the baby stores; a wireless paper-thin bra that comes stuffed in a tiny paper envelope isn’t for me. Even if costs 8548563542 NIS less.

I considered going all out Amazon, but who orders their intimates without trying them on?

So on to the United States of Shopping. Sure, breastfeeding isn’t as common, but surely for the right price I could find quality… But, no. I’ve bought at least six there and they’ve all gone to crap too quickly.

Sometimes the answers in a journey are found where you first started it. Before I tried all that, I had find good bras in Israel, through the nursing shopping website Hanaka Tova (Hebrew, but a lil’ Google Translate should do the trick, plus the owner is a native English speaker). I heard about it through Rachelle Oseran’s birth class before having my first, and gave her a call after he was born and realized, holy crap, there’s a reason they make special bras for these things!

Anyway, I did buy a bunch of excellent quality and fairly priced bras from there, but for some reason afterwards thought I could just get a whole bunch more elsewhere as backup.

This time, I returned to Hanaka Tova and I highly recommend going that route. You can get everything delivered after ordering online, or you can contact Arielle, the site owner and bra wonder, to ask about fitting. They’ve also got pumps, pads, and all kinds of accessories. I also recommend this nursing cover for the show-it-all shy.

Ladies, here’s to happy nursing… and supporting our boobs.

Surviving Israeli mortgage hell: a checklist.

Buying your first home in Israel? Welcome to Israeli mortgage hell! (As opposed to anywhere-else-mortgage hell).

Here are some points about the process that might be helpful to you if you’re going through it now too. Note that we bought our apartment from our landlady, so there was no issue of real estate agency, moving dates, or handing over keys. I’ve heard each of those things can be their own personal hell. I guess somewhere there’s a homeowners’ angel watching over us.

So here’s what we learned from buying our property in Tzur Hadassah:

  • From the beginning of the purchase negotiation, check (and double-check) that the seller’s name is actually on the Tabu document (land registry) and not the seller before them. That could take months to change if needed (and in so many cases, it is needed).
  • While you are at it, check that the seller’s correct teudat zehut digits were put on the Tabu.
  • Pay a little more to have a really good lawyer. Who speaks your mother tongue. By really good, I mean assertive, persistent, responsible and communicative.
  • Also, make sure you get a good bank mortgage representative. Ours has been a complete doll, even when the bank itself was dicking us around. It helps that she turned out to be a neighbor of ours.
  • Keep all your papers and documents in a secure folder, and take it with you every time you go into an office to deal with something.
  • Have copies ready of everything.
  • Structure insurance: Have the policy document ready in Hebrew. The bank won’t accept it in English and it can actually hold up your process.
  • Be persistent. And annoying. In this aliyah world, you get the immigrant discount: a deduction in the form of assumption you won’t get mad, push, or fight back.
  • If you are using the זכאות עולים, and you are pregnant, you’ll need a letter from your OB-GYN stating your pregnancy status, so the bank can include it in a submission to the government.
  • Have copies of your spouse’s teudat zehut with you on every bank visit if they are not accompanying you.
  • Include the cost of a lot of petrol for all the back and forth you’ll do. Alternatively, use a bank branch within walking distance of your workplace.
  • Take into consideration you’ll be spending a few hundred shekels here and there for things the bank will have you running around to get.
  • After agreeing to your bank you find they aren’t treating you right or are screwing you around (like ours did with us) go ahead – mention it to your rep, lodge a formal complaint, and ask for something. You never know what they can give you (and they are prepared with resources to do it with customers when necessary).
  • Don’t leave loose ends: Take care to make sure your name is changed on the Tabu papers once you own. You don’t want to cause trouble and waste time for when you sell your place down the line. Seems like people get excited when the first bank payments are finished and the place is officially theirs, and forget that one detail at the end.

Other than that, pray the sellers you are dealing with are decent people. Our seller was our landlady for three years who we totally connected with, so I’d say that was a major saving grace for us. Especially since she was located in the U.S. while we negotiated and processed.

If you’ve got anything to add, feel free to leave a comment… Like I said, we got lucky and didn’t have to deal with awfulness from our seller, handing over keys or moving, so go ahead and fill that in.

The new American consulate in Jerusalem (now with room to breathe!)

Let’s hear it for American consulate 2.0!

Had to go back to ze Fatherland territory to register new baby’s citizenship, get her passport (1/3) and apply for her Social Security number.

For a while now, Jerusalem and Jerusalem-area American-Israeli residents have been going to the shiny new consulate in ‘west’ Jerusalem (is Arnona not a hop-skip away from East Jerusalem, in reality? I kinda thought it was East Jerusalem).

The building is really nice and there’s a lot of American-ness in it. The giant, thick glass window-walls of the interior facility made me feel at home for some reason. It’s a bit airport-y but that makes sense; what with the security details swiping the cars in the (spacey!) parking lot to be tested for chemicals… and all.

Basically, it’s not a dank, old, claustrophobic ichsa with no parking in East Jerusalem. So, win!

Kudos to security for making me drink my own poison (water in an opaque bottle) instead of taking it away and wasting/pouring it out. That’s an Israeli airport technique. As opposed to an American airport technique. So I guess American security is learning?

I had heard that the new facility would be ‘mother-friendly’ which I assumed meant a nice nursing section. If you turn back the time to the last time I went to the American consulate – two years ago – I thought I was meant to breastfeed in public and then got sent to a tiny little corner with a shower curtain around it. This time, from what I could tell, I was supposed to nurse in the bathroom, in a separate space from the toilets and sinks which had a couple chairs. Next to it was what I suspect was a change area (a long counter top). Definitely an upgrade, but most breastfeeding moms would complain about having to use the bathroom.

Well, in any case, I nursed the little one in the gorgeous courtyard outside the bathroom, complete with park benches, shady trees and patches of grass.

In other news, the ordeal was fairly quick, except having to wait nearly an hour at the end for the passport papers to be approved. I’d recommend going on a day when you can get the first appointment slot. The parking is spacious, so if you can drive, go for it. Otherwise – I’m not sure if/how the public transportation works (I saw other people pulling up in cabs). I also think they need to get a bit more organized with how you line up once you’re inside.

But otherwise, not bad, American compatriots.

Big plans for Tzur Hadassah.

Build it, and they will come. In our case, many already did, but I’m sure that attracting more is part of the plan.

Walking through the yishuv this week I noticed the sign declaring what we all thought were just rumors and faraway promises: a major community center in the middle of Tzur Hadassah, servicing the ‘יישובי המזלג’ or the five towns that comprise the Matte Yehuda ‘fork’. That includes Tzur, Matta, Nes Harim, Bar Giyora and Mavo Beitar.

So… let’s break it down. What started being built in February 2011, and has no declared end date yet, are the following…

  1. בית ספר הדסים / Hadassim elementary school: Ok, this one already exists (and got a whole refurbished play area outside it last year) but it’s around this building that the rest will be done. From what I understand, they are also adding middle school to this (I believe it only goes up to sixth grade).
  2. בית ספר ממלכתי דתי / Religious public school: This school year a religious public school was started; it began with kita aleph and bet (first and second grade) and both religious and secular families from the surrounding yishuvim sent their kids. It’s been housed in an unused building in Bar Giyora, but it seems that its permanent residence will in fact be in this new complex. I heard that the original plan was to have a mixed TALI-type school, but because the administration and parental interest of this one has created such an open, mixed atmosphere, they decided it was unnecessary and instead, this ‘dati’ school would serve the purpose. This is the first new building being built in the complex, which is meant to be completed by this coming school year, and you can see in the photo that it’s made significant progress since February:
    The amazing thing about it is that for next year, apparently kita aleph has over 30 kids registered. It will also go up to gimmel (grade 3), of course.
  3. מרכז חוגים / Activity center: What I’m hoping is that kids can go straight from school to next door where they can partake in the expensive chugim (extracurriculars, after-school activities) that we will pay for. As a working mom who isn’t a teacher or part time, I worry a lot about what the bleep my kids will do all afternoon after school lets out.
  4. בית ספר תיכון / High school: This will be a secular high school for local kids to continue after the elementary/middle school. Currently they shlep on buses to Jerusalem or Beit Shemesh.
  5. בריכת שחייה / Swimming pool: This has (literally) been the talk of the town for years. There are a few public pools in the area yishuvim, stretching from five to fifteen minutes away. Some are actually focused on serving Beitar Illit’s charedi population, with separate swimming. Others are fine, but the rates of membership are probably not as good as they could be if we had our own local pool to join. And what better way to build a strong sense of local community than a swimming pool? Not to mention giving kids what to do in the long, school-free summer.
  6. אולם ספורט / Sports center: Goes along with after-school activities, school teams, and hell, who knows? – maybe a gym for the adults.
  7. אולם רב תכליתי / Community center (multi purpose): I assume this is where our tekesim will take place… Community meetings, cultural events, shows, etc.
  8. ספריה ומרכז מוסיקה / Library and music center: This could actually be really great. I hope they do it right. The lack of libraries in Israel makes me terribly sad. I would love to take my kids to a local library every week, just like my mom did with us in New York City.

With everything going on in this area, things are really going to change. It’s going to be a huge win for creating more of a sense of community here, though there’s always a risk to demographics with attempting to attract more people. The pace is good, and these are things most people want anyway. But change is still change.

As they, סכנה! כאן בונים (danger, here they are building).