The time has come to return to Israel.

They’re talking to you, Israelis.

The Israeli government has been enticing Israeli ex-pats back for a  while now. But it seems they’ve added emotionally heart-tugging videos to their Jewish guilt arsenal.

The Returning Home Project – not just for born-diaspora Jews anymore. The campaign seems aimed at getting friends and family still in Israel to help the ex-pats come on home.

And, by the way,  if you’ve been gone long enough, there are certain benefits you can actually earn by ‘making aliyah’ again. Check out the site for details.

Conflict management.

It’s probably only appropriate that at the graduation ceremony for Bar Ilan University’s Conflict Management and Negotiation program, I witnessed my first Israeli-Arab walkout.

I studied in the program the same years as a secularish Arab girl from around Uhm Al Fahm. She’s probably around my age, with an assertive nature and a big, warn smile – the kind that involves her eyes. She participated in class, she joked with the rest of us.

It was nice to see her at the ceremony. We nodded hellos and I noticed her family was present to support her – her religious-looking parents, her secular sisters and her little nephews. With one of her nephews, hanging around where I stood in the back of the room, I played peekaboo. He’s probably a few months older than Koala and just as charming.

As it always goes at the end of an Israeli ceremony, the musicians got ready to play Hatikva, and everyone stood. The Uhm Al Fahm clan stood… and politely, inconspicuously, walked out. As my classmate walked past, I looked up at her and matched her sigh-resembling smile.

Who am I? What do I believe? A degree in conflict management taught me a lot, but living in Israel taught me, perhaps, too much. Even if I left this country tomorrow, I could never go back to who I was before I lived here. I don’t know if it’s living next to the green line. Or that it’s become normal to occasionally shop alongside Israeli-Arabs, stand on line with Israeli-Arabs. I don’t know if it’s being exposed to a class of people who look just like me, only… only…

She chose to attend Bar Ilan, an openly religiously oriented and Zionist institution. She chose to do this degree, and she chose to participate in whatever she had to get to today. But she also chose not to go too far, not to stay for the national anthem. I suppose that’s conflict management after all: peace is a sleepy dream; conflict management is making choices.

Well, my term in Bar Ilan couldn’t have ended on a more appropriate note.

Yom Haatzmaut this year.

My flight is on erev Yom Haatmzaut – the eve of Independence Day here in Israel. That is THE day of the year: everyone takes off work, everyone goes to parks, everyone barbecues as much meat as they can, and everyone coughs a lot and experiences stinging eyeballs as the other entire country is crammed together in unity, polluting parks under clouds of grilled smoke.

Despite how absolutely fun that sounds, I got a lot of puzzled reactions when I told people about my travel plans. You’re missing Yom Haatzmaut???

Maybe I’m not Israeli enough to care that much, or maybe I’m not sentimental enough to care that much. I’ve been here five years, maybe it’s worn off.

Or maybe – just maybe – I’m too much Israeli up in this piece: The flight I got was a special rate from El Al (whose motto is , “הכי בבית בעולם”) for Israelis leaving the country over Yom Haatzmaut.

The baby leaves of Israel.

Today’s Hebrew lesson: עלי בייבי

Not a hard term to learn in Hebrew. It means ‘baby leaves’ – you know, those tiny bits of greenery you put in salad that cost more than the other vegetables combined?

It’s also a term I made up for a certain type of middle-aged Israeli woman – you know the one. She has spiky dyed-red hair, her tight pants are sitting just slightly too high and her shirt is cut more than slightly too low. There are definitely sequins across her chest and they may spell a misleading English word that starts with an ‘S’ and ends with ‘exy.’ She could be high-pitched and whiny or she might sport the smoker’s voice.

And most of all… You see her at the supermarket. She is standing near you, in the produce aisle. She picks up a plastic bag of something; pretty soon you know exactly what it contains.

“…איזה יופי! אוי, מוטי, בוא תראה – עלי ביייייייבי”

That’s right. She just עלי בייבי‘d you.

The manliest men are in Israel.

Home, sweet Israel. Koala and I arrived back from my work trip to the States in two pieces.

Soon to be five years here and, oh, how the tables have turned.

Anyway, nothing says ‘welcome home to Israel, immigrant!’ like an Israeli marketing campaign.

Bezeq Parrot, eat your heart out:

Because the manliest men carry a tin of gum in their man-purses.

Yalla, Balagan! I really don’t know what else to say, Party Boy, except that your gum is really masculine. Must be the Men Collection.

An Israeli parenting first.

While I was pregnant, I found that I wasn’t getting too many invasive comments, suggestions and guesses from middle-aged to older Israeli women (as I had dreadfully expected). When I mentioned this to some, they said not to worry; the comments would come for sure once I had a baby to show for it. 

“They’ll tell you that your baby is too hot or cold, they’ll tell you what to do to make him stop crying… There will be plenty of savtot walking around who will not resist telling you what to do with your baby.”

Today was my first day out in public with my newborn. 

Today I experienced my first savta telling me my baby was too cold. 

“You only have one blanket on him? It’s so thin. The air conditioning is so high. Feel me, I’m cold. Are you sure he’s not cold? He’s definitely cold, how can he not be? You should cover him. He’s right under the air conditioning…”

I smiled politely and repeatedly said ‘thank you’ until she walked away. 

Besides – you have to trust me, lady. This kid has his momma’s sweat genes. I’m not too worried.

Everybody loves a pregnant lady.

Something I’ve discovered – maybe now that I’m so obviously pregnant or that I’ve actually realized I’m so obviously pregnant (it took a while) – is that in Israel, or maybe just Jerusalem, everybody loves a pregnant lady. 

The old guy scooping me ice cream? Big smiles and bigger scoops. “Have some more, it’s good for the baby and it’s good for you!”

The Mizrahi woman behind the deli counter? Fussing over how I will do Pesach this year and recalling her third trimester Pesachs. 

The Arab truck driver in the parking lot? Giving me a big grin as he slows down to let me walk ahead. 

The young snazzy secular dude on line at Mega? I’m carrying one item and so is he, but he lets me cut ahead of him. 

I think if I were still riding the bus as often as I used to, or going food shopping as often as I used to, or really just living in Jerusalem and being out and about like the old days, I’d be getting this more on a daily basis. But it’s kind of heartwarming to not need my guard up all the time.

Who is going to mess with a pregnant lady, after all?

Facing the streets.

I like this. Especially since reading the Israeli news lately has been painful (then again, when is it not?). Look at Barkat being all cultural and whatnot:

Jerusalem streets to put a face to name

Capital’s municipality to replace all street signs named after famous people with new signs featuring personality’s image, story

You’re driving through the city and you pass by all kinds of streets – Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Henrietta Szold, Golda Meir, Yigal Alon. How many of you actually know who these people are and what they look like?

Well, a new Jerusalem initiative will enable passersby to get better acquainted with the personality behind the street name.

Israel’s cities are full of boulevards and streets named after various personalities, both Israeli and foreign. Sometimes you know exactly who the name behind the street is and what they looked like, in other cases you may just have a general idea, and there are times when you have no idea whatsoever who the street is referring to. 

This is why the Jerusalem Municipality has decided to embark on an operation, the first of its kind in Israel, that will allow residents to enrich their general knowledge on significant personalities. (ynet)

The article makes an interesting point at the end: How will the charedi community feel about seeing women’s faces on the streets of Jerusalem? Not like they don’t already with advertisements, but they often get ripped down or spray-painted over. Then again, Golda Meir’s mug is not exactly… womanly.