1

Masterpiece YouTube: Double Feature – KOLture Shock/Wootton Acabellas

This week has been rough in more ways than one, as you know, and I’ve kinda been scrimping on new content. I found out about another death today (my friend’s husband, after a short bout of lymphoma) but I had a really positive and enlightening meeting with one of my professors yesterday, so that kinda makes up for it a little. So, to make up for it, I’m putting out a double feature of Masterpiece YouTube; I know it’s my “fall back content” when I haven’t read anything new or can’t think of a rant or a fun story or anything. But here are two YouTube Masterpieces to enjoy.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 20/21: KOLture Shock, “Hatikvah” 2015/Wootton Acabellas, “Troublemaker” 2013

With all the bad rap Israel’s been getting lately (and by lately, I mean, since the beginning of the world), along comes a video that makes me proud to call Israel my spiritual home; something that could only happen in Israel, nowhere else in the Middle East.

We open on an ordinary Jerusalem Light Rail trip (side note: I never got to ride it because it was not finished until a little while after I left) and it’s chock full of commuters from all walks of Israeli life. Suddenly, a chick in a violet top soprano-belts the first line of the Israeli National Anthem (Hatikvah). After a moment of silence, the percussion kicks in and she starts over, this time with accompaniment from a bunch of other riders and stares from…other, non-singing riders, who pull out cell phones. One older lady with glasses and a curly ‘do is singing along, although clearly not as part of the group because we later see her clapping. After a final crescendo and an awesome percussive coda that sounds like a slowing-down train, they get applause and are greeted by a cheering audience from the platform.

This is a masterpiece for two reasons: the a cappella is not bad, could be better, but the camera work is really top notch. A great mix of shots of singers and bystanders, edited together to show a range of emotions. Plus, singing on public transit has always been a fantasy of mine (come on, who wouldn’t want their everyday life to turn into a musical?).

Final note: I actually know one of the people in the video; the skinny chick in the headscarf at around 1:30 is my sister’s best friend from growing up, the one she went to Israel for in December for her wedding. Also, I’m not sure, but the rabbi at 0:30 looks an awful lot like my Chabad rabbi from UMass.

Now for a different type of a cappella; the video quality is poor but the sound is amazing. It was filmed at Wootton High School in Reston, Virginia, and it’s the Wootton Acabellas singing Olly Murs’ “Troublemaker,” a totally underrated pop hit from the early 2010s. The choreography is cute, their outfits are simple yet elegant and age-appropriate, and the lead singer isn’t too bad.

But then there’s the rap soloist.

She is AWESOME. According to the video, her name is Rahila O. Olanrewaju and if she doesn’t have an album in the works, she better start on one because I would pre-order that. Seriously. And I buy a CD about once every five years. Plus, if you listen closely, she is also beatboxing for part of the song, which is also awesome.

The masterpiece about this is that it’s so simple and humble yet these girls can sing. For most people, it’s amazing; for a high school group, it’s outstanding

4

Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day

Every once-in-a-while, I have a day that I call Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day.

And today was one of those days.

A Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day is not a good day, a bad day, or a neutral day. It’s one of those days that starts out with some rottenness, is usually dreary, and something good happens, but it’s not enough to turn the day around. Well, the good thing that happened to me today will have some long-lasting effects, but I’ll talk about those another time.

The provenance of Lemonade and Jelly Beans Day occurred in October 2009 in Jerusalem, Israel. I can’t exactly remember what set me off, but I was still living in the WUJS apartment so it couldn’t have been a good day, period. I remember that it was raining, which is normally a bummer, but makes everyone calm and happy in drought-stricken Israel, and softens the rougher edges of the world. It’s more of an act of purification than anything else. Plus, it makes everything beautiful. That day, I slept in, and when I woke up, my heart was sinking in my chest, heavy like a bag of sand. Which, ironically, was heavier knowing that it would have to face the rain. I wasn’t tired, hungry, or motivated to do anything. And then a feeling crept up on me.

I needed lemonade and jelly beans.

Right now.

Even though those are two foods I don’t enjoy on a regular basis, I strolled through the rain down to the makolet, which, fortunately for me, had some Minute Maid bottled lemonade and Jelly Belly Sours. Double yes, went my brain. Back at home, I settled back into my bed, my computer in front of me, and cracked open the drink. The lemony goodness washed down my throat, and when I bit into each jelly bean, the sour tang tickled my taste buds, validating all the sour thoughts and feelings that were going through me, and typed “it’s a lemonade and jelly beans type of day.”

Though I didn’t end up getting lemonade and jelly beans today, I certainly felt a bit deflated as I went about my daily routine, even passing up gym time to go home and hit the studying, hard, which was kind of good, I guess, since it got me to get some of my stuff done.

Each time I have one of these days, some other odd compulsion comes out, and for some reason, today, it was 90s one-hit-wonder group Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On” doubling as the soundtrack. There’s just something about Wendy, Chynna, and Carnie singing lyrics like “I know this pain/Why do lock yourself up in these chains?/No one can change your life except for you/Don’t ever let anyone step all over you/Just open your heart and your mind/Is it really fair to feel this way inside?” It’s like a damp dishcloth for your soul, complete with a wacky bass line and banal, inoffensive lyrics that essentially talk about nothing. Sometimes it’s a horrible song, sometimes it’s my jam, but today, it’s like my special friend, or guardian angel, if you believe in that sort of thing.

Everyone has a lemonade and jelly beans day once in a while, where you’re not at your best, and that’s okay. Again, it’s not happy, but it’s not necessarily sad – more like subtle, subdued, low-key, teetering between anxiety and calm.

I feel a little better now.

0

Oh, The Life of A Working Man in Israel

When I was in Israel, I had a job. Okay, technically it was an internship, but I did a heck of a lot more than just an intern including running the place for a whole month while the boss was doing army reserve duty. Some days I liked it, some days I didn’t, but every Sunday through Friday, I was at that theater, working away. In Israel, Friday and Saturday are their weekends which makes more sense if you ask me, but it also makes Tuesday Hump Day, which is confusing, and sometimes I’d forget and go to work on Friday and be confused when I’d be sitting at my desk for hours without seeing anyone else.

Around December, I got my first visitors from overseas. My parents and sister came over, and just as they were leaving, my friend Dan arrived on a Birthright trip from Boston. We met in Machane Yehuda and it was magic – four of my favorite people standing with me in a busy marketplace. I met Dan’s Birthright friends, and as it was a Friday, Dan and I planned to get together after Shabbat.

The next night, I take a bus over to the hotel where his group was staying (the Jerusalem Gate Hotel, which is at the complete opposite end of the city from where I lived :-/) Since his group was all at the upper echelon of Birthright-age-people (25-26 year olds), they had a “curfew” set by Birthright, but all that really meant was that they had to sign a check-in sheet at the hotel at 10 PM, and then do whatever the hell they wanted since they were legal in both Israel and America. So, Dan and everyone want to go to a club. I’m not a huge club-goer, but there is one club that I do know: Tza’atzua, which is near Ben Yehuda Street. It’s too far to walk, and nobody but me has a bus pass, so we flag down a cab and I tell the driver where we’re going, what neighborhood it’s in, to call and order 4 more cabs, and negotiate a price (all of which I did in Hebrew!). He happily called his friends, who showed up quicker than ambulances in many parts of the world, and we had a little cab caravan down the road, with me, Dan, and another guy in the front.

We get to the club, and get in line to get our IDs checked to get into the club. Somehow, Dan and I end up at the back of the line, which is rapidly expanding behind us. All of Dan’s friends get in, and then it’s me and Dan. Dan’s ID gets checked, and he’s in. My ID gets checked and “sorry, you can’t go in.”

Huh?

In Israel, you can drink at age 18 (or 19, I can never remember), and most clubs are pretty lax anyway. I mean, people smoke in clubs, even though it’s not only frowned upon but actually illegal there. I tell them that there must be some mistake, I’m definitely of age.

Then they tell me, “Yes, but tonight we are having a 25-and-up night.”

Fuck. I’m screwed. I’m 22. And I just sent fifteen people into a nightclub in a city they’ve never been in that speaks a language that they don’t know. And Dan is standing there, like “I guess this is it for you then.”

So, what do I do?

Well, I really don’t want to go the club anyway…I just don’t want to abandon these people, and it’s late and I’m tired and I kinda want to go home because I have work and stuff to do tomorrow, and I’m sad, and frustrated, and a little bit angry.

I want to vocalize this and appeal to the bouncers.

So I do.

And it comes out of my mouth like this:

“…באסה. תראה, אני יודע שאני רק בן עשרים ושתיים ואני מאמריקה, אבל הם החברים שלי, ואני נשאר רק, כאילו, עשר דקות, כי אני צריך ללכת לעבודה בבוקר”

Translated:

“Oh fuck. Look, I know I’m only twenty-two and I’m from America, but they’re my friends, and I’m only gonna stay for, like, ten minutes, because I have to go to work in the morning…”

The reason I put the ellipses there?

Once they heard me launch into Hebrew and mention the fact that I’m working in the morning, I get cut off, with…”b’seder (okay),  go on in.”

I totally wasn’t expecting that, but hey, it worked. I guess Israel’s got some respect for its hard-working men, or barely-twenty-two-year-old-theatre-intern-type-people. But I don’t leave myself too much time to contemplate as I basically push Dan down the stairs and into the club, afraid that the intimidating guys at the entrance will suddenly change their minds. So we all made it in, an a big cheer came from the group when we entered. We all danced for a while – well, they did, I guess, I left pretty after maybe a half hour at most, making sure that between them they a) knew where they were going back to, and b) had enough cash to cover it.

I leave the club, nod at the bouncers, and guess who’s still there?

The cab guy, who’s just chilling out in the front seat of his cab, waiting for someone to drunkenly stumble out of the club so he can make some money. We notice each other as I pass, he thanks me for getting him some business, and asks me where I’m going. I tell him that I’m walking back to my place in Talpiot, I have to get to work in the morning.

“Get in, I’ll take you home. No charge.”

And that’s how I got a free cab ride home at the middle of the night in Jerusalem.

0

Post Offices in Israel

Going to the post office in Israel can be quite the adventure.

The hardest part?

Finding one.

The Israeli postal service isn’t the greatest, and that’s partially because nobody knows where the heck the post offices are. For the longest time I would go to either the one on Emek Refaim or the one in Kenyon Hadar. Little did I know that there was a tiny post office on Beit Lechem…that I walked past nearly every day. Honestly, it’s like they don’t want you to find them; this one was marked by two random red poles on the side of the street, which obviously say “hey, walk back here behind the building and then come in the side door!”

Right.

After you go through the metal detector, you enter the room and take a number. From a machine. Like the ones at the deli. And they may not call yours for quite a while. One time, at the Ministry of Communications Post Office, I actually got a pleasant 45-minute nap on one of their hard wooden benches. It’s like the DMV or something. Smaller post offices may not have the number system as there is usually less traffic.

Mailing things also can be tough. That year, I was participating in BookCrossing holiday gift giving and had a bunch of postcards to send out. One happened to be going to a member in Lahore, Pakistan. It got handed right back to me, with the postal worker apologetically saying that they can’t accept it, because Israel does not send mail to Pakistan, because they are at war. So now I have a stamped postcard to Pakistan that has absolutely no value.

“What would happen if I sent it?” I asked.

“They would probably send it right back.”

Hmm. Quite a pickle, that. I went home and quickly logged onto the forums and apologized to said person in Pakistan, saying that it would be impossible to send anything to her for political reasons, to which she said ok. Funnily enough, someone in Texas posted that she’d be willing to forward the mail to Pakistan if I sent it to her. I thought about it for a quarter of a second before realizing that not only would it have to cross the Atlantic twice, but get postage paid on it TWICE. All for a 2-shekel postcard.

My experiences with postal people ran the gamut, but two instances were annoying when they happened but funny to laugh about, it retrospect.

The first one happened at the post office on Emek Refaim. I got to the counter and started speaking in English to an older woman at the counter, who just gave me a blank stare in return. It was still early on in my stay there, so I was not as confident with my Hebrew, but I did try to string together a sentence explaining what I wanted. Another blank stare, no remark. All of a sudden, a postal worker two stalls over starts yelling in Hebrew at the lady who’s failing at helping me. My postal worker turned her head to the side to hear the sound…

And that’s when I saw her hearing aid.

Oh…wait…huh?

Her blonde co-worker came over to me and apologetically said, “I sorry, she don’t speak English, only Hebrew,” and started saying some commands in Hebrew as she took my packages and stamped them. As she did this, her hands came up. Then she started using sign language to communicate with the older woman.

Sign. Language.

Really, Israel?

Even though I went back to that branch regularly, I never saw the deaf woman again. Maybe she decided it was time for a change of career. But for her sake, I sure hope it wasn’t as a phone sex operator.

The second incident happened on one of my final days in Israel. I was in downtown Jerusalem mailing out one last batch of postcards to friends around the world. That day, one of my postcards happened to be going to Jessica, a friend of mine from college who now lived in Honolulu. As the girl at the counter went through the postcards, typing in the countries’ names and printing the postage, she came to the one addressed to Honolulu, Hawaii. Without missing a beat, she tapped her long fingernails to the screen and punched the Hebrew letter hey, then vav, then another vav, then aleph, then yud.

To her surprise, nothing came up. She handed it back to me, mumbling in Hebrew, “Hawaii is not in the system. I guess we can’t mail there.”

Are you serious?

Then, I make things worse by suggesting to her she type in USA, because Hawaii is part of the USA. In fact, it’s been the fiftieth state since 1959, and still is, if nothing changed while I was in Israel.

“No, it’s not part of the USA. Hawaii is a country, no?”

Facepalm.

And they say Americans are bad when it comes to knowing about the world around them.

After a few minutes of arguing pointlessly, she called over her supervisor, and punched “Hawaii” back into the computer system, which again, unsurprisingly, came up with an error message. Her supervisor took my side, telling her to “just type it in as USA, because Hawaii is in the USA.”

“Then why doesn’t it say that on the card?”

Whoops. My bad. I had completely forgotten to write “USA” on the line under the city, state, and zip code.

And we all learned a very valuable geography lesson that day.

2

For Shiran, Who May or May Not Have Any Friends

Because my life is pretty much all work and no sleep right now, it’s time for a story.

Here’s another one from the Israel collection.

It was October 2009, and I’d been in Israel for a few months. During that time, my Hebrew improved somewhat and I also joined a small gym on Emek Refaim. I found out after several weeks though that another gym in town, Body and Soul, in Talpiot, was offering some more discounted memberships, albeit being a little further. I expressed interest, as well as some other people in the program, and someone submitted our names and phone numbers to the gym. A few days later, I get a call from an unknown number. I pick up the phone and I hear this.

“Hi. This is Shiran. Would you like to be my friend?”

Huh?

Um…I guess so? I don’t really know how to answer when someone introduces themselves like that to me on the phone. Here’s how the next part of the convo went.

ME: Huh?

SHIRAN: Hi, my name is Shiran, would you like to be my friend?

ME: Um…sure, yeah…do you have any other friends?

SHIRAN: No.

ME: (in a kind of sad voice) Awww…

SHIRAN: So?

ME: Are you sure you don’t have any friends?

SHIRAN: Yes. No. I don’t know.

ME: (silence) …I’m so sorry. That’s really sad. I’ll be your friend, but…how did you get this number?

SHIRAN: I am calling from Body and Soul Gym. Would you like to be a friend of the gym?

ME: (ding!) Ohhhhh, you mean a member of the gym?

SHIRAN: I don’t know.

ME: Ohhh, dear, that’s something very different.

SHIRAN: What?

ME: (in Hebrew) Is Hebrew better? I speak Hebrew.

SHIRAN: (In Hebrew) Yes. Would you like to be khaver kheder kosher (חבר חדר כושר)?

ME: (in Hebrew) Ohhhh, now I get it. Yes, I would, thank you.

Here’s the deal: In Hebrew, the word khaver (חבר) means “friend.” That day, I also learned that it means “member.” Same thing in Hebrew; two quite different concepts in English. Shiran must have been either very new or particularly unsuccessful with English-speaking clients, because one would think that someone would have pointed that out to her.

The conversation continued on as normal (as normal as one can get) in Hebrew. After I’d given her all my info for her records, I returned to the beginning of the conversation, and explained in Hebrew as best I could what I thought she had asked me in the beginning and why I was confused. And that I felt sad when she told me that she had no friends, and I laughed. She laughed along with me, saying in English:

SHIRAN: Oh, oh, yes, now I know. Okay.

ME: But you’re okay, right?

SHIRAN: Yes, I am fine.

ME: But you have friends, right?

SHIRAN: No.

(short pause)

I mean, yes.

ME: Um, are you sure about that?

SHIRAN: Yes, I think so.

ME: Okay, well, if you ever want to talk, just give me a call, okay?

SHIRAN: Sure. Yes. Okay. Bye.

ME: Bye.

And that’s how I joined a gym and met possibly the loneliest girl in the world (who, afterwards, I unfortunately never had the pleasure of meeting) all in the same day.

Or the most confused.

Either way, Shiran, this one’s just for you.

Oh, and if anyone is ever in the general vicinity of Jerusalem and can make a quick trip into Talpiot (just take the 22/22a from Central Bus Station to Bak’a and walk downhill until you hit Talpiot, or take the line to Givat Pat and walk uphill), stop by the Body and Soul Gym on Hamusachim 5, top floor, find Shiran and give her a hug, because she may or may not have made any new friends in the past four years.

1

Grocery Stores in Israel

So I went back through my catalog of random memories and found a post I’ve wanted to write for awhile.

When people ask me what life was like in Israel, usually I just stop and blink and look pretty blank because a) it was all a blur and b) it was pretty much just as uneventful as life in these here United States. But the people want a story, so this should get the ball rolling.

Grocery shopping in Israel is a horse of a different color. It’s almost like a gladiator tournament, only featuring everyday people and very bored ladies seated on padded stools determining your fate.

Next time you’re at the checkout and hear the beep…it’s probably just the wand of the guard at the entrance.

First, choose your arena. Your first option is your neighborhood makolet (מכולת). It is usually run by old people, Arabs, or old people Arabs. You can get away with a quick stop here, but they have nothing that substantial. There’s always the basics, usually at high premiums. There is a display of delicious looking gummy candies that you buy a huge bag of knowing you can’t get them in the states, which you eat immediately upon returning home, after which you lie in your bed with a massive stomachache, headache, and a feeling of regret and utter disgust at yourself. There are plenty of cigarettes and an assortment of fancy lighters and usually some kid who looks much too young to be smoking them buying them by the case, possibly for resale. There is also shoko b’sakit, which I’ll explain in a future post. They also usually feature a coffee bar which consists of a pitcher of coffee which usually has milk and sugar in it and some rugelach or croissants. Overall, pretty slim pickings. This is the place tourists go and the place to go when you just need that Mikupelet. Right. Now.

If I ever opened my own makolet, I’d call it Whatcha Makolet.

Your second option is your local cheap-o supermarket. These tend to have different names in different cities, but in Jerusalem, it’s Rami Levi (רמי לוי). Rami Levi is run by some guy probably named Rami Levi. There are three locations, all in Talpiot, and somehow all at the bottoms of steep hills. They are known for being cheap in price, but also in quality. Their stores are often dirty, with low-watt fluorescent lighting that makes everything look a little more yellowish-green than it actually is, and there are always plenty of shoppers, both of the two-legged and multiple-legged kind. The walls of the stores feature store manager and employee-of-the-month pictures that look like what you’d see on the walls of a post office in the Old West. You can be sure to enjoy a healthy uphill walk home.

Rami Levi. Not the location where I had the incident described below, but another one I went to at some point.

Your third option is your actual supermarket, usually in the form of a “super” like Shufersal (שופרסל). Shufersal is your standard run-of-the-mill supermarket, no surprises here. There is usually an extra security guard either at the door or milling about. Shufersals tend to be in convenient and central locations with reasonable prices and most household products. There are also marketplaces, but that’s a different story.

A Shufersal that looks suspiciously like the one I went to. I’m not sure it’s the same one, though.

An average trip to the supermarket goes like this: You arrive with your handy-dandy agala (עגלה), or handcart, which is usually brightly colored as to distinguish from the ten others that are there. Since you can’t take it in with you, you leave it by the security guard station and go back out to get a shopping cart. But wait! They’re all chained up! What do I do? Answer: put a 5-shekel coin into the slot which will unlock it, and you’re good to go. Unless this annoys you, like it did me, so go inside empty-handed and find an empty crate to use as a basket (shopping baskets are an extinct species in Israel). Get your items and wait one of the very close-together and slow-moving cashier lines. Or, if you’re me, stand between them with one foot straddling each line and if anyone asks what you’re up to, just say “playing the odds.” Usually a good policy, because a fast line could be deceptive – when friends randomly meet at the supermarket, they tend to save one another a place in line with them, and then that person knows someone else who’s checking out, and it begins. You put your items on the belt while a very bored lady on a padded stool (!!) lazily checks out your groceries and asks for your money. Want bagged groceries? Nope, sorry, do it yourself! And bring your own bags because inevitably one of two things happens: a) they’re out of bags or b) they charge a shekel or two per bag. And then you head home.

When I first moved to Israel, I started off my shopping at the makolet, before I was informed of the rip-off prices. After that, I discovered Shufersal and Rami Levi, and started going to Rami Levi regularly, figuring my legs could use the exercise. One time at Rami Levi, it was almost closing time (10 PM, I think) and as I was being checked out, the cash register malfunctioned. The lazy blonde kept tapping on the screen and pressing multiple buttons, but it kept getting error messages, so she figured it would be a good time for a cigarette break. So she goes outside to smoke and talk on her cell phone, leaving me in an almost deserted supermarket. I wait for a few minutes, then bag the groceries that got scanned and walk out of the store. I actually exit the store and walk about five steps before a manager runs out and grabs me, saying I can’t leave without paying. I tell the manager that since the cashier is no longer interested in working, I’m no longer interested in paying. The blonde quickly puts out her cigarette and gets some bubble gum as the manager leads me back in the store, motioning her to come with us. I ask the manager if she’s allowed to take a smoke break while working, and he says no, she’s not supposed to, so I ask why this is okay, and I get some sort of response, like “because she needs a smoke break.” I am still not quite sure what this store’s employee policies are. He quickly overrides the machine so she can sit back down and finish checking me out, as he bags my remaining groceries for me (!!) saying “sorry, sorry” in English all the while and to my back as I exit the store.

And that’s when I started shopping only at the Shufersal on Emek Refaim.