A Rag By Any Other Name

After six months in Israel, I am still attempting to master the Hebrew language.  One of the good thing about learning a language as an adult is that I already have a fixed meaning and usage of each word I learn.  As I have already experienced a multitude of what daily life has to offer, it is easy to substitute a word in Hebrew for a word in English and still understand the context.  For example, the word mechonit (car), although foreign, is easily understood by the information I already know, i.e. what a car looks like, what it is used for, and how Israelis abuse the privilege of driving one.

While this process of contextual learning is more or less successful, there is one Hebrew word that I still do not understand.  I learned the word smartut the day we moved into our Tel Aviv apartment.  My cleanliness crazed husband, G, dragged me to the local store to pick up the tools for my first lesson in Israeli Housewifery.  He explained that all Israelis clean their floors with a smartut.  Knowing that Israelis are well known for their technology, I was excited for a new technologically advanced cleaning method.

However, the first item G picked up was a gigantic version of my Grandmother’s shower squeegee. Those of you with Jewish grandparents who have glass shower doors know what I’m talking about (“Don’t forget to SQUEEGEE after your shower, bubbaleh!”).

G picked up a bucket next.  I was beginning to understand that he expected me to somehow clean the floor with this giant squeegee and bucket, but was thoroughly confused.  G saw the puzzled look on my face and told me not to worry; we were headed to the smartut aisle next.  I had high expectations for

Smartut-A Cleaning Sensation that's Sweeping the Nation!

this mythical product, although with my limited cleaning experience, I had little knowledge of what it might actually be.  We picked up a package of what looked like thick white magical cleaning cloths and headed home.

At home I tore open the package and glanced down in confusion.  I discovered that the legendary smartut (pl. smartuteem) were nothing but large white rags.  I stared up at G in disbelief.  How could this cleaning system, practiced by millions of Israeli women, be just a squeegee and a rag?  The romantic word I had been hanging onto was not at all what I had fantasized; it literally translated to rag.

Over the weeks I tried various methods of smartuting the floor.  I perused government offices, taking mental notes of how the cleaners smartuted the floors–if the methods they used were good enough for the government, they must be worth a shot.  I even read blogs, written by generations of women before me, to learn secret tips of the art of smartuting.  I knew that there had to be a tried and true method of smartuting, and I was going to find it!

I tried different methods of smartuting–I wrapped the rag three different ways to find the most efficient way to clean the floor.  I learned that every Israeli housewife has their own particular way of pushing a rag with a stick.  I don’t even get involved in the debate of floor cleaners, simply because I cannot even read the labels well enough to know if I’m buying a matte or shiny finish or something that smells like a hospital or flower garden.

Regardless of how it happens, the fact of recent life is that I have been participating in a cultural more that might only be found in Israel.  Moreover, it is one Hebrew word that I still do not understand because there has been absolutely no prior contextual basis for this phenomenon.  How it is possible that the rest of the world is blessed with microfiber mop heads and steam cleaners while I clean my house with a squeegee and a smartut?! No matter how innovative Israel gets, I have a feeling that this cleaning system, somehow so deep-rooted in Israeli culture, is not going anywhere.  It may be a pain to use, but there is something comforting in taking part in this ritual of my new country…not to mention, smartut is pretty fun to say!


Filed under Funny, Israel

We Must Never Forget

Today is Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).  In Israel, a two minute siren was sounded at 10 this morning.  Usually sirens are only sounded as missile warning signals so at first I got scared.  However, I realized that this siren was for Yom HaShoah when I saw that the people on the street were standing still and not running for cover.

G and I live in a busy neighborhood on a major road.  As soon as the siren sounded, all traffic ceased.  Those who were walking stopped in their tracks.  Cars were parked in the middle of the road and everybody got out of their cars and stood still.  The Israeli lifestyle, a barrage of cell phone chatter and horn honking, was put on hold and for a few moments.  The country stopped.  All you could hear was a siren and birds chirping.  It was a very powerful moment.

I was in the kitchen when I heard the siren.  I slowly put down my chopping knife, wiped my hands, and closed my eyes. I thought of the 6 million suffering Jews who died by the hands of evil; the survivors, plagued for life by nightmarish memories; and the tenacity of the world to never forget.

How many prayers G-d must have heard in that one moment.


Filed under Travel

Let My People Go

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Blondini update.  In January my parents came to visit (more on that in another post) and after they left I took a Hebrew language course for a month.  Other than starting a job three weeks ago, I have effectively sat on my butt for the better part of two months, too lazy to recount the hilarity of life in this blog.  I did however start another blog…for my dog.  For those of you who are doubting the fabulousness of a dog blog, I invite you to check out Mr. Peoples.  As it turns out, Payton (aka Mr. Peoples) is a pretty good writer.  He even includes pictures.  That’s enough about the dog though.  Now, for what you really want…

Jews in Israel take Passover very seriously.  Schools are closed, bakeries are boarded up, and matzah crumbs are everywhere.  Like the rest of the country, G and I both had off from work last week.  On Thursday, we decided to celebrate the last few days of the holiday with a heavy dose of irony.  We packed our bags, drove 4 hours through the desert, and commemorated the Jewish Exodus from Egypt in…you guessed it, Egypt.  We stayed in a technologically challenged, albeit, beautiful town called Taba, just beyond the Israeli border.  We might have gone for the full effect and taken a day trip to the pyramids to admire the work of our enslaved ancestors had we obtained the requisite visas.  But since this was a last minute trip, we settled on spending our days on the shores of the Red Sea, marveling about how it once parted, and thankful that the body of water separating us from Saudi Arabia showed no signs of another miracle.

View of Taba from the beach

Although G has spent a significant amount of time traveling for work, this was the first time I had been out of the country since we moved to Israel in November.  I was traveling with my US Passport, since I had not yet gotten an Israeli one.  As we approached the border to leave Israel, I had a vague recollection of an email from the Israel Ministry of the Interior.  But the doomed feeling of forgetting something was quickly overpowered by the excitement of going to Egypt.   It wasn’t the border agent asked for my Teudat Ma’avar that I remembered the contents of the email.  That’s right, I wasn’t allowed to leave the country without a temporary passport!  Um….oops?

Having already spotted a Egyptian casino 100 yards away, G looked at me like a sacrificial lamb as he explained our “situation” to the border agent.  By “situation”, I mean ignorance of the passport laws due to my inability, as a new immigrant, to read complex Hebrew emails from the Israeli government… and G’s inescapable urge to single-handedly destroy the Egyptian economy at the casino down the road. The border agent either took pity upon us or was just thankful that G and I, unlike the dozen or so camping Germans in line with us, had showered within the past 72 hours, because within 20 minutes we were crossing the Israeli border into Egypt.

Entering Egypt was like going back in time.  Whereas the Israeli border agents would call, text or email the person in the next room to streamline the immigration process, the Egyptians agents did not have the luxury of cellular communication (or uniforms for that matter).  We were shuffled from one fluorescent-lit, smoke-filled office to another in order to change the license plates on our car, get foreign car insurance, and issue G an Egyptian license.  Halfway through the arduous process we realized that the mustached border agents took more kindly to my blonde hair, bare shoulders, and friendly “Al-an” than to G’s Israeli passport.  We would later discover that G could trade his “Blondini trifecta” for a camel–not a bad deal!

It was after dark by the time we finished paying off our 5th government agent.  The excitement of being in Egypt overshadowed the scathing looks we were getting from carrying an Israeli passport–we were off to Taba!  We would also later discover that there were warnings for Israelis to stay away from Egypt during the Passover holiday this year. We spent the holiday weekend relaxing in the sun, lying that we traveled from America, and hiding my golden locks from creepy hotel employees.  Although Egypt was beautiful, we understand why Moses was so quick to leave.

© 2010


Filed under Funny, Relationships, Travel

Feral Living

Israel is the home to over 7 million people, 3,000 camels, and a million cats.  Maybe a million is a bit of an overstatement but the country is literally swarming with felines.  There are so many that the most accurate count that Israel’s Veterinary Services can give is “many thousands”.   Being a self-proclaimed cat hater, it has taken me a while to get used to these four legged freaks.  Payton, also having a natural aversion to cats, entertains himself by chasing them around the neighborhood.  So far he has managed to only let one crazy kitty kick his ass!

I have seen cats everywhere in Israel, except inside of a house.  They are in, around, and on top of trees, air conditioners, cars, restaurants, mopeds, supermarkets, cafés, dumpsters, beaches, and government offices.  G and I even stumbled upon a pair mating on the sidewalk over the weekend–now that’s a pussy that gets around!

I have realized that these traipsing tabbies are like the squirrels in Boston or pigeons in New York.  Like their feral American counterparts, cats scare easily, and make for an amusing game of “Stomp”.  While I may have coined the name of the game, I credit my brother with the genius behind it.  There is a smug feeling of  joy that is felt by casually walking up to a small wild creature, stomping your foot in its direction and causing it to flee that cannot be derived from any other game.  Note: I would NEVER hurt these innocent animals. “Run” is a variation of this game and best played by young children upon a flock of sullen seagulls–anyone over 4 feet tall just looks silly running at birds!

I have resigned myself to the fact that I have to share this beautiful country with feral cats.  After a recent hold-up by a kitten at a gas station, I even felt an urge to pick up the little bugger who was standing in front of the car.  I just might have, if not for the fangs he displayed while meowing and simultaneously scratching his fleas.

© 2010


Filed under Relationships

A Safe New Home

Since the holiday season is in full swing and G and I are far away from US family and friends, we decided to celebrate by not celebrating. For example, on Thanksgiving G and I thought it best not to do anything Thankgiving-ish. Instead of wishing we were stuffing our faces with pumpkin pie, we kept ourselves busy by moving into our new apartment. Since we shipped the entire contents of our Boston apartment to Israel by boat, our belongings will not arrive until January. And so our big move into our Tel Aviv apartment consisted of 6 suitcases, 2 beach chairs, and our dog, Payton (see photo). Our 3 other essential elements; a TV, washer/dryer, and mattress would arrive a day later.

We chose a beautiful 2 bedroom apartment in a high rise in a neighborhood of Tel Aviv called Ramat Aviv Hadashah. Our picturesque building is set in a pedestrian neighborhood just 2 blocks from the beach–0.9 miles or 1.7 km to be precise. G loves the palm trees that surround the building. I have fallen in love with the gorgeous views of the Mediterranean Sea, Tel Aviv skyline, and the Ramat Aviv mall. The past few nights I have found myself watching the sun set over the ocean from my kitchen window and gazing at one of Israel’s best malls from the balcony off of our bedroom. But, the apartment has a lot more to offer than just scenery and shopping proximity.

Uncommon in Israel, our place came equipped with kitchen appliances. For some reason, Israelis like to take their fridges, ovens, and dishwashers with them when they move. I found this quite odd, but remembered that historically, Israelis were a nomadic people. If they could schlep their things around the desert for 40 years, a few appliances wouldn’t phase them.

But perhaps the best thing about our new apartment is the huge walk-in closet that doubles as a safe room, known as a Mamad (an acronym in Hebrew for “protected room of the apartment”). Our landlord demonstrated how the window can be closed off with a metal door–it works just like a sliding glass door except it is stronger, heavier, and much noisier. Closing the door (I practiced…just in case) creates a sound that I thought I would only hear in some Indiana Jones movie. There is also a cover for the air conditioner vent to seal the room from air contamination as a result of chemical weapons (again, just in case). These rooms are state-mandated and are exempt from property tax. This is a plus, considering that our Mamad is big enough to comfortably sleep a family of four and their emergency rations of hummus and baby wipes.


Just an example...ours is white


Although protection from certain death is reason enough to love this closet/Mamad, I was only slightly impressed with the protection it can provide our family. Rather, it is the INSANE amount of space for my, I mean OUR clothing, that makes the Mamad my favorite room in the apartment. I allocated an area to G, but a good 2/3 of walls are lined with shelves, bars, and drawers that perfectly hold my entire wardrobe, including shoes and accessories! There is even room for towels, sheets, and other linens (until my parents come to visit with a suitcase full of summer clothes). While the concept of needing a safe room is concerning, even though I doubt we will actually need to use it, I’m comforted by the fact that if there is an emergency, G and I will survive in style!

© 2009


Filed under Relationships

To Wipe, or Not to Wipe?

Israel is a country that is positively obsessed with babies.  Since G and I moved here, I have had more than my fair share of strangers inform me

that I should start popping out offspring.  It makes sense that in a country of hotly contested land, Jews must match the outrageous birthrate of Arabs or else find themselves an ethnic minority in the Jewish State.  Although G and I want to assimilate to our new culture, we are not yet ready to push around  an amazingly stylish Bugaboo stroller.

We have however, participated in the cultural practice of buying baby wipes.  Yes, baby wipes.  At first I thought the country had some sort of personal hygiene problem, considering that the actual purpose of a baby wipe is to wipe away fecal matter and keep the butt smelling fresh.  But after seeing G’s cousin casually throw a travel sized package of wipes into her purse, I knew there must be more to the story.

As it turns out, this baby crazed country uses baby wipes for every imaginable purpose.  Housewives clean their oven racks with the unscented version; waiters deliver individually wrapped wipes to diners with their checks; and the cashier at the market offers them to children with runny noses from the self-dispensing package.  Baby wipes in Israel are a miracle multi-purpose product that has taken the place of Kleenex, Purell, and Bounty.

We were skeptical at first, but G and I have found a use for baby wipes as well.  We wipe dirt off Payton’s feet, crumbs off the kitchen counters, schmutz off the floor, nose marks off the car windows, sweat off our brow, makeup off my face…and after a recent experience with regional cuisine, I even used the wipes for their intended purpose!

We have found many things in Israel are not in line with what we are used to.  While we will be waiting a few years to procreate, we will wipe away right now!

© 2009

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Filed under Relationships

Israel is da bomb!

Almost everyone, who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past few thousand years, is aware of the volatile history surrounding the land of Israel. Violence, terror, and bus bombings are often the first things that come to mind when the Middle East is mentioned (see my conversation with the J.Crew salesgirl). But G and I have both been to Israel before and knew that the bombings and bloody violence shown on TV, is a far cry from reality.   Terrorist attacks are few and far between, and there is little chance that I will find myself a victim to this violence.  Although I must admit that I was a little scared the first time we pulled up next to bus at a stoplight!

To start off our adventure in Israel, G and I spent some time in Atlit.  Atlit is a peaceful coastal town of 5,000 people outside of the port city of Haifa.  So, imagine my surprise on our second day in Atlit that I heard popping noises.  I told myself that there was no way the noises I was hearing in this small town was gunfire, but to quell my nerves, I asked G.  Just before asking my question, a car drove by.

Blondini: “Um, honey, what’s that noise?”

G: “Uhh, a car?”

Blondini: “No, listen….THAT noise.  That’s not…..”

G: “Oh that?  That’s gunfire.” (answering nonchalantly)

Blondini: “WHAT?! Oh my G-d what’s happening?!”

As it turns out, there is a Navy base on the edge of town.  The shooting that I heard must have been morning target practice.  Okay, that I can deal with.

The next incident occurred a few days later.  I was getting ready to take a shower and as I closed the shower door behind me I heard a wailing noise.  It’s the kind of noise that you don’t need to have heard before to realize it means something bad is about to happen.  I ran out of the bathroom and in a panicked voice asked G for clarification.

Blondini: “Oh my G-d, what’s that noise?!”

G: “That?  It’s a missile-warning siren.  Don’t worry.  Go back to the shower, it’s the safest place in the house.”

Blondini: “A missile siren?!”

While he wasn’t alarmed, G ushered me back to the shower.  Evidently, it was the safest place in the room…you know, just in case.  He explained that it was away from a window and would protect me from flying debris caused by a missile explosion. How comforting.  But G was right.  The air raid signal, like the gunfire, was just an exercise.  In fact, it was the same sound he had heard years before when Lebanon, just 20 miles North of Haifa, attacked.

A few days later we heard a boom, loud enough to shake the windows.  This time we knew that it was just another Navy exercise.  Discussing the incidents of the week, we looked at each other, and laughed.  Even though there was never any danger, we were slightly disturbed but happy to be safe.

© 2009


Filed under Relationships