Friday, December 28, 2007

Health Update

Temperature normal

Slowly adding solid food to my diet

Coughing less, sleeping more

Still have lots of congestion.

Sitting here watching movies and not getting out is starting to be boring.

In short: moving slowly in the right direction

For Shabbat, I have a pot of soup going in the slow cooker, and a few challah rolls, and a bottle of grape juice, and plenty of hot water and Coke. Should keep starvation at bay. Visitors are welcome.

Have a Shabbat shalom.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Let me restate that

And to think just 5 days ago I thought I had a chest cold.

Um, yeah.

In the past five days, I have:

- not managed to keep down any solid food, though today I'm finally (bli ayin hara) keeping down liquids if I drink them at the rate of one sip every 2-5 minutes.

- been to one doctor (my own is on maternity leave) who said "I don't hear anything wrong with your lungs, here is an expectorant, have a nice day."

-been to Magen David Adom's emergency clinic, where I was given an IV (at my request) to prevent dehydration, and was diagnosed with gastroenteritis, which is a fancy way of saying "you sure are throwing up an awful lot but we don't really know why. Go home and try to rest. Oh, and here's some anti-nausea medication"

- Thrown up my anti-nausea medication

- Went to another doctor in lieu of my own who is on maternity leave, who listened longer to my lungs than anyone else had and said "You have bronchitis. Here is an antibiotic. I can't promise you won't throw up the antibiotic. Here's hoping for the best."

- Thrown up my antibiotic - but only once.

-Lost my voice from the incessant coughing

- Barely slept, because I cough so much

- Lost 10 pounds (in 7 days)

- Have started, slowly, to get better, in the sense that at least my fever is down and I can, mostly, like I said, keep down liquids. And I have enough energy to sit here and blog about it. And last night for the first time I managed to sleep for a few hours at once, thank God.

- Discovered that I have the best friends in the whole wide world! Yael hosted me over Shabbat so I wouldn't be alone. Estee took me to MADA and stayed with me there for 5 hours. Rachel drove me to the doctor and the pharmacy. Sarah Beth came to sit with me for a little while. Lisa came with a bunch of movies. And, most unbelievably -- I seriously cannot believe this -- Beth and Tzivi came and cleaned my apartment practically from top to bottom, just to cheer me up. I have been completely supplied with chicken soup, coke, probiotics, tissues, bottled water, and sympathetic wishes. I feel so loved, I could cry.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Chest cold

Low-grade fever

Coughing up a lung

Didn't we just go through this?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Housing update

Other than the House that Cats Built, there is exactly one one- or two-bedroom apartment available in my price range in the areas of Jerusalem I want to live in (that is, within sort-of reasonable walking distance of my friends and of my "office" at Tal Bagels. The radius is pretty large.)

It was a place I saw several months ago, back when I'd first started searching, and now that I understood the reality of housing prices here, I decided to take a second look. I went back with engineers, who reported that the entire roof needs replacing and is leaking into both the bathroom, where the ceiling has major damage, and the kitchen, where the ceiling has mildew. The Vaad Bayit (Building Committee) is supposed to be maintaining the roof, but clearly they aren't, probably because almost the whole building is occupied by tenants, not owners. It would probably become my job to chase the other owners and insist that they pay for their share of the roof maintanance costs, which could take months. All the plumbing is leaking, and must be completely replaced. And the electricity is running at 25 amps, when 40 is standard.

So I gave an offer which was a little bit lower than the asking price, and which would leave me just barely enough in my budget to make the necessary repairs. The owner refused the offer, and I decided it is just as well. Even after all the basic repairs are made, the apartment still won't get much sunlight. The layout is strange, with a zig-zag path from the front door to the salon. And the full flight of outdoor stairs leading up to the building are in a remarkable state of disrepair and honestly don't look safe to me.

All in all, not a good situation.

So, I'm now officially priced out of this neighborhood. If I want to buy anything, it will have to be somewhere else, because there is literally nothing available around here that I can afford, unless I decide to take my chances with Cat Lady, who has a reputation for being a non-serious seller and jerking people around before pulling out of negotations. Not what I need.

Since I might be kicked out of my current place when the lease runs out, I have absolutely no idea where I'm going to live afterward. The rents around here, too, are so high that I don't think I could find a reasonable (that is, non-moldy, non-basement, non-dark) place to live by myself.

I've spoken with a friend about the possibility of sharing an apartment, which would be an attractive option since I know her, and I'd finally have a place to put a couch. But whether she could do it depends on other factors in her own life, so I'm waiting from her for an answer.

Anxiety, anxiety, anxiety.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Taxi Story

Since the Jewish Week still hasn't fixed their website, and some readers are traveling to Israel and have requested my taxi article, I'm posting most of the text here. (I'm leaving off the first few paragraphs -- the "lede" -- since they don't contain practical info, and the JW edited it -- which was fine, by the way -- part of the job and they did it well, so I don't mind.)

I want to thank the Jewish Week for hiring me to write this story. They've been a client of mine for a long time, and they are really terrific to work for: the editors are reasonable, when they change my stories they don't muck anything up, and, though they don't pay a fortune, they do pay promptly.

Anyhow, here it is, the main body of "Cab Fair?":

The first step to avoid being ripped-off is to know your rights as a passenger. According to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation, drivers are required by law to turn on the meter – which starts at 9.50 NIS and increases at increments of .30 NIS – for all intra-city rides. For rides between cities, the passenger may choose between the meter or a flat fee as indicated on the driver’s “mechiron,” a standardized price list.

There are indeed extra charges sometimes. Prices rise by 25 percent between 9 pm and 5:30 am. Telephoning for door-to-door service (as opposed to hailing a cab) incurs a fee of 3.60 NIS. The presence of a third passenger over the age of 5 costs 3.3 NIS; a suitcase is 3 NIS. Travel on Highway 6, a toll road, involves an extra charge of 11 NIS, and having the driver wait for you at any point costs 60 NIS per hour.

In reality, many drivers will attempt to establish a flat fee rather than use the meter even for intra-city rides, a practice generally accepted in Israeli culture, and often advantageous to the passenger if traffic is heavy. In both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the fare from the Central Bus Station to any other point in the city is normally, at most, 45-50 NIS. A driver asking for 80 NIS is certainly trying to cheat you, but paying 30 NIS for a ride of a few miles during rush hour is a good deal.

However, since tourists are often unfamiliar with what constitutes a reasonable fare from point A to point B, drivers themselves advised that visitors insist that drivers follow the law. Any higher cost incurred because of traffic, they said, more than pays for the peace of mind which comes from knowing one is not being cheated.

“Always, always take the meter,” said Asher, a driver for Kartel Taxi in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Aviv. “If the driver refuses to cooperate with you, take their registration number and details and report them to the Ministry. They can be fined thousands of shekels.” Ayal Ben Ovadia, manager of the Bar-Ilan cab company in Jerusalem, added that one should never ride with a driver who claims the meter is broken. “Get out of the car, take down the details, and report him,” Ovadia said.

Playing hardball was overwhelmingly the first advice from new immigrants, who often confront the challenges of being unfamiliar with Israeli culture and having an American accent.

“If they ever really try to rip me off, I just wait for another taxi or call for one,” said Carrie Lee Teicher, a Barnard graduate who is now a student at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. “At any hour of the day in Tel Aviv a taxi is no more than a 5 minute wait or a 3 minute walk away.” Vicki Peskin, a law student, tells drivers “no way, I’m not paying that. Don’t think just because I’m American you can rip me off.”

Another immigrant, who wished to be unnamed for privacy, suggested that tourists always carry a pen and a little notebook, and start writing down medallion numbers if a driver refuses to use the meter. “When he says ‘what are you doing,’ you say ‘I’m going to report you to the Taxi regulators.’ That should get him to turn the meter on.”

Problems can be avoided by using a driver who is recommended by friends. “Find a driver you trust and stick with him,” Cohen said. It is possible to arrange for a driver to take you around wherever you wish for the entire day, for a price you agree upon privately.

If you hail or call for a cab, the driver might attempt to pick up other passengers along the way; this is a common practice in Israel, but if you insist on remaining alone in the taxi the driver must abide by your request. Additionally, by law drivers may not smoke while passengers are in the taxi, and they are required to turn the radio on or off at your request.

Have a complaint about a driver? Send the cab’s medallion number or the number appearing on the side of the car; the driver’s name or his description; the date, time, and location of the event; names of witnesses; and the printed receipt to the Office of the Public Complaints Commissioner at whichever of the following offices is closest to the event’s location:

Tel Aviv and Central Region: P.O. Box 57659, Tel Aviv, 61574. Telephone: (03) 565-1799

Jerusalem and Southern Region: Clal Building, 97 Jaffa Street, Jerusalem 94342 Telephone: (02) 622-8550

Haifa and the Northern Region: 121 Jaffa Street, Haifa, 35252 Telephone: (04) 853-6711.

Also, here is a sidebar I wrote to go with the story. I have absolutely no idea whether it was printed in the Jewish Week or not. Even if they had space for it and decided to run it, the sidebars often don't show up online. :-( But here it is for your convenience:


By train: Over 60 trains operate on the line from Be’er Sheva in the south, through Ben Gurion Airport, and on to points north: Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko, and Nahariya. Though not recommended for travel between the airport and Jerusalem, the train is a comfortable and inexpensive alternative to buses or taxis. The trip to Tel Aviv costs 12 NIS and takes about 10 minutes; the trip all the way up the coast to Nahariya is 46.5 NIS and takes 2 hours.

By bus: Egged Bus Line offers service between major urban centers and Airport City. Bus #5 operates between Airport City and the terminals. Egged Customer Service: (03) 694-8888 or

By cab: The taxi stand outside the airport terminals is usually busy and moves quickly. The standard price between the airport and Jerusalem is 190 NIS during the day. One can get to Tel Aviv for 120 NIS, or to Haifa for 450 NIS, with Hadar Lod (03) 971-1103. For points further north, call Amal Taxi at (04) 866-2324.

By van service to/from Jerusalem: For 45 NIS, one can arrange for a door-to-door van service, shared with other passengers, by calling Nesher at (02) 625-7227. Nesher also operates a stand immediately outside the airport’s arrivals terminal. The van provides a better time-cost value than a private taxi or the bus, but beware: The wait for a van at the terminal may be up to 20 minutes, while the drivers argue. The drivers are also known to yell at passengers. In a written response to criticisms against them, Nesher told the Jewish Week that such events are the exception rather than the rule, and asked that any passenger with a complaint call them so that they can investigate the matter and deal with the driver appropriately.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Don't get taken for a ride

My latest article for The Jewish Week (Israel Travel supplement), on the taxi regulations in Israel, and how not to be cheated by a driver here. It actually has a lot of information which I personally found very useful. I hope you will, too.

BTW, there is a small error in the story -- my mistake, not the paper's. There is a small extra charge if there are more than 2 passengers and the 3rd passenger is over the age of 5, not under the age of 5.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And so begin the new adventures

Yesterday I went to see an apartment. I had seen it listed on It is in a building I've seen before, one in a great location for me, and though not very pretty, at least tolerable. I thought the woman with whom I arranged the meeting was an agent, but it turned out to be the owner herself.

Up four flights of stairs -- 71 steps total -- and a little bit of a wait to be let in because the owner, whom I'll call Y, had mixed up the day of my visit. Her husband is home, and lets me in.

The first thing I notice is that the walls look dirty. The second thing I notice is a cat who runs by my feet. And then another cat. And, oh, there is a third cat!

"You have lots of cats, I see," says I.

"Yes, at last count we officially have 20 of them," says he.

20. cats.

20 housecats.

They were everywhere. What was supposed to be the Master Bedroom was instead dedicated to cats. There were about 5 cats sunning themselves on the windowsill, and a mean orange tabby with one eye missing sitting atop an old filing cabinet. On the floor: A few pieces of rusty furniture, several litter boxes, and a couple of kitty beds.

The place reeked.

In the second, smaller bedroom: a double bed on which were lounging about 8 cats.

"The apartment belongs to my wife," says the man. "She has been living here for 22 years. We just got married a few months ago, and with all my stuff she feels it's too crowded."

Decent, recently renovated (but filthy) bathroom and (cleaner) kitchen. Clearly while I was waiting outside the man has mopped with bleach.

Kitty urine and bleach odors. I wanted to gag.

"And here is the view on the northern side," says he. (Yes, please, the window, think I. I need air!) The living room couch has several cats lying on it. While we talk, one of them eyes me steadily and with suspicion.

I imagine the apartment without the cats, without the fur-laden furniture, without the smell, and realize that other than the 71 steps, this place would be ideal for me. It is spacious and has light and air coming from two directions. And it is just a few blocks from Emek Refaim Street.

But there are visible signs of cat urine in the walls. And signs, too, that the entire floor would need to be replaced.

"We had a buyer," says he, "but my wife didn't like the payment terms they were offering. They wanted to spread out the payment over too much time. We've had many offers, but the offers are ridiculously low. People will really try to get away with anything."

Alarm bells.

They are selling with no agent, they do not realize how filthy the place is, and then they reject the understandably low offers. And they jerked around a buyer. Just what I need.

"Thank you, I'll think about it," says I.

At home, I speak with two realtors about other matters, and mention the apartment I had just seen.

"Oh, you saw Y's place," they both say.

"How much is Y asking for today?" asks one.

Asks Chayyei Sarah: "Do you think Y is really committed to selling, or is she ambivalent?"

"She's definitely ambivalent," says the realtor. "Her mother gave her the apartment and she is very, very emotionally attached to it. But who knows? She just got married a few months ago, so maybe now she'll really try to sell it."

I am thinking: I will keep looking. In a few days, if I see nothing better, I will make an offer, something low enough so that I can still afford to pay to replace the floors and bleach all the walls, and see what happens. In Israel, making an offer is not a commitment.

And also, I am thinking: This story gives me hope.

Because if a woman with 20 housecats can find a man to marry her and move in with her, then there is hope for Chayyei Sarah.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dear Jerusalem Post: Leave me the hell alone

When I first made aliyah, I subscribed to The Jerusalem Post. Later, when I got a temporary gig as a reporter for Haaretz English Edition, I got a free subscription from them, so I was getting two newspapers delivered every morning for about a year.

I found that the JPost's unwillingness to admit that Israel can ever do anything wrong vis-a-vis the Palestinians provided a useful counterpoint to Ha'aretz's unwillingness to admit that Israel can ever do anything right at all.

I also found that I wasn't reading the papers. Oh, I was getting news all right. I check online news sources -- including and, among many others -- every day. But I don't have a table which is conducive to spreading out a newspaper and enjoying it (or not) over coffee. And often I was just too busy to do anything but skim the headlines. The papers were piling up, taking up space and necessitating many trips to recycling, and I wasn't actually reading them often enough to make it worthwhile. So I cancelled both subscriptions, and have been a dedicated consumer of online news sources ever since.

Almost immediately, I started getting regular calls from both papers, trying to goad me to re-subscribe. It was getting annoying. At first I explained to the telemarketers why I was not interested. Then, I started simply saying "I'm not interested" and hanging up. Finally, after about two years, the calls from Haaretz stopped when I pointed out that if I wasn't interested in receiving the paper when I was getting it for free, why would I be interested in a subscription at 75% off? Thank God, I haven't heard from them since.

But the JPost keeps calling. I'd say I get a call from them every few weeks. Every time, I tell them "Take me off your list. If I want the paper, I'll call YOU." But the calls keep coming.

My Thanksgiving dinner was interrupted by a telemarketer for the Jerusalem Post. I immediately said "I'm not interested in buying anything," and he immediately says "I'm not trying to sell you anything." I said "you have 10 seconds," during which it became clear, of course, that he is trying to get me to buy a subscription again.

This morning, another call. I told the guy "you can stop calling me. I do not want the paper. It does not matter why. I've told your people why. Take me off your list." And hung up.

Ten seconds later he calls again. He actually had the gall to ask me how I am. I said "what do you want?" He says "you used to subscribe, right?" I said, switching to English, "Look, I'm going to say this in English, because the JPost is an English paper so I assume you speak English. I want you to stop calling me. Take me off your list."

And then I heard him speaking quietly to someone else. He wasn't even listening to me! So I said "You aren't listening, okay," and hung up.

Dear JPost, consider this your warning: If you ever call me again asking me to re-subscribe, I will, bli neder, put a permanent banner on my blog telling everyone how much I hate you, and it will include information about how badly you treat your writers. Because, you know, I'm a professional journalist, and I know people who have worked for you, and so I know how much your paper sucks on many, many levels. It will also explain that a subscription to your paper is like a black hole: once you get in, you can never get out.

I will post it on the listserves frequented by new English-speaking Olim, and if they won't post it, I'll email to everyone I know, asking them to forward to all their friends never, ever to subscribe to your paper.

So, do the smart thing: go through your call list and take off anyone whose first name is Sarah.

Hoping never to hear from you ever again, ever,


PS About 30 minutes after I posted this, they called AGAIN. Someone named Oz. He calls and says "is this Sarah?" I said "yes," and he says "hold on a minute" and starts talking to someone else. Again. I asked his name. He said "hold on a minute" AGAIN. I said "you called me, so if you want to talk, then talk. I'm not hanging on." I told him this is my third call from the Post in one day, and I've had enough. I read him this blog post. He still didn't get it. He still kept asking me questions as if nothing was wrong and this was all normal. He said "I'm not asking you to re-subscribe, I just want to tell you about our benefits! You can get the Jerusalem Post delivered every morning, right to your doorstep!" Is he paid to act like a moron, or does it come naturally?

Finally I said "Just take me off your *&^%$ list." He said "Oh, Sarah, it's a holiday, there is no reason to use language like that."

I hung up and sent an email to their subscription department, demanding in writing to be taken off the list.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sarah Beth called it (Apartment Update)

This morning, my lawyer sends their lawyer a draft of the contract, incorporating all changes which they had requested yesterday and which were acceptable to us, and saying that "my client will not agree to any further changes to this contract."

He calls her and says "Oh, you know that clause which says that at the second payment, if the seller does not provide certain documents, that x numbers of shekels will go into a joint account, until she provides them? The joint account which I suggested? I decided that we don't really need that after all. I'll be here when the payments are made. You can just put the money into trust with me. Why bother with a joint account?"

My lawyer says, as any person who is not an idiot would say, "no. Joint account or this is over."

They sent her a fax saying that they cannot agree to our terms and will not sell me the apartment.


Last night, I called Sarah Beth to complain about the proceedings, about all the times that the seller and her lawyer asked for changes, and more changes, and more changes to the contract -- and then said that I keep asking for more changes and she's sick of me dragging things out (as I've said before, I really hate hypocrisy, and it was this that annoyed me at least as much as her repeatedly changing her mind about things we'd agreed upon).

Sarah Beth said "she's never going to sell. She's clearly ambivalent and looking for reasons to back out. And if you do sell to her, you'll just keep having problems."

I was hoping that Sarah Beth was wrong, because after all, we were so close to the end, and Thursday is the last possible day we could sign (because the seller's lawyer goes abroad for a month on Sunday), and we were really closing in on the end.

But, she called it.

But she was right!

I've already called my original real estate agent and asked her to start looking again for apartments to show me. I want to find something before prices go up even further. With the dollar down, apartment prices have risen significantly just in the 2 months that I've been dealing with these other jerks.

Total cost of dealing with the jerks:
Lawyer fee, appraiser, engineer: about $1500
Lost work time: about $2000
Difference between what I would have paid for my somewhere-out-there apartment 2 months ago, and what I'll have to pay if I find it now: as yet unknown.

Payback: Well, I learned a lot about myself.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Update for Tuesday

I am finding that the words "take it or leave it" have enormous impact.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Update for Monday

As soon as they heard the words "give us x, y, and z or we're ending the negotiations," the documents and (seriously standard) concessions we needed (like, a signed copy of the property title) started coming in.

Of course, they also asked that a major clause be changed in their favor, but it was about an issue regarding which I've already decided that, if worst comes to worst and they screw me on that issue, then the apartment is still worth it (even though it would be really obnoxious on their part and they'd someday languish in the fiery pit of hell for it.)

We don't have everything yet that we need, but things are moving in a more positive direction.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


This morning, my lawyer sent a fax to the seller's lawyer saying, in essence:

A) The comments you gave us to the last draft indicate that you weren't actually looking at the last draft, but at some previous draft

B) If you don't give us certain basic information and documents we've been asking for, to put in the contract [ie, things as basic as a street address for the lawyer - not just a PO Box] then we'll have no choice but to not sign a contract with you.

Haven't heard anything since.

There are only two ways that I might still be buying this apartment:

1- If this lawyer suddenly changes his tune and provides all the necessary information and paperwork, I'll move forward

2- If the seller changes to a new lawyer, I'll move forward.

Frankly, I don't think either of those things will happen.

But we'll see.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Recipe for BubbyT

A commenter named BubbyT asked for the recipe for the soup I served on Thanksgiving. Unfortunately I cannot find an email address associated with her blog, so here it is for all of you to enjoy. I adapted it from a recipe I found at Enjoy it!

Chayyei Sarah's Zucchini Soup

In a large frying pan, sautee together in canola oil (or some other vegetable oil)

2 chopped onions (I used 3 small ones)

3-4 small white potatoes, peeled and diced

8 zucchini (I used kishuim), chopped -- don't worry if you can't get it all into the pan. Just sautee as much as you can, and the rest you'll add directly to the hot water later.

½ tspn dried basil

½ tspn dried rosemary

¼ tspn dried thyme

¼ tspn ground white pepper (I wasn't so fond of this and might not use it next time)

In a large separate pot, bring 4 cups of chicken broth to a boil. It’s OK to add some water, but not too much – maybe just another 2 cups or so, maximum.

Add the zucchini mixture (and any un-sauteed zucchini that you couldn't fit in the pan before). Reduce heat and simmer at least 15 minutes. (I simmered for 45 minutes and it was A-OK.)

Use a hand blender to puree the soup. Add 1 cup pareve cream and bring just to a boil, but don’t boil it. Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce.

Season with salt to taste.