Sunday, January 4, 2009

To friends and family who are concerned:

(Below is an email I sent around recently, so if you did not already receive it, read on...)

Dear family and friends,

I have been getting sporadic emails and messages from some of you checking in on me, given the recent developments in Gaza, so I wanted to send around a quick note to let everyone know that Oren and I are doing just fine. I can only imagine what you are probably seeing on the American news channels about the conflict down in Gaza, so it will probably surprise you to learn that if I did not read the news every day, I would have no idea that anything was happening in Gaza right now. That is how little we are feeling it in Tel Aviv. Hopefully it will continue to be that way, but we are, of course, monitoring the situation very closely and promise that we will make good and informed decisions about the situation here.

On a more political note, I think it is important to mention that I fully support this operation in Gaza, as I see it as Israel's only way to make living here even safer than it was before. It is truly unfortunate that so many civilians in Gaza have died, but the only ones to blame for that is Hamas who choose to put their bases and rocket launchers in the middle of highly populated areas. It is true that Israel actually calls their target before the drop a missile to warn the civilians inside the building to leave- that is how committed Israel is to avoiding taking civilian lives. Lastly, I have full confidence in the Israeli military/airforce and intelligence agencies that they were completely prepared for this mission before they went in, and are completely prepared to protect the Israeli civilian population and prevent any form of backlash their operation may cause- oherwise, they would not have started this.

Please do not hesitate to ask me questions about what things are like here- I feel like the imagination can be ones worst enemy in situatioins such as these, and I would love the opportunity to paint you a clearer picture of what effect (or lack there of) this event is having on my life right now.

Much love,

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Two trips to the states and one primary election later, I am back and finally enjoying the "boring" routine of every day life again. I say "boring" because every day here always turns out to be the opposite of boring, but at least I have been able to wake up in the same city two days in a row and not live out of a suitcase. These are things many people take for granted! Not that I don't enjoy traveling for work- it is usually one of the most exciting parts of my job, being able to build relationships face to face and see people get excited about a cause. It's just that it can get exhausting!

However, I'm please to say that all of the exhausting efforts were worth it. I just finished an amazing fundraising trip with Elem, my client that works with Israeli youth who are in distress and/or homeless. This was no ordinary trip, as we brought with us Elem's president, former first lady of Israel, Nava Barak, and a young woman who lived on the streets for five years and who was helped by Elem to lead a normal life again. All together, there were 5 of us traveling for this "road show" and regardless of the logistics, weather, and other "challenges", the trip was a huge success. Such a huge success, in fact, that we are already planning our next trip for the beginning of February. No rest for the weary...

On top of this great success, the Kadima primary election was on December 17 and my client ended up getting the 11th place in the party! He was originally number 29, so this was a huge deal for him. Even better (for me), we ended up raising the third largest total amount of money for a Kadima candidate (there were over 70 candidates, and we were only beat by the Minister of Finance and the Speaker of the Knesset), and it appears that we were number one in raising money from Americans! Needless to say, I am quite pleased with myself.

Another highlight of Kadima's primary election was outcome of the campaign that Oren has been managing for the last 1.5 months. His candidate was the current Minister of Public Security, Avi Dichter, who had been appointed to his position years ago and therefore, he had never had to campaign for a place in the party before. There was a lot of pressure for Dichter to prove himself as someone who could be elected, not just appointed, so Oren and his staff ran an intense and country-wide campaign that proved to be very successful, as Dichter ended up in 9th place on the Kadima list (actually, the first two seats in Kadima were reserved for the chairman and her deputy, so technically, Oren's candidate ended up in 7th place)!

Oren's campaign ended the day before I returned from my business trip, so we decided to take the weekend and go to a luxurious spa up in the Carmel Mountains of Haifa. It was the kind of place where all of the guests (including us) walk around in white fluffy bathrobes and slippers the entire time, and spend our days rotating between soaking in the hot tub, relaxing in the turkish baths, eating, or getting some sort of massage treatment. I, personally, enjoyed a hot and cold stone massage which was, needless to say, a very unique experience. As with all vacations, this was far too short, but it helped recharge our batteries a bit before jumping back in to the work craziness.

On our way back from the spa, we stopped at a restaurant in Herzliya for dinner. It happened to also be the first night of Hanukkah, and I had one of my "this would never happen in the states" moments when the entire restaurant stopped what they were doing to light the Hanukkah candles together and say the prayers. It was a nice experience, and I hope that you all are having a Happy Hanukkah or Merry Christmas wherever you may be celebrating.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Times They Are A'Changin'

I'm sorry... I'm sorry! I know, it's been a really long time since I blogged and I know there are many of you are are upset about this. I'm sorry! I've been really busy!! With what, you ask? Well let's see...

I spent a very hectic two weeks in the USA on a business trip with Elem (my client that works with Israeli youth at risk). It was a successful, but exhausting trip. One of the best parts was being able to see some of my favorite people while in Boston and Chicago. I think that is one of the best parts of my job, is that it allows me to spend time with good friends- the kind of friends who you may not see for months at a time, but when you are together, it is as if time has never passed.

While I was in the states, I also spent a few days in Minneapolis with the fam. It was during this time that I helped my family pick out a new puppy!! His name is Teddy (because he looks like a teddy bear) and he is the cutest little thing you will ever see. Just to brighten your day, I am including some pictures of him. I hear from home that he is being a very good boy, and is bringing them a lot of joy, so I can't wait to see him in a few weeks when I am home for Thanksgiving.

It was also while I was in the states that an election was called in Israel. As some of you may know, an election can be called at pretty much any time here, and it just so happened to get called while I was in Chicago. This is a big deal for me, because one of my clients is a Member of Knesset whose re-election campaign began the day the election was called. Needless to say, we shifted into high gear very quickly (from the guest room at Lisa and Josh's apartment), and we are now intensely collecting the $100,000.00 that he is allowed to use towards his Primary Campaign.

If that were all I had to work on right now, it would be hectic enough, but I am also in the process of planning a huge trip for Elem that will take place at the beginning of December which is driving me up the wall. Planning a normal trip from another continent is challenging enough, but this time I am bringing an entourage of special guests and VIPs with me (one of them being Nava Barak, the former first lady of Israel) and we are doing some major events that are of very high importance to my client. So, I've been up until the wee hours of the morning for the past week either working on Yoel's fundraising for his Primary Campaign, or going back and forth with Boston and Chicago trying to get the details of our events nailed down.

And if THAT weren't enough to drive me cuckoo, an old friend called me a few days ago and told me that he decided to run for a seat in the Knesset, and asked if I could help him with his fundraising. So, make that TWO Primary Elections I am now raising money for, PLUS a massive high-level trip at the beginning of December. And, exhale.

Enough with all that. Many of you have asked me to react to Barak Obama winning the presidential campaign, and I must say, it is truly an exciting thing. As many of you know, I have not always been a 100% Obama fan (even though I had a facebook message the morning after the election from a friend reminding me that I had told him 3 years ago that Obama would be our next President when most people had still never heard of him), but I could not be happier or more impressed with the choice of so many Americans in this election. I could not believe when I woke up at 6:30am to learn that Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Indiana... all of them went blue! And furthermore, the voter turn out was incredible! I am even more thrilled with the fact that Obama chose Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff. Anyone who was worried that Obama would not surrounded himself with good people (or Pro-Israel people, for that matter) need not worry any more. I thought that was a very significant first move on Obama's part, and I can't wait to see what will happen next.

And with that, I will stop procrastinating and go back to raising money and planning VIP events for December. Never a dull moment, but I promise to start blogging regularly again.

P.S. Here are the pictures of Teddy. Enjoy :)

Friday, October 3, 2008

The problem with Israeli business culture

Thanks to Rosh Hashana, Oren had the morning off of work on Tuesday. We celebrated by having breakfast at a sea-side restaurant near Herzliya and then buying ourselves a beautiful red Kitchen Aid mixer as a Rosh Hashana gift (yes, I was and still am overcome with great joy and happiness). However, the latter part of our wonderful morning was easier said than done.

The Kitchen Aid store that we went to just opened a few weeks ago, so you would think they would be eager to do business. We got to the store around 1pm and noticed that the door was locked. The sign said that it was supposed to be open until 2pm, and all of the employees were still in the store, yet, the door was locked. We knocked on the door and asked if we could come in, and they shook their heads and yelled through the glass door that the store was closed. When we pointed out that they were closing an hour early, they shrugged and said it was because of Rosh Hashana. This did not make sense to us, so Oren told them, literally, "If you let us in, we will buy a Kitchen Aid mixer from you." While this may be of interest to sales people in other parts of the world, it did little to excite this group of people. After a few more minutes of negotiations, they finally opened the door saying that we could only look, but not buy anything. Seriously. We quickly decide that we want a red mixer (to match our other appliances, naturally) and we then had to beg them to sell it to us. Seriously. We had to beg them to let us spend money at their store on their product. This would never happen anywhere else, because in other places, people understand not only the concept of customer service, but merely the notion of good business. The exchange of money for goods and services. Finally, a clearly unhappy salesperson agreed to sell us the mixer and the rest is beautiful baking history.

The first thing I did when we got home is make up some more cupcakes and used the mixer to whip up some Swiss Meringue Marshmallow Frosting that was insanely good. I think I am going to make some more tonight to go on some carrot cake cupcakes :-)

Happy New Year!!

The new mixer making frosting

Delicious frosted cupcakes

The view from where we had breakfast

Sunday, September 28, 2008

1 Year

Last night, we had a fabulous party at our apartment to commemorate my one year anniversary in Israel. If I do say so myself, we throw really good parties. We have yummy food, great drinks, and always wonderful friends who join us. Last night was no exception. We went with an American/Israeli theme, so we had hot dogs and falafel (with all of fixins for both, of course). With all of my free time now that Oren away on the campaign trail, I have been doing a lot of baking, so for the party I made some amazing chocolate cupcakes with vanilla and chocolate cream cheese frosting and a wonderful banana cream pie. So yummy! We rounded out the evening with some Max Brenner chocolate, some American beer (Samuel Adams) and some delicious champagne. Friends started coming around 8pm and did not leave until around 2am. It was a really enjoyable evening and it made me very happy to have so many of the people who have played a meaningful role in my first year here to celebrate with me.

On a totally separate note, the other day at my pilates class, it was just me and an older man there for the lesson. After the class, we went into the back room to get our things and we started chatting. I learned that he was from Tel Aviv but has been in LA for the past few years. He then asked me where I was from. I told him Minnesota and he immediately responded with "I thought that only Rose Nyland was from Minnesota!" He then followed that statement with "Are you from St. Olaf??" I know that many of you may not understand this story at all, but for you Golden Girls fans out there, you can understand my joy in experiencing such a Goldern Girls reference at such an unexpected place and time. Gotta love it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Big, Fat, Political Wedding

Last night, Oren and I were invited to attend the wedding of Oren's former boss' daughter. We actually have three weddings to attend this week, so this one did not particularly stand out to me as anything special when we RSVPed that we would attend. Yesterday was a crazy day for both me and Oren work-wise, so around 9:00pm, I got dressed up for the wedding, hopped in a taxi, picked up Oren on the other side of town where he had just left a campaign gathering for his candidate, and we rushed off to the wedding. When we were almost there, the traffic came to a standstill as a motorcade passed us by. Jokingly, I asked Oren if was Tzipi Livni's motorcade since she was just elected to be the new Prime Minister yesterday, and he replied, in complete seriousness, that it was actually Ehud Olmert's motorcade (aka the guy almost done being Prime Minister). I then, again, jokingly asked if he was coming to the wedding too and Oren, again in all seriousness, replied that yes, he was probably heading there as well. It was then that I realized that Oren worked for this guy whose daughter is getting married when the guy was the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister's office under Ariel Sharon, and since Olmert was the Deputy Prime Minister when Sharon was PM, it made a lot of sense that Olmert would attending and it made me wonder who else might be there...

So, we followed Olmert into the wedding, where he was whisked off to his roped off table in the corner that was surrounded by security guards. He later, on his way out of the wedding, said hello to Oren and I. He pretended to remember me from when we met last January and Oren took the opportunity to let him know that he has never been happier than since he left the government. Olmert seemed to appreciate that.

About 30 minutes later, I was sitting with a friend when I saw a nice looking old man walking towards us. I starred at him trying to figure out how I knew him, when I turned to my friend and asked "Is that Shimon Peres?" She confirmed that it was, in fact, the President of Israel walking around the wedding reception, and he then proceeded to come over, take my hand, and wish me a "Shana Tova" (Happy New Year). I wished him a "Shana Tova" back, and that was that.

After I got over the shock of Israel's President wandering around at someone's wedding, Oren and I decided it was time to go home. We were just about at the door when Oren noticed Tzipi Livni had just arrived to the party. This was by far the most exciting sighting of the evening, as I am a huge fan of hers and am so excited that she just was elected to be Prime Minister. She knows Oren from when he worked for Sharon, so we went over and said hello, and Oren introduced us, explaining to her that it was my first time voting in Israel and that I voted for her. She was genuinely excited about this, and I then proceeded to gush about what an honor it was to meet her and how excited I am that she is the new Prime Minister and that I know she will do a fantastic job, etc, etc. Probably a little bit much, but I was just so excited to meet her!

So, overall, it was a big, fat, political wedding- it's going to be difficult for the other two weddings this week to measure up!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Learning Hebrew: Take 4

I have recently started trying to learn Hebrew for the fourth time. The first time was from the 3rd to 7th grade where I was educated at the fine Minneapolis institution known as Talmud Torah (aka Talmud Torture). The second time was my freshman year of college when I suffered through a painful semester with Zvi who would constantly taunt me "Fo-coos Day-bee, Fo-coos!" The third time was last November in Ulpan where the demanding 25-hours a week of classes did not mesh with my starting/running a business. So, this time, I decided try something different. Instead of going the class route, I am working one-on-one with a tutor. I realized that one of the reasons I did not learn as much as I should have in my other attempts is because the classroom format allows me to zone out and not ask the questions I may have. I figured that when it is just me and the teacher, I cannot zone out and I cannot avoid asking my questions... and boy, do I have questions! Fortunately, I am always pleasantly surprised when my tutor has thorough answers to all of them!

My tutor is an American who moved to Israel 5 years ago and is just finishing her Master's degree in Hebrew. We meet three times a week for an hour each time, and even after just four classes, I already feel like I am understanding more of what I hear around me and I have become more comfortable trying to speak. She is so incredibly enthusiastic about how wonderful Hebrew is, that it has given me a renewed interest in learning the language. At every class, she will tell me one thing that she loves about Hebrew- for example, she loves that in Hebrew, we use the same word to mean "setting up two people" as we use for "stapler", the connection being that both the action of setting up two people and stapling things is the intention to "attach" one thing (person or paper) to another thing (person or paper). Cute, yes?

In other news, there is some new excitement on the professional front. Oren was just recently asked to manage the campaign for a woman who is running to be the mayor of a nearby city. This is something that he has always been interested in and studied while he was at Harvard, so having this opportunity is just fantastic. Unlike in the states, the campaigns here do not begin insanely far in advance, so he just signed on to the campaign today, and the election is in about 8 weeks. We are anticipating a crazy 8 weeks where he will be managing this campaign and still working with Avi on their business clients, but we are prepared and excited to make it all work. On top of this, the primary elections that will decide the next Prime Minister of Israel are on Wednesday, so between that and the campaign, I am looking forward to a lot of new political experiences in the coming days and weeks. Stay tuned...