Tuesday, September 01, 2015

New Beginnings, Again

The first day of school always evokes two very distinct memories for me. Since the entire country starts school on the same day, there is a real sense of excitement that permeates the whole country, of beginnings (and endings) and of camaraderie.

Our first year in Israel, we had a meeting on August 31st at someone’s house in Neve Daniel. I had only two little boys, both of whom were starting nursery school the next day. I remember walking into this house and seeing their five backpacks nicely lined up by the front door. For some reason, that image has stuck with me for 11 years. The backpacks showed such a sense of possibility to me; of order and organization on the part of the parents; of the cycle of life and new beginnings. And now, of course, my guys have their backpacks lined up and ready to go each August 31st.

The other memory is of waking up on September 1, 2004 in our little apartment and hearing my landlord on the floor above singing, “First day of school! First day of school!” as he walked around the house waking his many children. It was such a cute way to awake; there was such a sweet joy in his voice. And it tickled me that we were all, the entire yishuv, the entire country(!) getting ready for school on the very same day. We were all experiencing the excitement, the anxiety together. And this is so true for much of what happens in this little country of ours.

I don't believe we took a picture of them getting ready for school that year (how could that possibly be?) but this is what Matan and Yehuda looked like in September of 2004 when they entered the Israeli school system for the first time.

Armed with these memories, I woke the kids this morning (they are still jetlagged and would sleep well into the morning if I let them) and gathered them up for their first day. Life has gotten so busy for us that I actually took their traditional “back to school” picture last night. Last year we ended up photo shopping Matan into the picture since he had returned to school a day earlier than the other kids started. This year, we grabbed the opportunity on August 31 to capture them all (including weapons boy, tantrum boy, and the dog we are babysitting) and to get them together.

It’s another year of possibilities, of futures, of promise. I recently reflected on what I wrote one year ago today, when Matan headed off to high school. A year later, I am so grateful that we found the perfect school for him. It is reassuring to know that today, when I send him off for his sophomore year, I will (hopefully) have less tears of adjustment, less fear for his comfort and workload. He is in his element and growing into such a glorious young man with the help of this amazing institution. Eliav said to me this morning, “Mommy, remember last year how you cried and cried when Daddy drove away with Matan?” Gee, thanks kid. I replied, “Yep, I’m really good at that. Might be one of my best skills. I’ll probably cry a bit today too, buddy, but maybe not as much.” It’s still very hard to see my first born going away again. We had an amazing summer together and I loved having him under our roof. But I know that he is gaining many skills at school that can’t be taught at home and that he’s growing into the man he’s supposed to be.

Yehuda heads into his last year at Orot Etzion this year, and we will be looking ahead to find the right high school for him as well.

And the rest of them? Well, they will be doing their usual learning with a good bit of basketball, art, swimming and judo thrown in.

May it be a great year ahead for all of us as we start our 12th school year in Israel.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Zionism on the Road

We just returned from an absolutely amazing three week trip to the States to see family. It was glorious for many reasons. It was wonderful to see so much family and to get to enjoy time together. It was a joy to have so much uninterrupted time with my children, to watch them bond and enjoy time together. And it was a real gift to have the opportunity to show the kids places that they’ve never been and experiences that they’ve never had.

Admiring the enormity of the Redwoods
One of the things that stood out for me the most over the course of the trip was the difference in my Zionism from that of my children. Everywhere we went people asked us where we were from. Given the global landscape today, I found myself – each and every time – holding my breath as my kids said, with glee, “ISRAEL!” I waited for the reaction of these strangers, for the nasty words or the cold shoulder that might accompany such a declaration on the very liberal West Coast.

Each time I was annoyed with myself. Why should I hold my breath and worry about what others think about my home? Why should I be anxious or fearful when answering a simple question? What insanity is this?

Fortunately, we experienced no anti-semitism, no anti-Israel sentiments and no issues along the way. If anything, we encountered people who were particularly interested in us. 

While standing in line at the Hearst Castle, an egg farmer from Ohio started a conversation with us (we asked a bit about his farm only to find out he had 2 million chickens!) While he knew virtually nothing about Israel, he was fascinated by the farming techniques and kept asking Josh questions about the advanced technology that the agricultural world here has created. He asked which agricultural products were imported and which were home grown. We were quite surprised by his interest and his questions. He also asked us about our thoughts on the Iran deal. At the end of the conversation he said, "We want you to know that we and the people of America are with you, don’t worry about what those people in Washington have to say." He actually referred to the people in Washington in more colorful language, but we’ll leave it at that.

What I found fascinating, however, wasn’t the reaction that people had to us when we told them where we were from, but the way that my kids interact with the world and carry their Zionism on their sleeves.

They had no qualms about telling people that they are from Israel. As proud Israelis with little interaction with the outside world they declare their love for their country at every turn. 

They expected no backlash, accepted no compromise and expected no response but a love for their country or, at the very least, some innocent questions.

After the first day or two of the trip, I had to laugh when I saw what one of the kids had drawn in the dust on the back of the car.

On the side of the car
I actually thought of erasing it, and then realized that I was letting my fear of the world’s reaction get to me.

My kids were unstoppable. When we went to the beach, Yehuda spent his time drawing Israeli flags in the sand. And every time that they had the chance, they took pictures with the Israeli flag waving in front of them (while I secretly stood guard waiting for any reaction).

While boating in Portland, Oregon
In the Redwoods in California
At Hurricane Harbor in Los Angeles

I love their zeal, their love for their country, their ability to believe in the place of their birth (or their upbringing) with no bones about it and no excuses.

Their mother could learn a few lessons from their unabashed enthusiasm; from their love of Israel and their belief that the world must feel the same way about the country that they do – or their utter lack of care about how others see them.

Lessons learned on the road from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles California.