Friday, December 30, 2005
We've had quite a busy week of Chanukah thus far and, surprisingly, took a bunch of nice pictures that we thought we would share.
The senior Sussmans are visiting and they have been kept quite busy. One day at the science museum (and then dinner in Beit Shemesh with the Brothers Wiener), a full day trip to the wonderful slides in Beith Shean (we wrote about them a couple of months ago) and the brit milah of Noam Ishi Speter (newest son of Rab Mosher and Chaviva of Tirat Tzvi--weirdly enough, Chaviva's sister also had a brit for her new son the same day!!), followed by a quick get together with the Sisters Levin and then off to a nice dinner sponsored by Grandma and Grandpa Sussman with the kids home with a babysitter!! Yesterday was the day at the zoo with a special treat of seeing the new baby elephant (less than a month old) and an evening of latkes and other goodies with friends in the yishuv. Whew...quite a busy week, now we have Shabbat and then we are off for a short two day trip to visit Zichron Yaakov without the kids courtesy of Grandma and Grandpa!!!
Anyway, here are some very recent pictures of the kids and us.
Chanukah Sameach, Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!!!
Thursday, December 29, 2005
At school on Sunday and Monday, I laughed out loud when I heard the first bell. They had changed the bells to sing out a Hanukah tune instead of the regular bell. Every 45 minutes we heard a Hanukah song over the loud speaker. Here I was working on Christmas day in a public school which was blaring Hanukah music! Amazing!
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
On Motsei Shabbat (Saturday night) Josh and I took the opportunity to hear the recent Noble Prize winner, Professor Yisrael Auman. He spoke at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, 20 minutes from our home. It was awe inspiring to be able to listen to a religious Jew talk about his experience only a few weeks ago receiving the Nobel Prize (in Economics for his work on Game Theory) from the King of Sweden. He was extremely jovial and engaging in his address and spoke about what it was like to be a Jew receiving such an award. This is a man who escaped Nazi Germany with his family when he was 8 to move to America, picked up 50 years ago to move to Israel, lost a son in the Peace for the Galilee war in 1982 and has now received the Nobel Prize. He spoke about how accommodating the dinner was to his family’s needs and how they were able to have a beautiful experience – while keeping their traditions with Shabbat and Kashrut. He spoke about a disco club where they were taken and how, after a Nobel Laureate doctor got on stage to sing a song about ulcers (don’t ask!), he and his sons got on stage to sing a Hebrew song about the whole world being a bridge. He spoke about being moved by the Israeli flags that flew everywhere he went throughout Sweden and how moving it was to represent this country. It was really amazing to think that we live in a place where people like this receive the Nobel Prize with such humility – and we have the opportunity to take in lectures of this sort.
Prof. Auman spoke about the moment when he was deciding how he was going to wash his hands (we are obligated to ritually wash our hands prior to eating bread) in the presence of the King and not have a major protocol faux pas. Just as he was contemplating his situation, he noticed a waiter walking toward him with a pitcher and a basin. He quickly realized that the people in charge had not left one issue to chance and had dispatched waiters to the tables where the various Aumans (Prof. Auman was joined by 35 members of his family) were sitting throughout the room.
He also mentioned the powerful moment when he rose to speak before the 1,000+ guests at the dinner. There is a special bracha (blessing) that one says when receiving extremely good news that will benefit oneself or others and Prof. Auman started his 2 minute speech by pronouncing this blessing and was awed when he heard all the members of his family spontaneously saying 'Amen' in unison from throughout the hall.
We feel blessed to have heard this wonderful man speak and that this is the type of person who represents us (Jews and Israel) to the world.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
In order to make it easier for everyone to come the yishuv had arranged for activities for all of the children, with a movie room, a mime, a ballon animal maker, etc. The kids had a blast!
It was a moving evening and an appropriate time to dedicate a synagogue – on the day when we remember the destruction of the Temple and the miracle that led our rebuilding.
May everyone have a beautiful, blessed Chanukah Sameach and may the light of the festival brighten all of our lives and bring peace to Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael.
Friday, December 09, 2005
A few funny things today. Early last year Matan brought a friend home from school. The friend asked me if I had seen his “petek” and I had no idea what he was talking about. He looked at me as if I were crazy – everyone knows what a petek is. And now I know why. A petek is a note, and the teachers in the nursery schools in Israel LOVE peteks. They seem to send a note home in Yehuda’s lunch bag, or safety pinned to Yehuda’s shirt, at least twice a week.
To an oleh, these notes are a heart-stopper. They mean that we need to try to decipher what the teacher wants and fast…and make sure that our kid isn’t the only one without the requested item the next day. It’s a very stressful event. About 65% of the time I know what the petek is saying. About 20% of the time I ask someone to read it, including my 3rd grade creative writing student who is a native Israeli. Aah – the joys of being an immigrant. And then the rest of the time I just get tired or too sick of figuring things out, and ignore the darn note.
And then we have a day like today. Poor Yehuda. Yehuda kept telling me something about flowers. What was the kid talking about? He had brought home a note on Monday and I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure it out. There were no familiar words – nothing to catch my attention. So, I threw it aside and figured I’d get it read at some point. So, yesterday, Yehuda declared that he had to have those flowers already. Yeah yea. So, we asked the landlord if we could cut a couple of pretty flowers and sent him on his way. Oy – did we look dumb. He got to school and they wondered why he had these beautiful flowers. And then we realized what the petek had said.
Apparently, they had requested that each family go to the neighborhood nursery and pick out five durable flowers. They had tires filled with potting soil in the front of the school and each kid was going to get a tire, plant his flowers in it, and learn how to take care of a little garden (and apparently we had been asked to bring in tires during back to school night….hmmm…didn’t catch that one!) So, here Yehuda was holding three cut flowers from the garden instead of the actual flowers he was supposed to buy.
As you can guess, today we took Yehuda immediately to the nursery to pick out his flowers. When I walked in, the woman working there looked at us and said, “Here for the gan? Yehuda won’t be the only one without flowers!
Another tidbit – to kill time in the crazy, insane, rambunctious fifth grade class today I had the kids do a fun magic trick of sorts with their birthdays. They have to write down the month of their birthday and then add and subtract a bunch of days to come up with the month and day of their birthday. As I started the activity, it never dawned on me that some of the kids wouldn’t know their English birthdays! Everyone celebrates Hebrew calendar birthdays here, and a number of the kids didn’t even know what their English birthday was….and there went my little activity! Things you don’t think of when planning a lesson with native English speakers! It was really funny and eye-opening for me. And now I know even more why we are making sure to celebrate our kids’ Hebrew birthdays and not their English ones…all in a day’s education. Mine, not my students’.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
A regular week in Israel...every day seems to be packed with so much. Last week we were able, FINALLY to secure our mortgage. It was a major accomplishment, as the mortgage process is much more tedious and interesting, shall we say, than it was in America. So, as a thank you to our friends who co-signed for us, we were going to take them to dinner Saturday night. No such luck, I was informed on the phone by a teenage girl. Didn't I know that it was Chodesh Irgun. "Umm," I replied, trying not to sound too dumb. "That's right." I didn't remember this from last year, as we were in the throws of a new baby. Apparently Chodesh Irgun is all the rage in Israel. It's the month when the Bnei Akiva youth movement comes together and forms their new groups. The 4th graders start for the first time, the old 4th graders go to the 5th grade group, the 5th graders go to the 6th grade group, and so on.
So, all month the kids poured their hearts into all sorts of activities. In the States, it always seemed that kids who were involved in youth groups were geeky or different. Here, most kids are involved and excited to be involved. The 10th and 11th grade kids are the counselors and there is a fierce competition to become the counselors. They wear specific uniforms and get introduced at this event. So, Shabbat and the evening after Shabbat were the conclusions of this month of activities. On Shabbat, the kids sponsored a huge kiddush for the whole community of 300 families and then invited us to see their new center. The yishuv just built a new center for Bnei Akiva, and each grade painted and decorated their section. They were really proud of themselves and excited to show off their new 'homes'.
And then Saturday night came. The kids all met at the center and marched to the amphitheater. We were at the theater waiting for them, and they came marching up in their uniforms with drums and balloons. Yes, I started to cry as I always do. This is Israel. There is so much spirit and energy in events like this - and so much history. When I see these kids I feel like I can see the first youth movement kids - singing their hearts out in Odessa or Germany as they prepared to come to Eretz Yisrael, or forming their groups here in Israel after the war of Independence, or singing and dancing as a family, having lost so much in the Holocaust. And here are these kids who represent so much and have so much future to them.
They marched proudly into the open-air theater and did their performance. We had no idea what was going on, of course, and asked an Israeli to explain it to us. As we were waiting for the kids, a number of adults walked in beaming. They said to us, "I remember this so well! I was in group ____." It clearly had a very powerful place in their hearts. The 9th grade group apparently gets a new name each year and then that name follows them for the rest of their Bnei Akiva years and on through the rest of their lives. It's a big secret and the name is only revealed at the event that night. This is happening all over the country, by the way, at the same time, in similar ceremonies. It was really cool.
Yesterday I had quite an experience. The Education Ministry had messed up my paperwork in order to get paid. So, I was given the day off of school yesterday in order to tromp into Jerusalem and attempt to correct the situation. I was very apprehensive. They wanted me to go to three government offices, speak Hebrew in all of them, and get my pay check straightened out. Hmmm.. But, shockingly it went very smoothly. I finished all three tasks in about an hour! I didn't know what to do with myself, as I had the whole day to complete the task. So, as one of the ministry officials suggested, I took myself to lunch and relaxed a little. A great accomplishment!
On the way home yesterday we heard about the bombing in Netanya. Another bombing, in the same location as one a year ago. Today we saw someone taking pictures of a check-point, undoubtedly pointing the finger at Israel and the policies we implement. When I saw him I said to Josh, "The only place that man should be taking pictures today is at the five funerals for innocent people who were murdered yesterday." It's too infuriating to comprehend, and it's very weird to go about our daily lives and realize that such things are happening so close to home.
Today we went to a shoe sale in the yishuv nearby. The shoes came from a family store in Gush Katif. They had a great deal of inventory left from their store when they were expelled from Gush Katif, and the sale was to try to help them to pay their bills. I asked the owner where they are living now. While holding back tears she replied, "In a hotel." I really didn't have a response. There are no words.
Today was Amichai's Hebrew birthday. We took him out for an ice cream, which he didn't like! Then we went to Burger's Bar for dinner, which he did like and gobbled up. A big celebration...or sort of. Just enough to celebrate his great changes and milestones. He's a sweet, cuddly little guy. He's certainly not walking yet, but loves to stand and run along the furniture.
And that's a week in the life of a working mother of three living in Israel.
Friday, December 02, 2005
We pulled-up just in front of the entrance to the Ma'ara, found a place to park and marched in (through the double metal detectors) to find the rest of our group. The coordinator of the outing was directing us to the small hall where the Kever (grave/tomb) Ya'akov and Leah is. We had about 25 people from Neve Daniel including twin boys who were being called to the Torah for the first time (their official Bar Mitzva is tomorrow), which only added to the simcha of the event. There is a special feeling in being able to daven in such a powerful and holy place, the burial places of many of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the place first purchased by Avraham for the burial of Sara. It is even more special to be there, not as a visitor, but as someone who is able to jump in the car and be in this amazing place in a few short minutes.
The other interesting thing to come out of the trip was the discussion of the two vatikim (old timers) about how they used to be able to wander around Hevron with no fear (as well as places like Bet Lehem and Ramallah) before the Intifada. They told of afternoon tea in Bet Lehem and being able to informally interact with the Arab population. Then the first Intifada came in 1987 and the tension rose and made it more difficult and tense to travel in these areas. Between the first and second Intifadas, people still went to these places with out much of a second thought. However, since the second Intifada broke out in 2000 it is now impossible to go to these places and it is not likely to ever revert back to the previous situation. How unfortunate, but this is the fate of a people who have been fed a steady diet of hate and vitriol through their textbooks, government TV and radio and other official communications. The economies of places like Hevron are forever limited due to the violence that emanates from these population centers. It is such a shame...but alas so is the fate of those whose government wants nothing but violence.
At least we are still able to continue to visit (at least in Hevron) where there is a large security presence around the Jewish neighborhoods and the Ma'ara itself. Maybe one day the situation will change for the better.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!!
Sunday, November 27, 2005
The mall happened to be attached to a large hospital center which accounted for the other odd fashion trend in the mall. I saw one guy walk by wearing a sweat suit with what appeared to be a hospital gown/shirt under it. I thought it a bit odd, but figured I was just out of style. Then I saw another person walk by dressed completely in hospital issued robes. This was too much of a coincidence and I realized that these weren't models for a bad fashion fad, but that they were patients from the hospital who were allowed, for some odd reason, to wander around the adjacent mall.
Friday, November 25, 2005
All in all we are doing quite well:
We are thrilled with our choice of schools for Matan. He enjoys school, has a full-time Rav in his class along with the teacher, an assistant and rotating banot sherut (girls doing their National Service who are assigned to Matan's school), so he is getting plenty of individualized attention and is learning a ton. The Rav is responsible for teaching the boys (Matan is in an all boys class) to read and he meets with each boy individually almost every day. Matan is now reading multi-syllable words (up to 3 or 4 syllables) and is really making progress. He is at slight disadvantage since his vocabulary is not as broad as the native Hebrew speakers in his class, but he is doing quite well and is closing the gap on the native Israelis in his class. He is perfectly comfortable playing and functioning in Hebrew and it seems that he barely knows which language he is speaking as he can seemlessly switch between Hebrew and English. Matan is taking a once a week karate class. He is really enjoying it and should be getting his first belt this week or next. In addition to karate he goes to a once a week parashat hashavua class (a class on the weekly Torah portion) with other kids his age, which he is also enjoying.
Yehuda is doing well too. He really enjoys school, seems to have friends and really likes telling us about what he has learned. His newest thing is that he has learned to bensch (say the prayer after eating a meal with bread in it). He loves to bensch so he asks to have bread with each meal. He knows the prayers by heart so he sits and sings loud and clear with a huge grin on his face. Every morning he goes with me to shul where he puts tzedakah (charity) into the tzedakah box, shakes the Rav's hand and then happily takes himself to school. He is really a happy go-lucky kid and is maturing and learning before our eyes.
Amichai is now one (his English birthday was Nov 17 and we will be celebrating his Hebrew birthday next week on 5 Kislev which falls on December 6 this year). Although he is a bit overly attached to his Mommy, he happily goes to his day care every morning, greets us with a smile when we pick him up, generally sleeps pretty well and has a sweet and happy disposition. When he isn't attached to his Mommy he plays nicely by himself and enjoys playing with his big brothers. After being a bit behind his brothers as far as crawling and standing go, he is now all over the place crawling and cruising the furniture and walls and generally leaving his mark wherever he goes. He still looks just like Matan at the same age and is as cute as can be.
Our jobs are going well, my position at Upstart Activist ( www.upstartactivist.com ) has recently been upgraded to a more permanent situation and the business is doing well and involved with all sorts of things (www.israelawards.com, www.destinationisrael.com and www.giftofthetimes.com) are all keeping us quite busy. With the upcoming Israeli elections now scheduled for March 28, 2006, we have another project which is going to keep us even busier. Check out www.IsraelVotes.com to see the latest endeavor of Upstart Activist. This is a wonderful educational tool which allows campuses, organizations, communities and shuls to have their own dedicated web sites which will allow them to 'vote' in the upcoming Israeli elections. The site will have a ton of information on the Israeli electoral system, the parties, etc and will give people a true taste of Israeli democracy. We did this in the 2003 elections as well and attracted tens of thousands of participants and received an amazing amount of press in both Israel and abroad. This time we have more time to prepare and more experience and hope to make this the largest Israeli advocacy project ever.
After a rough start to the school year (to say the least) Romi is adapting to the kids and they are adapting to her and the situation has improved a bit. It is still hard and a constant adjustment to get used to teaching younger kids in a different type of school setting, but there is at least a (dim) light at the end of the tunnel. There are still bad days mixed in with the good, but at least there are good days at all. At the beginning of the year every day was a bad day. Lamdeni has taken off with 8 creative writing classes around the country that Romi created and many families for whom she is coordinating tutoring and helping their children to get acclimated to the Israeli schools and their new lives in Israel.
We were thrilled to have John, Susan and Ari Levin here a couple of weeks ago on their pre-Aliyah pilot trip and were very happy when they decided to make Neve Daniel their next home! So we are looking forward to welcoming them here when they arrive permanently, IY'H, next summer.
We also had surprise visitors this morning when the Brothers Ely (Menachem, Daniel & David) along with Jeff Cohen stopped by for a quick visit on their way to Hevron for parashat Chayei Sara. Since the parasha deals with the death of Sara (of Avraham and Sara fame) it has become traditional that Hevron, the burial place of Sara, hosts tens of thousands of people for this Shabbat. It was nice to see them and really neat that they just 'stopped by' as a surprise.
Hope all is well!
Friday, November 11, 2005
'Go forth from your land...to the land that I will show you'
This week we come again to Parashat Lech Lecha (the weekly Torah portion of Lech Lecha) which is the story of Avraham Avinu (Abraham) heeding the words of Hashem and leaving his homeland, his family and friends to go to Eretz Yisrael, where Hashem promises Avraham that He will make him (Avraham) a great nation.
We wrote briefly about this last year at this time and our previous message still rings true. This is the 'Aliyah parasha' as it documents the first Aliyah in Jewish history by the father of Judaism (and all monotheistic faiths). The message resonates with us as much this year as it did last; we are fast approaching our 18 month 'anniversary' of being in Israel and the adventure continues. As you may recall Avraham was required to pass 10 tests of faith, the first being his leaving his home and venturing to an unknown land in Eretz Yisrael. There are a number of interpretations of just what those ten tests were, according to the Rambam (Maimonides) the ten tests were:
- Leaving his homeland
- The hunger in Canaan after Hashem had assured him that he would become a great nation there.
- Sarah's abduction to Egypt.
- The war with the four kings.
- His marriage to Hagar after despairing the Sarah would never give birth.
- The Mitzvah (commandment) of circumcision.
- Avimelech's abduction of Sarah.
- Sending away Hagar after she had given birth to Ishmael.
- The commandment to drive away Ishmael.
- The binding of Isaac.
Like Avraham new immigrants to Israel face tests as well and like Avraham, if one passes those tests the rewards are enormous. Moving to Israel is indeed a test of faith (especially for those coming from Western societies). After all we, and many others like us, have left behind stable lives with good jobs, family, many friends, familiarity with the culture, a command of the native language and an over-all level of comfort to which all of those things contribute.
So here we present our '10 Trials of Aliyah':
- Getting to Israel. Not the actual physical act, but overcoming that last emotional hurdle to making the commitment. For some this may be leaving family; for others it may be overcoming their financial conservatism or risk aversion and for others a combination of many factors.
- Telling your family and friends. This is the dreaded time that all of our olim friends talk about. No matter the family background, no matter how strong your friendships are, it is hard to have that conversation. We all share similar stories--the nice surprises of people who 'rise to the occasion' and show incredible support and understanding and the disappointments of those who react with hurt and defiance of whom one may have expected more; but for everyone this was a heart-wrenching experience.
- Language. No matter how good one's Hebrew pre-Aliyah may be, it is still a second language and will always be.
- Finding a community. Big or small; city or small town; center of the country or around Jerusalem; religious, secular or mixed; large Anglo-population or more 'Israeli'. Every family has their own needs and priorities and there are so many choices...thankfully, the plethora of choices means there is something for everyone.
- Finding a job. Whether you were a lawyer or doctor; an accountant or a teacher; everyone has to readjust their goals to the reality of the situation. Some have to re-invent themselves, some need to take a fairly large step back; but, by and large, we all seem to 'make it' sooner or later.
- The grocery store. Many of those tried and true recipes just don't come out quite the same way. Maybe the the ingredients are a little different, maybe its the water. Nobody is quite sure why, but things are just a little different. Eventually though, everyone seems to work it out and nobody appears to be starving.
- Kids as translators. While we are all kvelling at the progress that our kids make with the language, it is, admittedly a bit tough to have your young children correct your bad Hebrew grammar and translate words for you.
- Donkeys on the Road. Highway 60 that runs N-S down the spine of the mountains of Yehuda and Shomron (Judea & Samaria) is, for the most part, what appears to be a 2 lane road. However, looks can be deceiving because it is in fact a 5 lane 'super highway' with two car lanes (one each for North and South) and 2 donkey lanes (again one each going North and South) as well as the ever-present 'Israeli passing lane' in the middle, which doesn't actually exist until someone 'creates' it by deciding to pass. The donkeys, the most famous of the beasts of burden, are in fact just that and sometimes carry such wide loads that their cargo (usually consisting of sticks and farm trimmings) juts out into the road, forcing cars to carefully pass and swerve around them.
- Banking. Unlike America where banks appear to actually want your business and you can get free checking, free savings accounts, effective on-line banking, etc. In Israel the banks charge you for the privilege of doing business with them. Every line on a statement has a charge (I believe it is NIS 1.21 with the exchange rate being roughly $1 = 4.5 NIS), which can really add up over the course of the month. That doesn't include the mortgage process which we are still attempting to navigate (somewhat helplessly) without the help of our favorite mortgage broker Daniel Rebibo.
- Bumper Stickers. This sounds silly, but in this country bumper stickers are how many define themselves. Left or Right? Religious or Secular? Pro-disengagement or anti-Disengagement? Labor or Likud? Hawk or Dove? Bumper stickers are such an important part of Israeli society and personal expression that there was recently at top 10 hit called 'The Sticker Song' which incorporated the slogan/jingle from the most popular bumper stickers of the day into the lyrics of the song. This is the way that you define yourself to others and the way that other perceive you...and it isn't just on cars, kids have stickers on their back packs and bikes and sometimes even on their clothes.
Even with all these trials and tribulations (and others that surely exist) we feel much like how Avraham must have felt....blessed by Hashem. Our kids are absolutely thriving (they are speaking Hebrew well, Matan is starting to read, they have lots of friends and have a zest for life and a love for Israel that is hard to put into words), we have found meaningful employment and all in all our lives here are fulfilling and meaningful.
While we may not merit having Hashem speak directly to us, we do feel that living here brings us closer to Gd. While we may not 'become a great nation' our family is one small part of the rebuilding of our people's ancient homeland and hopefully a piece in the ultimate success of Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel), Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) and Am Yisrael (the People of Israel).
Am Yisrael Chai!! (The People of Israel Live)
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Many have argued repeatedly as the scourge of Islamic terrorism has spread from Israel, to the US, to the heart of Europe in London, Spain and France, that if only 'we' could solve the Israeli-Arab conflict the terrorists would be appeased and the violence would stop. If there was ever any validity to this specious claim, it has now been put to rest. There is no Western country that has shown a more pro-Arab foreign policy over the last 30-40 years than has France. No country that has welcomed more Muslim immigrants (now numbering 10% of the entire population of France). But, after five years of ignoring Arab/Muslim violence against Jews and Jewish institutions in France the rooster has now come home to roost. These same 'immigrant youth' who have been burning synagogues and attacking Jews have now turned their ire toward the rest of France. The mainstream media has seemingly ignored the role that radical Islam has played in the spread of this violence, instead focusing on unemployment and dissatisfaction of not being part of the great French ideal of "liberte, egalite, fraternite". It appears that when it comes to 'brown' and 'black' immigrants to France at least the 'egalite' and 'fraternite' are conveniently forgotten. However, the working-class suburbs of Paris and other major cities which are home to six million African-Muslim immigrants have been ignored by French authorities who have been replaced by fundamentalist Islamic imams who have been allowed to spew hate from their mosques and via the internet in a lawless, no-mans land. That hate has now found a new target and it is France itself. If the 'home-grown' terrorists of the 7-7 subway bombings in London didn't wake the West to the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism, then maybe the burning of France will do the trick.
Israelis are feeling strangely vindicated as the French authorities are shooting rubber bullets and tear gas and imposing strict curfews in an attempt to quell the riots. These are tools that have been used in Israel in our own battles against violence and terror and have always been harshly criticized by France and other countries of Europe.
We can only hope and pray that these type of incidents will bring the Western world around to one mind regarding radical Islam and its dangers. May we all be spared and further terrorism and violence and we, hopefully, wake-up to a new and more peaceful reality.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
He's Got Game
Hilary Leila Krieger, THE JERUSALEM POST
(click here to see the article on-line).
Nov. 1, 2005
The year was 1938 and the Aumanns desperately wanted to leave their native Germany. Salvation dangled in the form of US visas, available for passport holders who swore they wouldn't be a burden on their new country and passed a test of basic American terms and concepts.
Robert "Yisrael" Aumann saw his parents studying hard and thought he should do likewise. After his parents passed the exam, his mother confided in the consular official that her son had also prepared very diligently and would like to be presented with a test question.
The consul leaned over to the eight-year-old and asked him to name the president of the United States - at the time Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Aumann answered enthusiastically: "Rosenfeld!" The consul burst out laughing. He also granted the boy a visa.
The qualities Aumann displayed at a ripe age - a propensity for hard work, a fierce intellect and a commitment to Jewish values - and has continued to exhibit throughout adulthood, earned him this year's Nobel prize in economics.
An emeritus professor of mathematics at the Hebrew University, he shares the prize with Thomas Shelling of the University of Maryland for, in the words of the Nobel academy, "enhancing our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game theory analysis." Game theory examines how individuals and groups act in a given situation when they have different, and possibly opposing, goals.
With an air of magnanimity and community-orientedness, Aumann says the prize doesn't constitute recognition of his own personal achievements alone. "I feel it is not only for me, but for the whole school of game theory in Israel."
At the very least, there are a lot of local applications for his work, particularly his examination of "repeated games," or long-term relationships.
Cooperation, he argues, can be aided by patience, since "If you have a long-term future relationship, then you can cooperate today, but if you're thinking about today - if you're not thinking about the future - it's not going to work."
He faults Israel for being too impatient when it comes to reacting to the Palestinians. "If you have to have peace now, then it might be difficult to get peace next year," he says. "Maybe in Israel we're trying too hard. We should take it easy. It's true that people are getting killed. The situation is rough, and in the wake of the expulsion it's going to get rougher ... but I think we still have to say ... peace next year is almost as good as peace this year."
"Expulsion" is his term for disengagement, which he strongly opposed, and which he sees as a "disaster" in Israel's efforts to reach peace with the Palestinians is concerned.
"One of the important signals that we were sending to them was, if you are not willing to come to an accommodation with us, then gradually we will establish a bigger presence in the territories." Disengagement, he believes, is "saying that everything is reversible. Tel Aviv is also reversible." He sees Israel's impatience as the culprit that led it to forfeit a major means of pressuring Palestinians to come to an agreement with Israel.
"My son was killed in Lebanon in 1982, so I don't take it lightly when people are blown up on buses. But if we respond too quickly to this, then we're going to have more people blown up on buses at greater frequency."
Grappling with game theory concepts has affected how he views the Middle East conflict.
"To some extent, my political position is informed by my scientific work," he says. "There are other things, maybe deeper [things] than my way of making a living, that informs my political beliefs."
Those beliefs have already invited criticism about his being awarded the Nobel Prize.
An online petition calling for the prize to be rescinded from these "two warmongers" is already circulating. Aumann is vilified for his membership in Professors for a Strong Israel, an organization opposed to "yielding control of any part of the Land of Israel to any foreign entity." Schelling is attacked for a theory that "encourages the coercive use of military force."
"This criminal and dangerous school of thought should not be honored. It should be condemned," the petition declares.
According to the Nobel Foundation, a Nobel Prize has never been revoked and it's impossible to do so.
"Our task is to select the most significant scientific contributions," explains economics professor Jorgen Weibull, chairman of the committee that selects the prize-winners. "We do not consider the political views behind the research."
He notes that, having met Aumann in the past, he was aware "that he had opinions," but stresses that the role of the Swedish Academy of Sciences is "not to be an umpire for what is politically correct or not."
He adds that though the critics assail the political implications of Aumann's research, in fact it provides many insights beyond the political realm, including how to maintain scarce common resources when some groups are tempted to exploit them in the short-term.
Aumann refuses to comment on the petition, though in general he has no qualms about sharing his views - "opinionated" is one of the adjectives frequently attached to this 75-year-old grandfather of 19 and great-grandfather of two.
Despite his impassioned stances, according to his family and friends, Aumann remains open-minded, both in terms of his attitude towards others and of his interests.
"He certainly has strong opinions, which he can defend very skillfully," says his 26-year-old grandson, Yakov Rosen, whose mother is the second of Aumann's five children. But "he's very much a non-judgmental person. He takes everybody as he is."
"He's really a Renaissance man - he's everything," says Berel Wein, the rabbi of the Orthodox congregation in Jerusalem to which Aumann belongs.
Wein describes his neighbor as a Jewish scholar, a gourmet chef and someone knowledgeable on a wide variety of topics. In Wein's estimation, Aumann's got "the whole package. You don't often see that in one person."
Wein could have added mountain climbing and skiing to the list.
"He works very hard all day - he works very hard at everything he does," says Rosen. "When we [his family] hike with him, he doesn't give up. He keeps going. He displays more stamina than a lot of the younger people."
(Occasionally, the unusual combination of pastimes yields a special payoff, such as the time he and Rosen climbed to the Annapurna base camp in the Himalayas in 1997. Suddenly the door to their cabin flew open and a man announced in Hebrew, "I heard there's a Jew here!" The man wanted to lay tefillin [don phylacteries], and Aumann obliged.)
Neither his passion for outdoor sports, nor his his vocation as a member of the Hebrew University's Center for the Study of Rationality seem to jibe with his venerable, orthodox image.
IN AN interview conducted by his colleague, Sergiu Hart, last year, Aumann points out that "Game theory says nothing about whether the 'rational' way is morally or ethically right. It just says what rational - self-interested - entities will do."
He also states says that "science is built to satisfy certain needs in our minds. It describes us," while "religion is an experience - mainly an emotional and aesthetic one."
In short, "Belief is an important part of religion, certainly; but in science we have certain ways of thinking about the world, and in religion we have different ways of thinking about the world. Those things coexist side by side without conflict."
As a young man, however, Aumann did experience a conflict between his pursuit of science and his religious studies.
"I underwent a bit of soul-searching when finishing high school on whether to become a Talmudic scholar or study secular subjects at a university," he told Hart. After an exhausting semester rushing back and forth between yeshiva and City College in New York, he realized he needed to focus on one of them. He chose to get a BS in mathematics and then a PhD, also in math, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He continued, however, to maintain a strong connection to Judaism and Zionism, which brought him to Israel.
"The dreams of thousands of years coming to fruition is something beautiful," he says. "That's why I came here. I'm a Zionist; it's very simple."
He arrived with his Israeli-born wife, Esther, in the middle of the 1956 Sinai campaign.
He recalls that the cab driver had to make the trip from the airport to Jerusalem without using his headlights for fear of attracting the attention of Egyptian aircraft.
"I don't think I was frightened - it gives you a lot of adrenaline," he relates - adrenaline he says has "kept up."
It certainly did for the Aumanns during the 1967 Six Day War.
They decided to remain in Israel despite the risks. Aumann stresses that in the weeks leading up to the war, it was by no means clear that Israel would sail to victory in a mere six days. They thought there was "a real possibility that we would be overrun and butchered."
He recounts this episode to illustrate how decisions people make in the midst of conflict can be very different from those they would make from a more disinterested perspective. He is now collaborating on a new model of "games" based on this difference.
In Israel, he immediately came to work at Hebrew University.
He watched as several of his peers - John C. Harsanyi, Reinhard Selten, and John F. Nash, Jr. - in 1994 won the Nobel prize for their pioneering work in game theory. Nash's life was later chronicled in the movie A Beautiful Mind. Many felt Aumann was overlooked and expected that he, too, would win it one day.
"I thought he should have won it  years ago, when Nash and the others got it," Wein says, describing how other Nobel winners would relate to Aumann when he hosted them at his Rehavia home. "They treat him always with awe, so I thought, it's got to happen."
"The first reaction was amazement, [but] the second reaction was, we're not totally surprised," Rosen notes. "We always knew that he was very special and now the world is recognizing it."
For Aumann's part, he acknowledges in an interview for The Nobel Foundation's Web site that in the past it had crossed his mind that he might get the prize. But he said hadn't been thinking about it now because "I gave up on it a long time ago."
In awarding Aumann the prize, the committee cited his work in repeated games. "Robert Aumann was the first to conduct a full-fledged formal analysis of so-called infinitely repeated games. His research identified exactly what outcomes can be upheld over time in long-run relations," the academy said in its statement announcing the 2005 award recipients.
The committee also highlighted his contribution to understanding the role of information - and the lack thereof - in negotiations between parties. Not only can concealing information be part of negotiating strategy, but negotiations run the risk of parties revealing information they might not want to reveal. Aumman gave as an example the clues arms control talks would give about the number of nuclear weapons a country has.
He also tried to explain his insights about repeated games as "the relationship between repetition and patience and cooperation."
Basically, he says, "It's not easy to understand."
He laughs, "If you could say it in a sentence and a half, I wouldn't have gotten the prize."
"You have to be him to understand him," Wein says. "He lectured in his field in our synagogue, but I don't know if anybody got it."
His grandson, Rosen, is well aware of this problem. He tells of attending a scientific conference in Brazil with his grandfather three years ago, where "many of the lectures I heard were [full of] terms beyond the scope of my understanding of economics and mathematics."
Aumann, Rosen explains, often took one of his grandchildren along with him to conferences after his wife, Esther, died of cancer seven years ago - and before he became involved with his current fiancee, Esther's sister, who, he says, should be his wife by the time he travels to Stockholm to receive the prize on December 10. While initially there was concern that the ceremony would conflict with Shabbat, it won't begin until after sundown Saturday.
The family has always been close, and all but one of his 35 descendents and their spouses plan to accompany him to Sweden: his son, Shlomo, who fell during Operation Peace for the Galilee.
That's when Aumann started growing his trademark beard.
"One grows a beard during the shloshim [first 30 days of mourning], and I think he couldn't really shave it off. He wasn't ready to give up the sign of mourning," Rosen explains.
Rosen notes that Shlomo and Esther are always mentioned at family gatherings of which there have been many lately, including a celebration of Aumann's winning the Nobel Prize.
Rosen points to Shlomo's sudden death, Esther's illness and subsequent death and the difficult childhood Aumann had in Nazi Germany.
"He's managed to come out of all those things strengthened, and to produce a wonderful family and apparently a well-appreciated body of work," he says. "We'd just like him to keep on doing what he's doing."
Monday, October 31, 2005
Our across the street neighbors and friends, Aharoni & Shoshi Neubauer (who also happen to be living in 'our' house) had invited the entire yishuv to the dedication of a new Sefer Torah In Neve Daniel. The entire Neubauer family had commissioned the writing of the sefer Torah in memory of Aharoni's mother who passed away a couple of years ago. Traditionally, there is a big 'party' where the sefer Torah is finished in the presence of the family by various individuals. It is considered a mitzvah (obligation from the Torah) for every Jew to write a sefer Torah. This can be done by commissioning the writing of a sefer Torah and also by completing even one letter. The Neubauers invited everyone (including a full chartered bus from Jerusalem) to help them to complete the sefer Torah by writing one letter each.
I waited my turn in line with Yehuda at my side and Amichai in my arms and finally stepped up to the table, ready to participate in this wonderful mitzvah. I sat down, the sofer (the ritual scribe) handed me a feather pen dipped in ink, told me to say 'I am doing this for the sake of writing a sefer Torah (roughly translated) and pointed to a letter for me to complete. It happened that the letter was a 'yud', which is the first letter in Yehuda's name. Both Yehuda and I took this as representing his name.
By this time, 100's of people had congregated at the house and in the street waiting for the next stage of the celebration. We would all sing and dance the Torah to its new home in the new Beit Knesset all the way to the top of the yishuv. There were dozens of kids with torches leading the way and a three man band playing music. Out came the sefer Torah under a chuppah (a wedding canopy) surrounded by the family and 100's of people of all ages, from kids in strollers to senior citizens. Everyone was dancing and singing as the mass of people slowly made its way to the beit knesset, where the new sefer Torah was 'greeted' by the other sifrei Torah of the yishuv. All of the sifrei Torah had been brought out to participate in the celebration. After much singing and dancing, a few moving speeches about Aharoni's mother and maariv, everyone moved into the social hall for a celebratory meal.
Amidst all this revelry it occurred to me, here we are only a couple of months removed from the destruction of the synagogues and communities of Gush Katif, consecrating a new holy sefer Torah and bringing it to its new home in our beautiful new Beit Knesset. Out of destruction comes creation...with Iran publicly and obscenely calling for our destruction; with terrorists still trying to bring us down, we persevere and continue to build our lives and to educate our children; to build new shuls and write new sifrei Torah. This is the spirit that makes Israel the special place that it is.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Anyway, back to the view. While we have been using the shul (the highest in all of Israel as we sit at over 980 meters above sea level) since just before Rosh HaShanah, I hadn't noticed the view of Herodian until the rows around my regular seat were moved a bit up. I looked up from my davening one day to see this incredible view, with Herodian prominently rising on the eastern horizon. Upon this realization, I could only think to myself, how fortunate we are that we have found ourselves here, living in the heart of Jewish civilization and history, in a wonderful community, with great people and a view like this (I will add a picture of our view and the shul tomorrow).
We look forward to sharing our view with you when you visit!
Thursday, October 27, 2005
The big question is, where were these condemnations over the last five years? Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizbullah and the Palestinian Authority/PLO have been saying the same thing both in Arabic and in English throughout the last five years of war and before. This has been the basic Arab rallying cry for at least 75 years.
In the shadow of these obscene pronouncements, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a market in Hadera (on the northern coast) killing five innocent people (including one Arab). In response to this attrocity (in addition to the double, sychronized drive-by shootings that killed three young people 10 days ago and the fairly regular rocket attacks that are launched from Gaza) Israel has initiated a full-blown campaign to root out, arrest and/or kill the leaders of Islamic Jihad in the West Bank and Gaza. The military has already succeeded in capturing at least one Islamic Jihad official and killing two others. Sharon has announced that this operation has no end point, simply that it will continue until either the terror infrastructure has been obliterated or when the Palestinian Authority begins to meet their obligations to activetly fight terror, something that we all know is not likely to happen under the current, corrupt and weak regime.
So, just another day in the life of Israel...an almost nuclear capable country vows to wipe us off the face of the Earth, a suicide bomber blows himself up in a crowded market and we are left to clean it all up, to wonder what will be next and to move on with our lives. Time to get ready for Shabbat.
So, today I had finally had it with one of the girls. She makes the other girls feel shy and uncomfortable when they try to speak English, she sings all the time during class, and generally drives me crazy. I needed to do something. How, exactly, does one look dignified and demand that a student listen or leave the room without the vocabulary to do so. It was quite an experience. Well, she and I got into an argument, with the other girls trying to correct my Hebrew while I spewed out my venum. Finally, I sat back and started to laugh. She was hurling all sorts of epithets my way - but I didn't understand a single thing that she was saying. It was actually quite humorous. Poor girl. She didn't realize that she couldn't actually insult me if I had no idea what the insults were! And so, I sat there, trying not to show her that I was laughing or that I was clueless - I had to look offended after all or blow my cover. Did I win? Who knows...there are still eight months left before I can collapse!
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
The event we had been looking forward to since last year's adventure at the Pnei Kedem Kite Festival had finally arrived. All year, we had told anyone who would listen that they simply had to make plans to come this year. We recruited friends from near and far (we planned to go with Heidi and William Daroff and Family who rented a special car and driver for the day just to make it). Last year was the first year of this festival and this year the people of Pnei Kedem (a very small yishuv on the Eastern fringe of Gush Etzion in the middle of the Judean Desert) had put in a lot of effort in publicizing and marketing their event. In fact, it was the featured Gush Etzion festival for this Chol HaMoed. We were not disappointed...the crowds exceeded last year's with cars parked all along the road that rings the yishuv.
We packed-up the kids in the morning and made the 20 minute drive out to Pnei Kedem. We were met with moon bounces and slides, great music, crafts, arts & crafts for the kids, puppet shows, story time, drum lessons (note Amichai keeping a nice rhythm in the picture) and lots and lots of kites. The most amazing thing about the festival, that we noticed last year as well, is the landscape. Pnei Kedem is made up of about 18 families who live on this mountain top overlooking the Dead Sea. It makes for an amazing kite festival, with over 1000 people pouring in for the fun, and it's also quite a dramatic place to see. The work these families put into the day is amazing!
For us, the big difference this year is that we felt like we belonged. Last year we bumped into some people we had met, but this year we knew tons of people. Of course, we saw the Frankls and other friends from Neve Daniel, but we also knew people from all over the area and we really felt at home. As we mentioned, our friends William and Heidi Daroff came with their two little daughters. We were impressed with them for coming out to see the festival (and for making so many trips to Israel from Potomac so far this year!) We also bumped into Jeff and Karen Cohen from Potomac (last year, their 8 year old son Mendel hitched a ride with us to the festival, this year most of the Cohen family joined him too!)
On Monday it was time to get ready for Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, which always makes for a fun time. Unfortunately, Josh didn't feel so great and realized he had strep just before the chag. The antibiotics didn't have quite enough time to kick in so it was Mommy and the kids going solo for most of the holiday. The new shul was packed with holiday revelers and the building reverberated with spirited song and dance in the evening and again in the morning.
As the month-long holiday season draws to a close there is one more vacation day left before school starts again on Thursday and then it is back to the everyday routine.
PS--Quick Amichai development update...he just started clapping yesterday and continues to improve his 'furniture cruising' as he terrorizes the house.
Friday, October 21, 2005
Every year on Chol HaMoed Pesach and Sukkot the Jewish community in Hevron, the City of our Forefathers, has a special two day festival. It is only during this time of year that the entire compound of the Ma'arat HaMachpela (The Cave of the Forefathers) is open to Jewish visitors. The rest of the year only a small portion is open. Since we came to Israel we had not visited Hevron, so we thought this would be a really nice opporunity to visit, hear some good music (they have all day concerts both days) and learn more about the community. We arrived by shuttle bus from Kiryat Arba (a five minute ride) and were met by a colorful array of booths and high-energy music. We took the lay of the land, finally figured out that they were conducting walking tours of the various communities and embarked on a tour of 'Jewish Hevron'. The hearty souls of Hevron, certainly live a difficult existence, being surrounded by a largely hostile Arab population, however, they are there as guardians of the Jewish heritage of Hevron. The land of Hevron was originally purchased by Avraham as a burial place for Sara (later to also be the burial place of Avraham himself along with Yitzach and Yaacov (Isaac and Jacob) and had an almost continuous Jewish population until the Arab riots of 1929 which saw 67 Jews slaughtered and hundreds wounded. It was not until the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, that saw the reestablishment of the Jewish community in Hevron. We visited the Avraham Avinu Synagogue (established in the 16th century), the community at Beit Haddassah and the small, newer community established in memory of Shalhevet Pass (who was the 10 month old who was murdered by an Arab sniper while sitting in her stroller 4+ years ago). We bumped into a number of friends, grabbed some very good lunch from the street vendors, ate in the huge sukkah and headed home for our next adventure.
After returning home from Hevron the three oldest boys (Daddy, Matan and Yehuda) headed out for a camping trip in the North with the Frankls and Itay Zeman and his kids. After a two hour drive we set-up camp in the Carmel Forest about 15 kilometers south of Haifa, with a beautiful view of the Mediteranean. We had a great time, ate smores in the sukkah that we built and did a nice 5 km hike in the morning and headed home. We all, at least the Sussmans, slept well...ate enough and had a nice time with friends.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Everyone has been anticipating the first day of Chol HaMoed Sukkot (chol hamoed are the 'intermediate days' of Sukkot). Chol HaMoed, both for Sukkot and Pesach, are wonderful times in Israel. School is out, many people are not working and there are activities galore. Neve Daniel had scheduled today as a yishuv-wide tiyul. Everyone was all set to go to explore some tunnels and then to visit Herodian and to eat in the sukkah there. Well we woke up to the first rain of the year and, even though everyone had planned outdoor activities many of which would be cancelled, there were still baruch haShems (Thank G-d) all around. The first rain is a very special time in Israel. We are so starved for rain, that even when everyone's plans are ruined the rain is still a blessing that everyone is grateful for. We went to the bank this morning, while waiting in line the tellers realized that is was raining outside, everyone stopped what they were doing to go to open the door, look at the rain and proclaim, 'What a bracha!'
So, even with a day filled with rain there were a bunch of hearty souls who met at the gate (about 45-50 families) to embark on our tiyul. We all convoyed out to Tekoa (about 15 minutes East of us in Eastern Gush Etzion in the heart of the Judean Desert) and drove down to the entrance to the wadi that leads all the way to the Dead Sea (the same route that I took for the over night hike I wrote about in June). The landscape is stunning, with sharp descents plunging to the bottom of the wadi. The mountain sides are filled with caves of various sizes that were used for centuries by various monastic orders as monasteries and by the soldiers of the Bar Kochva revolts against the Romans. We made our way inside one large cave, through a twisting tunnel until we entered a large room. It was quite neat and amazing to think that people had actually lived in these places centuries ago.
The concert that we had planned to attend for a year in Beit Shemesh was cancelled tonight due to the rain, so we are hunkering down for a night of pizza and movies as the land absorbs the much needed rain. No sleeping in the sukkah tonight!
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
OK-so it is Sukkot 5766, it is Amichai's 11 month birthday and we have finally caved and started our own blog. We have been in Israel for 15 months now, have written over 60 e-mail updates and have heard from numerous people suggesting that we take our e-mails to the 'blogesphere' or whatever this is called, so here we go.
The two older boys are outside sleeping in the Sukkah, something they have been looking forward to for weeks. It appears that Fall has descended in Harei Yehuda (the Judean Mountains) and the temperatures have dropped a bit, so they are 'double wrapped' in sleeping bags and a quilt. They'll soon be joined by at least one parent (one is hesitating).
The first day of Sukkot, even after more than a year of being in Israel we are still revelling in having to observe only one day of holidays, was very nice. We ate lunch out at the family of one of the kids' babysitters (who also happens to be Romi's favorite hat maker), returned home late and before we knew it the day was over. The yishuv is organizing a yishuv wide tiyul tomorrow to a number of sites around Gush Etzion, which we are looking forward to.
The big news of the last couple of weeks is the long awaited opening of Neve Daniel's Beit Knesset Mercazi (the Central Synagogue). We don't even know how long it has been under construction, but it has been at least 6-7 years. On the shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Hashana it was announced that everyone should come to Kabbalat Shabbat at the new shul. Instead of the typical five minyanim, the entire yishuv came together to celebrate the opening of, what is now, the highest synagogue in all of Israel. A lively davening with 2,000 voices joining together was powerful. The Rav of the yishuv spoke beautifully and everyone was happy (or almost everyone was happy...there always has to be a spoilsport in every crowd). There are still some kinks to be worked out of the building, but it is nice to finally have a formal building dedicated to Torah and tefilla (prayers) in Neve Daniel.
On the brief update side, everyone is doing well and enjoying time off from school and work (especially Romi).
We're still working hard on our new project at work at Gift of the Times . We are selling historic papers and reprints which make great gifts...take a look!