Friday, December 30, 2005

Mid-Chanukah Wrap-up

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

Chanukah Is Here!!

Last Sunday, I was struck throughout the day at how much I didn’t realize that it was Christmas Day. My mom visited for the past week and she kept remarking, as we were shopping, how there weren’t any Christmas decorations in the mall, any Christmas music blaring in the stores, and any “Merry Christmas” announcements from the store clerks. Unless you think about it, you can literally live in a place here where you don’t know that it is Christmas. That’s not to say, of course, that there is anything wrong with Christmas. It is just that it is very hard to be a minority your whole life, living in a Christian dominated culture. It’s a shock to the system to finally be in a place where there are sufganiyot (the ever present jelly doughnuts) on every corner, Chanukah music around, Chanukiot in every shop window and people yelling 'Chanukah Sameach' everywhere you go.

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!

Chanukah Sameach!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Washing Your Hands with the King

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.

Chanukah Sameach!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Hanukat HaBeit Knesset Mercazi

With the first night of Hanukah tonight, the synagogue had a massive celebration. Our synagogue has been under construction for the better part of five years and is finally complete (well, 95% complete, but what's five percent among friends). Most of the money was donated by a Brazilian family with relatives in Alon Shvut who lost their son in a kidnapping/murder in Brazil. They have made it their mission to build synagogues all around Israel in his memory. So, there we were in the pouring rain and hail tonight, celebrating this beautiful building with hundreds of our neighbors from the Yishuv and special guest, including former Chief Sefardic Rabbi Eliayahu Bakshi Doron, Rav Haim Druckman and others.

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

Notes from school and Pretty flowers...

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’.

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Week In The Life

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

Quick Trip to Hevron...

Last night at the end of Ma'ariv (the evening prayer service) someone announced quickly that anyone who was interested in going to Hevron the next morning at 5:45am, should let him know. It turns out the Neve Daniel has a long-standing minhag (custom) of going to daven Shacharit on the Friday before Rosh Chodesh (the celebration of the new month--today being the first day of the Hebrew month of Kislev) at the Ma'arat HaMachpela (the Cave of our Patriarchs) in Hevron. Sounded like a nice thing to do to me so I made arrangements to travel down to Hevron with a friend to meet-up with the group. We ended-up being 4 people in the car, all Anglo olim who have been in Israel from 20 years to 5 months.

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!!