Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Aquarium - a Zionist Experience

Only in this country can a visit to the aquarium become a Zionist experience. We've been here for over four years now, and I still marvel at the way things are done here and the magic of this place.

We went to Eilat this week for Hanukah. Eilat is the "place to be" over Hanukah because the weather is so warm, and we've wanted to go for a number of years. We finally got ourselves together and booked two nights in a hotel. Within the first hour of our trip, Eliav threw up all over himself, his blankie and his brother. Other than that set back, we had a great time! We arrived in the afternoon on Tuesday and took a speedboat ride out to the dolphin park. We were able to see about eight dolphins playing and it was an amazing experience. Afterwards, we came back to our hotel rooms and managed to find a restaurant that would deliver to us - we were exhausted!

I was struck in the hotel by the festive atmosphere. The hotel didn't want people lighting Hanukiot in their rooms, so they had set up a huge table for people to light. Everyone had brought their own Hanukiot from home, and for hours you could hear people singing the brachot and additional songs in the lobby. It was a really cool experience and created an interesting festive atmosphere that I've never seen before.

The next morning, we headed for the aquarium. They had a show at 12:00 where they feed the animals in an above-ground aquarium in the round. The place was packed to overflowing and the woman who worked there was telling us that the scuba diver would arrive soon. He arrived with a microphone on and starting talking to the kids. Then, he declared that his kippah was slipping and that he had to readjust it! Here was a scuba diver - in full scuba diving uniform with a kippah on his head underwater! Once his kippah was secure, he started to light the Hanukiah they have underwater. He used those lights that you can crack so that they light up and he proceeded to light this underwater Hanukiah, to do the brachot for Hanukah and to sing extra Hanukah songs. Josh and I were beside ourselves. Here were hundreds of families watching this scuba diver adjusting his kippah and lighting candles underwater, as if they were the most regular and normal experiences in the world. Only in Israel would the fish-feeding at the aquarium involve these extra perks!

From the aquarium, we took the kids to the beach where they had a great time for the afternoon. The next day, we started to head back home but stopped at many places along the way. We went to a bird sanctuary where they've set up a huge area for birds that migrate twice a year. It was a beautiful location with waterways, small huts, perches and the such for the birds. Of course, while stumbling through, we came across a memorial to five soldiers who died in Gaza four years ago. I was struck, as always, by how this entire country is constantly reminded of the soldiers who have given their lives for us. Even in a bird sanctuary, you are reminded of this fact.

We also went to a crocodile farm where an Israeli couple is breeding Nile crocodiles. They were a fascinating couple who lived in South Africa for years and then brought their trade back to Israel. The kids loved it and got to pet a five month old crocodile.

Now, we are back home and spending a few days relaxing (can you relax with five boys under 9 underfoot?) until school starts on Tuesday.

Wishing everyone a healthy and happy end to Hanukah and hoping that our operations in Gaza go quickly and smoothly - and that our soldiers come back safely and soon.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Great Miracle Happened HERE!

Chanukah is just around the corner and the kids are starting to pour in with Chanukah items, as always. I have to say that the dreidel - that little item that you spin and play a game with - is one of the greatest examples of our Aliyah and of the Zionist dream realized. Come again? Yep, you read correctly. Since I was on Otzma 16 years ago, I have always gotten goose bumps when I see a dreidel here.

Here's why.

The dreidels I played with as a kid and that you see outside of Israel have four letters on them. They spell out the words, "A Great Miracle Happened There." What the dreidel is saying is that somewhere else - somewhere disconnected to our lives - there was a miracle a long time ago. Ok - so we have Chanukah now to appreciate that miracle and to think about that far away place where the miracle happened.

The dreidels in Israel are a living reminder that we LIVE in the place where it happened. We are HERE! The dreidels here say, "A Great Miracle Happened HERE" on them. Rather than having a shin for the word "Sham" or "There" on them, they have a "Peh" for the word "Po" or "Here." What more amazing example can you have of modern day Israel and its connection to our heritage? So, my kids are coming home this week with oodles of dreidels that all proclaim, "This is it kids! This is where the miracle happened. Right here, where you live. This is the place and you're living the history now!"

I think it's pretty amazing to have your breath taken away by something as mundane and cute as a dreidel. But, that's what the miracle of Chanukah, the miracle of our Aliyah, and the miracle of these dreidels do to me. Have fun playing dreidel in your homeland kids. Happy Chanukah!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Amichai's 4th Bday

We had a fun time today at Amichai's 4th bday party at school. As I've mentioned about a number of things, Israel is simply overflowing with routines. Everyone at a wedding knows the same dances, little kids all seem to know the same songs, and everyone knows what happens at a nursery school birthday party. I'd be curious to see if it's really that uniform throughout the whole country, but it certainly is where we live! Since Matan's first birthday party in Israel, every single birthday party has been almost identical. And they take their parties very seriously here!

When we walked in, Amichai and the child he was sharing his party with (whose name is Amitai, if that's not confusing enough), were sitting at big chairs. They were, as their teacher said, the kings for the day. They each got a crown and they were seated in the center of the action. Years ago, when Josh and I came to visit in 2001, we went to someone's house for a bbq. We sat down and were immediately yelled at. Duh - didn't we know, everyone else said...we were sitting on the birthday seats. Turned out there was a bday celebration for 8 year old twins, and we were the only ones in the room who didn't see how obvious it was that those seats were birthday seats. Everyone here does very similar things for these events!

Anyway, so there was Amichai looking very excited. They put on music and had the kids dance, sing and do all sorts of hand motions. Josh put the crown on Amichai's head and helped five of Amichai's friends to lift him on his king's chair. They had a cake and the whole thing was very cute and very sweet. I love that we don't have to do birthday parties at home with a big get-up and a lot of money spent. We just have a cute party at school and that's enough for the kid. It's very understated and appropriate.

One sad memory in the joy. When I walked into Amichai's class today, I was immediately struck and had to hold back tears. Josh had the same reaction right after I did, and had to leave the room for a few minutes. We have a picture of Yehuda - in the exact same room with the exact same decorations behind him - celebrating his 4th birthday with his friend, Chanan. It was a very strange experience today to walk into the same room two years later to find Amichai in the same position. That was the last birthday party that Chanan had, and it brought back a lot of memories today. We certainly have to enjoy each day and hug our children as much as possible - you just never know what tomorrow will bring.

Here's to a beautiful birthday party for our guy, Amichai, and to many, many more years of happiness, love and joy. We love you Amichai.