Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Rhythm of Jewish Living

My kids have no idea that Christmas is in three days. No idea. Come to think of it, I'm not sure they even know what Christmas is! Why do I say this with glee? Because growing up in a minority culture and religion, we, as Jews in America, are inundated with Christian holidays and Christmas spirit our entire lives. The moment that Thanksgiving ends (or maybe Halloween?) you can't get to a mall without hearing Christmas music and seeing Santa Claus. And Chanukah becomes a holiday that competes with Christmas. We are told that we don't need to celebrate Christmas - not because we have our own amazingly unique and rich culture and heritage - but because we've also got a holiday with presents. So, don't worry little kids because you won't be left out.

The beauty of living in Israel, as I see it, is that my kids are never left out! Rather than be the minority - they are IT. They are the main attraction. Chanukah is THE holiday - not the holiday that comes around Christmas time and allows Jewish kids to feel like they aren't missing out.

And so, this year, I relished in enjoying Chanukah with hundreds of our fellow Jews in Eilat. Eilat is the place do go to in the winter, since the weather is so mild. We delighted in celebrating together on a speed boat, a banana boat, at the aquarium, at the waterfront, and more. And, we loved being accompanied by Josh's parents for all of our adventures! (Yes, they are still recovering from our rambunctious children with their never-ending energy levels...not to mention from the lack of one sleep machine that took a beating from my darling children).

One evening, when I went to retrieve our pizza from the front of the hotel, I was completely struck by the Chanukah atmosphere. The hotel was all on one level, with large open areas outside of each room. With Chanukah candles, you are supposed to light them to project out into the world to publicize the miracle. As I walked down the open, outdoor corridor, there were Chanukiot lining the walkways and large groups of people hanging out around their Chanukiot and chatting.

Through the ages, Jews have hidden their Chanukiot and faced persecution for trying to light them; even in modern times, we hear an isolated story here and there each year about a family that endured taunting when they placed their Chanukia in a public location. What a beautiful and powerful display to be in a public hotel - and to see Chanukiot everywhere and people enjoy their chag together in peace and freedom! Here's to another great holiday in Israel!

Going to the Dermatologist...or so I Thought!

It’s the small incidents in our lives that remind us that we are, indeed, still immigrants – and that we are destined to be so forever.
Deep sigh….

Matan and Yehuda both needed to see a dermatologist. So, two months ago, I called to make appointments. I was told by one office that a dermatologist on our health plan no longer works in Gush Etzion, but was then told by the next place that there is still a doctor around.

What luck! So, I booked two appointments ages in advance so that the boys could be taken to the dermatologist.

Last night was the date for their appointments. Josh rushed home from work…I rushed out to get them out of karate class early. I had to switch carpools for the karate pick-up with another parent…and we dashed over to the doctor’s office. I had a bad feeling from the start, since I couldn’t quite remember which office we were supposed to go to, or how to find the dermatologist. When we got there, we did see a dermatologist’s name on the door, but no one was in the office.

Fortunately, the secretary was still in the back, although she wasn’t technically working anymore that evening.

I peered in to talk to her and begged her to look up their appointments and to help me to understand where we were supposed to be.

“There’s no dermatologist in the building tonight,” she replied.

“Um,” I mumbled, feeling more stupid by the second, “there has to be.
I have an appointment for these boys!”

She looked up the appointment and announced that I had, indeed, made an appointment – with a Rheumatologist! A what?! I tried to explain that it just wasn’t possible, shaking my head and trying not to cry the entire time. Of course, my complaints grew quieter and quieter as I realized that I was definitely having an immigrant moment – and not one that was going to turn out well!

Well, I've learned to call the day ahead of time to confirm my appointments. I've learned what a Rheumatologist is. And...I've learned that I am, indeed, still very much an immigrant.

Just another day in a foreign country we call home.

Now, how exactly do I find a dermatologist and make the right appointment?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

My Papa Jerry

My Papa Jerry just started receiving hospice care. I know, I really shouldn’t be surprised. He’s 91 after all, and it’s certainly inevitable that he would deteriorate at some point. But, somehow that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier.

I’ve been trying, for the last few days, to figure out how to sum up what a grandfather’s life means to his granddaughter. Words simply don’t do his life justice.

The main theme that I keep returning to, however, is adaptability. My Papa certainly knew how to adapt, and this lesson is one that I believe will be very important for me during my lifetime. I, for one, always assume that the life I have now is the one I’m going to continue to lead. Papa learned adaptability in so many ways throughout his life, and I’ve been so impressed watching how he’s adapted to the curve balls that I’ve seen him deal with during my lifetime.

Born and raised in Chicago, he was busy fighting in World War II and earning two Purple Hearts when my dad was born. He returned to Chicago for a few more years, having two more sons and trying to make it financially. Eventually, around 1950, he decided that opportunities awaited in California, and they packed up for what must have been a terrifying, life-altering journey away from everything that they knew and away from all of their family.

Flash forward many years...Papa has managed to outlive three wives/significant others - certainly not what most statistics for male life expectancy usually show. I remember vividly when my Nana died 23 years ago. Papa spent many - many - lonely days sitting on our reclining chair in the family room staring into space. What would he do with himself now? I would return home from school each day and cry for his loneliness and his void.

And then...one day he picked himself up and moved on. He met Lil and got remarried. At his second wedding, on Pebble Beach, we stood outside in the beautiful scenery as the bride and groom were about to appear. I couldn't help but laugh, watching strangers await the beautiful young bride and the handsome groom - only to then see a couple in their 70s appear to get married! What a statement of hope and longevity to remarry at that stage.

Papa spent a number of happy years recreating a life for himself with Lil, first in Palm Springs, then in Northern California. Eventually, his heart led him back to L.A. to be near his family. He adapted, once again, at Westwood Horizons and quickly made friends in his new surroundings. To all of our amazement, he managed to find another great woman with whom he enjoined companionship and comfort. Freya was a vibrant, incredible woman and it was a joy to watch the two of them together.

Through it all, Papa has continually shown the ability to adapt to his surroundings and to change with the changes in his life. He used to smoke cigars, and he claims that he simply stopped one day when I refused to kiss his stinky breath. This is my Papa - adaptable...fiercely in love with his grandchildren....passionately proud of his three successful sons....and truly devoted to his family.

Living far away from family means constantly having to say goodbye. For the last fifteen years, I’ve cried every single time that I’ve walked out of his house or his senior home room, knowing that it very well might be the last time that I would see him. And then, of course, he’d be there the next time to greet me with his warm smile and the sparkle in his eye. And I’d always feel a little silly that I had cried when saying goodbye the last time. Because, of course, Papa would always be there.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel silly anymore.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Talent That Skips Generations

I love seeing how artistic Matan and Yehuda are. And I'm not just saying that because I'm their mom. I am incredibly - depressingly - ridiculously - NOT talented when it comes to drawing, painting, clay work, etc. and I'm amazed when they can draw a bird in two seconds, or create an elephant out of clay, or paint Har Sinai with the flick of a wrist.

I love it even more because both of my grandmothers were artists in their day. Neither one, actually, was particularly artistic as a child, but somehow they both became more artistic as they aged. Both of my Nanas were amazing with clay, sculpting masterpieces that they displayed around their homes, and that my Nana Lee still has all over her house. Nana Shirley was also an artist with watercolors and paints, and we all have her work around our homes.

And here come my little boys - replicating their talents in an innate, incredible way. Matan had to make a Chanukiah to bring to school and he whipped up this one in less than an hour. I find it truly puzzling and intriguing how talents skip generations and then suddenly reappear.

May my boys continue exploring their many talents and expressing their creativity as they grow and change. And may we all enjoy a beautiful, peaceful and festive Chanukah this year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dancing & Scooting with the Sussman Boys


Here are two very different videos from our activities of the week. Matan had the culmination of his month of initiation into Bnei Akiva on Saturday night. The entire yishuv comes out for a show put on by all of the kids in their various units. Matan's group was surprisingly good! Josh took this video of them doing their routinue...and even if you aren't related to Matan, you might actually enjoy it. Two amazing things from the activities that night.

1. The Rav of the yishuv spoke before the performances and he said that 20 years ago there were 4 (yes FOUR) Bnei Akiva kids in the yishuv. They had to figure out how to get to Alon Shvut (a neighboring community) for Shabbat for their Bnei Akiva activities because they certainly didn't have enough kids to do them here. This year - Saturday night - hundreds upon hundreds of kids were participating in the same place - right here in Neve Daniel. Amazing what the vision and determination of a few can create.

2. After Matan's performance, we came home, but Matan went on to watch the rest of the shows. We told him to come home when it finished and to wake up if we weren't up. Low and behold, he woke us...at midnight! How amazing is that to be able to sleep while knowing that your 9 year old son isn't home and that he'll be walking home by himself at midnight. It's truly an amazing thing to live in a yishuv.

The other video is just because I'm Zeli's mom and I think his crawling system is the funniest, and cutest thing in the entire world. Sue me for gloating over my kid : ) .


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Household Chores & Such

I try my best to keep up with all of the housework and other household maintenance. I've got a laundry system, a grocery shopping system, a dirty dishes system, etc. etc. etc. The kids always have something to wear - and our soldier always manages to get back to his base with clean clothes. Yet, there is one item that I absolutely, unequivocally, and passionately WILL NOT do. See if you can figure out what it is from this dialogue:

Josh was in the laundry room last night pulling something out of a box. Here is the conversation he had:

Yehuda: What's that?
Josh: What?
Yehuda: What's that thing you have in your hand?
Josh: It's an iron.
Yehuda: A what?
Josh: (laughing) An iron, Yehuda.
Yehuda: What do you do with it?
Josh: Well, in some houses, you iron clothes with it. In our house, you do art projects and let it get dusty.
Yehuda: Oh - ok... (as if that was a normal answer)...and off he ran.

Gotta love when your kids innocently point out your shortcomings.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Amichai's 5th birthday is this week. I think, for the rest of my life, that his birthday will be a benchmark for our Aliyah. I arrived in Israel with Nefesh B'Nefesh five months pregnant with Amichai. I look back on that experience and marvel at how daring we were (at least in my opinion) when we arrived. I needed, quite quickly, to find a doctor, a hospital, and a doula. I also needed to become familiar with the different ways that delivery and recovery are done here and the Israeli mentality in the recovery ward. It was all quite an experience - but, I must say, it ended up being a fantastic one at Hadassah, Ein Kerem in Jerusalem. And, I might add, it was my fastest and calmest delivery.

So, today I am reflecting on Amichai's cute little life and on our Aliyah. When we named Amichai, we wanted a real Israeli name - and an "Aliyah" name, as we referred to it. An Aliyah name is one that reflects how you feel about picking up and moving around the world, and one that indicates a bit about why you've moved.

So, we decided on Amichai (My Nation Lives). But...we didn't just stop with Amichai. We went for the gusto by naming him Amichai Oz (My Nation Lives IN STRENGTH). I remember, at his bris, thinking "Wow - that is a lot of name to give to one little guy." And it is.

At the same time, his name reflects so much about why we all make Aliyah and about what our children mean to us in this process. While we certainly love our children to the end of the Earth - they aren't entirely "our" children when we come here. They belong to us, certainly, but they also belong to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) and to Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel). We will, after all, be sending each of these beautiful boys into the Israeli army. While Amichai is our little guy, he's also a representation of our Aliyah, of a nation that is alive and well and growing in strength everyday, and of a hope for the future here.

May Amichai continue to grow and develop in strength, and may our Am (our nation) continue to do so as well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Growing Up, Bnei Akiva Style

I remember the first day that I sent Matan to daycare. He was three months old, and I couldn't believe that I had to ask someone else how much he had had to drink, when he had napped, and if he had smiled. How could I not be monitoring those things myself all day long? Such, as many of you know, is the life of a working mom.

And of course, from that time on, I've let go little by little of my control and monitoring over him. When he left the Yishuv to go to kindergarten in Efrat, I really didn't know what to do with myself. With Matan commuting on a bus each day to and from school, I couldn't pop my head in each morning to say hi to the teacher, or check in the afternoon to see how he was doing.

Every parent knows this feeling...there are so many baby steps along the way as we watch our children grow up and as we have a little bit less to do with the intricate details of their lives.

So, after five years of waiting since we made aliyah, Matan has finally joined Bnei Akiva. Bnei Akiva is one of the national youth movements here in Israel. It's been around since the 1920s. The youth movements are so strong in Israel that the entire country lets the kids out of school early on Tuesday afternoons for afternoon youth movement activities. I kid you not. Every Tuesday afternoon, the kids go to their clubhouse of sorts for Bnei Akiva (or for another youth movement in other areas of the country). Every Shabbat, they also get together with their group. And, a few times during the year they go on campouts and have special activities around Israel. They have a group leader who plans their meetings and they do....well...I don't really know what they do yet since we've just started!

Bnei Akiva starts only in fourth grade, so we've been waiting all this time for Matan to be old enough. Now that he is, we feel strange as we've reached another milestone. During the first month of the Bnei Akiva year (that's now) they are very busy getting their room ready in the clubhouse and practicing for a big ceremony. So, Matan is going almost every other night at about 5 pm until bedtime to hang out up the street.

A few days ago, when Matan was out, yet again, Josh turned to me and said, "You know, I really miss Matan! We waited all this time for him to be old enough for Bnei Akiva, and now it's really weird that he's not home." And it is! Yesterday, Matan went home from school with a friend, then went to the weekly class the Rabbi gives, then went to Bnei Akiva, and finally came home after I was already out at dinner with friends. This morning, when we saw him, I couldn't believe that it had been 24 hours since I'd last seen him! And it reminded me of those first few hours when I dropped him at the babysitter 9 plus years ago.

And so begins another stage in Matan's maturation - and in our acceptance of him as a kid who's getting older and becoming more independent each day.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Give that Lady a Raise!

Today, Josh and I had a lot of errands to run, and then I dropped him at work. Since I was in the neighborhood....I couldn't pass up the chance to drop into my favorite clothing store.

While I was on maternity leave over a year ago, Zeli and I discovered Mekimi and went there a number of times. I think I may even have blogged about it. One time when we were there, Zeli was cranky, and the ladies who worked at the store took him out of the stroller to rock him and walk around with him. The next time that I went in, they asked me how Azriel was doing.

So, now, it's been about a year since they last saw him, and at least six months since I was last in the store. Today, when I walked in, the same woman was working. I smiled at her and walked to the clothing to start browsing. She came right over, smiled and said, "How's Azriel?"

"You've got to be kidding," I said. "How could you possibly remember my child, and how in the world do you remember his name?!" I might think that he's the cutest guy in the world - but I do happen to be his mom!

"You don't forget a child like Azriel," was her answer. Now, she may very well be a very good saleswoman, and perhaps she's also good with names, but I, for one, am impressed! I'm tempted to call her supervisor to recommend a raise! I don't know if these types of things happen elsewhere in the world, but they certainly happen with some frequency here, in Eretz Yisrael!

And...while I have you...one other observation today.

While driving back from my collection of errands, I was stopped at a red light. Who comes bopping down the middle of the road selling books, but a Chasid selling the book, The Garden of Emunah. This is a very spiritual book about how to get closer to Gd and about our relationship with Gd, etc.

Now, where I come from in L.A., the middle of the street is reserved for Mexicans selling things to hang in your rearview mirror; in South Carolina it's reserved for guys selling boiled (pronounced Bowled) peanuts. And in Israel? Well, of course, it's the location for that religious guy selling a popular book about spirituality. Hysterical.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Rising Architect

(Matan and his Ark. Notice the black eye on his left eye...an accident with a mean light post.)

Matan loves, and I mean LOVES, building things. A few weeks ago, before Sukkot, they had a competition in his school to see who could build the most creative Sukkah. He spent hours building two sukkot - completely on his own. One was made of completely recyclable materials including cut up plastic bottles for the window blinds and for the top of the sukkah (the skach) and the other had a traffic safety theme. They were really impressive.

Last week he came home declaring that now it was time to build an Ark. Since we are at the parsha in the Torah where Noah builds his Ark, it was appropriate that they would have this task at hand. This time it was an optional assignment, and Matan set to work with vigor. Now, I tend to sigh and get nervous when Matan gets started with a project of this sort. While it takes me an hour to drag him to do five minutes of math homework, he seems perfectly capable of sitting and constructing something for hours and hours on end. I knew, when he began, that I would be finding him up early in the morning gluing and building, and staying up late at night perfecting and finishing. There would be popsicle sticks everywhere, trips to the store daily to buy more supplies, glue dripping down the dining room table, and more. And, of course, I was right.

This project was technical enough that Josh got involved as well, and each night they would glue and paste and put together well after bedtime.

(The Ark is finished...finally finally finished...at about 10 pm Tuesday night!)

Matan proudly took his Ark to school yesterday, and I'm holding my breath that no one destroys it or messes with it before the judges (whoever that may be) have a chance to see it. While the Ark is part of a competition, Josh and I tried to make sure that Matan understood that the Ark itself, and the creativity that went into, is the reward. And that it doesn't matter if he "wins" the prize. I think he seems to get that. It's certainly a great lesson.

As a teacher who has heard gobs and gobs about Multiple Intelligence, I must say that it's been very interesting watching Matan's academic and intellectual progression. I was often told that not all kids learn the same way and that some may express their intelligence through music while others use spatial abilities, and still others enjoy writing, etc. It is very, very difficult as a teacher to tap into all of these intelligences and to grade the students on their performance in a way that plays to their strengths.

I certainly see that Matan's intelligences are strongest in areas that aren't classic school strengths. He does fine in school - but he really excels in these extra areas. And, as a teacher, I wonder if his teachers are able to see these intelligences that he has and to channel them appropriately. It's very interesting to be on the parenting end of things; I know that I always appreciated students in my classes who had "classic" and "traditional" intelligences because it's so hard to notice and appreciate the alternative. And now, my own son is stronger in those "alternative" areas. I appreciate that the school is providing an outlet for this type of expression - I just hope that it continues to do so, and to see these strengths that Matan possesses!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friends At My Door

Stella and Romi on Purim

I am often amazed when I look around at the coincidences in my life. Whether you want to call it Hashem working, or coincidence, or the cosmic way of the world...it's really quite amazing for me to look at my life in Israel and the people who have joined me here.

I was sitting at a wonderful class this week when someone that I know, Janine, came in. During the class, it struck me how amazing it is that I picked up to live here, in Israel, and have found so many people that I'm connected to in one way or another from the States.

Years ago, as we were becoming more observant, Josh was in graduate school with Ellen. We watched Ellen's relationship with her future husband, Amos, develop and we were privileged to be at their wedding. They have very good friends that they spoke of often, Gershon and Janine. So here I was, sitting in a class in Efrat years later, with Janine sitting behind me. She now lives five minutes from us in Alon Shvut.

Ellen and Amos? Our friends for over 15 years? They made aliyah last year and are living in Neve Daniel with us.

Here's the next set of "coincidences" that occurred: When we were expecting Matan, I was trying to figure out which type of birthing course I wanted to take. My doctor recommended that I go to Lamaze and she told me about a great teacher, Aliza. We took Lamaze and loved Aliza. You guessed it - Aliza lives three blocks away.

Around the same time, 10 years ago, we met Jordan and Stella and John and Susan. We were all very good friends in Potomac, and we all grew in observance together. When we were making aliyah, one of the hardest things (aside from leaving family, of course) was to leave my friends. We had developed great relationships in Potomac, and it was very difficult to say goodbye.

Today? I see all four of them virtually every day of the week. John and Susan live one block up and Stella and Jordan live four blocks away!

(Picture of Stella and Jordan, John and Susan, us and some of our kids)

Sometimes, I'll be at the grocery store and I'll see one of Stella's kids, or I'll be walking and catch a glimpse of John and Susan's son, or I'll head out to the park and run into Ellen and her kids...and I'll be overcome with goosebumps. There aren't words for my surprise at finding so many of my good friends here, on my journey, with me in Israel.

Three of the numerous obstacles to aliyah that I faced before we left were that I didn't want to leave my friends, I didn't want us to leave our "safe" jobs and I didn't want to leave our great house. We live in a much more amazing house here then we ever had in the States; Josh has profoundly fulfilling work and I've repackaged myself professionally in very interesting ways; and many of our friends have somehow appeared at our doorstep - to stay! I couldn't have planned it better had I been given the chance to control it myself.

Hashem certainly works in strange ways - and it's often only by letting go and hoping that things will work out that we get the chance to have them work out beyond our wildest dreams.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Great Stay-Cation for Sukkot

I always laugh at my dad when he takes a vacation at home. When you've got time off from work, most people go somewhere with that time. My dad, instead, often uses his time off to relax, read and enjoy life around his house. I realized last week that I've been laughing at him - and doing exactly the same thing! During Sukkot, which we enjoyed all of last week, there isn't anywhere in the world that I'd rather have a vacation than at home.

It never ceases to amaze me how many fantastic things there are to do around our house, in Israel. The kids were off for the last 8 days, as were Josh and I, in order to enjoy the Sukkot holiday. We created a fantastic sukkah, and the kids were very eager to begin sleeping in it.

During Sukkot, the Torah commands that you are to live in your sukkah - this means that we eat every meal there and that we sleep in the sukkah, baring rain (more of that to come later). This temporary dwelling reminds us of our collective experience of leaving Egypt and it shows us how much our lives are in Gd's hands.

Our sukkah was a very busy place during the holiday. Along with eating every meal there, the four older boys all slept together, under the stars, with their daddy during the entire week. They couldn't wait to get into the sukkah each night (and even requested to take naps a few times during the day!) They were accompanied two nights by our adoptive soldier, Jeff, making it quite a cozy sleeping arrangement for the six of them. On the first night that Jeff slept out there with the gang, it poured at about 1:00 in the morning! Everyone fled inside, of course. Josh recounted afterward that the rain was really a great lesson. Since he was forced back into his bed in the middle of the week for half a night, it served as a great reminder of how much more comfortable the bed really is - and of how important the mitzvah of sleeping in the sukkah is, even if it's not the most comfortable endeaver. While I didn't sleep in the sukkah, I enjoyed movie night with the gang each night. Each evening, we rented a movie and cuddled up together in the sukkah to watch it on Josh's computer!

During the days, we were swamped with fantastic activities, enjoying the chance to explore our own homeland, without having to leave on vacation. We went to a cute farm and petting zoo at Kibbutz Chefetz Chaim.

The next day, we accompanied our friends, the Jacobsons, to pick onions for a very worthy organization called Table to Table.

They have hordes of volunteers who pick leftover produce from the fields around Israel and distribute the food to needy families. What a great activity in the midst of our holiday to remind us of our gratitude and our ability to help others.

We enjoyed a delicious meal at Pinati in Jerusalem one day and then played for hours at a park in Har Homa.

The next day, we explored Shiloh, a yishuv that we had never been to before, where the Mishkan was located in ancient times. They offered tours of ancient Shiloh and also had oodles of activities for the kids.

Finally, to top it all off, on Thursday night, we went to the Tel Aviv Port, where there were jugglers, bands, great food, and other activities.

While admiring the Port I was thinking to myself how cosmopolitan this area of Israel looks. The Port has been completely redone and offers beautiful, high-end boutiques, restaurants, and activities for people of all ages. It's breathtakingly beautiful there;

if only people around the world could see this image of Israel, it would be a great way to banish the misconceptions of Israel as a backwards place, or as one that is only interested in fighting wars, etc.

Yes, we are tired from our fantastic stay-cation, but what an adventure we had right in our very own homeland - all within a one hour drive of our house! We are truly blessed to be able to celebrate major holidays such as Sukkot here in Israel, and to enjoy so much of what our land has to offer each day.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Jeff's Ceremony

Jeff completed his 71 kilometer hike last week and received his red beret in a very moving ceremony at Ammunition Hill. His parents had come in from the States for it, and it was lovely to have dinner with them and to see them all together. It was quite cute to see all of these brave, strong soldiers limping around the field and falling asleep during the ceremony. They walked from 4 pm one afternoon to 8 am the next morning, and then had the ceremony that afternoon - so they hadn't slept in two straight days. It's amazing what these guys are able to do.

Jeff said that the most moving part of the hike was when they entered Jerusalem. He felt like he really "got" it in the early morning when they arrived at the city entrance. Here they were, entering the city that the Jewish people have cherished and fought for for so long - and he was having the privilege of entering it as an Israeli soldier. That's pretty heady stuff. He said as they walked along the road, people honked and waved and showed appreciation for them in their last few kilometers. I wish I could have been there to see it.

Congratulations Jeff! You deserve it - and we are so honored to be part of your journey.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Rhythms of Life (Literally!)

I love the way that our lives in Israel are soaked in Jewish ritual. You simply couldn't live where we are without knowing which holiday is coming up and without being connected to the Jewish calendar. In Judaism, you are supposed to approach a mitzvah with enthusiasm, and do it as soon as you can. So, as soon as Yom Kippur ends and we've scarfed down some break-fast, it's time to take out the sukkah. Even if you don't finish building the sukkah that evening, there is an idea that you should begin to build it. This is showing Hashem how excited we are for the upcoming chag and that we run to do the next mitzvah (building a sukkah) as soon as possible after Yom Kippur.

While finishing our break-fast meal, we could already hear the hammers going in the yishuv! And since that point, they haven't stopped. Today, as I was taking my daily walk, I was delighting in seeing all of the sukkahs in various states of readiness. Some people had simply dragged the sukkah boards from their storage locations:

While others had begun building the frame, albeit in their parking spot!

Others, such as brothers Daniel and Jeremy Gimpel, were busy today discussing where to put everything and how to make the "bohemian" sukkah look its best. They stopped for long enough to smile for me as I made my way around the yishuv.

A few diligent families have already put together virtually the entire sukkah and are just waiting to put the schach on top to finish the process.

Walking around watching the sukkah process as it unfolds I could feel a sense of energy. There are hammers going everywhere and people climbing on high to secure a part of their sukkah to the wall. (Living in one of the most windy places in Israel, we have a special challenge to try to keep our sukkahs from blowing away altogether! But that's an adventure for another post.) Here are a few pictures to give a sense of the amazing views that we will enjoy from our sukkahs during the holiday.

May the rhythms of the Jewish calendar continue to guide us in our daily lives - and may we all enjoy this most festive chag and time together over sukkot!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Describe Your Life...

A long lost friend of mine from my camp days recently asked me to explain what life in Neve Daniel is like. Hmmmm...Describe your life in one email - not an easy task for anyone. So, it got me to start thinking about how I would describe life here, and how I would capture why I love living here so much.

I haven't thought about our lives in these terms too much in the past, but the realization suddenly hit me - Neve Daniel, and yishuv life in general, are like camp. I live in a camp setting - but I never have to leave my friends or go back home. I am home.

What did I love about camp growing up? Certainly, I loved the people. I enjoyed being with like-minded people who all came together to celebrate their Jewish identity in a beautiful setting. I loved waking up each morning and taking a walk in the familiar surroundings, running into people that I knew every time I turned. I loved the ritual of Friday afternoon, as everyone was busy getting ready for Shabbat, doing their hair, picking out the perfect dress, and anticipating the relaxing weekend ahead. I loved seeing the 100s of white outfits descend onto the grass, dancing and singing to welcome in Shabbat. I loved the ritual of summer life, knowing that there would be an opening day, certain weekly programs, Shabbat activities, etc.

It hit me during Yom Kippur how much my daily life is like camp. During Kol Nidre, while I was at the park with the kids (where else would I be : ) ?) I was stunned by the sea of white. It's a tradition to wear white for Yom Kippur, and everyone was arriving at shul in their flowing white outfits. It was a stunning, breathtaking display. And that's when I realized how much that moment reminded me of Friday afternoon at camp. It made me start to connect the two, and to come to a way to describe life in a yishuv in Israel.

Neve Daniel is like camp because:

I get to see my closest friends every single day of the week, and check in on how they are doing.

When I take my daily walk through the yishuv, I know everyone that I see. Every home is familiar to me, as is every car and every person. There is a deep sense of community in the familiar.

At the same time, there is a great deal of diversity. We come from many different countries, speak a slew of languages and have every profession from the solar truck driver to the neurosurgeon.

On Friday afternoons, I smell challah and chicken cooking in the ovens as I take my afternoon walk.

On Friday night, I can hear the davening from my house, and, should I get to shul, I can see everyone dressed beautifully and ready to greet the Shabbat bride together.

I spend my day off, Shabbat, enjoying time with good friends, eating delicious food and relaxing with my family.

I experience the rhythms of life here every day. The second that Yom Kippur ended last night, I could hear hammers throughout the yishuv. Everyone was moving immediately from one chag to the next, getting ready for the Sukkot holiday which starts on Friday.

I know that an entire community will come together for me, should I need it for any reason. I can enjoy wonderfully home cooked meals when I have a baby, and can offer the same to others in their time of joy and need.

Life it not always easy. What a gift to have figured out a way to live in such a comforting, warm environment. Children are told that they can enjoy camp while they are young, but that they'll have to outgrow it and learn to live in the real world as they get older.

Perhaps not, I've discovered.

Perhaps not.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Playing Ball

My kids never fail to crack me up.

Friday night, during dinner, Josh was having a great imaginary ballgame with Amichai (almost 5) and Eliav (3). They were really getting into it. Josh was telling them to "go long" and they were running to catch the "ball" as it flew through the house. They were working up a sweat to catch this imaginary ball - I was actually impressed with how well they were using their imaginations. They would catch it with their teeth, with their tummies, and with their hands, and then hurl it back towards Josh.

After awhile, Josh told me to pretend to get hit by the ball. So, I "got in the way" of a throw and let the ball smack me in the head. As I lay on the ground pretending to be hit, the kids were laughing and giggling. When I still hadn't gotten up after a few seconds, Amichai, looking at me like I was the biggest idiot in the world, said, "Mommy, you know, it's just pretend! We're using our imaginations. You can get up now."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Learning from the Little Ones

My first son, Matan, caught us by surprise when he was five months old. He suddenly started crawling and standing - all in the same day. Our house wasn't at all baby-proofed and we quickly scrambled to get everything done! From that day on, we started finding him in the bathroom sink (literally), and everywhere else. My next three boys were the same. They all moved quickly and were rambunctious balls of energy.

And then Zeli arrived. Zeli (actually named Azriel) likes to take his good 'ol time. He's a guy who wants to do things his way. He started sitting around 7 or 8 months and declared himself the king. At daycare, he would sit and let all the other kids bring him toys. We started physical therapy for him to get him to MOVE, but he just wasn't interested. He'd smile that "light up your life" smile at her and say with his eyes, "You know, I'm going to do this my way." And so he did.

Finally, at about a year, he decided that he could actually move. But, mind you, he decided that moving would work just as well if he were sitting as it would in a crawling position. So, he stared scooting across the floor. His brothers think it is the funniest thing ever, as does just about everyone that sees him. He has hated his stomach since he was born, and he just didn't want to figure out how to crawl. So, he figured out a way to move that would satisfy him (see video below). He still doesn't know how to turn over (at 13 months!) and becomes a beached whale if he happens to find himself on his back. In our house, you'll often hear one of the brothers saying, "Zeli...scoot to me Zeli...scoot to me!"

Why am I recounting all of this? Well, of course, since I'm his mom, I think it's the cutest thing in the world. But, as this is my blog, and I try to actually learn something from the events in my life, I'm seeing his decision to scoot in its own interesting way.

We can try as much as we want to conform our children to our ways. We can put them in physical therapy, push them in this direction and that, and teach them all sorts of things. But, the bottom line is that they make many of the decisions themselves. They all have their own personalities. My job, as a parent, isn't to cram them into the image I have of what they should be. Instead, my job is to see what each child is like, and to work with his strengths and needs to help him to grow and prosper. I hope I live up to the task as they grow, change and develop into their own personalities.

Lessons learned from a one year old scooter. Who would have thought?


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Shana Tova

Shana Tova to everyone! I wish you a fantastic year full of sweetness, health, safety and happiness.

My absolute favorite thing as we approach Rosh Hashanah is to see the rimonim (pomegranate) trees ripening just in time for the holiday all around Israel. How do they know it's time for their grand entrance?

We picked these right off of the tree nearby our house - and plan to eat them at our table tomorrow night. One of the great miracles in Israel. May it be a wonderful, peaceful year for us all.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Surrounded By Testosterone

I'm completely surrounding by testosterone in my house. Don't get me wrong - I love having five incredibly rambunctious boys...and I enjoy being the lady of the house. We sat down to Friday night dinner this week, and Josh pointed out that there were 8 guys at the table and me. And so it goes.

But, as a person who is really not competitive, I often feel that I'm from a different planet than everyone else. Today, I had to laugh and shake my head while having the following conversation with my oldest, Matan, who is nine.

We were walking home from the park and saw a group of little girls on their way to ballet lessons.
Matan: What are they doing?
Me: They are going to ballet.
Matan: What's the point of ballet, anyway?
Me: Well, sweetheart, it's an activity like anything else. Like your karate, or like yoga, basketball, gymnastics...
Matan: (after a long, contemplative pause) But, like, do they have races or something?
Me: What?
Matan: Well, you know, do they have races? How do they know who the best is?
Me: They have performances at the end of the semester or year to show off how well they are all doing.
Matan: Ok...but how do they know who is best?

Deep sigh...will I ever get them to understand that not EVERYTHING in life is a competition?

Probably not, but I will certainly keep trying...

Friday, September 11, 2009

What Makes Someone a Hero?

This week, one of my neighbors proved herself to be a hero. A few days ago, she unhooked her children from their car seats and was standing outside of her car waiting for them to exit. While climbing through the front seat to exit the car, her son accidentally pushed the gears from park to neutral. Although the emergency break was on, the car started moving in reverse, down the steep hill. With seconds to act, Elana made a jump for the front seat, and missed. After the door took off a good portion of her left thigh, the front tire broke one ankle and one knee. Fortunately, when the car crashed, the children were uninjured and recovered quickly.

I've been considering Elana's actions a lot since it happened. How many of us would have reacted in exactly the same manner, lunging for a moving car that might have crushed us? I'd like to say that I would, of course, do so.

But would I? In all honesty - I don't know. Elana said today that anyone would have done what she did, as if it simply went without saying. I beg to differ.

Yes, I love my children; and, certainly, I want them to be safe. But, would I do what Elana did? I certainly hope that I'll never be challenged into finding out what my nature is, but her accident has definitely given me pause.

And, of course, on 9-11 this topic is entirely relevant. I'm thinking today of the firefighters who raced up the burning building, while everyone else was racing down; of the amazing ordinary citizens who brought down the plane headed for Washington when they realized what their fate would be; and of the many other heroic acts that occurred that day.

What makes some people act like heroes in difficult situations, while others act to protect themselves? I am not, actually, in any way passing judgment on those who don't act heroically, as I think it is actually in our nature to be self-serving. And being self-serving is entirely justified and understandable - which is why I marvel when people act heroically.

I'm in awe of Elana's actions and at the lesson that she has taught her children. Sitting in her home in a wheelchair today with two broken legs, she has proven to them that they are protected - and that she would do anything for them.

I wonder if I would do the same thing in a similar situation.

Recover quickly, Elana, a true hero.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Thanks for the Reminder, Superman

Eliav gave me a great reminder today that even Superman needs some quiet time to recharge with his blankie every so often.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I'll Never Actually Be Israeli

I realize today, with humor, that I'm simply never going to be Israeli. Nope - it's not because I'll never perfect this darn language. And it's not because I refuse to drive like a maniac. I'll never be Israeli because I simply can't perfect the way that they say telephone numbers!

It's so amazing to me how many little things there are that separate one culture from another. Why would it be that Israelis say numbers in a different way than Americans do? But it's true. I was thinking about this today when I saw someone's email. She was advertising something and said that people could call her at 9933-373. That's simply not how we cluster numbers together in America. If I were to say her number it would be 993 (pause) 3373. The same goes with cell phone numbers. I recite my cell phone number as 054 (pause) 222 (pause) 2222, while an Israeli puts the pause in a different place.

I actually find that this matters on a regular basis. Whenever I have to give my phone number to an Israeli, they often ask me to repeat it. They were expecting a pause in a certain place, and I threw them off by pausing elsewhere!

And, try as I might, I simply can't get myself to place the pause in the "Israeli" place. It's simply not going to happen. I find, with great interest, as well, that as my children learn our phone numbers, I hear them reciting them with the Israeli pause. Amazing.

Just one of the many, many small details that are interesting to note, as an immigrant - and that will, forever, set me apart from native Israelis. As if the accent wasn't a dead give away - you can easily tell that I'm American from hearing me say 7 numbers!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Chanan's Memory

Yesterday, we gathered at the cemetery, as we've now done for three years, to remember Chanan Sivan (Chanan Yitzchak Chaim ben Pinchas and Tzipporah). Chanan was Yehuda's first friend in Israel, and he died at the age of four, three years ago. It has been amazing to watch this family rise from such an incredible tragedy and continue with their lives. Since his death, they've celebrated a bar and bat mitzvah, and welcomed a new daughter, Halleli Shir, into their lives.

As we stood at the cemetery yesterday, around Chanan's beautifully designed grave, Halleli Shir (who is now about one and a half) was dancing around the grave. She kept saying, "Ma Ze?" which means "What's This?" and pointing to the grave. What a strange thing it will be for her to grow up visiting this site that holds so much tragedy for her family - and that means nothing to her individually.

Pinny, Chanan's father, spoke beautifully, as always, as he tried to explain the weird juxtoposition of feeling like Chanan has been gone forever - and for only a day. He remarked about all of the wonderful things that his family has celebrated - and that they've done so without their son at their side. While Pinny spoke, Halleli was singing and moving about, and someone tried to pick her up so that she wouldn't disturb her father's speech. "No," Tzippy, Chanan's mom, said. "Please don't move her." I was feeling the same way, and knew that Tzippy would have this reaction. It was such a beautiful thing, really, to hear the laughter of a young child at the gravesite. Here was Chanan's sister, breathing new life into the family and filling the home with such happiness in the face of such grief.

Pinny mentioned that he often thinks about where Chanan would be now, what grade he would be entering, etc. I, too, often think about Chanan in this way, particularly as I watch Yehuda catch a ball, enter another grade, complete a task, or win a belt in karate. If only...if only...if only. And, of course, I felt guilt, mixed with gratitude, when I returned from the grave to kiss my little boy - the one that I'm lucky enough to still have here, at my side.

As Pinny said - you absolutely and completely never know what life is going to bring. All that we can do is try to live each moment as well as possible. May Chanan's family continue to gain strength from his beautiful memory and to carry on in their lives as an amazing example to the rest of us of faith, compassion, trust and belief.

And may we only be together in the future for smachot (celebrations).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hashem Speaks In Mysterious Ways

So, it's certainly been a long while since I've posted and I've missed noticing interesting things in everyday life. Well, at least I've missed writing about them. When you are shlepping five children under the age of nine across the world for two weeks, there isn't always a lot of time to admire things. And what a trip it was.

We certainly enjoyed seeing our families and getting to reconnect with parents, grandparents, cousins and more. We had a wonderful time in both L.A. and San Diego.

The flights, on the other hand, were not exactly easy. Two hours before leaving for America, our two year old managed to fall off of the couch and crack a tooth. Picture blood everywhere, a screaming two year old and a plane to catch. It wasn't a pretty scene. I rushed him to the neighborhood dentist where he was declared fit to fly - although not fit to suck his thumb or eat solid foods for three weeks. As such, Eliav had a miserable flight to the States, with no way to sooth himself and no medicine that seemed to take away the pain.

We figured, after surviving that flight, that nothing could top it. But, of course, the flight back did. During the return flight, while I juggled our one year old who refused to sleep for more than five seconds at a time, Josh was busy tackling (literally) the two year old who was throwing packaged pretzels at sleeping passengers and screaming at the top of his lungs.

At one point, as I retreated to the back of the plane to look for an escape route, a woman was standing near the back cabin. She approached me, in my haggard and completely overwhelmed state, and said, "I've been admiring you and your children. What lovely kids you have and what a beautiful family." I must have laughed, or cried, or indicated in some way the difficulties that we were having, because she suddenly said, "Let's pray." The next thing I knew, she was bowing her head and saying, "Lord, please give this woman the strength to care for her five beautiful boys. It's not an easy journey she's got Lord. Give her patience and help her to get through the flight and to enjoy her time with her boys." She went on and on, and I stood there in awkward disbelief. It's not often that you get a Christian woman on a plane talking to the Lord for your benefit. I was a bit dumbfounded, and unsure whether to say "Thank you" or "Amen" or something else when she finished.

Eventually, I returned towards my seat to find that Eliav had taken up my seat and his. Nowhere to sit. I turned around and crashed into Yehuda's seat (who knows where he was), only to be suddenly confronted by the 20something year old guy sitting in Yehuda's row.

"You know what you need?" He began.
You've got to be kidding, I thought to myself. Another one? What is this - an infomercial or something?
"Yeah, I know what I need. I need sleep!" I replied, in a rather snippy voice.
"No," he continued. " You need Emuna (faith)."
Ok - I thought to myself; where are the cameras? This has got to be a joke.
"No, actually," I continued. "I haven't slept for the 12 hours of this flight yet, and I need SLEEP."
And then, he proceeded to pull out a book called The Garden of Emunah and to explain to me how it would solve my problems.
I wasn't sure whether to laugh, punch him, or throw him the baby and tell him to take THAT Emunah and see how he liked it. He seemd to get the picture and stopped offering me further advice.

I had a few reactions immediately after these encounters, and more as I've retold this crazy story. They are as follows.

1. Only on a plane going to Israel would you get encounters of this sort! I knew, with these people on board, that I was certainly heading back home - to the Holy Land.

2. It's amazing how much people in Israel care about each other. On the flight to America we definitely garnered attention - but it was hostile attention. Here, I encountered people who were truly trying to help my journey - even if they were doing it in ways that I found unusual.

3. With time, I've come to think that maybe, just maybe Hashem was having fun with me on the flight and was trying to reassure me. A few people have heard this story and remarked, "Oh my gosh - that is just amazing how Hashem was sending you a message and trying to get you to relax and to hear the prayers that he was sending your way." While I thought these people were totally crazy at the time, the story is so eccentric as to make you stop and think. Two people - back to back - throwing themselves at me to discuss how I could make it through the trip with Gd's help? Interesting...to say the least.

Monday, August 03, 2009

On a Wing and a Prayer

Yesterday, the birds were all aflutter. They were flapping their wings all morning and strutting back and forth on the little perch where they were born. From where they've hatched, there is a two story drop to the ground, and I had to laugh as I watched them peering warily over the precipice contemplating flight.

And then....I left the room and came back to find only one bird! I was so scared that one of the babies had attempted flight and not made it. I went running outside to check the ground. All clear. Sigh of relief. I found her (her? him? how does one know?) perched in a window about 15 feet away, across our courtyard. Then, I noticed that both the mom and dad birds were around as well. They were perched on our car port, with a direct view to the little birdies about 20 feet away.

It was flying lessons day!

Little birdie #1 spent all day flapping her wings and learning to fly. She certainly seemed proud of herself, if a bit tentative with her flight. The more interesting part of the show, however, was watching birdie #2. From the day they hatched, we noticed that birdie #1 was larger and stronger than #2. Aren't we all different from the moment we are born?

And so, birdie #2 spent the day watching her sibling. She poked her head about, looked down at the drop often, and sat...and waited. She somehow knew, intuitively, that she wasn't yet ready for flight and she respected the process and the limitations of her still-forming body. Wouldn't it be amazing if we could all accept ourselves and our development this gracefully?

I've been amazed by this process. How do these birdies know when it's time to go? How do they have the faith to leap, literally, from a two story window and assume that they can fly? How do they take that first step? These, of course, are the same questions that we all must ask of ourselves on our journeys through life, and that we must face as we wrestle with obstacles, accomplishments, and faith.

So, birdie #2 spent the day watching her sibling and admiring her efforts. When it got dark and she got ready to sleep, I was sad for her. Her sibling was nowhere to be seen...and after weeks with her mommy and her sibling, she was suddenly alone. But, then birdie #1 came home to sleep beside her sibling and the two have been happily flapping about today.

Hopefully, birdie #2 will soon realize that she is ready, as well, to fly away and their lives will begin outside of the sweet little nest where it all started.

Fly well little birdies! Thank you for the invaluable lessons that you've been teaching me about parenting, nurturing, strength and self awareness.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Birds, Groceries & More

I've been watching the birds and enjoying their progression. While a few days ago the little birdies were just sleeping fuzz balls, they've come to life now. The mama keeps leaving them to get more food, and then she comes back to their excited little beaks. She feeds them by regurgitating her food and they clamor and peck to get to her beak first. Then, after a brief cuddle, she's off again to get more grub.

The first few times that she left, the boys were really anxious. Where did she go? Was she abandoning the birdies? How would we raise them? With a huge sigh of relief, the boys would then give me the play-by-play as she returned. "She's back!" Amichai would yell, and everyone would come running. Now, her errands are routine and we are getting used to watching her feed the babies and then fly away.
Here is a good shot of one of the birdies.

One of the kids asked this morning what would come next. How and when would the birdies leave? Of course, Josh and I don't know when, but Josh explained that at some point, she would push them out and watch them fly. Push them out? I thought to myself. Holy cow - will she really?

As usual, these birds became a great metaphor for parenting. We provide the warm home for the birdies, bring them into the world, feed and nurture them, and then, at some point, we push them out and on their way.
The trick, of course, is to know when to push - and how big of a push to give.

On an entirely different subject...today I went to the grocery store here in the yishuv, and I was amazed, as usual, at how great certain things are here in Israel. I don't have much extra time in my day for things like grocery shopping, going to the cleaners, etc. (Who has time for such things?) So, when I need to do a grocery shopping, we have a great store in the yishuv. It's a bit more expensive than going somewhere else - but it's right here and I can only fit so much into a packed day.

And what's better - they deliver! But the best part is that they will deliver without me having to even stand in line or pack my groceries. Today, I challenged myself to see how fast my turn-around time could be. I entered the store at 12:25 and ran around gathering up everything that I needed and throwing it into the cart. Then, I drove the cart up to the front of the store, waved to Shulamit who is in charge of the cash register, and declared, "Delivery Shulamit!" At 12:31 I was out the door and off to my exercise! The groceries were packed and delivered right to my home in a matter of an hour or two. (Yes, I should have sent my "green" bags, but I forgot to do so.)

Now, if only I could find someone to unpack everything and cook hearty meals all week long for us, free of charge!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Welcome Baby Birdies!

Yesterday, I went to say hello to mama bird (I guess I should have named her by now, huh?) and I thought I saw something poking around under her wings. I spent a few minutes watching her and realized that....her babies had arrived! I was so excited and I tried (tried...I really did) to call the kids over quietly. Ok - anyone who knows my house knows that the word "quietly" is a bit of a joke. So, you guessed it. We scared her off for a few minutes. But, the end result of that was that we got to see the adorable little birds. As Yehuda said, they look more like little ducks right now. They are squishy and little and have soft yellow feathers. They are curled up in little balls and look so adorable.

She seems to be sitting on them all day. Amichai wanted to know if she was squishing them. The kid has a good point. But, I explained that they enjoyed being squished, as they had been in tight quarters for a long time and now wanted to have warmth and comfort. Don't we all?

This morning, daddy arrived with some yummy worms and they seemed to be having a good time eating. And then, they went back under mommy for some quiet sleep time. Our pictures aren't the best (we really are trying not to scare her away!) but you get the idea.

Welcome to the world little birdies - we'll keep you posted on their progress!

Here, in front of the mama, you can see one of the little birds cuddling.