Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Building Their Confidence

Yehuda was in a chess tournament last night and he came home ebullient! In his hands he grasped a chess t-shirt, a certificate saying he had completed the course and....a third place MEDAL!

At the beginning of the year, Yehuda announced that he wanted to join an after-school chess class.
"Chess?" I replied, as someone who has never even picked up a chess piece.
"Yeah," Yehuda continued, "They came to school and they said how cool it would be and that there would be a big tournament at the end of the year."
"Chess?" I said again.

That certainly wasn't one of the classes I assumed my kids would ever want to do. Chess was so, well, so mathematical and methodical and time consuming. What kid of mine would have the patience to sit that long and to think methodically about his moves?

The answer, I soon learned, was Yehuda. I signed him up, grumbling that we might be wasting this money. I assumed he was going to go a few times and then declare himself bored.

Well, it's now been an entire school year, and he stuck it out and enjoyed it each and every week!

Last night was his finale - a chess tournament. I didn't exactly understand what they were doing - Yehuda had been explaining to us something about rounds and points for weeks. I just nodded, and hoped that he was enjoying himself. And then, last night he came home with a medal and with a sense of pride that was worth every single shekel that we spent the entire year.

I simply love when my children come into their own - in their own little ways. We certainly didn't push him into chess, and yet, he's discovered something on his own that he really enjoys. It's something, as well, that separates him from his brothers. Yehuda lives in a house with a LOT of boys - and a lot of comparisons and competition. I love that he has something that's all his - and something that makes him feel accomplished and proud of himself. He said to me last night that he didn't care what he won - he had just wanted to win something.

And win he did. With confidence, self expression and individuality. Way to go Huda!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Too Much TV or a Great Sense of Humor?

We took the kids to the zoo this afternoon as a treat before Shabbat. We went into a relatively new and very well designed lemur exhibit. The only problem was that there didn't seem to be any lemurs! We asked the woman who was working there where the lemurs were and she pointed to the bushes near her. It took us awhile to figure out what she was pointing at, until we saw that the lemurs were curled up inside the bushes, getting out of the heat and the sun!

All of us were enjoying admiring them, except for Eliav. He is two and hadn't caught on to the excitement yet. We finally got him to understand where the lemurs were, and as he saw them, he started to shake his tooshie and to sing, "I like to move it-move it. I like to move it-move it."

For those of you who aren't versed in Madagascar language, lemurs are featured in the movie. They have the strange practice of breaking into song and singing, "I like to move it-move it" at every opportunity. Eliav loves to sing along with them and to dance like they do - and he was so excited to be seeing the living representation of the guys he's danced with so many times.

He was a bit surprised when they didn't join in, and even more surprised as the rest of the family ran out of the exhibit cracking up!

We haven't decided yet whether he watches too much TV - or whether he's just got a world-class sense of humor!

Friday, June 12, 2009

An Incredible 24 Hours

In the last 24 hours, we've been to the Kotel (Western Wall) to watch our adoptive soldier-son, Jeff, be sworn into the army and we've watched our first grade son, Yehuda, sing a portion of Beresheit by heart in Hevron at Maarat HaMachpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs where Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov, Sara, Rivka and Leah are buried). Only 12 kilometers from our home in one direction, and only 23 kilometers from our home in the other direction we have access to the two most holy and most significant Jewish sites in the world. Could our great-grandparents possibly have imagined a time when we could watch these two events, in these two places in one 24 hour period?

Last night, Jeff was officially initiated into his unit. He is part of Tzanchanim (Paratroopers), an elite unit in the Israeli military. The ceremony took place at the Kotel Plaza.
There were thousands of people there, all waiting to see their loved ones come to this point in their lives. It was really - and I mean really - squishy and we spent the ceremony being pushed and swayed with everyone around us to catch a glimpse of our soldier. Josh put Matan on his shoulders the entire time, and I kept hoisting Yehuda up over the many heads in front of us to see the soldiers in formation. Each soldier was called up in turn to receive his gun (to defend the country) and his Tanach-Bible (to know what he is defending). Then, with all of the soldiers standing at attention, they played Hatikva and everyone sang in boisterous and celebratory voices. I truly can't convey what it felt like to watch these young, energetic and eager soldiers standing in front of the Kotel in their uniforms, singing Israel's national anthem.

Prior to the presenation of the Tanach and gun, the Chief Rabbi of the Tzanchanim (himself a Paratrooper) recited various lines from the Tanach. The most significant being lines from the Book of Joshua regarding defending the Land, etc. Matan's class just began learning the Book of Joshua two weeks ago. He immediatly recognized the text and excitedly said, 'Hey, this is exactly what I learned this week'. Just another example of our kids living what they learn. It is really amazing to witness these 'light bulb' moments, when it suddenly hits one of them that they are living in the cradle of Jewish existence.

After the ceremony, everyone started to try to find their soldier. While we were searching (for a long, long time!) we watched all of these families come together. In typical Israeli fashion, many of them had brought full meals with them to celebrate with their soldiers immediately after the ceremony, right there in the Kotel Plaza. There was one family that Josh and I wanted to take a picture of, but it certainly wouldn't have been appropriate. There was an old Ethiopian grandmother in traditional Ethiopian clothing standing next to her young, army-clad soldier grandson. The entire family had come to celebrate and you could see the generational changes and the absorption that this family had undergone in this country. There were other similarly striking families, and it was amazing to listen to the French, English, Amharit, Russian, Hebrew and more around us.

During the ceremony, one family crossed my mind. Three years ago Ann and Mordechai Goodman lost their son in a terrible parachuting training accident. Yosef was an incredible hero. He sacrificed his life while saving the life of his commanding officer after their parachutes had become entangled. During the ceremony, I was thinking about them, their sacrifice, and their pain. And then, of course, who did I see at the ceremony? Ann and Mordechai. It took my breath away - they must have come for another child who was starting out in Tzanhanim. When you've lost a child in the army, your future army-aged children have to get your permission to enter a combat unit. This is certainly a heart-wrenching decision for any parents. And there were Ann and Mordechai, sitting through the ceremony that must have flooded them with painful memories, watching their next son take his pledge to a similar unit that Yosef had been in. The Goodman's have 7 sons (to go along with two daughters); this is the second son to have entered a combat unit after Yosef's death. Yet, there they were celebrating their next son's important step in helping to defend Israel while honoring the memory of his lost brother. Simply amazing.

After delicious sushi and a very late night with Jeff, we came home to get a few hours of rest. And then...this morning it was time to head down to Hevron to Maarat HaMachpela. Yehuda and the 1st grade finished learning all of the first book from the Torah - Beresheit - and the party was in their honor for this amazing accomplishment. This, the location where Avraham buried Sara and where so many of our forefathers and foremothers are buried, was the site of our son's party. Most end-of-the-year parties take place at the school, in a social hall, in a home - but not in a place that is mentioned in the Torah and that has stood for thousands of years! Yehuda's class had memorized a decent amount of the lines from Beresheit and they recited this while standing in the Maara. They did a dance for us, and the Rabbi of Kiryat Arba and Hevron talked to us about the future of the Jewish people - as embodied in these amazing children.

It was quite a 24 hour period.

May Jeff continue to serve his country with honor and dignity and continue to represent the oleh spirit of devotion and commitment through his army service.

May Yehuda continue to grow in his commitment to learning, to Torah, to the Land of Israel and to the Jewish people.

And may we continue to see the magic in our lives each day in this incredible land where we are privileged to live and to raise children.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Apricot Pit Game

Life in Israel truly cracks me up. There is such a dichotomy, at times, between the organization and the chaos. Israelis don't always like order and routine. They don't make their summer plans more than a month ahead of time, they call for Shabbat plans on Friday at 10am, and they think nothing of packing up and going camping without a map, a camp site or a flashlight. Gotta love them.

But, on the other hand...they take their birthday parties and other social events very seriously. We've been amazed at how organized Israeli birthdays are, with games and scavenger hunts taking up every second of the party. Our Israeli friends make adult parties in the same way - with a power point presentation which moves into a mixer which moves into a...you get the point. Israeli kids all know the same dances at bar mitzvahs, and the adults all know what they are doing at weddings.

So, today, Matan came home to announce that the game has begun. "The game?" I said to him, innocently enough. He tried not to roll his eyes at me as he explained that, yet again, the apricots are on the trees and this means that it's time for the Apricot Pit Game at school. The first year that I taught at an Israeli school, I was amazed by the order and precision with which trends came and went. First, in the fall, the soccer cards came out. They stayed out for a very specific amount of time, and then vanished. In the winter, it was time for the cards from the chip bags. They were collected and distributed, argued over and enjoyed for a very specific amount of time as well, and then vanished. Finally, the Apricot Pit Game has appeared, and everyone knows that summer is on the way.

I can't say that I know the origin of the Apricot Pit Game, nor do I actually know what it's called! I do have some guesses, however, to how it started. Someone, at some point, realized that they didn't have a lot of money in this country - but that they certainly did have apricot trees. They took a shoe box, made holes of various sizes, and challenged their friends to throw apricot pits through the holes. The larger holes were worth less pits, while the smaller, more challenging holes, would earn the thrower a larger number of pits. And, of course, he who has the most pits at the end - wins. And that's the Apricot Pit Game.

Matan ran home from school yesterday, tore apart my closet looking for a shoe box, and spent an hour making his little game. He added trap doors to some of the slots and secret compartments to others. He designated how much each hole was worth and how much you would lose if you hit the wrong spot. And now? It's time for a royal stomach ache as they run around the yishuv collecting apricots, eating them, and gathering up the pits.

I've got to hand it to them. It's great to see kids playing a creative, free game that they've invented on their own. It's just so weird to see it appear each year at exactly the same time, for exactly the same duration of time. Order and chaos as seen through Israeli kids and their games - gotta love it in this crazy Land of ours.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Getting Inspired All Over Again

Josh just showed me this incredible series of videos that Aish HaTorah is doing. They have, so far, created feature videos about half a dozen heroes of Israel. This one helps to show what Josh's work, Nefesh B'Nefesh, does...and again, why we have decided to move to Israel. I seem to be completely unable to keep myself from crying when I see something about aliyah and about what Nefesh B'Nefesh is doing here. I wonder how many years it will take before I watch these videos without crying - I guess it's a good sign if the answer is "never."

By the way - check out the cute little kid coming off of the plane holding the Israeli flag (with his pregnant mommy in front of him). You just might recognize him!


P.S. - If you've got the time, and want to see other incredibly inspirational stories, check out these videos as well. Have your tissues ready!