Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Rising Architect

(Matan and his Ark. Notice the black eye on his left 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 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'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.