Thursday, December 29, 2011

A New Beginning



It’s hard to believe that Stella has reached this point. Sometime in June, when all of this began, they were told over the phone that her scan didn’t look good. The doctor, however, didn’t want to talk about it over the phone and he scheduled a time for them to come in the next day. Josh was going with them.

I wanted to come too.

Knowing me well, however, Josh asked if I was really going to be able to be there for Stella.

“You are absolutely not allowed to break down under any circumstances. Do you understand that?” He asked me.

I said that I thought I could handle it, and that I guessed that I had to because I wanted to be there with Stella – and for Stella.

The day, as you can imagine, was horrendous. I managed not to fall apart (how, after all, could I fall apart when the woman being given the diagnosis was so stoic?) while we met with the doctor.

But I heard his words. He was very clear. The only way to survive stomach cancer in the long term was to have an operation; an operation that wasn't an option.

Then, while Stella and Yarden went to do a number of logistical things, Josh and I sat in the hallway of the cancer ward and waited. When I was overcome with emotion, Josh told me to go to the bathroom until I could pull myself together.

And I sat there on the bathroom floor, sobbing and sobbing and sobbing.

When I managed to stop, I reappeared.

And then the doctor came to speak with us briefly, and his tone of voice and his words, “I’m so sorry,” sent me back to the bathroom.

And I found myself back in that bathroom a number of times throughout the morning.

As anyone who has been following the journey through Yarden’s blog, my own, or Facebook knows, it’s been a very difficult six months.

But somehow – somehow that I truly and totally don’t understand – we’ve reached a time of hope.

Stella’s surgery is in three days on Sunday, January 1.

During her last round of chemo, where we were all a bit giddy (if you can be giddy at chemo) with the knowledge of the change in her status, I revisited that bathroom. And I saw the image of myself curled on the floor sobbing.

And I marveled at how far we’ve come on this overwhelmingly strange and trying journey.

Whatever prayer means to you; however you connect to a Higher Power and to the religious world out there – please do so on Sunday morning and throughout the day Sunday for Tzuriya Kochevet bat Sarah, Stella Frankl, that she may be completely cured through this surgery and resume the life that she knew before this all began in June.

Amen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The World Eating Tour and Chance Encounters

"Um, excuse me," she began, "but aren't you Yarden Frankl?"

Looking around the table at us and our forming giggles, Yarden turned to the eager young girl.

"Yeah..."

"Oh my gosh!" She exclaimed. "I just knew it. And you're Stella," she said, pointing to the other end of the table. "I'm writing an article about the two of you. Tonight!"

And so began our dinner a few nights ago at an out-of-the-way eatery called Pechanka which is nestled in the hills about 20 minutes from our home.

We were out to dinner with the Frankls and another couple on our World Eating Tour for Stella. See, with Stella's stomach surgery scheduled for January 1, we've all (Stella included) made it our mission to help her to enjoy food, and lots of food, before the surgery date arrives.

And with her brief introduction, Rosie pulled up a chair and proceeded to interview Yarden.


And as I overheard what Yarden was saying, I couldn't help but revel at where we have arrived.

Just a month ago, Yarden's story would have been tinged with sadness, with a desperate hope for a miracle, with struggle.

That night, however, as we giggled and teased, we listened to Yarden's story with awe. He explained to Rosie how Stella was diagnosed six months ago with inoperable, late stage stomach cancer. How they had struggled, how he decided to make a fundraising bike ride, and how they kept hoping for good news.

And then, recently, the amazing news arrived that Stella's cancer had receded enough for surgery.

And the atmosphere at the table was celebratory, light, lively.

Rosie listened in awe. She said she was so inspired by Stella, by Yarden's bike ride, by the entire story.

And as she went back to her table, we couldn't help but shake our heads. Stella's story - their miracle - is resonating near and far.

When she finished her meal and was ready to leave the restaurant, Rosie thanked the Frankls again for their time. And then, as she started to walk away, she turned back with open arms and said,

"Just one more thing. Can I hug you Stella? I have to hug you."

And she ran back over to envelope Stella in a big hug and to wish her good luck with the upcoming surgery.

And I looked at Stella, beaming across the table, shook my head and thanked Hashem for bringing us to this miraculous point in the cancer journey.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The End of an Era


I wonder if some cultures have a party, or a ceremony, or something for the day that they nurse their last baby. I could really use one right now.

What a strange feeling.

When I had Matan, someone came to visit me (with a Starbucks latte – yum!) and told me a beautiful thing about nursing. She said that Hashem is so smart. When we have the baby, we really aren’t ready to separate completely, so Hashem gives us this beautiful way to stay connected; to keep the baby with us, if you will, for that much longer.

And that has certainly been my experience.

I’ve been slowly weaning Yakir for a few months now, but I’ve held on to the 5:00 a.m. feeding.

“He still needs it!” I’ve said, with a straight face, when Josh has asked.

“No, really,” I’ve explained, pretending to look frustrated, “I just can’t get him to take anything else during that early morning feeding.”

And then it happened this morning.

I had Eliav pass a bottle into Yakir’s crib to see if he’d take it. Standing on the sidelines, I was assuming, of course, that he would reject the bottle and come into my open arms.

And then he took it.

My heart dropped and I held myself back from taking it away from him.

And that was it.

My last baby was weaned.

Yes, it’s been a long road, and I should be jumping for joy that I’m finally detached (in a little way, at least) from the apron strings. And yes, I hear those of you out there saying, “You never know!” and “There could be more!”

Accidents do happen – but we aren’t planning on them.

At one point, I calculated what I’ve done in the last 12 plus years.

I’ve been pregnant for 60 months. That’s 5 full years.

I’ve gained a total of 232 pounds (give or take a few).

That means I’ve lost 232 pounds (give or take a few).

I’ve nursed babies for six solid years.

This also means that, in terms of my fashion, in the last 12 plus years I’ve either been wearing maternity clothes or nursing shirts. I’ve had six years where I couldn’t wear dresses because I wouldn’t be able to nurse on demand in them.

And, needless to say, I’ve loved every single minute.

Women often talk about menopause as a life-altering experience; as a time of change, renewal and regrouping.

I have rarely, if ever, encountered anyone marking the stage that I’m now experiencing, however.

How bittersweet, how transformative, how awe-inspiring.

I looked down at Yakir’s hungry little face this morning as he devoured his bottle and said to him, “Well, big guy. That’s it. You’re on your own now. We aren’t physically connected anymore.”

And I wiped the tear away before anyone noticed.

Maybe.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Operation Solomon and a Game of Monopoly

It all started yesterday at about 2 pm. Matan got a mysterious phone call asking if we had room to sleep two boys. He answered "yes."

Hmmm....well, ok. Since he had already answered yes, I figured we could scrounge up some sheets and welcome them in for Shabbat. "Um," I asked Matan, "Who is this again?"

Turns out that one of the Rabbis in the Yishuv is the head of a school and he was having 30 of his students for Shabbat. There must have been a mix up or someone must have cancelled, and one of Matan's friends called us to see what we could do.

What they didn't tell us ahead of time, however, was that we were also feeding these kids for both meals! Which, of course, is absolutely no problems whatsoever...with a little warning...which I, of course, didn't have.

So, when I realized that they were eating with us Friday night (two seconds before we sat down to dinner), I jumped to get two more plates and I prayed that we had enough extra food since we usually eat quite lightly on Friday night.

And then, when Yaacov and Oded, two Ethiopian-Israeli 8th graders, cheerily arrived at our door about an hour before Shabbat, all of my stress about accommodating them and feeding them melted away as it struck me just who these kids were.

Let me digress...

After college, I came to Israel on a one-year social service program. The main thing that propelled me towards the program was Operation Solomon. In 1991, Israel airlifted thousands of Ethiopians to Israel in one of the most impressive and awe-inspiring moments of our history.












And I wanted to be part of it.

So, in 1993, when I graduated from college, I headed to Israel to be part of a program that worked with Ethiopian immigrants. I actually lived in an Ethiopian absorption center in Ashdod, babysitting children in the morning and creating after-school activities with the children in the afternoons.

It was an amazing few months and I got to connect with Ethiopians and to learn about their culture, their adaptation and their struggles.


And here we were, in 2011, watching our American-born, Israeli kids talking about the parsha with two Israel-born, Ethiopian boys.

I was no longer the American coming to help immigrants in need. Now, I had become the immigrant (with much worse Hebrew than our guests had!), welcoming them into my home and sharing a meal together.

The moment was not lost on us.

And, of course, we had to enjoy the irony of watching our American-Israeli children playing the capitalistic game of Monopoly with their new-found Ethiopian-Israeli friends, in the still somewhat and sometimes socialist country of Israel.

Gotta love it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Singing for a Cure

Life is so full of surprises, and today's surprise took my breath away.

While I was on the cancer ward today, I helped a woman about my age to move from the day ward to a bed. She had been sitting with us and she was overcome with the need to lie down. I felt badly for her that no one had accompanied her to her treatment, and I jumped up to help her to a bed.

Later in the day, when I was getting some tea down the hall from the day ward, I heard the most beautiful, melodious harmony. It stopped me in my tracks and I closed my eyes for a second to listen.

It was so incongruous, there in a ward with so much struggle and pain.

It was poignant, hopeful and so beautiful.

Putting down my cup for a moment, I followed the song into a room.

And there I found an entire family harmonizing and singing to their mother - the woman I had helped in the morning.

I slowly backed out of the room, relishing in the love they were so deeply exhibiting for their mother and wife, as she struggled with cancer.

Their voices continued to ring out with hope, with clarity and with companionship as I made my way back down the hall and to the day ward.

What a way to show compassion for the one you love - to show strength and faith in the recovery process and to join in unison as a family.

May their voices raise up to the heavens with a cure as they continue to comfort their mother in her time of need.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Believing in Miracles

Should you happen to see me on the street these days and to ask how I'm doing, here is my answer:



This is Rivka Frankl.

The same Rivka whose mother was told five months ago, as we sat in the oncologist's office in Jerusalem, that she had inoperable, late stage stomach cancer.

The same Rivka whose mother was told that there was really no hope - and no way out. They would work to manage the cancer and the pain, but they couldn't cure it.

This is the same Rivka whose mother has been enduring chemotherapy every three weeks and all of the side effects that come with it, trying to fight to save her life.

It's hard to believe in miracles.

It's hard to believe that a cancer patient, facing virtually no chance of having the surgery that would save her life, is now being told that the surgery is soon.

The surgery has a date, a time and a place. It's real and actually happening.

The battle isn't over; there are still many hurdles to overcome and much for Stella to endure.

But, there is a scheduled surgery that had been deemed completely unattainable and hope for a cure that was not possible.

So, if you wonder how I'm doing or if I believe in miracles, just take a look at this picture...and smile with me...and continue to pray for more miracles for Tzuriya Kochevet bat Sara.

So that Rivka will give us another one of these pictures with her mother at her side this May at her bat mitzvah...and next November during the Chodesh Irgun ceremony...and again in a decade at her wedding...and again when her own daughter starts B'nei Akiva...and beyond.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Promise of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

 
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Yes, I'm a broken record. Every year now, for the last three years, I've kveled during the Chodesh Irgun ceremonies for B'nei Akiva. For those of you who don't speak Israeli youth language, this is the month right after the holidays when our kids (from 4th grade and up) start their youth group activities for the year. The B'nei Akiva youth group is very active in our Yishuv (you can see my post from Yom Ha'atmaut last year for more explanations about B'nei Akiva) and we have loved watching Matan participate.

During this month, they spend almost every night out getting their club room painted and ready, doing Zionistic programs together and hanging out. Then, the Shabbat arrives when they introduce us to their finished and painted rooms, have a Kiddush for the entire Yishuv and then have a ceremony in the evening after Shabbat. That's happening right now (Josh is documenting it for us while I stay with the sleeping kids).

This year Yehuda has finally gotten to join the ranks of the initiated and we are so proud to watch him finally be part of the fun. He's been watching Matan for two years now and waiting for his opportunity - and here it is.

I get teary-eyed watching my kids fulfilling this Zionist dream and connecting to the thousands of years of Jewish heritage behind them. They are wearing these shirts of a youth group that kids wore in Warsaw before the Holocaust; that they wore in Russia, hoping that someday they would make it to the Promised Land.

They are wearing shirts of the miracle that is the State of Israel; a miracle that my own grandparents couldn't have imagined seeing come to fruition...a miracle that my children are living out each and every day on the soil that was promised to them and on the soil upon which they are building the Jewish future.

I don't know that my kids see quite so much symbolism in their activities or in their new shirts. To them it's just a chance to be part of the gang...to hang out with their friends and to have fun.

But to us? Oh to us, it's so very much more.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

One for the Mantel



Looking at this recent picture of my father with my boys, my first reaction made me giggle. "Wow!" I thought to myself, "There are really a lot of them!"

In my daily life, I don't sit back often to reflect on where I am, or where I've come from. As I believe most of us do, I simply go about my daily life, making lunches, helping with homework, driving carpools and the like.

And then a picture like this gets taken, and I find it hard to believe that these guys are mine - all of them!

(We interrupt this blog for a second to be superstitious. Let's all say tu-tu-tu together and spit!

Ok...now I can continue...)

I think it's safe to say that neither my father nor I ever assumed that a picture of this sort would be taken. During my secular-college-student-days at UCLA, this picture wasn't on my radar.

At some point, after Josh and I had been married for awhile, I saw a picture of someone's family that stunned me. Sitting on their mantel, they had a picture that showed grandparents surrounded by their many, many children and grandchildren.

And it captivated me. I told Josh that we had to have a "mantel" picture someday, and that's been our goal ever since.

And here we are, surrounded today by these amazing boys...so many of them.

Here's a mantel picture for your fireplace, dad.

May there be many, many more such pictures as the boys grow and as they bring us little guys (and maybe even girls) of their own to include in the ever-growing picture of our lives.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Longing for a New Dawn

















Words fail me at the moment...but I feel the need to capture a tiny bit of our activities tonight on paper - or on cyber paper as you will.

Yarden started his 12 hour long, one-man bike-athon tonight to raise money for families like his that have been struck by illness. He told us about his crazy idea a few weeks back - maybe a month ago - and we both understood that it would help him to redirect his energy; to have something to focus on besides cancer.

What we didn't realize at the time was how much it would come to mean to so many of us, and what it would represent. It's not easy to help a family in need; sure, the Frankls have been receiving some assistance with meals and they've had many friends drop by, call, email and show support. But there is so much more that people want to do - and they've been able to show that desire through the Longing for the Dawn Ride.

Yarden has raised 66,000 shekel so far (and counting! You can sponsor him still at www.crossingtheyarden.com). 66,000 shekel. It's just amazing.

And one of our friends came up with the idea of creating awesome t-shirts and surprising Yarden with them on the night of the ride. Another friend created Yarden's website and logo for him and has been in charge of much of the behind the scenes work. Someone else had the idea to place balloons all around the yishuv before the ride so that Yarden would see them as he rode and would know that everyone was supporting him and Stella. The youth group kids were out all afternoon putting up the balloons.

And, of course, another few friends are staying up all night, driving behind Yarden, refilling his drinks as needed, protecting him on the road and more. They are facebooking updates as he moves from one location to another and even have a url where people can track his ride. (Email Josh for more information or look at Josh and Yarden's facebook pages.)

Finally, a few people asked if there could be a kick-off of sorts, and we just came back from the most beautiful and moving kick-off. The Rav spoke, then Yarden tried to speak (but was too choked up to do so) and then Yarden did a lap around the top of the yishuv with 75 children who were all riding bikes, scooters and other vehicles with him.

It was priceless.

And beautiful.

And amazingly moving.

And as Yarden rides through the night tonight, so many of us will be thinking about him and about Stella. And longing - so deeply longing - with the two of them and their beautiful family, that we should see a new dawn soon; one filled with health for Stella.

Amen.















Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Sweet Taste of Hope


I’ve been in a diet group for quite awhile, and the leader of the group always talks about how we perceive food. Food, she explains, shouldn’t be used as a reward or as a celebratory focus.

Well, sometimes you just have to throw that advice to the wind.

Stella loves Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. She can’t eat it all the time since she is sensitive to the cold after treatment. It’s one of the luxuries in her life these days when she feels well enough to eat her favorite food.

So, yesterday, when she received dance-in-the-rain and sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs good news, I couldn’t wait to get to her house to hug her.

Unloading my groceries before going to her house, I realized that I missed it. I should have bought some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to bring to her house in celebration. Should I now turn around and go back to the grocery store, ten minutes from home, before going to see her?

Deciding I didn’t have enough time for that plan, I stopped, instead, at our local grocery store. Now, in 7 and a half years of living in Neve Daniel, I have never – not once – seen Ben & Jerry’s in our store. We just don’t sell it. So, I figured I’d pick up a second-rate ice cream and that she would appreciate the gesture, if not the taste.

As I ran into the store, I just knew that I would find exactly what I needed. And there, in the ice cream section was ONE – and only one – container of Ben & Jerry's. The New York Super Fudge Chunk was just sitting there, all by itself, with Stella’s name on it.

It wasn’t there on Sunday when I was in the store, and it probably won’t be restocked.

But Monday? When Stella got her news? Oh yeah, the Super Fudge Chunk was sitting tall and waiting for me to grab it.

Nothing like the sweet taste of delicious, celebratory ice cream.

And nothing in the world like the feeling of news that gives you hope.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fight like Hell and Ride like the Wind

As a teacher, I've always impressed upon my students that their actions speak louder than their words.

When I became a parent, I made this one of the cornerstones of my parenting. Your actions - not what you say - will reflect who you are and what you want to convey to others.

Yarden Frankl's actions are speaking.

As many of you already know, my best friend has stomach cancer. And while she fights each day to keep it at bay and to continue to give us that sparkly smile, we sit around feeling...well...helpless.

A few days before Stella started chemo, I asked if I could bring anything with me to the first treatment or do anything special. They couldn't think of anything, but Yarden asked, if I had time or if I could find someone else to do it, if I could buy some of those chocolate covered nuts that they both love.

Bingo!

I felt like a woman on a mission. I had something to do - something to keep me busy for five minutes - something that would make me feel I was doing something productive for the Frankls.

I showed up, proudly, to the first cancer treatment armed with chocolate covered nuts of some sort, and got pleasure out of watching Stella eat a few.

It became my little ritual to drive to the health food store on my way to chemo to make sure they had their chocolate fix on the day of treatment.

Then, a few treatments ago, when I dropped the chocolates into Stella's lap, she looked at me sheepishly and said "thanks." Never wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, she didn't say anything else. Yarden came back into the room and said, (in perfect Yarden fashion), "You know. Stella stopped eating those a few treatments ago. But thanks - I'm sure enjoying them."

When I stopped laughing, I realized that my little bit of "help" was over. I couldn't help feeling a bit like Mitch Albom who tells a similar story in his book Tuesdays with Morrie.

What could I do next, I wondered?

Recently, Yarden told us of a plan that was so outlandish - so crazy - that both Josh and I told him it seemed a bit far fetched. "You'll see...You'll see..." he said. "It's going to be great."

And we are seeing. He's putting his energy into something so positive, so full of life and so energetic that it's lifting the rest of us and giving us all a bit more energy. His crazy idea is really resonating with friends near and far and even with people who don't know them.

Yarden has plans for a 12 hour bike ride in just over 10 days to raise money for the Gush Etzion Foundation fund that helps families dealing with serious illnesses.

Please read Yarden's latest two posts - and Fight like Hell and Ride like the Wind with him (and with the rest of us).

It's the least we can do for Stella and for so many others fighting these terrible illnesses.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Woof Woof on the Lightrail















We had a great Sukkot and said goodbye longingly to the sukkah (and to my in-laws who were visiting) recently. While we had great fun in many locations, one event sticks out in my mind as so typically Israeli.

The first Friday of our vacation, we decided that it would be fun to take the new Lightrail into Jerusalem. We enjoyed the trip to town a great deal; it was clean on the train, nearly empty and comfortable.

The return trip, however, was another story. Trying to get on the train at 1:30 in the afternoon from the Ben Yehuda area on a Friday wasn't the smartest of ideas. Yakir, who is incredibly rigid with his sleep habits, hadn't napped all day, and I knew I was going to be in for a long ride as we entered the packed compartment. There was barely enough space to push through the crowd with the stroller, and I hung on as I stood with Yehuda and nudged my way aboard. Yakir was facing away from me in the stroller, and there wasn't an ounce of extra space. I had no idea how I was going to soothe him, let alone pick him up, should the need arise.

Well, I thought to myself, here we go.

As the train started to move, Yakir's whining began. Ironically, I smiled. Looking around, I knew exactly what was about to happen.

"Give him the bottle already!" said one middle-aged woman to Yehuda, my 9 year old who was standing next to Yakir.

When that didn't work and Yakir rejected the bottle, the real parenting advice began.

"Oy, you need to rock him."

"No," said another passenger, "Try the bottle again. I think he'll take it now."

"No," said another, "I think she's going to need to pick him up."

And on and on it went. Everyone on the train had a suggestion, and everyone was trying to help me to soothe my exhausted child. Yehuda worked on getting him out of the stroller, and two people jumped up from nearby to help since I couldn't reach the baby. Placed in my arms, Yakir arched his back and screamed so more.

"Here! Here!" yelled an older man, giving up his seat for me.

"No, I really can't take your seat...." I started to protest, to deaf ears.

I saw that no one was going to listen to me - and that I was going to take that seat whether I wanted to or not. A bit embarrassed by the fuss they were making over me, I took the seat.

Sitting was no better than standing, and Yakir kept at it.

That's when my seatmate made it her personal mission to get Yakir laughing. Playing peek-a-boo, making animal noises, and being generally silly, she finally got him giggling. Then, we started a very intellectual discussion about various animal noises.

"Dogs say "How How" in Hebrew," she said.

"Well, they say "Woof Woof" in English," I replied.

And on it went, discussing cat noises, rooster sounds, cow impersonations and more.

My seatmate exited, and it was soon our stop. Parting ways for us to exit, our trainmates wished us a Shabbat Shalom and blew kisses at the now-calm baby.

Now, I don't ride public transportation often in Israel, and I'm sure there are times when tired riders aren't so jovial or willing to help. But it sure was a lovely experience to see so many Israelis joining forces to help one exasperated mom and a tired baby on a crowded train ride one Friday afternoon.

The joys of life in Israel...again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mushroom Shades


Thank Gd for my sense of humor. I think that it might not be a good idea to make Aliyah without one.

Yesterday, while at the beach, I needed to try to find a sun umbrella for my mother-in-law to rent. I couldn't remember the word for "umbrella," so I asked Matan.

Then, two minutes later, as I walked over to the kiosk, I realized that I didn't know the word for "rent." And, of course, I'd forgotten the word for umbrella.

Sigh.

But, I pushed forward, asking the lady, in my most dignified Hebrew, if she just might have a mushroom that we could borrow to create shade.

"Um, what?" she said, looking at me as if I'd come from outer space.

"You know, a mushroom (petria in Hebrew), for the shade for...what's that word...to borrow for awhile."

I soon realized that what I was saying didn't sound right.

Red in the face, I slinked back to my family to describe what I had done. I quickly realized that I had asked her for a mushroom (petria) instead of an umbrella (metria).

When my children were able to pick themselves off of the floor, Matan agreed to go back to the lady and to ask for an umbrella himself.

With a twinkle in his eye, Matan arrived on the sand, handed me the umbrella and remarked, "Here's your mushroom, Mommy."

Just another day of adventures as an immigrant.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Sunsets of Our Lives


I'm often amazed by what I learn from my children, rather than the other way around.

Today, towards the end of Shabbat, Yehuda came running in from playing. I was engrossed in a book and Josh was reading the paper. We were both enjoying a few quiet moments while all of the kids were entertained or playing outside. Yehuda, breathless, said, "Mommy, Daddy! You have to come outside!"

Both of us, barely looking up, assumed that he wanted us to break up a fight or deal with some issue. We didn't move. He'd get over it, we secretly thought to ourselves.

"Seriously! Will you come outside?" He pleaded.

And so, we both got up slowly and followed him outside.

What did Yehuda need?

"Look up!" He said with marvel in his voice. "Look at the sky over there."

Following his finger, we turned to witness a breathtaking, absolutely gorgeous sunset of pinks and yellows, light blues and milky whites.

A sunset that I almost missed, trying to blow off my nine year old so that I could continue enjoying a good book.

And as I held the baby in my arms, looked at Yehuda's proud face, and enjoyed the glorious Shabbat sunset with my family, I marveled at the many and varied ways that we learn from our children; and at the missed opportunities that we often, unknowingly and unintentionally, create.

And I thanked Hashem for ensuring that I hadn't missed this opportunity.

And I thanked Him for reminding me that the urgings of a nine year old child are worth listening to.

And I thanked Him for giving me a nine year old son who notices the sunsets, and finds them profound enough to call the family out to see.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Challah, Health & The Bat Mitzvah Girl

I am often struck by the ways that so many people’s lives intertwine.

Last night we were honored to attend the bat mitzvah of our dear friends’ daughter at Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi (two hours from our home). Moshe and Chaviva Speter were part of the Torah Mitzion Kollel in Washington D.C. while we lived there. We spent countless nights learning in their home, enjoying time with them, and discussing the possibility of Aliyah.

Hallel was a little girl when they arrived in Washington – and here she was becoming a bat mitzvah. As part of her bat mitzvah, she took on a new mitzvah, the mitzvah of making challah.

And, on top of that, she dedicated her challah making last night to someone who is sick.

That’s where the intersection of our lives comes into play.

There is an idea in Jewish tradition that, while making the blessing during the challah-making, you can add the name of someone who is sick. If 40 challah-makers all do this on the same day, it is considered a segula (a good omen) to help with the sick person’s recovery.

At Josh’s work, one of the men’s wives, Libbie, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma while pregnant with her second child. After starting chemo treatments, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, and is now undergoing even more aggressive treatments for her recovery. Sending around an email request to many people that she knows, Libbie wrote,

“During the course of my pregnancy and treatments, my family and I organized 3 worldwide projects of Challah taking ("הפרשת חלה") on Erev Shabbat (or earlier) when making Challot, to pray for my full recovery and easy birth. Each time we had hundreds of women (and some men too) from all over the world participating in this beautiful Mitzva. I was full of joy on those shabbatot and I felt physically better, stronger, happier and healthier thank G-d! On the 28th of September, in honor of “Rosh Hashana” (the New Year), we are organizing our fourth “Hafrashat Challah operation" for my full recovery and a healthy New Year IY”H.”

Sitting in Tirat Tzvi, Hallel and Chaviva read Libbie’s email. Chaviva decided that this would be the perfect project for her daughter’s bat mitzvah. She would take challah and make the blessing for a complete recovery for Libbie – someone that she did not know and had never met.

Enter the Sussmans.

While signing me up to make challah as well a few days ago, Josh noticed someone from Tirat Tzvi was signed up on the list. Then, he noticed that it wasn’t just ‘someone,’ but that it was Hallel. He couldn’t believe that she was on the list, and pledged that he would ask her about it at the bat mitzvah.

So, last night at the bat mitzvah, we approached Hallel and Chaviva about it. We asked them how they knew Libbie. Chaviva explained the situation and couldn’t believe that we knew this woman, for whom her daughter was focusing on her mitzvah. Chaviva said that she was actually stressed because Hallel was about to make the blessing for Libbie, but that they couldn’t remember her full name (having misplaced the piece of paper with her name on it).

Not to worry, Josh and I both said in disbelief. We certainly know that. We offered her the name, Hallel made the blessing while Josh took pictures, and Josh ran out of the room to call Libbie’s husband and tell him what had just happened.

Amazing.

May Libbie have a complete and speedy recovery and may HaShem continue to put us in the right place, at the right time for the coming year.

If you want to be part of the Hafrashat Challah project for Libbie, follow this link:

Click here: Hafrashat Challah 4# for Libbie Bat Esther Leah

Please remember Stella Frankl (Tzuriya Kochevet bat Sara) as well when taking challah and making the blessing.

May these women have complete recoveries in the coming year and may we all be blessed for the year ahead with health, prosperity, family and blessings.

שנה טובה ומתוקה

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Green Pickled Tomatoes & My Nana


Today, when I went to the kitchen at work to make lunch, I leaned into the refrigerator and broke into a huge smile. I pulled out a jar of green pickled tomatoes, and found myself instantly transported into my Nana’s kitchen.

It was 1977 again in Los Angeles, and there I was, sitting at Nana and Papa's warm, inviting kitchen. I was wearing pigtails with curly cues and munching on cookies while Nana relished in her green pickled tomatoes. She was teaching me to play Rummikube, and we were gabbing about school, about clothes, about sculpting and playing. Now, she was teaching me the multiplication tables, and helping me to do my math homework.

Standing in the kitchen of my Gush Etzion workplace in the year 2011, that one jar of tomatoes threw me back to Monte Mar Drive, to warm summer nights, to the laughter and love of one Nana and Papa, to the constant stream of family visits and playful days, to “ladies” nights when Nana and I would pretend to talk in fancy language and to pamper ourselves, to slumber parties, warm hugs and constant laughter.

I stared at those tomatoes, marveling that I hadn’t seen a jar of this sort in 25 years. And marveling at how quickly one squishy green tomato with its sour scent can bring back an entire childhood in one glimpse.

And as I ate my salad, sprinkled with green pickled tomatoes, I thought about Nana, about how quickly the years fly, and about the impact that loved ones continue to have on us far after they have left our side.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Flying Chickens and the Lessons They Teach


Last night I had the opportunity to enjoy a special parenting moment – and a great reminder for myself. After heating up a piece of chicken for dinner that had gotten cold, Matan exited the pantry exactly as Zeli was walking by.

In what appeared to me as a comedy of errors (but wasn’t funny at all to Matan), Zeli pushed on the pantry door and sent Matan and his chicken flying.

Matan was not pleased.

He stormed downstairs, leaving the chicken and all of the mess on the floor.

It was time for a parenting moment.

Requesting that he come back upstairs, I explained that I wasn’t mad about the mess. He wasn’t in trouble. What he was, however, was seeing the incident the wrong way.

Life, I told him, isn’t about the flying chicken.

It’s about how we react to the flying chicken.

As I explained this to Matan, I think I was trying to remind myself of this vitally-important message.

Life’s chickens are going to fly; at times, doors are going to slam in our faces.

The question isn’t how to avoid the flying chicken; the question is how to react to the poultry.

People get sick; bikes get stolen; homework gets misplaced (or not done at all); friends can be mean.

Life is full of so many small and terribly big moments where the chicken goes flying and where we seem to have absolutely no control over the incidents and events in our lives.

It’s not our place to control those events.

It’s our place to shape, control and manage our reaction to the flying chicken.

And that is what distinguishes us in life, and allows us to either live a full, interactive and pleasurable life or to be grumpy, frustrated and self-pitying.

Lesson learned for one 11 year old boy and a great reminder for his mom.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Years Ago Today...

I’m sure most of us remember where we were 10 years ago today. I was teaching in Potomac, Maryland and had gone into the teachers’ lounge during my free period to get some work done. The first reports of the towers being hit were just being heard, and someone had dragged a grainy T.V. into the lounge. When I heard that planes had flown into the World Trade Center, my first insanely naïve thought was, wow – where do they steal empty planes from? How did they get planes off the ground without anyone noticing? It had never in my wildest dreams crossed my mind that 19 terrorists had hijacked planes full of people to use as missiles.

One of the women in the teachers’ lounge was panicking. Her daughter’s fiancé worked at the World Trade Center. I reassured her that he was certainly late for work that day and that he couldn’t possibly have been in the midst of all of this.

Inaccuracies, of course, I would only learn later.

We continued to receive more information during the morning, but my surprisingly poorly managed school didn’t offer us any guidance about how to deal with the students. This was before the age when every kid had an internet-enabled device on his lap, and I taught my third period class without saying a word to them. Living right outside of Washington, D.C. in an area filled with diplomats, congressman and the like, I was sure that some of these children would be deeply and personally affected.

And then fourth period rolled around and there was no longer any way to keep the secret. While holding back tears, I told the students what was going on, and tried to reassure them that their parents couldn’t possibly have been at the Pentagon that morning and that their uncles were probably late to work at the World Trade Center.

Mercifully, in the middle of that class period, they sent the kids home.

I sat down at my desk and cried and cried and cried.

I cried for the terror that had entered our world; for feeling completely exposed and unsafe as a U.S. citizen for the first time; and for the unborn baby that I was carrying that would know such a different reality.

Today, I cry for how unbelievably unresolved all of these issues are. Today, we are battling the same terrorists who are plotting their evil in the same, even more sophisticated, ways.

I live half way around the world now, in a world that is even more attuned to the terror we live with each day. And we watch as the extremists ready their arsenal for the next attack – whether it will be here, in Paris, in Washington D.C. or down the street from you.

We wonder what the governments of the world are doing to stop the insanity.

And when regular citizens will say that it's enough already.

You know, in East Jerusalem they danced in the street when they heard about 9/11. They danced in the streets with glee. They weren't dancing at the killing of Israelis or of Jews - they were dancing at the killing of Americans. And these are our supposed "peace partners"; these are the very people that Obama and America and much of the world are demanding that we sit down and negotiate with - for "peace".

I cry today tears of frustration, wondering when the rest of the world will understand that events like 9/11 are a constant reality for us here in Israel, and that in all corners of the world we do not have to live like this.

And that the way to remember the people who lost their lives on 9/11 is to say that we don't stand for terror - and to make that statement a reality around the world.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lessons Learned from a Long Summer

As I took a walk this morning, I started to reflect on the summer. It's certainly been a difficult one for us in many ways, but, as I realized during my reverie, it's also been quite a productive one for the children. Here are some of the things we've learned in the last two months.

Yakir has learned that when he bites us with those 8 little teeth, we scream. And he laughs.

Zeli has learned that a toilet won't swallow you up, and that maybe it's cool to flush away that stuff and move on. (And that, in itself, is a HUGE and exciting achievement for a Sussman boy of his age. Yeah!)

Eliav has learned that sometimes it's cool to be the oldest Sussman boy, although it sure is fun to wrestle again when the big boys get home.


Amichai, Yehuda and Matan have learned that they can fly halfway around the world by themselves and have an amazing time (even if sometimes you do have to barf over the security barrier at the airport out of fear before you leave). They've also learned about every Nerf gun that's ever existed, how to reload them, and where to shoot them for the most impact.


Amichai has learned to swim. He has not, however, learned to go anywhere near his two wheel bike. His mother is learning to let go, and to accept that each child will learn a skill when he is ready to do so.

I have learned about flexibility and endurance, cancelling our major vacation out of necessity, cancelling our minor vacation due to bombs, and regrouping in less than 24 hours to have a desperately-needed and wonderfully-enjoyed vacation at the Dead Sea.

And, of course, I've learned that health isn't something we can take for granted, and that life sends us curve balls that sometimes feel insurmountable.

Let's hope that the children will continue to grow and prosper during the school year ahead, and that Josh and I will learn to deal with the challenges ahead, and to surmount them as they come.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ignoring the Big C for an Evening

Many people over the last two months have asked us what they can do for Stella. We've tried to answer, as best we can, when we have ideas.

Others, however, haven't asked - they've simply done. And these interactions have truly been amazing.

A number of weeks ago, I was walking in the yishuv when I bumped into someone. She commented that I looked awful (you know you're a good friend when...) and asked if I was alright. Nothing new, I explained; just, well, you know.

That night, while I was showering and about to jump into bed (yes, it was 8:45), we got a phone call.

"Be outside in ten minutes," said the husband of this woman from the morning. "We're going out to dinner."

It was such a strikingly lovely gesture. They swooped down, picked us up, and took us out to an amazing restaurant in town. We had a chance to get dressed up a bit, to get some fresh air and a change of scenery, and to talk to another couple about what was going on in our lives (and also to talk about fun things).

Similarly, a woman called me awhile back to say that she would be coming to my home the next day with a sizable amount of cash. The cash, she explained, was to use on Stella. "Um...." I stammered. "What does that mean? What do you want me to do?"

Her conditions were as follows. Stella and Yarden were not to know who it was, and the money was to be used to nurture Stella in some way.

Wow.

Tucking the money away, we set about thinking of something that would be worthy of this woman's request. The woman, by the way, is someone who I don't know well and who Stella probably only interacts with periodically.

We finally devised a plan, and executed it last night, to the delight of everyone involved.

Our good friends who live in Givat Shmuel, Ronit and Itay Zeman, would join us at Stella and Yarden's house as a surprise. We would hire their brother-in-law, a personal chef, to create a night of gastro-enjoyment.

It was simply divine. While we gorged on sushi rolls,















fancy fish,















amazing chicken, and some type of mystery mint ice dessert, we tucked that big "C" word away for a night and enjoyed ourselves.

We all ate more than our fair share, and we giggled and gobbled the night away.

As I wrote to the benefactor after, in thanks, every shekel was worth it for this:














and this:
















and this:














Truly, nights to remember, offered up by some of the most unlikely of people.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

It's Not About the Bread


After Stella was diagnosed, I found a banana bread in the freezer.

And I wanted to cry.

See, banana bread is Stella's trademark food for our family. Sure, she makes a million other things and has many specialties that her family loves. Yarden even blogged about it tonight.

But, for us, it's always been banana bread. I don't remember a time when Stella wasn't making us banana bread - I think she even delivered it to my door every once in a while in Potomac.

My family loves the bread (especially Yehuda) and I love the sentiment. Anytime that a banana bread gets made in the Frankl house, a second one gets made for the Sussmans.

It's just the way it works.

So, when I saw this banana bread in the freezer, it gave me pause.

Should we eat it? Should I save it? Would Stella feel well enough to bring me another banana bread anytime soon?

If I've learned nothing so far from this situation, I've learned to seize the moment.

And so, we defrosted that banana bread and watched as it was devoured, as usual, in a split second by the hungry lot of them.

And I haven't given any more thought to the banana bread since that day, knowing that we probably wouldn't have any more for a long time, and just praying each day that Stella continues to feel well.

I don't know much about chemo, and I can't predict anything about what's coming, but Stella is looking damn good these days for a woman who's just been through round 1. She has much of her energy, her vibrant smile and her kick, and I'm relishing in watching her go.

So today, when I went to pick my son up at her house from his play date, Stella told me to hang on a second.

And out she ran...with a banana bread in hand.

I tried to protest. I told her that I couldn't believe SHE was cooking for ME. But there she was, with the warm, delicious bread in her hand, and a coy smile on her lips.

She mumbled something about having extra bananas in the house...

But I knew that the bread she was giving me represented so much more.

And I thanked her for every ounce of hope and slice of nourishment she was giving me.

P.S. - Stella - if you read this, please don't think you have to make us banana bread every week from now until kingdom come!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Those Rowdy Adults in Neve Daniel

Taking a walk through the yishuv last night was an invigorating process, and not because it got my heart rate up. As Josh and I headed out for our walk, we came across music blaring from a house.

I said to Josh, “Uh oh…which parents are away? Who’s going to get in trouble tonight?”

As we got closer, and were wondering if we were going to have to call parents, we realized that the music was….part of a Zumba class! The music was blaring, and the moms of all ages and sizes were Zumbaing away and having fun in someone’s basement.

Giggling, we kept walking, and came across another house with loud music pulsing from the backyard. Again, we assumed the kids were partying while the parents were away; and again, we were confronted by a family hanging out and enjoying the evening together.

And then we came to the real treat. Walking further, we were struck by the chords of blues music rising from deep in a basement. This time, we realized early on that it was our dear friends and their four person band. We descended the stairs and entered their house to find the foursome practicing some good ol’ fashioned blues. The wife had her harmonica set in front of her (with at least 20 harmonicas from which to choose), and her drum ready to go in her hand. They had pushed all furniture to the side in their family room/dining room and were belting out blues, tapping their feet and enjoying the summer night.

We stayed for two songs, deeply appreciating every minute of the fun and gaiety, before we proceeded back up the stairs with a wave and an extra spring in our step.

While we often assume it’s the kids making all the noise in the yishuv with loud music and too much action – it was a breath of fresh air to see the adults getting into the action last night.

The energy in Neve Daniel is alive and well. Even after the kids are in bed and dreaming about tomorrow’s adventures, the adults are making those adventures come true…today!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Of Chemo and Concerts

If the day could have begun with more knots, I would have been wrapped forever inside the blanket on my bed. Today was Stella's first day of chemotherapy and I was completely on edge last night and this morning, wondering what chemo was going to look like and feel like for her.

Thank Gd, it was so much "better" than I expected.

I knew from our last visit to the oncology ward that all of the patients receiving chemo sit in one room together and get their treatments at the same time. And I was worried that this was going to feel very invasive for Stella.

When I arrived, Yarden and Stella were lounging and surfing the web and checking email. They had already taken Stella's blood to the 4th floor to get it evaluated before she was able to start chemo today. And, as Yarden recounted, in typical "Stella fashion," she had forced him to use the stairs rather than the elevator. (Side note: on the day of Stella's diagnosis we had to go to a number of different floors in the hospital to book appointments. While Yarden, Josh and I all groaned and whined, Stella kept racing up and down the stairs and dragging us along. We kept cracking up as she zoomed past us and we must have yelled, "Wait" and "Where is she?" at least a few times each. Yep...the sick leading the lazy as you will.)

As they waited for the results to come back today so that Stella could start her first round of chemo, a charming woman came into the room and asked Stella if she wanted reflexology or a massage. They have a room next door where the patients can enjoy such nurturing activities and Stella bopped off for a bit of pampering (with only a slight need for coercion).

While Yarden and I were talking, a woman came by with a cart, offering all sorts of delicious foods to the patients. When we both deferred, explaining that we weren't the cancer patient (in our pathetic and broken Hebrew), she said, "We will all be healthy at some point. Everyone in the room will be healthy. We all deserve the food. Please take something."

It was such a stunningly beautiful way to describe the experience and such a positive spin on the events taking place.

Eventually, Stella started the chemo and we settled in to read humorous emails friends were sending, to chat and to relax. Yarden met the older man getting treated next to us, and six degrees of separation became one as he explained that he had taught a good friend of ours in the community.

I pointed out to Stella that the room wasn't filled with the images that I expected at all. Every single patient in the room looked healthy. I actually said at one point that I thought maybe they had created a Hollywood set for us. Each patient had his or her hair; each seemed to have nice coloring and to be in good spirits. And, of course, it was striking to see the cross-section of society here. The older Rabbi sat next to the young Arab woman, who was sitting near the 35 year old Moroccan woman, who was seated with the Japanese convert, who was positioned near the 60 year old Hassidic man.

The harpist came and went, delivering a beautiful, soothing performance. The room was chatty at times, quieter at others.

But there was always a feeling of hope.

********************************

In the afternoon, I took the boys to a fair that is held every year for a special-needs school in Alon Shvut. While sitting on a grassy hill, listening to a military band, Amichai and Eliav started dancing with me. What began as a quiet, sweet dance soon turned into a frenzied, wild display and we danced and giggled.

And as we swirled in circles and put our heads back in laughter, I felt guilt mixed with hope. Guilt that I should be enjoying the beautiful evening on the day when Stella started such a difficult process; but hope, knowing that Stella loves my children and that, of course, she would want us to be having fun for all of us today.

And as we danced and twirled, I prayed that the sounds of their joy and the hope in their young voices would open up the heavens and remind HaShem of the precious nature of life.

Of Stella's life and of all of ours as we pray and hope for a full and speedy recovery.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Magic of 7










Today is our 7 year Aliyah anniversary. People often talk about 7 as a monumental number. There’s the 7 year itch in a marriage, made famous by the movie entitled “The Seven Year Itch” with Marilyn Monroe. Survive past seven and you’ve really accomplished something.

Judaism is surrounded by the symbolism of the number 7. Hashem created the world in 7 days; we count the Omer for 7 weeks before Shavuot; we observe Shmita on the land every 7 years; there are 7 guests who come to visit us in our Sukkoh during Sukkot; the Temple Menorah had 7 branches; there are 7 Noachide laws that pertain to people of all religions; 7 blessings are recited at a Jewish wedding and we sit shiva for 7 days; the first verse in the Torah contains 7 words; the Jewish New Year occurs each year in the 7th month; and we celebrate 7 days of celebrations surrounding a Jewish wedding.

Wow.

There’s something to this 7 thing.

And here we are – at 7 years.

It’s a bit hard right now in my emotional state to be reflective about something as celebratory as our 7 year milestone, but I think that I owe it to myself, to Zionism and to Hashem to recognize the importance of this achievement.

A little less than 8 years ago, we decided that we would pack up our entire life and move to the other side of the world. On the day that we told our best friends, they stayed up all night talking and decided that they would be following the year after.

At that time, we were leaving everything that we knew. Our families. Our language. Our very good and fulfilling jobs. Our community. Our friends. Our home.

7 years later, I have to laugh at how things have turned out so far.

When we stepped off of our Nefesh B'Nefesh flight and arrived in Neve Daniel, we knew one family in the Yishuv (neighborhood). One. They were our dear friends from Potomac, the Abbos, but they were the only family that we knew and one of only about 5 families that we knew in the entire country.










And then, 6 years ago today we stood at the airport and welcomed the Frankls into our embrace as they joined us on Aliyah and in Neve Daniel, fulfilling the dream that they had harbored for much longer than had I.










And then 5 years ago today (or around this date), we stood at the airport and welcomed the Levins into our embrace as they joined us on Aliyah and in Neve Daniel.










And then 4 years ago today (or so) we stood at the airport and welcomed the Levys into our embrace as they joined us on Aliyah and in Neve Daniel.








These were our friends from America; friends that we left behind. And today, they all live within walking distance of my beautiful home.

When I see Rivka Frankl in the park holding my baby, Yakir; or my son, Amichai, playing with Ellen’s son Yosef; or when I see Susan walking Tali down my block, I find myself catching my breath. It’s an absolute miracle to me that we have all picked up our lives together from Potomac and Baltimore and moved to the same neighborhood in Israel.

May this first 7 year hurdle that we’ve reached be the first of many such beautiful milestones. And may we all continue to support each other on our Aliyah journeys with renewed health, happiness and prosperity in the homeland of our people.

Amen.

The Magic of 7















Today is our 7 year Aliyah anniversary. People often talk about 7 as a monumental number. There’s the 7 year itch in a marriage, made famous by the movie entitled “The Seven Year Itch” with Marilyn Monroe. Survive past seven and you’ve really accomplished something.

Judaism is surrounded by the symbolism of the number 7. Hashem created the world in 7 days; we count the Omer for 7 weeks before Shavuot; we observe Shmita on the land every 7 years; there are 7 guests who come to visit us in our Sukkoh during Sukkot; the Temple Menorah had 7 branches; there are 7 Noachide laws that pertain to people of all religions; 7 blessings are recited at a Jewish wedding and we sit shiva for 7 days; the first verse in the Torah contains 7 words; the Jewish New Year occurs each year in the 7th month; and we celebrate 7 days of celebrations surrounding a Jewish wedding.

Wow.

There’s something to this 7 thing.

And here we are – at 7 years.

It’s a bit hard right now in my emotional state to be reflective about something as celebratory as our 7 year milestone, but I think that I owe it to myself, to Zionism and to Hashem to recognize the importance of this achievement.

A little less than 8 years ago, we decided that we would pack up our entire life and move to the other side of the world. On the day that we told our best friends, they stayed up all night talking and decided that they would be following the year after.

At that time, we were leaving everything that we knew. Our families. Our language. Our very good and fulfilling jobs. Our community. Our friends. Our home.

7 years later, I have to laugh at how things have turned out so far.

When we arrived in Neve Daniel, we knew one family in the Yishuv (neighborhood). One. They were our dear friends from Potomac, the Abbos, but they were the only family that we knew and one of only about 5 families that we knew in the entire country.

















And then, 6 years ago today we stood at the airport and welcomed the Frankls into our embrace as they joined us on Aliyah and in Neve Daniel, fulfilling the dream that they had harbored for much longer than had I.


















And then 5 years ago today (or around this date), we stood at the airport and welcomed the Levins into our embrace as they joined us on Aliyah and in Neve Daniel.


















And then 4 years ago today (or so) we stood at the airport and welcomed the Levys into our embrace as they joined us on Aliyah and in Neve Daniel. (no picture available : ( )

These were all friends from America; friends that we left behind. And today, they all live within walking distance of my beautiful home.

When I see Rivka Frankl in the park holding my baby, Yakir, or my son Amichai playing with Ellen’s son Yosef, or when I see Susan walking Tali down my block, I find myself catching my breath. It’s an absolute miracle to me that we have all picked up our lives together from Potomac and Baltimore and moved to the same neighborhood in Israel.

May this first 7 year hurdle that we’ve reached be the first of many such beautiful milestones. And may we all continue to support each other on our Aliyah journeys with renewed health, happiness and prosperity in the homeland of our people.

Amen.