Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Giants Among Us

Yesterday, I was at the park with a friend. She mentioned that her daughter is part of a rotating group on Shabbat that babysits for a disabled child.  In order to help the parents to get a break, they have set up a rotation and various 13 year old girls come by to babysit each week.


“Wow,” I said. “How did that idea come about? It’s such a good one.”

And my friend said, “Oh take a guess which mom put it together.”

So I started naming names of amazing women who I know in the yishuv. She kept shaking her head. And then I said, “Really? This could be one of a hundred women here. There are so many people who could have started this.”

And she had to laugh. “Yeah, I was sure you would get that it was -------- who started it. But you’re right. Any one of the people whose names you just mentioned could just have likely have started it.” 

In hindsight, after she told me who had organized this group it made perfect sense, but the amazing thing is that it could have been any of my friends or neighbors.

And it got me thinking.

I’m so blessed.

I live among giants. Not giants who stand out necessarily in a way that you would see from the outside; not people of great wealth, power or prestige (although we have some of those too).


When you can rattle off a list of any number of women who might have started this chesed project (act of charity), then you know you’re living among the right role models.

And that is really what my life is all about here in the hills of Neve Daniel.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

An Oasis in the Arava

You know when you drive to Eilat by way Rt. 90 and you pass what feels like hours of rocky terrain? Barrenness? Mountain after mountain after mountain?

Yeah, we chose to spend our Chanukah vacation among that barren terrain.

And what fun it was.

Most people who travel through the Arava (the area of land below the Dead Sea and above Eilat) do just that - they travel THROUGH. Their destination is either the hot springs of the Dead Sea or the fun and sun of Eilat.

But we've made it a mission of ours to explore the Land and to show the kids all sorts of out-of-the-way places in Israel so that they will love their country and love hiking it.

And the Arava was the perfect destination to do so this Chanukah. 

We started the trip traveling South on 60 from our house to Kiryat Arba where Yehuda's Tefillin were ready for pick up! We picked it up, threw some candy at him, and were on our way.

Then, since we were driving right by Sussya, we decided to stop and show the little boys where their big brother goes to school. They had a blast asking questions, "Is this where you study? Is this where you sleep? You play basketball here?" and it was really nice for them to have a picture of Matan's life away from home.

In Matan's dorm room.

Then, we headed South to the Dead Sea to go on a great hike at Har Sodom (Sodom Mountain). The hike was beautiful - but even more fun was watching Matan lead us on the way, teach us about fossils and enjoy guiding us. He's really learning a lot at Sussya. The rock formations are incredible at Har Sodom, and so are Matan's picture taking skills.

Then, we went nearby to the Nachal Pratzim where we enjoyed an hour walk inside the canyon walls. It was absolutely breathtaking and the kids loved playing with the chalky walls and making mud piles where they could. Is that surprising?

There are seven communities nestled in the Arava. The land looks so stark and barren, and then you turn off the main road and suddenly feel like you've come to an oasis. It is amazing how the people in the area have cultivated the land and built communities out of nothing. Most of the communities in this area produce vegetables, flowers and other items for export. The communities in the Arava are responsible for producing 65% of the vegetables eaten in all of Israel!

So we stayed in one community called Hatzeva where our landlords grow peppers, eggplant and other items. They also have an adorable restaurant that they open only when someone requests it, and they have five cabins for rent. We stayed in two and it was spacious and perfect for us.

Day 2 began with a journey to the Antelope Ranch. This is an expansive ranch in the Arava where a couple decided to plant their roots and bring in endangered animals. Visitors can enjoy their quite impressive Noah's Ark that is filled with everything from birds and bunnies to peacocks and roosters. Then, they can drive through the area in a car and see zebras, antelope, wildebeest, Nubian ibex and more. The have an African wild ass, one of only eighty left in the world (and one of six in Israel), that we got to see as well. The guide gave us a great overview of the place and the animals that are there. And of course, Yakir had to try on the antlers for size.

As we were driving back from the Antelope Ranch to our next adventure, this happened. Oy.

Now, you have to keep in mind that we were NOWHERE. And we had no idea how we were going to get the tire fixed. And I saw visions of our fun vacation disappearing before my eyes. We called the people who own the apartment we were using and they instructed us that there was a repair shop not far away. Amazing! What they didn't mention is that it's a tractor repair shop...not a car repair shop. Oh dear. So Josh put on the spare and we headed over to Ein Yahav, a lovely community. The repair people really wanted to help, but they simply didn't have a tire to offer and they couldn't repair ours. We realized we were going to have to drive slowly for the entire rest of the trip..and get to Beer Sheva for a tire repair...when suddenly, out of nowhere, the guy pulled out a tire in shimmery gold packaging. I am not making this up. I was too stunned to actually take a picture of it, and I don't know how the discovery came about. But he was suddenly holding the perfect tire - that he used to replace the one on our car. Viola! We had our Chanukah miracle and we were back in business! 

We got the kids ice cream at a cute little shop in the area........

and then headed to our next adventure - a hike in Wadi Zin. We were the only people there and we had a blast exploring the area and enjoying time by ourselves. (Who manages to go anywhere during Chanukah vacation without loads of other vacationers?)

On our way back to our apartment, we drove through the green houses where they grow so many amazing fruits and vegetables. And we found this on the side of the road...yeah, that is a zucchini!  Holy smokes!

On the third morning, we treated the kids to an awesome jeeping experience (courtesy of Grandma and Grandpa's family Chanukah gift). Everyone had a blast.

And then we went to the Vidor Center where they teach people about the Arava. The center is brilliantly designed with a short 3D movie, a visit to two hot houses where they show how they grow vegetables, flowers and more, and an interactive room that teaches everyone. It was an amazing learning experience for everyone in the family from age 4 to 43...the take away is that we are an incredible people that can literally make the barren desert bloom!

Inside one of the chamamas (hot houses).
We came home educated and energized. It is truly a blessing to be able to show the kids something new every time that we go on vacation and to teach them about this beautiful, dynamic country filled with treasures. We lit the Chanukah candles for the last night, and sighed that the holiday and vacation were coming to an end.

But we will now have the Arava in our hearts...until the next adventure.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Putting Our Best Foot (Hand) Forward for Hanukah

Hanukah is almost here. And that means that it's time for a crazy and creative art project. At the grade school where all of the boys go/have gone, they do a competition each year for the most creative Hanukiot (candle holders for Hanukah). I don't actually know if there are prizes, or if they just invite the kids to create interesting designs. 

So Amichai, all on his own, created a Play Mobile Hanukiah. It's quite cute and we delivered it to school today. It's supposed to show the Maccabees holding up the candles - and notice the elephant as the Shamash (the one that lights all of them).

Eliav had an idea to do something with hand prints, and we tossed and turned the idea around for awhile - and then we got started. We had each person in the family put their hand print on a page and then Eliav put his foot down as well for the Shamash. Here we are being crazy in the house and enjoying the process:

The best one might be the video of Josh getting Eliav's foot ready. Watch even just a few seconds to get the giggles.

Eliav wanted to call it a family Menorah, but we realized that Matan won't be home before he has to turn in the assignment. What to do? Well, it just so happened that Josh was driving down Thursday for the weekly father-son he showed up with the Menorah in progress, paint and a paint brush. And they stood in the Yeshiva parking lot smearing pink paint all over Matan's hand. Yes, Matan thought we were absolutely insane as he laughed and left his mark on the page.

Anything for the love of artistic expression.

And here....drum roll the final creation.

Hanukah Sameach from our family to yours. May it be a magical holiday of light and peace for all of us.

Romi Sussman
Neve Daniel

Sunday, December 07, 2014

In Celebration of a Musical Life

A little over two years ago Neve Daniel lost one of its youth. Eliyashiv was out for a run on an ordinary night when he died, suddenly, at the age of 18. Josh and I were taking a walk that night, when a man we know came running up, out of breath and shaken. He had found someone on the road, and we were drawn in to an incredibly painful and difficult drama. I blogged about it at the time and wrote,

“Then a family name was spoken. I don’t know if there exists a stranger feeling than I experienced. I knew something that I had absolutely no right to know.

His family was eatingarguingdancingpaintingpaying billstalkingonthephonegigglingmenu planningcookingcleaning upreminiscingyellingshowering.

And I was with their son who had just died. They did not yet know that their entire life had already changed. The change had occurred. 

It was over.

I looked out over the yishuv and pictured people in every house in the entire community who were eatingarguingdancingpaintingpaying billstalkingonthephonegigglingmenu planningcookingcleaning upreminiscingyellingshowering, people who didn’t yet know that we had lost one of our own. A part of our body.

And within that noise, within that mass of people going about their business and continuing with their regular lives at 10:14 pm was his family. They were in a space of time where the course of their lives had already altered without their knowledge. I prayed that they should be given the strength to get through this incredible tragedy. 

That they should be able to continue on.

We left, walking home in silence.”


Last night, Eliyashiv’s family put on a concert in his memory. They did so last year, as well, but we weren’t there for some reason. This year, I made sure to mark the date and Josh and I joined hundreds of others in the Matnas in Alon Shvut for a celebration of Eliyahsiv’s life.

This was the flyer created for the event last night.

And what a night it was.

Eliyashiv was a talented musician. He had recently graduated from Kinor David, a religious high school created for musicians. They invited Israeli singer/songwriter/flutist/pianist, Shem Tov Levi, to perform. But he didn’t just perform. He explained the process by which he creates his music and the path that he’s been on as a musician. He was warm, funny, lively and incredibly talented. And the audience ate it up.

And then when he finished, the program continued with performances of six very talented high school groups and solos who wanted to express their creativity through music. This included a student from Makor Chaim, bands with students from Kinor David and more. And the students played and sang and expressed their creativity.

During the night, I was thinking something that Shem Tov Levi then expressed as well. When he was leaving, after applause and thank yous from the family and the audience, he told the family that he was touched by their choice. He said that the evening was a beautiful way to remember their son. Rather than remembering with tears, with sadness and with mourning, they have created this way to remember their son through the music that he so loved. They allowed us to remember their son with laughter, with sing-alongs, and with a celebration of his life.

What a gift.

And what a night.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

A Modern Cave Woman

This week we stayed in a cave. No, we didn't turn into the Flintstones and decide to sleep on the ground with rocks for pillows. Far from it.

Israel is so filled with out-of-the-way and truly unique finds. It's one of the things that I simply relish. When I plan a family vacation in Israel, I often stumble upon unique and interesting ideas that I put into a file and save for "some day." And the Columbarium has been sitting on the list with a big star on it for quite awhile.

So, when I told a few friends this week that we were going away, they expected me to say that we were heading for a Eilat, at the Dead Sea, in Tel Aviv.

And when I told them that we were going to a cave, they just started to laugh.

"Buses? Caves? What's with you guys? You can't just go to a regular hotel like everyone else?"

Indeed...we can not.

Because this cave may be one of the best finds of all time in Israel. It's set at the far end of a lovely moshav in the Lachish region, about 25 minutes from Kiryat Gat. From what I understand, the family who lives there discovered that they had caves on their property. And just as everyone would do with this discovery, they created two absolutely stunning luxury guest houses out of the caves.

As you approach the property, you see this:

 And you enter to discover this:

There are robes and slippers for your use, a coffee maker and teas and every other amenity you can imagine.

They've even carved out a closet out of the cave:

And you won't be cold here, as they have a romantic little fireplace to enjoy (and air conditioning on the wall if you're hot).
But gets better. Through this door there is a room about the size of a bedroom. And it's filled with a jacuzzi that has a waterfall! The waterfall heats the water in the jacuzzi and you can turn it on or off as you desire. This is inside the cave! Your own private jacuzzi room with waterfall.

And for those who need even more soaking time, there is a beautiful bathtub. Soak away in your cave!
Should you want to see something outside of the room, they offer spa treatments up these stairs...

AND both rooms have private gardens where we hung out and ate an amazing breakfast that they provided (I was eating too much to remember to take a picture...). But here are the stairs inside the cave that led to our private garden.

Anyone who still thinks a hotel is more fun is welcome to head to one right now.

Me? I'm definitely a cave woman through and through.

Here is their official website, should you want to be a cave woman or man as well. 

Romi Sussman
Neve Daniel (when she's not staying in caves in Shekef)