Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Banana Bread Bond

The Sukkot holiday started on Sunday night, and as usual, I found myself rushing around right before lighting candles and ushering in the holiday.

“Mommy,” Yehuda called while I was setting up in the kitchen. 

“There’s a banana bread there that Avital just brought over.”

“What?” I said, completely sure that I had to have heard wrong.

“Avital,” he said while racing down the stairs to get in the shower, “She brought over a banana bread."

And I stood in the kitchen as the world spun a bit, chills creeping down my arms. And I cried.

Let me explain.

Stella loved to make banana bread for me. I don’t know if her family actually ever ate it – I’m not sure if she made it for anyone else. But there were, somehow, always loads of bananas “going bad” in their house, and Stella would whip up a batch of banana bread on a random Tuesday, before Shabbat…just about anytime, and send it down our way. She knew my children, especially Yehuda, loved it. And she loved giving people things that she knew they loved.

We had a running joke for many, many years about the banana bread. And when she got sick and I thought I might never see another banana bread, I blogged about it and about my joy when yet another loaf showed up in a moment of energy that Stella displayed.

And when she was gone, one of her daughters made me a banana bread a few times. And we hugged, and cried, and enjoyed every bite.

So on Sunday evening, I was thinking about Stella, since we met 19 years ago that day. We had a story that turned into a bit of lore about how we met and the funny situation that brought us together. And I was a bit weepy as I reminisced this Sunday about the years that were and the times we had; about the nights we spent enjoying and laughing in our sukkot together, including the last one that we shared six weeks before she passed when her burst of energy allowed her to join us all in the sukkah for a night of memories.

I came into the kitchen to prepare for the holiday on Sunday with these thoughts heavy on my mind.

And then, “Mom,” he yelled. “There’s a banana bread in the kitchen for you from Avital.”

And I stared in disbelief at the banana bread. Since Avital, my wonderful, sweet newlywed neighbor, knew nothing about my relationship with Stella and nothing about our shared banana bread bond, our sukkot story, our friendship. And Avital had no particular reason to bring over anything on that evening – I hadn’t loaned her bananas, I hadn’t mentioned I was hungry or needy, I hadn’t helped her to fix a pipe.

And yet, there was a fresh, hot banana bread in my kitchen as Sukkot was about to begin.

And I laughed through my tears, turned to the heavens and smiled up to Stella.

I hear you, my dear friend. I see you. And I remember, as you obviously do as well today.


Chag Sameach wherever you are.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Only Those with Carts Need Apply

My feet are firmly planted on Israeli soil. And yet, I have found over the years that we’ve been here, that there are certain choices that I make in order to feel more comfortable. And they aren’t always the most “Israeli” choices. Saving money matters – but so does saving my sanity and saving my emotional health. And today I chose the latter over the former.

We bought into one of these insurance plans last year that covers a set number of appliances and is supposed to guarantee fast and efficient appliance repairs for a small set monthly fee. “Everyone in the neighborhood has it! It’s a great idea!” So far we’ve been relatively satisfied with it, except for the fact that they tell you when they are coming out (please be home and available from 8am to 1pm on Tuesday and we’ll show up at 3pm– no problem!).

But today, well, today was another story.

My oven broke. And Rosh Hashanah is just days away.

Those two sentences are enough reason for a crisis, for a chance to go running through the streets screaming.

But I tried to keep it together and I called the repair company on Sunday morning. “We can have someone there between 8 and 12 on Tuesday, they said. Or else you’ll have to wait until after the holiday.”

8-12 was perfect.

When the repair person showed up around 11, Josh texted me, “Are they yelling at you yet?” because for some reason the repair people who come to the house always end up yelling at me for one thing or another. “No, all seems ok shockingly,” I texted back in my naivete.

The repair man explained that he’d have to order a part that would, hopefully, well maybe arrive before the holiday.

But here was the good part.

He was shocked to see that I hadn’t removed the massive oven from the wall and placed it on the floor for him. “When I return,” he said, “You must have the oven on the ground.”

Come again?

Here is the oven that the oven repair guy insists I pull out of the wall myself. Hmmmm

I was too stunned to say much except, “Um, what????” And to make him repeat himself.

He, the oven repair person, was explaining to me that he would not, under any circumstances, remove the oven from its place himself but that I, the home owner and clueless oven person, would have to do it.

Aha.

He left and I called Josh to recount the conversation. “You’re kidding,” he said. “That would be like the car repair person asking you to remove the engine yourself before he repaired it. Or the surgeon saying you need to make the incision before he does the actual surgery.”

Hmmmm…good point.

So, I called the company where we bought this insurance plan and explained the situation to them. The woman put me on hold for a few minutes and came back after talking to the technician. “Yes,” she said in her best bubbly voice. “That’s right. We can’t risk having the repair person get hurt removing your oven or accidentally chipping your tile or anything.”

“But it’s ok if I get hurt in the process? You’re kidding, right?”

I tried every tactic. I gave her the car example, the surgery example, I pulled out all my big guns.

And she simply wasn’t budging.

I got off the phone confused and unsure what to do. The part was being ordered and the repair guy would be coming back at some indefinite time to bring it – but only if the oven was on the floor.


Drumming up my best Hebrew superpowers, I called back. And as I explained the situation to yet another woman from the company and told her that I wanted to cancel the order and not have the repair man come out she said, “Oh honey, you’re so right. This is a really dumb policy.”

And I wanted to cry. I wasn’t crazy! Someone was listening to me and understanding me! Someone from their company. I told her how incredibly stupid I thought the policy was and that, not only did I want to cancel this project, but I wanted to cancel my entire policy with the company.

“No problem,” she said. “You’re American aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Kol Hakavod to you for living here. You could be in a place that has such better customer service. That listens to its customers and that has so much to offer. Why are you here?”

“Yes,” I sighed. “There are things that are less complicated there. But here there are so many other advantages. It’s so wonderful for the kids.”

“Ah,” she said. “Yes, the kids.”

I thanked her profusely for her help. She told me that someone would call to confirm my cancellation. 

They haven’t. 

And I’m sure that my battle isn’t over and that I’ll have to follow up 10 times to get my policy cancelled. But at least Limor had listened.

And then, I did what I have come to realize I need to do sometimes to feed my soul – maybe not my pocketbook – but my soul. I called the incredibly reliable American appliance repair man. He told me he’d be over within the hour. And he told me he was bringing a moving cart because he’d have to remove the oven from the wall and work on it on the cart.

Sigh.

This is what should have happened to begin with....

It’s a great country. But at times it’s one where you want to bang your head against the wall, until you realize that you have other resources at your disposal and that you don’t always have to go with the most Israeli way of doing things.

Because sometimes, you just need the easy way to get things done. 

And the one where no one will yell at you today.


And the one where they bring their own cart, take the oven out of the wall and fix it.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

New Beginnings, Again

The first day of school always evokes two very distinct memories for me. Since the entire country starts school on the same day, there is a real sense of excitement that permeates the whole country, of beginnings (and endings) and of camaraderie.

Our first year in Israel, we had a meeting on August 31st at someone’s house in Neve Daniel. I had only two little boys, both of whom were starting nursery school the next day. I remember walking into this house and seeing their five backpacks nicely lined up by the front door. For some reason, that image has stuck with me for 11 years. The backpacks showed such a sense of possibility to me; of order and organization on the part of the parents; of the cycle of life and new beginnings. And now, of course, my guys have their backpacks lined up and ready to go each August 31st.


The other memory is of waking up on September 1, 2004 in our little apartment and hearing my landlord on the floor above singing, “First day of school! First day of school!” as he walked around the house waking his many children. It was such a cute way to awake; there was such a sweet joy in his voice. And it tickled me that we were all, the entire yishuv, the entire country(!) getting ready for school on the very same day. We were all experiencing the excitement, the anxiety together. And this is so true for much of what happens in this little country of ours.

I don't believe we took a picture of them getting ready for school that year (how could that possibly be?) but this is what Matan and Yehuda looked like in September of 2004 when they entered the Israeli school system for the first time.


Armed with these memories, I woke the kids this morning (they are still jetlagged and would sleep well into the morning if I let them) and gathered them up for their first day. Life has gotten so busy for us that I actually took their traditional “back to school” picture last night. Last year we ended up photo shopping Matan into the picture since he had returned to school a day earlier than the other kids started. This year, we grabbed the opportunity on August 31 to capture them all (including weapons boy, tantrum boy, and the dog we are babysitting) and to get them together.


It’s another year of possibilities, of futures, of promise. I recently reflected on what I wrote one year ago today, when Matan headed off to high school. A year later, I am so grateful that we found the perfect school for him. It is reassuring to know that today, when I send him off for his sophomore year, I will (hopefully) have less tears of adjustment, less fear for his comfort and workload. He is in his element and growing into such a glorious young man with the help of this amazing institution. Eliav said to me this morning, “Mommy, remember last year how you cried and cried when Daddy drove away with Matan?” Gee, thanks kid. I replied, “Yep, I’m really good at that. Might be one of my best skills. I’ll probably cry a bit today too, buddy, but maybe not as much.” It’s still very hard to see my first born going away again. We had an amazing summer together and I loved having him under our roof. But I know that he is gaining many skills at school that can’t be taught at home and that he’s growing into the man he’s supposed to be.

Yehuda heads into his last year at Orot Etzion this year, and we will be looking ahead to find the right high school for him as well.

And the rest of them? Well, they will be doing their usual learning with a good bit of basketball, art, swimming and judo thrown in.

May it be a great year ahead for all of us as we start our 12th school year in Israel.