Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pictures from June

The Final Weeks

Alas we begin the process of concluding our woefully too short sabbatical. We will leave this wonderful place in a few days, after one final shabbat. While Jim and I are desperately depressed and clinging to every last second, the children are excited to go home. Simply put, they miss their friends. I must admit that I am glad it is not the material things that they miss, but rather the all important personal connections. I see that as a sign that Jim and I are doing something right as parents (along with the many things we do wrong).

True to form we have been busy the last few weeks. We took a trip to the northwest to see Haifa, Akko and Rosh Hanikra. (I must confess that it was the worst of all our trips. The kids are just done being tourists. I am not sure how that will play out in London next week. Only time will tell.) Jim took Bennett and Sabrina to Bet Guvrin on an archaeological dig. (Incidentally, the small world thing happened on that experience as it turned out that their guide was someone with whom I went to Camp Ramah!) They also went to see the stalagmite and stalactite caves near Jerusalem. We all went to the Tower of David light show which, although highly recommended, was somewhat disappointing for us. I took the kids for a last spin through the Old City – including the Burnt House and Old Yishuv Courthouse Museum (both of which we enjoyed).

In addition to all the tourist activity, we have spent quite a bit of time saying goodbye to people, places and activities. We have said goodbye to almost all of our sabbatical friends; we said goodbye to the Schwartzes in Ranana; we said goobye to our wonderful tutor/babysitter Simone; Jim said goodbye to his cousins Shai and Margie; we had Sabrina’s goodbye party from first grade; we had Elliot’s gan finale; we had Sabrina’s dance recital; and we had the end of season baseball party where we said goodbye to all of Bennett’s teammates who, of course, are now friends. (Another quick small world experience – one of the player’s fathers is from Wilmington, Delaware and went to Pine Mere Camp with the Ufbergs of Allentown.) Tomorrow we say goodbye to my cousin Deena and the Potters and, on Saturday the Whitefields and the Livingstons (Terrence, Annette, Yesherun, Aliyah, etc). We have not yet planned our goodbye with the Arbels, but I am sure that will be a hard one.
While in the midst of all these goobyes, I had an opportunity to say hello to two cousins I did not know I had. One, Shirley Zuckerman, is my paternal grandmother’s first cousin. Jane Mitnick, my neighbor here who is also originally from my home town of Allentown, made the connection. Shirley and her husband (both in their 80s) made aliya 25 years ago when they followed their two sons here. We had such a great time meeting. I only wish we could have met earlier in our sabbatical.

The other cousin I met, Art, is from my mother’s side. Art was my maternal grandfather’s first cousin. Although we were not able to arrange an in person meeting, we spent a bit of time getting to know each other over the phone. Again, if only I had made the contact earlier.

In preparation for our departure, we made lists of some of the things we have learned, some of the things we have enjoyed and some things we would not do again. The latter two lists are mostly for people who are coming to Israel for a sabbatical or a vacation (although there are some personal memories included as this is the master list). The first list is pure entertainment.

A final “blog entry” is in the works. For now, read, enjoy and stay tuned.

Things I Have Learned
1. Contrary to his expectations, Bennett did not really like being homeschooled. He would much rather be in school with his friends.
2. Sabrina’s opinion of a new place or activity is wholly dependent on whether she makes friends.
3. Elliot is adaptable.
4. Jim and I enjoy spending time together. This will make retirement much easier to take.
5. Even babies sit in the front car seat in Israel.
6. Bennett does not abuse cell phone privileges.
7. Our family can live comfortably in a relatively small 3 bedroom apartment with only one television and no dishwasher – as long as there are 2 bathrooms.
8. To continue the theme, I can live without a television in the bedroom (at least temporarily).
9. Our family can drive long distances in a very small car without killing each other (as long as we remember the DVD player).
10. Elliot is still cute without his curls.
11. Given spare time, Jim’s choice activity is reading the Tanach.
12. Jerusalem is in fact cold in the winter and early spring.
13. Jerusalem is in fact boiling in the summer.
14. Swimming in the Dead Sea is fun only in theory. In reality, it burns.
15. The Dead Sea may be the lowest place on earth, but you still need sunblock.
16. The majority of Israelis with whom we came into contact are VERY right wing.
17. All Rabbi Majeskis are awesome.
18. Life is much more enjoyable when I don’t spend half my day in the car.
19. Bennett is not such a picky eater after all.
20. Even after six months, the kids still miss home.
21. At the end of the day, I’d rather have to do laundry in Jerusalem than D.C. (This one is for you Meir.)
22. I love Kabbalat Shabbat at Yakar and Shira Chadasha.
23. The Allentown Jewish Day School actually succeeded at teaching me Hebrew.
24. Bennett likes to read and can even read novels.
25. At 7 ½, Sabrina still loves “big girls”.
26. Sabrina is the most confident and independent of all our children as demonstrated by the fact that she successfully transitioned into an all Hebrew speaking school without ever really backsliding. (Elliot also made the adjustment, but he did backslide several times.)
27. Little league in Israel is just as contentious (and far less organized) than in the U.S.
28. Jim and Bennett can get along as coach and player.
29. Israeli drivers are the worst and would rather hit you than stop to let you cross the street.
30. Israeli cab drivers do not like to be given directions.
31. Free events in Israel are too crowded to attend.
32. Most women in the German Colony area of Jerusalem wear skirts.
33. Public school in Israel costs money (though not a lot by US standards).
34. A non-kosher steak at a mid-tier steakhouse in the US tastes better than the best kosher steak in Israel.
35. I am more afraid of random crime in D.C. than terrorism in Israel.
36. Israelis litter far more than Americans.
37. Israelis use way too many plastic bags at the grocery store.
38. Crocs are twice as expensive in Israel as in the U.S.
39. Spongebob Squarepants is just as “entertaining” in Hebrew as in English.
40. When TV options are limited the kids will pretty much watch anything (including Spanish language soap operas with Hebrew subtitles).
41. Lost continues to “lose” me.
42. There is no harm in living a life committed to G-d.
43. Youtube must be supervised.
44. When booking a hotel room, one must claim to have only two children.
45. Three months away would still have been too long for my parents.
46. Sleepovers on school nights aren’t so bad (and actually helped ensure getting to school on time the next morning).
47. This sabbatical was a treasure for us all.
48. Fridays are the best days of the week in Israel.
49. When buying something in Israel, you get at least three receipts all of which say “non-cancellable and non-refundable”.
50. Motorcycle drivers do not need to follow any traffic laws and have no regard for their own (or anyone else’s) life.
51. Children only care to see a limited number of ruins (you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all).
52. Jim’s “How to Plan a Sabbatical” book was annoying yet accurate.
53. Given the right circumstances, even adults can form lifelong friendships in a short period of time.
54. It is easier to see a Jewish boys’ choir perform in the U.S. than in Israel.
55. Six months is a long time in the life of a child.
56. We made a mistake by not sending Bennett to full time school.
57. We were right to put Sabrina and Elliot in Hebrew speaking schools.
58. Six months is just not long enough for a sabbatical in Israel.
59. Our travel agent was right to push us to rent a car.
60. When you ask someone in Jerusalem “how are you?”, 7 out of 10 times they will respond “baruch hashem….”
61. Israeli teenagers prefer to walk in the middle of the street rather than on sidewalks.
62. Frommer’s 2009 Israel guide book is NOT reliable.
63. Just because a person is observant, it does not mean he/she is a good person.

Some of Our Favorite Things During Our Sabbatical (in no particular order)
1. Ulpan Or
2. Meeting and loving our sabbatical friends – the Krieglers, the Voits, the Feldmans, the Goldings, the Potters, and the Bernsteins
3. The Arbels
4. Spinning at the playground on the way home from Ulpan Or
5. Going to the Hazfira playground and marcolet after school especially with Molly and Sammy
6. Going to Brechat Yerushalaim (the pool) and Elliot learning to swim
7. Collecting poogs (little plastic chips with Yugio-like images that come in bags of chips)
8. Kibbutz Ein Gedi – especially mini golf and the mini zoo
9. Hiking Nachal David
10. Masada – Jim and Bennett hiking down
11. The Dead Sea – in theory
12. Going to the Whitefields to see Chris, Aliza, Tan and the dogs
13. Climbing the neighborhood “treehouse”
14. Bonfires at the Arbels
15. Tower of David Museum
16. Yom Haatzmaut celebrations with fireworks
17. The Davidson Center (archeological site by the Jewish Quarter)
18. Safari at Ramat Gan
19. Climbing wall at Teddy Stadium
20. Shabbat with Maya Wergeles
21. Seeing Maya and Yossi the shinshins
22. Afrikef monkey park
23. Swimming in Herzelia and playing on the exercise equipment on the beach
24. Safta Jane
25. Elliot learning Hebrew – “ani rozeh lesachek”
26. The election …. and coalition politics
27. Pardes for Jim
28. Latrun tank museum
29. The Clandestine Immigration museum in Haifa
30. The Isrotel hotel in Tel Aviv
31. Kfar Blum (renovated rooms) and playing running bases on the lush grass
32. The grottoes in Rosh Hanikra
33. Akko and the Turkish Bathhouse
34. Haifa’s cable car and subway
35. Finding out Jim’s and Nanci’s families knew each other in Poland!
36. Meeting cousins – Deena, Shai and Margie
37. Biking in the Hula Valley with Bubbie and Zaide
38. Manara Cliffs – ziplining and bungee jumping
39. Golan jeep tour with Bubbie and Zaide
40. Jerusalem Zoo
41. Ein Yael biblical craft park with the Weisses
42. Visiting with the Davidsons, Frenkel/Fontheims, Nicolsons and Weisses at Pesach
43. Running into Sarah Brooks in the Old City resulting in Bennett spending the afternoon with Aaron
44. Eilat – the seaquarium, Kings Castle (except when Sabrina got rope burns) and a motor boat ride in the Red Sea to see the imported dolphins
45. Petra with the Nicolsons
46. Shabbat dinner with Bill Knapp
47. Bennett giving tours of the Israel Museum
48. Hezekiah’s Tunnel
49. Excavating and finding pottery at Beit Guvrin
50. Bennett checking out arcardes in every major hotel in Eilat while Sabrina went to a cabaret show
51. Gan Zviah – especially meeting Shai
52. Yehuda Halevi – especially the mesibat siddur, Sabrina’s award, Margalit, Elisheva and teaching the class the Cha Cha Slide
53. Jim coaching and Bennett playing little league – especially winning the Jerusalem championship game after which Bennett was awarded the game ball (by the other team’s coach!)
54. Our first shomer Shabbat experience with the Schwartzes in Ra’anana
55. Bennett playing with Shalom in Herzelia on the beach and at the park (best swings/climbing structure/slide in Israel)
56. Ra’anana park (also great swings, climbing structure and much more)
57. Ecological Purim parade in Sde Boker
58. Purim and Shabbat with the Majeskis
59. Shabbat in Jerusalem – every one of them!
60. Nanci’s quest for the perfect Kabbalat Shabbat service
61. Bennett going to Yedidia for Shabbat with friends
62. Tuli B’Buli, Saba Noach and other performances at the Jerusalem Theater
63. Sabrina and Elliot Playing in the lobby of the Jerusalem Theater with Gavi and DeeDee
64. The Train Theater performances
65. Jewish magic show at the Begin Center
66. Elliot Playing power rangers with Shai
67. Chariot races at Caesaria
68. Playground in Ashkelon
69. Climbing the bridge in Ganei Katamon
70. Bennett’s ulpan and the group playdates afterwards
71. Going to the Kotel
72. Being Bedouins
73. The Diaspora Museum
74. Bicycle riding around Lake Hula to see migratory birds
75. Spending lots and lots of time together as a family
76. Bennett, Sabrina and Elliot all sharing a room the entire 6 months (even though we had an empty bedroom)
77. Story time when Shacar and Nitai Arbel babysat
78. Visits from Bubbie and Zaide and Grandpa and Grandma Ruth
79. The Jerusalem Time Elevator
80. Treasure Hunt at the Old Yishuv Court Museum
81. Bible Lands Museum with the kids’ scavenger hunt
82. The Burnt House
83. Watching Spanish language soap operas with Hebrew subtitles
84. Philosophical discussions with Mason, Josh, Michael, and Maer
85. Art class taught by Nessa’s Aunt Yochani
86. Bennett wrestling with Nathaniel and Sam
87. Beit Guvrin
88. The Turkish Bath tour in Akko

Things we would not do again
1. Mini Israel
2. Homeschool Bennett (ok, I know you get the point)
3. Community courses at Pardes
4. Miss so many Friday nights in Jerusalem

Before concluding, I would like to extend deepest sympathies to our dear friends, Dave, Tamar, Eliana and Jakey Nicolson on the loss of their baby, Chaim. When the Nicolsons arrived to visit us in April, Tamar had just learned that she was pregnant. We were all very excited and looking forward to the anticipated arrival. Unfortunately, Chaim was delivered prematurely and too little to survive on his own. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Nicolso

Thursday, June 4, 2009

To make aliya or not to make aliya, that is the question.

When Jim and I set out for our “sabbatical”, we never once contemplated that it would lead to aliya (becoming Israeli citizens). In fact, we never planned on even thinking about it. That was not why we were coming. But, now that we are here, aliya is very much on our minds. Everyone we meet, Israeli and non-Israeli alike, asks us not if but when we are making aliya. Consequently, Jim and I have spent a lot of time talking to each other and our wonderful friends about why aliya both is and is not for us.

We absolutely love our life here. My kids are universally accepted for who they are; they have an incredible amount of independence; we are surrounded by friends all of whom are very accessible; we spend very little time in the car; I am more intellectually stimulated than I have been in years (probably since law school); money is only important in so far as paying the bills for necessities (opulence doesn’t seem to exist – at least not in the circles we have encountered); school is much more relaxed academically (in other words, no homework and no pressure); Jim is around and relaxed (yes I know that is because he is not working, but even if he were working here, I believe the pace would be more relaxed); Kabbalat Shabbat at Yakar or Shira Chadasha (I gave it another try) is wonderful and inspiring; on Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Day) and Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day – the Day of Remembrance) a siren sounds through the entire country and everyone (literally everyone) stops what they are doing and observes a minute of silence to remember those who died so that we could live; we can go to the beach for the day; and, most importantly, being Jewish is easy and fun.

Then there are the things I don’t like: many Israelis are too right wing for my taste (they think Arabs do not deserve equal treatment); Israelis (probably all middle easterners) are lacking in patience (no one knows how to stand in line and wait for his/her turn); the drivers are awful (Elliot and I had a narrow miss the other day); there is no Target or Costco (how are you supposed to get rid of lice if you can’t buy the bulk sized bottle of alcohol?!); I sometimes feel like a pariah because we are the rare breed as a non-observant family in an observant neighborhood (this of course would resolve itself if we were living outside of Jerusalem); aside from the Arbels and the Whitefields, many of our friends are leaving in June; although Elliot and Sabrina are now very settled in, Bennett still misses home terribly; although my Hebrew has improved, I continue to struggle with the language barrier; I cannot figure out the television schedule; and, of course, most of our friends and family are very far away.

Alas, regardless of whether the pro or con list is longer, we will in fact be returning to Washington in July. When we leave here, in addition to a love of the country we will also leave with a much better understanding of why the people are the way they are – that is why most Israelis are right wing and why civility is not as apparent as I would like (or as my wonderful friend Rabbi Tara Feldman says, why most Israelis have post traumatic stress disorder).

It is no secret that many Arabs hate the Jews. It is also no secret that
many Arabs resent Israel’s existence. These same people who absolutely despise Jews and the State of Israel, live within spitting distance of the country. As we saw clearly during our visits to the Golan Heights and Petra last month, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria are right next door, as of course also are Gaza, the West Bank and Egypt. To add to the security anxiety, many of the borders are in the mountains, giving these potentially enemy countries a huge strategic advantage. This means that whether you hear about it in the Disapora or not, Israelis live in constant fear for their lives and country. Bombs dropping in the Gaza and Lebanon border areas unfortunately continues to be a fact of life for many. The outside world is somewhat dismissive of these incidents because frequently people don’t die. But how would you feel if bombs were falling in your backyard? Would you say who cares as long as no one was hurt or would you say how am I supposed to live like this?

To understand the situation better, just imagine that you are living in DC and Al Quaeda is living happily in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. Then imagine that just to make sure you knew they were out there, once a week or so they would shoot bombs on DC or send a suicide bomber over the border. More times than not no one would be killed so the rest of the world wouldn’t understand if you complained that you felt unsafe. Then imagine that once every few years or so you were at war with the neighbors. Would you feel safe? Would you be able to act civilly on a daily basis? I know that some of you think that I am exaggerating to make a point. If only I were. These are the hard cold real facts. It is life here in Israel. You learn to ignore it for the most part and live your life but it permeates the mood here. After all, how could it not?
(By the way, I hope this does not feel preachy. I am not trying to do that. I am just trying to explain what life is like here.)

Regardless of the constant threat, Israelis know how to celebrate the good times and mourn the sad ones. The last two months were examples of that as we had one holiday after another. The holidays included happy celebrations – Purim, Pesach, Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day), Yom Yerushalaim (Jerusalem Day) and Shavuot – and sad commemorations - Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Memorial Day) and Yom Hazicaron (Memorial Day).

I already covered Purim and Pesach in previous entries so I will skip those here. April 21 was Yom Hashoa. – the day we remember the millions of people slaughtered in the Holocaust. Interestingly, my children had never heard much about the Holocaust. (Bennett would have learned about it this year at JPDS had he been there.) Because Yom Hashoa is freely talked about here, Jim and I were obligated to educate the children on the atrocities of World War II. As all of you parents can appreciate, it is not an easy topic to discuss. At ten years old, Bennett listened and internalized, while at seven years old Sabrina was full of questions. Interestingly, she wanted to know what the U.S. did in the war. I told her that the U.S. fought the bad guys to free the people in the concentration camps. Sabrina listened and then asked me why it was ok for the Americans to kill people (which she assumed they did to end the war even though she doesn’t know the half of it) but it was not ok for the Germans. In other words, she was struggling to understand when killing someone is ok and when it is not – wow! Now that is one hard concept to teach a 7 year old. Actually, it is a hard concept to teach a 41 year old as well. I struggled with it during my visit to Yad Vashem. (Both Jim and I went to Yad Vashem this past month.)

Just one week after Yom Hashoa, we observed Yom Hazicaron. During both Yom Hazicaron and Yom Hashoa, a siren sounded and the entire country observed a minute of silence. Jim, Bennett and I went out to a busy street so we could feel like part of the community during the silence period. We were heading to Emek Refaim, but made it only as far as Rahel Imeinu. It was far enough because there was plenty of traffic on the street and pedestrians on the sidewalks. When the siren sounded, the pedestrians stopped in their tracks and all cars came to a halt with the drivers literally exiting their cars. It was the one of the most powerful moments I have had thus far. Just like when I took Bennett to the Kotel, I felt tears involuntarily streaming down my face. I was simply overwhelmed by the sadness of the moment. Just as Sabrina struggled with Yom Hashoa, she also struggled with Yom Hazicaron. She finds it sad that Israelis must go to the army and fight in wars because it means certain death for some. Again, a hard concept for a seven year old – and a forty-one year old.

The next day was Yom Haatzmaut – Independence Day. There were Israeli flags flying everywhere, barbeques (we went to the Whitefields, of course) and a city-sponsored celebration at night which included fireworks. We had a great time.
Interestingly, as I was reminded today during a tiyul to the West Bank with my friend Tara and a Bezelem worker (Bezelem is a human rights organization), while Yom Haatzmaut is a day of celebration for Jewish Israelis, it is a day of mourning for Palestinians as it is the day they lost their homeland. Yoav, the Bezelem worker, gave us the reader’s digest version of the Palestinian dilemma mostly created by the building of the border wall. In building the wall, the Israelis have accomplished the goal of reducing terror attacks but they have managed to worsen the lives of the already second class citizens. The West Bank now has a 60% poverty level, as compared to 30% in West Jerusalem (which incidentally is mostly attributable to the enormous population of Haredi/religious Jews). The wall was put up without much regard for land rights or transportation needs. Yoav does believe that the wall was necessary. What he takes issue with is the way it was put up.

During our discussions we talked about the fact that the Israel of today is not the Israel originally envisioned by Theodore Herzl. Herzl wanted Israel to be the example for the world - a country on a moral high ground. Israel was supposed to be a nation united in favor of life, not in fear of death. So I ask, should we be held to a higher moral standard just because we are Jewish?

The most recent holiday was Shavuot. As is tradition, Jim spent the night learning. He came home at 3:30 a.m. As soon as he came home, I left to walk with my friend Aya and her son Sam to the Kotel for shacharit. This is also tradition. While it was not as spiritual as I had expected (Aya had promised lots of singing and dancing), it was very moving to be part of the sea of people walking the streets of Jerusalem in the wee hours of the morning. When we arrived at the Kotel we could hardly believe our eyes – every inch of the Western Wall plaza and all steps leading to and from it were filled. It was a virtual sea of black and white. Estimates put the crowd at at least 100,000 people. My friend Meir, a rabbi, pondered whether this might have been the largest single gathering of Jews for prayer since Har Sinai. Hmmmm……

Since, at the end of the day, we are here as tourists, we have continued to explore the country. During the last month we have spent quite a bit of time in and around Jerusalem. We have gone to the Israel Museum (again), the Herzl Museum, Yad Vashem, the City of David, the Ayalon bullet factory, the Davidson Center (the Southern Wall excavations), the Temple Mount and Hezekiah’s tunnels. Everything was interesting and informative.

The trip the Temple Mount is worth noting. I really wanted to go so I dragged Bennett with me. Interestingly, before Bennett could bring himself to walk up the ramp to the Mount, he insisted that we kiss the Kotel first. Then, while on the Temple Mount Bennett asked me why Judaism isn’t one of the biggest religions since three of the major world religions emanate from Judaism – after all, Jesus was Jewish and Mohamed claimed to be a Jewish prophet. It was an insightful, thoughtful question and one which led to much discussion.

The first of our friends left this week. The end of our journey is approaching fast. We have a lot to do in the next six weeks. As I predicted, we will leave here with very heavy hearts and, as many of you predicted, with hopes that one day we may be lucky enough to return perhaps for good.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Visitors, Passover and Tiyulim

During the past month, Jim and I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting on why we are here in Israel and what we are accomplishing during our stay. The reflection was inspired in part by our local friends, all of whom suddenly feel close enough to us to ask us why we are here. We are not Rabbis or Jewish educators like most of them; nor are we ritually observant (and yes, contrary to all your predictions, that is still true); we do not have aspirations of making aliyah any time soon (also still true, again contrary to all the predictions) – so they ask, why are we here?
Jim and I are Zionists. We believe in and support Israel as a Jewish state and feel emotionally bonded to Israel’s future. It is an adolescent and imperfect country but is rapidly evolving, and we feel committed to being involved in that evolution. We both love being Jewish - the culture, the history, the values, the aspirations and the community. We love that Judaism at core encourages and requires constantly asking the question “why?” We love the freedom to try to find one’s own answers to life’s important questions. We want our children to understand that these things are important to us and to see us making personal choices to live our values. Living in Israel – even if only temporarily – has given us a chance to introduce the kids to Israel and begin their own lifelong connection to Israel and the Jewish people. We also believe that having removed our family from the normal distractions and pressures of the hustle and bustle back in DC has given the children a better sense of us and the choices we value. At least we hope so. That is why we are here.
Assessing what are we are actually accomplishing during our “sabbatical” is a bit more complicated and I’m sure we’ll reflect on that for years to come as we see the children grow into themselves. There are the obvious things like more time together as a family (and I am happy to report that has been a successful experiment), improving our Hebrew (at least marginally) and building an understanding of and connection to Israel. But then there are the less obvious aspects, like the effect of having Judaism completely permeate almost every aspect of our lives. It is true that when living in Israel, or at least in our little discrete corner of Israel, Judaism is all consuming. We spend our free time talking about the Torah or the holidays, analyzing the reasons for various customs, deciphering text, debating about the regional conflicts, and trying to put it all into historical context. We are surrounded by very learned, intelligent, interesting, opinionated people, all of whom indulge us and themselves in these discussions.
So, what are we accomplishing? We are learning. It surrounds us. All three of the kids walk around singing Hebrew songs, talking about holidays, inquiring about the places we visit and news stories they hear discussed, asking questions. Their awareness of their heritage is much keener than ever before. And they have more time to think about it than they have in the past. Bennett in particular has been wrestling with some of the big “why” questions.” The other night while lying awake with Jim, Bennett said he was having trouble reconciling the creation story in Genesis with scientific evidence. If that wasn’t enough, he said he thought the concept of God seemed irreconcilable with “free will,” which he found troubling. I’m sure these are questions he’ll continue wrestling with for quite some time, but we feel fortunate to be able to have the time to have these conversations with him and watch him grow.
I’ve also managed to find some time for my own learning, attending a Wednesday morning shiur (lesson) for women. Several weeks ago I went to a parsha of the week shiur taught by Leah Golomb. I am somewhat unique in the group as all the other attendees are observant women (skirts and head covers) who made aliyah at some point in their lives. During the lesson, Leah spoke about the Diaspora. She began by saying how lucky she felt that she had made the “right” decision (that is to make aliya). She then went on to disparage those Jews who choose to continue to live outside of Israel. I was taken aback and alienated by her attitude. I believe strongly in the State of Israel but that does not mean that I have to live here to be a good Jew. Just as I was recovering from that slap in the face, Leah moved on to a new topic about how kind people can be. She then told us how when she needed to raise money for a surgical procedure, she went straight to the Jews in Westchester, New York and sure enough within two weeks she raised the necessary funds. I could not believe what was happening and I could not believe that I was the only one in the room to even notice. In one breath she dismissed all of the Jews living in the Diaspora as insignificant, but in the next breath she brazenly admitted to her own reliance upon the good will and resources of those same people. When I raised this apparent conflict with my friend, she said that she agreed that Jews are obligated to live in Israel and that she did not see any inconsistency in what Leah had said. I remain perplexed. Perhaps this particular shiur is just not for me. I’m not planning to return.
We have done quite a bit of travelling over the past month. We spent a day with friends in Ra’anana at the fabulous Ra’anana park – a must do for families coming to Israel. We spent the night in Netanya. The beach was nice, but I could do without the town. We then visited Caesaria to see the ruins. We had a great time there and even ran into the Eichenbaums (Deborah, David, Isaac and Emma). Here is that small world thing again!
After that trip, life became focused on two things – Bennett’s 10th birthday and impending visitors from America, including my parents. Our first visit was from Tamar, Eliana and Jakey Nicolson. We had a great day with them here in Jerusalem. In fact the day they were here was the day of Bennett’s birthday party. Bennett invited five boys over for soccer, pizza and cake (homemade I might add), followed by a trip to a Hapoel Yerushalayim basketball game against Maccabee Rishon Letzion. The boys had a great time.
The day after the party my parents arrived. All of us were really excited to see them. This is the longest we have gone without seeing them in 10 years! I wish I were exaggerating but I am not. After a day of jet lag (not even), they settled right into our lives. The first full day they were here, Elliot and Sabrina went to a little neighborhood camp (the kids are wrapping up a three week Passover break) while Bennett took my parents to the Israel Museum for a tour of his favorite thing, the Shrine of the Book. The next day was Bennett’s birthday. I must admit I spent quite a bit of time worrying about that day. Being away from home has been hard on all of the kids and I did not want Bennett to feel disappointed on his big day. After much discussion, we came up with a plan for the day that was acceptable to everyone – present opening, cake (homemade again) for breakfast (thanks to the Soslands for that idea), go-carting, lunch at the Waffle Bar (one of the kids’ favorite restaurants), followed by bowling and then take-out dinner. After dinner, he went through all the emails everyone sent – thank you to all of you, it meant a lot to him! Bennett had such a great day that he never wanted it to end. I must admit I was relieved.
The day after Bennett’s birthday, we packed up shop and all headed north to the Galil. We spent three nights in the guest house at kibbutz Kfar Blum (thanks Amanda Alter for that suggestion) and could not have been happier. We visited the Manara Cliffs for ziplining, alpine sliding and bungee trampolines; we went to Beit Shean to see the incredible ruins; we did a jeep ride in the Golan Heights; we spent an afternoon in Sefad; and we went bike riding around Hula Lake where we saw migrating storks and pelicans. It was a great trip. We all want to go back as there was so much more to do that we couldn’t get to. Hopefully time will allow.
We came home Monday to operation Pesach (Passover). Pesach mania had simply taken over this town. Fortunately for me, since I was not making a seder (the first time in seven years), I got to watch everyone else run around while I just relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful day. We spent the seder with the Whitefields (Maya the shinshin’s family) where, other than the fact that my mother didn’t feel well, we had a wonderful time. Jim has already posted photos from that night. We noticed several things different about the holiday in Israel (besides the fact that we only needed to celebrate one seder). Scattered around our neighborhood the day before Pesach were little bonfires for burning up hametz (food that can’t be eaten during Pesach). People would gather around nibbling and talking while they threw their last bread crumbs into the fire. Pesach is the one holiday in Israel that all Jews seem to celebrate, even if they are not otherwise observant. They greet each other by saying “Pesach kosher v’sameah” (have an “observant” and happy holiday). And by throwing an entire country into the holiday, they’ve discovered ways to cook just about every kind of food without leavening (the kids endorsed the pancakes, waffles and schnitzel – all of which were kosher for Passover). We suspect the difference is that restaurants use corn meal, which Sephardi Jews regard as kosher for Passover but which many Ashkenazi Jews do not. In any case, it was a tasty holiday even though we missed my grandmothers’ delicacies this year.
During the week following the seder, we had visits with the Fontheims (Claude, Orit Frenkel, Jordan, Ari, and Maya), the Davidsons (Alan, Melissa, Amelia and Harry) , the Weisses (Baruch, Laura Blumenfeld, Daniel, Rebecca and Jamin), and the Brooks (David, Sarah, Naomi and Aaron – we did not see Joshua). The kids could not have been happier. They all had their friends and it felt like a big reunion. It was particularly nice for Elliot to be with his cohorts once again. The only problem with seeing them was the inevitable goodbye. Fortunately, everyone handled it fairly well.
On Sunday we said goodbye to my parents and headed to Eilat to spend four days which included a trip to Petra. The Nicolsons were kind enough to invite us to join them on their family trip and we simply could not pass up the opportunity. The trip was amazing. Jim and I particularly enjoyed seeing Petra. While the kids had a good time as well, particularly because they shared it with their friends, Jim and I both felt that the Petra excursion was not an optimal outing for the kids, who clearly preferred Eilat. They immediately noticed how different Eilat is from Jerusalem. In fact, on the first night when we were walking on the promenade by the beach, Bennett turned to me and said, “Why aren’t there any Jews in Eilat?” I looked at him like he was crazy and asked what he meant. He said that he did not see any kippot or tzit tzit so he assumed no one was Jewish. I guess that is what comes from living in Jerusalem and immersing ourselves in somewhat of a dati (religious) life! Needless to say, by the next day we found the kippot and tzit tzit so Bennett felt much more at home. (In re-reading about this exchange with Bennett I suppose I should point out that Bennett, Elliot and Jim are NOT in the habit of wearing kippot or tzit tzit, which made his comment all the more curious in that he has come to believe that most Israeli Jews are observant – which is not the case in general.)
We came home to a visit from Melissa Balaban and her daughter Emma. They are here visiting their daughter/sister, Maya who is on a semester program associated with Camp Ramah. Their husband/father Adam – who is a close friend of Jim’s from his college year in Israel – will be arriving later this week. It is really great to see them and have them here. We are also looking forward to the arrival this week of Jim’s dad, Bob, and step-mom, Ruth. We are all excited to see them.
I am happy to report that since last I wrote, I have made it to several synagogues. My favorite is upstairs at Yakar. The praying is so contagious that I found myself singing louder and louder just to keep up. It is quite an experience. I do like Shirah Chadasha as well, but I prefer the intimacy of Yakar which is significantly smaller. I must say that I have really come to love going to Kabalat Shabbat services. In all these years I have struggled to find something that I wanted to do just for me, and now I find that this is serving that role. I hope to find a venue when I return to DC so I can continue.
We’ve passed the halfway point in our stay in Israel (hard to believe), which has caused me to do some reflection on the experience and my impressions of Israel. It just so happened that at the same time, David Brooks was here and published his own reflections on Israeli society. I felt that he eloquently captured a good deal of what I was feeling and if you haven’t seen this column, I recommend it to you:
Before signing off, I need to address a misunderstanding that several of you had. In my last entry I referred to “silent readers” and several of you took that as a call for communications. It was not. I was merely trying to explain a distinction. I apologize to those of you who took it the wrong way and saw it as a plea for emails. I do appreciate the feedback I’ve received from many of you. But I’m pleased to know that others have taken an interest in following my travails and I really don’t expect responses. I know everyone is very busy.
I hope everyone had happy Passovers and Easters!