Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fun and Tears

So much has happened since I last wrote that I don’t even know where to begin.  I suppose it makes the most sense to go chronologically and so I will.  The first notable event was our first Israeli “medurah” – bonfire.  Our neighbors, the Arbels, promised their youngest child that if he collected enough wood, they would have a bonfire.  He would not be deterred and so it came to pass that we had a bonfire.  They have a small backyard, so they made a circle with some large rocks and lit the fire.  (Is that even legal to do in the U.S. without a permit?)  We taught the Israelis how to make smores which was a huge success.  The kids had a blast running around, climbing trees, etc.  It is beginning to feel like one big continuous party here. 
Among the bonfire guests was the Canadian family who lives downstairs in our building.  Bennett spends almost every night playing with Daniel, the youngest of three in that family.  They are a very nice, observant family from Vancouver.=C 2 Michael, the patriarch, is an academic opthamologist who is fluent in at least four languages.  Naomi, the matriarch, is also an academic type and keeps inviting me to go Israeli dancing with her.  One of these times I just might say yes!  They have two teenage daughters and Daniel, the fourth grade boy who is pretty much single handedly responsible for making Bennett happy.  They are here for a year and since they have been here for four months already, they have been a great resource for us.  Between the Arbels and the Hoppers, we are pretty much set. Clearly all the stars were aligned when we chose this apartment.
I am going to take this opportunity to publicly thank Steve Rabinowitz (our unofficial “shaliach”) for helping us find this fabulous apartment.  He looked at several apartments for us and chose this one, saying it was a perfect place to live.  He could not have been more right.  I am just glad=2 0I actually listened to him!
Several days after the “medurah” marked the end of Ulplan for Jim, Bennett, Sabrina and me. Although it was hard work and took a lot of our time, we were all a bit sad (some more than others) to see it end.  It was our first community here and we all felt very connected to the teachers and fellow students.  At our graduation, Sabrina sang and danced to two songs and Bennett read a Hebrew essay.  We are very proud of their enthusiasm so far for learning Hebrew and their progress and hope this is just the beginning.
On Friday we left Jerusalem for our first Shabbat away.  We went to stay with friends who live in Ra’anana, a small town of about 80,000 people about an hour west of here.  Interestingly, some folks had suggested that we live in Ra’anana for this sabbatical period because it is full of Anglos and a relatively easy place to live.  After our weekend there, Jim and I felt that although both things were true, we are happy that we are in Jerusalem.  Ra’anana is an “easy” place for Americans to live if making Aliyah, but for a short term stay like ours Jer usalem offers a more unique experience. 
The friends we visited, Mark, Iris, Micki, Shalom and Noam Schwartz, are Shomrei Shabbat - Sabbath observant.=C 2 In other words, there was no driving, no TV or computer use, no handheld devices, no phones, no electrical things (unless of course they are on timers), no work, etc.  And so, for the first time in history, the Bramsons were Shomrei Shabbat for 24 (well I guess technically 25) hours.  Jim and I were both pleasantly surprised at how well the kids did – no whining (at least not about electronic devices), no real complaining and they all willingly went to synagogue – twice!  Now, synagogue in Ra’anana is a very different experience than synagogue in Washington, DC.  The kids have to put on their “Shabbat” clothes and they have to come to the synagogue property, but they are not expected to come in.  In fact, they are pretty much told to stay outside and play.  Just about the entire congregation was English- speaking , so the kids quickly made friends and had a blast playing while the adults (ostensibly) prayed.  This was my first synagogue experience in Israel and all I can=2 0say is it was less than spiritual. Jim ran through the morning service from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning and then took responsibility for Elliot while I attended the “late” service at 9.  As our Rabbi friend Jonathan described it, it was as if we were praying just so we could check it off the to-do list.  The rabbi gave a dvar torah (explication of the torah portion) at 10:30, which Jim got to sit through and which he said was well delivered.  I was back to chasing Elliot by that point as he’d decided he had enough synagogue and had set off (by himself) for home. Aside from the synagogue experience, we really had a wonderful weekend with good food and even better company.
One additional thing worth noting is a thunderstorm that struck on Saturday night.  In Israel, everyone is very good about energy conservation.  If you are not using a light, you don’t leave it on just because.  This applies to hallway lights in apartment buildings and street lights.  As a result, nighttime is very dark, especially in a “suburb” like Ra’anana.  We were all minding our own business when it became clear that it was pouring outside.  I thought nothing of it until all of a sudden, without any lightning flash as a warning, there was the loudest boom I had ever heard.  I of course assumed it was a bomb.  Jim reassured me that it was nothing and we went on with what we were doing.  A bit later Sabrina was in the bath and again, without warning, there was a huge clap of thunder.  Sabrina started crying and shaking and was sure we were being bombed.  My heart sank.  I can’t bear to have Sabrina feel that she is unsafe in Israel – or anywhere for that matter.  I reassured her that it was thunder (even though I of course still had my doubts) and pointed out that if it were a bomb sirens would be going off.  That seemed to convince both of us and so we pulled it together and finished the bed time routine.  I knew that there would be lasting effects from the air raid siren, I just did not know how or when they would arise.  I suspect the next hurdle will be the first bomb drill at school.  Stay tuned…..
We left Ra’anana on Sunday morning for20Tel Aviv and, at Jim’s urging, the Diaspora Museum.  When Jim suggested it, I thought it would be lost on the kids and turn into a frustrating experience for us. Boy was I wrong.  (Yes, take note – I am admitting that I was wrong.)  Jim and I used the museum exhibits to teach the children about their history – a long, involved history of which they know very little.  They were fascinated to learn about the various migrations, oppressions and survivals over the last several thousand years (or at least we were fascinated to tell them).  For Sabrina, it was the first time she learned about the Holocaust.  For Bennett, it was the first time he really talked about it with us.  I found myself emotional (not an uncommon experience these days) as I explained to the children how millions of people died and how many of the beautiful models of famous synagogues they were looking at were destroyed by the Nazis.  As we talked about the innocent people who perished in the camps, I could not help but think about all the innocent people who just died in the Gaza conflict.  The world can be an unkind place sometimes. 
The children were also fascinated by a room in the museum devoted to genealogy. There are a dozen computer terminals at which one can search for family names and relationships. We spent time looking up our grandparent s and friends (as best we could – it turns out there are a lot of Kritzes, Weinbergers, Knapps, Lehrichs and Soslands). Lots of the information was spotty and Jim is now trying to update some of the family data in the online database. My grandmother’s family – the Bukspans – was best represented and I think I probably have my Aunt Shira and Uncle Steve to thank for that.  The kids enjoyed looking back through the generations at familiar names and we are planning to visit with them the cemetery on the Mount of Olives where my great grandparents (who made Aliyah almost 100 years ago) are buried.
After the museum, we walked around the city a bit and then left for home.   Yes, after two and a half weeks, our little three bedroom apartment in the middle of Jerusalem has become “home.”
Monday was a momentous day for me.  I took Bennett on his first visit to the Kotel.  If you remember, our prior visit to the Kotel (Wailing Wall) was a Friday night, our first day in Israel, and Bennett refused to go down the20stairs from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City to the terrace approaching the Wall because we had driven there and it just didn’t feel right to him to drive to the Kotel on Shabbat.  At the time, Ji m and I weren’t sure if he would ever go back.  Well, on Monday he was ready to go.  Jim set off for a park with Elliot (who continues to love school), Sabrina and one of Sabrina’s new friends, while Bennett and I set off for the Old City.  We went in through the Jaffa Gate and walked through the Arab Market down to the Jewish Quarter.  I had not been in the Arab Market (shuk) since I was 17.  It has not changed one bit – lots of aggressive men trying to sell you things you don’t need at inflated prices.  Bennett and I had fun haggling and we came away with a few things.  He hurried me along though, because he was anxious for the main attraction.  After going through the security check point (which I hate because it seems to take away from the experience), there it was looming ahead.  I watched Bennett’s face as he took it all in.  We walked down the stairs and towards the barrier.  I directed Bennett to the men’s side of the Wall and told him I would be waiting for him.  He hesitated for a moment and asked about the =E 2right” thing to do when he got to the revered place.  I told him he should do whatever felt right – recite a prayer from the Siddur, make up a prayer in his head, or say nothing – whatever he wanted. 
As I watched my son, who is just now struggling to understand his place in this world and to understand the role of religion in his life, I was overwhelmed with emotion and began to cry.  As my late grandfather described in a sermon he delivered while a Rabbi in Brooklyn many, many years ago about his first visit to the Kotel, three weeks after the liberation of Jerusalem in 1967, “It was a most unusual fit of crying, totally spontaneous….It was a compulsive outburst, at times hysterical….Why so many tears?...What was the nature of my crying? What a na├»ve question!  What a senseless inquiry!  A Jew cries at the Wailing Wall over the destruction of the First Temple and the Second Temple, over the Babylonian exile and the Roman persecutions, over the Spanish Inquisition and the slaughter following the Black Plague, over the Crusades and pogroms, over Auschwitz and Treblinka, Dachau and Maidansk….”  Today, as a Jew I cried for those reasons, but as a mother I cried for something else.  I cried for my son who wants to understand G-d and wants to understand why it is so hard to really believe.  I cried for my son who is no longer a little boy but a boy well on his way to maturity.  I cried for my son who is learning to love the land of Israel and the history of his people.  I cried because although I don’t always outwardly believe, down deep inside of me – where it matters most – I feel an overwhelmingly connection to this place and I believe that my son now feels it too.
Meanwhile, the world keeps turning around us. Israel called a unilateral cease fire in Gaza. We are relieved that there is an end to the violence. Although there is little confidence here that the rockets will not resume. The question is just when. Some are hopeful that the US and EU will pressure Egypt into providing genuine border controls to minimize the rearming of Hamas. We’ll see.  More hopefully, we watched with pride the live coverage of the swearing in of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the US. Wow. Even from across the world the moment was overwhelming.  Isn’t modern communications wonderful? And I will even be able to watch the new episodes of Lost!
That’s it for now. In the20next day or so I will be helping Sabrina get situated in her new first grade class … and working to try to get Bennett over the hump as well. That will surely be the subject of my next posting.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Air Raid Sirens and Six Degrees (not even) of Separation

When I last left off, Elliot was about to begin school.  I am thrilled to report that he absolutely loves it!  There are 23 children, ages 3.5 through 4.5 in a small three room building with a tiny playground.  His teacher, Tzviah, is loving, patient, kind and, notably, speaks some English. Elliot has jumped right in and is very comfortable and happy.  I feel very lucky that it is working out as well as it is.

 

Things have been fairly uneventful until today, at 1pm, when the air raid sirens went off in Jerusalem. It was a false alarm here triggered by the very real rockets fired into Beersheba this afternoon. It was apparently the first time the sirens have gone off in Jerusalem other than for pre-announced testing since early in the Gulf War. We were not all together when it happened, so we all had different experiences. 

 

Jim was just outside the locked gate of the preschool, waiting to pick up Elliot when the sirens went off.  He was standing with a pregnant woman who, as he describes, became hysterical when the sirens went off.  When they were finally buzzed into the school house, it became apparent that Tzviah (the teacher, aka the Ganenet) had not heard the sirens.  When Jim and the other parent told her, she calmly and efficiently got all of the 23 children under tables until it was all over.  Wow!  Baruch Hashem it was apparently an accident, but the city is now buzzing.  I cannot help but compare this to Bennett’s first day at the Gan – September 11, 2001 – which was far too real.  I could not believe what had become of the world then, much as it is hard today to comprehend what has become of the world.  Although at the time I could not fully appreciate just how safe Bennett was in the Puppy Room with Doris in control, I came to appreciate it with time.  Those of you who sent your children to the Gan at Adas Israel know what I am talking about.  Tzviah is much like Doris (and all the other teachers at the Gan)– I feel with 100% certainty that she will make sure my child is ok.  It is because of that feeling,that I can calmly continue to send Elliot to school.  (That said, much as I did not cross any bridges for two years after 9/11 if my children were not with me, I won’t be going far from the neighborhood while the kids are in school.)

 

While Elliot took then whole thing in stride (all the pre-school kids got a piece of chocolate when they were allowed to come out from under the tables, which seemed to satisfy them), Sabrina, my supposed “bull in a china shop”, did not do quite as well.  Sabrina was at a playground with her friend Nomi and their Ulpan teacher when the siren went off.  Apparently the girls were oblivious at the time. When they returned to the Ulpan building, they could not avoid overhearing all the conversations.  I had to muster all my strength to explain to Sabrina that while yes, there are bombs falling on Israel as we speak and while yes she will experience “bomb drills” (think 15 seconds to get your butt into a bomb shelter or lie flat on the ground if no shelter is available to you), she is safe.  I promised her that I would never knowingly put her well-being at risk.  That is one tough conversation to have with a very sheltered (some might say over-protected) 7 year old.  She was shaken enough that she could not resume her studies for the day.  Then, in typical Sabrina fashion, after she seemingly digested it all, she went running off with her friend for a play date.  I am sure that I have not heard the last of it, but, at least right now, I really do believe that I am NOT putting my children at risk.

 

Bennett actually heard the sirens and knew what they were.  He was in the waiting room with some of the Ulpan staff when they went off.  He did not seem terribly fazed by the whole thing.  His only real concern was that he did not know what he should do if he is not near a shelter when sirens go off.  In case you are curious, the answer is throw yourself flat on the ground and just lie there. In typical Bennett fashion, he could not just accept the answer. He had to question why that is a good idea and how that gives you any kind of protection.  I couldn’t really explain much at the time, other than to assure him that this is the advice from the experts so we should follow it.  He seems to have moved on. (I subsequently learned that the rockets propel shrapnel in a cone-shaped, upward blast so being close to the ground is better than being above ground.)

 

Interestingly, I was so immersed in my Hebrew studies that I did not even hear the siren.  When I came out of my classroom, heard what happened and had to talk to the kids I was fine.  It was not until I spoke to Jim and he described the little children hiding under tables that I got shaken. Nonetheless, I held it together, because, as I said before, I truly believe that we are NOT in danger here in Jerusalem.  I hope that this was a one-time experience, although something in my gut tells me it is going to happen again.  Only time will tell…

 

On a lighter note, I have discovered that you can travel half way around the world and in less than two weeks you will meet people who are somehow connected to you.  First, we met our neighbor, an 82 year old woman named Jane Haber, who made Aliyah in 1992 from Bethlehem, PA – the town next to my home town!  It gets better – when she was fifteen, she “dated” my Uncle Milton.  How is that for coincidence?!  The night after we met Jane, one of Bennett’s new friends came over with a friend of his named Moshe Chaim Cohen.  Moshe Chaim told us that he is here for a year from Seattle.  Naturally Bennett asked if he knows Sam Amiel (a boy who used to go to JPDS with Bennett but moved to Seattle) and he said they go to school together in Seattle.  The connections definitely make us feel even more at home than we already do.

 

Tomorrow is our final day of Ulpan.  We are all a bit sad for it to end, as it has become quite familiar and fun for us.  But alas, all good things must end (especially at the prices they are charging).  Yesterday I went to look at the school for Bennett and Sabrina. It looks great – overcrowded but great.  In the last few days, Bennett has become quite friendly with a Canadian boy, Daniel Potter, here for a year and in the fourth grade at our chosen school.  I know that will help him adjust.  Sabrina is excited because she knows a girl in the 6th grade, Dalia Kahn (Donna Rudolph’s friend’s daughter) and Dalia reminds Sabrina of Samantha Knapp, one of her (and our) favorite people.  They will start next week or the week after.

 

I will tell you all about the Canadians in my next entry.  Now I have to run to prepare for our bonfire with the Arbels (the doctor neighbors).  Our Ulpan friends, Jonathan, Ellen, Timna and Nomi will be joining us as well.  (They are from Woodstock, NY where he is the Reconstructionist Rabbi.  For my Allentown readers, going back to the 6 degrees of separation, he of course knows Henry Shribeman.)

 

Before closing out, I’d like to take a moment to remember Lisa Flaxman, an incredible, strong, wonderful, beautiful, talented, motivated, caring, strong, inspirational mother, wife, individual and friend, who died this morning in DC following a valiant battle with breast cancer.  I know that I speak for those of us who had the privilege of knowing her in saying that the world lost a special soul today.  She will be missed.  May she rest in peace and may her family find comfort in each other and from the many people who cared for her and continue to care for them.  (If anyone wants more information, please contact Debbie Lehrich.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Shabbat as Shabbat

I would like to start tonight with a list of some of the things I have learned so far about Israel:

1.  all new towels of any color other than white run the first time they are washed (even light yellow) even in cold water  (This is particularly problematic if your husband limited your quantity of clothing and one of the five long sleeved shirts you brought with you which happens to be – have been – white was in the wash with a yellow towel.)

2.  not all humus is made equal

3.  doctors make less money than nurses

4.  lice is inevitable and you just have to live with it (ugh)

5.  almost nothing is easy to do 

6.  at least in Jerusalem, there are as many English speakers as Hebrew speakers

7.  it is NOT unbearably cold and gloomy in Jerusalem in January

Tomorrow is a big day for us.  Elliot is starting school.  After much discussion, thought and consultation, we have decided to send him to the preschool one block from here.  It is a private, religious one room preschool with two teachers and 25 kids.  Jim took Elliot to visit there today and he loved it.  It is completely Hebrew speaking, but the head teacher is fluent in English so Elliot should be fine.  He is very excited to go.  I just hope the enthusiasm doesn't wear off overnight.  I don't know about anyone else, but my anxiety level is sufficiently high such that for the first time since the flight here I took a klonopin. (For those not in the know, klonopin is a drug in the valium family and I highly recommend it.)

Everyone else continues to do great.  In fact, Jim and I cannot help but continue to be shocked at how well the children are adjusting and getting along with each other.  Their favorite thing to do is go to playgrounds with spinning equipment.  Unlike the U.S., in Israel most playgrounds still have metal equipment and most of it is an accident waiting to happen.  A perfect example of this is my kids' favorite thing, a merry go round of sorts.  As Sabrina described it to her Aunt Julia today, it is basically a stationary tea cup (think Disney World).  They sit in this thing and then use arm strength to turn it round and round.  Unlike the tea cup, it is made of metal and has no sides so children are at risk of slipping through and falling to the ground at any moment.  Of course, the ground is concrete with a thin layer of sand - no wood chips for Israeli kids.  I guess they make them tougher here.  I am starting to understand why all my Israeli friends think I am off my rocker half the time!

We are beginning to see real progress with everyone's Hebrew. It is amazing what one week can do!  It is also a relief since we have decided pretty definitively to send Bennett and Sabrina to the neighborhood public school - Yehuda Haleivi.  In Israel, most (perhaps every) neighborhood has two public schools - one religious and one not.  We have decided on the religious school.   Among our reasons for selecting this school, is the fact that we have been told that the teachers are nurturing.  In terms of the religious aspect, we think it will be no more than the kids are used to from JPDS.  The only change is that Bennett is going to have to wear tzitzit.  Interesting he is fine with that, he is just not fine if he has to wear a kippa instead of his beloved green hat.  I am going to work on that tomorrow.  Another reason we are in favor of this school is that we have been told that there are a critical mass of Anglos at the school such that the kids should each be able to find an English speaking friend - if necessary. 

Speaking of friends, I need to tell you about our fabulous shabbat this past weekend. After a week of intensive hebrew classes and continuing jet lag, we were all looking forward to a little r and r.  In all my life, other than perhaps when I was at Camp Ramah, I cannot remember a time when I enjoyed Shabbat in the true sense of the holiday - until this past weekend.  We had a nice relaxing day on Friday with a trip to the zoo.  Elliot of course loved the zoo, but so did the other kids.  In fact, Bennett proclaimed it the second best zoo he has ever been to - with the Allentown zoo coming in as number one (go figure).  We came home too late to go to Kabbalat Shabbat so we just changed and headed out for a nice walk to Rob and Camille Kahn's for dinner.  Donna Rudolph, Bennett's wonderful hebrew teacher at JPDS, hooked us up with the Kahn's.  After our dinner Friday night, I can see that it was "beshert."  They are warm, smart, wonderful, inviting people.  In addition to being wonderful people, it turns out that before making aliyah this past August, Rob and Camille did a six month sabbatical starting three years ago.  During their sabbatical their children were similar in age to ours now so they have a wealth of information to share.  Most notably, they sent their kids to Yehuda Haleivi (the elementary school we selected) during the sabbatical and were so happy with it that one of their kids is back there now.  Thank you Donna for the introduction.  I am sure we will remain friends (as you suspected).  In fact, I have a piece of trivia for you Allentown readers - Rob is the Rabbi who officiated at Anna Geller's wedding.  How is that for coincidence!?  

Moving on with Shabbat...we didn't get to bed until after 11 Friday night, so everyone slept in Saturday.  Jim tried to rouse everyone for Shul, but to no avail.  And so, as one would expect from Jim, he set off alone on the walk to Kol Haneshama.  He arrived just before 11 only to find that the service was just about over.  Lesson number 8 - Shabbat services start and end earlier in Israel than in the U.S.  So Jim returned home a bit disappointed.  Around noon, our neighbor came by and invited us for a shabbat walk.  I will digress for a moment and describe these neighbors (who I alluded to in the previous entry).  The Arbels are a family of five.  Daniel, the husband/father, is a pediatric surgeon who longs to be a professional artist.  He spends what little free time he has studying Talmud and painting.  Jim has already enjoyed many spirited, intellectual conversations with him.  Revital, the wife, is a gynecological surgeon.  She is also brilliant.  I thoroughly enjoy her.  She was my biggest help in terms of choosing schools for everyone as she understands my style of mothering (yes, overprotective, neurotic, etc).  They have a 16 year old son who is an aspiring musician, a fourteen year old daughter who is an aspiring artist, and 11 year old daughter who is social in a mature sort of way and excellent at Judo, a 9 year old son with whom Bennett has become fast friends and a 4 year old son who Elliot loves.  As you might have guessed, Sabrina is perfectly happy playing with the older daughters so we do quite well together.  Back to the walk...we got ourselves together and went down to meet them.  We had a wonderful walk to an Israeli style park - a large open space filled with lots of rocks. The park is actually a garden in memory of a boy named Oori who was killed by a terrorist while walking to school.  Revital told the story to Bennett and Elliot, which of course led to lots of questions from Elliot.  He was so affected by the story that before he would go with Jim to look at the school today, he insisted they write letters to the "bad guys" which they would give them should they see them.  The letters asked the "bad guys" to leave them alone.  After spending so much of my life as a mother shielding my children from the horrors of terror, it is hard to make the change that one must make here.  The war and terrorists are ubiquitous and so everyone just knows about it.  It is a way of life.  This probably sounds odd, but in a way it is liberating for me to stop the shielding.  

After the walk, we found ourselves sitting down to a feast with the Arbels.  The kids ran back and forth from our apartment to theirs, while the adults sat and talked until sundown.  It was a perfect day.  I actually felt rested and almost ready to resume my classes. 

I have so much more to tell, but it is late so I must sign off.  Regards to all.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Before leaving for our six months in Israel we asked each of the children about their expectations. Here's what they had to say:


Elliot

video

NB. It's been interesting to see Elliot's pre-trip disinterest in learning Hebrew or making new friends give way in our first week on both scores.



Thursday, January 8, 2009

The end of week one (By Nanci)

Wow!  It is hard to believe we have been here a week already.  I am thrilled to report that the first week far exceeded all of our expectations.  Jim, Bennett, Sabrina and I are thoroughly enjoying ulpan.  As should have been expected, Jim and I are progressing a bit more than the kids but they are doing great.  We had a session today where all of the current students (14 in all) read essays about themselves to the group.  Bennett actually wrote and read a one page essay about himself and used multiple verbs!  (In the past he has chosen one simple verb, like love or want, and used it repeatedly.)  I told his teacher how impressed I was and she said that was nothing.  Apparently he knows a lot more than he lets on (which is exactly what Donna - his JPDS hebrew teacher- always told me).  Instead of an essay, in typical Sabrina fashion, she and her new friend performed a song and dance.  It was very entertaining.  In typical Jim fashion, he wrote an essay about the war, using words that I had never heard before. Although he denies it, I think he stayed up all night using the dictionary.  My essay was, of course, simple yet effective.  I guess this all goes to show that even on the other side of the world our personalities remain in tact.  

Outside of ulpan, we are spending our time getting to know the neighborhood.  Notably, we have found an enormous indoor pool several blocks from our house which we have already used twice; we have found several playgrounds all in walking distance - one with a lighted basketball court for nightime play; and we have found a pizzeria we all agree on.  This evening, Bennett and I set out on a walk to find the neighborhood library.  Two hours and several miles later, we never found the library but had a wonderful walking tour of various Jerusalem neighborhoods.  I am pretty sure it is the longest walk our rather lazy son has ever taken in his life.  Surprisingly, he saw it as an adventure and loved it!  

Against my better judgment, while on our "adventure" we wandered into one of the shopping malls.  It was quite an experience.  Needless to say, Israelis have a very different notion of a shopping mall than Americans.

I said "against my better judgment" because many Israelis believe that shopping malls are terrorist targets.  It is interesting.  Before we got here, I was told that our bags would be checked prior to entering most malls, restaurants and stores.  While there are security guards outside most establishments, and while they allegedly check our bags, they really do no such thing.  Maybe I don't look very threatening, but they do such a cursory job of looking in my bags that it gives me no sense of security.  I was definitely on edge the entire time we were in the mall.  I think we will stay away from them from now on.  
This brings up another point.  When we were walking home Bennett asked about taking a bus.  I am standing by my decision to refrain from taking any buses.  That said, as I watch buses filled to the brim with ordinary people pass by on a regular basis, I can't help but start to think that it must be safe because why else would all these people be on there.  The same is of course true of the malls.  The mall was filled with people - adults and children, Jews and Muslims - all having a good time.  Surely they would not deliberately put themselves at risk!  All that notwithstanding, don't worry Mom, we will continue to stay off buses and out of malls. 

We continue to feel happy and safe.  We hope you feel the same.

One final note.  I was reading an on-line account of the war tonight.  The reporter went to great lengths to note the huge number of Palestinian casualties as opposed to Israeli.  Make no mistake.  This war is not only in Gaza.  Many, many Israelis are spending their days and nights in bomb shelters.  They may not be dying, but they are living in constant fear and under constant attack.  Our prayers are with them and all the soldiers fighting for our survival.  (Mindy and Jeff sent us an article today that addresses this point.  For anyone interested, here is the link  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/05/AR2009010502343.html )


First days (By Nanci)

Day 4

First let me thank all of you for your prayers and well wishes.  We arrived safely and uneventfully late Thursday night.  We arrived at the apartment only to find that while it is great space and a great location, it was filthy and lacking in some basic necessities.  (Maya's mother had been kind enough to deliver groceries ahead of time and can vouch for the condition of the place.  If it had not been for her deliveries, I probably would never have come back.)  Since most of you know me rather well, it should come as no surprise that we spent that first night at the Crown Plaza hotel (only because the Dan and Inbal were fully booked).  After a semi-good night sleep and hot showers, we were ready to go.  Jim took Elliot and Sabrina with him to the apartment to deal with the landlord, while Bennett and I set out for Mega - a supermarket that is somewhat of a cross between Costco and Safeway.  Several hundred dollars and many bags later, we were in a taxi heading for home equipped with every cleaning supply imaginable, new sheets, new towels and a few other basic necessities.  While the kids veg'd in front of th e tv, Jim and I went to work.  We scoured this place top to bottom - I am sure it is the cleanest it has ever been.  I finished unpacking today and I must admit that I now love the apartment.  It still needs a few homey touches, but it is fabulous space, a great location, warm and most importa ntly - the kids love it.  After the cleaning on Friday, we decided to fulfill our promise to the kids and take them to the Kotel on our first Friday night.  It didn't occur to us that it was 9pm and the place was deserted and it might not be the wisest thing. So we forged ahead.  We parked outside the Zion Gate - with Bennett protesting the entire time that we should not be driving on shabbat - and walked quite a ways through the Jewish Quarter.  When we made it to the Kotel, it was odd - there were only two people there.  I had never seen it so empty.  It was not the experience I was hoping for.  As we walked away, Elliot asked when we were going to the Kotel.  I am not sure what he was expecting, but clearly he missed it.  The next day we had a wonderful day with Maya's parents, Aliza and Chris, in their home in Nataf - a small village right on the green line.  They were appalled that we had gone to the Old City and gave us strict instructions to stay away until things settle down.  Apparently there have been quite a few stabbings in the Old City.  I must admit I am glad we found out after we wer e all ok.  Back to our afternoon - Aliza cooked an unbelievable feast which we greatly enjoyed.  It was nice for all of us to see a familiar face.  They are so wonderful.  I know they appreciate our caring for Maya - but as we keep telling them, they were the ones who did something for us by g iving us Maya.  We all miss her and wish she was here with us.  We will see her in February.  When we got home, it was already dark but that didn't stop us from strolling out to Emek Refaim.  (Well, if you really want to know, our power was out because the new electric heat system was causing a melt down.)  When we returned, our landlord met us with an electrician who claims to have fixed the problem.  We all had trouble falling asleep as our schedules are still off.  It didn't matter for most of us, because we did not have to get up in the morning, but poor Jim had to get up at 8am.  Today was the first day of Ulpan and Jim has the early shift.  We split up so Elliot would have company.  When Jim finished, he took Elliot and Bennett, Sabrina and I went.  We all loved Ulpan.  It is three hours of one on one and will be for two weeks.  We hoped to do it longer but it is very pricey.  We met two other American families who are on the same schedule as us.  They were all nice and have promise of friendship.  

Now for the purple elephant in the room- the war.  We really do not feel it in Jerusalem.  There is a military presence, but not an overwhelming one - I remember much more of a presence during my visits 20 years ago.  It is all people talk about and on the front page of every paper, but we really do not feel in danger at all.  In fact, many people believe that West Jerusalem is among the safer places to be.  The IDF is positioned along the Green Line in case trouble comes from that side as well so we are protected.  We have informed the kids of the situation so they are aware and can ask questions.  My concern right now is for all of the soldiers who are in harm's way - including Maya's brother.  We pray for their safety.

It is 12:30 am here and I just woke up Bennett so he could watch the Eagles game - crazy, right?  Well, I am going to watch with him a bit so I will sign off now.  More soon.  We miss you all.  Please send emails to the kids.


(For those of you who don't know, Maya is the 18 year old Israeli who lived with us all fall.  She along with several others is in the US doing a year of service before entering the army.  In four short months she became part of our family.)