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 naïve 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.