I am sorry it has been so long since I have written. Things have been a bit hectic here. Both Sabrina and Elliot had strep. Normally that is no big deal, but they each got rather sick and needed quite a bit of TLC. Fortunately, antibiotics are readily available here as well, so within 24 hours of the confirmed diagnosis they were both back in business. Interestingly, for reasons which are still unclear, it takes 48 hours to get results from a strep test so their recovery, and hence my freedom, was a bit delayed. It is all water under the bridge now as they are both fully recovered.
Aside from the illnesses, Sabrina and Elliot continue to thrive. They both are happy in school, making new friends and becoming integral parts of their classes. Sabrina has even been invited to two birthday parties! (I guess I should admit that she doesn’t even know one of the children, but at least she was invited, right?!) Sabrina’s closest school friends are the three Anglos here on sabbatical but she is anxious to make some Israeli friends. As her Hebrew improves, I know it will happen.
Interestingly, Elliot’s closest school friends are also native English speakers. As time passes, we have discovered that the very Israeli Hebrew speaking gan we chose for Elliot is populated mostly with English speaking children. We did not realize it at first because I suspect that they did not speak English during school because there was no need since all the children and teachers spoke Hebrew – that is until Elliot showed up. As the children are starting to accept Elliot and let him into their groups, they are speaking more and more English. Although this may hamper Elliot’s ability to learn Hebrew, it has made him feel even more comfortable in his new school.
As I heard the gan kids speak English, it gave me confidence to try English with a few of the parents. Well, on my first two tries I struck pay-dirt! I discovered that one of the mom’s is Denise Tannenbaum’s very good friend Tamara (who I had promised to call and had not done so yet) and one of the dad’s is Sabrina’s very good friend Mairav’s uncle – Shari Diamond’s brother! I simply could not believe it. The world is so small!!!
Bennett continues to enjoy Ulpan and even looks forward to it. He has made quite a few friends in there and frequently plays with them after school on ulpan days. We are still working to find the right school for him for the other days as mommy school is not going all that well. (I guess he finally realized I am just not that entertaining.) We went to look at the American School this week and he really liked it. It is remarkably similar to JPDS, just much smaller. I guess I should have listened to Amy (Kritz) all along. Bennett clearly needs the familiarity of the American School to feel comfortable. We are considering having him start there next week.
As most of you know, this was a big week here in Israel. We had elections. Our Israeli friends were all rather depressed about their choices. It reminded me of the election between Bush and Kerry. People voted against candidates as opposed to for them. As it stands now, it is still unclear who will assume the role of prime minister. Stay tuned for that report.
The good news for us was that the elections brought Bill Knapp to Jerusalem. He was advising one of the candidates. (I will respect his wishes and refrain from outing him in public by disclosing the party for whom he is working.) We got to see Bill Friday night when I served my first Shabbat meal in Jerusalem. We were all excited to see Bill as it was our first contact with home in six weeks. It was rather comical though when Elliot walked in from Kabbalat Shabbat to see Bill sitting in our Jerusalem apartment and very casually said “Oh, hi Bill”. I guess the distance is lost on a four year old. Anyway…..We had ten people to dinner – the five of us, Maya’s (our exchange student) parents, Bill, our very good friend’s 15 year old daughter (Maya Wergeles) and a friend of hers. (Maya Wergeles is in Israel for four months on a Ramah sponsored program.) I spent two full days preparing for the feast. I shopped Thursday morning, peeled and chopped Thursday night, shopped some more Friday morning and then did the actual cooking all Friday afternoon. While I was positively exhausted when it was over, I absolutely loved it! It was the first time I felt like I was really part of the process here. There is an energy in the air on Thursdays and Fridays when everyone is hustling and bustling trying to get ready for the big day. It is hard to describe, but as I walked from the local butcher to the local baker on Friday morning I had a spring in my step. I was doing the same thing everyone else around me was doing and it felt like we were all preparing for the same party. (Please don’t be fooled – I do not want to start cooking for ten on a weekly basis. I just want you to know that as a one-time occurrence, I thoroughly enjoyed it.)
I served my second Shabbat meal on Saturday afternoon. Our Israeli friends, the Arbels, came over. Maya (Wergeles) and her friend were still with us so it was quite a big crowd. We were 13. For that meal I was smart enough to buy the main course so it was appreciably easier and less stressful. We sat around and ate casually. When the meal was over, a bunch of us went for a big walk while others stayed behind. I am pleased to report that there were almost no electronics for the entire day. We were all together until dark when the magic of Shabbat left for the week.
Monday was a half day for Tu B’shvat and Tuesday was a day off because of elections, so we decided to go on our first big tiyul (trip). We left Monday after school for Ein Gedi – a kibbutz in the desert near the Dead Sea. The trip down was fascinating. Jerusalem is in the mountains and Ein Gedi is well below sea level. As we left the city we were very aware of the fact that we were making a steep descent. Our ears even popped! As soon as we left Jerusalem the terrain changed considerably. The green was gone and replaced by hills and hills of brown sand. We spotted many camels and saw several Bedouin shanty towns. We asked the kids if they felt they could live like the Bedouins and they all declared no! I must admit that the thought is a bit appealing to me. It is rather liberating to be rid of all the excesses of our Washington life. I never thought we would survive in a 1500 square foot three bedroom apartment with very little furniture and very few “things”; but six weeks into it and we are doing just fine. It turns out that most of our “things” are rather unnecessary. The kids don’t seem to miss all the toys and I certainly don’t miss all the rooms – especially since we have been cleaning our own apartment. The only thing I continue to miss is my full wardrobe. I am thoroughly sick of wearing the same clothing every third day. Next time (if there is one), I will ignore Jim and bring as much as I want!
Back to our trip…..Ein Gedi is special because it is an oasis in the desert. As our friend Jonathan aptly described it, it is like the Garden of Eden. You are driving through miles and miles of brown sand hills when all of a sudden there is a field of lush, green palm trees. That is Ein Gedi. The kibbutz itself is beautiful and we enjoyed walking around the premises. We did a great hike called Wadi David to see some waterfalls. Jim and I were a bit skeptical about taking our very urban and very lazy children on a hike, but they totally rose to the occasion and had a blast. While walking on a narrow passage way near the falls, I noticed a kid wearing a Muhlenberg t-shirt. (Muhlenberg is a college in my home town of Allentown.) I asked if he is a student there and he said no but that his guide is from Allentown. So who did I run into in the middle of the Israeli desert on a random Tuesday? Matt Greenberg – my kindergarten teacher’s son and one of my first friend’s brother! It really is a small world.
After our hike, we ventured over to the Dead Sea. The weather was not cooperative so it was a rather unpleasant experience. The winds were strong and the air temperature was cool. Nonetheless, Bennett managed to float in the Dead Sea. Sabrina tried but it was too cold. Elliot just complained. Jim and I were shocked at the conditions of the Sea. Since we were last there in the 1980s, the Sea has receded at least a mile. It is incredibly depressing. I suspect that by the time our children are adults, the Dead Sea will no longer exist. Our understanding is that with global warning and drought conditions, there is not enough water flowing into the Jordan River and hence not enough water flowing into the Dead Sea. Apparently the country is considering bringing water in from Eilat to replenish the sea. I need to consult Jeff (Sosland) about this as he wrote an entire book about water rights in Israel. I am suddenly very interested!
Because of the wind, we did not stick around to cover ourselves in the mud. The kids were disappointed so we bought a bag of mud at the gift shop and went back to our hotel room where we applied mud to our bodies. Elliot abstained once again, but he had fun watching as Bennett, Sabrina and I bathed in mud. (Jim also abstained as he thought we were out of our minds.)
When we woke up on Wednesday the weather was beautiful so we decided to head for Masada. By the time we got there it was late in the day so we decided to take the cable car up to the top. (Ok, who am I kidding. We could have gotten there at 5 a.m. and we still would have taken the cable car!) The kids enjoyed looking at all the ruins and learning about the history. Bennett got the most out of it. He is really starting to understand the last two thousand years worth of the history of Israel and the Jewish people. It is fun watching him try to make sense of everything. Bennett felt inspired so he and Jim did the long walk down the mountain, while Sabrina, Elliot and I once again took the cable car. I have a feeling that at least Bennett and Jim will be back at Masada before we leave. They really want to do the climb. We are taking bets as to whether Bennett is up to the challenge. We will entertain any wagers.
I need to close with a few business matters. First, our tenant is leaving on March 9 so we are now looking for a new tenant for our home. Please let us know if you know of anyone in need of a furnished home for four months. Second, our wonderful nanny/housekeeper is looking to fill Tuesdays and Thursdays from March 1 until our return on July 22. Please let us know if you need help or know anyone who does. Finally, as many of you know, Bennett is part of a boys’ choir – the Washington Boys’ Choir led by Yakov Majeski. The choir is having a concert on Sunday, March 1 at the Rockville JCC. I am sure the concert will be a fabulous, fun, entertaining event. (Bennett actually wants to fly home just to participate.) It will be a great way to spend what will probably be a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon. Tickets are only $20. If you are interested, please contact Felice (Roggen) at FRoggen@mac.com. You won’t be sorry.
Speaking of Yakov Majeski (Judaic’s teacher extraordinaire), last week we spent a fabulous evening with his younger brother, Yisroel, and his family. It was really fun for the kids to meet them and get to know them. Yisroel is just like Yakov so you can imagine what kind of energy was in the room. Yonina, Yisroel’s wife, is fabulous and easy to talk to. They have two adorable children, ages 1 and 2, both of whom my children adored. Suffice it to say if Yisroel and Yonina ever want to get away for the night, they could leave the kids with us!
That is all for now. A rather boring entry I know, but don’t lose faith in me yet. I promise to do better next time. Regards to all.