Thursday, July 2, 2009

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

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