Baby #8

March 31st, 2014

I have had some interest from Kveller to possibly blog there. Which is a big honor. Since I currently don’t have time to blog here, I assume taking that on just now would be a supremely bad idea.  It’s nice to be asked… maybe one day.  Kveller asked me to submit a sample piece, perhaps on how the 8th child is different.

The answer is, of course, that they are all different. Bringing a baby home to no children is just as unique a circumstance as bringing home a baby to four children (under the age of 5) or bringing home a baby to a house full of pre-teens that talk back and lecture you. I didn’t say they were all the same, I said they are all consistently unique.

… But when it is baby #8, one stark difference is that Ima is only sitting down now that he is 4 months old (!!!)  (coincidentally when I should be Pesach cleaning and  not procrastinating) to finally explain the baby’s name, Yehuda Chaim.

Rav Chaim Lifshitz, z”l, was a tzaddik, and an important Rav and teacher in my husband’s life.  He passed away last year. He was a brilliant man, studied directly with Piaget, and was a renowned handwriting analyst who had questions sent to him from around the world. He was also the father of our Rav,  about whom I have written here. I never met him personally, which is quite sad.  But he read our handwriting while we were dating and was astonishingly accurate in terms of how and why we would be a good match and what our primary challenge would be if we got married.

I am blessed that the majority of our small family’s members that would have a baby named for them have been memorialized by family already, or are alive and well.  Remembering Rav Lifshitz in this way was important to my husband, so this is what we did. We were honored to have his son, our Rav, present at the brit milah to talk about his father and his amazing qualities.

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I knew I was having a Chanukah baby, and a boy. I still didn’t think Matityahu was a good idea. Looooots of name for a very tiny person.

Yehuda was also a Maccabee, and that was one reason I thought of naming this little boy Yehuda. And that was before I knew he would be a headstrong and fierce fighter even during pregnancy and delivery.

The real reason I was set on Yehuda comes from Leah’s words in the Torah when her 4th son is born. She says “HaPaam Odeh Li Et Hashem” (Parashat Vayetze). It says directly in the Torah that this is the reason she named him Yehuda. Rashi explains to us that Leah knew that Yaacov was to have 12 sons who would become the 12 tribes, and therefore the future of Israel. She also knew Yaacov had 4 wives. Doing the math (apparently Leah was taught math ) she reasoned that her fourth son meant she got more than her “fair share” of Yaacov’s legacy.

I don’t think Leah felt like she got much of any fair share in the marriage/love department. But when it came to having kids, she recognized blessing – the special blessing that feels like it goes beyond destiny, or logic, or even-handedness by the creator. Just a blessing. So his name expressed her gratitude.

In some irrational recesses of my brain and heart, I used to feel at many times that I was blessed with easy fertility and a stepson and such a house-full of children as some time of “consolation” for the twelve hard years I had to be exiled from Israel and living in New Jersey.

No, I am not comparing Leah’s “My husband meant to marry my sister not me and now I have to live with him adoring her as his new wife” hard to my “Stuck in suburbia with a Target 10 minutes away” hard. Everyone’s hard is different, and for me, twelve years forced to live outside of Israel because of a decision my husband’s ex wife made was hard.

We finally came home, returned to Israel, and chose to settle in our favorite place outside of Jerusalem’s Old City Walls, which is the hills of Judea, “Harei Yehuda“. This place means so much to me. The hills of “Yehuda” are an ever present gift outside my window, one I appreciate ten-fold precisely because of the time I couldn’t be here. 

After being blessed with our return, I feel “dayenu moments”, as we refer to them, every single week, if not every day. Singular moments that in and of themselves would each be enough to say “dayenu” – to make all of the struggles of aliyah – twice – totally worth it, just for that one moment.

So when we finally made it home, and the kids are finally settling into life here, and I can finally feel like we are really here, really home…. Hashem blessed us with another healthy, happy baby. And he feels like that “extra portion” that was just a gift from Hashem. Of course they are all gifts. Yet, at 41, with a full house, my youngest already 5 1/2 and a busy, heaping full plate of noise and hugs and love and mess and holy holy chaos… “Hapam Odeh li at Hashem”.

This time is just “Thank you”… hence, the name “Yehuda“.

The Judean Hills, or “Harei Yehuda”

 

 

 

 

That person….

October 30th, 2013

chalk-on-groundI once had the honor of enjoying a shiur by Rabbi Shimon Green from Jerusalem who was visiting New Jersey. He said that everyone has “that person”;  ” That person that drives you up a wall, that you simply cannot stand. That every little thing they do is so annoying it is like fingers on the blackboard – just for you…. but don’t worry he went on; you are undoubtedly that person to someone else!”

I burst out in the laughter of surprise and recognition.  I am a second wife who has been dealing with a first wife, who hates my guts, for many years. Enough said, but far be it from me to assume I am only “that person” to her. I may be that person to a lot more people.

I also think, however, that the flip side is true. Many of us have “that person” that has made some huge, life-changing impact on our lives.

And quite often, I believe that “those people – ” the angels that appear as humans to us –  don’t think of their own actions or behavior as anything much at all. Just as the people who seem to have no raison d’etre other than annoying us often aren’t even considering us for one instant, those that have a hugely positive impact on our lives aren’t trying to change us, or our lives, or even inspire us. They are just living.

My now 8-year old daughter had to go through the difficult process of aliyah only 15 months ago. She went from a small school, 5 minutes from home, where the staff were also members of her shul and community, were her Ima’s friends, gave her hugs, and were her extended family, to a huge public school with 30+ kids in a class, over 200 to a grade, and not a lot of personal interactions between individual students and staff…. all in a new language, of course.

Idit is one of the secretaries in the office, and I very much doubt that she realizes just how much she is “that person” for my daughter.

Shira began last year surprising Idit with hugs. While it certainly wasn’t the norm in her big Israeli public school, it was definitely my daughter’s norm from New Jersey. Idit responded with cookies. She didn’t realize that we don’t give our children cookies, except on Shabbat. It was most definitely the way to my daughter’s heart, as well as the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

The cookies have stopped, but the daily hellos – and hugs –  have remained. Shira knows she has a friend, a go-to person, a safe harbor in the storm that is aliyah.

I had to drop off a forgotten assignment this week, and since I couldn’t find Shira, I gave it to Idit who assured me that she and Shira would find each other before the next class. She called me in before I could leave to tell me how much she loves my spunky daughter. She also wanted to add that Shira often comes to the office during recess, or stays inside, saying that she doesn’t know who to play with.

One of the hardest parts of aliyah is getting past kids being friendly to really making friends. (It’s true for the adults making aliyah too – a different blog post…) Idit suggested that I send Shira to school with a toy from home for the playground or something new that she can share with friends – or potential friends – that will both give her something to do and attract her peers. What a simple, easy idea. The next day Shira went to school with some sidewalk chalk in her bag and I am already hearing reports of improvement in her social life at school.

The teachers are busy, dealing with 30+ kids throughout the day, and they are not  assigned to monitor the playground every day. When they do, they are literally watching hundreds of children. They are watching out for fights and violence (I am not confident they even catch most of that) but certainly are not on the lookout for the lone immigrant child that quietly opted to stay inside. Idit noticed. And her quiet, quick word to me was all that it took to bring a little more sunshine into my daughter’s life.

I will continue to try to convey to Idit how much more of an impact on my daughter she is having than she realizes, and I hope there is a point in her life where she comes to understand that by doing what must be a relatively thankless office job in a public school, she is meriting being an angel on earth for at least one little girl, and by extension her family.

… So what does that mean for me? It means yet one more reminder that I need to live my own life consciously, trying to be “that person” in the lives of others, rather than “that [other] person”….

 

 

Welcome to the August 9, 2013 edition of jewish-israel blog carnival aka havel havalim .

The Jewish blog carnival  is a weekly digest of several Jewish blogs from around Israel and the world. Please feel free to join us and submit your blog posts. Make sure to comment at each of these wonderful sites,  and tell them I sent you!  To be a host, you can contact us at the  blog carnival index page, and/or join us on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/283537885020583/

Since my last blog post my family and I have reached our 1 year aliyah anniversary. I had expected this to be commemorated with a meaningful and reflective blog post. While I still hope to write one about being in year two, the reality is that every single one of us has been too busy LIVING life in Israel to stop and do much celebrating, reflecting – or blogging. This is a tremendous mark of aliyah success in my book, and while I am sorry for the lack of blog, I am happy about the reason.

I participated today in a wonderful Elul tradition on my yishuv. A diverse group of women get together Shabbat afternoon, Rosh Chodesh Elul, for singing, food, and words of Torah and inspiration for the month. One participant, Yael of Yaelle Yells… Softly* mentioned that she enters Elul with trepidation but her father, z’l, always did so with excitement.  (*This is Neve Daniel, after all, “Har Habloggerim”….. ) 

What about you? Do you enter this month feeling fear? Excitement? Or both? I am feeling the weight of my very heavy to do list – work, school supplies, bus schedules… and spiritual cheshbon.

Whatever your feeling about the month, Chodesh Tov and enjoy all of these posts:

 

If you have never checked it out before, take a peek at Jewels of Elul, a project where different writers / bloggers contribute for and about Elul. This recent post “Elul 4: Choose, Don’t Refuse” is from my friend and all-around brilliant superwoman, Yael Untermann.

 

Ima on and off the Bima, tries to blog all of Elul… a better blogger/woman than I. Her first post in the series is Blog Elul 1, “Prepare”

 

Esav Exposed gives us some insights into one of Tommy Wallers teachers in an ongoing effort to expose Christian Missionaries proseltysing specifically to Jews in Who Are Tommy Wallers Teachers Part 1

 

Jacob Richman of Good News from Israel bring us his own digest of cool stuff to help us prepare this Elul in Educational Resources, Cool Videos, Games and Greeting Cards for Rosh Hashanah.

 

Good News from Israel also posted his photo album from Jerusalem’s current Model Train Exhibit. I would love to make it over there, but am at least going to share the pics with my kids.

 

Sharon of the Real Jerusalem Streets blogs to say Thank you, Women of the Wall. Regardless of personal feelings or opinions on this controversial issue, I am so happy to hear that she has had a positive experience!!!

 

My Parnasa tell us How to Make a Million Blogging for Times of Israel. One could argue that the Haveil Havalim Carnival is for those looking for the non-TOI blogs, so what do you think?

 

Batya of Shiloh Musings has brought us a variety of different kinds of posts, in

 

Loni Books presents Making Challah posted at Small Thoughts, saying, “I’m a college student by day, a writer by night. I love to write about those small moments that inspire me all day long.”

 

… Before I leave, I would like to ask all of our readers to make a quick stop off at Crossing the Yarden, and leave a little note, blessing, prayer, or token of love for Yarden and his “Rock Star”. Just tell him how many of us are out there with their amazing family in our thoughts and prayers. Thanks.

 

I hope this is an inspiring and uplifting Elul for you, and that you blog about it!

Chodesh Tov,

Ima2seven

 

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of jewish-israel blog carnival aka havel ha using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

I haven’t had a lot of time to blog lately. I haven’t had a lot of time to blog since I decided to move across the world with six kids. Then deciding that taking a job outside of the house, albeit half-time, sort of put the nail in the blog coffin.

I am making some changes in my life over the next few months and hope that with some much-needed balance will come some specks of time for writing. Stay tuned.

Someone I do not know, who has never commented here, made a kind comment about my blog. But he also said that he would love to hear my journey, not just stories. And he is right. I haven’t done that. Mostly because I have yet to ever feel like I have “arrived” anywhere on the journey. I feel like it is hard to tell the story when I am still in the middle of it.  That is how a blog works, though, isn’t it? So I have to do that, and am making the commitment to it right now.

Today, however, is not the day I am going to tell you my journey. I have written much about my love affair with Israel, with the intense joy that I feel about being here. And I do feel it – every single day. I get emotional and grateful on a simple drive to work, looking out at the Judean Hills. I don’t see a checkpoint and rush hour traffic. I see the land of my forefathers; I really do. And I hope the naive rose glasses remain there for a long time to come.

But this week? I am sorry. It has just been…. well NOT FUN. Actually, it has been more like a month of health issues all up, down and around my family and I have honestly HAD ENOUGH. I am officially, here and now, crying uncle. Like, we really, really could use a break.

My daughter has some horrible stomach thing that won’t die with the many antibiotics she has taken. We have been to emergency rooms, I have fought with attendings, ordered tests, been completely let down by specialists, and am left with a daughter missing school, tired and frustrated while we keep poking around in the dark for a solution. *

My son has asthma, and Lag Bomer in Israel is not  exactly the very best holiday for an asthmatic. For those of you that don’t know, the national tradition is to light bonfires and stay up late, breathing in the smoke and eating nasty hot dogs and marshmallows, while reports of fire damage come in from around the nation.

Even if I had made my son stay home from the “everyone-is-doing-it-I-get-to-stay-up-late-and-bond-with-my-peers-over-a-bonfire” experience his very first year here, the smoke from the entire country would have caused his flare-up anyway. He hacks, he cries, and I slowly go out of my mind. 

My other son decided he had to go and break a toe.. we must have missed a day at the doctor’s office. He can get around, but was told no sports for three weeks. I am not sure which is worse for his overall mental and physical health; the broken toe or his being cooped up that long. I know which is worse for mine.

My dad has had a minor “thing”, and is now going for more tests. He is fine. He really is. Thank G-d. But the reality is that my parents are getting older and I now live 6,000 miles away. The worrying didn’t help him when I was a 6 hour drive away either, but it always felt like I could hop in a car and run over to see them. With this many kids and responsibilities that sounds funny even as I type it, but it felt like I could. He doesn’t need my care, energy and attention right now like my brood, but the additional worry and distraction just adds to the heap.

I am barely – just barely – making it with the work-aliyah-support the husband-raise-all-of-these-kids plates all spinning in the air.

 

These sick kids are like an angry bird that has swooped in to knock every single one of the plates out of the air. 

 

 

I have friends, family, more family, and more dear friends coming to visit in May. I can’t wait. I want to show them how happy we are here. How settled we are in our new home. How well we are doing, and how I scaled the heights and have mastered starting over at 40…..

 

… I fear that they will arrive and instead all they will see is fallen and smashed plates that were once spinning…. in a heap all over the floor.

 

 

 

*Please don’t write in a comment suggesting something I ought to get my daughter tested for. I know you mean well.  I have heard them all, and yes. We tested for that. I assure you. 

 

 

Our first Pesach in Israel

April 10th, 2013

This post originally appeared in the Princeton-Mercer Bucks New Jersey Jewish News

At home abroad: our family’s first Pesach in Israel

 

This is the first time in at least nine years that I didn’t make any apple kugel for the Passover seder. I didn’t make it because Max Goldfarb from East Windsor wasn’t at my seder table, so there was no special request.

This was only one of many changes for the holiday, since we moved from the Twin Rivers Jewish community in East Windsor to Neve Daniel in Gush Etzion in Israel last July.

I had expected drama — after all, this was our first Pesach as free people in our own Jewish land. THIS year, in Jerusalem.

What I got was a whole lot of normal. There were no tears at the seder and no virtual symphonic music running in my head. Just the same fun, goofy singing of “Chad Gadya” as in years past.

Since I last wrote about our aliya from New Jersey, the kids have become more and more settled, and I have begun working part time. I am now the spokesperson for the One Family Fund, a national organization helping terror victims and their families with legal, financial, and emotional assistance. The work is very intense yet incredibly meaningful. While it is an adjustment for us all, it is one more step toward full acclimation.

Our Passover seders in New Jersey were beautiful, uplifting, and a lot of fun. But they were also a lot of work: lots of guests, long drives to Lakewood for Passover supplies, two days of holiday to cook and clean for — in Israel, only one seder is observed — and generally swimming upstream in a culture celebrating Easter all around us.

Here, in the two weeks leading up to Passover, I was also busy — but with my job: As a One Family Fund representative, I was preparing to attend President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem. Being in Israel meant there were other factors mitigating the hectic approach to the holiday. A yeshiva student-for-hire scrubbed my oven and refrigerator for me. Every Pesach ingredient imaginable was available 15 minutes from my house. The community has a vat for kashering metal items, which meant sending my husband off with pots and silverware to Minha services and the dunking of the utensils — and that was it.

Rachel Moore with her press pass — as a One Family Fund representative — to attend President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem.

During the intermediate days of the holiday, day trips (“tiyulim” here) could be arranged spontaneously, just 20 minutes from our home in every direction. And no need to pack food; the restaurants at attractions and throughout Jerusalem are kosher-for-Passover.

At our one seder, we had 10 people. Israel didn’t change clocks until after the first days of Passover, so we were able to begin the seder by 6:30. We could start before what I used to feel was bedtime and finish before the middle of the night.

Passover break for the kids was a full three weeks. While that may have been its own challenge, in general the holiday season was marked by a welcome lack of hard work. It honestly felt like a vacation.

Our family was finally initiated into a true Israeli rite, when we went on our first family hike in Nahal Sorek, near Beit Shemesh. It was a beautiful (downhill) trek, with Israel’s famous spring flowers bursting forth throughout the expansive valley.

We also visited the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem, which is quickly becoming a favorite destination for our kids. I know they enjoy seeing the animals there, but I must say I get more pleasure from seeing the kaleidoscope of Jews all gathered together; the variety never ceases to amaze me.

Ironically, it was during Passover that I became most nostalgic for our previous life. While preparing for the holiday in New Jersey was always a production, it was a production we put on together, and we enjoyed every minute once the day came.

In Twin Rivers, the preparation brought a sense of drama. Despite Obama’s first presidential visit to Israel, the holiday — this “first Pesach in Israel” — was decidedly lacking in drama. The normalcy of being a Jew in a Jewish culture, where Passover is just part of the national rhythm, felt great.

Most of my children said they missed the second seder, but in general did very little comparing. They did read the Haggada in Hebrew — and even questioned the translation! But life here is so different in so many ways that it is getting harder and harder to compare. We are slowly getting better at just living in the here and now.

Having said that, they all did want to know what happened to the apple kugel, and we all dearly missed Max Goldfarb and all of our other wonderful NJ Passover guests.

I can’t help but compare….

February 4th, 2013

I have always made a conscious choice not to be that olah that goes through life in Israel comparing. That approach works for some, but I just like to live in the thick of things here and not compare it (or prices) to how things might be outside of Israel. It lowers my expectations and creates fewer opportunities for disappointment.

But on election day here in Israel (yes, it has taken my quite a while to post this one, humble, little post) I just couldn’t help myself. This being my first year here with school-aged children, it was different than any other election day I had experienced here, or in the US.

One can easily understand the astounding voting rates here when you see and feel the celebratory air. Schools close, banks close, offices close, and the country takes a day off.

… And partially because of that, but I think mostly because in Israel we still don’t take our democracy for granted, voting is a family affair.

Most families came up to vote as a group. Children went with their parents to choose a party and many placed the envelope in the ballot box with or for their parents – including mine.

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Since we had the day off, after voting we went to the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem. As did at least 1/3 of the rest of the families in Israel, apparently. Navigating parking was an exercise in and of itself, but after surviving the z00-at-the-entrance-to-the-zoo, we went into what was just an amazing experience.

Only in Israel can I take my kids to see the same animals we have seen time and time again in the zoo, but there are plaques with Biblical quotes describing the six days of creation from Genesis.

… I couldn’t stop myself from comparing. As regulars at the Philadelphia Zoo in the US, my children would always remark “Psst! Ima, look! There are other Jews!”. Funny how that didn’t happen once here.

And then we came upon it. Only here does our venture to see the animals end at, of course, Noah’s Ark.

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The overpriced concessions inside are all kosher, of course. So this time I could say “yes.”

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As we got near the exit of the zoo, I came upon the largest collection of birds I have ever seen, and thought to myself “I have never seen so many different kinds of birds in one place before.”

birds at biblical zoo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But then I immediately looked up and thought “I don’t think I have ever seen this many different kinds of Jews in one place before.”

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Shavua Tov!

This week I once again have the honor and pleasure of hosting “Haveil Havalim”, a roundup of posts from the Jewish blogsphere, carnival style. Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs — a weekly collection of Jewish & Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It’s hosted by different bloggers each week and is organized by way of our facebook page.. [The term “Haveil Havalim,” which means “Vanity of Vanities,” is from Koheleth, (Ecclesiastes) which was written by King Solomon.]

We love growing our blogging community and showcasing great Jewish blogs that readers may have not yet discovered. So please check out the facebook page, or get in touch with me, and submit your posts! When submitting posts, remember that they should be from the last week.
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Judaism
Think Judaism brings us an explanation of the dichotomy between Torah morality and human morality in Does Judaism Care About Morality?
… and Think Judaism also brings us an exploration of Vegetarianism with controversial title Vegetarianism is Immoral. Think Judaism, is that immoral as in Torah morality, or human morality? ;  )
I hate the name “Modern Orthodoxy”, but I love Think Judaism’s post about it, Why the Modern Orthodox Should Suffer the Most. I am sure it is because he is describing the column of Judaism I would put myself in (if I had to put myself in a column, that is.)
Politics and The Middle East 
Esser Agaroth is also talking about ‘my column’ in Who Is Voting for the Jewish Home Party? As a new olah in Gush Etzion, I am still navigating my relationship to “Religious” and “Zionist”, and I don’t like the question he poses… mostly because now I have to figure out my answer!  What’s yours? 
The problem with a digest blog posts that deal with Israel’s politics is that last week’s news is, well, last week’s news. Our reality changes so quickly that it is dizzying to try to keep up. Especially these days, with war, cease fire, primary elections, upcoming elections and UN bids! 
Having said that, Esser Agaroth gives us a helpful explanation of Hamas’ position on the cease fire in Hamas’ Peace Translated. In my always humble opinion, it is crucial to understand the widening gap between Hamas/Gaza and Abbas/the PA in order to understand the current moves of all of the parties involved. In order to do that, we need to best understand last week’s drama in order to comprehend this week’s move by the PA.
For a real reality check on just what went down with Hamas, Real Jerusalem Streets brings us 3 Things to Remember After Pillar of Defense. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words, and once again, she just nails it. I don’t know how she manages to do that every time, but it is fun to watch.

Photo from (and property of) Real Jerusalem Streets

Batya blogs her experience voting in the primary elections in The Muddy Path to Israeli Democracy, Likud Style at Shiloh Musings. I wish she could be giving seminars on voting in Israeli primaries; I agree with her that so many voters just can’t understand the system.
Yoel Meltzer over at Towards a Jewish Mindset writes about the issues he would like our candidates to focus – and not focus – on in the upcoming elections in Please Some Real Issues.  While the post is sobering, I would love to hear an actual debate where some candidates tell me how they are going to deal with his list of challenges. It would be such a refreshing change.
Tomer Devorah gives us an interesting perspective on the recent UN Palestinian Authority Vote in November 29th – 1947 & 2012. I encourage you to read and weigh in, and The Kvetching Editor gives us her take on the UN bid in The Bid for Palestinian Statehood over at Just Call me Chaviva.
Penina at It’s All Hafuch! true to the name of her blog, turns the notion of apartheid in Israel on its head in Israel an Apartheid state? Truer than you know Peter Beinhart, are you reading? 
Other Stuff….
…When all of those politics have your blood boiling, visit Making Aliyah and get some perspective on anger in The Heat Is On.  She is right; while it is always brought up at High Holiday time, I think we need it more at election time!
I wouldn’t have thought that therapy-by-blog* would work had you described it to me, but check out “Everyone Needs Therapy”. Her blog-form insights into psychology are suprisingly interesting and practical, and as she says, something we all can use. In this week’s submission “What to Do About Differentiation” she talks about a topic currently overwhelming this “Ima 2″ pre-teen twins. Hopefully you can get something out of it as well.
 * (She doesn’t claim to be therapy by blog; that is my description not hers. She doesn’t see it as a replacement.)
It’s MY Crisis and I’ll Cry If I Need To! offers us some important advice on accessing the help that is out there in a medical crisis when travelling in How to Lower Your Medical Costs and Keep Your Cool Under Missile Fire!
Esser Agaroth asks How is Spain Granting Citizenship to Jews a Good Thing?  Again, I am not sure I agree with him; the symbolic gesture is long overdue.  But please! Weigh in…
No Holtz Barred also blogs about an experience we all have to deal with at some point in our lives, in Tick Tock, How to Play the Waiting Game.   I personally hate the uncertainty more than the waiting itself. Maybe he can blog about that next? Just for me?
… and the most upbeat for last:  Chanukah is coming! If you have kids, any age (that means including husbands) you should check out Jacob Richman’s digest of links and resources for Chanukah at Good News from Israel in Chanukah Educational Resources and 335 Chanukah Videos. I have used Good News from Israel as my go-to spot for pre-holiday educational materials for my kids (and students) for years; One stop shopping!
I don’t know about you, but after the week it has been in the world and in the blogosphere, I am more than ready for some sufganiyot, chanukiot, spreading light and Jewish Heroes….. 
Many of you reading this are bloggers, so make sure your post is in next week’s digest! You never know who you might reach that has never heard of you before.

How Are We Doing?

November 18th, 2012

We are doing great. Now you don’t have to read the rest of the post.

I haven’t been able to update this blog in so very long. Unable to be reflective on our aliyah process long enough to write about it, I have been caught up in the living of our new busy life. And it’s a great problem to have.

And I really didn’t want my return to blogging to be another “here is my perspective of war in Israel as an American living here” post. There are lots of people that can try to make real for you their personal experience of a bomb shelter, the disruption of daily life, and the reality that it isn’t just southern Israel anymore. You don’t need me for that.

The truth is that bloggers have been writing in English about the heart-wrenching reality that is life in Southern Israel at Hamas’ expense. And they haven’t been trying to tell the world for three days; they have been writing about it for the last decade, since we traded Gaza “for peace”, while the world has largely ignored the ongoing assaults.

But today I got a message from a dear friend that started with ” Worried sick over here about you guys.” And it makes me sad and a bit aghast that my friends and relatives in the US should be suffering over my reality so much more than I am. I am reading the status updates and posts of my friends who live only a block away, and they also seem far more distressed than I feel.

This is partly because they are indignant with the injustice of the situation we are currently facing, and many of them have had to living with that indignation for a decade already. It is partly because the siren or the situation is scarier for them, or because they have the good fortune to compare current reality to years of relative calm and quiet.

It is partly because I am still in the honeymoon phase of our aliyah, and I know it. I admit it. 

Even so; I feel great, I really do.

First of all, when I left Israel for twelve years, I did so after a series of 18 bus bombings, horrible suicide bomber attacks and then the second intifada.  I didn’t adjust to a decade of relative calm.

Second, I have watched with sickness from afar the horrible – deadly – decision for Israel to leave the Gaza Strip, and have wrung my hands at the inability to help as Israel has suffered showers of rockets in the south. I waited, and waited, and waited to be here part of the communal problem/solution/family/support system/whatever.

I feel triumphant that we are FINALLY doing something about it. We are going after the leadership of Hamas; the bad guys who are oppressing their own people at least as much as they are building a machine to destroy Israel.  I feel exhilarated to be here and not far away; part of the Zionist response, part of the banding together, part of the offers of help, part of saying tehillim for our soldiers, part of the collective national cry of “enough is enough is enough; I can’t go on, I can’t go on….!

I stood last night as my children participated in the induction ceremony for their Zionist youth group (Bnei Akiva). Children of all ages were standing outside singing “Ani Maamin”  – I believe – and Hatikvah at the top of their lungs. This is our response to barbarians trying to annihilate our presence in the Middle East, to erase our place in history. It does not make me feel scared, it makes me feel brave and proud. 

I understand the important need of the Public Relations Team that is the Jewish People to explain to the world that this is self defense on Israel’s part. That includes explaining just how many rockets Hamas is sending, and has sent. That they have killed three innocent people and injured scores more. It IS important; we didn’t bring this upon ourselves, and whatever we are doing is so, so much less than what is deserved. We are destroying an infrastructure of evil, and crippling a terrorist organization. Not retaliating in measure by any means, or taking revenge.

But the story many are perhaps reluctant to share is that we are kicking some very serious bad-guy butt. We have taken out some serious Hamas leadership, a win for Israel, and for “The Force” that is all that is Good in the world. We are not only shooting down LOTS of their precious arms that they are blessedly using up, but doing so in great numbers with no harm to anyone. We are taking out weapons caches and factories. They are more interested in a cease fire than we are after only three days – and with good reason. Hamas’ “destroy Israel forever machine” will hopefully never be the same.

I don’t feel afraid. I felt far, far more fear when Israel sat back, let the situation get worse and worse, and did nothing. I felt far worse when we waited for rhetoric in the West to express support, and tried “negotiations” – or even worse, cessations in building in my precious West Bank. All of which produced an increase in violent bravado that brought us to our current reality.

More than anything, I felt more fear when we lived in a place where I didn’t usually know who or what was evil. Who to trust and who had my back. I felt more fear with my children at the playground in NJ without an adult than I feel every waking minute in Israel today.

As for my daily reality? I went into our shelter room on Friday night when we had a siren. It is set up like a den, and we hung out in there for a very un-dramatic five minutes. I have since gone on with my routine, trying to be sensitive to neighbors who may have husbands called up for reserve duty. This routine includes an early morning run to the local grocery story here in the West Bank, where my excellent customer service was almost exclusively from the Arab employees there. A security stop on the road home with lots of “racial profiling” – good news for me. A trip to the health clinic to deal with a child’s allergic reaction, teaching a class, laughing with friends, seeing the very, very sad end to my mother in law’s visit, and enjoying a fabulous afternoon in the park.

As I helped my four year old out of an olive tree whose very existence celebrates the resettling of Jews in the ancient Jewish area of Efrat (in the West Bank), I looked up at the gorgeous blue sky and the sunny, breezy balmy day, and thought with sadness for a moment that Jews in southern Israel may not be able to be outside in the park enjoying the beautiful sunshine. And my children told me how sad it was their their “friends back home” (in NJ) have only now gotten back power, (“and isn’t it sad?”) Homes were destroyed, those poor people!

I live in a place where the people who live around my country hate me. I live in a place where our final borders and status is still an open question whose answer will not come quickly or easily. I live in a place where my enemies are not concealed, and where the source of my security is in the hands of brothers and sisters and our Creator, the Parent to us all together. Where the problems are OUR problems, and therefore I can be part of the solution.

Pray for Israel, help Israel… but do NOT worry about me, and do not feel sorry for me. Help me cheer on the only country of the Jews as we finally stand up to evil and say NO MORE.

How are we doing? This is how we are doing:

 

 

 and   and

Sukkot

October 7th, 2012

Hours before Simchat Torah and I am (finally) posting about Sukkot. Figures. 

I would like to dedicate this post, if I may be so bold, to the memory of Rav Haim Lifshitz, z”l. He was my Rav’s father, a great tzaddik, who passed away this past Shabbat. May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. 

The truth is that as much as I usually try to prepare in advance, this year my thoughts and feelings on Sukkot came through experiencing it, listening and learning throughout the holiday.

The word that kept coming back to me this year was vulnerability. I was inspired by a dvar Torah given by Sally Mayer at a fantastic simchat beit hashoeva gathering for women here in Neve Daniel. She gave over an idea she had learned from Drisha’s Rabbi Silber comparing the tone of the parasha we read before sukkot (Haazinu), around Yom Kippur, and that of Zot Habracha, the parsha we read on Shabbat during Sukkot. The former has a clear tone of remonstrance and warning, logically connected to a time of our judgement.

Zot Habracha in contrast, has more of a positive note going into our future. This is how we feel during Sukkot. Feeling hopeful that we have been forgiven by Hashem over Yom Kippur, we dwell in a sukkah which has often been mentioned as a move of intimacy with Hashem. We move out of our safe, comfortable homes and into a temporary hut, trusting in Hashem’s protection as was just promised us through our repentance and in the words of that final parsha.

Yet the intimacy, it seems to me, is linked to our increased vulnerability. The people to whom we feel the closest are almost always those to whom we feel the most vulnerable. Or that we can be vulnerable with. Yom Kippur is a time when we are our most open and vulnerable with Hashem. At least in the ideal, we have undergone a process of serious introspection and have opened our hearts, souls and mouths to cry out to G-d.

Following that, we feel closer, more loved, and move ourselves to a place of more physical vulnerability than our homes.  It is through that move that we express our feeling of closeness to G-d and demonstrate that we know that in this time he is also very close to us…..

Why does all of this occur to me this year?

Because I think that people living in Israel feel more vulnerable than Jews living elsewhere. Particularly Jews living where we do, the beautiful Judean Hills that some would like to call “settlements” or “territories” or even “illegal”. I call it Jewish soil that has been loved, worked on, and cried over by Jews for over 2,000 years. But no matter what you call it, Jews here feel vulnerable, and I think it is connected to why it feels easier here to feel close to Hashem. The vulnerability that we choose is a daily reminder of where our trust truly lies, and that there is no “safe” and “unsafe” there is only the will of our Creator.

The increased vulnerability of a sukkah versus your home is a myth. An illusion, of course. A sukkah doesn’t actually make us more vulnerable, it simply reminds us that we don’t get protection from our home, we get it from Hashem. Whatever will become of us will happen no matter where we eat our dinner or sleep tonight. The same is true of Jews and where they live around the world. Jews in this part of the world are no more or less safe than anywhere else. The dangers may have drastically different manifestations, but we all are equally vulnerable to the will of Hashem every moment of our lives.

But I leave this, my first sukkot living in Israel in 12 years, feeling open, a little raw, far more vulnerable to circumstances, people and Hashem’s will than I ever did in the United States. And therefore feeling the heightened intimacy with G-d that I missed so greatly while I was gone.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Simchat Torah holiday, and that you will be here in Neve Daniel with us to celebrate next year!

Stranger in a strange land…

September 4th, 2012

The only feeling stranger than being a new immigrant here, is being a “new” immigrant  the second time around.

The Israeli term for a citizen that has returned from living abroad is a toshav hozer. Because my husband and I both made aliyah, we are toshavim chozrim, or returning citizens now. However the term usually suggests those born and raised in Israel who choose to live elsewhere for some extended amount of time.

We were olim, we are olim, and in many ways I still feel like an immigrant. Other times this does not feel like aliyah at all, it feels like returning home. How strange to be chetzi chetzi – half and half, right in the middle.

Interestingly, our apartment here in our blissful corner of the Judean Hills is also chetzi chetzi; halfway between the top and the bottom of our apartment complex, and just about halfway between the top and bottom of the whole yishuv.

Yesterday I conquered many minor tasks on my aliyah to do list. I was able to (finally) secure kupat cholim, national health coverage, for my family. This has been my number one priority and has taken many office visits in Jerusalem, lots of paperwork, lots of money and many forms and conversations  — all in Hebrew. I also was able to get a doctor’s exam taken care of as a prerequisite for renewing my Israeli license. Once at the licensing office, I pushed my way past two agressive Israeli Arabs in order to maintain my rightful place in line, and was able to negotiate renewing my my license without having to be retested!  I made my way home from Jerusalem without a car and successful navigated a “tremp” along with the rest of the natives.

So while feeling quite triumphant and Israeli, I returned home to children who were distraught and dumbfounded by being left out and treated aggressively in school. I went to help my son with his homework, encountering expressions I have never heard, and then read my daughter’s note from school that explains that her class will be going on a field trip next week – from 7:30 pm to 2:30 in the morning! What???? After getting over the culture shock of this, I realized that we don’t even have a flashlight, or any of the other equipment listed on the school note.

Most of my children were out of the house at a special program just for new olim that is sponsored completely by the municipality here. They are getting help as new immigrants to adjust and feel welcome and supported. (Hence my ability to blog!) At the same time, my youngest is riding a bike outside with a friend who only speaks Hebrew. They have gotten to know each other well enough in Gan (preschool) that he begged to come over.

We went out to Back To School Night at my 2nd grader’s school in the evening. I understood every word the teachers said, but couldn’t tell what the subject were on the weekly class schedule. I took offense at something a teacher said, but after discussing it with her, I realized that I likely simply misunderstood her meaning because of my immigrant Hebrew. While other parents scribbled in the forms they were asked to fill out, I brought ours home. I won’t need a translator, but I will have to sit with them and figure out what they are asking me.

And of course the parents knew each other, caught up on their summer and talked about their kids with the ease of returning families. We, on the other hand, made an emergency meeting with the teacher who is concerned with my daughter’s angst and struggles with adjusting.

So which are we? I didn’t expect to feel any more Israeli than I do, nor did I expect to feel any less of a new immigrant than I do. Yet despite my trying to maintain realistic expectations, it feels so very, very odd and disconcerting to be neither one or the other. This gives me a new appreciation for people who write of being from two races, or two religions. Does one fit in both worlds, or neither? At times it feels like the former, at times, the latter.

In the end, of course, it doesn’t matter. Not only will my self-definition continually change, but others will always perceive me and my identity as olah/toshav hozer/American/Israeli through their own lenses.

*************

But this does make me mindful of the transition that is the teshuvah of Elul. Our month is not supposed to merely be one of “being on our best behavior”, but rather it is supposed to be a month of house-cleaning our hearts, minds and souls in a transformative manner. We ask to be forgiven our transgressions because we have striven to be different people than the ones who committed the sins in the first place. We return to the land of our soul, returning home, but different.

And this is the story of this strange phase we are in, in this Land – we have returned home….. but different.