I am a little tired of prefacing blog posts with excuses and explanations of my lack of posting.
Today, I am only posting a recent piece in the Jerusalem Post Blog by Varda Epstein, to explain my absence… more of my long and wandering thoughts on this life-changing experience in future blog posts…
Count the Stars: Finding a Glimmer in the Darkness
In the wake of the heavy pain that gripped the Gush Etzion community, a novel sort of summer stock group was founded by Sharon Katz
under the artistic direction of Toby Klein Greenwald
, both of Efrat. Raise Your Spirits (RYS), would produce musical theatre by and for women only. And 13 years on, the brave little theatre troupe is still putting on shows for women who come from all over the country to get a dose of theatre for the soul. The troupe is currently in production with Count the Stars, the Journey of Avraham and Sara
, set to premiere on December 3, 2014.It seemed onlyappropriate then, for me to interview the two principles of this show,AvitalMacales (Avraham) and Rachel Moore (Sara), the two “stars” who feature in Stars, an original musical written by Katz andMacales, and directed by Klein Greenwald. I thought the best way to explain this feisty theatre troupe would be to have the actors speak for themselves. As it happens, I had an in: this is my second time around as a cast member of anRYS production. So I hadAvital and Rachel come by and we had a nice long chat.I want you to get a real feel for what this is, so get yourself a nice hot cup of tea, sit back and relax, and get to know these two women who are bringing their own brand of light to the fore, to banish the darkness and raise the spirits of their sisters.
Rachel Moore, left, and Avital Macales
VE: Avital, how did you end up in the performing arts?
AM: I come from a musical family. Music was always a part of my home. But as a teenager, I was shy and quiet, and not many in my grade knew who I was and I didn’t know who I was. Also, this was in the 90s, and there still weren’t many artistic megamot [high-school majors], so there was nothing I could do in theatre at school.
Then when I got to my senior year we put on The Sound of Music. I auditioned and thought, “Maybe I’ll have a chance to be Leisl.” ( Far right, Sharon Katz, left Deena Lawi)
I was cast as Maria.
I decided to keep my role a secret from my mother until she sat there in the audience on opening night and realized it was me on stage. I kept the rehearsals a secret all that time and during the rehearsals I was developing into the real Avital. I began coming out of my shell, and that was the beginning of the rest of my life. The beginning of who Avital is today.
VE: Rachel, how about you? What’s your background in the performing arts?
RM: I started singing when I was about eight. I sang in my shul choir, and at a young age was apprenticed to the cantor, a woman. I started private lessons when I was twelve, thinking I would go into chazzanut. I was lucky to have as my teacher,Elizabeth Coss, a soprano at the Metropolitan Opera and a big advocate for classical training. She was friends with Pavarotti. I was twelve, mind you, and I said, “Whatever you do, do not make me sound like an opera singer.” (Laughs)
So I sang wherever I could; whatever musical theatre came my way, whatever choirs I could find; but mostly I focused on private lessons for over fifteen years – until my fifth child was born. I continued to study privately in Boston, Montreal and eventually in Israel.
I was in high school when my family moved to Boston, so I was able to participate in theBoston University Theatre Conservatory summer program. Many of the participants are professionals with agents and budding careers. It’s a very intense program where you are treated like a professional (child) actor and the staff is brutally honest – it was great training.
Some time after graduating university I began the process of making Aliyah. I came on a pilot trip and auditioned for singing teachers. I was fortunate to find Judi Axelrod and moved to Jerusalem to work with her and to prepare for entry to conservatory.
I became more religious and at one point Judi said, “You’re preparing to audition for conservatory and I think you can make it if this is what you decide to do, but I want you to think about whether this is still what you want.
“If you study opera, you will have to leave Israel, Shabbat will always hurt your career, and you’ll be lucky if you can have two kids, because that’s the life of an opera singer.”
Rachel Moore with daughter Shira and Avital Macales
So I took a deep breath and made the decision not to go to conservatory. It was a big moment for me to decide this would be a hobby and not a vocation after so many years. And then I basically stopped singing altogether when my fifth child was born. I didn’t realize I would be taking a decade-long break from music and theatre!
Other than, of course, watching.
And… it’s been amazing for me. Amazing to be back! I didn’t realize how much I would miss it. It was part of a different chapter of my life. It’s life-changing to have it back.
VE: Avital, what about the kol isha issue, the prohibition against men hearing women—other than close family members—sing?
AM: I came from a circle where it was a complete given. It was completely natural to me to sing in front of women only. In recent years, I began to better understand the complexity of [Kol Isha], and I challenged myself more about whether or not I wanted to get out there and perform in front of mixed audiences. I wanted to see where my boundaries were, as my understanding grew. After much thought I came to the decision that I’m still going to sing only in front of women and my personal reason is… Gosh, this is where it gets a bit tough… There’s a certain intimacy that I want to bring to the stage. I want to be completely intimate with my audience, and I don’t want anything to block that. I just want to be completely open, and I feel completely open in front of an all-women’s audience.
VE: What does RYS mean to you?
AM: RYS is unique in my eyes because while there are now quite a few theatres for women who put on musicals, RYS is one of the only ones who put on biblical musicals. It seems that as you go more to the right on the spectrum, religiously, there is less of a tendency to adapt a biblical story into a play because it is almost taboo to give righteous biblical characters a face, and to give a psychological and emotional interpretation to the biblical text. So RYS is one of the few who does that, and at the same time has clear boundaries based on Halacha and takes into consideration the geist of the target audience.
Cast members Racheli Ettinger and sister Chaya Lapidot
VE: Rachel, what is the scope of your part? So much dialogue, a lot of staging to memorize. I mean, how many pages is it? How many hours?
RM: Every word and every line and every thing that’s asked of me is a gift. Every single one, so I’m not really looking at it as this huge heap of how am I ever going to get all of that, but rather, I don’t know if I’m ever going to do this again.
So I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether I can learn it all. I spend time worrying that I can do justice to the other people, who have worked so hard and have learned so much and are so amazing and have been doing this for ten years, twelve years, and I’m just coming in, that I feel like I owe it to them.
To be performing in this show together with both of my daughters (Michal Moore, Ishmael, and Shira Moore, Yitzchak) is the opportunity of a lifetime for me. I never imagined it possible to have a theater experience that was such a supportive, kind, generous, holy group of people. It is like a dream.
The cast of Count the Stars
VE: What’s next for Rachel Moore?
RM: I hope I am blessed with lots more opportunities to perform. I don’t know where, but I will not be on a ten-year hiatus ever again. That will not happen.
VE: Avital, how did you end up in the RYS theatre troupe?
AM: It was very unpopular for religious girls in my circle to consider the performing arts in general, so it wasn’t an option for me. But after I finished high school I met a girl from Efrat in sherut leumi (national service), and she said, “We have a women’s theatre.”
And I didn’t even know where Efrat was. But she said, “You must come audition for ‘Ruth.’”
With some encouragement from my mother, I had just begun my studies with Nomi Teplow of Ginot Shomron. She’s wonderful.
So I did audition, but I thought, why am I auditioning? I live in Rehovot, what am I going to do with this play in Gush Etzion? I don’t even know how to get there.
But I went anyway, I got in, and the rest is history.
And all I knew was that there was something bigger than me that was making me willing to endure all this sacrifice that I was making. Wanting to be on that stage, on the Raise Your Spirits stage, was bigger than I could understand. In fact, if we rewind a little bit, the first Raise Your Spirits show that I saw – and frankly, the only one I saw, because after that I was IN the shows – was “Noah.”
At the end of that show that evening, RYS director Toby Klein Greenwald invited everyone onstage to speak to the actors, so I went over and I said hello to Noah and “his” wife Naama, when this strange voice came into my head out of nowhere, and said, “This is going to be your stage one day.”
Younger cast members have girly-girl fun in between rehearsing their scenes
VE: So what was it like, writing a musical?
AM: More than any solo, more than any lead role, creating this musical has been the epitome of so many things that I love, in one project. I love Tanach (bible), emotions, writing. I love composing, singing, and drama, and I got to do everything in one project.
There was a learning process, a lot of learning. We read any book we could get our hands on, looked at any website we could find. We learned, studied, thought, and analyzed. We spoke to scholars. We did all these things until we had our artistic idea, because you could take the same story and do it 70 different ways. So we had to choose our way.
And I found that I was putting my own stamp on Avraham’s story, because it could be told in many different ways, but that this would be my own journey that I’m going through in this particular period: the journey of singlehood.
Avraham wants to become a father. Avraham and Sara want to become parents on a universal level. They start a new nation, but they also want to become parents because they’re human beings and they want to have a child. They want to nurture, give. I want to become the head of a family too.
After I began co-writing this show, I started looking up at the skies whenever I despaired. I was searching for stars.
I’m looking for my stars.
There was a night I went with my family to payashiva calltoRacheli Frankel, the mother of one of the three boys who were kidnapped and killed. It was a dark night and there were no stars and I just wanted one star. I just wanted one star to glimmer and to… there’s a line in the show, “We searched for a glimmer to console us,” and there was not a single glimmer in the sky.So Avraham’s story of counting stars is my story and the Jewish people’s story, of just finding glimmers here and there: reminders thatHashem is here, “I’m here. You may not always see me. You may be in a dark time, but I’m here.”VE: And now you’ve co-written Stars. You’ve watched this thing grow from a glimmer to something real.
AM: Yes! It was all about the connection between my heart and my mind. As if my heart and mind connected and then flew forward.
And I want to write at least a hundred more musicals, a thousand more musicals!
I want to inspire people.
COUNT THE STARS – The Journey of Avraham and Sara
Opens December 3
Gush Etzion Community Center
For more information:http://www.raiseyourspirits.org/count-the-stars.html
(All photos, Bati Katz. Poster design, Chana Singer)
Click here to see the original at the Jerusalem Post
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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.
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”
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We are finishing up the storm of the century here in Neve Daniel, our little mountain in the Judean Hills (Har HaBloggerim)… it has been one more experience of many that is a window into how true community can transform a place, and transform people. The trading of goods, offers of heaters, and of all kinds of help of all kinds shows the power of this place as people see each other’s problems as their own and opportunities for chessed.
The coordinator of youth programs in Neve Daniel has been advertising that she has a cadre of teens ready and willing to help today. Someone organized some Torah learning for kids this afternoon, the librarian decided to open up for the bored, and those who managed to get out by car today have offered rides to others before leaving the yishuv.
As the social being and true extrovert that I am, all of this community sharing is like a dream for me. At the same time, as a part of any community, you invite upon yourself to share in the pain and loss of others, just as much as their happiness. Just as others share in your problems, their sadness becomes yours.
Like most of us, I am a part of different communities, like circles on a Venn Diagram of my life. One is my beloved mountain here… but another is my [Jewish] blogging community.
Both communities have been rocked by the loss of Stella Frankl, wife of our own Yarden of both Neve Daniel and of his blog “Crossing the Yarden.” It hurts all of us, and many of us have written about his loss – and his heroism.
So it makes the pain even worse to learn of Phyllis Sommer’s loss of Superman Sam. Of the world‘s loss of Superman Sam. Phyllis, you have shared your life with us on line, and you have shared your families struggle and pain. And now we share your pain, too. Phyllis and I have never met, nor do we have that much in common. But through her blog her heartache hurts me too; her Sam has touched my heart, her loss is shared, and her tears are mine.
It would be so much easier if bloggers could drop off a cup of sugar or update a fellow writer on the roads or electricity, like a neighborhood community in a snowstorm can.
But what we can do is spread the word and pay tribute to those loved ones so dearly missed. Please visit Phyllis’ blog and lend your support however you can.
Baruch Dayan Haemet, and Goodbye, Superman Sam.
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“This is your seventh baby? This one is going to just pop right out, you will see…”
I can’t tell you how many times I heard that over the past few months.
My youngest is 5 1/2 – which means it has been a while since I have been pregnant. I was younger, fitter, and while I had my hands much more full with a house full of little ones, I also had more energy.
This pregnancy was harder. Much harder…… but it was nothing compared to the labor/delivery.
None of my other deliveries were easy, but they were pretty straightforward. I have shared with just about any woman who will listen that I proudly delivered twins without an epidural or surgery at 40 weeks – and 6.5 and 8 pounds.
This labor was more than a day, on no sleep, with a “failure to progress”. I was spared a c-section, but at the price of tremendous amounts of strain on my body, the likes of which I have just never experienced.
… I don’t know if it is my age, the hormones, the difficult labor, the very full house or a grand combination of them all, but this time post-partum hit me BIG TIME.
I found myself just crying for what seemed like no good reason. I felt overwhelmed, and mostly I resented every single person that tried to check in with me, asked me what I was doing, expected me to be chipper, friendly, happy, open or affectionate. Including my own children.
“Can’t they see I am trying to recover?”
“What is wrong with them? Why are they calling me? ”
“How can they possibly ask me for a hug.”
“Just stopped by? Seriously?”
More than anything else, my moodiness, touchiness and lack of ability to be a charming friend and hostess to others seemed to be met with consternation at best, horror at worst, rather than compassion.
I am in week two now, and what an amazing difference a week makes! My milk is flowing, my child is occasionally sleeping for a whole couple of hours not in someone’s arms. I am no longer taking pain medication round the clock, feeling achy and weak the minute it starts to wear off. I can put on my own shoes. There is a rush of relief that the Shalom Zachor and the Brit are both over. The trauma of the birth doesn’t come to me in flashes like it did last week. Neither do the unexplained bouts of tears. I am able to smile when someone walks in the door, and you might, just might occasionally find me answering the telephone.
The help, advice and meals I have received have been just amazing.I think that religious Jews who have a community that takes turns at lifecycle events being there for each other, are the luckiest people on earth. And I count myself as one of the most blessed because I live in Neve Daniel. The love and support expressed from around the world has been so touching, so wonderful.
The most positive experience has been the communal celebration of this birth by our neighborhood, family and friends.
Why write such a negative post during this weekend of thanks??? Why bother writing this? Because I think that when we are truly happy for people we want to connect to them. To reach out and let them know. I also think that 9 times out of 10 a new mother, at least for that first week, needs exactly the opposite. Sometimes love means giving someone space.
I have always dropped off donated dinners to new moms with a note and a delivery person, and I have never thought to make a visit or a phone call in the first week. But I also doubt I have ever been sensitive enough to avoiding asking “how are you” for a week, or assuming that maybe a hug for the new mom is not in order at a bris. I never knew that difficult sleeping when your baby sleeps is a primary symptom of post-partum baby blues, but I have always known that lack of sleep makes everything else harder.
I have had many friends who suffered from post-partum depression, but I didn’t see it – that is part of what I am describing, which is a desire to shut everyone out during such a dark time. I heard about it after the fact. Until now, I never understood why it was traumatic enough to cause some of them to think twice before having another child.
I haven’t enjoyed the experience, but I do hope it is going to make me a better friend, relative, neighbor and eventually mother to new moms. That I will have a newfound appreciation for that space.
If you ever give birth and I seem aloof during your first week, please don’t be offended, I will just be giving you your space, whether you need it or not. My guess is that if you are a brand new mom, you will be FAR too busy to notice, no matter how you are feeling.
One last note: our beautiful new baby’s name is Yehuda Chaim, and I will post our thoughts and words on the baby and his name just as soon as this little newborn will grant me the time. In the meantime, wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving and Chanukah!!!
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I 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”….
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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.
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My family had lots of good news this week!
My daughter found a turtle. There has been a three-year campaign (at least) for a pet, that resulted in my finally declaring that if they found a turtle and it lived in the yard, they could keep it. So this find means not just an adorable (???) turtle named Sheldon in our midst, but a triumph over the parents that said “no” to pets. Very exciting.
Not Sheldon the Turtle, but similar.
I have two boys that have been accepted into a high-quality private school in Jerusalem, who have decided to commit to the longer commute and increased hours of Torah study. I am proud of them for deciding to take on the challenge. More than that, I am relieved for them because their acceptance in their current school has not been great, has caused them a lot of tears and frustration and has not helped their aliyah one bit. It is very hard to move at 11 years old, and it is also hard to accept new and different boys into your circle when you are 11 years old. The school itself starts in seventh grade, so the rest of the boys will be “new” as well, and I hope this will help.
I also have three boys (two of them are the same boys) that were accepted into a boys’ choir based in Jerusalem. They all love to sing, we love to let them, it will give them fantastic opportunities and experiences, help them make new friends, and involve three boys in one chug (after-school activity) – always a logistical plus.
The most important part for now about both the school and the choir is that word accepted. After feeling rejected socially by their peers for so much of the past six months, the three of them feel wanted, and we all need that.
I also am feeling a more “wanted”. I have accepted a part-time job that is challenging, exciting and rewarding. I hope to have more of an official “announcement” soon, when we finish finalizing the details at work. In the interim, I often come home feeling like I have done a little bit of good out there in the world. As I drive to work I get this ‘high'; the feeling of freedom and escape from mundane housework, the astonishing views on my commute that just feel like a daily gift from Hashem, and the knowledge that I am working in the Holy City of Jerusalem with ideas and people that make a difference just come together in a moment of endless gratitude.
My children are daily beginning to experience their first Purim in Israel. It is one of the moments in the year that olim internalize deeply, because it is so radically different than in the rest of the world.
There is much for us to be celebrating this Adar,
our first as a family in Israel.
It is hard to ignore that Adar is also a month of azkarot, memorial services. Purim is the story of the return of Amalek, and our triumph as a people over it – with Hashem’s help. Israel has suffered an inordinate number of terror attacks in the month of Adar. When people pause to remember, they realize that it was Adar when a terrorist killed eight young boys in the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva. Adar when the Fogel family was torn apart, leaving those young children orphaned in a way that so clearly screamed “bloodlust”. Unfortunately the list goes on.
Fogel family, z”l, killed two years ago today.Boys murdered at Mercaz Harav yeshiva March 6, 2008.
As the Jewish calendar is cyclical, we know that Adar beckons Amalek back every single year. In our age, we triumph by simply going on, building our state, celebrating life and not death. But it is the modern day “ad lo yada” challenge for us to be b’simcha (joyful) not only over Mordechai but also Haman, and to rejoice in Adar, our month-long Purim-fest, while also attending memorial services.
Ad Lo Yada, celebrating on Purim until we don’t know the difference between blessing Mordechai and cursing Haman.
I pray every day that in Adar this year Amalek doesn’t add any names to the list.
**If you would like to support Israel’s victims of terror financially you can do so by ordering mishloach manot for them or sending your matanot l’evyonim to them. If you want more information or ideas, please just leave a comment here, and I will respond.
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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:
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This is our sukkah decoration craft this year:
I was very pleased with myself for “inventing” this year’s sukkah craft.. only to find that Creative Jewish Mom had beat me to it. My only twist to the idea is that instead of using plastic drinking cups, I have been using Israeli cottage cheese containers, yogurt containers, and even “resek” (tomato paste) containers. I know this will work with American yogurt containers too. I don’t encourage the use of plastic cups in the house in general, so we don’t really have them lying around. And I used containers I would have otherwise been throwing away.
This project fits my criteria; inexepensive and kid-friendly. Although my 12 year old helped with the spray paint, my kids were able to do this basically without me.
For those with easy access to it, I suggest adding some glitter glue to the mix.
Here are my directions:
Save and wash out as many small plastic containers as you can.
Gather up a piece of cardboard for spray painting on.
If you have a single hole punch, it is great for stringing up your flowers. Gather up some string, too.
1. I started out by cutting off the hard rim on the yogurt cups. (For those of you outside of Israel you may understand from the pictures, but this step is probably irrelevant for you.)
The stiff rim is gone on this one.
2. I cut the cups from the rim to the center, leaving the round center intact. The sizes of the slats don’t seem to matter, but if they are a bit wider it is less work, and easier to round your “petal” edges if you choose.
3. I chose to spray paint my flowers before rounding the edges, mostly because I wanted to see what they would look like. The extra step (of rounding them) is entirely up to you.
I bought two cans of spray, pink and silver (which really looks gray).
My kids had a lot of fun being allowed to use the spray paint. It was my only expense for this project, and totaled 24 shekels, which is about $6.
4. I used a mini-single hole punch at the top center of one petal, and just put through a piece of string I had. I used a sharpie on one of them, and as I said, I think glitter glue would look great.
I will add a photo of our beautiful flowers hanging in the sukkah…but we need a sukkah first!
What brilliant and inexpensive, kid-friendly decorations can you suggest? We would love some more ideas!
** Don’t forget to check out my product review of the new Webee, below…..
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When my friends asked me to test drive a new developing computer product designed for young children, I jumped at the chance. They know that I am a blogger, and they know I am VERY opinionated, especially about my kids. They also know I am brutally honest, so they must have a lot of confidence in the product!
What I am not sure that they know is that both my husband and I have worked in IT, we own four working laptops that are always in the house, and I have children who are not only relatively computer savvy, but specifically well-versed when it comes to educational programs.
They did give me a Webee (pronounced Web-ee) to try for free, but I made no promises to post a word other than my true feelings after a thorough test-drive by the family. And we love it. The makers are currently running a kickstarter campaign to get this product on the market, and I strongly endorse the effort. I don’t need to buy one, I have one. But I am putting my money into the campaign nonetheless, because this product is a good one, and it will sell.
The Webee is not a web site (or rather not just a website) but rather a custom keyboard that plugs into a USB port and sits on top of the keyboard of the computer. It is used in conjunction with the Webee website, which requires a login by the parent. The user (designed for young children) can then access educational games around the site, changing as they choose.
How is this different than just using a kid-friendly educational web site?
First of all, the buttons are much easier than a mouse for a very young child. My four and a half year old is very comfortable with a mouse, but not only are the buttons easier, he is “safer” using them, i.e., less accidental clicks, closing browsers and generally messing up Ima’s work.
Second, it is almost impossible for the user to accidentally switch out of the site and/or end up somewhere on the net where they shouldn’t be. This is a big deal. I am okay with my son using the computer, but it is a general problem that I either have to stay on top of him supervising, or I cannot and feel that I should. This product makes it much easier for me to let him work independently in a truly safe way.
Third, most of the web sites that I actually do let my little one use have a number of options that are simple “play video”. I hate this. I like limited amounts of brain-engaging computer activity, but if it is just going to be a mini television set, then it defeats the purpose. The Webee solves this problem too.
“Isn’t this just ‘digital babysitting’?” You ask:
Someone recently reacted to me that way when I described the device. Before going any further, I know virtually no one who isn’t guilty of digital babysitting at some point, for some amount of time.
Having said that, we don’t own a television, and I am not a big fan of passive entertainment. On the other hand, my children gain a great deal from relaxed, indoor time (when they happen to not be bothering me!) in front of the computer doing mind-engaging educational work. My older kids all use Khan Academy daily, for example.
Their younger brother wants to follow suit. When he is using the Webee he is learning reading comprehension, letter and color recognition, order, size, matching, etc. All positive school-preparedness skills.
And… this brings me to my favorite part….
THE WEBEE CAN BE SET UP FOR USE IN ENGLISH, RUSSIAN, or HEBREW.
If you allow your two year old to use a computer, limiting daily screen time, in Hebrew for a few minutes every day, he/she WILL learn Hebrew! I have seen this first hand. If your four year old is learning some basic Hebrew at preschool and you want to reinforce it, they can use this toy in Hebrew and learn. I love it as a language tool in addition to a basic learning one. I know this won’t be the selling point for everyone, but it has added a significant layer to the value for us as a family.
What is the review from the four year old? He is at the older end of the spectrum for the toy, but he loves it. It is definitely more challenging for him in Hebrew, but he does love using it in English as well. Do you know what the most precious commodity is to a seventh child? Anything that is actually solely theirs. A computer related device designed for him? He feels like a really big man.
I expected my older kids to scoff and make fun of the “baby toy”, and that their put-downs might turn him off to it. Didn’t happen. They love it too, and they look for excuses to “help” him. I know that one of the reasons it holds their interest too is that there are a very large number of games/choices.
The programming itself is high quality, although I do prefer some games over others. I am thrilled to learn that once the product takes off they have created a Software Development Kit, making it possible for others to expand the choices and create even more high quality options within the system.
I encourage you to visit the kickstarter campaign HERE, and to invest if you are able. Stay tuned here for updates and news about Webee and its development, and when you can finally get one! .
I had asked the company for one to giveaway to you, my readers, but you will have to wait for the actual product and not an advance prototype. Once Webee raises the funds they need and can get moving on the assembly line, I promise to bug them for a giveaway contest until they have to say yes. : )
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