Yes, and….

January 9th, 2018

This blog post is dedicated to – or more accurately inspired by – Ruti Mizrachi and Debbie Hirsch.

Many years ago I studied in Theater School. We did a lot of improv, and one of the many improv principles we worked with was called “yes, and.” In improv, it means you take the lead from what someone else in the scene says and run with it, you don’t reject it or shut it down. That would kill a scene and doesn’t move the action forward.

For example, if your fellow actor said “You are a cow”, the appropriate response would be to say “moo”, and perhaps kick them, but not to say “I am not! I am a person, that’s ridiculous!”. That just reminds the audience that it’s all make believe and silly and that spoils the fun for everyone.

As one of my wise friend-teachers reminded me this past year, however, all principles in improv translate into life, including “Yes, and.” We can reject or shut down a person’s flow, idea, sentiment or opinion, or, we can choose to embrace it even as we shift the tone into something that better suits our own style.

“Yes, darling, we could have waffles with lots of syrup and ice cream for dinner….. Or we could have healthy lasagna and make a waffle and ice cream party for dessert on Sat. night. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

I was recently included in an exhibit in our local community center of “Female Professionalism.” There are 12 “female professionals” included, each interviewed, profiled and photographed. The point of the exhibit is to demonstrate the artists’ understanding of what each of these 12 women bring to our chosen careers, specifically as women. They featured 12 different qualities, expressed as icons, and chose 3-4 to place alongside the photos of each subject, based on her story and personality.  I didn’t know which of the 12 they had chosen to put next to my name until the opening of the exhibit. The names of them are each in Hebrew. One of the icons next to my photo can best be translated as… “Yes, and.” I don’t remember the precise phrasing in Hebrew, but it translates loosely into “saying yes and then figuring it out afterwards.”

Just as you learn a new word and suddenly see it everywhere, I find that when I learn something new about myself,  I suddenly see its manifestation every day, around every corner. And while I no longer participate in Improv, I guess the principle has stuck with me.

Today, a colleague gently, kindly and humorously pointed out a mistake I had made in Hebrew. In a professional message. To everyone I work with. He waited until it wasn’t in the moment and was soooo careful not to embarass me. It was good he corrected me, but the usage was ghastly enough that I am fairly certain this won’t be the mistake I make in the future!

My coworking space is located in a building with a beautiful gym on the floor below us. And this past week there were some problems with the hot water in what are usually the best showers in Gush Etzion (towels provided!) I wrote to everyone warning them that there were problems with the hot water that are being worked on. So for the next few days it would be advisable to check the water in our kitchen tap before relying on the hot water “below.” Only if you spell “below” with a tav instead of tet, it actually says “to  (or for) death. As in: “You should check the water in our kitchen tap before relying on the death showers.” I am certainly in the wrong tribe to be making that particular mistake!!!! Everyone else clearly knew what I meant, but it still makes me laugh at myself just to think about it.

My well meaning colleague handled it just right, but you might think today is the day I would feel least confident about my “always an olah” Hebrew….

Not an hour later, the Vice-Principal of one of my sons’ Yeshiva high school called me. In Hebrew. Now is the intense time of year when bewildered and busy parents try to figure out the “perfect” high school for their son. (The girls’ schools will start their own intensity very soon.) This process includes evenings at each school to hear from the administration, sometimes students, sometimes teachers, and sometimes parents, about what makes that particular high school unique. The Rabbi wanted to know if I would agree to speak at my sons’ school  in a number of hours to prospective parents. “Just for a few minutes.”

I said yes. I don’t think I said “Yes, and…”, in fact I don’t think I did much thinking. I LOVE the school for them, they are happy, I want to show the administration how much I appreciate them, and I hope my sons will be proud. So yes. I have to laugh at myself that I didn’t even stop to consider that I had just been schooled on my own or horrific or morbidly humorous Hebrew mistake, depending on your view.

I was slightly tempered by my son asking “You are going to speak at our school in Hebrew?!?!?!??”

But it was only as I watched the second hundred parents  – Israeli parents – file into the cavernous Beit Midrash of the High School that I had understood what I had done. I instantly got incredibly nervous and I thought that my heartbeat might be drowning out the Principal as he spoke before me.

I only spoke for five minutes. Tops. I didn’t use any spectacular vocabulary, and I didn’t make any major faux pas – that I have yet to be told about. I think the Yeshiva wanted to let English-speaking parents know that we are a big part of the school (we are) without switching to English, and I think they weren’t interested in a lofty speech. They wanted parents to see that the school has a heart and that it can make this old bird get gushy just talking about it in her second language in a room full of strangers in just five minutes. Which it can, and it did.

I hope the school is happy. Many parents thanked me, said it was “emotional” (less than five minutes, I mean it.) and had lots of questions, hoping I could help them with the herculean task of intuiting which school is the perfect fit for their unique child.

But I showed myself that I could do it, and the same incredulous son who asked if I would be speaking in Hebrew?!?!?! ended my evening telling me that he was really proud that I spoke at his school tonight. So I don’t know if I got the Hebrew completely right, but I do know that I demonstrated for my teenagers –  without theater classes – that there is a power in “Yes, and……”


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Everyone I know that has a blog, or uses any social media at all, seems to have had a lot to say in recent weeks about the horrible tragedy(ies) of the past few weeks.  I have been keeping quite quiet (yes me, quiet). I haven’t felt that there was anything that hasn’t been said by lots of other people. And the truth is that I have been so heartbroken and sad that there has been little room for me to think or feel anything else.  There isn’t much to say about that other than “I am heartbroken and sad”, which I did.

Having a chayal boded (a “lone soldier”) living with us  helped me feel like I was taking care of my own little corner of the IDF. Helping in our own way. That will be a topic for another post, at another time.

Everyone around me here in Gush Etzion has been helping in their own way, heroically, going so above and beyond. They did because Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali were all of our boys… but they also did because that’s what people here do. It is one of the many reasons we are just blessed to be where we are. I wrote a dvar Torah for work this week, but I have decided to share it here too. This is what I finally have to say…..

Some thoughts on Parshat Balak: 

What a difficult week it has been for Am Yisrael. When I sit down to prepare this week’s email, I am immediately struck by just how full of hope we all were just one week ago.

For the past several days it has been difficult at times to work, concentrate, move on with business as usual. As some of you know, I spend a fair amount of time on “social media”. As a result, one of the hardest part of contending with this tragedy, for me, has been the amount of hate expressed around the world. Two “bad guys” committing an inhuman criminal act was made far worse by the apparent dismissal by some and outright celebration by others.

But our one constant as a nation is always the study of Torah, and as Meryl Lee Avraham [my colleague, mentor, teacher and friend] expressed so beautifully last week, “It is amazing how every week when we read the parsha, we can find relevance and insights to what is currently happening.”

In this week’s parsha, Balak, King Balak from the kingdom of Moav petitions the grand wizard Bilam from the kingdom of Midian to curse the Jews. Balak has seen the Jews’ military success as they have forged their way to Israel. He is worried about our numbers, and has seen that military acumen is not going to be a successful way to stop Am Yisrael. He asks Bilam to curse the Jewish people.

It makes sense; since Moshe’s relationship with G-d is clearly helping Am Yisrael, certainly a different Navi should be able to counter that better than swords and arrows. Bilam makes it very clear from the beginning that he can only say what Hashem tells him to. He brings sacrifices to G-d, but instead of curses, only blessings spill forth from Bilam. After several attempts to change location (maybe they need to find Moshe’s “magic mountaintop”?) it is clear this just isn’t going to work.  “Mevarechecha Baruch v’orerecha arur”, “Blessed are they who bless you, Accursed they who curse you.” (Bamidbar 24:9) is Bilam’s reminder in his blessing, to the promise made to Avraham by G-d.

Almost the entire parsha is taken up with this strange story which seems to be about our enemies, not us, and a thwarted attempt to foil our entry into Eretz Yisrael through a spiritual plot, rather than a military one. However, the end of our parsha begins a different narrative. It describes the inappropriate relations that the Israelite men were having with Moabite women. It what seems like an abrupt change of subject, that begins with “So, while this was going on [with the non-Jews] and the Israelites were in the place called Shittim, they started being inappropriate with the women of Moav.  And these Moabite women enticed them to join in some Baal Peor worship, which made Hashem very, very angry – “Yachar Af”, incensed.  

The result of this was a plague in which 24,000 Israelites died!

Not only is this particular chapter added on after a long, fluid narrative, but the rest of the story of their relations with the Moabites continues immediately after in next week’s parsha, Pinchas.

So why is it here? Why not just tell the next story… next? 

The Midianites and Moabites aren’t really allies, but they form an alliance of sorts in an attempt to destroy Am Yisrael. We are told a great deal, in detail, about the Ancient non-Jewish world’s perception that they cannot destroy us militarily. That our real power comes from our bond with Hashem. So it is there that they will try to undermine us, and bring us to our knees. It specifically states that Balak’s concern was our size, our numbers:  “…they are too numerous for me; perhaps I can thus defeat them and drive them out of the land.”  (Bamidbar 22:6). Balak’s efforts, through Bilam don’t work. He can’t cut down our numbers. He cannot get the greatest spiritual guru of the age to curse the Jews. Hashem just won’t let it happen.

… And still, a few lines later, Hashem strikes down 25,000 of our men? How can that be?

The answer, was that the only way for us as a people to be cursed was to bring it upon ourselves. No nation can come from the outside and truly address the “Jewish problem”, or find a successful “final solution”. Military might won’t work, spiritual leadership won’t work. No tactic can help an outside people or force destroy the Jews.   We all know that this has been proven out over thousands of years. Certainly not for lack of trying!

The reason it is so important for the parsha to include the plague at Shittim, the licentious behavior of the Jews, and its disastrous consequence is to remind us that we are not invulnerable. We are our own worst enemy. The non-Jews cannot curse us no matter how hard we try… but if we stray from Hashem’s ways, become comfortable and are “romanced” by the world’s peoples, cultures and religions, we won’t maintain Hashem’s protection. They can’t take it away from us; we can take it away from ourselves.

The past few weeks have been so trying, such a strain. We maintained such hope. Everywhere around me the people of Gush Etzion have been looking for every opportunity to do more mitzvoth to merit the safe return of our boys. There have been extra shiurim, gatherings to say tehillim, chessed drives, and more, all in the merit of Gil-Ad, Naftali and Eyal. At times it has felt like the support for the terrorists involved was shockingly overwhelming. Worse, the silence and apathy from much of the Western world felt isolating. The reminder that there are so many people out there who still want to curse us, to bring us down, to drive us out, added great insult to injury.

But we came together as a people, clinging not only to each other, but to Hashem’s ways.  It is in the studying of Torah (to prepare this) that I have found the most solace in a most difficult week, and it is in the studying of Torah that we will guarantee ourselves Hashem’s ongoing protection.

We couldn’t do enough to save those boys’ lives. But we know the warning encased in the last narrative of our parsha. We do not run into the arms of a different people, seeking approval and connection there. We respond to the greater attempt to once again address the “Jewish problem” by crying out to – and clinging to – Hashem.

May the tremendous Achdut, unity, and swelling of mitzvoth that were there the result of this terrible tragedy remain an indelible imprint to bring blessing to the memories of Eyal, Naftali and Gil-ad, z’l.  — Shabbat Shalom. 

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If you are taking out time from your busy Pesach prep to read this, well, I am honored.

It seems that our family ends up with all kinds of interesting hospital visits around Pesach time. I don’t think it is a coincidence. Springtime + school vacation can equal broken legs, noses, bumps, scrapes, etc….. not to mention the fact that 6/8 of our children are Pesach babies! Thank G-d, so far this year all are healthy in our home this year, ptfu ptfu; so far, so good.

My son went for an MRI last night. This is not due to some recent malady, but rather a stubborn pitcher’s elbow that doesn’t seem to want to go away. The prescribed treatments so far haven’t seemed to work. He has been eager to have the MRI, and impatient with the process that is Israel’s socialized medicine. The MRI for him symbolizes our increasing attention and management of his problem, taking it seriously, and an intensified effort to get whatever treatment is going to help him make it “to the majors” in baseball someday.







There were two noteworthy aspects to the MRI. The first is that it was scheduled for 6.30 pm and happened closer to 11 pm. Not noteworthy at all, but sadly typical, right?  The administrator at the hospital in the MRI department called us four separate times, each to alert us of the delay and to tell us to come later (and later, and later) to spare our waiting around in the hospital.  A true Pesach miracle:  the hospital went out of their way to be sensitive to us and reduce our wait time!  What I love most about this is that the first time I told this kind man on the other line how busy we are getting ready for the holiday and how much I appreciated the heads up, so he took it upon himself to keep updating me. That Pesach informs hospital procedure is one of those little “only in Israel” moments that just never get old in this amazing country. 

My son was shocked to learn that the procedure wasn’t simple, and that the IV he had to have for it hurt. He wasn’t being treated, and he had been looking forward to getting more information about his injury and closer to recovery. So to find out it was going to be annoying and painful was a big shock. He was upset, uncomfortable and scared. I did what I could to reassure him, and now that it is over, he is relieved and smiling (although exhausted).

But I see in this a true Pesach lesson, and the MRI is going to be my “teachable moment” at the Seder this year.

Very often in life when Hashem gives us something wonderful and special, we have to experience a great deal of discomfort first. Childbirth is an example that naturally comes to mind for me. But it is true for many other times in life too. For some, an excrutiatingly difficult divorce is the necessary pain before finding the love of one’s life, and many years of marital bliss. I had to have a procedure on my toe this week (you don’t want the details, I promise), and it hurt so much to have it done that I put it off for at least a month. And after a month of suffering and one day of pain, everything feels great now. The process can be true for a move, getting a PhD, or losing weight.

To heal, we often go through a great deal of pain, and it has to get worse before it gets better. I don’t know if the reason is, as the Rabbis teach us, that we need difficult transitions to strengthen us enough to cope with a new reality. Or if it is a test and then a reward. Or, if it is simply the truism that change means coming out of ones “comfort zone”  – and doing that is almost always painful. It is probably all three.

Leaving Egypt was painful and difficult. We weren’t zapped and then just left. We had to learn mitzvot, follow commands, get out of our slave mentality, stand up to our former masters, pack up in a hurry and run away (I can’t even pack up my kids quickly to run to the corner store, never mind out into the desert) .. and then choose between what must have seemed like certain death by drowning or certain death by oncoming Egyptians.

vintage-cleaningLehavdil*, sometimes preparation for the Seder and the holiday is painful and difficult. I hope it isn’t for you! But Hashem is there in the pain, in the transitions. Our natural world is constructed that way to help us learn about our spiritual world. I think that leil haseder is about choosing to relive the pain and the transition of yetziat mitrayim in order to better appreciate the redemption and healing that followed. I think this is obvious to most, but I wonder if the MRI’s, toe procedures and childbirths in our lives can help us truly empathize and experience that process on an emotional level. 

Chag Kasher v’Sameach. May you have an uplifting and transformational Pesach. 


*Lehavdil is an expression that is hard to translate. My best effort is to say “Similarly, but of course not the same!”

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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”….



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Perfect wave

December 6th, 2012

Have you ever had a day that was perfect? Truly perfect? 

During sukkot (yes, that is right, it has taken me until Chanukah to write about it,) I and my family met one of my very best friends and her family at the beach in Ashdod. The weather was perfect, the waves were perfect, the scenery was perfect, and the company was even more perfect.

At some point in the afternoon the two husbands left with half of the kids, and I was left on the beach with my daughter joyfully riding waves and jumping into the arms of my friend.  The kids that stayed with us were happy. No one needed me, no phone was ringing, no chores awaited; it was late in the day so not too hot or cold,  and everything was, well, perfect.

As I sat there I tried to take in the moment and internalize it. To keep it recorded in my memory and in my soul so that I could go back there and visit it at some when life is feeling a lot less perfect. I also tried to figure out what Hashem wanted me to be learning from this slice of perfection. What am I supposed to learn from this beach, this day, in this scenario.

I spent a good part of the day in the waves myself. Waves that were big enough to lift you up and carry you, but not out of control or “hostile”.  Most of the time I was riding with ease. At one point I was socializing, enjoying myself, but distracted, and I did get carried under. I was fine, but very concerned about my hair covering coming off, so I kept my head in the water until I could retrieve it and put it back on. I looked ridiculous, but there wasn’t anyone there to notice. (At least that is what I tell myself.)

It occurred to me, while sitting on the beach in complete solitude and bliss that was is true of the waves is true in the rest of the world that God has given us:

When we are prepared for what is coming, then we stand in the right place, catch the wave and use it as an opportunity to move, enjoying the process. When we aren’t prepared for what is coming, it comes anyway, and often knocks us down and pushes us under. We often feel like we are drowning, even when we aren’t, and have a hard time getting our footing again. Especially because once that wave catches us off guard, the next one just comes rolling in whether we have gotten back up or not.

There are experiences that come and are sometimes merely crises because we weren’t prepared for them. We can’t always know what will come our way, but I think that working on one’s faith is a lot like standing in position for the next wave.  Having faith that is strong, developed and ready makes it so much easier for you to meet the next challenge and “ride” it through, and working on ourselves and our character, being in tune with the calendar and what God wants from us, instead of absently just going along,  increases our chances of seeing the waves before they arrive – and crash down on our heads.



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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!

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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.


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I have a guest post today. My father‘s writing is probably the most articulate I have ever read. His ability to express himself in letters in a more poignant and touching way than he can in person is something I relate to personally every day.

He wrote a message to my children after they came home defeated by their second day of school in Israel.  It sums up so much, so beautifully, that I need to share:

Your message to your mother was less encouraging about your children’s adjustment to a new school. Understanding a language and being able to learn in it and to write it are different things and your kids, who are used to being the very best at school, must find their new school lives quite frustrating. Tell them that they will overcome this challenge because they can and because it is their destiny. Their great great grandparents needed to do the same thing when they emigrated from Russia to the U.S. over 100 years ago- it is in our history and our DNA as Jews to overcome these challenges and while it is difficult and sometimes quite scary, they are the next generation of Jews bringing their skills and intelligence to a new place to improve the world- actions truly of kiddush hashem. Also, their grandparents love them and their parents very much.” 

Helping children understand the macro picture of their place in Jewish history while reminding them of the micro reality that they have people who love them and are cheering them on is a delicate balance and a very special role for a grandparent. We are all so fortunate that they “get it.”

Perhaps most importantly the kids were able to read these words before school – and absorb them.

Let’s hope today is a better day. It probably won’t be, as the next month or months of days will remain hard.

But what a gift they took with them this morning.

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The hard part.

August 24th, 2012

Ask most moms, and my guess is that they will agree that labor is not the hard part of having a baby.

Okay, labor is really hard. It isn’t the hardest part. That is day 3, or 4, or 5.

When you have a baby you have all sorts of drugs (natural as well as perhaps otherwise) in your system from the pain and adrenaline. You are thrilled to be done, G-d willing successful, and no longer pregnant. You have this beautiful baby!

A few days pass, and you come home from the hospital. Your milk comes in, suddenly your baby wants to eat in a serious way – and all of the time. Your hormones kick in. Your husband turns to you and says that work is done cutting him slack and it is time to go back/get serious/work more hours. Your other children decide they have had enough being big and brave and supportive and are ready for some “you need to show me you love me too” attention. All at once. And somehow you realize that your house is a disaster and a week’s worth of laundry has piled up. And this all comes down on you as day 3/4/5 of sleep deprivation makes your coping skills really, really limited.

Am I right?

So this is what this particular phase of our aliyah feels like.

The kids put on a brave, positive face. They made it through camp, and have really made tremendous efforts. But one month without furniture and a whole week home without camp in which to notice is just about enough. School starts soon and the “orientation” meetings didn’t really help, they just brought the reality of starting over in a new language to the forefront. Anxieties are at an all time high. Places of refuge and comfort at “home” are at an all time low.

My husband and I too are done allowing all of the take out food and the ‘getting by’ – we are also anxious for familiarity, routine and doing one thing – anything – that doesn’t take three times as long as it should.

The heat is at its highest and patience is at its lowest.

On day 3/4/5 after having a baby I routinely want to handle the situation by crawling under the covers, ignoring everyone and falling into a deep, blissful sleep for three or four days. I dream of someone else coming along and being the Ima for a day or two, taking care of it all — including me. None of that happens, but the phase does pass.

I find myself craving the same solution here.  And similarly, I usually manage a daily escape into sleep for about 45 minutes instead. It helps.  Now, as then, there is no one else to be the cheerleader and to say “yihiyeh b’seder” (it will all be all right) another one hundred times. There is no one else to make sure I drink enough, sleep enough, eat enough.

There is no other Ima coming along to say “I’m sorry” after every complaint, and the complaints these days are endless.  They are entitled.  This move is asking so much of them.

Everything I learn as an Ima is a tool to help me be wiser in the rest of my life – at least if I am fortunate enough to learn as I should. I know this too shall pass. The time will come when they will tell me I am exaggerating their current woes when I recall them. There is a time that the “aliyah baby” will coo and be adorable and I will forget just how miserable day 3/4/5 was. I know the day will come.

But I gather my strength and endurance to make it through until it does.


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Trust Fall

June 13th, 2012

Wow. I have been gone a really, really long time.  I think I may have mentioned once or twice (or a hundred times) that we are moving (back) to Israel. Everything else has experienced some neglect, not just the blog. I hope to make up for it, all while sharing tremendous mountain views from the  Judean Hills. 

While we are in this intense period of transition we my children are having the very expected roller coaster of mixed emotions. We went through a particularly challenging bump in the road for about a week in which we thought the perfect picture or plan “we” had made was in peril. Of course Hashem had a better plan and the pothole in our road was a gift, but at the time the sudden upheaval and uncertainty was extremely distressing – and therefore not lost on the kids.

When I was suddenly standing on uncertain ground (again) it was too much for them to bear. “You told us everything was set!” they cried.  “What do you mean things may change!”… “If you weren’t right about what school I would be in, then how do I know anything else you told me is really going to happen?!?!”

I sat them down on Shabbat morning, and I told them the story of the Peer Group Retreat I went on with Weston High School in 10th grade. I never really understood why we went to “peer group” or what the point was of putting their perceived “leaders” in the school all in one room. Shouldn’t we have been meeting with “non leaders”? (Whatever that means.) But it meant some measure of status to be chosen, we told ourselves it would look good on college applications, and it probably got us out of other classes. So we went.

We did get to go on a retreat at a campgrounds in the spring. We had ice-breaking sessions, conversations on leadership, lectures on the evils of drugs, we had to use teamwork to navigate a ropes course, and we learned… trust falls. I told the kids about the fear of closing your eyes and leaning backwards, completely letting go, prepared to let your peers catch you. I related the story about being told to go to the next level, onto low bleachers, falling blindly backwards from that height into the arms of your classmates. It wasn’t easy, and we all learned that no matter your weight, with a group behind you to catch you if you can really let go, they will catch you and you won’t fall on the ground. We all had to do, had to learn it by doing.

Aliyah, I told them, is one big trust fall.

You have to know that Hashem is going to catch you. You can’t waiver, and you can’t doubt. You won’t be able to lean and you won’t be able to fall if you don’t trust. You can be scared and you can be anxious. But you must trust that you will be caught.

Then, of course was the fun part – I let them each try a trust fall. It was immediately apparent who could let go and lean and who really had to work on the trust.  I think by having to do it then finally understood what I meant.

The pep talk was at least as much for me as it was for them. I would hate for my anxieties over changes in our plan or troubles along the way to ever be misinterpreted as a lack of faith in the Master of it all.


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