This post originally appeared in the Princeton-Mercer Bucks New Jersey Jewish News:
At home abroad: our family’s first Pesach in Israel
This is the first time in at least nine years that I didn’t make any apple kugel for the Passover seder. I didn’t make it because Max Goldfarb from East Windsor wasn’t at my seder table, so there was no special request.
This was only one of many changes for the holiday, since we moved from the Twin Rivers Jewish community in East Windsor to Neve Daniel in Gush Etzion in Israel last July.
I had expected drama — after all, this was our first Pesach as free people in our own Jewish land. THIS year, in Jerusalem.
What I got was a whole lot of normal. There were no tears at the seder and no virtual symphonic music running in my head. Just the same fun, goofy singing of “Chad Gadya” as in years past.
Since I last wrote about our aliya from New Jersey, the kids have become more and more settled, and I have begun working part time. I am now the spokesperson for the One Family Fund, a national organization helping terror victims and their families with legal, financial, and emotional assistance. The work is very intense yet incredibly meaningful. While it is an adjustment for us all, it is one more step toward full acclimation.
Our Passover seders in New Jersey were beautiful, uplifting, and a lot of fun. But they were also a lot of work: lots of guests, long drives to Lakewood for Passover supplies, two days of holiday to cook and clean for — in Israel, only one seder is observed — and generally swimming upstream in a culture celebrating Easter all around us.
Here, in the two weeks leading up to Passover, I was also busy — but with my job: As a One Family Fund representative, I was preparing to attend President Obama’s speech in Jerusalem. Being in Israel meant there were other factors mitigating the hectic approach to the holiday. A yeshiva student-for-hire scrubbed my oven and refrigerator for me. Every Pesach ingredient imaginable was available 15 minutes from my house. The community has a vat for kashering metal items, which meant sending my husband off with pots and silverware to Minha services and the dunking of the utensils — and that was it.
During the intermediate days of the holiday, day trips (“tiyulim” here) could be arranged spontaneously, just 20 minutes from our home in every direction. And no need to pack food; the restaurants at attractions and throughout Jerusalem are kosher-for-Passover.
At our one seder, we had 10 people. Israel didn’t change clocks until after the first days of Passover, so we were able to begin the seder by 6:30. We could start before what I used to feel was bedtime and finish before the middle of the night.
Passover break for the kids was a full three weeks. While that may have been its own challenge, in general the holiday season was marked by a welcome lack of hard work. It honestly felt like a vacation.
Our family was finally initiated into a true Israeli rite, when we went on our first family hike in Nahal Sorek, near Beit Shemesh. It was a beautiful (downhill) trek, with Israel’s famous spring flowers bursting forth throughout the expansive valley.
We also visited the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem, which is quickly becoming a favorite destination for our kids. I know they enjoy seeing the animals there, but I must say I get more pleasure from seeing the kaleidoscope of Jews all gathered together; the variety never ceases to amaze me.
Ironically, it was during Passover that I became most nostalgic for our previous life. While preparing for the holiday in New Jersey was always a production, it was a production we put on together, and we enjoyed every minute once the day came.
In Twin Rivers, the preparation brought a sense of drama. Despite Obama’s first presidential visit to Israel, the holiday — this “first Pesach in Israel” — was decidedly lacking in drama. The normalcy of being a Jew in a Jewish culture, where Passover is just part of the national rhythm, felt great.
Most of my children said they missed the second seder, but in general did very little comparing. They did read the Haggada in Hebrew — and even questioned the translation! But life here is so different in so many ways that it is getting harder and harder to compare. We are slowly getting better at just living in the here and now.
Having said that, they all did want to know what happened to the apple kugel, and we all dearly missed Max Goldfarb and all of our other wonderful NJ Passover guests.
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This morning I am surrounded by overstuffed suitcases, carry-ons and “personal items” – with pillow pets peeking out of them.
Today is the day that, if Hashem decides they will go according to our plan, eight of us will board a plane for Israel. One-way tickets.
The ninth, the first child, my stepson, will say goodbye at the airport. Before I met my husband I never in a million years thought I could be a stepmother. Then I met my stepson.
In a million years I never thought I would leave Israel. Then my stepson moved to NJ. There was no other choice for us.
In a million years I never imagined it would hurt just this much to leave him here. He is a grown man, going off to college. But that doesn’t matter. Not to him, not to his father, not to his siblings, and not to me. We moved here just so that we would mean enough to him that it would be this painful and heartbreaking to be apart. This tremendous ache is our sign of success.
He knows, as his stomach churns and his heart aches, that this is what we need to do. For us. But it doesn’t make this part easy.
It has been a crazy and intense three weeks of limbo in Cape Cod, our “magical place”. Surrounded by my parents and brothers and a steady stream of visitors, we have tried to squeeze in a little bit of pre-trip errands as well as a few dabs of much-needed vacation.
I am sorry I haven’t been able to write about it. Perhaps when this adventure starts to calm I will find the time.
… But we all know this adventure won’t be slowing down anytime soon, right?
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I have to be out of my house by Friday. My aliyah date isn’t until July 22nd, but we won’t be here. We are going back to my parents’ house/summer getaway/magical place on Cape Cod first.
Uprooting your life to move with school-aged children is honestly crazy. Finding a way to say goodbye to your close friends and family is crazy. Finding a way to say “goodbye” to my stepson as he leaves for college and finding a way to tell him we are still his parents and love him but will be six thousand miles away? Definitely crazy.
Love makes us do a lot of crazy things, and my love for the land and the people of Israel are worth it. But right now in the middleof the storm of crazy I am spending a lot of time trying to have faith and hold on tight.
This move feels a lot like giving birth. And we are getting close. I think I am in the ninth-month-with-braxton-hicks phase right now, and when I was pregnant, that made me pretty crazy too.
Just as then, I know what will come in the end is all worth it.
….But if anyone wants to borrow some stir-crazy, bored, emotionally strained children for a few days, just let me know. : )
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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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I am on my way to a five day vacation with three women I know from elementary and middle school. We come from very diverse backgrounds and have chosen very different paths in life. Our lives and get together could probably qualify for some mid-life chick flick.
The vacation is a reunion for all of us. But what other functions this excursion has for each of us is as different as the rest of our lives.
I have a year of overwhelming commitments. I wanted to go back to work full time despite the challenge of juggling that with so many children to care for. I got what I wanted, but the price has been little time for reflection, contemplation – blogging – and going forward with my customary “strategy building” intentionality. I like to run my household by reflecting on how things are going, assessing what I would like to see continue / change, and modifying my own strategy and attitude. By committing my every waking minute, I have left myself no room for this part of my being – this crucial aspect of mothering. It is exhausting, and I can see that my family is paying the price.
I know this trip away from my family is as good for them as it is for me beyond the cliché platitude. Yes, of course a rested and relaxed Ima is a better one. But like any corporate retreat, the simple QUIET of my first hour on the airplane has given me more chance for reflection than the last six months of chaos.
I know it will be incredible to catch up with old friends, and hear how the story of their lives have been unfolding. But I also can’t wait to just catch up with myself.
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My daughter is at sleepaway camp 133 miles away. She has been sending letters daily explaining that she cannot wait until visiting day – since she will be coming home with me then. That Visiting Day was this past Sunday.
A week earlier, she had called from the office begging me to pick her up. My answer was “we are not even going to talk about it until visiting day.” Clearly in her mind this meant that she had every right to come home on visiting day.
So, with a sense of dread (which I have already blogged about), I packed up eight people into a seven seater van (don’t report me, some of them were really small) for a 2.5 hour drive up into the mountains.
I gave all passengers a sturdy pep talk on the way up. Everyone in that car was to encourage daughter/sister to STAY at camp. The only talk of home was to be of how boring it is. I went armed with GPS, food for the day, food for daughter, gifts, extra blanket, new books…you get the point.
Ten miles before we arrive at camp… the car dies. Rather the transmission dies, but I was not aware at the time that this was the case. Daughter is at camp no doubt crying that everyone else’s parents are there, and we have abandoned her. Our passengers below the age of fourteen, which comprise the majority, climb out of the car and begin to whine.
DH flagged down the first frummy*-filled car he spied, and of course they were on their way to the same visiting day. Miraculously, they had room for (and were willing to take) four of us. Only four to go.
At least an hour, and many failed phone calls later, (we were in the mountains) the next four arrived. I was now talking dear daughter out of coming home, managing six children and a mother’s helper with only the help of the mother’s helper, trying to calmly figure out a way to get everyone home, and avoid collective heat stroke — all at the same time.
My brother arrived from Hoboken, NJ, which is almost as far. He had arranged for a car, but he had to get it back by a certain time. He got to give his dear niece a hug.. and then run out to try and help DH (darling husband) with the car.
Brother and DH had their own bout with frustration as I wandered about camp, hugging daughter and calling around for solutions on my dying cell phone, all at the same time. Overpriced snowcones seem to mollify the children. While daughter wept quietly about being forced to remain suffering in the clutches of a place that structures her time for her, (imagine!)many other of my offspring went on at great length about how unfair it is that she got to stay there and they did not.
By the time Brother and DH finally made it back to the camp, it was just about time for my brother to turn around and leave. I think he got maybe an hour with his niece, and he spent the whole day in the car (which did not make it back by the arranged time, resulting in a fee.)
At almost the same moment I miraculously found an angel of a man/principal/Rabbi who lived very far from us, but happened to be driving 20 minutes south of our house … and leaving momentarily. So DH dropped everything and gave one of what must have been two hugs to his dear daughter, and hastily arranged our two youngest in the back of Angel Man’s car.
We have friends who spend the summer as a family at another camp in the same mountains. They have two cars at camp, and incredibly were willing to allow us to drive one of them home. I have known for a long time that they are tzadikim, (righteous people), but I am perpetually humbled by the amount that they do for us personally. They drove the car to us, so that the other five of us could get home.
So, we went to back to the bunk to pack up the things I had to take home. This, of course, was the point at which reality finally hit my daughter, who returned to crying and pleading.
We eventually got her to say goodbye to us. I actually bribed my daughter to stay at the camp that cost a fortune to send her to. She did agree to it though. I am such a sucker.
We eventually got our things packed up in the car, and our friends back to their camp, ready to hit the road and finally head home. On route 17 on visiting day.
Ask any parent who has ever sent their child to a frum sleepaway camp in New York about route 17 on visiting day. All of the Orthodox Jewish camps are apparently on this one piece of this one road. And they all have visiting day on the same day. It is truly historic. The people who live in bungalow colonies there know that one simply does not go out in the car on visiting day.
I don’t think I have ever been around that many Jews in one place at one time, except at the kotel on a yom tov.
The 2.5 hour drive took 5.5 hours. That is only because I got off of route 17 for a while and snuck through the local roads. Everyone in the car was hot, tired, and hungry. Then the car’s air conditioning stopped working. Of course I was only grateful; the car was a gift, a/c or not.
We did get home. Finally. My van is still in the mountains, and I expect to be without a car for at least ten days. It will cost us thousands to fix, right as our next tuition bill comes in,( now for six children) to be in yeshiva.
I am really not making this more dramatic than it was. I got home and tried to decompress for a few minutes before crashing into bed… on my computer.
It died too. The laptop’s fan has stopped working so it overheats frequently and easily and the computer just shuts itself off. At least I won’t have to retrieve it from the mountains before it can be repaired.
One of my sons, the same tzaddik who wrote me the scholastic book letter, turned to me during the parking-lot-like part of the trip and said “at least we are having some quality time together, Ima.”
I would like to think that there is some great cosmic reason behind the sudden and intense heaping of rotten luck and frustration. I know that Hashem knows what he is doing. He certainly could have found some easier ways for us to spend “quality time” together. I spent a lot of time in the car asking Hashem to let this be kapara (atonement) for the month of Elul (which just started) and make my teshuva for Rosh Hashana easier.
I spent the next day exhausted, cranky, sluggish, with mounds and mounds of work to get done. In addition, of course, to tending to the broken car in the mountains and its retrieval, plus the scheduling of repair for the broken computer.
However, I am much luckier than I was one year ago. Now, as I sit during horrible, terrible agonizing days like this year’s Visiting Day, at least I continually think; ”Now this is going to make for a great blog post.”
*frummy=Orthodox/religious. Meant affectionately; some of my best friends are frummies.
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