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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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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I didn’t blog about Purim this year. Those of you who have read my earlier posts know that it is not my favorite holiday.
But this year is different; we are in the midst of a move. A big one. To Eretz Yisroel. I am excited about it, and looking forward to every aspect, every challenge, every hill we have to climb. (ND’ers, get it? Hill?)
That doesn’t make it easy.
Catching up on doctor’s visits has meant a slew of diagnoses and challenging follow-up for the next few months.
The children have started to manifest all of the anxiety and mixed emotion expected with any move. At the end of the day, I am taking their stuff and moving it around and putting it in boxes…. Painters have come, cleaning off their decade of marks – and permanently removing their art from the walls.
Some of their possessions were even on the front lawn for a yard sale. The tension is coming out in all sorts of interesting ways. Fever for one, hostility for another, worry for all… and migraines for me.
I gained tremendous chizuk from Trip’n Up’s recent post about grief and her interactions with her son. Her piece was a stark reminder that my children are going through a grief process and how important it is for me to manage it as such. I know that as the Ima I set the tone. That my positive attitude is needed to carry us all. I know this deep down, and have seen it in action so many times. That doesn’t always make it easy.
Bombs raining down on our brothers and sisters over there hasn’t made it easier, either.
So Purim for me this year felt like a backdrop of noise, partying and chaos while I quietly tried to embrace safek – doubt -and to breathe through the pain of limbo knowing this is all for the good, part of a divine plan and that Hashem will always be there, behind it all.
In Adar we celebrate the triumph over Amalek, which is related to safek, and lack of faith. Only Amalek could doubt Hashem’s hand when the Jews left Egypt and it was clear to the world who took them out. I am trying, for my children and for myself, to model an ability to live within this stage of limbo. I try so hard to empathize with the sadness that the children feel despite knowing so much better than they do just how excited we all should be.
The irony is that they do not yet comprehend that they are moving to a new home where everyone must master living with safek. Where the conversations about doing so are clearly and deeper and certainly more frequent, but the emunah that goes with it will be B”H all around them.
I hope they can have emunah in me as I keep reassuring them that it all will be good in the end.
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I am feeling a tremendous amount of stress this week, like the air around me is slightly constricting.
Thank G-d, nothing specific has happened. I am not fighting the battle of a lifetime. I am not describing the health challenges or life challenges so many face. I am simply in a phase of a lot of transitions at once, and it is enough to rattle my equilibrium.
School restarts in eight days. We have wound down from day camps and vacation plans. While we are enjoying our last days of
chaos freedom, it isn’t our normal summer routine and it sure isn’t our school year routine.
I am also moving from the slow period at all three of my jobs to the craziest time of the year. I teach, so my lesson planning for Ivrit has had to switch from “thinking about it” to some very real and concentrated work. (Of course what I mean by that is that I have been slaving away at it all summer.) The Jewish outreach center that I work for has little-to-no programming over the summer, so we are in high gear for both the resumption of programming and the big push for the High Holidays. And the Girls’ Israel Year Program I work for will be sending 75 anxious young women away from home for the experience of a lifetime in just a couple of weeks, and I have to help prepare and send them on that journey.
Of course, it is more than work. My family is in transition too. My stepson is preparing college applications. His wings are spreading and his sights are clearly set out of the nest.
I am planning the bat mitzvah for my oldest daughter. I am as unprepared to watch her step into this new phase of life as she is to leave her childhood behind. It causes me to spontaneously cry when I have more than two minutes to think about it. I am enjoying her as an older child with the intelligence, compassion and reason of a person; a friend. But she is still my baby, and it is still an emotional adjustment.
My youngest potty trained this summer. No more diapers. Did I just say that? No more diapers. My youngest child is 3 and a half. I have never been able to say that before! I have blogged often about my enjoyment of “phase II”, meaning that I now have a house full of children instead of a house full of babies. I do enjoy it, but it is a gradual transformation. Family life is so different that what became normal for so many years.
Lastly, there is our biggest transition of all. With an 11-month countdown for Aliyah, the “to do” list is simply daunting. The changes are innumerable. Most immediately, I have to contend with the seemingly infinite clutter that I must sort and remove over the coming months. More importantly, the transition with friends and family has begun. As our much talked about dreams are transforming into a palpable reality, time with loved ones takes on different weight and import, and conversations are shifting.
Elul is coming, and we all have to wake up from our spiritual vacation as well. The
chaos lack of structure with the children always translates into lack of structure for me, including my davening and learning. I am conscious of the transition, and know that I have to move into a much more focused mode religiously as much as everything else. The only true answer for me to handle this rattled feeling is to cling to Him as my rock and daven for the help and focus that I need.
My friend Rena taught me a powerful lesson through her art many years ago. She had a showing that included works of hers depicting the beauty of fall, and the beauty of sunset. In describing her work, she explained her own realization that the original artist, Hakodesh Baruch Hu, made the transitions of this world stunning. Sunset, dawn, fall, spring – are all the subjects of art and music throughout the ages. She came to understand that Hashem is teaching us the beauty of transition. Although it often feels unsettling, change is often gorgeous if we can just take a few steps back.
All of this shifting shakes me and takes me out of my comfort zone, but it is all “l’tovah”. I know it is for the good. I am just working on the knowledge travelling from my head and my soul to my kishkes.
Please check back next week as I will be hosting Haveil Havalim.
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I was a little surprised by my children’s reactions to the rebuilding of our sukkah this year. Every year has been met with some level of wonderment and suprise as well as excitement. This year…. there was recognition. They had very clear expectations of what it looked like, where it would go, certain decorations, and even our annual problems with it.
As I was scrambling to get ready for yet another 3 days of yom tov in a row, I considered why this made any impression on me at all. They aren’t babies anymore was the most obvious and immediate thought.
Then I stopped to realize that I have now lived in this house longer than I have lived anywhere since I was sixteen and we left my childhood home in Connecticut. My parents moved to Boston at the beginning of my junior year which felt like a death sentence to me at the time. My life was my friends, and leaving that behind was unimaginable. Rather than put down new roots for the remaining two years of high school, I chose to spend part of 12th grade in Israel. This led to many years of moving; three years at university in Canada, a brief return to Boston, and then aliyah. I had thought for many years that once I had settled in Jerusalem that that was it. The end. Enough wandering.
First I would find a job. (I did.) Then I would find a husband. ( I did.) Then I would find a nice house in a nice Israeli suburb, settle in, and never leave. That part wasn’t exactly what Hashem had in mind. So I moved to New Jersey, and took a while to settle here in the amazing community in which we live.
Time has passed and many babies have been born, thank G-d. I have been busy with much and don’t pause to consider how long we have been here. I DO spend time “counting down” until Israel, but that clearly has distracted me from the roots that have been planted and grown here.
I think there is something wonderful about the wonderment and surprise of the sukkah box that emerges each year. I am also enjoying this phase of recognition. The familiarity is becoming part of their holiday experiences, as ritual is intended to be.
This is just one piece of a much larger adjustment to a new phase. After over a decade of “making babies”, my husband and I daily come upon some new aspect of having a house full of children, not infants and toddlers. For example, we both took a nap at the same time on Shabbat. Imagine that.
How does this change sukkot? Well, their expectations of us have changed, since they now have expectations for the holiday and its routine. Certain decorations from year to year have become important to them. Sleeping in the sukkah with a specific set-up matters. (Even at the expense of hundreds of mosquito bites, apparently.) Our sukkah door, (which I photographed and tried but failed to upload here ), must be added to every year, according to certain parameters not only not determined by me, but for the most part I am not even privy to.
This means I get to adjust my expectations too; children old enough to recognize so much from year to year are definitely old enough to start helping get ready for the holidays in a BIG way. : )
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