Saturday, August 22, 2009

Shabbat -- the power of NOW

We just spent a truly amazing first Shabbat with my brother and his family in Beit Shemesh. My sister, who is back for Shana bet, was there too. It was magical to watch our kids become best friends with their cousins and we found comfort in being with family who had gone through this before. In addition, those of us that could not fit in the townhouse stayed across the street with friends we know from Edison and we even had the surprise of bumping into good friends who were visiting from the US this weekend. On top of that, my Rosh Yeshiva from MMY, Rabbi David, is the Rav of my brother’s shul. We felt so at home and it all felt so familiar that I forgot where I was and that I was in the middle of a HUGE move and life change. I was actually taken aback when I was standing on the porch as the sun was setting and I took in the magnificent view. Then it hit me that we were having this wonderful Shabbat in Eretz Yisrael. Not that I had forgotten, it’s just that the focus had become so much on who we were with and the beauty of it all. Shabbat is always a chance to ‘get lost in the moment.’ To leave the past week behind and to let go of worrying about the next week. But this week, it was especially important for us. As I am learning quickly, a great tool for making Aliyah is to learn how to live in the present. In the few moments that I was down on that first afternoon, the image of Lot’s wife looking back at Sodom came into my mind. She turned into salt, the symbol of preservation – of preserving things of the past. It was then that I realized that if I look back at what I left, if I compare it to what I have now, and if I can’t let go, this process will be sad and difficult. Likewise, if I think about all of the challenges that we may face in the coming days, months, and years I’ll be terribly overwhelmed to the point of (analysis) paralysis. Shabbos was a great time to let go and just go with the flow. It was a celebration of all of the blessings in our lives at this moment. I will try more than ever to take that with me in to this week. That is the power of living in the NOW – that ability to be happy with the moment, and that is my secret to getting through this year!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Exodus

What an incredible experience! And even more amazing is how many people shared it with us – 1,000 people at Ben Gurion Airport and thousands more watching live on the internet. We were on board the largest plane load of North American of Jews ever to make aliyah together! We made history.

The Airport

The airport part went pretty smooth, especially once I let go of the need to know where every bag and child were at any given moment. With 10 bags, 7 carry ons, a huge kennel, dog, and three kids to look after, its no wonder the carry on with all of our food ended up being loaded by one of our well-meaning children onto the conveyor belt to the plane! At least we had our family with us to help and bring more food. Moshe was interviewed by chanel 1 news in Israel and quoted as saying “we plan to move to Efrat in the Gush and hope to build a house one day if Obama lets us.” Hero won the award for cutest dog (well, at least in my opinion) wearing an Israeli flag bandana around his neck that his Savti gave him.

The Send-off

Once we said our goodbyes, our journey really began, but at a very slow pace. As we were passing through the seemingly endless security line at a snail’s pace, the kids were busy complaining, I spotted a friend I hadn’t seen since the 11th grade and we started to make some new friends. I couldn’t help but wonder what leaving Egypt must have been like. Did one Israelite girl spot another whom she hadn’t seen since her 11th year of slavery? Were the kids wining and the fathers schlepping? I told my kids that they should be grateful for an Exodus such as the one we were experiencing. While they were complaining about long lines, I suggested that it must have been harder to walk all the way through the dessert. They didn’t like that. I got very emotional feeling that we were walking, breathing, and living a very important part of Jewish history right there and then. We were going on our Exodus, and while it wasn’t easy, it was transcendent!

The Plane Ride

Everyone was incredibly patient and kind on this flight. The captain began by welcoming all of the “olim yekarim” dear immigrants aboard the plane ride home. All on board were eager to help one another. At any given time at least half the plane was walking around (the seat belt light went off while we were still at a 60 degree incline), a baby was screaming, and there was a long line for the self-serve drinks, though curiously never for the bathrooms! The best part of the plane ride was the landing. The whole plane clapped and cheered and sang “v’shavu banim” (and the children return to their borders) together.

The Arrival

As we got off the plane our family kissed the ground together. We boarded the bus to the terminal and were let off to a crowd of a thousand! There was music and soldiers and such incredible energy that we wanted it to last forever. While walking through the lines of soldiers we ran into Natan Sharansky and my husband had a beautiful conversation with him. It later occurred to us how poetic the meeting was as Moshe had attended Sharansky’s arrival to Israel from the former Soviet Union in 1989. It wasn’t long before we spotted our family who had signs and flags to welcome us home. We danced, and sang, and celebrated. You can still catch the video of our arrival and short interview at

Since then we have been slowly acclimating and getting into reality. It is still very wonderful and surreal, thought I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said that it has all been bliss. I did have a bit of a “down” somewhere between the HOURS of waiting for luggage, getting to our new home (which is less than ideal, though I knew this already), and repacking to go to the beautiful apartment we are borrowing from friends for a week. Today it occurred to me that this was my ‘amalek’ moment. Amalek was the first nation to attack the Jewish people after they came out of Egypt. They targeted and harmed the weak and vulnerable among the nation, but they did not win. Some sages explain that Amalek signifies doubt. When we are tired and weak, we are attacked by doubt, fear, and uncertainty. However, we need not succumb. Thanks Gd after food and rest I was able to say hallel on my first Rosh Chodesh in Eretz Yisrael and proclaim “Zeh Hayom asa Hashem, nagilah v’nismicha bo!” “Today is the day Hashem created to rejoice and be joyful!”

What a blessing. We are Home!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Not your Grandpa's aliyah

Making aliyah today is nothing like our ancestors could have imagined. What follows is my list of top ten modern day miracles that have transformed the way we move to the holy land.

1. AIRPLANES – I know most of us are more or less over the invention of flight, but when you take a step back, you see that it truly is miraculous. Just the other day I was having a conversation with one of my kids. He asked me how all of the Jews will get to Israel when Moshiach comes. I told him about the tradition that we will come on ‘wings of Eagles.’ I then went on to explain that some people think that airplanes are the Eagles that the Torah is referring to. To this, my son responded. “ I hope its real Eagles. That is so much cooler. “ While I have to agree with him, you still have to admit – it’s pretty amazing that we can sit in a chair in the sky and fly with the birds all the way to Israel in a matter of hours.

2. CELL PHONES – Friends of ours who made aliyah 30 years ago told us that they had to wait NINE MONTHS just for a land line when they went. Today, we can have a phone instantaneously that can go with us wherever we go and allow our nervous chalaria mothers back home to contact us whenever they feel the need. More importantly, we nervous mothers living in Israel will be able to keep tabs on our children in a country that experiences some danger once in a while.

3. FACEBOOK and the like – it’s easier than ever to be in touch with friends and families overseas. I found this out by accident. I read somewhere about a pro Israel rally that I wanted to attend – the details were posted on facebook. I wanted to go to the rally so I joined facebook. I woke up the next morning to find a flood of facebook emails from friends and former students from Australia. Then followed friends from high school and elementary school. All of the sudden I could know the intimate life of someone I hadn’t spoken to since the first grade. I even met some family members via facebook, that I probably would never have met otherwise. What this means for us olim is that out of sight does not have to mean out of mind. The goodbyes are slightly easier and connections are kept strong.

4. DIGITAL CAMERAS – I chose a home to live in without even stepping foot in it. When I found something of interest, we had a very wonderful friend go check it out for us and take a zillion pictures. When I called him to see how it went, he had just gotten home. Within a matter of minutes he had uploaded the images and sent them to me thousands of miles away where I got a virtual tour of my home to be.

5. INTERNET – It used to be that a person living in the middle of nowhere was, well, living in the middle of nowhere. Now you can be anywhere and still be somewhere. You could be living in the Galilee and doing business in New York. Most importantly, you can be living in shekalim while earning in dollars.

6. SKYPE – Long ago I experienced my first trip to Disney. One of the memories that stuck out in my 5-year-old mind was a ride in “tomorrowland” that showed the progress of technology and projected into the future. Part of their depiction of the future was a phone that allowed the callers to be seen by each other. I’m not that old, and already what was science fiction then is reality now. Skype is a free service that not only allows people to call each other, but with a webcam, we can see each other too. While normally a private person like me would find this a nuisance, it’s a real boon when you have kids, grandparents, and nieces and nephews in your family.

7. Ikea – Ok, maybe this one doesn’t belong, however it certainly makes it easier to move when you know you’ve got good furniture at great prices in a store you are familiar with. Perhaps the most miraculous things about Ikea in Israel is that it is one of the only things that doesn’t cost any more there than it does in the US. Can we say that about anything else?

8. VONAGE -- Thanks to Vonage, we can take our Miami phone number with us to Israel, or for that matter, anywhere else in the world. No one has an excuse to not call us when they visit. You already know our number! To top it off, for the many people who pay a flat rate to make any amount of calls within the US, this means that calling us from the US to Israel will be FREE!

9. GPS – I was always afraid of getting lost when driving in a new place, but that fear is amplified by a whole lot when that new place includes unfriendly neighborhoods that make Harlem look good. I know it’s not foolproof, but having a GPS does help assuage those fears. And at least I won’t get lost on our little mountain of Efrat! If anyone makes a pilot trip to Israel, I strongly recommend renting a GPS. It is invaluable when you are trying to scout out the whole of Israel in a few days or weeks.

10. NBN – Last but not least, the greatest modern day miracle in making aliyah has to be the initiation of Nefesh B’Nefesh. What this organization has done and is doing to make aliyah from North America easier and more popular is unbelievable. I am honored to have grown up just up the street from its founder Rabbi Josh/Yehoshua Fass. Like the biblical Yehoshua, he is truly doing Gd’s work in settling the land. NBN has streamlined the aliyah process by providing guidance from start to finish, financial assistance, help finding a job, help navigating the Israeli bureaucracy, and so much more. Because of them, I will be able to board a plane tomorrow comprised fully of Olim. They will seat us by region so that we can start meeting each other, we will be Israeli by the time we land, and we will be greeted with huge fanfare and ceremony. And you can all watch it live at It doesn’t get better than this!

So that’s my list, but ultimately, the greatest miracle is the fact that aliyah exists today. I’ll end with a thought from Israel’s most famous poet, Yehuda Amichai. I borrowed it from my husband’s last sermon in Miami.

“Once I was sitting on the steps near the gate at David's Citadel and I put down my two heavy baskets beside me. A group of tourists stood there around their guide, and I became their point of reference. "You see that man over there with the baskets? A little to the right of his head there's an arch from the Roman period. A little to the right of his head." "But he's moving, he's moving!" I said to myself: Redemption will come only when they are told, "Do you see that arch over there from the Roman period? It doesn't matter, but near it, a little to the left and then down a bit, there's a man who has just bought fruit and vegetables for his family."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Moving Up

Aspaklaria has a new lease on life. With my new life about to begin, it's time for a rebirth of this blog. Actually, it is because of this new journey I am starting that this blog has had a temporary demise. My family and I are about to make 'aliyah' – we are moving up to our Homeland – Israel. If anyone out there is considering this move, my first piece of advice; start getting ready now! First of all, make sure that your entire family has passports. As the granddaughter of holocaust survivors, I believe that every Jew should have a passport. I have been saying this forever, only I never took my own advice. Let's just say that my husband and I sighed in relief when our kids' passports were finally completed in early July (we leave mid-August). Second, de-clutter now! You never know how much stuff you have until you move. Even if you are not planning Aliyah in the near future (although you should) you may want to pretend that you are. This is so that you can reap the benefits of going through all of your worldly possessions and asking yourself questions like "do I really need this?" or "does anyone really like this?" and getting rid of whatever doesn't make the grade. FYI – these questions are meant to refer to things and not to people. A good rule to live by – toss anything that is not beautiful, usable, or meaningful. These last few months of organizing have not been easy – it's like Pesach cleaning on steroids, but I am hoping that it will pay off on the other end when my lift comes and everything actually fits inside my new Israeli home. The other thing that has occupied a lot of my time in preparation for this move has been shopping. But not necessarily the fun kind of shopping – like shoes and cloths – but shopping for things like paper towels and peanut butter. Well-meaning friends and family have armed us with lists of stuff to bring from the US that you can't find in Israel – or at least at a reasonable price. But after filling two huge carts at Costco and almost passing out when they had told me how much I spent, I couldn't help but think that the whole approach was a little ridiculous. Am I going to fly back every summer to by paper plates and aluminum foil? How bad can Israeli paper towels be? Will I be having an inner debate every time I need to use one of my precious American paper towels? I hope to answer these burning questions and more as we take this journey together.

Leila Tov!