Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Today was the closest we have had to a ‘normal’ day since we got here. After getting the kids off to school, I spent the morning cleaning and doing laundry. My husband went off to buy material for the succah. The boys managed to come home on their own – no one ended up in another town today. We did homework and colored. I made dinner. It was all seeming pretty ordinary until I noticed the view as I was driving our daughter home from Gan (nursery). The 5 minute drive from the Rimon neighborhood where she goes to school, down to the Gefen neighborhood where we live, was enough to take my breath away. As I noticed the panoramic view of the Judean hills I realized that ordinary living would forevermore be extraordinary. Later, the kids rode their bikes, we ate dinner and gave the kids baths. It was a good day. I’m starting to feel a little less like a new immigrant and a little more like a new being.

Later on I read this quote in the Muqata blog. It was very apropos.

From R' Ari Enkin at the Hirhurim blog:
"The Holiness of an ordinary weekday in Eretz Yisrael is like that of a Shabbat in Chutz La'aretz. The Holiness of Shabbat in Eretz Yisrael is like that of Yom Kippur in Chutz La'aretz. The Holiness of Yom Kippur in Eretz Yisrael cannot be found anywhere else in the world" -Zohar

I first saw this teaching shortly after making Aliya five years ago and it has been with me daily ever since. Frankly, for me it is one of the most compelling pieces of introspection and mussar – to know that I am in the palace of the King, where the Holiness is incomparably powerful - and even tangible. How those of us who live in Eretz Yisrael must properly prepare for, utilize, and appreciate Yom Kippur.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yom Kippur -- a day of reflection

Yom Kippur in Efrat was ... different - but not in a bad way. Just different from what I'm used to. One major difference was that I was not suffering through a fast day during a sweltering Miami Autumn. Plus in Israel - they change the clock before Yom Kippur in order to shorten the fast. How cool is that? The other major difference is what I did - or rather did not do - on the holiest day of the year. For the last 6 years I have managed to work out child care for the High Holy Days between youth groups in Shul and non-Jewish babysitters. In Israel, most shuls do not have groups and it is pretty difficult to find a non-Jewish babysitter that you would trust with your kids. So I knew in advance that much of my Yom Kippur service to Hashem would be servicing my own kids. Still, I could not fathom not going to Shul for Kol Nidre and so like many other moms, I went to Shul too. Then I spent the remaining two hours wondering why I had. I had made peace with the idea that I did not have a requirement to daven like my husband did. I had made peace with the idea that it was more important for me to take care of my children then to daven. I had come to understand that my husband's davening would count for me, which was a bit counterintuitive after being raised in a society that espouses equality between sexes. Yet, for some reason I had to go. I did catch a few notes of Kol Nidre before joining the chorus of children in the nearby playground. It made me nostalgic and I felt at home. Was that a reason to go? I watched the other mothers, many of whom were in the makeshift women's section in the lobby next to the door to the men's section. It was filled with women who could not make it into the real Women's section with their children but wanted to be part of the service none-the-less. The women were struggling to daven while holding babies and feeding children. Don't get me wrong - this was not a pitiful scene - it was quite beautiful and everyone was joyful. Only I could not figure out what to do with myself. Should I struggle too? If I made my daughter sit on my lap while I tried to get a few words out to Gd, would it even matter? If I do not have a requirement to pray and my husband's prayers count for me, then why should I bother? If my prayers do make a difference and I can impart a better year for all of us, than what am I doing outside the Shul in the first place? So there I stood, or rather sat , in a no-man's land - listening to the prayers, but with my daughter in my hands instead of a siddur. I loved the experience no less. When I was putting my kids to bed that night I thought about my tzadeket friend who told me with great joy how she had got up at 6 am on Rosh Hashana so that she could daven quietly and then be ready to start with the kids at 8. I thought about going downstairs to do some praying or meditating of my own once the kids got to sleep. I thought about it and I thought about her. And then I got up and went to sleep! Luckily, my husband parts easier with sleep than I do and he woke up at the early hour of 4:50 am. in order to go to the early Minyan so that I could catch the last hours of Musaf in the regular Minyan. I did enjoy Musaf immensely and I had to admit that 2 hours in Shul was easier than 6! I briefly cringed at the thought of not going to Neila, but had a most meaningful Neila service at home with the kids. I got to hear what THEY wanted to ask Hashem as Yom Kippur was coming to an end! So all in all it was a sweet way to start the year, though I'm still not sure what it is exactly that I did most of the day!
  I hope your Yom Kippur was meaningful, whatever way you spent it! May all of our prayers be answered for the best!

Friday, September 25, 2009

All roads lead home

Rosh Hashana is not just the beginning of the year, it is also, quite literally, the Rosh -- the head of the year. What this means is that we have a unique opportunity to create a vision of what we want to come that year and to make that vision the “head” – the leader of our year. In fact, the reason that we eat symbolic foods at our Rosh Hashana meal is not because they have magical powers (husband’s joke – if we eat lettuce, raisins and celery - Hashem will lettuce have a rais in salary). We eat these foods because they help to form our vision and to keep our picture focused on sweet stuff. This year we had plenty of visual aids to create a vision of what we want to follow. Rosh Hashana in Efrat was nothing less than picturesque and blissful. Of course it helped that we were invited out for all 4 meals and for the first time in 8 years, I cooked absolutely nothing! As the chag began I was watching my children play in the park next to the shul. The sun was setting behind the Judean hills. All around us were children playing happily in an area built of Jerusalem stone and Jewish dreams. The weather was cool and breezy. It was one of those Aliyah moments in which I felt that I really did have an “elevation.” I really did fulfill a dream that began long ago – way before me, my parents, and their parents. There is a saying by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi that says “Everywhere I go I am going to Eretz Yisrael.” When you make this idea the head of your year, your Aliyah begins in that moment. Long ago, I had a dream that I would live in Israel one day. Looking back in my life I see that I wherever I went, I was headed that way. I had to move to Perth, Australia and to Miami in order to move to Israel. From living in Perth I learned that it is possible to live far from family, and yet still be close. From the South Africans in Perth I learned that leaving certain luxuries behind does not have to mean a decrease in the standard of living. It can also lead us to a higher standard. As one oleh said “I have never had so little and yet felt so rich.” From the South Americans in Miami I learned that it is possible to be part of another country without losing one’s identity. Being an immigrant does not have to mean a life of trying to fit in or trying to be something you are not. I’m proud to be and Israeli but also proud to have been born in the USA with all of the good things that it has to offer. From living in Perth and in Miami I learned to appreciate 4 seasons that coincide with the Jewish yearly cycle. For the first time in a long time, Sukkot will actually feel like the time of year it is supposed to represent. No fan or air conditioner needed! Yet from Miami, I learned that it’s ok to be hot and sweaty, or as one of the locals put it “moist.” At least here we get a break from that. From living in Perth, I learned to appreciate a multitude of kosher food and restaurants. There was on kosher restaurant in Perth open two hours a week. After we left he closed and apparently told someone that he closed because we left! From living in Miami I learned to love Israelis and to see the softness beneath the hard veneer. In short, after being around the world and back, I learned that there is no place like home. Though many of us take the roundabout route, for Jews, all roads lead home.
Happy New Year 5770!

If I had Hebrew font, I could show you that the year is written Taf Shin Ayin. That could be an acronym for Teheh Shnat Aliyah. This should be a year of Aliyah. Wishing you a year of elevation physically and spiritually!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Learning Curve (how the kids are doing in school)

One of the most common questions that we are getting these days is about how the kids are doing in school. After all it is quite challenging to sit in class all day when the teacher is speaking your language, how much more so when you understand almost nothing. As one person put it: remember how you feel when you are listening to a speaker and everything he or she says is either terribly boring or going way over your head? Now imagine doing that 6 days a week for the whole day! Luckily, our kids have been pretty good about it so far. When they walk in we ask them how their day went and the response ranges from “good” to “the best!” Then we ask if they understood anything. To this they invariably respond with a huge grin and a very enthusiastic “not a word!” I call this success. However, we did have our share of blunders along the way. On the first day of school I went to put rosemary oil on their heads since this is said to repel lice – a nightmare for an American, but no big deal to Israelis who often let the lice take up room and board in their kids’ heads. In my haste, I forgot to mix the oil essence with water. In fact, I should have mixed a few drops of oil with a ½ cup of water. Instead I put more than a few drops directly on head. I figured out it wasn’t right when Shira started to cry and hold her nose and then when Akiva, who was up the stairs said, “What stinks?” Good thing she is only 2, or I may have cost her the chance to have any friends in her new class! The other blunder was not our fault. We had planned to drive our kids to and from school, thinking they were not ready for the bus system here, but they would have none of that. So on the second day of school, Ezra boarded the bus from school to our street, only they forget to let him off. After 30 minutes and a bunch of frantic phone calls he was located, still on the bus and happy as can be. The next day Akiva got on the wrong bus and ended up leaving Efrat and getting a tour of the neighboring town, Elazar. It took a while for him to figure out that he was no longer in Efrat and a very frustrated bus driver who could not speak a word of English eventually got him back to us. Since then it’s been smooth. I still marvel at their independence. At the ages of 4 and 6, they can come home from school all on their own and can even walk up the block to their taekwondo class all by themselves! They love the independence and it builds their esteem. Next stop: the grocery store. That will be cool.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Life without a Lift

We just got called today to find out that our long awaited “lift” (container) is coming on Sunday. While I am elated at the prospect of having our own fridge, oven, washer and dryer there is something I will surely miss about living without stuff. When the Torah wants to describe Avraham as wealthy, the word used is “Kaved.” Kaved literally means heavy and every time I move overseas (this is the third time) I am reminded why. Life is so much lighter when there is less. All we have right now is 3 air mattresses, 2 thin foam mattresses, 2 pots, 2 tables, and 10 chairs. We have some linen, clothing, some cleaning products and food. That is it. The house is bright and airy. There is so little to make a mess with and little to clean up. Life is simple and we enjoy simple things. When we first got our borrowed tables in the house, my 2-year-old was so excited saying “table, table!” You would have thought she had just gotten an amazing birthday present. 2 months ago, she had literally thousands of dollars worth of toys at her disposable, and not one was nearly as intriguing. So while we are excited and eager to be in our own beds and to eat at our own table, I hope that we can take the lesson of simplicity with us and remember to buy less, share more, and pass on those things that no longer serve us.
Shabbat Shalom, Shabbat Menucha.
Shabbat of Peace and of Rest!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Sunshine State

We have internet! And all that comes with it – our US Miami number is now working, I can blog again, skype, you name it. After a whole week and a few days without, it’s like rediscovering the wonders of the web all over again. This past week and a half have been very busy. I started to write out everything that we have done, thinking that it might be helpful to anyone who is considering aliyah, but quickly found that my brain cells have been fried. I can hardly remember anything! It's a good thing that Nefesh B'Nefesh gives everyone a poster (that looks kind of like a rather fun boardgame) with all of the necesary steps listed on it so that we can have some sense of what has been done and what needs to be done yet. It’s kind of like having a baby. You are so busy and tired that you can’t remember a thing! So I’ll skip to my thought of the week. During this process, we have been given a lot of advice and support by friends, strangers, and professionals. However there is one line that is said over and over again, starting with one of the government officials at the welcoming ceremony. “Eretz Yisrael niknet b’yisurim,” (a quote from the gemara) “Israel is acquired with yisurim – tzoris -- extreme hardship.” In other words you are going to suffer this year. This is often tempered with “kol hatchalot kashot,” “All beginnings are difficult” – meaning it’s hard in the beginning, but it gets easier. This make me think that we are going through some kind of hazing to become part of a fraternity and while I know that a lot of people have horror stories from their initiating year, I find it very depressing to be on the lookout for ours. One woman even showed us a graph that showed how all olim go up and then they all dip down, and sometimes very down before going up again. I know that the first year is hard. I know that there are challenges. But so far we are having a really good time and I find the yisurim thought to be a bit of rain on my parade. My other problem with the thought is the fact that there is a lot of truth to it. Many olim do go through experiences ranging from slightly unpleasant to total nightmare. Why? Why would Hashem do that? Here we are, new immigrants that gave up the good life in America in order to live in the Holy Land. Can’t Gd give us a break? The zechuyot are great and everything, but could we skip the yisurim bit? It’s kind of like when Avraham comes to Eretz Yisrael, only to encounter a famine. So here is my thought that I acquired while speaking to a fellow new oleh who is having plenty of challenges of his own: ITS ALL GOOD. As my friend from Miami (now in Hong Kong) and fellow Life Coach Ana Scherer taught me to say – we ask for what we want and then acknowledge that we will get what we asked for or something better. In Eretz Yisrael (and everywhere else), there is a lot of ‘something better.’ We think we want A, but B may be better. Judaism talks a lot about light. Light is goodness, wisdom, even Gd Himself is referred to as the Endless Light. We are taught that when Hashem first created the world some of the light had to be hidden – it was too bright for human beings to stand. In the future, the light will return and we will be able to enjoy it. Light is a good thing, but only if we have the eyes to see it. When a person comes to Eretz Yisrael, there is a lot more light and sometimes it takes time for the eyes to adjust. How we experience our aliyah depends on how we see things and what we choose to focus on. As my husband says “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. “ So much of life is experienced as a reflection of who we are rather then as what the true reality may be. Sometimes we experience the light as too bright even though it is always there to heal, to guide, to lead…to something better. However the potential is always there to experience the light as pure, wonderful sunshine. I’d like to propose a radical idea: it is possible to experience aliyah without feeling yisurim! Lest you think I am heretical and contradict the Gemara, allow me to suggest that we have had our share of tzoris and continue to bear our share of yisurim for the sake of obtaining and maintaining Eretz Yisrael. We need not bear anymore! I prefer to focus on a different ancient text – a blessing form the daily Amidah which states “Teka b’shofar l’cheirutainu v’sa nes lekabetz geluyotainu vkabzeitnu beyachad me’arba kanfot ha’aretz.” “blast the trumpets of our freedom, raise the banner high of our ingathering, and bring us together from all four corners of the Earth.” We are having a blast. Come join us. This is the true Sunshine State.