Sunday, December 24, 2006

Eema Returns (Article #33) 12/21/2006

With Goldie still away, I took requests for Motzei Shabbat Melava Malka from the kids (OK – so it was mostly Chaya who came forward with a request) to have pancakes. Since Shabbat ends so early (5:15 or so) and they have school on Sunday’s, Motzei Shabbat can be a big deal for them, so I decided to agree (plus, with Goldie not around, it was a good chance to get some more “Abba points” and spoil them even more).

Unfortunately, this meant a trip to the supermarket. Why unfortunately? Well, I still seem to have difficulty finding things, since they are organized quite differently here.

Take pancakes for example. Chaya and I walked through the whole store and couldn’t figure out where they could be. Close to the cereals? Nope. Near the flour? No. We ended up having to ask one of the women stocking the shelves (after getting the appropriate Hebrew phrase for pancake mix from my sister).

Of course, this woman had never heard of pancakes and had no idea where we would find the mix. I even had her speak to my sister on the phone, but it didn’t help.

My sister finally advised me to check out the “baking section” where all the cake mixes are found (of course, the flour is NOT in the baking section; flour and sugar are found in the section of “items that come in a paper sack and are powdered or grained” like rice, sugar, flour – the obvious place for flour, right?). Viola’, there it was, an Israeli brand of pancake mix.

The syrup was much easier to find – it was also in the same row as the cake mixes. I don’t know why.

The pancakes were a big hit and gave us a chance to call Goldie and leave her a voicemail of all of us singing, “we had pancakes - with lots and lots of syrup” over and over. Abba was a big hero.

Sunday was a very special day, in many ways. Mordechai had a special Mesibat Channuka in his Gan. Chaya had parent teacher conferences in her school. Perhaps most importantly, Sunday was Goldie’s last day in America (and her last chance to take requests from the kids on what to bring them).

Mordechai’s party was something that Goldie only found out about the week before she left for America. She was devastated when she realized she wouldn’t be there to enjoy it. Since Mordechai has had one of the more difficult adjustments of all the kids, this party was something special to us.

When the invitation came saying “mothers only”, I too was upset. It meant that neither of his parents would attend, although Chaya came through big time in making him feel special and coming to the show.

With the party/show in the evening, the Gan let out early at noon. Since I try to work for a living occasionally and noon was too early for me to get home, Chaya was designated to play hookey for the day and stay home. This had the added benefit of allowing me to work normal hours for a day, instead of having to run home early.

By the time I got home, Chaya had Mordechai all ready for the party and they set off (on the 1 block walk) to the Gan. She called from the Gan to tell us that sisters were allowed and Batya ran to be there too (Aliza was at rehearsal for her major play production – We’ve Got Annie – running for 6 days in a theatre in Yerushalayim at the end of Jan./beginning of Feb.).

What a great time they had! For a child who claims he is having a hard time, Chaya reported that he participated in every part of the play and had a blast. He sang all the songs, did all the dances and the only part he was lost for was when the teachers took an unrehearsed minute to talk about each boy individually. He knew he had heard his name, but the applause he got was a total surprise to him and really made his day.

After Mordechai’s party/show, Batya and I finished off her homework. At the very end she mentioned to me that she was supposed to do a project with Rina Wolicki, a girl in her class who lives down the block from us. Since it was already 7:30 PM, I called the Wolicki house to confirm before sending Batya over.

Apparently, Batya got the message wrong. She didn’t have to do a special project that evening, she was assigned (along with all the other girls in grades one to three) to being in a flashlight and shoebox the very next day.

I had been to parent teacher conferences for the other girls the prior week, so I was a little more mentally prepared for how things would be going in Chaya’s conference. I walked in expecting things to run late and to hear that language is an issue. I am not sure how Goldie managed to get the parent/teacher conferences scheduled while she was in America, leaving the whole thing in my hands.

One extremely positive note I took from the Parent/Teacher conferences for all three girls was that they have really done much better than expected socially. We were prepared for a long drawn out period of zero social interaction for the kids and to have major issues with their making friends, especially considering the language issue. However, the kids have really done well socially, which is an important part of getting there educationally as well.

In my meeting with Chaya’s Menahelet (Head of School), she reinforced that feeling by telling me that they normally have zero academic expectation of new Olim until Channuka at the earliest, sometimes even later. They do this purposefully so that the kids have a chance to become part of the fabric of the school emotionally first and then to have them return to academic seriousness.

Now that we have reached Channuka and can thankfully say that our kids have had a fairly successful “social” integration, we can move forward on the academic side a little more aggressively. We have scheduled a post Channuka meeting to work out which subject areas (beyond those she is already working with in English) that she will start taking in Hebrew.

On Monday morning I got an early phone call from Goldie who had just gotten into her seat on the plane home. The plane left on time and the whole house was keyed up waiting for her. I initially told her that with her two huge suitcases full of treats for the kids that I wouldn’t be able to bring kids with me to greet her at the airport.

I had a conference in Beit Shemesh that morning and the Yeshiva went on a tiyul, so I decided to work out of the house for the day instead of trekking to Yerushalayim to the office for a couple of hours. It also gave me a chance to clean up a little (very little if you ask Goldie).

When the kids came home I told them we were going to surprise Goldie at the airport and I had them prepare signs for her. “Welcome Home Eema”. “We missed you Eema”. “We love you, don’t ever go away again”. The best sign of all was Aliza’s, “Welcome home to all my presents and food!”

I told Goldie to call me when she was ready to pass through customs so that I would look out for her and the three kids that came with me (Aliza, Batya and Mordechai) totally surprised her. She could not stop hugging and kissing them. It was nice to surprise her that way.

With Goldie home I finally had the chance to work my normal hours and try to catch up on things. She was very busy setting up appointments and interviews to get into middle/high school for Aliza. She also spent several hours finalizing plans for our family Channuka tiyul to Yam Hamelach (the Dead Sea).

She will tell you that she spent more time cleaning up the house and reorganizing things than anything else. Quite frankly I think I did a fine job of keeping things organized; I did laundry, cooked food, drove carpools, made (some) lunches and didn’t make the beds.

We know people who were in the same situation as us, with the husband home alone with the kids. He didn’t even know how to do laundry. His solution? Once the clothing ran out, he went out and bought totally new clothing for everyone. So I did better than that (although Chaya would probably have preferred for me to take her shopping).

Since all the schools are off for the entire Channuka week, they held their Channuka parties the week before. With the exception of Chaim (and I think he had an informal party in his school), each kid had some sort of class/school get together by the end of the week. Aliza and Batya went to their teacher’s houses on Wednesday night and Chaya had a school party on Thursday at a local community center.

The one kid event that Goldie did get to go to was Moshe’s Channuka party in his gan. With all the various events and activities of the prior week, she was so excited to be here for at least one of them (and feeling guilty about missing the others as well).

As the group was mostly two year old kids, the kids were a lot less active in their presentation than Mordechai’s gan. Yet this teacher (who we absolutely love) outdid herself in preparation. The room was decorated beautifully and a special musician was brought in who did Channuka themed preschool interactive music and dance with the kids.

He really enjoyed the party, especially his “treat bag” and the special sufganiyot that were distributed (the Govt. here forecasts that 18 million sufganiyot will be eaten in the weeks leading up to and including Channuka). He even makes sure that he wears his Keter (crown) on his head each day to gan even though the party was last week.

On Erev Shabbat, Goldie and I were running errands when we came across one of our neighbors who was doing something we thought incredible. Directly across the street from our home is a major construction project – 2 buildings of townhouses that will hold more than twenty families when complete. Since the construction is at the end of the block, there is a corrugated metal wall as a fence on the street.

Our Charedi neighbors had glued several signs onto the fences a few weeks back that say “WARNING: modest dress is required in our neighborhood”. While we have nothing particular against modest dress, the in your face nature of the sign offended us and many people on our block. We were especially upset because the signs were put up on the walls of our neighborhood (the Charedi side has had these signs up for months).

This neighbor, Peretz Silverman had also taken offense that the Charedim had crossed over to our neighborhood to post their signs. Instead of talking about it like the rest of us, he decided to do something about it.

He went out and had a whole bunch of large signs printed up. He then went out on his own and used his signs to cover up the Charedi signs. His message? “Welcome to our neighborhood” – which he posted on the two fences of the construction site (the fences form the corner of a major intersection).

Needless to say, by the time he had finished posting the signs at the end of the second side of the street our lovely neighbors had already ripped down several of the signs on the first side of the street. *sigh*

Mr. Mom (Article #32) 12/14/2006

So it was official. Goldie got on her flight and went off to America for the week, leaving me alone with the kids, five pages of instructions and a crazy schedule. Although we had no clue when we scheduled her trip how busy the week would be, it was a really tough time for her to be gone.

I was up at 5:50 AM on Sunday morning in order to wake Chaim up for davening before he headed off to his first day at GMAX (his new school). Since Goldie is usually my alarm clock, before I went to bed (at around 1 AM) I made sure to set both her alarm and my alarm (ten minutes apart) to guarantee that I would wake up on time.

I couldn’t fall asleep afterward. The room just didn’t feel right. I had that feeling the whole week (no matter how many kids ended up sleeping in my bed each night). I know it seems strange, but knowing she wasn’t there made a big difference.

That feeling of discomfort brought home to me a lot of what Goldie had complained about when I had been overseas for work. She had also had the same feeling, and I hadn’t been able to relate to it until this week.

Her trip actually opened both of our eyes a little bit in seeing what the other person has to deal with when I am on one of these trips. It isn’t just the strange way the house feels when one parent is away. It is also the difficulty the USA bound person has in hearing the cellphone call over the internet and the frustration in not understanding what the other person is saying.

It is also the fact that your partner who helps you get all the kids dressed, fed and out of the house each day is not there and you suddenly have more time pressure to get them going on time.

It is also the fact that the traveling spouse has long periods of time to just sit and think each night, and they get very lonely and worried about the family.

It is also the fact that there is so much to do in running the household chores that adding those tasks normally done by your spouse is a daunting task and tremendously upsets your routine.

It is also the fact that you feel uncomfortable living on the road (even at your parents’ house) and even a little guilty for not being home and helping to take care of the family as you feel you should be.

And so on.

I don’t think that either of us has really empathized with the other when I have been on these trips, each thinking that the other did not have it so tough. This trip really showed us how hard this week can be for our partner and gave us insights into their emotional state as well.

Thankfully, on Sunday morning the alarms worked and I got up in time to see Chaim leave for minyan. Batya, knowing that I had set the alarms, slept with an ear open and came running into my room as soon as she knew I was up to get a quick cuddle with Abba.

I am used to getting the kids moving in the morning, so getting them out on time wasn’t horrible. The crusher came when I had to drop off a hysterical 2 year old (Moshe) who cried as soon as I left him in his Gan and then do the same thing for Mordechai (whose adjustment issues have been well covered already).

With Goldie away I suddenly had wheels. While the drive into the office was less productive that a train ride working on the laptop, I still got to the office at least a half hour earlier than usual each day. Since I was leaving early each afternoon in order to pick up the kids and get them fed, homeworked, bathed and into bed, the convenience of the car was a must.

On Sunday, Chaya had a free period at the end of the day, so she came home early and really helped me get everyone in order, which wasn’t easy since concern over Chaim’s first day in a new school had me on edge all day.

Sunday night we had yet another Middle/High School open house for Aliza, this time at a school called Chorev, in Yerushalayim. This is a very academically rigorous school. The school is well known as a top flight school and even though it would mean a commute, Aliza asked that we consider it. There is a large contingent of Beit Shemesh students, so it isn’t as big a stretch as we had worried about.

We were suitably impressed. The school has a very expansive campus and they are a very well established and well run school. They know what they are doing and we (Aliza and I) walked away a lot more impressed than we thought we would be. It was certainly food for thought.

While I was away, Chaya put together everyone’s lunch and snacks and organized everything for me so that I would have less to do when I got home. Once again, Goldie’s instructions were invaluable. By the time I got home, Chaya had everything ready for Monday. Lunches and knapsacks were all prepared and everything was in order.

We had found out the week before that Aliza and Batya’s school (known as the “Rappaport” school) would be having parent teacher conferences Monday night. Our division of labor had called for Goldie being the primary parent dealing with educational issues, so I approached the whole thing warily.

Thankfully, our niece Tova who is in Shaalavim for Girls Shana Bet program had volunteered to come by the house and help out that night. This meant that after getting homework done and taking the kids out for dinner, I was able to leave on time for appointments, knowing that Tova and Chaya would have everything under control.

Like the USA, parent teacher conferences are arranged with time slots which are then not adhered to by the parents who never finish within the assigned time. Additionally, since departmental instruction is provided in all grades, the departmental teachers are grouped (by subject) throughout the building and can be met with by signing up on the registration sheet at the classroom door.

Additionally, the new olim have a special meeting with the ulpan teacher where they present a group review of what is going on in the classroom. As always happens, the ulpan meeting was scheduled five minutes before my scheduled time with Aliza’s teacher.

I also did not know that Batya had departmental instruction when I walked in the door, and had almost left when I found out that I had several more teachers to see.

Some things I learned about my kids:

How wonderful they are - I of course knew this, but it is always nice to hear someone else say it.

How well they are blending into the class – Batya had struggled early on and would prefer that we switch her to another school where she knows more girls (more on that later), but they have both been doing well socially.

How much weaker their math skills are – this was only a mild surprise. We had seen the same thing with Chaya much earlier in the year. Apparently math is covered much more aggressively in the Israeli school system and our girls were all lacking in some basic concepts that the class had learned previously but had not yet been taught in America. Only Chaim, who has been in honors math or math enrichment since early on, was not behind his class in math.

Tuesday is a unique day in Israel. This is the day that school ends early – in our case, around noon. Knowing that I would have very little time to stay in the office, I decided to work from the house and also get some shopping done on the side (milk, bread, etc. – things that actually were NOT on Goldie’s lists).

Of course, that is the day that I had to get sick. I am an awful patient. When I get sick I am miserable, but with Goldie away it was terrible. Even thought I wasn’t feeling well, I still had to drive the kids to their after school activities and it was essentially back and forth from one place to the next for about three hours.

By 4 PM I was really feeling run down, so I called the health plan to make a doctor’s appointment. They are all open until 7 PM, so I knew I would get an appointment, or so I thought. In the end, there was not a single appointment to be had with any doctor in all of Beit Shemesh (6 different offices) and I was stuck until Goldie realized that I could go to the emergency after hours clinic without an appointment whatsoever.

So I did.

In the USA it is unheard of to go to the after hours emergency facility without paying a deductible or being somehow disfigured in a horrific accident or something like that. In Israel I just had to show my ID card to the receptionist and walk into the doctor’s office.

Back in the USA, Goldie was beginning to get seriously homesick. Since she was brought in for business purposes, she was really working full days from the morning until late, in order to make sure that she got everything done within the one week she would be in America. She was a little jet lagged, and had a lot of overload trying to deal with all of the things she had planned to do while there.

She didn’t get to see the friends she wanted to see or visit the old neighborhood. She even tried to visit one friend who was being honored and mistakenly went to the wrong venue, which was frustrating. She was also finally beginning to understand why I tell her that I hate the “gap” periods when I travel.

I call any point of the day where I have more than thirty minutes free a gap period. As long as I have appointments or some work to do (even on the computer), I am fine and calm. However, a gap period means that I am essentially idle, with nowhere to go and nobody to see.

Gaps are bad because I end up getting homesick and then depressed. It happens each trip. I begin to doubt myself and my decisions. I get all scared about the kids and how they are doing. I worry about what will be. Basically, a gap period could also be referred to as an opportunity for a panic attack.

Goldie went through the same thing. Since she was a bit jet lagged, she was waking up each morning at 4 AM and just sitting there. It is no fun to be away from your home, your kids, your friends and all your comforts and just have time on your hands without having some way to fill that time.

The rest of the week was generally ok. I worked short hours in the office and was home early to get the kids. I cooked some suppers and brought in others. I made some lunches and did a TON of laundry. Essentially, I kept things going (with a lot of assistance from the older kids).

Our neighbors were very kind to us in making sure that we were invited out for Shabbat (of course that was the week we got a call from some seminary girls who were stuck without a place for Shabbat and I had to decline). We ate dinner next door at the Ginsberg’s (with the Jaffe’s who were also single parenting that week) and lunch at Mordechai’s best friend in Israel’s house – the Rocks. Since the meals were arranged, Shabbat was actually OK. After all, the kids all were at friends and there was not much I needed to do to take care of them.

While we managed, I cannot say that we enjoyed the trip. By the end of the week, Chaya turned to me and said, “I really appreciate Eema now and she can NEVER EVER leave again!” Although I am sure she will have to go again for whatever reasons, we will hopefully have a better understanding of what is expected of us and how to run the household.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Another Strike? (Article #31) 12/7/2006

Sunday began a busy week for us. Although they may be several decades apart, Chaya and my father share the same birthday. This year, with my parents visit to us coinciding with their joint birth date, my father decided that it would be a good excuse to throw themselves a big party and get the family together.

We had discussed the arrangements for weeks, and Goldie and I had volunteered to host, since Chaya was one of the celebrants. My father did not want us to go nuts over the arrangements, so we decided to have a small catered barbecue. Easier to say than to do.

I called many different caterers to get a price quote. I had prepared the menu in advance and had all the particulars typed up and ready for them. All I really wanted was for them to prepare the food and have a guy grill it at our house. No waiters. No service. Just one guy and a bunch of food. OR, if they could get the food to us hot, a simple delivery of BBQ foods.

I relearned the fact that the term “customer service” has no Hebrew equivalent. I couldn’t believe the amount of people who refused to quote me a price because it would be too much trouble for them to simply read the menu and make a calculation. Then there was the fellow who insisted that my menu was not correct and that “what I really wanted was……..” Another guy told me that my job was too small for him and would be a waste of time.

With only three days left before the party, I had still not found a caterer/take out place/whatever who could do the job for us. My sister (who was really trying to be helpful) kept calling me for updates, driving me crazy in the process. Goldie, having decided that the details were my responsibility had totally ignored the whole thing and her inattention was also a bit disconcerting, ‘cause I am used to her constant reminders of a job to be done.

So I was out of sorts and nervous, when I finally got a referral for a caterer at a local Yeshiva who agreed to take care of the whole thing. Whew.

On Monday night, our Yeshiva was having a Hachnassat Sifrei Torah for five Sifrei Torah that had been presented to us by one family. Of course, this meant that we were extremely busy at work, which made it an awful time to have to run home early for a birthday party.

As I expected, last minute planning and errands for the Hachnassa delayed me a half hour and Goldie was flipping out at the delay. In a demonstration of Newton’s Law, three different people called at the last minute because they weren’t sure where our house was and of course, the food came twenty minutes late, at about the same time as most of the guests.

Aside from people whose last name is presently or once was Katz, we were also joined by our sister in law from Teaneck who was flying back to the US that night and my good friend Steve Kirshner and his family (who in my father’s words “is practically a member of the family anyway”), who lives in Efrat. We had also invited my brother’s in-laws who have recently made Aliyah to Modiin and who my parents had joined for a Thanksgiving meal, but they had to cancel at the last minute because he wasn’t feeling well.

I thought the party went well. It was really an excuse for my parents to have almost all the children and grandchildren (minus a nephew and twin nieces in Chicago) in the same location and enjoy them. As I mentioned to everyone in the party, it is unusual for so many of the Katz grandchildren to be in the same place at the same time. We have always had the Kreinberg kids in one place and it was nice to finally have a Katz party.

On Monday, Goldie had been scheduled to go on a trip with her ulpan class. Goldie is really doing very well in ulpan. Her vocabulary is much better that mine – all she lacks is the confidence to make mistakes when conversing. Even the kids have better vocabularies than I do.

The Ulpan was going to Tel Aviv to visit the Tel Aviv tayelet as well as a history museum to learn about the immigrants of the 1920s and the pioneers who settled Israel in the early 1900s, but she hadn’t been feeling well for several days and I finally convinced her to go the doctor on Monday instead of her field trip. It was a good thing that she went because she had a bad sinus infection and she was supposed to fly to the US later in the week.

Thankfully, after some medication and a brief rest, she was able to join me at work for a Hachnassat Sifrei Torah of five Sifrei Torah that were presented to the Yeshiva.
It was a great event. We danced through the streets of Yerushalayim for thirty minutes with a music truck provided by the city, and then (my brother’s band) had live music and dancing outside the Yeshiva for another fifteen minutes or so before heading into the Beit Midrash and “delivering” the Sefarim to the Aron Kodesh.

We were joined by the donor families (the Kleiman’s and David-Pur’s) who had presented the Sefarim in memory of their father, whose yahrtzeit was that morning. There was a Suedat Mitzva with Divrei Torah by the Rav of the neighborhood (Rav Kalazon), the donors and other prominent Rabanim as well as very lively singing and dancing.

While I only joined the Yeshiva this year, it was clearly evident that the emotions involved from growing a Yeshiva from 16 students two years ago to over 70 students today and the presentation of five Sifrei Torah to the Yeshiva that it was a powerful and moving event.

On Tuesday I went in late and spent the morning with Chaim checking out a new school. It has been clearly evident that the schooling here is not working for Chaim. We feel a little duped by the Yeshiva he was enrolled in, since they promised one thing for us and we felt that they did not extend themselves 100% to make sure that it would happen. There was no Rebbi for weeks at a time, secular studies teachers came and went as they pleased and there was very little in the manner of education going on in the building, at least for the tenth grade. Chaim was itching to go to another school and when this opportunity came up, we decided to see what it could mean.

The GMAX program is essentially a one year program designed for English speaking students who want to go to college but will not be successful (for whatever reason) in obtaining an Israeli diploma. In Chaim’s case, the language barrier is huge.

At the end of the year, students take the GED (a high school equivalency) exam and if they pass, they are considered by many colleges and universities (certainly in Israel and even in the US – for instance Yeshiva University) as being eligible for admission. The program also prepares the students for Psychometric exams in Israel (the Israeli equivalent of the SAT) and has an optional SAT prep component as well for students (like Chaim) considering enrollment in American universities.

We had originally considered this program for Chaim as a backup in case we felt that he needed to make a change after a difficult year. Since this year had clearly been difficult for him, we decided to consider a change now. Chaim enjoyed the day and was excited that we were considering this option.

Although it is really geared to an eleventh or twelfth grade student and he might not be able to take the GED until he turns 17 without a special exemption from the testing service, we felt (and GMAX agreed after his interview) that there was a likelihood that Chaim could be successful in the program and this was a choice worth making.

After his visit, we went together to Kraft Stadium in Yerushalayim and I had the chance to watch his flag football team play in the Israeli Flag Football High School League (a victory of course).

Chaim was invited to play on this team by some of the neighborhood kids. Socially, Chaim is doing as well or better than his siblings and certainly better than we expected. He has a nice group of friends and feels included in everything, which is a big plus. Although it isn’t going to happen, he even mentioned to us that he was considering staying in Israel this summer to attend camp with his friends.

On the way home from Yerushalayim I got a warning call from my sister. She had heard on the radio that there was a big general strike called for Wednesday and the trains (my ride to Yerushalyim each day) would not be running.

In early November I had gotten caught in an airport strike which caused an eight hour delay in the processing of luggage upon my arrival in Israel. This was a strike that was called to specifically protest certain labor issues at the airport. The general strike was much broader in scope, and was directed at the entire government. Essentially, most nationalized institutions (including the trains) were included in the strike.

The airport closed. The passport offices closed. The central bank closed. There was no garbage or mail service (although post offices were open). Although the schools were open, preschools (Ganim) had the head teachers in school but not the assistants, forcing the parents to volunteer for two hour shifts as assistants in the school (washing the floors, cleaning the mess, cutting up fruits and vegetables for lunch – standard assistant teaching responsibilities – at least in Israel) to keep the Ganim open (Mordechai’s Gan was the only one in Beit Shemesh that did not close early).

Forced to travel by bus, I came to work almost two hours late (traffic and having to commute cross town once I got to Yerushalayim) and it was a major pain (although, for the municipal workers and religious council workers {Rabbis, Chevra Kadisha} who have not been paid in months I think it is more inconvenient).

Thankfully (?) we had a board of directors meeting that night and I was able to get a ride to the bus station, shortening the return trip.

The strike officially ended at 7 AM Thursday morning, after the courts ordered them back to work. Countless flights were delayed or cancelled. The trains (even though they informed people that the trains would be running in the morning) didn’t get back up and running until the afternoon, a fact I discovered only when I tried to get into a closed train station at ten to eight in the morning.

By Thursday night, most things were back to normal, with the exception of the airport. Since hundreds of flights we cancelled, the airlines were rescheduling flights over the next couple of days in order to get people to their destinations as quickly as possible.

This has caused yet another Charedi uproar this week in Israel. Apparently, in their zeal to get passengers moving quickly, EL AL chose to violate their long standing policy not to fly on Shabbat. As the premier airline for the Charedi and religious communities who comprise a significant portion (if not majority) of their clientele, EL AL has made a business decision (as a private airline) not to fly on Shabbat and these flights (either 18 flights by EL AL or 1 flight by EL AL and 17 code share flights by other airlines) have struck a very deep cord here.

There are calls for the religious public to boycott EL AL. Certain factions of the Charedi community are negotiating with Israir and other airlines to not fly on Shabbat in exchange for becoming the preferred Charedi airline. And of course, the not religious public’s hatred for Charedim and all people religious fuels the fire with their “good riddance” and “finally we will again fly EL AL without the smelly Charedim” comments.

I cannot imagine this is good for Israel or the Jewish people. Although EL AL offers a convincing argument that they did not force anyone to fly on Shabbat and offered all religious passengers the option of rescheduling their flights until after Shabbat, what is clearly missing is the fact that they forced Jewish people to desecrate the Shabbat for business purposes and we have no idea if any religious EL AL employees (or non religious EL AL employees who prefer not to work on Shabbat) had pressure placed upon them in any way.

I am sure that this saga will continue to play out in the coming days. Unfortunately, it seems to be an Israeli business maxim to do whatever you want first and then apologize (as offensively as you can) later. Sadly, this applies to both for the non religious and the religious groups. Hopefully there will be some agreement reached that works.

As tenants of any newly constructed home will tell you, the first few months you live in a home are filled with contractors coming to fix whatever isn’t working exactly right. We had A/C issues, plumbing issues, roofs leaking and a whole host of items that needed to be finished in the home we are renting as well.

Working with the contractors has been difficult and we had a major plumbing leak (from the shower upstairs) into our kitchen. On Thursday, we forced the plumber to stand in the shower room for 5 minutes until the water began to back up the drain and he saw the problem with his own eyes, and he immediately exclaimed that the problem affected the whole house and was a “major” job that he couldn’t fix and only the original builder could fix it.

We keep getting lip service from the landlord and his representatives. We see very little activity in fixing major items (the laundry room has an external water leak which results in peeling walls and mold forming on a regular basis) and minor ones (one of the bedrooms is missing the shutter cover exposing the room to the outside air). We are quite frankly frustrated (this seems to be a common issue here when the landlords are overseas) with the lack of progress in getting the house in proper working order.

We feel we have been patient, waiting for any sign of progress, but we are coming to the end of our patience and have spoken to our attorney regarding our options. We simply feel as if we have no choice. Hopefully the situation will change in the next ten days and we will not be forced into drastic measures.

Shabbat was mostly restful. My parents spent the Shabbat with us, they were scheduled to return to the US on Monday night. We also hosted our former neighbor Dovie Klein who had a Beit Shemesh shabbaton with his Yeshiva – Torat Shraga. Our Rav is a Rosh Yeshiva of Torat Shraga, so Beit Shemesh (and our Shul) are natural hosts for a Yeshiva shabbaton.

Motzei Shabbat, after the kids said their goodbyes to my parents, we started getting Goldie ready for the first of what will become her regular two or three annual trips to the US for work. This trip had been scheduled months in advance and Goldie was dreading it the entire time, she simply has no desire to leave Israel at all.

She kept on telling me that she had “no objection to canceling the entire trip” if I needed her, or that it would be OK for me to tell her I “don’t want” her to go. She prepared four pages of instructions for me on the running of the household (some of which I even plan to follow) and was freaking out about leaving for days.

Of course, her nerves translated straight to the kids, especially Batya, who decided that there was simply no way that Abba could take care of her properly and forbade Goldie from leaving. This quickly spread downward to Mordechai and Moshe and only a quick promise that they could take turns sleeping in either my bed or Goldie’s each night would calm them down, so now I have new roommates.

She took off safely and thankfully landed safely, but I am sure the upcoming week (9 days) will be busy.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

It Was Thanksgiving? (Article #30) 11/30/2006

Sunday morning I went to daven at the Kotel. I try to go to the Kotel at least once a month; I find the experience recharging and also like seeing who is there that I might possibly know. Being that it was the Sunday after Parshat Chayei Sara and also the week of Thanksgiving, I wasn’t disappointed.

Batya had been complaining of a sore throat and not feeling well on Saturday night. When Goldie took Batya to the doctor, he agreed that she was definitely sick but Goldie still had to talk him into prescribing antibiotics, since her strep test results wouldn’t be in for a couple of days.

On Sunday evening we had the big game, Bears vs. Jets. I had originally planned a ten day trip to NY to attend both NY games against the Bears, but the planning didn’t stick, and I ended up in Chicago earlier in the month, so we were stuck watching the games via the internet.

The Giants game the previous week, was a night game that started at 3 in the morning in Israel, so we watched that game via recording the next night. Since the Jets game was live, we invited a bunch of ex-Chicagoans to join us for the game (one NYer joined us but he has lived here since he was a little kid and doesn’t really follow football) and we decided to hook it up to the big screen monitor that we have.

The picture was great, the result even better and a good time was had by all (except my brother in law and father in law who both attended the game).

Monday night was the second of what will be a series of open houses for Aliza’s (grade 6) middle/high school selection. Interestingly, this wasn’t really an open house, it was a fair. An enterprising woman has organized an educational fair (one night for girls, another for boys) for the last couple of years, inviting all the major schools to come present their programs.

This saved us a lot of legwork regarding certain schools that we had heard about but weren’t sure about, as well as getting a face to face meeting with people from some of the schools high on our list. Even though there was a cover charge, having eight schools present under one roof (two out of our three top choices plus two backup options) was a great thing for us.

We also got a chance to reconnect with the folks from GMAX. I have written about GMAX before. This is a program for students who for whatever reason have not been able to succeed in the Israeli school system, and want to go to college. It is a one year program that prepares its students for the GED High School Equivalency Exam and the Israeli psychometric exams (Israeli version of the SAT).

They only accept eleventh or twelfth graders, so we were considering this as a backup option for Chaim for the upcoming year. Since we are having such a hard time with his school and he really wants to learn and prepare for college, we decided to speak with their representatives and see what we needed to do to get him signed up for next year.

In our discussion, they mentioned that they cannot take tenth graders because “of course” they have no governmental certification as a High School and Israeli citizens need to attend high school until the end of tenth grade. This is when the little bell went off in our heads.

Chaim is a tourist here and not subject to the requirements of the educational department of Israel. He might then be eligible for the program and we think it could be a good way for him to overcome the educational difficulties he has been facing.

The only hurdle is the GED minimum age of 17 to take the exam. Chaim will not be 17 until a full year after this year’s GMAX program is finished which (we think) is way too long a gap. We are still working on it.

Mordechai has had a mixed week. Some days he was awesome, others awful. The teachers all realize that the barrier is totally because he doesn’t understand the language and that he is trying. Goldie has been spending a lot of time in the Gan, trying to help him along.

Apparently she has made a positive impression on the teachers there. The assistant teacher’s husband was sitting shiva and she needed an afternoon off (Tuesday), so she asked if Goldie would do it and Goldie readily accepted.

Please remember that everything is different in Israel. Most of the schools are public schools, funded (for the most part) by the city. It cost us about $130 to send Mordechai to this Gan/Pre1a, which happens to be a division of one of the major religious Yeshivot in Beit Shemesh.

Many people send their children to independent public ganim (unaffiliated with a specific Yeshiva) and move their kids to school only for first grade. The ganim are for the most part housed in their own buildings, although sometimes there may be a group of ganim in a central location clustered together (but still in their own buildings).

Since they are stand alone buildings, there is no custodial staff, no office staff, in fact, no staff of any kind. There are only a head teacher and an assistant with any additional support services located off site in the municipal educational department. Therefore, the teachers have to do everything.

They serve the hot lunch (it gets delivered to the Gan by the city’s kosher caterer). They wash the floors. They wash the utensils. They have to wash and cut the vegetables that come with the lunch. Essentially they do all the work that a teacher does, plus maintain the building, which is what Goldie did for the afternoon. She wasn’t really the assistant teacher, she was more like the assistant TO the teacher or really the custodian.

Things picked up at work toward the middle of the week as well. Suddenly, there were droves of parents visiting their sons who are in the Yeshiva as well as parents visiting with their sons who will graduate high school this year and are checking out Yeshivot. The students from the UK, Australia and South Africa were surprised by the amount of visitors until it was explained to them that this was a major holiday week in the US and people were taking advantage of the extra days off.

We hadn’t even been paying attention at home and the fact that it was Thanksgiving week in the US went totally unnoticed in our home.

On Wednesday night we had a really great dinner with Kiki and Gary Shickman who were visiting for the week. They came to the house to see the kids (their son Gaby is Mordechai’s best friend) and then we went to dinner at a local chinese restaurant with them, the Rudoff’s (formerly of Cedarhurst) and the Schneider’s (formerly of Highland Park, NJ and our NBN buddy family) who also happen to be friends of the Shickmans.

As I say here often, there is nothing quite like getting to see old friends and people from our “old life” back in the USA. We only hope we can see more of them and others as time goes on.

On Thursday morning Moshe woke up with a fever and an absolutely dreadful cold. He has been sick with a cold for weeks and cannot seem to shake it, but Goldie took him to the doctor because it felt to her like he was wheezing.

The doctor prescribed the use of a nebulizer breathing treatment and sent her to a local pharmacy to rent a nebulizer machine. This is one of the great things we love about Israel. Not only was the rental charge the equivalent of $1.15 or so per day, not only did the pharmacist tell Goldie that since she picked it up in the late afternoon he would not charge her for that day, but (and this is the best part) THERE WAS NO CHARGE FOR SHABBAT RENTAL OF THE MACHINE even though he advised her how to set it up with a timer for Shabbat use.

Where else will you find a pharmacist who refuses to make passive rental income that may in any way be thought of as making money on Shabbat? In the end, we paid more for the plastic mask that we had to buy separately than we did for renting the machine for 4 days.

On Friday morning, Goldie and I made our weekly trip to Sheffa Shabbos – an appetizing and take out place located a few blocks away in the adjoining Chareidi neighborhood, that is only open on Thursday and Friday.

We love this store. We buy Challot and baked goods there at a much better price than the bakery. They have great salads, kugels and many things we need for Shabbat, including the English version of Mishpacha magazine.

While we were in the store, Goldie realized that we hadn’t bought specific treats for the kids and we decided to stop in the supermarket that is directly next door to Sheffa Shabbos.

I had barely made it four feet into the store when I heard Goldie call me from the entranceway, telling me that we had to leave. Apparently, the cashier (a man) took one look at her as we entered and told her that women are not allowed to shop in that supermarket that day – it was men only.

She was so offended. She could not believe they would make such a segregation – for a supermarket (although – there is one street in the same neighborhood where men and women are required to walk on different sides of the street).

Goldie doesn’t think they have a right to say “no women”. I disagree. I think that as long as it is in their neighborhood and their store, they have the right to make whatever rules they want. I also have a right. It is the right to not shop in that particular store and to encourage others not to do so as well. As long as they stay in their corner of the world and leave mine alone, we will be fine. Unfortunately, they rarely do.

We hosted our sister in law and family from Teaneck for Shabbat who were in Israel visiting their oldest daughter/sister (our niece) who is in Shalavim this year for her second year (or half year actually). It is nice that the family is starting to come to visit (my parents being the first) and combined with Goldie’s trip in a week to America, it is a good way to reconnect, no matter how great our Broadfone VOIP line or SKYPE video calls are.

As we lay in bed Shabbat morning around 7 AM, dreading actually having to get out of bed, we heard Moshe (21.5 months) crying downstairs. A few minutes later Aliza brought him to my bed to tell us that Moshe had fallen off an ottoman, smacked his head and she now realized that he is bleeding.

I took one look and knew my morning was ruined. He had a 1.5 to 2 inch hole in his scalp at the back of his head and it was clear to me that he needed to get stitches. We grabbed our Kupat Cholim (Healthcare Company) book to see where we should go for treatment.

In our neighborhood, the Shabbat clinics are staffed entirely by goyim and are located in the Charedi neighborhoods. Our specific provider rotates the staff among three of their branches in the general Beit Shemesh area.

Worried about infection and the bleeding, we decided not to wait until 1 PM for the office an easy fifteen minute walk away but rather to take him to the office that opened at 9 AM. I loaded Moshe into a stroller and started to walk.

Uphill. Pushing the stroller. For forty minutes. Uphill. A steep uphill.

I got to the office ten minutes before they were supposed to open and twenty five minutes before they actually opened. It was the simplest process. They asked us our names and address and gave us a piece of paper for the doctor. The doctor took one look and decided that the hole could be glued shut.

After shaving a little of the surrounding hair, the doctor applied the glue, held the wound shut and then dressed the cut. The whole process might have taken twenty minutes before we headed downhill for the trip home.

Thankfully, the steep uphill walk was the trip there. I don’t think I could have made an uphill walk after having to hold Moshe down for the shaving, cleaning, gluing and dressing of the injury.

I am constantly amazed by the healthcare system here. Some things are maddeningly stupid, but every once in a while, I come across a great thing, like using goyim as medical staff who are trained in how to keep us from chillul Shabbat.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Questions Answered (Article #29) 11/23/2006

Apparently I struck a chord last week in what I didn’t write. Many of you wrote to me asking why I had not said anything about the two main issues of the day; my feelings about the parade/chareidi riots and the security crisis that came about because of Palestinian threats.

I had ignored these issues because for Goldie and I (and our family) these have been almost entirely non events. Although it did have some effect on us at work, the home front was mostly quiet – we live outside of Yerushalayim in what we feel is a very secure location in Central Israel.

What did surprise us were the reports we had heard about the chareidi rioting spreading outside of Yerushalayim. Apparently there were riots in Bnei Brak, Ashdod and yes, even Beit Shemesh. How rioting in Beit Shemesh is going to have an affect on the status of a parade in Yerushalayim is beyond our comprehension.

Two weeks before the parade Goldie called me to tell me that as she drove through Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet (RBS-B) to her ulpan class in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph (RBS-A) she had come upon a bunch of “burned out” dumpsters and a whole bunch of blackened patches of road where there had apparently been some rioting the night before.

As the week developed we began to hear about rocks being thrown at school busses, terrorizing the students on them. These chareidim were ostensibly objecting to a “moral outrage” totally terrifying and terrorizing other peoples children.

Where we live in Beit Shemesh, we are in the corner of our neighborhood and on two sides are directly next door to chareidi neighborhoods. One night, while we slept, our chareidi neighbors tossed some large logs into the street and set them ablaze to disturb traffic. Once traffic had stopped, they then began to stone the cars in the street.

When our across the street neighbors went into the street to try to remove the logs and allow the cars to get by, they had rocks thrown at them as well. When I mentioned that it was probably just teenagers and young adults, one of the neighbors who was there told me that the crowd was actually a bunch of middle aged Chassidim. I just don’t understand how this is acceptable.

Yet, with all of this, the incident that bothered me the most was something that I read about in the Mir Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. I read about this on the website of a prominent Jewish newspaper, that included descriptions of the events that transpired by people who were actually there as well as comments by other readers.

Apparently, Bochrim from the Yeshiva had been participating in rioting in Kikar Shabbat when the police began to chase them (seemingly to arrest them for their violent actions). Realizing they were about to be caught, they fled into the Yeshiva building where they quickly sat down and acted as if they had been sitting and learning for quite some time.

When the police attempted to enter the Beit Midrash, according to the published report I read, the bochrim began to violently throw their shtenders at them, chasing them back in what was described as “defeat”. The report gleefully described how the police had been beaten back and indignantly protested the violation of the Yeshiva by the “secular” police.

The gist of the report and the overwhelming majority of the comments by readers was that the police were totally wrong in attempting to capture/detain the Yeshiva rioters and that the bochrim were totally justified in their violent attempts to injure the police.

I know that many people will disagree with me, but this not only outrages me, it shames me as a religious Jew. I absolutely agree that the parade and its attendees are a disgrace for the city of Yerushalayim. I also feel that had it not been for the Charedim, NO ONE WOULD HAVE EVEN NOTICED THEM AND THEY WOULD NOT HAVE HAD SUCH A PUBLIC PLATFORM FOR THEIR ACTIONS AND OPINIONS.

I am a citizen of the State of Israel. As every other citizen, I have the expectation that the police of Israel (like the police of every other country) will maintain order, safety and security. I expect them to use all the force at their disposal to ensure the safety of all citizens and guests of our country.

The police did not retreat in defeat. In my opinion, they exercised incredible restraint in not taking out their billy clubs and beating the living daylights out of the ruffians who disguised themselves as Bnei Torah. There is no justification for violating the safety and rights of others simply because you object to somebody else’s moral code and behavior.

I am all for Kedushat Eretz Yisrael; I am against people flaunting their lifestyle in the face of the public, especially in Yerushalayim, but I am more embarrassed by the violent, terrorizing behavior of the Chareidim and the tremendous chillul Hashem they have caused. Quite frankly, those people give the entire religious community a bad name and are the cause of a lot of the hatred from the non religious community.

At the same time that we were facing the parade/riot issues, our army erred in firing a shell and destroyed an apartment building in Gaza, killing 19. In response, the arabs promised extremely violent revenge, causing an extreme security alert within Israel.

I’ll admit it, I was nervous. To my thinking, this wasn’t a matter of “if”, it was a matter of “when”. I still think it is a matter of when. As we continue to relax our guard with the passage of time, I believe that most likely (I hope I am wrong) something is going to happen.

Our Yeshiva (in fact many Yeshivot with foreign students) went into “lockdown”. From Thursday afternoon through Saturday night, we did not allow the students to go anywhere outside the building with the exception of the pizza and falafel stores directly across the street. Even when we relaxed the lockdown, they were still banned from malls, as well as Ben Yehuda and other crowded places through the end of the week.

As a family we did not adjust our daily activities in the least bit. Chaim still took the bus to Yerushalayim for his flag football league game. The kids took the busses to and from school as needed. We lived our lives as we have before, and will continue to do so for as long as we can.

We enjoyed another relatively quiet week. Chaim had a better experience academically, and has begun to get settled in as an active participant in making sure that he has a successful high school program. He even mentioned to us that he might not need to go to America this summer, since there is a program in Israel that a lot of his friends will be going to – as long as we give him the cost of the airline ticket to America as spending money.

On Monday I had to go to the mall to buy some stuff for the house and to take a broken ring to get repaired. No matter how long I live here, I know that I will always be recognized as a foreigner. In both the Jewelry store and the hardware store, no matter how many times I asked questions in Hebrew, the responses were always in English.

Goldie was serving leftovers for dinner. So as a bonus, I went to Sbarros (Kosher LeMehadrin) in the mall food court and picked up a dinner to eat on the train (I almost always get a seating section to myself on the train with my own table). How cool is that?

We went to an Ulpana open house for Aliza. The Ulpana (Middle/High School) open houses are so much different here than in America. In the US, there are tours of the school, individual presentations (by subject) by the teachers and a very comprehensive look at the curriculum, daily schedule and extra curricular activities.

In Israel, there is essentially a town hall meeting. We are greeted at the door by the Principal, and directed to a meeting room where the major presentation will be made. The principal and two or three selected staff members get up and talk about the philosophy of the school and what they are trying to inculcate into the girls.

Each presentation is almost identical. This could be a result of the fact that we are looking for a certain type of school and are only going to open houses for that type of school.

We hear about how excellent the academics in the school are, BUT how the important thing to them is middot, warmth, character and a sense of chevra. Each school says that they offer the full range of academics and that their graduates can go on to any college, michlelet or program that they wish.

The combination of our poor Ivrit skills and our lack of familiarity with the educational system here makes this decision even more difficult for us. We will definitely work with the Nefesh Bnefesh educational department, but at times it feels like we are just throwing darts and hoping just to hit somewhere on the dartboard.

The same night we went to our first open house, my parents arrived from Chicago. With three children in Israel, they are here visiting for three weeks, including a joint birthday party for my father and Chaya this coming Sunday at our house.

They actually have a very good plan for this visit. Our kids are all in school. Goldie is in ulpan. Similarly their other grandchildren will all be busy. So, instead of hanging out all day waiting for the kids to come home and do homework, they are staying by us over Shabbat and then going to hotels in Yerushalayim or Eilat for the week to have as a home base for touring. They will stop by for a dinner or two, but it makes a lot of sense for them not to have to shlep in and out of Beit Shemesh each day when they go to tour.

The kids were very excited to see them. As the first relatives they actually know to come see us, the kids had a lot of fun showing them our house and pointing out the various neighborhood places (ganim, supermarket, dance class) that are important to them. Of course, there is nothing like a five year old running up to his grandparents and shouting “Hey – where are the presents?!?”

On Thursday Goldie took the kids to get flu shots. Flu shots here are both complicated and simple. The shots are given by a nurse, just like in America. Yet, in order to get them you need to see the doctor so that he can enter a prescription in the computer. You also need to wait by the doctor’s office for a half hour after they give you the shot in order to make sure that you don’t have a bad reaction to the injection.

My parents got a GPS system with their rent a car. It must have been programmed in Chelm. Wherever we drive, it gives us the wrong directions. About the only good thing it does is give us a pinpointed location of where we are at any given time.

On Friday night one of our neighbors (Menachem and Randy Lipkin originally from Highland Park, NJ) made a Shalom Zachor in their home for their first grandson. While they are definitely older than us, they aren’t THAT MUCH older and it freaked me out a little bit.

For the past 5+ years we have hosted a Parshat Hashavua Chabura (study group) in our home on Friday nights – cholent included. Since I didn’t know about the Shalom Zachor until right before Shabbat, we cancelled the Chabura and I brought the cholent with me to the Shalom Zachor, which was a big hit.

Of course, it is inevitable that whenever my parents come to visit, one of the kids have to get sick. This time it is Batya’s turn. She complained of a sore throat on Shabbat so we ran with her to the doctor on Sunday. Sure enough, she has strep. My father also tends to get sick easily, so we are keeping an eye on him to make sure that he didn’t catch it.

They are having a little bit of a difficult time with jet lag, which is unusual for them in this direction. Motzei Shabbat was the worst for them; I don’t think my father slept at all.

The real plus here has been the weather. As hot as it is in Beit Shemesh during the summer, that is as beautiful the weather has been in the fall. We had only one Shabbat with rain. Every other week has been absolutely beautiful; we haven’t even needed to wear a jacket during the day.

Nights are definitely chilly and we may even have to start using the heat at some point soon. But for now we are enjoying the mild climate and continuing to settle in.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Deep Breath (Article #28) 11/16/2006

We have been in Israel four months now, with the last two weeks being the first time we have been on a somewhat “normal” school/work/play schedule. We have gotten to the more “mundane” part of our life here. We go to school/ulpan/work, are involved in the general housekeeping issues (last week I bought some plastic shelving units and we got rid of a whole bunch of boxes), are starting to think about life more than one or two weeks in the future and are almost comfortable with our routine.

This week was finally a week where we did not follow an amazingly deep low feeling with an equally astounding high note. Our concerns/troubles were not magically wiped away and we weren’t giddy with excitement over some amazing development or activity we had participated in.

Since our arrival we had the sense of being on a roller coaster. We would get to amazing heights and then dizzying lows, to be followed by more rushes up the adrenaline escalator. Each time we tackled a problem we felt like there was another one right behind it waiting its turn in the sun.

And now we may finally have reached a major milestone in our acclimation to Israel. Instead of reaching a quick fix short term solution to a problem in order move on to the next problem, we are taking a more long term approach to solving the educational issues facing our boys.

I feel a lack of crisis or pressure in our lives. That isn’t to say that we are any less hectic and harried in our daily routine. From around 6:30 AM until 9 PM or so our house is a frenzy of activity. Carpools, busses, ulpan, work (for both adults), chugim (after school activities), homework (all done in Hebrew with a dictionary in hand), meals, laundry for eight people, cleaning, running to the doctor each time somebody gets sniffles and so on and so on……… our daily routine has only gotten harder since we’ve made Aliyah (although it should ease a little once Goldie finishes Ulpan in February).

What I feel now is more a sense of getting down to the real business of living. Of having a moment’s reflection to consider what things we need to do in order to make things work for each kid (and ourselves) without thinking that each move will irrevocably change their entire future.

Sunday morning saw Mordechai’s return to “equilibrium”. He still had no idea on what the teachers were talking about, but with Goldie’s support he finally found a point where he was less frustrated with being in Gan. The fifteen minutes to half an hour that she spends with him in the Gan go a long way to putting him in a comfort zone.

He knows where everything belongs in the Gan. The Morah’s idea to have Goldie relate the daily schedule to him in English means that he isn’t constantly bewildered and confused when things happen. He has English speaking friends in the Gan and he is able to interact with most of the boys.

It is still difficult for him. In the mornings when he arrives he might be the only English speaker in the room, and therefore ends up playing alone until more friends arrive (and thank G-d again for his buddy Chaim Rock who has literally been a rock for Mordechai) which is difficult for us as parents to watch. He sits quietly when there is story time or another verbal activity since he doesn’t understand what they are doing.

So we have a mix of growth with him, and with each passing day and each new vocabulary word he gains a little more confidence that he will be able to handle this bewildering world, which is as it should be. He is finally making small progress which is what his growth curve should be, a series of small victories.

He also started hot lunch in Gan this week. Since food is a major deal, he was thrilled to be getting hot lunch which costs us less than a dollar a day. Since lunch is the main Israeli meal, he gets a meat lunch every day and he loves it.

The girls are also about to see some changes in school. Since the municipality had decided to combine the olim from the various elementary schools into one large centrally located group, Batya and Aliza had been traveling by bus each day to their ulpan program. However, having the boys and girls together in the same facility just didn’t work out, so we got a note in the middle of the week that the girls were being relocated into our girls’ school building.

This change will incredibly ease Goldie’s life. The afternoon switch of school buildings had forced us to put the kids on the city bus to come home (many kids here travel to school on the city bus). We also had no choice but to have the girls miss all of their afternoon classes, since they were no longer physically in their school’s building.

With this change, they will once again be able to take the private school bus (which we have already paid for) home, making a much shorter trip than the city bus. It also allows Aliza to go straight to play practice after school, since she is not needed to accompany Batya on the bus and make sure she gets home safely.

Aliza still wants to drop the ulpan totally, she really feels ready to go out on her own. There is no question that she is doing well in school and that she probably could handle it, but we are still holding off just to make sure.

Aliza is in a funny position. Her school has historically been a grade 1-6 school. In Israel the schools can run 1-6, 1-8, 6-12 or 8-12 depending on the school. So we knew that the school choice for her this year was only for the current year, and that we would have to find Aliza a new school for next year.

As an Olah Chadasha, Aliza has specific hurdles, since her command of the language is not the best. She will be applying to many of the top level schools and may be very challenged by their entrance exams and we have to be very forceful in making sure that the schools all make a note of the fact that she is only living here for four months.

Additionally, her school announced that they are going to open a seventh grade next year in a move to expand the school through grade eight and possibly even High School. We are sure there will undoubtedly pressure put on the girls to consider staying in the school (which Aliza absolutely does not want to do).

Open houses for High School also run differently here. There are special open house days for only the students, for only the parents and for both parents and students. With three major schools on our radar, we expect to be busy with High Schools over the next six weeks or so.

On Monday night we had a meeting of parents for Chaim’s school. This was our second meeting with them in a month and our initial reaction was that our thoughts to make a change were right on target.
We actually believe that the atmosphere is good for him and that if they could deliver what they are promising, it would be perfect for him. The problem is that it is a big if.

After the meeting, we had a private conference with the principal of the school. He outlined a possible plan for us to pursue Chaim’s skipping the Israeli Bagrut exams (think regents) and to move for a High School equivalency degree for him, which when combined with the Israeli psychometric exam or the SAT’s will be what he needs to get into college, which is his ultimate goal.

I am also working with people I know (via the Yeshiva) in the Yeshiva University program to make sure that whatever program we ultimately choose will be acceptable to them, which for now, is Chaim’s first choice for college when he leaves Israel.

The highlight of our week was the monthly dinner I try to have with my brother and sister. Friday was my sister’s birthday, and although we had thought to postpone the dinner a few days, we decided to get together Thursday night in honor of her birthday.

For the first time since we made Aliyah, it has finally gotten too cold to sit outside at night for dinner. The climate here is actually amazing, especially in Beit Shemesh. As hot as it is during the summer (and boy is it hot here during the summer), it is also one of the warmer areas in Central Israel during the winter (one of our neighbors hosted a lovely Shabbat Kiddush this week in honor of the birth of their daughter – outdoors, in the street, in the 70 degree+ weather in mid NOVEMBER) .

I think my idea to set a specific goal of getting together one night each month was right on target. We feel so much busier here (even though we don’t have Israeli TV) and that we only have free time to ourselves after 10 PM or so. Without the mental commitment to actually go out to dinner and see each other every month, I would probably never see my siblings at all, nor would we have a chance to just get out and decompress.

We hosted Miriam Pinsky from Bayswater with a friend for Shabbat. Miriam’s mother worked with me in South Shore and it was our pleasure to have her visit. We feel a little more connected when we are able to host friends or their children, even if it is only for Shabbat.
Although the community here is so welcoming and so loving and nurturing, there is nothing like a small taste of “the old country”.

Two Steps Back (Article #27) 11/9/2006

In life it sometimes seems as if every time you take three steps forward, you take two steps back. This was one of those weeks. If you opened the paper today looking to read about another “fantastic” week, close the paper right now.

The week started of well with a Chicago Bears victory to remain undefeated for the season. I enjoyed watching the game with a group of my friends at Shai and Leslie Goldmeier’s house in Chicago. It has been a long time since I sat around with my buddies for a BBQ and the Bears, and it was a real pleasure.

Since our trip was dual purpose, I spent the rest of the day planning for the next night’s parlor meeting as well as helping Rav Susman (our Rosh Hayeshiva) and Rav Pflanzer (our Menahel Klali) prepare for their recruitment meetings with HS seniors which were to begin Monday morning.

Monday was a tough day for me. I had been away from home for a week, was busy worrying about that evening’s fundraiser and it was also the first Yahrtzeit of my friend Jay Gottlieb. Jay’s tragic death was one of the catalysts for our deciding to pursue Aliyah, and he and his family are regularly on my mind. I had wanted to go to the Kotel to daven for him and not being in Israel on that day was difficult for me.

Since the parlor meeting was going to be my first fundraising event with the Yeshiva, I expected to make mistakes. I was worried about a lot of things, but in the end, the real mistake was in not preparing early enough. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what to do, it was that I felt that there was no time with which to do it.

In the end, we had a pretty decent event. Rav Pflanzer spoke about his experiences as an operations officer in the paratroopers in the recent war in Lebanon. It was a very moving presentation. He really connected with the audience, many of whom came specifically to hear his story.

The turnout was nice, we already outperformed the prior year’s event and assuming that the three or four donors we did not yet speak to end up participating, we will be very close to our goal for the event. Which is more than we really could have hoped for.

Yet, I wasn’t thrilled. I knew that we/I could have done better and needed to take a few lessons from the experience, and I hope that I do.

By Tuesday morning I was exhausted. I never really sleep well in America and this trip was no exception. I had stayed in town a couple of extra days to try and catch up with those people who we had not seen at the parlor meeting and planned to leave town Wed. afternoon.

Late Tuesday morning I got a message from my old secretary at the Yeshiva of South Shore. It seems that they were in a panic about one of the Yeshiva’s volunteers, Larry Gorman. Larry had come to the Yeshiva as a retired CPA looking to give back to the community by donating his services to us.

Although we were initially quite skeptical about his motivation and commitment, over time Larry proved to be one of the most responsible and dependable people in our office. He was truly a great guy who was focused on trying to do good by the Yeshiva. From a couple of hours three days a week, his commitment grew to four or five hours a day, four days a week.

He took control of his duties and became a major part of the team that helped the Yeshiva reinvent itself and its financial identity. His suggestions were always offered with the conviction that he was trying to do what was best for the Yeshiva, and we all knew that even if we didn’t ultimately follow his advice, Larry was a team player and would roll up his sleeves with us to get the job done.

He was always quite organized and very particular that we should all work together as a team. Although he was a volunteer, he took his responsibilities very seriously and would always let us know in advance if he was going to be late or absent. He had been going through a difficult time of late; we knew that his relationship with his “co-workers” at the Yeshiva was a source of strength to him.

So when he missed a Monday morning appointment and didn’t show up for work on Tuesday, the people at the Yeshiva were seriously concerned. By the time I got a call, one of his Yeshiva “co-workers” who is a member of Hatzola had gone to Larry’s house with the police where our worst fears were confirmed. He had tragically passed away at home over the weekend.

This news hit hard. We all loved Larry as part of our family. My kids knew him, since we had given him a ride to some of the Yeshiva simchas that the kids had also attended. Telling Goldie any bad news is tough. Doing it over the phone is worse.

I spent a lot of time on the phone that day, talking to my kids about Larry, talking to Goldie about how tragic this is and talking to the people in the South Shore office who will notice his absence the most. He was a fixture in that office for over five years and it will not be the same without him. His death shocked and saddened our family in Israel and the South Shore family as well; he will be missed.

Having been away from home for over a week, I entered Wednesday looking forward to finally going home. I was totally loaded up with stuff to bring back and ran around like crazy the last morning getting the last couple of meetings out of the way.

(I won’t even mention the speeding ticket that I got in Lincolnwood on my NY driver’s license, for which I will either have to take four hours of internet driving school to have the ticket erased from my record or pay the fine, which is cheaper than the driving school, since the points don’t transfer to my Israeli license anyway)

I headed off to the airport later than planned and was concerned that I might have lost my aisle seat (try being six foot two and not having the aisle to stick your legs in). Of course, the rental car agency overcharged me, so I had to waste fifteen minutes fighting with them about an added charge (I won).

By the time I got to the terminal, I was expecting a long line and a changed seat. Instead I got a short line and a closed ticket counter. Confused, I looked at my itinerary and it dawned on me that my flight was for 18:30 which was 6:30 and not 4:30 as I had thought.

Furthermore, until two days earlier I had been under the impression that the plane flew directly from Chicago to Tel Aviv. It didn’t. Although there was only one check in, the plane stopped in Toronto to pick up more passengers, making the trip even longer than I had thought.

After moving items from one suitcase to another in order to be under the weight limit and checking in, I spent an excruciatingly boring hour and a half on line waiting for the TSA security check and x-ray.

I had originally planned to write about a fascinating group of people from Champaign, Illinois (a small town in Central Illinois) who were on our flight. Broadcasters, listeners and supporters of the Great News radio show were making their fifteenth trip to Israel in the past six years to bring toys and other items to hospitalized children, to volunteer in disadvantaged communities, to paint a mural in Tzfat and to do other volunteer work in Israel.

Their sincerity and the joy they displayed in coming to Israel to help out in any way they could was inspiring. I had planned to describe their efforts in a lot more detail than is contained here, but I was inspired even more by another group on the plane.

We had boarded the plane exactly on time. Everyone was seated and ready to go when the pilot came on the intercom to tell us that there was an instrument problem that needed to be fixed and we would hopefully be moving shortly. So we sat cooped up in the plane at the gate, with the plane door open, waiting for the part to be fixed.

Two hours, one snack bag distribution and two drink distributions later, the part was fixed and we were on our way to Toronto. Since we were late, they decided to clean the plane with the passengers in it and then load the Toronto passengers on as quickly as possible. I think that in the end I spent more than fifteen hours straight on that plane.

While we walked around on the plane in Toronto, stretching our legs and waiting for the cleaning crew to finish up, I introduced myself to a fellow sitting four rows in front of me. He and his wife were traveling with their two little girls. We started playing Jewish Geography, with me telling him that while I was originally from Chicago then NY, we had recently moved to Beit Shemesh.

He then told me that he and his family were making Aliyah on that very flight, moving to Maaleh Adumim. They had tried to go on a Nefesh Bnefesh flight, but the timing didn’t work out for them, so they were going solo. Although I was excited for them, I was also disappointed for them too. The experience of being on a Nefesh Bnefesh flight, where all the passengers are making Aliyah and thrilled to be on the plane, is an experience that shouldn’t be missed.

We continued talking about careers and experiences when he really shocked me, telling me that both he and his wife were Geirim (converted). I was astounded. Not just that they would find Judaism and convert, but that they would find the conviction to take their newfound Jewish identity and make the ultimate move to Israel.

He had talked about the sacrifices that they were making, financially and emotionally and how he hoped and planned to restart his academic career in Israel after learning Hebrew. He talked about the fact that his wife’s parents had never seen their grandchildren and how they hoped one day to have them visit from Romania.

I was moved by their simple commitment to the land of Israel. I was impressed by their desire to be in the central location for Jewish life. But perhaps most of all, I admired their courage for doing much more than the typical Olim, they literally turned their backs on their entire upbringing to make the move to Judaism and Israel.

Although we had arrived in Toronto two hours late, the speed of the ground crew and the quick loading of all the Toronto passengers cut our delay to just forty five minutes and we took off, settling in for the long flight to Tel Aviv.

Thankfully, the three Tylenol PM’s that I took got me about 5 hours of sleep so that I would be somewhat rested for what (I did not know) was about to come.

After landing forty minutes late at 5:30, we were taking our belongings from the overhead bins and waiting for the crew to open the door when the pilot came on the intercom to tell us that there might be a small delay in getting our baggage delivered. This turned out to be somewhat of an understatement.

As I walked to passport control, Goldie called me to tell me she was on her way. I warned her that there might be a small delay and that she might want to park. The passage through immigration was very quick, taking five minutes or less. For those people who have never been to Ben Gurion airport before, the baggage hallway is just past the immigration/passport control booths, and as I entered the baggage area it was clear that something was definitely wrong.
There were bags and people everywhere. People were just milling around, and there was a definite sense of anger in the air. Although there are normally hundreds of luggage carts waiting for arriving passengers, there were none to be found in the baggage hall that day.

Suddenly, there was a lot of shouting at the Information Desk, and the people gathered there began to chant “Mizvadot! Mizvadot!” (Baggage, Baggage). After talking to some of the other people in the terminal I began to get an idea of what was happening and I called my sister to confirm.

Apparently, the airport temporary workers went on strike because they were about to lose 120 jobs. Every year the airport cuts back on seasonal employees once the tourist season ends and the union wanted to keep the jobs.

Although there was a court order issued Wednesday to return to work on Thursday (which was overturned Thursday afternoon anyway), the strike continued through Thursday. There was no air conditioning running in the terminal, only limited baggage service and things like the collection of luggage carts from the parking lots were sporadically being taken care of.

My coworkers had flown in on a NY flight that landed a half hour earlier than my flight, and we conferred to discuss what we should do.

Many people had decided to leave the airport and return only once they had confirmed that the luggage had been processed (security allowed passengers to return to the baggage area with passports and boarding passes to prove that they had baggage waiting for them).

Others stayed at the baggage claim to wait for their bags, since they were concerned that someone may take their bags. It wouldn’t have been too hard for anyone to steal bags that night, since there were so many bags all over the floor waiting for people to return to the airport to claim them and nobody was watching over them.

My initial reaction was to wait, but I exited the baggage area (with Ron Baruch who had been on the NY flight) in order to discuss it with Goldie. We were about to leave the airport (planning to return with Ron at midnight to get our bags) when I got a phone call that my flight’s bags had been posted as “about to arrive” in carousel ten.

As I made my way to carousel ten, I noticed that Ron Baruch’s bags were on carousel eight, so I called him and caught him before he left. His wait was about an hour or so.

Assuming that my bags would not be far behind, I made my way to carousel ten to wait for the bags to arrive. Although the NY flight’s bags came out over a two hour period, our flight’s bags had yet to make an appearance.

After two and a half hours, both Goldie and I were losing our patience. The kids were anxious for me to get home and the El Al people kept insisting that our bags had already been distributed. We convinced one agent to come with us to the carousel to see that NO BAGS had come.

That agent became our advocate, eventually convincing the El Al ground staff to send a person to the plane and see where the luggage was. When we got the call that the bags were still on the plane, we realized that it would be quite some time before they arrived, and decided to go home (after three hours of waiting) at 8:30.

At midnight I called to check on the bags and was told that they still had not come out and when I called El Al at 8 AM the next morning, they had no idea if the bags had or hadn’t been distributed yet. After talking to another passenger on the flight, I found out that the bags had only come out after 1:30 AM, a full eight hours after we landed.

Locating the bags at the airport was a treat. Apparently, the bags not claimed immediately, were offloaded randomly, so although the bags had come out of carousel three, I eventually found one bag between the wall and carousel one and the other next to carousel three.

At least I got my bags. The strike lasted at least through Friday, and I cannot imagine what people who arrived on Friday did without their clothing for Shabbat.

We went into Shabbat looking for a little rest, but I had been away for a while and the kids really wanted some attention. Each one has their own concerns and needed to be reassured that we care about them.

So I oohed and ahhed over Chaya’s new braces, talked with Aliza about ulpan, heard about Batya’s library books and just held Moshe in my lap. The hardest kids to deal with were Mordechai and Chaim.

Mordechai just wants to either understand Hebrew or go back to English. Although he is doing better in Gan now that Goldie sits with him for at least 20 minutes in Gan each morning to find out what they will be doing and tell him in English about his upcoming activities. He still doesn’t understand the language, but at least he is beginning to know what they are doing.

He doesn’t realize it, but he is actually doing better than he had when he first got here. He plays with the Hebrew speakers a lot more, and there is Hebrew interspersed with English in his speech. Although we can definitely see improvement, he is still frustrated and the frustration turns into anger.

It is tough to watch. He doesn’t know why he gets angry so quickly, and his frustration/anger/worry has different manifestations. He doesn’t like to sleep alone. He gets very clingy. He is prone to tantrums. The whole process is agonizing both for him and us.

Chaim on the other hand has much more mature and thought out concerns. He is concerned about his future and getting into college. His school opened a tenth grade for the first time this year, and despite repeated promises to improve their staff and program, they just don’t seem to be getting the job done.

We have plans and backup plans about his academic career, yet he is so concerned about his lack of progress this year that it is a source of extreme distress to him. We are also concerned, but at the same time we are also quite pleased. After all, how many kids would complain to their parents about the fact that “they are doing nothing in school”.

He wants to do well so badly that we can hear the emotion in his voice when we talk about it, and we cannot act fast enough to please him. So, we will spend the next ten days looking for another school for him and trying to make it work out for this year before we have to go to a backup plan.

I guess we should actually consider ourselves lucky. Out of six kids, we are having issues with only two, and we think they are solvable problems. While we know and appreciate this fact intellectually, it didn’t help us sleep any better Friday or Saturday nights.

We hosted the Cederbaums for lunch on Shabbat. They are here on a pilot trip for what may be their summer 2007 aliyah and wanted to check out our neighborhood. With kids currently enrolled in the schools that they are considering for their kids, we were thrilled to share our thoughts and experiences with them.

It was kind of weird talking to them, since we had such a difficult week to deal with. We were so tired and worried about the kids and how they are doing that it was a real effort to get ourselves keyed up for them. It was a good thing that they came, since it gave us the need to pick ourselves up and refocus.

Hopefully, the difficult weeks will disappear and we will continue to have positive growth for our children and ourselves.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Traveling Jew (Article #26) 11/2/2006

We are entering into one of the busiest times of the year for Yeshivot like ours. Each November, recruiting season begins with three weeks of “Israel nights” in the various Yeshiva High Schools across the US. Each Yeshiva has to send representatives to the various High Schools to address the students and parents, telling them something about their Yeshiva and why it is a good choice for them for the upcoming year.

One of my responsibilities is to coordinate our PR efforts, including the publication of our recruitment brochure. In consultation with our administration, I radically redesigned the brochure, opting for a less complex design with more pictures of happy, learning students.

We almost didn’t have the brochure ready on time. The Yeshiva’s graphic artist is my boss’ wife, and I was supposed to work with her on this project during the summer. Unfortunately, he was in the army during the summer, and I felt that it was inappropriate for me to intrude upon her life while she was worrying about her husband.

By the time things settled down, we were late in producing a proof and had to really scramble in order to get the brochure printed in time for recruitment. We actually had the brochures printed in the US and shipped to a few locations since we had very little time available.

Additionally, our Yeshiva scheduled our first major fundraising event (Chicago parlor meeting) for the last week in October. This will be my first major event with the Yeshiva and I am approaching it with some trepidation.

In order to properly prepare for the fundraiser, I made plans to travel to Chicago early in the week. I needed time to make sure that all the preparations were moving forward as needed and to set up some private meetings with our larger donors.

Of course, since I was taking the Rosh HaYeshiva and the Menahel Klali with me for the parlor meeting, the fact that several staff members were also preparing to leave on recruiting trips made our absences all the more difficult for the Yeshiva. While there are always substitutes available to give shiurim, sometimes the lack of available “hands” makes everyday activities more difficult.

I spent the beginning of the week getting ready for my Monday night flight. Preparing lists, packing materials and putting together the least amount of clothing I could, so that there would be room to bring back stuff for the kids. Good thing I did that.

My flight in was much better than the prior one. I definitely prefer the night flight. Everyone is much quieter and you have a chance to sleep (although I gotta find out about sleeping pills because I can only catch 2-3 hours). Arriving in Newark was much, much better than JFK, the process was so much smoother.

There are 3 things that would improve my outbound flights. They are really matters of convenience more than anything. The first is getting to the Gold status of El Al. It will be close for me, since I calculate that I will be within a round trip of getting there by the end of my first twelve months in the program.

However, the Gold status comes with some big perks. I doubt I will get upgraded, but it is a definite possibility. The perks I am looking for are the special check-in counters. Instead of having to wait in line, Gold and higher members of El Al get their own special ticket counters, where the lines move much quicker.

Gold members also get a larger weight allowance. While this wouldn’t really affect me on the way out of Israel, my return trips become much more productive when I have the opportunity to bring more stuff home.

Another thing I am looking forward to is qualifying for electronic immigration control in Israel. Israeli citizens have an option to file their passport information and handprints with the border police. Then, each time they enter and leave the country they can bypass the passport control lines and, using their handprints, electronically register their entries and exits from Israel.

Unfortunately, this option is only available to Israeli passport holders, of which I am NOT one. I know this sounds a little silly since I am an Israeli citizen, but I cannot get an Israeli passport until I have been an Israeli citizen for a full year. Until then, I travel on something called a Teudat Ma’avar (traveling certificate).

The Tuedat Ma’avar is something that is used only by Olim. The Teudat Ma’avar looks just like a passport. Essentially, it is a document that is only used for the Israeli border control; for entry and exit into other countries, the Oleh has to use his passport from the country he came from.

The flight went pretty well, the only glitch was using my cellphone. The flight crew of El Al constantly reminded us in flight that cellphones cannot be used until the cabin doors open. So, as I got off the plane, I whipped out my phone to call Goldie and let her know I had arrived safely.

Apparently, cellphones cannot be used until after luggage is retrieved and you pass through customs. When I got to the immigration officer he said to me, “Sir go back behind the white line and when you approach my station I will have to fine you $1,000 if I see you talking on the cellphone.”

In my subsequent discussion with him, I discovered that they always seem to have cellphone issues with El Al passengers, and when I told him that the flight crew gave us erroneous information, we both realized why. Although I am not sure exactly why this rule is in effect, after all what can we do with a cellphone between the time we get off the plane and the time we get through customs – I wish the US officials would notify the airline what the policy is so that people could avoid trouble.

I had scheduled a ten hour stopover in NY, in order to have meetings with some potential donors. Since I would be in NY, Goldie’s mother took the opportunity to “fill my suitcases”, which she did. By the time I got to the airport to check in my bags, I was glad that I had packed lightly, since my bags came in only one pound below the airline’s weight limit.

Of course, since I had only slept three hours on the plane from Israel, and I had spent the entire day running around NY and was extremely tired, it only made sense that my flight to Chicago would be delayed two hours. By the time we got on the plane I was totally exhausted and once we were in the air, I fell asleep until ten minutes before landing.

Leaving Israel is weird. There are so many mental adjustments I have to make. There is no Bircat Kohanim each day. The day seems so much more rushed in America. But the biggest adjustment has to be the change in temperature. It is so cold in America. Each time I come here I am astounded at the differences between our climates.

Meanwhile, as you would expect, my absence from the house was a perfect opportunity for things to go wrong. By the time I got to America two kids had strep throat and the hot water heaters stopped working. Of course, by Friday it started to rain heavily and there were three leaks in the house (expected when you have new construction) as well as a ton of mud for the kids to play in since our grass has not yet been planted.

Chaya (age 13) needed to have a tooth pulled, and will be going for new braces next week. It seems like we will never be free from braces; Chaim’s braces were removed just last week after three years.

The kids of course knew that I was gone and they tried to push Goldie as hard as they could. They assume that she is too busy and lonely to notice that they are trying to take advantage of her. I feel bad, because this makes my trips that much harder for her to handle.

It is during these trips that the inevitable homesickness for America hits one of the kids. This time it was Mordechai’s turn, coming home crying that he doesn’t want to go to school in Hebrew, he wants to be in America and play with his best friend Gabey – IN ENGLISH! While that moment passed, and he went to school and got back to normal, these things do pop up from time to time, and we will most likely be dealing with them for the next few months.

She also has a much harder time sleeping with me out of the house. She says that she feels unsafe without me there. It is flattering to me to hear it, but I hate how tired she sounds when I talk to her.

We expected things to be like this. After all, I specifically looked for a job that had a major travel component, so that I could visit our family and friends on a regular basis. Yet, I wish there was a way I could make it easier for her.

On the other hand, having the ability to buy certain things we could not possibly get in Israel is a definite benefit. Despite the overwhelming amount of stuff my mother in law got us, I still needed to get some (more) paper blinds, and some toiletries that are not sold in Israel (somebody should import those blinds – they would make a killing).

I spent a very nice Shabbat with my cousins in Chicago. Thankfully, my family is very supportive of our Aliyah and we enjoy spending time together. I know that one of the only things our kids express about wanting to come to NY or Chicago is so that they can see all their cousins.

On Motzei Shabbat I had the opportunity to visit with Steven Kirshner, one of my oldest friends from Chicago. Steve was in Chicago visiting his family, and although he lives no more than a half hour drive away from us in Israel, this was the first time we had seen each other since we made Aliyah.

Steve works on the other side of Yerushalayim from our Yeshiva, and since we have been so overwhelmingly busy trying to not be busy, we have had very little time to actually get away from the house to visit people since we moved. Every night is a school night, and just when things look like they are about to calm down, I go on a ten day trip overseas.

Hopefully, this will be my last trip until we change the calendar. Goldie is scheduled to be in NY (for an accounting audit with the school she worked for in America) for a week in December, so we will still have some topsy turvy time next month, but we are hoping that by Channuka, even the overseas trips will cease being a novelty and we will finally have our lives at an even keel.