So we had spent a couple of days on an emotional rollercoaster, eventually changing our plans to live in Beit Shemesh in favor of Chashmomaim, the Yishuv my brother’s family calls home. Saturday night we went to bed full of plans for Goldie to spend the next day touring the area with our sister in law as well as look at some rental homes. I, of course, had my first face to face meeting scheduled with my prospective employers at Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi in the old Katamon section of Yerushalayim.
If you remember, I had been stricken with allergies from the moment we landed in Israel, and had been sick each day of the trip so far. I am not sure if it was nerves, my allergies or a combination of both, but I simply did not sleep at all that entire night. Every 2 hours or so I would go online to check my email (getting the initial “hey – I saw your article” emails from the first article I had written which had run 2 days earlier) and check out the sports scores from America. By 6 AM I gave up trying to sleep and got up to daven and start to prepare for my drive to Yerushalayim.
As you may recall, Goldie and I had made having a job a prerequisite of our making Aliyah. With 8 mouths to feed, and a host of expected issues to come up regarding the move to a different country, we felt that the uncertainty of Abba not having a job would be too much for them to handle. Plus, you cannot eat air, even the air of Eretz Yisrael.
I remind you that in this our Aliyah is atypical. The overwhelming majority of people do not have jobs waiting when they make Aliyah. We even consider the fact that we managed to arrange a job to be literally siyata dishmaya.
Having networked with various contacts referred to me by Nefesh Bnefesh (I know I have said it before, but this is truly an amazing organization whose work assisting all of us in Galus is a true brocha from Hashem), in mid March I had gotten an email from Rav Benni Pflanzer, the Director of a relatively new Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi. Located in the old Katamon section of Yerushalyim, the Yeshiva is currently completing its second year of operation, servicing english speaking boys who have recently graduated high school.
Rabbi Pflanzer and I had an hour long telephone interview within the week; we both agreed at the conclusion of the conversation that this might actually be a shidduch and that we would both begin the process of checking each other out. Interestingly enough, I discovered that both Rav Pflanzer and one of the Roshei Yeshiva, Rav Yehuda Sussman had been in the Chicago branch of Kollel Torah Mitzion (Rav Sussman having been the Rosh Kollel) and that some of the Yeshiva’s supporters were people I have known since childhood.
Over the next few weeks, which included several extensive conversations between Rav Pflanzer, Rav Sussman, some of the Yeshiva’s benefactors and myself, we agreed that I was indeed a likely candidate for the position. We negotiated the particulars of the employment agreement, and both sides were almost ready to sign on the dotted line. The only thing holding us back was the fact that we had not met face to face, and felt that it would be appropriate for the Yeshiva’s staff to have a chance to meet me as well as for me to see the Yeshiva, before we made a commitment. Hence, the trip I was on that very moment.
From approximately 8:30 to almost 1:00 that afternoon, I met and/or interviewed with a significant portion of the educational staff of the Yeshiva. I had a chance to meet some of the boys, tour the facility (the Yeshiva is contained within one rented apartment building which houses the Beis Medrash, dorms, kitchen, etc.) and have a real meeting of the minds with the administration. Of course, with all the emotional turmoil we had gone through the prior 2 days, as well as having had absolutely no sleep the night before, I was wiped out after 4 ½ hours of non-stop meetings.
We agreed to be in contact that evening, after we each had a chance to reflect on the meetings. So I headed back to Chashmonaim, where I hoped to meet with some builders to tour their new construction sites and see what they had to offer to us long term.
While I had been interviewing, Goldie had spent the bulk of her morning checking out the Chashmonaim/Modiin/Kiryat Sefer area. Our sister in law took her to see where the bank was, the Kupat Cholim (Dr.’s offices), supermarkets, butcher stores, schools, etc. They literally had almost everything you might need within a 15 minute drive of the Yishuv.
One of the nicest things about Chashmonaim is the friendliness that everyone there displayed to us. Initially, even though they knew we had our hearts set on Beit Shemesh, they were so nice and encouraging to us. The entire community went out of their way to welcome us and compliment us for our decision, which made us feel terrific. Of course, when word began to get out that we were seriously considering Chashmonaim as a home, their welcome was even warmer.
On my drive to Chashmonaim, I spoke with some of my friends/contacts at Nefesh Bnefesh about the previous few days; our concerns about the Beit Shemesh houses as well as our delight in the opportunities available in Chashmonaim. In that discussion, one person mentioned to me that Chashmonaim is a great community, but that they were surprised that we were so serious about it, because it didn’t seem somewhere that we would fit in. While I initially laughed it off, that comment started me thinking about the issue.
When I got to Chashmonaim, Goldie was full of excitement about the tour she had taken. Together with my brother, we both headed out to see a couple of rental houses as well as some new construction with the main contractors of the Yishuv. I can only say that the houses in Chashmonaim are beautiful. They are spacious, and the builders clearly take great care to cater to the needs and desires of their customers.
We definitely felt more comfortable about the housing situation. We made plans to spend the next day checking out different schools that were more convenient to the Yishuv, yet still appropriate for our kids. We started to talk to our family about our plans, and went off to Ramat Gan to have dinner with my sister. At dinner, I got a call from the Yeshiva asking me to come in the next day for 1 more meeting.
On our drive back to Chashmonaim, we talked about the conversation I had had with my friend at NBN. I had thought about the point all day, and I realized that it had some validity. Ten or fifteen years ago, I would have fit right into the Yishuv. But, the way that we had grown and raised our family had led us down a different path.
Chashmonaim is a wonderful Yishuv. My brother and his family are very happy there, as well they should be. We know a few people that have settled there, and they are all extremely happy there. I expressed to Goldie (on that drive but much more so in private in my brother’s house later that night) my worry that we needed our kids, who had been raised in separate schools for boys and girls, especially the girls who had been raised in a Bais Yaakov style environment to have a soft landing in a place where they could be comfortable adjusting to their new environment.
I was also concerned that we had gotten caught up in our excitement about the size of the houses as compared to what we had seen in Beit Shemesh. Of course we felt welcome there, we were after all not only about to be new olim, we were also related to their good friend and neighbor. We had selected Beit Shemesh because we wanted to be in a place where we had close friends nearby, not just for us but the kids as well.
I felt that we might have been too hasty to just give up on the entire Beit Shemesh area. It helped that we had gotten a call earlier in the day from a real estate agent informing us about a house that might be available in a neighborhood adjacent to the one we has looked at the prior week. So, we decided to take one last look in Beit Shemesh before committing 100% to Chashmonaim, which was still an option.
By the time we went to sleep on Sunday night, we had scheduled a few meetings to see more Beit Shemesh houses after my morning meeting in the Yeshiva. Instead of staying in the area to look at schools, we decided that Goldie (and the baby) would come with me to Yerushalayim so that we could immediately head to Beit Shemesh to see some houses.
We headed off to Yerushalayim for my morning meeting, stopping in the Emek Refaim neighborhood for a quick breakfast. I left Goldie there to window shop and relax, planning to pick her up after my meeting.
I was actually a little surprised to be called for additional meetings. In our conversations, I had gotten the impression that they were as ready to hire me as I was to work with them, and that the face to face meeting was the final step. I was surprised that they still had things to think over, and was thinking to myself that if we didn’t close the deal then, I might have returned to America without a job and possibly called the whole thing off.
Of course, after all my worrying, when I got to the Yeshiva for the meeting, I was offered the job. We spent the next 2 hours negotiating particulars, and I was about ready to leave when Goldie surprised me by walking in the front door of the Yeshiva’s offices. She had memorized my driving route to the Yeshiva, and realizing after she finished shopping that it was only a moderate walk, she decided to walk to meet me.
We sat down for a pizza lunch across from the Yeshiva, and I could feel how happy she was. She had not only really enjoyed the walk through Yerushalayim (and I invite each and every one of you to experience this joy for yourselves – there is truly nothing like taking an hour to walk through the streets of Yerushalayim), she had also surprised herself by purchasing a skirt for one of our daughters in a local store and conducting the entire transaction in Hebrew. It didn’t hurt that she also knew that the same brand of skirt is sold in a local 5 towns store for literally 4 times the price she paid in Emek Refaim.
We headed off to Beit Shemesh in a last-ditch effort to find a house in the area we had originally chosen. The house we were shown was absolutely terrific. It was HUGE. There was space for everyone, even a small guest wing for visiting relatives and friends. An indoor pool. Lots of bathrooms. Really, more than we had come to expect.
Of course there were 2 main drawbacks (aren’t there always). First off, we were really outside the “Anglo” or English speaking areas. If you can imagine the “Anglo” neighborhoods as semi closed communities, with one or two main access roads leading into them and branching off into the rest of the streets, you have a picture of how the neighborhoods are structured. This area of Givat Sharet (a region of Beit Shemesh) is centrally located in the middle of the “Anglo” neighborhoods, but there are only 3 or 4 other English speakers in the area. Our concern with this was that our kids would need either to import or export friends from the other areas – which would limit their making and developing friendships.
The other drawback was that this area is not 100% dati (religious). Initially, our reaction was, “So what? We live among non-frum jews and goyim in America, what is the big deal?” Apparently, it is a big deal. We learned that for the non religious parts of Israeli society, Friday night is a big social night, with parties, barbeques and get togethers lasting till the wee hours of the morning. With that comes noise, not what we would be looking for on a Shabbos night.
While we were there, one of the neighbors drove by and stopped to greet us. He had recognized me from the Yeshiva of South Shore’s Father/Son learning program and took 20 minutes to talk to us about why he had purchased a neighboring home and that more and more English speakers were coming to that area. Additionally, he pointed to a couple of houses that we could see from where we stood and told us that the neighboring “Anglo” communities were a 10 minute walk away.
Although we took a look at a couple of other Beit Shemesh houses, we essentially made a decision that afternoon that we would rent that specific home and once again go “From Woodmere to Beit Shemesh” instead of Chashmonaim.
That night was Yom Hazikaron. As we entered Yerushalayim to spend the night in my uncle’s apartment in Rachavia so we could be close to Beit Shemesh (we planned on returning to Beit Shemesh in the morning to register the kids for school), the clock struck 8 PM. About 5 seconds before 8, literally everyone either pulled over to the side of the road or simply stopped their cars and stood beside their vehicles. At 8 PM sharp the air raid sirens sounded throughout the entire country, as we all stood in silence for a minute in memory of the thousands who have lost their lives in defense of our homeland.
Having never experienced this before, I was struck by the contrast from Memorial Day that we celebrate here. Yom Hazikaron is a very somber day. All the restaurants, grocery stores, retailers, etc. close early (we had to buy a couple of felafels for dinner before we left Beit Shemesh). Nearly everyone has either a relative or knows someone who was killed in action. It is more a national day of memorial than a national holiday.
Goldie cried the entire minute. She also pointed out how interesting it is that Yom Hazikaron comes before Yom Haatzmaut. It is as if we are saying, “We cannot celebrate Yom Haatzmaut until we have properly paid our respect to you – those who have literally paid the ultimate price so that there can be a Yom Haatzmaut.”
That night, as we prepared to finally get a full night’s sleep for the first time all week, Goldie’s cellphone rang. The caller was a woman we knew from the 5 Towns who had relocated to the Beit Shemesh area a couple of years ago. She knew we were in Israel and wanted to see if we needed any help/advice.
Goldie spent the next hour+ on the phone with her, reviewing all we had gone through and our concerns about housing, friends, location, etc. Having lived in a tiny (to us) Beit Shemesh house, she had just moved to a new home in Ramat Beit Shemesh. She understood exactly what we were going through, and agreed that there was no reason we had to lower our expectations.
In fact, she mentioned that the house immediately next door to her was in the final stages of construction and gave us the name and number of the contractor to find out more. She talked with Goldie about Ramat Beit Shemesh and assured her that while the neighborhood was certainly very “Yeshivish” (for wont of a better word); we would still feel comfortable there with computers, DVD and the like and having kids not destined to learn in kollel (not that there is anything wrong with that).
After the conversation, Goldie turned to me and said that she wanted to see the house in Ramat Beit Shemesh and that we might also consider looking at 2 or 3 other rental homes there as well, just to see what our options would be. In addition to registering the kids for school.
TUESDAY – Yom Hazikaron
We spent the morning trying to register our kids for schools. Since I plan on talking about school choices at a later time, I will just say that we applied for admission in various schools and that we hope to hear that they were accepted shortly. Otherwise, we will have an interesting September.
In the morning, we waited outside one of the schools as they had their outdoor “Tekes” or assembly in honor of Yom Hazikaron. The morning air raid sirens run for 2 minutes, and the most moving part of the ceremony came when the Yeshiva immediately sang the Hatikva after the sirens had silenced. Goldie was again moved to tears and we were both impressed by the seriousness with which all the schools were treating the solemnity of the day.
In the afternoon we went to look at the house under construction. While it certainly would suffice for our family, the second floor was totally unfinished and there were no doors or windows anywhere in the house. Goldie couldn’t even climb in, so I climbed into the house and went from room to room – shouting out a brief description of each room through its open window.
We looked at a couple of other houses, but none of them were significantly larger in size than the Beit Shemesh houses we had already declined. Yet, this unfinished house was a possibility, and the contractor thought he could have it finished by July. If we believed him.
We also met a builder who was building a new project in Beit Shemesh adjacent to the existing anglo neighborhoods. The homes he is building are larger and designed to appeal to people like us who want to maintain similar homes/lifestyles to what we are accustomed to in America. This project appealed to us as an option down the road, since the homes would not be built for over 2 years.
Essentially we had two options. The house in Beit Shemesh or the house in Ramat Beit Shemesh. We headed back to Yerushalayim to think it over.
That night, after discussing it between ourselves and speaking it through with some friends, we decided that the house in Ramat Beit Shemesh would be our first choice, only if we could assure ourselves that the house would be completed in time for us to move in by August, so that we would have time to settle in and get into a family routine before school started. Otherwise, we would have to choose the Beit Shemesh home, which would be available even before we arrived in Israel.
That night we enjoyed watching the Yerushalayim Yom Haatzmaut fireworks from my uncle’s mirpeset in Rechavia. There were several different organizations that made individual celebrations, so we got to watch the fireworks twice that evening.
WEDNESDAY – Yom Haatzmaut
This was our last day in Yerushalayim. One of my best friends made a bris in Efrat that morning and it was a real treat to attend. We had the opportunity to see some old friends from Chicago, and enjoy a real Israeli Yom Haatzmaut davening, complete with a very melodious Hallel and a special Haftorah read without a Brocha.
We made our way north to Chashmonaim to pick up our luggage from my brother and inform them that we had chosen to stick with the Beit Shemesh region. Then we headed to my sister for a family Yom Haatzmaut BBQ. This is apparently a big deal in Israel. Everyone makes a BBQ on Yom Haatzmaut.
That night we made our way to the airport, where we heard the familiar, “Who packed your bags?”, etc. and made our way back to America. B”H, the return flight was only 70% full, so we had an extra seat for the baby and his carseat, making the trip much more comfortable for us. We slept on the plane and returned home still full of questions about where we would live and what we would do if the kids didn’t get into school, yet we continued to believe (as we have throughout the entire process) that since this is what Hashem wants from us, that something will work out.
In the past two weeks, we have continued to work on housing issues. We have chased down some leads on other available houses, but we are very close to signing a deal on the “unfinished” house in Ramat Beit Shemesh. There are still many details to arrange for, but the job is there, we have confirmed reservations on Nefesh Bnefesh’s July 5 flight and we continue to go full steam ahead. Next week: You haven’t started packing yet?