Saturday, August 26, 2006

Homecomings (Article #17) 8/24/2006

We had a really difficult week.

It began well. Chaim (our oldest) finally joined us last week on Monday. He had spent 6 weeks at Camp Manavu while the rest of us were busy acclimating to our new country, language and lives. With not much to do here for him, we felt that a summer in familiar surroundings would be good for him. Not to mention the fact that he was still angry about our decision to move, and we wanted the other kids to have a positive summer.

He was nervous about coming. Being in America and hearing all the news reports about what was happening here, he expressed genuine concern for his safety in “a war zone.” Although we reassured him that we were in a safe area and far from danger, I am sure that he was not thrilled.

However, as the date of his flight approached, he began to adjust and we would catch him saying things like, “when I come home” or “please just make sure my stuff gets delivered home and isn’t still in Greece.” I think he slowly came to an internal decision that he needed to make the best of things and try to make things work (plus we told him that he earns a mid-year trip to America only by proving to us that he is continuing to work hard and learn well in school).

When it finally came down to flying here, he was really very calm about it, flying on his own and having no issues in getting to the airport.

His youngest siblings were so excited that he was coming. When I called to tell Goldie that his flight had landed and I had just spoken to him on his cellphone, I could hear them cheering in the background. I must have gotten 8 cellphone calls during the 45 minute ride from the airport asking for progress reports. And the welcome he got was really very nice.

The morning of his flight, I made a call that has become a regular ritual with me – the “so has my stuff left Greece yet?” phone call. I was especially irritated that day because it seemed like everyone else was getting their shipments, but not us.

When I got through to my shipping company, I got the boss on the phone and really complained to him about the fact that I seemed to be the only person that had still not gotten their stuff from Greece.

Interestingly, for the first time, he agreed with me. Apparently, he had purchased the shipping space from a reseller of cargo space shipping. They purchase large volumes of space from the main cargo ship line at a steep discount and then pass along some of their savings to the end consumer. While the main ship line had made alternative arrangements to get containers from Greece to Israel, the reseller had not and had been taking quite a beating from their commercial customers about it.

My shipper then placed a series of phone calls (with me on the line) to find out when I might expect my stuff to leave Greece. On our sixth phone call, about 1 hour after my initial call we heard the magic words, “Greece? What do you mean? That container was delivered by rail to Ashdod yesterday!”

While I was definitely relieved to hear that the shipment had made it to Ashdod and had been in country for at least 2 days by then, I was quite angry that my shipper had no clue about that fact and would not have known about it at all had I not called to prod them about it.

They promised to call me back as soon as they got a more specific update including when I could expect delivery. When they called me, they told me that they did not think that my container was actually IN Ashdod, since there was no record of it there. Since there was no record of it in Haifa, they told me it must still be in transit to Ashdod and would arrive later Monday or Tuesday. Still, when I headed off to the airport to get Chaim, I was excited that we finally seemed to be making progress.

However, by Wednesday when they still couldn’t find the container I began to get seriously worried. After all, where could it have gone?

I must have called the shippers a dozen times on Tuesday and Wednesday and they kept telling me that they had no answers, that the ports were all overloaded and that maybe their American agent (the originating shipper) could help.

Although in retrospect it seems as if we got all excited over nothing, the whole delay with the lift was extremely stressful and aggravating. We had made so many plans based upon getting the lift before we moved from the “temporary” home into the “permanent” home and it just didn’t happen.

I should say that the delay did help give us more time to make the decision regarding housing and give our original landlord every opportunity to make things work. So there are definite benefits we got from the lift delay, but overall the process was tiring and maddening.

Late Wednesday afternoon they finally called with the “good news” that a paperwork snafu had given them the impression that my container was still in transit even though it was actually in Ashdod. They would have it straightened out by Thursday and hoped to have a delivery within another week, and also, since the shipment has arrived in country – here is your final bill.

I wanted to tell them that a paperwork snafu had resulted in their check being mailed to Liberia, but didn’t think that my container would get delivered any faster if I did that. Ironically, true to form, the initial “final bill” that they presented me was not correct and needed to be recalculated.

Since my lift was finally in country and the people whose house I was renting wanted us out of the house BEFORE they came back from their vacation, we also needed to settle up our lease. We had made the commitment to take our “backup” house, and were negotiating specific terms with the landlords (the Weinsteins, a really nice couple from Teaneck).

They were so accommodating to us and we really felt comfortable in dealing with them from the get go. Thankfully, the Weinsteins were in Israel on vacation during the week, so the major barrier to getting things done, the seven hour time difference, was negated. They had sent us a draft of a lease from their attorney the week before and we had returned it with our attorney’s comments on it.

Then, their attorney got called to miluim in the army so his wife (also an attorney) took over the case. However, she was busy taking care of the family, so she really couldn’t give her full attention to finalizing the lease – which we needed done by the end of the week since we needed to move out.

The Weinsteins were trying to have their vacation and finish the final touches to the house while also dealing with their attorneys and us. Once they got a different attorney assigned to the lease, we all thought there would be quicker movement. However, this fellow doesn’t speak English very well, and was also hard to reach and there was a point on Wednesday night that I was sure that the deal was going to fall through.

The fact that my attorney was due to leave the country Thursday morning for his own vacation didn’t help things. His partner took over for him quite admirably, but I certainly felt a sense of pressure.

However, by Friday the points had all been ironed out and we were comfortable enough that we had an agreement (even though it wasn’t signed) that we went to pick up the keys and have a walkthrough of the house with the Weinsteins. On Saturday night we moved some bags over to the house and on Sunday we moved in completely (or as completely as we could, considering the fact that almost all of our things are still in Ashdod).

Along with all this activity, I somehow also tried to find time to do my job at the Yeshiva. Since my boss, Rabbi Benni Pflanzer had been chosen by the government for an extensive tour of the Northern border area as well as the South of Lebanon, the rest of the administrators and Roshei Yeshiva all tried to take up some of his responsibilities so that we would open on time.

With enrollment almost doubling this year, we made dramatic construction expansions to the existing Beit Midrash and Chadar Ochel as well as adding new classrooms and other facilities to accommodate the larger student body. My boss was running the whole construction project and his unexpected absence left a big whole.

Although I was hired to take some of his responsibilities, the organization was not really prepared to just have him suddenly be out of the picture for over a month and it has been a difficult time for the entire staff in its own way. This was compounded when we heard the news that one of our secretaries husband had lost his second first cousin in the fighting.

So it will be easy to understand how excited we were when Rabbi Pflanzer unexpectedly walked in the office door on Thursday morning to greet us! He had been given the weekend off and stopped by to make sure we hadn’t messed things up too much. It was really great to see him.

Although he had to return to the army after Shabbat, he hopes to be discharged from Miluim in the middle of the week and will certainly be back in time for the beginning of the school year.

His family has had it tough. He had been in America for two weeks prior to getting called up, and he really had very little chance to be with his wife and children over the summer. Hopefully he will get a chance to spend time with them when he comes home (which is certainly much more important than anything he has to do in the office) and maybe take them on vacation if possible.

Since Sunday is a full work/school day, Friday is family day for me. I have no work and have the opportunity to get things done at home or perhaps tour around. Since Chaim had just arrived, we decided to take him to the Kotel and Machane Yehuda on Friday.

However, on Thursday night, we went out to the car to drive to the makolet and couldn’t get the car to work. My brother has a satellite controlled alarm system and it does not work well in Beit Shemesh. To make a long story short, it was not until 9:30 AM on Friday (after several hours on the phone with the alarm company, my brother in the US and the car’s mechanic) that we were able to get the car working.

Thankfully, we were able to get to the old city and had a chance to daven at the kotel. While we were there, there was a group of young boys (possibly from a camp) in the outer plaza who had and assembly and were singing songs together. Goldie was really very moved by it.

In the morning, when we were still unsure if the car would work at all, we went to the makolet to buy the various foods we had planned to get in Machane Yehuda. When we left the Kotel, we decided to head off to Ben Yehuda for lunch and for Chaim and Batya (the other kids were in Gan or Camp) to have a chance to tour.

I always find it entertaining to see whom we will bump into when we get to a real tourist destination. This trip didn’t disappoint as we got to visit with the Abbittan family and Murray Englard as we made our way to lunch. It was a real treat for us to see familiar faces.

We were quite happy to have everyone together for the first time on Shabbat. We took advantage of the long day to stay inside and rest, knowing that the beginning of this week would be tough.

By Sunday afternoon our shipping company had told us to realistically expect a Tuesday delivery of our lift. While there was still a chance that the customs people would want to hold it up for a full inspection, the port is incredibly overloaded and they just want to get the stuff out. It actually would have been a great time to smuggle in a bunch of computers or appliances – since they simply don’t have the time or manpower to inspect anything.

Sunday night our older girls were in a camp performance, so the boys all went shopping for household items. Of course, we couldn’t find even half of what we were looking for, and even those things we did find took us a long time. I still don’t know where the bleach is, or the bug spray or even the crockpot liners. Eventually we are sure to find everything, but it is so annoying to go to the supermarket and not come home with all the things on your list.

We slept on air mattresses on Sunday night, and the air conditioning on our second floor is not working properly. The first floor gets cold enough (and since we cannot figure out how to tell what temperature the units are set on – we keep pushing up and down on the remote control), but the second floor needs servicing and we hope that it is done this week.

We are beginning to realize how many different things we will have to take care of as the first tenants in this house. There are so many different things that need tweaking and adjusting. However, we are grateful that the house was still available and are looking forward to finally being able to settle into a normal routine there.

With all the ups and downs we had in the last few weeks, this past week should not have been so difficult. However, I think that it is the combination of all the various frustrations and setbacks that we had that finally got to us. Which it did.

There were a lot of tears this week. Certainly no shortage of frayed nerves and short tempers. Yet, as upsetting and truly trying that the week was – we seem to be much further ahead of where we were last week.

Chaim – is home. Our family – has a home (finally). Our lift – about to be home. My boss – will be home by the time you read this newspaper. We’ll have our phones turned on and (hopefully) our appliances all installed by the middle of next week. In a week and a half the kids will start school and life will really start off for us – no more vacation home, no more running around – just the regular everyday life of your (un)average Israeli family!

Coming Full Circle (Article #16) 8/17/2006

From Woodmere to Beit Shemesh

Status report: Our lift is finally somewhere in Israel (more on this next week). My boss is still in the North (in and out of Lebanon). The truce is hours old and has already been violated. We didn’t get our soldiers back. They can still shoot rockets at us. They aren’t totally crushed.

Shabbat two weeks ago was my birthday. Goldie decided to surprise me by arranging to have Amy Schneider (our buddy family) bake a really terrific birthday cake for me for dessert on Friday night. I knew something was strange when she allowed the kids to stay up late to play outside, but was totally surprised when the Schneiders and Airleys showed up with the cake.

Shabbat afternoon after the meal we made what has become a regular trip for us to see what our new home looks like. Our rental home in Ramat Beit Shemesh was under construction when we first saw it last April. Although it needed a serious amount of work, we were assured by the owners and the builder that it would be ready by August 1 and possibly earlier. With our space needs (having 6 kids) we took a gamble and agreed to rent it.

Of course, since we knew we were arriving on July 6th, we needed to make temporary arrangements for housing for our first 3 weeks. We initially found a rental in the Sheinfeld area of Beit Shemesh to rent, but when a home became available within blocks of our future home, we decided to take it since it would give us a chance to get used to a new neighborhood. Both houses were furnished homes, being offered as summer rentals by their owners who were to be vacationing in North America.

We also chose to rent the house for 6 weeks instead of the needed 3. We did this both to give us time to unpack our lift in the new home while still living comfortably in the summer rental and also just in case the house was not ready on time and we needed someplace to stay for an extra week or two.

In the ensuing months, we had gotten calls from various neighbors telling us that the project was moving forward with a lot of activity from the builders. We took this as a good sign (despite the various warnings by my siblings and other friends) that the house would not be ready on time.

Within days of our arrival we went to see the house which we assumed must surely have been close to ready, by the reports we had gotten. Apparently “ready” has many meanings. We had a hard time getting into the house itself since the exterior stairs leading to the front door were not installed and we had to climb a steep concrete ramp. When we finally got up the ramp we were treated to what looked like a massive garbage dump totally surrounding the house.

When we entered the house we saw that each room had walls, a floor and for the most part ceilings. There were no plumbing or electric fixtures anywhere in the house. The kitchen was totally bare. There were no doors installed. The interior staircase was another steep concrete ramp, with board nailed into it for the workers to use as stairs.

We were horrified. Here we were, three weeks away from “moving in” day and the house was nowhere near ready. Remembering that the rental market in the area was really very tight and that there was no way we were going to be able to move in on time, we began to panic. What would we do? We knew we only had a place to live for 6 weeks and then we were stuck, but even worse, all our furniture and belongings were due to arrive the first week in August – where were we going to put them?

We couldn’t even blame the owners. They live 6,000 miles away and rely upon reports by the builder and their decorator. They were repeatedly assured by the builder that August 1 was a realistic date and that the house would actually be ready earlier than then.

So we began to make a weekly trek to the house, checking on the progress. We even began to take other families with us, to see if their thinking matched ours. The unanimous opinion was that we needed to make alternate plans – and fast.

So we started to talk about various options. Some people offered to put us up in there basements. Others suggested that we look into a short term apartment rental. Yet, since our lift was full of our things, we needed to have somewhere to put our stuff, and those options wouldn’t work. We needed to find another home.

And we did.

We had talked about a home in the Sheinfeld area of Beit Shemesh in our pilot trip last April. However, when we talked to the landlord, we felt that the rental was out of reach for us. We explained our budget to the landlord, yet he felt that he could get more for the house so we both decided to move on.

Fortunately for us, as I suspected, the rental market in Beit Shemesh did not support the rental amount he had been looking for, and he did not find a tenant between May and July. This prompted a call to us, and we took a look at the house.

As we got closer and closer to August, we began to see progress in the Ramat Beit Shemesh house. We still didn’t think it would be ready, but it was tantalizingly close. On the other hand, we had originally intended to live in either the Sheinfeld or Aviv neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh and the second house fit the bill in that regard.

The decision became even tougher to make because we had begun to make friends in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Although we have only been here a month and a half, the kids have all begun to find a niche and it wasn’t easy to think of having to do the whole “getting to know the neighbors” thing again.

Goldie had spent a lot of her time making all the arrangements for schools, gan, doctors, etc., and we realized that all that effort would go to waste if we moved. In one way, the war delays worked slightly in our favor since we were able to postpone the decision because our lift was in Greece, so we did not need a place to deliver all of our stuff to.

As soon as we found the “backup plan” house, we contacted the owners of the RBS home, telling them that we had identified an alternate option and that while we would try to hold out as long as we could, that we needed to do what was best for our family and make sure that we had a place to live.

We kept on waiting for the house to be ready, but the first completion date and then the second completion date both came and went, with nothing more than assurances that FOR SURE we would be in within a few days. So we kept visiting the house and hoping we would see that things were finally ready.

I spent almost my entire work week trying to figure out what needed doing for the opening of school. Without my boss, we are really short handed. He has been the key operations person since we opened our doors, and is really the go to guy on all business matters. His absence has left a big void for us to deal with.

Had we had some warning or expectation that he would be gone, we could’ve handled it a lot better. Yet, there is no planning for a war and the need for him and the many other reservists to drop everything to be there to protect us all.

On Sunday night we went to dinner with my sister and brother in law in honor of my birthday. Goldie and I took the Bnei Brak bus bus to Tel Aviv. Halfway through the ride, Goldie looked around and realized that aside from us and another couple seated directly behind us, the rest of the bus was seated by gender. The men sat in the front and the women sat in the back with the two married couples seated as the buffer zone right in the middle.

On Monday I got a call from a car broker that he had found a used 8 seat van for us. We cannot buy a new car until we get our Israeli drivers licenses (at the earliest) and the lack of a car has been a tremendous inconvenience. Even though the taxis are plentiful and cheap, it is just not practical to take a taxi everywhere we go.

The “metzia” was a 14 year old minivan with 380,000 kilometers on it that I could get for the extremely low price of 30,000 shekels (a little under $7,000). This is actually a good price here, but it is still astonishing to think of paying that much for such an old car.

I arranged to have the car inspected by a mechanic on Tuesday to make sure that it was indeed in good working order. This was the best $150 that I have spent here, since the mechanic discovered problems with the oil system as well as the gear box that could have been costly to repair.

Goldie went with a girlfriend to the Beit Shemesh shuk that day. Apparently, Beit Shemesh has an outdoor shuk twice weekly and she was thrilled with it. The fruits and vegetables were cheaper than those in the supermarket (although you still have to check and make sure that Teruma and Maaser were taken) and many of the other items were also great bargains.

She was at one specific fruit vendor and had brought several items up to the counter to pay for them. While the vendor was weighing her choices, she turned to her friend to chat. When she turned back to pay the vendor, she discovered that he was busy adding some onions into her bag from the bin in front of him!

When she asked what he was doing, he said, “but the onions are so fresh and good, I was sure that you really needed more!” She made him put them back, but I don’t think he put back more than one or two since we still have a ton of onions in the house.

On Thursday night, Goldie prepared supper for some new Olim. Amy Shneider was coordinating meals for 3 new families who had moved in that day via Nefesh B’Nefesh. Many of the people in this area have gone on vacation, and there simply weren’t enough people for her to ask. When she told this to Goldie, Goldie immediately volunteered.

She was asked to cook for the family of Darren and Dina Shaw who had made Aliyah from England. When Dina discovered that we had ourselves made Aliyah only one month earlier, she was astounded that Goldie had volunteered to cook for her family.

Friday is my day off, so we had a ton of errands to attend to. Our first stop was the bank, to make deposits and see if we could finally order a credit card. The bank was very crowded, since many people have Friday off. The line for the teller was very long.

They have a really cool machine at the bank to make deposits. I signed the back of my check, and swiped my ATM card. Without filling out any deposit slip or envelope, I slid my check into the machine and a scan of the check appeared on the screen. I was asked to enter the amount of the check into the machine and then got a receipt for the deposit. Of course the charge for making the deposit was 15 cents.

We met with a bank officer and ordered a credit card. When we were done, we also asked her about the fees for using the ATM and the teller. She told us that we actually have 1 year’s worth of a 50% discount on all fees as Olim. She was astounded to hear that such things were free in the US.

We went from there to get haircuts for all the Katz men. Although there is no comparison to getting our hair cut by Sol on Central Avenue, I have to say it was a very interesting experience. The first hurdle was trying to explain how we wanted the hair to be cut in Hebrew. Take a minute and try to do it. Not easy.

We also felt bad for the barber (a nice young Israeli who looked like he had just walked out of the Beit Midrash with a white shirt, black pants and his Tzitzit hanging out). As a non English speaker, he has a tough time trying to explain to Moshe (18 months) and Mordechai (5 years) to sit still or look down so that he could cut their hair properly.

Perhaps the strangest thing of all was the atmosphere. The whole place was filled with religious people. While that is often the case in many 5 Towns haircutters as well, how many of them have the Kumzitz CD playing? When was the last time you were getting your hair cut and everyone in the store (including the person cutting your hair) was singing along with the Jewish Music playing on the stereo?

Our last stop was the new grocery store that opened up. The parent company of one of the major local supermarkets had taken over a chain of supermarkets, one of which was directly across the street from their RBS store. In order to protect against a monopoly, the 2 stores were forced to combine and allow a competitor to enter the market.

The newly combined supermarket opened this week (the competitor will open soon) and we went there to stock up, since their prices are much cheaper than the makolet we have 2 blocks away. It is astounding how much more the neighborhood makolet charges simply because they are convenient. It is almost like shopping for groceries at 7-11.

When we went to check out we picked a line at random. Our line seemed to be moving well, until the woman 2 people in front of us tried to pay for her groceries. It looked like she was trying to pay by check or cash, since she had both in her hands. She was actually trying to do both, making a cash payment for part and a check payment for the balance.

Unbelievably, the cash register in Israel could not process such a transaction. You either have to pay all in cash or all by check, not a combination. So she decided to pay by check. Two checks. One dated that day, and another a few weeks away.

Since “Tashlumin” (installment payments) are a normal part of the Israeli business world, the same cash register that could not accept a cash payment upfront with the balance paid by check had no problem processing two checks (one of them post dated) for the purchase.

We paid via debit card, since our credit cards will not be available until later this week. I cannot wait until we get the credit cards, if only for the opportunity to pay by tashlumin and get an interest free loan from the grocery store.

I got a call on Friday that Rav Benni Pflanzer, my boss who had been in the reserves and in and out of Lebanon for the prior two weeks had been given a Shabbat leave to spend with his family. I had the chance to speak with him for a few minutes and it was nice to know he had a chance to be home, if only for a day and a half.

I also got a call from my sister. She had been to Haifa that morning for the Brit Milah of a new nephew. She made every effort to attend the brit with all her kids, since this Simcha immediately followed the shiva for the Grandmother of the new baby (I went to Haifa the week before to be menachem avel for this family). The birth itself came during the shiva, with the new mother going straight from the shiva house to the delivery room.

While at the shul, there was an air raid alert followed by 2 large explosions that shook the entire shul. A few minutes later, there was another alert followed by 2 more explosions. In all, 4 Katyusha rockets landed just 3 blocks away from the shul where the Brit was being held.

She described how truly terrified she felt, since there was nowhere to hide in the building. She also told me how guilty she felt afterward for possibly exposing her children to such danger and how terrible she would have felt had something happened to them.

She mentioned that her husband actually thought that where the rockets landed was a miracle. Apparently, they landed in the highway just outside a high tech office building district, blowing out all the windows of the mostly glass buildings. It being Friday, all the offices were closed – so no one got hurt!

When she described the location to me, I mentioned that I thought I remembered the buildings from my drive out the week before. Her response? “You should – they landed right in the middle of the highway that you were on!”

We hosted Nesher and Chaia Broderick and their family for Shabbat lunch the next day. It was nice to spend time with “old friends” and hear all about their NBN experience and how it differed from ours. We had actually had a few minutes on Thursday night to visit with them and Shulie and Ronnie Baruch who had also come in that day, but it was nice to have a leisurely time to catch up with each other.

On Saturday night I got a ride to Chashmonaim with Dudy and Jenny Rokach who are here for a two week vacation. They were actually visiting some friends in Modiin, and were gracious enough to give me a ride so that I could pick up my brother’s van which I am using for 10 days. He had made arrangements to lend his van out to someone else before we decided to make Aliyah and the other family had returned to the US.

I cannot describe how much easier life is with a car. Mordechai and Batya (age 7) started a mini ulpan on Sunday. This ulpan is run so that the new olim can get a feel for the normal Israeli school day schedule/routine, before school actually starts. Goldie was able to drive them to and from the ulpan and take Aliza to the doctor (cold and congestion) as well as drop me off and pick me up from the train.

She went to the store to pick up school supplies for the kids and was able to offer a ride to other olim, who also had no car. Having the car is incredibly liberating.

The “truce” was ratified on Sunday as well. I will be the first to admit that I am not yet in tune with Israeli politics and Israeli thinking. However, I do know that (as I wrote in the first paragraph of this article) PM Olmert clearly stated that the government had 3 goals for the war. As I see it, none of them were accomplished (the worst being that we did not get our soldiers back).

Over 100 soldiers were killed and approximately half that many civilians were killed as well. The armed forces were completely handcuffed by the government and the medias ability to instantly “spin” every action, as well as our policy to warn terrorists (via leaflet) exactly where our forces will be in the next few days so that they could have time to set as tough a trap/ambush as they could. Twenty percent of the country either lived in their bomb shelters or as refugees in communities nationwide. To what end?

Yes, we destroyed thousands of rockets and killed hundreds if not thousands of terrorists. Yes, we advanced as far as the incredibly strategic Litani river. Yes, we showed the world that we can attack at will.

Yet, we did not achieve our stated goals. We failed in the mission that we set for ourselves. And the Prime Minister had the audacity to publicly state that he thinks the war will serve as a conduit for his plan to give away more land. I hope that we have time and the opportunity to make a change before that happens.

I think change is sometimes necessary. Not only on major issues but on minor ones as well. We took another look at the RBS house on Monday night. Although we had been told that we could move in on the day before, we found no faucets (and therefore running water) anywhere in the house, loose wires where many light fixtures/outlets were supposed to be, open 10 foot pits at the sides of the house and came to the general conclusion that it was not only impractical, but possibly also dangerous for us to occupy that house.

While we really did not want to do so, we will be notifying the owners of the house (whom we thankfully did not sign a lease with) that the house is still not ready and we cannot live in it. They have told us that they have a backup tenant in case we back out, so they can at least cover themselves.

Interestingly enough, we started the whole process of searching for a home in the Nofei Aviv and Sheinfeld areas of Beit Shemesh. We almost decided to go to Chashmonaim and actually did decide to go to Ramat Beit Shemesh.

As someone mentioned to me about the war as well, the plan is not one that you or I have seen. The war happened exactly as it was supposed to happen, according to the plan upstairs. The same thing applies to our house. All our plans were for naught; someone else’s plan took priority and we will be right where we were intended to be from the start.

Mazal Tov to Nesher and Chaia Broderick, Dov and Lauren Greenberg and Gary and Suzanne Wallin and their families upon their Aliyah last week with Nefesh B’nefesh!! May your Klitta be Neimah (May your absorption be pleasant)! Mazal Tov also to Ronnie and Shulie Baruch and their family who also moved to Israel last week (although not via NBN)! A special welcome to Benjamin Baruch who was the inspiration to his parents making the move and is a special friend who always finds a way to make my day!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Haifa? On Tisha B’Av? (Article #15) 8/10/2006

I am writing this on the afternoon of Tisha B’Av as I travel back from Haifa to Beit Shemesh. It is getting toward the end of the fast, and I am tired. Yet I am happy that I went (despite all my fears) and am looking forward to the end of the fast.

People have been asking me for the past few weeks if it is more meaningful being here for the 3 weeks and Tisha B’Av. I must admit, that when I am in the old city, especially during the 3 weeks which began one week after we arrived, I have indeed felt a special sense of the tragedy which befell us in the destruction of the Beit Hamikdosh.

It is definitely a very emotionally powerful moment when one stands in the Kotel tunnels at the closest point I can get to the Kodesh Hakedoshim (especially since I am a Kohen). Actually seeing the damage done to the stone road when the overpass entrance to the Beit Hamikdosh was destroyed also provided a much more tangible sense of the destruction and loss.

However, I just wasn’t able to get into the mood of Tisha B’Av itself. We have so much happening in our lives right now. There is so much turmoil and transition that it has become increasingly difficult to focus.

We are living in a “vacation home”. While it is certainly comfortable, it isn’t our home, and it is tough to feel as if we are living real life while we are there. Especially when we realize that we are about to move again in about 2 weeks.

As an Oleh trying to deal with many different issues integrating into a new country with a totally new set of rules, our whole family’s experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I know that many others are suffering greatly from the war and in much more difficult ways than I ever will. But, the results of the war are beginning to take a toll on us as well.

Our container with all our stuff (clothes, furniture, appliances, beds, etc.) is still in Greece. We have heard that they are shuttling containers from Greece to Israel in smaller ships but that it is a mess. *Sigh*

We have definitely begun to see small signs of change due to the war more and more. Our initial “wake-up” was seeing the families that evacuated the North living in the Beit Shemesh schools.

Shabbat Chazon morning, I was sitting with my nephew Yitzie who had joined us on break from Mach Hach Ba’aretz and was commenting to him how the Mercazi Shul that we were davening in was having its second no speech week in a row (the prior week we were Mevarech Hachodesh and the Rav davened for the Amud so he didn’t speak) since the Rav seemed to be absent. My friend Moshe Teren who is a Gabbai in the shul walked over to me that moment and said, “Here’s something you don’t see in the States.”

“What?” I replied.

“The Rav not being in shul because he was called up to serve as Rav for Chayalim at the Lebanese border that are entering combat.”

It was certainly eye opening. He had been called the prior Sunday (for a 7-10 day period) not to fight, but to act in his capacity as Rav for those Chayalim (soldiers) who needed minyanim, to ask about a halacha, to make a psak or just counsel those young men and women at the front lines who were about to enter or were just returning from the active war zone. That certainly IS something you would not see in the States.

On Sunday I took the train to Yerushalayim with my nephew. The Train station is a 5 minute walk from Teddy Stadium where the Mach Hach campers were to assemble and go to their busses for the rest of their tour. It is also a 10 minute bus ride from the Yeshiva, so I am on the train often.

The train left almost 25 minutes late and seemed much more crowded than usual. Initially, I didn’t attribute it to anything specific, but when we got off the train there were literally hundreds of Chayalim exiting the train. Apparently, the reserve call up of 30,000 troops had a major muster point at Teddy Stadium that morning and they were all coming to report for duty and transportation to their training bases.

The rest of the week I noticed other things that would normally not have caught my eye, but I am beginning to notice. For instance, security on the buses. I know that there are officers who randomly board the buses and check for suspicious items for security purposes. They board the bus at one stop, do a quick walk through of the bus and then stand by the driver for 5-10 stops before getting off and moving to another bus.

Yet there was a couple of days in the last 2 weeks that it seemed there were security people everywhere. Every bus had one and they rode the bus for long stretches at a time.

Also, there are certain days when my laptop bag gets a cursory glance from security guards before they wave me into the train station or restaurant or mall that I am going to. But on Erev Tisha B’av every guard was extremely attentive to going through the entire bag, and the guard by the central bus station even made me turn on the laptop to make sure that it was really a working computer!

I am sure that they had and will always have certain times where they have an advisory that something “may” take place or that they know of a threat directed at a specific target. I am sure that they also have days were they tighten security as a drill in order to maintain their watchfulness. However, I probably noticed it more because of the heightened sensitivities in the state of war.

Last week our Yeshiva’s summer program concluded. The South African and Australian students are now with their parent program and will leave on a tour of Poland next week. My boss Rav Benny Pflanzer went to Miluim before we even had a chance to sit together for a moment, so the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yehuda Susman and I had to take more active roles in preparing the building for the new zman than we had expected.

Our Yeshiva is growing from 45 to 75 (85 in January) talmidim, causing a need for an expanded Beit Midrash as well as dormitories, classrooms and dining facilities. We occupy a cnverted (by us) apartment building, so we are in the midst of a major renovation that was set into motion by Rav Benny and trying to make sure that everything is done functionally without costing a fortune.

On Sunday I tried to call my sister in Tel Hashomer and couldn’t get through to her. I finally reached her on the cell to hear that she had gone to Haifa and Naharia to visit a sister in law who was on her deathbed as well as her husband’s extended family that live in the North.

I was amazed that she would make such a trip. After all, rockets had been pouring down on the area without pause and it seemed foolhardy to go there. However, this sister in law was quite ill, and my sister wanted to visit her. Unfortunately, the woman passed away on Monday morning and my sister was extremely grateful that she had made the trip.

On Tuesday, Goldie came to Yerushalayim with Zippy (pronounced Tzippy) Lieberman so that we could all go to the Misrad Harishui (licensing authority) to apply for Israeli drivers licenses. Their offices are located a ten minute walk from the Yeshiva in Talpiot.

The process of getting a drivers license is quite unusual compared to what we are used to. In America, everything but the actual driving lessons (if needed) is done at the DMV. Eye exam, testing, payments, anything related to getting the license is handled by them.

In Israel, getting the license is a multi stage process involving many different organizations. First is getting the initial application into the system and taking your picture. This can be conveniently be done at the Malcha Mall (next to the Yerushalayim train station) in an optical shop. Why is it convenient? So that you can take the form to the back of the store for your 40 shekel ($9) eye exam, administered by one of the opticians in the store.

After the eye exam, you need to take a trip to the doctor so that he can give you a medical exam and pronounce you fit for driving. This normally costs 70 shekel, but both Goldie and I set up medical appointments for other things when we went and just had the doctor fill out the forms while we were already there.

After the doctor approves you, you need to take your 1) US drivers license, 2) Aliyah Certificate, 3) Citizenship papers and 4) the drivers license application and vision/medical form to the licensing authority offices. Once they process the paperwork, you need to go for a driving lesson before you take the road test (paying the road test fee of course at the – you guessed it – POST OFFICE!?!).

We got to the licensing offices at 11:30 or so on a nice hot day and proceeded to wait in line at the information counter, just like we would at the DMV. After 10 minutes (and 2 guys cutting the line) it was our turn at the desk and we proudly presented our papers. The lady glanced at them and said (in Hebrew), “Can’t you read? You need to go to the windows inside!”

Well, in all honesty I am pretty sure that I can read. What I read was a sign in English that said: To all New Olim and Tourists, For the getting of a Driving Certificate you must present a Foreign License, a Teudat Oleh, a Teudat Zehut and the Vision and Medical Approval Forms. That was it. There was nothing else on the sign about going to the interior room to present the papers, so we assumed we were in the right place.

Apparently, one of the Hebrew signs clearly states “Drivers Licenses proceed inside and take a number.” Since I have no idea how to say drivers license in Hebrew, I didn’t realize that I was in the wrong line. It was only 10 minutes anyway.

When we went to the interior room we had to take a number from one of those plastic dispensers they have in the bakery. The room had about 8 windows to transact business with 3 clerks serving the people. When they would complete a transaction, each clerk had a button to advance the counter to the next number.

We had numbers 188, 189 and 190. When we took the numbers, they were currently serving number 129, and we got nervous. With 3 people working it would take at least an hour to get to our turn in line, if not more. Goldie wanted to go get an iced coffee for the wait, and it was a good thing she didn’t because we got to enjoy a real slice of the Israeli mentality while we waited and she would have also missed out turn in line.

Apparently, Israelis are not the most patient of people, and they hate waiting. As we watched, there must have been at least 30 people who walked into the room, took a number and left the room in disgust when they saw how huge the gap was to get to them.

At the same time, the clerks would sometimes go through 6 or more numbers to get to the next customer since so many people had already left.

These clerks do this every day, and it is no doubt very irritating to them that people constantly take numbers and then leave. So they fight back a little.

In America, there is a pause of 2 or 3 seconds between the clerk calling out one number and moving on to the next. 145…..(pause), 146……(pause), 147….., until the next person in line is served.

One of the clerks would go through the numbers in that manner. However, the 2 others would make one pause after the first number and then ding*ding*ding*ding* keep revolving the number until somebody would come up to their window. 145…..(pause), 146, 147, 148, 149 – non stop.

Well, unless you were paying close attention, the number machine would just zip right by your number. It was comical watching all the people suddenly jump up and frantically leap over the seats in order to keep their turn.

Of course, if there was someone approaching the window, the clerks would stop pushing the number button and serve the next person. There was one guy who approached the window while the numbers were frantically revolving. The clerk stopped moving the numbers and he paused. She called out to him (all of this was in Hebrew), “Why did you stop?” His answer? “Why did YOU stop, I am in 6 more numbers and I was getting ready!”

After a very quick and entertaining 15 minute break our number was up. As the clerk was processing our paperwork, she got a very important call on her personal and paused what she was doing for 3 or 4 minutes while she took the call.

How did I know it was an important call? Well, to an Israeli ALL personal calls are important and must be dealt with immediately, no matter what you are doing. Bank tellers, postal clerks, even the guy in the falafel store, all drop everything in order to take their personal calls.

On Erev Tisha B’av I had originally planned to be Menachem Avel for my sister’s in. However, I needed to be in the Yeshiva for a meeting, and the travel time made the trip to Haifa impractical that day. Since Friday would be spent entertaining all the kids and preparing for Shabbat, Sat. night would be too late and the Shiva ended on Sunday, I had no choice but to go to Haifa on Thursday, Tisha B’Av in the afternoon.

So, after a morning spent saying Kinot in one of the local shuls, I got a ride to the train station and took the train to Tel Aviv where I met my brother in law and nephew for a ride to Haifa.

My nephew just got his driver’s license. Interestingly, when a teenager gets their license for the first time (having passed written and driving exams), he cannot drive on his own for the first 3 months. All new drivers must be accompanied by an adult. This trip was a perfect time for him to get in a few hours of driving experience.

The drive up was uneventful. I expected to see rocket damage or empty streets. While the streets were certainly not filled with traffic/people, there were certainly many people out and about.

I remarked to my brother in law during the drive that there were many rockets that landed in the North the day before, and that we had to be alert. We discussed it at the shiva house as well, and they all commented that thankfully Tisha B’Av had been quiet.

There is a 1 connection train from Haifa to Beit Shemesh, and I wanted to get home, so at about 4 PM I headed out the door for a ride to the train station. Just as I reached the street, the air raid sirens sounded.

We quickly rushed into the house and stood by interior walls away from the windows. After a minute or two, the people on the Mirpeset (outdoor porch) reported that they had heard 4 booms. Since the event appeared to be over, we headed out the door again.

One of my sister’s relatives volunteered to drive and we headed off. In the middle of the ride, the sirens sounded again and we looked for some cover. The one thing they tell people is definitely NOT to stay inside a car during an event, so we looked for somewhere to stop and essentially hide.

The driver noticed that there was a tunnel underpass beneath the train tracks, so he quickly drove there for the protective cover. When we got there, we found 4 other cars had the same thought and we all waited there for a few uneventful minutes before we resumed the trip.

Although it was a little frightening to experience the warnings, I would say that the uncertainty of not knowing if there is a Katyusha about to land near you that is the worst part. It is such a random event, and the danger is not as bad as the anticipation.

The rest of my trip was uneventful, and I am on my way back to Beit Shemesh for the conclusion of the fast.

I just happened to glance out the train window and noticed what is clearly a military helicopter parked in a field off to the side. As we continued down the tracks and more helicopters and other equipment became visible, I realized that we were passing some type of military installation. Then I noticed a series of tents and other temporary structures and it dawned on me that this was not a regular base, but must be a temporary base/staging area for use during the current fighting.

It is astounding how quickly the country mobilized and the reservists all headed for where they needed to be. Although there is a lot of press coverage about the destruction in Lebanon and some coverage of the Israeli losses as well, within Israel there does not seem to be a panic about the dangers we face.

I know I say this often, but although it is certainly getting easier to notice, outside of Northern Israel the only real signs of war that we have are the missing reservists who have gone to fight, and the thousands of evacuees who have fled the constant shelling of their homes, taking up residence in schools, homes, hotels and just about anywhere that people can host them.

Although it is now several hours after the tzom and I had not intended to add more to this edition, I feel obliged to add a minor postscript of major significance. Upon my arrival home, I told Goldie about the 2 sets of warning sirens we had heard in Haifa. She told me that there had indeed been shelling at that time – not far from Haifa and that rockets had hit Acco, killing 4 people.

Very scary.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

‘Greece’ is the Word (Article #14) 8/3/2006

Our third Shabbos (Shabbat? even I get confused) passed uneventfully. After our Friday night seudah at home, we enjoyed a terrific meal with our buddy family the Schneiders for lunch. We had a really nice time there and since Amy bakes professionally out of her home, a really awesome dessert!

Our kids have really acclimated well to the community. They have had sleepovers and playdates and have really become a part of the children’s “scene” in our part of Ramat Beit Shemesh. Each Shabbat they disappear for hours and it is a pleasure to experience.

On Sunday we had a major meeting at work about the scheduled tiyul to Gilboa the next day. With all the hostilities going on and the rockets falling, we decided that it was not prudent to send the boys up north and replaced the tiyul with a trip to Ir David and the Kotel excavations.

Since we needed to send someone from the administration on the trip and it has been 24 years since I last visited Ir David and Chizkiyahu’s tunnels, I volunteered to go on the tiyul. It would give me a chance to get to know the South African and Australian students (who will be with us through December) and experience some of Yerushalayim.

Aliza (age 10) had no camp that week until Wednesday, so we decided to have her join me on the tiyul. Chaya (13) also wanted to go, but she had to go sit for a high school placement exam instead. She will have to join me at another time.

Thankfully we got a ride Monday morning to Yerushalayim. Transportation has become a major issue for us. We have been getting around locally by foot or taxi. We cannot buy a new tax exempt car until we get Israeli drivers licenses. Renting a car can cost $1,000 or more a month. So we are trying to get a used car that we can keep for a year or two and then buy a new car.

However, with 8 people in the family our choices are limited to 3 types of minivans. Unfortunately these minivans are not only expensive, they are also in limited supply and it is hard to find one. Even worse is the fact that they are incredibly expensive. One car dealer offered me a 14 year old minivan for the low low price of $15,000.

So we are looking around to try and find something a little cheaper and in the meantime are resorting to taxis. At least for local trips.

Getting to work in the morning is a different story. While the train lets me off a ten minute bus ride from the office, it is a $7 taxi ride to get to the train each way. Since this can really add up, I have started to take the bus into Yerushalayim (which leaves 3 blocks from our house), and connect from there to a bus to my office. The trip ends up taking about 15 minutes more, but it is more direct with only one transfer involved.

I wouldn’t care normally, but I simply hate the bus. The train is so comfortable and spacious while the bus is always crowded and with all the curves and turns I am always slightly queasy by the time I get off.

When we get a car, Goldie will be able to not only do all her shopping and errands conveniently; she can also drop me off at the train which is a short 10 minute ride away.

Luckily, that morning we were able to catch a ride to the Yerushalayim end of the train trip and catch a bus to the Yeshiva to go on the tiyul.

What can I say about Ir David? It was amazing! Our first stop was a park in Talpiyot where we had a bird’s eye view of most of Yerushalayim and the Old City. Our guide Yaron Levy was very informative about showing us different areas and how they are represented in Tanach.

We then hopped back on our bus for a short ride to the Ir David excavations in East Jerusalem. Ir David is the site where archeologists believe that David Hamelech set up his castle. It is downhill from Har Habayit and currently right in the middle of an Arab area.

We saw the excavations and the location where they have found several sealing stamps with names on them that were people mentioned in Tanach. We also had a great view of Har Hazaisim and talked about the coronation of Shlomo Hamelech with specific views of exactly where the events most likely occurred.

The highlight of the day though, was the trip through the water tunnel. This tunnel had been dug originally as a water source for the original residents of Yerushalayim from the springs which were the main water source for the area. This spring was located outside the walls of the city, and the tunnel diverted some of its water to a pool within the city walls.

However, Chizkiyahu expanded the tunnel and sealed the spring so that the Syrian army would not be able to have a water source upon its return to Yerushalayim. Originally discovered many years ago, it was not until the late 90’s that new excavations discovered totally unknown areas of the water tunnel and surrounding city, dramatically expanding our understanding of city life in Biblical times.

With the exception of the blinding light provided by camera flashes and very rare flashes of light from Yaron’s mini flashlight, we walked the entire tunnel in total dark. For those who have not walked the tunnel, the water continues to flow through it, and at times it gets very narrow and short (at one point I was totally bent over as I walked and felt the ceiling of the cave scratch my back).

The footing is all uneven and totally underwater, and since the walls are not always even, we had to walk through very carefully. After a while the boys began to sing different songs as we made our way and it was a lot of fun. When we finished we discussed what a marvel of engineering it must have been to dig the tunnel totally underground.

Although the tunnel was cool and wet inside, by the time we got out we were totally exhausted and walking up the hill to the old city was grueling. After a break for lunch we made our own minyan for mincha at the Kotel and headed to the last part of our tiyul, a tour through the southern corner of the Kotel.

Seeing the destruction of the Beit Hamikdosh is especially meaningful during the 3 weeks. However, seeing visible signs of damage in the excavations was an especially poignant moment.

I had no idea that the protrusions from the Kotel at its’ southern end were the remnants of a bridge entrance into the Har Habayis. In the excavations we were able to see where the weight of the falling bridge stones literally broke the street below and where the stones from the upper levels of the wall were thrown.

Standing among the ruins of the Beit Hamikdosh during the 3 weeks somehow brings the meaning of what we are missing a little more home. I hope that it somehow makes my davening a little more meaningful with a greater understanding of what we have lost.

We cut the tiyul short because it was a really hot day and we were all exhausted from walking.

Thankfully, the next few days were uneventful for us. Chaya had a recurrence of Strep Throat (the Doctor told us that if she is prone to strep it will happen more in Israel than America) and the kids all went to camp and had a great time. By Thursday it was clearly time for something to happen to liven things up.

That morning started off on the wrong foot when Goldie took a taxi to the center of town to go shopping at one of the supermarkets only to discover that the market doesn’t open until 11:00. Apparently, most of the shoppers for that market are the husbands who shop late at night after work/kollel, so the hours are skewed for their benefit.

Later that day I took a half hour walk to the offices of our shipping agent to drop off some documents that had not come through clearly in a fax. I was greeted at the door with the words, “your container is now in Greece”.

Apparently, the ship with our container makes several stops in its roundabout journeys. It therefore always has numerous containers on board, each destined for different places. So the amount of containers on board actually being delivered to Israel may only be ten to fifteen percent of the total cargo.

With the start of hostilities in the North and the subsequent bombing of Haifa and Northern Israel, the port of Haifa has been closed with all shipments being made to Ashdod, a much smaller port. Furthermore, the insurance companies have been charging the shipping lines a surcharge for each container on board the ship that enters Israeli waters, regardless of the container’s final destination.

Since the shipping lines a) don’t want to pay an insurance surcharge for the containers onboard NOT destined for Israel and b) don’t want a full boat to be waiting up to two weeks to be unloaded in Ashdod, they chose to drop our container in Greece instead. They are within their rights to do so, since they have only undertaken to get our container as close to Israel as they can.

With this drop in Greece we get added fees. Fees for unloading the container into Greece and fees for loading it back onto a vessel to Israel. Plus storage fees. Since we do not know how long our stuff will be in Greece, we have no idea how much this is costing us.

Of course there is also the fact that we have none of our things and need to move into a different house in less than 3 weeks. Without beds, linens, pots, pans, anything that we packed in the lift. School starts in a month and we have no school clothes. The list of inconveniences this causes is endless.

At the current time, we have no idea how long this will last, and can only hope that everything works out quickly.

Of course, when I told Goldie about it she was beside herself. Anger and tears mixed together as she realized that all our planning to be settled in and ready for school early were not going to come through and that there was no way to “fix” it.

While it helps to know that most of the current crop of Olim face similar issues, it doesn’t make it any easier on us. We are frustrated and concerned that we will face problems when school starts because the kids will not be prepared. We are also worried about dealing with unpacking when all the kids are in school and cannot help.

Then there is the endless supply of people who say to us, “well it could be worse, after all the people in the North are being shelled every day.” While I admit that we definitely have it much better than them, it is really no comfort because it is hard to internalize. Or at least it was until that night.

I have written about the war and how we do not really feel the effect of it here in central Israel. Thursday night, we went to a meeting about a Gan Chova for Mordechai being held in a Ramat Beit Shemesh school. When we got to the building we walked in to discover that over 100 people had been living in the building since the start of hostilities.

Apparently, throughout the entire Beit Shemesh community, evacuees from the north numbering 500 or more are living in classroom and gymnasiums, with all their food, clothing, beds, formula, and whatever else they may need being provided to them by the local Gemillas Chessed committee.

I got an email from a Five Town friend telling about how families are printing ads in the paper and offering their phone number through the radio offering to welcome complete strangers and their families into their homes.

Seeing these people and realizing that they had to leave their homes because of such strong threats to their safety finally brought home how significantly Israel has been affected by the war. We have faith that our army (if allowed to) can truly wipe out the terror threat, and allow these people to return to their homes and join the many thousands who either chose to stay behind or had nowhere to go.

These people are truly paying the hardest price of all of us. Their neighbors have died in rocket attacks, their homes destroyed and their security endangered while we wage this war. We can only pray that the danger to them is quickly eradicated and that they can return to a normal life.

On Friday, my boss returned to Israel from a two week trip to America. I was looking forward to his being back in the office, since I have only been on the job for three weeks and I need his guidance on a lot of issues. I called him Friday morning to welcome him back to the country and his response was to tell me that he had been called up to the reserves and would be reporting for duty within 2 days.

He is a member of the paratroopers and if anything serious is going to happen, he will be right in the thick of things. While it will be hard for us in Yeshiva (considering that we are in the midst of a major building renovation – making room for the 60% student growth we will have this coming year), I feel terrible for his wife and family.

He spent 2 weeks traveling away from home and they had no vacation/family time since the Yeshiva had been in session. These next few weeks were I am sure a time that they had planned to spend time together as a family. Now they are a time that they will spend worrying about their husband and father.

In all, 3 members of our staff were called to duty last week. We also have a neighbor who was called as well. Hopefully they will not have to see action and if they do, we hope and pray that Hashem keep them and all our Chayalim safe.

Goldie’s nephew who is here in Mach Hach Baaretz came to us for Shabbos. This was our first completely at home Shabbos and we were looking forward to it. Although some of the Mach Hach busses had been evacuated from Northern Israel, the program continued to run and the kids have been having a great time.

This is in contrast to several programs that either curtailed their sessions and sent kids home or cancelled their program altogether. While I can understand the concern for the kids safety, with the exception of Northern Israel, we really live in a safe and secure environment.

If there ever was a time that tourism and your visits to Israel was important, it is now! Our economy is taking a double hit, both by the unforecasted military expenses, but also by the lost tourism revenue, a major source of income for the country.

Every tourist that cancels a trip, every child that doesn’t attend a summer program or postpones their Yeshiva study in Israel and every parent that doesn’t come to visit that child causes a direct loss to the Israeli economy, at a time when we can least afford it.

Please continue to come. You are still safe in Yerushalayim, still safe in Tel Aviv, you can still visit Chevron and Masada. We need you to do so, and we need you to encourage others to do so. Now is the time when we need your presence and your support so that together we can ensure the viability and continuity of our country.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Citizens? Tourists? A little bit of both! (Article #13) 7/27/2006

One week following our Aliyah, Goldie’s brother David joined us for a six day visit. Arriving on Shiv’a Assur B’Tamuz, he came straight to our (temporary) home just in time to break his fast with us. Of course, since he had been traveling against the sun, his whole fast lasted only six hours!

Since I work a five day week, Sunday through Thursday, we had made plans to go to Chevron and get a private tour of the city and the Meorat Hamachpela. We were at that time just a few days into the Lebanon “hostilities”, and we were initially concerned about traveling into such a hot zone, even though we had arranged to travel via armored car. One of our neighbors reassured us by mentioning that if there was ever a time that the army was on high alert to watch out for us, this was the time.

We headed off with the kids and slowly wound our way through the beautiful hills of Yehuda. It was truly amazing to see the wide open areas and realize that if only we had the strength of conviction, that we could settle hundreds of thousands of our people in this literally empty area.

In Chevron, Simcha Hochbaum, an Oleh from the Lower East Side many years ago, took us through various neighborhoods of Chevron, showing us the original Beit Hadassah building and the caravans where the first Chevron returnees had lived, a special Beit Knesset with a 500+ year old torah, a cheder where children from around the region learn every single day of the year with the exception of Tisha B’av and finally the Meorah itself.

Unfortunately for him, we travel with a variety of kids, and the preschoolers just didn’t get into the tour, making it difficult for him to engage the rest of us. They would have played at every playground and park we passed, instead of hear another story about who did what and where. Things were further complicated when Mordechai, our five year old, heard that he and I (as Kohanim) were staying outside.

My father is mentally berating me as he reads this, since there are many authorities to rely upon that allow Kohanim to enter the building that covers the cave of Meorat Hamachpela. However, our Rosh Yeshiva at Eretz Hatzvi, Rav Yehuda Susman who is himself a Kohen made a very good point to me. Avoiding a burial ground is a D’Oraisah obligation (from the Torah), while praying at the grave of a Tzaddik is a D’rabonan at best (Rabbinically ordained). Do I want to risk potentially transgressing a violation of the Torah in order to get the zchus of davening inside the building?

Mordechai and I had the opportunity to discuss the reason he was being left behind, in between the various times he made me chase him down as he tried to get away from me and into the building. Now he walks around talking about how he is going to work in the Beit Hamikdosh with Abba, Chaim, Moshe……….and NOT HIS SISTERS!!!

While we waited for the rest of the family to rejoin us, we heard a series of loud bangs. Initially I was alarmed, but the soldiers didn’t even flinch, so I assumed that everything was OK. Later, I found out that it was the sound of fireworks being set off to celebrate the great “victory” their brothers had won over our forces by kidnapping two of our soldiers.

After we left Chevron, we set off for Kever Rachel in Beit Lechem. Unfortunately, the Kever “closes” on Fridays at 2 and we only arrived at 2:45, so we had to turn back and go home. Although my brother in law questioned our need to get a bulletproof vehicle for our trip, since we really did not even get a nasty glance, I must admit that we felt more comfortable having the vehicle.

The prior Friday night, as we walked to our hosts for the Seudah, I was stopped by a woman standing outside her home.

“Are you from Hewlett?” she asked.

“Close,” I replied, “I am from Woodmere – right next door.”

“I think I know you,” she said, “my name is Elisheva Shulman and my husband is Yossi.”

Of course, we have known the Shulman family since we moved to Woodmere eight years ago. Yossi’s parents lived five blocks from us and his brother and sister and their families all davened with us in the Young Israel of Hewlett.

The Shulman’s (of Ramat Beit Shemesh) made Aliyah last year, and that chance meeting resulted in a quick dinner invitation for the upcoming week. We really appreciated their invitation, the delicious meal and most importantly the conversation and advice – here was a family that had come from the same neighborhood we had and really could relate to where we were holding, and had the experience of a year behind them.

They had so much to tell us about how the kids really do adjust differently and reinforced our notion that you never can predict which kids will do what. They also reflected an attitude that we have seen a lot of here, basically not to sweat the small OR big stuff.

Things happen. Our house still is not ready and we need to move in soon because the people whose house we have been living in are coming home (more on this next week). Our shipping container filled with our belongings may end up in Cyprus or Greece because the companies cannot have their boats in port for two weeks in a war zone (next week also). We have no car, our internet outgoing line won’t be working till we move, we still own a home in the US, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. My country is at war and its soldiers are being killed and kidnapped by terrorists.

Yet, they aren’t bombing Beit Shemesh. My kids are all fed. I have a job when many Olim do not. My family is (thankfully) healthy. My kids are mostly happy. So are their parents. I don’t have it bad really, and the things that are going wrong are more inconveniences than important stuff (well OK, war is more than an inconvenience and I really will be upset if our stuff gets sent to Greece or Cyprus).

The next morning we davened by the Merkazi shul in Ramat Beit Shemesh. The Merkazi shul is very Israeli. Even the Americans there have all been in Israel for many years and have really acclimated to Israeli society. It was a nice quiet davening with a very simple atmosphere. I really enjoyed it.

After shul, we went for the seudah to some old friends from Chicago, Moshe and Ronna Teren. Ironically, they hosted us for lunch when we were newlyweds and had just finished Sheva Brachos. We haven’t seen them in years, yet Moshe recognized me right away the previous Motzei Shabbat at Maariv and Ronna was quick to call with an invitation during the week.

Our kids really enjoyed meeting people who knew us way back when, and I have known them both since elementary school. I have noticed that each time we reconnect with an old friend here, the shared experience of Aliyah naturally makes for further common ground and renewed friendships. Also, people here are naturally inclined to be friendly and welcoming since they remember what it was like to be new olim. Imagine how much more so the feeling is when you already have a bond to the people.

Moshe is one of the Gabbaim of the Merkazi shul and their family has really acclimated to Israeli life. We got a totally different look at things from them since they had a much longer look down the road than anyone else we knew or had met and made Aliyah long before there was a Nefesh B’nefesh around to smooth the way.

On Shabbat afternoon some new friends who had made Aliyah on our flight, Donny and Tzippy Lieberman of Elizabeth, NJ stopped by with their kids for a visit. During the course of their visit we were discussing something about the paper and these articles when Donny suddenly exclaimed, “Wait a second! That is you?”

It seems his mother gets the 5 Towns Jewish Times in Brooklyn and has been reading them excerpts of different articles to compare notes with them. While each Oleh has their own story to tell, the Lieberman’s, like us, have not yet sold their house, were looking for a community where they could have a soft landing to acclimate and adjust in. However, Donny has to travel 3-5 weeks at a time for work and I cannot imagine how tough that will be on Tzippy.

On Sunday, I attended a conference at Beit Hatfutzoth for an organization called MASA. MASA did not exist when you or I attended Yeshiva/Seminary in Israel. It is a relatively new undertaking by a partnership of the Jewish Agency (the folks who try to promote Aliyah worldwide) and the State of Israel (I guess they do too).

MASA is dedicated to increasing the number of youths attending one year study/experience programs here in Israel. It does not affiliate itself with any one religious camp, it solely focuses on whether the program is and teaches a philosophy that is pro Zionism and the State of Israel.

MASA not only promotes these programs worldwide, but it also provides financial assistance to students who may otherwise not be able to afford to pay for this wonderful experience.

Of course, as any other agency, we mostly heard about what a wonderful job MASA does at the beginning of the program with advice for us coming at the end.

This conference was a wonderful way to network within the Yeshiva community as the total attendance was about 60% religious people. It also was a great time to meet some old friends.

At lunch, a Rabbi asked us if our table had an available seat and introduced himself as Rabbi Chaim Pollack of Michlalah. When I took a second look, I realized that he was my old Principal from Skokie Yeshiva and in fact, my graduating class was his last class before he made Aliyah with his family.

When I introduced myself, he amazed me by remembering that he had also taught both my older sister and one of my brothers. When I mentioned that he had also taught my wife Goldie in Michlalah, he said, “Goldie with the red hair?” whom he clearly remembered as well.

One of the treats of the conference was that I was able to take the train straight to Tel Aviv University’s campus. The train is really wonderful. While its benefits to Yerushalayim are still limited since it only travels as far as the Malcha mall, the central/north of the country can be reached very easily by the trains that leave Beit Shemesh.

This is no commuter train like we are used to in the USA. The cars are all carpeted and the seats are like airplane seats covered with fabric. Each section of four seats (two sets of two seats facing each other) has a table in their center, providing for a laptop, newspaper, sandwich or whatever you may need. I have found that I am able to work almost the entire ride, so my hour plus commute each way becomes work time.

On Monday, Batya (age 7) came home from camp having learned a new cheer. Of course, since the camp is conducted in Hebrew, the cheer was in Hebrew as well and Batya has no understanding of what she was saying. What we found fascinating was the way that she had already learned how to mimic the Israeli Raish (rrrrrrrrrrr) sound.

On Tuesday afternoon Goldie (and her brother) pulled the kids out of camp early so that we could meet in the old city and take a tour of the Kotel tunnel excavations. The last time I went on a Kotel excavation tour (1982), we toured a newly opened archeological dig at the southern corner of the Kotel immediately to the right of the Kotel plaza. This tour covered the area to the left of the Kotel plaza where moving northward. We were all fascinated to see the size of the original stones of the Beit Hamikdosh walls as well as the amazing stonemasonry and engineering that was used to put it together.

An especially moving moment was passing the one spot where the Kotel stands directly opposite the location of the Kodesh Hakedoshim. This is the closest spot that Jews can get to site of the holiest of holy places in our religion and we took a moment to stop and daven there. It was an emotionally moving moment, especially considering not only the current world climate, but the fact that we are in the three week period in which we heighten our mourning for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdosh.

On Wednesday, I got a frantic call from Chaya (age 13) that Eema cut her finger and cannot talk. After trying to calm Chaya down I got her to tell me that they had been making salad when Goldie accidentally cut the tip of her thumb which was bleeding profusely.

Goldie refused to go to the doctor or have any neighbor come and pick her up and insisted that I not rush home but that I should stop and pick her up a cellphone as I had planned. So I agreed.

Here is another maddening thing about Israel. The banking system is totally different. Take the ATM system. On Wednesday morning I went to a branch of our bank (Hapoalim) in Yerushalayim to take out money. The ATM machine informed me that if I withdrew the money from the machine I would be charged a 60 Agurot ($.14) processing fee.

That made no sense to me since I was a costumer of that bank, so I went inside to ask about it. I was told that it did indeed cost money to use the ATM. So I decided to use the teller instead. Guess what? To use the teller costs 4 Shekel ($.90). Then they told me that of course all bank fees are only charged to our account at the end of the month (???).

When I asked about these fees they told me I should simply use my debit card since there is no charge for using a debit card at all!

Credit cards are issued by banks based not on filling out a form, but by their long term relationship with each customer. Credit cards also work differently. Essentially, a credit card is just a different kind of debit card. All your purchases are charged to the card and at a specific time of the month the funds are automatically deducted from your bank account.

As a new Oleh without any kind of relationship with my bank I could not get a credit card so all I have is a debit card that I use to pay for as many things as I can since there is no charge to use it and taking out cash to pay for things would cost me money.

Then there are Tashlumin (installment payments). Buying a ream of paper at Office Depot on the credit card? The checkout person asks you how many monthly payments you want them to split your charge over. Groceries? Pay by installments. Of course, since I don’t have a credit card I cannot use tashlumin to pay for things and must pay up front.

I had tried to get a cellphone for Goldie (mine is provided by the Yeshiva) the week before. Since I didn’t have a payment card, they told me that I could not get a phone. When I returned with my debit card, I learned that without a credit card on which to make the installment payments for the purchase of the phone, I could not sign up for a cellphone without paying several hundred dollars for the purchase of the phone upfront.

Since we are trying to keep to a budget on our Shekel expenses against our income here, this was out of the question. So we ended up getting phones from Talk N’ Save, who were able to charge the costs to my American credit card.

Wednesday night, Goldie and I went to the emergency clinic of our Kupat Cholim in the very chareidi Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet neighborhood. This was my first exposure to the Israeli medical system and I was floored.

When we entered, the receptionist asked Goldie for her Israeli identity number, entered that into the computer and directed us to room number one to see the doctor. No forms, no triage, no anything. Just go see the doctor.

We get to the room and the doctor is sitting at his desk reading a book. He put down his book and took about fifteen seconds to decide that she needed stitches, so he led us to the nurses room (I don’t know why they call it that – we didn’t see any nurses the entire time we were there). He proceeded to clean, stitch and dress the wound and then we were done.

The total time for this was approximately 10 minutes from the time we walked in to the time we walked out. In America, we would still have been filling out forms, much less waiting to be seen by the doctor.

With her thumb stitched up, Goldie prepared for our third Shabbat here in Israel, but the first Friday night meal to be eaten at home. We were kind of tired of eating out so much and the kids especially complained about not having Eema’s food. So we decided to stay home and just have a quiet meal to ourselves.

This allowed us also to get to sleep early for a change and prepare for the coming day and week a little more refreshed.


Mazal Tov to Robert and Jennifer Airley of Cedarhurst and to Zvi and Shari Gherman and their families upon their Aliyah last week with Nefesh B’nefesh!! May your Klitta be Neimah! (May your absorption be pleasant)