Monday, September 25, 2006

A Tale of Two Cities (Article #21) 9/21/2006

When I got to the airport on Sunday morning, I discovered that the yeshiva’s travel agent had not done a very good job of making my reservations. He had neglected to order the glatt meal for me (although I got lucky there) and hadn’t bothered to reserve a seat for me—so I ended up with a middle seat. At six-foot-two, I am a rather large guy, so a middle seat would not have been my preference.

A side note about kashrut: I believe that it is not so easy to actually find treif food in Israel. Most things have some form of hashgachah on it. However, there are many different hashgachot and they use various different rulings in how they determine what is acceptable as kosher. Accordingly, our yeshiva recommends that our talmidim eat from “mehadrin” hashgachot as a minimum, and we try to apply that standard to our family as well. Therefore, I requested the glatt meal on the airplane—I am in no way saying that the El Al hashgachah is not valid, I just prefer to order the glatt as an extra stringency.

I had deliberately stayed up almost the whole night motzaei Shabbat in order to make sure that I would be tired for the flight to America on Sunday. Unfortunately, as a day flight, I really couldn’t get comfortable enough to sleep, and the people around me were also all well-rested, so they were making plenty of noise throughout the flight.

By the time we got to New York (Kennedy Airport), I was tired and ready to get moving. Immigration was a breeze. From the time they opened the plane until I was at the baggage carousel, I think 12 minutes had passed. Then I waited for the luggage.

And waited.

And waited.

It took over an hour for my luggage to appear. I don’t understand why it took so long. There were a lot of other people who were still waiting when I left, so I guess I was lucky, but it should never have taken so long.

By the time I got out to get my rental car, I was nice and grumpy. It didn’t help that there are almost no signs that make sense in Kennedy and it took me three tries to find the train to the rental car and get on the right train (silly me, I thought the trains would be clearly marked as to which was which).

I had reserved my car online from Dollar; Dollar had quoted a rate which was the cheapest by a lot—at least $10 less per day. It didn’t take long to discover why they were so cheap.

They had one person manning the rental counter with a long line. I think I waited 45 minutes to get my paperwork processed. The line to pick up the car was just as long. By the time I drove out of the rental car lot it had been more than three hours after we had been let out of the plane. I was disgusted by the inefficiency at JFK.

I was also somewhat disappointed. The Young Israel of Hewlett (my shul before we made aliyah) was having a picnic/BBQ that afternoon, and I had planned to catch the end of it, surprising all of our friends. However, by the time I was out of the airport, it was way too late to try to make it to there.

Being back in New York was kinda weird. The first adjustment was the car. It was way too big. In Israel, the rental car we are using (until we buy a car) is much smaller—all the cars are smaller. The American cars are much larger and have tons of room.

Back at home, Goldie was not having an easy time of it. It is of course a rule that whenever things happen, they will happen at the most inopportune time. It is tough to be the only parent when you are used to having a team. I know she feels more comfortable when I am in the house, and she has told me that she never feels safe when I am away—even if it is only for a late meeting.

Compounding all of this is the fact that we simply have no comfort level yet. We live in a foreign country, where nothing is familiar to us. We have developed no routine or standard approach to daily life. Everything is new and strange to us and until we have spent months adapting to the changes, each day takes an enormous amount of effort.

Of course, inevitably, things that could have gone wrong at home, began to. Aliza (and several other of her new olim classmates) spent an hour crying in school because they don’t understand what is going on in class. Then, the s’ ulpan was moved to a different building and Goldie had to scramble to arrange transportation for them. The repairs to various systems (like the A/C) are ongoing. The car battery died and she needed to go get the car replaced. So Goldie had a tough few days after I left.

It was strange to go back to our old neighborhood and see everyone for the first time. Since we have tried to adapt so hard, and have invested so much energy and emotion into making new friends, we have not really had time to miss the friends we left behind. We have spoken to people on our internet phone, and have kept in contact via e-mails and instant messaging, but it isn’t the same as actually being there.

Driving was also much different. In Beit Shemesh, where we live and do most of our driving, there are almost no traffic lights. Wherever there is an intersection of major cross streets, there is a traffic circle. Drivers enter and exit the traffic circle when there is an interval between cars which makes for a pretty orderly flow of traffic. I love these traffic circles. It eliminates a lot of wasted time spent waiting for a traffic light.

I had approached driving in Israel with concern. Goldie was even more worried. The reputation of Israeli drivers and driving was that it was very dangerous and discourteous. However, we have found driving in Israel to be pretty comfortable, orderly and calm. Goldie drives into Yerushalayim without concern and we have been pleasantly surprised by how easily we adapted to the driving patterns. So it was strange to be sitting at red lights again.

I enjoyed the trip to New York. I was busy running around to see people (fundraising is after all a major part of my job), connect with our alumni at the various universities they attend (I had a really nice breakfast with our YU alumni and a great lunch with the NYU guys), visit friends and see how they are doing and also spend some time with our family.

The Yeshiva of South Shore happened to have their back to school night while I was in New York. So I decided to hang out there so that I could see all the people who I had worked with and wouldn’t have the opportunity to make a special visit to see. It was really funny to watch everyone’s reaction as they saw me at the entrance to the building.

I really enjoyed that shocked reaction all week; it was just very exciting to see everyone (in both cities).

Although the trip was a “business trip,” there were various things Goldie wanted me to pick up for the kids and the house that simply aren’t available in Israel. So I made sure to pack an extra empty bag to bring stuff back in. In the end, my mother-in-law bought so many things for the kids that I was very lucky to have thought of bringing that empty suitcase with me.

Among the things that we needed were paper blinds for all of our main floor windows. Most windows in Israel have trissim (shutters) that roll up and down for privacy, except in our neighborhood. In our neighborhood, the majority of the houses—including ours—do not seem to have trissim on the main floor.

When you consider the fact that the main floor is about five feet below ground level and that we have a lot of windows, privacy becomes a major issue. Each day at 7:00 p.m., the construction workers across the street assemble to wait for their bus home. The workers are all Thai, so we have had to deal with 20 or so Thai workers literally staring into our home as we eat dinner, do homework and go about our lives. Plus, I am sure that the neighbors are sick of seeing into our house.

In the end, after measuring the window space, I had to buy 14 different packages of blinds at Home Depot. Of course, they didn’t fit into my suitcase, so I had to tape them together into a bundle and shlep them with me through the airport, on the plane and everywhere else I had to go on my way to Chicago.

The arrival in Chicago was as great as the arrival in New York was awful. Mine were the third and fourth bags to hit the carousel and I had a great experience with Enterprise Rent-A-Car. They greeted me at the door with a bottle of water, and were so cheerful and fun. And they had the cheapest price too.

As a Chicago native, I find it ironic that I will most likely be visiting Chicago more often now that I have moved to Israel than I did when I lived in New York. Our yeshiva has strong Chicago connections and we have a significant amount of Chicago alumni as well.

At my first meeting the first day in Chicago, I got a panicked call from Goldie. Her terrible week was continuing. She was panicked and incoherent because of something with the kids. After a lot of trying to figure out what she was saying, I finally caught one word. “Nit.”

We had been warned over and over that no matter how lucky we had been in the past that there was no way we would escape the lice issue. Apparently, everyone in Israel has this problem and usually more than once. There are many families who simply don’t care if their kids get it or if they pass it on to others.

Goldie was totally panicked. In her words, “I was so sure that we would be different, that I would make sure that they were clean and we would not get lice. I knew people had said that it was inevitable, but I didn’t really believe it could possibly happen to us. I think I was more shocked that it actually happened than I was about them having it.

Goldie learned a lot about hair lice this week, having to deal with two cases of it in the house. Chaia Broderick was great. She ran to our house immediately and jumped right in, calming Goldie and helping strip linens and check hair.

She also called one of her friends, a teacher in the s’ school, who came to our house on her way to a Bar Mitzvah (all dressed up) just to show Goldie what to do. By the end of the day, they had gone a long way in getting Goldie back to normal, but I really felt bad that she had to be alone when this happened (not that I really wanted to deal with hair lice—but I still felt bad).

The time in Chicago started much slower than New York. After that first day, where I was able to get stuff done, I hit Erev Shabbat and then Shabbat. I was able to do a little more shopping (a new wireless router and a camera and mike to set up Skype for the kids to talk to their grandparents and friends via computer) as well as prepare notes for a couple of speeches.

These articles are running both in New York and in Chicago. When we scheduled this trip, I had been asked to speak in Chicago about our experiences and perspective as new olim. I spoke at Seudah Shlishit in my parents’ shul, KINS, as well as twice on Sunday (once between Mincha and Ma’ariv at Or Torah in Skokie and once at a special event organized by Religious Zionists of Chicago whose newsletter runs these articles).

Goldie had wanted me to try to move my return up a day or two (partly in shellshock from what had happened while I was gone). However, it was a good thing that I stayed, because I had come to Chicago to prepare for a parlor meeting we are having there after Yom Tov and I really needed to get some wrinkles straightened out on Monday.

I will be flying back via Newark on Tuesday, overnight into Wednesday, and I will have a couple days to prepare for Rosh Hashanah—our first.

As we prepare to enter the new year, we are filled with mixed feelings. We are of course excited that we have begun our lives here. We are also worried about the various issues that can crop up for us, and about the kids and their acclimation into the school system and the neighborhood.
Not everything is guaranteed to go well, and we hope that Hashem answers our Tefillot this year as positively as he did last year (making our aliyah possible).

On behalf of Goldie and all the kids, we wish one and all a Shana Tova Umetuka, health, happiness and that Hashem grant that your Tefillot are answered with the best possible results for you and your families.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Back to School (Article #20) 9/14/2006

The kids began what is sure to be our Israeli educational adventure on Sunday. The school year actually began a couple of days late this year; many of the schools in Central and Southern Israel had been turned into temporary shelters for the people of Northern Israel who had fled their homes in the face of the Hizbullah Katyusha onslaught.

The communities really opened their houses and their hearts to the Northerners, yet there we so many of them that needed accommodations that it became necessary to use the school building for them as well. With the cessation of active hostilities, the schools emptied and the government announced a late start to the school year to give the schools an extra day or two to prepare their buildings for the new year.

We had been told that the school day in Israel is much shorter than that in America and that we would have our kids home a lot more than usual. I guess that Beit Shemesh is different than other communities; our kids’ normal school schedule runs from around 8 AM to 3:30 PM (for Mordechai, Batya and Aliza) or 4:45 PM (Chaya) four days a week, 1 PM on Tuesdays and Noon Fridays (with the exception of Chaim whose High School starts Minyan at 7:30 and ends three days at 8 PM and twice at 6).

When we heard that the first day of school was a half day, with a noontime dismissal, we weren’t surprised. For years, the schools they went to in America also started with a half day on the first day, following their normal school schedule only from day two of school and onward.

Goldie has signed the kids up for various Chugim (after school activities) on the days they get out early, and we were prepared for them to finally get out of the house and be in school all day. They returned from their first half day excited to have gone (for the most part) and bearing various notes from their teachers telling us the school schedule for the near future.

I’m not sure why, but it takes at least a week for the kids to go to their full schedule, with the High Schools (3 days) and Preschools (2 days) being the quickest to ramp up, and the Elementary Schools bringing up the rear (no clue – we are STILL on an abbreviated schedule).

Many of the notes home are sent in Hebrew only. We have to focus when reading them, and often need assistance in translating some of the words. We also have to work hard in translating the text and work book homework assignment, since their instructions are also exclusively Hebrew.

There are so many other issues that we face in dealing with school. Many of them are language based.

Moshe (19 months) goes to a private Gan/daycare so that Goldie can attend Ulpan. He had some separation issues in parting from Goldie at dropoff, but by day three – he was fine. He is having the easiest transition so far and we have even caught him using Hebrew words for toys and other playthings.

Mordechai (age 5) goes to Gan Chova (Pre1a?) in a building down the block from us. He speaks very little Hebrew and was terrified to go to school the first day. He had a lot of worries about the Morah understanding him, and his ability to interact with the other kids.

The first few days were awful for him (and us too). He definitely has had a very hard adjustment to school. We can see how scared he is to go to school and how it affects his behavior all day. No matter how many times we hear that this is “normal” and that he will adjust very quickly to the new school and new language, we worry – it’s our job.

He told us that he sits patiently when the Morah reads a story and that he can’t play with most of the boys, since they don’t understand English. Yet, he has made a couple of new friends, and has expressed interest in playing with them outside of school. Even though he clearly misses his friends (more on that later), he seemed to be a little more contented at the end of the week, although it could simply be that he learned to be more patient and less upset.

Batya (age 7) and Aliza (age 10) were assigned buddies by their school. A buddy is a student who speaks both Hebrew and English and sits next to the Oleh student. They have permission to talk during class, translating what the teacher is saying to their “buddy”.

In theory this is a great idea. In practice it doesn’t work so well. If the buddies take a minute to translate the lesson piece by piece, they miss hearing what the teacher is saying while they are busy translating. So the buddies often wait until the lesson is complete before attempting to translate. This leaves a lot of information that needs to be given over, and the translations are usually lacking key points.

While Aliza is only marginally frustrated by this since she is just plain happy to be here, Batya struggles with this. Both of them are highly motivated to learn and really want to work hard to please themselves, their teachers and their parents. So it is very tough for Batya to come home each day to tell us, “I learned nothing today, I didn’t understand anything.”

The first few days she also came home telling us that she had no one to play with during recess. She is a really slow eater and by the time she finishes her snack or sandwhich, the other kids are already engrossed in a game or activity and she is left out.

As a parent, this is very difficult to hear from your child. We explained to Batya that she can join the game AND eat her snack at the same time, and then we (Goldie) called the school to speak with the Yoetzet and see what could be done (we are still working on it).

The Yoetzet is the person whose function within the school is to be an advocate for Olim and their children within the school system. This person is an English speaker and can often help navigate the unfamiliar territory for new immigrant families, of which we are one. They are there for us to call upon when we need help.

Of course, since the Yoetzet was not going to be in for the rest of the week, we will have to wait a bit to get things in order. This should not really be a surprise since it seems that a prevalent attitude here is, “We’ll take care of it right away – some time next week.”

Aliza actually had a great week, even though she was clueless at school. Even though she has no idea what is going on in the classroom, she is old enough to be able to make homework “dates’ with other s, so she ends up learning the material eventually. But the big news of the week was regarding her chug.

Aliza was originally going to do only a dance chug once a week after school. She then heard about auditions for a play being put on in the winter and asked us if she could try out. Out of 200 s, she was one of 20 to get a call back for a second audition and one of 9 to be awarded a part. She was thrilled when she got the call, and we are really proud of her.

Chaya (age 13) has begun to make more friends and is slowly getting more comfortable with living in Sheinfeld instead of Ramat Beit Shemesh. She is also having language issues at school. This is compounded by the fact that the curriculum here is much different than we had in America, especially Math.

The Israeli education system has many weaknesses and is VERY different from what we are used to. They have large class sizes and are often short on resources. There is a tendency to avoid dealing with special needs children. Yet, they do seem to have a much stronger emphasis on introducing advanced math at a younger age.

She has no idea what is going on in many subjects, but we had hoped that Math is universal and would therefore be easier. For homework, Chaya’s Ninth Grade class was reviewing the material they covered last year, and when Chaim saw the material he told us that it was the same math he learned last year in Ninth Grade.

We were told to expect this, but it is still a shock to hear that we need to get her a tutor to augment her education simply because the curriculum in Israel advances much quicker than the one in America. Hopefully she will catch up quickly so that she can feel accomplished and capable of participating in Math discussions.

Chaim (age 15) seems to be content. As the first kid to speak about his desire to return to the US, we were concerned that he may have major adjustment issues. However, he has told us several times that although he wants to go back to Americe, he is happy in his current school and we can clearly see that he has made friends with several of the local kids from other schools.

Goldie (age – no way) is also a student for the next six months. She started Ulpan on Sunday and is really working very hard to learn the language.

Originally assessed as a good speaker with very little confidence in her ability to speak. She was assigned to the third level class (out of four – YAY GOLDIE). She initially thought that level was too easy, and moved to level four. However, after she saw the amount of homework assigned to that class, she decided to give her old class a second chance (with 6 kids, staying in the harder homework is impractical).

I feel bad for Goldie. She is spread so thin. She takes Ulpan four morning a week. She has to be at every meeting in the school for each kid. She has to shop and take care of the house. She has to run all our household errands. She has to help with homework. She has to be in the house for each repairman, installer, vendor or whomever needs to get into the house and fix something. And much much more………………….

She has so many different things to worry about in getting things set up at home. On top of all of that, we had not had online access until this week, so she is very far behind in her work which also creates a lot of stress for her.

She is really working hard to make things go smoothly and I admire her for that. She has displayed patience and caring whenever things go wrong and has been very committed to keeping us all happy.

On Tuesday we had a handyman come in and install some hanging rods into the master bedroom closet (the only real closet in the house). On Thursday we got most of our Aronot (closets) delivered. One of them arrived damaged and will hopefully be replaced this week. It is nice to have our clothes hanging in closets instead of on the shower rods, yet another sign that we are settling in.

Goldie and I enjoyed our first “kid-free” Friday. We had a chance to go shopping together to buy things for the house and unpack a bunch of boxes. We also had a chance to sit together to talk about the upcoming week a bit and plan.

Our niece Tova joined us for Shabbat. She is in the Shaalvim s Shana Bet (second year) program in Yerushalayim. She had been in Israel for about a week, and it was nice to have her sit with the kids, especially Moshe, to give us a breather.

On Friday night I was talking with Mordechai about my upcoming trip to America. After his rough week at school, Mordechai was highly stressed and went into “meltdown.” After the Seudah he and I were laying together on the couch while he cried.

“What’s the matter?” I asked. His response, “I want to go with you to America and play with my friends!” He really had a rough week and is missing his old surroundings.

However, these issues are not unique to the Katz family. Many Olim face similar issues and have to deal with language, housing and other problems as much or more than we do. Many of our issues resolved themselves or will take adjustment for us to cope. And we will adjust.

On Motzei Shabbat we went to a special event at the shul. By the time you read this, I will have left – but I was originally scheduled to leave to America on Sat. night. However, our shul ran a special program to meet and greet the new residents/members. In order to attend the event (and save some money), I postponed my departure about ten hours.

At the event, the shul ran a “speed dating” style game. Each couple was given two index cards and told to pair up with another couple with whom who they had not yet shared a Shabbat meal. They were given index cards and a pencil and told to get as much information about the couple that they could in five minutes. At the end of each round a buzzer was sounded and couples were asked to find knew partners for another round.

After a few rounds, couples were randomly asked to introduce one of the couples that they had “dated” to the rest of the crowd and give the crown as much info about them that they had noted during the dating round.

It was a fun event, and we learned a lot about our neighbors. I stayed up most of the rest of the night and packed for my trip to NY the next morning. Ten days away from home, running around NY and Chicago trying to meet alumni, parents, donors and get things done.

As my first trip back since making Aliyah, I am wondering what it will feel like.

Clean Clothes (Article #19) 09/07/2006

Happiness is having working laundry machines.

As we get more and more settled, we reach more and more mini milestones. We had brought new laundry appliances on our lift, and with its arrival the week before – we were ready to have them installed.

One of the first things you learn when planning Aliyah is that Israeli and European appliances have much smaller capacities than American appliances. So, partly to take advantage of the import tax benefits awarded to olim, but also partly to make sure that we have the largest machines available, we brought in some Maytag laundry machines.

Since we bought the machines for the purpose of exporting them to Israel, we bought 220 voltage machines and got professional installation and 1 year’s service included in the price. When the lift was unloaded, we left the equipment in their boxes, since we knew we would need professional installation and we had so much other unpacking to do anyway.

On Sunday I made arrangements with the Israeli installation company for them to come to the house on Thursday to install the equipment. They told me to make sure that everything was out of the box and in the laundry room.

The Yeshiva’s new group of Talmidim arrived on Monday on their group flights. We had spent the prior few weeks working shorthanded to get the Yeshiva ready. With several of our people in the reserves in the war and many vendors (especially the contractors) shorthanded from the war – not only in manpower but sometimes in supplies as well due to the uncertainties in the ports, I was amazed that it all came together.

This group of talmidim will probably always be special to me – since this is my first year in the Yeshiva as well. Every time we go on a tiyul – it will be my first time on that tiyul as well as theirs. Part of the joy of this experience is the fact that my job allows me to experience the country and the people in the same way as these young men will.

They arrived in the Yeshiva mid-morning, tired but still excited to be here. After getting assigned to their rooms and having lunch, they enjoyed some brief welcoming shiurim and we went on the “opening day” tiyul to the Kotel.

We started the tiyul at the “Tayelet”, a park that overlooks a great deal of the city of Jerusalem, including the old city. While there, the Shana Aleph boys had the opportunity to tear Kriah upon seeing the destruction of the Beit Hamikdosh.

They then went straight to the old city, where they deliberately entered from Sha’ar Tzion in order to reflect upon their first visit to the Kotel. The tiyul was moving and it was a treat to do it with the boys and see how they reacted to the Kotel and the tiyul as the “kickoff” of their year.

On Tuesday I was preparing to leave the Yeshiva after a day of orientation for the guys. They were about to embark on a walking tour of the neighborhood, a basic review of where everything is, when I got a phone call from one of the Rebbiem telling me that there was a major security alert issued for the Jerusalem area.

Apparently there was hard information about a serious credible threat for an impending attack in the area and the security services were literally searching each and every vehicle entering Jerusalem that afternoon. Although we did not feel threatened, we followed our procedure to cancel any off campus activities and used the opportunity to review our emergency contact and action plans.

I had arranged to take the day off on Wednesday, since I had really only had a couple of days to unpack since the arrival of the lift. There was a whole list of things that needed to get organized. Goldie prioritized which rooms she wanted cleared out so that she could feel a little more at home, including putting the washer and dryer into the laundry room.

Goldie was thrilled that I would be home, since she had spent the week either staying home for various contractors/repairmen or chasing kids all over the place. She took the opportunity to get out of the house and take the kids for a ride and out for lunch.

About an hour after our lift had been delivered, our dining room table came apart. Apparently, the runners had been unscrewed and then screwed back in by the movers in the US, weakening the holes and resulting in the whole thing collapsing.

Thankfully, we were insured for the move and the furniture repair guy came to the house to install a new set of runners and put the table back together. We also got our telephones installed by the phone company at the same time. So by the time everyone got home, I felt that we had made significant progress toward getting everything in order.

Wednesday night, I unpacked the laundry machines. When I went to put them into the laundry room, we were horrified to realize that they wouldn’t make it through the door. No matter how hard I tried to angle them or turn them sideways, I just couldn’t make it work.

Goldie came to take a look at the machines, and while she was upset that it didn’t seem like there was any way to get them into the laundry room, she was thrilled to discover that they have more capacity than our prior machines back in the US. In a family with six kids, having a large washer and dryer are really very important.

When I took a look at the wall that was in the way, I realized that it was actually a sheetrock frame that was behind a bathroom sink and that there was actually a wide gap between the wall and the tile around the sink.

Knowing that the installers were coming the next day and that there would be no other way to get the machines through the door, I did what anyone would do – I removed about a foot of the wall (with a hammer – shhhhh don’t tell the landlord). I will have a repairman fix it, but I got the machines in and the next tenants will have access as well. (And I did tell the landlord)

I cannot describe how happy Goldie was to not have to shlep stuff to a neighbor to get clean clothes. Some simple things can make a major difference in your life. She happily did laundry for days.

On Thursday we had a technician come to the house to look at one of the A/C units (covering the master bedroom) that has not worked since we moved in. According to Goldie, it was probably the repairman’s first day on the job.

He had no clue where the compressor was, and kept referring to the installation manual to figure out what was what. When he realized that the compressor is on the roof of the house, he refused to climb on to the roof to take a look at it.

His excuse, “I cannot go out on the roof – I have no life insurance.” No matter what Goldie said to him, he would not agree to go to the roof and check the unit. When she asked him to look at one of the dampers on a different unit to see why it was blowing very weakly, he said, “I cannot do anything – at least it is blowing!”

Truthfully, stories like this are not common. While they do happen here, I would say that the majority of the people we have dealt with have been pretty competent, or at least compassionate. Most people are so nice to us, especially if they find out we are new olim.

By Friday, Goldie had reached the end of her rope with the kids. They were so bored with nothing to do, and were driving her up a wall. She spent the day prepping knapsacks with schoolbooks and school supplies; the first day of school was Sunday and she wanted to make sure that the kids were prepared.In Israel, even second graders have departmental classes, so a 7 year old might have 5 or more teachers on any given day. Additionally, books are shlepped back and forth, so there is a big focus on preparing all the books needed in the knapsack for the next day’s learning.

With the exception of Mordechai, who is terrified of going to a Hebrew speaking pre1a and is concerned that he won’t understand the Morah or the kids, our kids are excited to begin school. One positive with Mordechai is that just last week the city government approved a new pre1a for religious people. This program opened up in a building at the end of our block – so this could be huge for the Katz’s.

The chessed committee in our neighborhood is terrific. They made sure we got called prior to Shabbat to find out if we needed meals or anything else. We have made a special effort to stay in shul after davening to shmooze with people in order to get to know them, and it was nice to see that the people in the community have the same thoughts.

We were invited to a Kiddush hosted by Gershon and Tzippi Tokayer in memory of the Yahrtzeits of both of their fathers (Tzippi also runs the hospitality coordination for the chessed committee). This was another great way to meet people and try to make friends not just for the kids, but for ourselves as well.

We enjoyed a terrific Shabbat lunch with an English couple (the Grosses) who have both been here for many years (their six children were all born here) who were really very gracious in opening up their home to our family of 8.

Chaim walked a half hour uphill in the brutal sun to visit his classmates who all live in Ramat Beit Shemesh. If that wasn’t enough, he invited them all to join him for a walk back and they stayed by us through the end of Shabbat.

For the most part the kids have assimilated pretty well. I am sure the real stress will come when we try to deal with the first day of school which will have passed by the time you read this article. There is just no way to prepare for the onslaught of information that the kids will have to process, in adjusting to a new classroom, new friends and a new language. Hopefully it will all go smoothly.

Last week I wrote about a BBQ at my sister’s home where our kids got a chance to meet each other for the first time. This week I got an email asking why it took us eight weeks to get the kids together if they had never met before.

As it happens, this was a great question, since it allowed me to reflect upon a very basic difference between Israeli and American lifestyles. You see, there is no “Sunday” in Israel like there is in America. In Israel, Sunday is a regular day for work, camp, school or whatever.

Since our kids were all enrolled in various summer programs, they were occupied from Sun-Thurs; our lack of a car made getting together at night very difficult to arrange, especially when considering that our little kids needed to get to sleep at a normal hour.

So we really had to wait until the programs all ended and the kids were to be home all day in order to work things out (having a car then didn’t hurt either) and get them together. After all, since they had never actually met it wasn’t like they knew that they were missing something.

An interesting side benefit of the no Sunday issue is that many people have off on Fridays instead. This summer, the Friday off day gave me a chance to help Goldie and/or do stuff with the kids. However, during the winter all of our kids have school six days a week, so they will all be in school on Fridays, leaving Goldie and I alone for the day. Without kids. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Mazal Tov to Michael and Jennifer Stern and their family upon their Aliyah this week with Nefesh B’nefesh!! May your Klitta be Neimah (May your absorption be pleasant)!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Welcome to Beit Shemesh (Article #18) 8/31/2006

We finally got our lift.

It’s funny how things turn out. We had waited and waited with increasing frustration for our lift to arrive. Yet, when all was said and done, it really did arrive at the perfect time for our needs.

We spent the first two nights in our house sleeping on air mattresses. We had moved out of the summer rental home that came with all the furnishings included (beds, oven, washer and dryer, etc.) in order to make way for the returning owners.

I should make clear that the majority of olim spend much more than 2 nights on air mattresses. Most olim come to Israel with at least a week to wait before their lift arrives. They come with air mattresses and borrow a mini fridge from a Gmach and rely upon the good graces of their neighbors for things like oven use (after the first week or so – when people stop delivering daily hot meals to your door) and laundry machines. Some live like this for a month or more while waiting for their lifts to arrive.

So, sleeping two nights on air mattresses should not be that big a deal. I guess we were spoiled by living in the furnished house, because we couldn’t deal with the air mattresses. The adults and older kids didn’t sleep and we were just miserable.

Thankfully, the Weinsteins furnished the home with an oven (albeit a small sized European style oven) and a fridge – so we had those conveniences. Yet, the lack of beds and furniture was definitely a strain on our family of 8. I think the strain was compounded by our weariness of having to live without our normal, familiar stuff. We were just ready to be “home”.

On Monday night, we took the kids to meet my sister’s family for the first time. With the exception of one nephew who had visited us in America last winter, the kids had not actually met each other, ever. My kids were even a little irritated with us that they had an uncle that they hadn’t seen in their entire lives.

We headed back to the house pretty late and after dropping the kids off, I drove my brother’s car back to his house so that he could have it available to him the next day when he returned from his summer vacation in America.

The next morning we rented a small Hyundai for one month’s time. We still haven’t settled what we are going to do about buying a new/used car/van, but knew that we needed transportation, so this was a good compromise. While I was out picking up the car, Goldie called to tell me that the movers had arrived with the lift.

We had a great experience with the movers here in Israel. They actually arrived on time at around 8:30 AM and the whole unloading process took about 4 hours to complete. I have to say that the entire crew was amazing and very pleasant to work with.

On Monday night we had (on the advice of our shippers) taped a number on the door of each room in the house. As boxes and furniture was unloaded from the truck, all we had to do was tell the “shleppers” what room number the item belonged in and they knew exactly where to go. It actually got to the point where they recognized where certain items (like Rubbermaid containers of kids clothing) would go and they would tell us what room they needed to go to.

Although NY definitely had a worse heat wave than we did, the month of August has been brutal here. Tuesday was no exception. We went through something like 15 liters of liquids for a crew of 5 guys.

I was amazed by the guy who worked inside the truck. His job was to carefully unpack the truck and bring each box or item to the edge of the truck for the shleppers to bring into the house. It was hot like an oven in the truck and I could see the sweat pouring off of him. Yet, he just kept going without complaint.

The shleppers also did a great job. They worked quickly and tried very hard to be careful with each item. As they unloaded the truck, the crew chief was busy in the house reassembling our beds and making sure that the major furniture was unwrapped and placed in the right spot.

By the time they left, we had boxes everywhere and a ton of unpacking to do.

We decided to set up the living/dining room first and then move on to the kitchen before trying to set up beds for the night. We really made good progress that first day. We had most of the kitchen set up and ready to go as well as almost all of the living/dining room.

We started to move the dining room table when it suddenly collapsed! Apparently the move had weakened the screws that kept the table together and they came apart. After the shock wore off, we shot a quick email off to the Beit Shemesh email list asking for repair recommendations.

That night, we replaced the air mattresses with real mattresses. Yet, with the exception of Chaya, we still were all sleeping on the floor. Our room as well as Aliza and Batya’s room still had no A/C (it still doesn’t) so we couldn’t use those beds. We had bought brand new beds for all the boys and the movers only assembled things they had taken apart, so those beds were still in their boxes.

It didn’t make a difference – we finally slept soundly.

Chaim and I spent our entire Wednesday building beds. We started the day building bunk beds for Mordechai and Moshe. Anyone who has ever built something manufactured in a foreign country (in this case Vietnam) will attest to the fact that the directions are impossibly difficult to understand. Although there were only 7 steps in the entire process, since each step actually had 15 – 20 parts and the pictured instructions bore little resemblance to the pieces in front of us, the assembly took some time.

In the afternoon we built Chaim’s loft bed/workstation. It comes with drawers, a trundle bed, a computer work desk, bookshelves and oh yes, a loft bed on top. The assembly instructions were very long, and therefore very easy to follow and we had everyone in assembled beds by Wednesday night.

I had taken half a day off on Sunday to help Goldie with the initial move into the house. Initially, I had made an arrangement with the Yeshiva to take the entire week off whenever our lift arrived. However, since my boss was busy fighting in Lebanon, I needed to be in the Yeshiva as much as possible to help make sure that we were ready to open.

So, I went to work on Monday and only took Tuesday and Wednesday off to unpack and set up the house before returning to work for a half day on Thursday.

Thursday afternoon (after building a desk) we took the kids to a special “Education Day” fair sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh. The kids all had activities (Chaim went on a tiyul in the Beit Shemesh hills, Chaya stayed home and the rest of the kids had arts and crafts and other supervised activities) to keep them busy while we attended the seminar.

The sessions were very informative and we were happy to have attended. The opportunity to meet other olim and hear their stories was also terrific and the fact that we got invited to Shabbat dinner (by the Rudolphs who made Aliyah last year from Cedarhurst) was an added bonus.

Chaim started Yeshiva on Friday and we attended the opening day father/son minyan and breakfast together. Unlike American schools, we had been told to expect a certain amount of chaos and disorganization from Israeli schools. We weren’t disappointed.

The school schedule for the first week wasn’t finalized and the building is still under construction. They weren’t sure what the final dismissal time would be and they were very laid back about it. However, Chaim seems to like his Rebbe and his classmates, which to us is the most important thing.

Goldie attended a graduation ceremony for Batya and Mordechai’s ulpan that morning. Both kids gained a lot from their participation in the ulpan programs and were excited to finish and be declared “prepared” for the school year.

That afternoon Chaim and I went to Home Center which is supposed to be like Home Depot in the US. It isn’t. The selection is not as good and they simply don’t have certain things. So, we only took care of 30% of our list that day.

Eventually, we will either buy things in America and bring them in or adapt our needs to the goods available. Since we have not yet done either of those things, we weren’t thrilled when we left the store. Yet, we did see the Block’s (they moved to Chashmonaim from the 5 Towns this summer for a trial year) at Home Center which was a treat.

On Friday afternoon, the neighbors started to arrive with cookies and cake. We also got a visit from the “furniture doctor” who prescribed an insurance claim and a quick fix for the dining room table.

We had a great first Shabbat in Sheinfeld. We had an official welcome both on Friday night as well as on Shabbat, and the entire shul sang V’Shavu Vanim Li’Gevulam for us each time.

There was another new family in shul that week (the Lehrers) that had also recently moved here from London and who turned out to be our backyard neighbors. When I went to introduce myself to them I discovered that he is Lisa Zahn’s brother (Lisa and Levi Zahn’s son Zevi has gone to school with Chaim for the past 10+ years)!

I was personally greeted by the gabboim (one of whom is Gershon Tokayer who made Aliyah from the 5 Towns 14 years ago and whose wife is on the chessed/welcoming committee for the neighborhood) and felt that the entire shul was very welcoming. Many people made special efforts to introduce themselves to us when they heard we were recent olim and we really felt as if they made a conscious effort to make us feel comfortable.

Shabbat afternoon, we farmed the kids out (it is amazing how quickly the kids make friends and disappear) and enjoyed a visit from Naomi and Raizy Schwartz (Olim from the 5 Towns four years ago) who had just returned from an American visit the day before.

I tried to tell Naomi some stories about tiyulim we had gone on and things that had happened to us, but she kept interrupting me by saying, “I read about that already!”

On Sunday, Goldie began the “week with the kids”. All the summer programs we had the kids enrolled in are now finished, and with the exception of Chaim who started Yeshiva on Rosh Chodesh, all the kids are home. And bored. And driving Goldie nuts.

I wisely went to work nice and early on Sunday to attend a staff meeting in anticipation of the arrival of our Northern Hemisphere students on Monday. We finally have all of our staff together (4 members were called to the reserves during the war) and had a chance to bring everyone up to date on what we had done to prepare the Yeshiva and the building for the year.

On Sunday evening, Goldie made a special trip to Yerushalayim. She met me at the Yeshiva and we went to Talpiyot to order closets for all the kids rooms (there are very few houses with built in closets in Israel) and some bookcases for my home office.

I always enjoy negotiating prices with the various tradesman (even those who refuse to lower their prices). I especially love feeling that I got myself a good deal until I realize that the 50 shekel discount I got is the equivalent slightly over $10. On small items, the negotiation is sometimes $2 to $5 all told and it is jarring to realize that I may have spent 10 minutes arguing over $2.

We had a much better week this week. I would say that we felt that we made a lot of progress and there were a lot less emotional lows.

There is still a lot more work that needs to be done before we can say that things are back to normal; we have tons of finishing touches to get the contractors to complete in the house (A/C, painting, kitchen table installation, plumbing repair, etc.), we have major appliances that need to be installed, we have many boxes yet to unpack and we still have no phone or internet (and hence no internet telephone line for America).

Since Goldie is much more focused on things being organized than I am, they irritate her much more than me and I often find myself reassuring her that life will not always be as messy as it is right now. We often hear people tell us that in 6 months we will be laughing at the situations we were in. We often feel that we wish it were already 6 months down the road so that we could begin laughing.

Yet, through it all, we still tell people that we feel as if we were chosen by Hashem to make this move. Even when we think things are going poorly, we will freely admit that we have had a much easier Aliyah than many people – in many different ways. We only hope that we continue to be blessed with more positive growth and as few setbacks as possible.

Mazal Tov to Marc and Miriam Gottlieb and their family upon their Aliyah last week with Nefesh B’nefesh!! May your Klitta be Neimah (May your absorption be pleasant)!