Thursday, October 26, 2006

Moadim L'Simcha (Article #24) 10/19/2006

Happy birthday to Aliza! Aliza was born 11 years ago on Simchat Torah (Simchas Torah back then); we left for the hospital in the middle of the fifth evening Hakafa. It had been our family custom to make her a party in the Succah on Shabbat Chol Hamoed each year since her birthday was Yom Tov.

Although we did have a party for her, we were also able to celebrate her birthday during the week since it no longer falls out on Simchat Torah for us. As expected, the Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah day was a dramatic indicator that we really were in Israel and were holding only one day of Yom Tov.

There were many others.

We lained Megillat Kohelet on the first day of sukkot (since Shabbat Shemini Atzeret was no longer sukkot for us but a separate chag). We only used Lulavim and Etrogim on Chol Hamoed (since we only have one day of Chag). We did not eat or make Kiddush in the sukkah at all on Shemini Atzeret.

But most disconcertingly, the laining on Chol Hamoed and the Tefillot of Musaf for Chol Hamoed are totally different. On Sunday (our first day of Chol Hamoed) I was in shul and they repeated the same laining for all four aliyot (in Chutz La’aretz the laining is comprised of several different days’ readings – in Israel it is a single day’s reading repeated over and over).

I came very close to stopping the laining to correct them, but stopped myself when I realized that nobody else seemed bothered by the apparent error. I have found myself doing that a lot now. I check twice before I come to a conclusion, since there are so many differences in the minhagim (customs) here.

Similarly, I had to take a pen out and make notes for myself in my machzorim, since they all have the musaf davening for chutz laaretz (which like laining is the readings from two different days) and I am no longer a “chutznick”.

Boy was the entire Sukkot hot. I understand that it snowed in Chicago. We were sweating like crazy on Yom Tov and throughout Chol Hamoed. Even with windows for ventilation, the heat in our Sukkah was simply overwhelming at times.

We invited our first guests for the Sukkot seudot (meals) which was a treat for us. We had been going out for one meal practically every week, so it was nice to have people join us in our home for once.

We also had the entire week for Chol Hamoed activities. While that may seem great, we weren’t prepared for it; there is an extra day, there was no Shabbat Chol Hamoed at all (although you had that too) and not having a van really inconvenienced us.

There are many families here that cannot afford cars, so we have to count our blessings that we have even a small car, but we cannot wait to get a van that fits our entire family so that we can have the freedom to do as we please as a family. Until then, we are either at the mercy of the train schedule (only one train per hour) or must hire private taxi/vans to go places as a family.

On Sunday we took the train to Yerushalayim and walked to Ein Yael. This is an open site (partially reconstructed) of a farm from the period of Roman rule in Israel. We met my brother and his family there and the kids all enjoyed a full day of activities and crafts as well as learning about life in that era. They built instruments, learned about weaving and mosaics and had a fun time.

For lunch (I just love this), my brother and I drove over to the local Pizza Hut (Mehadrin Hashgacha) and picked up a few pies. We brought them back to Ein Yael where we had a large family meal in the Ein Yael sukkah. Of course, it goes without saying that every attraction has a sukkah – just like in America (not!).

Realizing that we would be davening for rain later in the week and were also very tired from a full day on Sunday, we decided that Monday would be an “off day” spent relaxing and building storage for bikes and stuff (and our sukkah – when deconstructed). Goldie took the kids for lunch to a local coffee bar and Chaim and I spent the bulk of the day building a shed that we had brought with us from America. It was so hot and sunny that I ended up with a moderate sunburn by the end of the day.

As do many other municipalities in Israel, Beit Shemesh (our home) sponsors a series of events and activities over the Sukkot week. A highlight of the Beit Shemesh events is the free concerts provided in one of the parks over two nights. We decided to go the first night and see what it was.

Apparently, we went on the more “wild” night. There were several thousand people in attendance and the concerts were spirited (we especially enjoyed Lenny Solomon and Shlock Rock – Lenny lives down the road from us in Nofei Aviv). There were food booths set up, and fun kids activities as well as a lot of vendors selling toys/lights for the kids to play with. Although it was very loud, our kids seemed to enjoy it. (The night we missed included performances by Ohad and Chaim Dovid)

On Tuesday, refreshed and ready to go, we headed to a Kite Festival held in a Yishuv called Pnei Kedem. We had made reservations to go by bus and it was a good thing that we did. When we arrived (around 11:30) we had to wait about 15 minutes to get in. I understand that many people waited hours to get in, with some even turning back (Ruby and Beth Blumenthal had arranged to meet us there and turned around after they realized the line to get in was five kilometers long).

Pnei Kedem is essentially a bunch of caravan trailers dropped onto the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. I mean it. They are 20 minutes south of Efrat and the one lane road to go there winds around the various mountains before arriving in Pnei Kedem. These people are real pioneers. They have very few amenities and are really dedicated to living in the Yishuv.

The entire time we were there, the PA system was announcing that the proceeds of the day’s events were being used to pay for the construction of a Mikva, a gan for the kids and a permanent shul building. They also regularly invited the guests to consider making Pnei Kedem their home, with cheap real estate available.

They had planned on having about two thousand visitors that day; the police later told us that over seven thousand had tried to get in. Accordingly, the supplies and refreshments were very quickly depleted and it took quite some time for them to be replenished since the only road into town was literally crammed with people trying to get in.

While waiting in line for pizza, the guy who was running the pizza stand recognized me. Jon Blumofe had been a year ahead of me in elementary school and his pizza store (located in Neve Daniel outside of Efrat) was supplying the pizza. When I asked him where he lived, he pointed to the caravan right behind the pizza stand and said, “this is my house right here.”

He had moved to Pnei Kedem the year before. Apparently, his previous home in Kiryat Arba was a little too boring for him and he wanted to be in on the ground level of a new and (hopefully) growing yishuv. We saw a lot of people we knew there and I am sure that they went a long way toward raising the funds they needed.

Even with all the overcrowding and having to wait 90 minutes for pizza, we really enjoyed the day there (OK – maybe not the 10 minutes we spent looking for Mordechai who had wandered off to the top of the mountain to watch the kites being flown), especially bumping into familiar faces from America. We might skip next year only because we have done it already and they need to refine some of their event planning – but we still had fun.

We decided to give the kids a taste of Yerushalayim on Wednesday, making a visit to the Kotel (for Goldie and the little kids who had not been there in several weeks) as well as other “tourist” attractions there. We had not considered the fact that there would actually be tourists in these locations; the crowds were unbelievable.

Due to the overwhelming amounts of people and traffic (as well as security concerns), we could not be dropped off by our taxi anywhere near the Kotel, so we needed to walk about fifteen minutes to get in. With the heat, this was not a great idea with little kids.

After the Kotel, we realized that no taxis were being let into the old city so we decided to walk to Ben Yehuda to catch some lunch in Café Rimon’s very large sukkah. The kids had never seen Ben Yehuda, so this was a new experience for them. They didn’t really enjoy the shops, but they got a kick out of the different people who were there.

After lunch, we strolled up Rechov Yaffa to the Machane Yehuda indoor/outdoor market. Our kids had never seen anything like it and were totally fascinated by the entire place. We bought items from several different vendors and the kids really seemed to enjoy interacting with them as well as watching them interact with the crowd. They were also impressed with the quality and size of the produce on display there (especially the pomegranates, mangos and grapes) as well as the low prices.

By Thursday morning we were kind of tired again, so Chaim and I did some more work on the shed (it still isn’t finished, but we completed enough of it to allow us to put away some stuff and keep it out of the rain).

In the afternoon we took a train to the Malcha mall to go shopping. This was our first major shopping trip since our Aliyah and we tried to walk by every store so that we could get the lay of the land.

After picking up various items and finishing our tour of the mall, we decided to take a dinner break and head home. This meal was one of the highlights of my week. Not because the food was so great (it was ok) or the outstanding service (like any mall food court there is no waiter service). This was a big deal to me because we were able to go to the mall food court, buy the dinner of our choice (since we all wanted something different from each other we ordered from 3 different restaurants) AND TAKE OUR FOOD TO THE MALL’S SUKKAH WHERE WE COULD ENJOY OUR DINNER.

Where else can you do that? Roosevelt Field? Paramus? Old Orchard? NO – only in Israel can an orthodox Jew walk into the mall and not only find that he can eat at practically every restaurant in the food court, but that the owners of the mall had considerately provided a large enough sukkah for fifty people or more.

Simchat Torah was fun. Since everything is squeezed into one day, the davening runs a bit long, but we are done in one day – so we do have a benefit from it. Our shul has a ton of kids and is really very children friendly. This year, they bought tons of candy for the kids and they give different treats out for each hakafa.

Individual parents also get involved. Our ladies section is a balcony, and many of the women brought big bags of candies, lollipops and taffies and would randomly toss them down upon the crowd throughout the hakafot.

Many of the kids, knowing what was coming, had come prepared with plastic bags to store their goodies. I don’t know how much of the candy they had caught they were actually allowed to eat, but I am sure that the local dentists all walked home happy.

As I mentioned earlier, in every prior year of her life, Aliza’s birthday was on Simchat Torah. This year, with her birthday on Isru Chag she was not expecting any kind of celebration during the Yom Tov.

Aliza’s classmate and classroom buddy, Elisheva Aftel had her birthday on Hoshanna Rabba. Her mother Alisa called Goldie during Chol Hamoed and arranged to host a surprise birthday party for both girls in their home on Simchat Torah. So we did have the opportunity (at least for this year) to extend our annual sukkot birthday party.

Looking back, I don’t think we really enjoyed the Yom Tov to the fullest extent. We are still living a very hectic and scrambled life. We love it here, there is no question about it. As I keep repeating, adjusting to our new life takes a lot of energy and time.

I think we entered into Yom Tov all wound up and with the Yom Tov only being one day, we never really had the chance to unwind and enjoy ourselves as much as we could have. As we acclimate to our new environment, I think that will change and I am really looking forward to Channuka and Pesach.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Selichot at the Kotel (Article #23) 10/5/2006

Aseret Ymei Teshuva. A time when we strive to repent and bring ourselves closer to H-shem. A time when the children are caught up in the preparations for Yom Kippur and even Succot. A time for all night trips to the kotel…….

That’s right. In Israel, the Aseret Ymei Teshuva are a time for everyone to try to make at least one visit to the kotel. What better place to try to inspire yourself to do teshuva?

The Yeshiva went on a tiyul on Tuesday; it was actually a tiyul that I had gone on in the summer with the Southern Hemisphere (Australian and S. African) student, Ir David and the Davidman Center. While it certainly was not as thrilling the second time around (within 3 months), I will never tire of the emotions I feel when I realize that I am standing ON THE VERY SPOT where we believe David Hamelech had his palace, or that I am standing AT THE VERY PLACE where Shlomo Hamalech had his anointing.

The Tanach comes alive here in Israel. I cannot help but feel closer to G-d living here.

I can also say that Chizkiyahu’s water tunnels are a lot more fun without lights than with lights. My first time through the tunnel, none of the students knew where we were going, so they did not bring flashlights to go through. However, this group was much larger than the summer group and some of them knew that Ir David meant water tunnel, so they brought flashlights on the tiyul.

The ability to see where I was going made it a much easier walk. However, I think a major part of the thrill of the tiyul is the fact that you normally have to take it very slowly, using your hands to see where the walls and ceiling are as you make your way through.

The area around Ir David is actually an active archeological site. Interestingly, in the nine weeks since I had last been there, they had opened an entirely new section – including a new entrance into the water tunnel. Our guide had not even seen it.

Following Ir David, I went to the Kotel and left the tiyul to return to the office while the Yeshiva went to the Davidman Center to see the Southern excavations of the Kotel. Although I didn’t have the chance to daven there, being near the holiest site on earth less than a week before Yom Kippur is a powerful moment.

The kids all get involved too. I was amazed at the amount of children who were at the Kotel that day. It seemed as if there was a new group arriving every two minutes and the entire plaza seemed full.

Our kids also took part, but in a more unusual way. Both of our older daughters, Chaya (age 13) and Aliza (age 11) had after school tiyulim to visit the Kotel for Selichot and Tehillim and for a tour of the old city. Aliza’s began at six in the evening and she (and a friend) got back to our house at around three in the morning. Chaya’s ran all night from around ten at night until six in the morning!

They each reported that they had an awesome time (even though they didn’t understand the speeches) and that there were tons of other kids in the old city and at the kotel. My brother told me that on the night of my nephew’s tiyul there were so many busses going to Yerushalayim that their bus never got there – they just turned around and went back to Chashmonaim for Selichot.

This is apparently an annual outing for the school kids here in Israel. An Aseret Ymei Teshiva visit to the Kotel for Selichot. Can you imagine how we felt when we signed the permission slip?

Another major difference between Israel and America: the concept of “Acharei HaChagim” (after the holidays). It is amazing how many different things the schools put off until “Acharei HaChagim”.

The kids do not have their regular school days (for the most part) until “Acharei Hachagim”. Many extra curricular programs only begin “Acharei HaChagim”. We have been told to expect a total change from what we have been experiencing now, since “Acharei HaChagim” is the time when the entire system buckles down and gears up for some serious learning.

This attitude seems to pervade every area of life here. Need to have the gardener do some work? He’ll get to it “Acharei HaChag.” Looking to do some repair work in the house? The repairman will schedule you “Acharei HaChag”.

While we normally accommodate this attitude as much as we can, there was one fellow who I refused to let treat us this way. Our driving instructor.

In Israel, Olim who hold foreign driver’s licenses can drive within Israel for the first year after their Aliyah using their foreign licenses. For the second and third years they are living in Israel, while they can no longer drive within the country, they can still get an Israeli license with a minimum of fuss. If they wait too long, then they have to go through the whole licensing process including written tests, multiple (expensive) professional driving lessons and a road test.

Why is an Israeli Driver’s License so important? Most significantly, a new Oleh cannot purchase a new car using his lower tax rate benefits if he is not also the holder of an Israeli Driver’s License. Although we are still holding off before we get a new car, we want to have everything done and ready for when we need it.

Initially (as we were informed by our road test examiner earlier this week), the Israeli policy was to automatically grant an Israeli license to the holder of an foreign license. However, due to a tremendous influx of driver’s licenses (especially from countries like Russia) in recent years that were issued in return for financial payments, the government felt the need to filter out the inexperienced drivers from the experienced ones.

Accordingly, after registering an application with the appropriate governmental office, each Oleh with a foreign license must take at least one professional driving lesson as well as pass a road test in order to get an Israeli Driver’s License.

We had completed our paperwork and even given it to a highly recommended driving instructor in early August. Since all we needed was one lesson, we assumed we would be finished by the end of September at the latest. We had chosen this specific instructor based on a personal recommendation and a guarantee from one of his prior students that he knows all the examiners and that his students all pass the test on the first time.

He assured us that he would schedule lessons for us right away. Each time we phoned him, we heard another excuse about why he couldn’t get to us yet. He blamed the delays on the war, slow paperwork processing by the licensing agency (even though we had already processed all the papers by hand before he got them and even a shortage of teachers in his company.

After seven weeks of getting the runaround, we were pretty frustrated about the whole thing. We knew several couples who had already gotten their licenses and couldn’t understand why we were so delayed in getting processed.

We decided to pull out the big guns and Goldie asked me to call the instructor directly and stop being so nice about the delays. Which I did. The magic phrase was, “If you cannot schedule us for a lesson this week – we will call another instructor who will.” The lesson was scheduled within five minutes for Thursday morning.

The lesson was so tedious. Stop at the stop sign. No – a complete stop. When making a right turn, turn into the right lane. Look for traffic when you enter an intersection. And so on and so forth……

I was ready to scream by the end of my half hour “lesson”. I have been driving for over twenty years and although I have developed bad habits (the rolling stop), I know how to pass a road test. The instructor was overcautious to the point of driving me nuts and he made Goldie extremely nervous.

We went straight from our lessons to the road test facility (after a brief stop to pay the testing fee at…………you guessed it – THE POST OFFICE) to wait for our test. We had heard some real horror stories about how tough the test was and how many people fail the first time, so we didn’t know what to expect.

The test was a joke. As our examiner told us, his job is to simply make sure that our foreign licenses were not purchased illicitly and that we actually do know how to drive the car. Of the three drivers being tested in the same car, I drove for the longest amount of time; my part of the test was about four minutes long – with two of the four spent waiting at a red light.

So now we are licensed Israeli drivers. Of course we don’t actually have the licenses in our hands yet. The licensing authority (different people from the testing facility) needs at least a day to process the paperwork and their offices were closed on Friday and Yom Kippur, so one day this week I will pick up our temporary licenses. Our permanent licenses (the ones that you get in the US after a ten minute or so wait) get mailed to us in four to six weeks.

On Thursday night we got together for dinner with my sister, my brother and their spouses. When we were contemplating Aliyah, one thing I mentioned to both my siblings was that if we were to come to Israel I would insist upon our getting together on a regular basis. Living within thirty miles or so of each other, there really is no excuse for us not to, and we resolved to try to have dinner together once a month.

It is intriguing to see how we each have adapted to our new environment in different ways. My sister has been here since 1982 and is really very Israeli in how she does things. Her husband is an Israeli sephardi and she has been here for so long that she even thinks in Hebrew. She lives in an Israeli neighborhood and only two of her four children speak English (the other two will eventually learn).

My brother on the other hand has been here for six years and is still very American. He travels to America several times each year, so he is able to bring in many of the American products other Olim do not have access to, and he lives in a mixed Israeli/Anglo (English speaking) community. He certainly feels very at home here and is much more comfortable with his Hebrew and understanding of the society here than we are.

In contrast, we live in an overwhelmingly anglo neighborhood (although surprisingly, there are quite a few boys in Mordechai’s gan – age five – who only speak Hebrew) and are so new to the country that we don’t understand the news on the radio yet. We have a hard time figuring out where the bread crumbs are in the supermarket and think that we may have finally (after living here for three months) actually purchased bleach for the first time, after two previous failures.

So it is interesting for us to get together and talk about how we are all doing, since we have much more that just a simple age difference (six year range from my sister to my brother with me in the middle) between us.

Another great thing about living here……. we deliberately change the clock here on Motzeu Shabbat Teshuva so that the actual ending time of Yom Kippur is an hour earlier. This breaks up the day and psychologically seems to make the finish line much closer (even though it is the same 25 hours). We also try to hold off on moving the clock forward until after Pesach so the Seder doesn’t begin too late.

Shabbat Teshuva was a bit of a downer. Our Rav gave the drasha in Hebrew and speaks way too fast for us to understand him. I was also sick on Shabbat and was actually worried that it would affect my ability to fast (I made it OK but was a bit weaker than usual the whole way through). Goldie was sick on Sunday so we were really a bit off kilter entering into Yom Kippur.

What can I say about Yom Kippur. We started davening at 6:45 and had a one hour break, so the davening was long. Yet, it didn’t really seem to shlep much until Neilah. It was certainly weird to do the Birchat Kohanim for the third time that day during Neilah (we almost didn’t get to it in time to beat sunset).

Actually, our Rav has a makor (source) for changing the order of the davening during Neilah, shifting some of the selichot to the end of the davening in order to i) get to Birchat Kohanim before sunset and ii) have something to say for the final half hour after the Kohanim finish – without having to shlep exceedingly long.

Once again, the fact that no one really seemed to care that we went over time for about ten minutes did not seem to make a difference to anyone that I could see. We all seemed to be uplifted and inspired by the davening and I am certain that our geographical location paid a large part in that.

As we close in on our first one day Yom Tov, a point that someone made at Shabbat lunch a week ago really strikes home. We were talking about a specific family and asked our hosts, “Oh – are they Israeli, we didn’t realize.” To which our host replied, “What do you mean? WE ARE ALL ISRAELI”

Chag Kasher V’Sameach!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Shana Tova (Article #22) 9/28/2006

Our first Rosh Hashana in Israel.

Truthfully, our lives have been so hectic that it almost snuck up on us without our noticing. We have been dealing with so many different adjustments and mini surprises along the way, that we don’t have the opportunity to look too far down the road at things.

I had returned home from America on Wednesday morning. Despite the flight being totally full, I really had no complaints. Got my aisle seat and the right meals, and I even had the opportunity to nap on the flight too.

I came back loaded with gifts for the kids from their grandparents as well as two bricks of American cheese (they cost $25 a brick here) and some frozen deli and hot dogs (can’t get a decent hot dog here). I also brought back a shipment of paperback books for the girls school, saving them delivery time and a ton of money on shipping costs.

I was very popular when I got home, all the kids were very excited to see me. I think they may have been excited to see the size of my suitcases as well, since they eagerly dove into them searching for booty.

With just a couple of days left to go before the chag, there was little I could really do to help Goldie to get ready. There wasn’t a lot of cooking to be done since we were eating out for two meals (the community has been terrific here – we get invited out every week). She had really been busy while I was gone, arranging the meals, seats in shul and everyone’s schedules. Adjusting to the fact that I will travel regularly will definitely take some adjusting for us, but it is what we wanted, so…

Goldie’s biggest issue is dealing with the myriad of repairmen who come to fix the various unfinished areas in the house. The exterminator (ants – yuck), the plumbers, the stucco guys, the carpenter, the list goes on. Then there are the installers, the dishwasher guy, the laundry machines, the phones, all the people who need to get into the house to set things up. Since she goes to ulpan four mornings a week, does work via the computer and is also responsible for all the chauffeuring, shopping, and anything else about the home, each time she has to stay home for a repairman is a major inconvenience.

The worst are the A/C guys. We had not had air conditioning for a quarter of the house (our bedroom and one kids bedroom) since we moved in five weeks ago. They had come to the five separate times to check out the problem and still had not solved it by Erev Rosh Hashana. Twice they came to the house and refused to climb out to the roof, and on Thursday evening, the wrong repairman showed up and the guy with the right equipment didn’t even bother to call and cancel!

Thankfully, by Erev Rosh Hashana they got the unit fixed (one of their workers had drilled a hole in the compressor, so it wouldn’t hold any coolant). We were thrilled to have the whole house up and running (finally) that we didn’t even notice that they had inadvertently shut down another A/C unit (covering several bedrooms) while they fixed the first unit. After a couple of frantic phone calls, I climbed up to the attic and they talked me through resetting the cutoff switch. Whew.

We spent a lot of Erev Rosh Hashana trying to reach many of our friends and relatives in the US to wish them a Shana Tova. Of course, each of our kids tried to reach their friends as well. With the time difference, the window of opportunity was small. Many of our friends had the same thought and called us, so our phone lines were busy the entire day.

The first night of Rosh Hashana (and every chag) is always full of excitement. The little kids are full of wonder and eager to show off their various projects. The bigger kids try to hide their excitement by acting nonchalant.

This year we broke out of that mold. Clearly, being “somewhere else” made a difference. The fact that the “somewhere else” was Israel made it even more striking. In unexpected ways.

To start with, the whole country is excited for several days before the chag. EVERYONE wishes you a Shana Tova; from the supermarket clerk to the telephone operator, the whole country is buzzing with excitement the whole week. It is unreal. Our dry cleaner delivery guy (he does weekly pickups and deliveries to our home) even brought us a gift basket. It is just so different from what we are used to.

A major difference for the kids is the giving of “Shana Tova” cards. In America we will occasionally get one in the mail from other adults or families. In Israel, the children all prepare their own homemade Shana Tova cards and give them to their friends on the last day of school before the chag.

It was so exciting for them to get these cards from their friends at school. It really made them feel like they fit in. They couldn’t wait to get home to show the cards to us. The only negative was that it came as a total surprise to them and they had nothing prepared to give to their friends. I guess they have something to look forward to next year.

Once Yom Tov started we saw other differences, things that said to us – something has changed.

I love the bread here. For some reason, Challa and bread here tastes SO MUCH BETTER than it does in America, at least to me. That first taste of Challa with honey brought home in a big way, the fact that we were actually in Israel for Rosh Hashana.

Eating the simanim was also different. The kids are a year older, so they understand a bit more about what the simanim mean. Also, since the whole country is so focused on the chag, the anticipation level for all the special Rosh Hashana things is at a fever pitch by the time we got to the simanim.

Of course, they tasted better too. Our Rimon (pomegranate) was most likely picked within a week of our eating it. It was so much better than we are used to that I cannot adequately describe it. The dates were awesome; the whole series of fruits and vegetables were terrific and it made such a difference.

Davening was also a change. In the US, we were used to the Chazan leading the singing, sentence by sentence with a break for everyone to say the words to himself or herself. Here, once a song has been recognized, the entire shul joins in (in full voice) to finish the entire song together without a break – and I do mean the entire shul. I know it uplifted my davening, Goldie’s too. The proof? The fact that davening lasted for six hours each day (from 7 AM to 1 PM) really didn’t bother us too much.

In one of our Erev Rosh Hashana phone calls a friend asked me if we still thought they should consider moving to Israel (they will be here this winter checking things out). After all, I write about how tough things are and how hard things seem for us.

In truth, I understood the question. I do write a lot about the tough things, partly because there is nothing remotely interesting about “we went to the grocery store and bought six containers of milk……”, at least not after the first time I wrote about it. The things that occupy a large part of our attention are the hurdles and adjustments that we have had to make as time goes on.

Being here is definitely a lot of hard work. Yet, I can see a time in the future where it will be less hard than it is today. And it will continue to get easier as time goes on. Everything is tough at the beginning. We are learning how to do everything that we used to take for granted, and we are doing it for eight people. It is bound to be hard work.

But it is worth it.

As I have said before, there just is simply no place like Israel for a Jew to be. It truly is the land of our fathers. We truly are “home” here. For better and for worse.

While we get an emotional and spiritual lift simply by being here, we get as much or more of a lift because of the people we are sharing it with. They have really begun to make a difference in our lives.

Everyone here has that same love for the land of Israel and for the people of Israel that we do. We have all made tremendous sacrifices (some more than others – but each in their own way) to be here. So we have a shared sense of camaraderie that binds us and makes us naturally predisposed towards friendships and kinship.

Many of these people have gone through what we are; almost all of the others have parents who came here as foreigners. While we all had different agendas, motivations and goals, there is nowhere more than Israel where you can really say that a Jew is a Jew. We fight. We disagree. We will shout at each other and oppose each other with great fervor BECAUSE WE ARE ALL PASSIONATE ABOUT THE LAND THAT WE LOVE.

Yet, somehow, at the end of the day, we all have it in ourselves to turn to the cashier in the supermarket, the garbage man, the bus driver or whomever we come across and greet them with “Shana Tova”.

What a country!