Sunday, December 24, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some things I learned about my kids:

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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