Friday, January 11, 2008

Finally Adjusting (Article# 69) 12/27/2007

Each time I travel I remind myself that this is what I wanted to be doing. Snowed in while in Chicago. Flying 11,000+ miles in a 3 day period. Flying the wrong direction on a fast day (I flew from Baltimore to LA and added 3 hours to my fast). This is what I asked for, so I should enjoy it.

I was happy to get home on Friday. With the influx of holiday visitors and college students on winter break, getting a seat on the plane was apparently a nice challenge. There were absolutely no empty seats on our plane and there was a waiting list for the plane following ours that was scheduled to land in Israel on Friday afternoon.

People have been asking if we are feeling a lot stronger about ourselves now that we are well into year two in Israel and are more comfortable with how things work. In certain ways they are right.

One of the treats of my recent trips has been the change I encountered in dealing with the El Al crews, both on land and in the air. I know that I look American, there is no question about that. My Hebrew is accented and I also don’t always understand what they are saying.

Lately, instead of asking me if I prefer Hebrew or English (as they used to), I find the El Al staff speaking to me in Hebrew as if they instinctively understand that I am capable of it. I cannot imagine what it is that gives them that impression, but there must be something that gives them the message that I am Israeli and not a tourist.

On the other hand, because we had such a traumatic year last year, a year in which we spent a significant amount of time focusing only on ourselves, there are many parts of year two in which we are still novices.

I have found that most olim (immigrants) who came in the same time period as us seem to have made more friends in their communities. I could be wrong, but they seem to have made their “place” in the fabric of the community a bit more firmly than we have.

I don’t think it is our fault. There is simply no way to take yourself out of the community for several months and expect to have made the bonds that those families who had always been here enjoy. We were so focused inwardly for such a long time that we haven’t put in the hard time in making friends.

We are still struggling with making Hebrew an every day part of our lives. Aliza needs my help to type a simple paper for school. I still don’t understand the news on the radio or in the paper.

That these things take time is not a new message for us. That we have adjusted to a couple of moves in our lives and one more should be manageable is also another optimistic attitude we understand. But it doesn’t make the here and now any more palatable when we run into a brick wall of frustration.

But we keep moving forward, one step at a time. When we are frustrated we try to remind ourselves that we really are still at the beginning of a (hopefully very) long journey and we try to cut ourselves a little slack. When we aren’t frustrated we just try to kick back and enjoy the moment and hope that the non frustrating moments continue to overwhelm the frustrating moments.

In the original draft of this article, I ended here. After looking at it for two days, I felt it wasn’t enough.

I think I have begun to mentally edit out “the bad stuff” of late – almost since the time we came back to Israel in the spring. It had been such a difficult period for us and I could see a certain unhappiness or depression within myself that had nothing to do with being in Israel and everything to do with the trying circumstances of the prior 6 months or so.

So I edited out the darker parts of my thoughts, attributing them to feelings that came not because of the issues we face from our Aliyah, but to issues we faced in our family that rose out of our personal crisis. I think I subconsciously didn’t want to taint the picture (so to speak).

Yet as I read what I have written here, I can see that it is somewhat sugar coated and I am not really putting the difficulties we (or I should really say I) face on a daily basis.

The kids ARE doing very well. They all have friends and plans and have done tremendously in acclimating to a totally foreign place and culture. Their Hebrew is tremendous and they have an innate sense of how things work here that (it feels like) I will never gain.

Goldie has undeniably reached a tremendous high in living here. When talking about our lives in the USA, she constantly says that she misses the people but not the place. She, who has had the most difficult path of all of us, is content. Even she is having her adjustment issues, but they are all expected.

Finally there is me. Of all the people in the family, I am definitely having the hardest time of late. While I understand intellectually the sources of my difficulty, that does not make it any easier.

While our kids and Goldie have all made great strides in their Hebrew, I have not made much progress at all. Part of it comes from the fact that I did not attend any Ulpan class since I started work just 3 days after we got here. So I still cannot read the paper or understand the news on the radio.

When we first got here, this was no big deal – it was even expected. Since it was expected, it didn’t bother me in the least. So it did not make much of a difference in my life. Yet here I am, 17 months later, and I still feel as if I don’t have a clue. (I am not talking about speaking Hebrew in person – in that area – as I wrote above – I am pretty comfortable and confident)

I can see everyone else’s personal growth and it frustrates me. I have even gotten to the point where I find myself turning the radio off when the news comes on because it makes me angry to listen to the gibberish. It is the same gibberish as it was the first day, but I feel that I should understand it by now and the fact that I cannot is discouraging.

I don’t understand things like the school system. We go to parent/teacher conferences and I understand what the teachers are saying, but the whole method of education is so foreign to me that I haven’t even got a clue what to expect from the kids, and certainly don’t know enough to really understand if they are doing well or not.

I cannot imagine how my grandparents and great grandparents felt when they came to the USA. I came here reading and speaking Hebrew. They literally knew nothing of English and were coming to a frontier society where there was literally a minimal orthodox Jewish community and no Jewish schools to speak of (in Toledo, Ohio and Chicago).

On the other hand, Goldie (who does homework with them and knows more of their routine than I do) says that she does not feel as disengaged from the education process as I do. She thinks I am reacting more to my discomfort with the language and dealing with the teachers or understanding the weekly class newsletters than to an actual problem.

I also miss my friends and the comfort with which I was able to interact with everyone. I feel as if I used to fit in better, mostly because I knew what was expected of me and also because I felt like an insider and not an outsider.

These are not abnormal feelings. Many people I speak to have felt the same way. It is a normal part of the transition and now that some of the “new car smell” has worn off of the Aliyah experience, we are definitely going through more periods of angst. Normal, but sometimes overwhelming.

9 inches of snow?!? (Article# 68) 12/20/2007

Sorry to have missed you all last week, I got (can you believe it) tonsillitis and was actually in a lot of pain sick at home for the beginning of the week. So I didn’t have a chance to recap our Channuka break. I had been scheduled to fly to NY after lighting candles on the last night of Channuka, but had to reschedule that as well.

Our family Channuka started off a little weakly. On the first night, instead of being home with the kids to light, I stayed late in the Yeshiva in order to take a group of guys on our monthly “Pizza for Soldiers” trip. I added sufganiyot (jelly donuts) to the menu and headed off with a group of students for what is always a very meaningful evening.

One of the soldiers at a checkpoint invited us to go to his base and meet the soldiers at the base, which turned out to be a great invitation for us. We went to the base and really made the day of the soldiers there and they (reciprocally) gave us the opportunity to examine on of the tanks on base and chat with them at length about their military service.

Each time I go on this type of outing I am somehow brought to a new level of experience in interacting with the soldiers and I am amazed at how meaningful our students find the encounters to be. After all, it is just pizza (well ok – the sufganiyot probably helped).

With the schools having vacation beginning Thursday, my brother hosted us all for a party in his new house in Chashmonaim on Wednesday night. Coming only weeks after the birth of his newest son, this was my first chance to meet my nephew face to face and the annual party is a nice opportunity for us to get the kids all together. As we age, Bar and Bat Mitzvot as well as other family simchot will hopefully give us many more opportunities to get together as well.

On Thursday we went to the children’s museum in Cholon. Goldie had made reservations for us to go on one of their tours and we assumed that we would tour the rest of the museum for the remainder of the day. Foolish Americans.

As opposed to the general admission practice which is prevalent throughout museums in the USA, this museum is only open to guided tours which are organized on an age appropriate level. With our range of kids, we had bought totally inappropriate tickets for the older kids and our day could have really been ruined.

Goldie played the “but we are new here and didn’t understand” card and got us reorganized into 2 different tours that were more age appropriate. I went with the 2 older girls on a tour called “dialogue in darkness” where the tour was conducted by a blind guide and we were totally in the dark for the entire time. We had an opportunity to experience life in darkness and after we got over the initial sense of fear it was fascinating.

As we left our tour, Goldie handed Moshe off to me and took Chaya with her as the younger kids went on their tour (which they loved). Aliza and I took Moshe on a tour of the grounds and spent an hour playing in the park while we waited and then we all went out to dinner (I tried to get us to a Kosher KFC, but the GPS couldn’t seem to get us to the right place).

On Sunday we took the kids to the Ramat Gan Safari. The safari part (driving through the animal’s habitats) was kind of boring, but the attached zoo was really nice and kept us busy for several hours. It was almost like being in America – except maybe on Pesach or Succot, not Channuka.

On Monday I awoke with a terrible sore throat and had to run to the doctor, who diagnosed me with tonsillitis of all things. It took several days to recover and I had to postpone a flight to America until the end of the week. By Thursday I was ready to leave and caught a day flight to NY to connect to Chicago that night.

On my way into the airport, we heard some news on the radio that we had been waiting to hear for over 2 months. The teachers and government had finally come to an agreement and the education strike was finally over. Our daughters’ schools would be back to a complete schedule and more significantly, my nephew would be going back to school for the first time in 2 months. So I had some good news to enjoy before taking off.

The flight was nice; we were delayed for an hour and a half in getting our luggage because the baggage compartment door had frozen shut and they had to de-ice it and I had less than an hour to change terminals and catch my connecting flight. I needn’t have bothered, since all flights to Chicago that night were cancelled and I could only get out on Friday.

But that wasn’t all. I woke up on Shabbat morning and decided that since I was up so early that I would go for a nice walk around the neighborhood. I dressed and grabbed my tallit and opened the door to head out only to see a nice snowfall. The storm dumped 9 inches of snow over Shabbat and the freezing cold set in right after. And people wonder why I moved.

After a 5 city 8 day trip, I will get in home just in time for Shabbat this week and am looking forward to a more relaxed schedule. I am also looking forward to greeting 30+ of our alumni who will be visiting the Yeshiva to learn for a 2 week “recharge” of their “batteries” before the second semester.

Although many Yeshivot host their alumni during vacation periods, we are the only one that pays for the ticket for their first visit back. We encourage our alumni to view the Yeshiva as their home in Israel and it is always exciting to see them and hear about their growth and their studies. As the Director of Alumni, one of the biggest perks is that I get paid to keep in touch with all the students, which mitigates the disappointment I feel when a group I had grown fond of move on to their next stage in life.

Chag Orim Sameach (article# 67) 12/6/2007

After all of the activity and emotion of the past few weeks, it was nice to have an off week for a change. Nothing momentous happened – just regular life.

We started off the week with the arrival of Goldie’s sister Esther and her husband Daniel (Yormark) who came in for the Hakamat Matzeiva (unveiling) by the grave of Daniel’s mother and to visit their daughter Sarah who is in seminary here for the year.

We saw them at the cemetery and drove them to their hotel (so we could visit together in the car as well as pick up the suitcase of goodies that Goldie had arranged with her mother) in Yerushalayim. It was their first visit to Israel in over 18 years and they both commented how different things were.

We also attended the Bar Mitzva of Yehuda Brown, the son of Marc and Stephanie Brown (Mazal Tov to them again) who made Aliyah from the 5 Towns a month after us.

Chaya and I went to an American style Channuka boutique one night to try and buy some gifts for the extended Katz clan’s kids (we are having a Mesiba (party) together at my brother’s house on the second night) and maybe some other things for our own family members. Our admission fee included a raffle ticket and we got a call the next day that we (Chaya – even though I paid for the ticket) had won a raffle prize.

We attended another night of Chamshushalayim festivities in Yerushalayim. This week we went to the Israel Museum and toured the Shrine of the Book where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept. This was Goldie’s first time seeing the scrolls, so that added a little flavor.

Midway through our tour, a special A capella group came into the central area of the Shrine of the Book and performed for about 30 minutes. With the design of the room, the acoustics were amazing and we enjoyed the performance immensely.

On Friday the kids’ Mesibot Channuka season started with a special performance at Moshe’s Gan (preschool). The other kids all have their own parties, either in or out of school, but this was the only one that Goldie was invited to, all the other parties are all “kids only”. Thank G-d.

Our kids enjoyed a terrific Shabbat with their Aunt and Uncle and we added a special treat for Chaya – a surprise birthday Seudah Shlishit. A bunch of her friends came over (as well as Brana Hertz, a 5 Towner who is in Seminary here this year) and we had a cake and a nice time.

All in all, a very plain week. With Channuka beginning and the start of a new vacation week for the kids, I am sure things will liven up soon. Chag Orim Sameach (Happy Festival of Lights) as they say here – to everyone.