Wednesday, December 16, 2009

California Dreaming (12/16/2009)

Regular readers of this column will already anticipate the next few paragraphs. If it is my winter trip to the U.S., I must have gotten sick. Actually, we had a mini-epidemic in the house, with everyone getting sick. This also means that it must be Chanukah time. I think the only person who did not get sick so far (B'H) was Moshe. And, inevitably, my cold was at its worst for my flight to California and the first few days of my trip.

I was privileged to spend Shabbat with the kehillah of Rabbi Kalman Topp, the former assistant rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere. It was great to see him and see how wonderfully he has embraced and been embraced by his new community. Everyone we met spoke glowingly of him as an orator, a rabbinic leader, and as a great choice for their community.

I was in California for Puah's scholar-in-residence weekend with the director of counseling (English-speaking) Rabbi Gideon Weitzman. Rabbi Weitzman gave several lectures over Shabbat and, as part of our expanding Continuing Medical Education certification, we were hosted by the shul (Beth Jacob of Beverly Hills) for a CME symposium as well, along with Dr. Snunit ben Ozer, a local fertility specialist.

This was also the first opportunity for us to celebrate our recent selection as a winner of the 2009 Jewish Choice Award from GreatNonProfits. This organization conducted a survey of various non-profit organizations over (I think) an eight-week period. Out of something like 4,000 submissions of recommendations for various organizations, Puah was ranked number 1 in the International Jewish Non Profit category, a terrific honor.

I had a hard time booking tickets for the trip, which also included a stop in Dallas. I had reserved a seat for Monday night's flight to Newark, planning on going to Dallas before Los Angeles and returning on the direct flight from L.A. to Tel Aviv. However, I couldn't confirm my schedule by the expiration of the reservation and let it lapse.

The next day, when I was ready to purchase a ticket, my travel agent couldn't find any seats on the original flight. He tried changing connection cities for Dallas or leaving a day earlier and could not find anything that worked. I couldn't figure out why the planes had so suddenly filled up until I realized that my flight was leaving the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Apparently, many last-minute travelers took seats on the Israel-U.S. flights and there was simply nothing available.

You would think that I, as a person who works in the U.S. on a regular basis, would be cognizant of the U.S. holidays and how they might affect my schedule. Yet I seem to have adjusted to the Israeli calendar and enjoy the lack of "American" stuff on my schedule (except for Sundays - I don't think I will ever adjust to Sunday being a full day of work).

No Turkeys or fat guys in red clothing in my neighborhood. No bunnies or phony holidays that are excuses to make big sales. (Side note: Chaim spent the entire night/morning of "Black Friday" running from store to store with some friends, looking for bargains). My little kids don't even know what Thanksgiving is, and have totally forgotten the winter decorations and other "holiday" celebrations we would trip over throughout November and December.

Having ignored the calendar, I was forced to reorganize my trip, but in true "it always happens for the best" fashion, I was able to shorten the trip by a day and get home to the family a little faster, a couple of days before Chanukah.

Chanukah is one of my favorite holidays. I especially enjoy taking a post-dinner stroll through the neighborhood to see the various chanukiyot, which are lit in special wind-resistant glass boxes outside homes in Israel. Seeing home after home of chanukiyot reminds me that we are living in the Jewish land. This year, my celebration will be doubly enhanced, with two Shabbatot Chanukah to enjoy.

As we did last year, we're heading to Eilat for a Chanukah mini-vacation. This year, we're part of a group of 27 families staying together and joining each other for various day trips and tiyulim as well. We even have an option to tour Petra (in Jordan), which I had originally signed up for but decided to cancel so that I could spend more time with the little kids. I am helping arrange tours of one of the major dairies, which is located just north of Eilat.

We hope that you and your family enjoy a terrific Chanukah and get to enjoy special family time together reveling in the celebration of the miracle of the recapture of the Beit HaMikdash - if only for a very short time. We hope and pray that we celebrate the rebuilding of the final Beit HaMikdash at the same time. If not, l'shanah haba'ah b'Yerushalayim habenuyah.

A special mazal tov to our dear friends Dr. David and Shira Wiseman on the birth of their son. Mazal tov also to our friends and neighbors Motti and Penina Eichler (formerly of Cedarhurst) and Dr. Herman and Mrs. Mia Weiss (formerly of West Hempstead) who are celebrating their daughters' bat mitzvahs in the coming week as well. May we all continue to share s'machot in the future (especially the aliyah of you, our dear readers...)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More Firsts (11/18/2009)

New olim struggle to reconcile their expectations in life with reality. Each day brings a new realization that things in Israel are incredibly different from what they had grown accustomed to in their former home. As time passes, experience replaces expectation, and we grow more familiar and comfortable with our surroundings.

Understanding that this is a process enables us to cope with all the stress and confusion that reigns in the first few years of life in our new country. With the passage of time, we begin to feel as if we are "settled in" old-timers, with an understanding of how most things work and how to get things done. This is the process of absorption.

Each family has its own unique process of absorption, which is really just the sum of their experiences. As a result, one family may become expert in special-ed. issues, another in building and construction or purchase of a new home, and a third in the workings of the health-care system (I chose these examples because these are three different areas which many new olim will most likely have to deal with at some point and are vastly different from anything they had been used to in their former countries).

With all the challenges that we face in adjusting, there is a natural tendency to look to others for advice, in the hope that we can avoid some of the more difficult lessons. The Bet Shemesh e-mail list has hundreds of postings each day. A vast number of them are "How do I...?" questions, "Here is how to..." answers, or "Does anyone know anything about..." inquiries.

Eventually, after a couple of years, we have even learned some of the answers. So we know how to maneuver through the health-care system and what to expect from the teachers in school. We sometimes even offer advice to the "newbies" in town, sharing some of our experience with them. And we forget that in our fourth year of living here, we are also newbies.

This week, Chaya's school had a parents' (with student) meeting to discuss next year's national service (sherut leumi) and the process of application and acceptance for the various institutions. We knew this was coming and were excited to be starting this next stage together with Chaya. Sherut leumi would be yet another first for us.

We realized that we were no longer behind the curve for this meeting. After all, many of the other girls are the oldest in their families, and thus their parents had also not gone through the process as parents; everything would be new to them as well. And we realized that, now that we understand most of what is happening (in Hebrew) during these (incredibly long) meetings, we are pretty much adjusted and can participate fully in all activities.

Yet, the information was so overwhelming. Having never done any form of national service here, we had no idea how extensive the programs are and how varied the structure and supervision provided. Should she live at home, or with a bunch of strangers in an apartment? Should she be in a large program or a small program? What are her career interests? Does she want career-related experience, or a program that is rich in helping others as more of a one-time experience? There are so many things for her to consider.

There are even strategies designed to optimize one's chances of getting into the program of one's choice, or at least in a chosen field. There was so much information to grasp and assimilate, and it comes during a year of great transition and experience for the girls.

Three days after the meeting, Chaya went to Poland with about 35 other eleventh and twelfth-grade girls in her school for a week of discovery. Thousands of other students from Israel (and the rest of the world) will undertake similar journeys to learn about the thriving Jewish communities of Eastern Europe and their destruction in WWII. They had prepared for the trip for months, and we could clearly see the anticipation building for her.

The day of departure was full of excitement in our house. The night before, I had gone with Mordechai to an Israeli professional-league basketball game in Tel Aviv with four of his friends. He attends an after-school basketball program twice a week. The program is run under the auspices of the Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv team, so Mordechai is considered a youth member of the club and has a photo ID card from them.

Each year, the youth members are invited to come (along with an adult of their choice) to 12 or 13 select games and attend for free. Mordechai went to a game last year, but the timing never worked out for me to participate. This week, the schedule worked out and we took a whole crew to the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv (another first for me).

We had a nice time. Having seen Michael Jordan play in Chicago Stadium and Patrick Ewing in Madison Square Garden, I can assure you that these teams did not come close to the talent level I expected for professionals, nor was the stadium anything to get excited about. Yet the atmosphere was exciting and the kids really enjoyed it. We sat just above a set of fans who apparently attend every game, come with a drum, and sing team songs throughout the game. (They stop only for halftime.)

Maccabi won, so the kids went home happy. I went home tired, having to chase five 8-year-old boys for three hours. That night, I was up till 1 a.m. making phone calls to the U.S. for work, and I had planned on sleeping through 7:15 and going to the office a little late that day.

But at 6:00 a.m., Aliza woke me to tell me that Chaya was on the phone at the airport, crying hysterically. The school staff had told her to bring only her Israeli travel papers and not her U.S. passport. Unfortunately, that was bad advice. The travel papers only allow exit and entrance from Israel, and are free for the first five years after aliyah. The theory is that immigrants will still have their passports from their country of origin. Amazingly, the system saves us money by not requiring us to get a passport until year six of aliyah.

In order to get into Poland, she needed her U.S. passport. So I quickly ran to the car and flew to the airport to get her the passport on time (39 minutes from phone call to delivery). She made her flight and is now somewhere in Poland. We will not be able to speak with her until she returns, but they were kind enough to give us the fax numbers of the hotels she will be in, and we are trying to fax her a daily letter. It will be interesting to see her reaction to the trip.

We are beginning to ramp up for the holidays here. No, we don't have turkeys, dried corn, elves, soldiers, or some big fat guy in a red suit displayed everywhere. We do have chanukiyot, chocolate coins, and sufganiot wherever we go. I guess it is a cultural thing, but I am reminded each year that we live in the land of the Jews and for the Jews.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We are all Israelis (11/11/2009)

Last motzaei Shabbat, Goldie and I were privileged to host the "Meet the New Members" melaveh malkah for our shul. As a new shul in the community, our growth has been astonishing. We have grown from an average of 15 to 20 bar-mitzvah-age men per week to somewhere near 65 on average, with many more on the chagim. With the summer's influx of new olim behind us, it was a perfect time to have a "get to know you better" event-the first one for our shul.

For Goldie and me, volunteering to host it was a no-brainer. Our house is being sold, and we know that the new owners will want us out by the end of next summer. We have, admittedly, a large house with an oversized backyard (which we are renting at excellent terms) and we have no idea where we will be next year. So we decided to take advantage of what we had while we still had it.

Of course, being scheduled for November 7, we had a bit of concern about the weather. Sadly, there was no rain and we were able to have the entire event in our backyard. Having reached the mid 80s on Shabbat afternoon, the temperature was still hovering in the low 70s by evening and was quite comfortable.

Since the first meeting to organize the shul, we have tried to make everything in the shul as Hebrew-friendly as possible. While there are weekday shiurim in the rabbi's home and one Shabbat afternoon shiur in English, almost everything we do is done either exclusively in Hebrew or in both languages. Announcements, flyers, e-mails, the drasha during davening - no matter how tough it is, we translate everything.

That effort has paid off. The shul was founded and is almost entirely run by a bunch of English-speaking olim who are all in Israel for less than five years, Yet, somewhere around 20 percent of those who regularly daven with us and consider themselves members of the shul are native to Israel (plus one incredible Ethiopian family). Hebrew is their mother tongue.

We have been extremely conscious of trying to include the natives in shul activities and events, but it is hard to run a meeting when some of the people don't understand what is going on either because they don't understand Hebrew or they don't understand English. We were hoping that the Israeli born would turn out for the event, but it wasn't a sure thing. We even made a special point of calling them to let them know that everything would be in Hebrew.

Thankfully, the turnout was incredible. Over 90 percent of the families who daven by us at least twice a month showed up - Hebrew speakers as well as English speakers. Almost 70 people enjoyed a couple of interactive games and just a couple of hours under the Bet Shemesh night sky, enjoying each other's company.

In leading up to the event, and in consideration of the fact that they knew Goldie was just arriving from a trip to the U.S. days earlier, our neighbors Avi and Tania Fraenkel, who also daven in our shul, invited us for Friday night dinner. This was a huge help.

The Fraenkels made aliyah from London, and the meal was really a great experience for us. Tania's cousin, James ,was a student at Eretz HaTzvi my first year there. We actually learned together on a weekly basis for a while. He is in Moscow for a semester, and I hope to resume learning with him when he gets back to the UK.

One of the great things about living in an Anglo community is our common language and comfort of dealing with each other. Still, we are occasionally reminded that the world is a pretty big place with different ways to do things.

Avi is a terrific guy. He davened for us on the Yamim Noraim this year and blew shofar last year. I find him to be incredibly straightforward and totally unpretentious (I was sure pretentiousness was an English characteristic - but he must have missed out on that one). Yet, he is incredibly English in his performance of ritual and the ceremony surrounding them.

Kiddush was an event. Zemirot were not just sung, they were intoned. The entire meal was approached with a certain dignity that we weren't used to. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously. Yet, I was struck by how differently we approach things based upon the culture into which we were born.

We have been trying to figure out what we are going to do for the Katz family's more permanent home in Israel. Obviously, the more settled in we get in Bet Shemesh, the harder it would be for us to make a move. So, in response to the question I get most often, "Where are you going to live?," I would guess that for now, we are leaning towards Bet Shemesh.

It has been pretty quiet of late. There has been a lot of political maneuvering regarding the construction of new neighborhoods and which segment of society will be invited to live in them. Yet, if we decide to move, and it is into the heart of the neighborhood, I think we will be much more insulated from the day to day issues we currently deal with. Our kids may choose to live elsewhere, but we will probably be ok for at least 10 years. How much longer than that can you plan?

Of course, things can always heat up at a moment's notice. I think that even you in the Five Towns have witnessed some of what we experience here last week with a special visit to your community. I have been quoted already on this issue (even though I didn't realize my comments were being made for publication) and I am sure Larry Gordon will have much to say. All I will add is that you had to deal with figuring out where you stood for a single Shabbos. We live this every day.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Eema Come Home (11/4/2009)

Before I say anything else: It rained! I don't mean for a few minutes or even half an hour. This was a real soaking rain that lasted for a couple of days and hopefully is only the start of things to come. We hit the low level of the year in the Kinneret, and now we need to have an outstanding rain season to get things back on track (we probably need two or three of them in a row).

As I wrote before the chagim, my new travel schedule will definitely take some adjusting to. I feel as if I am on an endless treadmill of running from trip to trip, and I am still not where I need to be in redefining my work schedule and routine to maximize productivity. I can foresee a time when I am much closer to my goal than I am today, which is encouraging; I am nowhere near there yet.

I haven't really had a chance to share our Sukkot experiences. Unbelievably (at least to me), I have been so busy moving from thing to thing that three weeks ago seems like three months ago, and I can't even remember what we did. We went jeeping (again), on a terrific hike with our shul, to a spectacular sound-and-light show at the David's Citadel Museum, and to the Latrun Tank Base. Yet, it is really a blur to me.

On the day before my trip, I was in a pretty serious car accident. Thank G-d there were no injuries (except to the cars). It was a scary moment, and I am still amazed that no one was hurt. The car was in the repair shop for two weeks, and I have to salute Goldie for dealing with it while I was in the USA so that the car was ready when I got back.

Right before I left, I wrote that the mayor of Bet Shemesh would be making a personal visit to the Five Towns. Although I was in Boston that evening and could not be there, I was wondering what those people who participated in the meeting thought about his visit. Please drop me a line.

As I mentioned, I was in the USA for almost two weeks. Against my previously stated policy, I spent two Shabbatot away from home. This was a planned deviation that allowed me to participate in our niece Tova Kreinberg's wedding to Yitzy Klapper. After ten days of a work trip, Goldie, Chaya, and Moshe flew in on Friday and we had the chance to spend a nice Shabbat together and visit with family.

We had a terrific time at the wedding. From the first day that we talked about making aliyah, the biggest drawback of the decision was missing family events. We've missed bar and bat mitzvah celebrations and a couple of weddings. It is tough to know that we voluntarily chose to exclude ourselves from these events. So it is very special and meaningful to us when we can be there for a simcha. And the simcha was awesome-very lebbidik and just a tremendous night.

The day after the wedding, I headed back home. This would be a milestone trip for me. In July, we had been contacted by a couple who were making aliyah and had been undergoing IVF treatments in New York. They wanted to know if we could serve as couriers for them once they opened a file in Israel with their HMO and hospital. Machon Puah provides such services on a regular basis, and I was asked to bring six embryos with me back to Israel.

As a person in fundraising and public relations, I rarely get to play an active role in helping couples. I generally meet the couples after they have finished being serviced by Puah. While it is exciting and inspiring to hear their stories and how incredibly they have been impacted by the Puah rabbis, I am a step removed from the process. So I was looking forward to doing something tangible in helping things happen for a burgeoning family.

The security people at the airport were superb. Even though they had been notified that I was coming in advance, they were very diligent in questioning me and verifying my papers. El Al staffers took me to the TSA checkpoint, where they too were waiting for me (having also been notified in advance). The TSA people seemed to have a clear protocol for how to process me, and they did everything by the book, which I appreciated. Once through that checkpoint, I was cleared to wander the terminal before boarding.

If you ever want to get a bunch of really funny looks in the airport, try walking through it with a frozen storage tank for human embryos. The tank is solid steel, about two feet tall, and most closely resembles the back half of a torpedo. I had it strapped to my wheeled carry-on, and I am sure that people must have thought it was some kind of bomb.

The flight crew of El Al was also terrific. As soon as I walked on the plane, they exclaimed, "The embryo guy is here!" They showed me an area for storing the tank and made sure it was protected from being jarred during the flight. They seemed as excited as I was to be a part of helping this couple. As I was exiting the plane, they had the tank waiting for me at the door.

My luggage arrived after less than 10 minutes of waiting. I assume this was in the merit of the mitzvah I was involved with, because I have never had such a quick exit from the terminal. As I waited to meet the couple, I felt my anticipation building. I had not done Birchat Kohanim in two weeks, and as I stood there I thought about the bracha and how it is used for birchat ha'banim, and that the kohein's bracha is infused with a blessing of fertility and health as a major part.

I took a look at the tank and realized that in my hands I was holding the potential family of a couple. I know it sounds corny, but I closed my eyes and said the words of Birchat Kohanim upon the tank in a personal prayer for the successful birth of these potential people. The entire process (especially meeting the couple) is something I will never forget, and it reminded me how important our work is.

As much as I loved that we were together with Goldie's family for the simcha, not having her home for an extra week was a killer. By the time she comes home (the day after this was written), we will have seen each other for 4 days out of 21. I have friends who have those kinds of trips, and I do not envy them.

Goldie is incredibly organized. She had a list of everything I needed to do, step by step. And the list was perfect. Nothing missing, everything taken care of. We just don't run well as a family when she isn't around. The kids' lives so revolve around her being here that it was just weird for them and hard to adjust to, no matter how much they love me.

If there is one thing I learned on my most recent trip to America, it is that people are still reading this column. Wherever we went, we heard, "I would ask how you are doing-but I already know!"

We were asked about our house-buying plans (we still aren't sure what we are going to do and if we are staying in Bet Shemesh), my ratcheted-up travel schedule (yes, it does look like ten trips each year), and a whole host of other questions about things we have experienced these past three-plus years. Living 6,000 miles away from the readers of this column, it is difficult to know if anyone out there is still reading. Thanks for making us a part of your lives.

In the "another simcha I missed by making aliyah" department, mazal tov to Mark and Barbara Silber and their extended families on Jonathan's bar mitzvah last week. As someone that I spoke to nearly every day in the USA, Mark is one of those friends who I think I will always miss.

Finally, I want to wish a special mazal tov to Goldie's brother David and his wife Marcia (who have done so much for our family in more ways than I can list) on Tova and Yitzy's wedding, as well as to my in-laws and family and the entire Leff family. Many of you may know that Marcia's mother, Judi Leff, a'h, left this world only days after she attended the wedding. I consider myself lucky to have been able to wish her a mazal tov in person. I knew Judi my entire adult life. She was a wonderful person and an exemplary mother and grandmother who will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Meet the Mayor (10/14/2009)

I had outlined a great article for this week. Chol ha'moed in Israel is always a treat, especially when the yomim tovim both land on Shabbat so we get a full week of chol ha'moed. Between concerts and the perennial ATV trip, we always have things to do and fascinating places to go.

However, I am also busily adjusting to a new travel schedule. My position at Machon Puah will require much more travel than I have been used to (no fewer than ten trips a year, versus three or four). In the past, I had been able to prepare for each trip as its own unit and schedule my time in the weeks leading up to the trip. This year, with trips scheduled to the USA in October, November, December, and January-as well as an anticipated trip to England sometime in November-December-I need to start thinking two and three trips ahead in order to make sure I maximize my efforts. And I have not been doing that.

So I will instead share an invitation with you-an invitation to meet some of the players in Bet Shemesh and find out for yourself what their vision is for the future of Bet Shemesh.

As some of you might already know, the mayor of Bet Shemesh, Moshe Abutbul, will be visiting the Five Towns on Tuesday evening as part of an international tour he is conducting to generate interest in the growth and development of Bet Shemesh. Shalom Lerner (the guy I voted for in the mayoral elections) will be on the trip as a member of the city council coalition. Part of their focus on this tour is generating further interest in Bet Shemesh as a destination for olim and investment.

As you know, Goldie and I have been debating our personal long-term plans for the past several months. Without a permanent solution for housing, we have been weighing the pros and cons of staying in Bet Shemesh versus leaving. It is a very difficult consideration. After all, we have planted roots with our neighbors and with our shul. Our children are extremely happy here and have terrific friends that they aren't excited about leaving behind. Perhaps most importantly, the community was incredibly supportive in a tangible way when Goldie was ill, similar to the tremendous emotional and spiritual support we got from our friends in the Five Towns.

We know the system here (at least enough to get around in it). We have a routine and quality of life that is terrific and provides us with great satisfaction. So leaving would be tough. Yet, as you know, I have grave concerns over the future of Bet Shemesh and the demographic shift that is being proposed by the current mayor and the Ministry of Building and Housing. I am also frustrated by the lack of achdut in the city and the friction that exists (thankfully for now it is not being expressed) between the various communities.

I believe that the future of Bet Shemesh could be bright . . . or perhaps not. And a lot of that future is tied to the people who will be coming to meet you this week. So please take a minute to stop by and meet the city officials who are there and ask them serious questions about the future of our city. It could continue to be a great destination for olim-but our voices need to be heard.

When the mayor invites you to consider investing in infrastructure, make sure he knows that it needs to be invested for all demographic groups, not just his own. When he talks about the diversity of the city, ask him why he supports vast expansion in the city for only one of the demographic groups instead of continued proportional growth designed to maintain the demographic balance that currently exists. Ask him what the plans are for continued investment in new neighborhoods for the religious Zionist and the non-religious citizens of the city. And pay attention to his answers.

We need you in Bet Shemesh; there is no question of that. Yet we have a responsibility of providing you with a place that you (and I) can continue to feel comfortable living in and be proud of. Make sure that the people making the decisions for my future (as well as all of your friends-those who live here and those of you who have not yet made the step up) know that the partnership they seek is not one-sided.

You can be part of the solution for all the residents of Bet Shemesh and help us continue to be a beacon for Anglos and native Israelis alike who share similar values and desires to be a part of the Jewish National dream. The first step of the process happens Tuesday. Take it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Welcome 5770 (9/23/2009)

The Yamim Nora'im are a time when we have to atone for the errors we have made, a time when each person asks forgiveness from those he has harmed, whether or not the damage was intentional.

Each year I wish a warm welcome to the many olim who have made the move to Israel and joined us in the aliyah adventure. I even try to list the Five Towns/Long Island families that I know by name. Last year, in listing the families, I omitted one family who joined our shul with their move to Israel. I left them off the list because they were on a "trial year" and did not arrive as olim.

Last Thursday, at our hachnassat sefer Torah (more on this later), I was reminded about this family and my commitment to include them in this year's list if they made aliyah. And I forgot to do so in my article a couple of weeks ago.

So I am especially pleased to wish a special mazal tov to Aaron and Aliza Miller and their family upon their aliyah this summer. Formerly from West Hempstead, they joined us last year and have been such an integral part of our shul and community, I had simply forgotten that they were on a trial and only made the move permanent as of this summer.

As with many other chagim or events, our approach to Rosh Hashanah is quite different here in Israel. In addition to its status as the New Year and the almost universal recognition of it as such among all walks of Jews here, it is also the only guaranteed two-day holiday in Israel and is looked at with a sense of unusual anticipation.

Our preparations are unique as well. For instance, consider the simanim that we eat on the first night with dinner. These are fairly easy to get in the U.S. All you have to do is head to the local supermarket and pick up fresh samples of any of the vegetables on the list. Leeks, carrots, beets, black-eyed peas, squash, etc. They are all available almost continually throughout the year.

That is not the case here. As I have written before, in Israel, if a fruit or vegetable is not in season, it is not available. The only way to get something out of season is to buy it frozen or canned. Some of them (like black-eyed peas this year) sometimes cannot be found at all, and we do without.

We also have huge competition here between supermarkets, all clamoring for a piece of the very lucrative two-day holiday grocery bill. I remember this as a practice around Pesach in the U.S. With a purchase above a set amount, you were entitled to five pounds of matzah for free, which makes sense and is tied in to the holiday very nicely.

Here in Israel, the promotions were also tied in to the holiday. Goldie got two free bags of apples (great for dipping in honey) as well as a honey cake from various shopping trips to Supersol in Bet Shemesh. I think they were also offering free honey as an option, but we had bought our honey at a 50 percent discount the week before in a different sale. Another store gave us a four-pack of Pepsi Max (no connection to Rosh Hashanah, but still free).

Rosh Hashanah is also a major school milestone here. The week after Rosh Hashanah is the preferred time for back-to-school night in all the schools (we had four of them this week). It marks the time that the learning is turned up a notch and is the final preparation for the major academic period that begins after Sukkot and runs through Pesach.

It also marked a major milestone for our shul. Having completed our first year as a kehillah, one of our members, Rabbi Menachem Alfasi (a native-born Israeli who serves as a rabbi in the IDF) and his family presented the shul with our first sefer Torah. It was completed only days before Rosh Hashanah, so on Thursday night, the last night of the year, we held a gala hachnassat sefer Torah in the shul.

The final letters of the sefer were written at Rabbi Rosner's home, and almost everyone who attended was able to add this special mitzvah to their account that night (even the policemen who came to secure the route for the procession to the shul were invited in and honored with the writing of a letter and joined in the singing and dancing on the way to the shul).

The sofer was very patient and allowed the children to watch as he wrote each letter (at the event, Goldie commented to me that our shul has a tremendous number of children).

We danced to the shul and enjoyed a terrific reception there, with divrei Torah from several rabbanim and a tremendous sense of togetherness. As we grow and more people move to the neighborhood and come to the shul, we have an increasingly greater sense of belonging to something that has great potential. We just need to further develop the land and make more housing available for our families.

On that note, I have to add that things have been quite settled lately. While there are occasional demonstrations from one group or another, there has been a pretty good sense of quiet and patience in the neighborhood.

A new development is opening up in Ramat Bet Shemesh Gimmel, which will be equally divided (designated housing use) by all segments of Bet Shemesh society-non-religious, religious-Zionist, and chareidi. The equal division will provide for the maintenance of the demographic status quo for the time being, which is really the main goal (of my community at least).

As a matter of fact, a further all-chareidi development was put on hold because an ancient burial ground was discovered at the site and the Antiquities Department has to spend several years examining it. So for now, we are hopeful that we will continue to build bridges with the neighbors and continue to coexist without the complications that have cropped up from time to time.

On a personal level, we still have to figure out what we will be doing long-term. Our lease ends next summer and we already know that we will need to move out. We hope that the development we had originally committed to will be somehow resurrected, so that we can remain in the place where we have developed roots. That remains to be seen.

It rained here on the second day of Rosh Hashanah (which was probably not so good for the grape growers, but great for the rest of us). Mordechai ran out to dance in the rain in the middle of davening. Hopefully, this was a sign of a good and healthy rainy season-something which we need. The Kinneret Lake is at -214.195, still 85 centimeters above the dreaded Black Line (which it looks like we will thankfully not reach this year).

I wish you and your families all a g'mar chatimah tovah-may we all have an easy and meaningful fast as we watch the Kohein Gadol perform the Yom Kippur avodah in the rebuilt Beit HaMikdash.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Haramat Kosot (9/16/2009)

It is once again a few days before the Yom HaDin. As we all do, I too have striven to look back upon the past year and reflect about who I am, where I am, and what I could have done better (which is almost everything). As we all do, I need to ask one and all for forgiveness if I offended or upset them.

I view the mission of these articles as a vehicle for the encouragement of aliyah and the in-gathering of the Jewish people to Israel. Although there are certainly difficulties, and you have read about a lot of them, the general body of work is intended to demonstrate to you, the reader, that anyone can make the move here. If we can make it here, with all the trials and tribulations we have gone through, certainly you can too.

People often ask me why I write about the underbelly of life here if I want people to come on aliyah. My goal is to share the good AND the bad in order to present you with a fair picture of what life is like. I want every Jew to join us here, but I want you to do it willingly, with a full heart and totally prepared for what you will face. I think it would be unfair and dishonest of me to attempt to "fool" you with a totally rosy picture.

I believe this is especially important in regard to Bet Shemesh and the issues the city faces as it grows and develops. I often write that the views I express come from my personal experience as a result of my living right on the border of two neighborhoods. I also add that I do not think these events should, on their own, dissuade people from coming to Bet Shemesh in particular, just that the information should be part of a reasoned process.

We had neighbors right next to our house in Woodmere that I didn't care for, people who made life difficult (especially on Shabbat). They would make tons of noise and had their teenagers running amok at all hours, disrupting our kids' sleep. I had to call the police several times about them. Yet, on the whole, our Woodmere community was terrific, and we were glad to have settled in the neighborhood and on our block.

The same applies to our lives here in Israel. Do some of the charedim make me crazy? Yes! Are they all nut jobs? NO! Are they enough of a reason to keep you away? Maybe-but that is something you need to investigate for yourself. The point is that there is no perfect place to live, here or there. I would much rather have my imperfection than yours. Because I still have the Kotel, the kedushah of Eretz Yisrael, and I am getting the mitzvah of living in the land, among other things.

So please, do not take offense; I do not mean to offend, only to inform and encourage. After all, there is so much that we have to offer.

I experienced a new phenomenon (for me) this year at work. I got to work last Sunday, and there was a note on the bulletin board informing the staff that there would be a "Haramat Kossot" (literally a "lifting of cups") at 1 p.m. that afternoon. Having no idea what that meant, I joined the entire staff in one of the meeting rooms at the appropriate time.

In what is an annual get together, Rav Menachem Burstein, the head of the Machon, shared a brief d'var Torah and then spoke to us about the accomplishments of the prior year and his hopes for the coming year. He reminded us that we are in the chessed business and that as much as it is a job for us, we work with couples who are suffering great emotional distress and that we need to keep our compassion first in our hearts.

He reminded us to remember the couples we work with in our davening on the Yamim Nora'im, and he wished us a terrific year. The executive director, Rav Meir Bitton, also said a few words about always being careful in how we phrase things and in remembering that a Jew is a Jew, no matter what.

There was a table with refreshments, including apples with honey (apparently, unlike matzah, this is something we can enjoy time and again in preparation for Rosh Hashanah) honey cake, and a host of other snacks and drinks. We then spent a few minutes (no more than 15) together, something we rarely do as a staff. I thought it was a very nice way to encourage a sense of camaraderie and share mutual wishes of goodwill between coworkers.

That night I shared the experience with another Anglo, I don't remember whom. Their response? This is normal; everyone does it in Israel. It is especially prevalent in the army, where camaraderie and a concern for the well-being of your neighbor takes on extra meaning.

I was amazed. Such a simple gesture, and it is so genuine and well-meaning. It wasn't a big holiday party or dinner. Just a simple heartfelt brachah from one person to the next. And it happens all over.

At the supermarket, "Shanah Tovah."

From the taxi and bus drivers, "Shanah Tova."

From the teachers in school, "Shanah Tovah."

From the mailman, garbagemen, most of the people you encounter, "Shanah Tovah."

And from the Katz family to you, "Shanah Tovah."

I remember a drasha I heard a few years ago. It was a year like this year in which Rosh Hashanah's first day fell on Shabbat. I davened that year at Anshei Chessed in Woodmere. Rabbi Simcha Lefkowitz shared a thought about the loss of the sounds of the shofar standing in our defense and that the years in which this happened generally turn out to be dark years for the Jews (if I got the message wrong, I apologize to Rabbi Lefkowitz). He encouraged the kehillah to think about this and to concentrate with extra fervor for only good things in the coming year.

I cannot even begin to imagine applying this to our current existence. The world has spent a year hearing about the greed of the Jew that has reinforced the stereotypical image of our people as willing to steal from charities and the innocent. Here in the Holy Land we stand (as we always seem to be) at the edge of terrible options. Our enemies want to chop us to bits to destroy us. Even our friends want to chop us into little pieces to make life easier for them.

People are concerned about jobs, health, safety, and security. And we have no shofar to blast open the doors of heaven for our prayers. We must do anything within our power to add an extra dimension to our davening and secure the needs of our land and its people. I hope and pray that we get to blow shofar as part of the regular avodah on the first day of Rosh Hashanah in the Beit HaMikdash, with the coming of Mashiach. If not, l'shanah haba'ah b'Yerushalayim ha'bnuya.

I wish you and your family a truly meaningful Rosh Hashanah with inspired tefillah and a positive outcome. May you be zocheh to be awarded the things that are best for you (which in most cases should include joining Am Yisrael here in the land that was given to us).

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Summer is Done (9/9/2009)

Each summer I get the same concerned e-mail from Larry Gordon. "Shmuel," he asks, "where have you gone?" What can I say? The summer is a slow time of year for us. Many of our friends disappear on vacations. Even our kids head off for camp. So there isn't much to report, and I don't write as much. Hopefully we will now be back to regular life until the next big vacation.

I don't remember being this relieved for school to arrive when we lived in the U.S. School starts earlier here (September 1) and ends later (the last week of June), so you would think the summer break would be easier to handle. Yet, with no camp programs that run eight or nine weeks, the last month is a killer. With kids all over the place with nothing to do, and my first U.S. trip for my new job with Puah, August was a terribly hard month for Goldie.

She had to balance keeping the kids busy and involved with running the household and having to do everything all alone (in truth, she does everything even when I am there, but it is different when she is alone). I, on the other hand, took a couple of days off to do some fun stuff, flew to the U.S. for 10 days, and then came home to another couple of days off with the kids.

We went to the Bloomfield Science Museum (lots of fun, but needs maintenance on the exhibits), an amusement park, the beach, shopping, playing-everything we could to keep busy. Although there is nothing like being here in Israel, I sometimes miss the wealth of fun, educational, or cultural activities that we used to enjoy in New York. There are so many more things to do to keep little kids occupied-probably because there are so many more people there.

As I mentioned, I made my first work-related trip to the U.S. for Puah, my new employer. It was more of a "get to know you" trip than anything else, giving me the opportunity to meet the Puah USA staff and some of our supporters. I am amazed at some of the things Puah is doing in fertility and health issues and the incredible technologies that are involved in helping people have children.

As a benefit of the timing of the trip, I was able to take Chaim up to YU on the first day of orientation. He has been looking forward to this day since grade 4. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it was so much harder for me to drop him off than it was for him to take his leave of us. As any parent knows, while our pride in him has no bounds, our fears and concerns for him can be overwhelming.

We wonder if we made the right decisions for him in life. Schooling. Camps. Friends. Activities. And we had the extra worries about our aliyah and its impact on his life. Let's face it: he only really had one year of high school. He has a diploma and certainly did well on his SAT, but he hasn't written anything or been responsible to study and hand in homework for over three years. So we wonder if we hurt his career potential by making this move.

We personally know some families who have been successful in leaving a child or two behind in the U.S. to graduate with their friends. While we never really considered it as an option for us, it is certainly something we could have done to make sure he was better prepared for college. So we worry.

We also realize that our being 6,000 miles away means that he has essentially moved out. I know I covered this earlier this year, but it is definitely on our minds. Goldie had a terrific minute when he mentioned to her earlier this year that he is now open to the possibility of living in Israel long-term. He even mentioned a couple of yishuvim he would be happy in. So we still have hope on that front.

We are also quite excited with the arrival of several new olim families over the summer. Our shul is getting more crowded and we are getting close to a nexus point for the city, one in which the decision will be made about which direction the city will follow in the future. The municipality can show its equal commitment to the non-chareidi public by encouraging more of us to move here and by continuing to fund services to our schools and shuls. Hopefully they will choose this path.

Although there are many other families who have come on aliyah, I want to wish a special welcome to Dan and Audrey Rosenstein, who joined us from West Hempstead with their family, and to Donny and Ellie Fein, who came from Cedarhurst and have moved to Ramat Shilo (very close to our good friends Doni and Tzippy Lieberman, who often appear in these pages).

Water Update

My regular readers know that I have become quite fanatical about the falling levels of the Kinneret Lake. To refresh your memory, since our aliyah, the rainfalls in Israel have been well below average. Up till this year, consumption had been on the rise, leading to dramatically low levels in the Kinneret, our main source of water.

There are three significant water levels mentioned when measuring the Kinneret. The high water level of the Kinneret is 208.8 meters below sea level. At this level, the lake overflows and the floodgates of the Deganya Dam near Teveria are opened to allow the waters to flow into the Jordan River. This is called the upper red line.

The lower red line is 213 meters below sea level. At this level, the amount of unhealthy contaminants found in the water rises above safe levels. We are currently below that level, and have been so since around July 9, 2008. The next significant level of the Kinneret is the black line, at 215 meters below sea level. At -215, the water pumps of the Kinneret become exposed to the air and must be shut down, eliminating the Kinneret (which provides 40 percent of our total water supply) as a water source.

The good news is that the conservation efforts of the water authority here have had tremendous results. Last month they announced that summer water consumption in July had dropped 13.5 percent from last year's level. So the country is getting the message. As a result of this, in my estimation we will come incredibly close to the black line this year, but will not pass it (depending on when the rains begin to fall).

As of last Thursday (September 3), the Kinneret was 214.04 meters below sea level. Last year on the same date it was 213.72 meters below sea level. The lowest level last year was 214.43 meters below sea level, a drop of an additional 85 centimeters from the September 3 level. Assuming that the conservation efforts totally fail for the remainder of the year and we use the same amount of water as we used last year, the Kinneret should fall to 214.89, a mere 11 centimeters above the dreaded black line. An important 11 centimeters.

At that point, we all need to pray for rain-and I mean pray hard. There are desalination plants being built to help relieve the stress on the system, but they won't be ready for another couple of years, and we could have real problems before then.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Does Might Make Right (8/5/2009)

This week, I am writing not at all about my personal experience, but rather about current events and my take on them. Over the past couple of months, the Israeli media has been abuzz with various protests that have been taking place in Yerushalayim (and for a couple of days even spilled over into Bet Shemesh). We have read accounts of uncontrolled violence and rage. We have heard accusations and counter-accusations. Yet beneath it all is a struggle for power that is all too familiar.

I am referring to various "protests" and "riots" that have taken place in response to two different actions taken by the Jerusalem municipality. The first was the opening of a parking lot on Shabbat to be used by non-religious Jews as well as non-Jews who visit the capital city on Shabbat. The second was the arrest of the chareidi mother who allegedly starved her three-year-old son.

Before you get nervous, this is not another "Shmuel hates chareidim" article. I certainly fail to understand the more radical of them, but in this instance I understand their motivations and even agree that-in part-they had no choice but to act as they did. And I wonder why it is that things have to come to such straits.

Many years ago, when the first non-religious Jews began to move to Jerusalem, the local rabbinate faced an immediate crisis. For the communities in the eastern part of the city, the only Jews that the majority of their kehillah had been exposed to were observant. They had never witnessed chillul Shabbat or any other of a range of transgressions of the Torah. The rabbis worried that these newcomers would have a detrimental effect on the Jews of the city.

One of the actions they took at the time was to institute the practice of crying "Shaaabbbiiis" whenever one saw another Jew desecrating the Shabbat. They wanted people to remind themselves that the Shabbat was a holy day, and therefore the call of "Shabbis" was not directed outward at the other Jew, but rather inward as a reminder to keep the day holy and special.

In fact, in story after story, the original rabbanim who were involved in protests and activities in honor of Shabbat observance were incredibly particular not to say anything to a Jew who was transgressing the Shabbat, lest it represent a halachically valid warning. A Jew so warned is then guilty of violating Shabbat on a Torah level and not a rabbinic level, something they wanted to avoid at all costs.

Unfortunately, as tends to happen, over the years and generations this practice has evolved into an accusation against the non-religious Jew - almost in direct conflict with the original intention.

About two months ago, the mayor of Jerusalem, responding to safety concerns within the city, opened up a municipal parking lot for use on Shabbat. It is important to note that (i) the lack of parking facilities in the city on Shabbat creates safety issues for pedestrians and emergency personnel who have to navigate the narrow streets of Jerusalem, which used to be filled with haphazardly parked cars blocking traffic; (ii) the lot is operated by non-Jews on Shabbat with no chillul Shabbat taking place in the actual opening and operation of the lot itself; and (iii) the plan was done with the consultation and eventual approval of members of the chareidi religious parties in the city council (who had rejected using the originally proposed lot and insisted upon the use of a lot further from the chareidi neighborhoods).

In my opinion, the demonstrations (which have at times turned violent) against the opening of the parking lot were unreasonable. The only chillul Shabbat being performed was that being done by private parties, not the municipality. Those who were actually driving and parking in the lot were certainly guilty of this, but they would have been driving on Shabbat with or without the parking lot being open. (The only argument that is even slightly valid is that these drivers might not have come to Jerusalem if not for the parking-but historically, that is inaccurate. They came and parked in the streets.)

I believe that these protests were a simple muscle flex being done by the fanatical minority. They saw an opportunity to inflame people and make a point to the mayor and the country that they are a power and force to be reckoned with. I also believe that the city overreacted and that things quickly got out of hand. I am convinced that these initial protests quickly became a game of chicken. I also think that the mayor, as well as the secular community, was outraged by the "betrayal" of the chareidi parties who had helped formulate this plan but who quickly abandoned it in the face of public pressure.

It was this climate (a climate that has continued with protests and sporadic violence each Shabbat) that I believe became the catalyst for the second crisis that arose. I believe that in their zeal to smack down the chareidim, no matter what the issue, the municipality overstepped its bounds with their next step.

Much of the following may be inaccurate, and for that I apologize. I am trying to sift through the media reports and accusations from both sides and the result is what I hope is a close approximation of the truth.

There is a woman in Jerusalem who I believe has a terrible illness. Her illness has led her to do a terrible thing to her own son, which is an unimaginable tragedy. She apparently withheld food from her infant son and allowed him to waste away. The police claim there is even a video, shot by the hospital staff with a hidden camera, of her removing her son's feeding tube in the hospital and at times putting some foreign substance into it.

Faced with this evidence, the hospital had no choice but to report her to social services and the police. However, when the police wanted to have her arrested, the hospital balked and refused to allow it to happen in the hospital. Instead, a plan was devised by the police (independent of the social service workers who were still investigating the issue) to have the woman arrested outside of the social services offices, in the heart of her neighborhood.

The chareidi community, outraged at the arrest of one of their own, quickly went on the offensive. The social services offices were trashed and torched, garbage bins were set aflame, street signs and traffic lights were destroyed, and general mayhem and mischief ensued. There were both violent and nonviolent protests in Bet Shemesh, as well.

My initial reaction was one of disgust. After all, the police and hospital had been very vocal about having evidence, and this was a horrific crime. How could the chareidim defend this woman and protest her arrest? In my mind I had convicted her of terrible things; the information being presented was simply too inflammatory.

The mayor, responding to the violence and threat to civil servants in the city, pulled all municipal services from chareidi neighborhoods. He publicly regretted the fact that the innocent were swept up in this punishment, but charged the innocent with restoring order and civility to the area so that services could resume. I thought this was a long overdue move that was certainly justified and commensurate with the crimes.

Then came the news on erev Shabbat that the mother had been released into the custody of a high-ranking chareidi lobbyist, who paid $100,000+ bail for her. A deal had been struck where the woman, after initially refusing to cooperate with the investigation, agreed to be evaluated by a psychiatrist two days later, on Sunday. I was upset that they had let her out. How could they cave to the demands of hooligans and rioters? Didn't the rule of law apply here?

On Monday, a story was released that the mother had failed to show up for her mandated evaluation. The judge was quoted as saying that he hoped this wasn't an effort to undermine the court system, and there were quick condemnations.

She eventually presented herself for evaluation at midnight a couple of days later. Within hours, the chareidi community leaked reports that the psychiatrist had concluded that there was nothing wrong with the mother and that she did not constitute a threat to the members of her family. In the ensuing days, the psychiatrists for the prosecution contradicted the original psychiatrists, and there have been claims and counterclaims of misrepresentations and lies. The original psychiatrist has written a letter retracting his evaluation and was discovered to be a disgruntled former employee of the hospital in question, as well.

A judge, having seen the evidence, remanded the woman to house arrest. She is allowed to visit with her other children, but not the one she is accused of starving. The judge also explicitly criticized the police for blowing things out of proportion. The investigation continues. So does the posturing.

Although in my initial reaction I was outraged at the behavior of the chareidi community, I think I am changing my mind. They were wrong to be violent, no question. But at what point do we realize that their anger was justified, if not their actions?

The hospital and the mental-health professionals both had the ability to insist that the woman be arrested or have a restraining order issued against her. Why didn't they? Perhaps it was because they felt that with the child in the hospital's custody and now being supervised, the woman did not present an immediate risk to him. Perhaps also because they had determined-in their professional opinions-that she did not present an immediate risk to the rest of her family or the public at large. The police, whose job it is to enforce the restraining orders and maintain law and order, did neither. They took it upon themselves to make a judgment in this case that they had no expertise in and no business making.

A woman is sick. Her child is sick as a result. That is a tragedy-not a public relations opportunity. There is a system to handle these types of issues. Help, both medical and psychological, were called for, not condemnation and ridicule. The state, which is responsible to be impartial in the effective use of its power, was supposed to reach out and help, and instead slapped down and figuratively "spat" upon this family and community.

Perhaps this happened because the police were smarting. The chareidim had been making a mockery of their efforts to maintain safety with the opening of the parking lots, and maybe they wanted to get them back. So they jumped the gun and made the arrest.

So I wonder-and this is really why I have gone through the whole sordid story with you-what would have happened if this had been a non-religious mother? Would the police have been so quick to act, or would they have let the system process the case normally, waiting for the professionals to decide the next step? If they had acted, would her community have "gone nuts" and effectively forced a quick decision on getting her out of jail, or would she still be sitting in jail waiting?

What if it had been someone from my community, the Religious Zionist community? There is no question that people would have been up in arms. But would we have gotten violent? Almost assuredly not! Would we have forced the issue by virtue of our threats? Again, no. So I wonder if maybe we, outside the chareidi community, are the fools here. They saw an injustice and acted swiftly, strongly, and decisively to address it as soon as possible. More knowledgeable people than I have weighed in on the situation and agreed that the steps taken by the government were indeed well beyond what was required. This family was most probably being persecuted. Amazing for me to say it, but the chareidi community's emotional reaction to the second crisis was probably right-even though their actions (which were the catalyst for a fair hearing) were still wrong.

This is why the juxtaposition of the two crises is so compelling. It is the reaction to the first crisis that most probably caused the second crisis. In one situation, a bunch of punks got together to cause trouble because they felt ignored. In the other, a community banded together and took action in protest of persecution. It is unfortunate that, for this community, they seem to go hand in hand.

Note: After the above was written, the child involved was released from the hospital. He was reported to have gained weight and has shown significant improvement since being removed from his mother's care.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Dog Days of Summer (7/29/2009)

We have officially reached the dog days of summer here. As usual, the entire country is gearing up for the annual "everyone goes on vacation in the month of August" fest, which means the kids are home and bored and the weather is nice and hot. Not only that, but many of the Anglo families are on their summer trips overseas, so the shuls are half-full, too. And it is hot.

No, not hot like you think. You have it hot in the 90s and 100s for a day or two-or maybe up to a week or ten days-and then it cools down to normal temperatures in the 80s and even as low as the 70s. We have day after day after day of 90 degree heat for over a week, one day of 85 and then right back up to the 90s and 100s. The sun is incredibly strong and I do not know how anyone lived here before there was A/C. I guess that is why we have "Shemesh" in our name here.

Of course, our employers still want us to give them the full value of work for our pay, so the kids get to be bored without me in the house and Goldie home only part time. But they are used to it from the rest of the year-they come home from school early here, and almost all the kids in the neighborhood are busy playing outside from the minute they get home until the minute they go to sleep. So they are very independent and, at least play-wise, are very self-sufficient.

We are members of a pool at one of the local kibbutzim, so Goldie will at least have a nice free activity for them. They love swimming. We go to the pool every Friday and they cannot get enough of being in the water. But we definitely miss summers in the U.S. summer camps (day and sleepaway) that last the entire summer, days that aren't all 100+ degrees, and, my favorite-Sundays. I would gladly trade my relaxed Friday if it meant that I could get my family Sundays back.

We are looking forward to trying out a new activity for the Katzes this summer. Israel is a country of hikers and campers. We have never really been into camping, but after our very successful Lag B'Omer hiking experience, I got Goldie's OK to schedule a camping night or nights. She will probably end up sleeping in the car, but the kids will have an awesome time.

Since we are still newbies, our day trips, hikes, and basically anything we do is an adventure for us. We have been to one amusement park since we arrived, so that is definitely on our short list of things to do. Plus, the kids always love the beach, the zoo, and anything that involves food-so we have an outline for some fun days with them as well.

They deserve it. After a year of six-day school weeks, they are entitled to get out and have some fun. Things are definitely less structured here. We see it in the school year, when the kids play on their own and can freely roam the neighborhood safely. We see it at s'machot, where formality is just not so important. And we see it in the summer, where there aren't programs and camps for the whole season. After all, if there was camp, there wouldn't be family fun time.

I got an e-mail from someone wondering why the change in the headline last week. If you hadn't noticed, we decided to stop numbering the Aliyah Chronicle articles. You see, the prior article was number 120 and in keeping with an "ad meah v'esrim" theme, we had to make some change, and that was it. From now on, we are simply "Our Aliyah Chronicle," and I look forward to sharing our experience-the highs as well as the lows-with you.

As I write this, Tishah B'Av is still in the future. By the time you read this, I hope that you all enjoyed coming to the Beit HaMikdash to enjoy the avodah as much as my father, brothers, and sons enjoyed performing it. On the off chance that the geulah did not happen, I hope you had a meaningful and easy fast and are looking forward to a terrific August.

Monday, July 27, 2009

To the Grandparents (7/16/2009)

Earlier this week, I got an e-mail from one of our friends, Chani Schwartz, asking me if I thought it would be a good idea to tackle a sensitive area of aliyah: the difficulties and tensions that arise in families when the children (even those who are grown and have families of their own) decide to make aliyah. She, as a new olah having just gone through the process, had been getting calls from some of her friends who are coming this year. One of the major issues that kept coming up in conversation was the lack of support from their families.

I actually checked the archives and saw that I had written an article a few weeks before we left about how tough it was going to be for Goldie’s family (two of my three siblings were in Israel at that time; we are all here now, so the transition on my side was not as difficult). At that time, we knew that it would mean missing s’machot and other family get-togethers, yet we also hoped that it meant something positive for our family’s growth. We were right on both counts.

I cannot say that our extended family has been universally supportive 100 percent of the time. Yet I know that they also believe in what we have done and that they even have some measure of jealousy for the fact that we can and do live here (some more than others, none more than David). So, for our part, we have not faced the situation where our family was opposed to our coming to Israel.

I invited Chani to be a “guest columnist” and not only give me a semi-vacation (as I got last week as well), but also to provide a different voice from the one you have been hearing these past few years. I still have things to say, but for this week, the floor is Chani’s…

Are Your Children Making Aliyah?
An Aliyah Letter To Grandparents

By Chani Schwartz

The summer is upon us, and aside from thoughts of finishing school, summer camps, and family vacations, there is something else that permeates the air and peppers each conversation: “Did you hear who is making aliyah?” Most everyone in the greater New York–New Jersey area will know of someone taking the giant leap and moving to Israel.

Just under a year ago, my family was the topic of that conversation. On August 12, 2008, my husband Jason and I uprooted our family of then seven children from our comfortable home, stable jobs, and loving community in Teaneck, N.J., to move across the world to Israel.

This summer will welcome a number of new olim from the United States, many of whom will be coming after an arduous and soul-searching process culminating in the decision that aliyah is indeed for them. Many of these olim will be coming with their parents’ blessing, but unfortunately many without. It is those families that have prompted me to write to you today. I have seen far too many families and heard far too many stories of families making aliyah without their parents’ consent.

My husband and I both grew up in Woodmere. We are products of Woodmere of the ’80s and ’90s. I want to direct this article to the parents and grandparents of the children choosing or contemplating aliyah. How will you react when confronted with that fateful call of “Mom, I’m making aliyah”?

Unfortunately, all too often, the parental response is that of dismay. Parents become belligerent and angry, and sometimes even refuse to speak to their children. In response, many exclaim, “How did this happen?” Moms and dads, let me explain it to you: You helped us.

It was you who saved to take us on the ultimate family vacation to Israel, taking pictures by the Kotel, which in turn made it into every bar/bat mitzvah video. It was you who sent us to pro-Israel schools. You were the ones who picked out our clothes when we had to wear blue and white on Yom HaAtzma’ut, and it was you who helped us sing the proper words of HaTikvah when we came home in first grade garbling the stanzas.

Certainly you cannot forget when you took us, rain or shine (often rain), as far back as each of us can remember, to the Israel Day Parade. It was on Fifth Avenue that you pointed out all the schools, the floats, Mayor Koch (if we got there early enough), telling us, “Look, he’s the Mayor of the whole New York City, and he’s Jewish!” and explained why it is so important that we show our support each and every year. Finally, it was you who allowed us our rite of passage to spend a year, sometimes two, studying in Israel, post-high-school. How can we not develop a love for Israel—a sense of entitlement that this is where we belong?

It’s hard to let go at any point in life. Not everyone has the luxury of having his or her children living right next door, but many do. But the question is, are you prepared to stay in the Five Towns the rest of your lives? What happens when you decide to retire and move to Florida? Do we have the right to ask you not to move and enjoy your retirement because we want you to stay nearby? When we do ask, what will you do?

Mom and Dad, you’ve raised us to be independent. You sought for us to be accomplished professionals. You hoped for us to grow up, get married, and have lives of our own. Part of that maturity is making grown-up decisions about what is right for our nuclear family.

Please do not think that we did this to hurt you. We understand what our decision means for you. We are taking away your grandchildren and not allowing you to see them grow on a daily basis. We will no longer have the fluidity to pop over as you or we please, and we are limiting your involvement in the practical raising of our children. Just know that it is a major loss for us as well.

Please consider that we are the ones leaving our family and friends behind. We realize that our children will be some of the few not to have their grandparents front and center for every siddur play and presentation. We are the ones that will not be able to join every family simcha. Yes, these are the choices we made; and yes, these are the consequences we will endure. But know that we make aliyah in the hopes of a better, albeit possibly harder, life for our family.

I am blessed that our decision to make aliyah was met only with support by my parents, who are still living in the Five Towns. That’s not to say there weren’t any tears (on both sides), wisps of regret in voices, and conversations brought to abrupt ends due to lumps in the throat. But to our faces, my parents were the picture of strength, admiration, and support.

They helped in every way possible, and they were there at JFK airport waving the entire time as we passed through the gates to board our plane until they could see us no longer. Having their support meant the world to us. It allowed the stressful process to be just a little easier, knowing we had our parental love and support. For that, I thank G-d…and my parents.

So, if the time comes and you are placed in this position, please be careful with your response. Think what you want behind closed doors, and even voice your concerns once to ensure your children have thought of all the angles. But to your children be supportive and be happy, and you will see how much it is appreciated in return. It makes all the difference.