Tuesday, March 17, 2009

משיב הרוח (Article# 109) 3/5/2009

Living in Israel has made us much more sensitive to the seasons and the balance of our ecology. Having grown up in the Midwest and spent the majority of my adult years in New York, I am a true city boy. The change of seasons was admired, but only for its aesthetic beauty, not because it had any meaning to me. Rain was an inconvenience, except in “drought years.” Even then, the real inconvenience was in adhering to the “no watering” rules and having a brown lawn.

We enjoyed having snow days and playing in the snow with our kids (although having to shovel a rather large driveway as well as both sidewalks of our corner house was definitely a pain) or playing “bucket hockey” on our driveway in the sunny summers. Weather was an experience, but not much more than that.

Intellectually, I understood that there were farmers whose livelihood could be destroyed by a badly timed storm or by a bad season. I even saw how disastrous it was one year when there was a drought on Long Island and a late rain came and practically ruined that year’s grape crop. But none of that had any real consequence to me or my immediate environment, beyond a higher cost for water or having to pay more for fruits or vegetables—which even when “out of season” would be generally available year round (since they were “in season” somewhere in the vast USA).

I even understood that the weather in Israel was crucial to the country. With farming being a major industry in Israel, it was obvious that rainfall was important, and as an Orthodox Jew I learned quite early on that we said “Mashiv HaRuach” and why. Yet it was more of an academic understanding, a religious belief without a tremendous internal meaning.

My whole world has changed in this regard. We live in a desert. The summer heat is unbelievable and there are parts of the country that are almost always hot. Being in the middle of the desert, with essentially only one source of water (the Kinneret Lake), we are very conscious of its importance to our lives.

We are also in the middle of one of the worst rain seasons on record (January was the driest month in Israel since they began tracking such things). As a matter of fact, we have not had “normal” rainfall in any of the winters that we have been living here, and the continued shortage keeps compounding the problem. Add in the fact that the entire world (not just Israel) seems to be facing tremendous rain shortages—with severe droughts in parts of the USA, Australia, and Asia causing food shortages and crop devastation—and our current drought takes on more significance.

Each year that we’ve been here, we have said the special prayer for rain that is inserted into the Shemoneh Esreh. I have wondered who it is that determines that we should start saying it, but we have done it every year. So I am assuming there is a system—and the system is saying, “We need help!”

Last year at this time I tried to keep abreast of the developments, but my Hebrew was not up to the challenge and I couldn’t find any real-time updates on the water levels. I knew there was concern about the water issue, but it didn’t seem to be a dire picture, just a matter for concern if things would get worse. At the end of the season we were above the “red line” that needs to be reached to ensure that we only have to conserve water instead of ration it severely.

We saw tangible results of the shortage in August when Goldie and I took a couple of days off in Teveria. We went rafting on the Jordan River. The rafting company told us that the water was extremely low and apologized that in several areas we would have to get out of the raft and push it because the water was so low. And we did.

We hoped things would improve. They didn’t. As I mentioned, this past January was the driest one on record, and the media has been abuzz with how dire the situation was. We were significantly below the lower “red line,” and a major crisis was brewing.

After months of hearing about how terrible things are and personally noticing the absolute absence of rain, it began to grate upon me. In the USA, beautiful sunny weather is the preference. But I began to be disgusted with it—every day, sunny and clear.

I will admit that I did miss the pleasant climate when I went to the USA. Snow? Freezing cold? Definitely not what I was looking forward to when I traveled. Yet, within a few days of my return to Israel I was again looking for rain and getting sick of the sun. (Friday rain was a specific desire—getting much-needed rain with the added bonus of a little-league rainout.)

It finally rained two weekends ago and we got about 10 centimeters of water in the Kinneret. It was a beginning, but not nearly enough. I began to add a desire for rain to my Facebook status, saying things like “Shmuel is looking forward to at least three days of rain this weekend—we need even more,” which definitely confused people. And I even got a message from a friend telling me, “Yes, unfortunately it is another disgusting day of sunshine. I cannot wait for the rains to return and those beautiful stormy skies with the delightful sounds of water pouring outside my window.”

I originally thought he was joking, and I made a comment about how he needed to understand how serious the situation was. He replied, “Unfortunately, you think I am joking. I meant truthfully what I said. I am completely sick of sunny days and they are not beautiful to me. I, of course, know the status, and another 12 days of the [amount of] rain we had last will ensure we pass the red line. We have been praying to get it and hopefully more. If it were rainy and cloudy till Pesach I would be the happiest camper.”

Well, the three days of rain came, and they were awesome! It rained and rained and rained. Of course, rain in Bet Shemesh is not nearly as important as rain in the North, which is what feeds the Kinneret. But rain in our area is an indirect help, providing water for all things that grow in the ground and eliminating the need to use Kinneret water for irrigation or watering.

Yet when the dust (or, in this case, rain clouds) settled, the level of water in the Kinneret had risen by 30 centimeters—the most water ever to fall in a single rain event since we began to track such things. It was terrific, and it seemed as if everyone was talking about it.

I posted updates of how much the Kinneret had risen and got several comments about it. I even found a terrific website to track the progress of the water (www.water.gov.il/water/console/kinnert_history.aspx). It gives you what the daily change is and the current water level. It prompted my sister to get me the URL of a different website that also gives you the shortfall from the “Red Line” and “Full Line” (www.kineret.org.il/main.asp), although the graph on that site is very misleading.

On my Monday-morning train ride to Yerushalayim, I made a point of looking out the window as we approached the station. Just outside the train there is a seasonal stream formed each spring by the runoff of the rains. When it rains, the water runs strong, but within hours it dries up. It was flowing well, something I had not seen in quite a while.

That stream feeds into another stream, which flows continuously throughout the year. On my way home that afternoon I took a look at that second river and was amazed. And very excited.

The second stream was not only flowing strong, I could see that the stream was clearly swollen with water. I could see grass and bushes growing on the banks of the stream that were partially submerged in the water. And it was exhilarating. I couldn’t believe that seeing water would be so stimulating, but it is.

So I hope and pray for more and more rain to come our way. We are now only 83 centimeters from the lower red line, and the runoff from the prior rain has not yet settled into the river. Six or seven days of this and we will pass the red line comfortably. We’ll still be 5+ meters from the normal values, but we will have averted the worst. So don’t forget to keep us in your mind when you are davening—we can use the help.

As we approach Purim, Goldie and I wish you all simchat Purim and hope that if not this Purim, then certainly by next Purim we should all be celebrating Purim together with a huge seudah in a rebuilt Yerushalayim.

A special mazal tov to our former neighbors and very close friends Yehuda and Carolyn Deutsch on the birth of their first daughter, Rochel Avigail. Enjoy her.

A special mazal tov also goes to my nephew Yonatan, who graduated from commander training this week. He did so well that the training school requested that he stay on as a teacher for future trainees. He declined. He didn’t want to waste his time teaching—he wanted to serve. So he pulled some strings to be assigned to a field unit (we don’t know where). However, in the end, they saw through him and he was assigned as a commander for new recruits in basic training. He now has to do the entire training over again with them, this time as their sergeant.

And finally, special Shabbat Shalom wishes to my good friend Dov Herman, who was peeved that I left his name out of the paper when telling a recent story about him. So please, everyone make a point of mentioning to him that you saw his name in the paper.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Mixing Bowl (Article# 108) 2/26/2009

Enough politics. Netanyahu is going to form the government, either a last minute bad deal with Kadima or a simple right wing government. No more talking about the elections this week.

I often get asked how I can live in Bet Shemesh, especially since I refer to the city as “Teaneck East” (the Rosh Yeshiva where I work lives in Efrat, which he calls “Occupied Scarsdale” so I am not alone in making this kind of reference). Don’t I wish that I lived in a more Israeli area, where my kids could integrate better and we don’t have to deal with the handicap of all the English? Actually, no.

A couple of weeks ago we hosted an Open House meeting for Mordechai’s school. Geared to parents of incoming first graders, the meeting was a chance for the parents to come meet the Principal and the Assistant Principal (Grades 1-1) and hear about the curriculum and activities.
One of the main things that stood out (at least to me) in the presentation was a sense of “one people - one nation” that we as parents in the school already knew prevailed. The school consists of 50% immigrant children from all over the world. Yet, when they are in school they do not segregate themselves into different cliques. They play as one, they learn as one and they get along very well.

Two years ago we had gone to a similar Open House to meet the same Principal and hear about the school (for Mordechai). I remember him telling us that during recess he occasionally hears students speaking English and that he asks them why they are talking Chinese – they are in Israel and they should speak Hebrew. At the time, we thought that his approach was quite rigid and not allow for the kids to express themselves comfortably in their free time. We were wrong.

I think that this approach forces the kids to interact as equals. Our kids have had incredibly successful integrations (for the most part) and I credit this to their quick adaptation to Hebrew. There are, however, still some interesting culture differences between people, as the Principal illustrated when we were talking about this specific topic.

He had gone on a field trip with the kids recently. As he sat on the bus, he noticed a couple of Ethiopian kids speaking ……whatever their native tongue is, and decided to let it pass. The bus was passing the airport and the kids were excitedly pointing out the planes, the buildings and all the fancy equipment on display. Each time they passed an industrial center, these boys would excitedly chatter and point to all the big buildings and technology.

Interestingly, the other kids did not react to any of this at all. They sat calmly in their seats talking, reading, playing, etc. However, a few minutes later the roles were reversed. Most of the kids were busy pointing out the windows and getting excited, while the Ethiopian kids were sitting calmly. What were the other kids getting excited about? They were passing a herd of donkeys.

Another thing that fascinates me is the “Israeli” label and how it is applied to different people/groups here. Most of us who live here are Israeli. I am and so is my family – we have citizenship cards to prove it. Yet, somehow we aren’t considered Israeli.

In fact, I know some Olim, who aren’t happy living in places like Bet Shemesh, Ranaana or Chashmonaim because of the high concentration of Anglos in those places. They feel that these places aren’t Israeli enough – whatever that means. They want a more “native” experience.

However, when you stop and consider it, there are almost no real Israelis. Everyone here is an immigrant at some point. Yes, there was a small Jewish community here in the 19th century, but most of us arrived here only within the last 100 years or so. Most of the people who are now called “Israeli” immigrated from Morroco or Iran or Iraq or any one of a dozen countries that made up Sephardic Judaism. The Ashkenazim are also immigrants, most of whom arrived within the last 75 years or so.

Yes, it is our land – our country as given to us by G-d. I am not trying to discuss those issues. My point is only that there is no such thing as a true “Israeli”ness that makes one person more Israeli than another. We are a conglomerate of the various people who make up our society (just like in most societies) and the trick is in understanding that we are all in this together and that this conglomerate is the definition of an “Israeli”.

So I don’t wish that I was in a less Anglo place per se. My kids are quite comfortable and are friends with people of various national backgrounds and I think this makes them better people for it. I (and my Anglo neighbors) bring a new unique approach to life that will add to attractiveness and success of my new country, just as I will be influenced (hopefully for the better) by the people who are currently here and those who will join us in the future.

The USA is called the “Melting Pot” by virtue of its successful blending of so many different ethnicities and backgrounds into a unique American identity. Since you already have that title, I guess you could call us the “Mixing Bowl”. We aren’t quite as large, nor do we do things on such a grand scale – but the idea is the same.

Coalitions (Article# 107) 2/19/2009

Wanting to vote in the first Israeli national elections for which I am a registered voter, I made sure to schedule my arrival from the USA for the morning of Election Day. As I mentioned last week, there are no absentee ballots in Israel for the average citizen. The only people who vote absentee are government workers, such as embassy employees or Jewish Agency representatives. Everyone else must be in Israel on Election Day in order to vote.

In Israel, Election Day is a national holiday. All schools close (well, probably not the chareidi schools) and many offices close as well. This is done for two reasons. One is to encourage people to vote. The other is because almost all the polling stations are in schools, and the kids would not be able to attend in any case. We had been told that Israeli Election Day would be a big party, with people having BBQ’s and other family/community activities. Any national day off would be treated this way because we have so few off days since Sunday is a workday.

Since the kids were off, Goldie brought the younger ones with her to pick me up at the airport and we went straight from the airport to the voting booth. The kids were very excited to be with us, and having experienced the voting process in the mayoral elections just a couple of months ago, they knew exactly how to vote.

It is important to remember that in Israel votes are cast for the political parties—not for the candidates themselves. The leader of each party is usually the person at the top of their Knesset candidate list. Knesset members are elected on a proportional basis, calculated from the popular vote results. Israeli law does not allow for a party to have less than three seats, so there is a mathematical formula to calculate how many seats each party actually gets.

Voters are divided into districts, with each district having its own ballot box. In Bet Shemesh the districts are divided geographically and often consist of a couple of blocks (our block alone has over 150 families in it). The polling place (as I said, usually a school) is divided up by districts as well, with three to five districts assigned a joint ballot box.

Upon entering the school, we went to the classroom assigned to our district and checked in. Each eligible voter is mailed a voting card to tell him where he should vote and what district he is in. Voters can vote without having the card in hand, but it is easier to show the card. Once a voter checks in, he is handed his ballot envelope and votes.

Unlike the municipal elections, the atmosphere (at least in Bet Shemesh) was pretty low key. The parties had their information/lobbying booths set up outside the polling places, but there was none of the frenetic “color war” type of politicking we had seen in November. With the exception of the immediate vicinity of the polling place, there wasn’t the blizzard of campaign literature littered throughout the streets, and to the relief of my little kids there was almost no disturbing the peace with “victory parades” or taxis running around with roof-mounted loudspeakers blaring voting instructions.

It was actually a pretty quiet day. Toward the evening we seized the opportunity to spend some family time together and went out for dinner (kosher food court at the mall). This turned out to be a pretty popular activity nationwide; the papers all carried stories the next day about the incredible amount of people who turned up at the malls on Election Day.

Since I don’t understand the TV news well enough yet, I got most of my election result information online. Exit and pre-election polls here are not so terrifically accurate, so it was hard to tell what the final results were going to be, but we had a pretty good idea what was happening by the time we went to bed.

I had been concerned about this type of result. The results clearly showed a Right leaning electorate and a repudiation of the “make peace at any cost—even if it is our end” policies of the Left. However, the Right’s splinter parties definitely weakened the Likud’s mandate, and it is not the largest faction in the Knesset. I still believe that Netanyahu will be the next prime minister, but his position is definitely weakened by having his party come in second place.

I think some of Kadima’s strength also came from a panicky anti-Lieberman crowd. I think that the growing strength of his party in the pre-election polls got many people who would have voted Likud thinking twice about supporting Likud (who would be the most ideal coalition partner for the Lieberman-led Yisrael Beiteinu party) and they cast their votes for Kadima—not in support of Kadima, but rather as a rejection of Yisrael Beiteinu and a diminishing of Likud’s mandate. They wanted Likud to win, but not by much.

So now we are going to be stuck with a government that has a chip on its shoulder, since the largest party will be in the opposition and will constantly be sniping at its heels. Alternatively, there could be a national unity government, which would mean that Netanyahu made a deal with the devil to get them in. Any such deal would probably be less than thrilling to those who voted the Right in, but would be a direct result of all the factionalized voting that ended up splitting the Right into a whole bunch of smaller parties instead of a unified large party.

Now that the elections are over the rest is up to the politicians, and we can go back to regular life. We have been having a major drought here. Even though it rained a couple of times this week, this has been the worst rain season since they started keeping records and follows two below average rain seasons as well. The economic crisis is catching up to us here (many employers have instituted across the board mandatory wage cuts of 10–20 percent, CPI is down and continues to fall and economic growth is expected to decline for the first time in years), and we are growing more and more concerned about the rising threats of our neighbors (specifically Iran).

On the personal front we are coming to realize that our oldest son is going to fly the coop in a matter of months (four) and it is startling. The kids’ report cards just came in (Yay!—at least for the most part). We have begun to prepare for Purim and Pesach and are looking forward to having the Zaidees and Bubbees with us on yom tov. Life continues...

Elections (Article# 106) 2/12/2009

By the time this edition of the paper hits the street, Goldie and I will have voted in our first national elections in Israel, and you will probably be reading the results elsewhere in this paper. We will have a fair idea of which direction our country is headed in. However, since I coordinated my recent trip to the U.S. to allow me to arrive home for Election Day (no absentee ballots for Israel), I was not able to write a post-election column before deadline and will instead share some of our thoughts going into the elections.

First, I will freely admit that I do not have even a basic understanding of the way our system works, nor do I comprehend all the various issues and platforms that Israelis use in order to form their voting decisions. I don’t understand how the different parties view things like health care, the economy, education, or even taxes (which are incredibly high here)—many of the major issues I would take into account when deciding how to vote when I lived in America. So I will concede that a candidate I support may indeed be in favor of an 80 percent income tax which he uses to line his pockets and minimally prop up what may be a fading infrastructure.

The issue that I relate to most closely is security. As you may well imagine, at this time this is a major concern of most of the country, as well. We are concerned about rockets, bombs, terrorists—you name it. There are those who want to make any deal they can in the hopes that it will appease the enemy; there are those who oppose any deal because they understand that the enemy will never honor its side; and there are those who espouse various positions in the middle.

Additionally, there are religious parties with their agendas, Arab parties with their agendas—all vying for a place at the table. Mix in the various splinters of each group (three chareidi parties, two Religious Zionist parties, etc.), and it makes for a confusing mess.

There are also many ways in which to twist the truth to make it appear more appealing to one view or another. For instance: We are all aware of the facts regarding the Gaza rockets, are we not? They have been falling on S’derot and the Negev for 8 years—a fact predicted by current Likud candidate Bibi Netanyahu at the time of the Gush Katif withdrawal. (He also predicted at that time that Hamas would take over the entire Gaza, creating “Hamasastine.”) Seemingly, a direct cause-and-effect relationship—right? Obviously, the Gush Katif pullout led to the rockets falling for eight years.

Not so fast. The Gush Katif pullout happened less than eight years ago. The truth is that there had been rockets for some time before the pullout, although the pullout led to a dramatic increase in the frequency of the rockets and the fact that we had to “invade” part of our own country in order to confront the terrorists.

While it is definitely clear that the Gush Katif pullout resulted in increased violence and an eventual war, the cause-and-effect relationship is not nearly so clear as the media and politicians would have us believe. I personally believe that the pullout was a disastrous move, and I further credit Bibi’s “Hamasastine” prediction as being 100 percent accurate, but some of the spin involved is misleading and deceitful.

Interestingly, the candidates themselves seem to be campaigning not only in support of their own platforms, but in their portrayals of their opponents they are also preying on the fears of the voters. Livni calls Barak and Netanyahu failed has-beens. Barak and Netanyahu call Livni totally unprepared and inexperienced (and I agree with them). Livni and Barak assert that Netanyahu’s eventual refusal to make a deal with the Arabs will weaken Israel’s relationship with the USA (and the world). Netantyahu makes the case that Barak has no vision, failing to see the Hamas and terrorist dangers and failing to finish the job in our most recent war. And so on and so forth.

In fact, many of these characterizations are both right and wrong for various reasons. Ideas and issues that were failures the first time around may be just the right solution to our current crisis. Sometimes new ideas are just the right thing needed to get things started. So it is hard for us to establish criteria for what it is we want to get done and apply those standards to choosing who should lead us in getting there (especially since many candidates here are elected saying one thing and end up supporting the exact opposite of their original election platforms).

So how do we decide whom to vote for to make our votes count?

My brother-in-law is furious at me for it, but I am not voting for one of the Religious Zionist parties. Quite frankly, I do not see that the Religious Zionist movement has much sway. We are not organized enough, we fight too much amongst ourselves and—nationally—we are overlooked as a group. Yes, the combined National Religious Zionist parties will get several seats, but for some reason they never get their agenda addressed the same way that Shas or Agudah seem to get.

I am also concerned about the possibility of (what is definitely going to be) a Likud-led government having to join into a coalition with Kadima because their mandate is not strong enough. By splitting off the vote to a dozen splinter parties, the Likud will either have to make separate (and very costly) special-interest deals with the minor parties in order to pull together a shaky coalition, or it will have to partner with the other major parties to form an ineffective unity government. Neither choice seems particularly attractive to me.

I am therefore going to cast my vote for Likud. No, I am not thrilled with their platform. No, I am not excited about the fact that I am voting for a non-religious party. No, I am not excited about the fact that Netanyahu has pledged to destroy existing “settlements” where Jews are simply trying to live their lives in Israel. No, I do not think that Netanyahu is more honorable than the rest of the crooks here—they will all sell us out to make a “historic” deal if the Americans pressure them strongly enough, no matter which party is in power.

I am voting for Likud because, at least for right now, they seem to be most closely aligned with “no giving away land” (notice how I did not say “no dismantling so-called settlements”). Other politicians have felt the same way in the past and changed their minds when in office or as part of the ruling party (see Arik Sharon and Ehud Olmert). There is no guarantee that Likud will not be turncoats and give away land. Yet, at least for the current time, I believe that Likud and Netanyahu have the best chance of delivering security and prosperity to Israel and Israelis, without giving away land to the Arabs.

I was talking about this with my sister, the one whose son is in the army. She and my brother-in-law have never been fans of Bibi Netanyahu and have historically chosen the parties looking to pursue peace at any cost. However, she has lately seen that this stance and outlook has not worked, and she seems to have lost faith in the entire process. She wants to support Bibi, but mentioned that her personal dislike for him prevented her from doing so (she equated him to a snake).

I told her that I too found fault with the major candidates and was concerned. However, I said, here is the thing that makes me feel a bit more comfortable with my choice. They are all snakes—so wouldn’t you rather have the snake that is on your side?

Many of you reading this will say that I am out of my mind and supporting people who will betray the nationalist movement, or perhaps that my vote will go to support past failures or even future failures. You may be right. But I am the one with the vote, which means that in this discussion - my opinion counts most.

Time Out for a Recap (Article# 105) 1/29/2009

Having gone through a lot of heady topics in recent weeks—such as the war, the chareidim, the war and the chareidim (just to name a few)—I thought I would seize the opportunity of my latest overseas trip to update you on how our family is doing individually. After all, there are only so many times I can kvetch about how absolutely freezing cold it is in the USA and wonder how you can possibly deal with it.

Chaim (almost 18), who is thankfully recuperating from his bike accident, is having a terrific shanah bet (second-year) experience at Yesodei HaTorah in Moshav Zanoach, a short 15-minute walk from our home. Chaim, who did not make aliyah, decided on his own to return to yeshiva for a second year and gain additional maturity in preparation for going to YU next year.

He has become an incredibly responsible and mature young man in Israel. When we first spoke about moving, he wanted nothing to do with the idea at all and still maintains that he will most likely settle down in the U.S. However, the positive experience he has had in making friends and being accepted by the youth of our neighborhood has drawn him in to the allure of Israel, and he has begun to show a love for the country that was lacking before our aliyah.

He has even recently mentioned that, depending on who he marries, he could actually see himself living in Israel. No matter what else, his newfound love for our country is one of the greatest by-products of our coming to Israel—no matter where he ends up.

Chaya (16) has blossomed tremendously. She was always a responsible and nurturing child, and we did not realize how much greater she could be until we moved to Israel and saw the true Chaya emerge. She has become a model student and is incredibly focused on achieving her bagrut diploma (read "Regents") next year. She has surprised us all with her remarkable adaptation to the country, and it is a credit to her friends that our oldest teenage daughter has really acclimated well.

She speaks Hebrew much better than she lets on, and we are amazed that this girl, who made aliyah at age 13, has such a wide range of friends—many of them speak no English at all. She always makes the extra effort to fit in (her cell-phone screen is set to Hebrew, whereas the rest of us use English), and her efforts have paid off.

She is a sought-after babysitter and can be relied upon to step up to the plate whenever the younger children need care. She actively helps parent the younger boys (sometimes a bit too much), and our friends constantly comment how capable and warm she is. Coming on aliyah has helped her develop independence and a strong sense of confidence in her abilities, two traits she did not have in America.

Aliza (13) has always been part of a large network of friends, and her circle of friends remains a priority for her in Israel. A typical teen, she spends hours with her friends, either in person, on the phone, or on the computer. As the middle kid, she has fended for herself for quite some time and is a very self-confident person.

She was the quickest of the kids to adjust to Hebrew in school, and we were amazed when she was accepted to a middle/high school that is known for academic excellence at the end of our (very tumultuous) first year in Israel. Only four girls in her class speak English, and Aliza is committed to being able to do anything she wants (she has even expressed interest in doing military service instead of national service at the end of high school). Although she is fluent in Hebrew, English is her preferred language.

Batya (almost 10) is the best Hebrew-speaker of the bunch. She also took to Hebrew rather quickly and is an outstanding student in all disciplines. She is equally comfortable reading books in Hebrew or English and, as I had forecast long before our aliyah, Batya (and the other kids, as well) laughs at our Hebrew skills, which are certainly below hers.

Batya has begun to show tremendous dependability and responsibility as well. With Goldie joining me in the yeshiva office three days each week, it is often Batya who is called upon to pick Moshe up from preschool when we are a few minutes late. She is popular with the native Israeli kids from our block and has adjusted very well.

Mordechai (almost 8) is Israeli. He is clearly more comfortable reading Hebrew than he is reading English and is simply "another one of the boys" in school. He speaks Hebrew quite well and it is his homework (second grade!) that gives us the most fits. All this after being the kid with the most difficult transition period (in his own words, hearing Hebrew made him want to "throw up"). In fact, we often switch to Hebrew when trying to explain something he doesn't understand, since he is able to process Hebrew more easily than English.

Mordechai is a talented athlete and is a popular kid in his class. He remembers very little of his life before Israel. Interestingly, although he is quite familiar with the names of the days and months in the Hebrew calendar, he has no idea what the names of the English months are or where they fall during the year.

Moshe (who turns 4 this week—while I am in America!) is of course our baby and is therefore the one child whom everyone in the house is happy to spoil. His Hebrew is flawless and he only recently began to consciously understand that there are actually two different languages being spoken. In an effort to keep him ahead of the curve in English-language skills, we have begun to teach him the ABC's, yet we understand that he will probably not have the best English language skills.

When we embarked on our aliyah, one of the most frequent comments we heard was that it was suicidal to contemplate making aliyah with older children. We were told story after story about disastrous adjustments and kids who never recovered, and it was something we were quite concerned about.

There is no question that things could have gone awry for our children in a myriad of ways. Yet somehow we managed to keep things together for them.

We approached the whole process with open minds and a focus on doing what would best help the kids grow and develop. We definitely acknowledge the fact that their successful acclimation to Israel was a heavenly gift to us, and that without such assistance, our kids could have certainly fared much worse.

We are living proof (so far, at least) that you can make aliyah and that if you work hard and have a certain amount of faith, this can work for you, too.

Alarming Alarms (Article# 104) 1/22/2009

We find ourselves listening to the radio a lot more lately. Not for the music or the talk; as we tread deeper and deeper into war we thirst for news and information, anything that lets us know our troops and our neighbors are safe. Each attack, each booby trap, even the sounds of gunfire entices a new sense of panic and worry. And we live miles from the warzone.

My sister called to let me know she had spoken to Yonatan at the front. As we spoke, she mentioned to me how noisy the phone call was. Apparently, there were a lot of staccato noises in the background, and it was only after she hung up the phone that she realized that what she was hearing was gunfire. It was only in the background because he was in the “safe zone” outside the border.

A tragedy is that we become immune to such things, especially when they do not happen to us. We express shock and dismay about the fact that there are cities, towns and communities that live under threat of fire many times each day – but it is near impossible to really relate to what this means. Yes, we see the pictures and read about the preschool children huddling in bomb shelters – but it doesn’t translate into something we can understand, even though we live here too.

On Wednesday afternoon, most of the Yeshiva staff was assembled (during the lunch break) in our office building. When I say building, I really mean a construction trailer directly in back of the Yeshiva’s building that was left behind by the contractors and now holds our administrative office. We were involved in various discussions and meetings when someone suddenly said, “HEY – is that an air raid siren?”

We all paused and sure enough, we could hear the warbling siren of multiple air raid sirens sounding over the city. We looked at each other dumbfounded. Could it be possible that Yerushalayim was under rocket attack? Within seconds we got a text message from the security services that alarms were sounding all over Israel (which was inaccurate – they only sounded in Yavneh, Yerushalayim, Bet Shemesh and Maale Adumim).

All over Israel? This really puzzled us. What kind of alert could this possibly be? One guy asked if maybe this was some kind of missile attack from Iran? Perhaps a major warhead of some type?

It turned out to be a false alarm. A rocket had indeed been fired, toward Yavne and since these other areas are on a straight line from Yavne, there was an error made and the alarm sounded. All this information was readily available within minutes.

The experience however, was quite harrowing. Chaim was on a tiyul to the North (more on that later) so he heard nothing. Chaya told us about girls running through her school panic struck and how she had helped secure the shelter blast windows. Aliza’s teacher did not believe the girls that there was a siren and refused to interrupt the lesson. Batya cried and Mordechai’s school seemed to be the most organized, with the teachers hurrying them along to their shelter.

All for a false alarm.

We talked about it at home that night and tried to get the kids to understand that the community of Sderot has lived like this FOR EIGHT YEARS! Several alerts a day. We wanted them to imagine what it was like to have this as a threat and why we were proud of our soldiers for going into Gaza and try to stop the rockets.

I am not sure if they got it. I am not sure if ANYONE not living in the rocket range can really get it.

As soon as you finish reading this paragraph, think about having to do the following…… Drop everything. In the following half minute, grab the kids (wake them up if they are sleeping) and run into a small reinforced room in your house. Sit there for no less than 5 minutes, all the while worrying about your family and wondering if the next thing you hear is the explosion of a rocket coming through your roof.

Now imaging having to do this several times a day. I know how I felt just the one time, which turned out to be a false alarm. I cannot fathom going through that several times daily. For 8 years.

We spent the rest of the week closely following the news. Visiting websites, listening to the radio, watching TV – anything that would connect us to what was happening. I was reminded of Israel the first time I visited (1982). In those days, when the news went on you could hear a pin drop – even on the bus. The bus drivers would raise the volume of the radio and everyone would listen to the latest update.

Nowadays you rarely see that. It is as if the news is not as crucial as it used to be.

The first war we faced here as Olim, the Second Lebanon War did not seem as tense as this one. The truth is that we were so new during that war and so excited to be here, that we may just not have had our fingers quite on the pulse of the nation yet. I think that the Lebanon War was also very vaguely conceived and carried out that our invincibility was shattered and no one wanted to really face that.

This time around we feel events much more strongly. We understand most of the news. And of course, we have our own family chayal, Yonatan – who was probably in Gaza more than he was out of it during the war. We notice when the news comes on, and we feel much more connected to reality.

I think the entire public is taking a different approach to this war as well. The Lebanon war started so quickly and (as we later found out) was so poorly managed that the message and goals of the country were not communicated to the populace. The lack of achievement also hurt. When you fail to achieve a single one of your stated goals, it is hard to feel positive about it.

I think the general public is much more supportive of this war. I don’t mean that they aren’t supportive of the troops. The soldiers are beloved here. The politicians are the problem.

We may not totally stop the rocket fire, but I doubt it can be considered a first option for the terrorists. We have definitely dealt them a beating that will take them a long time to recover from – and let us all hope that they never recover.

On Thursday, as I was getting ready to leave work, I got a call from Goldie. Chaim had called her that he was on the way to the hospital. His Yeshiva had been mountain biking on a tiyul near Teverya. Chaim lost control of his bike and had landed on its handle bars.

I had to run up to Haifa for the night, there was a concern that he may have needed surgery. Thankfully, he did not need surgery, did not break anything and after a night’s observation I was allowed to take him home. He has a lot of bruises and scratches but is otherwise OK.

Having already become an expert in the medical system here, especially in how to deal with doctors. Had it not been for my aggressiveness: i) we would still be waiting for an orthopedist to examine him (the squeaky wheel GOT the grease), ii) he wouldn’t have been given any pain medication, iii) they would have kept him through Sunday and iv) they wouldn’t have gotten paid.

As a (non-Israeli) student, Chaim’s status so confused the medical staff that they neglected to get billing information from us, even after I volunteered to submit it. Most students have private insurance; Chaim has Kupat Cholim (HMO coverage that is standard for Israelis). Most students’ parents are 6,000 miles away; Chaim’s father was at the emergency room in less than 2 hours. It took me 3 days to finally find someone willing to take our information and bill the insurance.