Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Pre-Pesach Frenzy (3/25/2010)

The next time you complain about the kids underfoot for a couple of days during your Pesach prep, remember what I am about to tell you. Our children, including the youngest preschoolers, all had off from school since last Friday—11 days before the chag (In Israel, they are in school from Sunday through Friday). That means we had to entertain them for a week and a half in addition to preparing for Pesach, working at our jobs, and doing whatever else we might need to take care of.

In order to get them out from underfoot and keep them busy, many families will send their kids to Pre-Pesach camps. That’s right, camps. Enterprising teens and owners of private preschools spend the weeks leading up to Pesach distributing flyers and posting e-mail notices about their “amazing,” “best,” “superfun” and every other adjective you can name, camp.

Parents, in a frenzy of calculation, spend time analyzing the most important factor to them: which camp will keep my kid occupied for the longest amount of time. Sometimes a trade-off is made. For instance, Moshe has a private basement preschool that he goes to on early dismissal days and school vacations. He has been in the same preschool since we arrived in Israel. He loves the teacher and is incredibly comfortable there. Although we might have been able to find another program for him that would be longer, he stayed with Etti because it is simply easier for us.

This is an exciting time here in Israel. There is a frenzy of activity as the country gears up for the chag. Relatives (not just yours, but your neighbor’s as well) whom you may not have seen in a while, arrive from distant shores. Cleaning, cooking...the whole process is something that everyone is involved with.

In our office, the secretaries made a rotation that allowed them to work longer individual days, but still be home on other days in order to get their houses cleaned and readied. The local e-mail lists are full of “where can I get” questions and “what can I do” questions, and the spirit of yom tov is definitely in the air.

Interestingly, Pesach is the only chag in which the differences between Israel and Chutz La’aretz are minimized. OK, so we only have one Seder (which is huge) and we have more chol hamoed. But Pesach has always been, at least to me, a tremendously exciting family experience. A time when we really get together and spend time together maintaining family traditions.

Yes, we eat meals on every chag. I know the old adage that describes 90% of Jewish holidays as “they wanted to kill us, G-d saved us, let’s eat!” Yet, on Pesach, food is so central to the holiday that the seder and the meals take on much more meaning and are associated with much more emotional impact in my memory.

Of course, we also have some complications that you don’t. The kitniyot/non-kitniyot ingredients issue is a real pain. Well, actually, that is really the only advantage you have.

Another annoying thing is the clock change. Yes, you also changed the clocks already. But you would think that a country of Jews would get the concept of delaying the change until after the Seder so that we could start (and finish) an hour earlier. We get it right in the fall, switching to the early clock the week before Yom Kippur. I am sure that the real reason we lose out on Pesach is that it was made as a trade-off for Yom Kippur.

On the flip side, I was able to convince the rabbi to start davening at 9:00 a.m. on the first day of Pesach. It may not seem so late. But we are one of the latest minyanim in the area on Shabbat at 8:30, so this was a big jump. As a matter of fact, last Shabbat we started at 8:00 a.m. in order to get to Shema on time. We are very particular to make sure that there is enough time to make Shema and adjust davening time for 10-15 weeks of the year because of it.

Each chag, I try to remember to write a personal wish to my readers. I generally try to remind you that as a Kohein, I look forward to bringing your yom tov korbanot at the rebuilt Bet Hamikdash on the upcoming chag. This Pesach, I will do the same, but Machon HaMikdash: The Temple Institute has done me one better. They are offering reservations for a portion of a Korban Pesach.

As you know (or may not), on erev Pesach we will sacrifice the Korban Pesach in the rebuilt Bet HaMikdash (assuming Mashiach arrives) and the people of Machon HaMikdash dedicate their work and lives to preparing for the Bayit Shlishi. They want us to show our belief that the redemption is coming by reserving a share in a Korban Pesach. As far as I understand, they aren’t buying any animals, just making a commitment to you that the animal will be available when you need it. Kind of an “avoid the erev Pesach rush—make sure you are covered and reserve now” message.

Before you send me an e-mail or a letter to the editor telling me that this is kefirah or something of the sort, I want to state clearly that I am not advocating that people sign up for this. I did not personally make a reservation. I believe that Hashem will take care of all our needs when the time comes, or at least make it possible for us to obtain the necessary supplies. If he could miraculously make sure that there was room for all those who came to Yerushalayim for the chaggim in historical times, he can make sure that we all have an animal for Pesach.

But I do think the concept of anticipating the redemption is something that we lack and could use more of. Perhaps aliyah would be another way of expressing this feeling.

So I wish you and your families a terrific Pesach. When you come to the Bet HaMikdash to have your Korban Pesach slaughtered, if I am on duty, I would be thrilled to help you in this avodah. On the off chance that there is still no Bet HaMikdash by the time that Pesach arrives, let me wish you a wonderful chag and my brachot for l’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim habenuyah!

I wish a mazal tov to our publisher, Larry Gordon, upon the launching of his latest venture, the South Florida Jewish Times. Although it is not as impressive as say, the Bet Shemesh Jewish Times, it is a great step in providing news, community information, and items of general interest to a wonderful part of the country (plus, my snowbird relatives can shep a little nachas each week while they are in their Florida houses). I view Larry as a visionary with an unerring sense of what the community wants to know and learn about. I wish Larry and his family and the 5TJT/SFJT families continued success.

Kinneret Update: This will be one of my final updates of the season. I may do a rain season recap after Pesach, just to summarize how we did this year. This week, the Kinneret was down 4 cm, to –212.76, and looks to be at or near the high point of the year. With the arrival of the spring, the temps will warm up and the rains will stop falling. We will probably begin to see drops in the water levels over Pesach.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Saying Goodbye (3/18/2010)

I just put Mordechai to bed; he was having trouble settling in. He spent the better part of an hour either near or in tears, and for a nine-year-old boy that is very tough. One of our neighbors, a family that has lived across the street from us for over two years, is moving to America tonight. Their son has been Mordechai’s friend from the day they moved in.

Although he certainly has older and closer friends, this has been a tough day for him. He was too young to understand what goodbye meant when we made aliyah. The permanence of not seeing his friends again was way beyond his comprehension. Yet now, having lived through it once, he clearly knows what it means for his friend to be leaving.

They said goodbye to each other earlier tonight, before I got home from work. Mordechai was upset and asked Goldie if he could wait up for me. From the minute I stepped in the door he latched on to me, and the questions began. Will Mordechai be able to go to his bar mitzvah? When can he visit? Why does he have to go?

I hadn’t thought that it would be so traumatic for him. After all, he has many friends on the block and always seems to be busy with several of them at the same time. He is constantly running from friend to friend, and it isn’t as if he is going to be lonely without this boy.

Now I am thinking something different. I am wondering if perhaps his anxiety and angst are not the result of losing this one friend, but actually are a reflection of the loss he had when we moved here. While he didn’t understand what saying goodbye meant before we left, as the days turned into weeks, months, and years, he learned the meaning. Getting past this separation might be the catalyst for releasing the pent-up frustration and sadness that the little five-year-old who came on aliyah couldn’t express when his friends disappeared.

Every once in a while we go through something like this. Something that reminds us of how deep our emotions are and how far we have come from where we started. We are reminded of the naiveté that we had when we first embarked on our journey of aliyah. We are reminded of how difficult this journey has been, and how much even the happiest one of us had to give up in making this move.

Mordechai is such a great success, in terms of aliyah. The kids all are (thank G-d). He prefers to read in Hebrew over English, and he is incredibly acclimated to being one of 31 boys in his class. He goes to his clubs and youth groups, he plays ball with his buddies (in Hebrew); he is just like every other one of his friends. Yet, he is probably the only one to cry this week because his friend is moving to the U.S.A. He is one of the only ones who remembers what it was like to lose his friends the first time and desperately wants to avoid a repeat.


With a guest columnist two weeks ago and a week off, this is my first article since Purim. I am a bit of a rain fanatic, so I really can’t complain, but it rained here for a big chunk of Purim day. And the night before and the day after, and the whole week, for that matter. Rain is more important to us as a nation than having dry kids on Purim, so in principle I was very pleased to be blessed with rain. But I have to admit, it was a big bummer for the kids.

It rained the Friday before Purim when they went to school in their costumes. It rained most of the day while they were delivering their mishloach manot. (Another aliyah moment: the first draft of this had “shalach manot” the American way. Chaya read it and said, “Abba, you wrote it wrong; it’s “mishloach manot.”) It rained that night and the next morning, Shushan Purim. It rained and rained and rained. With Purim in Israel being such a kid-focused holiday (as a family, aside from the two mishloach manot baskets we gave as part of two different shuls’ group projects, we gave something like six mishloach manot to friends not on the shul lists; our kids gave something like 150 to their friends), the rain was . . . inconvenient.

Especially when it poured. The amount of rain that fell on Purim morning and afternoon was astounding. The kids were drenched. Rivers were flowing in the streets. I could not believe it. The most frustrating part was that it ended about ten minutes after we delivered the last package and only restarted as we headed out for the seudah, about two hours later.

For the seudah, we decided to treat the kids to an evening in Yerushalayim in order to see the Shushan Purim celebrations throughout the city and at the Kotel. We made reservations at a restaurant and were very excited about the plan. We had no idea we would be in the middle of more and more rain. So the plan was kinda washed out, but we still had a nice family meal together (sans Chaim) and enjoyed ourselves.

On Shushan Purim, I went to work in Yerushalayim and wore my Fred Flintstone costume. It is a terrific costume. I had to meet someone in town, and I got lots of positive feedback as I made my way through town. After the rains, Yerushalayim was quite cold; I should have worn warmer stuff. But there is nothing like being in the middle of Yerushalayim in costume on Shushan Purim. Everyone is enjoying, and you are just another reveler.

Kinneret Update: It has been three weeks since my last water update, and the news is good. The Kinneret stands at -212.80, a gain of 34 cm. (somewhere in the area of a foot) in that time. We went above the Lower Red Line a couple of days after Purim (for the first time since 2008) and despite the tremendous heat wave of the past week (with sand storms and the whole works), the level continues to rise due to the runoff of the melting snow from the mountains and hills in Northern Israel.

Our prayers were answered positively. This year’s rainfall has been above average. In fact, at almost 1.6 meters added to the Kinneret, it is the highest rise in the Kinneret in five years. Hopefully we will continue the water conservation of last summer. That conservation combined with new desalinated water sources having come online this winter should translate into a net gain of water in the Kinneret over a 12-month period from last fall to next fall.

Yet, we are still way short of what we need. Even if we gain another 10-20 cm. in the Kinneret, we are guaranteed to fall below the Lower Red Line sometime early in the summer. That means that the percentage levels of contaminants in the water are really too high. In order to be in a safe area, we really need to be at least 2-3 meters higher than current levels.

Hopefully, the coming years will continue to see at least average or above average rainfalls. The first of the desalination plants will be at full capacity later this year, which will add new water resources to the system. In 2012, more plants are expected to be added, as well. Once all the desalination plants are up and working, we can further reduce our drain of Kinneret waters and allow the lake to recover naturally. Once this is done, we can monitor our use and continue to use desalinated water as needed (it is more expensive than natural water) to ensure that we do not reach crisis levels again in the future. Let it rain, rain, rain—if only for a couple more weeks!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Soccer Mom Turns Soldier's Mom (3/4/2010)

A couple of months ago, Chani (Pearlman) Schwartz, one of our good friends and neighbors, approached me with an idea for a column. Having had a tremendous experience when making aliyah with her parents, she was pained to see how some of her friends and their extended families struggled to deal with aliyah. I invited Chani to guest-write my column that week, and I was glad to share another person’s words and opinions with you. (Having a week off was an added bonus.)

At the time, I felt very positive about the experiment and resolved to continue inviting guest columnists with a Five Towns connection to share this space.

Sima (Fogel) Menora grew up in Far Rockaway. Her brothers lived a few blocks away from us, (one in Far Rockaway when we lived there, and one in Woodmere when we moved there) and some of her nieces went to school with our girls. Her son Yehuda was part of a group of teens who welcomed our Chaim with open arms and made his adjustment to Israel a positive experience.

In the “shameless plug” department, she sells real estate in Yerushalayim. If you will be in Israel for a vacation or simcha, feel free to look her up.

Sima came on aliyah at an earlier stage of life than Goldie and I did, so she has a much more experienced outlook than I normally reflect. I thought you might enjoy hearing a slice of her life as a contrast . . .

Sunday morning. In my mind’s eye, I see the first line of the article: Former perennially frenzied soccer mom seen dropping two soldier sons at six-o’clock bus to Be’er Sheva. I try convincing myself that I appear similar to the other Israeli moms, but let’s be honest—what’s a Far Rock girl doing at the Sunday morning soldier drop-off?

OK, some background first. Fifteen years ago, we were enjoying a summer month in Israel, breathing in the holy air, being parched by the lovely heat. With the family business undergoing change, a window of opportunity opened—we had a chance to make aliyah. What do you do when a goal you originally thought would take a lifetime to accomplish suddenly appears in your reach? Well, if you’re spontaneous, you grab it; and if you’re lucky, it actually works! And we were both spontaneous and lucky.

I had always assumed I’d spend my pre-aliyah year in the aisles of Costco—how can I make aliyah without six cases of Bumble Bee solid white? But we grabbed the opportunity and—call it G-dly intervention or just dumb luck (I prefer the former)—we sailed through our aliyah. Sold the house and two cars in less than a week and had Strand movers pack up our boxes and send them forth. Signed my six-year-old up for 1st grade with nary a word of Hebrew in his vocabulary. And here we were in The Promised Land.

Our first year in a furnished rental in Jerusalem turned into four, what with two new babies accompanied by pregnancies that had me more often than not on bed-rest. Eventually we built our home—our bayit ne’eman—in Bet Shemesh. The years passed. The kids grew. With my youngest searching for the right high school, I decided to take some time from my home jewelry-making business and go to work in the big city—selling penthouses in Jerusalem.

Somehow I thought just making aliyah was the great equalizer. I waited on the requisite lines for nursery school, at the bank, and to get identity cards for the whole family. I was sure that that earned us our citizenship. How about when I sat through the seemingly endless three-hour Chanukah parties in my kids’ nursery school? At one Chanukah party, a small fire broke out (Israelis tend to be a bit blasé about the whole kids-n-candles thing) and the teacher proceeded to extinguish the fire with a paper napkin. Sitting there with the other moms, I thought to myself, “Now I’m Israeli.” Rainy winters, hot summers, scraped knees. Hikes through water in the south, rappelling in the north, skiing down the Hermon—surely we were regular sabras!

Well, on this early Sunday morning my older boys search for rubber bands. (The rubber bands are a soldier’s necessity—they keep the pant leg tucked neatly into the army boot; if the boys are caught without the bands, they lose an hour from their precious bimonthly 48-hour Shabbat break). I join the search, but all I really see are a six-year-old and a nine-year-old on their frantic Sunday-morning search for kippah clips.

At the bus stop, I wave goodbye to the boys but wait an extra moment before returning home. I’m doing what moms all over the world are doing, raising kids and going to work, while my boys are doing G-d’s work of protecting this country. But still, as a tiny tear threatens to seep out of my eye, I hear myself whisper, “Now I’m Israeli.”

Sima Fogel Menora, formally of Far Rockaway and Chicago, now resides in Bet Shemesh. Currently employed at Habitat Real Estate in Wolfson towers, Sima finds the best deals in vacation apartments and homes, including sales, long-term and short-term rentals, new projects, and retirement homes. Contact her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it