Thursday, July 08, 2010

Explorations (7/8/2010)

At the end of our first year of aliyah, Goldie and I started what would become pretty much a weekly “date” of sorts for us. With Sunday being a regular working day, and Friday being the “day off” (but still a day of school for the kids), we started going to local cafés on Friday mornings. Initially, we spent the most time with Dani and Zippy Lieberman (who made aliyah on the same flight as us), but as time passed we started going with other couples or, more often, by ourselves.

Friday-morning coffee or breakfast (with coffee) is a great time to chill out and reflect on the week or discuss plans for the future. It is a good time to sit and enjoy the company of those with you in a relaxed setting, knowing that for at least those couple of hours you have no pressures to be anywhere or do anything.

At times, we would venture out of Bet Shemesh for our Friday date. We would sometimes head to Yerushalayim or Modiin for a pleasant change of pace, or, when the kids had a holiday day, as a special treat for the kids (nothing is more exciting for the little kids than a chol ha’moed Pesach breakfast buffet at a café in Yerushalayim). We even went to S’derot a few times when it was considered a “town under siege,” to support the business owners and community there. Yet, for the most part, we stayed within the confines of our home city.

Over the last couple of months, Goldie and I have begun to feel that we have not explored enough of the country. While most cities and towns in the area are a half-hour’s drive away, we have really kept to Bet Shemesh, Modiin, and Yerushalayim, with occasional forays to Tel Aviv. So we are taking our Friday-morning coffee/breakfasts on the road!

We have been to Ashdod a couple of times. The first time we went there, we were so hopelessly lost and hungry that we stopped at the first indoor mall that had a kosher café and spent a couple hours there. It was clearly an older mall and kind of run down—but we had no idea where we were going. Of course, after we left there, we found the center of town, a real hub of activity and many more café options.

A couple of weeks later, on our second trip there, we decided to drive through the little towns and villages along the way. It was fascinating. We tried to figure out the ethnic background of the residents (most often by the last names on the mailboxes) and if it was a religious community or not. Some of these towns, literally on the road to nowhere, are quite picturesque.

When we got to Ashdod, we decided that we wanted to see the beach and find a waterfront café. Finding the beach was easy—finding a café was less so. I finally asked a taxi driver where to go, and he gave us perfect directions to a series of seaside cafés, one of which turned out to have hashgachah. We enjoyed a terrific Israeli breakfast at Café Hila on the beach in Ashdod—I would recommend it.

We have also been to Rechovot (even though they have a religious community there, it’s not an easy place to find a kosher café on a Friday morning since the main restaurant there closes on Fridays), Mevasseret (we found a couple of terrific cafés there), and assorted places in the Gush.

Last week we tried Ashkelon. With the kids out of school and no camp on Friday, we took them along for the ride. They enjoyed playing on the sand and trying to spot jellyfish (it is major jellyfish season here). Although we could not find a kosher seaside café, we did enjoy the Café Café (a local chain) located in the majestic Ashkelon concert hall. Situated in the entrance hall, the café was wonderfully relaxing and soothing. It was a great morning topped only by Goldie’s discovery of what she is terming “our Israeli Target.”

On the way home from Ashkelon, we decided to stop for some groceries. On the highway, outside the city and any residential areas, we came across a store called “Supersol Big.” Supersol is a major supermarket chain in Israel, with several divisions. They have a boutique chain that has mini-supermarkets (with higher prices) in the high-rent districts of cities or wealthier neighborhoods. They have the standard supermarkets as well as a series of “Supersol Deal” supermarkets (we have one in Bet Shemesh) that are a bit larger than the average supermarket, with a better selection and cheaper prices.

We had never before been in the “big” Supersol. It was amazing. It wasn’t a supermarket. It was . . . Target. The building was huge—especially by Israeli standards. When we first walked in, there was a housewares section, with a clothing section behind it. Amazingly, the clothing section carried the same label as you find in Target in the USA. Goldie was stunned!

They had everything in that store. Electronics, toys, clothing, hardware, food, and more. It really was like being in Target, something that all the American women here kvetch about missing. In fact, when Goldie told a couple of girlfriends about the store, they started planning a special road trip just to go there.

Had we not decided to broaden our horizons, we never would have found the store. So we plan on continuing our exploration as much as we can over the summer and fall.

Before I sign off for the week, another “only in Israel” story:

We had been having some trouble with our air conditioning units and had our repairman, “Dr. Mazgan” (“mazgan” means “air conditioner”) out to fix the unit. About a week later, the problem recurred and Goldie scheduled a follow-up service call (free; the work was under warranty). He moved her to the head of the line and came within a couple of hours.

In fact, she moved so far to the head of the line that he brought his wife with him! They had been out grocery shopping, and instead of taking her home and then returning to our neighborhood, he decided to quickly stop by and fix our A/C.

To top it off, they had some perishables with them, so they brought them into the house as well and asked Goldie if they could put them in our freezer while he worked. Goldie and “Mrs. Mazgan” had a nice coffee and chat (in Hebrew), while her husband toiled away for half an hour in our attic. In Israel, a service call can sometimes also be a social call!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Sitting Alone in a Room (7/1/2010)

This coming week, we will mark the fourth anniversary of our aliyah. Sometimes it seems like it was just yesterday, and other times I have a hard time remembering how we lived before we came here. You have been with us most of the way, sharing in our trials, small and large, and witnessing our successes and failures (hopefully more of the former than the latter).

We have witnessed two wars together. We have seen the demise of the career of two heads of state (Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni) and the rebirth of another’s. In the same election we have seen the birth of a new reality for our new hometown of Bet Shemesh, as the city council and mayoralty went to chareidi parties for the first time. (Interestingly, in Yerushalayim, the exact opposite happened—the first chareidi government was voted out of office.)

Our family has overcome so much in this time. Of course, no hurdle was greater than Goldie’s illness. With the support of your tefillah and e-mails and messages of support, we were given a tremendous outcome and continue to daven and hope that it continues. It was the defining moment of our first year here and could have destroyed our aliyah; instead, it has become the anchor of our acclimation.

You have been there with us as we struggled to identify, understand, and cope with the myriad of challenges that have faced our children in their adjustments. Each one had issues unique to their situation. Issues much greater than the simple fact that their parents uprooted them from a home they had known and loved to a strange world 6,000 miles away from everything that was familiar. Yes, there was a language gap and educational gaps, but there was so much more.

Chaim and Chaya came in their teen years—years in which all the “experts” said that aliyah would destroy them. Yet somehow they were able to establish great friendships and quickly identify (each in his or her own way) how they could fit in and succeed on their own terms. Four years and two high-school graduations later, Chaim is about to start year two in YU (after learning for two years, full time, here in yeshiva) and Chaya is entering sherut leumi (national service) and beginning to prepare for university.

Aliza became a bat mitzvah in our second year and is entering 10th grade. She was always a social butterfly, with great grades, but sacrificed her academics to make friends. (Until we found out.) She struggled a bit in finding the right school, but is now thriving and, although she hates to hear it, will do quite well in following in her big sister’s footsteps. And, as we expected from the day she was born, she will continue to challenge us every step of the way.

Batya and Mordechai suffered greatly with Hebrew. In many ways, we had expected their adjustments to be the easiest, since they were so young and adaptable. Yet the language was torture for them. Their first seven months were terrible, and when things began to look up and make sense to them—Eema got sick. Yet now, here they are, finishing grades 5 and 3 and so comfortable in their schools and lives that they would be like fish out of water anywhere else.

Moshe, who was just over a year and barely talking when we came, is a year away from 1st grade and as Israeli as a Katz can be. He has grown so much, as have they all. It is incredible to consider just how much they have grown over this time.

Four years. Think about it. 208 weeks. More than half a cycle of daf yomi. Almost 10 percent of my life, 20 percent of my married life.

My oldest nephew was an aspiring combat soldier when we first moved here. We watched with pride, joy, and no small amount of terror when he joined an elite combat unit. Quickly tabbed as a leader, he went through commander’s school and was assigned to a special experimental unit.

He fought in Gaza and I have written about the people who meant so much to him during the war. From Dorothy Shapiro, now a 90-year-old woman who sent him a care package during the war, to my good friend Jason Schwartz who went to deliver the care packages and called me to tell me he was standing with my nephew at the border, it is this support that provides spirit and encouragement to our young soldiers.

My nephew’s service will be over in a few months. Tragically, he lost a close buddy in a Gaza firefight on erev Shabbat HaGadol, just two days before they were to be rotated out of Gaza. My nephew will never be the same and has suffered a loss that few of us can comprehend.

His service—from training to fighting to celebrating to tragedy—all fell within the four years of our aliyah.

I have gone from one job to another, both in non-profit but in vastly different spheres, in the four years we have lived here. I am actually lucky on this—many olim go through several jobs in the first couple of years as they try to identify what works for them. Interestingly, there are more lawyers-turned-gardeners and doctors-turned-vintners here than anywhere else. This is a frustrating land, but also a land of great opportunity.

You have been on our chol ha’moed trips, thrilling to the tours and new adventures. You have gone with us to Eilat and Teveriah (and G-d willing Netanya and Nahariah a bit later this summer) as we toured and experienced various parts of our homeland. We have walked the Kotel tunnels together and the Ir David water tunnel. We have gone to museums and shows, fairs and performances, all here in these very pages.

Think about how much we have lived in these four years. Think of all the people we have met and the places they have taken us.

No, I am not writing this as an introduction to my last article. I am not saying farewell. However, I wanted to give you a sense of how truly long we have been here and how much life we have lived in that time.

Think of how far your own lives have come in the last four years. Think back to how little your children or grandchildren were and how much they have grown. Think back to where your life was and what you were doing. Take a moment to reflect upon how much has happened to you and your family.

Why? Well, there is another four-year anniversary that we just celebrated a few days ago. About two weeks before we made aliyah, Hamas terrorists tunneled across the Gaza border and attacked Israeli soldiers, killing two of them and wounding and capturing Gilad Shalit, who has been in captivity ever since.

We have no idea as to his whereabouts or the conditions in which he is being held. Presumably, he is being held in isolation somewhere, sitting alone in a room and waiting. He has sat and waited for the entire time my family has lived in Israel—and he continues to sit and wait. Think about how long four years is. Think about how much of his life has been stolen by despicable terrorists and murderers.

Where is the Gilad Shalit flotilla, full of liberal activists and celebrities? Why do they not sail with an empty “peace ship” to the docks of Gaza City and demand that he be returned with them to his family and his home for the sake of peace?

I do not know the answers. I do not know what is the right formula to get Gilad home and allow him to rejoin them. I do know this: he has missed so much and we are not doing enough. May Hashem grant that he be returned soon so that his clock can finally restart, while ours continues to turn.