Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back to Work (8/12/2010)

Yes, I know—it has been a month or so. It is the summer—a time the kids refer to as the chofesh ha’gadol (big vacation) and adults think of as the onesh ha’gadol (big punishment). Each year during the summer, this column goes on an unannounced hiatus. It usually lasts one or two weeks. This year’s break, at a month, is the longest one we have had.

But I am still here, and no—I have not stopped writing. I do thank all the people who e-mailed or, even better, who said something to their relatives or friends here asking if all is well with Shmuel. Your concern over our well-being is gratifying, and it is also great to see that after four and a half years, people still read what I write.

Of course, in normal summers there is not much for me to write about anyway. How many different ways can I talk about the depth of emotion I feel when I go to the Kotel on Tishah B’Av? Do you really want to hear another discourse from me about how incredibly hot it is here in the summer?

I think not. So, I tend to take some time off in the summer and wait until school is starting, when things begin to get interesting. Interestingly, this year that was not the case, but I still did not write.

We have had a tough summer here in Bet Shemesh. There is nothing I can write or contribute to expound on the tragedy that struck the Menora (and Fogel and Klein) family. Their pain and loss is difficult for us to even comprehend. It was a difficult shiva house to visit. [Editor’s note: Shmuel is referring to the plane crash last month in Michigan.]

This was not because we are so close with either Shalom Menora or Sima Menora. I grew up knowing Shalom. He and his sisters were a bit older than us, but we still attended the same schools and knew each other’s families as children. Even when we moved here, we had no more than a “Hi, how are you” relationship with either of them. Yes, Sima guest wrote a column for me that led to her becoming a weekly columnist in the paper. But we aren’t close friends.

Yet the entire community felt at least a portion of their loss. I think it stems from the children. The children are really the central focus of life here and they all know each other.

Our son Chaim is good friends with Yehuda Menora, who was in the army instead of in the USA with his siblings. Their peer group is incredibly supportive of one another. From the minute we heard the news until a couple of days after the shiva, Chaim and a group of friends spent the majority of their time with Yehuda. Just making sure that he was okay and knew they cared about him.

Our Aliza shared a (two-person) desk in school with Racheli Menora, one of the sisters who died. We had to tell Aliza the news on the phone, and she has had a difficult time adjusting. While they too were not exceptionally close, they spent every day together at the same desk. Aliza won’t really talk about it, but she occasionally writes poems about her feelings that we come across and it is easy to see that she is having an issue understanding and coping.

I wish there were something more we could do, especially for the Menora family. All we can really do is tell them that we are here, davening for a complete refuah for Yossi Menora and for them to find some nechamah, somehow. I know that the entire community here would gladly do anything they could to show our support for them. It is not enough, but it is all we have.

Thankfully, some good things have happened in the last month as well. I have had a hard time trying to figure out where to start. After a long search for somewhere to move, Goldie and I decided to put off the long-term decision and take another rental. I am actually writing this from our new living room, having completed the move earlier today.

We like Bet Shemesh and would prefer to stay, and want to see how the different housing opportunities play out before we make a more “permanent” decision. The fact is that none of the homes we looked at for buying really felt like a good fit for us. We ended up moving about three minutes away from our old home.

Same schools. Same shul. We will miss a bunch of our neighbors, but others (who live right across the street from us) we won’t miss as much. In fact, we are hoping that this move, off of the border between our neighborhood and the next, will get us away from some of the neighborhood tensions that we have been involved with since coming to Bet Shemesh.

So we now live in Nofei HaShemesh, the neighborhood where we had intended to be (and would have moved to next year) had they not postponed the second stage of home building. The kids are all excited, and now that most of the process is done, Goldie and I are beginning to relax about it as well.

As with many moves, we had the need for some furniture and furnishings with the move. For the first time ever, Goldie and I headed to Ikea. Having never been there, we were stunned at the size of the store and selection. We really enjoyed shopping there. But the highlight was eating at the Ikea mehadrin food court.

Yes, there were all the foods you would expect in Ikea, from Swedish meatballs to Norwegian salmon—and it is all kosher. Cheap, too. And it was a good thing, because after two hours in the store, we were hungry. I have said it about other things, but this is part of what makes it terrific to live here.

I know that there has been some buzz lately in the Five Towns about our shul and the city of Bet Shemesh. Basically, we filed a permit with the city to have deeded land set aside for a shul within the neighborhood. Yes, the city did take us off the agenda and it caused somewhat of a firestorm here. Rabbi Rosner even wrote a letter to the local (Hebrew) newspapers, bemoaning that politics was going to stop our shul and community from growing as planned. Thankfully, that letter, along with some pressure from other sources (such as the Office of the Ministry of Religious Affairs) made a difference.

We have been fast-tracked to put up a temporary modular building within our neighborhood. As part of the deal, we are told that our application to be deeded the land will be resubmitted as well. While I don’t really believe that we will actually get the land any time in the near future, opening a fully functional shul building is a tremendous next step for our community.

If we can keep the momentum that this project is generating, we hope to reignite interest and development in our neighborhood.

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