Monday, July 2, 2012

Winding Down

Going out for ice cream...yum!
It's been a while since we've updated the blog and we've covered a lot of ground. In a very brief nutshell, here are some of the highlights of the past weeks: healing from broken and sprained bones (everyone is now cast and pain free – yeah!), being guests at a Masorti congregation in Beersheva for Shabbat, getting together with Alexander’s family in celebration of his parents’ 50th anniversary (mazal tov Reena and Stuart!), shopping (including looking for tallit and tefillin for Yonah), and continuing to work through our extensive list of kosher restaurants to try (most recently a Thai noodle restaurant). 

We have only a week left of our sabbatical; but we have weeks’ worth of things we still want to do! It's amazing, even with all the time we've had, we still feel like there is so much we have not seen.

School finally ended for the kids last Friday after a full week of parties and movies.  I think the dentists do very well over the summer after all the junk consumed during end of year parties!  Seriously, we were very fortunate that overall the kids had good experiences in school.  When we brought them to school for their first day back in April, we basically told the kids to figure it all out…in a different language.  And they did!  Yonah came away with a buddy that he is looking forward to keeping in touch with.  Koby had several play dates and is now excited to read a Hebrew book with me.  Micah has picked up several phrases in Hebrew that he repeats often, and has memorized the tunes and prayers recited daily – all in a cute accent.  Amichai had fun at his Gan and has taught the bigger kids some songs he learned.  All of them feel more comfortable in Hebrew. It’s not that there weren’t hard days; but generally days ended with a smile.  

Esther and boys picking tomatoes with Leket
With school out, we spent at day the Israel Museum. 1½ hours in the archeology wing only scratched the surface; but it was a great way to review many of the sites we've seen.  A tour of the Knesset brought us to more recent history.  Today, we picked bushels of tomatoes under a hot sun with Leket (an organization that works in partnership with farms to pick fresh, in-season produce and distribute food to the needy).  The kids were great sports and we hope they feel that they've both taken from and given to Israel during these months. We toured Chaim Weizmann's house (he was the first President of Israel and an accomplished scientist) and the science garden at the Weizmann Institute provided fun, hands-on activities for kids and parents alike. 

In the past few days, we've been excited to welcome two new additions to the family.  Limor and Aaron (Esther's brother) had a baby girl and we are enjoying spending time with them.  Esther’s other brother, Ira, and his wife, Max, had a boy in The Netherlands.  Mazal tov to both!

Cooling off in the spring at Ein Prat
On the last day of school (after yet another day of cookies and films), we took the kids for a short tiyul to a place called Ein Prat.  It is just northeast of Jerusalem -- about 10 minutes (for those of you who don’t get lost like us) from Pisgat Ze'ev.  (Some of you may know Ein Prat from the singing group, The Fountainheads who hail from there.) Even in the scorching summer heat, the stream continues to flow.  The park was filled with Jewish and Arab picnickers, hikers, rock climbers and those who simply wanted to cool off.  We had a picnic ("Ughh…more sandwiches!") under the shady Eucalyptus trees and among the bees.  After a bit of coaxing (the kids were crashing from sugar withdrawal and exhaustion), we set off on a short hike.  We walked past a 4th century monastery to the source of the spring.  Leave it to Koby and Ami to fall in!  We then hiked downhill to a wonderful natural pool and jumped right in.  How refreshing!  This oasis in the Judean desert was not only a wonderful way to prepare for Shabbat, but upon reflection, it also feels like the perfect way to begin to bring this sabbatical to a close.

Micah takes a leap of faith!
Like Ein Prat, this shabbaton has indeed been a wonderful way to feel refreshed and rejuvenated.  As we discovered in the hills of the Judean desert and as we read in last week's parasha, there is water right beneath the surface.  Sometimes though, it is hard to see or at least difficult to extract.  In the Torah, when Miriam dies and the water dries up, the Israelites sing that a well might rise up and accompany them on their journey.  As we prepare to return to Minneapolis, this is my hope as well.  May the waters of Torah that have quenched my thirst here in Jerusalem return with us, that they continue to refresh and nourish me and my family and that together as a community, we learn to uncover the life-giving waters flowing just beneath the surface of our lives.

There is much we haven’t covered in this blog – the political situation, the social protests, the status of Conservative Judaism (this is one I hope to return to) and on and on.  But we've enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on a few of our experiences.  Thanks for taking time to read. We look forward to sharing more with you when we get back.  Anyone want to see our pictures?  We only have a few hundred slides to show you!

See you all soon. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jerusalem's Light

Tonight we walked around the Old City to take in the Jerusalem Light Festival. It is the fourth year of this celebration but my first time going. All around the Old City there were light installations- artistic designs, performance artists who use light as a medium, booths with light-related objects, etc. It was a beautiful evening and the Old City was packed with people.

Light Festival Cupola at the entrance to Jaffa Gate

As we left the festival and headed home I thought to myself, “it’s only a shame that “Shavuah Hasefer” (“Book Week”) is happening the same time as the Light Festival. Surely, the sparkly lights are taking away business from the book fair.” But when I got to Gan Hapa'amon (Liberty Bell Park) at 11:00pm and saw it packed with shoppers, I realized how wrong I was.

Shavua Hasefer is a huge book fair.  Imagine Beth El’s parking lot filled with the booths of hundreds of publishing houses. Thousands of people were browsing everything from Talmud commentaries to children’s books. The fair seemed to confirm what I read somewhere, that Israel published more books per capita than any other country.

If the Light Festival is magical, Shavua Hasefer is mystical. It reminded me that for Jews, learning is also about light. That’s what we sing- “Torah Ora. The Torah is light.”

On Shavu’ot a few weeks ago, I got up at 4:00am to walk to the Kotel with the kids for shaharit sunrise services. We read from the Torah about the revelation at Sinai just as the sun broke across the eastern horizon. My kids may remember the chocolate milk bags being handed out at King David’s tomb more than the sunrise. Still, I hope that as they hear me and Esther talk about the classes we attend (this morning, parashat hashavua with Aviva Zornberg), they internalize the message:  Torah ora, halleluya!

Shavuah HaSefer

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Brief Description of School

Welcome to Yehuda HaLevi

A few weeks ago my brothers and I started school at a religious public school called Yehuda HaLevi.  I have been informed that in Israel there are three kinds of public schools: regular (secular) public school, Jewish (religious) public school and Arab public school.

In our school, Jewish religion and Torah are embedded in almost everything. For example, if our class gets yelled at, which is quite often, the teacher refers to the Torah and tells us what it has to say about what we did.  Every morning we pray Shaharit extensively.  (Since everybody speaks Hebrew we get through praying almost all the prayers.)  It takes at the most 25 minutes.

Yom Yerushalayim ceremony at school (Koby is third from left in the front row)

Through-out the week we have nine classes having to do with the Jewish religion:
  •   Three classes of Torah
  •   Two classes of Navi (Prophets)
  •   Three classes of Gemara and Mishna
  •   And one class at the end of the week which deals with Parshat Hashavua (weekly Torah portion).

My brothers and walk to and back from school alone almost every day.  So far school has been great to me and I have been enjoying it.  The kids are really really nice and do not make fun of my Hebrew.    

Some Days in the Life...

While life in Jerusalem has settled into a sort of routine, there are always bumps in the road to keep it interesting.  In order to fully experience life here, we recently had the opportunity (not intentionally!) to get familiar with the medical system – twice!  About three weeks ago, Yonah fell at the park and hurt his wrist.  A trip to urgent care confirmed a fracture.  So on to the emergency room we went.  After a long, uncomfortable night of waiting and being prodded, Yonah ended up with an impressive looking cast that goes from his finger tips to almost his elbow.  (You may have noticed the sling in pictures from our previous post.)  Fortunately, after a day or two, the pain receded and he’s doing just fine now – albeit with one hand!  He’s counting down the days until the cast comes off – hopefully next week.

Then last Friday night, after a beautiful music and ruah filled Kabbalat Shabbat (when I was just thinking that it was a fabulous way to begin Shabbat followed by Shavuot), Koby jumped off a bench and landed funny.  Upon coming home, we saw how swollen his ankle looked and it was another trip to the urgent care!  At least this time I knew what to expect.  X-ray showed a possible small fracture, so there was no early morning walk to the Kotel for Shavuot after all.  I took Koby to the doctor this week, and apparently it’s just a bad sprain.  Now Koby is in a walking cast and already is able to put pressure on his foot to walk.

But don’t think we are only nursing wounds around here.  We continue to learn, explore and try to make the most of our time.  In no particular order, here are some reflections on unique, wonderful and unexpected things we have experienced, both recently and in past months.

On a hike in the Judean Hills over Pesah, we had a picnic lunch on top of some remote Crusader ruins.  We had wandered off the main path and were sitting in the weeds.  All of a sudden, a couple climbed over the hill. “Can we get to the path?” they asked.  I did a double take. As they made their way over the ruins, I couldn’t help but ask, “Are you Julie?”  Sure enough.  She was a high school classmate from Chicago!

Our kids now know that King Saul came before King David – not because they read it in a book (although that would have been good too) – but because we have stood in places where both Saul and David ruled.

When walking with Amichai to his gan (pre-school) in the days leading up to Yom Ha’atzmaut, an older gentleman walking nearby commented that he too just took his grandchildren to school (because his son – an eye doctor – had to be at the office).  He remembered when this area (The German Colony and Katamon) was nothing but open fields with donkeys.  I contemplated:  “How wonderful it must be for this man, who may have fought for Israel’s independence, to see the neighborhoods and the next generation grow to maturity.”

In Israel, you can get credit from a car rental company for not driving on Shabbat.

Spice and Araq stand at Mahane Yehuda
We shop at the local grocery store a few times a week.  While shopping is fun because everything is kosher, we often have to figure in 30-45 minutes in the checkout line.  That’s because the cashiers seem to do most things except ring you up. They can discuss the quality of the produce (“complain if it doesn’t look good,” she advises), try to sell you items on sale, ask about your health, and on and on.  When we have the time, we make a morning of shopping at Mahane Yehuda – the open air market.  There we can get better quality, enjoy the vibe, taste along the way and smile at the colorful personalities of the vendors.  Even though the schlep home is farther, it is well worth it!

Dried fruit bins at Mahane Yehuda

We can identify a pomegranate tree by the beautiful red flowers currently blooming.  A shesek (loquat) tree grows outside our apartment building.  We’re not in Kansas (or Minneapolis) anymore.

I enjoy my almost daily stroll hand in hand with Amichai to his gan.  While he chats away for about 18½ minutes of the 20 minute walk, I listen and take in morning in Jerusalem.  From our house we pass through the well-tended Rose Garden which always has a variety of beautiful and colorful flowers in bloom.  Then through the open field showing charred remains of numerous Lag B'Omer bonfires.  Down the street under fig, olive, carob and flowering trees until we get to the big hill that Amichai loves to run down.  Finally through the park with the see-saw and merry-go-round.  Cross the street and we have arrived at gan to walk into whatever project the gaggle of other 4-5 year olds are working on.  Most days now, he jumps right in with a smile.

Whether through conversations with strangers, bumping into old friends, or sometimes just getting bumps and bruises, our time here so far has been filled with moments to remember … 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Touching History

This time, their attention span did not waver. Between the hose, the buckets of dirt and the Indiana Jones-like adventure, the boys’ attention was riveted. We were at Ein Tzurim sifting through 3000 years of history. The dirt was from the Temple Mount where renovations to build a mosque left tons of earth upended and unexplored. The dirt gets sifted, rinsed, examined and sorted –  bucket after bucket after bucket. And this was our task. We joined other volunteers and professionals who have been looking for treasures for the past five years ago. (They estimate that they have another 15 years of work.) It is tedious work but we were anxious to get our hands dirty. In the Negev, we helped build with mud. Now near Mt. Scopus, we hoped that our mud work would help reconstruct our people’s past.

On the ride to the site, we dreamed about the rare objects we’d find. But we knew full well it was highly unlikely. How excited we were to be proven wrong! With a short introduction by the staff, we were off on our search.

When they weren’t spraying each other with the hose, the boys excitedly called out, "I Spy a mosaic tile." "I Spy a piece of glass." "I Spy a piece of metal." We really did unearth some treasures – and ones not just planted for tourists.

"Yes, that is Byzantine tile," the staff person said as she examined our tray. "And that pottery is from the Second Temple." "That's a bone fragment. It might have been part of a sacrifice. We are not sure,” she remarked before moving on to the next bucket.

Koby's find, a Roman glass bead, was apparently unique since it was bagged and set aside. I was excited to find a Roman roof tile and a First Temple pottery shard... until I placed them in the bucket with hundreds of other Roman tiles and First Temple shards.

But while our shards were fairly common place, the same was not true a day later. On Wednesday, it was revealed that archeologists uncovered a stamp from the First Temple period that mentions Bethlehem by name. This is the oldest evidence corroborating the Bible’s description that Bethlehem was a city in the Kingdom of Judah. And the timing could not be more fitting – Bethlehem plays a central role in the Book of Ruth, which we read on Shavu’ot.

As the holiday approaches, we are reminded that for Jews, history is more than an ancient story.  When we have an aliyah, we do not say God “gave” us the Torah but “gives” us the Torah. Though the revelation on Sinai occurred many thousands of years ago, it happens again in our day.  

Sifting through history is exciting. But for Jews, the past is really never behind us. We can touch it, for it is very much present.

Hag sameiah!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Northern Adventures

It’s been great having the kids in school in a routine. But the short days on Tuesdays and Fridays alone don’t give us the time we want to really explore. So we pulled them out of classes last week for a trip up north to the Galil (Galilee).

We drove through the Jordan Valley north to Beit Shean. The heat and the tight quarters in the rental car made for some cranky travelers.  But, the sight of the city’s ancient, impressive amphitheater finally pulled them out of their funk. (God knows it wasn’t the picnic lunch which ended with Alexander and Esther finishing off a bunch of half eaten sandwiches!) Pouring water down our backs made the midday heat a bit more bearable as we explored the ancient ruins.  The city, which dates to the 1st century CE, has remains in relatively good condition due to an earthquake in the 7th century that buried most of the city.  This left it untouched by human or nature until excavations began in recent times.  

Micah overlooking Beit She'an

Our afternoon dip in the nearby Ein Kibbutzim pools felt wonderful before we continued on our way. We drove the scenic route through Har Gilboa and made our way to the “metropolis” of Afula. We drove around until we spotted the busiest restaurant in town and there feasted on shwarma and a wide selection of side salads.

Koby, Amichai and Yonah cooling off at Ein Kibbutzim
Our tzimmer (what they call B&B’s in Israel – only they hardly ever include breakfast) in Yavne’al did not disappoint- the boys all piled into the hot tub and blasted the Jacuzzi. We don’t understand how a country which takes great pains to conserve water has allowed huge hot tubs to become standard fare at B&B’s throughout the country.  

We arrived after dark, so it wasn’t until morning that we saw the ­­beautiful view from the room- wheat fields, hills and distant towns of the Lower Galilee. We quickly ate and made our way to the Lavi forest – currently the only active tree planting center in Israel for visitors. We planted to the tune of Alexander’s “Etz Hayim He” and the kids had fun placing their tiny saplings in pre-dug holes and filling them in with dirt. 
Planting trees at the Lavi Forest, Galil
The fact that the boys went to bed late and woke up before 7am came back to bite us on our short drive to Mt. Arbel. Two fell asleep. Waking them up and trying to get them to the amazing view point and ancient synagogue- well, let’s just say, we almost had another massacre the likes of which have not been seen since Herod attacked the Zealots in 37 CE on this spot. 

The promise of rafting on the Jordan River quickened the recovery from the Arbel-melt-down and we made our way through Tiberias and then up to Gadot. We anticipated a quiet day in the middle of the week, before tourist season at the rafting place.  Little did we know that groups of all types were there – particularly a large and loud group of Russian speaking men that made for great people watching.  Koby steered us down the quiet Jordan River and the “rapids” at the end gave everyone a thrill. All claim to be ready for some serious white water rafting now.  

With much planning, we had found a time to finally Skype with the kids’ classes at HMJDS.  Then we decided to go away for a few days.  Rather than rejuggle schedules, we figured we could Skype from the road.  So, on the balcony of a restaurant with the Jordan River in the background (and pigeon poop all over), the three HMJDS boys were able to chat with their classes.  They had been eagerly awaiting the chance to “see” and talk with their friends at home.  

From the rafting, we made our way down the east side of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).  A cherry vendor on the side of the road turned out to be a very good salesman and Esther and Alexander were swept up in the excitement of fresh local cherries.  Only when we realized just how much we had overpaid, we could’ve kicked ourselves.  But boy were the cherries good!  We ate dinner at a lovely fish restaurant on the banks of the Kinneret.  St. Peter’s fish and trout while watching the sun set over the Kinneret at Ein Gev was great way to end the day.  

With the promise of a tiyul (hike) involving water, we packed our bags and headed out the next morning. Lest you think all our adventures are seamless, the excitement was quickly tempered by:
a)      fighting in the back seat because "he always sits by the window"
b)      "he read the Kindle all day yesterday"
c)       taking a wrong turn which nullified Alexander's promise that "we are almost there."

Through the windy roads of the Lower Galilee, we finally made our way to Nahal Amud.  And it was as everyone had told us – a great tiyul. We hiked for three hours through forests, past old flour mills and irrigation channels, orchards and along the stream. The anticipation of dipping in the stream kept the boys moving accompanied by semi regular complaints, "oy, are we there yet?" and "I hate this stupid hike," by one particular child left to be unnamed.  We eventually did have a dip.  It was what they call "refreshing" – another way to say cold!  Those gold plated cherries made great pit stops (pun intended) on the long hike back up.  Ami gets the prize for being the best hiker – three hours of hiking and not one complaint. 

Waiting to swim at Nahal Amud

From Nahal Amud, we drove to Tzfat.  With everyone tired, sweaty and hungry, we never-the-less set out to try to see some of the city before sites began to close.  And it was as you might expect – pretty much a disaster.  We got couldn’t find any of the sites despite walking in circles. (Doesn’t Tzfat believe in street signs?)  When we did find them, they were indeed closed.  You can picture the scene.  We eventually gave up and spent another 20 minutes walking up and down looking for a Yemenite restaurant listed in a guide book only to discover that we had passed it many times but it had changed names. Refreshed from malawach, jachnun and unlimited lemonade, we walked a bit more and were happy to discover the Sephardi Abouha and Ashkenazi Caro synagogues were open again for minha.  We also went into a candle shop and found a 10’ tall havdalah candle, as well as Disney characters shaped out of wax. An ice cream break gave us the necessary energy to walk and walk and walk as we searched for our car.  After a long day, we drove an hour on windy roads (more "he sat by the window last time" whining), made it to Kibbutz Hannaton and crashed.

Friday was another full day.  There was so much we wanted to see we ran the poor kids ragged!  We visited Beit Shearim.  Neither Esther nor Alexander had been there and really enjoyed the site. This is where Yehuda Hanasi (compiler of the Mishnah) and other Sages are buried.  We had a wonderful (if a bit long) tour.  As long as the two younger kids got to use headlamps in the large burial chambers, they were engaged. Koby on the other hand has become our expert in Greek mythology which was helpful in deciphering the sarcophagi (yes, Greek images on graves of rabbis should raise an eyebrow).

After another picnic lunch ("more sandwiches, really? I hate sandwiches!”), we rushed to Manof, a tiny moshav farther north to tour a small, chocolate truffle factory.  No complaints here. As Esther said, not a bad life – live in a quaint town with an amazing view, work by and for yourself making chocolate all day. The New Zealand born owner was great with the kids and needless to say, we left with three bags of truffles.  Yummmm…wouldn’t that justify anything else we did that day??

From the modern kitchen, back to ancient ruins at Tzippori, where we spent two hours in the sun walking through the site. This town – known for housing the Sages who fled Jerusalem when it was destroyed by the Romans – has wonderful mosaics in incredible condition. The ruins date back to the Roman era (1st-2nd century CE).  Tzippori is unique in that it’s a city where a clear Jewish presence lived side by side with the pagan Romans. The site continues to be excavated, and there is likely so much more that will be uncovered.  Micah got sick toward the end of our tour so he wasn’t such a happy camper. And another child (the same one who shall go unnamed) was just plain miserable throughout ("who cares about stupid mosaics anyways!").  It was definitely time for a pre-Shabbos nap!

We spent a short time looking for the (supposed) grave of Yonah Hanavi in a nearby Arab town but gave up when we literally ran out of road. 

Shabbat at Kibbutz Hannaton was a wonderful end to our Galil trip. Esther and Alexander had been to this Masorti (Conservative) kibbutz years ago in the early 90’s. Since then, it basically fell apart but a new core group of young families is rebuilding the community. The first families arrived three years ago to an existing, although run-down kibbutz infrastructure.  Over the past two years they have absorbed more families so the kibbutz is steadily growing in size and stability.  There are big goals, ideas and dreams for all the things this kibbutz can be.  Amazingly, next year there will be a mekhina program (one year post high school, pre-army) on Hannaton with the goal of cultivating new leaders for the Conservative movement in Israel.  A lot of exciting potential… Alexander and Esther enjoyed the spirited davening and visiting with couples who recently relocated to the kibbutz. The kids easily adapted to kibbutz life – that is, they felt free to play outside with the other kids unsupervised.

We wanted to be back in Jerusalem for Yom Yerushalayim and Israel's new and only toll road made the motzei Shabbat (Saturday night) drive a breeze.  Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War.  We enjoyed watching throngs of young people marching with flags, dance and sing down King George Street and of course fireworks at night.  We also went on a tour of the Jerusalem Municipality buildings, which was a fascinating lesson in the history of the buildings, as well as the various characters that ruled and owned land from the mid-1800s until today.  

While Jerusalem is under Israeli control, we continue to pray for the time when it will live up to its name -  “yiru shalem, they shall see peace.”

Yom Yerushalayim street scene

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Jerusalem's Candy Man

“Never take candy from a stranger.” We drill that lesson into our children from the time they are toddlers. We read about it in Bernstein Bears books and speak about it at preschool. We hear about strangers hiding razor blades in candy. And so we repeat our dire warning: “Never take candy from a stranger. Ever!”


On Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israelis celebrated Independence Day with a day of barbecuing. We headed out to a local park to take in the scene. We sat down on a bench to eat granola bars and jealously breathed in “reiah nikhoah,” the pleasing odor of Jerusalem grills. After a minute or two, an old man shuffled toward us with the help of his cane.  He approached Micah and asked if he could have the large, inflatable hammer Micah was holding. The hammer was a treat Micah received from his generous uncle Aaron at the previous night’s festivities. He had taken it along for the walk to the park. Truthfully, I was more than happy for Micah to give it away -- it would be one less excuse for him to bop his brothers (and parents).

The old man repeated his request to have the hammer and a confused seven year old handed it over with some hesitation. The old man thanked Micah, reached into his pocket and took out a cherry flavored toffee. Amazingly, the other brothers perked up at that moment -- just in time for each of them to receive their special treat.

As the “can-I-eat-it?” chorus erupted and Esther and I glanced that knowing parent, never-take-candy-from-a-stranger glance, the old man lifted his hands and intoned: “Yivarekhekha adonai v’yishmarekha, May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord be gracious unto you. May the Lord show you kindness and grand you peace.” He then mumbled something about the joy that will be felt at Micah’s wedding.

            Are you really going to tell your kids that they can’t eat the candy from an old Jerusalemite man who just blessed them with birkat kohanim? To them, this might just have been Eliyahu Hanavi.

“Yes, you can eat it,” we said.

The man wished us a “hag sameiah” and a “Shabbat Shalom.” And to my dismay, he handed Micah back the large, inflatable hammer. He then shuffled off to prune a nearby rosemary bush -- that he might have a sweet smelling herbs for Shabbat.

“Never take candy from a stranger.” Yes. But as our siddur reminds us, “haverim kol Yisrael,” there are no strangers among Jews. We are family.  And in special places like the Holy City of Jerusalem, strangers offer sweet words of prayer with the candy they give away.

Micah, Amichai and Koby resting during our Yom Ha'atzmaut neighborhood stroll.  Treasured inflatable hammer is being held by Amichai

Yom Ha'atzmaut ceremony at the elementary school.

Yonah and Amichai at one of our local parks.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Back to School...Israel Style

Back to School...Israel Style

It’s been a while since I last wrote and we are settling into more of a routine now.  The kids started school on Sunday (yes Sunday!) this week, right after Pesach.  We had prepped them to be ready for a big change from what they are used to at HMJDS (i.e. classes in Israel are usually 30+ kids, classroom decorum is questionable and Israeli kids can be a little pushier/impatient). We told them that they might not understand everything right away, that it might take a while to make friends, etc.  We too were prepared for tears and stomach aches.  

My heart sort of dropped as we left them in class – leaving these little kids to fend for themselves in the unknown.  But, amazingly, the reports at the end of the day were positive and no tears!  Yonah had already copied the weekly schedule into his planner and was excited for the variety of classes.  Koby and Micah are already referring to the kids in the class as friends (even though they don’t know names yet).  Now on the third day of school, we can say so far so good!  Who knows what will come once the novelty wears off, but we are happy for each good day!

Yonah had been excited to start and went in with a great attitude.  (We have been thoroughly impressed by his maturity and willingness to try new things.)  Koby and Micah were much more anxious.  Upon arriving at the school, we were very warmly greeted.  I credit the kids with a lot of bravery.  It’s not easy to walk into a strange situation – in a different language – and be expected to just join in with only 2 ½ months of school left!  But the school as well deserves credit- they have been accommodating and welcoming.  

And let’s not forget little Amichai.  He too is going to Gan (pre-school) not far from the elementary school.  He was excited to go and he walked in smiling.  Again, the staff was lovely and took him by the hand to show him around.  There are also some English speaking kids at the pre-school which allows him to chat away and actually be understood.  It’s a sweet place and I think he’ll have fun and hopefully pick up the Hebrew while he’s there.

The rental car is back at the airport and we are now reliant on our feet or public transportation to get around.  The elementary school is about a 15 minute walk from our apartment, and the Gan another 5-10 minutes past that.  It took us a day or so to find the best route and we have now located the shortcut that takes us by a little outdoor “farm” with animals (ducks, geese, goats and chickens) that belongs to another school in the area.  Going to school is downhill, but coming back is…well, uphill (In Jerusalem, getting most anywhere involves hills and it usually feels like you’re going up!)  Yesterday, our 20 minute walk to school with Amichai turned into a 45 minute walk home with a tired boy on 4½ year old legs!  Good thing we’re not rushing anywhere. 

Now that we are pedestrians, we are getting to know our neighborhood better.  Jerusalem is divided into many different neighborhoods, each with its own distinct personality and population.  We live in Talbieh (for those that know, we are around the corner from the Inbal Hotel and Liberty Bell Park), a centrally-located and fairly well-to-do neighborhood with many Anglos (what they call English speakers), as well as French.  We have learned that this area used to belong to the Greek Orthodox Church.  When funding from overseas dried up (due mostly to the rise of Communism and the outlaw of religion), the Church was forced to sell its land.  Wealthy German Jews (hence the German Colony nearby) and wealthy Arabs were those who were able to purchase land in the 1930s.  There are some beautiful historic buildings from that time on the streets surrounding us.  We live across the street from a monastery.  They make quiet and interesting neighbors.  From our second floor balcony (where I sit to write on this beautiful, sunny Jerusalem morning), we can see into their well-kept grounds.  Between the hotel and park I mentioned earlier, there is a school.  Instead of a traditional school bell, they play “All You Need is Love” by the Beatles in between classes.  Sort of funny to be sitting at home and all of a sudden, the Beatles are singing (wait, and singing…and singing…)!

Now that the kids are settled into a routine (mostly), it is tempting for me and Alexander to wander neighborhoods, taste from bakeries/restaurants (we did treat ourselves to some hametz and adult time at a coffee shop after dropping the kids on their first day) and browse in shops all day.  However, we are looking into various places to study and hope to begin taking classes later this week or next.  Time to recharge intellectually...

Alexander has taken over the kitchen, preparing meals and lunches for the kids (who’s on sabbatical now?!).  Our kitchen supplies here are limited, so even when I want to help, there’s only one sharp knife, one cutting board, etc.  Oh well!  

It’s later in the day now.  Kids are back from school and another successful day!  Yeah!!!

Here are a few photos of some relatively recent outings...

Koby with Jerusalem surroundings in background
Boys usual.

Ice cream whenever possible! (At Kibbutz Yotvata)

Picnicking in the Judean Hills.

Trying to get through the narrowest tunnel yet!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pesah in Jerusalem

Final stage of making handmade matzah before baking in the wood-fired oven.

Pesah in Jerusalem

There is nothing quite like Pesah in Israel.  Aside from the ease of observance and eating, almost the entire country is on vacation for the week.  Kids are off of school for 2 ½ weeks (not sure why – certainly not helpful to parents trying to prepare) and many parents take off to be with them.  It’s actually amazing that the country still functions over the holiday!   Getting most places involves sitting in traffic for at least twice as long as usual, parks are full, cafes and restaurants (yes, most go kosher for Passover) are busy, and hotels are full with both visiting tourists and traveling Israelis.   At the same time, some museums offer free entrance, there are special kids and family activities available in many places around the country, in Jerusalem there were signs to welcome “olim la’regel” – the biblical phrase for people who came to Jerusalem for pilgrimage holidays, and there is a general feeling of festivity in the air.  My entire family was here for Pesah and we had a wonderful combination of good family time (not easy with my family who is literally scattered around the world), good food and good exploring in and out of Jerusalem.  Here are our reflections:

Dayeinu (It would have been enough for us)

If only we had to clean a small apartment instead of an entire house for Passover, dayeinu.

If only we bought Pesah products in one store (instead of many), dayeinu.

If only we found a handmade matzah factory, dayeinu.

If only we burned our hametz on a fire others had already made, dayeinu.

If only we had one Seder instead of two, dayeinu.

If only Esther’s family was together for the Seder, dayeinu.

If only we ate in restaurants, dayeinu.

If only we toured the City of David from top to bottom, dayeinu.

If only the Judean Hills we hiked through were in bloom, dayeinu.

If only everyone else picnicking there was eating matzah too, dayeinu.

If only we visited the newly remodeled Israel Museum (for free!), dayeinu.

If only we spent time with cousins and family friends, dayeinu.

If only we could be here in Jerusalem, dayeinu!

Hagalat Keilim - Cauldrons with boiling water to kasher dishes for Pesach.These are available to anyone and are  stationed throughout most neighborhoods.  

Alexander, Yonah and our niece Dee Dee before the Seder
Next year in Jerusalem for you!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Water, Water and More Water

Water, Water and More Water

By Yonah Davis
View of terraced hillside in Sataf outside of Jerusalem

                Almost everybody says Israel does not have a lot of water. They most likely would add that it is important to conserve as much water as possible. It is true that everybody should try to conserve water, even if they don’t live in Israel. But is it true that Israel does not have a lot of water?
                On March 14 my family went on a hike in Sataf. Sataf is located on a hill outside of Jerusalem. Sataf is one of the many hiking trails in Israel. The trail was extremely beautiful. Along the trail we saw examples of how people lived a while ago.
                In biblical days most people were farmers. They would plant crops to feed their family. The farmers figured out a creative way to get the water to their plants.
                My dad, my brother and I walked down a set of steps toward a tunnel entrance. This tunnel led to the source of water in the middle of the hill. My dad, brother and I were out to find what was at the end of the tunnel. Equipped with four flashlights, we started on our adventure.
                After a few minutes and a steep step up, we reached the end of the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was a cave and in the back was a natural spring where the water came from. The floor was a bit wet.
                We made our way back following the small stream. The stream led us out of the tunnel and back to the steps overlooking the collection pool that the small stream had formed. It was amazing to think that such a small stream could form a pool. 
                The collection pool was connected to irrigation tunnels. The irrigation tunnels went down the hill. At every place that needed water there was an irrigation tunnel that provided the plants with water. The water though, was not only used to water crops; the people used if for laundry.
                Today Israel’s population has grown and more people need Israel’s water. Israel lends water to its neighbor so there is even less water. Israel has water but a lot of it is not suitable for drinking. Think about the Dead Sea that is tons of water, but humans can’t drink it. Even people long ago thought about conserving Israel’s water.

Yonah and Koby in the tunnel to the spring at Sataf