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