Wednesday, October 27, 2010

This is My Israel

To my loyal blog readers (whoever you are), I know that I am still in the middle of 2 ongoing stories. "My" Birth Story - the story of my first doula experience. And The Story of My Aliyah.

But I'm interrupting to write a brief blog. This is just a 1 Part-er. I think......

It all started on was a dark and rainy night.....whoops - wrong story. We're still waiting on those nights here in Israel. :( Come on Winter!!! Bring it on!!

Ok, Sukkot. We were up north camping along various beaches and getting sand all over everything that we own. We spent one day at the Family Fun Festival at Kfar Hassidim. There were a bunch of NBN attendees (we even wore special NBN stickers) and they gave each of us a sign that said "This is My Israel". They told us to take a pic with the sign and send it in to them and maybe we will win the contest. We said, "Ok, when does the contest end?" They said, "Um...not sure." We said, "Ok, what do we win?" They said, "Um.....1st place in the photo contest?" It didn't exactly make me jump to enter but I thought it would be a cute opportunity for some photo ops. I put the sign in our car thinking maybe we would take some pics during our trip. Then I forgot.....
Our trip ended and we headed back to Ariel and I figured that was better anyway because my life is mostly in Ariel and this is truly "My Israel". But I thought I would have to get creative because I wouldn't be able to take a shot on the beach or in the mountains or next to some animals. I'd have to find something in Ariel.....
My first thought was The Frog Pond. I am not sure why. It is a really freaky looking statue of a frog with a huge tongue out which also is a little fountain and it is a small "natural habitat" pond. There are some turtles in it and some fish. The kids happen to LOVE it and could spend hours just watching and looking for the turtle. But it's in the merkaz and we don't make it there much. So I thought I would make it an outing. Days passed and we just never had a chance to run on a photo trip around Ariel. But I kept the sign in my car and every time I saw it was reminded.
Then we found out (through our friends who also entered the contest) that there not only was a deadline for the contest but there was also an actual prize!! The deadline was about 2 weeks away (now 1 week) and the prize is a Flip video camera. I have no idea what a Flip video camera is but we definitely can use a video camera. Over the past few weeks we have been dealing with a million short clips that we put on my computer from our regular camera. They take up all the space and are making me crazy. We really would LOVE and make good use of a video camera!! But it's not the type of thing we would ever have excess cash for. So, I was inspired.
The next day Jonah finished school early, Sammy was at a friend's house, and Kayla was at the babysitter. So I figured we would take an hour and go to all the cool places in Ariel to try and get a nice shot. It was beautiful weather and I even brought along his soccer ball as a prop!! On one hand, I wanted to take a picture with all 3 of my kids. On the other hand, and anyone who has 3+ little kids can verify, it is almost impossible to get them all looking, smiling, and posing at the same time!

We decided to start at the top of Ariel and wind our way down. I explained the contest to Jonah and asked what pictures he thought we should take. He wanted to take a picture at the top of the mountain, he wanted to take a picture near our very 1st apartment (absorption apartment), and a picture where we took a picture of him on the first day of Gan. He always talks about that picture and how the buildings were IN the clouds!!!

So we went to the tippy top of Ariel and I think it was actually the spot that Avi Zimmerman took us to when giving us the view of Ariel. You can see the whole city and Jonah was fascinated by the construction that was going on. We took a bunch of pics there but none of them came out so great because Jonah was always squinting because of the sun. The background was kind of cool because it showed the whole city and this really is Our Israel. But I was also a little hesitant about the shot because our friends had taken a similar shot of their daughter with the mountains of the Shomron behind her. I didn't want to "copy".
We continued and went to a park, soccer field, fountains, etc until we ran out of time. Towards the end, I asked Jonah once more if he had any ideas and if there was somewhere in Ariel that he REALLY loved. He said Rchov HaGalil which is our new street!! I was so happy to hear that and we took a picture on our street and in front of our house too. I got some great pics! It also made me want to study photography and become a photographer!!! :)

That evening we went to pizza with friends (after our sons all had soccer together). I snapped a few more shots with Sammy and Kayla on the pizza place rides. As we were leaving a couple girl soldiers came into the pizza shot. And I thought to myself - that would be a great shot if I can get the soldiers with my kids! Or maybe one of Kayla with the soldiers. I went over and explained about the contest and asked to take a picture. They were happy to do it and I turned around to get the kids together and Sammy was in tears!! For all of his love of solders, he did not appear to want to be in a picture with them. But they were waiting and I felt bad so I took a picture of Jonah with them (soccer shirt and all). We were going to leave but Jonah said he wanted to take a picture of me. So I said ok, why not. I grabbed Kayla and we took the picture with them. Meanwhile one of them got a phone call (she was trying to hang up) and Sammy was standing there crying. It was a crazy shot (and one of the soldiers heads was cut off) and I didn't think anything of it.

I posted all the pics and got a few people's opinions on which to enter. I had such a hard time deciding. I was debating between a few shots. I really liked and initially picked the one of Jonah on the soccer field. It was a beautiful shot of Jonah and he had the soccer ball and for Jonah, that's a huge part of Israel for him. He wouldn't have played soccer in America! :) I also really liked the picture of Jonah on our street. But mostly I liked the idea behind it. I didn't know if people would "get it" by just looking at the picture. Shauli liked the one of Jonah overlooking Ariel. I liked the idea but didn't like the actual pictures (and didn't want to take away from our friends pic). Shauli also liked the soldier one. I thought about it (probably put way too much thought into choosing anyway) and decided to go with the soldier picture with me and Kayla. I was trying to get to the concept and the idea behind the contest. I gave it a caption "Only 16 years until my baby is serving the Israeli army".

I felt that this really expressed the Reality of living in Israel. By moving here, even though I did not serve in the army, I know that my children will be serving in the army (ok, maybe Kayla will do sheirut leumi - national service). The thought of that is both terrifying and makes me so proud. As a mom, I dread the day my children enter the army. As a citizen, I think it is amazing that every person has to serve in the army. It's a reality for my children. Sammy and Jonah often talk about what unit they will be in and where they will serve. It gives us such a connection to the land. I don't know which comes first. Do you feel a strong connection to the land, this is OUR land, and then you serve in the army? Or do you serve in the army and become connected to the land.

No other land in the world is like this for the Jewish people. This is our homeland and always has been. The sky is the limit for my kids here. Meaning, I hope, that they will be able to do and be whatever they want, while still maintaining their religious identity. Shabbat and Kashrut are not foreign concepts here. Not working on the Jewish holidays is a given here. This country is not perfect but by moving here, I feel that I have opened up my children's lives. And at the same time, given them a country where they can truly be free. Free to be who they are and do what they want without religious persecution. We aren't strangers anymore.

So, I got a little off topic and on a rant about my mad love for Israel. But bottom line, I feel my picture expresses a huge aspect of what Israel is - and will be - to us and to many other Olim.

We are currently in 2nd place and REALLY want to win!! Voting ends November 3rd (I think at noon Israel time). PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE take a minute and vote for us on the the Nefesh B'Nefesh facebook page. And get your family (spouse, sibling, parents - whoever has facebook) to help us out also! We aren't even asking for money....

Just follow these simple instructions.....

1. Go to

2. At the top of the page, click Like.

3. Go to our picture at

4. At the bottom of the picture, click Like.

(If you don't want to vote because you don't want to join this random group,
you can Unlike the group after you Like our picture and your vote will still count!)

A lot of people skip the first step and go right to trying to Like our picture. But unless you LIKE the fan page (first link) first, you will not have the option to Like our picture.

Let me know if you have any problems. Thank you SO much for your support!!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

My Aliyah Story - Part 3

And back to Israel I went.....

2001. It was a rough year for Israel. Lots of terrorist attacks.....

I wanted to do something more than just go to Israel. I wanted to help. I wanted to make a difference. So I looked into it and found out about a program called Sar-El. It's a program where people from all over the world can volunteer for the Israeli army. No, you won't be jumping out of airplanes or even get a gun. But you take basically take the place of a reserve soldier and do some grunt work for a couple of weeks so that the Israeli soldiers can do more important stuff. Hey, someone has to paint the barracks.....

I worked it out so I could leave for Israel a few weeks early, volunteer with Sar-El, and then start Ben Gurion University. It was great!! I had a good group of volunteers of all different ages, we had a good soldier in charge of us and we had a LOT of fun. We were up north at a base near Haifa. I am still in touch with a few of my fellow volunteers.

Ben Gurion university was interesting. I lucked out because some friends of family of friends who lived in Beer Sheva were going to America for the year and needed someone to house-sit. I found out about it and gained a house for myself. It was really nice especially for Shabbat. And a place where friends could come and hang out. And watch TV! The cable company was supposed to cancel it but never did. Good times.

December rolled around and time for Winter Break - which was like 2 months long - due to the Israeli exams (you have 2 tries). A bunch of students on the program went home. Some for the break, some were only there for the semester anyway. But I didn't have the money or the desire for a trip back to the States. Again, the year was so difficult with all the bombings, it got to the point where you woke up in the morning and turned on the radio to hear where was the latest terrorist attack - not IF there was one.... I felt like I had gotten so comfortable in BGU. Just livin life, salsa dancing on Tuesday nights in the bomb shelter/disco, homework, friends, etc. But I wanted to do more!! I felt so helpless when there was an attack. I considered doing Sar-El again and actually got some friends interested in it. But then I discovered the Magen David Adom Foreign Volunteers Program. Now THAT sounded fascinating!!! I take a short, intense course and become certified as a First Responder. Then I am sent to a MDA base somewhere in Israel where I volunteer on ambulances for a month or 2. Perfect!!

Turns out, that was another puzzle piece into my life. I was in Israel, I was searching for the love of my life. But had no idea what I actually wanted to do in life. And stumbled upon the world of Emergency Medicine!! Volunteering for MDA was one of the greatest things I have done in my life. I really felt like I was finally giving back to a country that had given me so much. I was making a difference. I was saving lives......

And I discovered what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to go further and become an EMT, and maybe then a paramedic. I wanted to work for MDA. It was a new passion in my life. So I finished out the year at BGU. During which, I arranged a MDA course for other students on the BGU program.
And sadly, I also learned the pain of losing someone in a terrorist attack. My MDA instructor and friend, a person who I had just been on the phone with a few days prior, the guy who was going to come and teach the course that I set up in Beer Sheva....Yochai Porat. Again ,that is another story for another time. But suffice it to say, this man influenced me and turned my life in a new direction. I finally had a direction!

After BGU, I ended up going back to the States. I decided I wanted to go back and become trained as an EMT. Work in the States, gain some experience, save a little money, and then make Aliyah. For once and for all.

Once again.....I had to leave Israel. But this time, I was certain I would be back. With a career and a plan.

My Aliyah Story - Part 2

Sorry, my computer turned itself off last night just as I finished part 1. Tonight I give my talk so I really have to get down to writing and processing.....

I came back to the States at the end of the summer and went back to Pittsburgh. I was so depressed. I had no desire whatsoever to be there. I just wanted to be in Israel. I remember the family I lived with made a great BBQ birthday party for me and I remember sitting now, not wanting to be there. Just wanting to be back in Israel. It was so hard. But I knew that I would return. I planned on going back for seminary after 12th grade so I had the year to work on making that happen. I was financially independent at that point and receiving a little social security. I returned to my job at the local Judaica store doing some computer stuff. So I carried on. Just trying to survive day to day. School meant nothing to me anymore. I was so confused. I was so lost. Not only that but we received another blow. Our dear friend/mentor passed away that September from cystic fibrosis. It shook us up so badly. How do you watch that happen to someone in his early twenties? I was still reeling from the death of my dad - Rafi was helping me deal with it. And then he is taken from us? It was a horrible year. But somehow I made it through. Again, pulled together a lot of scholarships and somehow managed to make it to Israel for the school year 98/99.

Living in Israel as a seminary student is not really living in Israel. At least not where I was. I was in a bubble. I was at school with English speakers, being taught in English, going to "town" to meet up with all my other English speaking friends. I met a few Israelis, but they spoke English. I lived in Jerusalem so that meant I did not have to learn any Hebrew either. It was still a hard year, I was still so lost in life. But I loved being back in Israel. I was happy in Israel. The highs are that much higher and the lows are that much lower. Everything is more meaningful and more real here. I had no plan in life but I knew that I still wanted to be in Israel.
My year came to a close and I wanted to come back. But not for another year of seminary. I wanted to work, I wanted to learn the language. I managed to find a program in the Old City to come back to. Half day of learning and tiyulim, plus the opportunity to work. The scholarships only lasted so long, I needed to start paying my own way. So I spent the summer at home, living with my Grandma, and got my first job at Kohl's. End of the summer, I said goodbye to my Kohl's crew and got back on the plane. If I thought I was lost before this, I think I was even more lost this year. I had no borders/no boundries/no one watching out for me or setting limits. I just did my own thing. Maybe I needed it. I needed the freedom to figure myself out. Maybe. It is what it is.

Two weeks before I came to Israel, the program called me up and told me they didn't have enough people signed up and they were canceling it. I told them I was still coming and they said I could come and do some of their classes while I look for something else. So I did. I had an apartment in the Old City, I took some of their classes, got a short-lived job in the Arab shuk and then moved on to babysitting. The school I went to turned out to be somewhat cultish and almost turned me completly off Judaism. Luckily, there was one level-headed Rabbi there who kept me on the path. I made a lot of Israeli friends that year and learned a LOT of Hebrew. I did a lot of stupid things too and thatnk G-d, I didn't get killed. Yes, that was the year I went to Bethlehem with my Arab friend. My Arab friend who a year later was put in jail for murder. Oh goodness.
While I loved hanging out in the Rova and town and just chillin, it wasn't getting me anywhere in life. The school was doing more harm then good and in January, I made a "Grown-up" decision. I decided I had to go back to the States. I had to get out of that environment. One day I will post some of the stories of things that happened while in Machon Roni. Such as the "Malka Hamishicha Zahava" AKA the crazy homeless woman who turned up in my apartment and screamed bloody murder when I came home one Friday night. Woah. The police knew her well. She roamed the streets of the Old City asking them to take her back to her rightful home on the Temple Mount. She is, after all, The Queen Moshiach, Zahava......

Back to the States I went. Everytime I had to leave Israel, it was agonizing, heart wrenching. I felt almost complete in Israel. Just missing my better half. But in America I was missing my better half and my homeland. So back to my job at Kohl's to figure out my grand plan. After about 6 months there, I decided to move to New York. I had a lot of friends there and it seemed a happening place. Lots of my friends were heading there, doing the smart thing and going to college. But I went there to get a job. Found an apartment in Brooklyn, and got a job at a company in the Empire State Building. I was just a secretary but oh how I loved working on the 75th floor!! I'd take the subway to Manhattan every morning, work, and sometimes spend a few hours wandering NYC afterwards. It's fascinating there!
I had a good year - I suppose. Made some friends for life. Had my ups and downs. A few broken hearts. Ya know, doin my thing. But I just couldn't stay away. I needed to come back to Israel.

Since I couldn't just come back to hang out, I needed something good to do. A good reason to come back. I started looking into different programs and decided to go to Ben Gurion University's Overseas Student Program in Beer Sheva. I wanted to get out of Jerusalem and this way, I could get some college credits. Somehow managed to scrape the money together (including a loan from my boss). And said cest la vie to NYC.
(That actually does not make sense in translation but I like the sound of it.....)

To be continued.........

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Aliyah Story - Part 1

I was asked today by one of the Bnot Sheirut to speak to a group of Bnei Akiva kids (8th-12th grade) tomorrow night and tell them my Aliyah Story.
Of course it has to be in Hebrew so that's somewhat intimidating. But I'm sort of excited about it.
So, where do I begin? I have up to a half hour - which is a REALLY long time. But that can include questions, etc.
I figured I would jot down some thoughts here on my blog and if it's at all interesting, I'll post them..... and maybe I will think of some things to tell the kids too.
As a side note, every year they have a theme for the month. This is the month that Bnei Akiva was founded and they spend the whole month painting and making signs and all kinds of preparation for a big end of the month celebration with songs and fire and what not.

My first connection with Bnei Akiva and maybe Zionism in general was the summer after 3rd grade, when I was 9 years old and headed off to Camp Moshava, Wild Rose Wisconsin.
The bunks were divided into Shvatim, we had mifkad in the morning and in the evening. We had to stand at attention "Amod Dom" and at ease "Amod Noach". To this day, it cracks me up to hear soldiers being told that! It's like they are playing camp (or we were playing soldier...). Camp Moshava was the first place where we used Hebrew words in normal conversation. "Time to go to the Cheder Ochel". "I hope our bunk has the best Nikayon!" "We got SO rained out on the Machane Chutz!!!"
Looking at it now, Moshava is so obviously Zionistic but at the time, it just became part of our daily routine.
I went to Camp Moshava for 3 years ('89, '90, and '92). During those years, there were a few kids who came to camp from Israel. It was such an interesting/exotic concept. These kids actually lived in the place that we only talked about. A place that was so abstract, that we learned about in Chumash. It was so strange.

As I got older, my connection with Israel was through my school. Wearing blue and white on Yom Haatzmaut and hearing my best friend talk about her trips to Israel. I have an aunt and some cousins in Israel but we rarely saw them. I spent one summer in Kansas with my cousin from Israel (who is my brother's age) and it was still so hard to imagine that she lived in this place called "Israel". It still seemed SO far away. Unreachable....

During high school, I did not really go to Zionistic schools. I spent 10th grade in public school where I was barely holding on to my Judaism.....I was very active in NCSY which was no Bnei Akiva but had their summer programs to Israel. Not that I ever dreamed of going on them. There was no way we could afford those!! My Dad and I would sometimes toss around the idea of going to Israel. To me, it was still this crazy far away land that I learned about in Chumash and on Yom Haatzmaut. A land that was OURS, a Jewish country. A place where they eat falafel on a normal basis and can pronounce the letter "chet" correctly. A land with kosher Pizza Hut and McDonalds! Where people know what kosher and Shabbat are and I'm not the crazy Jew. It was so weird to imagine..... but I didn't think about it that much.

Along came 11th grade. And my life completely changed. I had no idea what kind of storm was coming.
I uprooted myself and went to school in Pittsburgh. Still trying to hold onto my Judaism. And I liked a boy. However I got there, I was living in Squirrel Hill with the Seidman family, working in Pinskers, and chilling with a whole new group of crazy friends. I was just settling in when WHAM. My dad was diagnosed with cancer. My life was turned upside down.
That, of course, is a completely different story by itself. During my dad's sickness, we talked about "our trip to Israel when he got better." When it became clear that he was not going to get better, I showed him a brochure of ISS, Israel Summer Seminar, NCSY's 5 week touring and learning program in Israel. I told him I was going to make it there. For him. For me.
I owe a HUGE shout-out to my Midwest NCSY friends who were the ones who first brought up me going on ISS. They were going and I don't know what they said, but soon I was planning on going too.

Then I lost my dad. My life was hell and I could hardly tell which way was up. But I told my dad I was going on ISS and darn it, I was going on ISS. There were scholarships upon scholarships and somehow I pulled it off. I had my plane ticket. I had no idea what to expect but it was going to be an experience of a lifetime. It was kind of a crazy idea. To be heading off on this fantastic program which to normal teenagers would be FUN, while still being in mourning for my dad. Crazy thing was, there turned out to be 2 other girls on the trip who had ALSO lost their dads within the past few months. We got special permission to say Kaddish during davening and that was good.

Off we went on ElAl. I was sitting next to Scott who turned out to be a source of LOTS of laughter during that trip. To this day, I crack up when I find the little notebook of pictures we drew. CHASHEE CHASHEE. My crazy Kansas/Omaha crew was so tolerant of me and all my crap. They made me smile through the pain. I don't think they have any idea what they meant to me that summer.

We landed in Israel and everyone sang and cheered. The typical thing you hear about. And back in '97, when you got off the plane, you headed right down the stairs to the tarmac. I hope I will never forget the feeling of stepping out the door, at the top of the stairs, and feeling that BLAST of HOT air hit my face. That's Middle East weather. I looked out at the palm trees waving in the distance and the Israeli flags.
And I knew I was home. I don't know how I knew. But I was home. I climbed down the stairs and fell on the ground kissing it. Tears were streaming down my face. I'm home, I'm home, I'm home.

It was an up and down 5 weeks. So emotionally and physically challenging. But I fell in love. I fell in love with this country called Israel. Nothing else was constant or stable in my life. But I finally knew one thing. This is where I belonged. I felt like I didn't belong anywhere in the States. In Israel, I belonged.....

V'Shavu Banim Ligvulam....

Friday, October 08, 2010

Making a Difference

So, I somehow managed to join the first grade Vaad Horim (Parent's Committee) with 3-4 other Israeli moms. We had one meeting so far and I understood the main points just not a lot of the bantering that goes on. It was a little hard because socially, I wasn't able to just relax and chat. But it worked out. And I think I laughed at all the appropriate parts I was supposed to and said oh no, when I was supposed to. :)

While I am not entirely sure what the official job of the Vaad Horim is and what our responsibilities, I know that we can turn it into whatever we want as long as we have a cooperative teacher (we'll find that out once we have a meeting with her....)
So we discussed making the classroom a little more cozy and bringing in some games for the kids to do at recess, we talked about the overload of homework on our first graders, and the policy of being "approved" to make a birthday cake for class as opposed to having a strict policy of bringing store bought cakes. Then I brought up an idea and the other moms loved it! (Yes, I am proud of myself and was happy to be a contributing part of this committee).

I want to bring more chesed into my child's life, into his class, and perhaps into the school and community in general. One step at a time though. One of the moms had previously suggested bringing in treats for Rosh Chodesh. And while anyone who knows me knows that I am not the healthiest person - I feel that kids are bombarded with treats and junk food!!! Enough with the treats!! Stop looking for excuses to bring more junk into our kids lives!!!
So I said maybe once a month (around Rosh Chodesh for example), we can do a Chesed event. I suggested maybe one time helping pack the boxes that go out to the needy families here in Ariel. One time sending cards/pictures to children in hospitals or to soldiers. Maybe one time doing something with or for the old folks home here. Etc, etc.

So basically the point of this long post is to ask for YOUR ideas for Chesed projects that first graders can do in their classroom/school. To take them out of school is apparently way more complicated. I'd love to hear from you!!!!!!!!!!!