Friday, April 24, 2009

Pat Me On The Back

It's so funny to reflect on the things that make us proud of ourselves these days. Yehuda came home yesterday with the assignment that he had to make a Dvar Torah on this week's Parsha to deliver in front of his whole class. And when did he have to have it by? Today! Now, for many of our Torah educated friends, this is no big deal at all. They help the kid to do it, and within half an hour - voila.

When one of our kids comes home with this assignment, it's another story. First of all, neither Josh nor I is particularly knowledgeable and able to just "whip something up" from the Parsha. Second of all - once we do come up with something brilliant - we have to translate it into Hebrew!

So, Josh usually undertakes this killer task, and often, they will venture over to a great neighbor, Yonatan, who helps us out when we get stuck with these types of tasks. However, Josh wasn't feeling great last night and it became MY task to help.

Ok - breathe deeply...I actually came up with something clever enough to present (although it was probably on a first grade level of analysis. But hey, these were first graders that Yehuda was presenting to, so I thought it would be ok). Then, it was time to translate it. Matan, Yehuda and I all sat down together and worked our way through the translation. I wrote it and I was highly impressed that Yehuda could read my writing. Then, when I got stuck not knowing how to spell something, Yehuda or Matan would step in. Talk about learning humility, as I was constantly corrected by my third and first grade children.

We finished the speech, and I was darn proud of myself. I thought it was pretty good. I was just hoping that Yehuda would be able to read it all, because I didn't want his teacher to see it! Who knows how many misspelled words I had written? Yehuda read it over and practiced it with us half a dozen times - and we were ready (we hoped!) I was as nervous as if I were delivering the speech myself as I watched Yehuda leave for school.

When he got home, Josh and I both jumped on top of him. Did he do well? Did everyone understand him?

Huge sigh of relief - we had succeeded!

Check that off as another day I passed on the Aliyah hurdle of life here!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I Remember You

We just experienced the annual siren for Holocaust Remembrance Day. There are few things as powerful in the world as knowing that your entire country is standing still - literally stopping whatever they are doing - in unison, at the same moment, to remember. Today, as I took my walk, I was thinking about Holocaust Remembrance Day, about what it means to me and about my life today. Josh and I are both lucky, and I think a bit unusual, to have no family that went through the Holocaust. All of my grandparents were born in America, or came to America shortly after birth. This means that I have to find other ways to think about the Holocaust and to honor the people who lived - and died - in this unbelievable time. While I was walking today, this is what came to mind.

I am the answer to the Holocaust.

The very fact that I was walking on Jewish soil - in my Jewish homeland - is the answer to the Holocaust.

My Jewish children are the answer.

My Israeli adopted soldier, and the many, many like him, is the answer.

We are the living, breathing answer to this atrocity.

How powerful it is to realize that the sheer fact that I live here, in Israel, screams out to Hitler that he didn't win.

It doesn't erase what happened, and it doesn't stave the incredible wounds that the people who went through this atrocity endured - but it is a living, breathing proof of the strength and dream of the Jewish people. And to be part of that gives me goosebumps when I think about it.

I was reading an interesting article last week about an older man who came here after the Holocaust. He said that Holocaust Memorial Day had an incredible impact on him a few years ago when his son rose in the ranks to be the head of the Israeli army. This is the answer to the Holocaust - this shocking contrast between the unspeakable horrors that our people endured and the building of a country to ensure that such atrocities never reoccur.

Today, it's truly mind boggling how necessary these reminders are with the events like the Durban conference and the hate-filled words from Ahmadinejad and those like him.

I often reflect on a survivor that I knew when Holocaust Remembrance Day returns each year. When we lived in Israel after college, Josh and I befriended a lovely woman in Kiryat Shmona named Esther. We would go to her house to talk to her and to keep her company. Esther was housebond and struggling with diabetes and other issues. Her husband, Eliezer, was often there as well, and they were sweet, gentle people. They had both survived the Holocaust and had shown up in pre-State Israel by themselves, completely alone and bereft of family. They built a life, had children and lived in a nice, small house in Kiryat Shmona.

One day, we arrived at their house and there was a feeling of intense and oppressive mourning. It was as if someone had died. I couldn't figure out what was going on at first, and then I remembered that it was Holocaust Remembrance Day. The house was filled with their ghosts and with their memories. I will never forget that experience or the feeling of being with Esther and Eliezer on that day.

While life here in Israel isn't always easy, and we are constantly reminded of those who hate us and want to see us obliterated near and far - it is amazing to feel that your life - the simple act of breathing and waking up in the morning - is an answer to history.

We are the answer.

The fact that I have five beautiful boys who are living and learning in Israel is the answer.

We aren't going away - and our lives are a living testament to the continuation of the Jewish people, in the homeland of our ancestors - in the homeland that those who perished in the Holocaust dreamed of having, and never got to see.

We are here as a testament to them, and we're staying.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

So Much Fun!

It's hard to explain to people who don't live in Israel just how much fun the holidays are. This is true family time. Josh has off from work for the entire week- plus of Pesach, and I work like crazy before and after the holiday to make up for not working during it. This means that we have 9 or 10 family days to enjoy together. And it's not a time that we travel or take a vacation - it's a time when we enjoy the offerings right in our own neighborhood and take the kids around their country to explore and enjoy. For those still living outside of Israel the concept of 'Chol Hamoed' is a difficult one to fully observe. Yes, Hallel (the portion of the morning service that is added for holidays) is still said, although most people say it as they rush through the davening to get to work. Yes, people are not eating hametz. Yes, their kitchens remain kosher for Pesach for the duration of the holiday. However, the spirit of the holiday is lost. In Israel, people are dressed in their holiday/Shabbat clothes; they travel the country; they have special time to spend with their family and friends; and there is a special feeling in the air.

As we have for the past 10 or so years, we had a lovely Seder with our good friends, the Frankls. We try to dress up each year for the seder to make it more interactive for the kids. Matan was a very cute "wise" son, Yehuda was an Egyptian task master and Amichai and I were hail. This meant that I dressed in white and that Amichai spent all night saying, "Now mommy? Now mommy?" as he waited for the moment to send hail (in the form of little white Styrofoam balls) crashing down on all of our heads. He really enjoyed that part of the seder!

The first day of Pesach and the last day are holidays like Shabbat where we don't drive and where we enjoy time with friends in our community. The in-between days are called "Chol Hamoed" and they are special days when we spend time exploring the country. There are activities set up throughout Israel for families, as many people are off during this time and are running around enjoying their time.

So, the first day of Chol Hamoed we went to Ein Gedi. This is a natural reserve area where there are fantastic hikes through water that end at gorgeous waterfalls. The hike proved a bit too challenging for us with our little people, but we enjoyed ourselves for a few hours and the older kids had fun playing in the water. Sunday we headed to Sussya. Sussya is an ancient city that was inhabited from 400-800CE and now has a modern day yishuv situated right next to the ancient area. They had a fantastic festival there which included a tour of the ruins, pottery making, a drum demonstration, a climbing wall and zip line and many other interesting finds.

It was amazing to sit there, overlooking the gorgeous area as Josh and Matan davened Mincha in the ancient shul of Sussya. The kids were also quite taken with the tunnel that was an escape route for the people who lived there. The tunnel goes from the synagogue straight out of town, and the kids ran through it a few times!

The next morning, we had an adventure in Rechovot. Rechovot has a very interesting outdoor science center (part of the Weizman Institute) where there are oodles of interactive activities. You can learn about gravity, weight density, etc with the objects that are there for you to turn, jump on, ride on and more. From there, we went to the Ayalon Institute which houses a secret,pre-State bullet factory that was used for three years from 1945-1948 to produce the majority of the bullets used in the War of Independence. This was an absolutely fascinating tour that showed us how a group of people worked underground - under the bakery and laundry facility of the kibbutz to secretly make bullets for the impending war. The guide told us that this was such a secret operation that the planners of it kept it completely quiet. They went to a group who was planning to create a kibbutz together and said to them, "How would you like to do something really important for the country? We can't tell you where we will send you, and we can't tell you how long you'll be there. We can't even tell you what you'll be doing. We can only tell you that it will be very dangerous and very hard work." And of course, they accepted the task. It was really an amazing tour with an incredible moral - we can do anything that we set our minds to as a people and a nation - and we can make sacrifices that may be difficult for us but that will be incredibly beneficial to the greater good. It is the core message that we are attempting to teach our kids and a major idea behind our Aliyah.

The kids told us today that this was the highlight of their vacation. I love that their highlight wasn't an amusement park or a sporting event - it was a kibbutz with a hidden factory where people risked their lives to make bullets for the creation of our state. Amazing.

Finally, today we took the kids on a short hike nearby. On the way home, we noticed a sign that said that we could pick flowers for 20 shekel. It was a huge field full of flowers and for only 20 shekel (about $5.00), we could pick as much as we wanted! was so cute to watch the kids running through the field, picking beautiful flowers to adorn our table for the end day of the chag. I look at those flowers now and it gives me goosebumps seeing that these beautiful flowers were picked by my own kids in their own Land. Eliav actually walked through the field saying, "Mommy, look at these butiful flowers. Butiful, butiful..." It was so cute.

Tonight we have the end day of the chag and then Thursday Josh is taking the older boys camping for a night with another dad and his three sons. And then we can all collapse on Shabbat and admire a chag well done!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Bircat HaChama

Today, as we prepare for Pesach and for our Seder, we had an amazing experience. Once every 28 years, the sun is said to be in the exact same position that it was in at the time of creation. You can find out more about this fascinating event here:

We explained to the older boys that they would be participating in something very unique today, and we had fun last night calculating how old they would be next time that they recite this blessing, and then next time, etc. Josh woke them before six this morning to head to synagogue. When the sun came up, everyone went outside, looked up at the sun and recited the special blessing and sang festive songs. Josh even bought shirts for the occasion, as you can see in the pictures! Our first one is of us burning the chametz and the second two are of the boys in their Bircat HaChama shirts.

We had a bris to go to as well this morning, and on our way into Jerusalem it was amazing to see hundreds of people congregating at their various synagogue courtyards reciting this blessing!

What a great way to prepare for Pesach! Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday.

Eliyahu HaNavi

Amichai never stops cracking us up. We aren't always sure how much of school and of the holidays he digests. He's often running around yelling that Pesach is coming when it's Chanukah and that Purim is coming when it's Sukkot. So, we've been happy to see that he's been saying all of the right things as Pesach approaches.

One very funny story. Last night, there was a knock at the door. Amichai ran to answer it and asked who was there. The reply from the other side of the door was, "Eliyahu." Amichai turned on his heels, looked frantically for me and yelled, "Mommy! Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet) is at the door for us!"

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Matan's Masterpieces

Matan has been taking a special art class this year and he just finished. My Nana Shirley was an amazing painter and sculptor and my Nana Lee still is. I definitely did NOT get any of their talent. It's been really interesting for me to see this talent skip two generations (no offense Mom, Dad and Gary) and land on Matan. Here are three of his recent canvases. The first is a painting that he made at home in about one hour yesterday. He says that it is a painting of books, but I see Har Sinai and the 10 Commandments here. The second is of the inside of a body from the back. The third painting is a group of Indians going to their huts. Enjoy!