Thursday, July 30, 2015

Batman, Bands & Bookcases

While I’m no Tiger Mom, and my kids aren’t over scheduled, they do have a lot going on during the school year. They go to school until about 3 and then most of them have after-school basketball, judo, art and other activities. And this means that they are generally on the go and occupied.

When summer started, I realized that my younger four kids would all be getting home from camp at 1:30. And then what, I thought to myself? In the heat of the day, we weren’t going to be hanging out at the park. We weren’t racing to get to a pool or to do any other activities out of the yishuv that cost money. So, while trying to quell my panic, I tried to imagine what in the world we would do for three to four hours each afternoon before it cooled down enough to go to the park.

As the last day of camp wraps up today, I am in awe of my kids and proud to see how they’ve spent their afternoons. Yes, they asked to be on the computer some of the time and they tried to sneak in videos and electronic games. But for the most part, they just hung out. And relaxed. And played. And did art projects.

When was the last time that most of us let kids just be kids…and learn to chill in their own homes and relax? The month was a great lesson in bringing life down a few octaves and in learning to be in our own home without over-stimulation.

Here are some of the things we did.

Zeli, who loves art projects, unearthed an art activity book that I used with Matan about 13 years ago. And in the afternoons, he made penguins.

He made a bookcase that now sits in the hallway for all of his special books.

Perhaps not the prettiest bookcase, but made with heart and soul!
And on and on.

Eliav and I played games. We love Perpetual Commotion, so we played that a lot. We played a bit of Sudoku. And he checked his email and practiced his English writing by responding to family emails.

Amichai loves to cook. So he whipped up some great lunches. We had pancakes and French toast. We had potato salad and mashed potatoes (ok…no one said it was healthy food… but it was food!)

And he also found tutorials on YouTube for drawing and made this:

And Yakir? Well, Yakir is just Yakir. And that means that Superman, Batman, Wolverine and every other man ever invented visited our house this month. And when they weren’t visiting, he was playing with Lego, blowing bubbles and jumping rope .

And then there was the afternoon when they decided to create a band. I think the video speaks for itself...

Here are a few more videos including solos!

We have a little inflatable pool, and I didn’t even take it out this month. They just learned to hang out...and it
 was quite beautiful.

Were there moments when they were screaming at each other? Throwing things? Having tantrums about wanting the computer and wanting some activity?

Well, of course.

But that’s all part of the learning curve and the process.

I look forward to seeing if we can sustain some of this feeling of down time during the school year.

We’ll see how it goes. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

And the Shofar Blows

There were so many amazing and awe-inspiring moments yesterday at the Nefesh B'Nefesh arrival ceremony. But the one that was the most inspirational for me was to watch my oldest son, Matan, with his Israeli friends. Matan arrived in Israel at the age of four.

Here is Matan waiting to board the flight to Israel! (July 13, 2004)
At our Nefesh B'Nefesh ceremony, he befriended a soldier and refused to get out of his arms. And I mean for hours. He stayed with the soldier, smiling, through the entire arrival ceremony. I have often thought about how fun it would be to find this soldier, and to tell him what a big impression he made on Matan (and how many years of laughs it has provided for us).

Yesterday, Matan came to the ceremony with friends to help in the process at the airport (moving the mountains of luggage and escorting new olim to their waiting cabs). Most of his friends didn't even know what Nefesh B'Nefesh was. As we waited for the first van to arrive, bringing the Olim from the plane that had just landed, I turned around to find Matan and his friends dancing and singing imbued with the spirit of modern Zionism. Matan was high on another kid's shoulders as they excitedly waited to greet the Olim and to share in the joy of Aliyah.

I thought to myself - that's my little boy, the one who arrived here without a word of Hebrew. He never once complained during the entire year in four year old nursery school that he didn't know what was going on. And today, that four year old is a 15 year old fully Israeli teenager, bringing his friends to the arrival ceremony and dancing and singing to welcome other new Olim to their home.

If you've ever wanted to imbue your kids with a true sense of Zionism, of the promises of the Jewish people being fulfilled in our time - bring them to a Nefesh B'Nefesh arrival ceremony. There is nothing like it in the world.

Where else in the world is the airport packed with people blowing shofars, yelling for their friends, and dancing in the aisles to meet and greet new immigrants? Where else are people throwing candy and delivering packages to kids as they arrive, while people dance the new arrivals through the doors to the airport? This is Zionism alive and well, with the help of Nefesh B'Nefesh, in our day.

Be part of it. It's simply amazing.

I'll Carry Your Bags

This article was published on the Times of Israel blog. I'm posting it here just so that I'll have it! See the original here:

The Nefesh B’Nefesh flight just took off, filled with 32 families, 95 children, 53 singles and 12 IDF Lone Soldiers.

11 years ago at this exact moment – that was us.

Our lift long gone and on the way to Greece (where it would remain for a one month strike), we carried with us all of our hopes and dreams, our futures on our backs.

We carried with us our file, filled to the brim with our birth certificates, our diplomas, the doctors’ files for our two kids, and the file for my pregnancy.

We carried our lives.

We did not carry along any jobs, any pre-purchased home, any cars or any Hebrew skills. All of that, or at least most of it, would come with time.

What we did carry, however, was a dream. A dream to connect to the history of our people and to return home. To return HOME!

11 years ago at this exact moment we were a couple, two kids and an extra heart beat flying on a dream.

I will admit, there were times when I thought we were absolutely insane.

As American Jews with great jobs, a nice community, family in the country and thriving children, we were not running from anything.
And where we were going was quite unknown. Some people talk about the trials and tribulations of Aliyah. I actually found the process and the adventures that awaited us incredibly fun and exciting.

What few discuss, however, is the difficulties in the weeks leading up to the move. Once we arrived on the ground, put our feet on the soil and started to connect to our surroundings, my fears and worries evaporated. We were here. We had things to do and offices to go to.

But in the weeks before we left, as we wrapped up our lives, said goodbye to our colleagues, hugged our families, sold our home and drove off of our cul-de-sac to our future (with our friends waving an Israeli flag in the background), I was a mess.

The unanswerable questions were massive. The unknown future was looming. The question marks were everywhere.

Until we arrived.

The 53rd  Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight will touch down tomorrow morning a bit before 7am, ushering in new lives to those 32 families, 95 children, 53 singles and 12 IDF Lone Soldiers.

As the doors to the plane opened and I looked over at my sleeping 2 year old, I wondered how in the world I was going to do it. How would I carry this burden? How was I going to get off the plane with all of our carry-ons, the sleeping child, the Israeli flag we had brought to wave down the stairs, and the rest? I was the first one off the plane, and someone rushed to greet me. “Can I take your bags?” he asked. “Can I help you?” And I thought to myself, “What? How the heck will I ever find this guy again? Who is he anyway? No way is he taking my stuff.”

Turns out, of course, that he was the President of El Al.

And I was not, yet, a true Israeli who trusts in the people who come barreling up to help us out. Today, I would have gladly given him my bags, my baby, my burden to carry.

Because it there is one thing I’ve learned after 11 years of sweat and tears and unimaginable joy it’s that we are all sharing this burden together – that we are all carrying each other’s bags in the wondrous, frustrating, stupendous and glorious miracle that is the State of Israel.

Welcome home guys.

Tomorrow I will be there to carry your bags (along with my Israeli sons!)

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Harkening Back to the 1950s

There are times when I feel like I’m living in the 1950s. Of course, when I see my older kids frantically texting on their phones or watching basketball highlights on the computer, this feeling evaporates. But nevertheless, on a typical day in the summer, I feel like we’ve gone back in time.

My kids live quite simple lives. The yishuv and surrounding areas provide a wealth of fantastic camp choices and I love watching them go off on their own each day. My 4 year old is in camp in his nursery school. My first grader has a highly subsidized program from the Israeli government that enables first and second graders to participate in camp at their schools for the first three weeks of the summer. So he happily goes off to his bus each morning. And my 3rd grader is in a lovely, nurturing camp here in the yishuv. He jumps on his bike each morning and drives off, returning afterwards on his own.

This morning I swung by the camp and had to stop to take this picture.

I just love it.

Look at the number of bikes – of the kids who are getting on their bikes in the morning and getting themselves to camp.

Who rides bikes anymore? And who uses them as a way to get around in their daily lives? These guys do.

There is another very popular camp in the yishuv for elementary school girls. They hang up this adorable banner each year welcoming the girls to their house and Camp Jump. The simplicity and innocence of it makes me smile each year.

My 7th grade son is in a program in the yishuv that I absolutely love. It’s for 6th to 8th grade kids and it includes a month of activities. They are doing all sorts of interesting things together-- from character building activities, paint ball and a trip to Masada to being part of the welcoming ceremony at the Nefesh B’Nefesh ceremony next week at the airport. But the thing that I really love about the program is that it’s not jam packed. They have many hours a day of down time – of time to ride their bikes around in a pack, of time to relax, chat and make orange juice and ice cream shakes in my kitchen.

Our lives are so jam-packed and programmed. And I love that, at least for the month of July (don’t get me started on August), there is time. Time to relax, to enjoy wholesome, close-to-home activities, to pick up a bike and ride to a friend, to get to camp on your own and to meet up with a pack of friends for nightly basketball and soccer games at the local court.

I see many children who are overwhelmingly and insanely programmed in the summer. And I understand that this is the choice that some parents make, particularly if there are two full-time working parents. I get this if it’s necessary. But in my case, I think there is something to be said for enjoying a less glamorous summer. For soaking in the day, relaxing in the backyard, doing art projects out of egg crates and learning to use their time.

We're in the 1950s here in Neve Daniel, going back to a time of more simplicity and innocence. And loving every minute of it.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Do I Look Fat In This Dress?

This morning, my dress and I had a prolonged, ugly battle. It wanted to be worn. And I wanted to wear it. But did I look too fat? Would people think that I was pregnant (I’m not) and gossip behind my back? Would I feel self-conscious all day?

And the dress yelled, and cajoled and told me to get over myself already.

And to live my life.

“I’m growing dusty,” she said to me. “Stop thinking about tomorrow. You’ve been saying you’ll wear me when you lose those 15 pounds for like, let’s see, 4 years. Get over it sister.”

And so I finally listened. And just wore the damn dress.

And I’ve been thinking about that dress all day. Because why, simply why, should I stand in my closet in the morning and wonder which outfit to wear? Why should I worry so much if I’m going to look fat in this or chubby in that; if I’m going to look pregnant with that stomach I have left over from six glorious babies? The stomach that just…does…not...want…to…say…goodbye.

And these thoughts, which have been brewing for a long time, came to a head recently. Someone posted something on Facebook and ended up being criticized for the way she dresses. And another friend posted on her Facebook page that she was asked today if she’s expecting twins. 

And I started trying to figure out why that dress has been sitting in my closet for so long. What am I scared of? I’m scared of people noticing that I’m not as thin as I am in my head; that life and children and age have gotten in the way of my skinny self. I’m even more scared, I believe, of people assuming that I’m pregnant. 

But actually, I don’t care all that much if they think that I’m pregnant. It’s when they ASK if I am that I want to scream.

Because really, what business is it of anyone’s what I look like and what business is it of theirs if I’m pregnant, not pregnant, overweight, trying to lose weight or somewhere in between?

Obviously, it goes without saying that we all want to be healthy. Being extremely overweight is not good for the body or the soul and I’m not advocating for obesity. What I am advocating for, however, is an ability for us, as women (and I’m sure some men feel a degree of this as well), to be able to embrace our forms in whatever shape they are in.

Without other people commenting on them, judging them or making suggestions.

I follow a few plus-size models on Facebook and I love their ability to embrace their forms as they are. And yes, while some plus-size models are actually only size 10 or 12 (isn't that ridiculous that it's considered plus?) there are some really quite large models out there who simply appear to love their form. 

Our bodies are glorious. Every pregnant person should have the ability to enjoy every minute without judgment. And so should every other woman who isn’t pregnant, might be pregnant, might be trying to get pregnant, might have recently miscarried, might be carrying extra weight for years after a birth, might be taking meds that prevent weight loss, might be this and might be that.


A number of years ago I went to buy a bathing suit at someone’s house. And after I tried on the suit, she said “How do you like it.” And I said, “It’s great. It fits perfectly.”

And she laughed. She said to me, “You’re the first person who has ever tried on one of the suits without saying, “Well, I plan to be 10 pounds lighter by the summer so maybe I’ll get a smaller size.” Or, “Well, it fits now but I’m hoping it won’t when I need to wear it.”

And it struck me then, as it does now, that so few of us are ever happy with where we are with our weight.

Right now.

That’s not to say that we can’t have goals. I can certainly keep trying to lose this never-ending, “I don’t want to leave” 15 pounds. And I can work at it and hope that I’ll fit into my clothes in a different way when I do. But for today, I want to be able to embrace the me that is here, now, 15 pounds and all. And just enjoy her body and her being.

I read an article not long ago on CNN about a woman who was dying of cancer. And when asked by the interviewer, Kerry Egan, about the things that she regretted from her life, she said,

“I'd never admit it to my husband and kids, but more than anything else, it's my own body I'll miss most of all. This body that danced and ate and swam and had sex and made babies. It's amazing to think about it. This body actually made my children. It carried me through this world. And I'm going to have to leave it. I don't have a choice. And to think I spent all those years criticizing how it looked and never noticing how good it felt -- until now when it never feels good."

I’ve seen what death looks like and what it means to have your body betray you. And to betray our bodies by treating them poorly, thinking poorly of them and acting poorly towards them – when they give us so much – is truly a tragedy.

And so, today, I enjoyed my dress. And I’m going to try to continue enjoying my clothes and the way that I look in them.

It won’t work every day. I guarantee that. And my clothes may have to continue putting up a fight with me and reminding me of what is important – and what isn’t.

And I will keep reminding myself. One cute dress at a time.