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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Space Bags and Other Great Ideas

I read other bloggers. I started reading them to get an idea of life-in-Israel from the man/woman-on-the-scene and then latched on to other olim-in-process. My thanks today go to Emma S. at Moving On Up (http://emahs.blogspot.com/) for the inspiration on Space Bags. Duh! You'd think it was obvious, but sometimes reading other peoples' aliyah planning helps organize the obvious. So I too need to trip over to Target and find the aforementioned bags--and start loading the linens.

Reading other olim bloggers, both here and there, also eases the sense of omigosh-I'm-doing-this-alone-and-what-if-I-fail? There are other families who have made this migration and made a success of it; there are other families out there, some of whom may end up on the same NBN flight with us this summer, who are stressed out over packing, jobs, schools, and everything else that crowds into the recesses of your mind at 3:00 am and keeps you awake until dawn.

I have to remind myself that this isn't a test. This is a family decision much like moving to Phoenix--we're going because it is the best possible decision for us to make as a Jewish family; while Phoenix is linguistically easier, and I can read the labels on the cans in Safeway much more easily than the labels in Supersol, the Big Picture is that we want our children to live in Israel and be part of the Jewish people's sovereignty. It isn't simple Zionism, either -- as observant Jews, we also believe that we are fulfilling a mitvah in following H"S's commandment to live in and build the land of Israel.

There are two disparate dynamics in being a Jewish minority in the Diaspora: in repressive, antiSemitic societies, Jews live underground on scant tolerance, on the edge of random violence, oppression and government-sanctioned discrimination. In the free societies of the West, even the most tolerant, Jews still struggle to maintain a sense of Jewish identity and purpose in a society where Christmas is a national holiday and you have to put in a vacation request to get Yom Kippur off. Its a struggle to raise children this way: unless you can afford Jewish day school, or be fortunate enough to have a Jewish day school near by, or be fortunate enough to not need the special ed services available ONLY in public schools, your children suffer from a surfeit of Christmas trees and Christian holidays and then fall behind because they are taking official school days off in order to fulfill their religious requirements. My son was criticized this year for 'falling behind' in his team project because the benchmarks were all due during the High Holidays and Sukkot.

We see it where we live. Nationally the Jewish population is estimated to be between 2-3% of the general population, depending on who is doing the counting. Where we live, 10% of the population is Jewish.....and of that 10% which is Jewish, 90% are NOT affiliated with any synagogue or otherwise involved in Jewish life. The slow slide into assimilation is easy here in a tolerant, pluralistic, multi-cultural, humanistic society. These are good qualities for a society, and one which welcomes and tolerates much which would not be tolerated in other societies. But it does make it much more likely that the Jews who live here will not have Jewish grandchildren.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Time That Is Given To Us

I must confess that Lord of the Rings is my favorite story. The struggle of a splintered Fellowship to overcome Evil and its power in spite of overwhelming odds, tremendous losses, and soul-chilling fear never fails to enthrall me. And I shudder at the world today in which my children are growing up, because the Shadow is spreading from the East again. The rise of a jihadi religious fascism which calls for the death of all human beings who don't join in their cause (especially Jews) is chilling. The savage butchery of Christian neighbors in Nigeria who had_nothing_to_do_with_the_Mohammed_cartoons_in_Denmark but were targeted solely because they were 'infidels' of a religion similar to Denmark's makes me want to shriek to G-d in rage and pain and anger.

As Jews, we say "Never again." But what does that mean in a world where genocide (Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Darfur) has become commonplace? And where the murder of one person is so negligible that it doesn't make CNN?

Today, Yona told me that NPR finally picked up the story of a young Jewish guy in Paris who was abducted, tortured for three weeks and finally murdered. It finally made the MSM in the US this week. The French police and prosecutor denied antiSemitism was a motive -- until the arrests of some of the suspects who said, in effect, yeah, we killed him because he's a Jew.

There is no safe place any more. Perhaps there never was. Those of us old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis and imminent nuclear destruction probably hoped it all went away when the Berlin Wall came down. It didn't. Hate, anger and war are like energy--they seem to never dissipate, and always come back in some other form.

If there is no safe place, then there is no point in hiding in the Yukon or a bomb shelter. Live life and bring something of yourself to the world. I am reminded of a story supposedly of Arab origin about life and death: a merchant goes one morning to the souk, and there he sees Death strolling through the marketplace. The merchant pales, gasps out loud, drops his merchandise and then flees in panic from the marketplace. He rushes home, grabs some supplies, mounts his camel and rides out of the city as fast as he can, heading for a distant town across the desert. Death sees this and is bemused...."I don't understand why he is in such a hurry this morning. I don't have an appointment with him until tonight in the desert."

Gandalf put it in perspective when Frodo wished against Fate:

" I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened," Frodo said.

Gandalf answered him, "So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


This County has 'ski week.' It is a week off of school where all the kids go skiing. Theoretically, anyway. I'm told it evolved here in Marin because so many affluent parents pulled their kids out of school during ski season and took them to the mountains, and the school district finally decided it made more sense to close for a week than have so many students fall behind and the lose all that school revenue. Maybe that's county-urban-legend--dunno. Just know that our kids get TWO winter breaks--the one everyone gets in December and this week in February.

But not Josh. Josh not only spends his breaks catching up on schoolwork and homework, this time he is also testing. There are batteries of tests he needs to take so he can be placed once we get to Israel, and so he can get services once we're there as well.

There's a fair amoung of guilt over this. I will always wonder if I did something that caused Josh's problems, and it doesn't really matter what doctors, educators, the Husband or anyone else says---there's always this nagging sense of responsiblity. I can't change it but I can always regret that he'll never ride a bicycle, never go skiing or snow-boarding, never drive a car, never play baseball or do so many of the things that other parents take for granted their teen boys will do, hair-raising though they are.

The Husband raised racing pigeons in junior high school along with his best friends. He said it gave him responsibility--he and his friends had to race home from school, exercise the birds, feed them, clean up their cages and on weekends, they raced them. He was all caught up in it, to the point where he didn't have time to 'hang out' and get into trouble. We talked about Josh when he was younger and wondered what would ground him. It turned out to be Judaism. "Judaism is Josh's pigeons," my husband once remarked. Josh loves being Jewish, loves the zemirot, the prayers, the traditions, growing up to be part of a minyan and being able to correct his less-knowledgable parents. I can only hope that as much as he embraces his faith, it continues to sustain him through the tough times to come.


The blog craze is spreading. Its my daughter's fault--she got us started. Now my son has started his own blog, and as a teen with special needs making aliyah, his blog is probably going to prove much more interesting than mine. As a matter of fact, both kids have more interesting things to say than I do. Check 'em out: http://teenaliyah.blogspot.com/ and http://onemoresunrise.blogspot.com/

Monday, February 20, 2006

Lucas Valley

This is a photo Yona took from the hills above our house...nothing like Baka, is it? I love these hills. On Shabbat they were drenched with clouds, dark green and grey with the landscape punctuated by February's first blossoms. Awesome.

Friends in Israel

We have a number of them. I spoke to one today, a friend born and raised in Israel but who lived in the US for many years with her husband, also Israeli. He's a 'commuter' -- an Israeli who lives in Israel but commutes back to the States to work. A lot of olim do this but he is the only Israeli I know who does this. It isn't unusual to find someone in hi-tech or medicine or dentistry who works 3-4 days a week in New York and returns home to Israel on the weekends, or who works one week in Boston and spends the next week in Tel Aviv. It's tough on the families, but it gives them the best of both worlds.

Our friend was excited to find out Yona was coming in March, and surprised to hear how close we are to aliyah. She told me the adjustment back to Israeli life was tough, and Israelis themselves are tough, and the kids are tough. She is concerned (as many are) about the rising violence in Israeli schools among the children who have grown up PTSD'd by Arab mass murder and calls for genocide (my turn of phrase not hers). But contrary to the local community rumor, she is NOT leaving Israel--as a matter of fact, she told me that they are moving to the Buchman area of Modi'in, an area the Husband and myself have eyed. Modi'in isn't practical right now with the commute to Josh's school in Jerusalem (who wants their kid on a school bus for an hour?) but its close enough to visit and hang out with friends.

But she has her reservations about where Israeli society is going. While thrilled with the Jewish learning, the sense of closeness and community, and the sense of Home-ness that so many of us have, the brashness, rudeness, abruptness and chutzpadik of everyday Israeli life is wearing, she warned me. Even having grown up there, the adjustment is hard to make after years in America.I could only tell her what everyone has told me -- the first year SUCKS! Just acknowledge that, and you'll find that everything starts to come together after that year. I got her to laugh -- I pointed out that at least she didn't have to spend three hours on her first shopping trip trying to decipher the labels.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Frustration. I keep calling the moving company who is supposed to have provided us with an estimate for packing and shipping our lift. NO action from them. it's not the Israeli shipper who is the problem--its the local estimator.

I keep waking up at night with multiple lists of Things to Do running through my head. Sleep deprivation isn't helping things. On the contrary --I'm so tired sometimes that I forget things.

My sister-in-law wrote today and filled me in on what's going on in their lives. I also had an email from an old and dear friend in the Sacramento area. I realized that the advent of email has made it easier to keep in touch and also made it less compelling to meet in person. Remember the old days when in order to see old friends of family members, you actually had to talk a lot on the phone, make arrangements to visit for dinner or holidays, and spend time together? Now, the cost of gas, the hectic pace of work, life, children, etc. has made the default option of email an easy choice. I don't mind emailing -- I type quickly so its not a hardship. But I do miss the up-close-and-personal touch that comes with actual time spent together talking or sharing a meal. However, the blessing of email is that it allows frequent albeit not up-close-and-personal contact.

However, email also means that I'll be able to keep in touch with friends and family from 10,000 miles away. It's not the same as being an hour or six or seven away from them, but let's face it: if we're lucky, we see our friends and family out of the area once or twice a year. Sometimes less. Aliyah means starting a blog, learning to use a digital camera, and when coming back to visit, staying for more than a weekend since its a long and expensive trip!

The Husband's birthday is this weekend! A milestone birthday at that! We are gathering for a (semi-suprise) birthday dinner at a restaurant. He's not a birthday-party person, the kind of man who wants hundreds of people at a blow-out bash. And I'm not the kind of person to throw such a bash. I had trouble enough getting the bar-mitzvah done, and I had it catered! (That's what you do if you work full time and don't have the flexibility to take a month off work!)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


We (myself, the Husband and the Boy) are official! I received my tik approval from the Aliyah Center last week! Call this "Introduction to Israeli Bureaucracy 101" -- I thought once the tik was approved, I was done. Ha! Nothing of the sort. Now I have forms to take to the Consulate to get my olah visa and the Boy's Israeli passport (he is an Israeli citizen born abroad, by virtue of his father's Israeli citzenship.)

How, I ask, is a family with children, pets and two working parents supposed to do this? We've been taking it one step at a time, but as we are trying to make the summer NBN flights, panic is setting in: the lift has to be packed, household items not going to the furnished apt have to be stored, the house has to be sold, the neuropsych testing has to be finished for next year's school application, the paperwork for all of this (house sale, estimates for the lift, school questionnaires, visas and passports) has to be completed - and soon!

The office question has been, "But what about Hamas?" Like, its news to everyone that Israel has spent the last century living next to terrorists. Unfortunately, most Americans seem to think Middle Eastern history started in 1967. I point out to many that Arab anti-Semitism, born of pan-Arab nationalism mixed with religious extremism, has been the justification for murdering Jews in the region since at least 1929. I told a couple of coworkers that Hamas is just Fatah without the suits. They got it.

The office is funny. I remember being a junior here, and when some senior departed, the office turned out for a fond farewell and a lot of jockeying for who-is-going-to-get-the-office. It's all about upward mobility--who's going to get a promotion based on the departing person's departure ("and you're really sure you're going, right?"a couple have asked.)

We have an apartment in Baka. It's small -- only two bedrooms, but the attraction is that it is withing walking distance of the Baka Ulpan for Teens and the potential high school for Josh. The landlord was gracious enough to accede to our request to bring the dog and two cats. It has a yard, its fully furnished, its on the ground floor, it has storage in the underground locked garage. It will do for the first year. It allows us to live in a wonderful neighborhood, close to what we need, while we look around and see if there is anything affordable in Jerusalem or the suburbs.

I'm looking forward to being in Baka. I just want Scotty to beam me over and not deal with all the belagon of moving!

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