17 Things I Love About Israel

On the eve of Israel’s 69th birthday, I thought about compiling a list of 69 things I love about Israel, but I’m fairly sure that’s been done already, and that there isn’t time to read all the way o the end, since you should be out celebrating.  It’s also fairly obvious that Israel is great because of its technological advancements and its democratic contributions to the Middle East, so there’s no need to delve into those right now.

Since it’s 2017, I thought maybe I could limit my list to only 17 everyday things I love about Israel – personal reasons, things so many people take for granted or may not even be aware of if they haven’t seen it for themselves.  (A few years ago, on the 10th anniversary of our aliyah, I had a totally different list, just proving the point that there are so many things to love!) I’d love to hear what you think makes our small country great.

1 – Socialized medicine.  Our son has had 5 surgeries in the past 6 years, and we’ve paid about $60 for each one. And gotten excellent care.

2 – Fresh bread every day.  The bread here may get moldy after a day or two because there are no preservatives, but it (almost) doesn’t matter because it’s super fresh.  EVERY MORNING. So you can eat it quickly and then buy a new one.

3 – The view.  When I look out my windows, I see rolling hills and lush green mountains, and sunsets which just don’t seem to exist in suburban New York.

The view from my house

The view from my house

4 – Field trips to Jewish historical places.  A class trip to the Liberty Bell can’t really compare with a trip to Ma’arat Hamachpela.  Both may be historical, but only one is OUR history.

5 – The relatively cheap price of vegetables.  Salad dressing may cost double the price here than it does in other countries, but the vegetables themselves are much cheaper (and tastier too!).  Maybe that’s why we have less obesity than other developed nations?

6 – 4 year-olds who go the park by themselves.  If that happened in the US, the parents would get arrested.  But I’ve got to admit, it’s pretty liberating.

7 – Daily minyanim on trains – with Torah reading.  You haven’t seen the best of Israeli society until you’ve the eclectic mix of people joining the daily prayer group on the morning train.  Soldiers, men without kippot and ultra-Orthodox men all praying together without judgment or fighting.  Don’t believe the papers – peace within the Jewish people IS possible!

8 -  Having only one seder.  No explanation necessary.

9 – Birkat Kohanim.  The priestly blessing takes up about 10 pages in the Artscroll machzor because it’s an uncommon event outside of Israel and there are lots of explanations and supplements that people say during the prayer, which is recited solely on holidays.  In Israel, it’s recited every day, which is pretty cool, if you ask me.

10 – Hitchhiking as the norm. It’s pretty ironic that traveling on public transportation is often more dangerous than taking a hitchhike (aka “tremp”) with a random stranger.  But the truth is, hitchhiking is an innate part of Israeli culture, and it’s awesome that people are so willing to help each other out.

11 – Memorial Day that means something to EVERYONE.  Our young country has been around for 69 years, or roughly 25,185 days.  Today we are remembering 23,544 people who fell in service of our nation, which means that we’ve lost someone for nearly every day of our existence.  In this small country, each loss is a deep wound that will never be fully repaired.  I hope that this number never increases, and that we, those living in Israel today, can properly live the dream so many have given their lives for.

12 – Multi-culturalism at its finest. I absolutely love working with a diverse group of Jews, Druze and Christians; native Israelis as well as people from Russia, England, Israel, Sweden, the United States and Germany who all made their way here for similar reasons – because no matter what their religious views are, Israel is home.

13 – Holiday items on sale, not just for sale.  There’s no question that you can get Jewish food worldwide in advance of holidays, but in most places holiday items are sold at a premium rather than at a discount.  For example, I just paid 1 shekel (27 cents) for a bag of marshmallows today – the item wasn’t just for sale, they were practically giving it away!

14 – Donkeys as a means of transportation.  There are few things that I enjoy as much as seeing a donkey being ridden on the side of the highway.  Except perhaps a flock of sheep, which is also fairly common in these parts.  I absolutely love the fact that even in a highly-modernized society people are still using donkeys as a way to get around.

15 – Pango.  Granted, I don’t get out all that often, but when I do, I never have money in my wallet, so paying for parking with an app that doesn’t require coins is a lifesaver.  Getting reminders and being able to renew without actually going to your car is pure genius.  (They may have this in other countries, but they definitely don’t have it where I hail from, which is the only place I ever drive besides Israel).

16 – Paid maternity (and paternity) leave.  I know this is a given in most socialized countries, but since I don’t come from one of those, I can appreciate paid maternity leave deeply.  If only President Trump paid his taxes properly, the U.S. could probably afford to implement this basic service…

17 – Chocolate milk in bags.  It’s the questionably “healthier” equivalent to Capri Sun.  Fun for kids and adults, and refreshing at all times.

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Moving On, Again

Dear Poppy,

It’s been three years since you left us, but in many respects, it still feels like yesterday.  I still remember the lessons you taught me; how to be honest in business even when others aren’t, how to invest wisely and not squander money, how to build a family that loves and respects each other, despite their differences.  For you, these dogmas were immutable, as they have become for me – etched into my mind through repetition and hard work, during your lifetime and in the years since.

Less clear in my mind than these lessons are the day to day memories we built together, the everyday experiences we didn’t harp on because we thought we’d always have time to experience again.  I remember trips to the park and the pizza store, but not the mundane conversations we had during those outings.  I remember your phone number, but I can’t remember what time you woke up or at what time it became too late to call.

davMany of the memories I have of you are linked to the apartment that you lived in during your final years.  I’ve been to that apartment hundreds of times since you left us, and each time I relished spending time in the place that you held so dear, and reliving our time together there.  But now that apartment has been sold, and so we, the family you left behind, are moving on a most primal, physical level.  It’s not a bad thing – I have a feeling you’d be happy with the decisions that were made, and proud of the way everyone worked together to get things done.  You would have loved watching Mom and Malkie spend 10 hours a day together for two straight weeks, working together and maintaining the relationship you encouraged them to build, despite the fact that you weren’t there to make it happen.  Perhaps you did get a kick out of it, wherever you are now.

It’s been a hard couple of weeks, both physically exhausting and emotionally draining for everyone in the family (for Mom and Malkie the most).  In a very real way, saying goodbye to your apartment is like saying goodbye to you again.  I thought I’d already bid my farewells; I didn’t realize how hard it would be to do it again even after so many years.

Not every immigrant is lucky enough to have their grandparents make the same transatlantic move, and we certainly didn’t take this gift for granted.  I may not remember every conversation we ever had, but I’ll always remember the experiences we shared as well as the joy and meaning we all had because you lived so close by.

XOXO,

Sari

PS – Don’t worry about us too much -  if we need a good dose of nostalgia, we will just hang out at Poppy’s park or “Poppy’s pizza store” – those places should be around for a long, long while

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Be Careful What You Wish For

I remember the days, pretty recently, where I was longing for a break in the hamster wheel of life.  For a day where I wasn’t asked at 10pm to bake a cake (with icing) for the next morning, while I was in the middle of catching up on unanswered emails. For a time when there weren’t 8 loads of laundry waiting for my attention. For a moment when I could put my feet up, instead of accidentally placing my feet in a puddle of spilled yogurt on the kitchen floor.

And then, I had an accident (don’t text and walk, it’s dangerous!).  And I’ve been basically laid up for most of the past 10 days.  To be honest, it’s not nearly as relaxing as it seems.  There’s something horribly, torturously frustrating about seeing something (or in my case, many things) on the floor, and literally not being able to pick it up.  It’s not fun to stay in bed all day when laying down is more painful than a root canal without anesthetic (just guessing on this), and where no amount of painkillers or TV distraction can numb the discomfort.  It’s oddly awkward to laze around all day, and then all evening and into the night, when you’re not even tired, because you haven’t moved all day.  It’s even stranger when your painkillers contain caffeine, so your mind is telling you to get moving(!), be productive(!) and release some energy(!), and your body is telling you that even rolling over requires an epidural to staunch the pain.

I’m not writing this post to garner pity (I’m pretty sure I did enough of that on Shabbat morning when I involuntarily screamed in pain during a quiet prayer service – yes, that was AWKWARD). But I really think it’s necessary to point out the conundrum that many people face when they look for an escape from the challenge that is everyday life.

We often wish for work to be less stressful – but in the extreme case, this hope may be fulfilled by unemployment or underemployment, neither of which is what we were really dreaming of.  We often wish that we didn’t have to make dinner, clear the dirty dishes or run out at the crack of dawn because we are out of sandwich bags.  But we seldom (if ever) stop to think what it would mean to really be absolved of these chores.  For me, right now, it means that I have never so badly wanted to get out, if only to the grocery store.  For others, freedom from daily parental duties may be because your children have left home, and suddenly you realize that the house is now empty, that there’s no going back to the days of morning snuggles, silly pranks and impromptu backyard get-togethers where you got to watch your children grow into themselves from behind your bedroom curtains.

What I’ve learned from these days of forced ‘relaxation’ is that most often, what we wish for in the abstract is not likely what we actually want.  And that it’s hard to recognize the beauty in the commotion of everyday life until it’s suddenly taken away.  I just wish this lesson wasn’t such a pain to learn.

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Living on the “Front Lines”

I took my 3-year-old grocery shopping today. You probably don’t think it’s that big of a deal. But I do. You see, if you live where we do, grocery shopping is actually a death-defying stunt. And that’s because around here, people die at the grocery store all too frequently. Actually, come to think of it, even one death at the grocery store is one too many.

If I sound a bit cynical it’s because I am. And I’m not proud of that. I am proud, however, that I didn’t let fear keep me indoors this afternoon. That I didn’t teach my children to live in fear, or to eschew our ‘mixed’ grocery store in favor of a segregated one (and yes, there are several in our area).

Grocery stores have become the new front lines of this struggle that has become our everyday life. This struggle that requires mothers of 3 year olds to arm themselves before they head to work or to the grocery store…or to preschool pickup. You know, just in case.  I first wrote about this topic nine months ago when three others were killed, and the issue wasn’t new then.  It seems that little has changed, except perhaps that stabbings have replaced vehicular murder as the method of choice.  I can’t help but question where our government is in all of this.  The very body that is supposed to be protecting us has done little more than offer condolences and dispatch additional soldiers who are, unfortunately, not able to prevent attacks carried out by unassuming teenagers.

My personal struggle is not only with the daily threat of terror. It’s with the deeply-rooted belief that not all ‘others’ are bad people. And yet, as long as teenagers continue to kill us on our own streets and in our own grocery stores, it is so incredibly difficult to remain unbiased and unafraid.

And yet, I try. And I will continue to do so; to go about my regular activities and to believe that most people in the world are decent and that it’s the few that are ruining things for the many. Because the alternative would require me to become a paranoid racist. And I’m pretty sure there are enough of those out there already.

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In Defense of Men

I just came back from a weekend in London, where I had the same conversation repeatedly.  Considering that I was at a professional conference, you’d think that the conversation would have revolved around my work in some way.  And while I did have plenty of those conversations too, what really struck me was the number of times the topic evolved this way:

Stranger: So, do you have kids?

Me: Yup, five.

Stranger: WOW!  Who is watching them?

Me: Their father OR my husband. (Sometimes I even answered “my husband, their father”, just to spice things up.)

Stranger: WOW!  How can he manage all that?

Me: Umm…..I’d like to think he’s just as capable as I am….

Why is it that it’s so natural for people to think that men physically can’t take care of children and the house (especially their own children and house)?  Why is it easier to believe that men can be successful businessmen, lawyers, doctors, financiers, but that they can’t figure out how to load the dishwasher or boil a bag of pasta for dinner (or heck, order pizza if absolutely necessary)?  Why do people assume that men can dress themselves appropriately on a daily basis but laugh endlessly at the thought of a man dressing his children?

Such stereotypes not only endorse the notion that men are incompetent child-minders, but give them an opportunity to shrug off their responsibility when the need arises.  Why would we want to open that can of worms?  These questions are not coming from a place of feminism – I do believe in the notion of separate but equal when it comes to structuring a family (after all, it would be really inefficient if both husband and wife undertook the exact same tasks at all times).  I also understand that if we want our children to be raised by their parents (and not by a babysitter), one of the parents must be home when school is over.  I am comfortable with the fact that in our case that person is me four days a week and my husband one day a week.  That may not be an equitable division of home labor, but it works for us and it gives our children a solid understanding that both Mom and Dad can run the ship independently – and can have a serious career.

I’d like to suggest that for the most part, raising children is just as difficult for women as it is for men – it’s one of the hardest jobs in the world (and is certainly harder for some parents and in some family circumstances than in others).  But (I would hope), we don’t mock our colleagues when they struggle with work.   Why should we do so for our spouses (or exes who are co-parenting)?  Instead of poking fun at men who can’t make ponytails, why not teach them how?  Or offer alternatives?  Instead of assuming that fathers won’t be able to bathe the kids or keep the house clean, let’s assume they can, and give them an opportunity to do so by taking a women’s night out (or, gasp, a small vacation by yourself or with some girlfriends?!) Let’s empower men instead of putting them down – I am pretty sure that being positive will not only create more cohesive families but more capable fathers both in this generation and in the ones that come.

Father-daughter day out (unsupervised by Mom!)

Father-daughter day out (unsupervised by Mom!)

 

DH painting with the kids while I was sick in bed (for a week) - and they did great!

DH painting with the kids while I was sick in bed (for a week) – and they did great!

 

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On Loss and Living

Azi had his first sleepover tonight.  He’s six years old, and we’d promised him that he could have one when he turned seven.  But things don’t always have a way of working out as you plan, and in this instance nothing could be more true.  The boy sleeping over is in Azi’s first grade class.  He lives in a different neighborhood, and three months ago they’d never crossed paths.  I’d never met this boy before today.  And he’d never met me

I was extremely impressed how this boy didn’t once cry for his mother.  Nor did he cry for his father, which was, to me, a new type of Chanuka miracle, as his father died suddenly less than one week ago

Perhaps this child is too young to comprehend the course that his life is about to take.  But I am certainly not.  And if I could, I would cry out for his father.  I’d tell him what a wonderful, friendly, well-mannered son he has.  I’d tell him how his son eschewed cake in deference to corn pizza and peppers, something I’ve never seen before with my own children.  I’d mention how his son related beautifully to boys and girls of all ages who were present in our home, something which shouldn’t be taken for granted.  If I could, I would tell this man whom I never met how impressed I was that his son seemed so comfortable in a home where he didn’t Can you spot the extra menorah?speak the language.  I’d tell him not to worry, that there are people, both strangers and friends, looking out for his family

.But I can’t

Instead, I will set another menorah with candles, another place at the dinner table and another bed in the boys’ room.  I will hug my own children and my husband a little bit tighter, and pray for a family that I’ve never met and may never have the chance to meet.  I will appreciate my own challenges and embrace the joys of life in a new way, and I will write this post to encourage others to do the same.  And, when all of that is done, I will go to sleep with a prayer for a better tomorrow.  Because what I’ve learned today is that we may not be able to plan all of life’s experiences on exactly the schedule we want, but we most certainly do have the ability to make each life event as positive as possible – not just for ourselves but for those around us

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Going to Work at Gunpoint

I’ve been writing this post in my mind for a few days now, but it never seems to have made it onto paper.  I’m not sure now is the right time either…but then again, perhaps there’s never a good time.  It’s just that now I’m mad.  Infuriated. Livid. Irate…and a few things in between.  And sometimes when I’m mad, I need to vent.  So vent I will.  Because earlier this afternoon at least three Jewish travelers were run down by a Palenstinian driver just a few kilometers away from my house.

I’m mad for the victims whose injuries are so fresh that their names haven’t yet been released. I’m angry for their parents and siblings, neighbors and friends who will surely be traumatized for weeks, if not months or years. I’m incensed that our children are growing up in a place and time where standing at the wrong bus stop can be a fatal mistake.

But I’m upset for another reason as well.  I’m furious for the thousands of Palestinian workers who go to work every day in Jewish settlements and cities…at gunpoint.  Call me a sympathizer, call me naïve, call me anything you want – but until you’ve been the one standing guard with that gun, shepherding hardworking men to demanding physical jobs where they’re lucky if they earn minimum wage, you don’t know what it’s like.  I’ve been that guard. And it’s awful.

This is not a prison.  These workers have not committed heinous crimes.  Their only offence is that they are members of a nation where other people commit heinous crimes.  And let’s be honest – my fellow Americans shoot each other all the time.  Just this week two students were shot on their college campus in California. And this is just one of dozens of school shootings that occur each year (there have been 10 US school shootings so far in 2015 alone, not to mention hundreds of other random shootings nationwide). And yet, I don’t see anyone shepherding students to school at gunpoint to make sure that they don’t kill anyone.

I understand this example is a bit extreme, but the point is a serious one.  I don’t want to be judged based on the actions of Baruch Goldstein or Bernie Madoff…why should we do the same to others or any race or religion?

On the most rational level, I understand why our security measures are in force and why we need to be constantly on guard.  But it pains me that the few have to spoil the world for the many and that we are perpetuating a society filled with racism and fear. It tears at my soul to see hardworking men being herded like animals and to know they’d rather work under these circumstances than not work at all. It breaks me to know that many of the people who read this post will still not see the bigger picture and will continue their discrimination. And it absolutely kills me to know that beyond the scope of those who read this post, thousands of people within my own country will continue to go to work every single day at gunpoint.

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Dear Crazy-Haired Child

Dear Crazy-Haired Child,

You’ve got some mighty crazy-looking hair.  It’s half-blond, half-brunette, and intensely curly, while having a nice balance of frizz and a dash of rattiness (fortunately only at the end of the day).  Of course, if your parents were different, we might consider abandoning family tradition and cutting it off so that you could look a bit more kempt and slightly less “mad scientist”.  But as luck would have it, you’ve gotten us as parents along with the custom to grow a boy’s hair until he’s three – and you’ve also gotten some pretty unique genes that have given you hair that’s MUCH different than your siblings had.

itiel

But there are a few upsides to the madness: firstly, you don’t have to wear a ponytail like your older brother did, and as a result, people rarely confuse you for a girl.  Secondly, you don’t have to worry about anyone confusing you for a sibling.  EVER.  Thirdly, there have been some extremely awesome people who have had your type of hair.

Like Art Garfunkel.  And Richard Simmons.  And Will Ferrell.  And a whole bunch of other people (ahem, Michael Jackson) that one day you’ll tell me were so old-fashioned.  And maybe they are/were.  But it just goes to show you that your crazy hair doesn’t have to hold you back, nor should it be a cause of embarrassment.

I wish someone had told me when I was younger that having bad hair wasn’t a curse for all eternity.  I wish someone had told me that instead of spending hours trying to tame the frizz, I should embrace it.  Maybe someone did mention that…but I was too vain to hear it.  I grew up in the era of the Japanese hair relax, the flat iron and the invention of Frizz-Ease (which doesn’t work, by the way), and I wanted to try ALL of them.

My promise to you, as your mother, is that I will always encourage you to feel confident and comfortable with your natural beauty (or in this case, handsomeness).  To be proud of your crazy hair, and to spend your time trying to improve more important things (like the state of our government or the illnesses ravaging the world).  After all, you don’t likely have the baldness gene, so hopefully you’ll be stuck with this hair for quite a while.

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Today We Are All Veterans

Today, November 11th, marks the American ‘holiday’ of Veteran’s Day.  The day was meant to celebrate the brave servicemen who risked their lives for America and were lucky enough to come home alive.  Sadly, the day has largely become an excuse for sales and shopping, as well as dreaded bank holiday and day of school closures that is cursed because most parents still have to work.

But things are totally different when you’re forced to fight for your existence on a daily basis.  When the war is literally in your backyard, at your train station or on your local highway, everyone becomes a soldier, and just making it home at night makes you a veteran in the war that is everyday life.  I want to say that it’s not always like this, but I think that thousands of years of Jewish history prove otherwise.  There are times when we civilians are not on the front lines – and there are times that we are, every minute of every day.  This is one of those times.

In every army, each soldier has a specific job.  There are those that fight in combat, and those who support the combat units.  There are those who build the camps, and those who counsel the injured.  In the army of life, everyone too has a job…most times, more than one.  These days, it is my job to protect those in my “unit”.  I am the counselor required to explain the grim realities of war, and to dry the tears when nightmares inevitably come.  I am the captain who decides whether to take my kids into the battlefield or to keep them safe at home under lock and key.  I am the search and rescue team who goes out looking for my kids the minute they are late, always wondering deep down if something terrible happened.

I write this all with a touch of cynicism.  Most days I have no reason to leave my neighborhood, which means I’m seldom on the front lines.  But my friends and neighbors do.  My husband does…and my kids do.  And so, today, on Veteran’s Day, I salute everyone who ever donned a uniform to serve their country…and the thousands of others who are just brave enough to go out and fight the war of Jewish existence with every ounce of bravery they have.  Today, you are all veterans.

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Honey, I’m Home

I am home.  I know this isn’t the type of announcement that normally requires a blog post.  Most people get home from work every day, usually without fanfare.  Except, of course, when they don’t.  And today is one of those days, one of too many days recently, where people on my route didn’t make it home.  Two stabbings today, on the one day of the week where I venture out of my house, both of which were in places I directly pass by.  What are the chances?  If you’d asked me a few weeks ago, I’d have told you they were slim.  The optimist in me wanted to believe that following this summer’s gruesome kidnapping and murders only a few short miles from my home, lightning wouldn’t strike twice in the same place.  My naïve self was convinced that only a week after a terrorist drove over three soldiers in my area, we were in the clear.  After all…lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, does it?  Or is that it doesn’t strike twice, but it does strike three times?  Because today a girl was killed right along my bus route.  An hour before I was scheduled to be there.  The third terrorist attack in our area in recent memory.  And more – a soldier was stabbed in the heart of Tel Aviv, in broad daylight, just because a terrorist had access to a knife…and because he could.

This isn’t a political blog, and I won’t make it into one now.  It’s about providing a glimpse into the life of an ordinary woman who sometimes makes slightly unordinary choices.  Choices that include working at a job located 3 hours away.  Choices that include leaving my family to build a new family, thousands of miles away.  Choices that include giving up the voluntary draft for a mandatory one for my children.  But oddly, in the face of recent threats to our people and to our lives, I don’t feel the need to defend my choices.  I feel the need to live life.  Without fear, (or at least with the façade of bravery).  To remember that life isn’t always about making the easiest choice – it’s about making the one you’ve chosen work out, no matter what.

I couldn’t be happier to come home to six delicious hugs and kisses…and to some of the most delicious fried chicken ever (made by my kids in cooking chug…insert shameless plug for the best after school lessons ever!).  There’s nowhere else I’d rather be – not in Europe, where anti-Semitism is rampant, not in the US, where psychos shoot up movie theaters, malls and elementary schools.

Today, more than other days, I’m both relieved and proud to say that I didn’t just arrive at my house.  I’m HOME.  And this is where I intend to stay…no matter what.

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