Me, Myself and My Nose

It's not THAT obvious, but it's there...

When I was about 15, my grandfather offered to pay for my nose job. I was simultaneously impressed by his generosity and taken aback by the insinuation that my nose was just that horrible. He didn’t want my bumpy nose to hold me back from finding the right spouse or feeling great about myself, he said…something my insecure adolescent brain had thought infinite times before (but never managed to tell him – yet somehow, he knew). At the time, I was too scared of the procedure to take him up on the offer, and I vowed that if I wasn’t married by a certain (undefined) point, I may want to reconsider, if the offer was still on the table.

Four years later, I met Mordecai. And as we were moving towards a serious relationship, I casually mentioned Poppy’s offer, and said that if he wanted me to change it up a bit, he should speak now: the offer was sure to be rescinded the minute an engagement took place. He laughed and said that he didn’t even notice it, and that it clearly was not a breaking point for our relationship. And so, my dream of having the perfect nose vanished, while my vanity and insecurities remained. I saw the bump every time I looked in the mirror, glaring at me like a blemish that would never go away.

That is, until I stopped looking in the mirror. It’s funny how motherhood does that to you. At first, it’s a baby’s cry that rouses you out of bed so abruptly that you barely have time to brush your teeth before starting the day. Later, it’s the need for breakfast, the packing of schoolbags and the tying of shoes that must be done first thing, lest your child miss the bus. And because you still need to get to work on time, there’s little time for personal maintenance – unless, of course, you want to wake up before the kids do to start on yourself. But who on earth wants to do that?!

In my high school and college days, I spent many, many spare moments analyzing (and crying over) my physical flaws, having my eyebrows waxed to perfection, and even getting an occasional manicure. Now, I’m lucky if I leave the house with matching socks. And I’m ok with that. It wasn’t finding someone to love me despite my big nose that vanquished my insecurities. It was finding more important things to fill my time with. I wish I’d ‘gotten it’ earlier, but I guess some lessons are just learned through time and life experience.

I recently got my nose pierced, something I’ve wanted to do for at least a decade, but never had the guts to do previously. It wasn’t a statement of rebellion. It was an embrace of my imperfections. My own form of nose job, if you will. One can argue that getting a nose ring certainly draws attention to the one part of myself I spent years trying to deny. And that would most definitely be correct. But I’m past that now. For me, having a nose ring is a reminder for myself and my kids that it’s ok to embrace your flaws and to be comfortable with yourself. And this is a lesson that I hope they internalize way before I did.



The Kindness of Strangers

I’ve been a bit frustrated lately by the poor customer service I’ve been experiencing lately, starting with an inability to get an appointment for Azi’s surgery for 6 weeks, to the oven repair company that first kept pushing off my appointment, and then declined to service my oven altogether, even before they saw it. But yesterday I experienced two remarkable acts of human decency, or, more accurately, I was blessed to meet two strangers who restored my faith not only in mankind, but specifically in Israeli mankind.

As you may know if you’ve been reading my blog, I have a rather long commute to work (fortunately, it’s only one day a week). After a long day at the office and a long commute round trip, there is nothing I want more than to get home from the train station as quickly as possible – something which isn’t always possible when you have to tremp (hitchhike) home.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to spot someone I recognized peripherally from my neighborhood, who agreed to give me a lift home. I was so relieved! As we walked to his car, he decided to call his wife, who surprised him with the news that she had gone to visit relatives near the train station. And so, at the last minute, she asked him to join her there, rather than going home. Needless to say, I was devastated (but of course, I told him I’d be fine and I figured I’d make it home some way or other!). Since I’d already walked in the opposite direction of the trempiada (hitchhiking station), I asked him to drop me off at a corner where I’ve sometimes seen people trying to hitch a ride. It was dark, and the ‘corner’ was actually a traffic circle where Israeli drivers prefer to speed through, rather than slowing down. My ‘neighbor’ offered to stay with me until I got a ride, an offer which I naturally declined. I turned my back to the car and held out my pathetic sign which advertised where I was trying to go, figuring that he’d driven away, as eager to see his own kids as I was to see mine. Let’s just say…he didn’t. He stayed with me until I got a ride, just so I wouldn’t be alone in the dark at night. I was so impressed (and also grateful)!

Three people stopped for me within the first 5 minutes, but the first two were only going halfway home, and I was afraid to go to a place I didn’t know. Still, I was impressed by their offers to help. The third driver wasn’t totally sure where he was going, but said it was to one of my neighboring communities, so I got in. Needless to say, the mere fact that anyone stops to pick up a stranger on the side of the road is truly admirable. But this driver was especially wonderful. We chatted the whole way home, and I told him about my long journey, and my daughter’s birthday, and a whole range of other things. When we arrived in the area, I told him to pull over so I could hop out near the next trempiada. He surprised me by offering to take me all the way home, even though it was out of his way, and it was late, well past dinner time, and his wife was wondering where he was. I tried to decline, but of course, he convinced me in a gentle, chivalrous way, by saying that if his car is kind enough to drive without giving him trouble, he should be kind enough to use it for good deeds.

I can only say that these two men, one of whom whose name I still don’t know, reminded me why I moved here. Because in Israel, strangers aren’t actually strange. In fact, in these parts, helping strangers is the norm – not the exception. Standing on the corner on a cold, dark night may be unpleasant, but at least it’s not scary – and for the most part, neither is getting into a car filled with strangers. I can’t say that I know anyone who has attempted the same feat on a New York street corner.

As a short PS, I’d like to say that last week a friend of mine picked me up from the train – it was also out of his way, and he waited around for 20 minutes while the train was unexpectedly delayed. I was also moved by this gesture, but I remember thinking that in the same situation, I’d also try to show kindness to a friend (then again, this may be easier said than done). Yesterday I was reminded that it’s not enough to only help our friends – by going out of our way for strangers we’re not only helping others, but hopefully inspiring others to become better people. I certainly hope that given the chance I’ll be able to show how I’ve become better due to the kindness of strangers.



Do as I Say, Not as I Do

I cannot believe that I’ve been a mother for 10 years. Or that I have a daughter old enough to wear high heels, borrow my clothing, and make better PowerPoint presentations than I can. I suddenly feel old – if she’s anything like me (or most Israeli kids, for that matter), she’s more than halfway out of the house – for good. The only saving grace, perhaps, is that my nephew turned 10 three months ago, which means that my (twin) sister must be older than I am, right?!

Though we don’t really do birthday gifts in our family, I thought the best gift I could give Tzofia was something intangible, that I hope she can take far into the future. So here goes:

Dear Tzofi,

There are so many lessons that I’ve tried to teach you, many of which I’m still learning myself. I hope that by recording some of them here you’ll get the message, even if teaching by example hasn’t worked out exactly the way I planned.

1 – If something can be solved with money, it’s not really a problem. This is a lesson that I learned from Poppy, and one he professed to me even in our last few conversations…which is just one way I know that it’s really, really important. Logically speaking, this makes so much sense to me, because there are so many very important things (such as health concerns, for example) that can’t always be solved with money. But on an emotional level, I have a very hard time with this concept, especially when many things seem to break all at the same time, and each of them is expensive to fix. Tzofia, I want you to know that while it is important to save money for the future, it’s also important to know that it’s ok to splurge a bit on yourself. I haven’t mastered this yet, but luckily, I get a lot of enjoyment out of splurging on you, and for now, that’s enough.

2 – “A bissel un a bissel, macht a gantze schissel.” This is a lesson that I learned from my Bobe – it means that a little + a little makes a full bucket. I know people make fun of me for starting my Shabbat cooking on Tuesday, for example. But at the end of the week, when I can enjoy my Fridays without having to rush and worry whether everything will get cooked, I know I’ve done the right thing. Don’t be afraid to take your time on a project and to make sure that it’s right instead of rushed.

3 – Your siblings are your best friends. Of all the things I hope you’ll learn in life, I think this is the one you’ve mastered best thus far. It makes me so proud to see how you take care of your siblings, share with them and treat them as equals even though you’re the oldest. I hope that this continues to be as you get older, and that you’ll always remember to take care of your siblings, no matter how old you are or how far away you are.

4 – It’s OK to say no. This is not something that I’ve been able to implement (yet), which is why you see me constantly running to do things that I don’t have time for and agreeing to help out when I actually need help myself. And while there’s definitely a feeling of satisfaction in knowing I’m a reliable friend/worker/parent in times of need, there’s a certain personal strength in being able to draw boundaries and to know where your own limitations lie. At least, this is what I’ve heard…and it is my hope for you that you can draw from this strength to focus on the things you really can do without constantly driving yourself to the brink of insanity.

5 – Miracles do happen. I’m not talking about pie-in-the-sky, winning the lottery type of miracles, but every day miracles that aren’t always easy to see, but are most definitely worth looking for. I hope you learn to see these miracles rather than to take them for granted. I also hope you know that you are one of the many miracles in my life, and one I’ve been grateful for every day for 10 years.

6 – Exercise is important. I hope I’ve been able to teach you that it’s important to be active not because it makes you skinny, but because it makes you healthy. I hope you’ll never aim to be the thinnest you can be, but the healthiest you can be – and I hope you’ll find a sport or activity that you’ll love, so that you’ll always want to stay in shape.

7 – Honesty is the best policy. There are, sadly, so very many reasons to bend the truth these days, whether it’s to protect your reputation, to avoid negative consequences or to advance yourself in one of life’s endless challenges. You must know, however, that telling the truth is always the right thing to do, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. This is a lesson that most people learn from making mistakes along the way, and I hope that you avoid these mistakes by trusting your old lady. If not, just know that I’ll be here to help you figure things out when things get rough and that I’ll love you no matter what.

8 – Girls can be mean, but you don’t have to be. It’s a sad fact of life that girls tend to be jealous, judgmental, and sometimes even petty. But that doesn’t mean that you have to act that way. It’s certainly normal to have your feelings hurt at some point, and to want to hurt someone the way she’s hurt you. But at the end of the day, you’ll be a better person (and a stronger person) by learning how to handle yourself with dignity and grace, rather than to act on your emotions in a way that you may regret later. Self-restraint certainly isn’t easy, but if you can master this trait, you’ll be able to develop deep and meaningful friendships, and to easily ignore the haters of the world. You can start by practicing on your sisters, and remembering tip #3 above.

9 – Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Over the course of life, you’ll inevitably be judged based on the way you look, where you live, where you went to school, who your parents are (sorry!) and many other variables, some of which are beyond your control. It’s not possible to make everybody happy all the time. But if you can find the self-confidence to be yourself rather than being who you think others want you to be, you’ll be able to make a long-lasting, positive impression on those you meet along the way.

10 – Be positive. Shortly after I met your father, he told me that his blood type was B+, and that he always tries to look at the bright side because it’s just part of his DNA. This message has stayed with me, and it’s one that I try, not totally successfully, to teach you on a daily basis. Lucky for you, you’ve got some of his blood, so you shouldn’t have such a hard time being positive. A bit of positive energy can go a long way in the way your projects turn out, the way you present yourself, the way you see yourself and the way others think of you (among other things). I know sometimes I tend to point out the downside of a situation, but if anything, I hope you learn from me what not to do. Because staying positive tends to make every situation more pleasant…even when you have to force it.

It goes without saying that there are many, many more things I hope to teach you over the years, but I’m hoping you can get cracking on these for the time being, and maybe by the time you’re 11, you can teach me a thing or two. I can’t wait to see where the next 10 years (and more!) will take you!





New Challenges and New Perspectives in the New Year

For a change, it’s been a while since I’ve written on this blog, but not for lack of ideas – as usual, lack of time is the culprit. I have tons of things that I want to say/write, and hopefully I will one day. About motherhood. About daughterhood (which doesn’t come up on spellcheck so I assume is a word?). About some really divine things that have happened to us in the past few months. About living in Israel, and living in a ‘faraway place’ which isn’t always as fantastic as the fairytales would make it seem. But those posts are not for now.

Now it’s a new year, and even though the year is less than a week old, I’ve learned a lot in the past few days. A lot. About my making peace with the challenges of daily life, and trying to see the good in every situation. And Lord knows, that is hard. But I guess it’s part of life. And so, without further ado, I’d like to share with you some of the challenges (aka crises) we’ve been facing lately, and the flip sides to these potential disasters. I certainly don’t mean to speak from a soapbox or to make my challenges seem worse than someone else’s – I just hope that these slightly odd perspectives will encourage you to find new perspectives during the tough times. Even when that seems nearly impossible.

Challenge #1 – Two beloved family members in the hospital at the same time. On a different continent.

My first response – Panic, fear, frustration at being so far away.

My new perspective – Well, at least I’ll know that they’ll be near the phone when I call! What a great captive audience for all of my other sob stories! Or cute-child stories! And, perhaps a bit more seriously, what a great opportunity to take the 10 days of teshuva a bit more seriously. After all, we pray about health, life and death constantly during the High Holidays, but how many of us actually internalize it? Now I’ve had a real chance to think about these prayers and to mean them when I say them, even if it’s one I’d have been happy to live without.

Challenge #2 – My cell phone simply stopped working one day.

My first response – How will I call everyone before the holidays? And why, oh why, do I have to pay for another phone when I just replaced it a year ago? And where can I store all of the numbers that seem to fly around at the beginning of a new school year (will I have to actually find a pen and paper? Do those things still exist?)

My new perspective – Instead of calling everyone in my address book, I can enjoy the quiet in the hectic pre-holiday days (and I am, though I’m still happy if you want to call).

Challenge #3 – Two broken ovens at once. In the days preceding a week-long holiday that generally includes hosting lots of hungry guests.

My first response – Crap, I really didn’t feel like paying for new ovens this year (which is why I didn’t fix the first one when it broke a few months ago). I REALLY REALLY don’t feel like paying overinflated Israeli prices to replace my American ovens. Oh, and how on earth am I going to cook normally for the upcoming holiday? (Perhaps) worse, how can I replenish my rapidly-depleting cookie supply?! Should I suck it up and get a tiny Israeli oven instead? Then I’ll also have to replace all my pans, since none of them fit in there. Did I mention I’m not very good at making decisions when it comes to spending money? Especially when I’m cookie-deprived?

My new perspective – Firstly, I feel grateful for my fantastic friends who invited the family for the upcoming holiday, so that I don’t have to rush into a decision quite as quickly. Though I always appreciate our wonderful community, I have another opportunity to be especially grateful now. And hey, maybe it’s not so bad if I can’t bake cookies. My thighs (and cholesterol) might thank me later. That is, if I survive the withdrawal (which is slowly setting in). Also, now I finally have the opportunity to try out all of those crock pot recipes that I’ve been hoarding for the one-day that hadn’t yet arrived…until now.

Challenge #4 – Azi lost his hearing again (no, just because this is last doesn’t mean it’s the least important).

My first response – My poor baby…he hears a fraction of what everyone else is hearing, and is slowly going insane from frustration (so are his parents). It’s no wonder all he says all day is WHAT? WHAT? And that he doesn’t respond to over half of the questions directed his way. It’s no wonder he cries so much more than he did before this problem returned, and that he screams at the dinner table instead of speaking in an indoor voice. (Boy, have these things been difficult for us all).

A simultaneous first response – OMG, a third surgery in 3 years?! And when it takes so long to get appointments for everything, it’ll take forever to get to the doctor, get a confirmation for the hearing test, take the hearing test, go back to the doctor, get on the surgical schedule, get another confirmation for the surgery and then do the surgery…and then go back for more hearing tests and follow ups. (Gosh, just reading it all is exhausting!).

My new perspective – Well, at least his brother’s coughing and crying in the night isn’t waking him up! And, at least he doesn’t hear when I kvetch about his newly aggressive behavior on the phone…This challenge, though hopefully temporary, also provides an excellent opportunity to connect with my son on a closer level, to take him on my lap and to speak directly into his ear, allowing me to sneak in some extra snuggling.

Are these things the normal stressors of life? Probably. Am I one of the few that freaks out quickly rather than remaining level-headed? Likely. Maybe by next year I’ll be able to get over this ‘personality quirk’ (there’s a good new year’s resolution!). But until then, I’m satisfied with just the ability to find a new perspective and hopefully to learn something from each experience. And I’m continuing to look forward to the day when these simultaneous nightmares will be something to laugh about, rather than to stress about.



Why I Won’t Save the World

Everyone has a dream. For my four year old, it’s to be the Karate Kid. My six year old dreams of being a ballerina. And if not that, a ballet teacher. Our 9 year old dreams of never having homework – or curfew – again. I’m not sure about the 8 year old, but I think she dreams about being a butterfly.

My dream, until recently, was to save the world. And if not the world, then at least my country. And if not my country, then at least my community. It sounds almost laughable to admit that out loud, but it’s true. I really thought that as a student of politics (and an extreme idealist) I’d be able to make a real contribution to society – to do something that would impact thousands of people, if not more. I thought that if I coupled my overpriced book smarts with my natural charm and sharp intellect, voila! I could turn myself into the next Golda Meir. Or, at the very least, Tzipi Livni.

But dreams change, it seems. Sometimes, they even die. And other ones appear.

Immediately after grad school I took two very brief turns working in NGOs, two excellent and highly reputable organizations that do, in fact, do wonderful things for Israeli society and for people throughout the world. When those positions didn’t work out, I did what every responsible mother would do, and took the first job I could get. It happened to be a work at home position in the marketing department of an online company. I must admit it wasn’t the do-gooder job of my dreams, but it kept me out of trouble. And before I knew it, I got hooked.

It’s been 7 years since then, and none of my jobs since then have been very altruistic, except perhaps a rare freelance project. I have not worked towards the cure for cancer, nor have I helped people make aliyah or return to the Jewish faith. I haven’t helped crippled children walk, and I haven’t obliterated poverty, illiteracy or obesity. I certainly haven’t reduced the corruption or insidious bureaucracy of the Israeli government or made the country a more tolerant place (tasks which, incidentally, are still high on my list of priorities).

But…I come from a long line of professional do-gooders. Rabbis, teachers, communal servants, social workers, lawyers…you name it, my family has it. For this reason, and many others, I feel like I’ve spent the last 7 years defending my choice of profession. But I’ve finally made peace with my career, something I’m saying publicly for the first time. I love the fact that I can have a full-time career (is there such a thing as more than full time career? If so, I may have that), but that I can still be around and available (for the most part) when my kids, family and friends need me. And it’s not just that I’m ‘ok’ with my profession. It’s that I honestly, truly and seriously love it. Even though I don’t have a real job title (I mean, I have one on my business card, but that’s not all that I actually do).

For perhaps the first time in 9 years of motherhood, I’ve realized that I need not mourn my dream of saving the world. Because my new dream is to help build it. And I like to think that by raising a family, I’m doing just that.



Forgetting and Remembering

I forgot to bring something important to work today. I also forgot my lunch. In recent weeks, months and years, I’ve forgotten things on my grocery list (many times). I’ve forgotten to turn off the outside light before bed. I did not remember to call my mother in law for her birthday, and my brother, and my sister-in-law, and my… you get the idea.

Believe it or not, there have been times when I’ve forgotten to pick up my kids from a play date. And occasions when I’ve forgotten to take them there. I’ve forgotten about dentist appointments, parent teacher conferences and homework assignments. It isn’t entirely surprising that I’ve forgotten passwords – to my bank account, to my email account and, with surprising frequency, to my Snapfish account.

I can’t remember phone numbers (largely thanks to the ease with which virtual address books are accessible), and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten to serve something on Shabbat because I didn’t have a written menu.

But there is one thing that I don’t forget, and that’s the memory of our ancestors, of MY ancestors, who were brutally murdered during the Holocaust. Or the unspeakable things that happened to my relatives that survived. I can’t honestly say that I remember these things on a daily basis. What I can say, in all honesty, is that I honor them daily. By raising my children as proud Jews. By choosing to live in Israel. By teaching them that no matter how many times we forget to take out the garbage, there are certain things in this world and certain people in this world that we will never forget, even if we never really knew them.



Saying Goodbye

I’ve sat down to write this post multiple times. Probably dozens. It feels like hundreds. I’ve saved many drafts, reviewed, rephrased and revised, and nothing seems to be just right. I suspect this isn’t either, but it’s all I’ve got.

It’s been just more than 2 weeks now since you whispered that you loved me, three words that were among the last you ever spoke. It’s been only 2 weeks since I held your hand as you took your last breaths and passed gracefully from this world to the next. On one hand, it feels like a year. I can’t count how many times I’ve opened my email to shoot you a line, wondered what you’d think about my latest escapades or the children’s developments. Do you know that Tzofi is getting braces? That Hollie just ordered her first pair of glasses? That Itiel can now pull himself up?

On the other hand, it feels like only moments ago I was standing at your bedside where your loved ones sang songs to beautify your journey, to help you know that you are loved, to remind you, as you have reminded so many others, that even in the hardest of times, G-d is there. The pain is still so raw, it’s hard to imagine how it will ever fade, how the world will function without your wisdom and your humor – how I will manage without it.

My neighbors, friends, family, ask me how I’m doing. I tell them I’m fine, because I know that’s what you’d want me to say, and how you’d want me to be. But as I sit here, stifling my cries and wiping the tears silently from my cheeks, I know that I’m not.

Your death wasn’t sudden; there were no words left unsaid between us. And yet, every word from that moment on will be left unsaid, in a way that feels oddly uncomfortable and unnervingly surreal.

You taught me so many things, too many to be listed here, but still not enough. I yearn to hear what you’d say about the future of our country (and the current coalition negotiations), your opinions on the way your final projects will materialize, and what you’d think about this blog post.

I can honestly say that your death was a true celebration of life. That you died surrounded by loved ones, on the holiest day of the week, and that you were buried on Purim, one of the happiest days on the Jewish calendar, no small irony since you only wanted your family to be happy. These thoughts bring me peace, but little comfort.

I feel somehow that ending this post without mentioning every thought or memory running through my head would be negligent, like somehow such omissions would be a form of dishonor to your legacy. But I hope you’ll know that I mean no disrespect, and that I will do everything I can to honor you now, as I did during your life. You’ve not only been my Poppy by blood, but you’ve been my neighbor, my confidant, my mentor and friend. I am different because of you, and I will be forever changed because you are no longer here. I didn’t just love you when you were alive, I love you still. And I always will.



Flying Solo

When Mordecai and I got married, 10 years ago this month, we dreamed of honeymooning in Thailand, where we’d heard that thoughKosher ice cream in Macau the airfare is expensive, the hotels are cheap, and everything is breathtakingly beautiful. The trip never materialized, unfortunately, since we found ourselves saving money for aliyah, for a house, and for the expenses that come with having kids. We tentatively rescheduled the trip as a post-graduate school celebration, until I found myself pregnant with #3 just days after finishing my final semester. Plus, by then we were house-poor, after buying the house we wanted to fit all the kids. And so, we thought, maybe for our 10th anniversary…until real life once again got in the way.

And yet, in what can only be considered a divine twist of fate, I did step foot in Thailand this week, on my way to Macau, an island off the coast of China, which has been dubbed the Vegas of the Far East. Sound exotic? It is, sort of. I must admit that I dreamed of this trip for weeks, envisioning myself relaxing in my sprawling hotel bed and catching a glimpse of the beauty that is the Far East in between business meetings. But it didn’t quite work out that way.

Throughout my brief stay in Asia, I found myself surprisingly lonely (though I did enjoy the relaxation, I must admit). As the only one from my company that came, I didn’t have the companionship of others that I knew – and since I would consider myself slightly socially awkward, I didn’t quite ‘make friends’ until the second day; by then the conference was just about over. I didn’t have anyone to sit next to me on the hour ferry ride required just so I could say I was ‘in Hong Kong’, nor did I have anyone to bounce ideas off of when doing my souvenir shopping (and if you know me at all, you know I simply don’t shop well alone). And I certainly didn’t love taking self-portraits, or bothering others to photograph me.

I know you’re thinking…boo hoo, poor baby, stuck in an opulent, gilded, 70 sqm hotel room with a bathroom bigger than a bedroom in our home (seriously!). But it should be said on record, for those who don’t often have this experience – ‘exciting’ business trips aren’t always the non-stop party that those left behind are imagining (at least they’re not if you’re a conservative, over-tired and antisocial mother of five who keeps kosher and can’t make easy small talk over the shrimp cocktail or the open bar).

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the experience – of course I did. Was it a once in a lifetime opportunity? Maybe. But I’m hoping that I’ll have the chance to visit the Far East, and that maybe next time, or some other time in the future, I’ll be able to share the experience with the people I love.

Lastly, a few things of note/interest that didn’t seem to make it into the text of the post:

– The ticket agent in Macau asked me if Tel Aviv is part of Thailand. That was certainly a new experience.

– I got my spicy mayo confiscated at security in Macau, but not in Tel Aviv or Bangkok. They spent about 7 minutes looking for the ‘other’ liquid in my bag. What they didn’t realize is that I got Azi liquid soap in a car-shaped container…so they kept finding it, but not realizing. And no, I didn’t tell them.

– The ‘Far East’ doesn’t seem so ‘far’ when it’s 10 hours from Tel Aviv to Thailand, and 12 hours to New York.

– People in Macau and Hong Kong seem to drink a ton, but there are no souvenir shot glasses to be found. Perhaps more interesting is that apparently in Asia, ‘shotglass’ sounds like ‘chocolate’. Every time I asked for a shot glass, they sent me to the chocolate section…until Mordecai emailed me a picture of a shot glass to show the store workers. When I finally found one in Bangkok, I had to cough up $12 USD. For a glass shot glass. Definitely the most expensive one I’ve ever bought.

– It’s REALLY weird (and I mean intensely, ridiculously bizarre) to be on an El Al flight that is not filled with families, charedim and hat boxes flying everywhere.

– Haagen Dazs, like Coke, seems to be kosher worldwide. The server in the Haagen Dasz store in my hotel even knew what I was asking for when I asked to see the box of the ice cream crate. She asked if I was kosher, and pointed to the OU. Then she proceeded to serve me ice cream in a round bowl…with a square fork. (Needless to say, scooping was not as easy as it should have been).

– Apparently people find it weird that mothers with children travel for work (or even work). I can’t help but wonder why that would be OK for men, but not women? (Note: at least 75% of the 1,200 conference attendees were men. Is it the business, or the fact that women should be pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen?)

– It’s very common to see Asian people walking around randomly with medical face masks. And it’s also oddly frightening. Do they have SARS? Or are they afraid of catching it from those of us dumb enough not to wear face masks? One of life’s as of yet unsolved mysteries. I guess we’ll find out if I start coughing tomorrow.



15 Lessons from the Past 9 Years

Just a regular Neve Daniel sunset

On December 31, we’ll be hitting 9 years of living in Israel. A lifetime, for some people (especially four of our children that were born here). When we came, Nefesh B’Nefesh was just starting out and had limited availability. So we came unaided, without receiving tactical, practical or financial assistance. We came with few relatives here, certainly no immediate family members. 9 years later, our family here numbers well over 50 people, including my grandparents and Mordecai’s sisters and their families, as well as many of our cousins with whom we have grown infinitely closer since we’ve made the same (crazy?) decision. I think this alone is pretty amazing.

Everyone learns things over nearly a decade; but I think the lessons we’ve learned as olim are quite different than those we would have learned if we’d stayed in America. And so, I’d like to share some of these lessons with you.

1 – Graduating college in the US does not guarantee that you will pass 4th grade math in Israel.

2 – Rolling your RR’s must be acquired from the time of language development, or you’re stuck for life.

3 – You never get used to planning your showers in advance so that the water is properly heated. NEVER.

4 – Navigating Israeli bureaucracy is both unavoidable and extremely unpleasant. But it’s kind of like giving birth – it makes for great stories (and blog posts), and makes you a stronger person.

5 – It’s entirely possible to live without Entenmann’s donuts. And even (gasp!) without Krispy Kreme.

6 – Despite the intermittent fear of terrorist attacks, there is a relatively low fear of pedophilia and kidnapping, and somehow, it’s socially acceptable (and perhaps even legal) to let 5 year olds walk to neighbors’ houses (and sometimes the park?) alone. This phenomenon never gets old.

7 – It may take 3 weeks for your mail to arrive at its destination within Israel, but if your parking meter in Jerusalem expires, you will get a ticket within 1 minute.

8 – First grade plays in the US may teach children about Abraham Lincoln or classical theater, but when they celebrate Jewish heritage and are held at Ma’arat Hamachpela, they never get tiresome, no matter how many times you sit through it.

9 – Salaries in Israel are just about as miraculous as the Chanuka oil that burned for 8 days, but only had enough for 1 night. You pay ridiculously high income tax, 17% VAT, and over $8/gallon for gas, and somehow, most people manage to stretch it until the end of the month.

10 – You never really get tired of having a kosher butcher, baker and fresh cheese counter at the local grocery store.

11 – It gets easier over time, but sometimes it’s still OK to cry when your family goes home after a visit.

12 – When you don’t have blood relatives nearby, your friends become your family – and that’s pretty amazing.

13 – When things are hard, being located so close to the holiest city in the world makes it that much easier to remember that G-d is omnipresent. And sometimes that helps.

14 – Israeli sunset are always breathtaking (except when hidden by the Neve Daniel fog).

15 – Once an olah, alays an olah. No matter how well you roll your RRs.



Are We OK?

When I logged onto Facebook right after Shabbat tonight, I was barraged with dozens of messages; my friends from throughout the country alerting their family and friends that they’d survived the weekend intact, despite the fact that Hamas rockets have now reached Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem outskirts and yes, even Gush Etzion where we live. “We’re OK”, many of my friends noted, “and praying for peace to come quickly to Israel.”

I’d like to counter, however, that while we are fortunate to be alive and well, are most certainly not OK. When the air-raid siren went off shortly after Shabbat came in, I ushered the children into the safe room, and we waited there for a few minutes, until we figured it would be safe to come out. I tiptoed out first, heading to the back porch, where I often meet my building-mates for a quick schmooze or exchange of items. The children, however, were not quite as brave. They opted to stay in the safe room for another hour, afraid that the siren might once again wail.

When it came to bedtime, the two older girls were downright petrified. They ended up sleeping in the same bed, ostensibly because one had things in her bed, and it was too dark to move them…but I knew better. Odelia opted to sleep in the boys’ room because it’s closer to the bathroom, where the lone light shines on Shabbat night. And of course, don’t you know that light in the night scares away those nasty rockets?

When sending the children to shul alone this morning (yes, it’s perfectly acceptable and even legal around here to send children out in the streets alone!), I gave them a quick lesson about what to do in case they heard sirens on the way.

The engagement part that we’d been invited to tonight was cancelled because the new groom was required to stay in the army. Tonight’s Bnei Akiva (youth) event was moved from its normal venue to a new one, because the neighborhood basketball court is too far from buildings, which may leave hundreds of people vulnerable in case the siren sounds. Public bomb shelters are being opened in Tel Aviv, a city long considered immune to warfare. The siren went off last night in Jerusalem, for the first time in over a decade.

Last night Odelia told me not to worry – if we pray hard enough, G-d will protect us against the Romans. And then, in the midst of my first security crisis, I experienced another first – I laughed heartily, despite the dire situation. Then I explained to her that it’s no longer the Romans who are trying to kill us. And that while we must pray, prayer is not enough – we must also take action to ensure our safety, which means deploying our soldiers and heading to the bomb shelters when necessary.

Does this sound like things are OK? I think not.