Have I ever mentioned how awesome it is to live here? I thought not. Time to set the record straight - IT IS TOTALLY AWESOME TO LIVE IN ISRAEl! Right now, this minute, this past day, yesterday, the day we arrived here and every single second in between. Maybe because it's the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I'm just feeling so appreciative that Hashem made it possible for us to come here. We're no different or better than anyone else, so how was it that He blessed US with the opportunity and ability to make aliyah? What should we be doing in return? How can we repay Him?
I guess the answer, in my limited sight, is that we have to try harder to do the right things: be nicer and kinder to ourselves and each other, and to other people. To think of ways to improve the world we live in and then act upon them. To be more generous. To talk to Hashem more often. To improve our davening. To learn more. To criticize less. To stop talking and/or listening to loshon hora. To control my words and body language when I'm angry/tired/cranky. To try harder to find the good in every person. To learn from my mistakes so that I won't make the same ones over again. To be more patient, with myself and others. To be more accepting.
I just read this over and realized that I went from "us" to "me." I have to make my own heshbon (accounting) and let David make his own. There isn't too much time left; Yom Kippur is in 3 days. Someone at a shiur I went to a couple of weeks ago said that when you come to Israel to live, making aliyah (rising) is doing teshuva (repentence) and you arrive here with all your sins forgiven. Well, that may be but we've been here almost 3 months now, and a person can certainly make a lot of aveiras (mistakes) in that length of time! Things you say to people, the WAY you say some things, or even the things you neglected to say - those all have to be dealt with.
Rosh Hashanah was, of course, very nice. The first night we went to Tsivya's house. By now we know all the short cuts to Lakish and most of the other streets around here, so it didn't take us as long to get there as it has in the past (to others who live on that street). Tsivya's 14 and 16 year old daughters were there, and it was just the 5 of us. We had a nice seder; David make kiddush and hamotzi, and we all said the yhi rotzons. I really like her. She works near the airport, and although she gets a ride to work in the mornings, she has to take 2 buses to get home and it sometimes takes 2 hours - she doesn't get home until 7 PM. That's a really long day! But she has kids to support and she doesn't complain. Plus she's just a beautiful person and fun to be around.
We davened at Menorah HaMaor, which is practically in our back yard. They put up 2 huge tents and they were air conditioned, and everyone had a lot of room between rows to say Shemoneh Esray. The singing there was incredible. A lot of South Africans belong to that shul, and their voices were beautiful. They also knew how to harmonize - I kept thinking they needed to cut a record (DVD) or something. I went home a little early the first day because we had guests coming - Andrea and her husband and daughter, and 3 seminary girls who were in town from Bayit Vegan in Yerushalayim who needed a place for lunch. Unfortunately we discovered our air conditioning had gone out on Friday and it was too late to call anybody, so we had no air conditioning for all of Yom Tov. Thank G-d it wasn't as hot as it had been, and we had a fan in every room, so it wasn't too bad. Lunch was really nice, and Aron Dovid invited us (well, sort of hinted since it was Shabbos as well as Yom Tov) to go horsebackriding with them during Chol Hamoed Sukkot one day. They do a lot of interesting stuff. More about Sukkot later.
That night (yes, even here Rosh Hashanah is 2 days - but Sukkot will only be a 1-day Yom Tov followed by 6 whole days of Chol Hamoed!! We can't wait!!) we went to Yocheved and Chanoch's for dinner. We were their only guests (and her father, Stan, of course). We haven't seen much of them lately, so it was nice to re-connect. Eric, Josh and Nechama (formerly Rebecca) are so sweet and helpful. Avigayil and Sheeri are very cute, as is Yitzy (when he's not "shpilking" as Yocheved says) all over himself and whoever's holding him.
I brought a small, squishy pillow for the 2nd day of davening because my back doesn't hold up so well for that long. Actually, the rest of me doesn't either, so I left about an hour before services were over and when I came back they were just finishing. Perfect timing! I feel very close to Hashem here, but sometimes the prayers just don't do it for me. I love the Amidah, but it's too hard for me to sit through the repetition with all the poetry and extra prayers. Yom Kippur will be hard, not because of the fast, but because of the standing for so long. That's an advantage of living close by. I can go home for a while and daven by myself with my own words, and then come back for neila, the last service of Yom Kippur. That last shofar blast just sends shivers through me.
So, anyway, we had lunch with Ruth and Phil, a couple we ate by when we first got here. They're very sweet; all their children and grandchildren live in Israel. We stayed until 5:00 talking with them, and then walked over to someone's fish pond on Nachal Maor to say Tashlik. It ws so cute; these people put out a folding table with drinks and cups and snacks for everyone. The Turners were there and Yocheved said they do that every year. It's just common practice here for people to think about others like that.
Yesterday was a really fun day. Right after ulpan, David took my books home for me and I went to Michal's apartment so she could drop off her stuff and I could pet her really, really, REALLY cute little puppy named Mollie (my Maw Maw had a Mollie...). This puppy is about 3 pounds and won't get any bigger. Then we hopped on the 417 bus (of course, we didn't really hop, but it sounds better when you're telling a story to use more descriptive words, no?) and got off in Geulah, because - that's where the bus goes. Michal is another divorced friend who is absolutely AMAZING. No exaggeration. She's had a very difficult life, no need to go into detail, but she's a very upbeat, I-can-do-anything kind of person. She made aliyah with 3 teenagers (14, 15, & 16), a dog and a cat this past January. She works from her computer, her kids make straight A's, and they all love it here. She's determined to pass the first two levels of ulpan so she can coach soccer at her son's (daughter's?) school(s). In the meantime, she knows every store clerk (owner?) in Mea Shearim because she goes there so much. We got a bracha from the lady in the candy store before we got on the #19 to Hadassah Hospital, which was the reason for our trip except that we didn't get there until 5. Ellen, another recently-made friend and also in our ulpan class, was there for a procedure that was to have lasted 2 weeks, but it was changed to 3 days, and she may even be home now as we speak. Certainly by the time you'll be reading this.
We brought her a color by number (colored pencils) drawing that we bought for her in Geulah, and also a card that everyone in the class signed, and also letters from everyone in Hebrew that the teacher made us all write and that all probably said exactly the same thing. By 7 we grabbed (the last one we hopped but this one we grabbed - we were pretty tired) the #12 bus to Malcha Mall where we proceeded to have a really delicious Chinese meal before alighting on the last train of the evening (10:20!) back to Beit Shemesh. Yes, we did sing "The Last Train to Clarksville" at some point, and yes, we called a cab to take us home because the #14 stops running at 9:30 PM. We shared it with 2 other people so it was only about 10 sheks each.
This afternoon we hosted a Nefesh b'Nefesh meeting in our home for "mature" people who made aliyah. I pointed out to Miriam, the social worker who keeps in contact about once a month with those who make aliyah to make sure they're okay and to answer questions or help out if needed, that David and I were quite immature and were not even 55 or older which was the core group they intended to reach. But it was nice and there were about 10 people who came, some of whom felt that NBN really only had services for young people, like helping them with employment and finding the right schools for their kids and teaching them the best way to get rid of the lice their kids bring home from school and infect the rest of the family with. Truthfully, Nefesh b'Nefesh has been wonderful for us, right from the start, and they haven't discriminated just because we're "mature." However, we've made a lot of friends on our own and we have no money to invest that we need investment advice for and when it comes time to look for employment, we'll find it on our own. David has many talents and Bassya keeps begging me to come back to Yad Ezra after ulpan, but Zvi who runs the Jewell program at Aish may want me to come work for him, so we're not so worried about finding jobs. Both of us would actually prefer not to work, but since we only seem to be able to grow potato trees and not money trees, that just isn't going to happen. But between our Sol Klita (absorption basket from the government) and David's Air Force retirement, we can pretty much slide through these next few months. Of course, we're not saving a dime (what else is new?), so when the sol klita ends, so does our vacation.
It must be said, though, that being in ulpan is not all fun and games. It is sometimes fun, and getting to be more challenging. Sarah, our morah, is kind of going at a much slower pace than before. I personally like her style of teaching but not everyone does. What's amazing is how everyone in the klitah (class) feels connected to each other. David and I are thinking of inviting everyone and their families to a simcha bais hashoeva during Sukkot - kind of an open house. We're getting kind of booked for that week, though. The first night we're having Dvorah and Azriel Lowenthal (remember Donna Wethington?) who are coming with their kids by bus from Beitar which isn't too far away. And because they have little kids, we also invited our downstairs neighbors, Shaina and Yonaton and their 3 year old twins. The 2nd night there's a big outdoor concert in Beit Shemesh with Lenny Solomon and all kinds of popular Israeli musicians. The 3rd night the Turners are having a "St. Louis" simcha bais hashoeva - us, the Bar Leibs, the Newmarks, the Sommers and Rivki and Avital. Rivki and Avital are going to spend the night with us. The next night is the opening night of "Ruth and Naomi", a play for women in Efrat. I reserved 4 tickets and spaces on the bus. These productions are supposed to be incredible and we have seats right in the middle and in the front. I think the proceeds go to expelled Gush Katif families.
The last 2 days will be horsebackriding, and whatever else comes up. Now I just need to invite people for Yom Tov meals.
I'm officially totally exhausted. It's after 11 PM, David went to sleep over an hour ago. We're going out for both Shabbos meals, to people I really like, and Shira Smiles, a very popular speaker, is giving a Shabbos Shuva (Teshuva?) shiur after davening on Shabbos morning. I'm in the middle of an Elie Wiesel book (I decided I should actually read some of the books in our extensive library) so I'm all set for Shabbos afternoon.
But wait! I can't sign off without telling you three more things.
When Michal and I first got off the bus in Geulah yesterday, the first thing we noticed were all the sukkahs already up on all the mirpesets. We had plenty of time to notice while we were waiting (with many other people) for the police to finish checking out a suspicious package by the bus stop around the corner from where we got off. Sometimes they blow them up, but they obviously decided it wasn't anything dangerous this time and everyone just went on their way. There were also tents filled with cages of live chickens on the sidewalks. Before Yom Kippur there's a little ceremony involving waving a chicken in the air and casting all your sins away. We've always used money in the past (then you give the money or chicken to charity), but earlier this evening I had to catch the 14 down to the clinic to get a prescription from the doctor and there was a huge tent set up by the shopping center and men were slinging those chickens all around their wives' and kids' heads while reciting the appropriate prayers. I called David, who was shopping at the sukkah store, to come on down, but he'll probably go down tomorrow morning. It was pretty cool to watch. And everyone and their brother (or sister or kids or whoever) was down there at the matnas tonight getting ready for either Shabbos or Yom Kippur or Sukkot. Did I mention how AWESOME it is here?
Okay, the last thing is really momentous. I, by myself, with no help from anyone, said my first sentence TOTALLY IN IVRIT, in public and totally correct. After cutting in line in front of 3 people to get Dr. Dinner to write me a prescription, I stopped at the pharmacy to have it filled. I noticed that he had written the px for 2 meds, one of which I didn't need. So when it was my turn I stepped up to the pharmacist and said, pointing to the px, "Shalom. Ani lo tzreeka et zeh, rach zeh" - meaning, "Hello. I don't need this one, just this." He nodded and filled just the one I asked for. Am I good or what?! I think ulpan is really paying off, no?