Where should I begin?
Let's go back to Shabbos and work our way forward. Shabbos, once again, was wonderful. I was exhausted after starting work last week, so David and I stayed home by ourselves for the first time Friday night. I made the best challah I've ever made (I'm not bragging; it was really good) and guacamole and beets and we had some surprisingly good bottled gefilte fish (but no really good hot sauce like we had in St. Louis) for our first course. Then we finished with a thick beef and barley soup with lots of tender meat, chunks of mushrooms and barley.
On Shabbos morning I went to Aish Kodesh shul not knowing there was an auf-ruf (sounds kind of funny, I know. I don't know what it stands for, but it's a celebration for a guy the Shabbos before his wedding). It was really, really crowded for being such a small shul. I spoke briefly with a nice woman at the kiddush before I looked for David, who had already walked home because it was so crowded. I went to get him and then we went to Toby and Zvi's for lunch. They're the ones who were on our aliyah flight. Poor Toby; their air conditioning wasn't running well and she can't take the heat so well. It didn't seem so bad, but then, I wasn't the one jumping up and down serving the (very delicious) food. We had such a great time there! The best part was their 19 year old daughter who is in her 2nd year of seminary in Yerushalayim. Daniella was so adorable! She had cooked most of the food, was really bubbly, and it was so sweet to see the relationship she has with her father. Toby says it's because they're both the youngest siblings in their families. Zvi and Daniella good-naturedly argued a lot and both wanted to have the last word. Toby said, "See what I have to put up with? I have two kids left at home." We got along so well with all of them - we think alike about a lot of things and we laughed a lot. Zvi works for the Jewell program at Aish, so we even have a lot in common. Did I mention Toby plays mah jongg? I can't help but think how nice it would be to have them for in-laws...
After lunch David walked me over to the other side of Dolev (the street the micholet is on; it's a giant circle) to try to find the apartment where some women were playing mahj. Of course, I had written down the address but couldn't find it on Shabbos morning. But I remembered it was by the park on Ayalon and I thought it was at 15 Dolev apt. 9 on the top floor but I wasn't sure. Even though we were a half hour late, Dafna and Johnni were outside waiting for me! I could say it was really nice of them, but I also knew they didn't have cards to play with so they were really hoping I'd come!
David went home and we played for over an hour. I've said this many times before, but it's mamash such a small world (don't you love the way I throw those words in? You use it to really stress a point). Almost every person I meet has some connection to people I know. I'd never met these women before; Johni had answered my email through the Ramat Beit Shemesh list for people who play mahj. It turns out she and her husband (he works at Yad Ezra VeShulamit and is in the states now fundraising) lived in St. Louis in 1988, in Aharon and Shifra Newman's old house. She asked me about several people she used to know and also said that she still calls Lenny Kohn when she has questions about buying meat! Eventually another woman named Rochel showed up. I mentioned that my husband became frum in Raleigh, North Carolina and two of the women knew of the Chabad rabbi there. Then Rochel said she was from Minneapolis (where David lived for many years) and that her brother is the Chabad rabbi in Rochester, Minnesota where the Mayo clinic is. I couldn't believe it! I told her that I'd had surgery at the Mayo Clinic last May and that her brother and sister-in-law made Shabbos food for David and jello for me, and that her brother had visited me there! I have to say it again - it's mamash such a small world!
I only played with them about an hour because I had to get to the shiur at Rebecca Rubinstein's home on Refaim (one apartment down from where Nuchi Morris rented an apartment; she's been in Chicago all summer and gets back soon). Rebecca is from England and has a delightful accent. She spoke about the month of Elul which precedes Rosh Hashanah, and all the work we need to do BEFORE then. She talked about the yatzer hara (evil inclination) that continuously whispers to us, "Go ahead, eat that delicious cake" and "you deserve to sleep another half hour" and the one I like best, "What difference does it make if you stay up to 2 am playing internet hearts; it's fun!). She talked about deciding what we needed to do better in our lives and standing firm; if we get into an actual discussion with our yatzer hara, we've already lost the argument. Everybody chipped in with some interesting stuff. I love that there's only about 8 women who come.
Okay, so that was Shabbos. Sunday is the beginning of the work week here. I had really been dreading getting back on that bus and thought about it over Shabbos a lot. Motzei Shabbos I called Tefilla, my boss, and talked with her about it. I asked if I could work longer days and only come in 4 days a week. I figured if I could have a day off where it wasn't preparing for Shabbos or actually was Shabbos, I could keep my sanity and get errands and shopping and cleaning and laundry done and not feel so pressured. She'd been so afraid I was calling to quit, she was more than happy to let me work 4 days instead of 5.
So I was feeling pretty good on Sunday morning. First I had to go to the matnas (community center) with David for our ulpan test; I was hoping to take a night class. It was kind of a waste of time because after they spoke a lot to about 100 of us all in Hebrew (Zvi and Toby were quietly translating for us - they're in an upper level class) they let everybody leave who would be in the aleph, beginning level. We had actually stopped at the drug store on the way to the matnas to talk to Arthur, our friendly neighborhood pharmacist - a great guy - and got a bottle of ginger pills, which is supposed to help with nausea. Tefilla's husband had also told me to sit in the front of the bus and look out the window instead of closing my eyes or reading to help with the queasiness. So I jumped on the 417 bus and headed to Yerushalayim. I kept my backpack and lunch bag in the seat next to me, but at the last bus stop in Yerushalayim a very pregnant woman AND her 1 or 2 year old sat with me because people were already standing and there were no more seats. It was such a relief when I finally got off the bus and was able to walk to the office.
When I got there, Bassya said that Tefilla wanted to meet with us and Benneyahu, the computer guy. I have no idea why I had to sit in on that meeting. The whole thing was about me, but I couldn't understand a single thing anyone said! Tefilla told him that our department wanted our own donor database system. I could tell she was telling him my credentials and that she wanted me in charge of taking care of the Anglo donors (receipts, thank you letters, etc). He, in turn, screamed at her for about half an hour. It could be he was just talking but Israelis scream pretty much everything they say, with lots of hand gestures. Bassya would kind of snort every once in awhile, and Tefilla would look at me with a nod meant to be reassuring, but I felt like I was on Mars. Once Benneyahu went out and came back with Rav Lurie, who started the organization. Rav Lurie spoke in a calming voice and the three of them went back and forth for awhile. After Rav Lurie left, Benneyahu went out and got some other guy who I think runs the whole fundraising operation. He and Benneyahu had a very loud discussion for, oh I don't know, forever? while Tefilla ate her lunch and inserted a few things now and then. The creepy thing was how they would point at me once in awhile or gesture in my direction. When they finally left, Tefilla said that first they were going to give us an English version of their donor system, but she thought that it was old and it might not work so well for keeping track of English information. So now they wanted me to find a good donor system and check it out on the internet and with other organizations who use it to get testimonials. And then she had to leave and Bassya left with her so she could share her cab and not have to take a bus.
It was much better after everyone left. Except that I don't know how the computers work, especially since all the programs are partly in Hebrew. Tefilla kept insisting that I didn't have to know Hebrew, and she did talk Benneyahu during that discussion into finding me an English version of Microsoft even though he didn't seem to understand why I needed to have it. I had downloaded a donor program that David found, but I couldn't get past a certain point in the installation without an error message. When I tried to print a page from the donor web site about how to fix the problem, the printer didn't seem to be connected any more. So I had to go find Benneyahu over on the Israeli side. He came right away, but it was hard to gauge how he felt about helping me. He ended up installing the program for me, and as he looked through it, he was very impressed that it could generate thank you letters and do reports. He noticeably softened towards me and turned out to be a really nice person. It's very possible that all the yelling earlier was just a civilized discussion about what our department needs.
When I left, I decided that I wasn't really in any hurry, so instead of walking on the main street, I walked through Geulah towards the kikar Shabbat, a main intersection of Geulah and Mea Shearim. I had a map, but I don't think the streets I walked on were on it - they were more like alleyways. Very, very hareidi (religious) people were walking everywhere, clothes were hanging out to dry from mirpesets, small children were playing in the streets taking care of even smaller children, small shops were everywhere (hardware, toys, groceries, furniture, appliances, bicycles) and I almost immediately had absolutely no idea where I was. It was great! In the end, I came out at the bus stop where I get off in the morning, not even close to where I wanted to be, but I just waited for the bus there and it came within a couple of minutes.
That's when the fun began. I had taken another ginger pill, but for some reason my body just doesn't like buses. At 5:00 pm there's a whole lot more traffic and people in the streets. The bus didn't end up being particularly crowed (Baruch Hashem I didn't have to share a seat), but the driver was a master at sudden stops and jerky turns. By the time we picked up the last stop in Yerushalayim and headed for hwy 1, I was desperately swallowing continuously to keep what was in my stomach right where it was.
After awhile I realized that we had been on highway 1 for a long time and hadn't gotten very far. I looked out the front window and saw nothing but 2 lines of stopped vehicles as far as I could see. That bus ride took longer than my entire life up until that point. I actually called David and told him I was considering having the bus driver let me off on the highway (not that he would). It turned out there was a gory accident all the way down by hwy 38 where we turn off. I didn't get home until 6:45 and then had to lie down for awhile. We've been in Israel almost 2 months and nothing had fazed me until last night. When I finally got up, I opened the freezer to get some ice and found a tiny container of Ben & Jerry's ice cream with a note from David saying that I didn't have to support the family any more if I didn't want to. That's when I finally broke down in tears.
So I'm not sure if this whole long monologue is to justify my second phone call to Tefilla last night. What I wanted to telll her was, "I quit" but what came out (I'm such a wimp) is, "I can't take that commute any more." She pleaded with me to find a ride or figure out another solution and I told her I'd try. But I can't.
This morning David and I went to our first day of ulpan. As hard as it was, it was infinitely easier than getting on that bus. And when Chanoch and Yocheved passed us as we were walking home and offered us a ride, I looked in that back seat and said, "No thanks! We like walking." And I meant it!
Our ulpan teacher, Sara, is great. There are about 15 people in our class; 2 left at break to go to aleph plus and ended up coming back before the class was over. David and a guy named Eliezer are the only men. We learned so much today! How to write the entire aleph bais, how to say a lot of things. One thing in particular will come in handy: ani rotza means I want, or for a man, ani rotzeh. Tzreeka means I need for a woman or tzreek for a man. Now when David wants to buy something, I can ask, "Atah tzreek? Or Atah rotzeh?" B'kaka hu LO tzreek!
Got to go practice my handwriting now.