Thursday, September 28, 2006

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?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Shana Tova, everybody! Ksiva v'chasima tova, simcha hatzlach, shnat b'riute tova (healthy year), shnat shalom (peaceful year), and all Hashem's blessings! Catch you next year!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

This has been a very difficult day for me. Someone I care very deeply about has been in a lot of emotional pain, and there's nothing I can do but show support. And pray.

I'm not going to ulpan tomorrow. Friday is erev Yom Tov. We're only home for one meal but I need the time to clean the apartment and cook and RELAX. Toby just called to tell me her daughter had a baby boy. She got to be in the delivery room with her which she said was unusual for her because "I didn't even want to be in the delivery room when my own kids were born!" I don't think we can go to the bris since it's on Tuesday morning in Yerushalayim; we can't miss a day of ulpan. Thursdays are just review, but Sunday through Wednesday we learn a LOT of new material. Yesterday and part of today were about plural pronouns: atem (you - plural masculine), aten (you - plural feminine), hem (they - plural masculine), hen (they - plural feminine) and the verbs that match those, i.e., lomed (to learn - single, masculine), lomedet ( to learn - single, feminine), lomedim (to learn - plural masculine), lomedot (to learn - plural feminine). Are you confused yet? I'm kind of getting the hang of it, actually. We do a lot of repetition.

There's a woman who sits a couple seats over from us who's a real hoot. She's had a pretty difficult life, but she has a great sense of humor. Yesterday I heard her telling Ellen, who sits next to me, that when her kids were small, she would tell them they were going to the zoo and then take them to the pet store at the mall and let them pet the animals. They didn't know the difference. She'd also say, "We're going to Disneyland today!" and take them to the Disney store. Then she'd pull one of her own stuffed animals out of her backpack (she kept about 200 of them from when she was a kid) and "buy" it for her kids as a souvenir. She didn't have much money back then. When they'd get home and tell their dad they'd been to the zoo or Disneyland, he'd look at her and say, 'You've been to the mall again?" Apparently her kids don't hold it against her; now that they're teenagers they have too many other things to be angry about.

So today we had a Rosh Hashanah party with all the ulpan classes. Being the greenest kids on the block, we got to hold up signs that had new year's brachot; mine read kativa v'chatima tova. Others were shnat shalom (yes, that really is snot with an h - it's the plural form of shana), simcha hatzlacha, etc. We stood in a row on the stage and each read what our card said. Then the people in the other classes got up one by one and gave extremely long dissertations on subjects that must have been interesting because everybody else was oohing and aahing, and we kindergarteners (nursery schoolers?) sat there feeling silly and dumb and bored because we couldn't understand a thing. Then they passed out cups of wine and we toasted the new year and got to leave an hour early, which didn't really lessen our embarrassment, but made it a little less painful.

Life is strange, isn't it? We go from one stage of life to another, and nobody is in the same "place" at the same time. Once in awhile you find someone or some people who understand you or who you understand, and it feels good to be on the same page. And you think back to other times in your life when you had to deal with certain challenges and you either wish you could do it over again or you're pretty satisfied with how you handled yourself and how things turned out. But when you see someone else going through their challenges, especially people you really care about, you feel your own pain all over again. Especially when there's nothing you can do for them because it's their test and they have to make all the choices and figure out all the options. And even if you think you have the right answers for them, you can't really make their decisions for them because you're not in their shoes and you don't know the relationship they have with Hashem and what He's trying to teach or show them. It's between Him and them and you have to sit on your hands and zip up your mouth and just be there when they need you. And that's when you realize it's a lesson for you, too. It just hurts so much to feel their pain.

Hashem, isn't there any way to have "do-overs"? To re-make history so the present is just a little different? Please?

Monday, September 18, 2006

We just got home from ulpan. For some reason I don't seem to be looking at my watch every ten minutes in class any more; I think most of it sinking in! One woman in the class was getting frustrated. She said she never learned about infinitives in English and she didn't see how she was going to learn them in Hebrew. I must admit, I secretly enjoy seeing other people struggle because then I don't feel so stupid. Anyone would laugh standing at the door listening to supposedly bright people repeating the same things endlessly. Mi at? Ani Vickie. Mi atah? Ani David. Actually, we're waaaaayyyy past who are you, I'm whoever. We're up to: David lo oved; hu lomed ivrit b'ulpan b'matnas b'Ramat Beit Shemesh. Ani nasuah b'David.
Et mol, Ellen v'ani linsoah l'yerushalayim m'po al autobus. (David doesn't work; he learns Hebrew in ulpan at the matnas in Ramat Beit Shemesh. I am married to David. Yesterday, Ellen and I traveled to Jerusalem from here on the bus). That last sentence I just put together from what I've learned. I don't think it's v'ani (does that mean with I'm?), but I don't know how to say "me." Whatever. The best thing about today's class was that as we were leaving we ran into our friend, Toby, who's in the gimmel class and she gave us a ride to the micholet in her brand new, air conditioned car. Have I ever mentioned we don't have a car? I gave us ER and Gilmore Girls and I really don't miss television at all. I gave up my two dishwashers and I sort of kinda miss those, especially after Shabbos when my counters are stacked with dirty dishes. But I practically GAVE AWAY my Chevy Blazer and I have to say, that's what I miss most of all. (Of things! I'm only talking about things. There's no way to put into words how much I miss my friends and people I love...)

{Huge sigh}

So Shabbos was good, as usual. On Friday night, we had two sets of friends who met each other for the first time and I think they liked each other. They both brought their 19 year old daughters who very graciously helped me serve and clear. Zvi had just gotten back from Artzot Habrit (the United States) 2 hours before Shabbos from a week of fundraising for Jewell, an Aish program he heads here - but he and Kalmon had all kinds of dvrei Torah (words of Torah) to share with us. They all stayed until late - it was so much fun!

I slept a little too late on Shabbos morning to make it to shul, so I stayed in my robe and davened at home. David and I ate lunch by ourselves and then he took a 4 hour nap while I read a novel that Faygie had lent me. It was so relaxing! I did make it to my 5:00 shiur and then came home to have Shalosh Seudas with David. He even helped me with the dishes after Shabbos. We had to do them in 3 shifts because there isn't much room in the racks. I washed; he dried. How cool is that?!

Yesterday after ulpan (Sundays ain't what they used to be...), Ellen and I hopped on a bus to Yerushalayim (David went on a 9 mile walk with her husband, Kalmon). Even Ellen was feeling a little sick on the bus, so it's not just me. But we were also talking with a woman who was in the seat behind us from our ulpan class who was going in to meet a rabbi she'd met on frumster. (When we asked her today in class how it went, she just shook her head and said, "Dudly.") At least here in Israel she has more choices.

Anywho (yes, it was supposed to read like that) Ellen and I perused a few shops in Mea Shearim before heading up Strauss to Yafo Street. Our 2 goals for this trip was 1. to check out a butcher on Agrippas Street that delivers in RBS and 2. see the move United 93. Neither of our husbands want to see any movies, but even Naomi Ragen recommended it. Well, we were both hungry; it was about 3:00 at this point and we hadn't had lunch, so we went to Cafe Rimon (is there any place better?) and split a Greek salad. Then we stood on Yafo to wait for the #5 bus to Malcha Mall (also known as the Jerusalem Mall or the Kenyon). The #6 passed by but I've been on that bus twice and I know it stops every few feet and takes an hour to get there so we let it pass by. By now it's almost 4:30 and the movie starts at 5. So we (okay, Ellen - she's been here a year already and her Hebrew is somewhat better than mine) asked the security guard at the bus stop if the #5 stopped there and he said no, while vaguely waving his arm up the street. So we walked a little ways to a couple other bus stops and then gave up and flagged a cab. You have to understand that taxis and cabs are a way of life here for pretty much everyone. Even if you have a car, it's expensive to run and you only use it when you have to. No private cars are allowed on Yafo street at all, only buses and cabs.

There were only about 12 people who were in the theater with us. The movie was pretty intense. They purposely didn't use well-known actors because they wanted the focus to be on the story. I can't figure out how they could reenact what was going on in the plane when no one lived to tell the story, but it seemed to be a credible account of the way events happened. When the FAA was trying to figure out what happened to flight 11 and then looked out their window and saw the smoke pouring out of the north tower of the Twin Towers, our hearts were beating so fast. Unfortunately, as the tension was building and the story moved back to flight 93 where the terrorists were just about to make their move, the movie came to a grinding halt and the word "Hefseka" came up on the screen. Break time! Intermission! On a 90 minute movie! Here we were on the verge of terror and all we could do was laugh. Nobody even got up from their seats. After about 5-10 minutes, the loudest bull horn you've even heard was blown, making all of us jump about 3 feet. Then they blew it again and re-started the movie. I remember Lyuba, the Russian lady who had the alterations shop next to Aish, who kept saying, "Only in America." I totally understand now. But it doesn't even come close to "Only in Eretz Yisrael."

You already know the ending to the movie. Suffice it to say that when they showed each person calling their mothers, husbands, wives, children to tell them goodbye and that they loved them - it was pretty gut wrending.

We actually got out of the movie 20 minutes before the train was leaving and were able to make it to the station in time. We were so exhausted we didn't want to wait for the #14 in Beit Shemesh to take us back to RBS so we shared another cab. It was about 8:30 by then and David had only been home about 2 hours from his hike. I don't think my exhaustion even compared to his. I think he needs to build up his endurance a little at a time and not push himself so hard so fast. But that's just my opinion.

This weekend is Yom Tov! In Israel all the chagim (holidays) are only 1 day Yom Tovs except for Rosh Hashanah, so I guess we have to wait for Sukkos to have a long Chol Hamoed (days between the first day of the holiday and the last day). We're eating out 3 of the 4 meals and having guests for Shabbos lunch. We need to put a grocery list together and go to the new grocery store in the mercaz this afternoon; I can only imagine how crowded they'll be later in the week.

By the way, I haven't changed soooo much. I realized this morning that my cell phone was missing. Someone called me while I was on the train and I thought I had put it back in my backpack, but it wasn't there this morning. We called cellcom and they are only allowing incoming calls on it for the next week. No one answers it when I call it. The train company is going to look for it, but I was told there's a 99% chance that they'd never find it. It's a rented phone and under warranty, but we have to pay $50 (that's 237 shekels!) for a replacement. {Another very deep sigh ...}

Got to go make that grocery list.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What a week! Ulpan has totally taken over our lives. David gets up at 5 am to get to shul by 6:15 am. He sets the alarm for me to get up about 6:45, but I usually wake up by 6:30. At 8:00 we're out the door. Ulpan is held at the matnas (community center) which is about a 20-25 minute walk. The hard part is walking all the way up the stairs on Habesor, our (pedestrian) street to Dolev. Once we get up there, we can turn either right or left; Dolev is a huge circle and the matnas is exactly halfway around either side.

It's so nice in the mornings. Everywhere are people walking to school or work or bus stops. Little tiny kids with their little tiny backpacks walk by holding their imma or abba's hands. Cars are honking (people love to honk here), buses are whizzing by, you hear sounds from open windows. It's like a perfect scenario of good, clean living.

What's funny is that the things you do in America don't necessarily happen the same way here. For instance, you're walking down the sidewalk and someone is walking towards you. You automatically move to the right, no? Lo po! (That's "not here" for those of you without the extensive Hebrew knowledge that I know possess). The other person wouldn't think of veering from his or her original path just because someone might be in that path. Or on the off chance that it would enter their consciousness that they might have to move, they could just as easily move to the left as to the right. So basically all your instincts of the right way to do things - toss 'em out the window and start right over learning a whole new set of rules. Except when you think you have a handle on what the rules are - they turn out to be different for each situation! Definitely keeps you on your toes!

Okay, so back to ulpan. I try to get there by 8:20 or 8:25. It starts at 8:30, but I like to get there, turn the air conditioning on, get myself settled. David can leave the apartment a good 10 minutes after I do and still get there on time. There are about 17 people in our Aleph class. David and I are the only married couple, and there's only one other guy who's probably no more than 20, if that. His mom's in the class, too. There are 3 women; one from Venezuela, one from Thailand and one from the Philippines who are all married to Israeli men and are definitely not religious or even Jewish. Actually, Glenda said she converted in Jerusalem, but I don't think rabbis will convert someone who doesn't convert to orthodox. Everyone is very nice, and we're all getting to know each other very well. Sara is our morah (teacher) from Yom Rishon to Yom R'vi-ee (Sunday through Wednesday) and Chaviva is our morah on Yom Chamishi (Thursday). Sara's great, but she goes through the material at lightning speed. She's actually slowed down the last couple of days, after she she called on Yolga, an older woman (yes, older than me) from Holland who doesn't speak any English - burst into tears when Sara called on her to answer a question in Hebrew. We all felt bad for Yolga. Sara will sometimes speak to us in a little English, just to make sure we understand something, and there are those in the class who speak French, Spanish and Farsi to help out the others who don't speak English, but no one knows Dutch. They took Yolga out of class yesterday to learn privately with a young girl who floats around to help different classes.

I felt like crying one day last week when my brain just shut down after 3 hours. It felt like everyone knew what Sara was saying except me, and she was shooting questions at people who answered her quickly. This week has been much better. In fact, my memory is really getting much better and I'm remembering quite a bit. We do a lot of repetition which helps. Then I come home and re-type everything and practice writing. It's actually pretty fun sometimes - I think we're up to the challenge. Of course today Chaviva kept dictating questions to us, and I couldn't write anything correctly. Every time there should have been a hay, I put an aleph, and everytime there should have been an aleph, I didn't put anything. It all comes with practice!

So David has become good friends with a guy named Kalmon, whose wife, Ellen, is in our class. The 3 of us sit up in the front row, along with Michal who made aliyah alone with 3 teenagers and a dog! I'm in awe of her. Kalmon took David with him on Sunday on a 7 mile hike to an old monastery and some very old ruins up in the hills near us. David wore his camelback backpack (it holds 3 liters of water and has a tube that comes around to the front so you can drink without having to take off the backpack). He and Kalmon both wore dorky caps and were quite pleased, thinking that the other was at least if not more geeky than they were - great match! On Tuesday they only hiked 4 miles, but I think David may have gotten a little dehydrated; he wasn't feeling well the last couple of days, and he didn't walk today. People here really have to drink a LOT more water - everyone walks around with water bottles. I keep bottles in the freezer half full, so I can just add cold water to the ice and then it stays colder longer (the ice still melts pretty quickly).

Ellen and I are going to Yerushalyim on Sunday after ulpan. We want to check out a butcher there who delivers to Ramat Beit Shemesh, and see "Flight 93" (our husbands won't see any movies) and have some dinner. It's so nice to finally have friends again! I miss my friends back in the states (I got a little teary eyed on Wednesday when I realized that I was missing my mahj game once again .... I actually thought about getting up at 4 or 4:30 this morning to call and say hi...), but it's good to be meeting people here.

There are 3 other couples that we're starting to spend a lot of time with. Toby and Zvi, Kalmon and Ellen, and Andrea and Aron Dovid. The 4 of us girls (Andrea hasn't told me if she can come yet) are going to a women's play in Efrat, about 20 minutes from here, during Chol Hamoed Succos (the middle days of the holiday). Someone chartered a bus from here, and we have seats down front and right in the middle. It will be a nice evening. I'm assuming we won't have ulpan that week.

The Turners want to have a BBQ for St. Louisans who live here for a meal during Chol Hamoed. That should be fun! All of our friends have cars, so I'm hoping someone will suggest a tiyul (trip) somewhere that we can go on. We'll probably also see Dov and Lisa, our friends from Kochav Yaakov. They came to open up Lisa's parents' house in Beit Shemesh for them earlier this week (her parents spend half the year here and half in the states and they're coming back here this week) and stopped by. We all went to Grillburger for dinner. David had fun playing with Chanita, who's 4. He was really excited when he said to her, "Mi at?" ("Who are you?") She looked surprised that he would speak to her in Hebrew, but then answered, "Chanita. Mi atah?" He almost fell out of his seat. She actually knew to use the masculine form of "you". Okay, so yeah - we're excited to be able to converse with a 4 year old - I bet we'll be able to hold our own with 8 year olds by the end of ulpan - just wait and see!

We get home from ulpan about 1 pm, which is when our air conditioner turns on. They're all on timers and you don't leave them on when you're not at home, to cut down on costs. Our apartment cools off in about 2 minutes. It clicks off at 7 pm, although it's getting dark by 6:30 so we may change the timer since it cools off so much in the evenings.

Toby and Zvi and their 19 year old daughter, Daniella, and Kalmon and Ellen and their 20 year old daughter, Ali, are coming for dinner tomorrow night. They haven't met each other yet. I'm really looking forward to the evening. David paid dues this week at Menorah Ha-Maor so we would have seats for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. All the shuls are too small for the number of congregants. So many people are moving here. Many of the shuls are in the middle of building campaigns and a lot of them already have new buildings started, but right now everyone's just packed in like sardines. We still don't know if this is the right shul for us, but it's literally less than a block away, and they daven nusach Ashkenaz and we know some of the people there, so it makes sense.

My apartment is clean except for the kitchen, our table is set (that was David's job), and a good portion of the meal is cooked for tomorrow night. I have a roast in the crock pot; I hope it turns out okay. David and I are just staying home for lunch. The last couple of weeks I've been playing mahj with a different group of women (who play by some pretty strange rules...) and then I have a 5:00 shiur I really love. Last week when I showed up she had cancelled it. But 2 other women showed up, so she ended up speaking just to us.

Oh, and Tuesday night I went to hear Rabbi Pinchas Winston, finally. He was PHENOMENAL! He made an analogy at the beginning of a guy who buys an old car, but unbeknownst to him, it has the engine of a Maserati. He realizes over the 3 or 4 years that the motor works well, but he's afraid to drive it too fast because it's an old car and he doesn't want it to break down. He finally sells it to someone and buys another old car which doesn't drive half as well. After a couple of weeks, the guy that bought his car called him and thanked him profusely for such a great vehicle and also expressed surprise that he would sell such a great car at such a low price. The ikkur is that each of us has inside us the potential to do and be much more than we think we can. We can't let ourselves give up on things because we don't think we can achieve more than what we do - because we can and we should always reach higher and higher. I can't think exactly how he said it, but that was just the lead-in to the rest of his talk. I can't wait until next week.

It's very late; David went to bed almost 2 hours ago. I can actually sleep as late as I want tomorrow!! (But I'll be up early because my body no longer wants to sleep late; don't know why - probably because I don't want to waste any time not experiencing the awareness of just being here!).

Have a wonderful Shabbos and please feel free to post a comment - I changed the setting so everyone can write something now!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I just figured out how to change the settings to let anyone post a comment; I didn't realize that no one could unless they were also a "blogger." So please write me if you're reading this!

Today is 9/11. These two links were some of the better things I found floating around today:

I've been doing a lot of thinking the last few days, about stuff I've written here, about our lives here, and I realize I haven't really painted a true picture of what it's like. What it is to wake up knowing that you're living in a holy place and yet still waking up every morning, getting dressed, davening, eating breakfast, going out for the day. What exactly makes it different being HERE as opposed to being THERE?

How to put it into words? I think it can only be felt and yet I want to convey those feelings. It's knowing, first hand, that you're part of the "bigger picture." It's looking around at the people, the landscape, the horizon, the moon from your mirpeset, the olive trees, the palm trees, the hills, the children, the bus drivers. It's the families walking together or at the park together, the sound of voices from all the open windows on Shabbos. It's sharing a Shabbos table with a couple from South Africa and another from Toronto and another from Woodmere. It's sitting in class learning Hebrew with people from Venezuela and from Thailand and from the Phillipines and from Holland and from France and from all over the United States. It's the tears you can't stop when you stand at the Wall and hold out your hand to touch it - and knowing that thousands of hands have touched that spot over millenia and a trillion tears have been shed there. It's that connection you feel, that you really, truly FEEL, when you talk to Hashem and you know He's RIGHT THERE and He's nodding his head and He understands you and you believe with all you heart that He's listening and considering all you have to say.

And it's going back home at the end of ulpan or the end of the day, to your very own home that you've made in this special, holy place and knowing there is no other home anywhere else in the world. You don't have to get in an airplane and fly away from here. And it's the gratitude for that. For that and for so many, many more blessings. The appreciation you feel for everything, always, constantly: the soul mates you meet (everyone who feels as you do), the food that is grown here, the ability to walk around to get to the places you need to get to, the fresh air blowing through your windows at night, the feelings in your fingers that can touch and feel, the ability to see the computer screen and the words on the blackboard, the scent of the bouginvilla vines lining the paths, always the sound of children from the windows and sidewalks and parks - so very much more to thank Him for. And most of all, everyday to thank my Creator for opening my eyes nearly 14 years ago and leading me on this path. I can hardly believe that I have been so "lucky."

And it's also knowing how precarious it all is. America had terrorists blow up two buildings five years ago, and no one really remembers any more. No one seems to be concerned that there may be more of the same to come, or else they just don't want to think about it. Here, we know there's more to come. When there was fighting in Lebanon, people from all around us, reservists, were called up to go fight. There were emails daily on the Shemesh list about young husbands (and older husbands) who live right here who had to leave wives and children to fight for all of us (and yes, that us includes you. They don't want to just kill Israelis; they want to kill Jews). It's so obvious that Hashem is orchestrating the stupidity of our political "leaders" and the blindness of the world. Anti-semitism is rampant everywhere; the terrorists are getting braver because they're being accepted. But this isn't what I want to say!

People who live here, Torah observant Jews, feel a special responsibility. "It is because of us, our actions, that the things happening in the world today are happening." What we do, what we say - we're the example for the rest of the world. People here know this! If a son, brother, father dies - we ask ourselves, "What did I do wrong?" Did I lose my connection to my Creator? Was there a friend I let down, did I lose our temper with my teenager, did I talk about my neighbor behind his back? What did I do or not do that I should have or should not have?" There's a feeling of personal responsibility here that's palpable. No one says it out loud - it's just the way people live their lives.

At the height of the war, I was emailed a prayer that I say every morning. It came from A Still Small Voice (they have a website) and this is how it goes:

Let it be that every Jew, no matter where they stand, no matter what they face; let it be that they should see the light, i.e., HasShem's light. And let them integrate that light so deeply into their thought, speed and deed, that they (and we together) should become the light, i.e., the light unto the nations that is our truth and our destiny.

And we should shine that light out into the world with such force and radiance, that all the nations of the world, and particularly our enemies among them, should see the light, i.e., Hashem's light, as it shines through the Jewish people, and they should immediately do teshuva (repent) and be redeemed.

Powerful, huh?

I don't know if I said what I wanted to say. I don't know if you have even an inkling of what I'm feeling. But I hope so. I didn't want this blog to be just about frivolous things; a lot of why we're here isn't based on tangible reasons and I needed to say that.

Reading about 9/11 today made me really introspective, although this is stuff I've been mulling over for awhile.

So maybe now isn't the time to tell you that David took a 7 mile walk yesterday at 1:30 in the afternoon when it was 95 degrees out. He went with the husband of a woman in our ulpan class that we've gotten to be really close with (and had Shabbos lunch with this past week). Yeah, maybe next time I'll tell some more about that. It's almost midnight and ulpan starts early tomorrow morning. May you be blessed with all of Hashem's benevolence and may you know only shalom.

Friday, September 08, 2006

I haven't written all week.

Well, I quit at Yad Ezra VeShulamit. I went in yesterday just to show Bassya how to use the donor program I had downloaded and to hand in my key (which is still on my key chain... someday I may start remembering things again). Tefilla had spoken to me about working it out for me to work from home, but another woman came in to interview for my job while I was there, so I guess she figured she needed someone in the office, which I totally understand. I'll miss Bassya, though, we worked well together.

On the other hand, ulpan is going at lightning speed. Our class had voted to only have class Sunday through Thursday, but the administration vetoed that on Wednesday. So now Thursdays will be review days and we won't learn anything new. And we have 3 teachers! Sara teaches us on Yom Rishon, Yom Sheini, and Yom Shlishi; Tali teaches us on on Yom Revi'i; and someone else (we weren't there yesterday) teaches us on Yom Chamishi. Yom means day - you figure out the rest!

We're learning to write, and to say certain words in sentences. When we got on the bus in Yerushalayim yesterday, David asked the bus driver, "Comma?" which means "How much?" He was pretty proud of himself for being able to use something we had learned. Of course, you know David. He asked me after we sat down, "Do you think apostrophre or semi-colon would have been cheaper?" I guess you had to be there.

I can't believe I'm going to relate this, but you need a good laugh, right? David will never, ever let me live this down so I may as well tell you. He's milking it for all it's worth. We were at the Malcha Mall yesterday on our way to catch the train back home from Yerushalayim. We figured as long as we were taking the train, we'd eat at the Courisine Room for some good Chinese food (it was REALLY good). As we were walking through the mall, we started to turn a corner, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman walking towards us wearing EXACTLY the same outfit I had on. This was a bright blue matching top and skirt that I had bought last week at a store in Beit Shemesh to wear at Yad Ezra. I told David, "Quick, turn here! There's a woman wearing the same outfit I have on. This is so embarrassing!" We quickly turned the corner, although I looked back behind me to see if she was coming our way. She wasn't. Not only that, I didn't see her any where. That was really strange. I stopped and looked all around. Then we backtracked and went back around the corner. And what do you think we saw? A huge full-length mirror inside the last store on the corner.

People must have thought we'd gone mad; neither of us could stop laughing or catch our breath. Both of us had tears streaming down our faces from laughing so hard. David told me that I've done and said some pretty wierd things before, but this was by far the best. When we got on the train, he asked if the other lady would be joining us. This morning when I stood in front of the mirror, David said, "There's that woman again," making us both start laughing again. He is NEVER going to let this go. I know, it's not as funny to read it, but believe me, it was pretty funny.

Okay, let's get serious. We're eating out both meals for Shabbos. I just finished cleaning this entire apartment - it might be small but because of all the sand and building going on outside, the floors and surfaces get really dirty really fast. Gam ani (Also I) just took the challahs out of the oven that I'm taking to our buddy family's tonight (she requested them because she usually buys challahs). The only thing left to do is squeeze some lemons for fresh lemonade, with my citrus squeezer that we bought at the hardware store. I can't wait until it's orange season again so we can have fresh squeezed orange juice. Unfortunately it will probably make my acid reflux worse again. I sort of figured out that was what was causing my nausea this week. On Wednesday morning, I had to walk out of ulpan early and go home because it was so bad. I went down to see Dr. Dinner (yes, that's his real name - a great guy from South Africa) and we figured out that he hadn't given me a high enough dosage of the medicine he prescribed for me to replace the Nexium I had been on in the States (they don't sell Nexium here). So he upped the amount I take, and I've been feeling better. Baruch Hashem!

On Wednesday, my friend, Andrea, suggested I come to her for a treatment. She does something called cranial sacriol therapy. I thought I was going to get a good massage out of it, but I was mistaken. She had a massage table, but she just puts her hands on different parts of your body, not even with pressure, and it "opens up" something in your body that had previously been closed (I didn't quite get how it works). She would hold her hands in the same position for awhile, and she could actually FEEL it opening up. Apparently the white blood cells sense the presence of a foreign body and rush to that site, which makes it all happen. She kept saying, "There you go; good job" but it was my insides she was talking to, not me. Once while she was touching my lower leg, she asked if my teeth had hurt recently, and they had! I don't know how it works; I'll have to google it. All I do know is that it seemed to help a lot. Apparently it also helps with back and spine pain, ADD and all kinds of other ailments.

All right, the family we're eating by is taking in Shabbos early, which means in about an hour, so I'd better get going. If anyone is reading this, could you post a comment? I always wonder if anybody ever reads this, and if so, who.

Have a wonderful, restful, peaceful Shabbos!

Monday, September 04, 2006

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.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Shabbos is starting soon. David and I are staying home tonight, just the two of us. I made a thick beef and barley soup, which is in the oven staying warm, and some really delicious smelling challah. People told me that you have to experiment a lot with the challah here; that tried and true recipes don't work so well. So not true! My challahs have been turning out AWESOME since I started baking them here - perfect consistency and taste. Obviously not because of my cooking skills, but because this is such a holy place and Hashem blesses our efforts.

Tomorrow we're going to eat at Zvi and Toby's. They were the ones who made aliyah on our flight and shared a cab with us when we first got here. They live just up the hill a ways, also on Habesor but all the way up near the micholet. Really nice people.

So - about the job. In case you didn't hear that, I just heaved a very deep sigh. Talk about jumping from the pot into the fire! Are all not-for-profits the same? It's always "Hurry up; I need this yesterday." Plus I really DO need to know Hebrew because a lot of people who work in the Israeli side of the operations are constantly coming into our office for things. Plus my Microsoft Word and Excel programs on my computer there outwardly LOOK like they're in English, but don't let that fool you. All the pop-down menus are in Hebrew, and the spreadsheets go from right to left. Talk about confusing. The computer guy for the organization, Benyeahu (sp?) tells me he has an English version of Microsoft somewhere, but it will be about a week before he installs it. And don't even ask about the Donor Database system - there isn't one! My job, should I choose to accept (oh right, I already did...) is to find a system that works and is also compatible with the one used on the Israeli side, or get them to install an English version of theirs. They only solicit donations in Israel, while our department solicits only in chutz l'aretz: the US, Canada, England and Australia. Bassya, who's worked part time in the office for the past two months, is the office manager. I was hired to work full time (30 hours) to organize the office and make everything more effective, from the donor bookkeeping to the actual running of the office. Tefilla doesn't even want to be bothered with the how's; she just wants me to handle it. There aren't even any filing cabinets or even any files - Bassya has everything in page protectors in 2 ring notebooks. And there are no trash cans or staplers or paper clips or anything that would classify the room we work in as an actual office - except for the computers on our desks.

There are three desks - one for Bassya, one for me (mine is more of a table, actually), and one for one of the fundraisers, Joel. A woman called me today who I had spoken with about 3 weeks ago about mahj, and asked if I wanted to play tomorrow (Shabbos day). Duhhh! Of course I do! As we chatted for a few minutes, I discovered she had lived in St. Louis for a year in 1988, in the Newman's old house on Tulane Court and also that her husband is none other than Joel - the guy I haven't met yet who shares an office with me! He's in the states now fundraising for us. Our organization is actually called Yad Ezrz VeShulamit. Rav Lurie, who started the organization in 1998, named it after his parents, Ezra and Shulamit.

And the other fundraiser, who takes care of Canada, came in the office yesterday, and it turns out that he's an Aish guy from Toronto! I've seen his names in Aish emails. He lives right around the corner from us, next door to my best - oh, wait; I mean new - friend, Andrea (who's trying hard to get David employment at his company). What a small world, huh?

Okay, now we get to the heart of the whole job/working thing. I hate the bus ride! I get to the bus stop at 8:15 a.m. and it comes within 5 minutes. Okay, good so far. There's usually only one or two other people on already since I'm the second stop. Still okay. But then we make stop after stop, and oh - did I tell you there are speed bumps all around Ramat Beit Shemesh? And then you have all the traffic circles that the bus drivers try to see how fast they can whip the busses around without actually overturning it. By now my stomach is gurgling which is the prelude to the actual flip-flops. We finally make it out of RBS and hit highway 38. Then we stop. Because 38 is only 2 lanes and there are a lot of cars going in the same direction. We creep up 38, sometimes passing bulldozers and big trucks (they move to the right to let you pass), and after awhile we get to hwy 1 which takes us straight into Yerushalayim. Now I only know what I've told you because once I actually kept my eyes open and looked out the window, but that was probably the first time I took the bus about a month ago. Now I try to keep my eyes closed as much as possible. You would think it would be a relief when we get to the outskirts of Yerushalayim, near Givat Shaul, but again, you would be wrong. The first bus stop there is at the edge of town and a whole lot of people get off, probably to catch other busses. At least I don's have to do that. Then we don't stop again until we pass the Takanah Merkazit (central bus station) and go down a long road and then turn onto a road that you would never think the bus could even fit on, which of course it doesn't if there are any other cars parked on the side of the one-way street, which there always are. After 2 more bus stop on this street (we're in Geulah by this time), we turn left onto Yehezkel (the other way turns into Strauss and goes up to Yaffo), and I get off 2 block before it gets to Shmuel Hanavi and walk down the hill. The bus has already turned left, but I turn right and go a good 8-10 blocks and then turn onto Shimon Rokeach which is supposed to be a street and looks like an alley. Two more blocks and voila! I walk in the door of the office about 9:30 or 9:35 a.m. Woozy, but I've made it. And if I leave the office exactly at 3:30 pm, I get to the bus stop on the other side of Yehezkel on Shmuel Hanavi about 5-10 minutes before the bus comes. On the way home, it's much more crowded. By the time I get off it's just before 5 and I can't wait to walk home and collapse.

The really cool thing is walking around Geulah (a very hareidi - religious- neighborhood) with my backpack, and thinking, "I'm one of them now!".

But that bus ride thing is really going to get old fast. I told David that he'd better get a job quick, because I'm tired of supporting this family. Okay, so I've only worked 2 days so far, but I got paid because it was the end of the month and I bought all our Shabbos food with it and still had money for the cab home!

So much more to say, but it's almost candle-lighting!