I've been editing pictures for the past hour so I can put some in this post. David uploaded pictures of Emma that we've had in the camera for awhile, along with the pics I took this week at the retreat, and from the sheva brachot we attended last night. I may have to put them in separate blogs; when I've tried to download pictures to posts in the past it kept putting them at the top instead of where I was typing. We'll see what happens.
So - on to the Dead Sea. What a week! There were about 500 frum women at the retreat from 3 or 4 different groups. We had about 45 in our English speaking group, the OU had about 35, and most of the Jerusalem women were very hareidi (religious) Hebrew speakers (although there were some English speakers in the bunch). There were separate Hebrew and English programs, but you could go to any you wanted or none at all - the whole point was to relax and do whatever you wanted to. We had the entire (5 star) hotel to ourselves. Many of the women wore their robes the entire time.
When we left on Sunday, it was pouring rain both in Ramat Beit Shemesh and in Yerushalayim. The hasa'a (van) that was picking up the ladies here in RBS was only making 2 stops, and thankfully one of them was just around the corner. I tried to cover my suitcase with a large trash bag which was a great idea - except that when I rolled it down the sidewalk the wheels of the suitcase kept getting caught on the trash bag even though I had ripped the bottom open. I only knew one other person; she'd been in ulpan class and had quit way before I did. But I started speaking with the woman in the front seat, and when we got to Yerushalayim and got on the bus, we sat together and chatted. That was Devorah #1.
I had remembered to take my ginger pill (the only one all week...) so the trip wasn't so bad. It was less than 2 hours and we actually had a hefseka (break) partway there at a tourist stop we could buy nosh and make. In case you think I left out a word, I didn't. In the frum world there are certain ways of saying certain things. Going potty is "making". You might ask, "Making what?" I leave that to your own common sense.
So we arrived around 2. Most of us had rooms waiting for us; there was the usual mix-ups for others who didn't get rooms right away. When my roommate and I met (Devorah #2) we instantly hit it off and spent much of the next 4 days together. Even though it wasn't raining, it was a bit chilly and much too cold to go into the Yam Hamelech (literally - Salt Sea) or even the "heated" (ha ha) gorgeous outdoor pool. But we jumped into our swim suits and headed down to the -2 floor where there were two jacuzzis, a pool with Dead Sea water (so salty you just float), two sauna rooms (one dry and one steam), and a larger warm water pool that I didn't figure out until the 2nd day was a really large hot tub with jets of water coming out from the sides at different levels to work on which ever part of your body needed the jet massage: feet, calves, upper legs, tush, lower back or upper back. We all got a coupon for the sulphur pool. It was full of minerals to help skin conditions or joints or muscles. You stay in no longer than 15 minutes then get out and lie on a cot where they cover you up with a cottony sheet for another 15 minutes so your body can absorb the minerals. And then there was the myriad of treatments you can pay for: all manner of massages, mud baths, facials, peels, manicures, pedicures and more. My only gripe was that there was a price list for all the treatments listed in English sitting on the desk where you make the appointments and in every room. On the second day I signed up for a 40 minute medical massage. It was a little pricey but I thought it would be worth the money. Later I asked someone else if she had tipped the masseuse (I never know what to do) and she said no, not even for the reduced rate she got. I asked, "What reduced rate?" It turned out that posted by all the elevators were signs with reduced rates for all the services - in Ivrit.
Kay and Shirley, two acquaintances of mine from the "Maor Singles" in RBS (5 of them went separately in their own car) went with me to duke it out with the manager of the spa. It really wasn't fair that the reduced rates weren't listed in English for the 1/4 of us who only spoke English. And why wouldn't they simply have listed it on the regular price listwritten in English? You can guess what happened - ever have the experience of arguing with an Israeli? You don't win. Kay and Shirley are both pretty assertive women, but - I had ordered a 40 minute massage and got a 40 minute massage so that's what I had to pay for. In the end I gave up; it was a good massage after all. Someday when I argue with an Israeli, I intend to win - it just may take 20 years to learn the language first!
The best part about the retreat, besides meeting so many phenomenal women and having two unbelievable buffet meals every day, was the writing workshop on day 2. Leah, the woman who was leading it, writes for Mishpacha Women's Magazine and the newspaper, Hamodia. She's also just accepted to be the Feature Editor of a new magazine for frum women named Binah. She was phenomenal! Our hour and a half workshop turned into 3 hours and she was gracious enough to meet with us the following day for another 2-3 hours. She had given us writing assignments and we all read aloud what we'd written. It was so fun. One assignment had been to write a childhood scene. When I read mine, everyone actually applauded! Wow, did that feel good! Then she had us all go to different tables (we were in the coffee bar) and spend ten minutes writing something with the sentence "There was total silence". Do you know how long it's been since I wrote something with pen and paper instead of on a computer? I was writing furiously when I realized they were calling my name and everyone else had already returned to the group. I was the only one who wrote about an actual event; everyone else wrote either feelings or fiction. I had written about a terrifying event that had happened just after my first husband and I separated, when I had made incomplete plans for my older child after school one day. He was only in kindergarten and even though I had asked a neighbor on the other side of the neighborhood to watch him, we had neglected to think of the logistics of how he would get there. He ended up going home to a locked house, in the winter when it was dark and cold, and stood outside calling, "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Where are you?" for half an hour before a classmate across the street remembered where he sometimes went and his mother called the babysitter. It had been traumatic for me when I realized how abandoned he must have felt, and reading it to the others I began crying, which actually made some of the others cry, too (any men out there can stop reading now - and you too, Shifra - this is touchy feely stuff). Leah commented that it took courage for me to read it aloud, and I realized that it was something that I've needed to put into writing for a long time.
I rarely write anything here about my boys - on purpose. Too many things going on there. Too personal. But this workshop opened up for me the possibilities of what writing could mean to me. Leah has a class on Tuesday mornings in Har Nof that I plan to go to; I'm really looking forward to it.
On the last night, there was a program for the English speakers that was pretty phenomenal. Earlier in the day there had been a shiur on challenges (which those of us in the writing workshop missed), and this was somewhat of a continuation of it. Three different women who had 3 different challenges in their lives spoke about the challenge and how they dealt with us. The first spoke about a growth that had been found in her brain 9 years ago, and all the hashgacha pratis (Divine intervention) that had occurred before, during and after the surgery. The 2nd woman developed breast cancer at the age of 36, just after she'd been divorced. She was in Israel without any family whatsoever. Then the 3rd woman spoke. She was so upbeat and smiley, and by the end, several people were sobbing and there wasn't a dry eye in the room. This woman has 5 children: 2 are dyslexic and 2 are severely autistic. Her oldest, the "normal" one suffered from lack of attention and turned to drugs, went off the derech (Torah path) and ended up in jail for a year. He's doing better now. Her advice to us was, "Hug your boys every single day! If they don't let you hug them from the front, stand behind them and hug them." The things these women went through, their unwavering faith in Hashem, their courage in dealing with their challenges, was so inspiring. It was so hard to come home!
Okay, it won't let me upload the pictures; they're too big. I'll have to make them all smaller tomorrow; I have to get to bed now. I still have to write about the sheva brachot!