What a week! What a month! What a year!
Sukkot has been AWESOME. David took off the whole week, so we had lots of time to do things. Let's see; where to start?
First night. There were twelve of us in our sukkah. The chili turned out to be just a little too spicy for some of our guests, but I thought David did a great job. (Which is a good thing because there was so much we ate it for many days after...) Our sukkah was in front of our house and right underneath the metal stairs of our upstairs neighbors. They had family staying with them for the chag (holiday) and all we heard were the clump, clump, clump and bang, bang, bang of people going up and down the stairs, plus all the kids screaming and crying. It was a little disconcerting but not enough to ruin the evening. Actually, when we stood outside and saw all the sukkahs up and down the street, some up on balconies, some in the yards and even some in the driveways, it was a pretty satisfying sight. There's just no way to describe how wonderful it is to live among ALL JEWS and hear everyone celebrating every Yom Tov and Shabbat together. What a blessing! When one of the families we invited started singing, we were transfixed; the entire family has beautiful voices. I hope our neighbors enjoyed the serenade as much as we did!
The next day we went down to Penina and Pinchas', along with Rachel and her family, and Miriam and Shaya. Their minhag is to have a Thanksgiving meal in the sukkah instead of celebrating it in November, so we had turkey with all the fixings. The day turned out to be really hot, plus their dude (hot water heater) was leaking all over the sukkah, so it was -- interesting. But it's always more fun when it's interesting! There's no such thing as boring in Eretz Yisrael! After lunch we decided that it would be a little more comfortable to play mah jongg inside (although truth be told - anywhere you set up a mah jongg game is comfortable!).
The following day was no longer a Yom Tov for us, as opposed to all of you out there in chutz l'aretz, and we could relax and not have to eat two more huge meals. Of course it was erev Shabbat, so I still spent most of the day in the kitchen cleaning and cooking. We had Nava and Yaakov and their twins for dinner, along with Miriam and Shaya. Those boys are a handful! I admire Nava for her courage; she met her husband after making aliyah at age 50 and it was a first marriage for both and they wanted kids. So here they are at 55 and 58 with
two very active and cute four-year-olds. And yet, all evening I kept thinking, Baruch Hashem it's her and not me! It was nice getting to know them better; I'm hoping we see more of each other.
For Shabbos lunch we ate at Dov and Lisa's, our friends formerly from St. Louis. Their sukkah was HUGE. They had another young couple over as well; he's an attorney formerly from the states and she's originally from France but moved to Israel with her family when she was twelve. It's so interesting to meet new people and hear their stories. We ended up staying until very late in the afternoon so instead of heading over to Penina's to play mahj, I just went home to see what Emma was up to.
On Sunday we decided to head into Ramat Beit Shemesh, at least to start. There is a very slight possibility that Intel could send David to England for some training (very slight) and he has yet to get his Israeli passport. We know where the misrad hapanim is in Beit Shemesh and thought we could go there first and then visit some friends. Silly us! If you live(d) in Israel you'd know the fallacy of that thinking. Government offices aren't open during Chol Hamoed! They're not even always open during posted hours if they don't feel like it! So after getting stuck in lots of traffic to get there and finding the office closed, we went to visit our friends, Ellen and Kalmon. I've seen Ellen a few times since we've moved, but David hasn't seen Kalmon. They were both home and we sat and visited for about an hour. It was so nice to see old friends! I miss living there!
After we left we decided to call Yocheved and Chanoch who we also haven't seen since moving to Kochav Yaakov. Yitzy, the baby, got so big! The whole family sat out in the sukkah with us, and even Yocheved's father, Stan, came over for awhile. It's always nice to be with friends who "knew you when." If you haven't read my previous posts, they made aliyah from St. Louis three summers ago, so we know a lot of the same people.
After leaving there, David was ready to call it a day. Except -- we drove up hwy 38 after leaving RBS and then turned onto a very narrow road (it was actually labelled a highway on the map) which turned out to be a beautiful, scenic route back home. Some parts of the road were so narrow that when a car came from the opposite direction we all had to slow down as we passed. The road twisted and turned around gorgeous, green hills, and the surrounding hills and valleys were just spectacular. We even passed a stables where a lot of frum people were waiting to go horsebackriding! I love going off the beaten track to go exploring. Someday I'd like to take that road again, but check out some of the historical sites along the way.
The next day I wrongly assumed David would want to stay home and putter around his office. Instead we drove down to Gush Etzion to deliver a wedding present to Eliezer and Sarah Rose whose wedding we had attended in June. We had to drive through Yerushalayim which was a traffic nightmare - everyone and their uncle was driving through town. The exciting part was that we (okay, David) knew which alternate roads to take as the city is becoming more familiar to us (yes, me too!). Of course, since pretty much all the roads were full of cars, it was still slow going. When we finally got south of the city, we were again awed by the beauty of the hills and forests and communities on top of the hills. We were enchanted by the young couple's caravan (Israeli term for trailer) in their yeshivashe yishuv and by their obvious happiness. They gave us some ideas of places to visit (a winery, a cave, the Path of the Patriarchs), but since it was mid-afternoon by this time we decided to try out the dairy restaurant nearby.
Picture this: you are in the middle of nowhere. There's a dirt road with a sign pointing the way to the restaurant. You drive down the dirt road, twisting around curves, passing a few people here and there having picnics. All of a sudden you come around a curve and see the building - with about 100 cars parked out front! There's a huge sukkah which looked pretty crowded. The restaurant overlooks a gorgeous mountain view; you can see the entire city of Beitar a few hills over. But then you walk up the stairs and the maitre d' asks if you have a reservation. A reservation? But we're in the middle of nowhere! There's a couple in front of us who also don't have a reservation and they take it upon themselves to tell the maitre d' that we'll share a table if need be. It seems that Hadar and Moshe made aliyah from Chicago 36 years previously. We end up sitting together and it's quite an experience - Hadar is a very tell-it-like-it-is in-your-face kind of person and Moshe is a saint. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience!
That ended our tiyul (outing) for the day. Poor Emma didn't like staying at home all by her lonesome, but David and I definitely enjoyed spending time together and sightseeing some beautiful areas of our new country.
The next night we had guests again in our sukkah. Although it's nice not to have two days of Yom Tov like we did in chutz l'aretz, it's kind of sad to spend so much time putting our sukkah together and then not having so many guests to share it with. Unlike just about everyone else on the yishuv, we don't sleep in ours. We did, of course, eat our meals in there and even kept a cushy chair for our princess to lounge in while we ate. Other than that, Emma wasn't allowed in the sukkah. She seems to think that the rocky area in our front yard is her own private litter box and we decided it was time to disavow her of that notion.
So that brings us up to our last day of Yom Tov, which was last night and today, our combination Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. After David went to Chabad last night, I walked down to Lisa's, and she and I and Chanita "shul-hopped." For those of you who don't know, Simchat Torah, along with Purim, are the two "fun" holidays of the year. Both at night and again the next day there are seven hakafot (basically, pleas to Hashem to listen to us and grant us blessings). The men dance with the Torahs around the shul before the Torah reading; depending on whatever criteria the rabbi has for the length of each hakafot, it can go on for hours. Fathers carry their children on their shoulders, and many of the children carry stuffed or arts-and-craftsy Torahs that they made in school. It's a big party atmosphere.
The first place we went was the Ashkenasi shul which I've been wanting to go to since we got here. It's where we would normally be davening if the place was bigger. Unfortunately, the shul is in a bomb shelter and it's wall-to-wall people. I was pleasantly surprised at all the women (maybe four or five) that I knew there and it was nice to be able to talk to people. By the time we got there they were already on the sixth hakafot and I thought we should make a beeline for Chabad where our husbands were. But Lisa wanted to stop somewhere else first. I'm not sure what kind of shul this second one was, but it was actually a shul that a Rav built onto his house. There were well over hundred people gathered in the cul-de-sac outside the shul. Men were singing and dancing on one side of the mechitza (divider) while girls were dancing on the other. Lisa introduced me to the Rebbetzin and some of the other women but we didn't stay too long before heading over to Chabad.
We needn't have hurried. It seemed they had stopped in the middle of davening to have a kiddush - which included a few bottles of vodka. When they finally started the hakafot all the other shuls had finished long before. Penina was hosting 17 seminary girls (her daughter's seminary) at their house for 3 days and we joined the girls in dancing outside. I left before the davening was over so I could heat up our dinner. By the time David got home, his knee was really hurting. Every time he had tried to sit down during the dancing someone would grab him and make him continue. They didn't understand that his knee is still recuperating. The walk home was really hard for him, but the little bit of vodka he'd drunk probably helped alleviate the pain somewhat.
I hadn't really cooked us much for lunch today so I made a pot of bean soup before heading to shul this morning. David thought yizkor would be around 11 so I was hurrying to daven up to Torah reading and finish my cooking. On my way to Chabad at a few minutes before 11 I passed neighbors who were already coming home from the Ashkenasi shul. When I got to Chabad they were just sitting down to a kiddush lunch: gefilte fish, salads and cholent. They didn't even go back in to start the hakafot until 12:30! After the hakafot was the Torah reading and on Simchat Torah every male in shul over bar mitzvah age gets an aliyah. After all that is yizkor. I made two new friends with English speaking women and stayed until almost two when I finally went home. Before Yom Tov I had told Rachel to come by this afternoon and we'd get Miriam to come play mahj with us, so I wanted to get home before she got there. Thank G-d I did because she knocked on the door five minutes after I got home. She laughed when she saw that not only hadn't we eaten lunch yet but that David probably wouldn't even be home for at least another hour. Instead of playing we just sat and talked. Finally I had to finish davening so she left. David didn't get home until 4:30 this afternoon! He was exhausted and in quite a bit of pain. They had davened mincha before going home and he had told the rabbi not to expect him back for maariv. We enjoyed our soup and chicken shnitzel in the little time before Yom Tov ended.
So that's been our past week. Tomorrow, of course, I'll be cooking for Shabbat. We're home by ourselves tomorrow night and then we have company for lunch. When we first moved to Kochav Yaakov in June a few people invited us for Shabbat, but now the only time we're with other people is when we invite them. I don't mind at all but we've decided that the time has come to really start cutting back on our expenses. We've been like kids in a candy shop the past year and that has to come to an end; the money just isn't there any more.
It's getting late and I'm having trouble focusing, but there are so many spiritual things that have been happening lately that I want to share. Right now it's too hard to put it into words; I'm going to have to give it some thought so I can say it in a way that will make it understandable. Probably won't get back to this until after Shabbat. Until then!