Sunday, August 26, 2007

Shabbos was so nice this week (and last week, and the week before...). Miryam called me Friday morning to say she'd just found out that our street was having a "block party" for Seudat Shlishli (the third meal of Shabbat), and that I needed to contribute some salads and a dessert. Oh, wait - let me start with Friday night.

David and I went to the Ashkenasi shul's rabbi's house. We'd been there a few weeks ago. The rabbi used to be the chavruso of someone we knew from St. Louis, and he and his wife and father-in-law (and married son, daughter-in-law and grandson who live in Beitar) were staying here in Kochav Yaakov with them for Shabbat, so they invited us as well. It was a great time; Mordechai and Jonathan go way back and had a lot of private jokes. We really like the rabbi's wife, Chanie, and it was great to see Jonathan's wife, Chanie, and her father, Perry, as well. David walked over the next morning to take Perry to Chabad; they used to daven together in St. Louis.

Our friends, Howard and Lisa, came with their kids for lunch, so Emma had a great time. She loves to lick Hudi and Chanita all over and run around with them in the yard. Miryam and Shaya came also. Unfortunately, it was in the mid-nineties and HOT. We had all the fans going at full speed and I froze a lot of ice before Shabbat. I made a fruit soup which I don't normally do, but it was kind of refreshing on a hot day. I also did something I'd seen Ellen do in Ramat Beit Shemesh; instead of cholent, I bought a huge rolled roast (I have no idea what it was other than a #17) and cooked it in the crock pot with just onions, garlic and onion soup mix. The smell Friday night and Shabbat morning was heavenly!

Around 5:15 PM David took two of our folding tables up to the street and I followed with potato salad, crunchy cole slaw, homemade chocolate chip cookies, and a few other odds and ends from lunch. Just about everyone on the street came. David went and got Shaya and Miryam's new puppy, Coco (not the same one from RBS) to play in the yard with Emma. A lot of the kids congregated in front of our fence to watch the dogs play. Everyone put their food on a couple of tables and then everyone just helped themselves. I met a new friend who lives a few doors down and across the street. Her name is Ilanit and she's a speech therapist. Her English is only slightly better than my Ivrit. She says she wants to have us for Shabbat, but the rule is that conversation will be in Ivrit and that they'll help us. I was hoping to meet someone like Ilanit! Professor Bashari and his wife kind of organized the whole block party, and he spoke at the beginning - in Ivrit, of course. Then he introduced us as the new kids on the block, and David told a little about us which the professor translated for everyone (unfortunately he didn't translate anything anyone else said for us!). Several people gave dvrei Torah (we just sat and smiled). Professor Bashari apparently has an extensive wine collection and was going from table to table pouring drinks for everyone. When the men all gathered under a street light to daven maariv, Miryam and I went over to sit with Leah, Nava and Julia - the other three English speakers on our street. After davening, someone did havdalah for all of us, and then we all gathered up our stuff and headed home. It was so nice; the feeling on the yishuv is that all of us - the French, Israeli, South Americans, North Americans, English - are one. The yishuv really promotes that feeling of אחדות (unity). I have to admit that I miss how easy it was in Ramat Beit Shemesh, like being able to know what was going on at all the shuls and in the neighborhoods because it was in English. It's so hard not to be able to read our mail or know what's going on. Miryam, Shaya and we were talking about hiring a private ulpan teacher for the four of us and anyone else on the yishuv who needs it. Otherwise, the ulpan is in Yerushalayim, and none of us have any time to go there on a regular basis.

Last Wednesday I got to go somewhere sooooo fun! A friend took me to Rimonim, which is a another yishuv close by. We took the road towards Beit El, but turned to the right almost immediately (from the entrance to the hill leading up to Kochav Yaakov). Then we just drove through the most beautiful countryside you could ever imagine. Everything was stark; we drove around desert hills on a nice highway - I can't even describe the beauty to you. Next time I'll bring my camera. It was a little disconcerting to see white and green license plates on the road with us, especially when there weren't so many vehicles on the road. My friend pointed out that there are many Arab villages and beduoin tent cities in this part of the "Shtakim" (territories), and there was at least one sign commemorating the site where a settler was murdered by Arabs.

Okay, but now the good part. We got to Rimonim in about 15 minutes. They had the most beautiful, refreshing swimming pool! It's the first time this summer I've had a chance to go swimming. There are different hours for men, women, and mixed swimming. We were practically the only women there for the first hour or so. The pool was HUGE and clean and sparkling, and the view from the hill was spectacular. There was a covered children's pool, and all kinds of other recreational activities. It's probably best not to mention that I could barely swim one lap before I thought I would drown, but I did built up my endurance somewhat while I was there. While my friend swam lap after lap (show off!) I did all the water aerobics I could remember from about 20 years ago when I took a class. And I only sat out in the sun for a total of 15 minutes but of course it was enough that I got a slight burn. The Israeli sun is like no other place in the world, and being on the top of a gorgeous hill - the feeling of closeness to Hashem is just overwhelming. Lately I've been stressing over the problems of family members back in chutz l'aretz, but lying out there in the sun and feeling Hashem's warmth enveloping me, all I could do was say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you" over and over. I am so blessed. I just can't believe that He's showered me with so much abundance. So maybe air conditioning would be nice, but I sure wouldn't trade it for living here. Not that I would ever, ever give up living here (b'li neder), unless it could, in some way, help my sons and nieces and nephews be happy, healthy and productive. But that's all in Hashem's hands as well.

David will be home from work any minute. I'd better go get supper going.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

These are my kiddies! That's Charles (2) and Zoe (6) in the top pictures, and the bottom one is me with my sons, Nathan (l) and Jared (r). Charles and Zoe belong to Jared. If you want to know the truth, Zoe really belongs to me. When I went to see them on my trip to the states, Zoe wouldn't stop hugging me before I left. She told me, "I miss you, Nana." She knows how to tug on the heartstrings! It was so hard to leave her again. At least I got to see them twice; Nathan and I drove down to see them once each of the two weeks I was there. Jared lives about three hours outside of St. Louis. On the last visit we went to Petco to see all the animals (you name it -- kitties, rodents, snakes, lizards, spiders, birds and fish) and then to Wal-Mart where we got all of Zoe's school supplies and even a dress to wear on her first day of first grade. Then the kids went swimming in their nice-sized wading pool. It was a hundred degrees; I pulled up my skirt a little and got in with them.

The whole time I was in St. Louis the temps hovered around 100 degrees. Nathan's car had no air conditioning, but the friends I was staying by let me use their car -- which used to be my car; they bought it from me a few years back. Sweet! They didn't want Nathan driving it, though, and his car wasn't in the best shape for long distance driving (especially in the heat), so we rented a car the second time we went to see Jared's family. Unfortunately, the rental company called late in the afternoon to see how the car was working out for us. I say unfortunately because they used the number I had given when I registered online for their rental club, which was our St. Louis number that rings at our home in Israel. Which is eight hours ahead of St. Louis time. Which woke David up from a sound sleep when he had to run to the salon in the dark to answer it. Which didn't make him happy.

It wouldn't have been so bad if that had been the only time it happened. On one of the nights I was in St. Louis, I went with my friend, Lori, to the Muny Opera to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Someone had given her great tickets. I normally don't like musicals (strange, huh?) but it was a great performance, even in the heat. I kept thinking I couldn't forget to call David. I was calling him twice a day while I was in the states so he could share in what I was doing; noon (8 PM his time) and 10 PM (6 AM the next day his time). I called him before the show started, at 8, thinking that was the regular time, and when he answered I immediately started raving about how we got to park right in front of the Muny in the guarantor's lot and how we had box seats and how much fun it was. He finally interrupted me sleepily and asked, "Do you realize it's 4:00 in the morning?" Stunned, I realized what I'd done. "Oh," I said sheepishly. "Never mind."

The flight to St. Louis was pretty uneventful. I had an aisle seat at the end of a section which I had thought would be good because the שירותים (bathrooms) were right behind my seat and I could stand comfortably behind my seat when my tush got tired of sitting, but it seemed the seats in that particular row didn't tilt back except for an inch or two. I knew I had to sleep on the flight because I would be getting into St. Louis (with a quick stop in Atlanta) at 8:05 in the morning. So when they offered wine with the first meal, I drank it along with a couple of Benedryls. Normally I don't sleep at all on planes, but I think I that might have done the trick. I slept about five hours off and on on the 12 1/2 hour flight, which felt great.

The fun thing about the flight was that the plane had state-of-the-art video equipment. On the back of every seat is a personal video screen for the seat behind. It was a touch screen, and the options were tv shows, movies, HBO ($2 a show), music or games. Each one of those options had many, many choices. There were at least 20 different movies on the movie channel, and you could start each one whenever you wanted. You could even pause it. The music station had at least three or four choices in each genre. I fell asleep with slow jazz playing in my headphones.

The big event while I was there was Malky's bat mitzvah. This was a bat mitzvah celebration unparalleled in modern history. It began on Thursday night and ended on Monday morning for all the out of town guests. Malky's parents are Albert, my officer manager at Aish who I worked with for ten years, and Shifra, one of my "best" friends and mahj partner for ten years. Malky is a special girl who makes friends wherever she goes. She told her parents that she wanted ALL her friends at her celebration, and they were happy to comply. You see, as Albert said (what Shifra wrote) on the video they played on Sunday morning, they were told when they adopted their daughter over eleven years ago that Malky had "special needs." What no one knew at the time was how much Malky would flourish with such "special" parents; that the nurturing and love and attention she received from them would truly make her special. Malky knows what a stranger is; she's just never met one. Everyone who's come into her life, from her teachers and aides and classmates to the firemen at the fire stations her Doda Lynda takes her to, to the people who work at the Jewish Community Center, to the many clerks at the mall she visits regularly - is a friend for life. Approximately 200 people came to Malky's kiddush and twice that number came to her carnival celebration the following morning at a downtown hotel. It's equally a tribute to Albert and Shifra as it was to Malky that so many people wanted to be a part of the celebration. I was grateful that I could be there.

(The secondary benefit was that I could see so many people that I wanted to see all at once!)

The third best thing about going "back" to the states (first being seeing my sons/grandchildren and second participating in the bat mitzvah) is that I got to PLAY MAH JONGG WITH MY GROUP. It was so nice for the four of us - Shifra, Lynda, Barb and myself - to play together again. Barb could only play one night the first week because she had to get her father home to South Dakota, but the other three of us played again the second week and the last Shabbos afternoon I was there. It felt so comfortable - and comforting.

The really wierd thing about going back was that it sometimes seemed the previous twelve months hadn't occurred; that I was simply in a time warp where I went to bed one night and when I woke up the next morning all the kids in the community got a whole lot older and bigger! Plus new houses and buildings that were being constructed when I left were suddenly finished. So it was kind of like being in the Twilight Zone, you know? Also, I fit in - but I didn't quite fit in. I just really, really want all my family and friends to move to Israel! That would be really, really cool! Really!

David passed his driving test this morning and he'll get his license within a week. Yea! The process for getting it is so long and drawn out. Hopefully they'll call me soon so I can have my test. It took all of ten minutes, if that long, David said. Oh, I have a great picture I want to post. After I end this post, I'll just add a lot of pictures. I figured out how to upload all the pictures in my camera to the computer (okay, fine - David told me how to do it).

Oh, but don't go away yet; I have to tell you one more story! This is really crazy. Late Sunday night, early Monday morning (2 AM), Emma started licking me and wagging her tail. I just thought, why does she want to go outside now? She never wants to go out in the middle of the night. I just rolled over and went back to sleep. I sort of felt her jump off the bed as I drifted back off. All of a sudden, there was screeching, the likes of which no one should ever have to hear. I thought something weighing 2 tons had fallen on her or else someone had an axe and was chasing her around the house. David and I both jumped out of bed and went running to the salon. David switched on a light, and we saw a cat hunched up against the patio door and Emma hysterically screeching (it's the only word I can think of to describe it) at her. David tried to grab the dog and the cat ran past us - and out the open front door!! Now I always check to make sure the front door's locked before I go to bed; I must have forgotten Sunday night. But for sure it wasn't ajar. That cat must have jumped on the door hand and opened the front door! David thinks it's the cat who used to live here. She had gotten in our trash can and there were chicken bones on the floor. It was pretty wierd. I'm surprised the upstairs neighbors didn't ask us about it the next morning; I thought the whole yishuv must have heard Emma. Baruch Hashem, she may be small but she's a great watch dog!

Okay, I think I can safely end this now. There's more I can say (isn't there always?) but it can wait until the next installation of A Mahjer Makes Aliyah and Has Wierd Experiences in the Holy Land. 'Nuff said.

I couldn't resist adding a few more pictures. The one just above I titled "It's a hard life." That's Emma taking a snooze with her daddy on a bed in the guest room. All that fresh air blowing in the window, I guess...
The picture in the middle is the view from the back end of our street (remember, we're the highest street in Kochav Yaakov) looking down the hill. You can see another settlement on the hilltop in the background (it's an Arab one, I believe). There are all kinds of settlements on top of all the surrounding hills.
And the top picture is looking down our street at the houses. Ours is on the left side, behind the 2nd car (not ours). You can barely see it, but there's a staircase from the second floor to the street. And at the far end of the street, if you look closely, there are apartment buildings in the distance. That's Telzion, which is also on our yishuv.
Maybe I'll post some more pictures tomorrow.