Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I had an interesting? strange? experience this afternoon. It shouldn't really have meant anything, after living in this country over a year already, but it was a first for me.

We live side by side with Arabs. To leave our yishuv and head to Yerushalayim, or pretty much anywhere, we share the road with inhabitants of many other settlements on all the various hilltops surrounding us. Some of those settlements are Jewish and some are Arab. The grocery store where Miryam and I shop once a week always has Arab shoppers, although they've gotten stricter about not letting in non-Israeli Arabs. Today I had a doctor appointment in Pisgat Ze'ev, the most northeastern suburb of Yerushalyim, and the first part of the city we drive into from our yishuv. Our kupat (HMO) has a large office there and it's the easiest place to make appointments.

Many physicians are located in the various kupat's clinics. One waits in a chair outside the specific doctor's office one is waiting to see and when a patient comes out, three or four people will try to rush in at once, knocking everyone else out of the way, in order to be next. Okay, that was a slight exaggeration. Actually, posted outside each office door is a schedule of appointments for that day, so people always politely ask each other what time their appointment is and wait very calmly until it's their turn. Hah! Gotcha on that one, too! Actually, the truth is somewhere in the middle of those two scenarios on any given day at any given office.

So today I was waiting to be seen for that once-a-year-unless-you're-pregnant really fun exam (NOT). You know, with the doctor who only sees female patients? when an Arab family came over and sat down next to me. I've never exactly been that close to a Semetic person who wasn't a Jew before.

The family consisted of a young couple with a toddler. They were both wearing jeans and stylish tennis shoes, although the wife, who sat down in the chair right next to me (we were elbow to elbow), had her head covered. The father sat across from us while he played with the baby. I literally didn't know what to think or do. My first impulse was to get up and move to another seat. But I didn't. I watched the Abba hold his son's hand and walk slowly with him across the room and back. Then he held him on his lap and bounced him while the child laughed. They looked like any normal, happy family. Then the baby, a beautiful child, turned towards me, smiled, and waved with his fingers opening and closing as babies do. I couldn't help but smile back at him. And I wondered, do his parents hate Jews? Will they teach this child to hate or to love? Will he grow up confused to be a citizen in a land that has a different G-d from the one he'll be taught is the true one? How old will he be when he learns about evil and terror and fear? Will he be part of it, or will he try to foster peace between his people and the other people they live among? Or will he be part of the majority who do nothing, who will live his life hoping he won't have to get involved?

I never met his parents' eyes. The door opened, and I went in to my appointment.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I can hardly believe it's the end of October - we have been Israelis for sixteen months already! Time has gone by so fast.

So far we've had one rainfall since May. It was actually a week or so ago. The rain didn't last very long, but it was a whopper of a storm. For several hours we had spectacular thunder and lightning; thank G-d Emma doesn't get scared, although she did seem a little nervous. My friend, Ellen, called from Ramat Beit Shemesh and said they were getting the same kind of weather. When the rain finally came, it only lasted about fifteen minutes and it came down really hard. We, of course, need the rain but the downside is that our entire yard - on all four sides of our house - is just dirt. Needless to say, we had to rinse Emma off in the sink after she went out. By the next morning, the mud had already dried to dirt, so we obviously didn't get enough water to make a difference. Hopefully it rained more up north where we need it the most.

So, we thought going to the dentist was being very responsible, but it's ending up costing us mucho kesef (am I allowed to mix Spanish with Hebrew?). David had to get three preventive fillings while I needed one, plus a crown that was put in just before we moved here has to be replaced. I am not happy with our dentist in St. Louis! And of course, we both needed a cleaning. Our new dentist, Dr. Mike, is from England but he's lived in Israel for a long time.

It was interesting taking the bus to his office in Rehavia. I never knew where it was before and it's so easy to get to on the #32. And I finally saw where the windmill is that you can see from the Jaffa Gate! We really love our new bus passes. I seem to be in Yerushalayim pretty often and it's so much fun to get on and off different busses. Sometimes I'll get on a different bus than I'm used to to get to a destination, and almost always it's a long, circuitous route. It's not so bad riding the city busses if I don't have to be somewhere at a certain time because I get to know different parts of the city. I just don't like the inter-city busses so much which is weird because they're supposedly more comfortable.

Lately I've been pondering the meaning of life. How often do we seem to do that? For me, it happens every time something changes in my life, or something happens to people in my life. After events leading up to what I wrote in my last blog, I've been spending a whole lot of time speaking with Hashem, probably more than I ever have in my life. Even though I know better, I've been trying to orchestrate mine and other's lives when I should have known better. WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL. I've said those words, I've even said it to others, but I don't think I really believed them until now. When people (we'll keep that term general) confide in me or tell me things that are wrong in their lives, all I do is try to fix it. Who do I think I am? Why do I think I know anything? All they're asking for is for someone to listen, to empathize, to say, "I hear you." 12-step programs have a pithy saying, "Let go and let G-d." Intellectually I know that, but I've never been able to do it. Now it's something I want to try to remember and make a conscious effort to do. I've seen Hashem's hand; I know that ultimately, He's the fixer - and He sure knows more about what's going on than I do!

So I daven. A lot. I'm lighting candles for forty days for my loved one while reciting a prayer and some tehillim. We donated money to a yeshiva so someone will daven for him at the kotel for forty days. It's all in Hashem's hands now. And I know that whatever happens, it's for the best because that's what He wants for us. And I trust Him.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I'm going to write in black today; it's that kind of day.

Since this isn't really a diary, and people read this blog (surprisingly) from points all around the world, there are times when I can't write what I really want to say. But there are things I NEED to say so I'm going to try without being specific.

Let me just say first that I, personally, am doing fine. Still grateful for all the many blessings I have in my life: a husband who loves me, a more than adequate place to live, an income, food to eat, clothes to wear, relatively good health, two sons, a sweet puppy, friends who care about me, extended family members who mean a lot to me, the miracle of being able to live in Eretz Yisrael - I could go on and on. Hashem has literally showered me with blessings.

But my heart is bleeding. For the past three days my body has felt weighted down with fear and sadness, and the tears keep flowing. I understand that there has to be suffering in this world; that Hashem gives us challenges to help us grow and make us stronger. But I feel so helpless! I'm 6000 miles away from someone I love who is so desperately, devastatingly in pain - and there's absolutely nothing I can do to help. This person doesn't understand that there's a Heavenly Father who cares about him, who wants him to make better choices, who's there to help if he just says, "Please help me." He's drowning, he's lost, and he doesn't know how to reach out. It's not my hand that can help him, as much as I want to. We are all so seemingly alone on this earth. Even with friends and family, ultimately the only relationship that has any meaning is the one we have with our Creator. And there are so many people out there who don't even know they have that lifeline, even some who scorn it. Please, Hashem, make a miracle! Show him how to ask for help. Help him make the right choice. Help him live.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Okay, I give up. Hashem is messing with my mind and doing a darn good job!

This afternoon I decided to take the bus into Pisgat Ze'ev and get some prescriptions refilled. I checked the bus schedule and saw that the #179, which only comes 2 or 3 times a day, was scheduled to come at 2:05. The #179 actually turns down the street where the pharmacy is (not that I would have had to walk very far if I'd taken the regular #143). I headed out and had already walked to the end of my street when I remembered that the pharmacy is closed in the afternoon and doesn't open again until 4. Since I didn't want to spend an hour and a half with nothing to do but shop (Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!) I came back home. "Okay," I thought. "Time to tackle the bathroom."

I took all the shampoos and soaps out of the bath tub and lathered it up with cleanser. Then I grabbed the shower hose, turned on the water, aimed and - nothing. Just a little trickle of water that petered out after a couple of seconds. I tried all the other faucets - nada. Then I called Miryam across the street and Nava two doors down; they have have water. Only I don't have water.

Okay, Hashem. Please stop chuckling and --

Wow! He listened to me! As I was writing I heard a voice from above calling, "Try it now." It was Shaya's voice and he was standing in the street by our water meter. Someone had apparently turned the water off on the meter. I had already been up there, with David on my cell telling me which lever to move, and I hadn't been able to budge it. It was nice of Shaya to come over and check on it for me. Guess that means I should go rinse out the tub sometime soon.

If I hurry now, I can catch the 15:35 bus (yes, that's absolutely right; we not only get to figure out kilograms instead of pounds, and meters instead of miles, but we have to figure out this whole 24 hour time thing - does Hashem have any idea what He's doing to me? Does anyone who knows me believe that I am in any way, shape or form math-oriented? As if trying to learn how to read, speak, write and understand an entirely new language isn't hard enough. And as long as we're on the subject - does anyone out there in cyberspace have any idea whatsoever how complicated SHMITTA is?! You can't even begin to comprehend all the plastic bags I have in my kitchen for peeled kadosh veggies. You can't just throw away even a tiny part of any vegetable - and eventually fruits and flowers and wine and oil and G-d knows what else - that's grown during shmitta; there are so many laws governing it, it's not even funny. And, anyway, let's just say it isn't even shmitta year {which, of course, it is} and it's just a regular day and you're in the grocery store and you want to buy something, and there's, like, a MILLION different hechsharim you have to decipher and know who holds by whom, and of course, that can change daily, so -- Did I get off the subject?) Hmmm. It looks like it's too late to catch the 3:35 bus...

Please don't think I'm being negative! You just have to know that when you get here (and you will), as awesome as it is, there are many challenges. Not problems, mind you - just challenges. We're definitely up to the challenge, else we would have been long gone. Okay, yes, we kvetch; it's in our nature (that's a very big collective "we"). The thing is, over here you see up front the difference between, let's say, buying something with the wrong hechsher and having to throw it away, and having your family go to the local pizza parlor and being blown up. BIG difference.

Guess what David and I did last week? We were spontaneous! Yep, we sure were. Are you as surprised as we were?

At 4:30 PM (okay, fine - at 16:30) my husband called me last Thursday and asked, "What are you doing? Hop on a bus and come meet me in town." My first inclination was to say no. I hadn't been feeling well, and it just seemed like a big deal to figure out when the next bus would arrive, check my clothes and snood to make sure I looked presentable, and then have to walk down to the bus stop. Plus David had committed to helping a friend take down his sukkah that night. When we hung up I realized that he sounded disappointed. And I thought, "Really, why not?"

So I called our friend, who immediately said when he heard my voice, "Oh, please tell David I don't need his help; I took the sukkah down already." Then I freshened up and got down to the bus stop in time for the 5:00 bus. When I called David he was very excited. We ended up meeting at the takanah merkazit (after he parked somewhere in Geula and took a bus) where we both purchased, for the first time, our chofshi chodishi, the monthly bus pass that will enable us to ride any Egged bus almost anywhere in the country. After four months of waiting for our ID cards, they finally came last week, so we were able to purchase the special bus pass. For only 147NIS a month, that's an unbelievable bargain.

With our new bus pass in hand, we headed down to Ben Yehuda where we ate dinner at - you guessed it - Cafe Rimon. But it was my husband's night, so we ate on the meat side. It turned out that because it was Rosh Chodesh (new Hebrew month), the restaurant did all kinds of special things. There was a four piece jazz band made up of some very young yeshiva bochurim (students) who were excellent. They also gave out roses to all the ladies, and there was free dessert (did they have to put coconut in the chocolate? Yuck!). We also spent the entire meal speaking with the guy who was sitting alone at the table next to ours. I wasn't even sure he was Jewish, but he apparently was, and was in town for his daughter's upcoming nuptials. He was from Montreal but had recently moved to Cancun, has 5 kids, 2 are frum and living in Yerushalayim, one of his ex-wives lives in the Old City and is Rumanian, and we learned about all his business ventures. He was actually very interesting and we enjoyed sharing our meal with him. There was just something about sitting outside under the stars with a nice breeze, fabulous food (delectable livers and mushrooms in wine sauce) and enjoyable company in the holy city of Yerushalayim that made the evening special.

After dinner we headed down to Geulah. I was surprised that David wanted to walk around, since his knee had been hurting since Simchat Torah. I shouldn't have been surprised when we ended up a furniture store where there just happened to be a shtender that my husband had been looking at for the last several months. It was the kind of adjustable shtender that you can use sitting or standing, and when sitting there's a place to rest your feet. Again, my first inclination was to say no because we're supposed to be cutting out all the gashmius (materialism) in our lives and because our income isn't sufficient for all the money we spend each month. But. I mean - BUT. This evening was for him and I needed to give a little, so I told the saleswoman we wanted it. It made David happy and I don't do that as often as I should. The hard part was carrying it to the car! We were blocks away and the shtender was too large to take on a bus, so we walked. Personally, I enjoyed the walk and loved seeing some of the side streets of Geulah I'd never seen before. It was probably too far for David to have walked with his knee as painful as it was, but I think it was worth it for him to have gotten that shtender.

Tomorrow we both have dentist appointments; first time since we moved here. Then I guess I'm staying in Yerushalayim (I'll take my Tehillim and head to the kotel) because I have another doctor appointment in Givat Shaul at 3:15. At least I'll be walking and I need the exercise, although with my new bus pass I can get on any bus I want for as long or as short a ride as I want, and can switch buses without having to pay anything. I can't wait!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

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!