Thursday, January 31, 2008

More snow pictures! Above is our street, with Telzion (apartments) in the distance.
Here's our house. Actually, we're the downstairs of the house; another family rents the upstairs. That's our car in the driveway with a bag of trash on the trunk. David walked it down to the dumpster at the end of the street.
We walked down to the end of the street this morning to get a good look. We could see that the highway was clear. Yea! We can go to Beit Shemesh for Shabbat tomorrow. It's in the 30's today and everything seems to be melting and slushy. We just don't know how the hill will be going down to highway 60. Hopefully the sun will stay out all day.
Emma LOVED the snow today. She practically runs on top of it because she's so light.
This is looking down our street from the very end. That's not our white car on the left, but you can see our house just behind it (the one with the stairs).
This is another view looking down at the rest of the yishuv from the end of our street. Remember, we're the highest street (of houses) in Kochav Yaakov. There are caravans (trailers) higher up on the hill.

Okay, now I can finish cleaning the house and packing. Hot mahj game in two hours!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It's later the same day - what a day! Emma wasn't sure what to do in the snow this morning. She walked around gingerly, shivering. Another dog had apparently been in our yard (huge paw prints everywhere) so Emma had check those out. Whenever she was standing still, she held one back paw up in the air so it wouldn't have to touch the snow. At around 11, Miryam called to see what we were doing. The electricity had been off for awhile by then. I was actually having a lot of fun reading about my 11th grade angst, but David said to invite them over. He actually went out and shoveled a path up our steps, across the street, and up Shaya and Miryam's steps to their front door. They were pretty surprised when they stepped out and had a clear path to our front door!

Their house doesn't get as much light as ours because it's an attached house (duplex), plus it seems to stay colder than ours. Baruch Hashem we could light our gas stove with matches, so we had hot tea. The four of us played mahj jongg for awhile, then I heated up the chili I had made yesterday - what a great lunch on a day like today! The sun actually came out for a little while and the electricity came back on around 1. After lunch we played Hearts, and the guys beat the girls pretty soundly. They left around 2:30, but we all agreed that it was a fun way to spend a cold, snowy afternoon.

David just read the news online and he said that highway 60, the road leading up to our yishuv (and many others, including Beit El) is closed to traffic because of the snow! Parts of it had up to 8 inches, and the road winds around a lot of hills. And we're only halfway through the snowstorm - they're predicting that by the end of tomorrow (Thursday) we're going to have twice as much as we have now. Our chances of getting to Beit Shemesh on Friday are looking more grim by the moment.

David's team leader at work just called to tell him not to come in again tomorrow. Sounds good except that he probably has to take two days of vacation for these snow days and he only gets ten for the whole year (which has to include chol hamoed). David really has needed this time off, though, so he's not unhappy. It's almost 5 and so far the electricity has stayed on, but I'm sure it will be off most of this evening. We're all bundled in layers of clothing, and Emma has burrowed under her blankie on the bed in the guest room (where my computer is). I sure hope it doesn't get too cold tonight!

We're living in a winter wonderland! Snow, snow, everywhere is snow. And it's still coming down!

What's so special about snow you may be asking? Because it's not a usual occurrence around these here parts. The weather forecasters here are much more accurate than in the states - the country's been preparing for this since Sunday and it really happened!

Yesterday (Tuesday) it poured all day, but more than that, the winds were unbelievable. By the middle of the afternoon the rain had slowed down to just drizzles here and there (badly needed in this country), but by 4:30 they started again. Thank G-d David got home from work about 5:30 p.m. According to the news, the snow started in Yerushalayim at about 9, but here in Kochav Yaakov the first flakes started around 10:30. Our electricity went out several times last night, so I did some reading by candle-light, and we had flashlights by our sides. When David's alarm went off this morning, I told him it had started snowing before he went to bed, so he just turned off the alarm and stayed in bed. There isn't any way to get off the hill where our yishuv is located - no way are any salt trucks coming around here; we're pretty much off the beaten track. I'm just wondering if the yishuv has some sort of truck to clear off the streets here in the yishuv.

It's supposed to continue snowing today AND tomorrow, which doesn't bode well for us going to Beit Shemesh for Shabbat. My friend, Peggy, is coming from Connecticut (landing today!) with her husband, Avi, for Avi's son's wedding. This weekend is the aufruf. Emma is staying here with Penina's family, and we're staying with a friend's parents in Beit Shemesh - if we can get there!

Last night I was reading my 10th grade diary by candle-light and reading some things out loud to David. It was so funny! For instance, I was so excited one night when I made $3.75 babysitting; I thought I was rich! I said such (secular) teen-aged things. Here's what I wrote for September 29, 1971:

Howdy. No school today - it's Yom Kippur. I fasted all day and all last night. I even lost two pounds! (But I probably gained it back at dinner.) It was hot today. Didn't seem like the end of September. We got up at 8:45 this morning and went to 10:00 services. We didn't get home till 12:30. The services were okay but I just didn't feel like atoning for my sins. I don't like "institutionalized religion." Religion means something different to everyone and I don't think everyone should pray from one prayerbook. I didn't agree with 3/4 of the stuff in the book. Bye!

My, how my outlook has changed! Or maybe I just didn't buy into the Reform outlook of Yiddishkeit even back then. Somewhere inside me I must have known that there was so much more to what our religion has to offer. Baruch Hashem I'm much more agreeable to atoning for my sins these days!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Here's some pictures I just uploaded. The first one is our sukkah from October. You can only see the top of it under the stairs; see the palm fronds? As you walk down the stairs to our front door, you get to the door of the sukkah. It really shielded us from the wind, as it was kind of "built-in".

The next picture was taken from the car driving from Yerushalayim towards our yishuv. You can see Sha'ar Binyamin, kind of the "county seat". It's an industrial center with the mishta'ar (police station), and Rami Levi, our grocery store. There's also a great hardware store there and spice store (among others), and they're building some mehadrin restaraunts that should be open in the next couple of months. If you look on the top left you can see our yishuv on the hill.
The next picture is of David with Emma. I've never owned a dog that got cold before, but Emma seems not to like the cold weather. She shivers a lot of the time. I myself wouldn't have picked out the green sweater (it definitely clashes with her coloring), but we didn't want to shell out more money for another one after we already got this one. She doesn't like it, but it keeps her warm.

The next picture is of the highway leading to our yishuv. It's a little blurry, but you can see that we live in a desert climate.

The next picture is the main street of the yishuv. It's really a very pleasant place to live!

Here's four pictures from the sheva brachot. The top one is Penina's salon. Aren't the tables gorgeous? The second one is the happy couple. The third one is me with my friends. On the bottom is Rachel on the left and Penina on the right, and Miryam is standing beside me (I'm on the right). In the bottom picture, starting from the left, is Shlomo, Shaya and David.
I've been telling myself for days to write in my blog, but I don't seem to listen to myself very well. It's the same problem when I say (actually, when I think) to myself, "Vickie, you need to exercise" or "Vickie, you need to dust." Sound familiar?

We keep a white board on the wall by the kitchen to write down things we need to buy or things we don't want to forget. Yes, it is a very large board. Anyway, there's been a list there for a week that reads Red Heifer, goats, guns. Those are three things that I didn't want to forget to blog about. (You may have noticed how the word "blog" is used as a noun in the first paragraph and a verb in the second. According to Wikipedia, both are correct. I thought it important to mention that in case either a teacher or an English major might happen to be reading this.) (It's also possible that you're in for a very long blog tonight.) (Or a weird one.)

There are more things that I plan to blog about than those three items; however those are three more "only in Israel' stories I want to relate. The first item concerns a couple, Tzivia Rivka and Shlomo Chizkiyahu, who got married on our yishuv last week after a 2 1/2 week engagement. Perhaps I already told you about this? Ah, yes, I just read my last blog. I ended up going to the girls' high school on the afternoon of the wedding to help set up instead of going to the kotel with the kallah (bride). The women who formed the committee that planned the entire wedding, from kabbalas panim to chupa to seuda to dancing to sheva brachot did a fabulous job; everything turned out perfect.

The night after the wedding the couple went out to dinner with the kallah's family who had come from America. They went to a very nice restaurant, the Red Heifer. (editor's note: This place has great ambiance and delicious steaks!) At the conclusion of the meal, the choson (groom) stood up and announced that he and his wife were newly married and could the men in the restaurant join in their bentching for the second sheva brachot? Shlomo and Tzivia (pronounced Tzvee-ah) Rivka told us that all the men and the waiters came to the table and enthusiastically joined in. After they bentched, all the men started singing Mazel tov usiman tov, and dancing all around the restaurant! Possibly this same scenario could have played out in Brooklyn or Lakewood or Monsey, but since I've never lived in any of those places, I would have to add it to my "Only in Israel" stories.

Penina and Pinchas hosted the third sheva brachot in their home. Penina did a fabulous job, not just with the food but also with the decor. It looked like we were at a fancy restaurant! And the fact that they'd had no water for six days (half of the "dudes" - hot water heaters that are located on the roofs of most houses - on our yishuv had frozen and burst the previous Shabbos - thank G-d ours was not one of them) didn't deter her from using her best china for the nineteen people who fit comfortably in her salon. I'll put some pictures in a separate blog because the pictures never go where they're supposed to when I add them.

Penina's family came for Shabbos lunch. Her oldest son, Daniel, is in the army. Hold on - here comes the second Only in Israel story. You know, I think we're going to shorten that - whenever I have one of these kind of stories, I'll label it an Oi (shortened from OiI. Then I can write, "Oi, do I have a story for you!").

Hmm. As I was saying, when Daniel walked in the door I was surprised to see him carrying his M-16. It seems (Oi, here it comes) that the gun has to be disassembled in order for the soldiers to be able to leave it at home. If they forget to do that , then even if it's Shabbos they have to keep the gun with them at all times. The funny thing was that my friend, Rachel's, son showed up later with his gun also slung over his shoulder. My only surprise was that they could carry them on Shabbos. It's commonplace to be anywhere in Israel - bus stops, walking down the street, in restaurants and stores, the central bus station - and see many young men and women in their army fatigues carrying guns that are sometimes longer than they are. Some of these kids don't look old enough or strong enough or even knowledgeable enough to have one, but in a country where war is a possibility twenty-four hours a day, the military is always in a state of readiness. When I think about the maturity level of the eighteen and nineteen year olds back in chutz l'aretz, I'm amazed at the difference. I guess it's all about what you're raised to believe and know what's expected of you.

Erev Shabbos last week (Friday afternoon) (Oi, here comes another one), I was driving up the hill to the yishuv when I had to slow down because there was a huge herd of goats about to cross the road in front of me. There were two young Arab boys holding them back so that my car and the one behind me could get by before they crossed. You know, that doesn't sound as exciting now as it was when it actually happened. Maybe YHTBT (you had to be there...)

The last week has been extremely interesting for me. I pulled three diaries of mine out of my file cabinet; diaries I don't think I've ever read since writing them thirty-seven years ago. Can I really be this old?! The diaries start January 1, 1971 when I was 15 1/2 years old in 10th grade, and I wrote one page every single night until December 31, 1973 when I was 18 1/2 in the middle of my freshman year of college. It's fascinating reading, although I suppose not for anyone other than me. The first diary is mostly about classes and school and friends and boys and fitting in and things I did with my family and all the fun I had in BBYO (B'nai B'rith Youth Organization), which was my whole life back then. I was a pretty secular teenager (I didn't become observant until I was 38). It's amazing how similar my writing style was back then to how I write now. My only connection to Yiddishkeit back then was BBYO and going to a reform Sunday School and getting confirmed in 10th grade. It sickens me to read how each week we went to a different church to learn "comparative religions." Why would they do that? Why not teach us about our OWN religion? I couldn't wait to get confirmed and have a party and get presents, and most of all - never have to go back to Sunday School again! There's so much to learn about Judaism; one can learn for hours every single day (and many do) and still not learn it all. And yet, people who don't know any better aren't engaging our young people to ask questions, to encourage them to keep learning, to teach them our traditions and laws. One day in my first diary I actually wrote (after reading Mila 18 by Leon Uris - my all-time favorite novelist - for the 5th time) that I wanted to be an orthodox Jew and move to Israel and fight for our country. It only took me 36 years to do it!

I've only read through August of the first diary and about half of the last one. I've actually started typing certain days and am thinking of writing a book with the theme something like How I Got Here From There or possibly How Did A Girl Like That End Up In A Place This This? G-d willing.

Did I tell you about our new hot water pot? For the past year and a half we've had a water urn plugged in 24 hours a day so we can have hot tea and coffee, but we never had an electric hot pot. It's so cool! You add water to it, turn it on, and in two minutes or less you have boiling water, much hotter than the urn which we'll now use just for Shabbos. You know, there are certain things I still miss from back "there", but there are definitely things here that are pretty useful and actually work well.

All right, time to end this blog and post some pictures.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Busy, busy, busy:

1) The writing seminar this past week was terrific. Oops - I can already see that I started off on the wrong foot. Instead of a boring sentence, "The writing seminar was terrific" (which doesn't tell you anything), I should have written, "There was a feeling of excitement as I walked into the room where the writing seminar was being held. Women were crowding around the registration desk, and another crowd by the coffee bar was also buzzing. Four dynamic speakers enchanted a group of about fifty women for the better part of a day, keeping our pens busy as we tried to capture every glimmer of knowledge the professionals imparted. The warmth in the room belied the chill of the insistent rain drumming against the windowpanes throughout the day." Much better, no?

2) Yesterday (erev Shabbat) I felt as if I was getting the flu again; as the day wore on I began to feel ache-y (is there a correct spelling for that word?) all over, and extremely fatigued; then I became so chilled that no amount of warm clothes could help. Miryam and Shaya left right after dinner instead of staying to play cards, which has been our usual Friday night minhag (custom) for the past few weeks. David and I both went to bed early and slept late this morning. Baruch Hashem, when I woke up the pain, chills and fatigue were gone. I walked down to Penina's a little after 1 for the Shabbat Kallah for Tzivi Rivka who's getting married on Tuesday - after a 2 1/2 week engagement. We only expected about eight to ten women, but twenty-two showed up, not including children. Beth, who seems to be Tzivi Rivka's closest friend, spoke first and then whoever wanted to gave a bracha (blessing) to the Kallah (bride). I loved looking around the room and realizing that I knew all but two of the women, and I made sure to introduce myself before they left. There really is a nice community of English-speakers here.

2) Tomorrow Miryam and I are going into town (yea! Bush is gone!). I have to get an ultrasound for possible kidney stones (do you think they're actually serious that I have to drink a glass of water every 15 minutes for an hour and half before the procedure and I can't go to the bathroom until after the test? Do they understand that I go every hour as it is, and that holding all the water in for that long after drinking that much will lead to an extremely humiliating disaster? I'm pretty sure they don't have a realistic opinion of my bodily abilities). After this little procedure, I'm going to help Miryam find a crafts store in Geula (I know of a couple), and then we're going to a florist shop in Ramat Eshkol. Miryam was a wedding planner in the states and is making some of the decorations for the simcha (happy event).

3) Monday - day off - a breather day.

4) Tuesday 1 PM; the kallah in her wedding dress and several of her friends will go to the Kotel to daven and say Tehillim for her, leading up to the kabbalos panim at 3:45 and chupa at 4:30 PM. Yikes! I don't know how we'll get back in time. David won't make it for the chupa, but there's dancing for the entire community from 8-10:30 that night at the moadan (community center).

5) Wednesday night in Beit Shemesh - one year anniversary dinner for everyone who made aliyah in 2006. It's supposed to be fancy and a really nice evening. We haven't signed up yet; David hasn't decided if he wants to go. Our friends from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Zvi and Tobi, will be there and I'd love to see them. Tobi's sister was diagnosed with lung cancer just after Yom Kippur, and Tobi's been in New York more than she's been in Israel since then.

6) Thursday night we're going to sheva brachot at Penina and Pinchas'.

Next Monday, 14 Shevat, is my father's 12th yartzeit. It just amazes me that so many years have gone by; it seems like yesterday. There are so many things my parents missed by being niftar (deceased) so young. They never met my husband, David, or my nephew, Daniel; they never saw me grow in Yiddishkeit or got to see their six grandchildren grow. I've been sitting here for some time trying to put more thoughts about my parents into some coherent way to share it, but it doesn't seem to be possible this late at night motzi Shabbat (Saturday night).

NEWS FLASH: There is a product in Israel that is better - yes, folks, I say BETTER - than coke slurpees. I know; hard to believe, huh? But I have found a place at the takanah merkazit that sells an amazing passion fruit slushy. It's little pricey at 10 shekels but well worth every argarot. When I head back home from town I take one on the bus with me; it makes the ride home pass by so much more pleasantly!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

What a week! So much going on these days; nothing important or earth-shattering, just stuff happening.

On Tuesday, Miryam, Shaya, Penina, Pinchas and I got on the 3:35 PM bus into Yerushalayim. They all bought their chofshi chodeshi (monthly bus pass) at the takanah merkazit (central bus station) since it was the first day of the month. I had been to town the day before so I already had mine. Then we all hopped on the #18 and headed down to Ben Yehuda Street, where we had dinner on the meat side of Cafe Rimon. Dov and Lisa came a little later (they had to be home when their kids got home from school), and David met up with us as well when he got off work. After dinner, the eight of us walked up King George to the Hechal Shlomo building (it may have been a shul; I'm not sure) for the very first live show of Tuesday Night Live in Jerusalem. We had gotten free tickets to be in the studio audience of this new television show that will be broadcast on Shalom TV and another non-Jewish cable network, broadcast around the world. It is also shown on It was so much fun!

David was stressed out from work and ended up leaving before the show started. There were a lot of seminary girls in the audience who were screaming seemingly without end (everyone was pretty excited) and he didn't think he wanted to sit through that. The other seven of us enjoyed the show immensely. They actually taped two shows - the first half you can see on Arutz Sheva now and the next week's show will be on the website next Thursday. I just watched the first show and the taping didn't turn out so well. They're going to have to learn a whole lot about lighting and where to place microphones. The taped version doesn't do justice to the excitement of being in the audience. Everyone in the audience (from kids to a 92 year old woman) were Anglos who had either made aliyah or were studying here or just visiting from other countries, but we all had one thing in common - we were Jews who love Israel! We can't go to the next show because there's a wedding on our yishuv in two weeks, but I'm hoping to go to the following taping at the end of January.

On Wednesday I got the urge to clean (finally! I was wondering when this house was ever going to get clean again) and spent most of the day sweeping, mopping, washing, etc. Then, for some reason, I decided to do all my Shabbat cooking on Thursday. Somehow my neshama (soul) must have known that I needed to do that because late in the afternoon I got an email from a friend of Nathan's who lives in Ramot inviting us to the pidyon haben of his son the following day. A pidyon haben is a ceremony that you have on the 30th day after the birth of a son. But there's a lot of conditions of who can actually have one: it has to be the first pregnancy and the first born has to be a boy. The ceremony involves the father "redeeming" his first born son from a Kohain; he has to say that he either wants the baby or five silver coins; the Kohain gets whichever one he doesn't want. The rabbi (when speaking later) said that he hadn't met a father yet who wanted the money instead of his child (Baruch Hashem)!

The nice part about it is that Yishai (who's been a friend of my son's since they were in eighth grade) also went to the same to yeshivas in Israel that Nathan attended, so all the rabbaim (rabbis) who came knew my son, plus there were other friends and relatives of Yishai that I knew as well. They held it at a dairy restaurant in Har Nof. It had been called for 11, and of course David and I were the only ones who showed up then. We just can't get it through our heads that everyone here goes not just by Jewish time, but by Israeli time so you can always add at least a half hour to the "suggested" start time of any event. The ceremony didn't actually start until after noon, which was followed by lunch, and Shabbos started at 4:25 PM yesterday. We left the restaurant at 1:30 and got home in plenty of time, even though --

We drove all the way into town and all the way back with no problems. We've known for at least 2-3 weeks that our car was not feeling well so David has been taking the bus to work every day and I've only been using it to get groceries and to pick David up from the bus stop at night. When we got back to the yishuv, we stopped by the mailboxes to get our mail and as we were pulling out onto the main street we heard a loud noise under the front end and a clanging noise. David very slowly backed into the empty lot behind us and we took out our belongings and locked it up. We kept saying, Thank you Hashem for letting us get all the way there and back before it fell apart. We had passed several accidents on the way home, and all we could think of as we walked home from where the car was parked was how grateful we were to be back on the yishuv, safe and sound - especially two hours before Shabbat. Hashem really looks after us; we are so, so blessed in so many ways. There's so much to be grateful for, every single day!

Yesterday (Friday) was the first time that it's rained in awhile (which explains all the accidents), and by dinner time it was really coming down. Miryam and Shaya joined us as usual, and we enjoyed their company. At 8:00 PM we were supposed to go to a vort/dessert reception at Dov and Lisa's for the couple getting married a week from Tuesday. Shaya walks with a cane and David is still limping from his knee, and the vort was down at the bottom of the yishuv (remember, we're on the very highest street). But we went! And it was really nice! David's never really had a chance to meet other English speakers on the yishuv. I've been meeting the women because of the Shabbat afternoon shiur every week, and because we all do things for each other and help each other out. Not a lot of people came in the rain, but enough did that it was an enjoyable evening. At least it wasn't raining on the way home, but we had to stop pretty frequently so Shaya could catch his breath. This was the second time this week we made him walk a pretty good distance.

Today the rain was kind of on-again, off-again. It didn't stop ten ladies from coming to the shiur at my house late this afternoon. There are two rebbetzins (rabbi's wives) who take turns speaking every other week about the parsha (weekly Torah portion). This was the first time I've hosted it. I actually made Rice Krispies treats which a lot of people remember from the "old" country; I even took some to the vort last night. They don't have real Rice Krispies here, but they do have another American off-brand which is better than the Israeli version. Also, the only bags of marshmallows I've found in this country are a mixture of strawberry and regular, so I had to use marshmallow fluff which didn't hold the squares together too well. But I think people liked them anyway.

The daughter of the rabbi who paved the way for my becoming observant lives here in Israel and just had her first baby. Her mother, Brocha, came to Israel just before Shabbat so I'm hoping to see her sometime while she's here. Leah and her husband just moved to Kiryat Sefer which is north and west of Yerushalayim, but Brocha's sister lives in Ramat Shlomo which is fairly close to us. Unfortunately, and I say this for a number of reasons, President Bush is coming to Israel on Wednesday.

Besides a number of major roads in Jerusalem being closed down for three days, his agenda in coming here makes me sick. I HATE reading the news. I can't stand to read what Bush and Olmert and Rice and all the other politicians have to say about giving away our holy land or dividing up Jerusalem or trying to pretend that Israel isn't a Jewish country. It's sickening to hear Olmert blame Israelis when we get attacked by terrorists or to hear people say that the only way to have peace is to give and give and give without getting anything in return. It doesn't make sense that people can be so blind. How can they not see that the Arabs don't want to make peace? How can they not see that they want to wipe us off the face of the earth? How can they continue to give them arms, to release the terrorists from jail, to give them our precious land that Hashem gave to US, to the Jews? The only answer that makes any sense is that Hashem is hardening their hearts, like he did to Pharaoh when we were slaves in Mitzrayim (Egypt). He must be setting the stage for Moshiach to come and finally bring peace and understanding to us humans. Please may it be so!

I'm very thankful that the writer's seminar I'm going to is on Tuesday, before Bush gets here. Unless it's to see Brocha, I'm not going into town after Tuesday!