Monday, October 11, 2010

Well, it looks like I have some time to write today, since I took the day off.  That's what happens when you take a half gainer onto a cement floor.  No, no broken bones, no stitches, no concussion.  I walked out from behind my desk yesterday just before quitting time and somehow managed to catch my foot on the edge of a box we use to put mail in.  On my way down, my other foot got tangled in the cord from a floor fan that wasn't anywhere near my body.  Hah!  Nobody believes me when I say inanimate objects like tables and corners of walls and chairs jump out at me.  Well, here's proof!  And I had two witnesses who can vouch for me (or at least I tell myself that rather than face the humiliation of being klutzy in front of two co-workers).  Anyway, last night my right knee kept swelling to the point that I could barely walk on it so I made an appointment to see a doctor this morning.  When I woke up, however, the swelling seemed to be mostly gone and I could walk almost normally (bending my knees for Shemoneh Esrei, however, was a whole different ballgame), so I canceled the appointment.  There are about 40 steep steps leading up to my office and I had already called my boss last night about not coming in today, so it seemed that staying home was the right thing to do on this beautiful Monday morning.  Spike and Emma haven't let me out of their sight all morning, so it seems they're pretty happy to have my company.

Isn't strange how many things need to be done around the home when one doesn't leave it?  Dishes, laundry, cleaning - I know I should be keeping this leg elevated, but stuff just needs to be done.  Beside, if by some miracle I can get a mahj game together this afternoon, I wouldn't want to be embarrassed by the state of my apartment.

So, enough about mundane topics.  Let's get on to the real stuff of living in Eretz Yisrael!
Let me take you back exactly one week.  Last Monday David had his last ulpan class and wanted to celebrate.  He had asked me to meet him on Emek Refaim, which is a street that you might find in Clayton, for you St. Louis readers.  It's a long road filled with restaurants, funky stores, and lots of people roaming the streets.  I took the #4 bus there after work - it's been so long since I've taken buses anywhere in Yerushalayim!  When the bus got just to the beginning of Emek Refaim, it stopped.  I realized we were in the middle of a terrific traffic jam; I could see lots of flashing lights and loud music ahead of us.  To our right was Liberty Bell Park, so I assumed there was some kind of a fair going on and I debated whether to get off at the next bus stop to check it out, since I was a little early to meet David.  

When we started moving again, I realized that we were passing a van decorated four feet high with all kinds of flashing lights and the music was coming from the back.  The van was moving very slowly down the street, followed by a whole parade of people singing and dancing.  In their midst was a chupah help by four poles that people were carrying, and it was then that I saw a beautiful, new sefer Torah under the chupah.  I got off at the second bus stop which was completely hashgacha pratis (Divine providence), because the bus then turned at the next corner and I still needed to walk to the end of the street.  While waiting for David, I ducked into Jungle, a pet store chain.  The guy who worked there took a parrot I had been admiring out of its cage and was telling me about it (only 2500 NIS!), when I heard the music coming closer and closer.  I ran outside and there was the Hachnosas Sefer Torah procession approaching with a much larger crowd.  I followed the procession for about half a block, when it turned into a side street and stopped.  Two really tall guys dressed in white, with white turbans, started blowing into the longest shofars I'd ever seen.  It was so beautiful!  The music was playing, the shofars were blowing, people were holding babies up, clapping and dancing and it felt so special to be a part of it!  It was funny to see all the people holding their cell phones up to take pictures.  After a few minutes, the procession started up again, and I went to find David.

We strolled all the way down one side of Emek Refaim, and back up the other side, enjoying the cool breeze (finally!) and looking in all the windows.  It was hard to decide where to have dinner.  I had decided beforehand that this night would be for David; whatever he wanted to do and wherever he wanted to eat would be fine with me.  We ended up at an Israeli restaurant that was sort of open to the street, where we had shishlik (meat grilled on skewers).  The nights we go out are few and far between, so it was SO nice to have such a relaxing evening.  I hardly even thought about the dogs who had been home alone all day and who were probably sitting with their little noses pressed to the window looking down longingly at the parking lot waiting for us to alight from a car...

So now let's fast forward a few days to Shabbat.  You know, we're really stick-in-the-mud people who go to work every day, come home tired, and veg in front of our computer screens at night.  We rarely get invited out for Shabbat, although we love to have guests.  This past Shabbat, however, we were invited to stay with a family in Bat Ayin, an agricultural yishuv on a mountaintop about 20 minutes away from Ramat Beit Shemesh.  It was so much fun!
The Rebbetzin who invited us runs a midrasha (Jewish institute for women's studies) there, and we had been emailing each other all week.  She and her husband and 14 year old son live on a house (a real house!) on the edge of a mountain, with a garden in front, a chicken coop full of chickens on the side, and a gorgeous view of nearby hills (mountains) in the back.  

There were 24 of us for Friday night dinner, all women except for David, the Rabbi and his son, and it was a fast-paced evening.  These young girls are so curious, and intelligent, and eager to learn everything about Yiddishkeit.  Most were from the US, but there were a few Israelis and one from Germany.  The discussions were lively as everyone had input on every topic.  Shabbat was Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan (beginning of the new month of Cheshvan), a month where there are no other holidays.  Each person talked about what they wanted to bring with them from Succot and Yom Kippur, and also, because Cheshvan has something to do with "smells", we all told what smell has meaning for us.  Everyone said things like the esrog from Succot, or different spices.  I said baby powder which made everyone laugh, especially when I said there's nothing more delicious than a baby's tushy.  I was really, really missing my grandchildren, and how I missed out on the time they were babies.  (My twin granddaughters are 20 months old already.)  David said that the smell of the chicken coop brought back memories for him of visiting relative's farms in Minnesota when he was growing up.

Lunch the next day was just us and the family.  David liked the Chabad he attended with the Rabbi.  I had gone Friday night (awesome Lecha Dodi when the women spontaneously pushed all the tables aside and started dancing as happily as the men), but it wasn't my nusach (style of prayer) and I couldn't really follow in my siddur (also, I never go on Friday night so I didn't really know the order of the davening).  But I totally enjoyed my davening at their home on Shabbat morning at my own pace, and including Hallel and Musaf in a leisurely and meaningful way.  After lunch, David and I walked around the yishuv, enjoying the donkey tied in front of one house, the dogs running around, the kids playing in the streets and parks (no cars drive through on Shabbat), and the views of nearby mountains.  

In the late afternoon, I went to the Midrasha with the Rebbetzin who was giving a class on Keshet (rainbows).  This weeks's parsha (Torah reading) was Noach, so the rainbow was particularly relevant.  We actually even had a little rain Friday night (at the exact moment the last guest stepped into the house for dinner), and again Shabbat morning while the sun was still shining.  We looked for a rainbow, but there didn't seem to be one.  After the talk, I waited for David on the road (there was a bench right in front of the house with the donkey) and then we went to a friend of my son (who is also the son of a friend) for the Third Meal.  He and his wife and adorable 2 year old and baby literally live at the edge of a cliff.  They rent a huge house (our apartment could probably fit into their salon) where they use two of their bedrooms for their home businesses.  He bottles his own root beer (a product surprisingly not found here in Israel) and wine, and some other products.  She sews colorful kipot and tzitzit.  On the hill behind their house they grow all their own vegetables, and in front of their house are the herbs they planted.  We watched the sun set through their window as it dipped behind the mountains far away.  It was probably the most incredible sunset I've ever seen.  The children were fed goat's milk that was fresh from a goat on the yishuv; the bread was made from wheat flour that they'd bought directly from the guy who grinds it on the yishuv.  It would be such a perfect place to live if we had friends who lived there and if we spoke fluent Hebrew.  It's a small place and there are many Americans who live there, but they probably all speak Hebrew as well.  One day we'll be in that category, or at least, David will!

I'd better make some calls to see if a mahj game is in the cards (tiles?) for today.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

It's almost a little embarrassing to show up here again after a hiatus of a year and a half.  David has been encouraging me to write again and truth be told - I've missed it.  But how do I catch up on all the changes that have occurred since the last post?  I guess I'll just do the best I can.

We've been back in RBS about 18 months.  I've been going to the same shul we started at, sort of Young Israeli-ish - dati and Zionist.  David just can't seem to find his place.  He's been trying out shul after shul, but nothing is the right fit.  I think a large part of the problem is that we just don't have a Rav that we can talk to and hold by.  It seems to be a pervasive problem for olim in Israel, from what I hear.  It's a challenge we're trying to deal with.

Since last December, we have been the proud parents of not one, but two adorable dogs.  Spike (not named by me!) came to us about nine months ago.  He was a small puppy when his original owners decided they couldn't keep him any more.  I was actually in St. Louis to see my family when David called me to ask, "Remember when we talked about getting Emma a puppy to play with?"  Spike was four months old and a real puppy in every sense of the word.  Not only wasn't he house-trained yet, but he chewed everything and anything he could sink his teeth into, including four pairs of shoes (one of each pair), a chair cushion, my dining room table pads and various vases of flowers (he overturned the vases which were on the dining room table and the flowers were found strewn all over the table, chairs, couches and floor).  But we persevered, and he's turning into a very affectionate pet.  He and Emma play together, which gives them lots of exercise when we leave them for up to 10 hours a day during the work week.  It does, however, make for very crowded sleeping conditions at night when I have to sleep on the very edge of the bed because they're both stretched out across the middle!

David got a nice surprise a year ago when, after two and a half years at Intel, he was finally hired to be a "blue badge"; a regular employee instead of a contractor.  It's made a huge difference in our lives.  There are all kinds of added benefits (most of which we know nothing about because it's all in Hebrew), including being able to lease a car at a very reduced cost.  So we've been driving a brand-new 2010 Mazda 3 and thoroughly enjoying it.  The leasing company services it, licenses it, and even washes it once a month - David just drops off the keys in the morning (the company is housed at Intel), and they return the keys to him at the end of the day.  We pay for gasoline along with our lease payment, so when we go to the gas station, we just put the pump in, it reads something in the car, and after it's filled we just drive away.  It's so convenient!  Of course, we don't get a break on the cost of gas, but it's just nice not to have to have cash or put in on the already overworked credit card.

And what happened to the car we bought when we moved to Kochav Yaakov 3 1/2 years ago?  Just sitting.  In the parking lot behind our apartment building.  Gathering dust.  At the moment, it's not running, but that's a result of our not having started it much in the last year.  We really, really have to get it going and sell it.  Really, we do.

On a happier note, I made a really good friend who, together with her two adult daughters, became my new mahj partners.  For awhile.  Then Bracha just up and got married and moved to the Old City.  But that still left Linda and Chava and we kind of got in a groove playing on Thursday mornings until everyone's work schedules got in the way, and then on Shabbos afternoons.  Then they moved waaaay down to the bottom of the Rama (hill) and I walked down there every (hot) Shabbos afternoon.  Until just before Rosh Hashana when my friend Linda took a job out of the country and moved away for 10 months!  I couldn't believe she left me!  I really miss her, and not necessarily because of mahj - she was someone I really connected with.  But life's about changes, right?

Lately I've been meeting a lot of single women; some new olim and some who have been here for awhile.  It's so amazing to hear people's stories - how they came to yiddishkeit, and to Israel, what their past lives were like.  This past Succos was amazing.  I spent time with many new friends, and with others that I've had the pleasure to get to know over the past year.  On one night of chold hamoed, there was a women's entertainment program here in RBS that over 700 women attended.  It was in a gymnasium with (chairs on the) bleachers on one side and a stage on the other side of the room.  We heard singers, guitarists, comediennes, actresses, and watched tap dancers and modern dancers and ballet dancers (I couldn't help but think how much my mother would have enjoyed being there!).  The talent was awesome.  The last woman who sang brought tears to my eyes.  She sang a beautiful rendition of "Hodu L'Hashem ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo (give thanks to Hashem for He is good; his kindness endures forever)" and by the end many of us were on the floor dancing as if our lives depended upon it.  I can't tell you how uplifting it was!

The next evening was the Beit Shemesh Concert.  Well-known singers and bands came from all over the country to play at a huge outdoor field with a bandstand.  Two friends and I brought lawn chairs and nosh and settled in for the evening.  Before the concert, Nuchi decided at the last minute to BBQ and supplied us with hot dogs from Rumania in Chicago and lots of other goodies.  There we were, under clear skies studded with stars listening to inspiring, spiritual Jewish rock music (sometimes a little too loud even for my taste!) and thanking Hashem for the great blessing of being in Eretz Yisrael for the chagim (holidays).

And the NEXT evening I had been invited to a new friend's apartment (very nice apartment, I might add, with a view that was breathtaking) for an evening of divrei Torah (words of Torah), singing, and of course, eating.  What made it interesting is that our hostess just made aliyah from "Joberg" (Johannesburg) in South Africa, and we American ladies were definitely in the minority that night.  I love the South African and British accents; they're so soft-spoken and genteel.  I actually felt I needed an interpreter for some of their words and we all enjoyed the diversity among us.

Yesterday morning, erev Shabbos, David and I went to a wonderful simcha - the bris of the children of good friends of ours from Kochav Yaakov.  The daughter of one family married the son from the other (the wedding almost two years ago was so fun since we knew both of the families), and this was the first grandchild for each family.  He's such a beautiful baby!  The new parents live with her family, at least temporarily, as well as the great-grandparents who are also our good friends (not much older than we are, actually) - so that's four generations living under the same roof.  Cool, huh?

So tomorrow we go back to life as we knew it before Rosh Hashana, almost 3 weeks ago.  Getting up at 6 a.m., walking the dogs, driving to work together.  Oh, that's something I haven't told you about yet!  Kvish Echat (highway 1) is the main Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem highway (or vice versa, obviously).  From Beit Shemesh, we drive up highway 38 and then enter on highway 1 going east to get to Jerusalem.  But there are other ways to get there and David, who loves to study maps and roam the countryside, found a route that traverses through beautiful hills.  Imagine, if you will, a twisty, windy, hilly 2-lane road with sheer drop-offs on one side and beautiful forested hills on the other.  Some mornings we drive through fog or see it floating in the valley below.  It's an incredible way to start the day!  In case you're wondering, it's not necessarily shorter than kvish echat, but we don't have to contend with rush hour traffic starting and stopping on the highway - although sometimes we do end up behind a timid driver (or a line of them), but it just gives us more time to enjoy the beauty around us.  Admittedly there are some mornings (I promise, only when David drives!) that my eyes are closed for much of the ride so I can get another half hour of rest.

David works longer days than I do, so he usually drops me off at work and I take a bus home.  Sometimes he knows he has a lot of phone conferences in the evening (his "team leader" at work is in California which is 10 hours behind our time, so he's on the phone a lot at night), so I drop him off at work and then we leave together in the afternoon.  It's a nice arrangement.

I'm still working for the tzedaka organization I started working at in April of 2008.  There have been a lot of bumps along the way, but I work with some wonderful women and we've gotten to be very close friends.  One of them is Rachel, one of the new grandmothers from Kochav Yaakov.  The other is Chaya, who lives in a town called Elazar in Gush Etzion, a block of communities just south of Yerushalayim.  Two nights ago, motzei Simchat Torah, Chaya called from her son's apartment just down the street from us; she and her husband and other kids had spent the holiday with her married son and his family.  They were going to be taking a bus home as soon as bus service started again, about 40 minutes later.  I was going to walk over to visit with her for a few minutes, but when I told David, he said, "Why don't we just take them home?"  You have to understand that we NEVER go anywhere at night; normally David is working or is tired from working so much.  It turned into a great evening!  We took Chaya and her husband and daughter, and her other two sons (in their early 20's) tremped a ride home.  Everyone "tremps" here.  There are "trempiadahs"; usually a bus stop or a corner on the edge of a town where people wait to get rides, and people with cars stop to pick them up.  It can be a little tricky because there have been some incidents with Arabs, but it's pretty much accepted practice here since at least half the population don't own cars.  Anyway, I let Avi, Chaya's husband, sit in the front seat with David and they seemed to hit it off.  When we got to their house in Elazar they invited us in.  Avi pushed some palm fronds off the top of their sukkah so we could sit out there and we visited for awhile.  Then we heard some really loud music and walked around the yishuv until we got to the shul where a live band was playing.  Apparently all over the country people were celebrating "Hakafos sheini", kind of a second day Simchat Torah.  Chaya and I danced over on the women's side for a few minutes and then we walked Chaya and Avi back to their home before we left.  It was such fun to do something spur-of-the-moment like taking them home and spending time getting to know them.

So you're probably thinking, "Well, Vickie's been living in Israel nearly 4 1/2 years, she's probably fluent in Hebrew by now."  Nope.  Not at all.

David, on the other hand, is learning by leaps and bounds.  Intel actually paid for him to take a pretty intensive ulpan; his last two classes are tomorrow and Monday.  It was in 3 parts - for one month he learned one-on-one with an instructor on the computer through Skype two nights a week for 45 minutes.  He had a workbook and an MP4 player they had given him pre-loaded with all the lessons so there was audio for each lesson that he was supposed to listen to 3 times every day.  Then he had a one week immersion - every morning for 5 days he met an instructor somewhere in Yerushalayim - the Old City, the shuk, Nachlaot, wherever and they spent several hours speaking only in Hebrew from the lessons he was supposed to have learned on his own or from the day before.  Then they went to the office where the ulpan was housed and he spent 1/2 an hour with an instructor, 1/2 an hour in the learning room, 1/2 an hour back with the instructor, etc for 2 1/2 hours.  The last module consists of two days a week from 4-6:30 pm back at the ulpan office learning one on one.  This week is the last week.  It's really been forcing David to learn and he's enjoyed it immensely.  We can't afford for me to take this ulpan, but when he's finished he'll give me the workbooks and the audio for me to work on.  I need to be a little more optimistic that I can actually do it - as long as I have friends who interpret for me and tell me what my mail says, I've been pretty lax about learning it.  It would make life so much easier if I knew what people were saying, or to be able to read the flyers I get or the bills or the newspapers or the posters that advertise everything!

I've been sitting here writing for over two hours!  It was so nice not to have to do any dishes after Shabbat this week; that's never happened before.  My friend, Nuchi, who eats with us many weeks for Shabbat, decided that this week we would come to her for BOTH meals.  It was awesome!  Then she decided that as long as we were coming, she may as well invite other people, so there was a crowd for both meals.  Nuchi is a wonderful hostess; she sets the most beautiful table and makes way too many dishes!  The problem is that she's such a good cook, it's hard not to sample everything.  I heard it got up to 102 degrees today, the hottest it's been in several weeks.  Once we got back home this afternoon, we napped for awhile and then Shabbat was almost over.  It's been a long time since we've been so relaxed.

I really have to thank Hashem over and over for all the blessings he so liberally showers on me - my husband to share my life with - as well as all the times we get to laugh together, our dogs who bring us so much happiness, the opportunity to live in Eretz Yisrael, the wonderful people He brings into our lives, our parnassa (livelihood), the great community we live in, my children, grandchildren and siblings (so very far away physically but always in my thoughts), my health, my computer, my books, our apartment, our car, my clothes, my desk, the fact that He led me to a path of Torah - EVERY SINGLE THING IN MY LIFE - even those things that frustrate me or make me angry or hurt me.  I'm so appreciative just being alive!  Are there things I wish were different?  You bet.  The worst for me is having my family so far away; not being able to have them all for Shabbat or watching my grandchildren grow. I can only daven for everyone's health and safety, and pray that somehow we'll get to see each other soon. 

I need to go make my lunch for work tomorrow and iron some clothes - vacation is over!