Sunday, June 26, 2011

Blogging the chofesh hagadol (Big, huge, no-end-in-sight, looong vacation) Week 1

The "Chofesh HaGadol", or "long vacation" is the term given for the summer vacation that Israeli school children have every year. All elementary schools here finish on June 30 and begin on September 1st, thus leaving two full months for vacation. The teenagers (yes, that would be my kids), finish about June 20, giving them an added bonus of ten days.

In America, the bulk of the summers were nearly as structured as the school year. When they were younger the kids went to day camp and were out of the house from about 7:30 in the morning until about 4:30 in the afternoon. As they got older they started going to sleepaway camps and could go for four or seven weeks. The summer we made Aliya all three were in sleepaway camp for a month. I would have sent them for the entire summer had we not moved here.

In Israel the younger kids also attend day camp, for a shorter day and a shorter period of time. Older kids (over 16, I think) can get working papers and find jobs, but there are alot of kids competing and it's not easy to find summer work at that age.

The toughest ages to deal with in the dog days of summer are the kids who consider themselves to old for day camp (and there really aren't programs in place for this age anyway) and are too young to work. I have two such children, and well, it's going to be a long summer. (My oldest, Liat, found a job working in Camp Moshava, [IO], so she is not part of this discussion).

Both will be attending their Bnei Akiva (youth movement) camps for about a week, and Orli is signed up for a two-week camp that combines volunteering in the morning, with trips and activities in the afternoons, and Tali has a two week job in a day camp. Which leaves 7 additional weeks with not much planned.

When we first arrived here in Israel, I arranged my work schedule so that I was home by 1 and then we'd pile into the car and go to the beach. Good times, those. Now my girls make it abundantly clear that they want to go places with their friends and they want to go alone.

I need to point out here (and I plan to write more about this in follow-up posts) that parenting teens is much more.....difficult, annoying, complex challenging than parenting the little ones. Yeah, I know some of you reading this with kids, say 9 and under, don't believe me. And that's okay, we all have to go through what we have to go through, but I'm telling you it's true (parents of teens, help me out here, wouldya?). I was a confident parent of little ones. I knew how to handle them, how to set limits, how to talk so they would listen and listen so they would talk. I am having a much more difficult time now with them as teens. I second-guess myself all the time. Sometimes, well, it's not pretty.

Several weeks ago I was contacted by some parents of the 8th grade who wanted to set up some guidelines for the long vacation. Things like curfews, making sure the kids have a parent to accompany them when they leave the city. I went to a couple of the meetings, agreed with some of what the parents said, but was also turned off by some of the parents saying things like "my son/daughter is a good kid". Hey, let's agree that all our kids are good kids. Sure some of them are rebellious, some of them are starting to do things that are not good for them, but let's just assume they are all good. I couldn't quite put a finger on what else bothered me until Carol clarified it for me. She noted that there are always parents who are willing to abdicate their parental responsibility to the group. "I don't want my kid traveling to the mall by himself, so let's set up a rule that none of the kids can go unless a parent accompanies them and then I don't have to be the bad guy to my kid".

But here's the thing. We all have different views about what is permissible for our kids. You might think I'm to permissive, I might think you're to controlling and the other guy is waaaay to permissive. As a parent, I have to decide what is the red line for my child and then stick to that. I'm not going to let other parents decide what is right for me. Sometimes I struggle with what the right limits are, but in the end I have to do it on my own and not rely on some committee to establish rules for me.

Tali and Orli started their vacation last Tuesday. Since then, they've been to the mall, to the pool, to the beach. Both have babysat and done some "mother's helping", they have hung out with friends. We've argued discussed curfews and bedtimes, and I see that it's not going to be easy. Hopefully, we'll come through this in one piece. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

That was week 1 of the chofesh hagadol. Looking forward to telling you about week 2. Not.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How I met my husband, or the story of our Aliyah

I was definitely a late bloomer when it came to men.

I knew alot of guys through Bnei Akiva, which I became active in after high school. And they were all great friends, but that's where it ended. All around me my friends were dating seriously, but not me.

I didn't mind that much because I was having fun with the single girls. I traveled a great deal, to Israel, to Europe and all over the states. I had a great apartment, first with one friend, who got married, and then with another, who got married.

Through all this I contemplated moving to Israel. After my year in Israel on a kibbutz through the Hachshara Bnei Akiva program, I vowed that I would return here to live as soon as I got my act together. I became part of a "garin", a group of like-minded people who would make Aliya together, to the same place. Those were exciting, fun times.

But then a few things happened that pushed off my move. First, I got cancer. Big downer, but thank G-d, I got the "good" kind and after about a year of treatment I found myself in remission.

Next my friends started coupling off and the garin was made up of mostly married people. There were a few singles and a couple of the guys did go to Kibbutz Ein Tzurim single, but I wasn't relishing making Aliya as a single person, let alone to a kibbutz.

All my bravado and talk about Israel being the place where we belong, and honestly?--I was scared to do it on my own.

And then I found that I was 26-years-old. I was going on singles weekends and blind dating, and well, those of you who have done that scene know it's not fun. My good friends were all leaving for Israel. I was feeling it was time to put my money where my mouth was and book a flight.

And then the Persian Gulf War of 1991. When the scuds started hitting Tel-Aviv, I couldn't stand it that I was in Brooklyn when I wanted to be here in Israel. So I started the Aliya process. Got in touch with a shaliach--the person at the Jewish Agency who facilitated the process at the time. Started stocking up on things like toothpaste and shavers. Told my friend Marta of my plans and she said, "what the hell. I'll join you even though I'm not a zionist."

I booked the flight for July 28, 1991. Was given a good-bye party in which my aunt bought me a beautiful set of linens and Suzanne bought me a beautiful gold heart with an inscription that said "friends forever".

And then, in early June a woman I worked with told me about her tenant, Isaac. Another blind date. I accepted, thinking that nothing would come of it, because nothing ever came of those dates.

Isaac picked me up promptly. He was charming and talkative, taking the pressure off of me to converse. He took me to a great restaurant. He told me that he had been very active in Bnei Akiva in Venezuela and that he also dreamed of making Aliyah. He talked and talked and eventually I felt relaxed and I started talking, and well, it was a really. good. date.

And then there was a second date. And a third one. And so on and so on. And then it was July and I was in a panic. I was leaving in 4 weeks, but I really liked this guy.

(Note: I went up to find my old diary where I wrote everything down about how I was feeling. I was going to quote, but I found myself blushing from all the mushy-gushy stuff. So you'll have to trust me when I say I was a mess).

Should I stay or should I go? We had only been dating weeks, neither one of us was 100% ready to commit. But the chemistry was certainly there. I don't think I slept for weeks.

And then one night, clarity. I woke in the middle of the night with this thought: ISRAEL WILL STILL BE THERE IN SIX MONTHS. If things don't work out with Isaac, I'll leave then.

Slept like a baby that night.

We got engaged three months later, promising ourselves that we would make Aliyah in two to three years.

Life happened. Babies. Jobs. We bought the house. We fixed it up. School. Community obligations. Liat's illness, which brought home the fact that life is so precious and short and if you have a dream, you need to try to achieve it.

Sixteen years after I postponed my Aliyah for a man, we stepped onto the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport as a family of six (five humans + one canine). I don't regret those sixteen years in America for one moment, just as I don't regret our decision to move our family here either.

By the way, Marta did make Aliya without me. She's still a bit grumpy that I left her high-and-dry. Until I got here, she used to say, "How is it that I, who am not a zionist live here in Israel, and you, who are, live on Long Island??"

Life is full of twists and turns. We try to enjoy the ride.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Shiva call

You all know I have honed the doom-and-gloom thing to perfection. Horrific things await us, I know it and that's why I think it's important to try to find joy in something everyday, to see good in everyone I meet, and to try to be thankful for all I have. What can I say? It's a basic philosphy of my life.

You would think that the story I am about to tell you would reinforce the doom-and-gloom theme of my life. But it does not. I'll go into why after I tell the story.

About two months ago a woman I'll call Amy (okay, I'll call her that because it's her name) contacted me via e-mail. She was a reader of the blog and was in Israel with her husband and triplet 7-year-olds on an extended (6 weeks!) pilot trip in preparation of her Aliya this coming July. One of the neighborhoods she was considering was the one we live in and she asked if we could meet for a cup of coffee so I could answer some questions she had.

Always eager to recruit people to the 'hood, and never one to turn down a cup of coffee (which we all know is a euphemism for Breakfast! or Lunch!), of course I said, yes and we agreed to be in touch the following week.

Amy has an unusual last name and it turns out her husband was a cousin of a friend of mine. In further probing I found out that her husband was the son of members of our shul in the Five Towns, whom we knew.

I never did get to meet Amy. Several days after speaking her husband fell ill with Pneumonia. Very ill. He was hospitalized here in Israel and the situation became increasingly critical. I became a follower of Amy's on Twitter and looked for her frequent tweets. At one point her husband seemed to be improving but as the days and weeks on, the situation became more and more critical. I could not put Amy and her husband out of my mind. They had been through so much with his illness (he was in remission from lymphoma). They were so excited about planning their new life here. And then, this. As I followed her tweets, I got to know Amy a bit. She is a strong person with faith in G-d and an amazing sense of humor. The tweets for tehillim (psalms), challah baking and starting Shabbat early for her husband kept coming fast and furious from her and her faithful 'twitpacha' (twitter family).

While this was happening Amy made a huge decision: she decided to move up her Aliya date. While her husband lay ill she went to all the necessary offices, and completed all the necessary paperwork to declare her and her family Israeli citizens. And I kept checking her tweets, kept hoping, praying that a miracle would happen for her family.

You know from the title of this post that that that miracle did not come. Her husband, sadly, passed away last week.

Last night I went to see Amy, who was sitting shiva. In Israel, when doing this, one uses the expression "לנחם" [lenakhem]--to comfort, rather than the expression used in the states "paying a shiva call". Even though I never met Amy, I felt a pull to go see her and pay my respects-- for whatever small measure of comfort that would bring her. Isaac also felt a need to join me to see our old shul friends.

We walked into the home, to find a small, lively crowd there. Amy and her sister-in-law (also a former Five-Towner--I know I've met her before, or perhaps stood behind her in line at Gourmet Glatt) were joking around--that dark, black humor that is really funny, and really sad and scary at the same time. Isaac and I looked at each other and smiled. We know that humor and used it all the time back when Liat was ill. I'm not sure people who have not had these kind of experiences understand the jokes, but Isaac and I definitely got it.

Amy was exactly as I expected. She had a commanding, vibrant presence and an open and engaging personality. When I introduced myself, she smiled warmly, knew exactly who I was and made me feel good about my decision to come. I thought it would be a very difficult shiva call to make, but Amy made it easy.

I did almost lose it at one point. Amy told us about her decision to move forward her Aliyah. Most people in her difficult situation would have likely given up and said, you know what, much as I believe in living in Israel, I have a husband who is not well and as soon as he is recovered enough, we are going home where I know what-is-what, where I have plenty of family and friends and speak the language. Not Amy. When she realized that her husband's situation was very, very serious, she decided to make his lifelong dream come true. She said, "I wanted him to die an Israeli. I know that is what he would have wanted." She continued to tell us that she intends to stay in Israel, she is determined to make her life here, raise her children in our land to fulfill her husband's last wish.

I am in awe of this woman, of her love, of her strength, of her humor, of her raw honesty, of the comfort that she brings to people at a time when she is the one who should be comforted. I didn't feel doom-and-gloom, but rather hope and devotion.

מי כעמך ישראל?

Wishing Amy all the best. Her husband's name was Eliezer Baruch Chaim ben Rochel Leah. יהי זכרו ברוך. May his memory be for a blessing.

Update: (from In the Pink) Amy and the triplets will need continued financial help as they learn to live without Barry. The expenses are significant, and they will continue for years to come. To ease their considerable financial burden a trust has been set up that will help with both immediate and longer-term expenses such as bar/bat mitzvahs, tuition, weddings, etc. Please contribute. Checks should be made payable to “Barry Shuter Family Trust.”

Please send to:
Adam Hofstetter
441 Oak Avenue
Cedarhurst, NY 11516

In addition, money can be donated via credit card to the Barry Shuter Family Trust at Rootfunding.

Thank you so much for your help.