Thursday, June 30, 2016

Year-End Wrap-Up

Ilana's last-day-of-school selfie
We adults finished ulpan yesterday.  I plan to return in September and, hopefully, one more year of the intense level should be enough to get me to a reasonable level of Hebrew.  I'll miss my class (although many of us plan to continue together in the Fall): we're an extremely varied group, from two young women in their late teens up to Moshe, who just turned 84 and is in a wheelchair yet rarely misses class.  I have such admiration for the retirees who make aliyah, especially those who are in my level class because it's not easy to get along with this level of Hebrew.  This semester, my class has two older couples who immigrated in the past few months, and both are in class together (I, at least, have the benefit of a spouse who speaks Hebrew far better than me!).

We had a great last day of class: our teacher had each of us describe our "immigration day" and it was so interesting to hear everyone's story.  Even the stories I thought I knew had a depth to them that I hadn't anticipated.  Like hearing my friend M. talk about leaving her home in NJ, the home she had lived in for 60 years, first as a child and then as an adult raising her own family.  That first evening, while their kids (most of whom live in Israel) made a welcome party for her and her husband, she looked into the yard and saw a child there.  Her first thought was, "that looks like my granddaughter who I Skype with."  Then she realized that it *was* her granddaughter:  And then, she said,  "I realized that I had left my house, but I had arrived home".

Our teacher brought a tray of chocolates and we each had to give a blessing to the class and then choose someone to give a chocolate to.  I gave mine to E., who is from Russia and arrived five years ago *in April* as a single mom with her 11 year old daughter.  No Hebrew (at all.  The Russians in my class arrived not even knowing the aleph bet), no job, no family here.  I can't really imagine how bad life in Russia must have been to make her take all that on (and what was that like for the 11 year-old to start school in April in another language?!), but here she is, five years later, making it work.  I said, "we are all brave to be immigrants, but E, you are very, very brave....."

We also had a visit from the leaders of one of the local youth movements.  She explained that their group was so inspired that we would all give up our former lives and make aliyah that they made cards for each of us with variations of "thank you for making aliyah.  You are amazing.  We are so glad you are living in Israel".  It was very sweet ;).  And also hard to not make mental comparisons with people coming to other countries where the welcome is not so warm....

It's hard to believe that my kids are finishing an entire year of school in Hebrew.  I am so impressed with them, and love seeing how their Hebrew skills have improved so much this year.  Penina finished last week (she started a week earlier, though) and Ilana has her last day today.  Which is good because Uncle Jeff, Aunt Marissa and cousin Salome are visiting and there is no time for anything but fun, fun, fun!  Penina is finishing up two days of touring with them and we are all going to Jerusalem for Shabbos so that we can see them on Saturday (fun fact: hotels here have a post-Shabbos checkout, so, even though we won't be leaving until 9:30 Saturday night, we will only be charged for one day!).

Yay!  The cousins are together!

Sunday, June 19, 2016


In the interest of being thorough (if not punctual) here is a rehash of our Shavuos last week.  Chana stayed in seminary for a last hurrah (seminary ended a few days later), so it was just the four of us here.  Shalom Shachne learned the entire night with his chavrusa (study partner) and we ladies surprised ourselves by staying up as well!

A few days before the holiday, I offered to host a learning session for tween/teen girls at our house and, in the best Malden tradition, make a midnight ice cream party for them (neighbor: "umm, we're having chicken for our meal that night.  Will your ice cream be dairy?"  Thankfully, we had a pareve option).  We started the night with 9 girls listening to the very interesting, funny and heartfelt story of one woman's conversion to Judaism.  After much ice cream, we moved on to a homemade Jewish trivia game that our neighbors made, with questions by each family member (very interesting to see the different level of difficulty based on who wrote the question.  My favorite was, "what's the bracha you make on [older sister's] onion soup?" although there were much harder questions, such as "Name all seven female prophets", which, even working all together, we couldn't do).

6 girls and two mothers made it all the way to hear Megillat Ruth, which was read at 4:45 a.m. (!).  Similar to Pesach, it was a bit odd to have two days' worth of events smushed into one day, but, because Shavuos was immediately after Shabbos, we at least had that "two day" feel to the holiday.

We are still working our way through all the fabulous cheesecakes Penina made, but I'm quite sure I don't hear anyone complaining!

And speaking of cheesecake: what a riot to be in a country were everyone makes cheesecake the same week.  The supermarkets had huge sales on dairy products; one place even brought in 4 large refrigerated cases to go in the first aisle of the store, where all the seasonal/on-sale items go.  One person stocking the shelves was wearing a shirt from Tnuva, the largest dairy here.  It wished everyone a "happy, healthy and delicious Shavuot".  I tried to take a picture, but Penina told me it looked like I was stalking him, so you'll just have to take my word for it :)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


Hard to believe, but Shalom Shachne, Penina and Ilana have not been to the Old City since the week after we made aliyah (oops).  What can I say--it's a lot closer than 6000 miles, but it's also not around the corner and, with Sunday being a school day, there isn't a day that's easy to take off for trips.

Last week, we started to make up for the lack of visits.  Thursday night, I had a rental car and Penina and I picked up Chana at seminary for a trip to see the Jerusalem Festival of Light, an international festival that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.  But first, we stopped to see "Mrs. Eliana", the first close friend who is our kids' ages to get married (she and Batsheva were in school together, and her parents are the friends who bought our former house in Malden).  It was SO SWEET to see her with her hair covered, puttering around her little kitchen and making dinner for HER HUSBAND (as was said with awe thirty or forty times!).  We had a little Malden reunion, since Esti R. and Ariella, the bride's sister, were also visiting and it was really lovely to see everyone again. We even scooped up Ariella for our visit to the Light Festival, which made it all the more fun.
Perhaps as close as I may ever get to the real Eiffel Tower

The Festival was very bit as wonderful and as crowded as everyone who had visited already had led me to believe.  It was very interesting to see modern art juxtaposed with the Old City (like, "Wow.  Of all the things I thought I would never see in the Old City, at the top of the list would be two guys playing electro music while wearing white from head to toe, including white puffy wigs and white tutus....").  We loved the water fountain that looked like it was out of Disney World, with a synchronized sound and light show and then pictures of the Old City projected upon the water, and the exhibition at the big Post Office building on Rechov Yaffo.  I thought it was just lights upon the building, until Ariella and Chana pointed out that, across the street, there were old mailboxes painted, turned into percussion instruments, and then wired into the exhibit, so that, when the tops of the mailboxes were hit, it changed the colors on the entire post office building in accordance with the beat.  I had to smile at the Chassidish guy who got so into it that he was turned sideways so as to play on two mailboxes at once (he was good, too!).

We visited the Kotel, and it was so nice to be there again.  Penina decided to continue to make up for lost time by accepting an invitation to Liat's house in Jerusalem for Shabbos, which included her taking the bus to Jerusalem alone, and going with Liat's youth group on a pre-"Yom Yerushalayim" Shabbos walk to the Kotel, which was over 1.5 hours.  Each way.  In 100 degree heat.  Way to go, Penina!!!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Big Week for Ilana

This week, the iriya (local city) graduated its last children's ulpan class.  We are delighted that Ilana was one of the students in grades 1-6 who received ulpan for about 18 hours/week.  Baruch Hashem her Hebrew is vastly improved from when we arrived and she even has Israeli friends at school with whom she only speaks Hebrew (according to the teacher, at least! So far, these girls haven't come to the house).

The Iriya did a very nice job on the graduation.  All I was expecting was a little "Pomp and Circumstance" and a diploma, but this was an entire evening of festivities.  The city rented a bus to go to the site and stopped at the two city community centers on the way.  This was very convenient for those of us without a car :).  We visited Gan Golan in Beit Shemesh, which is named after fallen soldier Golan Pelli whose parents are artists who converted a space next to their house into a beautiful Biblical sculpture park in his memory.

Pomegranate tree!

We next went to a community center where the staff had set up arts and crafts, had falafal delivered for dinner and showed a movie about the history of Beit Shemesh.  Hard to believe that where the local mall currently is, there used to be hundreds of metal caravans housing entire immigrant families in extremely cramped spaces.  The man who the first teacher there spoke on the video about the children seeing his "home" and how amazed they were that he had "all that space" to himself.  He said, "to them, I was a millionaire because I had a caravan to myself!".  I found it very interesting to hear the memories of immigrants from an earlier generation, and the hardships they had to go through to move to the very same area we so recently came to.  B''H, all I have to do to get water is turn on the tap....there is plentiful food at the stores....we have electricity.....our house is big.....You get the idea.

Here is Ilana getting her diploma from Morah Nechama:

Ilana also participated in her school's Yom Yerushalayim festival yesterday, celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967.
June 7, 1967, when Israeli paratroopers recaptured the Kotel.  

and a more modern-day celebration :).  Ilana is third from the left
 It was very sweet to see the hundreds of girls in her school dancing, singing and celebrating Jerusalem.  It was also stunning to the see the two fourth grade classes on stage together and realizing that the 60 of them on stage was the largest number of girls performing that I had ever seen (Ilana's grade being bigger than the entire BY Boston school!).  I especially enjoyed hearing the young adult daughter of the choir/dance teacher sing "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav", a song that I had never really related to, in such a beautiful way that I had tears in my eyes.

As the performance was going on, a woman I didn't know tugged on my sleeve and said in English, "isn't this amazing?  Aren't you glad you made aliyah and can be here to celebrate this?".  I really have no idea who this woman is or how she knew we were new olim, but I agree with her!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Lag B'Omer

This is what happens when you forget to press "publish" after writing a post: your Lag B'Omer post arrives a week late!

We had a great time on Lag B'Omer (link to full info if you would like to know more about the holiday).  We stayed local, which was quite enjoyable.  At night, the party mobiles were out and about.

We discovered that we live in a great place to celebrate Lag B'Omer because across the street is the beginnings of a new development of apartment buildings.  Right now, there are just large piles of dirt and a paved road leading down to the dirt.  It became a very popular place for kids and families to build bonfires.  Ilana counted 14 (really reminded me of July 4th in Winthrop when I was a kid) and there was much roasting of marshmallows and hot dogs.

Oh yeah, and Ilana got to climb the giant dirt pile :).

The kids had school off for Lag B'Omer day.  Penina enjoyed sleeping late and Ilana went to a carnival that the local Yeshiva hosted.

Meanwhile, the "Meron Report", from Chana and the five other seminary gals who we saw this past Shabbos (including Malden's famous Esti R.!)  was that Meron was "very cool and very crowded".  Reports say that half a million people were there for Lag B'Omer!  There were lots and lots of crowds of people.   "MANY different types of people-you can't believe how many types!"  Most of the girls reported that it was too crowded to get into the kever of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, but that they were able to daven near it.  Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller described Meron as, 'the bottom of the hill is Purim and the top is neila'".  There are people giving out cooked, kosher food.  There were also different groups of chassidim with bonfires which their Rebbes lit.  On the way back to Jerusalem, the buses stopped at a "pop-up" rest area, with 100 portable toilets (50 for the men and 50 for the women, which felt unbalanced until I thought of how many more men than women go to Meron) and more people giving out food!  Reports were that the traffic was horrible (5 hours back to Jerusalem, rather than the normal 3), but those who went to Meron at midnight and returned at 3 a.m. (let's not name names here) used the time to sleep.

All in all, a very fun holiday!