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Monday, February 25, 2013

Ahoy Matey!

Purim was such great fun.  We brought the kids to school in costumes on Friday and stayed for a few minutes just to soak in the atmosphere.  Kids were streaming all around in their costumes (some on roller blades--oh my!) and the music was pumping.  They had been told not to bring anything with them that day except for a mishloach manot (Purim gift basket).  Guess who ran out to buy the contents for said baskets late the night before?  But never mind that.  My parents, who love to send packages to the kids, sent all the costumes.  This was a stroke of genius on my mom's part when she realized she could buy post-Halloween costumes at a steal and send them here.  All the girls in L's class swarmed around to see her beautiful "Cleopatra" costume, and as soon as we brought A to the gan (pre-K) the teachers proclaimed of her pirate costume "that can't be from cute."  N got the "Ironman" costume but instead decided to put a cowboy hat on and a bow tie and told people he was the "Lone Ranger."  I didn't know how to translate that name so we just hummed the theme song if anyone asked.

Michael found his Purim home this year.  On Shabbat morning a friend told us about the Yemenite custom which is to read the megillah (Book of Esther) with not one sound from the audience.  Not a peep.  It is customary to make a noise whenever Haman's (bad guy) name is read to drown out his name.  Add to that a public reading with kids running around and you can imagine that sometimes it can be hard to hear.   We have  a Yemenite minyan in our town that actually just uses one of the rooms in our synagogue.  Can you hear the heavenly choir now?  What a relief.  Michael went to that minyan and it was like landing in his own Nirvana.  It also took all the stress off our family having fun b/c I was able to go to a different reading and we traded watching the kids so I was also free to listen and concentrate.
In the final two minutes of Shabbat the kids started a countdown and then when the clock struck they literally started jumping up and down and shouting "it's Purim, it's Purim."  I don't entirely know what they were told would happen but they raced upstairs and changed into their costumes and ran to the synagogue for the Megilla reading.

I sat with a friend whose husband had just finished writing his own Megillat Esther.  What a meaningful experience it was to sit in Israel and listen to this ancient story of Jewish perseverance and follow along on a handwritten scroll that was written by a friend and citizen of modern Israel.  Wow.

The next day Michael went to a morning reading and then we traded places and I went to a women's only Megilla reading.  It was very special.  An all female audience and all female readers.  Some did a slightly dramatic reading but mostly they just chanted the traditional trop (musical motif).  I went back home and we put together our mishloach manot.  Meanwhile people kept coming to the door with baskets for us.  My parents sent a huge basket that was delivered by a company and the kids went crazy.  By early afternoon our dining room table was filled with enough junk to last us until next Purim.  People were quite creative with all kinds of homemade treats and even liquors and fine chocolates.  Needless to say we all indulged.  M put a tuxedo on for his costume and we went out to hand deliver a few baskets.  I have never been in an environment where everyone is participating in Purim.  People were delivering baskets, playing Purim music, hanging out in costume.  Someone even gave M some wine under the pretense of it being grape juice.  All day, A advised us to save some energy for the next day "shu-shu" Purim.  There is a holiday called "Shushan" Purim (Shushan being the capital of Persia at the time of the Purim story) but I guess she didn't quite hear it right. 

Later in the afternoon we joined friends at their house for a Purim Seudah (the festive meal).  Lord Grantham, a/k/a Michael had changed back into jeans but the kids stayed in costume so it was the 4 of us and a strung-out Pirate.  Our friends are quite creative and they had set up a beautiful meal plus the dad played "Purim Jeopardy" with the kids.   We had a really nice time.  And our pirate cheered up a bit after getting some real food (and not just junk) into her system.  That night we consolidated everything we hadn't eaten or opened and the candy alone was close to 10 pounds!

Today for shu-shu Purim (really only celebrated in walled cities--such as Jerusalem) we laid low.  L organized a family art contest in the morning and I'm so proud to announce that I took second place.  It was actually the first art contest I have ever won in my life --excluding the time in 5th grade when I painted a picture of the plaza lights and then accidentally dropped it on someone else's painting.  It was still wet so the streaky effect was mistaken for "art" and by the time my painting was being recognized it was way too late for me to correct the matter.  (Sorry Mrs. Phillips if you're reading now).   We took the kids to a local Purim fair put on by the youth group.  They did all the kid things that are fun when you're that age (including eating cotton candy the size of your head) and that night M took N for one of his baseball games, which they won 11-2.   Yes, they scored 11 runs, and their team got only one hit in the game.  Figure that out, baseball experts.  Also, N called a time-out during the game and ran to the pitcher to share some words.  One of the fathers commented that he never before saw a left fielder come to consult with the pitcher during game time.  Apparently, impressed by the previous strikeout, and inspired by a bit of boredom out in left field, N was curious about whether the pitcher could throw a "slider" (a pitch he tells me he learned about from Uncle Howie.) 

 I stayed back with L & A and we had our own little dance party.  It was a great way to wrap up (what in our old lives would have been known as a long weekend) the holiday.   Favorite quote of the weekend came from N who has a special talent for turning things on their head.   "I think we should thank Haman b/c if it hadn't been for him we wouldn't have Purim."  I'm going to bottle up all that good feeling and save it for a rainy day.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

1/4 + 1/4 = 1/2 Duh.

This week we had some sad but not unexpected news: Michael's grandma died on Tuesday.  The kids had a hard time with it, and they expressed pride in their Grandma Faye.  Life is full of these simultaneous peaks and valleys.  We have a loss like this intertwined with everything going on with our kids.  I wrote the post below the other day, a reflection of our experience before we heard the news.  I would like to dedicate it to Grandma Faye, a consummate lady.

This morning we were running a bit late for school (it's my blog so please grant me the indulgence of pretending that this is a rare occurrence).  Anyway, in our tardiness L told me not to worry "we're not learning anything anyway--it's Purim."  Just what every mother wants to hear about their kids and school.  Actually it is somewhat heartening to know that L can now tell the difference between holiday fun and learning.  Last week we met with her teacher who told us that L is like an Israeli who just finished 1st grade in terms of her reading comprehension, writing etc.  Considering she just finished her first semester as a second grader here we thought that was great news.  We had been told by others that in the first year it is mostly important that they stay up to date with math.  Her teacher said she is with the class in math--more good news.  It's a bit harder getting information from N's teacher.  Unfortunately she has been working all year under the theory that you don't need to know Hebrew to follow along in a Hebrew only classroom.  She feels this is especially true when it comes to math.  I tried to explain that I didn't think the kids would understand the math lesson if she gave it say in Chinese but my point was not understood.  I guess she feels that since the numbers look the same one should simply intuit the lesson from just looking at the numbers.  Of course taken to it's logical extreme there would be no need for a teacher in the classroom but I didn't think pointing that out to her would do much good.  Sigh.

So L might tell me they aren't learning anything but I can tell you the main thing they're learning right now is that Israel is a fabulous place to be in the weeks before Purim.  The kids are having the best time.  They actually look forward to school these days.  A & L come home with faces painted or some type of costume every day.  Between the 3 of them we have parties every night this week.  I was at a paper goods store today and there were so many choices for Purim themed fun.  Plus you can sing along to the overhead music and everyone else in the store is getting stuff for mishloach manot (Purim baskets given to friends) which is fun to watch and be part of.   This year I am learning new songs that I had never heard before courtesy of Ariella.  I think some of them might be her own creations but a few of them are clearly beyond her ability and thus I think the real deal.  Another thing I learned.  Israeli's don't call hamantschen (traditional Purim cookie) by that name--N had a friend over the other day and I offered him a homemade hamantschen and he just gave me a blank stare.  Here they are called Oznei Haman (Haman's---bad guy in Purim story--ears).

Apparently N & L are in an English play at school.  L of course has everyone's parts memorized but I don't think N who is supposed to be King Achashverosh has even looked at the script.  It is super cute though to think of the handful of English speakers doing this project on their own.  From what I understand it is not a school initiative but they are performing it for the school (might be interesting for those in attendance to see what it's like to not understand.)

It's also possible that a lot of the fun and happiness is prep for the news of what happens during Passover time.  Kids are home for 2 weeks.  Aaaack.  I mean I am totally looking forward to the week of Passover and traveling around with the kids.  But 2 weeks.  Hello.  Most of what makes being a "stay at home mom' right now so great is that the kids aren't home.  OK.  Deep breath.

Driver's license conversion update:  Last week I took my form to the Ministry of Licensing in Rehovot. For those of you interested in Aliyah in the future just make a note that the Ministry of Licensing in Rehovot can not stamp your green form.  They would if they could but they can't.  That can only be done in Holon, and only on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8-12.  The good news is, I don't mind heading to Holon now that I have Waze.  I actually enjoy driving around Israel.  The scenery is just so unbelievably gorgeous you can't help but feel inspired, as if anything is possible.   I feel almost as if I will ultimately convert my current license to an Israeli one.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On the road again

The clock is running out for the easy path to getting a driver's license.  Coming from the US we have one year to convert our licenses to Israeli driver's licenses, which means we only have 5 months left.  If we don't do it this way we will have to take 22 driving lessons before being allowed to get a license.  If you have been reading this blog for any time you will of course know that  switching our licenses is a multi-step process.

Step one, go to the optician and get an eye exam and have them fill out the green form.  This was actually quite simple, after you find the one optician in the entire region who has permission from the state to carry the green forms.  Since this is such a simple step I did it in July.  Finding that green form in February was a touch more complicated.

Step two, take green form to family doctor who attests that you are in good enough health to be on the road.  Ironically, visiting the doctor was much like the New York Department of Motor Vehicles, Medicine Branch.  My apologies if I offend because I have heard that the NY DMV has improved in recent years, but I remember the good old days.   In contrast to our pediatrician who is quite involved and interested, my family doctor was more like a bureaucrat.  The set up is the opposite of the American system where patients wait in the room and the doctor enters.  Here the doctor sits at the desk and after one patient leaves the next enters.  I walked in and she said "Insurance card," then just asked me some questions, took my vital signs, walked me over to the exam table, did a quick exam, stamped my form and sent me on my merry way.  She wasn't in any way rude or inappropriate just completely and totally matter of fact.  I don't know what visits are like if you have an actual medical problem but the set-up remains the same.  Michael tells me that his doc, a fellow by the name of Boris, is more engaged.  He made fun of Michael's middle name, which is clearly very humorous, and admired the medication bottle from the U.S.

Step 3, take now-completed green form for extra stamping to an office in Rehovot (largest nearby city) and then call for a mandatory driving lesson after which we will take the driving test.  I feel pretty confident about the driving test because I have already learned so many rules of the road in the short time I've been here.  Most important is to remember that every driver out there is in more of a rush and has a more important destination than you do.   Here are a few of the other important ones:

1.  Anywhere a car can go can become a parking lot.  This can be the middle of the road or a traffic circle.  Pretty much at any time the driver feels like stopping their car to perhaps say hello to a friend they see on the sidewalk, or make a call, let a passenger out or whatever suits their fancy.  It's really not their issue that you were planning on driving forward on that path because after all you can simply drive around them.

2.  Leap frog while driving is a national sport.  The more narrow and windy the road the more intensely this game is played and if you feel the person in front of you is driving too slowly, just pass them.  I, for one, have no idea where these people are rushing to so earnestly, because trust me, wherever they're going they will have to wait. 

3.  Lanes are for amateurs.   In spite of most cars here being small and compact and not jeep-like land rovers, people will drive over anything.  But beware b/c they will also come in and out of your lane even if you are going in opposite directions (see number 2.)

4.  In spite of a culture of cell phones being acceptable anywhere and everywhere (and I mean everywhere--like even the grocery store checkout clerk will stop to take a call) they are not allowed while driving and actually I think the majority of people follow this rule.

5.  Honking is an efficient early-alert system designed to save precious seconds of driving time.  Red lights are still stop and green lights are still go, but there is no yellow.  Instead, the green flashes before turning red.   If you are at a red light it will start flashing red and yellow together just before turning green.  This gives the drivers behind you a head start on honking just in case you were thinking of waiting a nanosecond after the light turns green.

6.  Don't leave home without Waze.  This is an incredible application for the smartphone that works as a real time GPS to get you to your destination in the fastest way.  It of course was invented by an Israeli.  I love Waze.  It's like bringing a friend along who knows exactly where you're going and the best way to get there every single time.  And as the kids say "waze cares" because it always starts by reminding you to drive safely.

So friends, drive safely!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

When Adar comes, we increase joy

What a joyful time to be in Israel.   The upcoming holiday of Purim which is really only a one-day holiday lasts for a month here, or so I'm told.  The evidence has been out for a couple of weeks as you can go into any bakery and find freshly baked hamantashen (triangular cookie with filling) and depending on where you go you can even hear Purim songs on the street!  The kids are all excited and they have begun singing new Purim songs and making their plans (and arguing over the "correct" version of the songs.)   L is working on a new musical with a Purim theme.  She did mention that it's hard to make a happy show with the underlying theme of attempted wiping out of all the Jews.  Hmmm, by a man from Persia.  This is sounding too familiar. 

Well, back to the joy.  Right now the orange trees are blooming everywhere.  This does also mean oranges on the sidewalks and as we were walking down the street the other day,  L picked up an orange and asked if she could eat it.  N responded with "First you have to know that the tree is 4 years old, then you have to make sure terumot and maasrot have been taken (a kosher issue), and then you have to have permission from the owner."  I paused.  How do you know that?  "Oh, we learned it in school."  Apparently he is understanding more than I realized.  Lately, he has been telling me that he can't wait to get to school.  Clearly not for the classes.  No, dear readers, I think his longing to be in class is a very distant dream.  It is because he has taken an interest in soccer.  I have come to see how sports can be a great equalizer.  Even though we moved from a place where it is quite en vogue to play soccer, N was never really interested.  Here, though, it is so popular and he has started playing with the neighborhood kids and his classmates at recess.  The other day he told me his favorite player is a fellow named Henry (which is his last name.)   How this information is obtained I will never know.   I have always found the children's information network so interesting.   I remember in Kansas my children being able to tell me entire plot lines from tv shows or movies they had never seen.  This was not something unique to them and it is b/c of the children's information network.  But I digress.  L is having a great time at basketball and last week even got the award for best player at the practice.  She was beaming; she was so proud.

Over Shabbat, we went to the Shomron region of Israel to stay with friends.   It was a really great Shabbat.  In the morning we were all in the backyard and the views of the mountain/hilltops are just amazing.  A looked out and declared "Eretz Yisrael is so beautiful."  And in deed it is.  In the afternoon we took a walk with our friends and saw blooming almond trees, olive bushes and several species of flowers along the way.  I am always struck by how Israelis seem to know so much about the local flora and fauna.  This is apparently learned in school, and is such a great way to connect to the land.  Everyone in their town is traditionally observant so there are no cars on the roads on Shabbat.  This means that kids and adults walk freely on the streets, which rocked Ariella's world.  When she first saw kids on the street she ran to me for fear that their negligent mothers were going to allow them to be hit by a car.   We finally convinced her that no one drives on Shabbat in this town and it is safe only on Shabbat to be on the street.   Once it sunk in she asked me to walk on the sidewalk so that she could experience the unadulterated pleasure of walking on the street by herself.   Anyway, we had a great time and stopped to see other friends on the way home which made for a pretty late night.  Today (Sunday) I let them all sleep in and have started thinking that maybe Sunday should just become a late day for us.  Now that I am in-between ulpan and working (assuming my license is ever granted) it is a luxury we can have and I think will make for a more relaxed start to the school week.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Rabbis, Politics and Raggedy Ann

Last week A was playing preschool with her stuffed animals and teaching them about Rav Tzvi Yehudah HaCohen Cook (famous historic Israeli Rabbinic figure) and Yerushalayim ir haKodesh (Jerusalem our holy city).  I can't say that Panda bear or Raggedy Ann have a particularly historically accurate view of things but the cuteness factor was 10 plus.  Tomorrow her preschool is going to Jerusalem to visit the Knesset (the Parliament).  When I asked her what they were going to do there she said "kiss the Torah."  This is because a synagogue in Hebrew is a Bet Knesset so she clearly thinks they are taking a field trip to a synagogue.  The name of  course is no accident as the current Knesset (assembly) is so called after the first Knesset--Men of the Great Assembly--that convened in Jerusalem many many years ago (5th century BCE).  I am much more excited about this trip than she is because it is so wonderful to think of her first field trip being to Jerusalem.  I won't take it for granted.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Shalom ulpan

I had my Hebrew ulpan final.  Hooray!  The day was rainy and grey and I think the Russians were a bit nervous b/c the second hand smoke in the bathroom could have choked a horse.  My buddy who comes in a tie and shirt wore a full pinstripe suit for the exam.  He must subscribe to the "dress for success" theory,  and good for him!  I may have confused a couple of tenses but I'm sure I passed and it's impressive to see how much we've learned in a short time.  You learn more than a language in ulpan.   Clearly, whoever puts the curriculum together is aware that the students are undergoing tremendous amounts of change, and a lot of the reading material that we were given fell into two categories.

Category one was something like:  "Wow, I thought I had it rough but this is someone who really had it hard."  This category had texts about subjects like Helen Keller, the Ethiopians who had to sneak out of their country and walk on foot across the Sudan to meet the secret Israeli lifts taking them to Israel, and Natan Sharansky.

Category two:  Wow, a lot of people have sacrificed so much to make Israel a reality and/or so many have dedicated their lives to making this country a reality.

Another thing I learned, though this was not in the required reading, is that germ theory hasn't surfaced on all continents.  Many places are sort of pre-Pasteur.  Though perhaps I shouldn't be so smug, as one of the main causes of disease in the US is doctors not washing hands.

We had a big celebration at home that night.  The kids and I made a super delicious chocolate cake.  This was a recipe that called for 3 cups of sugar and needed 3 bowls for the different mixing.  I'm more of a one bowl type of cook (not a food blog--but I've been saying for years that couscous is a working mom's best friend) but this cake was seriously worth it.  The next morning L had taped notes on everyone's doors that she designed to look like we had gotten mail from friends back home.  I didn't want to tell her that one of our clues that the letters were from her is that the post office doesn't tape letters to the doors inside your house.  Though I'm still not completely clear on how our local post office does work, in light of our spotty mail service.   The kids have been writing letters lately and I've had a couple of trips to the U.S.   The first time, the clerk let me know that the "stamps" I had put on the envelopes were actually just stickers.  Oops.  Guess I didn't realize that the book of stamps I bought is an interconnection of real stamps and just plain, old stickers.  Since that time I've had varying answers as to how many stamps actually are required for a letter to the States and last week when I brought two letters and asked about the postage the clerk replied with "are they important?"  Gee, I don't know.  I mean, I want them to arrive where they're going and not just pay for a stamp to make the envelope look nice, because I do actually have stickers for that purpose.