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Monday, September 30, 2013

The law of maximum entropy

The Sukkahs (temporary outdoor dwelling space) came down as quickly as they went up.   Last week was the holiday of Sukkot--a holiday known as our time of joy-- and it is such an amazing time to be in Israel.  I personally think it is one of our most fabulous holidays, especially when you get to celebrate and enjoy the entire week.  The building of the Sukkahs that we dwell in for the week of the holiday go up quickly right after Yom Kippur.  I was still in the US at that point this year but it was fun to come back and see all the different varieties that people construct.  The balcony off our apartment is built in such a way that all we really had to do was put up our schach (covering for the Sukkah).   This and hanging the decorations was pretty easy.  Between all the different meals with friends, Sukkah "hopping" parties, and trips, we spent the holiday on the border of fun and too much fun.  Standing on that border is a sweet spot but as an ER doc and a mom I'll let you know that if you add alcohol or your own children into that mixture then cross that border at your own risk!

On the first of the intermediate days we took a trip to Shiloh.  Shiloh is an ancient Bibilical city that was the religious center of Israel for several hundred years before Jerusalem.  It was about a 50 minute drive and is quite scenic.  Mostly rocky hillsides dotted with occasional herds of animals and not so occasional large red signs.  The large red signs were at the entrances to Palestinian towns and inform you that the road leads to "Area A" and is forbidden for Israeli citizens and that it is not only against Israeli law to enter but also dangerous to your life.   Sadly, there was an Israeli man who was murdered that week when he agreed to share a ride home with his Palestinian co-worker.  His colleague did not take him home but instead kidnapped and murdered him.   We work really hard to teach our children not to generalize about groups of people and I think it is an important value, but that story does give pause when it comes to considering danger to you and your family. 

Anyway, Shiloh is a really interesting place to visit.  Unfortunately, we were slightly late for the English tour, so we went on a Hebrew tour.  At this point I guess it's really only unfortunate for me as everybody else's Hebrew is coming along nicely.   You walk along the paths and they perform reenactments of different historical events and try to bring a lot of history/religion to life.  The path of the tour leads up a hill where you watch a movie that is on panoramic screens and it fades in and out of the real life background that you see through the large windows/movie screens to the scenery in the background which is breathtaking. Naturally since we had tickets to the English movie which had already been shown, we had to scramble for some tickets to this one.  Luckily one of the families that had gone with the group had extra tickets though when we got in there were at least 20 of us who had to stand so I'm not even certain why they had the tickets.  Just comparing our family position this Sukkot to last year, it is phenomenal that my kids can listen to what they are hearing.  After the movie we visited different booths where the kids did various thematic art projects, including drawing, mosaics,  grinding spices, and making grape juice.

The next day we went to a small village nearby that teaches agriculture and farming.  They had turned the farm into a big exhibit for kids.  This is the true organic experience with real dirt and mess and not the kind brought to you by Johnson and Johnson.  Though even there, they didn't allow the kids to eat the goat cheese that they made because it was in unpasteurized form.  And it's Israel so you don't have pony rides, you have camel rides.  I thought it would be fun to ride along with the kids.  And it was, until it was time to get off.  To any who would criticize my performance, all I can say is that you should try doing that in a skirt.  Oy vay!  I also wouldn't recommend it to anyone with a hip replacement.  

We weren't sure what to do the next day, when lo and behold a neighbor told us about the annual circus in Modiin.  Yes, dear readers, our amazing city has a circus every year during Chol Hamoed Sukkot.  We went to an acrobat show which was an urban-funk type performance.  Performers way, way fitter than anybody we know (and we know some very fit people!), scampering up and down twenty foot poles like squirrels, swinging from a trapeze upside down while holding another performer with one hand, balancing on a board on top of a rolling cylinder on top of another board, on top of a cylinder moving the other direction, on top of a small table, etc.   Apparently the shows at night involve light shows and all kinds of fun but we already had plans by the time we heard about it, so it's something to look forward to next year.

After Sukkot, there is another holiday called Shemini Atzeret.   The Rabbis compare this to an after party.  Sort of like Sukkot was so much fun let's just spend another day together.  The holiday coincides with Simchat Torah, a celebration marking the end of the annual cycle of Torah reading.  

The day after a holiday is still considered a day off (i.e. no school).  I think this is to give everyone a day to travel back and recuperate, and because of a strong teacher's union.  We used the day to go to the beach with friends who were visiting from the U.S., which we followed with lunch at nearby IKEA's very impressive cafeteria.   The Mediterranean is always beautiful, and the waves were great.   There were, surprisingly, still a few jelly-fish, but they were small enough and few enough to not be a bother.

Speaking of jelly, Sukkot brought hints of Chanukah already, with sufganiyot (Israeli jelly-filled donuts, a Chanukah staple) already making their appearance at the local bakeries.

I had expected that with the wrap up of the holiday season,  I would start my "observation period" in the Emergency Department.  Apparently there is a bit more paperwork that I had previously been unaware of so it will likely be a few months before I actually start.  That's OK-- our space needs some serious organization.  I can't say that I have ever been a good homemaker, but hope springs eternal and I do like to cook.  And from what little I understand of chaos theory (and it is very little) as soon as I start organizing around here, someone else's life is about to get rather crazy.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Final Post of the Year (Jewish Calendar:) )

Oh, my poor abandoned blog!  It has been so long.  I have thought of you and I've meant to sit down and write but you know how it goes.  Anyway, my parents came to visit for almost 3 weeks and it was such a wonderful trip.  Whatever I had hoped it would be in terms of my father and the possibility that it could be his last time in Israel, my expectations were exceeded.  For starters, on the first night he gave me a letter and a necklace.  It was so meaningful, and now I have them for the rest of my life.  For those who don't know my dad, you can see what a caring and thoughtful man he is.  And really, since the natural order in life is for parents to die first what an amazing thing for any parent to do for their child.  So, if any readers out there want to take a cue from my dad:  write a letter to your child for when you are no longer around.  It will mean a lot to them.

A few highlights from their trip:

While they were here my dad's energy was incredible.  We took advantage of every minute.  First of all, my parents brought about 20 pounds of candy to Israel.  The dogs at the airport were probably going nuts thinking that there was something contraband tucked away b/c who in the world brings candy to Israel?  But God bless my parents--they brought 4 suitcases worth of stuff.   One of the things they brought was fresh blueberries.  It had been over a year since we've had berries, so they were a big hit.  I am not sure why we don't have blueberries here.  I have heard you can pick them in the Golan but that would be a drive of several hours, so maybe on some future trip.

After the first Shabbat spent with good friends in Elazar we headed up North.  We went rafting on the Jordan River.  By "we" I mean everyone except for Ariella and me, because in the rafting company employee we found the one person in Israel who was concerned with safety and wouldn't let Ariella go in, because she was under five.  We still had fun though, because well frankly, when was the last time you spent a couple of hours without any distraction hanging out with your child outdoors?  I learned all about her desire to become a bird and live in the tree tops or a lion and roar at the animals in the jungle.  

Our friends in Elazar recommended we go to a placed called "The Orange Grove."  What a fabulous tip.  I haven't seen it in guide books, but if you are visiting in Israel and have children I would try to get there.  It's like winning a golden ticket.  But instead of being invited to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory you are invited to his back yard.  They literally built a backyard type play area in an orange grove.  I mean some people have pretty cool yards.  They have zip lines, and a pool and a cool jungle gym (hey Jay and Margie--how are you doing?) but nobody I know has a back yard like this.  Pretty much any cool thing you could think of to run and jump and play with in a backyard was in this orange grove and it was a ton of fun.

One day we went to the Jerusalem zoo and then met cousins at the outdoor mall bordering the old city.  My dad and one cousin walked to the Kotel (Western wall) and then met us at a restaurant.  Some kind of artist fair was going on, and the mall was packed.  Musicians were playing and it was just a very festive atmosphere.  Luckily, the Italian place we like is sort of hidden away so there was no wait to get in.  As we were trying to figure out exactly what the relationship would be between my kids and my mom's cousins' grandkids, their daughter said "We're English speaking relatives in Israel--that's practically like being twins."  And it's true.  For us anyway, as we don't really have much family here.  As we were leaving the restaurant,  Lital  said she wanted ice cream and since it was only 10PM and we were in Jerusalem  with the grandparents, she got her wish.  You never have to go too far to find ice cream in Israel (unless it's 10PM and you're at Mamilla mall with your children.  That particular detour will cost you at least an hour!)

One day while driving with my mom, I got distracted by Waze (oops) and popped a tire as I bumped up the curb.  I pulled the car over about a block later and before we could even get out of the car, a jogger stopped and offered to change the tire.   I was so confused as to why he had been out running with a jack but later my mom explained that it was from my trunk.  I took a whole semester of driver's ed and frankly I feel like I should get a refund or something because I knew absolutely nothing about changing a tire.  In fact, I didn't even put the car in neutral as I was apparently supposed to.  The fellow who was helping joked that he should have known Americans wouldn't know to put the car in neutral.  Don't be offended, I lived up to every stereotype imaginable that day.  It is something I love about Israel and Modiin people are really helpful.

As is the case with most trips, we didn't do everything we wanted but we had a truly great time together.  My parents left the night before school started.  Now, I've previously told you about our "courtyard of dreams" (another great name from my friend Ilene).  So two nights before school started they had a movie night for the kids in the courtyard with a giant screen and projector and super-loud speakers.  It started at 8PM.  There were two movies.  It was literally in our courtyard so of course there was no way I could keep my kids from going.  Yes, they went to bed at midnight two nights before school started.  I mean I love our building, our neighbors, our courtyard but why would you plan to deprive children of sleep right before the start of school?  Does that sound like a good idea to anyone?

In spite of the late nights, the school year has gotten off to a great start.   Each child is in a different school.  When we first got to Modiin we heard about a school that started about 6 or 8 years ago and has a tremendous reputation.  Basically people told us not to even think about getting our kids into the school because there are wait lists and it's impossible to get in.  It's not a private school but maybe more like a magnet or charter school.  So naturally who does Nehemiah become friends with right away---a bunch of the kids from this school.  They all assumed he could just "get in".  You know, because they're 10 years old.  One of our projects while my parents were here was trying to get him in since it did seem like such a good fit.  And while there are many ways in which I could describe Nehemiah, motivated student would not be one of them.  In spite of that, and in spite of all the odds, we did get him in!  It was such a relief.   Running with this new crowd of kids N had started to feel really comfortable in Israel.  One day he announced that he was going to stop calling soccer by that name and call it football.  He reasoned that really only Americans called it soccer and he wasn't in America any more.  I took this as a real sign of progress and then he went on to tell us that he thinks he has realized his true destiny:  to be British and be the goalie for Liverpool!

Lital is in the local public school that is basically on our corner.  She slid right in and the teacher said that unlike new immigrants who tend to stick with English speakers only, Lital is friends with native Israelis and immigrants.  Most of the school-age kids from our building go to this school so it is a natural fit.  I was very happy to hear that.  Ariella goes to a Gan (kindergarten) in a building right next to Lital's school.  We are in a very sweet spot in the mornings b/c the girls have about a 5 minute walk (don't worry, I take Ariella) and Nehemiah has about a 12 minute walk.  Everyone can get out and no need to rush into a car.  It is actually pleasant.  Last night Ariella asked Michael how to say "Spanish" in Hebrew.  She explained that she wants to find out if anyone in her class speaks Spanish but she can't ask them in Spanish because she doesn't speak it, and she can't ask them in English because they wouldn't understand, and she can't ask them in Hebrew, because she doesn't yet know how to say "Spanish"!  What she plans to do with this information is beyond me.  We are glad that she has a few English speakers in her Gan because she no longer speaks English like a native but instead translates from the Hebrew.  For example:

"Will you give to me that apple?" or "Hadar wants me to visit if you let."  Between English at home and having a few English speaking friends, hopefully that trend will reverse itself.

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year starts tomorrow.   I have crammed a lot in, perhaps rambled a bit.  Our year is certainly off to a sweet start.   Let me sign off with the following blessing, inspired by Ariella:

I wish to you a good and sweet year!