Monthly Archives: February 2011

Israel visit – changes in plans

Sunday (Feb. 6) morning I got up an hour or two before the girls so I could map all the driving directions for the day.  When I lived in Israel, I didn’t know how to drive and only used public transportation, but everywhere I’d be going that day would be entirely new to me in any event.    This took an hour and a half, but I was finally satisfied I had worked out all the different directions I’d need for our drive to Tzfat later in the day.

We finally left around 11 am or so, and I was very glad to see someone I had wanted to visit the day before (but hadn’t had the opportunity) waiting at the bus stop.  We ended up sitting together and talking all the way to Jerusalem – she was marrying off the last of her children in a large family, and I wanted a financial rundown of how she did it!   At the last stop in Beitar, one of my old neighbors got on the bus – she had lived upstairs from me, and at one point, had taken care of my oldest when he was 2 years old between the time his playgroup was over and I had returned home from work, and I had taken care of her baby in the mornings at a later time when I was home full-time.  I was so glad to have the chance to see her, even though it was really a very brief conversation.  I pointed out dd14 and dd16 sitting on the bus behind me; she still remembered dd16, but we had moved from that building to a different neighborhood when dd14 was quite young.  We were about 19 and 20 when we first met, and it’s an interesting feeling to be so conscious of how much time has passed. 

When we got to Jerusalem, we took the local bus (with all of our luggage for the week – was the least fun part of traveling on buses was having to deal with this) and took a very scenic path, shall we say, from the bus stop to the car rental place.  On the map it didn’t look too far, and it wouldn’t have been, but we were directed through a park with a long winding path that took us only a tiny bit closer to where we needed to be when we got out than when we started!.  I was so glad our luggage had wheels, because this would have been really horrible without it.  As it was, it was physically exerting – lots of good exercise since I was pulling two full suitcases behind me.  Lots of opportunities for positively reframing situations were sent to me on this day!

We finally got there and signed in, and as part of the process was informed about extra costs, etc.  I decided to get the extra insurance, and after I had finished signing all the paperwork, was informed that my credit card would be billed afterward for any tolls.  I told him I planned to pay for tolls in cash, but he explained that in Israel you can’t do that, your car is automatically billed.  But not to worry, the car rental company would take care of it for us – it would be just a 49 shekel charge.  And how much was the toll on the road I wanted to take?  17 shekels. 

This sounded a little extortionist, so I decided to take a different route, one that another representative mapped out for me.  She said it would take about 30 minutes longer than the original route, but I was okay with that.  It was too bad I had spent so long on all of those carefully arranged driving directions and they were no longer necessary, but I took an attitude of rolling with the punches – it’s a small country, and on the map it didn’t look like too complicated. 

When our car was pulled up for us, we piled our suitcases in with a sigh of relief that we wouldn’t have to take them out again until we got to our destination, and the girls sank back and relaxed.  Though I can’t say I relaxed at that point (after all, I was the driver!) I was glad to have gotten the car and be on our way, and glad that the girls were feeling good about it! 

The first difference I noticed about driving in Israel was when a traffic light blinked at a major intersection.  I wasn’t sure what that meant, and since I was the driver closest to the light, I couldn’t take my cues from another driver, so I figured I’d take it as a warning to slow down.  That was a smart decision – the only problem was that I didn’t realize that although there were two traffic lights, one after the other – there was only one place to stop – before the first.  So I stopped before the second – which I learned a few seconds later was smack in the middle of the intersection,  with traffic turning in front and behind me.  This was more than a  little unnerving, since I clearly realized at this point no cars were supposed to be there, so I mentally focused on feeling safe and not getting hit. 

Well, you live and you learn, and though it would have been nice if I had had even one traffic light prior to this major one learn on it would have been more pleasant, but that’s okay.  As we accelerated after the light, our car was jittering horribly, which continued to happen every single time I stopped for a light and then reaccelerated – eventually it had us laughing hard about this phenomena and we nicknamed our car the ‘Jitterslug’!  But we continued on and I slowly started to ….well, not relax, because driving in a foreign country when you don’t know where you’re going isn’t relaxing…. but I got into the groove. 

It was a gorgeous day, I was appreciating the opportunity to extend my comfort zone by doing something that had previously been outside my comfort zone, and I was enjoying the drive.  At one point, dd16, who was navigating, asked if she could take a break since we were on a highway that we would be continuing straight on for a long time, so I said fine.  After about fifteen minutes, I noticed a minuet coming up on the left and since there were  no Arab villages on my planned trip, I looked around to see if I could roll down the window to ask another driver to confirm I was on the right road.  And as I looked all around, I saw only Arab men and women in headscarves, so I very quickly at the light made a sharp u-turn and sped in the other direction.

This jolted dd14 in the back seat awake, and I told dd16 she better quickly look at the map and tell me where I was, because I didn’t want to be there!  It turns out that to stay on the highway we were on (that appeared straight on the map), we needed to make a 90 degree turn, and that by continuing straight, we’d ended up on a road that looked as if we’d have to make a 90 degree turn to get onto!  Lesson: pay attention to the map and the road signs closely, even if you’re sure you know where you’re going.

Well, a while later we were back on the highway we needed to be on, and I told dd16 she couldn’t take any more breaks, that I’d appreciate an extra pair of eyes paying attention along with me.  But as I drove, and drove, and drove – it seemed to be taking a very, very long time to get there, even though my driving speed was good.  At this point, I should have been in Tzfat, and I could see by looking at the map that we were nowhere close to there.  It was also obvious at this point that the route designated was the scenic approach (this was becoming a regular experience!) which took us along every major city along the coast – it would have been hard to have had a less direct approach. 

Well, about an hour after that, I told the girls we were going to have to make a change in plans, since it was getting dark and I was starting to feel confused by the road signs that seemed to keep changing – I continually was wondering if we were on the road we were supposed to be on, and no amount of looking at the map was helping since the numbers on the map didn’t match the numbers on the sign, I think because I was then on local roads and only major highways were marked.  I was by now really tired and was feeling very concerned about my ability to find my way without daylight on my side – after all, we’d had gorgeous weather all day long and it hadn’t been easy even then. 

We were in Haifa at this point, and I said I thought we should stay at dd’s school (in Kiryat Motzkin, about twenty or thirty minutes past Haifa) for the night, which wouldn’t be that much out of the way.  Neither of the girls liked this idea, but at this point I put my foot down – I knew I couldn’t drive safely much longer – I hadn’t had much sleep the night before, and now I was really feeling worn out.  So dd called the dorm mother to confirm it was okay (we had already been there the first night of my visit and were planning to be back there on Tuesday night, so it just meant arriving two nights early), and it was.

After five hours, we arrived at dd’s school.  I know, those of you in Israel will wonder how it could possibly have taken that long – you can practically travel from one end of the country to the other in that time – but it did (and my detour only accounted for half an hour).  Part of it was getting stuck in Haifa’s rush hour traffic, part of it was not knowing how to get from the highway to dd’s school, part of it was a couple of small wrong turns – but the main part was taking a very long route from Jerusalem.  It was such a relief to get to her school, and after hours of wondering where I was and when I’d be there, to be somewhere familiar. 

I called our hosts to let them know we wouldn’t be there that night, though I still hoped we’d make it the next night.  We got to dd’s school around 7, in time for dinner, and by 8:30 pm, I was asleep.  And I slept for the next eleven hours straight. 


Israel visit – melave malka

I know, it’s taking me forever to tell you all about my Israel trip, but hopefully you feel it’s better late than never!

On Saturday night (Feb. 5), the friend who had us for the third Shabbos meal hosted a melave malka get together as a chance for people I knew to see me and me to see them.  She put together a beautiful spread, lots of really nice food – but I was too busy talking to people I hadn’t seen in over a decade to do more than look at it until the very end!

When she asked me about planning it, I told her I didn’t think there would be that many people interested in coming.  After all, I hadn’t been there for so many years, and had hardly stayed in contact with any of them.  And it was a cold winter night, people are busy, and who’s going to drag themselves out when there are so many other things that need to be done to see someone they hardly remember?

She said she was sure there would be people who wanted to come, and I told her however many or few came would be fine with me.  There were ten women who came, and it was such a nice group!  And it was really nice to see that even having been gone so long, there were still people who felt a connection to me.  I had minimized in my mind anything I had done in the past, and it was a reminder to me that even if I had forgotten what I’d done, others hadn’t.  For example, two women were there who I had been with for their first two births, several people had attended my childbirth classes, I had made sheva brachos for two of them, one had attended my EMETT group (Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah), one was a walking partner – but regardless of what the relationship was and how it developed, they were all wonderful people and I was glad to see every single one.  (Thank you again, R, for arranging this beautiful event – it was very special for me.)

We ended up staying so late that we missed the last bus that would take us to the A section of Beitar (the melave malka section was held in B, which didn’t even exist when I was there – it’s like another city now!), so we finally walked back at 1 am.  I was glad to do this because it gave me a chance to pass by the apartment we still own and see it.  If I had the time, I would have loved to have spent time visiting neighbors in that building and seeing other friends as well in the city, but there just wasn’t time. 

As we were walking, I suddenly said to my girls, “I just want you to remember that even though Israel feels so safe, and a place like Beitar is extremely safe, don’t compromise yourself by thinking you don’t have to be aware of your surroundings.  Be aware of your gut feeling and listen to it, even if things look fine. ”  I lived in Beitar for six years, and as a doula sometimes had to walk alone in the city in the early hours of the morning and never felt unsafe at any time – the crime rate hardly existed – and it was a strange thing to me to suddenly say it right then, but that’s when the thought came to mind. 

As I was finishing saying this, we crossed the street and encountered a (religiously dressed) man.  As we walked by, he very deliberately stared us up and down and slowly rotated to watch us as we continued going by.  I admonished him very aggressively in Hebrew, and kept walking.  Later dd16 told me this was the creepiest person she ever encountered, but it creeped her out even more when I yelled at him (because I’m not at all a person who yells at people and that confirmed something was really wrong).  I was feeling uneasy about this, but when we heard him start to rapidly follow us, my girls started walking faster and for about a minute, so did I.  Until I decided there’s no way we’d make it to where we were staying, so I whirled around and demanded to know what he thought he was doing, and he better leave us alone.  That made him nervous, so he moved into the street and tried to hush me so I didn’t attract attention, but I yelled at him more and stood there until he went by, noticing that a couple of men further down the street had now stopped talking and were watching to see what was going on.  

It’s interesting that both of my girls had the same exact thought when they initially saw him – that he looked like a person dressed religiously, but not a religious person.  Whatever the case, I was glad that the thought had been sent to me to be aware prior to this so I was able to immediately shift into the appropriate mode to handle him.  My daughter later asked me what would I have done if he had kept following us, and I laughed and told her I would have whacked him with my substantial purse.  (A couple of days later, I saw a story on the Israeli news of a 70 year old women in Britain who single handedly attacked a gang of 6 masked men by smacking them with her purse –  you must watch this quick clip!  Look at the right of the screen and see the figure in the red coat running toward them.) 

Our very late return meant that we changed our plans for the following day; I had been planning a very early departure from Beitar to Jerusalem, where we’d pick up our rental car and then drive to the hot spring of Hamat Gader, on the southeastern side of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), then continue on to Tzfat (Safed) for the night.  Instead, I told them they could sleep in and after we got our rental car, we’d drive to Tzfat and spend the afternoon exploring the Old City and other sites in the area (which we’d been planning to do on Tuesday), and we’d go to the Hamat Gader hot springs on Tuesday instead.

That was the plan, at least!  But things don’t always work out as planned….


Chakra quiz

Yesterday I told a friend about an online test I did to see how my energy was – it’s a test to evaluate your chakras (seven energy centers).  Though I think I’m pretty self-aware, I was surprised by the results: five of my chakras were strong, one of my chakras was weak (no surprise), another was closed. 

The surprise to me was that one chakra was totally blocked, and when I did a little reading beyond the little information bite, I didn’t believe that the results for that chakra were accurate.  So I did a search for a more detailed free test and then took that.  The results of that were more specific, given in percentages, and this time, it showed that one chakra was weak (the same as before), and everything else was in a good range.  (In case you’re wondering, I don’t know enough about what questions correlate to what to be able to get the answers I want, and if you’re going to take a test like this, you should be as honest as you can be or the results aren’t indicative of anything.)

About six weeks ago I went to an osteopathic doctor who also is an accupuncturist and familiar with Chinese healing modalities, and she asked me a bunch of questions, including about my energy.  (I’ve been doctor-less for my entire adult life, and thought it would be nice to have the support of someone comfortable with an alternative perspective, and when I learned that she is covered by my insurance plan, I jumped at the opportunity.)  I told her it was basically fine, and she kind of went, ‘um hmm’, sounding somewhat doubting.  Then she checked all my energy points and seemed suprised, so I asked her why, and she said, “Your energy is all actually flowing pretty well; I didn’t expect that.”  😛

But it’s been a draining year and the chakra quiz brought up the area I’ve been lagging in a very obvious way.  It was helpful to see this validated, and though I believe that things I’m already doing will improve how I’m feeling in this area, it brings home to me that it’s an area I need to consciously pay attention to if I want to feel balanced. 

Here’s the quiz for anyone who’s interested – it’s free and there are simple suggestions online for how to rebalance a weak chakra.  (Like everything, there’s lots to learn but you don’t have to become a specialist in order to apply basic strategies.)


Ds’s bike story

Today I did my monthly shopping, and took everyone except for ds12, who had his chumash learning group in the morning to attend.  When I got home ds wasn’t home, so I called a couple of friends whose homes I thought he might be at, and found him at the second house.

When he got on the phone, he told me his bike had just been stolen when he was in synagogue for afternoon services, and he had gone to this friend afterward who lives close by to report it to the neighborhood patrol.  He uses his bike all the time to get around, and it’s so important to him to have one that told me he’ll buy himself another one.

While I was out, he slept earlier in the day and was so well-rested and perky that I decided to take him with me to my parenting class rather than leave him home with everyone else who was in the winding down stage of the evening.  Since we meet in the synagogue, I told him he could go upstairs for the evening prayer service and then he could learn on his own or read while he waited for me.  When my class ended 90 minutes later, he told me he had his bike back!

Here’s what happened: a boy of about 14 or 15 came to the synagogue to learn and was riding ds’s bike.  While this boy went upstairs to learn. leaving the bike downstairs, ds took his bike to the home of a friend nearby (who was the same friend from whose home he had reported the theft a few hours before) to leave it in a safe place; he wasn’t sure how to approach the older boy to tell him that was his bike. Fortunately, his friend’s father came home when he was there with the bike, and went back with him to quiz the teenager.  The teen explained that he bought the bike from a local pawn shop a few hours before, and that the owner seemed to be in a rush to get rid of it.  So the community patrol was again contacted and the father of his friend spent a while on the phone with them giving them all the details. (Yes, while all of this was going on I was giving my class and I had no idea!)

The shop has a video recording of everyone who was there today, so they’re going to check it out tomorrow so they can identify the thief.  Ds got his bike back, and the boy (who ds told me was a really nice kid) was told he would get his money back when they straightened it out with the pawn shop, which I hope is very soon since he was just buying what he thought was a nice bike at a great price. 

So less than five hours after his bike was stolen, ds12 has his bike back again!  This was only the second time that I brought ds with me to my class, and amazingly enough, he was there at just the right time to see the person with his bike!  Though bike theft is all too common in our city, getting it back isn’t , and it’s really fun that not only does ds have his bike back, but he has a good story to go along with it!


Power out and backup lighting

Last night I taught my children what the adage, “Two is one and one is none” means.

Yesterday afternoon, our power went out – we had strong winds and a huge tree went down into someone’s garage right opposite the back of our house, pulling down power lines with it.  It wasn’t until it was evening and I noticed that almost all of our neighbors had their lights on that I realized it didn’t affect many people more than us.  Fortunately for us, someone had called the power company earlier in the day, and as Shabbos was ending, a truck pulled up to begin the repair.

Now, a power outage shouldn’t be a big deal, right?  Last week dh noticed that all of our battery powered lanterns and flashlights have no batteries, so he bought some.  Just in time!  But as frequently happens in the busyness of a large family, he couldn’t find them on the shelf he had placed them on just a few days ago.  So none of those lights were of use.

But that’s okay, because I had purchased three lights that are powered by winding, just in case.  The problem was those is that you had to basically continually wind them for them to be of any use – not much help!  We bought the older boys headlights for their backpacking trip several months ago, and a headlight would be perfect for a situation like this, since it directs light where you need it and frees up your hands – but wouldn’t you know, a little person must have been playing with it since the one I was sure I could locate two days ago was no longer there!

On to the oil lamps.  Do you remember a couple of years ago when I mentioned that I purchased attachments that could turn a mason canning jar into a lamp?  I bought three, and although all three glass tops that channel the flame were broken, I knew the lamps would work anyway.  One jar/lamp had been filled and used a number of times since we got them, for atmospheric dinnertimes in the winter.  So I knew that was fine.  Dh pulled it down and lit it, but it wasn’t burning well.  It seems the wick was too short.  So he transferred it to a smaller jar, where it fit perfectly.  That was then burning beautifully, while he and dd10 figured out how to connect the attachments to two other jars so we’d have three lamps going at once. 

But – once again, the reality of life with lots of little kids – two of the attachments had been damaged by apparently someone stepping on them and bending them out of shape!  And just then, the one lamp that was burning ignited right under the lid – I think when dh poured the fuel from one jar to another, some spilled underneath a lid.  So that was it for the oil lamps.

By now we couldn’t use battery powered lights, manual powered lights, head lamps, and oil lamps.  But fortunately, I had one more last possible option that I had put away quite some time ago – I had bought several large candles (2 inches in diameter) at a thrift store at one point.  And this is what finally brought light to our home!  We placed each of them in a metal bread pan as a security measure, and then that gave us enough light to do what we needed to do until the very extensive power line work was completed.

Although it sounds like we were a disorganized mess, we actually did a lot of things right.  Firstly, we were very calm about not having any power for hours, even with all the little kids who were getting scared about not being able to see anything, and that reassured them.  Secondly, as soon as Shabbos was over, we were able to locate our emergency lighting supplies in the dark – we knew exactly where to find them, as well as the matches to light them.  Secondly, dh had checked our flashlights and bought new batteries for them.  Thirdly, we had plenty of fuel available for the oil lamps, that would have kept us going for a long time.  And lastly, we had several options to choose from, so when one thing didn’t work out, we just moved on to the next possibility. 

The saying above, “Two is one and one is none” is used to refer to being prepared for emergency situations.  What that means is if you only have one backup to your regular way of doing things, if something goes wrong and you need your backup, it’s like having nothing.  To be in a better position, it’s good to have two options so that if one backfires or doesn’t work out as planned (see our situation for lots of examples of that!), you still have something else. 

The main thing I’ve learned is that we have to be more careful with the things our older children take out, since when they aren’t put back in a safe place, the littles find them and play with them – and then the chance of finding it when there’s no light goes down to a very small likelihood. :)   This is what accounted for most of our lighting options not working out (lost batteries, headlamp, dented lamp attachments).  

We were lucky that we didn’t go without power for long (maybe six or seven hours), and that there was some light shining in from the street lights and then later from the trucks working on the power line, so it wasn’t pitch black in the house even after dark- we had the luxury of seeing the flaws in our backup plans when the consequence to not having them was very minor, and it really only affected our lighting, not anything else. 


Israel visit – Shabbos in Beitar Illit

On Friday morning (Feb. 4) we took a while to get ourselves packed up and ready (it took me an hour and a half just to figure out what bus connections we  needed to make, using the public Egged buses to the privately owned Elite buses that go from Jerusalem to Beitar), and left the wonderful studio we had rented in the German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem.  I enjoyed this apartment and Jerusalem so much and would have loved to have stayed there longer than the 2.5 days I had available there.

I lived in Beitar Illit for six years, and though I moved from there over ten years ago, still have many warm memories and strong feelings of connection there.  So spending Shabbos in Beitar was my priority. Mid afternoon we arrived at the friend who was hosting us for dinner, who sat us down with refreshments and we chatted a bit before we went to the neighbor whose home we were sleeping at.  The room wasn’t ready for us, so we decided to take a walk to deliver gifts to a couple of the families we’d be having meals with.  Though it was rainy and what you might conside dreary, I was so happy to be back in my old neighborhood that the weather didn’t bother me a bit.  Everything looked almost the same to me, and I was flooded with memories everywhere I looked, and pointed out some to the girls that they would have heard about in some way or remember.

We had a little bit of confusion regarding candle lighting, since I forgot that in Beitar the Shabbos siren goes off 40 minutes before sunset, and when our hostess was getting our room and the house in general ready well after that, I was concerned about lighting candles on time.  Once I remembered, I realized why she was so relaxed!

 We enjoyed dinner with a friend who now has eleven children (we met when she had just had her third and my oldest was a few months old!); her family is beautiful and my girls and hers really hit it off.  When it was time to go, her daughters warmly invited mine back to spend the afternoon with them. 

In the morning, I went to the English speakers’ shul – this was interesting, since we were one of the early English speaking families in Beitar.  As such, we were involved in the hiring process of the rabbi who has been there for 17 years now as well as in the early running of the shul – that’s how it is when there aren’t many people in the community; every person gets involved!  When we left plans were underway to begin building the shul and though we had monthly contributions toward the building costs that came out of our bank account for quite some time after we left Israel, I had never seen it.  It’s nice to see that the hard work of certain people in particular who really took over the massive responsibility for this project worked out.  

On Friday morning I had gotten an email from a friend letting me know that a family I knew would be having a kiddush for their son, who was getting married that week.  When we met this family, this young man was a little boy, and now he’s the last of the many siblings to get married!   My glasses fogged up slightly as I got into the synagogue foyer, and as I gently wiped them, they came apart in my hand – not great timing when I needed to be able to see people.

Fortunately, I had a strong recurring feeling when packing that I needed to take an extra pair of glasses, which I kept ignoring since I was taking as little as possible and it seemed overly cautious – it’s not like I frequently break glasses, and I would only be away for ten days.  But a few hours before I left, I had an insistent feeling about that I would regret not taking them – and then went to sleep for an hour before waking up, then in my haste to leave to the airport forgot all about it.  Literally at the last minute when I ran up to the bathroom before leaving, I suddenly remembered the glasses and grabbed them – I shoved it into one of the suitcases and I was really glad I did. :)

I went back to get my back-up pair of glasses, and when I returned to shul, services were over and I was immediately greeted by several old friends as I came in the door.  This was so, so nice – I had an expectation that people wouldn’t remember me or really care much that I was there, which could not have been more inaccurate.  I was there chatting for an hour and could have been there much longer except I had to leave for our lunch hosts, who used to be our next door neighbors. 

This was another really nice meal – our oldest sons were best friends, and we were very good friends as well, and it was so nice to catch up in person.  At the end of the meal, our girls all disappeared to spend time talking together while we continued to chat.  I had thought I might have time to return to the place we were sleeping between lunch and the third meal, and told a couple of people I’d try to come by to visit if time allowed, but there really was no time.  As it was, I kept my eye on the clock, and finally said goodbye.

From there I went to the neighbor upstairs for a lightning quick visit (another friend), which she was amazingly gracious about.  I would have loved to have spend longer with her, but after less than 15 minutes, I had pushed my available time to the limit.  We had to be at our hosts for the third meal in a different section of town, a very brisk 30 minute walk away- and we made it there just in time, two minutes before sunset!  (Which I’m sure caused them concern since when you have guests, you want to wait until they’re there to begin eating!)

This family was another one we were very glad to spend time with.  About eleven years ago I had suggested they meet, as we had hosted each of them as individuals and I felt they were very compatible.  They did, and got married; when I left Israel when they were still newly married with no children.  It was so nice to be with them in their home and see their four gorgeous children (one of whom I had recognized immediately that morning in shul/synagogue from pictures her mother had sent me).

My only regret was the day was soooo short – there were so many people I would have loved to speak to at more length.  It was great to be back in my old neighborhood and reconnect with old friends!


Back in the US

I’ve had so much to write but really no time at all to do it.  In Israel I was busy with dd14 and dd16, and didn’t have my usual easy computer access.  When I got back to the States about midnight Weds, I jumped right back into my very full life first thing in the morning.  It’s been a difficult reentry due to exhaustion and the many things that needed to be done immediately, as well as emotionally transitioning. 

My husband and our parents did a great job taking over for me while I was gone, and I didn’t expect them to do all that I do, just to take good care of the kids.  And they did!  But I really did have a lot of work immediately facing me, made harder by my failed attempt at avoiding jet lag.  I didn’t sleep for 26 hours from waking up in Israel to leave to the airport until I got back to my house at midnight, with the intent to sleep a full night when I got home and right away reset my circadian rhythyms.  This would have worked great if I hadn’t been jolted out a very deep sleep after five hours of sleep by an early morning work related call for my husband.  :( 

I got up after the call since I couldn’t go back to sleep and started preparing breakfast, first needing to wash all the dishes in the sink, then getting the laundry going (since the littles drawers were empty), with breakfast ready on time for the littles’ early wake up. It was nice to sit down with ds4 and then ds3 and have a quiet breakfast with each of them before the others woke up.  It was so nice to greet each of the kids one by one – I missed them all and it was great to be back with them. 

Ds20 months was woken up when ds4 ran upstairs and yelled to everyone, “Guys, Mommy’s home!  Wake up everybody, Mommy’s home!”  So he was bleary-eyed and out of sorts to start with, and when I held out my arms to him, he turned away and shook his head.  I understood this reaction and expected it, then coaxed him to me by letting him hold a treat while sitting on my lap.  He was grumpy and not his cheerful self for the next three days, until yesterday it was like he suddenly became himself again – laughing and smiling all the time.  It was pretty obvious that even though he looked like he was doing fine when dd14 and I were away, that he missed us and that’s what was behind his grumpiness.  We called and Skyped regularly when I was gone, which I think helped him deal with us being gone quite a lot. 

Ds17 was scheduled to return that day for a short visit, and I got a call at 10am that he missed his train and I needed to make him another ticket.  I was so, so tired – I really was dragging myself by that point – but I did all the research on train and bus connections for him to make the ticket.  I somehow stumbled through the next seven hours of keeping everyone happy and entertained, until my husband got home. 

My husband got  home from work unexpectedly early and was able to take the kids to go pick up ds17, while I got to take a much needed nap.   I wasn’t expecting this, and was so appreciative since I was so tired I didn’t feel up to driving. When I made my ticket to Israel, I had no idea that ds17 had a break beginning the day after I returned, so that worked out perfectly!  It is wonderful having him home again, even for a short time.

On Friday I started to cook for Shabbos, to make the unpleasant discovery that no shopping had been done and there were hardly any vegetables.  So I figured I’d go out and pick some up, but just as I was getting ready to leave, my husband called – to apologize that he took the bank card from my purse the night before and forgot to put it back!  He had intended to do the shopping while I was napping so I wouldn’t have to do it, but didn’t end up having time.  So I had to be very creative about what to make using what I had – a head of purple cabbage, carrots, onions, and frozen mixed vegetables.  Did I mention that I was woken up early again after only 5 hours of sleep?  At this point I was up to 11 hours of sleep in almost three days! 

But I got everything cooked and ready, and at 5 pm went upstairs to take a very short nap before dressing and lighting Shabbos candles.  I woke up again five hours later – my husband came in to inform me he was lighting candles for me and I was so deeply tired that I couldn’t even open my eyes to protest.  I slept right through Friday night dinner, until ds17 came to visit me in my room to see how I was doing.  I felt badly that it was his only Shabbos home for two months, and then he won’t be home again for another two months, and I missed being up for the meal.   But there’s only so long you can push your body until it can’t be pushed any more!

It’s nice to be back, and thank you to all of you who have patiently kept checking in and trusting that I’d get back to blogging.   😛  (If I can find the time, I’ll share more about  my trip sometime soon – it was a wonderful trip and I’m so grateful I was able to go.)


Colonial Williamsburg homeschool days

Instead of our annual family camping trip, this year we decided to do something different.  We’ll be spending five days in Colonial Williamsburg, which we’re really looking forward to!

I planned the trip around the dates for the homeschool days – twice a year there are special rates for homeschoolers that are drastically cheaper than the regular price.  If tickets are ordered in advance, then the price for adults for five days is $15.50, for kids (over the age of 5) it’s $13.50.  This is an amazingly good price, since the usual price for one day is $36 per adult, and $18 per child.  We don’t know yet if ds17 will be joining us or not, but if he does, the admission price for all ten of us for the entire time will only be $100.

Since the kids are studying early American history this year, this trip is especially timely and I think knowing so much about the time period will enhance their appreciation of being in Colonial Williamsburg.   I like the idea of going for five days, since there’s so much to do and see.  It’s not fun rushing around feeling like you have to get your money’s worth, which is the tendency when you go for just a day, and in this way, we’ll be able to enjoy ourselves without running ourselves down.  We’ll also have time to enjoy the amenities at the unit we’re renting – it’s a furnished 4 bedroom with kitchen facilities and a washer/dryer, and there is an indoor pool, game room, and playgrounds that the kids may want to check out.

The deadline to order the tickets at the most reduced price is Feb. 15, but you can still get discounted prices if you show up there – it’s just not as cheap.  If you’re interested in the information about the homeschool days, you can check it out below:

I’m still in Israel, but by sharing this now, I hope it will give those of you who are interested time to make plans!


Israel visit – Old City

One of the two bar mitzva processions we saw in the Old City

For our second full day in Jerusalem, I planned a tour of the Old City. There are many tour groups available for this, and I decided on one that had been highly recommended online. It is called Sandemann’s Free Tour of the Old City – the tour guides work for tips, and you pay what you feel the tour is worth. It was an overview of the four quarters of the Old City, and I chose this rather than a religious tour since I thought it would balance out the heavy and emotional tour the day before of Maaras Hamachpeilah (Cave of the Patriarchs).

We got there just in time, and joined a large and very diverse group of participants. As our tour began, a bar mitzva procession came by, accompanying a young man who was turning thirteen to the Kotel with singing, clapping, and music – we clapped as they went by along with them. We started our tour with the Armenian quarter, then continued to the Jewish quarter. Since the tour was only three hours and covered all four quarters, it was by necessity a brief overview of the main points in each quarter.

At one point, the girls and I slightly diverged from our tour, so that we could privately tear kriyah before descending to the Kotel (Western Wall).

Entering Moslem quarter

From there our group continued to the Moslem quarter, where people can freely enter without a security check, since it isn’t necessary.  It was at this point that our guide stopped for a lunch break, and when the two other visibly Jewish people left the tour.  This wasn’t my idea of a fun place to stop, though as the girls and I stood on the side of the corridor watching people pass while we waited, we enjoyed people watching.

The view to the right of where we waited

From there we continued to the souk (outdoor market), which I walked through quickly and didn’t stop to take a picture in.  I really could have, but the passage was narrow and the group was spread out, and I didn’t feel very comfortable with so many Arab men close by on all sides, especially with my girls with me.  We continued from there to the Christian quarter, and headed back to Jaffa gate to end the tour.

As much as we enjoyed the many sights and sounds of the Old City (and there were many), and appreciated walking through the areas we did, we didn’t find the tour a worthwhile use of our very limited time.  It was a good overview, but at the same time, it was so shallow and lacking in detailed information that the girls kept spacing out when the guide was talking.  Even though I paid attention to everything, I didn’t really feel I got much out of it, either – it felt dry to me.  Also, it was so impartial that it was almost meaningless. In hindsight, I would choose a tour that covered less physical ground but more history and explanation of religious significance.  In this tour, holy sites were pointed out,  but just as something for a tourist to see, not to experience or feel emotionally connected to, and this left me feeling somewhat detached from everything we were seeing.  I’m not a touristy kind of person – I like to see and experience real things, not view them from a detached distance.

A this point, I wanted to return to the Kotel for mincha (afternoon prayer service), and I went the way the guide told me – right through the souk.  Dd16 was very anxious and kept telling me to go another way, and I told her there were other Jewish people there and we’d follow them.  But suddenly all of the other Jewish people weren’t there, and I wasn’t sure where to go, and it’s not comfortable to not know where you’re going in a place that makes you uncomfortable to start with.  But just then someone came by, and hearing me ask the only other Jewish person in sight how to get to the Kotel, told me he was going there and to follow him.  That was great – I was able to relax then since he obviously knew where he was going.

Dd16, me, and dd14 in front of Kotel (Western Wall)

When we got to the plaza area, we called home.  Ds12 had been excited about the idea of seeing us via the live Kotel cam, so I asked dh to wake him up because I knew he’d be disappointed if we didn’t.  He woke up and called us back a few minutes later, and while the girls went to the Kotel for mincha (afternoon prayer service), I spoke to him and he described what he was seeing on the computer screen, so I could get a sense of exactly what area the camera was capturing.  He got excited when he told me he could see dd14 go by, and showed the other kids who were awake as well – it’s amazing how technology made it possible for him to see a sibling 5500 miles away in real time!

When dd14 finished, I gave her the phone and told her she could talk to ds, and that I’d stand in the exact spot that I knew would be visible, so he could see me (I was the only one of us who knew what it was).  But she got so involved in talking to him that she forgot to mention it and he wasn’t looking at the computer, so they didn’t end up viewing me on-screen.  I’m glad they enjoy each other so much!

From the Kotel, we went to do some gift shopping in Meah Shearim.  I looked for two olive wood stores that I remembered, but only one was still there, and someone working there was smoking, which caused me to leave fairly quickly.  (I have a strong aversion to cigarette smoke.)  I found what I was looking for, and since I wanted to get it personalized, was told to come back the next morning.  When I explained that I wouldn’t be in Jerusalem the next morning, the person who worked there offered to stay open late to finish my order, which was very nice of him.  We had a couple of hours to wait, so we walked to the Machane Yehuda shuk again – it was nice to go somewhere we had been and know how to get there, what buses to take, etc – for me this trip has meant constantly figuring out directions and locations, so it was nice to really be able to relax.

At the shuk I wanted to get some dried dates for one of our Shabbos hosts (we had bought some the night before that were wonderful, and the girls liked how the person we bought from told us to take one of each to sample before we chose which kind to get).  Dd14 found some skirts the night before (she’s wearing one in the picture above), which she had very much been hoping to find, since she prefers long, flowing skirts, and it’s challenging for her to find what she likes at a good price. The four skirts she got were each 30 shekels, which at the current conversion rate of about 3.7 shekels to the dollar, is somewhere close to 8 or 9 dollars each, so it was a good deal even though the owner wasn’t willing to negotiate at all. :)

After finishing at the shuk, we walked back to Meah Shearim (we did a LOT of walking that day, almost seven hours straight, and my feet in my wonderful new Earth shoes were really hurting – I didn’t take enough time to gradually acclimate myself to the shoes as recommended, so parts of my feet and legs were exercised by the shoe incline that wouldn’t be usually used much) and picked up my order.  We finally headed back to the apartment, and  after doing some stretching exercises, I fell asleep pretty quickly, while the girls stayed up late making funny videos of themselves.


Israel visit – Kever Rochel, Hebron

I woke up nice and early in the morning, at about 5:30, and since it was so nice out and the girls were still sleeping, I decided to hop on a bus and go to the shuk (outdoor market) to see about getting something for breakfast. I got there by 7 am, and most of the vendors were in the middle of unloading their boxes of produce. I got some dates and ground meat, then walked a long part of the way back before getting a bus for the last part of the trip. I was home at 8 am, then quickly made meat patties with mashed vegetables (I sauteed onions, cooked carrots and kohlrabi the night before) to take with us for our tour of the day.

At 9:15 we met at a hotel and boarded our bus to Kever Rochel, the tomb of our matriarch Rachel. I wanted to begin our visit by going to the places that were most important, and visiting the graves of your great grandparents is right up there at the top of the list. I’ve been there only twice before – once when it there was only the original domed building there, and last time about 11 years ago, when the extra building had been done all around it for security purposes. I wasn’t prepared for the immense cement walls that surrounded the Kever – they had all been built since then since it was necessary for even more security.

Concrete checkpoint to enter Kever Rochel area

What I did last time I was there was travel with a few women in a private car, park a couple of blocks away, then walk through the streets of the town until getting there – something I was uncomfortable with safety-wise doing on my own this time. I didn’t realize when I made my plans for this trip that it’s no longer an option; due to the local Arab hostility, you can only go in the area within the cement walls, just the Kever and a parking area.

Security walls to left, Kever Rochel on right

The monument over the gravesite of Rachel

I had an emotional davening (prayers) there – though it was very crowded, I was right next to the Kever.  It’s so awe inspiring to be able to be right there, to pour your heart our and know that the spirit of our great grandmother Rachel, who is known for her special prayers on behalf of her children, is right there.

We reboarded the bus, and traveled to there to Hebron. I wanted to visit Maaras Hamachpeilah (Cave of the Patriarchs), somewhere I’ve never been before, and I chose a tour in which we could learn about the Biblical history of Hebron as well as see the current Jewish neighborhoods within Hebron. We traveled past the Jewish towns of Gush Etzion, then continued through Arab villages, until we reached Kiryat Arba. To me, Kiryat Arba is really on the frontier, but then we went on to Hebron, and I saw what the frontier really looks like.

We entered the town of Hebron, navigating hairpin turns and steep hills, and on each side there were Arab buildings that seemed close enough to touch. During those first few moments and throughout the day, I continued to marvel at the courage and idealism of Jewish families who live in a hostile Arab area, in order to preserve the Jewish presence there. (All Jews were forced to leave Hebron in 1929, following the Arab riots in which 67 Jews were slaughtered and many others wounded, and were finally allowed back in small numbers several decades ago.)

Due to the Wye Accord, 80% of the land of Hebron was turned over to the Palestinian Authority, and Jews are now forbidden on the penalty of death to enter that 80%, making all the Jewish holy sites there off limits. The remaining 20% is where 83 Jewish families (about 1000 people) and 15,000 Arabs make their home. We began our tour in the neighborhood of Tel Rumeida, where 19 Jewish families live. In this area we learned about the Biblical beginnings of the area, and visited the gravesite of Yishai (Jesse, father of King David), and Ruth, great grandmother of King David.  Then we continued on to the other two neighborhoods, visiting the home of our host before going to Maaras Hamachpeilah.

Dd14, me and dd16 in front of burial site of Yishai (Jesse) and Ruth

Coffee pot that saved lives of people nearby from Arab sniper in Hebron - note bullet holes

Skverer Rebbe praying by famous Seventh Step

When we got to the Mearah (Cave), we saw a huge crowd of Skverer chassidim, who had traveled from the States to accompany the Skverer Rebbe to Israel. It was amazing to hear his very emotional tefillos (prayers), which were amplified over the speakers for the crowd. He prayed outside the Mearah, by the famous Seventh Step (this is outside the Cave, where for 700 years was the closest Jews were allowed to come to pray). This spot is the closest spot from the outside to where our ancestor Yitzchak (Isaac) and Rivka (Rebecca) are buried. It was an incredible merit for us to be there at just that time.

We reboarded the bus after mincha (afternoon prayers) inside the Mearah – there was a non-Jewish family of 9 who had joined our trip that otherwise consisted of Orthodox families. They were all dressed modestly – women and girls with long skirts/sleeves, and scarves, men and boys with tzitzis that had techeles (blue strings) – no head coverings for the men, though. They are readers of the Bible, as they called themselves, and believe in the divinity and obligations set down there. They kind of stayed to themselves – I was the only one on the full tour bus who spoke with them, though you could tell everyone else there was wondering about them. I spoke mostly to one of the older daughters (in her early twenties); the mother took a picture for us at this time, and I asked her if they were homeschooling (obviously they were – I recognize homeschooling families when I see them!), hoping we could chat more since I especially enjoy meeting other homeschoolers who clearly make character and Biblical values a cornerstone of their lives. She told me they were, but I could see she was a reserved sort of person who preferred to stay to herself, so I smiled at her and left her alone. :)

When we got back it was almost dark, so we did some shopping at the outdoor market again (this time for clothes), then headed back to our studio apartment for another late dinner. It was a beautiful day, and dd16 and dd14 both found the tour interesting and inspiring, as did I.