Monthly Archives: March 2011

Some Hebrew language resources

There are so many online Hebrew language resources that are free and easily accessible for people of all ages!  Hebrew is something I’d like my kids to make a bit of a concerted effort to work on in the coming months in preparation for our move to Israel.  I think having a degree of comfort with the language of a country you’re moving to is a big factor in easing the adjustment process of assimilating into the culture. 

Here’s a Hebrew language site that I was looking at yesterday – http://www.in-hebrew.co.il/index.html.  This isn’t good for someone at the very beginning of learning Hebrew, but if you’re ready to learn phrases and know enough basic words to figure out which words in the phrase are which, it’s a good resource.

On the home page at the bottom, you’ll see several links to other Hebrew language learning sites.  They all look like they are worth exploring; we started with a couple of them and so far the kids are enjoying them.  Ds4 and ds8 were particularly enjoying this one: http://www.my-jewish-games.com/matchgame/index.php.  I’m going to encourage dd10 to try some of these sites – she doesn’t like Rosetta Stone because she has to guess what words mean.  When she tries to use the HaYesod book that dd14 is using very successfully, she isn’t retaining any of the vocabulary. 

I think that in the beginning stage of learning a language, it’s all overwhelming since it seems like there’s so much to know and you don’t know hardly anything!  (That’s how dd10 is understandably feeling right now.)  But then as you go on, you suddenly get to a point where it starts to get much easier.  Dd14 is now at this point, and it’s really nice to see how much she’s able to retain and understand.  She’s making a concerted effort to learn as much Hebrew as she can before she gets to Israel (she’s using just Rosetta Stone and HaYesod), since she’ll be going directly into an Israeli high school with a very small English speaking population. 

If you have a favorite site for Hebrew language, please share it below! 

Avivah

Tattler reusable canning jar lids

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been steadily selling off canning supplies, including a couple of days ago when I sold all of my fantastic Tattler canning jar lids that I never got around to telling you about last year.  

Though I’m not using them now, I still want to share about them since even in the canning community, many people don’t know about them and they’re a great option to be aware of. 

Tattler lids are made of BPA free plastic, and have a separate rubber ring that is fitted onto the lid before the lid is placed on the jar.  After putting the lid on, you put the metal canning ring on to hold it on, then process as usual.  The only difference is how you tighten the lid before processing, and when you tighten the lid after processing (instructions are on the box). 

What’s great about them is that they can be used long term repeatedly – no more having to buy lids and then dispose of them after one use (and though I’m a frugal person, reusing lids isn’t a way I recommend saving money).  That means that one dozen lids can be used continually for many, many batches of canning!   The other big advantage is there’s no concern about BPA leaking into your food. 

The big challenge is the upfront high cost of the lids – about $7 – 8 dozen (not including the rubber rings).  That means you have to can about six batches of food to break even (compared to the cost of buying disposable lids).  For me, I was able to purchase a large number of these lids for a super price through a private seller – I bought about 60 dozen lids that included the rubber rings (all unused) and paid about $120 for all of them- I was really excited about this when I found them.  

I passed on my savings to the person who bought from me – I know I could have made a nice profit by selling them at a higher price (which would still have been less than 50% of retail price, but that’s not what I wanted to do.  I was so grateful to have found these at a price I could afford and wanted someone else like me to be able to have the same experience.  She knew what these lids were and appreciated what an amazing buy they were; she told me she had been asking G-d to send her these lids since she really wanted them but didn’t have a budget for buying them at the regular price, and as I told her, “G-d provides!” 

Parenthetically, the buyer of these lids was Mormon.  Mormons are advised by their religious leaders to have  a year’s supply of food stored in case of emergency, though I’ve read only 10% of practicing Mormons do this.  She wanted to know how I could sell off all of my canning supplies at a time when it seems there is tremendous instability, and many are afraid that massive inflation and all that comes along with that is coming down the road for the U.S. in the not so distant future.  At this time, more people than ever are interested in canning, buying in bulk, and being prepared to weather at least a part of the financial storm by creating a pantry ‘hedge’.  We had quite an interesting conversation!

You can find these lids online , but as I said, there is a high upfront cost (though there’s a bulk option that lowers the cost).  These lids have been around since the 70s and so there’s a long term record for them holding up for decades (though the rubber rings will need to be replaced at some point if they get stretched out – they’re not expensive), so if you can often, even at the retail price you would still end up saving in the long run.  And it’s a nice to have a reusable option rather than constantly buying and discarding lids.

Avivah

Will I homeschool in Israel?

>>This is a personal question, but do you plan to keep homeschooling?  Maybe you won’t know the whole answer until you get settled.<<

This is a really good question that I’ve already been asked quite a few times, and I don’t yet have a definite answer.  I’ve spent hours going back and forth on this question, taking into account a lot of factors.

It’s funny, some people have assumed that obviously I’m going to send my kids to school in Israel, and others assume that I’m just as obviously going to homeschool everyone there!

There’s a certain amount of pressure I feel about making the decision to homeschool or not.  As my ds12 said when I broached the idea of school to him, “You’re the most famous homeschooler in the frum (Orthodox Jewish) world – you’re the queen of homeschooling.  You can’t send me to school!”

There’s a danger in getting reflexively locked into a position.  A couple of weeks ago I was at our synagogue banquet, and someone said to me, upon hearing that my oldest is in bais medrash (post high school learning program), “Isn’t that against your homeschooling philosophy?”  I really get exasperated with that kind of question – why would I be against my post-high school student studying in the framework of his choosing?

To clarify: I’m not against school.  I’m for my kids and family’s best interests.  There’s a really big difference.

A decision like this isn’t just intellectual, but emotional as well, and it’s in the emotions that there is a lot of room for things to change!  There are a lot of things that I do/have done that require a certain amount of physical and emotional energy to carry out – and to do them all from scratch in a totally different framework means reassessing from the beginning as to if I have the necessary energy to do it well.  An example would be canning – as much as this is something I’ve enjoyed and appreciated being able to do, I won’t be taking my supplies with me to Israel.  It’s something I’ve consciously chosen to let go of in order to declutter my life emotionally – because as we all know, everything can’t be equally important.

Back to homeschooling.  When I’m feeling tired and drained, when I wonder if I’m doing a good job with my kids, if they’re getting what I want them to get, when I question if the effort I’m investing and the results match up, then I’m more likely to consider putting the kids in school.

Another factor is that it’s nice to do what everyone else is doing and ease into a community without starting off being different from everyone in a visible way – for my kids, I mean.  For me, when I decide something is right, if people approve or not isn’t a critical factor.

I go back and forth on some points – here are some of my other thoughts:

–  it will be faster for the older kids to learn Hebrew when surrounded by a Hebrew speaking peer group

– they would be entitled to several hours of tutoring each week to help them get the language

– the littles are getting older and would enjoy the fun and activities of gan (pre-kindergarten/kindergarten), which is only 4 hours daily

– I don’t plan to have a car and that limits my ability to connect with other homeschoolers in the country or do outings – transportation by bus to sites of interest will involve a lot of travel time (and cost) that is intimidating to a family with all the age groups that we have.

– the cost of schools and playgroups is appealingly low

– the school day in Israel is much shorter than the US and would still allow us lots of time together as a family

I’m not going to write the other side – there’s plenty to say about it, but that’s what I’ve been writing about for a long time here!  The fact of the matter is, I really believe in home education in terms of providing a strong emotional developmental base, developing character, and building relationships within the family.  And I don’t have much confidence in the school system to educate children.  Maybe to school them, but not to educate.

So far, here’s how it’s looking:

– Ds2 will be home.

– Ds4 and ds5.5 (those are the ages they will be by then) may go to gan (playgroup) for four hours a morning.   This depends in part on me finding what I consider to be a good framework for them; many ganim are fantastic, nurturing places where the kids do lots of fun stuff, no academic pressure.  Others aren’t.   Another real issue with this is determining how much I’m meeting the older kids’ needs while keeping the littles entertained – they’re at a stage that they need a consistent amount of time and structure.  When I’m feeling overextended, I lean about 60% in favor of them being at home; when I’m feeling less overly busy the percentage goes way up.  I really love having our little guys home with us, even if they are a source of constant mess!

– Ds8 and dd10 (will be 9 and almost 11) will be homeschooled.

– Ds12 is the biggest question.  I’ve checked out the schools in the city we’re going to, and there are pluses and minuses of each.  Ds12 will do well in a school framework, socially and academically, so I have no concern about that.  It’s more a question of what he won’t get in school that he would get at home.  Dh will be busy finding a job and then settling in to that, and won’t have the necessary time to give ds12 what he’s ready for right now, which is substantial daily Torah learning.  Not learning regularly when he’s chomping at the bit and SO ready for serious learning isn’t an option.

Both of the boys’ schools are religious (chareidi).  One has secular subjects in the afternoon, a shorter school day, and is government funded so it’s quite inexpensive – this is my preference for these reasons (most important is the length of the school day).  The second option has limited secular subjects, more intensive Torah studies, and I think is a better fit for our family, religiously and socially.  I have reservations about both.  (Again, this is based on what I know from a distance; close-up would probably clarify/change some of this.)

– Dd14 wants to go to school, and I’m very supportive of that.  She wants to integrate socially, learn the language, and I’m confident she’ll do well.  She has a strong sense of herself, and can be with others without losing herself.  She understands the down side and is ready for it.  She also knows she can choose to homeschool at any point and I’ll fully support her.  She’ll be 15, and in tenth grade.

The older kids are a topic for another post – we have a lot of talking and exploring of options to do, since for both dd16 and ds17, this means a lot of changes to the plans they had been making for a long time.

Avivah

Answers about moving to Israel

It’s been over a week now since we officially announced that our family will be moving to Israel this summer, and I’m so amazed and appreciative of the unilaterally positive response we’re getting!

I figured there would be some people who would be dubious or even negative about making a decision like this so quickly, when it might seem like all of the pieces aren’t yet in place.  But I’m hearing again and again, how wonderful it is that we’re doing this, how the person I’m speaking to wishes they could do the same thing, and they go on to tell us how happy we’re going to be living in Israel. 

This has been really nice for me, but it’s been more than nice for dh, who was more hesitant than I was about this decision.  Hearing so many people say how smart/wonderful they think it is is a real support!  Dh is now just as committed and positive about going as I am, and thanked me for propelling the family to make this move.

Here are some questions I’ve been asked:

– Where are you going? 

 To a city in the northern part of Israel called Karmiel.

– Why Karmiel? 

I felt based on my research from a distance that it would be a good fit for us religiously, and also be warm and relaxed.  Dd16 spent a Shabbos there after we had already decided to go, and told us she thinks it’s a great fit for our family and she thinks we’ll be very happy there. (On a side note, she told me the rabbi of the synagogue shared something I said his Shabbos morning talk without quoting me.  I asked her why she thought it was me, and after asking me if I had said a particular statement, she said as soon as she heard him say it, she was sure I was the anonymous person he was quoting!  Fortunately, it was something positive that he was impressed by.  :)  Isn’t it funny that my daughter happened to be sitting there the week that he shared it?

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to learn that someone I’m friendly with had just returned from her pilot trip to that area , and her detailed feedback was very helpful in confirming our decision.  Before that, I felt like technically everything seemed like a good fit, but the intangible feeling of the community is what I really wanted to know about.  She was able to share that with me.  

We didn’t want to live in an Anglo enclave, since I think it’s important to learn the language and socially integrate.  The Anglo community is Karmiel is small but growing, and for us, this is a benefit since it’s nice to be involved in a community when it’s still small and everyone knows each other.  You have to work a lot harder to be involved communally in a large and established community.

– What will your husband do professionally? 

This is a good question that has a good answer, but I don’t yet know the answer!  Something that will offer him an opportunity to use his strengths in a positive environment where he will be well-compensated. 

– Why do you want to move to Israel? 

This is the hardest question to answer, because it’s really all about an intangible feeling.  I can’t point to anything materially that will be better than what I have here, though that’s certainly possible.  It’s really about the feeling in the air.  I want my kids to grow up with that. 

I met an Israeli couple when standing in line ordering shwarma a week ago, and they told me they were moving back this summer after living in the US for many years.  I asked why they were going back, and the not especially religious looking husband said, “Because when you wake up in the morning, you feel close to G-d in Heaven.” 

– Are you taking a lift?

No, though we might be able to buy some lift space from someone else to send along some seforim (religious books) and homeschooling materials.  Otherwise, it will be what we can fit into our suitcases.  It’s very freeing knowing that I can’t take most of what I have, and I’ve already given away tons of stuff.  Before Pesach (Passover) is an especially good time for this since it means lots less to clean around. :)

– Why are you moving now?

I’ve casually considered moving to Israel a number of times over the years, but dismissed it since it seemed unrealistic.  It seemed too costly (our family doesn’t qualify for any of the benefits for new immigrants), and family-wise, the message is generally to be very, very cautious when making a move with kids over the age of 10 or 12.  I realized that even though we have older kids, it’s actually the perfect time since dd16 and ds17 have graduated high school but not yet started college plans.  Dd14 is very enthusiastic about going.  Ds12 is the most resistant because he doesn’t want to leave his friends, but out of all of our children, he’s the one who has the personality best suited to making new friends and embracing new situations, so he’ll do fine.  The other 5 kids will be 10 and under, so it’s a much simpler transition at that point. 

As I continued thinking out different factors, I had a growing sense of clarity that this wasn’t a crazy idea, that it was something we could do, and should do.  The hardest part of this has been making the decision.  It meant being willing to leave my comfort zone and start all over, which can be an intimidating thought.  You know the objections that came to mind as I was working through the main points?  Little things like,  ‘But I don’t know where to buy in bulk or get good deals.’ :roll:

It reminded me of when I was trying to decide if I should stop working before my third child was born so I could be home full-time.  One of the nice perks at work (besides a salary and adult company) was that I got a nice hot lunch every day, and when fresh fruit was left over, I was often told to take it home for the kids.  So when I thought of not working, I thought, “I won’t be able to get the free fruit anymore!”  I know, it sounds absurd, right?   Sometimes it’s really the little things that we don’t want to let go of that hold us back, not the big things.  When I’m faced with decisions like this, I’ve learned to recognize when I’m afraid of ‘not having the fruit’, and that helps me get things back into perspective. 

I know I was asked other questions – what did I forget?  I’ll answer about our thoughts regarding homeschooling in Israel in it’s own post.  If there’s something else you want to know, go ahead and ask!

Avivah

A lesson from Itamar massacre

In response to a question about our future plans for homeschooling, I was planning to post about that today.  But tonight marks such a horrific event that happened one week ago in Israel, that to write about anything else is to minimize by omission the terrible evil that was perpetuated.

Some of you don’t know what I’m talking about – I myself couldn’t bring myself to read the news reports when I first learned about the Itamar massacre.  On this past Shabbos night (late Friday evening), terrorists broke into the home of an Israeli family.  They slaughtered the father, a tiny infant (3 mo), a 4 year old, and an eleven year old in their beds.  They stabbed the mother to death in the hallway; apparently she tried to shoot them but died in the struggle. 

Thank G-d three of their children were spared – two boys, asleep in a different part of the house and unnoticed by the terrorists, and one girl, who was out with friends.  The sheer horror of the murders is overwhelming, but to think of the 2 year old child finding his dead parents and trying to get them to wake up was heartbreaking.  And the 12 year old daughter, returning from a late night Shabbos group with friends, coming into her home alone and finding her family brutally killed – I can’t even imagine the trauma.  

The news media consistently portrays terrorists with sympathy and understanding – and in the wake of this atrocity, are oddly silent.  This event has hardly received any notice in the media.  Imagine if the scene were reversed – the international outrage would go on for months, it would be splashed across the cover of every newspaper and magazine, it would be a headline on television and radio news.   It would be used to justify retaliation killings all over the world. 

I’m grateful to Glenn Beck for sharing with his viewers about this terrible event – we in America need to understand what the face of evil looks like, and realize this isn’t an isolated event, that this kind of action is actively encouraged and supported by a large percentage of the Muslim world. 

But we need to go beyond that to find what we can learn from this situation.  In this case, the lesson to be learned comes directly from the father of Ruth Fogel, the 35 year old mother who was killed – a message of faith.  This link is to a YouTube video; for those who can’t access the video, part of the interview with Ruth’s father was translated, and in which he basically said, as an educator it’s been his job to teach people about faith, and now it’s his test to live by what he’s taught for all these years. 

And what about the 12 year old daughter?  Tamar Fogel, the 12 year old who came home and found the grisly murder scene in her home – see what she has to say here.  Again, for those who can’t see the video – a translation of her saying, “I will be strong and succeed in overcoming this.  I understand the task that stands before me, and I will be a mother to my siblings.”  (Her remaining living siblings are her 2 year old and 6 year old brothers.)   For those who understand Hebrew, here is an interview with some other comments by Tamar.  (“This entire situation, and all that is happening to the Jewish people – this won’t break us.  We will continue to live here.  This is what they (the terrorists) were trying to do, to break us.  And they won’t succeed.” )

Can you imagine the chinuch (education) she received in her home to be able to say something like this?  What amazing people her parents must have been.  I was moved to tears to by both this young girl and her grandfather.  This is when you really see what people are about -the murderers and their people, dancing in the streets and celebrating the slaughter of innocents- and the Jewish people, strengthening their faith and encouraging one another to come closer to G-d and strive to be their higher selves.

Mi k’amcha yisroel – who is like Your people, Israel. 

May the merit of this beautiful family be a catalyst for good things for the Jewish people and entire world.  Have a beautiful Shabbos.

Avivah

Purim preparations in full gear!

Despite me being preoccupied to a large degree, Purim preparations are nonetheless going full blast here!  I really credit ds12 and dd14 for taking the ball and going with it.  They made hamantaschen yesterday (two kinds, chocolate and cherry filling) and costumes for ds12 and dd14 today.  Last night and then early today, I took them shopping for mishloach manos supplies, and today are busy putting their mishloach manos together. 

I read an article about different perspectives about mishloach manos, which left me feeling like you can’t win no matter what!  Some people complained when someone sent them something too small, a card instead of a mishloach manos, too fancy and created pressure to reciprocate, received homemade food because they just threw it away, didn’t want sugar, didn’t want chometz, etc – my feeling when reading it was that people need to stop registering everything on their mental calculators instead of in their hearts.  What happened to feeling appreciation that someone cares enough to send/give you anything?!?  Anyway, I’m going ahead with my typical approach to mishloach manos (which is, keep it simple and send real food that people can appreciate); I’ll be sending crackers and marinated bean salad.  I was planning to send challah rolls but then realized they won’t fit nicely into the packaging that I’m planning to use!

Oh, and speaking of a mishloach manos, every year we always receive one that is especially special!  Twelve years ago, I was fortunate to be able to facilitate the meeting of a couple who now has four children, and every year they send me a beautiful package in the mail on Purim.  (Thank you, RY!! – my emails to you are being returned.)  This has become an additional association with Purim for our family that we all enjoy.

For the Purim meal on Sunday, dd14 had the idea of having a Persian theme, and she’s putting together a menu based on traditional Persian foods.   I told her to let me know what she wants me to get/do, and I’ll be happy to go along with it!

Dh volunteered to organize the synagogue Purim shpiel (humorous skits) this year; he wrote a skit and has several other ideas submitted by others.  Overall it seems to be coming along well.  I don’t know much more than that – I’ll get to see everything for the first time along with the rest of the audience!

Dd14 made her costume today – she’s happy with how it turned out.  We plan to donate it along with all of our other costumes after Purim to a local costume gemach (free loan organization for costumes).  When I was in Israel, a friend there showed me a picture of one of her children in one of the clown costumes I had sewn and then given to another friend when I left 11 years ago, who had later passed it along to her when the first friend’s children outgrew it.  Friend no. 2 told me that the clown costumes I made had been borrowed and used by a number of families – that was so nice to hear!  She even offered to send it back to the US with me so one of my kids could wear it this year, but I felt it’s being used by more people there, so I didn’t take it.

Along with this I’m busy with phone calls, research into a zillion different things, and we’ve started selling some of our things, so I’m getting emails and calls from people wanting to come by.  And today I took ds4 and ds3 to a fantastic Lamed Tes Melachos group meeting – they learned about shearing, carding, spinning, and dyeing wool – it was mostly hands on and the boys enjoyed coming home with their own handmade creations, stars made of felted natural wool.  I’m so appreciative to the mom who took time to organize this, and the woman who hosted us all and was so gracious and welcoming in involving all the kids in real life learning!

  As I said, there’s lots going on, but Purim is definitely in the air!

Avivah

So here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately…..

In the last month I’ve been thinking very, very deeply about what is important to me and why.  I’m grateful that our visit to Colonial Williamsburg gave me some mental space to think about things that have been on my mind.  I’ve been thinking about homeschooling, parenting, why I do what I do, what the benefits are.  It’s been a lot of thinking!    Although I do regularly think about things like this, this was a lot more than usual.  So what prompted all of this in the last month? 

 Though this was not in my mind or in my plans in even the slightest way when I visited Israel, following my return home I began talking seriously to dh about the feasibility of moving to Israel.  This means discussing the needs of a lot of children of different ages, as well as my husband and myself.  Schooling, language, culture, finances – how could it all be worked out?  Was it a crazy idea or was it inspired?  Would we compromise our family stability?  Would it put too much stress on us?  My thoughts have been going around non-stop, which is part of why our time in Williamsburg was so valuable – it allowed my mind to slow down and process. 

Well, after all that thinking, there are still lots of things left to be decided on.  But the main decision has been made.  So………..we’re moving to Israel this summer!  Really. :)

I told dd16 and ds17 a few weeks ago that I was thinking about this possibility very seriously, but somehow they weren’t grasping how serious I was.  The other kids have the benefit of hearing us discuss it and see initial preparatory steps being taken (eg they all applied for US passports last week), so to them it feels real.  To my older kids, it seems, as my son put it, like “the world’s fastest decision”.

There are a lot of unknowns, and it’s hard to leave what is familiar to basically start all over again. It’s scary, and not just for the kids!  But I feel it’s the right move for us at the this time, and see it more as the next chapter of our lives rather than starting a new book.  :)

Avivah

Cult leaders, pyschopaths, and other fun people

Yikes, it has been some week. And it’s only Weds. night.

Firstly, I learn that someone I have regular contact with is part of the immediate family of a cult leader who is under investigation by the FBI (and has been for decades).  I can’t say more about this situation except that truth is stranger than fiction and I’m in a position that leaves me with a responsibility I don’t yet know how to handle. 

Strange, this is the second time I’ve been connected with a national case involving the FBI (in both cases I was contacted by a family member regarding homeschooling); last year I was dealing with a residual situation as a result of the case, not something directly related to what had been done.  A couple of people who spoke to me at that time know that I was grappling with how to handle that situation, but this is a lot more serious than that was.  Big sigh.

Then on Monday night, I went to meet a ‘spiritual advisor’ recommended by a friend whose judgment I trust.  I have some things that I’ve been working around in my mind, and thought it would be a good chance to get some outside perspective.  I guess I got some perspective, but not what I was looking for!  

It was almost midnight when I got home but I was so uneasy about the advisor, that I immediately called my friend who recommended him to find out what was said to her in her meeting.  (I had a sense that he was saying to me things as if they were prophetic that could have been said to anyone.)   She was impressed about the many specifics he had ‘known’ without having met her before, but as she spoke, warning bells were going off in my mind.  I had been so reserved that he didn’t have enough information to ‘predict’ details about my life, but she had been very open and I was sure it was his skillful reading of her non-verbal cues combined with what she said that made him seem to have incredible insight.

I have to backtrack a few months to an experience I didn’t share here on the blog that happened to me.  It was a very unpleasant situation that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it’s critical to mention in this context.  I met someone in a social setting and after extensive conversations, made arrangements to work with him in a professional setting toward some goals.  After three weeks, I told him I couldn’t work with him anymore.  It all looked perfect – he said all the right things, he was impressive in every way – speaking ability, poise, knowledge and social confidence – and he seemed to have an uncanny sense of insight about my thinking process that amazed me – but I had a tiny feeling of distrust that was getting stronger and stronger.   It was little subtle things that could each easily be explained away, but it was adding up in a way that was making me apprehensive about his true intentions. 

Well, just two days after I notified him that I wouldn’t be working with him, I ‘happened’ to read an article in a local publication about psychopaths, and as I read it, it was eery – I was reading an exact description of the way the person I had been working with portrayed himself, communicated – everything.  It was very helpful for me to understand in black and white an emotional/psychological experience that I wasn’t able to make sense of.  That’s not something that I usually have trouble with – I may not like some things that I encounter, but I can get a perspective on it. 

Having a relationship with a person bent on deception, lies, and emotional manipulation was a very unpleasant experience.  Pyschopaths are like emotional vampires – they feed off your emotions.  They boost you up in order to be able to pull you down, to instill doubts in you about yourself while they simultaneously make you feel dependent on them for your success.  This experience helped me understand how cult leaders gain a following – someone so powerful, confident, charismatic, and bent on helping you – people feel lucky and grateful, and by the time they see the iron hand beneath the velvet glove, they’re pyschologically dependent.    

After spending hours thinking about this ‘spiritual advisor’ and relistening to the recording of my meeting with him, I was certain he showed markers of being a psychopath.  This wasn’t a conclusion I wanted to come to – I wanted to believe that he had spiritual sensitivities dedicated to helping people, that he had good intentions, that I was overreacting or being negative.  But it was clear to me that he wasn’t and I wasn’t. 

I’m grateful to have met this advisor for two reasons.  After meeting the first person, I kept trying to figure out how I could have made different choices or had a different awareness.  But I couldn’t – I was afraid if the same situation came around again with a different person, I’d make the mistake of trusting that person, too.  This situation showed me that without becoming a suspicious person who was afraid to trust anyone, I wasn’t falling into the same trap.

The second feeling of gratitude was a sense that because I was ‘trained’ by my interactions with a highly developed psychopath, I would be able to save others in my community from the psychological damage that would result from trusting this man.  I spent a good part of last night and then tonight as well on the phone, explaining why I was so positive that someone who seemed so pure and holy was a fraud.  This was an easy thing for anyone to accept, because we want to believe the best of everyone.

But – thank G-d, I’ll going to sleep tonight knowing he’s been stopped before he could get a foothold in our community.  And after the incidents of the beginning of the week, don’t you think that the next couple of days have got to be less dramatic? 😛

Avivah

Israel visit – final day

Being that it’s been almost a month since I returned from Israel, I’d say it’s time I finished telling you about it, isn’t it? :)

Sunday night (Feb. 6) we arrived back at my daughter’s dorm where we made last minute arrangements to stay after we realized we wouldn’t be able to make it to our destination of Tzfat (Safed) for the night.  Before falling asleep I asked the girls to do some online reading about the places I planned to go the next day, and tell me if that interested them.  If they wanted to go somewhere else instead, I was open to it; they just had to find something they wanted to do instead. 

The next morning, they told me they didn’t remember the names of the places I had told them, so they weren’t able to do any reading.  (I suspect that this wasn’t very high on their list of important ways to use their time.  :P) My plan for the day was to go to Gan Garu Kangaroo Park, the only park outside of Australia that has an area where there are free-ranging kangaroos that you can interact with.  After that, I wanted to do a tour of the Beit Shean National Park, which has an entire city that has been excavated from Roman times, to be topped with a sound and light show there in the evening. 

When I called Monday morning to make reservations for the show, they said the sound and light show wouldn’t be shown until March – which the website hadn’t said anything about. This had been a big part of what I thought would give the Beit Shean tour some heightened interest – neither of them are big on purely historical tours – so I asked the girls what they wanted to do.  I told them if they preferred, we could skip Beit Shean, stay local for the day, and the following day, could go to Gan Garu and then head to the hot springs of Hamat Gader (which I had planned for all of Tuesday).  Hamat Gader has a crocodile farm and a bird show (with trained birds riding little bikes), in addition to the hot springs, so I planned for a day of fun and relaxation there.

The girls were happy to stay local for the day and to visit both Gan Guru and Hamat Gader on Tuesday, and after the driving of the previous day as well as the current uninviting rainy, gray day, I didn’t have a burning desire to do much driving in unfamiliar parts.   My only goal for Monday was to get detailed instructions to the two places we’d visit the next day.   I was pretty anxious about this when I saw that there were a lot of Arab villages between where I was and where I needed to go.

Well, I’ll leave out details of how I went over all my instructions with an Israeli that night to be sure they were good (though it’s important to share that he reassured me that these villages weren’t dangerous, populated mostly by Bedoins and Druze, which was a big relief since it was Muslim villages I was concerned about), and how in spite of all my planning, the next day in the middle of our drive to Gan Garu, we ended up with directions we couldn’t use.   (I told a couple of people in real life what happened, and they said they got stressed out just listening!)  This situation forced me to face my anxieties of driving without detailed instructions, which was very important.  I feel strongly you need to listen to your intuition, but not doing things because just you’re afraid isn’t a good strategy to facing life.  So I was really glad in the end that I had to do this.

We had the basic map from the car rental company that didn’t have the smaller streets marked, but between dd14 using that and me using the highway signs, we got there.  At one point when we were very close to Gan Guru, dd told me to turn, so I did.  And I went up a mountain, and then down a mountain! – and the park was right on the other side.  It would have taken about two minutes instead of a half hour if we hadn’t gone up the mountain, but there were no streets marked on the map other than the mountain, and it was a very pleasant drive – the day was sunny and bright – and the view at the top was stunning. 

Gorgeous view of the Lower Galilee

Doesn’t it remind you of the picture on my blog header?!?

Then we entered the park, where dd14 and dd16 had fun petting and feeding a kangaroo.  Because there had been so much rain, it was muddy and so most of the kangaroos weren’t out and about, but you only need one! 

Dd16 feeding kangaroo

Not only were there kangaroos, but all of the other birds and animals there were native to Australia. The koala was sleeping when we got there – that’s what they do most of the day – but we saw other interesting birds and animals.  It was particularly fun when we went into the aviary.  We were given pieces of apple on a stick to feed the miniature parrots.

After we fed them, we continued walking through the aviary, when a parrot suddenly landed on dd16’s head.  I quickly turned on the video feature on the camera, and as I was making joking comments about the bird on her head, I suddenly felt claws on my head and – being caught very off guard – screeched in a very undignified way.  Then another one landed on dd14’s head, and I almost got a picture of both girls with birds on their head at the same time, but I pressed the wrong button and one had flown away by the time the screen cleared.

Dd14 with a feathered friend

After that we got little cups of nectar to feed them – did you know parrots have tongues?  They licked up the nectar just like a cat would lap up a dish of milk.  It was really interesting.

From there we drove to Hamat Gader – again, just a stunning drive.  I did have a moment of two of concern when I saw a sign announcing my destination, and then showing Jordan was just a very few kilometers away.  I reassured myself that I couldn’t accidentally drive into Jordan since there’s a border crossing, which was good since a sign suddenly appeared announcing ‘Jordan’ – you know how there are signs when you enter a city saying you entered? – and dd16 and I both simultaneously said we couldn’t have gone over the border without realizing it, so they were posting it to warn people that Jordan was so close. 

Anyway, as we descended the valley leading the Hamat Gader hot spring spa, I had a palpable feeling of entering a place of relaxation and luxury. It was just gorgeous.  It was so nice to get to the final part of my planned activities, the highlight of our vacation, and we were all really looking forward to soaking in the hot water filled with over 100 minerals. 

When we got to the check-in, I asked about what time the womens’ hours were – they had advertised that they had separate times for men and women, and though I had emailed weeks before asking about it, they didn’t answer, leaving me with the impression that there was at least one area exclusively dedicated for women.  So you can imagine my dismay when she told me, “There are no separate hours – the separate hours are only on Sunday.”  What can you do?  Nothing, really. 

I asked what the fee was to enter to see the crocodile farm and bird show, and she said it was the same price.  While I didn’t mind paying the pricey entrance fee to experience the hot springs, it didn’t seem worth it just to see the side attractions.  So we ate lunch in the car while we decided what to do.

We decided to drive to Tiberias and around the Kinneret (Lake of the Galilee); we’d see if we could find any other hot springs, but if not, at least we’d enjoy the beautiful day.  We didn’t end up finding any other hot springs, but we did enjoy the drive.  We accidentally turned into a small town called Yavne’el, and I happen to know a couple of women living there.  But I had no way to look them up or contact them, which was a shame since it would have been really nice to stop for a short visit.

Even though things didn’t work out as I planned – which can be disappointing and frustrating, since I put so many hours of research and planning into finding and organizing all of these activities – I didn’t feel my efforts were wasted.  It just seemed obvious to me that going to the hot springs wasn’t something I was meant to do at that time, and I had a strong feeling that I was meant to drive around and experience the northern part of Israel, not in a touristy way, busy with my activities, but in a more down-to-earth and real way, to just experience being there.  The main thing I regretted was that I couldn’t give the girls what I had thought would be a special experience for them at the hot springs, something renewing and relaxing and luxurious, and it didn’t work out.

But in the end, my visit with dd14 and dd16 wasn’t about what we did – it was about spending time together. It was a beautiful trip, filled with lots of time together, and if every day wasn’t perfect, well – that’s just part of life, isn’t it? 

Avivah

PS – the pics are thanks to dd16 – my camera was left in Israel, so even though it takes a very, very long time to download pictures at her dorm – the connection isn’t good – she knew I had planned to post them and spent a good bit of time getting them loaded onto my blog so I’d have them.  😛

Back from Colonial Williamsburg!

I’m popping in to let you know that we’re back from our five day trip to Colonial Williamsburg!  We arrived at 1:30 today, pulled some food out of the freezer for Shabbos, and got busy cooking more while unpacking from the trip.

It was an amazing, fantastic, wonderful time had by all of us in every way!  I haven’t even finished telling you about my Israel trip and here I’m returning from VA!  So I’m going to quickly sum up; I’d love to share about it in detail but my upcoming week is so busy I won’t have much time to blog (yes, it’s become my perpetual reality :)).

We arrived on Sunday morning in VA, and spent a few hours in Colonial Williamsburg before checking into our unit(s) at the vacation resort.  As soon as we opened the door and walked into our units, the kids got excited.  It was so beautiful – we had two huge apartments, each with two bedrooms, a kitchen, washer/dryer, master bath with a jacuzzi and steam room shower, living room, and porch – 2400 square foot total.  It felt very luxurious! 

We spent our mornings in Colonial Williamsburg, learning about lots of interesting stuff and seeing interesting people and scenes, and then returned in the afternoons to the resort.  There we had miniature golf, indoor swimming, tennis courts, playgrounds, board games that we could borrow – so much to do!  We didn’t manage to take the kids swimming until Weds, when we realized we had to go earlier in the day before people were around, and at that point.  Before that, when we went to the pool, other people were there, but on Weds. and Thurs. the kids had the indoor pool to themselves.

We really could have spent all day, every day, in Colonial Williamsburg, or all day at the resort, but we were happy with the balance of fun and learning.  Something I’m really happy we chose to do was buy a five day pass – there’s so much to do there that it would have been overwhelming for just a day or two – it took us that long to figure out what was going on!  We participated in a trial (where they announced, “Everyone remove their hats, except for Jews and Quakers” – apparently this was really what was said at that time – we later asked and got a personal explanation of the relaxed religious climate of the time), saw lots of tradespeople plying their trade (eg – basketmaker, shoemaker, blacksmith), toured the palace, learned about colonial food preparation (interesting to see the ham they ate – different than the breeds now, about 25% meat and 75% fat – people valued fat and food that could keep them going since their lives were so energy intensive), watched different reenactors in details portray historical figures (Patrick Henry and George Washington), and in general had a good time learning about the period of time in a relaxed and fun way.  At one presentation I took the little kids out, and chatted with a couple of other homeschooling moms, who asked me for suggestions of what to do and see – they felt so pressured, trying to fit everything into a day or two and not having an idea of where to go or what to do first.  We limited ourselves to about four activities a day there – it doesn’t sound like a lot, but it was – there’s lots of walking from place to place, and we didn’t want to wear everyone out.  This was a nice pace, very full but still left us time to relax afterward.

The units at the resort were so comfortable in every way that everyone would have been happy to stay much longer!  I was very fortunate to get an incredible price – the total we paid was just $245 for five nights for both apartments.  I got this by arranging my reservation through an owner of a time share there – another mom who I met in Colonial Williamsburg happened to be staying at the same resort, and told me they paid $70 a night for one 2 bedroom unit.  Which is still a great price, if you consider how much a hotel would cost, and doesn’t have nearly the facilities.  But that would have been a lot more expensive if we had gone that route. 

The weather was gorgeous, it only took us 4 hours to drive there and back, and we got home with time to get ready for Shabbos without rushing.  As I said, from start to finish it was a fantastic family vacation!

Avivah