Monthly Archives: July 2011

Bringing Your Teen Children on Aliyah

The following are notes based on an NBN webinar that I listened in on this past week.  I think the topic of moving teens from one culture to another has some significant challenges involved, and I appreciated that this webinar was available to me.

A) Common Teen Challenges

  • Teens are struggling to shape their identities.
  • They are trying to separate themselves from their parents.
  • They are experimenting with new ideas and experiences.
  • They are exploring new ways of communicating with you as parents.
  • They are struggling with friendships and peer pressure.

This is typical of the average teen growing up in a culture familiar to him; all of these challenges become compounded when the teen moves to a culture that is unfamiliar to him.

B) How Do I Parent My Teen Oleh/Olah?

  • Consider the social and educational needs of your teen when choosing a community and a school.  Move to a community where there is a school and framework for teen olim (plural noun of one person making aliyah, ie immigrating to Israel).  You need to put the needs of your teens first when deciding where to move.  Communities recommended were Maaleh Adumim, Modiin, Beit Shemesh, Gush Etzion, Jerusalem, and Raanana.  (Notice that there isn’t one city anywhere in the northern part of Israel that is mentioned – every single place is in the center of the country.)
  • Maintain continuity and consistency with the current values of your home; this will support your child in making a healthy adjustment.  When you make aliyah, it’s not the time to have additional requirements of them, whether religious, academic, or disciplinary – don’t add to the burden they are already feeling.
  • Give them space to make their own decisions.
  • Be flexible and communicative; be understanding of Israeli teen culture that allows for much more independence.

C) Choosing a School

  • Think about your child’s personality, adaptation skills, learning style, and any special needs, then decide what type of school is most suitable for that child.
  • Ask about the educational and Jewish values that guide the school’s program and teaching approaches.  You don’t want to be surprised later on that your child has picked up a philosophy that you aren’t comfortable with simply because you never asked about it.
  • Assure that the school is experienced with teen olim and their unique needs in preparing for the Bagrut (Israeli matriculation) exams.
  • Educate yourself by speaking to teachers, principals, and more experienced parents so you can best help your child to succeed.

D) Youth Movements and After School Activities

  • Joining a youth movement is a great way to make friendships and devel0p camaraderie.  (Ezra, Bnei Akiva, Ariel, Tzofim Datiim (Scouts), and Noam were given as religious options.)
  • Participating in after school activities allows your child to explore interests in a non -academic setting.

E) Graduates of Your School of Choice

  • Find out what the school expects of its graduates and the type of program they encourage upon gradutation.  Eg:  army, pre-army (mechina for boys, midrasha for girls), National Service, hesder yeshiva, yeshiva gedolah (for boys)/seminary (for girls).

All in all, I thought she included some very useful things to consider.  Although I’m looking at bringing teens from a slightly different angle and therefore my choices look different than their recommendations, I’ve actually considered all the points mentioned and thought about how to best meet their needs when we move.  I don’t think making aliyah is an easy thing for anyone of any age – it’s a major life change – but I hope that the decisions that my husband and I are making regarding our children will help make their transition as positive as possible.


Cleaning out the pantry

Back in February, I cut our family food budget down from $600 a month for our family of 11 to $400 – this was done knowing that we’d be moving and I wanted to use up our food in storage.  Usually I’m constantly replenishing and stocking up on whatever’s a good price, but with the upcoming move I obviously could minimize how much stocking up I was doing.

Well, I didn’t do as good a job as I could have with this, because even though I stuck to $400, it still didn’t force me to rely on my pantry as I had hoped.  Last month I went down to $200 for the month, and I’m still not using up the food fast enough.  Once a month I allocate cash for the food budget for the month, and though I had budgeted $200 for this month also (to be taken out today), I realized that I really don’t need to budget that much at all. 

Firstly, we’re only here for another two weeks, so to be consistent I should allocate $100.  But my pantry….well, it’s nowhere near being empty.  So I decided that I won’t do any more shopping, in the hopes that I can whittle this down a little more.  I jokingly told ds18 when he got home to be prepared for my austerity menu.  (Our menus really aren’t austere at all, though I am relying more on frozen and canned fruits and vegetables than usual.)

As we’ve had lots of expenses related to moving, I’m grateful for not having to spend so much on food, and still being able to eat healthfully and well!


PS – If you’re in  my area, and always wished you could buy in bulk at the prices that I pay, I’m now selling my remaining bulk foods at less than wholesale costs (ie below what even I or a retail store would pay for it!), here’s most of what’s available:

Spelt berries – 50 lb bag – $50
Spelt berries – 40 lb buckets (5) – $40 each
Millet – 1 1/2 40- lb buckets – approximately 60 lb, $30
Steel cut oats – approximately 50 lb/1.25 square buckets – $30
Rolled oats- 1.25 square buckets – $20
quinoa – approximately 25 lb/1/2 square bucket – $18
popcorn – 1 round 50 lb bucket – $30
cornmeal – 1-0 lb bucket – $25
Sunflower seeds, hulled, raw – 1 40 lb bucket – $35
Pecan meal – 1 -40 lb bucket – $60
Almond meal – 1- 40 lb bucket – $60
Shredded coconut – 1.25 40-lb buckets in volume, but not weight (since it’s not dense like the grains)- $25

There’s other stuff, like beans (individually packed by the pound – .75 lb), bulk spices, and other things I need to inventory.  But this is the bulk of what will be available, I think.  (Square buckets hold 40 lb if the grain is dense; otherwise it’s listed to give a sense of quantity but not weight.)

High quality and inexpensive probiotics

Dh has been on the GAPS diet since a year and a half ago, yet after the first month, he didn’t use the recommended probiotic supplements since they were so pricey.  We figured we’d do probiotics the frugal way – with cultured foods like kefir and fermented vegetables. But even though he’s found his digestive health improved, it hasn’t been to the degree we would have hoped and expected.

Back in January, I started researching probiotics in order to find an affordable option that would allow us to buy the full amount to give dd16, to see if this would help resolve the stomach pains she’d been having – but high quality and affordability don’t seem to go together when it comes to probiotics.  Until I found Custom Probiotics, a company that sells  customized probiotic blends. 

I called to order an eleven strain oxylate blend that isn’t offered on the website,  and the person who answered the phone (Harry – turned out he was the owner of the business), asked why I wanted this particular blend.  I told him it for dd.  He asked about her stomach pains, when it started, and some other specific questions, and then told me it sounded very much like something he had experienced. Actually, it was what led him to starting this business ten years ago, after healing himself naturally by using probiotics.

I had never heard of the term he used -H pylori – so I asked him twice to repeat himself and the third time just asked him to spell it for me.  When he asked me if her stomach pain felt like someone stabbed her in the stomach with a knife, I told him I know it’s pretty bad because she doesn’t complain much so if she says her stomach hurts, she would only say something if it really hurt, but I wasn’t sure if that was how it felt (I was hoping it wasn’t, because it sounded so excrutiating). H pylori is a bacteria that about 50% of people in the world have, but that causes infections in a only some of those people.

A little later in the day I spoke to her and asked if this was an accurate description, and she said that’s exactly how she feels.  I told her all about what he had shared with me, and then while I went off to do some shopping for her, she went on to do some research about it.   When I got back, an email was in my inbox from her, saying she looked at the detailed symptoms and she thinks it looks like a good match for her.

Since then, we’ve done lots more testing and eliminated the possibility of H pylori, and since she had taken massive amounts of this probiotic without change, I was pretty sure even prior to the testing that it wasn’t H pylori.   Before this testing, a naturopath and osteopath both also were strongly inclined to think it was H pylori as well based on her symptoms, so it was a very good guess.  Though it wasn’t what dd16 needed to remedy her stomach issue (and I unfortunately still don’t know what to do to help her – nothing we’ve tried has helped), I strongly believe probiotics are very valuable for the digestive system. 

And back to dh – he and I both feel it would be helpful for him to really get the full benefits of gut healing that are supposed to result from the GAPS diet.  But even inexpensive probiotics aren’t cheap, and so we pushed off purchasing any for dh.  That is, until today, when in preparation for our move to Israel in two weeks, I ordered 200 grams for dh of the customized GAPS blend so he’d have enough to last a good while. 

By the way, I’m very impressed with the owner of Custom Probiotics.  Back in January, in addition to spending 20 minutes talking to me and sharing some ideas about treating H pylori that he’d have no benefit from me buying since he doesn’t sell them, he insisted on sending me the probiotics Fedex at his expense – I told him I’d rather the cheaper shipping option, but he said he wanted to be absolutely sure it arrived to me before I left to visit dd, and he’d cover the difference in shipping.  Today, I asked if there was a larger container available than 100 grams (you know how I buy everything in bulk!), and he said there isn’t but is doing me a favor and filling the bottle fuller (beyond the weight I’m paying for), and charging me the same amount. 

In case you’re wondering about the cost of this particular blend, it’s $175 for 100 grams.  (There are a number of different probiotics blends available and most of them are less expensive than this one.)  I know it sounds insanely expensive to pay that much for a little bottle, but when it comes to probiotics, you have to see how many billion cfus there are in a given serving, then compare that.  Once I did that, I realized that this probiotic was much more powerful than others I looked at, and as a result, a smaller amount was necessary.  We originally bought the BioKult probiotics that are recommended in the GAPS program, and using it was shortlived since we couldn’t keep up with the expense – this is comparable quality and lots more affordable. 

I really appreciate dealing with people who care about what they do, and offer great service in addition to great products!

(This post is linked to Real Food Wednesdays and Pennywise Platter Thursdays.) 


Final homeschool gathering…

Every month for the last five years, I’ve gotten together with other local homeschool moms, and we’ve enjoyed chatting as the kids played.  I wasn’t really looking forward to this month’s gathering, because it was my last one and that was too final to think about.  So I kind of put it to the back of my mind.

I was there for at least 2.5 hours, when everyone was asked to leave the kitchen.  This isn’t unusual so together with the other moms, we moved to the living room.  Ds2 was sleeping in my arms, and when they said that everyone was being asked to go back to the kitchen, I said I’d just stay where I was, that I wasn’t going to move again with ds2.  When a friend said, “I think Y. wants everyone to come to the kitchen”, it flashed through my mind that it might have something to do with us leaving -because neither Y. nor the friend who said that would insist that I move to a different room with a sleeping child if I already expressed that I’d rather not.

As I walked into the kitchen, I saw two cakes; one a birthday cake for one of the boys there, and another cake that had written on it, “We’ll miss you!”  Seriously, I don’t know how I didn’t start crying right then, but I had a pretty big lump in my throat.  Then someone told me everyone had gotten me a gift – the cake wasn’t a shock, but the present was.  She said they knew that I’m downsizing everything and I probably wouldn’t want something else I’d have to make room for, so they decided to get me a piece of luggage.

It was a really great present since I have literally one suitcase from the Dark Ages, when they didn’t have wheels or frames, but I wasn’t going to spend money on luggage.  This is so practical and useful, and every time I’ll use it (and there will be lots of opportunities even after we move that it will be used) I’ll think of my homeschooling friends here in Baltimore.

Then, they told me to look in the suitcase, but I was crying by now so I asked ds12 to open it.  Inside was a scrapbook with the names and addresses of all the regular attendees of our homeschool gathering, and a card signed by them.  As I turned the pages, I saw pictures and messages for my kids from other kids in the group.  It was a beautiful surprise from beginning to end, and I so much appreciate it.

Fortunately, I’ll still see about half of the moms sometime before I leave, so that made it easier to say my goodbyes – they were balanced out with ‘see you soon’ to others.   This isn’t the fun part about moving, that’s for sure.


Let the crying begin….

About seven or eight years ago, I joined a local Toastmasters group. Toastmasters is a public speaking organization, and my group met every couple of weeks.  This was something that was ‘me’ time at a stage in my life when I had very, very little self time – lots of little kids, very little money, and a husband who was rarely home because of work.  But twice a month I’d hire a babysitter for a couple of hours so that I could get out and participate in this.  I enjoyed it so much that I accepted the position of VP of Education when nominated a year or so later, then became president of the club when voted in the following year.

I competed in club level contests – humorous speech, motivational speech, speech evaluation, and improptu speaking – and for several of these, won at the club level and went on to compete at the area level, and in one contest, won at that level as well and was eligible to compete at the district level.  I did this just to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone; it was a growing opportunity for me.

I stopped attending regularly about four years ago when I was newly pregnant with ds3; life was busy and as much as I enjoyed Toastmasters, I had to be very selective about how I used my time.  I’d occasionally pop in for a visit, and finally last winter rejoined the club.   Many of the people there were new to me, but the atmosphere of warm supportiveness was the same. I took a break for the last few months, but last night, I wanted to go back to say goodbye before we move.

I felt like a VIP when I walked in, with a chorus of surprised, “Avivah!”s breaking out.  :)  The format of a Toastmasters meeting has three parts: formal prepared speeches, impromptu speaking, and evaluations of the prepared speeches.  I hoped I would be called up for the impromptu part so I could say officially say goodbye to everyone, but I wasn’t called up.  I was a little bit disappointed, but the meeting has a structure and time constraints, and they can’t call up everyone!

I was pleasantly surprised when the man leading the meeting for the evening broke with traditional protocol and after a very warm introduction, asked me to come up and speak to everyone about my plans to move, as well as what my experience in Toastmasters was.  It was so nice to be acknowledged in this way and given the opportunity to speak to the group for the last time.  Being in this club is something I’ve really enjoyed and I felt kind of choked up as I was sharing what this has meant to me, but managed to cover it.

After I sat back down, the program continued onto the evaluation portion, when a different person (secular Jew in his 60s)  finished the formal portion that he was leading.  Then he shared some very nice thoughts about me with the crowd – he said how much I’d be missed, and gave his warm wishes for good things for our family.  This is someone I’ve enjoyed speaking to on a number of occasions, and it was clear how much he meant every word.

Then as the meeting wrapped up, the president got up (African American man in his 60s), and he told everyone how much he’s learned from me and said some nice things – and he was sincere about all of that, too!  I wouldn’t have expected it since he only knew me for eight months (the first two people have known me for years).  Then finally, the current VP of Education got up (non Jewish man in his 60s) and surprised me by also saying some very nice things about how much I’d be missed.  He also only knew me for eight months, and as a person who doesn’t come across as emotive but clearly communicated that he was sorry to see me go, it meant a lot to me.

None of this was part of the program and they didn’t know I’d be there until I walked in, so none of them had time to plan with each other.  Sometimes people say nice things because it’s expected, and you kind of think, ‘yea, yea’ to yourself and smile politely as you wait for them to finish.  But what was especially nice about every single one of them was that they said things they really meant, and they said things that were reflective of who I am, not some nice sounding made up nonsense.

One of these men after the meeting did something kind of interesting, but I have to give some background so you understand the context.  In Toastmasters, the protocol is you shake hands with the person who introduces you as you go up to the lectern, and shake hands again when you leave the lectern.  I don’t shake hands with men, and this was unusual but became well-known to everyone – I had many opportunities in front of a crowd to lightly explain why I wasn’t shaking hands, particularly as sometimes men didn’t know or forgot and would stick his hand out to me to shake.

So last night, I was holding some papers between both hands, and the man I was speaking to someone (the secular Jew in his 60s) asked me to hold it in my right hand.  I didn’t understand what he was asking, but he repeated himself so I transferred the papers to my right hand.  As I did, he grasped the other end of my papers and shook them up and down, as if to shake my hand.  This was his way of being appropriate but concretely saying goodbye; I know he felt it would have been an incomplete goodbye without some extra sign of appreciation.

(As I wrote the above, I realized it could seem the club is made up of men in their sixties!  But it’s really not – lots of ages and people of all backgrounds, which I enjoy.  It just happened to be the people officially on the roster for the leadership roles for this particular meeting were in a similar age group.)

Fortunately there were women there as well so I got to hug them!  In a conversation with one, she shared how connected she felt during a visit to Israel thirty years ago.  As we spoke, she opened up a possibility of Jewish heritage that I encouraged her to pursue, explaining that if the grandparent she suspected was really Jewish, then that made her 100% Jewish since this is determined through matrilineal descent. Who knows where that will go?

My thoughts had been on me missing this venue and group of people, not about how others felt about me, and I was surprised at all that was expressed about me.  When three of the four men who spoke said how much they learned from me, it made me firstly wonder what in the world they learned!! 😛  But more than that, it showed me that you really don’t know who you’ll touch in this lifetime and why.

I entitled this post ‘let the crying begin’, because the crying in my heart started last night as I said my first real goodbyes at Toastmasters.  The crying in real life started the next day, at our monthly homeschool gathering…..


Departure date syncronicity

So we have an official departure date to Israel, August 14.  I want to share something interesting with you about that.

When we decided to move to Israel almost five months ago, I wrote in my planner for Sunday, Aug. 14 – ‘leave to Israel’.  Then I got busy with the details of making things happen, and forgot that I had ever written down this date.  I started to think that it would be better if we could leave July 24, to give us more time to get settled and for the kids to make friends before the school year started.

So when we found an apartment we were interested in, July 24 is the date I told them we wanted it by.  This wouldn’t have been a problem – the real estate agent told me the seller needed to know if we were interested before he renewed the lease with his tenants, and the lease was up mid July.  Perfect.  But somehow, there was some miscommunication somewhere since although we immediately told the seller we were interested, he had already renewed the lease through January.

We needed a place to land when we arrived, and this wasn’t going to work for us.  So the negotiations began.  The seller really wanted us; he and the tenants dislike each other but legally he was stuck.  The tenant said they were supposed to be able to move into low income government housing in June, and would move by then if it was ready.  I told our agent I wasn’t going to make plans for our family’s move based on a government agency doing it’s job in the time frame it was supposed to.  :)  The real estate agents contacted the builder of the low income housing, and were told it wouldn’t be finished on schedule.

Then the seller said if the tenants would move sooner, he would give them 5000 shekels.  The tenant said she wouldn’t leave early for less than 15,000 shekels.  So the seller’s real estate agent and our real estate agent both agreed to each give 5000 shekels from their fee to the tenant to help her move.  I didn’t feel good about this and told the agent she was working hard for her money and deserved every penny (or should I say agorah?), but she said they felt better to sell the house and make some profit than not sell and have no profit.

The tenant was offered this money, but she said she wouldn’t agree to move until she had signed on another apartment that was to her liking.  This wasn’t so simple, not because apartments weren’t available but because she had a specific idea of what she wanted, and she wasn’t highly motivated to move.  It had taken weeks to get to this point, and I told the agent that we had to know we had a place to move to, and if this wasn’t going to work out, I needed to move on to look for other apartments.  We agreed to give it until the end of that week before looking for something else.

Amazingly enough, the last day of the week the tenant found another apartment.  And it was amazing how it worked out!  An Anglo family was told by their landlord that they needed to find somewhere else, that he didn’t want to rent to a large family anymore.  This pushed them to buy an apartment a couple of doors away from us in a very short time frame, working with the same real estate agent we used.

Our agent told them that we were interested in the apartment but the purchase was being held up by the tenant not finding a suitable apartment to move into.  Although their apartment wouldn’t officially be placed on the rental market for some time, our agent asked if that family would give her their landlord’s number in order to help a nice family (us :)), and she contacted the soon to be deposed large family’s landlord about this tenant.

The tenant went to go see it, and was very happy – it was nicer and cheaper than where she was.  (Dd16 informed me last week that it’s the exact same apartment as ours, just three doors away.)  And because of that, she didn’t require the 15,000 shekels compensation to move.  But they couldn’t move until the family in their new apartment moved, and we couldn’t move until the tenant moved.  When the dust cleared from our musical apartments dance, what was the move out/move-in date?  Not July 24, but August 15.

This was all resolved in the beginning of June, and I opened up my planner to write down our departure date.   Since the apartment would become available on the 15th of August, that meant we needed to leave on August 14.  But when I turned to the page of August 14, I was taken aback to see that it already said, ‘leave to Israel’.  My note to myself when the date was just a shot somewhat in the dark and I had totally forgotten about writing is what ended up happening – our flight is scheduled to depart NY on Aug. 14, and arrive in Israel on Aug. 15 at 12:25 pm!

Sometimes things happen that are frustrating and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything positive coming from it.  When I look back at all that was involved in the negotiations, it’s obvious that our negotiations had to be delayed in order to give the other family a chance to buy their apartment (now we will have one Anglo family as neighbors), and for their rented apartment to be available to ‘our’ tenant.  I often marvel at how clearly G-d’s hand can be seen, smoothing the path and making good things happen, when you pay attention long enough to see past the distractions of the irritations.


Bought our tickets!

Who would think that buying our tickets would be so exciting?!?

After receiving the authorization of our legal status Sunday evening, I called to make reservations.  My main concern, aside from the cost of the tickets, was if there would be enough seats remaining on the flight we wanted to take, and I was delighted that there were.    So I made the reservations, at which time I found out that the discounted price wasn’t $806 per person, as I had been told.  Instead it was $922.30 per person, and $762.30 for children under twelve.  It’s a good thing that five of the seven kids traveling with us are under twelve, so the total ticket purchase ended up being only $250  more than we anticipated.  $118 increase per person for nine tickets would have been a nice chunk of money to have paid out!

Then we had to email the authorization form and the confirmation of our reservations to the NY office.  The next day, I got a call from the NY office representative, asking for credit card information; making tickets for returning citizens is a three step process, so we couldn’t pay until this point.  I gave her our credit card number, and a few minutes later she called back to say it had been declined.  I was pretty shocked and knew something must be wrong (we keep a low balance and pay our card in full every month), but she was very impatient, so rather than take a few minutes to call the credit card company and figure out what was going on, I gave her our debit card number, asking her to wait five minutes so I could transfer the funds into my bank account.  (I love online banking!)

She called back a short while later to say that was declined, too.  Well.  By this point I realized both my bank and credit card company were blocking the purchase since it’s not in line with my typical purchasing habits, and told her I’d call the credit card company to ask them to allow the charges.  It was the end of the business day for her, so I had to wait until the next morning.

This morning, I called the credit card company and quickly got that straightened out.  I then spent over 45 minutes on hold with the airline, waiting to pay for my tickets. (I think it’s good business to make it easy for people to pay you, don’t you?)   When I finally got to a live person, she told me that we had reservations for 8 people.  ‘No, nine people,’ I corrected.  No, she insisted, so I asked her to read me all the names of the people she had reservations for, and realized that dd14 had been dropped.  I told her I could email her the confirmation in which everyone, including dd14 was listed, but she didn’t want it. So she made a new reservation for her.

Then she informed me that I needed to send the authorization and confirmation to the NY office before I could pay.  ‘No’, I told her, ‘I did that already and the NY office was already in touch with me about payment – that’s the reason I’m calling!’  I told her the card had been declined because my credit card company blocked the charges, but I had that lifted and I wanted to complete the payment.  So I gave her the number, she read it back to me, and I waited on the line while it was processed.  ‘Declined’, she told me.

Now I know this isn’t possible, but she was very abrupt and impatient and wouldn’t repeat back the number of the card she had used.  She asked me if I had a debit card, and I told her we’d already tried that the day before yesterday and the bank wouldn’t allow the charges.  I asked her again to tell me the number of the card she had used, and she waffled back and forth, asking me insistently several times for the number of the card I wanted her to use (as if I had given her anything but one to start with).  She finally admitted she tried my debit card instead of the number I had given her and she had repeated back to me (it was listed on my record from the day before, apparently).  Well, that explained the problem.

So she processed the card she was supposed to, it went through, and we’ve received all of our etickets. 😛

Departure date – three and a half weeks to go – Aug. 14!


Ticket woes

In making our move to Israel, there have been three main issues that needed to be resolved for the move to happen: find a place to live in Israel, sell our house here, and buy tickets.  There are lots of smaller things, and then the big one of dh finding work, but these were what I considered the biggest issues that needed to be taken care of before leaving here.

We expected buying tickets to be the easiest and fastest of these issues to deal with.  After all, we had the money saved up, so all we needed to do was call and make the reservations.  Right?  I wish.

If you are a returning Israeli citizen, you qualify for discounted flight tickets ($806 per person) as well as an additional piece of luggage per person.  To get that discount, you don’t just call and tell them you’re a returning citizen.  You need to have authorization from the Israeli government.  And that’s what became a very big challenge for us…..

On March 9, following a month of clarifying all the relevant legal details upon which our decision to move was made and two days after announcing our plans to move to Israel, I was notified that despite having been told otherwise by offices here and in Israel, my husband and I didn’t have the legal status of returning citizens.  Instead, we were immigrants who left the country before their ten year period of benefits ended, and our status froze as such when we left Israel eleven years ago.   And oh, by the way, we wouldn’t be eligible for any of the benefits that returning citizens receive, including the discounted tickets.

This was a huge issue for us – we had carefully gone over the numbers and and our financial plan was based on being able to to fly to Israel with the discounted tickets.  It was a lot of money, but it was doable.  When we learned we’d have to pay $1300+ per person instead (what most airlines were charging for a one way ticket at the time we planned to travel), it was upsetting.  Because there was no way we could afford that increase with the amount of tickets we needed to buy.

I asked if it were possible to change our status to that of returning citizens, since we met all the criteria.  Sure, I was assured. (Lest you think I asked on the spot and was told this, nope.  I had to ask, then call a week later, then wait for her to contact the Israel office, then call again…it took about a month to get the following answer.)   You and your husband need to fly to Israel to sign a waiver that you’re changing your status.  We have to spend $3000 on tickets to sign a piece of paper when we live in the digital age?  There’s no way to sign the waiver here, for example at the Israeli consulate in front of the consul?  This question was what we were waiting to have resolved for another two months.

Actually, that’s not accurate.  We never got a  final answer from the person we were asking about this, though after a lot of back and forth, were told that I could give dh power of attorney and he could sign on my behalf in Israel.  This was a bit….well, not helpful.  We were turning our lives all around, doing a huge amount of things to make this move possible – and after months of waiting for an answer, still didn’t know if we’d be able to afford to get on the plane.

Finally, I asked the representative if she thought it would be helpful if I called a particular person at a different office I had been in touch with a couple of months before regarding something else.  She agreed that would be a good idea.  I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t thought of this.  I called her (it was now past mid May) and she told me that there’s absolutely no need to sign the paperwork in Israel.  In our situation (it’s not common and that’s why the person we initially spoke with didn’t know how to handle it), we were told we needed verify with the Israeli government that we wanted to change our status, then get the discounted tickets and change our status after arriving in Israel.

Great! We were so encouraged that we finally were speaking to someone who knew how to handle this.  She told us about the paperwork she needed, and dh got it all together and sent it to her.  By mid June, he still hadn’t heard back and told me he couldn’t reach her by phone.  I thought that was strange, since she had been easy to reach initially.  So I called and left a message, then called and spoke to someone there to find out if there was a reason she wasn’t returning calls.

There was.  She’d had a baby.  ‘Congratulations!’  I told the receptionist.  ‘Is there someone else taking over her responsibilities while she’s out on maternity leave?’  No. ‘ Is she checking her messages?’  No.  ‘When will she be back at work?’  The end of August.  Oh.  We need to leave in seven weeks, in the middle of August, and after months finally found someone who knows how to handle our case – and now she’s not available.  ‘Well, is there anyone else who can help us?’  Leave a message for the consul, I was told.

So I did, and a day later, he called me. I explained the situation, and he told me to call someone in the NY office (this other person had been in PA).  So I did.  I explained our situation to her, told her how we were told it was supposed to be resolved….and she told me she needed to check with the Ministry of Absorption how to handle our case.  This is what we were told for 3.5 months by the first person, so this really wasn’t encouraging to me just seven weeks before our anticipated departure date to literally start all over.

In the meantime, she told me to send her everything that I had sent the first person as well as some legal stuff she wanted filed differently.  I asked if there was a way for her to access the other person’s files.  Nope.  So we started from scratch again.  But though we didn’t know it, this time it was with someone who felt a responsibility to help us get it resolved.  After a week (beginning of July), she told us the paperwork was all in order – and then needed to be submitted to Israel for processing.  I had thought she’d process our paperwork; I didn’t realize all we had done was just the preliminary paperwork!

By the middle of last week, we were supposed to get the authorization.  Other emails were sent, but not that one.  So dh contacted her again – she told us to wait another couple of days, and she’d look into it if we hadn’t received it.  We waited a couple more days… and didn’t receive it.  Dh contacted her again.  By now it was Friday, July 15 – and we wanted to be on the flight four weeks later.  Yesterday morning, dh told me she might be working on Sunday, in accordance with the Israeli work week, so I called to left a message – dh said he didn’t know what to do anymore and thought I might be able to approach them in a more effective way.  (You know, all the emotion – our children need to start school and our dd16 is there alone and waiting for us, and we really need to get our tickets.)  I called and left a message, but she wasn’t in.

Last night, I told dh we needed to make a mental stop loss order.  How much longer were we going to wait before we made another plan?  I got online and started looking for other alternatives to get to Israel within our budget, and found three airlines.  (There were five, if I had been willing to consider Air Jordan and Turkish Airlines, but I felt that was more than I could emotionally deal with.)

Unfortunately, we’d only be allowed one piece of luggage each, which would be a big loss for us since we’re not making a lift and being able to take 3 pieces of luggage would make it possible to take a lot more. Maybe we’d send the other pieces of luggage on a mini lift.  But what about ds18?  His ticket will be paid for (once he gets his authorization, which is a separate issue…..), but only if he goes on two specific airlines, and neither of those airlines were among the three we found affordable flights on.  And if he wasn’t going with us, how would he get to the airport in NY?  We started working out some pretty involved logistics as to how we could take a flight leaving from the same airport as El Al around the same time, drop ds in one section to fly to Israel alone, how to make a lift, etc – it started getting kind of complicated.  It was good to know that we had an alternative, but dh and I agreed that it would definitely be best if we could go with El Al.

Then, right before he went to sleep, dh checked his email – and our authorization has finally arrived!  Four and a half months after first asking about how to get it, less than four weeks until we’re planning to leave, but we finally have it!  The next step: finding out what flight has enough seats available for us all at the time we want to travel, and finally making the ticket.  Stay tuned.  😛


Saying Goodbye, Saying Hello: The Emotional Side of Aliyah

Nefesh B’ Nefesh has weekly webinars on topics of interest to those considering making aliyah, and since my ds18 has an open file with them, I can listen to the webinars through his account.  There are about 4 – 5 webinars each Sunday on a number of topics, but I chose from those that were of most interest to me.  I signed up for the first time last week for a webinar on Day Tripping in the North (of Israel); I wanted to get ideas of local attractions before we get there.  Next week is about bringing teens on aliyah, the week after is a focus on Karmiel, and this week was Saying Goodbye, Saying Hello: The Emotional Side of Aliyah.

(Edited to add: the process of immigrating to Israel is called aliyah.  Aliyah literally means ascension, moving up.  Moving to Israel is considered a spiritual uplift; someone immigrating is called an oleh (one who goes up).  An Israeli citizen who moves away from Israel is called a yored, one who goes down, and the process of leaving Israel is called yerida, going down.)

Last week I didn’t take notes – my aliyah notebook is constantly being misplaced because it’s a composition notebook like my kids, so they often push it onto the shelf with theirs when they clean up without realizing it’s mine.  After weeks of it being missing, I finally gave up on trying to keep all my notes in one place and I manage with my little green planner to keep track of everything.  This week, I grabbed a scrap paper before sitting down at the computer for the webinar, and as I was taking notes, I thought I’d share them here in case it’s of help to someone else.

I missed the first ten minutes, so when I logged in she was talking about….

A) The importance of sharing your feelings with your friends and family here – your excitement, your ambivalence, your fears.  It helps everyone stay connected and supportive of one another.  I guess you have to know who you’re talking to.  I have family members that definitely don’t want me to even casually or remotely touch on the topic of us leaving, and even if it would be nice for me to talk about it, I have to consider their feelings as well.  So you obviously have to know who can handle it.

B) Be careful to have realistic expectations.  People think they’ll: make tons of friends right away, go back to the country they made aliyah from every summer, love it in Israel, learn Hebrew in no time.  This isn’t always true and expectations that aren’t met lead to disappointment.  It takes time to make good friends, you won’t necessarily have the funds to make the trips overseas you anticipated, learning Hebrew can take a lot of effort and a long time, and people don’t always love living there right away, or as much as they expected.

I strongly agree with this point; I’m sure I’ve written at some point here about  realistic expectations being integral to being happy.  People keep asking me and the kids if we’re excited, and I keep saying, no, not really.  I’m optimistic and feel great about going or I wouldn’t be doing all of this, but I’m trying to be very, very realistic about what we’re going to face when we get there, and to keep the kids realistic as well.  I might be going overboard on being realistic, because they’re not getting much of the excitement and gung ho fervor (though I’m trying to make sure they get some of that, too, or they’d wonder why we’re moving if it’s not going to be a bed of roses!  Here’s some of what I’ve told them:

As soon as we get there, I’m immediately going to need to go to government offices, change bills into our name, get approval for the amount of people in our family for water allotment, sign up for health insurance, change our status to returning citizens, register dd14 for high school, help ds18 visit and apply to his yeshiva (different part of the country), get a phone plan, internet service.  We won’t have any furniture or appliances, so we’ll be sleeping on the floor and eating very simple meals of bread, cheese spread and fresh vegetables, while I simultaneously run around buying the furniture we need from different private individuals (since I’m planning to buy used), arranging moving help for each item since we won’t have a vehicle.

I’m okay with all of this – this is what it takes to make a move like this, and if they’re prepared for the move, it will be easier for them to adapt.  I don’t want them to expect excitement and fun from the minute they step off the plane!  My goal is to have things in place by Rosh Hashana (dd16 already asked about hosting a couple of people, and I told her we’ll try but I don’t know if we’ll have guest beds yet!), which this year is the end of September, so that we can all sit back and enjoy the holidays together.

C) Logging Off (this is their term for closing up life in the US)

She talked about the physical and emotional side of packing, of the difficulties in living in a home that is turning into a house as the things that make it a home for you are packed, sold, or given away.  Sometimes it’s hard to separate from belongings that have an emotional value for you, and you need to recognize and validate that it’s okay to feel like this.  She didn’t talk about the challenges of getting rid of almost everything and not making a lift at all!

Then there’s the practical aspects of closing up shop: do you leave your bank account open or not?  What about your mail?  Your driver’s license should be current for at least six months after moving because if you buy a car with the benefits a new immigrant is eligible for, this is important.

Goodbye parties – great way to have closure.  They give everyone a chance to support you and to share their own feelings of loss or happiness or both!  I still have warm memories of the goodbye party friends had for me when we left Israel.  No parties planned yet for dh and I, but our shul is having a goodbye shalosh seudos for us the week before we leave.  (If you live in the neighborhood, you’re welcome to come by – it’s  not a formal kind of thing.)  Today ds12 was taken to lunch at a nice Chinese restaurant by two of his friends in honor of him leaving; they got a special dessert and gave him a gift, and it was really nice for them all.

She suggested packing along in your luggage things that will help you feel connected to those you left behind in the transitory period before your lift arrives.  And something else I really agree strongly with, to take time to breathe and do things for yourself, to have fun as a family, and for this period to not be all about the move.  I’ve written about that – my bird watching outing, trips with the kids, this camping trip – that’s what it’s all about.  Our life can’t totally revolve around this move; it has to be about living and enjoying life together, with this move as part of our larger lives.

D) Logging In-

Nowadays it’s easier than ever before to stay in touch with those you left behind.  I keep telling everyone who says how much they’ll miss me this – I don’t feel like we really have to say goodbye, we can still stay in touch.  Really, it’s not like twenty years ago when you knew it was unlikely you would ever see or speak to that person again.  Now you can talk for free while seeing each other on Skype!  Add in VOIP lines, email, twitter, FB…. and for me, my blog! 😛

She brought up the importance of realistic expectations again: this time, recognizing how long it will take for things to get done, to pick up the language, to get used to the culture.  Two more points she mentioned that I thought were very important: a) you’ll be parenting in new surroundings and this can shift the family dynamic, and b) emotions and concerns that were voiced pre-aliyah may resurface and need to be addressed.

Now I need to get ready to leave for our annual shul (synagogue) picnic!


Camping trip – day 2 and 3

Back to our camping trip.  :)

On Tuesday morning, I and the four older kids woke up pretty early and wanted to get the fire started for some hot cocoa.  Unfortunately, someone (not mentioning names :)) left the matches out of the zip lock bag they were in to protect them from moisture, and sitting out all night in the humidity right after a major rainstorm, they were worthless.  When it got late enough in the morning, ds12 found a ‘neighbor’ to borrow a flame from – he borrowed a clicker, lit our hurricane lamp with it, then biked back to return the clicker.  When he returned, he found the hurricane lamp had blown out, because he had forgotten to close the opening.  Nature is nothing if not a good teacher of natural consequences.

At this point, I decided that I’d let ds12 figure out how to remedy the situation, so I took the littles to the beach.  It was 8 am by now, and there was only one older woman on the entire beach, doing laps.   They had a great time playing – it was interesting that there are tiny fish that nibble their toes in the evening, but in the morning would run away from them.  By the time we headed back, ds12 had found another ‘neighbor’ to borrow a tiny box of matches from, so the fire was going and the kids were enjoying hot cocoa.  We changed the plan for breakfast from oatmeal to hamburgers, since the kids discovered that someone forgot to pack the dairy spoons, which made it impossible to eat any of the breakfast food we brought along.  Like I said before, adaptability is a great trait!

By the time we finished breakfast, it was close to lunch time.  Dd10 and ds12 went fishing while dd14 and ds9 hiked around the lake (something like 2 or 3 miles, not sure which trail they took). They were all back by 3 pm; ds12 had found the boat rental place and asked if they could go boating.  I was willing to rent the boat for them, but I had to be there, and the littles were pretty desperate for a nap by the point, so I told him we could do it after they napped.  But by then the boat place was closed, so instead we got the campfire ready for dinner.  In the outdoors, you need to plan ahead if you want to cook a meal The kids climbed a huge hill/small mountain to gather firewood – gathering firewood and making a fire is a big part of camping- it takes a lot of work and it’s something kids find very gratifying!

The kids also biked over the camp store and bought a box of plastic cutlery, which made breakfast the next morning a lot easier!

We went to the beach after dinner again, and though we didn’t have the empty beach like the night before, a lot of people had left so we still had a nice amount of space to ourselves.  We rarely go to beaches and being able to go every evening and morning while we were camping was really nice!  The campfire that night was much more easily started than the night before, and again we enjoyed singing together until late into the night.

The next morning, we had an early breakfast which was easily accomplished since dd14 banked the fire the night before – they learned their lesson from the day before that it paid to think ahead and minimize unnecessary work!  Then we all headed to the beach.  After swimming for an hour and a half, we walked over to the boat rental place.  We all got into lifejackets and I rented two paddle boats.  After some discussion, we decided that dd14, ds12, ds9, and ds3 would go on one boat.  I went on the second boat with dd10, ds5, and ds2.  Part of what made it challenging to figure out is the two strongest people have to be in front to paddle, but the two seats in the rear back up to the front seats, so you can’t see the children there.  So we had to work out the logistics of how to keep the littles safe and still have the oldest and most responsible people in front.  This is why I put ds3 in the back of the first boat with ds9, and in my boat, held ds2 on my lap as I paddled (then he started to fall asleep so I moved him between me and dd10 to a kind of shelf where I kept my arm around him as he slept – dd steered so I didn’t need to use my arms for anything else!), while ds5 was able to safely keep himself in the boat without needing someone to keep a constant eye on him.

Dd10 and I chose to go around the entire lake, but the other kids had different ideas, so they took their path.  It was a gorgeous, sunny, hot day – and about 40 minutes in, we needed some water. So we headed back to the dock, dd10 jumped out and got our big water bottle, and jumped back in. We passed it off to the other kids when our boats crossed paths.  I really enjoyed boating with the kids; usually dh does this kind of stuff while I wait on shore with the littles.

Since we did similar but not the same things on different days, it blurs in my mind exactly when the kids went biking together, when they went on exploratory nature walks – they did a lot of that.  Though it doesn’t sound like our days were that full, the time was comfortably used .  We weren’t pressured to rush from one activity to another, which is critical for everyone to feel like they’re able to relax internally.  But somehow there was always something to do.

We decided to leave a little on the earlier side on Thursday, so we could get back an hour beforeds9’s art lesson and dd14’s flute lesson, so they’d be able to shower and change without rushing.  It was a good thing we started earlier than we originally planned, since as we were packing up, the skies got cloudy and the wind started to blow…..yes, another storm hit!  It was amazing how fast everyone got everything into the van; we were able to beat what was a huge rainstorm that we drove through all the way home.  It was kind of fun to come full circle, starting off with a rainstorm and then finishing off with a rainstorm!

The kids were so tired that every single one of them totally conked out on the way home – camping is tiring in a good, deep kind of way.  We had a really, really nice time together, and created nice shared memories for everyone – and you never regret investing the time into creating memories!


PS – on the cost side, it was a little under $53 for the campsite, and another $24 to rent two paddle boats for an hour.  So less than $80 for a really nice vacation together!