Monthly Archives: September 2011

Finding great clothing deals in Israel

Yesterday I had a super full and tiring day – as I wrote that, I thought to myself that lately, I could start most of my posts like that! – I went to do some thrift store type clothing shopping.

Firstly, dd10 needs uniform skirts for school. The school has uniforms available for purchase, but only had very little girls’ sizes remaining.  I went to someone locally who sells uniform skirts as well as some used items, but she was also out of that size.  (I did get ds9 and ds2 nice vests for Rosh Hashana, though.)  Then I went to someone hosting a private sale in her home, and her prices were high, way more than I wanted to spend on a school skirt.  I also needed to buy a uniform shirt for ds9.

I took stock of my choices.  Karmiel is a predominantly secular city, so there aren’t stores that sell modest clothing.  So buying something brand new locally wasn’t an option (though someone did tell me she saw one skirt in one store that might be suitable).  I was told that in Tzfat (Safed) I’d be able to buy skirts that would be comfortable and modest for about 40 shekels each, and so I decided to go there.

However, before buying something at brand new prices, I always try to start with less expensive options.  I learned about a used clothing exchange in Tzfat, and planned to go on Weds.  If I didn’t find what I wanted at the used clothing exchange, I’d buy something new while in Tzfat.  Then on Tuesday evening I spoke to a friend who made aliyah just two weeks after me.  She had a less pleasant and much more frazzled departure than I did, and ended up taking her winter clothes but not summer clothes to Israel with her. So she got here and found she didn’t have much to wear!

The family she was staying with for Shabbos in Ramat Beit Shemesh (RBS) told her there was a used clothing exchange where clothing could be very inexpensively purchased in the building next to them, and she was able to get a number of nice things for a small amount of money.  She told me the prices were 3 shekels for women’s clothing, 2 shekels for children’s clothing, and since this was less than the clothing exchange prices in Tzfat (I think I was told 5 – 10 shekels per item), I determined that it would be worth my while to make a trip to Jerusalem the next day.

There are only three buses a day to Jerusalem from Karmiel, and I was on the first one, at 6 am.  It’s a three hour bus ride, and I knew I’d have to work to maximize my time to get everything done in time for one of the two buses back to Karmiel later in the day.  Firstly, I met ds18 at his yeshiva in Jerusalem and exchanged the stuff I brought him for an empty suitcase with wheels (the lovely one I got as a goodbye present from my dear homeschooling friends before I left), which I thought would be helpful for me to transport the clothing I anticipated buying, home.  He is really, really happy with his yeshiva, and it was not only nice to see him, but to see where he’s learning and living.

From there I got the bus back to the central bus station, then got a bus to RBS.  That was a drive of almost an hour, and I’ll spare you the difficulties of getting off at the wrong stop and trying to figure out where I was (since there was no one out and about at that time of day to ask).  I finally found where I needed to go, and was pleasantly surprised to see the huge amount of clothes at the clothing exchange.  (A nice side surprise was when two minutes after I walked in, the woman who used to be my backup doula walked in – I had last seen her several years ago in the States, and she is now living in RBS!)

I wished that dd15 could have come with me, since it’s nice not only for the company, but to have another opinion when choosing clothing for the girls.  I was able to find dd10 two very nice uniform shirts, and several navy skirts for school.  Additionally, I found a skirt, shirt, and top for Rosh Hashana for her, and a few other non uniform skirts (a total of ten skirts just for dd10 alone!).  I found some shirts and vests for the littles for Rosh Hashana, five pairs of shoes and three backpacks, several long sleeve solid color shirts for dd15 and dd16 to wear under their uniform shirts (has to be black, white, or beige), and some other miscellaneous items – the whopping sum for all of these things was 77 shekels.

When I had initially entered this building, I noticed a sign for a two day sale of new and used clothing, which I made a note of.  So I got directions to that house, which became my next stop.  It was a hot day and by now the suitcase was full and pretty heavy.  As I passed a couple of women speaking on the sidewalk, I glanced back to make sure I didn’t bump them with the suitcase, and surprise! – one of the women was the director of the Baltimore camp dd15 and dd16 had gone to when they were younger; she lives in RBS during the year and goes to the States to run the camp in the summer.  So I chatted with her a bit before continuing on my way.

At the next sale I found a couple of new skirts with tags for dd15 for ten shekels each, a skirt for me for 5 shekels, a pair of shoes for ds12, and then nine other items for 3 shekels. (She had a few boxes of less desirable items that were three for a shekel, things that had some kind of flaw or she felt wouldn’t sell as quickly for some other reason.)  I was able to find a couple of things that I could easily put a stitch into to make as good as new, and for the price it was worth my effort!  (Most of what I got wasn’t damaged, though.)  Another 33 shekels.

Then I went to one more clothing exchange, and this one was really a challenge since it was down a lot of steps and I had this heavy suitcase to deal with.  If I had known how many stairs there were when I first started going down, I don’t think I would have done it.  Because what goes up must come down and getting back up all those flights of stairs was a very intimidating thought.

Anyway, this place was very well organized (not to imply the others weren’t – they were) and had nice quality items, but with higher but still reasonable prices: 5 – 10 shekels for children’s items, 10 – 20 for ladies clothing.  Though I always try to start at the least expensive places and work my way up, I had never been to any of these places, and was glad it worked out in my favor this time!

At this place I found a uniform shirt for ds9 and a regular shirt for him (which I needed since I ruined his favorite shirt soon after arriving by attempting to clean it using something I didn’t realize was bleach until I saw the results!).  I also found a skirt for me, but as I was paying, asked the time and learned it was much later than I thought.  I had to leave right that minute if I hoped to make the bus, and didn’t there wasn’t time to wait for change for the skirt, I paid for the two shirts for ds9 since I had exact change for that and left the skirt behind.

I then attempted to race up the stairs with my hugely heavy suitcase – my legs were buckling when I finally got to the top and a couple of times on the way up I had to grab the handrail to keep from falling- and I raced to the bus stop.  And learned the bus to Jerusalem has just passed two minutes before.  :(  I needed to get the last bus back to Karmiel, which left the Jerusalem central bus station at 4:15.  It would take an hour to get to Jerusalem from RBS, and another bus wasn’t scheduled for another twenty minutes, which wouldn’t get me there in time.

I was really feeling anxious when I thought to myself, “I’m where I’m supposed to be right now, and if I’m meant to get on the bus to Karmiel, I will.  If I don’t, I’ll travel to a different city in the north and get a connecting bus from one of those places.  But somehow, I’ll get home tonight.”

Amazingly, a bus pulled up 11 minutes later, and continuing to think the above thoughts kept me from tapping my foot in impatience every time people got on the bus.  I got to the central bus station with just enough time to very quickly buy something to eat – it was already after 4 pm and I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before – and got on my bus four minutes before it pulled out.  It was so nice to sit, take a deep breath, and for the first time that day, eat and relax.

Why did I feel it was worthwhile to spend so much time going to Jerusalem to buy these things?  It cost me approximately 110 shekels for my travel expenses.  I spent approximately 120 shekels on clothing, which included about 16 skirts, three uniform shirts, several ladies tops,  a number of children’s vests and dress shirts, and six pairs of shoes.  Total: 250 shekels.

If I had to purchase just two uniform skirts for dd10, I would have had to pay at least 80 shekels plus the cost of a bus ticket to Tzfat (approximately 110 shekels).  I knew that if I found just two skirts for her at the clothing exchange, the cost of my travel to Jerusalem would be comparable, and if I bought anything else, I’d be coming out ahead.  Even assuming I could have found comparable items to what I bought that day in the Tzfat used clothing exchange (I don’t know how likely a scenario that would be), I would have paid at least double for just about every single item I bought, bringing the clothing cost itself to at least 240 shekels, possibly up to 360.

Although my trip was fruitful, I don’t anticipate making this a regular event.  I went yesterday because dh is home and able to pick up the littles from kindergarten if I’m not available.  In the future, that wouldn’t be the case and this trip wouldn’t be realistic.  And it was a very long and fatiguing day.  However, because there were things I really needed for the kids for school, I wanted to go where the likelihood was highest of getting most of those things in one day, which is how it worked out.

A trip to the used clothing exchange in Tzfat can be squeezed in between the time the littles leave to school and need to be picked up, and because in a family our size, there’s always someone who needs something, that’s a trip I hope to make next week!


And the final school decision…

>>So DS9 is still home? Is that hard for him being the only “school-aged” kid at home?<<

From the time we first thought about moving to Israel and discussed which kids might benefit from going to school, ds9 was the one child that I had absolutely no question about.  I felt for the following reasons that sending him to an Israeli school would be throwing him to the wolves:

– As an auditory learner, his reading skills are weak; we had this with dd15 who went on to excel at a later age so we aren’t concerned; however,  since their primary sense that’s engaged isn’t visual, reading is a later start for them.  This is understandable but he wouldn’t be anywhere near the Israeli kids in Hebrew reading ability.

– His nature is very sensitive and gentle.  Israeli kids are notoriously not known for these qualities.

– He tends to easily get frustrated and overwhelmed when faced with something he didn’t understand, and this sometimes leads to tears.  Not a good thing for a nine year old boy, particularly for one who is tall and looks like he’s about 12.

– His strengths of personality are the kind that aren’t quickly and easily seen; he has a depth of perception and compassion, a gentle and caring spirit, and an artistic and musical bent – but this doesn’t lend itself to playground play, and when combined with the above tendency, I was afraid he would be targeted by bullies.

So when we decided to send everyone else to school, I felt really good about the idea of having him home to build up his reading skills one on one, to give him lots of time and attention, to build our relationship and use the opportunity to build his confidence in his abilities.

But then I thought about what his self-perception would be about everyone being in school except for him.  As I contemplated this, I realized that he could easily internalize the message that someone is wrong with him, that we don’t think he can make it in school like everyone else.  And I remembered a story Steven Covey (of the Seven Habits) shared regarding one of his children:

He had a child who was socially very awkward, physically clumsy and uncoordinated, and immature in pretty much every way.  When his siblings would make fun of him, his parents would tell them, “Leave him alone, can’t you see he’s doing his best?”  And then they’d tell him encouraging things to build him up.  One day, though, they realized that despite their words to him, deep in themselves they felt he was lacking.  And no matter what words they were using, the deeper disbelief in his abilities was being communicated to him.

So he and his wife made a decision to see him as capable and treat him as such, to stop protecting him so much and give him a chance to find his own strengths.  As he grew up and matured, he turned into a wonderful young man who was skilled in all of the areas that he seemed so weak in.

When thinking of keeping ds9 at home, part of my concern was that he couldn’t be successful in school at this time (though at a later age I wouldn’t be worried).   And no matter how positively I presented to him that he’d continue homeschooling, I recognized that part of my underlying feeling about his ability wasn’t fully supportive of who he is, regardless of my words to myself otherwise. Not only that, he would feel different than all of his siblings, and in a way that would be damaging to his sense of self.

And so a week ago, I took ds9 to meet the principal of a local boys’ school.  (None of my kids thought this was a good idea, and ds12 went so far as to repeatedly warn me that it was a really bad idea.)  Ds9 wasn’t interested, but my repeated message to him was that I thought he’d gain a lot out of school.  You could kind of say I took a tough love approach.  :)  I was very impressed with the principal, and liked the school philosophy, which is more similar to mine in terms of attitudes towards religious inclusion and focus on character than most Israeli schools.

I also met his teacher, who was very, very highly spoken of as an extremely warm and experienced teacher, and met the person who would be his personal tutor, to help him get a handle on the language.  I liked when the tutor told me that the focus of the school for the first six months wouldn’t be on academics at all, but on helping him get the language and acclimate – this is exactly my focus at this time, and I appreciated that I wouldn’t have to argue with the administration about how much academics to push.

This isn’t the school that ds12 is going to and though it’s a very good school, isn’t where people expect us to send our kids, but I had a very strong feeling that this is where ds9 would thrive.  At this school they are better equipped to handle olim (new immigrants), have a wider academic and extracurricular program, and have a shorter school day.  And putting him in a different school from his older brother meant he would have the chance to define himself, away from any comparison to his socially, athletically, and academically gifted older brother and the threat of the shadow from below of his similarly gifted younger brother.

When I dropped him off the next morning for his first day, his eyes started filling up with tears, and I told him, “I know it won’t be easy to not be able to understand what’s going on around you.  But every single one of your siblings (then I detailed each one) is having the same challenge – none of them understand anything in their classes either.  It won’t be easy but you’re going to do great.  If you need anything, tell your teacher or someone else; you’re got to tell people what’s wrong so they can help you.  You can’t start crying.  Don’t worry about speaking in Hebrew; your teacher understands English and lots of the kids have learned some English in school, too.  You’re going to do great!”

So he wiped his eyes and I left to take ds4 to his first day of school (Friday).  All day I was thinking about ds9 and wondering how he did, but inside myself I really felt he was going to do well.  I wasn’t thinking about all the reasons it would be hard that had kept me from considering school as a positive option for him until this point, but about what a great kid he was and this would be a chance for him to find his inner strength.  I needed to reflect his strengths to him, not my fears about his weaknesses, and my decision to send him to school reflected an inner shift that I had made.

He came home from his first day of school surprisingly happy.  It’s been amazing to me to see the positive changes in him in just a week – he’s much more relaxed, positive, helpful, and feels so good about himself.  His entire aura has shifted in a hugely positive way, something I wasn’t anticipating but am so, so grateful for!

So that winds up our decision making process regarding sending the kids to school!  (For this year – I don’t consider this a forever decision,but as always, an educational choice that we will continue to evaluate and assess each year.)  It was pretty intense as dh and I discussed every single child one by one, and one by one made the decision for each of them.  It would have definitely simplified the registration process if we had decided to send them all at one time, so that I didn’t have to make repeated visits to the schools.  :)  But though it wasn’t the efficient way to do it, it was the right way to do it for us.

It’s been a really big and unexpected shift for me to go from eleven years of homeschooling all of our children (seven at home last year and nine at home the year before), to having just ds2 at home with me.  It was because I knew we’d homeschool that I felt confident about making the move to Israel with so many older school aged children, and so it’s particularly ironic to me that we’re not homeschooling now that we’re here!  But I have a deep sense of peace about this decision now, and am glad I was able to set aside my own ego and preferences to do what was best for my kids.


The stories behind the fridge and oven

“But why aren’t your fridge and stove working properly?”

Well, this is part of the fun of our move.  :)

First of all, the background.  I had been perusing the online Israeli classifieds for months to get a sense of what a good price for the items I would be needing would be.  Before we left, I wrote down some phone numbers of things so we could call about them as soon as we got there.  That was very good foresight, and would have worked if we had a way to transport the items we bought home.  I assumed since so many people here don’t have vehicles, that we could hire someone to help us move something, or rent a vehicle to move something ourselves.  Logical assumption, don’t you think?  Well, that may have been logical, but it wasn’t the way it worked out.

When we arrived here, we found on the second floor of our apartment that a number of pieces of furniture had been left behind.  The real estate agent told us the tenant wanted to leave it in exchange for the cost of paint for the part of the apartment they hadn’t gotten to.  Now, a couple of months before, the tenant had offered to sell me most of these pieces at extremely high rates.  (I told you, I was checking the classifieds regularly so I would be able to recognize a bargain or a rip off.)  I passed along a message that I’d pay half the price she was charging, or buy the things I needed on my own.  No response, which was fine with me.  I’m not a stupid, rich, or desperate American.

So when I got there and saw these items, I already knew these were things she didn’t want.  Also, it was clear that they started taking the furniture apart and then it was too much work for them to take it all down the spiral staircase, so they just left it all there.  The clothes closet was totally taken apart, but no screws or clothing rods were left behind; the bookshelf of the desk had the backing ripped off and they took it with them, the bed was old and nothing I wanted for even a day in our home….and they left behind a stove.

The stove ended up being helpful, since we had no appliances, had arrived Thursday afternoon, and had no way to cook for our first Shabbos.  The stove top was cleaned and kashered, and dd16 was then able to cook our first Shabbos meal here.  However, the oven was very, very dirty – extremely.  It took another two weeks of scrubbing and cleaning before we could kasher and use it.  Once we kashered it, we learned that the door doesn’t close fully (stays about 1/4 inch open when baking).  We propped something against it to keep the heat in, which was a workable solution, but it was too small for a family our size, and trying to maximize the cooking space in it to suit our needs resulted in foods that were either burnt or undercooked.  (This wouldn’t be an issue for someone content to use just one or two shelves at a time.)

Back to our first few days here – I wanted to buy through the online classifieds, but was stymied because we had no way to transport anything home.  Dh called a couple of people who did moving, and said it would be between 200 – 400 shekels to bring something from someone else’s home ten minutes away, even if we did all the moving work ourselves.

So when someone recommended a second hand store to us, we decided to look into it.   I have a lot of experience and a high level of confidence in buying used furniture and appliances, but only buy directly from the person who used it.  I like to see not only the item, but get a sense of the person selling it, why they are selling it – particularly with used appliances that I don’t have a way to know how well they work when I buy them  – I buy only if I trust the person.  I’ve never had a problem, except with a used vehicle when I put my better judgement aside.

The sole appeal of this store was that we could see what he had, and have it home that day – and at a time when we had no way how to get anywhere to view things, and no way to bring things home even if we could view them, this was definitely a huge appeal.  The quality of his things weren’t the kind of thing I usually look for, and because he had about six different storage rooms with things piled haphazardly on top of one another, it was hard to really see what he had.

We ended up buying a fridge, washer, couches, a clothing closet, bunk bed, and another kids bed from this seller.    I felt the furniture was a decent price, though I could get much better quality for the same price from a seller directly, but the fridge and washer seemed to me to be very overpriced for what it was.  Dh said his priority was to get a fridge that day, and since we needed something, so we bought it.

When we got home, we learned the fridge didn’t close fully, and didn’t cool down well.   A mid size bottle of water after twelve hours in the freezer still wouldn’t be frozen.  When the food we cooked on Thursday night was spoiled when we served it for Shabbos, because the fridge couldn’t keep it cold enough, I told dh we couldn’t keep hoping the fridge would be usable, since it clearly was a problem.  Before we bought the fridge I had asked the seller what would happen if there was a problem with the fridge, and he said he would take care of it (definitely vague about what that meant).  So dh told him the fridge hardly cooled anything and we wanted a refund.  (He still had made plenty of money off of us with our other purchases.)

Instead, he came to our house to fix the fridge, and the next morning, it was worse.  All the food that had been frozen was now defrosted.  So dh spoke to him again.  The store owner told him to come in and pick out another fridge, but when I got there later in the day after spending hours that morning taking care of school enrollments and going to the Ministry of Absorption, he was grumpy and irritated with me because I hadn’t come sooner.  I didn’t get to choose a fridge – he told me which fridge we could take – it was smaller than the one we had bought, too small – but insisted that’s what we could have and he was losing money because of his generosity to us.  Right.  All we had to do was pay another 200 shekels for delivery, and the delivery guys would bring it over and take the broken one out.

Well, at this point I wasn’t sure I wanted anything else to do with this guy, but hoped that the replacement fridge would be better than the first, even if it was small.  It definitely looked a lot nicer, and the seal on the fridge was good so the door actually fully closed.  An improvement.  We had already spent 1200 shekels and I thought another 200 might be more ‘spilled milk’, but it also might redeem the money already spent.  Unfortunately, this fridge also didn’t work too well, and the vegetables we bought on Thursday to last us for the week already look like they’re at the end of their life span, just three days later.

Several days ago I met a retired Israeli policewoman who took a liking to me, and we spent quite a bit of time together one afternoon, going through things she was selling/giving away.  She’s a warm and good hearted person, but when I mentioned we were going to be looking for a fridge because I bought one at a second hand store, her demeanor changed as she said, “Don’t tell me you bought from David?  That disgusting, dishonest, horrible person!”  I told her that dh and I assumed he must be honest or he couldn’t still be in business in Karmiel after so many years.  She told me all the locals know to stay away from him (interestingly, even someone I asked directions from today for a different second hand store mentioned his store, and when I said he wasn’t honest, told me he was well aware of that already), that they know his stuff is overpriced, he pushes things on people, and the fridge will break within a week of getting it.  She was so upset about our experience, though it seems like it’s typical for at least a good number of his customers.

So we’ve now spent 1400 skekels and still don’t have a fridge that works properly; right now it’s kind of like a cooler.  If something is cool, it will keep it cool.  And overnight, when no one is opening the fridge, things can actually get cold and in the freezer, frozen.  Maybe we can keep it as a backup fridge.   I’m working on getting new (used) appliances, but in the meantime, this is what I have!


Finally, a working sink!

When we arrived here directly from the airport 3.5 weeks ago, we entered the apartment and found there was no water.  Fortunately, with some effort my husband discovered that the previous tenants had turned the water off, and after turning it back on, we had water in most of the apartment – except for our kitchen.

When the tenants first moved here, they didn’t like the kitchen faucet so they replaced it.  When they moved, they understandably wanted to take it with them, so they removed it and replaced the old faucet.  The only problem was, the old faucet wasn’t connected to the water supply line, so it didn’t help us much.

After two weeks, the seller agreed to pay someone to replace the faucet, and we were so glad when that was finally done!  The only thing was, when we ran the water, it didn’t drain down – at all.
By this time we realized that we couldn’t expect the seller to leave the apartment in the agreed upon working condition (when the second floor didn’t have any electricity because of something the tenants did when they removed their air conditioner, we had to pay to have it fixed), but to be fair, he allowed us in to the apartment when he only had 80% of the money, and had to wait another 10 days for the final payment.  We didn’t want to start agitating about what wasn’t done because then he could have claimed we owed him the penalty fee for not having the loan closed on the date written in the lease, so we felt it all balanced out.

Anyway, I couldn’t understand how the sink had been used at all before we came – the water literally didn’t move down the sink.  Dh didn’t want to pay a plumber to take care of it because our financial outlays have been significant and this is something he felt he could handle.  He bought a ‘snake’, opened up the pipes, and found a blockage unlike anything he had ever seen before.  He was trying and trying to get through it, and kept coming out with tiny pieces of plaster.  He finally said to me, “Is it possible they poured concrete down the sink??”

We couldn’t imagine that anyone would do that on purpose, and as I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that they moved out before doing the painting and plastering that they started, and probably rinsed off the plaster and paint in the sink.  Since they weren’t living in the apartment and running the water, it hardened in the pipes and created a complete blockage.

My husband has been working on this for a week and a half; some of the time, he’s left the pipe under the sink open and the water runs into a bucket, which we pour into the toilet when it gets full.  Sometimes he closes it back up and the water doesn’t go down at all.

But my husband is persistent and didn’t give up when most people would have thrown up their hands and agreed this was a case for the experts, and today he totally cleared the kitchen pipes!  After weeks of washing dishes in the bathroom and feeling like there was always a pile of something waiting to be washed (because there was much less room there), it is SO nice to be able to use our kitchen sink for all of our kitchen needs!


Educational resource for tenth anniversary of 9/11

This year marks the tenth anniversary of a pivotal moment in US history, 9/11.  Like many people, I still remember exactly where I was standing and what I was doing when I heard the news about the Twin Towers crumbling. will be showing a program on 9/11 that documents events of the day; it will be available at that site beginning at 8:46 am and throughout the day.  Below is a brief description:

"As the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded in New 
York City, some witnesses were frozen with shock, 
some stopped to help those in need, and others ran for 
safety as the world tried to make sense of the growing 
disaster. Some onlookers grabbed their video cameras 
to record history as it happened; despite the chaos 
and danger, many of them kept their cameras rolling 
throughout the catastrophe. With no voiceovers or 
commercial interruption, 102 Minutes That Changed 
America is a seamless historical record that retraces the 
events of that tragic morning through real-life camera 
footage from more than 100 individual sources. 
With carefully compiled amateur and professional
footage presented in chronological order, 102 Minutes 
That Changed America serves as a permanent 
historical archive for future generations to see.
Educators and students can use this program to 
discuss the role of the professional media and amateur
journalists in recording the events at the World Trade 
Center as they happened, and to consider the ongoing 
ramifi cations of that tragic day."

This is suitable for mature students high school age and above.  I will probably preview it before showing it to my older kids to be sure they can handle it.  A teacher’s guide is available here.  There are also other short videos and materials on topics related to the day that might be more suitable for a middle school age student.




Eleventh grade girls get together – at our house!

Dd16 came home from school several days ago and casually asked if I’d mind if she invited some classmates for shalosh seudos (the third meal) on Shabbos.  She had asked me last week but I’d told her since we don’t yet have a working sink in the kitchen, oven, or fridge (we have a fridge and oven, but they don’t work properly), beds to sleep on, or even a table big enough for our family to sit at, I’d like to wait another week.  So she waited.  At the beginning of the week, we bought a dining room table and eight chairs, and all of the kids now have beds (haven’t yet found beds for dh and I, but I hope I’ll find them soon!), so though I still don’t have a kitchen sink, oven, or fridge that work properly, I agreed.  After all, we’ve been here a full three weeks now!

She mentioned when she came home a couple of days ago that a few classmates were coming and that they’d each bring a dish.  Very nice – I’m so glad when my kids are comfortable bringing friends home.  Then yesterday she mentioned that she thinks there will be between 8 and 15 girls coming.  Oh.  Very nice!  It seems the girls were thinking of doing something as a class this Shabbos, and dd16 had the idea for inviting people for shalosh seudos before she heard anyone else was thinking of something, so this is now the official class get-together.

I’m glad she’s doing this, and it’s so nice to see how quickly dd16 is not only settling but thriving.  When we were looking at apartments, I was very clear that the most important thing to me was a central location, even if the apartment itself wasn’t as nice.  Almost immediately upon arriving, we saw what a good decision that was, since the kids have friends over or go to friends almost every day!

If you’re wondering about where we’ll put everyone, the neighbor who loaned us the folding table and 11 plastic chairs told us she wants to give us the chairs, so combined with the eight we just bought and one cheapy folding chair that the old tenants left behind, we now have seating for 20. Plus we have couches they can sit on – we have a living room/dining room combo known here as a salon, so it’s all in the same area.  We returned the folding table the day before dd made this announcement, so I don’t actually have a table for more than sixteen people (at the very most) to sit at, but things are more casual here and dd thinks it will be fine!


More decisions, more changes….

As I watched ds5 on his first day of kindergarten (Tues), I was thinking about ds4 waiting another year to enter this same class.  Though ds5 integrated very fluidly – his teacher keeps telling me what an amazing boy he is, how he seems to understand everything even without speaking Hebrew and get along well with lots of boys – I’m very aware that this is a gift of his nature.  So I realize that his experience won’t necessarily be indicative of what to expect for his younger brother in the coming year, and I began to think about what would best help ds4 acclimate.

It’s common among Anglos in Israel to speak English at home and to send their child to a Hebrew speaking gan (playgroup/preschool) program when they are about three.  At that age they very easily pick up the language and there’s not much of a self-consciousness about not being able to talk (because how much do they talk anyway?!).  Years ago, I spoke with a preschool teacher who told me she had two boys who first entered the gan system at 4 years old, unusually late in Israel.  It happened to be the mothers of both were friends of mine so I knew both of these boys were great kids, but the teacher told me their adjustment was significantly harder than for the three year olds because of their age.

The first morning that ds5 was in kindergarten, ds4 began requesting to go to gan (preschool) as well.  Our home dynamic has shifted very quickly around here from being a very social place with lots of action to suddenly being very quiet.  That means that I’m the one who needs to actively create the activity that previously was a shared venture between all of us.   Even after making myself much more available than usual, ds4 repeatedly was asking for more snacks and activities (from boredom) – after all, he lost the playmate who he spent most of his time with.

So I began to seriously consider sending ds4 to gan.  In addition to the age issue, one advantage of sending him this year is that the four and five year old programs are in buildings that are side by side, and the children can see each other at play during recess.  I felt that going together with ds5 would make ds4 feel connected, and this set up would keep him from feeling like he was totally alone among a sea of kids he can’t verbally communicate with.  Next year, ds5 would be in a different area and ds4 would really be on his own.  If he’s going to be totally on his own, it would be good to have the language.

While I was weighing these factors, we gave ds4 a chance to see the classroom, students, and teacher, and to watch what his response to them was.  On Weds., dh went to pick up ds5 from gan, and then  went in afterwards for ds4 to see the building from the inside and meet the teacher.  I did the same thing the following day.  Ds4 was very, very excited about going.  So we officially enrolled him, and this morning, Friday, I took ds5 and ds4 to gan, dropped of ds5, and then went in with ds4 (and ds2, who had come along with me).

I stayed for about an hour and 15 min to watch how things were going.  I told the teacher in advance that I’d be sitting in the back of the room and would stay as long as I felt ds4 needed me there, even if it meant being there the entire morning.  (I know that having parents stay around that long isn’t something that Israeli gannenets/ early childhood teachers are comfortable with, so I wanted her to have a heads up.)

I had expected ds4 to stay by my side for a while before going to play, but after hanging up his backpack, he immediately began coloring a picture at a table on the far side of the room.  Then he found the book section and plopped himself on the kiddie couch to look at some books, where ds2 eventually joined him since he got bored sitting on my lap.  (The first hour of the morning is free play though the teachers are circulating the entire time and providing different games and toys to the boys, so this was okay.)  Soon afterwards he began interacting with some of the other boys, and he seemed to be enjoying being there.  Not only didn’t he have the slightest hesitation when I left, he had a big smile on is face every time I glanced over at him.

All of these changes are happening very quickly, and they’re big changes.  I’m so busy taking care of things that it’s almost like I don’t have the luxury of feeling what I’m feeling about all of this.  But sometimes at unexpected moments, I suddenly get a big lump in my throat, like this morning when the teacher put on music to indicate clean-up time at the end of free play.  It was a piece from The Nutcracker, a ballet that I’ve taken my kids to a number of times, and I myself don’t know why that triggered me.  Maybe something about it being part of my old familiar life at a time when everything else is new and different; maybe because it’s a reminder of our homeschooling life when I did lots of trips and activities with our kids, together as a family rather than each one being in their own program.  I don’t know.

Dh picked him up from school and said the teacher told him that he fully participated and was happy the entire morning.  When he walked in the door, he had his backpack, a big helium balloon stating ‘Bruchim Habaim’ (welcome), and a glowing smile!

Ds4 home from first day of school (holding his 'welcome' balloon behind him)


Ds12 starting at local yeshiva

On Tuesday morning, ds12 had his interview with the principal of the school, with dh along as his translator.  Oh, but before I share about that, let me fill you in on how I decided to send ds12 to school.

When considering which kids should be sent to school, he’s been the biggest question mark of them all, due to his age and his extreme reluctance to move to Israel.  On Friday afternoon, I made the sudden decision to send dd10 and ds5 to school.  On Shabbos, he met a boy that he really hit it off with, and on Saturday night, he told me he was thinking he might like to go to school.

But he seemed hesitant to tell me directly, so I suggested he walk with me to a nearby neighbor I was planning to get school details from on the other two kids.  We ended up sitting in front of her building for a while discussing it.  He told me he had met a few kids from the eighth grade class, two are English speakers and a third understands English well, and he felt all the boys he met were really good kids.   He was concerned since officially he’s supposed to be in seventh grade (his birthday is January so he just missed the cutoff), and this class is an advanced class, and in addition to not speaking the language, they’d be much more advanced in gemara than he was.  At the end of our talk, I told him I’d get details on his school schedule, potential teacher, classmates, and we’d discuss it further.

At the interview, the principal told him that he felt he should be in the seventh grade because: the teacher speaks English (the 8th grade teacher doesn’t) and the class isn’t as strong academically as the class above, so the teacher repeats things several times and this would make it easier for someone just learning the language to pick things up.  Also, the eighth grade is a hard time to come into a boys’ yeshiva since there’s a lot of pressure to get into a good yeshiva high school, and ds12 wouldn’t be able to be up to par in that short period of time.

I thought these were all good points – very, very good points.  Particularly the last one, which is something that has weighed on my mind for some time and is troubling to me.  This is part of the academic system that I have very strong negative feelings about, that boys who are only 13 or 14 are accepted into programs based almost totally on their gemara skills and how wonderful they may be doesn’t count for much.  Honestly, it seemed almost a non-question which grade ds belonged in – seventh.

But from having spoken with him, I strongly felt that ds would be very unhappy socially in the seventh grade, and that having English speaking friends in the class was more important than a teacher who speaks English (since after all, he’s still going to teach in Hebrew). Also, the eighth grade teacher is known to be phenomenal, and an experienced teacher with a known track record was very important.  So we advocated for ds12 to be put in the eighth grade, and countered the principal’s concern about him not being able to pick up the gemara fast enough with our feeling that the main learning of student coming in without speaking the language is – the language!  Everything else is secondary.  And dh told them he’d work with ds12 to help him through the material.

Dh also explained to them that ds12 likes a challenge, and would find it motivating to be in the more advanced class and work harder to keep up.  Ds is also tall for his age (5′ 8″), looks older than he is, and is also emotionally and socially mature for his age.  We really feel he’s a better fit socially in this class than the other, and in the end, where a student feels they fit socially can be a huge factor in how positive their school experience is.

On Tuesday evening, dh spoke to the principal again and was told they agreed to accept ds12 into the eighth grade, as long as he shows within 6 weeks that he’s understanding everything that’s going on.  I laughed when I heard this and told ds not to worry about it, that it just means they want to see him making an effort, because it’s totally unrealistic to expect anyone to pick up the language that fast!  I mean, ds is bright and I think he’ll pick it up relatively quickly, but not that quickly!

Ds was really glad to hear the news, and at the same time, is feeling understandably nervous – not just about going to school for the first time, but about all the unknowns awaiting him.  Despite my earlier hesitations before we got here about putting him into school, now that we’re here he’s been really positive about the move, and with this decision to go to school being initiated by him, I know he wants to do well and is willing to put in the effort to do so.

Oh – as far as ds being accepted into a certain caliber high school, I’m not going to worry about it – I’ve decided to cross that bridge when we get to it.


Enrolling ds5 for school

After registering dd10 on Sunday morning – a process that I felt was a bit too drawn out for what needed to be done, but at least it was done when I left the building –  I went to the boy’s school to register ds5 and ds12.  It was supposed to be less than a ten minute walk away, but I’ve noticed something about Israelis – they tend to be not very good at giving directions.

As I was getting directions to the school, I thought I’d just ask someone when I was somewhat closer and thought I’d probably see obvious signs of the school, since I knew what street it was on, and how to find the street.   But as I got to the street and walked all the way until the end without seeing any hint of a school, there were hardly any people out to ask, and I spent the next hour and a half walking back and forth, up and down flights of stairs, trying to find the building.

I finally gave up and went home, then called the school secretary to find out how to get there and what time she’d be in until.  She said she’d only be there for a short time more, so I told her I’d come in the next morning.  In the meantime, I spent the day trying to get hold of the principal by phone.

Bright and early the next morning, I left (another) message with the principal saying that in case he was there, I was bringing ds12 because I understood an interview was a prerequisite to being accepted, and then set out with ds12 and ds5.  This time I had better instructions, so I was able to find the school for ds5.  But I got there and the gate was locked, with no way to get in.  I rattled the gate but no one came out; that was kind of a problem because the plan was the teacher of ds5’s program would tell me how to get to the school that I was afraid would continue to elude me.

Without any directions, I wasn’t optimistic about finding the building, but we went up and down the street it was supposed to be on – again.  This time, though, we heard the faint shouts of children at play, and we followed our ears until we came to the school!  As soon as I saw it, it was obvious why I couldn’t find it – both schools (for ds5 and ds12) have street addresses, but neither are located on the street.  You get to them by unmarked staircases that lead to unmarked paths between the streets – there’s really nothing helpful to get you there for the first time.

We go into the school, where ds5 meets some friends in older grades and ds12 is likewise greeted by new friends while I’m in the office.  I was told when we got there that the principal would be too busy to meet with ds12 that morning, and to come back the next morning for an interview.  I asked the principal how he would conduct an interview if he didn’t speak English and ds12 didn’t speak Hebrew, and he agreed that it was slightly problematic.  He said he would ask one of the grade school students who spoke English to come in and translate, but feeling that wasn’t a good idea, I suggested my husband come along and be the translator.

So I told the secretary that I wanted to complete the registration for ds5 while I was there.  I gave her my ID and she got out the paperwork, then sat back down, and asked me what grade he was going into.  (I had previously told her.)  When I responded, she told me that for that particular age  and only for that age, I couldn’t do the registration at the school office, but needed to go to the Ministry of Education and get it taken care of there.  Immediately, of course.  :)

Although I had planned to go to the Ministry of Absorption after completing enrollment because they needed my signature on something important, off I went to the Ministry Department of Education at the municipality.  (I’m doing a LOT of walking.)  When I got there, the person in the office I was supposed to speak to wasn’t there, and the two women replacing her told me that I couldn’t do registration at their office, that I needed to go to the school.  I showed them the form the secretary gave me, and they had no idea what to do with it.  So they told me to come back at 4 pm that day when the person who was supposed to be there, would be there.

Dh went back later in the day to the Department of Education (because after spending hours that morning trying to deal with it, I was tired and not up for another trip there the same day), and the person in charge was there but still didn’t know what to do.  So I suggested that dh ask the secretary about it the next morning when he took ds12 to his interview.

Fortunately, the secretary had told me that ds5 could start the next morning (Tues) even if the paperwork wasn’t completed, which was good because he was chomping at the bit and raring to go!  He was so excited that he had a hard time falling asleep, and then woke up very early the next morning, repeatedly asking me when he could leave to school.     I took him in and stayed for 40 minutes to see how things were going, but as I knew he would be, he was totally fine.  There was one boy from an English speaking home whom he was introduced to soon after he got there, but when I went to pick him up, the teacher told me that he went on to play with Hebrew speaking kids and she was very impressed by how quickly and easily he acclimated.

I’m so grateful that ds has the sunny and friendly nature that he does, because I knew it would make his transition from home to school much easier – he’s in his element when he’s around lots of friends and lots of activity.  We still haven’t gotten his paperwork completed, since the secretary can’t understand how no one at the Department of Education is able to handle a standard registration for kindergarten, but dh will be going back again tomorrow to both the school office and the Ministry of Education and hopefully that can be finished up tomorrow.

Meanwhile, we were working on the enrollment for ds12…..


First day of school for dd10

You might think if someone comes in the second day of school to register a child, that things would be expedited in order to facilitate the child entering the class as soon as possible, but getting school registration completed hasn’t been quick or easy around here!  Dd10 has been the quickest and easiest of everyone so far, though.

On Sunday I took dd10 to the local school to register her.  I assumed they’d want to meet her first, and my experience so far trying to contact principals on the phone led me to believe trying to call first and hope for a call back was a waste of time.  :)  The principal was a lovely woman who speaks some English, which was good for dd since she really doesn’t speak Hebrew at all.

Our meeting went well.  One of the first questions was about where she studied previously, and so I told her she was homeschooled.  ” What?!” she exclaimed.  This is where I briefly explained that we had a private school in our house and I was the teacher for all the kids, for all the subjects.  Not my typical explanation but then again, trying to explain the subtleties of a very nuanced decision in Hebrew isn’t something I can do yet, and in any case, this wasn’t the time or place for it.

I’ve repeatedly squashed questions from the many people around here who want to know about it.  I’m happy to talk about homeschooling, but not to people who have met me for the first time.  My lifestyle isn’t a curiousity or oddity for people to talk about together afterwards in the park, and without knowing who I am, a person can’t really understand what our homeschooling has been about.  To those who want to know because they really care, are looking into it, or some other positive reason more than idle curiousity I’ll usually speak more to.

Anyway, the principal told me that usually she likes to see records and transcripts to see what the teachers say about a girl, but now she gets to speak to the girl’s teacher in person so that’s the best thing!  I was pleasantly surprised by how positive she was.   There are two sixth grade classes, and I requested a particular class where there’s another English speaker that dd10 is already friendly with (the only one in either of the two classes).  The principal told me that class was already bigger than the second class, and generally they’d put dd in the smaller class, but in light of the situation would put her in the class we requested.

Then she told me the teacher was giving an interactive getting-to-know-you type class that morning, and asked if dd would want to sit in on it.  With some hesitation, dd agreed, after I assured her she could go home after that and wouldn’t have to stay for the day.  The principal took us into the class after showing us around the school, and then told the class that although they were the larger class, she decided to have my dd join that class – and the entire class spontaneously broke out into cheers!  Dd didn’t have any idea what was happening since she doesn’t understand any Hebrew and didn’t realize they were excited she would be their classmate, but I felt choked up at how warmly she was welcomed.

She was seated next to her English speaking friend, while I went back to the office to complete the paperwork and buy her uniform shirts.  When the class ended, I was still there, and she excitedly asked me if she could stay for the rest of the day.  This was due in large part to the encouragement and strong request from her friend and new seatmate, who added her plea and told me that dd could walk home with her and then eat lunch at her house.

And so despite our plan to give dd a chance to get used to the idea of school before putting her in for the entire day (since I had first told her she’d be going late Friday afternoon, and then we were there Sunday morning!), Sunday became her first day of school ever.