Monthly Archives: November 2011

When raw milk isn’t available, what’s best?

>>In your opinion, if one doesn’t have access to raw milk, is it better to use a substitute milk (such as almond milk) rather than pasteurized milk? (pretending for a second that price wasn’t a consideration).<<

I was discussing this with a pregnant guest a couple of weeks ago.  Her husband is a proponent of alternative nutrition with a very different approach than mine, and at his suggestion she stopped eating dairy and minimized animal proteins while pregnant.  I shared with her my conviction that in pregnancy, protein is critical (see the guidelines I suggest here), and when asked for what I considered to be good sources of protein, responded with: raw milk, meat, chicken, eggs.  Then we started talking about what to do when raw milk isn’t available.

This is where her husband’s view and mine converged.  Until I learned about traditional food practices about six years ago, I didn’t give my children dairy at all.  When asked by others about why they were so healthy – practically no ear infections, infrequent colds, etc – I always credited not eating dairy as being the main cause.  I felt that dairy products were mucus causing, bacteria laden products that were best avoided.  You can imagine that it was a mental shift when we started drinking raw milk!

Raw milk is a real food, and pasteurized milk is a processed food.  How they’re used in the body is different, and I still strongly lean toward avoiding milk if it’s not raw.  When it comes to pregnancy, I told our guest that I while it’s not an ideal food, I thought the benefits of pasteurized milk outweighed the disadvantages, in accordance with Tom Brewer’s protein guidelines for pregnant women.

Substitute nut milks have their own issues of limited nutrient absorption, so this is far from a black and white issue, and I haven’t seen research that scientifically demonstrates whether  your body is left with more nutrients if you drink pasteurized milk or substitute milks.  I like the taste of milk and so do my kids, so based on that alone we’d be happy to drink it regularly.  But nutritionally, my personal choice since moving here is to leave milk for an occasional treat, and to increase broth and liver intake to boost nutrient intake and compensate for the lack of raw milk.

I’ve made a substitute sesame milk using tahini paste as a base (whiz it up with a lot of water and a little bit of sweetener), which I’m not crazy over but the taste is fine and it’s high in calcium.  (It’s easier for me to use prepared techina as a dip for vegetables to get the nutrients in that way, rather than drinking it, so that’s what I do.)   Making your own nut milks can cut down the cost significantly, if that’s the route you decide to go.

So my not-so-scientific-this-is-just-my-personal-opinion  is, for pregnant women, it might be worth it to drink pasteurized milk rather than nut milks as a protein source.  Otherwise, go for the alternative milks to avoid congestion issues while enjoying a milk substitute, and look into other ways to boost nutrients from other foods.


(This post is part of Real Food Wednesday.)

Comparing cost of living in US and Israel

>>We are a frum (Jewish Orthodox) homeschooling family from New York working towards making aliyah within the next year and we were told by NBN that properties in the North, specifically “villas,” “cottages,” and “plots,” are extremely affordable and available compared to the rest of the country and here in the US as is the cost of living expenses; reduced tuition (not applicable in our case), reduced health insurance, reduced food expenses, use of solar panel/power energy systems to reduce bills, etc… – your post however, suggests the opposite! May I ask if you can please slightly elaborate on what would be considered an “expensive house” vs an “affordable apartment” in Karmiel or Maalot, for example, and what that same house and apartment would cost in a place like Bet Shemesh, or Maaleh Adumim, for example? It would really assist us in putting things into perspective…<<

Housing – What you consider expensive or affordable is relative to where you’re moving from and where you’re moving to. Since you’re coming from NY,  it’s likely that everything will seem fairly reasonable to you.

When you buy in Israel, it’s generally accepted that you put down between 30 – 50% of the purchase price.  This obviously affects how you perceive affordability so keep it in mind!  We initially were told we would only need a 10% downpayment and thought we’d be able to buy a private home, but in the end the mortgage broker told us we’d need to put 30% down.  If you have someone co-sign your mortgage, you can have a much smaller downpayment, but we didn’t have that and we didn’t want that.

I can’t give you accurate prices for other parts of the country, but I can tell you fairly accurately what local prices are.  (You mentioned Maalot, and their prices are lower than Karmiel.)

Karmiel prices for the Dromit neighborhood (this is the central neighborhood where most of the recent Anglo olim have moved to) – prices range between about 500,00 shekels for a smaller apartment (2 bedrooms) on a higher floor, going up to about 950,000 for a larger ground floor apartment (4 or 5 bedrooms) with a garden.  Obviously it depends on location, condition, etc.  But that’s a pretty accurate range, though you can find apartments that go outside of that.

Private houses – the prices range from 1,290,000 shekels for a smaller house (120 meters and up) to 2 million shekels for a very large home (250 + meters) in excellent condition.

These prices are drastically cheaper than in the Jerusalem area.  Someone told me they sold their small Jerusalem apartment and are now buying two apartments for cash, one to live in and the other as an investment property.  Another person told me she has plans to do the same thing.  Someone else told me she sold her small apartment on a high floor in a less expensive Jerusalem neighborhood and was able to buy a large apartment here with two gardens, and buy a car to boot – she went from feeling like a pauper to someone living in style!  So it’s true that housing is much cheaper in the north.  But I still wouldn’t call it cheap – real estate in Israel is high, and constantly rising.

Tuition – much, much cheaper than the US.  And my Shabbos guests this week told me that tuition in this area is much cheaper than in the center of the country.  How inexpensive it is depends on how heavily funded the school is by the government, as well as the age of your child.  I’ll share our local costs but remember that this can drastically differ from school to school, and area to area.

Ds5 has no tuition costs this year, since he’s in gan chova (mandatory kindergarten) and this is free for all children at this age throughout the country.  He has a 60 shekel a month materials fee.  If you want private reading tutoring for your child (15 minutes, 4 times a week during school hours), it’s an additional 900 shekels a year.

Ds4 – his tuition for gan is something like 160 a month plus 60 shekels a month materials fee.  (This is less than I remember paying for ds18 when he was this age!)

Ds9 – the cheapest due to the school he attends (highly government subsidized) and being the second child in our family to attend, so the 10% discount was applied to his tuition.  70 shekels a month.

Dd11 – 110 shekels a month; same school system as ds9.

Ds12 – 380 shekels a month (less extensive government support).

Dd15, dd17 – 140 shekels a month each.

High schools for boys are much, much more expensive.  We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it! :)

This doesn’t include trips, books, transportation, or hot lunch (currently only applicable to ds12).  But it’s clearly hugely less expensive than private school in the US.  Since we were homeschooling, this is actually a few hundred dollars a month that we weren’t paying before we moved here but it would be an incredible area of savings for most people.

Health insurance – we aren’t yet covered by the national insurance and have to pay for private insurance until our waiting period ends.  If you’re an oleh, you get free insurance for a year right away, so this wouldn’t be an issue.  Only the basic coverage is free, and then there are costs for different levels of supplemental insurance. We had insurance through my husband’s employer so this is another cost we didn’t have before.  The coverage I had was much better than the standard level, so I wasn’t used to paying for the things that I had to pay for here.  But this will depend on what kind of insurance you’re used to.

Food – I’ll write a separate post about this with details.  In short, the only thing that has been notably less expensive has been produce, and even that isn’t always a big price difference.  If I wasn’t used to shopping the way that I am, and implementing frugal strategies toward food buying, there would definitely be an increase in this area.

Utilities – I was previously paying a combined bill for gas and electric, and don’t remember how the costs broke down.  It averaged about $200 a month (ie 700 shekels).   The bills arrive every two months here, and I was shocked at how high my gas bill was, since the only thing we use gas for is cooking on our stove top – 728 shekels for two months, electric was 523 shekels for two months.  These prices are for our initial months here, so there were no a/c costs or heating costs, though it was during the holidays so there were a few days that the gas was on for 25 hours at a time.  So about 1250 shekels for two months versus 1400 for two months – a bit cheaper here, but not a significant area of savings.  Take into account that in the US I regularly used my dryer, my hot water was heated by gas, we used a/c window units in the summer and heat in the winter…if I did the same thing here, the costs would definitely be much higher.

The one thing that surprised me was that our water costs were lower here.  Water is much more expensive here, but our two month bill was only 126 shekels, compared to about $160 for a three month bill in the US.  I don’t know how to account for that, since I have teenagers who shower daily so you can’t say we’re minimalists when it comes to water usage.  I was very grateful, though!  (Edited to add: we just got a bill for a full two months – apparently our first bill was only for part of a billing period.  The new bill was 387.02.  So it looks like this is comparable to what we were paying in the US.)

I dislike when people make the case to move to Israel because life is so much cheaper.  It’s definitely something to consider, and if you’re paying private school tuition and private health insurance you can save big, but life isn’t cheap here.  Not at all.  And there aren’t cheap stores like Walmart to buy at, or amazing thrift stores.  Everything costs a lot more here.

And salaries aren’t generally commesurate with US salaries.  So the equation generally is, higher expenses, lower income.  I would caution you to be careful who you get your information about aliyah from.  NBN is a great organization but they do have a goal, and that is to get people to make aliyah.  I think overall they give good advice, but financially their advice isn’t always on target.  My mother is planning to make aliyah soon, and the advice they’re giving her will compromise her long term financial stability.  But even though I’ve explained to her why I think it’s such bad advice, she keeps going back to”but that’s what NBN recommends”.

About specific communities, check with those who live there for what the costs are.  I attended an NBN webinar about Karmiel before I left the US, and when I saw their quotes on real estate, I sent them a private message in the middle of the presentation – I told them they were way too low, not reflective of the actual real estate market, and would lead people to mistakenly conclude they’d be able to afford much more than they actually could and then be very disappointed.

Now when it comes to quality of life, the US can’t even come close.  But that’s not a dollars and cents issue!


Me and my dd11

I don’t often do this, but just for fun I felt like putting up a picture that someone emailed me.  We were at a bat mitzva for a friend’s daughter on Thursday, and all mothers and daughters in each family were invited.  Dd16 and dd15 did all the baking and some cooking and organizing as well, and while they were busy being involved in running around and getting food sent out from the kitchen to the guests, a friend across the table from me got a picture of me and dd11.

Me and my youngest daughter.  We rarely get a picture with just the two of us.  Isn’t she lovely?


** It seems this isn’t showing up for a number of you – I’m wondering if it’s not showing up for ALL of you!  If you can see it, please let me know.  It shows up for me even when I’m not signed in and am a visitor to my site, and I can’t even begin to guess why it wouldn’t show up for anyone else.  Sorry for the tease in posting a picture you can’t see!  

When your food budget is limited…coming to terms

>>Now that you’re in Israel, and the food available is different than the food available in the US, and the prices different as well (not to mention different bulk things available), I was wondering how or if your focus on healthy foods changed…. I was wondering how you prioritized health and made do with what is available here.<<

Rather than go into detail about the specifics of how our diet has changed since we moved to Israel three months ago – I’m happy to share about that in another post if there’s interest – I’m going to share how I think about the nutritional limitations that I’ve felt, and I think many others do, when seeing that the amount of money available doesn’t extend to the the foods they feel are necessary to buy for an optimum diet.

Last year was a difficult year for me in many ways; I often felt like I was chasing my tail, and as a result, I wasn’t cooking as well as I had in the past.  We still had a healthy diet – but too often I’d get discouraged because I was looking at what I wasn’t doing, rather than all that I was doing.  But what I was doing was still significant!

I really enjoy learning about nutrition, and I enjoy feeling like I can take concrete steps to nourish my family.  This is something I’ve enjoyed learning about since I was 17, and I’ve been blessed to have been able to continually learn more and make nutritional improvements over the years.  But there’s a fine line between doing all that we can nutritionally, and developing an unhealthy perfectionism, an attitude of all or nothing.

It’s so easy to get trapped by this, and because it’s coming from a good place, of wanting the best for our families, it can be harder to see that we’ve crossed the line of balance.  Sometimes, people end up feeling that no matter how much they do, it’s never enough.  I certainly did.

I had to mentally recalibrate then, and I periodically have to recalibrate now.  Good nutrition isn’t about an all or nothing approach.  It’s a journey, and sometimes you’ll have different tools available to you than other times as you walk this path.

One of the tools for the journey is money.  Some of us have more, some of us have less.  Accessibility of certain foods is another too.  Physical energy to prepare food from scratch and shop is another tool, desire to learn more is another tool.  The support of our spouses is a tool, the willingness of our children to eat what we make is another tool….there are so many tools!  All of us have some tools in abundance, and other tools are kind of spotty.

When I focus on what  I’m missing, it’s going to keep me from seeing all that I do have!   And to gloss over the amazing abundance we’ve seen over the years because it didn’t provide for every single thing I would have dreamed of would be almost criminal.  Over the last five years, our monthly food budget has ranged from $400 up to $650 (for our family of 11) while living in the US.  It’s been hard for many people to imagine how we fed our family on this amount, let alone kosher, healthy foods – but we were able to integrate many wonderful nutritional components into our way of eating.

Whenever I would go food shopping, I would often feel that G-d made sure I found wonderful bargains, and helped me meet people who were able to help us further expand what we had available (farmers I was able to buy from directly, store managers who were willing to sell to me at wholesale prices, etc).  We were provided for in so many ways.  I felt that our money was blessed and it was able to stretch so much farther than seemed likely!  Does that mean that I had everything I wanted? No. But I had everything I needed.  Big difference!

Of course there were things that I would have liked to have been able to afford.  And now there are things here in Israel that I wish were available or affordable.  But if I get frustrated about what I can’t have/do or get stuck on what I wish I had, it keeps me from seeing and appreciating all that I do have.

Getting stuck in negativity is a bad place to live from, and certainly a bad place to eat from!  Even the best food can’t fully nourish you when you are filled with negativity.  I believe that the frame of mind you eat in also affects your health, and eating less than ideal foods from a place of gratitude and joy is going to do good things for you.

Focusing on all that I have, validating my efforts, and trusting that we’ll be sent the tools that we need for our journey to health and in every other area of life, help me feel at peace with the constraints that I’m often faced with.


(This post is part of Real Food Wednesday.)

Fennel Apple Salad

I adapted this recipe from Lea’s sesame chia apple salad.  This is a lovely salad packed with nutrients that looks great on the table, and tastes great, too!

Fennel Apple Salad

  • 6  medium carrots, shredded
  • 3 medium apples, shredded (I used Granny Smiths but red apples would add a nice color contrast)
  • 1 head fennel, diced
  • 3 cucumbers, diced (I use the seedless cukes, and leave them unpeeled)
  • 1 small red onion, minced – optional  (this adds some nice color if you use green apples, but my kids prefer it without)
  • 1 T. chia seeds
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 – 3 T. lemon or orange juice (I squeezed some from the fruits we picked at our neighbor’s)

Mix all of the vegetables in a bowl, and stir in the chia seeds.  Mix together the oil and citrus juice for a light dressing, then pour on top of the vegetables.



(This post is part of My Meatless MondaysFat Tuesday, Traditional Tuesday, Tuesdays at the Table, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Tasty Tuesdays, Tea Party Tuesday, Totally Tasty Tuesday, Tempt My Tummy Tuesday, and Gluten Free Wednesday.)

Amazing Chicken Pot Pie

This pot pie has been a huge hit at our house – it’s delicious, frugal, and when everyone sits down at the table, there are always audible expressions of appreciation!

Whenever I make this, I feel like a really amazing mom since it takes more time than I usually want to spend on one meal.  I compensate by doubling the recipe, and putting a second pot pie in the freezer for another day.  If you use ready made crusts, you can cut down on some of the prep, but I make my own so it’s one extra step.  But the results are worth it!

Amazing Chicken Pot Pie

  • 1 c. diced potatoes
  • 1 c. diced onions
  • 1 c. diced celery or fennel
  • 1 c. diced carrots
  • 1/3 c. coconut oil
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 2 c. broth
  • 1 c. coconut milk
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. pepper
  • 4 c. cooked chicken, chopped
  • 2 pie crusts for topping (recipe below)

Saute vegetables in the coconut oil until tender.  Stir in the flour, and cook for a  minute or so.  Then add in the coconut milk and broth, cooking over a medium heat until the sauce is bubbly.

When the sauce is bubbly, add in the salt and pepper, then the cooked chicken. Pour it into two deep dish pie pans or a casserole dish, and top it with a crust.  Cut a couple of slits in the crust to let the steam escape, and bake it at 400 degrees for 40 – 50  minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Pie crust:
  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 c. coconut oil or palm shortening
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 T. vinegar
  • 5 T. water

Mix the flour and salt, then cut in the coconut oil/shortening.  In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolk, vinegar, and water.  Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture and mix well with fork until mixed well.  Use your hands to work it into  a ball.  Divide the dough in half to form two equal sized balls.

Now to roll it out, get two pieces of parchment paper or waxed paper. This makes rolling it out a breeze!  (I just taught dd11 to make a pie crust this past week using this method, and her very first crust was beautiful, thanks to this tip.)  Place one ball of dough between two sheets of parchment paper, and roll it out with a rolling pin so that it’s a little bigger than the pan you’ll be using.  When it’s the size you want it, remove the top piece of waxed paper and then gently flip over the dough onto your pan. Remove waxed paper and gently shape the dough into the pie pan. Trim excess dough off.  Repeat with second half of dough. Bake according to recipe.

This pot pie recipe is very flexible – you can add whatever vegetables you have on hand, as long as you keep the proportions about the same.  I had a couple of ears of corn in the fridge, so I cut off all the kernels and added them.  You can add in frozen peas, diced butternut squash, yams, parsnips, turnips, or anything else that is similar in texture and flavor.

I made several times this recipe, which was just enough for two meals for our family.  (You can see how all that chopping and dicing can take a while, right?)

*To keep the costs down, I like to increase the veggies and to decrease the chicken, and since the sauce is so flavorful, it still tastes delicious.  This is a perfect way to use leftover chicken, even soup chicken – and of course, it will be perfect for leftover Thanksgiving turkey!


(This post is part of Monday ManiaMake Your Own Monday, Homestead Barn Hop, Mouthwatering Monday, Melt in Your Mouth Mondays, Mingle Monday, Frugal Foods Thursday, Frugal Tuesday Tip, and Real Food 101.)

Weekly menu plan

Shabbos (Sabbath/Friday night)- dinner – challah, chicken soup, chicken, roast potatoes,  carrot/apple/onion bake, warm cabbage salad, beet salad, apple pie

(Sat.)  b- cinnamon bubble loaf;  lunch – challah, techina, hummus, Turkish salad, beef stew, crunchy coleslaw, savory beet salad, Moroccan carrot salad, traffic light salad, baked yams, oatmeal cookies, chocolate cake, rugelach

Sunday – lunch – beef stew, coleslaw; dinner – stir fry, salad

Monday – b – polenta fries; l – meat sauce and pasta shells, salad; d – apple lentil bake (double for tomorrow’s dinner), beet salad

Tuesday – b – eggs; l – butternut coconut curry, rice, carrot salad; d – apple lentil bake

Wednesday – b – rice pancakes; l – chicken pot pie (double and freeze one for next week), beet salad; d – split pea soup, cornbread (double for tomorrow lunch)

Thursday – b- oatmeal; l – split pea soup, cornbread, salad; d – Russian borscht

Friday – b – eggs

The fruits that are accompanying breakfast this week are red grapefruits and apples.  A neighbor invited us to pick navel oranges, two kinds of lemons, and mandarins in her yard last week, and we went through those very quickly!

The kids take freshly baked bread every day for their ten am meal at school, along with some fruit and/or a veggie – usually pepper strips or cucumber; this isn’t listed on the menu.

I use bone broths as a base for all my soups as well as to cook grain or bean dishes.  This adds a lot of nutrients to a meal that would otherwise be vegetarian.  I was delighted last week to stumble on a sale on chicken bones – 4 shekels a kilo, and so I bought all that they had.  As much as that seemed at the time, we go through broth at such a quick rate (three sixteen quart pots a week) that they won’t last nearly as long as I’d hope. And now that we don’t have raw milk every morning, I’ve been thinking maybe we should get into a habit of drinking broth daily to compensate.

I started soaking the lentils on Sunday, so they’ll have time to sprout by the time that I’ll be cooking with them.  I also started a new batch of kimchi, about two and a half gallons this time – the first four gallon batch that we started a couple of weeks ago still isn’t ready, though it’s breaking down nicely and is about two gallons in volume now (the cabbage breaks down as it ferments).  I like to have a cup of the juice as a morning probiotic drink, so that also accounts for the lessening volume!   By making a new batch of kimchi now, when the time the first batch is finished, the second one will be ready.  Cabbage based ferments take a lot longer than pickles or carrots, so you have to plan ahead unless you don’t mind not having any kimchi for a few weeks while a new batch ferments.

Cucumbers are going up in price quickly, double what the summer prices are, but they’re still affordable.   This week I’d like to buy a big batch and make a few gallons of pickles before the prices really shoot up and I set aside pickled cucumbers until they come back into season.  The kids enjoy this a lot, and we have them regularly with our lunch meals, though I don’t list it.

Have a good week!


(This post is part of Menu Plan Monday.)

Three month aliyah review: schooling

A huge change when we moved to Israel was that we decided to put our children in school.  After eleven years of homeschooling, this was a very big shift for all of us.

I think when people talk about the difficulties for children in making aliyah, what it mostly refers to is going to Israeli schools, learning the language, and making friends.  I had planned to homeschool all of our children except dd15, believing that it would ease the transition for them in coming to a new country – our lives could continue in many ways the same by homeschooling, and it would give them a chance to slowly make the language and friend adjustments.  Those plans changed very quickly after we got here.

We came to a city where the schools don’t have much experience in dealing with Anglo olim, so to a degree our children are the guinea pigs.

So how is everybody doing?

Ds4 – He is in a huge class of 34 boys – this is far from ideal, although his teachers are very good.  He understands everything, but doesn’t really interact much with the other kids in his gan (preschool) yet.   This matches his nature of sitting back and watching, and not jumping in until he knows all the rules of the game.  He every so often asks me why he has to go to gan ‘every single day’, but goes willingly. He really enjoys the daily craft projects and every week displays at our Shabbos table all of his projects and pictures from the beginning of the week (he saves them all).

Ds5 – His teacher is so overflowing with praise about how wonderful he is that it’s almost embarrassing.  He’s outgoing and self-confident, and right away spoke to the other kids, even when it was in English.  There was a point where he was subdued in class, when he realized he couldn’t communicate in English or Hebrew, and his attempts to nonverbally be friendly were rebuffed.  His teacher was very aware of this , and repeatedly asked me to tell her about even little things that might be an issue.  With some time and changing seat partners in his class that weren’t a good fit for him, he’s doing great!

He has one very close friend who he speaks with in a mixture of English and Hebrew (the friend is a Hebrew speaker), and it’s very, very cute to watch the two of them teaching each other words in their mother tongue.  At this point he understands most of what goes on in kindergarten  and can form simple sentences in Hebrew.  His teacher is amazed that he is more advanced in Hebrew writing and understands the concepts of letters better than most of the Hebrew speakers – she told me one day when they were learning the letter Bet, that she asked the boys what started with this letter – and ds5 called out two words before anyone else had a chance to think of anything!  His Israeli accent is perfect and he gets along well with the kids in his class.

Now for the harder situations – all of the older kids.

Ds9 (fourth grade) – His school right away arranged for a private tutor for him to help him learn the language, for about 2 – 4 hours a week.  Unfortunately, the books the tutor needs have yet to arrive, which has limited the effectiveness of their time together.  He has no English speakers in his class, and he tends to withdraw when people try to speak to him, since he doesn’t understand what they’re saying.  I’m trying to teach him to smile and look them in the eye, but he feels self-conscious.

He has a wonderful teacher who is incredibly caring and sees him struggling socially, and has called me to ask what he can do to make it better for him.  I honestly don’t know why he is so eager to go to school every day, because he has no friends or anyone to talk to, sits for hours listening to classes he doesn’t really understand….But his teacher told me he can see his comprehension is growing.

It was really nice this week when our guests had an eight year old son he could play with all Shabbos – being able to speak to someone makes a big difference in your supposed social skills!  He doesn’t really have anyone to regularly play with outside of school, either.  This isn’t as bad for him as it sounds since he was already used to being with his siblings a lot.  A couple of days ago I requested and received his class list, and my thought is to directly contact parents of boys in his class that he feels somewhat comfortable with to invite them over to play one on one.  Unfortunately, there’s only one boy in our general area who is in his class – this was a down side of not sending him to the boys’ school that most families in our community sends to.  (I don’t feel it was a mistake to send to this school, though.)

Dd11 (sixth grade) – her school has also arranged tutoring for her, although it didn’t begin until October.  Until then she had no assistance in any way, and just spent hours sitting in class not knowing even a bit about what was happening.  She meets with her tutor just a couple of times a week, so even now most of her time is sitting and not knowing what’s going on!  They also have yet to receive the books for her.

She has one English speaker in her class, but plays with the Israeli girls during recess – fortunately at this age they still play outdoor games that she can figure out and participate in without understanding all that is said.  Like ds, she doesn’t play much outside of school, though at least there are a couple of girls in her age range (a few nine year olds, a couple of twelve year olds) who speak English.  She really enjoyed the twelve year old girl who spent Shabbos with us, and afterwards told me how nice it was to have someone she could speak to.  She said that in her class, people don’t know who she really is, because without speaking Hebrew well she convey that.  For her, my impression is that girls think well of her even though they can’t communicate with her much.  So I think as she gets the language, it will continue to improve.

Ds12 (eighth grade) – Hashem was very, very kind to us because this could have been the most difficult adjustment, and instead was one of the easiest.  He has three English speakers in his class, and he likes them all; one of them is becoming a very good friend.  His teacher is fantastic and ds is a strong student; he catches on quickly and even with only partial understanding of what is said, mentally fills in the gaps by making educated guesses about what is said.  His comprehension is building very fast, and he can communicate in very simple sentences.  He’s very athletic and active in the schoolyard, which is a good way to make friends even when you can’t speak much.

Our biggest issue with him is what to do about high school.  At this point, we’re thinking of leaving him in eighth grade another year.  Then he’ll go into high school fully fluent in Hebrew and caught up on the material he’s missing now, and be positioned to really shine.  If we send him this coming year, he’ll do okay but will always be having to work to catch up.  Since we skipped him to eighth when we got here, letting him stay another year in eighth means he’ll be in the grade where he’s actually supposed to be, agewise.

Dd15 (tenth grade) – Her school had done absolutely nothing to assist her with learning Hebrew until very recently, a change that came about after I very strongly expressed to her principal my disappointment (she said she had been working on it before I spoke to her, though).  Several weeks ago, she got a tutor, and though they meet only once or twice a week, dd feels she’s learning a lot.  She’s also picking up a lot of Hebrew.

It helps a lot that as homeschoolers, our children learned to take responsibility for their own learning, and it means they are willing to work and educate themselves in the absence of outside help.  I think the transition from a school in the US to here would have been much more difficult than it was for them as homeschoolers.  Dd recently spent three hours online, trying to figure out the math lesson so she could complete her homework.  The next day, the teacher asked her if she did the homework, and dd said she did, so the teacher responded, “Oh, good, so you understood what I taught?”  Dd told her that she didn’t understand the Hebrew, but she googled different terms, etc, and found different math sites online to help her work through the material.  The teacher was very impressed since the rest of the class didn’t do their homework since they said they couldn’t understand the material (not a language issue)!

Unfortunately, there’s really not much going on socially for high school girls here, which I hadn’t anticipated.  I thought since there was a high school, there must be plenty of girls her age living locally, but it’s not actually true since many girls come from surrounding areas to attend this school.  This has been a disappointment for her – there are just four girls in her entire class who live in the city.  Fortunately, one of them is an English speaker, and additionally, there’s another girl who speaks English (not a native English speaker) in her class who lives in a different city.

Dd16 (eleventh grade) – This is the child who should have had the easiest time adjusting – after all, she studied here last year, started school with a working grasp of Hebrew…But this change has been challenging for her.  She was used to having loads of friends (she lived in a dorm last year), being popular, and having people know her.  The girls in her class like her, but she told me the same thing dd11 did, that people in her class can’t really know who she is because of the language gap, that she isn’t herself when she’s speaking Hebrew.

She graduated from high school almost two years ago at the age of 15 (she’ll be seventeen in just over a week), and so she doesn’t need to be in school for credit purposes.  She’s there because she wanted to make friends locally and become fluent in Hebrew, and this had seemed like the best possibility to do that.  But now she feels like she’s not accomplishing what she had hoped to by attending school, and really wants to do something productive.  Some options that would be very good for her aren’t logistically doable, as they are located in the center of the country and we’d like her to be living at home right now.

I had a talk with her last week and told her that being that we’re in a Hebrew speaking country, we can find other ways to help her learn that language than insist she remain in school.  We’re looking into possibilities, and we agreed that we’d set a limit of a month, to give ourselves time to find something she’d enjoy doing.  By the time the month is over, she can leave school.

Ds18 – he’s really happy in his American post high school yeshiva program.  Learning the language, integrating into the culture?? Not happening much.  I believe it will come with time, but he’s always going to be an American living in Israel, which I think is true of the oldest three kids as well as dh and I, and possibly ds9, dd11, and ds12 – when you come past a certain age, you can learn the language well, but you don’t change your mentality to become an Israeli.  And that’s really okay.

As far as my transition from homeschooling to sending the kids to school, initially I felt a little bereft – I’ve been home with them for so many years and it took some time to shift to an altered reality – but I’m enjoying it now.  Since the kids are almost all home every day by 1:30 – 2 pm, we still have a lot of time together. I don’t feel like I stopped homeschooling; it’s more that I’m delegating some of their education to the schools.  Dh and I remain very involved, emotionally and educationally; we don’t rely on the schools to give the kids all that they need, which means we don’t have high expectations of what the schools do or don’t do.  And that means we don’t have lots of frustrations with the schools, either, because we don’t expect them to do what we would do.

I enjoy my quiet mornings with ds2, and find my mornings are full.  Now that the kids are in school, they don’t share the chores the way they used to, and so there’s a lot more for me to do.  So my mornings are busy but fairly quiet, which I appreciate – I like having a nice hot lunch and clean house to greet them with when they come home, and more than that, I appreciate having the head space to enjoy being with them when they get home.

To sum up, I’d say school is going as well as we could hope for everyone, and a big part of this transition continuing to be successful is to give everyone time to really learn the language.  As that happens, I think it will get dramatically easier for them all.


Three month aliyah review: housing

Time is flying by, and we’ve now been living in Israel for exactly three months!  Overall it’s been a great move and we’re so happy to  be here, and in honor of this anniversary I’m going to post over the next few days about some specifics of our transitions to life here.  I’ll also add some thoughts based on feedback from olim in different parts of the country.  (Feel free to ask about something particular if I haven’t addressed it and you’d like me to.)

It’s definitely a change to go from living in a private house to living in an apartment.  Whittling down our possessions to what would fit in our suitcases before we left wasn’t easy, but it makes it much easier to live comfortably now.  If we had all the stuff we used to have, we’d feel crowded, but thanks to having eliminated lots of potential clutter, our apartment is comfortable for us and the transition to apartment living wasn’t at all difficult.  And  it makes keeping things neat and orderly much less time consuming!

I’m very, very glad we chose not to take a lift, though I undeniably miss some things that I wasn’t able to bring along (eg my canning equipment, sniff!).  We don’t have to force our Israeli size home to accommodate our American sized belongings and were able to buy things that are suited to the available room space.  Though I think minimizing the lift and buying major furniture and appliances here rather than bringing it from the US is a very  logical thing to do, our ‘stuff’ has a lot of emotion to it, and with the transition to living in a different country, letting go of that stuff (or thinking seriously about it) is almost traumatic for a lot of people. So it’s not surprising that very few people choose to go this route.

I think many people making aliyah make the mistake of trying to maintain the same materialistic quality of life that they had in the US, where everything is SO much less expensive.  A real estate agent that I’ve spoken with told me that she’s seen so many olim spend disproportionate amounts of money on housing that’s out of their financial range, and resist living in apartments that are typical in Israel for families their size because they are unwilling to shift from their US standards.

When people get used to living according to US standards here, they have a hard time downsizing their lifestyles to accommodate the realities of the Israeli housing market later on.  An even bigger mistake is to come to Israel with the expectation that you’ll live on a higher material standard.  Yes, people do this.  If someone wants to live on a US standard, it’s going to cost much more to do here than to do in the US, and if you want to live above their standard in the US, it’s going to take a LOT of money.

Many olim are told that in order to have soft landing, they should get something bigger, nicer, more central.  And that sounds logical; after all, you’re making so many changes that why make things harder on yourself by depriving yourself of physical comforts?  And as long as you can afford the standard you’ve chosen, get the nicest home/location that you can!  But I’ve seen that many people underestimate their expenses in living here, and can too quickly find their financial situations deteriorating with their housing expenses eating up a huge part of their budgets/savings.  Living here means a person needs to be prepared to adopt Israeli standards from the beginning, if that’s what he can afford.

When making aliyah, being in a place where you’ll have a feeling of  belonging is much more important than the size of your home.  Making aliyah means leaving behind all your friends and family, and very often starting off here is beginning with a blank slate.  The absence of a social network is difficult, and the nicest home will feel empty when you walk around feeling like no one knows or cares that you live there.

This can be justification for choosing to live in a smaller home what is often referred to derogatorily as an Anglo bubble.  I chose to avoid the Anglo bubble and am glad I did, but it’s important to be realistic about the cultural differences between countries.  Moving here and learning to speak the language fluently won’t make you an Israeli – you’re likely to maintain the mindset of the country where you grew up.  So while there are a lot of affordable housing options in the periphery of the country (including where we are in the north), don’t go somewhere that you’ll be the only English speaker.  It’s just too socially isolating.

However, I think that people exaggerate the difficulty of living in any but the most central locations in the country.  This locks them into very, very expensive real estate.  The further from the center you go, the more affordable prices become.  Granted, that doesn’t mean that the work or educational opportunities that you need will be in those areas, but don’t assume that they aren’t before investigating!  I’ve too often heard people wistfully saying they wish they could afford to buy their own apartment, but the fact is they aren’t willing to buy what/where they can afford.  One of the appeals of moving to the north was that we could purchase a comfortably sized home for our family, and we were willing to buy in an area where there weren’t yet a lot of Anglos or religious families (both of which drive up the price – but when we bought our apartment I was fairly confident that both of these factors would shift steadily in the next few years, which I already see happening in the short time we’re here – the apartment across the hall from me was just sold to a religious English speaking family).  And then prices rise and people bemoan how they wish they had bought when it was less expensive, forgetting that it was also less desirable at that time and that’s why it was cheaper!

What I miss about not having our own house is not having a yard for the kids to run around in.  Particularly after we built a six foot security fence around our property in the US and installed a full size playset (swings, slide, fort), it gave the littles so much freedom to go in and out of the house to play without me needing to be with them every minute (giving me freedom as well, since I could watch them play through the window and simultaneously do things in the house).  I miss having that kind of space for them to run around and play freely – there are plenty of lovely local parks, but that’s not the same as having your own space.

The second thing that’s challenging about apartment living is that you need to be very aware of your noise level in consideration to your neighbors.  When you have very sensitive and/or difficult neighbors, this can cause extra tension and pressure.  Fortunately, we bought an apartment with a second floor, which has been a huge blessing since there’s a place that I can send the kids to play noisier games without having to worry about how many thumps and bumps they make in the process.  We remain careful and aware of our noise level, but we don’t have to keep them from acting like children.

Another bonus of living here is that because housing is so much more expensive, it’s common for families to live in smaller quarters than the US.  That means less social pressure because everyone’s expectations are on a different level.  This weekend we had a family of four staying with us – the parents in the guest room, and each of the kids sharing rooms with our children.  In the US I often felt self-conscious about what I was able to offer as a host compared to others (and would have been reluctant to make an offer like this), but now that we feel so much more free about opening our home to others, it makes hosting more enjoyable.


The scariest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life

My ds2.5 has been under the weather the last couple of days – a mild fever, very lethargic, wanting to be held all the time.  Your typical cold.

Yesterday afternoon, ds12 was holding ds2 and reading to him, and then asked him if he wanted to lay down on my bed.  Ds2 told him yes, so he put him down and continued reading to him.  A minute later looked over and was horrified to see him shaking while staring straight ahead.  He quickly called my dh, and they brought him out to me, telling me he wasn’t breathing and was choking.

His face was a pale gray and his lips were turning blue; I grabbed him and tried to the do the Heimlich manuever a couple of times.  Nothing.  I told dh to run to the retired nurse across the street for help, and told one of the kids to run to a neighbor to call an ambulance.  Meanwhile, I tried to sweep my finger in his mouth to see what could be stuck there, but his teeth were clenched so tightly that I couldn’t pry them apart even a tiny bit.

His face was turning purple, and I grabbed him and ran out of our apartment building, planning to run to the emergency center with him that’s a few minutes away.  Just then, I saw the nurse hurrying with dh out of her house to come to us.  As long as I live I’ll never forget the desperate feeling of running with ds’s totally limp and unresponsive body in my arms, thinking he wasn’t going to make it.

I said urgently to her, “He’s not breathing!” and she took ds from me and did the Heimlich manuever.   Nothing.   While she told her husband to call emergency medical help, I took ds back on my lap and thought how terrifying this would be for him if he was aware of it at any level, so I repeatedly stroked his face and told him he’d be okay.

Slowly, he started to breathe with a heavy gurgle, like the air had to squeeze by a big obstruction in his throat. His teeth began to unclench, his face started fading to light blue, and gradually he was just very pale.  I could see his eyes starting to refocus – he had been staring through us before without seeing anything.

I didn’t know what caused him to start breathing again  –  I thought maybe what was stuck in his throat passed down, somehow.  The nurse told us to stay there until they found a doctor to send us to, but after waiting a little while, I told them my kids were probably terrified and I needed to let them know how ds2 was doing.  (The emergency clinic was closed because it was Wednesday evening, the health clinics were closed between 6 – 8 pm, the neighbor ds12 went to for help in calling an ambulance wasn’t home, and we couldn’t get any doctors on the phone.  An hour later I learned about an EMT who lives locally, but he was out of town until 1 am; he told us to call even in the early hours of the morning if we needed him and he’d be there within a couple of minutes. Fortunately, G-d is around all hours of the day!)

As I crossed the street with ds2 on the way back home, I won’t even try to describe the overwhelming sense of thankfulness and gratitude that filled me.  When I walked inside, I found all of my kids gathered together saying tehillim (Psalms).  I managed to say, “He’s okay” before totally breaking down into sobs.  They all looked very sober when I walked in, and I don’t know how they responded afterwards – I saw dd11 crying later on, and because dd15 and ds12 knew how serious it was, they must have had a tremendous amount of fear about the entire scenario. They weren’t able to really talk about it when I brought it up a few hours later, other than to nod when I said it must have been very frightening for them.

I sat down with ds  and a few minutes later, I gave him a drink of milk.  He drank it slowly, then his first words were, “Thank you for buying milk, Mommy”, and everyone smiled kind of emotionally, and someone said, “That’s our Shimmy!”  (He’s always spontaneously thanking us for things.)

He fell asleep on me, and I continued to hold him like that for two or three hours, while in my mind I tried to work backwards to figure out what had happened.  He clearly wasn’t breathing, but I checked with ds12, and ds2 hadn’t put anything in his mouth, so he wasn’t choking on any foreign objects.  I asked ds12 and dd15 to describe anything they had noticed during this incident (it was at this time that dd15 told me when I left the house with him that he looked like he was already gone).  As I had been running with him for help, it had flashed through my mind that he might be having a seizure, but I had dismissed that since his fever hadn’t been high, and he hadn’t had any recent vaccinations.

At first my concern was meningitis, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought he might have had a febrile seizure.  Later in the evening when I finally put him down, I did some research to see if this was possible.

Here’s a description from (all of the sites I looked at had the same basic description):

“Febrile seizures are full-body convulsions that can happen during a fever (febrile means “feverish”). They affect kids 6 months to 5 years old, and are most common in toddlers 12 to 18 months old. The seizures usually last for a few minutes and are accompanied by a fever above 100.4° F (38° C).

While they can be frightening, febrile seizures usually end without treatment and don’t cause any other health problems. Having one doesn’t mean that a child will have epilepsy or brain damage.
<During a febrile seizure, a child’s whole body may convulse, shake, and twitch, and he or she may moan or become unconscious. This type of seizure is usually over in a few minutes, but in rare cases can last up to 15 minutes.>
Febrile seizures stop on their own, while the fever continues until it is treated. Some kids might feel sleepy afterwards; others feel no lingering effects.”

The critical information I learned about these seizures is that they are caused by a rapid rise or drop in body temperature.  It’s not how high the temperature is that matters, but how quickly it changes.  My initial belief that it couldn’t have been a seizure because he had a low-grade fever was incorrect; even a quick rise or drop from 99 degrees and 101 degrees could trigger a febrile seizure.

This experience was so intense that I wasn’t going to post about it here.  But then I thought that parents need to be aware of this possibility, that it can happen even in a healthy child.  This was the most terrifying situation of my life, but if you know what it is, it can be less frightening.  I found the following clip on Youtube of a one year old having a febrile seizure, and though initially I didn’t think I’d be able to watch it, I did.  The seizure was much shorter and less intense than ds2’s, but I was still able to see some similar features.

I haven’t yet found any suggestions about what to do in our situation, for a child who has stopped breathing, other than call 911.  I don’t know if when ds2 lost consciousness it allowed him to start breathing again, if the change in air temperature when I ran outside affected something, or if he would have restarted breathing no matter what.  Based on anecdotal comments I’ve seen by parents whose children experienced febrile seizures, it seems that CPR is the next step when the paramedics arrive.

Last night the following saying came to mind: “Having a child means your heart is walking around outside of your body.”  So, so true.

I knew yesterday was going to be a good day, but I didn’t know how good!  “Hodu l’Hashem ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo” – “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, and His kindness endures forever.