Monthly Archives: December 2011

Thoughts on Beit Shemesh

I recently got a subscription to the easy Hebrew newspaper, Shaar L’matchil.  It was supposed to arrive on Tuesday for the first time, but after repeated calls to the office, it arrived this morning instead.  I was so glad to see it, until I opened it up and saw the first line of the front page article – “Recent events in Beit Shemesh have worsened the struggle between the secular and national religious parties – and the charedi public.”

This is so upsetting to me  because it’s misleading and untrue.  The issues in Beit Shemesh weren’t about anyone being against the charedim (religiously conservative Jews), but against the sickos who are perpetuating evil and saying they’re doing it because the Torah mandates it.  Until this point, those involved in Beit Shemesh have been careful to say ‘the extremists’, specifically not ‘the charedim’ because all of those who live there realize this is an issue with an extreme group of people who have no conscience who don’t represent the general charedi public.  But the secular media is having a heyday painting all religious Jews (ironically, even those who  were in the group that was attacked by the extremists) as intolerant, dangerous religious fanatics who are planning to take over the country and force their sick moral codes on everyone else.

It’s 9 am and I’ve been awake for hours.  I woke up in the middle of the night, trying to think about how to explain this situation here on my blog to a readership that is coming from vastly different backgrounds.  It’s actually more of a topic for a thesis rather than a post, but I’ll try to be brief and include the most salient points (as I see it).

The state of Israel has been characterized by extreme struggles between the secular and religious from before it’s founding.  This country was founded by those who were anti-religious to the extreme, and terrible things were done by these leaders (Operation Magic Carpet is one particularly horrendous widespread case that comes to mind) to eradicate religiousity.  Understandably, an antipathy developed on both sides and an extreme religious divide developed.

Many of us have moved to Israel who don’t have that common history, and haven’t grown up with this as our reality, so it’s hard for us to understand how deep this runs.  Those who have been living here for generations grew up with a much different reality, and it’s reflected in the way they interact with those they perceive to be on the other side.  Meah Shearim is the oldest neighborhood in Jerusalem (outside of the Old City)  that was established by very religious Jews.  It was filled with pious Jews of similar values, and has remained this way until now.

However, what was a physically isolated neighborhood when it began became part of the city center as the city grew.  It is seen as a quaint and historic area, and is a popular tourist destination.  However, the people living there never asked to be put on display and have people from very different walks of life come through their neighborhood.  Many years ago, they put up a large sign upon entry to their neighborhood, requesting that visitors show respect to those living there by dressing modestly when visiting – not according to their stringent standards, but for women to cover their necklines, knees, and elbows.    Some people respect this, many others take pictures with this sign, and others provocatively enter this area dressed very inappropriately, with the intent to show that they won’t endure religious coercion.

So what happens in an area where respectfully trying to ask others to respect you isn’t respected?  Some people became more aggressive over time about this, too aggressive, way too aggressive.  And since these people were seen as fighting for Torah values (and things started much smaller), they weren’t stopped early on, when it might have been nipped in the bud.  So the message that aggression works was adopted by some as a way to fight for their values.  It was from this neighborhood that a number of families moved to Beit Shemesh years ago, thinking to recreate the lifestyle they had enjoyed there.  There was just one problem – they were moving into a community that had been there for many years.

Now, if they were able to adapt a ‘live and let live’ attitude, there wouldn’t be any news today.  And actually, many of the people do have that attitude. But unfortunately a number of people weren’t content to enjoy their new more spacious surroundings.  As their neighborhood grew, it got closer and closer to the existing religious but more modern communities who had been there for many years.  And this is where the tensions began, as they tried to insist on their religious mores for everyone around them.

This went way beyond sharing Torah thoughts with their new neighbors (which is what the rabbi who sent them there to live said he expected them to do) – they began using fear and intimidation to get what they wanted.  When a religious woman in her fifties was sitting in the front of a public bus (this was about five years ago), she was beaten by a group of these hoodlums when she refused to move to the back.  Back then, I was so distressed and asked, “How are people allowing this?  Why aren’t people stopping them?”

I think there are two reasons: a) people who saw the danger for what it was, and were afraid.  Seriously, would you keep sitting in the front of a bus if you risked being beaten up?  (I did sit in the front of the bus when I visited Ramat Beit Shemesh a few months ago, and was a little apprehensive about it for this reason.)  b) Most charedi Jews who saw this viewed them as a group of radicals who weren’t connected to them, and saw it as incumbent on the group’s leadership to moderate it’s followers.  It was so clear to them that these actions were against the Torah, and that they couldn’t possibly advocate or approve of this, that it seemed unnecessary to state it.  And c) some people didn’t approve of the means, but did agree with the end goals, and were willing to turn a blind eye to methods used to  get to those goals.

Now, you might be saying, but where are the rabbis?  Why don’t they stop them?  I’ve had the same questions.  I think these people shouldn’t be given an aliyah in shul (called up to make a blessing on the Torah in synagogue), and whatever social pressures that are brought to bear on someone who hasn’t given his wife a get (religious divorce) should be put on them.  This has to come from their community to be effective, though.  And they don’t have any rabbi that they follow, nor anyone whose directives they would listen to.  They make their own rules, they don’t care about anyone – they could care less that they are causing a huge desecration of G-d’s name internationally.  They could care less about the hatred that is being caused between Jews because of them.  They truly don’t care.  They are sick, abusive people, and unfortunately for us all, they are claiming to act in the name of the Torah to perpetuate their evil.

In my opinion, when you deal with abusive people, you have to fight might with might.  I know that doesn’t sound so nice, but I don’t think anything else works with people like this.  You have to show you’re stronger than they are.  Now that the media is involved, the police have finally taken action, like they should have been doing for months.  I saw a video months ago, where parents were asking the police to protect their daughters as the men were screaming at the young children exiting their school, and were told until there was a physical attack, they couldn’t do anything.  I also believe the mayor of this city is at fault, for empowering these evil people by letting them get away with this for so long.  He could have instructed the police to take action months – years – ago.  He didn’t.

But honestly, there are always going to be sick people in the world, and it’s not fair to place all of the blame for their behavior on the people around them.  So I  don’t think this can all be laid at the feet of others, but directly on those who do the actions themselves.

It looks like now, some people have been embarrassed into taking action.  That’s a good thing.  But what’s not a good thing is dragging an entire religious group through the mud, a population that has an extremely low criminal rate, that has an unusually high rate of family stability – for the sake of political gain (locally and internationally), and that’s what’s now happening.

Avivah

Charedi boys’ school options in Karmiel

Sorry this week is so heavy on the aliyah/Karmiel topic – but a couple of days ago I learned that two American families will be moving here from the US very soon, and just got another email from someone considering Karmiel last night.  Though I thought this information wouldn’t be of practical use to anyone for a while and wasn’t planning to post on this issue for a few more months, I realized it’s important to get it up now.

I think that my perspective on the schools is somewhat unique because I have children in each of the schools (I don’t know of anyone else who does), so I’m going to share my personal experience rather than theorize about each school.

There are two charedi boys’ school options in Karmiel: the Talmud Torah (known as the cheder), and Amichai.  They are both located in the Dromit neighborhood, less than a ten minute walk from each other.

The Talmud Torah was formed several years ago by kollel families who wanted a classic charedi education for their boys.  Until that point, all the families sent their sons to Amichai; once they started the new school, all the local families switched them over.  (Amichai also has a girls’ school, and all the charedi families still send there.)  They are both very good schools with an excellent staff, but have different advantages and inherently different focuses on education which I’ll try to elaborate on.

As part of the discussion about the specifics of the schools, it’s  important to understand what a classic charedi education means in Israel.  In the charedi boys’ schools, there is an intense focus on Torah studies; a pure Torah lifestyle is the ideal.  Correspondingly, there will be anywhere from minimal to nonexistent secular subjects taught . (The secular subjects at the Talmud Torah consist of Jewish history, Nach/Prophets, geography, science – I use the term lightly – and math).  Because there is a primary focus on a pure Torah lifestyle, this leads to a desire for insularity from the outside world as much as possible.

The expectation is that these boys will continue on to a Torah only high school yeshiva, where they will continue on to full-time Torah studies for the foreseeable future.  When I commented to another parent about the abysmal math standard for the eighth graders, she said, “So what?  They’re never going to need it again.”  That’s a typical response, and if they pursue full-time Torah learning for the rest of their lives, it’s quite possible that basic math will be more than adequate – honestly, I’ve hardly had a need for higher level math after high school, other than homeschooling my high schoolers!

Boys in this system generally do not serve in the army or go to college, and will marry women who will work to support the family while they are engaged in full-time Torah studies.  If they work at some point in the future (as eventually most people will have to), it’s likely to be in the Jewish education field or to start their own business.  Due to the strong push towards long-term Torah study, working is considered very much a less than ideal option.  (How major a factor this is, isn’t at all reflected in the one sentence I just allotted.)

Since the school isn’t run according to government academic standards, they receive less funding so the tuition is higher than in schools that meet the academic standards.  Currently this is 380 shekels a month.  In the early years the school hours are comparable to Amichai, but as they get older, the hours get longer and longer; boys in the seventh and eighth grade return home at about 5:30.

My ds12 is in this school, and has a wonderful rebbe (teacher), and though I haven’t met many staff members, those I met were very nice.  I’m saying the following to be descriptive, not as a criticism: the attitude on the part of the administration is that your child needs to fit into their structure, they are not there to accommodate you.  (This is why I had to advocate so much for the concessions that I wanted for my son in this school.)

The Israeli government recognizes the educational needs of immigrant children to have tutoring in Hebrew in order for them to integrate, and has allocated a budget for this.  There is government funding for every immigrant child to receive a given number of hours for tutoring during school hours.  At the Talmud Torah, they didn’t want to apply for this until I insisted, and I still will have to follow up with them to see what’s happening with the paperwork because it’s not a priority to the school if this goes through or not.  It’s your problem if your child doesn’t speak the language, and it’s your business to hire a private tutor.  My feeling was that they felt they were doing me a favor to accept my son and allow him to sit in class for hours every day.  For the parents of an immigrant child, it might be challenging to have to work so hard to get services that in other schools are automatically taken care of for you.

The school schedule is set according to a kollel schedule rather than a typical school schedule.  They have vacation three times a year, for Sukkos, Pesach, and three weeks in the summer.  For Chanukah, ds12 had two days off instead of a week like our other kids.  There are clear expectations of the boys and to a degree, what they do in their free time is dictated.  For this reason, when the Israel Baseball Association called us to recruit ds12 for their team in the north (they play twice a week), I didn’t even entertain the idea – it would absolutely not be allowed by his school.  When a famous rabbi came to speak and accepted questions from the audience (it was a mixed crowd of secular and religious Jews) about Judaism, some boys from this school were in the audience, and a note came home from school afterward that this wasn’t acceptable and future attendance of events should only be with the school’s specifically stated approval.   This school has a homogeneous student and parent body, and is the choice in Karmiel for charedi families.

Now on to the Amichai school.  Amichai is an unusual school that you will rarely find in Israel, and the Karmiel community is very fortunate to have an option like this right in our city.  Schools here are usually black or white, this or that.  Amichai also has an entirely charedi administration, and was founded by Rav Margalit, the head of the kollel as well as a number of other educational institutions.  His attitude is one of inclusion, and so students from differing religious backgrounds are not only accepted but welcomed.  This makes for a heterogeneous parent and student body.

I don’t know what the overall percentage of the parent body in the school is charedi, but I’ve gone through the class list in my ds9’s fourth grade class with both his teacher and principal separately and fifty percent of the families are charedi; most of these families live outside of Karmiel.  He has one student in his class who comes from a home that isn’t religious, but the parents value a religious education.  The rest are religious but not charedi.

This varying range of backgrounds that students come from is clearly an issue for a family for whom insularity is a primary value – they are concerned their child will hear or see something inappropriate from classmates who may have the internet or a television, which is a legitimate concern.  I have a radical attitude that I very openly share – basically, I feel it’s a value for a child to know how to navigate the wider world that we all live in, and that there are more dangers in insularity than in careful and guided exposure.   The last couple of people I discussed this with happened to be teachers and they literally couldn’t think of anything to say in response to me since they’ve never heard a perspective like this, apparently.

Amichai follows government academic standards, which means that there are secular studies (including English language study), and also includes classes such as music, art, and computers.    The school day is shorter – the eighth graders finish three days a week at 3:15, and twice a week at 1:30.  (Friday is early dismissal at all the schools.)  This means that there are less hours for Torah study than at the Talmud Torah, and combined with the increased hours spent on secular studies, students at Amichai are generally are less advanced in their Torah skills when they graduate eighth grade.

My thought is that a parent has to supplement privately if they want their child to be comparable in ability to the students at the Talmud Torah, but I don’t have a son in the upper grades at Amichai so I’m making a statement based on what I’ve heard – but not my personal experience.  The  secular subjects are obviously much stronger than at the Talmud Torah, so they are more advanced in that area.  The boys from this school go on to a variety of schools.  The principal told me that fifty percent of their graduating class this past year went on to Torah only high schools.  The others went on to high schools that combined Torah studies and secular studies.

Since they recognize the diversity of their student body, they work with every child as much as they can. They want the boys to enjoy coming to school, and for learning to be a pleasurable experience.  They aren’t set up to handle special needs students, but if there’s a challenge, will try to work with the parent and child to help him succeed.   For example, the principal immediately got ds9 started with a personal tutor long before the funding from the government came through, because he felt it was imperative that he get language help immediately.  Ds9 has been staying to himself socially, and his teacher has called me several times to tell me how he’s trying to include him, and suggested he brings a game from home to share with the other boys.  He’s a busy man with many students but he’s made the time to initiate contact with us several times.  A large number of teachers as well as the secretarial staff at Amichai speak English, which is helpful for a student who can’t express himself yet in Hebrew.

Since their school hours are shorter, it allows the students downtime as well as time for hobbies.  (Some people would prefer that their children are out of the house more hours rather than fewer, and wouldn’t see the increased time at home as a positive thing.)  Being that the tuition is about 70 – 150 shekels a month (depending on the grade), a parent has room left in the budget for private lessons or supplemental tutoring, if that’s something he would like to do.  To me, the increased time with family and decreased time with peers is a hugely important advantage, because of the developmental and emotional benefits to a child.

I can’t believe how many hours it’s taken me to write and edit and re-edit this post.  Usually I don’t even want to spend this much time on an article that I’d be paid for!  I’ve really tried to fairly represent both schools, as well as their advantages and disadvantages.  As I said in the beginning, both schools are good choices, but the issue is to match the priorities of the parents (along with the needs/personality of the child) with the strengths of the school.

Did you find this helpful and informative?  Is there something glaringly obvious that I left out?   If you had a choice between the two, does one of the schools sound like the place you would choose, and why?

Avivah

Fantastic Glazed Doughnuts

As good as Dunkin Donuts?  These come mighty close!

I’ve been quite happy switching my cooking to local Israeli ingredients, and I can’t be accused of insisting on my American products.  But along came Chanukah and the local doughnuts, and they were a big disappointment to me and the kids.  They were big not so fluffy balls of dough, and you just about had to use a microscope to find the filling inside.

After a couple of these, I decided I had to find something that would come closer to Dunkin Donuts, my favorite splurge food.  And though I can’t say I managed to replicate the taste exactly – the chocolate chips here taste different – this comes pretty close.

We tried this new recipe at the beginning of Chanukah and sent a quadruple recipe with ds12 to share with his schoolmates the day he put on tefillin – they were a huge hit and no one had ever tasted donuts like these. The boys were used to the big balls of dough with a dab of industrial jelly inside.  Then we made another large batch on Saturday night for a Chanukah meal (which included vegetable soup, garlic knots, potato latkes, and these doughnuts), where we were again told how good they were.  When a friend who was there with her family said they were the best doughnuts she’s ever had and asked for the recipe, I told her I’d post it here.  And then last night, for the last night of Chanukah, we made another large batch to give out to all of our neighbors in our apartment building.

Fantastic Glazed Doughnuts

  • 2 1/4 t. dry yeast
  • 2 T. warm water
  • 3/4 c. warm milk (you can use water, coconut milk, or nut milk)
  • 2 1/2 T. butter (or coconut oil or palm shortening)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2 3/4 c. flour

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the small amount of warm water.  Add the milk (or substitute), butter, egg, sugar, and salt.  Blend this until it’s smooth.

Add the remaining flour and knead until the dough is smooth.  Cover the bowl with a plastic bag and leave it to rise until the dough has doubled, about 1/2 – 1 hour.  Punch the dough down, and roll out a half inch thick.

Use a cup or biscuit cutter (or even a clean empty can) to cut out the doughnuts.  If you want to make the doughnuts with the traditional hole in the middle, use a shot glass or similar sized object to cut out the holes.  (The holes will later become donut holes.)

Place these on cookie sheets and let them rise for about 30 – 60 minutes.  Fry in a pot of hot oil (I used 3 c. palm shortening for this), thirty seconds on each side.  These will fluff up beautifully as they fry.  When the donuts cool, dip the top of the surface in glaze and let cool.

Glaze:

  • 1/3 c. butter (or coconut oil or palm shortening)
  •  2 c. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 1/3 c. hot water

Mix all of these ingredients for a plain glaze.  If you’d like to make a chocolate glaze, melt one cup of semisweet chocolate chips and mix it in to the above glaze.  Make the glaze when the doughnuts are ready to be frosted, because as it cools off, it becomes harder to use and will lose the shininess you can see above in the picture.

We chose to leave these as glazed doughnuts, but I really wanted to make Bavarian cream doughnuts, which are my favorites!  (Oops – ds just told me they’re called Bostom cream – okay, whatever, chocolate glaze on top and vanilla pudding in the middle.)  I didn’t have a tool to insert the pudding into the center, though, and didn’t want to make a special trip out to buy one.  But next year, I’m planning to use this exact recipe and fill it with homemade vanilla pudding.

Avivah

Choosing to live in a secular city

More about why we moved to Karmiel – there was too much for one post!

Karmiel is primarily a secular city.  This wouldn’t appeal to many religious families, who prefer to live exclusively with religious families who are similar to themselves.  However, we saw this as an advantage to raising our children.  We want our children to appreciate people from all walks of life, to know how to respectfully and appropriately interact with different kind of people, and I have very strong feelings about the dangers of raising one’s children in an insular religious bubble.

This also means we have more room to be who we are without feeling like every detail about us is being looked over and checked to see if it meets community standards – I know quite well how common this is, albeit unconscious.  And I really dislike that.  I am very open about who I am and am not willing to pretend to be more than I am.  There are pressures in exclusively religious communities that I find stifling and unhealthy (even though I live according to the same values and standards for the most part!), that too often lead to hypocrisy, fear, and secretiveness.  I’ve lived in this kind of community for years very successfully (in Israel) in the past and understand the nuances and  reasoning, that most new olim (immigrants) don’t even realize are there.  But I don’t agree with it.

As your family gets older you realize that not every child in every family is going to religiously make the same choices.  I’ve seen this happen with many, many families and though we’re grateful that our older children have made choices in line with ours, I don’t take that for granted.  Do you know how hard it is to live in a community that has no room for even slightly different choices?  Do you know how many teens struggle to find themselves, to find acceptance, and so often feel that there’s no room for them?  This is a big issue regarding kids at risk.  I feel that raising children in an environment like we have here in Karmiel is much healthier spiritually and religiously.  Yes, they may see more immodesty, hear language or music that we would find objectionable (though honestly, this has been quite minimal so far), but as a result, they have to think and evaluate more, important skills to develop for life.

But living in a secular city means you see cars driving on Shabbos (though still drastically fewer than during the week), see people walking dogs instead of pushing baby strollers, and you’ll see people of varying levels of religiosity.  My wonderful guest who came with her family from a totally religious city, commented on Chanukah that it was strange for her to walk down the street and hardly see any menorahs being lit.  And it really is very special to be surrounded by visible signs of mitzva observance, to feel the holiday in the air they way you simply won’t when many fewer people are celebrating.  Here, there are many people who are traditional, and I’m sure they light menorahs,  but not in a window where people would see it.  So with things like that, you don’t have the same warm feeling you have in religious neighborhoods.

However, even here, I love that every Friday, a half hour before candlelighting, Shabbos music blares out over the loudspeakers to let people know that Shabbos will be beginning soon.  I can still greet everyone I pass with a Shabbat Shalom, or chag sameach (happy holiday) – and people seem to appreciate it, perhaps because it’s more uncommon, perhaps because we’re visibly Orthodox and there are (false) assumptions that people have that the religious Jews look down on people who are less religious.

The Jewish people were given the mission statement by G-d to be a light unto the nations.  How can we be a light to anyone if we live only among those that are exactly like us?  There’s a potential for kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s name) in a secular city that you’ll never have the opportunity for in a religious neighborhood, and children in an area that is more secular will learn that how every one of them behaves matters.  Sometimes that can be a pressure, but it’s a responsibility that truly every one of us has, but most of those living in totally religious surroundings won’t have a chance to teach their children.

Years ago my husband had been offered a position as a synagogue rabbi in an almost entirely assimilated neighborhood in the US.  I was concerned about the affect this would have on my children, and I asked a very experienced and knowledgeable rabbi for his feedback on this before accepting the position.  He said that kids who grow up ‘out of town’ (ie, not in large Jewish communities) have a strength of character that you don’t generally see among kids in the big communities.  That’s because they grow up knowing that there are other religious choices that people make other than Orthodox Jewry, and want to live a religious Jewish life, rather than doing it because that’s what everyone around them is doing.  Furthermore, they are often in a position of being looked to as an example, and that also strengthens them.

So what seems to some as a disadvantage of living in Karmiel, is in my opinion a big asset!

Avivah

Four month aliyah review: Karmiel community

I received an email requesting information about Karmiel over a month ago, which I intended to respond to to correspond to our three month anniversary of living here.  I wasn’t able to get to it as soon as I had hoped, so it’s going to be answered as part of my four month aliyah review!

>>HOw do you find Karmiel to be for an Anglo oleh/family?  How did you choose this community out of the many other anglo pockets in Israel?<<

Firstly, it’s a physically green and beautiful place.  There are loads of parks, and it’s an extremely well-planned city.  I thought my apartment was in the best possible place, but the more I walk around, the more I think anyone could say their home is located in the best possible place!  There are no bad neighborhoods in Karmiel.  Housing is much more affordable than in the center of the country, so you can get something with more space more for your money.  The climate is nice – not too hot in the summer, not too cold in the winter.

The community lives on a nice but simple standard.  I was told by a recent guest who  lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh that many families there are living on US incomes, which means that their children live in a way that we wouldn’t be able to replicate.  I wouldn’t want to live in a place where by living normally, our children would see us comparatively as poor.  Who needs the pressure to keep us with standards that aren’t even normal in Israel?  Here I feel very content and so do our children.

Karmiel a small city of 52,000 people, and though it’s big enough that people on the street aren’t going to smile at you when you walk by, I’ve found people to be very pleasant (and they will smile back if you smile at them first!).   (I would have loved to have moved to a much smaller town, but since we moved with teenagers, we needed to find a place that had enough going on for them.)  There’s definitely a difference between the way people act in larger cities versus smaller cities/towns.  I find the quality of life is higher in a place like this, and correspondingly, people are more relaxed and have an attitude of ‘live and let live’.  It’s a lot less stressful, and I don’t see the pushiness that people sometimes complain about experiencing in Israel.  When I return from a trip to Jerusalem where there are so many people and so much noise and so l little green for your eyes to rest on, I feel so happy to be back here.

Now, about the ‘Anglo’ pocket aspect.  There aren’t many English speaking olim here, though there are increasing numbers of Anglos or adult children of Anglos who are moving here from the center of the country (which from my past experience is a precursor for the Anglo olim to move here).  I was surprised when I got here and realized how many first generation Israelis raised in English speaking homes live here – if you want people to speak with in English, you can find plenty.  I believe that it’s not a coincidence that so many of them were drawn to Karmiel.  I think that the fact that so many of them came to Karmiel is indicative of something a little different than most charedi communities; I’d say that people are more open and accepting here.  (Note: my personal experience is with the charedi community, so the specifics I’m sharing are relevant to that.  However, there are many Anglos in the modern Orthodox and Conservative communities here.)

I think if you make aliyah to a place like this, you have to be aware that your experience is going to differ from people who move to the center of the country.  In the Jerusalem area, every third person seems to speak English. Not so here.  There are immigrants from many countries in Karmiel, but the vast majority are from Russia, and Russian is the second language that is spoken in government offices, etc.  I think it was helpful for us to come here speaking Hebrew, but most olim who came here without the language seem to be managing well in spite of their lack of Hebrew.

Other things we liked about Karmiel: the local schools.  I feel like I need to write extensively to explain about the charedi (very religiously conservative) culture here in order for this point to be clear, because  I see that Anglos really don’t realize how different this is here from the Orthodox Jewish communities in the US until they’re living here for quite a long time (and often, by the time they understand the significance of the educational choices they’ve made, it’s too late to change tracks).  I’ll try to write a detailed post at some point because it’s a really important topic, but for now I’ll say that the schools here are unusually balanced and not exclusive, something that should be a big draw for Anglos, especially once they look around at communities and see this is something you won’t often find.

I like that the charedi community here is centered around a kollel that is headed by a very special man with a wide ranging vision of sharing Torah with everyone, Rav Margalit.  I find his acceptance of others and inclusiveness to be unusual, and he has made it part of the mission of his kollel to reach out to less affiliated or unaffiliated Jews, something quite unusual for an Israeli kollel.  He has founded a number of the religious institutions here, and his stamp is clearly on the schools, which is reflected by the inclusiveness that I touched on above.  This is something huge, even though the visible differences in the community aren’t immediately apparent – there’s a different value system underlying things here that is much more similar to what those of us from the US are accustomed to.

I liked the idea of living in a community before it was very large and impersonal, where we could know people and be known.  I think Karmiel is going to take off in the next few years and become a very popular choice for Anglos when the advantages of living here become more widely known.   I wanted to be in on the ground floor, so to speak.

That being said, though the Anglo community is very new, the larger charedi community is not, and my expectation of there being an inherent sense of connection and warmth between members of this community wasn’t actualized.  We arrived this summer the same time as the biggest influx the kollel community here has ever seen at once (14 families), and I think that the community was almost overwhelmed – unsure?- how to deal with so many new people at once.   This has been a small and slow growing community for a number of years, so this was a sudden and big jump.  There was no official welcome wagon, no offer of meals, assistance, friendship – nothing.  I didn’t come here with my hand out expecting to be taken care of, but it was disappointing nonetheless.

I had to work to get to know people, and I had to often initiate contact with the Israelis; I didn’t find that people reached out to me so much.  I at first thought this was because I was an American, but have since spoke to Israelis who moved here from other places who also had the same experience.  I think it’s just a situation that has happened since the community has grown faster than the supporting social infrastructure has grown; people used to organically get to know one another and all recognize one another, and now that unofficial approach is too haphazard for people to feel really welcomed or be known.  Also, Israelis have a wide social network of friends and family to fall back on that olim don’t have, so I don’t think the average Israeli has any clue how very alone we are when we get here – so they aren’t being cold and unfriendly.  They just can’t realize how much friendship and warmth mean to us when we left full lives behind and came to a blank slate.

Within the first few days, my teenage daughters already told me I needed to organize things so that others wouldn’t come into the situation we did, but I wasn’t – and still am not – up to taking the lead in this yet.  I needed the chance to be new and figure out my own way around things before thinking about helping others in a larger communal way.   I need to have the chance to see how this community operates, where the needs are, and what my corresponding abilities are, and what area I really feel is most important to get involved in.  And I need to have a chance to find my equilibrium and be sure my family is on an even keel before investing my energies outward.

As far as the Anglos, there aren’t many of us but I do feel like we all know and care about each other, and are there to help out and support one another.  In this group, it really is small enough for everyone to know and recognize one another, which is very nice.  It was a couple of families here who invited us for meals and offered to help.  This is the community that as it grows, will provide the support that Anglos need, I think.  There is monthly gathering for English speakers that takes place, which is a very nice way to get to know other women in the community, and I’ve enjoyed and appreciated this a lot.  With time and more people getting involved, there will be more frequent events and activities.  The advantage of being here at the beginning is you know everyone, but the disadvantage is that there aren’t many people to know!

There are so many nice people here in both the Israeli and Anglo communities, and it’s worth the effort to get to know them!  We frequently have guests from here in Karmiel as well as outside of the city, and we’ve enjoyed getting to know people.  It takes time in a new place to feel like you belong, but people here really are very nice and caring, and if you make the effort to be friendly, they’ll respond.

Avivah

Squeezing everyone in!

This weekend we’re having an additional eight people sleeping at our home, and there will be a total of 22 of us for meals.  My kids have asked, and this has been echoed by others since, where in the world are we going to put everyone?!?

Well, living in a five bedroom apartment, we’re obviously going to be sleeping in closer quarters than usual, but I think it will be workable.  Here’s the plan: dd17 will move out of her room, which is the official guest room.  The parents and their two year old will sleep in that room (we have three beds there).

Dd17 will move into the room with dd15 and dd11, where they will be joined by  our eleven year old guest.  There’s room for three beds to be opened at one time (though we officially have four beds there), so two of our girls will double up  in one bed – they told me they’ve done this before and prefer it to the other option I offered them.

Then, ds18 and his friend will sleep in the older boys room, where ds12 and ds9 usually sleep.  Last night all four of them slept there (there are two beds in that room that each have another bed underneath that can be pulled out, and there’s floor space for all four beds to be out at once).  But for the weekend, we’ll have a nine year old boy here, so that changes the arrangement.

So ds9 will move out of his room and into the little’s room with our nine year old guest.  Usually, the three littles sleep there.  But now, ds2 will sleep in our room which he loves to do anyway!  Then, ds5 and ds4 will be in their usual beds, and our four year old guest (boy) will sleep in the bed where ds2 usually sleeps.  The two nine year old boys will sleep on mattresses on the floor with sleeping bags in this room.  So all of the boys will be upstairs, where they have their own bathroom.

We rearranged the living room furniture to accommodate the furniture we needed to move in for Chanukah lighting – the living room window is high and a regular table wasn’t high enough to allow the menorahs to be seen.  I was a little concerned how we’d have room for our dining room table to be extended, along with an extra table, along with an extra table for the menorahs, but it looks like it will work out well.

We borrowed a couple of blankets from a neighbor, but otherwise have enough sleeping bags and blankets for everyone.  I washed all the linens this week so we have plenty of fresh sheets for everyone.  The main challenge is pillows – I have exactly enough for each family member, and three kids have recently complained that their pillows have disappeared!  Don’t ask me how that’s possible – we don’t live in a huge living space, they haven’t put them in the wash (you know how things sometimes disappear once they’re in the washer) and our home isn’t cluttered with lots of extra stuff that would cover them up, so I don’t know where they could be.  Anyway, I might end up stuffing pillow cases with clean sheets if I can’t get hold of some otherwise.

Now, as far as meal arrangments: we borrowed ten plastic chairs from a neighbor – we have ten additional plastic chairs of our own, but they are the wider version with armrests, about the width of 1.5 of the other chairs.  They limit how many people we can seat at the table, but by borrowing these chairs we won’t need to add a third table, which I really didn’t want to do – it would just feel too crowded.  If you’re wondering why I bought chairs that aren’t so space efficient, the answer is that I didn’t – my wonderful neighbor lent them to us when we first moved here and didn’t have a stitch of furniture, and then insisted that we keep them.  They’re perfect for a porch or garden, but less so for indoor seating.  They are very comfortable, though!

Dd17 wanted to invite a friend, but her friend said she wanted to be home this weekend, so she’ll come on Monday, right after our weekend guests leave.

>>So much activity and so many people would stress me out, but you seem to thrive from all the extra energy!<<

Well, it’s not like we’re being forced to have people over – they’re people we want to have!  We feel so fortunate that our friends are traveling here to visit us, since it’s an intimidating proposition for us to spend the weekend anywhere.  To me, this makes our Chanukah more special, and my kids feel the same way.  They enjoy when we have guests eating over – a couple of weeks ago I didn’t invite anyone in time, and they missed it.  And they especially enjoy when we have guests sleeping over – it makes the weekend more full and fun for them.

Avivah

Ds12 first time putting on tefillin

In traditional Judaism, a young man puts on tefillin (phylacteries) for the first time a month before his bar mitzva.  Today was that day for ds12.

Dh took him to buy the tefillin in Bnei Brak several weeks ago, and yesterday afternoon they took them out so ds could practice how to put them on.  At that point, they realized that something had been tied according to a different custom than ours ( tied to wrap going out, rather than in), so they went out to find someone who could help them in the short time they had.  Fortunately, dh had met someone here who is a sofer (scribe) and was able to quickly remedy the issue.

Dh went with ds12 to the morning service, where he put on tefillin for the first time.  To celebrate, they took a few bottles of soft drinks and lots of homemade baked goods to share with the other people in the minyan (mostly the classmates and teachers of ds12, hence the horrifying amounts of sugar): doughnuts (chocolate and plain glazed) – in honor of Chanukah, cinnamon rolls, swirl cookies, chocolate cake – he’s lucky he had older sisters who wanted him to have something nice to put out!

Here’s the young man of the hour:

Dr. Gordon Neufeld, author of Hold On To Your Kids, has lamented that in Western culture, there are no rituals to mark the passage from child to adult. The exception, he notes, is in the Jewish religion, where boys and girls mark this passage with the bar/bas mitzva celebration, as they accept on themselves a Torah lifestyle of their own desire and volition.

This has practical ramifications – once bar mitzva, ds will be able to fulfill a minyan (prayer quorum) just as an adult man can.  This is going to make the person who has a synagogue a few doors away happy since he’s called in the past for ds to come complete the minyan, and been surprised (since he looks older) and disappointed that he couldn’t come.

But for parents as well, it’s good to have something like this to remind you that your child is moving towards adulthood, and to treat them accordingly.  I every so often recently when talking about bar mitzva preparations,  have been giving an exaggerated sniff and saying in a falsetto weepy voice: “My baby is growing up.”  Though I do it jokingly, it’s true, he really is growing up.  I clearly remember when ds18 was at this stage, wondering how he got to this point so quickly.  And with ds18 now not living at home anymore, I’m very, very aware of how fast the time flies by.

In other news, ds12 and I measured against one another back to back tonight.  He is now definitely taller than me.  Ds18 was 5’8″ when he was bar mitzva, and since I’m a little short of 5’9″, he passed me soon after.  But ds12 has already passed me, which reminded me of something I told my oldest a few years ago when he was wrestling with his brother: “One day, he’s going to be bigger and stronger than you, so you better be nice to him!”  :)  Ds18 is almost six feet, and he’s no wimp, but tonight he came home and when he saw ds12, he told him that he’s on track to be bigger than him.  ‘But’, he continued, ‘you have to be able to learn more gemaras (Talmud) than I can to really be bigger than me!’

Avivah

How to render beef fat

Five jars of cooled (white) fat, jar on right with melted fat still hot

Some things are so easy you feel almost foolish posting instructions on how to do it, and how to render beef fat (or chicken fat) is one of those things!

But since Chanukah began just last night and it’s traditional to fry foods in oil during this eight day festival, I’m going to go ahead and share an option for frying that our family enjoys year round!

Firstly, you’ll need to get hold of a good bit of beef fat.  This is also called suet.  There are different qualities of fat; if you have a choice, you want a big chunk of white fat rather than a blob of little pieces.  But either way, you’ll prepare it the same way.  We got a nice slab from the ribs, which is good quality fat.

If you want to make life more involved for yourself, then go ahead and dice the fat up.  Or put it in a food processor, or chop it.  I’ve seen all those things recommended.  But you know me, ‘why make more work than necessary?’ is my motto, so I just put the entire big chunk in a pot.

Put the burner on low, and let the fat slowly melt over the course of time – it might take up to a few hours, depending how much fat you have.  When it’s liquid, it’s called rendered – pour the fat through a strainer into a glass jar or container.  If you are going to refrigerate the fat and don’t care if there are tiny pieces of meat that end up in it, don’t bother straining it.  The beef particles will sink to the bottom of the jar.  I use this up so quickly that it doesn’t matter to me if it’s clarified (strained) or not.

If you have a big chunk, you might find that you can pour off most of the melted fat, but there’s still a chunk left.  Go ahead, pour off what’s melted, and keep melting the remainder – that’s what I did above, which is why one jar in my picture was in the hot melted stage while the others had already cooled off.

When the fat is liquid, it will be a lovely golden brown,  but when it hardens, it turns a pure white.  You can see that in my picture above.  (You can also see the little food particles at the bottom of the jar of melted fat on the right, if you look closely. )

You might be left with some tasty cracklings at the end of this – if you are, save them and use them to season another dish – it’s delicious!

Now, how do you preserve your rendered fat?  Assuming you’ve strained it, you should be able to keep this at room temperature for quite a while.  What I’ve liked doing in the past is rendering a large batch of fat at a time, pouring the hot strained fat into glass canning jars, and then immediately closing each jar with a new canning lid and ring.  It will seal as it cools, and will stay shelf stable for many, many months.

For those of you wondering why in the world I’d want to use something as artery clogging as beef fat, it’s because it’s not saturated fat that causes heart problems, but processed vegetable oils (yes, like the widely touted canola and soy oils).  They’ve done analyses of the stuff they’ve scraped out of arteries and it’s not saturated fat.  There’s lots of fascinating research about this and if you’re interested in reading some articles, here are some to start you off:

http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/01/does-dietary-saturated-fat-increase.html

http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2010/08/saturated-fat-consumption-still-isnt.html  (This blogger has a PhD in neurobiology and has a number of excellent articles on different aspects of the research on saturated fat – you can do a search on his blog if you’re interested in reading more.)

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/saturated-fat-healthy/ (This is an excellent site and is filled with high quality information, but you’ll find a little bit of off-color language from time to time – just a warning for those who would be bothered.)

http://www.drbriffa.com/2010/01/15/two-major-studies-conclude-that-saturated-fat-does-not-cause-heart-disease/

The benefits in terms of cooking with beef fat are that it has a high smoking point, which makes it good for frying and baking.  Flavor-wise, I prefer to use coconut oil or palm shortening for baking, but find the beef fat adds a nice flavor to most other things.

Avivah

(This post is linked to Make Your Own Monday, Monday ManiaHomestead Barn Hop, Real Food 101,  Traditional TuesdaysReal Food Wednesday, Works for Me Wednesdays, and the Real Food Hanukkah Blog Carnival.)

A gift-free holiday season

Has anyone noticed that I haven’t mentioned the holiday season even the tiniest bit?  I haven’t been purposely ignoring it as much as not really thinking much about it.

Usually, I’m pretty aware of the holidays coming up – I use the advance time to stockpile gifts for all of our family members that they’ll appreciate at prices that my wallet appreciates!  Sometimes this has been buying things at thrift stores or yard sales, sometimes it’s meant making gifts.  But whatever I did, I needed to think ahead to be ready.  (Here’s a post I wrote about my approach to holiday shopping.)

Though we’ve always made a very conscious effort to keep things simple in the gift giving arena, when you have so many children buying and making gifts for one another, things begin to take on a life of their own and it gets harder and harder to keep it simple!  (You can read about preparations for past Chanukahs – do a search for ‘chanukah’ or ‘chanuka’ in the search bar – as well as one of our favorite gifts of the last night of Chanukah that has become a family memory to be treasured!)  And of course we were living close to grandparents who were eager to come by with the goodies they had for the kids.  And even though the gifts we purchased weren’t expensive and were often things we would have bought them in any case, but saved them until Chanukah to give, there were still gifts, and it was hard for a certain degree of focus to not be on presents.

I think we did a good job of straddling gift giving and finding meaning in the holiday, but now we’ve decided that we’d like to use our recent move as an opportunity to reset our family expectations and focus more on what the celebration of this holiday is about.  So we’ve agreed to totally cut out the presents.

Tonight was the first night of Chanukah, and it was lovely!  Though everyone in the past had their own unique menorahs, we only brought my husband’s menorah with us (yep, the luggage limit thing again!).   We bought inexpensive tin menorahs for everyone; ds4 brought one home from gan (preschool) today, and he lit for the first time with us all.

The first night of Chanukah in our home

After candlelighting in front of the window that overlooks our street, we sang together and my husband and all of the kids danced (I don’t know why, but somehow I usually prefer to sit and watch them!).  After that, ds12 prepared latkes (potato pancakes) for dinner, while dh played Chanukah tunes on his guitar and dd15 played her flute – they started working on a Chanukah song that they can play together.  I was really glad we brought the guitar along!

Last night dd11 and I attended her school performance, which consisted on several dances and songs by the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade girls, followed by a one woman act, a play about the Inquisition.  Wow, was she talented!  I enjoyed it very much, and periodically whispered explanations in dd’s ear about what was going on.  I heard today that many of the Israeli girls for whom language wasn’t a barrier didn’t understand the concept of the Inquisition and the forced conversion of the Jews to Christianity, never having been exposed to that time in history, and weren’t able to follow the play.

That evening was the beginning of the active Chanukah season!  As I said, today ds4 came home with a menorah, a box of candles, and a dreidel from school, and tomorrow all of the kids (except maybe ds12, not so sure about his school) will be having Chanukah parties on their last day before vacation begins!

Thursday morning ds12 will be putting on tefillin for the first time and we’re sending homemade doughnuts and other baked goodies to the minyan (prayer service) that he’ll be attending.  Mid day we’ll be attending a bat mitva, and I hope that around 5 pm, ds18 will be coming home for Shabbos (after being gone for a couple of months) and bringing a friend.  A couple of hours after he gets home, we’ll be attending a local hachnasas Sefer Torah (dedication of a new Torah scroll) that will be attended by one of the leading Torah sages of this generation.

Then on Friday, friends will be coming from the Jerusalem area with their family to spend a few days with us, and that evening and the next day we’ll be joined for meals by a young family of four visiting from Germany.  Then sometime on Sunday a blog reader visiting Karmiel will stop by with her family and we’ll get to meet in person.  So we’ll have a nice full house to enjoy Chanukah with!

It’s really nice to see how the chief rabbi of the city has worked to ensure that there will be Chanukah events suitable for the religious public here.  We’ll be missing the puppet show on Thursday afternoon in order to attend the bat mitzva of a friend’s daughter, but on Sunday there will be an all day Chanukah event at a local park, and that evening is a special performance for women that I’m looking forward to attending with the older girls.  (Unfortunately, they didn’t go with us last night.)  There’s also an event for men the following evening.  I’m sure we’ll hear about more things that are planned as the week goes on.

It already feels like a wonderful holiday, and it’s only the first night!

What is your position on gift giving during the holiday season?  What are things you’ve done to keep the focus on things that are more meaningful, such as family time or spiritual traditions?

Avivah

How to preserve eggs

Have you ever had an abundance of eggs, or seen a great deal on eggs and wished you could stock up, but didn’t because you thought they’d go bad before you could use them?  I have!  Here’s an alternative that can be helpful.

Crack your eggs, slightly beat them, (edited to add – and sprinkle a tiny bit of salt in), and pour them into ice cube trays.  (Pay attention to how many you use so you can do the math on how many eggs are in each cube.)  Once they’re frozen, pour them into a zip lock bag.  Put them in the freezer until you need them.  When you’re ready to use them, defrost the amount of cubes you need in your fridge, and use them in whatever recipes you want to make.  And here’s where the math comes in: one cube equals – xxx eggs.

Do you have any other practical and easy ways to store eggs long term (except for keeping them in the fridge!)?  Have you ever used this strategy or something similar for eggs?  

Avivah