Monthly Archives: January 2012

Search for spirituality – an answer at the bus stop

A few days ago, I was waiting at a bus stop with ds4 and ds5, when an older woman commented on how cute ds4’s dimples are.  I smiled back at her and told her that it’s a gift from Heaven.  She agreed, and told me that she’s chiloni (secular), but she believes in G-d.  I smiled.

A minute later, I glanced in her direction and she looked as if she wanted to say something to me.  She then said, “I keep looking at you because I can see you’re  a religious woman and I want to ask for your help with something.”  So I told her I don’t know how helpful I can be, but I’m happy to help if I can.

She continued, “Even though I’m secular, I truly believe there is a G-d.  But sometimes I feel a heavy weight on my heart.  What do you think I can do about this?”  Now, that’s a big question to answer while waiting for a bus that was supposed to arrive in about two minutes!

I’m not a spiritual counselor or anything like that, but generally I would ask someone more about what they were feeling if they said something like this to me.  That not being an option, I told her the following.

“I can only tell you what has been helpful for me personally, and that’s to try to speak to G-d directly. I don’t mean formal prayer from a prayerbook or in a synagogue, because sometimes people do that but there’s still a disconnect (stumbled here while I tried to remember the word I needed in Hebrew) between the heart and the head.  Intellectually you know G-d is there but you still don’t feel it.  I mean just talking throughout the day to Him, asking for whatever you need.”

“If I need to be somewhere by a certain time time and am waiting for a bus, I ask G-d to send me the bus you need, and thank Him when He does.  If I’m in the store shopping, I ask Him to help me find the groceries I need within your my budget, that whatever money I have will be enough.  Little things like that.  G-d truly is our father, He cares about us and wants us to be happy, and He’s always there for us – but we have to move towards Him.  When I speak to Him and I see He answers me, it helps me to feel more connected.”

The bus pulled up as I was finishing saying this, so I warmly wished her well and she thanked me very warmly, too.

Spirituality is very individual and everyone finds their own answers to their search for meaning and deeper connection.

What would you have said if you were asked this?  Would you have found this a helpful suggestion, or would you have suggested something different entirely?


And that makes…how many???

Last week ds18 went back to Jerusalem after the bar mitzva, ds13 spent three days in Jerusalem with his best friend who is visiting from the US, and the rest of us at home got some more sleep to compensate for all we did in getting ready for the bar mitzva!

I also had a few one on one chats with our older kids who were home, since with all that was going on I couldn’t get everyone together for a family discussion.  And what I shared with them is the exciting news …. that our family will be growing at the end of July!

I told dd15 a long time ago, a week or two after I found out (which happened to be my birthday – isn’t that nice?).  We told everyone else last week, except the littles – I’ll tell them when it’s closer, and ds18, who I told when he called home last night.  The reactions ranged from disbelief and excitement (ds9, dd11, ds13), to a casual, “Oh, I had a feeling” (dd17 – she gets feelings about things before they happen, and I told dd15 two months before there would be no way we’d be able to surprise her).  I wasn’t expecting ds18 to have much of a reaction since he’s older and out of the house so it won’t affect him much, but his spontaneous excitement was really nice.  There’s lots of good energy floating around in our family about our news!

Besides for her ‘feeling’, I asked dd17 why she thought that, and she said she thought I looked pregnant at the bar mitzva (which was the very end of the first trimester).  This wasn’t what I wanted to hear – I was cringing thinking this was obvious at such an early stage to everyone there.  And this is really atypical for me.  What’s typical is this:  (someone says): “Oh, are you expecting?”  “Yes, I’m due in three weeks”.  “Due in three months?  You don’t look that far along.”  “No, three weeks.”  “Gasp.”

Seriously, I don’t usually show until five months, and in the winter, can usually keep it from being obvious until about seven months.  With ds5, I literally spoke in front of a room of people the night before he was born, and most of them didn’t realize I was expecting until they got my email the next day announcing his birth – this was very unnerving for some of them! I have lots of stories like this.   I can wear generally things tucked in until about six months as long as I wear a jacket over the blouse – and it looks normal – but to be showing now?  Strange.

So my teen girls think it’s pretty obvious.  I thought they were overly aware of how I look, but last week, literally one day into the second semester, I went out with my mother.  I wanted to tell her our news while she’s visiting, but I didn’t get the chance to initiate the conversation, since she said, “Can I ask you something?  Are you expecting?”

This my tenth pregnancy and, no, she’s never asked before.  And that includes when I haven’t told her until after 5.5 months along!  So I guess the girls aren’t overly aware after all.  But when I expressed my discomfort to them about it being noticeable at this point, they asked me, “Is something wrong with looking pregnant if you are?”  And I realized they were right!

For those who are wondering, no, I don’t think it’s twins (though it’s a really nice idea and I’m at a stage in life that I would LOVE it)!  We’ll have a space of 3 years and two months between ds2 and the new addition, if the due date is accurate.  Those who have been reading my blog a long while know that ds4 was three weeks early and ds2 was three weeks late, so I make no assumptions about dates!

One really nice addendum – my only sister emailed me a few nights ago and told me she was expecting.  I emailed her back and told her I was, too!  I told her my due date and asked for hers, and it turns out she’s due just eight days after me.  We’ve never been in this situation before, and it’s such a nice feeling!


Five month aliyah update: kids learning Hebrew

>>Are the kids picking up Hebrew well?<<

Before we came, everyone said the kids will pick up the language in no time.  “By Chanuka”, they predicted, “your kids will be fluent”.

Nonsense.  Fortunately I didn’t believe this before I got here or I’d be wondering where I went wrong.  I think it’s accurate to say for a child under the age of 5, by Chanuka/December, they’ll be basically able to figure out what’s going on.  It’s very wrong to assume that older kids will learn at the same rate as younger kids, and I don’t think this is just how the brain processes. It’s how the language is presented.

When you’re in a playgroup or kindergarten, the teacher says something like, “Come, children” and motions at the same time.  Your child watches what everyone else does, and sees the hand motions.  Then it’s time for a project, and the teacher says, “Everyone take out a scissor” – holds scissor in the air for everyone to see – “and cut your paper” – again demonstrating.  At a young age, a good part of the language is show and tell.  This makes it drastically easier to pick up a language, because you have clues about what the words mean.

Last week on Thursday, I picked up ds5 from school, and his teacher was so excited to tell me how much Hebrew he’s speaking to his classmates.  I think she might have been more excited than me!  He understands most of what goes on; comprehension precedes speech, and thankfully he’s now at the point he can talk to his peers.  A couple of mothers at the recent party told me their children had told them that ds5 used to not speak Hebrew, but now he does.

Ds4 knows a lot more than I think his teachers realize.  He often says things in Hebrew at home, which annoys dd17 because she wants them to exclusively speak English at home so they’ll maintain their fluency.  I feel that home is a safe place for him to try out his vocabulary, so I don’t  mind the Hebrew, but she told me that this is how it begins, Anglo parents let their kids speak Hebrew at home and then they don’t speak English well.  She’s right about that, but told her that we have to balance a few things, and right now need to make the immediate transition as comfortable as possible for the littles.

Now let’s jump to an elementary or high school class.  Kids are sitting there the entire day, with no visual cues at all.  Notes are written on the board and have to be copied, and the kids can copy what they see without any idea what they’re writing.  There is no hook to hang information on – it’s very hard to guess what anything means, and it’s not until you have a baseline working grasp of the language that you can make those educated guesses.

Dd11 and ds9 have two hours a week of tutoring – leaving hours a day to sit in a classroom with very little idea of what is going on.  I think ds9 is picking it up faster, from his comments at home, but then again, he got tutoring help immediately.  Dd11 didn’t get help right away, and when she did, I shared a while back how she was being expected during her tutoring sessions to do complex translations of biblical texts.  Not helpful.  Ds9 sometimes says things to his younger siblings in Hebrew; again, I think this is a ‘practice where you feel secure’ thing.

Dd11 has yet to say a word to anyone in Hebrew.  Her tutor is concerned but I told her that dd11 will speak when she’s ready.  At this age, you don’t want to say two word sentences to your peers; it’s embarrassing.  Her older siblings are trying to encourage her to speak with them to help her over this initial challenging stage.  Sometimes I speak to her in Hebrew as well, saying a sentence first at a normal pace, the second time slowly, and then break it down so she can hear the specific words.

A huge reason for putting the kids in school was I thought they’d learn Hebrew faster and better than if they stayed at home.  I don’t regret sending them to school, but I do think that I underestimated what I could have done at home.  I definitely feel they would be more advanced in Hebrew if I was working with them daily.  I planned for them to supplement with Rosetta Stone each afternoon, but when my husband’s computer went down about seven weeks ago, he needed to use mine all day long and then the kids couldn’t access the program.

I haven’t made myself their ‘tutor’ at home, though I do have them practice reading and sometimes translations when I can find suitable reading material.  Two weeks ago dd11 read all the headlines of the easy reader version of the newspaper, which was great because then she knew about things that were happening that later came up in discussion at our dinner table.  I skipped last week because of the bar mitzva preparations, but plan to get back to actively working on Hebrew with them – I can see that the tutoring and being in a Hebrew immersion environment is good, but they would still benefit from more assistance; it would help them build the critical language base sooner.

Ds13 is doing well, but he went in with a decent biblical vocabulary.   So he had much more of a starting framework to figure things out.  That being said, what it means is that he can speak in simple sentences with his peers.  In a way, his working vocabulary was picked up in a similar way to the littles – on the playground, he quickly learned the words for: throw, catch, foul, idiot.  Smiles or yelling clued him in quickly to how boys were reacting to different plays.  He’s not getting any tutoring, because his school doesn’t want to bother with filing to get the government approved hours – but I somehow didn’t think of getting him tutoring help until recently, because he seemed to be managing without it.  Even though he’s doing okay, he would be picking things up faster if he had some help.  I was relying too much on him being a smart kid who gets things quickly.

Dd15 is picking up the language nicely.  She recently started having simple conversations in Hebrew, but can understand much more than she can speak.  She has applied herself from the beginning to learning the language.  She makes notes daily on her notepad of words she hears, and asks me for translation when she gets home.  She’s learning the grammatical structure of Hebrew, which she’s finding extremely helpful.  She’s in class with a difficult social framework so she doesn’t have peers to practice speaking with, but she’s finding opportunities.  Last week her principal determined that since her comprehension is growing, her two weekly hours of tutoring should be spent on doing the tests given to everyone else in class instead of learning the language.  Right, she doesn’t understand a lot of what’s going on in class but it should be a priority for her to take the tests so they can have the feeling she’s a real student getting grades.  I really don’t understand the mindset of the administration sometimes – or maybe I do, but it’s so focused on fitting into the system rather than what’s best for the student – but fortunately her tutor doesn’t agree with this either.  So she and dd have determined a respectful way to deal with the administration’s demands, and I didn’t have to go to the school again to make ‘suggestions’ of how to adjust their handling of the situation.   (Too hard to discuss these things on the phone, particularly on cell phones which are constantly breaking up- I find in person works best.)

Dd17 started the school year with the best vocabulary of them all, thanks to being in Israel last year.  She was in an English speaking program, but still picked up enough Hebrew to ease the transition this year.  She’s not anywhere close to sounding like a native speaker, and it’s likely she’ll end up speaking with a light American accent but speaking pretty fluently.  That’s assuming she stays in a Hebrew speaking environment for the next year and a half.

Ds18 isn’t learning Hebrew at all, and I’m letting him deal with all of the beauracratic stuff on his own – health insurance, the army – I hope that realizing how much he needs the language will motivate him to make achieving Hebrew fluency more of a priority.  But honestly, he is exactly the age and stage of boys who spend a couple of years learning here, and is in a program set up for Americans.  I’ve made a suggestion that I hope in another year he’ll follow up with that will allow him to learn the language well (in addition to meeting other goals), but for now I’ve agreed not to ruin his visits home by talking about it.  :)  When your child gets to a certain age, you really realize that you’ve had your chance to actively raise them.  Now it’s his turn to raise himself and make his own decisions, and it’s not in my hands.  He’s a mature and well-thought out young man, and I’m trying to trust him to make good life choices, even though they may be different from what I would suggest.  It’s a lot of letting go!   So at this stage, how well he speaks Hebrew isn’t really a big issue.

One thing I think we did well in was coming to a community that isn’t Anglo dominated.  There’s no question my kids are picking up the language much faster than if they had English speaking peers to interact with.  That would have definitely been nice for them and eased their initial transition, but this is the country and culture we live in, and I want them to have the tools to effectively navigate life herer.   It may be a little harder for them at the beginning stage (and I think we’re at the end of the very beginning!), but it will be easier in the long term.

Oh – I almost forgot to mention what I think a realistic expectation for a child to learn the language is.  I’ll update when we get further along, but my expectation is that after within a year, the kids will be socially fluent, but from  upper elemenatary and up, will probably still need remedial help academically with challenging subjects.


Yerushalayim themed kindergarten party

This past week I attended a special party at ds5’s kindergarten, as the gala event following weeks of learning about Yerushalayim (Jerusalem).   It was only for mothers and the children in the kindergarten, but the day of the party the teacher told me that I was welcome to bring my older girls.  They were happy to come along and share in their little brother’s excitement about his special party – there have been lots of preparations going on in his class!

Ds5 with his big sisters in front of Kotel/Western Wall display

It was beautifully set up, and what was unusual for Israel is that the children made everything – often you see a huge amount of teacher decoration and wonder where the kids’ part was.  This particular teacher is extremely good; she and I have very similar ideas about education at this age.  She does lots of educational games, integrates writing and math into the games, and so on, so the kids think of learning as fun.

Every corner of the classroom had different aspects of the Yerushalayim theme  – for example, one side had a model of the famous outdoor market, Machaneh Yehuda – the boys had made tiny miniature fruits and vegetables and fish from clay, rolls of fabric from small pieces of cloth.

Another corner had a replica of the Biblical Zoo, another was the transportation of Jerusalem and the boys built a city of blocks with roads and cars leading to it…all very nice.

Then the boys performed a few songs – they were so cute!  The teacher had put music on for them to sing with, and as I listened, I noticed the music was from an American boys’s choir, with the American accents singing Hebrew words.  I suddenly and unexpectedly got a big lump in my throat hearing those familiar accents.  An Israeli mother commented to during the singing that ds5 was singing just like an Israeli, and he really was!  He was very cute as he did the hand motions to accompany the songs.

Light refreshments were provided, and a couple of mothers brought themed cakes for the party – here’s one that was decorated as the Western Wall.  I enjoy baking but my creativity in doing stuff like this is very low!

This is the second time that all the mothers have had an opportunity to meet, and with time, these are people that I would look forward to getting to know over the years as we would continue to meet for school events.  However, it looks like I’ll be sending ds5 to a different school next year than most of his peers.  Seriously, I don’t think that making a decision about first grade should be so heart wrenching.  But it is, and not because I’m overemotionalizing about it.

Maybe I’ll write another post about the social realities here, the fear people have about sending to a school that’s different than their neighbors, the frustration I feel that everyone – everyone – that I’ve spoken to about the concerns I have regarding the popular local boys’ school choice seems to agree with me but practically still keep their kids in the same educational framework…

Ds5 and best friend - hopefully when the year ends their relationship will continue

For now, I’ll say just that going to these events is a bittersweet feeling; I hope that in the future we won’t be viewed as no longer belonging socially in the same way we do now.


Bar mitzva review

This will be the last of the bar mitzva posts for quite a while – we won’t have another bar mitzva for 3.5 years, though we will have a bas mitzva coming up in the fall!

On Friday, we rented a car for a few hours so we’d be able to take all the food to the hall.  Ds18 and dh took care of all the loading and unloading  – it was a lot of food and supplies and a lot of work.  This was the part I was least comfortable with – all the people who knew what was cooked and for when weren’t at the hall to unpack it and know where things were being put.  But someone needed to be at home to greet our guests arriving from out of town and take them to the homes where they were staying.

I got to the hall about 3:30 pm, bringing dd11 and the three littles with me.  I took the littles so that the older girls wouldn’t have to worry about getting them ready, and would be able to get there quickly.  This was very nice of me :)(since having them running around when I was trying to get things done really wasn’t helpful), but in the end everyone arrived at the hall about five minutes before what I thought was the latest candlelighting time (I found out later that there were ten minutes more than I thought)!

(Tonight dd17 was able to recover the pictures we thought were lost!)

Dd15 and ds13 having fun

Dd15 and ds13 looking like themselves

Ds13 and dd17









Since there was so little time, our family photo was very rushed – there was no time to set everyone up.  Basically we quickly called everyone in and said, ‘look at the camera’!  But I’m happy we got everyone in at one time!  That doesn’t happen often anymore, especially now that ds18 doesn’t live at home.  (If it looks like a lot of people, we actually have one more than usual – my mom is on the left.)

We had our own minyan in the hall for Friday night – there was a separate room that we set up as our synagogue.  It was kind of funny – for kabbalas Shabbos (first prayer service when the Sabbath begins), ds wasn’t able to be counted in the minyan, but for maariv he was, since he turned 13 when Shabbos began.

After the services, we had dinner together – such a nice group of people!  I’ll have to go in order of when we knew people from.  First of all was the 18 year old daughter of a friend of mine, who is studying in seminary in Jerusalem this year.  I’m putting her in chronological order first since our connection with her family began when I was twelve – her mother and I walked down the aisle to our eighth grade graduation together!  We later became good friends when we lived a couple of doors away from one another as mothers of young families, and became walking partners.  It’s been over 12.5 years since we’ve been neighbors, but we’ve stayed in touch through the years.

One older couple came from Beitar – we met them when we were married just a few months and spent Shabbos there to see if it was a place we’d want to move to.  Now I’m just about at the stage of life they were when we first met – they made aliyah with a family of ten children, when their oldest was 18.  Their oldest daughter had just gotten married when we met, and during my visit last year to Israel, they married off their ninth child.  We did end up moving to Beitar, and they were there for the bris of ds13!

Then was a family of 6 who came from Raanana; I met the wife the first week that we moved to Seattle when we were both watching our kids play in the kiddie playground of Volunteer Park.  When she told me she was Jewish, I invited them to our home for Shabbos lunch, and our friendship grew from there.  Later we moved to Baltimore, and they visited us there a couple of times when they were on the east coast.  Then in 2006 they moved to Israel, and we lost touch.  Thanks to Linked In we were able to find each other again, and they made the trip up with their four lovely daughters.  (This was really nice since a couple of our girls connected with theirs and spent all Shabbos together.)

Then a couple came from Efrat.  We met them at our wonderful shul in Baltimore.  You don’t get to know every person who is in the same synagoge as you, but we got to know them better when my older kids helped prepare the food for the annual Simchas Torah meal that this couple arranged each year for the shul, before they made aliyah.  We were reminiscing about this as they cut up the chicken prior to the lunch meal on Shabbos day!  This same couple met us at the airport when we arrived, bringing us food and drinks and arranging our transportation from the airport to Karmiel.  They were our Baltimore connection.

Then we had three young men: best friend of ds13, son of my dearest friend in Baltimore; 19 year old next door neighbor of this same friend who we’ve known for nine years; and 19 year old cousin of ds13’s best friend – after being friends with the family for so many years, we know just about everyone in their extended family!

During this dinner meal my husband spoke about ds13.  Following that, I shared with everyone a family custom we have: at every person’s birthday, we go around the table and everyone shares something nice that they appreciate about that person.  I hadn’t asked the kids to prepare anything in advance and made it clear that no one was being put on the spot, but anyone who wanted to say something was welcome to.  I was pleasantly surprised that a number of our guests shared some nice thoughts, in addition to most of my kids.

After the meal, dh went home with the littles, and I stayed with a number of the older kids and guests to get ready for our kiddush the next morning.  We got home after midnight, but it was nice to know that we could be more relaxed the next morning.

The next morning we got up really late – 8 am – and we were supposed to be dressed and out of the house by 8:15 so we could be at shul on time to hear ds reading the Torah!  I really didn’t want to wake the littles up, knowing they hadn’t gotten to sleep until 11 pm, and they wouldn’t have a chance to take a nap until much later that day.  But we got them up and with their groggy participation, got them dressed.  We got to shul literally three minutes before ds13 was called up to read the Torah.  I had a couple of minutes of worry, not being sure when to throw the candy – I could see the little kids had all come in from outside and were looking expectantly to where we were at – but I was having a very hard time hearing the services and couldn’t tell exactly what they were up to.  Fortunately, we threw it at just the right time and it was fun watching all the little kids scrambling (not mine, though, and I had kept a few back since I knew they wouldn’t elbow their way in a crowd to get candies).  Ds did a great job reading; dd15 commented that it must be a lot of pressure to have the chief rabbi of the city right at your elbow, but he didn’t get flustered.

After the Torah reading, we went to the hall to get ready for the kiddush/meal.  It was gray and rainy, the worst kind of weather for a kiddush because who wants to go out in the cold and wet?  A half hour before the kiddush began, the sun emerged from the clouds and began to shine brightly – it turned into a beautiful day!  And it stayed that way until an hour after our lunch meal was finished.

There were a lot of people who came – I really wasn’t able to guesstimate in advance how many people would feel enough of a connection to us to come, particularly since the kiddush wasn’t held at the shul, so people had to make more of an effort to get out.  It’s not an automatic given that people go to a kiddush – they don’t, unless they know someone, and we’ve only been living here for five months – so it was really, really nice.  I felt very surrounded by communal warmth.

After the kiddush, we set up for the lunch meal.  Ds13 told me that at the bar mitzvas he’s been to here, everyone has a full mechitza (divider) between the men and women.  Well, I told him, we’re not going to.  ‘But Mommy, you can’t!  Everyone does it.’  Yes, that really swayed me.  :)  We had the table of ds13 and his friends at one end of the hall, the table of older girls at the other end, and all the other tables filled with families.  Someone at the end of the meal told me they had made a bris in the same hall, but it wasn’t nearly as nice.  I asked her why?  And she said, she thinks that having the mechitza changed the entire atmosphere – women couldn’t see when someone on the other side was speaking, so they continued talking and the speaker couldn’t be heard, little kids went back and forth from parent to parent, and it just didn’t seem as cohesive.  She said it was so much nicer the way we did it, without compromising in any way.

There was loads of singing by ds13’s classmates – a nice thing about ds being the youngest in the class is that they’ve been to so many bar mitzvas, they all know how to act properly, sing the same songs, etc.  Then at some point they did some fun stuff with all of the older boys in the hall – lifting ds13, building a human pyramid – I watched them but I don’t know exactly what they were doing, but they had fun and it was appropriate.  And entertaining for the rest of us to watch!   (The mother of one of the Israeli boys there later told me, ‘I heard that the boys had a lot of fun at your bar mitzva!’  I don’t know what, if anything, was different than any other bar mitzva, but I’m glad they all had a good time.)

During this meal, dh spoke again – in English – and then one of our guests spoke – in Hebrew.  (The night before, a couple of ds’s classmates who had been invited to stay for dinner asked me if the meal was going to be in Hebrew.  ‘Nope, all in English’, I told them.  ‘What about tomorrow?’  they wanted to know, ‘will it be 50/50?’  I laughed and told them, ‘maybe 2/3 English, 1/3 Hebrew’.  When first thinking about this, I had been a little apprehensive since most of his classmates don’t speak any English, but we felt that as our family celebration, it was more important that it be in a language our family was comfortable with.  This worked out really nicely.

Everyone who wanted to was welcome to hang out after the meal, but otherwise was invited back for the third meal later on.  Later on, people trickled in, and it was a very relaxed and comfortable atmosphere –  by this point, our guests had a chance to get to know one another, so they were interacting with each other very naturally.  After that we again had a private minyan for maariv, and made havdala there.

It was such a nice, nice Shabbos!  Every single person who came really enhanced our joy.  Sometimes people assume that lots of other people will go to an event, and their presence won’t be noticed, but I appreciated every single person – and this isn’t just because we were new here.  I’ve felt this at every one of our family celebrations that when people take time to share our joy, it enhanced the experience for us all.

I’m really so grateful for how smoothly everything went.  I kept whispering ‘thank you’ to Hashem (G-d) throughout the day; sometimes you feel very aware of everything being done for you, almost a conscious feeling of being given a gift, and this was one of those times.  I was also very grateful to have been emotionally present and relaxed for the entire weekend; sometimes people get so busy with the technical aspect of arranging a simcha that they lose sight of the bigger picture, and can get irritable and irritated with their family members.  I really didn’t want that to be me.

To sum up, it was a wonderful weekend in every way, and especially since until three weeks ago I had been dreading the entire experience, am very, very, very grateful for how it all went!


Catering the bar mitzva weekend

We catered the entire bar mitzva weekend ourselves – this meant cooking for three meals, plus the kiddush.  Friday night we had 25 people, for the kiddush there were around 200 (lots of kids!), for the main bar mitzva meal we had about 80, and for shalosh seudos (the third Sabbath meal), we had under 25.

This was definitely more work than hiring someone but: 1) in Karmiel there are no caterers so arranging catering from another city would have been complicated, and 2) we catered the kiddush for our last bar mitzva 5.5 years ago because it was a very busy time in our lives, and were extremely disappointed with the quantity, setup, and service.

I’ll backtrack for a minute and share with you that scenario – ten minutes before everyone entered the social hall, I came in and was horrified – a couple of other adults who saw it were also shocked – there had been just one table set up for men and women in the entire hall.  Never, ever were receptions were set up in this way, and they had sent enough food for just one table!  I had to ask that everything be rearranged at the last minute (the people who came down early immediately told the catering staff how it was supposed to be and started moving table around).

The young man who had been left in charge was very belligerent and unhelpful (the caterer had three events that weekend and wasn’t there), insisting it was all done just as it should have been.  I had to have my kids run home with a baby stroller and bring back lots of food that I had for our main meal after the kiddush  – kugels, salad, and big bags of cherries – to  compensate for the caterer bringing enough for only half of the number we had paid for.  I told the person in charge that I realized a mistake had been made, and asked him to put out the stuff we brought so the tables wouldn’t look empty.  The worker was very upset at us – I think he was new to the job and insecure about it, and he didn’t want this to reflect badly on him – and though we thanked him repeatedly for his work and told him mistakes happen, we knew it wasn’t his fault – it was very, very stressful and unpleasant.

After the kiddush we took back whatever was left – the things we brought in addition to a small amount of cake and kugel the caterer had provided (which we ended up throwing away in a dumpster because it was so dry and unappetizing).  When I spoke to the caterer after Shabbos, I was told that his worker claimed there was plenty of food (yes, because I brought so much!) and the proof was that there was food left over that I took home.  I explained that I took back the food I had brought since I needed it for our meal following the kiddush, and there was only a small pan of the other things left that wasn’t what we had brought that I took back, but the clear implication was that I was lying.  So no apology, no compensation – just accusations at me.

This was really upsetting to me because I was being treated like a manipulative liar, when I had been extremely reasonable about the entire situation, and really thought that there had been a mistake and the caterer would be embarrassed about this huge bungle.  When I delegate something like this, I accept that if I’m not doing it, it’s going to be however it is – and as long as it falls into the range of acceptable, I don’t nitpick and I don’t micromanage – I trust whoever’s in charge to take care of things.   He was more concerned about covering his ego and wouldn’t admit anything had been done wrong.   The irony is that my husband had no idea of all that was going on behind the scenes of the setup – there was no time to tell him – and thanked the caterer publicly earlier that morning when he spoke, for the amazing kiddush that was so much nicer than we had expected!  So our kiddush ended up being a feather in the cap for the caterer, and only a handful of people who saw things at the beginning knew that it was because I had worked hard in a very short amount of time to salvage what would have been a disaster.

I had people who told me right away that morning they’d back up what they saw if necessary when I spoke to the caterer (it was really bad), and could have made a big deal about this and insist on having part of the money paid refunded, but I just wanted to wash my hands of having to deal with the entire situation; we had paid in cash in advance so there was no leverage, and we would have had to fight for it.  So in short, we paid a lot of money for the privilege of having all of it ‘taken care of for us’.

I wanted something different this time!  By cooking and baking everything ourselves, it allowed us to have a variety and abundance of foods that we would have had to pay a lot to have had.  Also, most caterers here seem to have the same basic menu, which is a lot of carbs that are all the same color (beige/brown/white), and I like when food on the table is visually appealing.

We did the baking for the kiddush the week before, mostly, and froze the cakes.The cooking was done entirely from Weds. evening through Friday morning.  It may sound like a marathon but it really wasn’t – dd15 kept saying she felt like there should be more to do than there was.

For the bar mitzva kiddush (reception), we were told the norm here is cakes, drinks, fish (eg pickled herring), yerushalmi kugel, and sometimes crackers, dips, fruits and vegetables.  Initially I considered this, but didn’t really like the idea since it  made things more complicated with set up and clean up.  I also feel like people are going home to a full Shabbos lunch, and I don’t need to provide a full meal for all of them before that.  So I decided that I didn’t have to do that just because everyone else did, and would instead have just cakes and drinks.

(Below, ds4 helping spread filling for a the layer cake.)







Bar mitzva kiddush:

  • chocolate layer cake
  • 6 layer strawberry cake
  • orange marmalade layer cake
  • oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
  • chocolate dipped shortbread cookies
  • chocolate chip loaf
  • chocolate chip pie
  • lemon pound cake
  • checkerboard cake
  • raspberry squares
  • fudge crinkles
  • chocolate cake
  • carrot cake
  • coconut snowballs
  • chocolate balls
  • marble cake
  • cinnamon blondies
  • peanut butter balls
A couple of people sent over yummy treats to put out, fancy looking concoctions that added a nice look to the dessert platters we put out, but I don’t know what they’re called.  We took everything over to the hall before Shabbos, and set up for the kiddush late Friday night, including arranging all the platters.  This was done by dd15, dd17, ds18, two 19 yo male guests, one 18yo female guest, dd11, and me.  They all did a great job making the platters look fabulous.  We covered the platters and put them on the tables, and the next morning we just had to uncover them when we got back from morning services.  Very low pressure.
I heard yesterday from three different people how nice the kiddush was, and how impressive the many kinds of cake were – each of them had been told about it by several other people!  That was very nice to hear, but we all felt good about how it went even before this – the tables looked nice and we had plenty for everyone.

200 challah rolls waiting to be baked

Bar mitzva meal:

First course –

  • homemade challah rolls
  • guacamole
  • hummus
  • Mediteranean chickpea salad
  • tomato onion salad
  • sweet carrot salad
  • coleslaw
  • cucumber salad
  • cauliflower salad
  • sweet-sour pepper salad with sesame seeds, almonds, craisins
  • savory carrot salad

Main course –

  • cholent (bean barley stew)
  • chicken
  • yerushalmi kugel (made by a friend)
  • sweet noodle kugel (made by a friend)
  • potato kugel
  • kishke (baked stuffing)

Dessert –

  • choice of lemon or strawberry pudding layer cake

We had the main meal in the same place as the kiddush, so we had to clear up from the kiddush before we could set up for the meal.  When we got there from morning services, we had an hour before the kiddush began, and I used that time to begin cutting up the kugels and warming them up.  A couple who came from Efrat for the bar mitzva came in to the kitchen to help, and cut up all the chicken, which was a big job.

After the kiddush, ds18 and three nineteen year old guests moved all the tables and chairs into place for the meal.  Initially I had planned to set up the food buffet style, but realized that though it sounded easier, it would end up much more chaotic.    So I decided to serve family style, which is what I do at home – I don’t like plating meals since I prefer for people to take the amount they want, of what they want.

Some younger guests who were around offered to help set the tables (their families were there for the kiddush and stayed for the meal) – I had so much help that I had to work hard to keep up with them all!  While the tables were being set up, I was preparing dishes of salad for each table, so that they could be put on the table before everyone sat down to eat.

For the main course, I put out the kugels on the platters while everyone was still eating the first course – I could have asked someone to come in and help, but particularly my older girls and our 18yo guest had done so much that I really didn’t want to ask them to do more.  They’re also entitled to enjoy the simcha!  This was a big change from the hectic help of before the meal, when I had at least eight girls between the ages of 6 – 12 who kept coming in and asking for things to do, in addition to the help of the older girls.  I kind of enjoyed the quiet; it wasn’t pressured at all.  While I was setting up these platters, the older girls came in to the kitchen and began taking platters out to the tables.

Once I sat down to enjoy the main course, I didn’t get back up again.  I let other people clear the serving platters and bring out individual plates of pudding cake, while I chatted with dear friends who came from Raanana.  I stayed there chatting for a couple of hours, and didn’t do anymore food prep until it was time for shalosh seudos.

At that point, we rearranged the tables and chairs – again! – and set up for an informal shalosh seudos – rather than individual place settings, I set up buffet style – a pile of plates, napkins, cups, a basket of challah rolls, and then large serving bowls of salads and platters of kugel (planned leftovers from the main lunch meal).  People began eating whenever they got there.

Then there was the final cleanup after Shabbos.  All in all, it was a lot of work, but it didn’t feel tense or overwhelming at any time.  And we were able to spend a lot less while getting a lot more.

How much did all of this cost?  Dh took out 1200 shekels from the ATM and that went towards food and miscellaneous bar mitzva costs that came up (in addition to using some of our regular food budget money) but I don’t have any idea how it breaks down – honestly, it seems to me like it was too much.  With all that was going on, we didn’t track the specific breakdown like we usually did.  We spent an additional 400 shekels on paper goods.  And the hall rental was 1100 shekels.

When figuring the total spent, I’m not taking into account that we have enough leftover chicken for another three or four Shabbosim, or any other leftovers that we’ll use at a different time (eg papergoods).  Without working out the actual cost of what we used only for the bar mitva itself, we spent a total of 2700 shekels for the hall rental and catering for the entire weekend – at today’s exchange rate, this is  equivalent to $715.

Considering that for our last bar mitzva over five years ago, we spent $1200 on catering for just the kiddush itself (and I already said how woefully inadequate the caterer’s provisions and set up were), we’re quite pleased that we were able to have the kind of event that we wanted without any compromises, while staying within a frugal budget!


Ds13’s big surprise

I wanted to upload the very fun video of this special surprise for ds13, and waited until dd17 was available since I wanted her help with editing it before posting.  Unfortunately, tonight she told me when she loaded the video along with all of the pictures from the bar mitzva onto her computer, there was a snafu and everything was deleted.  This really feels like a loss to me (and dd’s even more upset about it than me); the video captured a very special memory, and the pictures from the bar mitzva were the first ones of our family all together for over a year and a half which I had also looked forward to sharing here.  But I can still verbally describe the surprise to you!

Ds13 has been best friends with a certain boy since he was five years old.  It was very hard for him to say goodbye when we left America, and as a final parting comment to ds, his friend said with a big smile, “See you in a few months at the bar mitzva!”  Little did I know that this twelve year old really meant it.

He got a job every day after school and started saving all the money he earned towards his ticket.  He earned a substantial amount, and family members contributed the rest, knowing about his relationship with ds.  He arrived in Israel on Thursday, then was picked up from the airport by a relative.  Later in the afternoon, he traveled by bus from Jerusalem to here with the daughter of a very good friend of mine who is studying here for the year, who was also coming for the bar mitzva.

(By the way, this arrangement was made totally without my involvement or mentioning any names or details to either of the parties involved, which was wild.  This young lady mentioned her plans for the weekend to the daughter of a friend of ds13’s best friend’s grandmother – or something like that – and someone along the line figured out that the twelve year old boy coming from the US was going to the same bar mitzva as this girl, so they arranged for him to meet her so he wouldn’t have to travel alone.  The statistical likelihood of this connection being made in the few hours after his arrival is very small, but it just goes to show what a small country this is!)

So ds’s friend called to ask me what the scenario for the surprise would be, and I told him it was his surprise, and he should tell me what he wanted to do.  We worked out that dd17 and ds13 would meet the bus a few minutes after it arrived, giving his friend a chance to hide and then trail them back to our house.  Then he would knock at the door, I’d have ds answer it, and voila – the surprise!

But then I thought, what if his friend lost sight of them?  I didn’t want him to get lost on the way!  So I slightly rearranged it so that dd15 would leave a few minutes early, meet the friend, and then they’d wait together a few minutes for the the other two kids to meet the seminary girl.  And, I thought, if ds answered the door, none of the rest of us would be able to see his reaction.  So I’d have to have his friend come into the main living area where we’d all see the reunion.

I asked him to call when he arrived so I could send dd15 to meet him, and he did.  I sent everyone out as planned, staggering it so ds13 wouldn’t see dd15 going out, but when they got to the bus stop, no one was there!  They finally came home without our guests; a short time later our guests called, it turns out they’d gotten off a stop early and gone into the local mall.

So we sent everyone out again.  Dd17 and ds13 returned with the suitcase of both guests (ds thinking they both belonged to the girl – I told him he should go along to help bring everything), and then a few minutes later, there was a muffled knock at the door.  I answered it, and there was his friend!  I motioned him to come in, and went back to the living room without giving any indication of anything.  Ds13 was on the couch looking at a magazine, not having heard the light tapping at the door.

His friend waited a couple of minutes while peering out at ds from around the wall of the entrance hallway, suddenly dashed toward him on the couch, jumping with a big plop next to him with his arm around his shoulders.  Ds13 got a slightly annoyed look, as if, ‘which of my little siblings is pestering me now?’, and looked up to tell whoever it was to stop.  And then he looked right into his best friend’s face!  He was so shocked that he looked almost dazed, then gave him a big hug while he kept repeating, “Oh my gosh, what are you doing here?”

It was really beautiful; in the video you could see ds18 in the background watching with a big smile, and my mom smiling on the sidelines, but all of us watching had big smiles.  The older girls knew about the surprise for a while, and ds18 learned about it when they all went out to meet the bus.  Watching this video afterwards, I got very choked up, and so did my mom.  Dd17, who videoed their meeting,without knowing what was going to happen, managed to catch all of it from the beginning to end, and you could really feel the emotion of it all, even without sound.

I’ll share more about the bar mitzva in my next post, but to say it enhanced the occasion for ds13 would be minimize the experience.  My older kids said that it’s strange that while so much has changed and we’re living in Israel now, somehow it seems perfectly normal to see the two of them together here – it’s just the same as always, but in a different country!

This morning they left to spend a few days in Jerusalem together – they gave us a basic itinerary of what they want to do, but I’m sure that wherever they go, they’ll have an amazing time together!


A day of bar mitzva preparations

Today has been a busy day from the minute I woke up!

My mom was scheduled to arrive at 5:30 am today, but we don’t have any way to get to the airport that early.  The trains run through the night, but buses don’t, and from our city, we have to take a bus to connect with the train.  So dd17 went to Haifa last night, spent the evening with friends, and got up super early to take the train to the airport in Tel Aviv.

My mom arrived at 6 am, and at 7:45, just after ds12 and I were commenting that she and dd17 must already be on the train to come home, I got a call from her – dd didn’t show up.  This was a little concerning since dd is super responsible, and I knew she planned to take a train that would get her in by 6 am.  This call coincided with the littles needing to leave to school and  my husband needing to leave to a job interview, so there was a bit too much going on for a very overtired me (I woke up so tired that I told myself I’d take a nap as soon as the littles went to school – but I didn’t) for me to feel relaxed while I was trying to figure out what to do.  After my first frantic thoughts of ‘oh, no’, I suggested to my mom that she wait another 45 minutes and then if dd wasn’t there, I’d come get her (about a three hour trip in each direction).

Fortunately it wasn’t long before we got a call that they met each other in the airport – there was a mix up about where we had said the meeting place would be, and though they were both there for over two hours by that point, dd had been sticking to the agreed on meeting place and my mom was walking around, so they kept missing each other.  A little frustrating but the main thing is they found each other!

Back at home, dd15 and I were planning to use the day to do the bulk of the cooking for the bar mitzva this Shabbos.  We prepared a number of salads, chicken, and desserts; though there are more things left for tomorrow morning than I had planned (I only wanted to bake challah then), it’s not overwhelming.   Dd17 made a few more beautiful layer cakes after I listed what we were baking last week, and dd15 made a couple of large pudding layer cakes for lunch dessert (one strawberry, one lemon).

Ds12 went with dh to get a suit in Haifa last week, and he was so happy with the place he raved about it to his older brother.  So they agreed it would be a good place to go for ds18 to freshen up his wardrobe, plus ds18 wanted to buy some things for ds12.  Ds18 came directly from Jerusalem to Haifa, and ds13 took the bus there to meet him; they spent the whole day there together.

I went down to the hall we’re renting for the weekend to get the keys and got into a conversation with a man in his eighties who works there.  He told me how Orthodox Jewish women are oppressed, and how women are treated better in the secular world – this was spurred by his question about why we were renting the hall, and when I said a bar mitzva, he said to the other person working there, a foreign worker who wasn’t sure a bar mitzva was for a boy or girl,”it’s for a boy’, they don’t care about the girls”.)  I don’t mind talks like these, as long as people are reasonable.  After about twenty minutes I told him I had to get home before my mom arrived from the airport, and invited him to join us at the bar mitzva reception on Shabbos morning.  Very nice man – before I left he told me how unusual it is for someone ‘secular’ like him to be able to openly speak to someone ‘religious’ like me.  He’s right, and that’s a shame that we allow ourselves to build walls between ourselves and others who have different lifestyles than us – we’re all just people trying to live life as best as we can.

My mom and dd17 finally got home at noon (we were originally expecting them by 10 am), and of course my mom immediately unpacked all the stuff she had brought for us.  She really spent a lot of time looking for things she knew we needed, and I appreciated all of her time and effort.  It’s not easy to shop for someone else, particularly for things that involve personal taste.  (My mom and I have different styles, as do I and my girls!)  She didn’t hit the bullseye entirely but she did really well, and even if she hadn’t, I would still appreciate the enormous amount of time she spent going to different places to get things she thought I would need.

Ds13 came home from his day with ds18 a little before dinner time, and my mom gave him a couple of cards and gifts from friends in the US that they asked her to deliver.  He told me it was the best day he could think of and listed all the things that made it so nice!  I didn’t tell him that his day was going to be getting even better later that evening, when he got a huge surprise for his bar mitzva.  (I’ll post about this in detail when I have time to upload the video of when he saw his surprise.)

This morning, dd15 said that we should have made 2 ‘to do’ lists; one for us, and for to give out jobs to people who keep calling to ask what they can do to help!  That’s something I really appreciate about living in Israel – people truly want to help in some way and be involved.  In the last couple of days I’ve had a few people ask me what they could cook or bake for me, and today got three more requests to help.  These aren’t necessarily all coming from people I know well – I don’t know many people here well – but from people I’ve gotten to know on a casual basis (three of ds4 and ds5’s teachers have all repeatedly offered to help).  I had things pretty much organized by this point, though dd15 pointed out that I could have asked them to make dips, since I only have a couple of those so far.  And those who asked before I had it all cooked/baked myself are definitely helping out – two of the three kugels we’re serving for the lunch meal are being prepared by other people.

Just three weeks ago, I was feeling so ‘blah’ about this bar mitzva, feeling alone and lonely, and now I’m in such a different headspace.  I’m so warmly appreciative about every one of our guests coming from outside of Karmiel to spend Shabbos with us, and look forward to seeing many more people at the reception.

For the meal following the reception, despite out efforts to keep things small, our count has gone from 50 to 70 (this happens very easily since for a Shabbos meal you’re inviting entire families rather than couples – we had to really limit this since it could get huge so quickly) , so dh had to go out today to buy more groceries.  It’s still pretty small though, relatively.

Thankfully, our plans seem to be moving along nicely even though I don’t feel like I’m especially busy – I mentally predicted I’d be running at top speed to get everything done in time these last couple of days.  I know that tomorrow there will probably be a good number of little details that fall below my radar that may not get done until it’s too late to do anything about them, and I’ve mentally told myself it’s okay.  Better to be a pleasant and calm person than to stress about having every single detail exactly as I want, if it looks like those details aren’t happening as I would like.  It’s so easy to lose sight of why you’re doing all of this, and get tense and irritable with those you love the most – I don’t want that to be me.


Government funded playgroup for Israeli 3 year olds next year

This morning my husband came home with our mail – our mailbox is about a five minute walk away, in a direction we don’t usually go in, so we check it about once a week.

Thanks to my new subscription to the Shaar Hamatchil, the easy Hebrew language newspaper, I have been an educated Israeli citizen for the last three weeks.  (Said tongue in cheek.)  On last week’s front page was an article about a new law that just passed – the mandatory age for school children has been dropped from 5 to 3.  Currently, children who are in kindergarten in Israel have fully subsidized education, and apparently beginning in the coming year, three year olds will have their full day daycare experience paid for by taxpayer dollars as well (it’s not clear to me if this would apply to the programs that end at 1 pm).  Yay!  You can just hear the cheers around the  nation.

Anyway, I’m not going to go into my thoughts about if this is a good thing or not.  Obviously if you would have to pay these funds privately and now you don’t, you’ll be happy.  And it’s not clear to me that the government is lowering the mandatory school starting age with this law or not, which would be a bad thing since lowered starting ages doesn’t correlate well with national academic success.

Here’s something that struck me as interesting and ironic, though.  In our mail we received approval for ds12’s hot lunch program that we filed and paid for in August.  Not so speedy processing, but nothing new for government agencies.  And as parents of a child who will be three in the coming school year, we also received a registration form for school.  Now how in the world could an incredibly inefficient government pass the law just one week ago, and already have the forms in my mailbox?  This seems strange to me, and though there are lots of areas of government in which increased efficiency would be welcome, I’m wondering about this incredible and unusual efficiency for a brand new law.  I’m guessing it was a done deal for a while now and they were just waiting for the official vote to roll it out.

I can’t help but wonder how this new law will affect the choices of parents who might otherwise consider keeping their child home at this age.  And since it seems the law applies to full day daycare, will more people opt for the longer day? After all, it’s nice to have the kids out of the house and it gives us more time at home to get things done without them being in the way – and it’s paid for, so why not?

Earlier this year, ds18 commented to me that it must be pretty dull for ds2 to be home alone with me, after being used to the stimulation of so many siblings and constant action who were home all day.  Then one day he was home with the two of us when everyone else was in school, and he told me clearly saw how nice it was for ds2 to be home.   Not because I do anything exciting – I do the same basic things as everyone, getting the house in order, cooking, some errands.  People constantly talk about how important stimulation is for young children, they rarely talk about the need of a child for quiet space.  Being constantly stimulated is not a good thing.

In any case, these aren’t forms I’ll be filling in and sending out!


Hot water – at last!

We’ve had a couple of wonderfully rainy weeks here.  This does come along with some potential downsides when you’re used to free solar energy!

The laundry hasn’t been easy to stay on top of, despite having two freestanding racks that can be kept indoors since I posted about living without a dryer.  But the bigger issue has been hot water.  For the last couple of months, our electric hot water heater (which is turned on by demand) hasn’t been working too well.  Then a couple of weeks ago, it stopped working entirely.

With no sun overhead for two weeks and no way to electrically heat the water, this wasn’t so fun!  The biggest issues were showers, so we compensated by fewer showers (which isn’t really such a big deal in the winter) and heating water on our gas stove.  Yesterday, the electrician came out to see what needed to be done, and found the heating element had burnt out.  That had burnt out the switch, so he replaced both of them.  He also replaced the thermostat.

These repairs weren’t very complicated but took place over three days – we learned that “I’ll be back in a minute” could (and did!) mean leaving one morning and coming back the next afternoon!  But last night, when the repair had finally been done….bliss!  Steaming hot showers for a reasonable amount of time (versus get in and out as fast as you can before the warmish water runs out), so nice!

You really do appreciate things more when you haven’t had them for a while!