Monthly Archives: May 2012

Weekly menu plan

This week, I was thinking that I haven’t posted a weekly menu plan or shared any recipes for ages!

The truth is, I haven’t been on top of menu planning for quite a while, though there are always new recipes that we’re trying out (like every day or two!). About the menu planning, I’ve been relying on dd17 to come up with dinner ideas but even though she’s very good about it, I don’t like to ask that of her on a regular basis – there’s a kind of pressure in having to think about what to make for dinner an hour or two before it needs to be on the table that I don’t like and don’t want anyone else in my family to feel.  Now with the summer weather here, it’s really time to think about our meals differently, since the stews and soups we enjoy when it’s cold out aren’t especially appreciated!

On Monday, I sat down to plan our menu for the rest of the week and frankly felt a little nostalgic since I’m not able to buy so many of the things that regularly made up our meals in the US.  Frugal beans and grains have always had a part in my menu plan, but generally a small part.  I miss the abundant dairy, pastured eggs and nut flours that I regularly used, but the cost here is just too high to regularly include them.  And since this week is the last week of the month and my budgeted food money for the month was spent, I was faced with the additional challenge of using whatever was in the house without buying more groceries, which meant lots more bean based recipes than usual!

However, planning the menu got me into a good frame of mind since I was able to come up with some new frugal meal ideas that everyone has been enjoying!  Since someone asked me today to share some ‘food’ stuff and recipes on my blog, I’m going to share my menu even though I usually post this at the beginning of the week (links below are for the basic recipe though I adapted most of them):

Monday – breakfast – oatmeal, fruit; dinner – red lentil cauliflower soup

Tuesday – breakfast – oatmeal, fruit; lunch – sprouted brown lentil salad, green pepper strips; dinner – fluffy scrambled eggs, mile high biscuits

Wednesday – breakfast – oatmeal, fruit; lunch – baked potatoes, kohlrabi/carrot/cucumber salad with yogurt dressing; dinner – white bean salad

Thursday – breakfast – oatmeal, fruit; lunch – dirty rice (rice with ground beef and veg), black eyed pea salad (with tomato, scallions, fresh mint); dinner – lunchbox salad

Friday – breakfast – polenta, fruit; lunch – clean out the fridge!; dinner –
Shabbos menu (this is incomplete because it’s still being planned) – challah, roast chicken, roast potatoes, coleslaw, steamed Moroccan carrots, beet salad

Shabbos lunch – chicken, potato kugel, mushroom quiche, crunchy cabbage salad, tomato olive salad, cucumber salad, hummus

The kids take sandwiches and vegetables with them for their ‘ten o’clock meal’ that they have in school.  For snacks between lunch and dinner, usually they have fruits, vegetables, or home popped popcorn.

I bought a juicer a couple of weeks ago, and so everyone also has been having at least one cup of carrot juice a day.  I’ve really been enjoying starting my day with this!  Dd17 likes beet juice but no one else has gotten too interested in that.  I haven’t been experimenting with different mixes since carrots are currently very inexpensive (1 shekel a kilo/13 cents lb when I buy them in bulk bags), and everyone enjoys the juice.  Last week we went through 30 kilos/66 lb of carrots!


Well, I can thank the ‘asifa’ for making my life so much better…

I haven’t written anything about the widely touted Citifield ‘asifa’ (gathering) that took place in NY recently, in which the Torah world tackled the thorny issue of how to deal effectively with the challenges of the internet, since it isn’t the kind of topic that I address on my blog.  Little did I suspect that the asifa would have immediate consequences for my family in Israel so soon….

After three weeks of trying to reach her, I finally spoke with the principal of the high school that looked like the best match for dd15 for the coming year.  Realize that to get anyone to even speak to me about transferring a student in the middle of her high school years is very difficult, since many schools have a policy that they don’t allow any transfers during high school.  Combine that with the agreement some of them have with the local high school not to accept girls from our city, in order to keep the local girls attending school locally.  Not easy.  But finally today I spoke with this principal.

My overwhelming impression of this principal is very positive – she is very caring and warm, and my feeling is that she’s a quality person who my daughter would gain tremendously from being around.  If weren’t for the topic under discussion, I’d say I enjoyed speaking to her.  To start our conversation, she said, “Tell me, do you have the internet?”  To which, naturally, I said, “yes”.  (I know, some of you are banging your heads at my idiocy since I’ve repeatedly been told to lie about this question.)  I explained to her that my husband works from home using the internet, that I write online, and that our children Skype their grandparents in the US before Shabbos.

I also told her that I had been told I’d have to lie about this for my child to be accepted, and that if my daughter can only be accepted under false pretenses, that it’s not the right fit for us.  She appreciated my honesty and then told me that in the past (ie until a couple of weeks ago), they would probably have allowed in a family like us who uses the internet in the way that we do.  But now, since Rav Wosner said at the recent asifa that schools aren’t allowed to accept students from homes that have the internet under any condition, they can’t go against his ruling.  As she put it, this has shifted the internet from ‘a‘ question about admittance, to ‘the‘ question, the central issue around which acceptance to a school revolves.

We ended on a warm note (no sarcasm, she really was lovely and it didn’t hurt that she told me what a pleasant person I was :)), with her saying they’ll send me the rules of the school and we’ll see if we can abide by all of that once we understand what it entails, and after that, they’ll ask a rabbi to decide if they can allow our daughter in after telling him the specific details of our family and internet use.  The school rules are binding on the family, not just the student, and I’m hesitant to use the pull I think it will take to get dd in if we’re already at a disadvantage before proceeding any further.

I was really upset when I got off the phone.  Not with the principal.  I understand her position totally.  I was upset that because of this very recent proclamation,  my daughter, who is in everyone’s opinion a top great girl in every way – religiously, spiritually, academically – won’t be considered by any charedi school for the coming year (assuming they take the same position on this).

I find this entire situation somewhat ironic.  I’ve always been very conservative when it comes to electronic entertainment and media – but I’ve never made it a religious issue.  I simply don’t think these are good for the developing brains of children, and can be detrimental to adults unless used very carefully.  This has been my position for years, long before the internet was an issue – eg no television, handheld Textris type games, Gameboys, extremely limited academic computer games (eg the littles get to play on Starfall for a short time every few weeks) – I don’t even have a basic cell phone!

So my kids have grown up in a technological world but constantly hearing that the technology is a tool that has to be used carefully to be helpful and beneficial.  Now, I think the internet is an amazing resources.  Not only my husband and I, but now also my teens, regularly use the internet to access Torah lectures online – this is just about the only thing that ds18 and dd15 use the internet for.  I’ve learned lots about health, nutrition, spirituality, parenting and so many other things that have made me a better person – all via the internet.  But I’m not naive and I understand the negatives.

Can the internet be misused? Obviously.  Can it become addictive?  Absolutely. Will getting a really good filter or banning it from your home entirely keep your children from accessing the really bad stuff that people are afraid of?  No way.

Being that the Torah sages of our generation are elderly and it’s unlikely they have personal experience with the internet , I wonder if their advisors have fully explained the scope of what the internet is and how many positive ways people are using it.  (I hope this doesn’t come across as disrespectful; it’s not meant in that way at all.)  How the internet is everywhere and how it’s used for everything from shopping to banking to communication to work.  How banning it in the house doesn’t mean a child can’t easily get access somewhere else.  Do they understand that a teenager can easily purchase a small digital device that could be hidden from their parents and hook into the free wifi at public places, or even within their own homes (if they have neighbors who have unsecured wifi, as we do)?  I attended a workshop for parents about the dangers of technology several years ago, in which the rabbi speaking shared that kids know so much more than their parents about technology, that parents have no idea how easy it is to get access to various online venues.  He told us specifics of how easy it was for kids to get around even very good filters, as well as lots of other information of concern.

How can we possibly build the wall high enough to keep out the internet?  I so strongly feel that part of our responsibility as parents is to give our children the tools they’ll  need to navigate the outside world both as youngsters and as they enter the adult world.  I feel we must, must, must teach our children to understand and respect the internet as the powerful tool it is, to model using it in an appropriate and positive way.  And we have to be very careful not to turn it into the forbidden fruit – because when something is put off limits, it gains a certain appeal that makes it much more dangerous.

Right now this is particularly distressing because I don’t know what the other options are – after research on different schools in the north, this was the only school that we felt was a serious consideration – but right after putting down the phone, I ‘happened’ to get an email from a blog reader in the north with contact information about a couple of schools that I didn’t yet know about.  So the search continues….


Edited four hours later to add – I just received a private email from a reader concerned about my posting on this topic:

>>I appreciate that you’re in a difficult predicament, but denigrating Gedolim on a public blog is a terrible chillul Hashem.  There’s a mitzvah aseh in the Torah to listen to our Torah leaders, and this mitzvah is very important and the punishment for violating it is severe.  <<

I’m truly sorry that I came across in this posting as denigrating our Torah leaders, for whom I only have the most tremendous respect.  I go back and forth in my own mind about how to post about topics such as these, or if I should post on topics like these, because I don’t want to be seen as being critical.  On my blog, I attempt to share my thoughts about what seem to me to be important issues and I try to do it respectfully – though clearly despite my efforts, comments such as these show me that I’m not succeeding in that regard.  Until now, I’ve felt that there was a value in bringing up these points for discussion, particularly as these are important issues for those considering aliyah or in the earlier stages of aliyah to be aware of.  If what I’m writing is being construed by others as being critical or condemnatory then I have to rethink this.

>>But frankly I think writing about your views on these subjects is the wrong thing to do.  It’s a chillul Hashem both for your Jewish readers and non-Jewish readers.  Why should you say lashon hara about the frum communities here?  Yes, there are problems, and these problems bother me as well, but writing about them is treading into dangerous territory.  Loshan hara on a whole group of Jews is very hard to do teshuva for.  In my humble opinion, I think that you should keep discussion of these issues between you and your husband, or whoever you need to talk l’toeles, but you should not discuss them on the blog. <<

You may be right, and I appreciate you sharing your opinion with me.  I’ve tried to avoid controversy, negativity, gossip, etc on my blog, but at a certain point, if you share your thoughts on something of significance, someone who takes a different position is going to disagree with you and tell you that you aren’t being respectful of them.   This is a very hard balance and perhaps one that I’ve erred in…

A perspective on life’s challenges

Yesterday I was talking with my ds18 about the potential of life’s challenges to help a person grow.  Just a couple of hours later, I got the following message in my inbox:

Life does not accommodate you; it shatters you. Every seed destroys its container, or else there would be no fruition.”   Florida Scott-Maxwell

It was a timely message for me!  This quote sounds somewhat negative until you realize that it’s by having our perception of our limitations of what we can be and who we are broken, that we can grow beyond that.  Every difficult and painful situation is a chance to become more of who we are meant to be, to grow into the person we are capable of becoming.

Don’t think I’m idealizing challenges – actually, I ask to be shown how I need to grow in a gentle way without pain – but at least intellectually, I know that everything in life is a gift and that even the tough stuff is a kindness because it gives me a chance to be more than I think I can be.  And like all of you, every day I have opportunities to stretch that intellectual understanding and internalize it emotionally a tiny bit more!


Israel Inside – film

Since the Israel that we see as residents of this amazing country is unfortunately rarely portrayed in the mainstream international media, it leads many people to wonder, why in the world would we want to live here???

I watched this film last week and appreciated the perspective shared – it’s hosted by Dr. Ben Shahar, the extraordinarily popular Harvard professor who taught positive pyschology, who has been interviewed on numerous US news programs and at the pinnacle of success, made the decision to move back to Israel.

In this film, he notes Israel’s disproportionate success in the technological world (something that many have noticed), and discusses what he calls ‘actualizers’ that account for this success. This will give you a little peek into the ‘inside’ Israel that is part of what makes it the special place to live that it is.



How we chose a boy’s elementary school

This week, ds6 and I attended the orientation hosted by the school he’ll be attending next year for incoming first graders.  Since I’ve been asked very often about how we made the choice of where to send him, I’ll share about that now.

Earlier this year I felt a lot of pressure about where to register ds6 for first grade.  We strongly favored the educational framework that was provided by Amichai, but in the charedi community, every single family sends their boys to the local Talmud Torah (known as ‘the cheder’).   So this made the decision more complicated – do you send your child where all of your peers are sending (socially better), or do you send your child where you feel they’ll be best served emotionally and educationally?

I was very concerned about the social ramifications of sending our boys to a different school than the boys who locally make up their peer group.   I also thought about how would we as parents be viewed, and how would it skew the way people looked at our family overall.   It’s an unfortunate reality in most societies that people who make choices different than the norm aren’t exactly embraced warmly.

I’ve spent many, many hours over the years thinking of endless angles regarding education and have logged many more hours this year continuing to think about the way new educational situations are manifesting.  I’ve had a number of conversations with people in the community – including Israelis and Americans who grew up here /made aliyah at a young age/made aliyah as parents with school age children – to benefit from their perspectives and experience.  The conversations have included discussion about the elementary school options, where they lead to as far as high school options, where high school choices lead to, and how that works for them as adults.  When we make decisions like this, we try to be aware of the short and long term ramifications rather than the immediate present, so having all of this feedback was important for us because we didn’t want to make a decision without a well-rounded view of the issues involved.

After all of this thinking, the school we’ll be sending ds6 to is Amichai, and this is where we had the first grade orientation yesterday.  Here are some that were a factor in making our decision:

At Amicha, secular subjects taught in addition to Judaic studies, including enrichment classes like music, art, and computers.  The school day is shorter, leaving more time for us to spend together as a family.  This also means there’s more space for the kids to have down time or the opportunity to pursue other interests, which is critical to healthy emotional development.  A shorter day is a huge, huge, huge plus to me.

Something that many find a weakness is that due to the shorter school day and having more secular classes, there’s less time for Torah study.  We feel that with the increased time available to us, in addition to the increased emotional head space of our children due to the shorter hours, we can supplement this at home if at any point we feel it would be necessary.  In general I feel less is often more when it comes to school, so I prefer the enrichment approach to academics rather than overloading kids and burning them out.  (Our approach to teaching Torah and instilling a positive value for a Torah lifestyle is really its own topic.)

I like that there’s a message of joy in living a Torah life rather than a primary focus on obligation and textual skill, that there’s acceptance and tolerance for people of different backgrounds; this meshes well with our value system.  I like the understanding approach of the administration, the way they consider feedback from parents and integrate it.  The principal is a really special man.  I appreciate that my child can be seen for who he is (as much as possible in a school framework) rather than a cog who needs to fit into the institutional wheel.

I think it’s unusual to have an orientation for first graders several months in advance, don’t you?  (If this is standard practice for charedi schools in Israel, please correct me!)  They wanted to give each boy a chance to meet the other boys who will be in their class in a relaxed and unpressured framework.  They had two craft activities for Shavuos followed by snacks.  It was nice that the boys were able to come to the school when no one was there but their parents and a few teachers, go into their future classroom, and be with their future classmates without all the anxiety that comes with the first day of school.

While the boys were doing crafts together, the principal and school psychologist spoke with the parents about the school’s approach to education.  The principal spoke about how much they see parents as active partners in the education of their children, after sharing what the overall philosophy of the school is, as well as their academic focus on Torah and secular subjects.  They have a unique program that is foundational to their approach to Torah – by the end of eighth grade, a student will have familiarity and understanding of all the Rashis  (a primary Torah commentary).  As far as secular studies, they strive to provide a strong secular foundation, though they openly shared that their weakness is in science, as they don’t yet have an independent laboratory.

Part of the admissions procedure for first grade at this school is a meeting of the child with the school psychologist.  Though when I took ds several months ago for his meeting I felt that his evaluation wasn’t reflective of him because he didn’t understand fully what he was being asked to do since his Hebrew was still very rudimentary (his current teacher was very upset when she heard the conclusions since she knew how inaccurate they were) and I wasn’t able to stay with him for the interview to translate, I appreciated the reason they have these interviews.  Their perspective is that they want to have a sense of who each child is before he comes into the school, and they want to know that each child is emotionally ready for first grade.   If a child isn’t ready in some way, they’ll work with a parent to deal with whatever the issue is.  They don’t look at reading and writing skills, though they do assess fine and gross motor coordination.  (They teach reading in first grade rather than expecting incoming first graders to already read, which is what is expected at the other school.  This is also something I appreciate that works with our educational philosophy.)

Something that many parents have expressed concern to me about is that the children in this school come from a range of religious backgrounds rather than the homogeneous backgrounds of the cheder families.  This isn’t something that scares me, since part of my approach to education is to teach children to navigate the outside world – and that includes dealing with people who are different than them – rather than build increasingly higher walls to keep the outside world out.  I don’t like the increased possibility of exposure to the outside world, but I’m prepared to deal with it as a parent and in fact feel it’s my obligation as a parent to make sure my kids have tools to deal with this.  Also, I know very well that it’s an illusion that your child will only have positive influences in his life if all the children are coming from religiously similar homes.  In any case, at the orientation I was  very pleased to see what a nice group the parents were, much more similar to us than I had been led to expect by the comments of others.

The classes at this school are also smaller than at the second school – it looks like ds6’s class right now will be between 12 – 15 boys, versus about 22 (these numbers may shift with enrollment that takes place between now and then but for now are accurate).  This school is certainly closer to American values than the cheder, and I’ve been told that the chief Ashkenazi rabbi of the city would very much like to see American families sending to this school since he thinks that it will be a win-win – it will strengthen the school at the same time that it will provide parents with an education that most closely matches their expectations.

I’m writing this to share my own experience, not to tell anyone else why they made a mistake to send their children somewhere else or to tell anyone moving here to send to this school.  Unfortunately there’s inaccurate information about this school that is being passed around to people visiting, and it’s inaccurate by virtue of all the people talking about it having no personal experience with the school – it’s what the parents at the second school all tell each other about it!  My decisions are based very solidly in my parenting philosophy, and what is right for each family will be different depending on the needs of their children as well as what their long term goals are.  As of now, I’m the only person in the charedi community of Karmiel to have children in both of the schools I’ve mentioned, and so I think that I do have a balanced perspective as someone who has an insider’s perspective to each.


Meeting with high school principal

This morning I started my day with an appointment with the principal of the local girls high school.  I was there to discuss what to do for dd15 for the coming year, and the conversation went really well.  Besides the fact that she’s a very caring person who very much appreciates dd and wants her to be happy, over the course of this year I’ve had a chance to develop a nice relationship with her and the school advisor (who also was there for the meeting).

Here were some good things about the meeting:

– They offered (not just offered, but started making phone calls while I was still sitting there) to activate their network to research the school that I told them is the most likely place for dd15 for the coming year to ascertain what the peer group is like in dd’s grade.  As they told me, they’ll be able to get honest information parents would have a very hard time finding out.

– The principal offered to call the principal of the other school after Shavuos if she doesn’t hear from her before then, and give the warmest possible recommendations of dd.  The school advisor also was quick to offer her willingness to provide her strong recommendation of dd.

– The principal asked me if I’d be willing to serve as the liason between the Anglo parents and students and the school for the coming year.  She feels that I understand the Israeli school culture as well as obviously coming from an American mindset, and has already spoken to the chief rabbi of the city and told him she wants me to do it.  As a long term homeschooler I find this a little ironic but told her I’d be happy to help out.

– She and the advisor have told me in each of our meetings (this was the third) that they’d like me to address the staff as well as have a separate lecture to the student body.  I asked about what and they said my general approach to dealing with life and the inevitable difficulties.  I brushed them off about this in the past and today as well, but it was nice to be asked and to be appreciated.  Afterward I thought that I really should have taken their offer more seriously since they keep asking; it would probably be fun though a challenge since it would be in Hebrew.

Overall they were both very supportive and understanding of the decision we’ve made not to send dd back to this class for the coming year.  They’d like her to stay but even so they’re willing to actively help her get into a different high school.  And she also agree to something else I discussed with her at the end of our talk, to give dd a lot more leeway regarding attendance for the remaining weeks of school, based on some concerns I shared.

I’ve appreciated the administration and teachers at this school, as well as their overall approach to dealing with the girls.  Despite being different than my personal approach to education, it’s very, very balanced when you look at what the administrative norm of charedi girls’ schools are.  I didn’t anticipate so much active willingness to help us find a new school, even though I know they are very caring women.  So that was a really nice way to end our meeting today.


Another family member makes aliyah to Karmiel!

This morning, my mother and her husband arrived in Israel at 7 on a NBN group flight, and then we had the privilege of welcoming them to Karmiel (where they will be living)!

There’s been a lot involved in the aliyah process – I guess that’s true of everyone – and though there are some important details that we had hoped to have worked out before they arrived that didn’t yet coalesce (living arrangements!), we’re glad they’re here!


Praying at gravesite of Sheloh Hakadosh

Last night I was feeling very pressured by all the significant things going on in my life in a very short period of time that require my attention.  My husband plays tennis twice a week, draws and plays guitar so he has some really good ways to unwind.  But I don’t do any of those things, and last night I was trying without much success to think of what I enjoy doing that would be relaxing and renewing.  I googled for a list of relaxing things to do to get the brainstorming started but none of the things on the list really spoke to me.

In the middle of feeling all this pressure last night, someone emailed me with an invitation to join her on a trip to Tiverya (Tiberias) today.  My first thought was, that’s the last thing I’m interested right now when I’m much too close to overextended without taking on any additional activities or trips!  But I emailed back and asked  her what she was going for.

This morning I got her response – she was planning a trip to the grave site of the Sheloh Hakadosh because today is erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan and it’s a particularly auspicious time to say a prayer he composed for success in raising your children, and praying his prayer at his gravesite is even more powerful!  She remembered me mentioning having some education related concerns that I was dealing with and thought I would appreciate being able to go.   She was more right than she knew!

As soon as I got this message, I had instant clarity about what would be helpful for me in relieving the pressure I was feeling – to go to this particular grave site today!  I thought how amazing it was that Hashem sent me the answer to what I was looking for the night before through this woman’s email before I even was able to recognize it as what I needed.

Who would have thought a year ago when I posted about this special prayer that this year I would have the amazing merit to be standing next to the grave of the incredibly holy person who composed it?  Not me.  I didn’t even have any idea where he was buried.  I was happy enough just to remember about the prayer in time to say it!  And this year Hashem sent me the opportunity to go, just at a time when I really needed it.

I had a very powerful davening there.  Really powerful.  Sometimes you have to work hard to connect when you’re praying in a formal way, and sometimes everything just flows from your heart.  Raising children takes so much energy in every way and particularly after making aliyah – when all family members simultaneously go through some degree of trauma  – there are so many areas to ask for help with!

I don’t really have people to talk to about all that I’m dealing with – because of the time difference, technological challenges of using Skype and voip phone lines and everyone being busy, I’ve hardly spoken to my closest friends since I moved here, and even if I could, there are things I’d be unable to share because to do so would be a breach of my children’s privacy.  This has been a real loss for me at a time when having good friends who really know me was more important than ever before and being able to talk with them is something I’m very aware of missing.  While I usually keep in mind that G-d is always available to help me, I sometimes forget that He’s there to listen to me as well!  And I really needed that.

I somehow didn’t think that there would be many people there, but there were busloads of people being dropped off and picked up, and the streets around the grave site were closed off to traffic.  It was very full but not so crowded as to be claustrophobic (which would be a big detractor for me since I don’t concentrate well when there are people squeezed in close all around me).  There was a very special atmosphere and I felt so fortunate to be able to experience being there.  This is really the best of what living in Israel is about – feeling tangibly closer to G-d and to the people and history of the Jewish nation.

After we finished our prayers we stopped for something to eat at the boardwalk area – it was supper time by then – and it was really nice to relax outdoors with the pleasant breeze blowing, enjoying delicious freshly made pizza while enjoying adult company.  It was an added dimension of renewal for me, as was the beautiful drive there and home.  The Galilee is a stunning part of Israel, and I especially enjoyed seeing the Kinneret (Sea of the Galilee) – when viewed from up high, it’s even more beautiful and picturesque (what makes it that beautiful shade of blue?).

I hoped to post this earlier in the day so you’d have time to say this prayer if you wanted to, but we went directly from there to our monthly video shiur, and I didn’t get home until 11 pm.  But there’s still a few hours to go for those of you in the US (and that’s where most of you are!), so here’s the link for the prayer in both English and Hebrew  –

May we all be blessed with joy in raising our children!


Nine month aliyah update: being happy with an imperfect situation

Sometimes I miss the days of blogging when my readership was much smaller –  I didn’t have people telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about, making negative judgments about my character, or telling me that I said something I didn’t say.  On the other hand, I didn’t get to interface with as many people as I do now, and I’ve always felt very fortunate that my readership is for the most part a very high quality group of people!

Due to some negativity to my recent posts, I considered not writing any more about Karmiel and the religious aspects of life in Israel.  These have caused me more stress than anything else I’ve written about for the last (almost) six years.  But I’ve decided I’m going to continue to share my personal experience on the topics that I feel are important to me, and if someone doesn’t like it, well, I can’t control what others think of me.

So on to the post that I wrote before I got all this fun feedback!

Yesterday afternoon I was listening to some women sharing some of the challenges they faced when moving to Karmiel, when one asked me a really good question that I had to think about before being able to answer:

Since you had all the same issues and difficulties when you moved (that those sharing with me were having a hard time with), why are you still so happy to live here?

I tried to be very, very realistic when I moved here, and to have minimal expectations of anything.  Unrealized expectations are very painful and the source of tremendous frustration.  As realistic as I tried to be, I couldn’t know before arriving exactly what to expect, and it turns out that even some of my low expectations were too high; they didn’t match the reality I found.  I then adapted my expectations since the choice was to feel bothered and disappointed.

Along with being realistic, I try to look for the good in the situation; I’m not a Pollyanna but I do believe that the objective truth is the glass is filled halfway, and we make the choice to see it as as half full or half empty.

A specific example I was asked about was my feeling about living in a community that is primarily secular.  Where someone else might be bothered that this isn’t a Sabbath observant community, I focus on how amazing it is that in a secular city, Shabbos music plays thirty minutes before candlelighting throughout the city to announce the imminent arrival of Shabbos, there are so few cars driving on this day and how almost all the stores are closed.   I appreciate how many people who aren’t visibly observant respond to my “Shabbat shalom” greeting in kind – it makes me feel aware that I’m living in a Jewish country even if the city is made up of a secular majority.  Focusing on what I appreciate helps me stay positive when I see or experience things that I don’t like so much.

I also realized that I needed to actively take steps to find inspiration for myself in order to continue growing spiritually.  So I did, and now sharing with others is part of my spiritual and social experience here – in my weekly parsha classes I attempt to share ideas and thoughts that I personally find uplifting, encouraging, or inspiring.

Some people have commented to me when discussing this topic that I seem comfortable with myself religiously, and it’s true – a lot of inner growth for me has happened over the years when I had to define and clarify my values and then find ways to appreciate and validate myself in the absence of outside validation.   Homeschooling in the Orthodox world for so many years provided lot of opportunities for this!   This is something that has come in handy with feeling inner peace about who I am religiously, especially as I now find myself in a society in which religious definitions are very different than in the US.

My dd15 brought up a pivotal point when I asked her thoughts on why our family has been pretty happy here despite the difficulties, and that was regarding the attitude that we came here with.  Our attitude was: this is where we’re going to live and we’re going to make it work!  Moving somewhere else wasn’t an option, and neither was being unhappy on an ongoing basis.  We weren’t constantly asking ourselves: should we have moved here, where would be better, looking for other communities, etc.  A big part of this is that we bought a home here and so we had an inherent motivation and commitment to overcome frustrations and make it work.  An equally big part of this is that as parents, we’ve tried to teach our children to find solutions rather than grumble about what we don’t have, and that has meant trying to walk the talk!  This saved us a lot of mentally spinning our wheels and constant self-questioning.

Karmiel has been a great place for us, and though there have been disappointments and issues we didn’t expect that have come up, we’re all pretty satisfied with our choice!


Nine month aliyah update: About Karmiel

Today I spoke with several different women about a similar topic – the ups and downs of moving to Karmiel.  I’m a big believer in being optimistic but staying realistic.  What that means is that if you ask me what I like about living here, I’ll tell you but I’ll also caution you about things you may not hear from other people (someone recently told me that I was the only one who gave her an accurate picture of the realities of Karmiel).

Knowing that Karmiel is increasingly being considered as a place to live not only by those making aliyah but those living in Israel, I’ll share the following:

Physically – Karmiel is a physically beautiful city.  My husband’s tennis partner who has lived in the area for many years told him that one of the nicknames of Karmiel is ‘Charmiel’, because it’s so charming.  It’s well-designed, well landscaped, and well taken care of.  A joke that’s reflective of the priority on maintenance in the city is: when there’s a traffic accident, the first vehicle on the scene will be someone from the municipality’s maintenance department to replant the flowers that were damaged by the cars.

There are lots of parks for children.  It’s a big enough city that you can get anywhere in the country with public transportation, so you don’t need a car.  However, if you’re in one of the outlying neighborhoods of Karmiel, you’ll probably find it much easier to live here with a vehicle because buses are less frequent (though still regular)- I live in the center where it’s not a concern at all.  The public transportation within the city is excellent – the buses are all new, clean, and comfortable.  You can purchase a local day pass that’s good for unlimited bus rides for just 7.70 shekels from 9 am and on.  And if you want taxis, then there’s a flat rate charged of 15 shekels within Karmiel, 20 shekels if you need to get to the industrial zone.

The local shopping is good and you can get anything you need without needing to leave the city – food, electronics, furniture, cars.  Many people come from surrounding areas to do their shopping here, particularly at the major shopping center called The Big (this includes many Arabs from the local villages – it’s very interesting seeing such a variety of people!).  Kosher meats and hard cheeses (edited to add: with a badatz hechsher) aren’t widely available in the majority of stores but they are available in two or three stores in the city.

Housing – In Israel, real estate is very expensive and prices are constantly rising.  Coupled with the banks’ insistence on at least a 30% down payment, purchasing even a modest home can be very challenging.  Something that has brought many people from the center of the country to here is that they can afford to buy something much larger and nicer than the area they were coming from, for less money.  (Rents aren’t significantly less than areas surrounding Jerusalem, and the rental market here is tight.)  The apartment prices have risen dramatically in the last three years, but still constitute a very good deal considering the general market in the country.

Socially – Karmiel is a city of 52,000 (a couple visiting from Ashkelon told me a couple days ago that they were told 70,000 by several people during their visit, so I’m not sure who’s right – I got my stats on this from the NBN site), and there are a lot of immigrants here, particularly from Russia.  This definitely affects the atmosphere here.  It’s common to hear Russian spoken, and in just about every government office or store I’ve been to, it seems that most of the people working there speak Hebrew with Russian as a second language – this is different than Jerusalem, where English is usually the second language.  You don’t hear a lot of English when you’re out and about, so much so that when I hear English, I feel the desire to walk over and introduce myself!

Since many of these Russians are not Jewish (not going to get into why the government allows them in based on the Law of Return), this means that Karmiel has a large percentage of not just non-religious Jews, but non-Jews; I believe the number the chief rabbi of the city quoted of non-Jews was 40%.  Olim coming to Israel and looking forward to the religious inspiration of being in the Holy Land and surrounded by their fellow Jews aren’t likely to feel it here.  The modesty standards of secular Israelis tends to be less than that of the average American, and the Russian population brings this even further down.  (I hate to say something that sounds so negative or derogatory but I’m trying to be honest.)

The percentage of religious Jews in the city is supposedly 10%.  I don’t know about how accurate that is or how the term religious is determined.  The charedi community is about 150 families; the garin Torani (seed group for the Torani community) is about twenty five ten families with many others who have some connection there.

The charedi community here tends to be fairly relaxed and accepting, but is still very much a community unto itself.  There is a focus in the local kollel on outreach that is unusual in Israel, but this doesn’t change the social reality as much as you might think when hearing that – outreach is something they do to some degree but my impression after speaking with some of the kollel wives is that there are different levels of commitment to this.

There isn’t much mixing of people in different religious circles – this is something that several people visiting here told me they were disappointed by, having been led to understand that it was a very open and inclusive community.  It’s true that people are more open and accepting, but it means that the definition of the charedi community is broader, not that people are really mixing with those who aren’t part of their defined community.  I don’t mean to overemphasize this and I don’t see this as a negative as much as simply the reality, but it seems that this is an area where people aren’t getting accurate information and after visiting here go away disappointed or disillusioned.   This is very much a community that is based around the kollel; the ‘kehila’ (community) is defined as those who affiliate there.

As far as the religious Anglo community- there are two components.  One group is made up of olim and first generation Americans.  This is a pretty small group, about ten families in the charedi community.  (I’m not sharing statistics on the dati leumi community because I don’t have enough familiarity with those stats to do so, but there are more Anglos who affiliate with different synagogues and movements than what I’m sharing about here.)

The second group is bigger than the first, those who are first generation Israelis, raised by American parents – they speak English and although they were raised here, their mentality has been tempered by being raised by parents from a different culture.  These are generally younger and smaller families, having four children or less.  This group is growing pretty quickly – while we were the only American family to move here this summer from outside of Israel, within the same two week period in which we arrived, six other English speaking families arrived, five of which fit into this grouping.

Schooling – I think the local school options are very good.  The cheder/Talmud Torah is the most classic local charedi school, but it’s more open and accepting than schools near the center (for example, the boys are allowed to play ball at recess).  Someone who moved here from the center told me that this was part of the appeal of living here; in charedi schools nearer the center, it’s become difficult to get your children accepted to schools (I’m talking about very young children, ages 3 or 4) unless you’re the ‘right’ kind of family.  We don’t have that exclusivity here. (Updated to add – the cheder as of the 2013 school year will have an acceptance committee that will determine admittance.)

There is an elementary school (Amichai) for girls and boys (separate classes) that is charedi run but more typical of an American school practically and philosophically (more details on that here).  It’s an unusual school choice to have available, and one I’m grateful for.

At the high school level, there’s what I feel is another great option, the girls high school (Neve Chava).  Like the elementary school I mentioned above, the administration is charedi and the student body is mixed.  That means that they don’t have the focus on controlling the students and every aspect of their behavior both in and out of school that are the norm in charedi high schools schools throughout the country – exploring other schools throughout the region as a possibility has brought even further home to me how lucky we are to have this school here.

Socially, we have a lot of great families living here.  I honestly like all the women that I’ve met, particularly the English speakers; Karmiel attracts nice quality people.  However, somehow all these nice people don’t coalesce into a solid block that makes it feel like a community – I moved here expecting a lot more warmth, connection, and intrinsic sense of community than I found, and though we’ve made it work for us and are happy here, my initial disappointment with this situation hasn’t been unique to me.

Someone moving here at this stage has to be emotionally be prepared for not that much support.  People will try to be helpful because they really want to be of assistance and make things easier for newcomers, but the help is by necessity limited since there are so few English speakers.

So initially someone new is likely to feel somewhat isolated, something you wouldn’t expect when hearing how few Anglos there are since you’d think everyone would band together and all be a close-knit group.  (This is what people looking into moving here tell me they’re expecting.)  To deal with this, you need to have realistic expectations (hence this post) and remember that time takes time – it takes time to make friends and find your place in a new community.  In my last community, it took me almost two years to feel I belonged there.

My goal about sharing information about Karmiel isn’t to sell anyone on living here, but to help them determine if this is a place that will meet their needs.  I want people to move to a place where they’ll be happy.  If that’s here, great.  If not, then what does the community gain by having someone move here who will feel disillusioned on arrival?

I believe that within 3 – 5 years, Karmiel will be a much more popular place to live than it is now.  Anglos are searching for a moderate religious community that is hard to find in Israel, and though it’s not perfect (is anywhere??) Karmiel has a lot going for it.  Currently, it’s at the earlier stages of being on the religious mental map as a place to consider, but the more people who learn about, the more are going to want to come.  When that happens, it’s going to be much more expensive than it is now.  (There are other reasons that it will become more popular and expensive aside from the religious community, like the planned train that will eventually connect here and the main No. Six Road that is scheduled to extend here, both of which will significantly cut travel time to the center of the country.)  If someone moves here now, they have to understand that they’re coming to a community that is in the early stages of developing – this has advantages and disadvantages; it means accepting the limitations as they are right now or being prepared to actively get involved in changing things.  And actually, that’s pretty true of anywhere that someone is going to live!

At the same time, remember that this is why the current prices are the way they are (and they’ve doubled in the last three years)- because it’s not widely recognized as being an option.  Understandably, people want a great buy and a community that is already established and has all the things they want in the way they want them, but this isn’t very realistic since those things don’t go together!

If there’s something important that I didn’t address, feel free to ask in the comment section!  I know there are a lot of specifics that I didn’t share, but I’m attempting to answer the most common questions I’m asked about.