Monthly Archives: August 2012

First day of school – what a difference!

I started writing a post about preparing for school in Israel, and how you basically are given very little information that you need until the last minute or past the last minute.  I was going to share that to let people know this is normal so they don’t get frustrated, but I decided to delete it because it sounded negative and I don’t like to be negative, so instead I’ll share about the first day of school today.

Today was such a good day!   It was so dramatically different from when everyone began school last year – at that time none of us knew any of the teachers, administrators, kids in the classes.  We didn’t know what the school rules or schedules were, what supplies we needed; all of the kids except the high school girls were signed up for school after the school year officially began.  The kids didn’t speak Hebrew and hardly understood anything going on in the classes, and were extremely limited in communicating with their classmates.

And this year?   I know the teachers and principals at each school, and they know our children and their needs.  (I spoke with two principals yesterday to make sure they understand the kids will continue to need academic support throughout this year.) The kids now understand Hebrew (varying levels of this, but in every case it’s much, much better than last year) and most of them were going into familiar school situations.  Everyone left with backpacks filled with the requisite school supplies, with the appropriate uniforms – last year it took a week to buy what we needed for dd10 since they didn’t sell anything that fit the school requirements in the city (the school sells uniforms but only had clothes left for very little girls).  They all came home positive, basically saying how big a difference it was between this year and last year.

Yesterday ds6 participated in the orientation for first graders – the parents of the first graders and the first graders were invited to the school in the late afternoon, and the principal and teacher went over school rules and what the boys will be learning while the boys did an activity together.  This was the second meeting for incoming first graders; the first was several months ago and I was very pleased they did this.  It took away the unfamiliarity of a new situation and helped the kids become familiar with their teacher, classroom, and classmates, and ds6 had a great first day of school today.  I ‘ve been vacillating about where to put him in school and questioning the decision that I had made, as well as the reasons that I made the decision I did – it’s hard to send to a school that hardly anyone in the charedi community is sending to, and sometimes I doubt myself and wonder, if my reasons are so good, why doesn’t anyone else who shares my concerns make a similar choice?  But yesterday at the orientation I had a feeling of peace that it really was the right thing to do.

Ds4 (will be five in a week and a half) had the hardest time today.  I had been anticipating that it would be pretty smooth for him to begin kindergarten, since he was entering the class that ds6 was in last year, and he accompanied me every day to pick up ds6, so he was familiar with the teacher and the building.  But a few days ago I found out that they shuffled the teachers and class locations, so he now is in a building that he’s never been in, with teachers he’s never seen before.   One positive part is that he knows a number of the boys from last year, despite the shuffling of the boys in the classes into different groupings.  Another positive aspect is that thanks to the shuffling, his class size is now 22, down from 34 last year, which was overwhelming for him.  When I took him in to the kindergarten class, I was pleased that the atmosphere was so calm, since lots of noise and stimulation is hard for him.

I stayed with him for 45 minutes, then thought it was a good time to leave since he seemed comfortable and told him I would be back later to pick him up.  As I was walking out of the courtyard, he came running out presumably to say goodbye again, then burst into tears.  The teacher told me to leave him there, that he was crying because I was there and it would be easier for him if I left him, but that’s not my belief.  I understand why it seems to work better to leave children despite their crying and screaming, but when they do quiet down, what looks like their acceptance of a new situation is often them shutting down emotionally because they feel unsafe.  Resignation and acceptance are very different emotions that look quite similar from the outside.  I was reminded of Dr. Gordon Neufeld’s statement that peer oriented children look so much better than parent oriented children, because they seem more confident and look as if they’re doing better in new situations.  Looks can be deceiving.  To the teacher, I only said that everyone knows their own child and I didn’t think it would be a good idea for ds4 to leave him there against his will.  I took him home and we’ll give him a chance to adjust to kindergarten more slowly, so that when we leave him there, he feels comfortable with it.  Pushing him to stay there before he’s ready isn’t going to be beneficial to him.

I wasn’t looking forward to school starting – it feels like the summer went by too quickly and since it was the postpartum period for me, I didn’t spend the kind of time I wanted to with the kids.  Nonetheless, the kids had a nice summer and despite my reluctance for the summer to end, I’m glad that they all had such a positive start to this year.

Avivah

Laptops in Israel – a surprisingly short lifetime

A few weeks before our planned move to Israel, our desktop computer was totally fried.  Not a hope of fixing it.

I would have felt it was a big splurge to buy a laptop when our desktop was totally fine, but in light of the state our computer was in, dh and I decided to each get laptops.  We bought refurbished models on ebay from a seller who had an excellent history.  It was great to be able to simultaneously downsize the amount of space we needed in our luggage for our computer, while doubling the computer availability.

I was very happy with  my laptop, but dh’s was showing signs of a problem.  Turns out that the small annoyances that he chose to overlook since it was such a busy time before our move that he didn’t want to bother with having to send it back, were part of a bigger problem.  So after a few months, he replaced it with a brand new model.

But as for me, my computer kept chugging along and I’ve felt that our purchase was a good one.  In the last couple of months, I’ve had a couple of computer issues, but they were easily resolved. Until the most recent one – the motherboard is warped due to the heat that this particular model puts out and this had rendered my laptop unusable.  This was nothing that the seller did wrong, and nothing that I did wrong in using it, though knowing what I know now, I would have purchased a cooling pad for it.

Interestingly,the computer repair guy told us that laptops in Israel rarely last more than 2 – 4 years.  This is because there’s so much more dust here and it gets into the inside of the computer where it causes malfunctions.  He’s fixed hundreds of laptops, and he said that in his experience, to get four years out of your laptop, he said you’d have to take it apart about once a year and have it totally cleaned out of any dust that accumulated.

So now we’re trying to decide what to do.  I definitely need a computer – in this interim period I’m grateful to be able to use dh’s, but it’s not usually available until late at night and dd17 also wants to use it then so I have a very minimal amount of time available to me right now, which is a bit frustrating.  The question is, should I replace the laptop with another laptop, or with a desktop?  I’ve gotten used to the flexibility of a laptop and would find it very hard to go back to a desktop, but the idea of spending money every year or two on a laptop and thinking of it as a disposable purchase isn’t so appealing!

What has been your experience with laptops vs. desktop computers?  What would you recommend, and why?  If you live in Israel, has your experience with the lifespan of your laptop been in line with our computer repair person’s?

Avivah

Why we made aliyah with older kids

I’ve been asked a number of times, “What made you decided to make aliyah with older kids?”

Temporary insanity. :)

But I’ll share why we did it anyway.

After visiting Israel in Feb. 2011, my then 14 yodd decided she wanted to live in Israel after she was married.  Our then dd16 had already made that decision.  They both repeatedly asked/begged us to consider moving to Israel with the entire family, and I consistently told them ‘absolutely not!’  They kept asking me why, and here were some of my concerns:

– It’s strongly discouraged to make aliyah with children over the ages of 6 – 10, depending who you ask.  There are good reasons for that (here’s a great article that spells out some of the challenges), and the statistics for success aren’t on your side.

– Dh had a decent job, we had a home, vehicle, savings – he had no interest in starting over again from scratch in his mid forties, with a family of 11 to support.  Absolutely no interest.

– When we asked our rabbi for his feedback, he said to us, “Raising children like yours is a very special achievement.  Don’t take that for granted.  You have to ask yourself if you can raise this kind of family in Israel.”  That was my biggest concern, and still is.

So what made me think seriously about making aliyah with a large family that included several teens, keeping all of these things in mind?

When I mentally projected forward about five years, I pictured my oldest three children getting married and starting their families.  As I said, two of them were very clear that they wanted to live in Israel, and I didn’t think it was likely that most of the other kids would choose to live in the city we lived in when they became old enough to make that decision.  It was sad to realize that the family togetherness that we so much enjoyed was likely to dramatically change in the foreseeable future.

There’s something very nice about having family living nearby.  We enjoy our children, and I think that generally they find us pretty tolerable parents, and I hope we will be actively able to share in each other’s lives for many years to come.  I felt that by moving to Israel, it would be much easier for our family to continue to stay in fairly close physical proximity.  Sure, some kids might get married and move out of the country, but for those that would choose to live in Israel, it’s a pretty small country so nothing is too far away.  This was a big part of our motivation.  We recognized that we had a very small window of time due to the ages and stages of the kids, and we chose to jump through that window.

However, I was very aware that the decision I was making to facilitate family cohesiveness could be the same thing that would most threaten it.  I tried to think in advance about the challenges our children would face, particularly the older ones, in order to make the transition as smooth as possible for them.  Did we do a good job of this?

Let me be honest.  It was a tough, tough year for everyone ages 9 and up.  Difficult and even traumatic.  And it wasn’t much easier for the littles who went to school, though it was a shorter duration and intensity for them.  I think we got through it pretty well, but I don’t want to give the impression that we magically glided through this year.  We didn’t.  It was conscious and constant effort on my part to be available to support each one, and I often inadequate to give everyone what they needed.

But we didn’t break.  We didn’t go into crisis.  There are a few things that I credit our relatively smooth absorption to:

a) We were a strong family unit before our move.  Even when we felt challenged, we had each other.  Even when a child wasn’t confiding in me, they had a sibling to share their feelings with.

b) Two of our three teenagers very, very much wanted to make aliyah.  When times were tough, they knew it wasn’t because we forced this move on but because they wanted it.   If they had all been lukewarm or unsure, I don’t think we would have made the move.

c) Lastly, I felt that our children had an emotional resilience that would help them get through the rough spots.

Are the kids happy that we moved here?

I’ve asked them all, and for the most part, the answer is ‘yes’.  One in particular would still prefer to live in the US, and that’s okay.  But even so, there’s a lot here that they like and they aren’t unhappy to be here.

Some of the things that most concerned me before coming was finding a community where our family would fit.  Having lived in Israel for the first eight years of our marriage, I knew how tightly defined communities were, and knew that the city we had lived in in the past wouldn’t be suitable for American teenagers.  We went back and forth about whether it would be better to live in an Anglo community where the kids could easily find like-minded friends but would be unlikely to integrate into the Israeli culture, or to move to a community where they would have a better chance of long term integration.  We went with the latter choice (and all of the kids have since said that they’re glad we did this rather than go to an Anglo community), and looked for a community where there was an Anglo presence with an open and accepting charedi community.  Karmiel fit the bill and has been a very good choice for us.

There were things I didn’t anticipate or that I figured wrong.  I thought that since there was a local girls’ high school, that there would be plenty of high school age girls for our daughters to become friends with.  I was wrong.  For dd16, almost none of the girls in her class lived in our city.  I thought the kids would learn Hebrew faster than they did; I needed to recalibrate my expectations. I didn’t know I’d have to constantly educate the educational staff about the needs of my children as new immigrants, or how little support the kids would get through the schools.  That’s why I had so many meetings with teachers and principals last year!

I knew the significant differences between the American religious community and the Israeli charedi community, and because moderation is hard to find here, where we all fit in overall charedi society long term is something I think a lot about but still don’t have any answers for.

For a family considering making aliyah with older children, my feedback would be to be very cautious and to take into serious consideration the issues your children are likely to face before making the move.  Yes, it’s possible to move with teenagers and for them to adjust to a new language, a new culture, and new friends.  And it can be a great experience.  But realize that it’s very unfair to take their smooth acclimatization for granted.  You may want to live in Israel, but you have to be fair to all of your family members and make the choice based on what will be best for everyone.

Even with all of the challenges, we’re glad we made the move.  We’re now over the difficult first year and I look forward to watching things get better for everyone.  At the same time, I’m aware that we’re all still in a stage of adjustment and the kids will continue to need monitoring and support.  Knowing what I know now, would I still have made aliyah with older kids?  Yes.

Avivah

What kind of luggage to bring when making aliyah?

The question regarding what kind of luggage to use when making aliyah is frequently asked, and since this is the week or our one year aliyah anniversary and I said I’ll be posting mostly this week about aliyah related topics, I’m going to answer it now!

We packed all of our things into Rubbermaid containers – we already had these, since this is what I used to store clothes in the attic that weren’t being used in the current season. I then packed these into larger cardboard boxes; we packed a blanket or sleeping bag around each Rubbermaid box to protect it, and it was also a great way to pack these bulky but useful items without adding much weight. (I also had the right size boxes to do this, since I liquidated my nursing pillow business when we moved and was able to use the large boxes that the pillows were shipped to me in from my manufacturer. So I didn’t spend any extra money buying either Rubbermaid boxes or cardboard packing boxes.)  One of these boxes was heavy enough on its own that we didn’t pack it inside another box, and I was anxious that it would break open or crack with the rough handling that luggage experiences in transit. We taped it well with duct tape and it was fine but not all of the containers I had were of comparable quality and I had much more peace of mind packing in the way we did.

I am so happy with how we packed! When we arrived, we didn’t have any furniture but we were able to keep things reasonably organized with the help of our plastic storage boxes. Once we got furniture, we unpacked everything, but our storage boxes still came in handy. They can be used for a variety of things; they’re sturdy, watertight, and use space efficiently. They’re also inexpensive.  These are much more expensive here than in the US, and I doubt I would have spent the money on them after arriving; I would have settled with using cardboard boxes, which aren’t nearly as efficient.  They don’t take up any extra storage space since we now use them once again in our attic for clothing storage of things not currently in use.

What about suitcases?  Suitcases are heavy and will take up a good portion of your allotted weight, so keep this in mind when you’re deciding what to do. Also, remember that Israeli homes tend to be more compact than American homes, so where will you store lots of suitcases if you choose to bring them? We knew we’d want to have a couple of suitcases once we were here for trips, and it was worth bringing them, despite the weight disadvantage.  We’ve been glad to have both suitcases we brought, but are really glad we didn’t bring more than these.

Some people like to use duffel bags, but I ended up giving away the two duffel bags that we were planning to pack in, since they were bigger than the official size, and by packing them so that the dimensions were within the limits, our things would be rattling around inside. However, they are lightweight, and if it’s something you’ll use after you move, then they can be a good option.

For our carry-on luggage, we used a combination of large backpacks – we were able to bring one of our heavy duty camping backpacks like this – and small wheeled suitcases.  This isn’t weighed but it does have to fit into the airplane’s overhead compartments, so the main criteria for this is that it fits that space.

Avivah

Why buy a home in Israel before you make aliyah?

Over a year ago, I called a Karmiel real estate agent and told her we wanted to buy an apartment from the US, without seeing it first.  She humored me, but her husband later told me that she never thought I’d follow through – she gets lots of calls from people interested in real estate, but to buy from the US is something that none of her clients had done before.  However, she soon realized that I wasn’t flaky and that my reasoning was very well-thought out, so much so that she repeatedly told me that what I was doing was so smart, that it was a shame others making aliyah didn’t do the same thing.

This past Shabbos, I hosted a family who just made aliyah and bought their apartment before arriving.  I asked her what made her do that, since it’s an unusual choice, and other than me, my mother, and a blog reader, no one making aliyah to this community has chosen to do this.  She said that she used the same real estate agent that I did (as did my mother and blog reader), and this was her recommendation!  (The agent’s company wrote an article in an Israeli paper about us buying an apartment in this way- giving way too many details about our family, apartment location and price – and announced that they were now offering the service of helping new immigrants buy from abroad.)  The mortgage broker that my mom used is now making the same recommendation. :)  I know this is something that isn’t an option for many people, but it’s actually a lot more doable if done before coming than it may seem, and so I’ll share my reasoning on this.

Real estate in Israel is expensive.  Most people aren’t in a position to buy a home in cash, and will need to take out a mortgage in order to finance the purchase of a home.  To buy your home here, you’ll need two things: a) typically, a down payment of 30% – 40%; and b) a mortgage qualification.  If you don’t have these two, then you’ll need a third thing – a friend or family member with a very high income who will co-sign, and/or give you the money for the down payment.

1) Down payment – obviously many people aren’t going to have the necessary funds for a down payment.  However, many do have a chunk of money that could go toward a down payment, but it gets used up long before they’re in a position to buy a home.  Additionally, new immigrants receive a sum of money as part of their absorption benefits that could go toward a purchase.  Since the absorption benefits are only received once a person arrives in Israel, to do this, one would have to borrow from private individuals and then repay them with these funds when they get it.  Generally, people go through their absorption benefits with little to show for it in the end, and I think this is often a missed opportunity.

To qualify for a mortgage, you need to have a documentable salary for a given period of time – this depends, but I believe they like to see two years at the same job at a certain salary level.  This understandably becomes a big obstacle for new immigrants once they arrive, because they’re no longer working at their US jobs, and it can take a long time to find work in Israel.  Once they do find work, it can take time to work up to a salary that is high enough to qualify for what they want to purchase.

We didn’t move here while continuing to work for the same company by telecommuting (in which case a family will have no problem documenting continual earnings at the same level), and we had no idea how long it would be before we were able to qualify for a mortgage.  However, by buying while my husband was still working in the US, we were able to qualify for a mortgage based on his current salary.  Unless you are unemployed in the US, then this is an advantage that you’ll also have.  Even modest US salaries tend to be higher than Israeli salaries – for example, $40 – 50,000 isn’t considered a lot in America for a family but is  a very nice salary in Israel and will be adequate to qualify you for a mortgage, combined with your down payment.

NBN will strongly advise against doing something like this, saying that it’s risky and you’re better off renting first to see where you want to live.  This isn’t bad advice, but I feel it doesn’t take into account the long term picture.  Many families end up financially unable to buy a home after taking this approach, families that could have done it if they were given a different understanding of the realities involved.  Recently, I spoke at length to a family moving back to the US a couple of years after making aliyah.  I asked why, and one thing he shared was that they were never going to be able to buy a home.  This was a family in the US who was financially comfortable, had sizable savings, had earnings in the six figure range – and yet after two years realized they’d never be in a position to buy a home here.   Their savings were gone, they hadn’t yet found work that paid more than a minimal salary, and they were right, they had no prospects for home buying in their situation (which is common to olim).  So there are some points worth seriously considering in order to make a well-balanced decision about if you should buy or rent when moving to Israel.

– When you rent a home in Israel, you’re generally doing it sight unseen before your arrival, through an agent who helps you find it before you get here.  Or you do it after arriving, staying in the luxurious (strong sarcasm :)) Absorption Center, if they have one where you live (most of these centers throughout Israel are no long in operation but we do have on here in Karmiel), and get to briefly tour it before making a year long commitment.  Either way, you won’t know much about your apartment, your neighbors, or your neighborhood until you’ve been living there a while.  After your lease is up, you can reevaluate if this is where you want to be.

There’s no difference in this case between renting or buying.  Buying a home in an area doesn’t mean you’re committed to stay there.  You have to live somewhere for the first year!  If you buy a home and then decide you’d rather live somewhere else, you can move and rent out the home you bought, while renting somewhere else.

– Regardless of if you choose to live in the home that you purchased, your money is working for you in the Israeli real estate market while you were deciding where you want to live.  While past performance is no guarantee of future results, Israeli real estate has moved upward pretty consistently.  In the year + since we bought our home, prices have steadily risen here in Karmiel, and if I had waited until now to buy (assuming that I was able to qualify for a mortgage and still had a down payment to work with, which wouldn’t be realistic but anyway), the price of an apartment like mine would in all likelihood be out of our price range now.  A delay would have meant we’d have to buy something smaller, in a less desirable neighborhood, or worse condition.

– The risk factor of buying a home unseen can be moderated by taking some precautionary measures.  Firstly, we used a real estate agent as well as a real estate lawyer to be sure everything was on the up and up.  We hired a contractor to check out the apartment and give us a detailed report of its condition before we made an offer.  This is unusual in Israel, but I felt the money spent was worth the peace of mind, and when I had power of attorney for my mother and took care of her apartment purchase, I did the same thing.

You can also have the agent send you pictures of the homes you’re interested in, or have a friend who lives in the area look at homes for you.  (My oldest daughter was studying here at the time, and visited the apartment and took pictures as well as gave us her feedback on what she saw.)  Sometimes pictures look great and the reality isn’t so rosy.  A good real estate agent is going to tell you about all of the problems with the apartment, because she’s not going to gain by you purchasing something that you end up feeling misled about.

– We used a mortgage broker to assist us with our purchase from abroad.  This also added in another level of help and security – there was someone else looking out for us with regards to the bank.  All mortgage brokers are not created equal.  We initially spoke with one person, who after hearing our financial details assured us we would be able to buy a home with 10% down.  We went about looking at homes based on this figure.  In subsequent conversations, he then told us we needed 20%, then 30%, then 30% with co-signers, then 30% with high earning co-signers who would finance 10%of the down payment.  We didn’t have co-signers and we definitely didn’t want to ask anyone to put any of their own money into our home purchase, and it looked like we weren’t going to be able to go through with our purchase.

I called a friend of ours in Israel who was a real estate investor for many years in the US before moving to Israel, where he has continued to work in real estate.  He gave me the suggestion of a different mortgage broker – interestingly, from the same office as the first! – and it was working with this broker that made all the difference.  (I later learned the first broker typically worked with young couples buying expensive homes financed by their parents -very much not our situation.)  The broker he recommended has a lot of experience with non-traditional buying situations, and enjoys the challenge of helping people navigate difficult situations.  If you’re buying from overseas, you’re already not a typical buyer and I’d highly recommend using someone with lots of experience.  Things can and will go wrong, and you need someone who understands this is the norm, and can deal with it.  The broker we used was Adam Siegel, and his number in Israel is 052-714-4056, asiegel@mortgageisrael.com.  If you contact him, let him know I recommended him.  He was experienced, hardworking, honest, kept his cool in frustrating situations, and was a pleasure to deal with.  I really don’t think we would have been able to buy a home without his help, and I’m happy to pass his information on to others so they can also be helped through this challenging process.  (In case you’re wondering, I’m not getting referral fees, and he doesn’t even know I’m writing this.)   He works with people buying all over Israel.

I’ve also been asked about what real estate agent I used.  She only works with sales properties in Karmiel, not rentals.  Her name is Tamar Sobel, and her contact information is 052-760-7416; tamar.remax@gmail.com.  In our case, Tamar took care of extra details for us that we compensated her for in addition to the regular fee.  Again, she is very honest and hardworking, and truly cares about the families she works with.  She was a huge part of the success of our apartment purchase, which everyone involved in said was objectively very challenging – everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong, and more!  Again, tell her I recommended her if you contact her.

Part of our decision to buy in advance was my desire to give my kids as much stability as we could during the transition process to living in Israel. The rental market in Karmiel was – and still is – very tight.  What landlord would choose to rent to a family of 11 when they could rent to a family of 3 or 5?  I knew that if we did find something, we still didn’t know how long we’d be able to stay there before the rent would go up or neighbors would complain or the landlord wanted to sell it.  By buying an apartment, our kids had a sense that this is our home and this is where we’ll be.  There was the intangible factor of emotional security that we were able to give them.

Americans don’t realize how important home ownership is in Israel.  Housing costs are usually your highest expense, and this will constantly rise if you’re renting.  Your mortgage will generally be lower than what you’d pay in rent, and much more stable.  That’s not to say that you can’t live here happily and rent – of course you can!  But there’s a financial stability that comes with purchasing a home that is very helpful in the short and long term, and this is why there’s so much pressure to help newly married children purchase homes.  It’s very hard to make it financially if your housing costs spiral up faster than your income.  That’s also why last summer there were the widespread tent protests, because so many Israelis are feeling like a home purchase is out of their reach.

Buying a home from abroad took time and effort, and added another of complexity to our aliyah preparations.  But to get off the plane and be able to go right into our own home was a great feeling, and it’s something we’re continually grateful that we did.  I’m not telling anyone to do what we did, but I do strongly recommend that you consider it seriously to see if you have a way to do this.  Many people have savings, an inheritance, helpful relatives, or proceeds from a home sale that will give them the necessary down payment.

Even if at first you don’t think there’s any way you can do this – when we were told we’d have to come up with 30%, my first thought was it was impossible – think creatively!  I asked Hashem for help constantly, and kept picturing us having the money we needed.  It came about through very normal and mundane channels  – no rich relatives or lottery winnings, not even absorption benefits or personal loans – and I had to put in a lot of effort and time, but it began with us knowing what we wanted and being willing to think ‘how’ instead of assuming it was impossible.

Avivah

One year aliyah anniversary!

One year ago today, we arrived in Israel!

In some ways this year has gone by so quickly, but in other ways it feels like much more than a year’s worth of living was packed into this year.  It’s been an intense year for everyone, and it wasn’t until we were here for about nine months that I was able to see how hard some things were.  At that point, I felt like I was beginning to emerge from a tunnel that I didn’t know that I was in, and there was a faint pinpoint of light at the end.  It’s been challenging but good, and getting better all the time.

Are we happy to have moved here?  Yes, absolutely.  There were things we didn’t expect to have trouble with – the horrible school situation of dd16 was one thing that I wasn’t prepared for.  But she came through it amazingly well, and thankfully her school has agreed to let her skip up a grade and for the coming year she’ll be with a good class.  So we anticipate that this year will be drastically an improvement over last year.

The kids are all progressing with their spoken Hebrew.  They’ve all made friends, and have adjusted pretty well to Israeli culture.  Some of the older kids still have a preference for America and their friends there.  But they still have a positive attitude about being here.

Dh has been working for the last six months in a different field than what he was doing in the US.  He feels grateful that moving here gave him a chance to shift to doing something much more in line with his natural strengths and abilities.  It’s challenging to start a new career and he’s learning new things every day, but he gets a lot of satisfaction in doing something well.

The apartment we purchased before moving here, sight unseen, has been wonderful!  We had no idea what a perfect neighborhood it would be for us.  We are a few minutes walk from the main charedi community, but close to the hesder yeshiva and a small Russian shul, both of which we appreciate and give us the chance to know different people than if we were in the very center of the charedi community.  it’s given us the opportunity to have wider connections that we appreciate.

I’ve done a lot of advocating for my kids within the school systems to help them have an easier adjustment, and though this took a lot of time and energy, it was very worthwhile.  The adjustments they had to make were hard, but this smoothed their paths somewhat, and removed some of the unrealistic expectations that the staff would have otherwise had of them.  I’ll have to see what my role will be of this for the coming year; I anticipate that this will continue to be important but not as intensive as it was last year.

For me, I’ve gotten to know a lot of wonderful people here.  I’ve made friends, though these relationships can’t yet compare to friendships in the US that developed over years.  But the potential is there and I accept that time takes time.  This is my attitude towards the entire aliyah process, that there’s no substitute for time, and you can’t fast forward through this process.  You go through day by day, and you do the best you can in each day.

What would I have done differently?  I wish I had had the funds to hire private tutors for the kids to accelerate their Hebrew language learning.  I depended on the tutoring they were supposed to get through the schools, which was extremely inadequate.  Though I supplemented at home, I wasn’t systematic and consistent about working with them, which was understandable because I had so many needs to juggle.  The kids did okay, but they would have benefited from more help in this area.    In another year, I think they’re going to be light years ahead of where they are right now in their comfort with the language and culture but right now, my Hebrew is still better than any of them.

My overall feeling is one of gratitude.  I very often look up into the sky or at the buildings or landscape around me, and I feel so fortunate to be living in Israel.  I love that my kids are being raised in a society with more value on being a good person than on material standards, that they can be so much more independent here, and that it’s so much safer (the last two are intrinsically connected).  Some people thought we were crazy to move here with a large family that included several teens, and there’s no question that it was a much more difficult transition than what families with small children have.  But it was worth it!

Avivah

Balancing needs of new baby with needs of other children

>>I was wondering how this nursing around the clock is affecting your other children, especially the younger ones? I am not saying to ditch the nursing and switch to the bottle, but I wonder about the cumulative effect on the family.<<

This is a very reasonable question!

When the baby was born, I stayed with him in the hospital for the first four days.  A friend called to let me to know that the hospital had apartments that could be rented for a nominal sum so that I could stay with the baby over Shabbos after I was discharged, and I told her that I planned to go home.  She wanted to know what would happen with giving him my milk, since I was pumping and he was getting it through a feeding tube, but I couldn’t get ahead enough to leave him with enough until I would be able to come back on Sunday morning.  I told her that the staff would give him formula when the milk I left him ran out, and though it wasn’t ideal, my kids at home needed me, too.  She answered, “Oh”, and I thought that she was keeping her disapproval of my choice to herself, that I wasn’t devoted enough to my newborn baby.

The next day I got an email from her.  She wrote how much she admired me for being willing to give the baby formula even though it clearly wasn’t my preference in order to be there with my other children.  She shared her regret that when she had a very medically needy child several years before, she was so focused on being there for him that she wasn’t able to give her other little children what they needed – her presence.

A week or so later, another friend called.  About a year ago, she had a baby who was born with serious health issues; we had talked about this when we last chatted around the time we made a bar mitzva, and she wanted to let me know that an article about her and her baby had just been published in Binah a few days before to flesh out our conversation.  I filled her in on our news (she hadn’t yet heard we’d had a baby), and we got to discussing exactly this point, of how to find balance between the very real needs of a sick infant and all the children at home.  She told me that looking back, she regrets one particular choice because it took too much time that could have been spent with her children at home.

But the fact is, hindsight is always 20/20.  These women are both wonderful mothers who are very devoted to their families, and although they may be hard on themselves for what they could have done differently, I’m positive they made the best choice they could at the time.  I’m making what I think are the right choices based on what I can see in front of me right now.  I feel very strongly that nursing this baby is a priority right now, for the reasons I shared in my recent post.  It’s true that I’m more limited in time and energy than I would otherwise be.  But I’m trying to be available for the other kids, too.  When I’m nursing or pumping, it’s not like I fell off the face of the planet – I’m still at home, even if I’m spending much more time in my bedroom than the living room.  The door is open and the kids come in and out all the time, to talk or hold the baby or to read with me.  (I can’t read to the littles when I’m nursing, but I do read to them when I’m pumping.)  An advantage of giving Yirmiyahu a bottle is that feeding him isn’t limited to just me.  The kids take turns giving him bottles, and all them get to do this – including our three year old.  They all vie for the chance to hold him, and I make sure that they all get to do that – I think it’s important that they feel this is ‘our baby’, not “my baby’.  So I involve them as much as they want to be involved with his care.

Also, the littles get a lot of attention from their older siblings, especially now with it being summer vacation.  Though I’d like to be able to to more with them, they do have brothers and sisters who spend time with them.  Sometimes it’s something special, like ds19 taking ds6 for a two hour bike ride.  Sometimes it’s something ordinary, like dd11 or ds10 taking them to the park a couple of buildings away.  Whatever it is, they aren’t being neglected or ignored.

Balancing the needs of a new baby with other children is a challenge that most mothers face in the early postpartum period, even if there aren’t medical complications.  Actually, this isn’t limited to postpartum.  This is an ongoing parenting issue, of balancing the needs of all of your children, and sometimes one child will really need you more than the others.  Being fair doesn’t mean giving everyone the same thing, but giving each child what he needs.  Sometimes you do have to make compromises in order to help the one who needs it most.  But the reality is that a mother’s physical and emotional energies are limited; we simply can’t be everything to everyone all of the time, and we shouldn’t even have that expectation.  We have to be careful not to beat ourselves up for what we can’t do.    Hashem gave us these children and Hashem gives us the challenges that we need to grow, and part of that is learning to accept our limitations and love ourselves the same way we love our children with their imperfections.  In any given situation, we can only do our best, and ask Hashem to give us the wisdom to make good choices and the strength to follow through.

Avivah

Double birthday dinner cookout

Our oldest son turned 19 two days after Yirmiyahu was born, so there wasn’t much of a celebration for him at home.  We wished him a ‘happy birthday’ and joked that the shalom zachor celebration was a party for him, too, since it was the evening of his birthday.  :)

Exactly a month later, dd16 had a birthday.  Again, no celebration, though it’s not uncommon for us to delay parties somewhat with the hope to surprise the birthday celebrant.  Yesterday dd17 and dd11 took her to the beach in Akko (Acre) as a girls’ day out in honor of her birthday, but it wasn’t a family get together.  But plans were in the works for both dd16 and ds19.

Dd16 was at the forefront of plans for this birthday party for her brother, not knowing that a couple of her siblings were conspiring to surprise her at the same time.  She baked him a lovely cake decorated with a gemara (Talmud).  Ds10 baked a cake for dd16 a few days ago but the freezer was full and so it stayed wrapped on a pantry shelf – it was still pretty fresh but dd17 wanted to serve something nicer.  So she tried to get dd16 out of the house while ds13 prepared a chocolate brownie cake with a vanilla pudding layer and a chocolate pudding layer.  Yum!

Preparing for campfire

What they decided to do was to have a family cookout at a local forested area that is legally zoned for campfires, so we didn’t have to get permission to have it there.  It took a good bit of preparation to gather the wood, shlep all the food there, etc, but it was worth it.  Once the campfire was going, dd16 lit the candles on the cake for ds19 and we all started singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him.  He was really surprised; at first he thought we were singing in honor of his sister’s birthday!

While he was admiring his cake and thanking everyone, dd17 was lighting the candles in the shape of a 16 on the second cake, and he had hardly finished thanking dd16 for the cake when we all started a second round of ‘Happy Birthday’, this time for dd16!  It was amazing that they were able to surprise dd16, but that’s why the cake was baked just an hour before the cookout; if they had done it further in advance she’d probably have gotten wind of it.

They both cut their cakes and served everyone a piece of each.  The other family in the campground area apparently heard us singing because a few minutes later, they brought over plates of bamba (a popular Israeli peanut corn puff snack) and popcorn.  A couple minutes later, they came with the next round, a plate of nuts and sunflower seeds and a plate of olives.  And a couple minutes after that, they brought us four containers of dips – eggplant, humous, techina, and red cabbage salad.  They were finishing their family party and hearing our party, wanted us to enjoy what they had rather than take it home – and they assured us that everything was store bought and had a badatz hechsher (kosher supervision).  Only in Israel!  It was really nice and their additions definitely added to the festive feeling.

While everyone was enjoying the cake, ds13 was grilling hot dogs and chicken wings, and checking the potatoes and onions that they had started roasting as soon as they had gotten there to set up.  We also brought a marinated kidney bean salad that dd11 prepared, so there was plenty to eat!

After we all ate, the kids built up the fire again.  As they were doing that, seven bicyclists with flashing red and blue lights headed straight for us.  Our backs were to them, so we didn’t realize until they spoke to us that they had come to check out what we were doing, and that they were policemen!  They were very pleasant and it seems they just wanted to check out what was happening.  After suggesting that we be careful and try not to set the forest on fire – we agreed that would be a good idea – we wished each other a good evening and off they rode.

After that, we sang together by the campfire.  When we’ve gone camping, one of the nicest parts is always the evening meal – building the fire, cooking the food over the grill, eating it, and then singing together.  I miss being able to go camping – without a car it’s not so simple to go to a campground.  The older kids were researching campgrounds last week because they wanted to have their own camping trip, but it was so costly and complicated because of travel that they opted not to pursue that.  Having this tonight was like having the best part of a camping trip, without having to go far from home.

Finally, what campfire would be complete without marshmallows to roast?  The little kids loved being able to do this by themselves, even ds3.  We brought along wafers and they sandwiched the roasted marshmallow between the wafers, our Israeli version of smores.

It was a wonderful evening that we all enjoyed, and it happened thanks to everyone getting involved and doing their part.  My family is growing up and I appreciate every opportunity that we have like this when all of us can be together.  I know it’s not going to stay like this forever, and I savor it while I have it.

Avivah

“If I’m going to be poor, I might as well be poor in Israel”

Our one year aliyah anniversary is coming up in a week, and I’m hoping in the next week (as time constraints allow!) to post on a variety of aliyah related issues.  If you have a question about aliyah that you’d like me to respond to, please post it in the comment section and I’ll do my best to respond.  (One caveat – please don’t ask me if you should move to Karmiel – I get a lot of emails asking about this!)

In the past, it seemed that most of those making aliyah had planned and saved for years, had a huge chunk of savings, a home that they sold for a large profit, or some kind of solid financial cushion.  Whether that was the reality or just my perception, the fact is that now things have changed.

It’s interesting to me that so many people who aren’t making it financially in the US are opting to make aliyah to get a fresh start.   With free one way tickets to Israel along with the absorption benefits, it’s understandable how this can be very appealing to those having a hard time making ends meet.  (For the last three years, there were significant additional benefits for those moving to northern Israel, which are now no longer available, and these were even more enticing.)

It’s important to be clear before making the move here that almost everything costs more in Israel than in the US.  Expenses such as utilities are proportionate to US expenses but salaries are generally much lower.  (Things like food and car ownership/gas costs are higher, tuition and private health care are lower.)  When I’ve asked people who are struggling in the US about how they plan to make it financially in Israel, they’ve told me, “If I’m going to be poor, I might as well be poor in Israel.”  There’s a mitzva to live in Israel and all things being equal, of course it’s better to be here than in chutz l’aretz.  But all things aren’t equal.

If you’re planning to be poor, seriously consider staying in the US; in my opinion, it’s much harder to be poor in Israel.  Making aliyah is a wonderful thing, but dreams come crashing hard and fast when there’s not enough money to live.   Making aliyah takes a lot of money.  There are a extensive costs in setting up a home from scratch in a new country.  It can take a very long time to find employment, and you need to be able to get through until you have an income.  And there aren’t the financial safety nets that exist in the US and make it possible for the poor to live a tolerable life (eg food stamps, housing assistance).  If you’re going to be poor, stay where you have friends and family who can emotionally support you.  Stay where you speak the language, where you have connections and you know how to navigate the culture.

Having faith everything will work out can’t be your exclusive plan – some might call this wishful thinking.    This is a tough thing to balance because you do need to take a huge leap of faith to make the move.

If you’re struggling in the US, ask yourself why you’re struggling.  Sometimes a change in location will open up new opportunities and possibilities that will help you shift your financial situation for the better.  But more often, the reasons you struggled in the US will come along with you.  Making aliyah will not make you or your spouse a motivated go-getter, provide you with education or work experience in a given field, or give you a good work ethic.  It will not improve your marriage or your communication about tough subjects like money, or make it easier to be financially responsible or live within your means.  But if you can be honest about what got you to where you were and address these underlying issues that caused the problems for you in the past, there’s every reason to think that you can have a more positive experience in Israel.

I love living in Israel, and I feel privileged on a daily basis to be here.  And I want everyone who moves here to have a positive experience!  So think about the tough questions regarding money before you come, change your ‘stinking thinking’, make a plan, and then work your plan!

Avivah

Nursing baby with Down syndrome – not easy but important

Yirmiyahu – (5 wks old)

When Yirmiyahu was born, I wasn’t able to nurse him right away – we were rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, then the nurses kept him in the nursery for hours until I finally saw him.  At that point, he was in the deep sleep that newborns go into a couple of hours after birth, and nothing could induce him to wake up.

That was before that we realized there were medical issues or Down syndrome; then he was transferred to the NICU. For the first week he was there, he was on a feeding tube.  When they told me he was strong enough to start nursing, it was very slow.  Initially he couldn’t get latched on, then once he could latch on, he couldn’t stay latched on for more than a second.  It was very challenging to teach him to latch on and I had to do it again, and again, and again (at five weeks old, he’s getting the hang of it but doesn’t latch on for more than a minute and never does it without my help, so he still needs a lot of assistance with this).

I continued pumping (he had gotten my milk from the first day via the feeding tube) and hoping that he’d get strong enough to nurse fully, but it was very discouraging.  He was such an easy baby, hardly crying at all – the exceptions were when he got a blood test and had a bris, and even then he stopped crying as soon as it was finished.  So you can imagine how hard it was when he would scream and scream as if he were in pain every time I tried to nurse him.

After three weeks, I contacted a local La Leche League leader for help.  I’ve nursed nine babies before this and never needed the assistance of a lactation consultant, but this was a different situation.  Since he was getting most of his nutritive needs via a bottle, I was concerned that he’d have a hard time transitioning to just nursing since the way a baby uses his mouth when nursing or when drinking from a bottle is so different.  I specifically asked about the SNS, supplemental nursing system.  She was eager to help until she heard that he had Down syndrome – then she told me that she didn’t have experience with that and gave me the number of a friend of hers who successfully nursed her daughter (who had DS) for two years.  But I wasn’t interested in traveling to yet another city to meet with her.

Anyway, the LLL leader met me on her way out of the city for Shabbos, and gave me the scaled down equivalent of an SNS – a feeding tube.  I told her I could work out how to use it with the help of the internet, and dh got busy rigging a makeshift SNS system for me (my husband is very good at finding creative solutions!).  When I tried to use that, I came very close to crying or screaming with frustration.  I ended up flinging it off and later put it away in the kitchen cabinet, where it’s never emerged from since.  :)

A lot of time was being taken up every day with the feeding process: I’d nurse him, pump, then give him a bottle so he’d actually be full.  It was very tiring and time consuming, so much so that it felt close to a full time job sometimes.  At one point, a good friend responded to my exhaustion and told me I wouldn’t be any less of a mother if I just gave him formula. And she’s right, I wouldn’t be.  Breastfeeding isn’t what makes you a good mother; how you parent does.

But even though it was so demanding, I felt like this was something I had to do for him.  Babies with Trisomy 21 have weak facial muscles and this is a big part of why breastfeeding can be so challenging – they often lack the oral strength for nursing (his weak muscle tone in his tongue was responsible for his episodes of apnea when he was in the NICU).  Most babies with T21 develop tongue protrusion, and this practice is encouraged by bottle feeding.  That’s not something I want to encourage.  Nursing can help prevent this from becoming an issue – an excellent article that I read by a well-known speech therapist detailed how some of the features associated with Down syndrome are part of a cascade of consequences that begins with bottle feeding.  It’s called The Oral Motor Myths of Down Syndrome.   Breastfeeding is an oral workout for a baby, since it works the facial muscles, including the tongue.  So I think of every nursing session as oral motor therapy for him.

Nutritionally Yirmiyahu needs the qualities of mother’s milk since his health was compromised when he was born, and also because it’s typical of those with T21 that they have weaker immune systems.  Studies have also shown that breastfed infants have IQs that average 5 – 10 points higher than bottle fed babies.  I’ve never thought of this as a big deal with neurotypical children, but it’s worth the short term discomfort and pressure for me in order to give Yirmiyahu this long term benefit; there’s a lot I can’t control or change about him having Down syndrome but this is something that I can do.

I had pressure from his doctors to stop nursing him and give him formula.  This was because his weight didn’t go up for the first few days after he came home from the hospital.  I wasn’t worried, since I saw he had plenty of wet and dirty diapers, but they were concerned.  But the numbers on the scale were more important than my opinion in this case.  It would have been so, so easy to quit. It’s challenging to be working so hard at something and then to be told that your baby is better off without your efforts.

Yirmiyahu (5 wks)

I’m not yet at the stage of fully nursing; I’m still pumping for about fifty percent of feedings.  When I nurse him, it takes a long, long time, and often he’s still hungry forty five minutes later; in those cases, we give him a bottle afterward.  But we’re getting there and I’m confident that we’ll make the transition to full nursing.  Most mothers with babies who have T21 don’t nurse them, because the experience can be so daunting.  I totally understand them!  The main thing that helped me was remembering why I felt this was important, keeping my eye on my goal.  And the other aspect of this was not giving up.   Sometimes you have to keep on keeping on when you have tough situations to get through, and this is no exception.  Persistence, persistence, persistence!

Avivah