Monthly Archives: November 2012

Recognizing Glass Children

I was speaking with a friend tonight and shared with her a term and concept I had recently learned about, and it reminded me that I wanted to share it with you.

The concept was that of glass children, and I became aware of this by watching a TED presentation called Recognizing Glass Children: What it means to be the sibling of a special needs child. Though special needs children are referenced, I believe that the concept has wider applications than just to the special needs world.

First of all, what are glass children?  No, it’s not children who are fragile and breakable.  They are actually appear strong (note that I said they appear strong, not that they are strong).  Glass children are children who are growing up in a home with a sibling who takes up a disproportionate amount of parental energy.  This can be a child with an obvious physical or emotional disability, it can be a child with an addiction,  a serious illness, or significant behavioral issues.

The siblings of this child are called glass children because their overwhelmed parents look at them and rather than see their needs…. look right through them.

You might be thinking that there aren’t that many glass children out there, but as I watched this presentation, I thought to myself how many families I can think of who would qualify.

The purpose of the presentation was to raise awareness of the needs of the glass children, and give some tips to parents and those in the community about how to help them.  Glass children see the difficulties their parents are experiencing with their sibling, and their role is to be good and not make more problems.  So they are.  But this role comes at a heavy price, as they grow up having to cope with their needs themselves, feeling pushed aside in favor of their needy sibling.

As a parent in this situation, it can be very overwhelming to be told that your child who looks like they’re coping well – “Thank goodness so and so is doing well” – really needs help.  After all, it’s because they’re maxxed out in the first place that they aren’t available for that child.  So  what can you ask of them?  What these parents can do is recognize the reality that their child needs support, and if they can’t provide, find others who can – friends, professionals, family members.  Don’t look at their competent facade and assume everything is okay – it’s not.

We all think that our lives are busy, but there are families who are living close to crisis all the time.  You may feel busy, but they are constantly living on the edge of their abilities.  Look around at families who are struggling with high need children.  Can you invite the glass children for play dates, on trips with you, spend time with them?  Everyone is caught up with the needs of their sibling, but they need to be recognized, too.  This doesn’t have to be something you do all the time.  Every small action can make a big difference in the life of a glass child.


Visit with pediatric hematologist

On Sunday, I took Yirmiyahu to the eye doctor for an exam and was happy to hear that his eyes look great!  I don’t have to go back for another year.

Then this morning I took Yirmiyahu to the pediatric hematologist for a follow-up visit.

A number of people have asked me why he needs to go to a hematologist (a hematologist is a blood doctor).  The reason is that when he was born, he had an extremely high leukocyte count – 95,000.   About 10% of babies with Trisomy 21 are born with this condition,  known as transient leukemia.  The hematologist told me, after we got the results of the genetic testing, that there had never been a question in his mind that Yirmiyahu had T21 due to his elevated leukocytes – he said it’s a medical phenomenon seen only in the Down syndrome population.     Yirmiyahu received very strong antibiotics to counter this within a short time of being born, and we were very happy to see his leukocyte count go down to the normal range of 20,000 within a few days.

However, children who have transient leukemia are at a much higher risk for developing regular leukemia.  As a result, we are in regular contact with a pediatric hematologist to be sure that his blood work continues to be okay.  The purpose of this is that if, G-d forbid, there were signs of a problem developing, it would be caught at the very beginning.  When leukemia is treated in the beginning stages, the prognosis is excellent.

Today’s appointment was super fast – now that I have the rhythm down of what paperwork to get when, it goes much faster than the first visit.  Basically we just do blood work, wait ten minutes for the results, and show it to the doctor.  But with all the traveling and waiting for buses, it’s a six hour round trip journey.   But the important thing is that everything is okay.  We can now extend the time between visits to 3 months, and he was able to schedule my next visit to coincide with the day I have another appointment at the same hospital, which is really nice!

I feel like I’m finally at the end of all the initial testing and medical follow-up we instructed to do – but in January, we start the follow-up cycle, since for a number of tests we were told to come back after six months!


Recognizing my limited thinking about where I live

This morning I was planning to take the 6 am bus to Jerusalem to spend time with a friend visiting from the States, but I was very under the weather so instead I spent the morning in bed.

Though I felt extremely sick and horrible, this was a good opportunity for me to have some time to reflect.  In particular, I thought about the responses to my post yesterday as well as two private emails from blog readers, which all touched on a couple of issues that have occupied a lot of mental space for me since moving to Israel.  These came together to become a powerful opportunity to recognize that I’ve been getting caught up in limited thinking that isn’t serving me, and that I need to be more honest about what would better serve me.

Sometimes we know what we want, but we’re afraid to be honest even with ourselves about what we want, because it seems too big or intimidating or out of reach.  So we tell ourselves that what we have is what we want.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very important to look for the good in every situation that is sent to us.  But sometimes we’re sent opportunities to expand ourselves that don’t immediately present themselves as such, and we miss our chance for personal expansion when we decide this is just how it’s meant to be.

Am I being too oblique?  Right now where I’m going with this is regarding the limitations of the community in which we live.  I currently live in a wonderful community that has many beautiful things about it; I’ve written about the many advantages there are to living here.  I recognize that we aren’t an ideal fit with the charedi community because of a couple of key differences in the positions we take, but I’ve found a way to massage our family into the community here.

I like the people here, and I think they for the most part like me.  There are lots of nice things about Karmiel – we have unusually moderate local school choices for all of the kids, boys and girls all the way through high school.   It’s beautiful and green and affordable.  We have lots of parks and a great bus system.  I love my home.  So it seems perfect for us.

And yet…is this really the best place for us?  To live here for me means making a conscious choice to live on the fringe of the religious community, to make choices that are different from those around me in order to stay true to what I believe in.  Though there are individuals who have similar views to us, they have all chosen to merge into the standard charedi community.  So I have to choose between living in a way that isn’t authentic for me, or to walk my own path.  If that’s how it is, I have to accept it and make the best of it, right?  Of course.

Or maybe not.  Maybe I can admit to myself that there are tens of thousands of people like me in this country – and there are – but they simply don’t live where I live.  Maybe I can admit to myself that I’m disappointed to find myself in a social situation that isn’t what I anticipated.  And I have been honest about this to myself and in private conversations (though I’ve only slightly referenced it here on the blog).  But I’ve focused on finding the good about the situation rather than consider the implications of the current limitations -I’ve been unwilling to consider that a move to somewhere else might better serve my family.

What keeps me from doing that?  Fear.  Fear of change, of having to start over again.  Fear of leaving the familiar.  Fear that there isn’t somewhere better, or more honestly, fear that if there is a better place where our family would find a sense of community, we wouldn’t be able to afford living there.  It’s painful to see what you want and feel like it’s out of reach.

So this morning I confronted myself  honestly- which is why I can tell you all of the above, because this is what I was thinking about –  and recognized that I’ve allowed myself to see the current situation as the best we’re going to find.  And I told myself, “Avivah, you have to believe that you deserve more and that it’s possible for you to be in a framework that supports you and your family.  Not just finagle a way to fit yourself in, but a place where you can truly be appreciated and have like-minded peers for you and your children.”

This is a scary thing to say even to myself, but particularly to put out in the public domain, because I don’t want to look foolish or unrealistic by putting forth a desire that I’m not able to actively do something about.  But this process is about recognizing that fears aren’t real, that we give them power by believing the limitations in our minds are true reflections of reality.  Recognizing fears is the first step in letting go of them and claiming a better future.

So now it’s out there – I believe there is a better place for my family than where I currently am.  I don’t know what that means practically speaking right now, but it’s okay, Hashem does.  In the meantime, I’m going to continue to actively appreciate the wonderful things about where I am.


Searching for high school for ds13

Exactly two weeks ago, dh and I met with ds13’s teacher for our PTA conference.  Last year dh attended these alone and I dealt with all of the other kids’ teachers, but I felt that this year I wanted to be more involved regarding ds.

His teacher is a wonderful man, very learned in Torah and a very experienced teacher.  And he has a very positive opinion of ds.  I’m very appreciative that ds has been able to have such a special teacher.

He told us, ds is a great student, picks material up quickly, gets along with other students very well, respectful, good character, etc.  There wouldn’t seem to be much left to talk about, but dh and I agreed that we wanted to get his feedback on high school options for ds. As soon as we asked, he emphatically told us that ds should go to a regular yeshiva, not an American yeshiva.  We asked what he meant by that, and he told us that ds has integrated well and would be able to do well at any typical Israeli charedi yeshiva ketana (high school but with no secular subjects).

We then reassured him we had no intention to send ds to an American yeshiva.  After all, I continued, we moved to the north of Israel because of our desire for our children to acclimate to life in Israel rather than raise them in an Anglo bubble neighborhood.  He was glad to hear me say this… until I continued, “We don’t want an American yeshiva – we want a yeshiva in which he’ll get a bagrut (Israeli matriculation certificate).”

Although it was clear that this wasn’t something he was happy to hear, I appreciate that we were able to speak openly with him.  I prefer being direct and open in my communication, and know that many teachers would make negative judgments about our religious commitment for saying something like this.  Afterward I only half jokingly told dh, when the teacher tells the school administration about this conversation, they’ll feel justified in having denied admission to our younger kids.

The teacher warned us against doing this – he said if we want to sent to a school like Maarava, we’re going to pay a price for that decision.  I asked him what the price was, and he said religiously we’ll pay the price, that the kids attending there won’t be a positive influence. I asked him what the price would be if ds attended a typical charedi yeshiva for high school, and he told me there was no price, that there were only positives.  And he’s right, when your child is a good fit for the framework you choose for them, the negatives of that choice aren’t a negative for you so you don’t pay any price.  In our discussion, he  strongly advocated for this framework.  His statement shows his integrity, that his choices are fully in line with his values. But for us and for ds, there would be a downside since our emphasis and goals in education are somewhat different.

Now, though the teacher didn’t know this when he made his statement, Maarava happens to be just the school we have in mind.  (For those who are wondering if we’re pushing our agenda on ds, he himself doesn’t want a typical charedi yeshiva.)  There are only a small number of charedi high schools that teach secular subjects in Israel, and this is considered the best of them.  It’s difficult to get into, and is known to be selective, accepting only about 35 of the two hundred applicants annually.  It has a very good reputation.  We would view him getting accepted there as a definite accomplishment – we don’t have ‘pull’ to get him in, so it would have to be on his own merits.   (However, it’s very expensive – the price I was told was something like 32,000 + shekels yearly, and a few hundred shekels monthly for him to come home for Shabbos – and no scholarships are available.  No, I have no idea how we could afford it and this would be one of two reasons that he wouldn’t attend if he gets accepted.  Actually, because of this we’re not sure it’s even worth our while to have him interview there, except I think it would be a confidence booster for him to know that he was accepted.)

But in the Israeli charedi world, this isn’t looked at positively.  This is an example of the divide between how Anglos and Israelis in the charedi world think – Anglos think this is a great school, Israelis think it’s ‘less than’.  An Israeli charedi friend has warned me against sending him, just as the teacher has, and I understand where they’re coming from.  I realize that by sending ds to a school like this we’re setting him up to be seen as second rate in the charedi world, and maybe that’s not fair of us to do to a him, particularly since he really could be a ‘top’ boy in Israeli terms.  (Please understand I’m not judging anyone as better or worse, just trying to explain how things are viewed.)

But we’re trying to go beyond our egos and find a framework that he wants to be in, that he will feel supported in. The typical yeshiva ketana schedule of only Torah study from the morning until late at night, with just a two hour break in the middle of the day, would be really hard for him.  Not because he couldn’t handle it academically – he could.  But there’s no sports, no outside activities, and his friends have told him that they spend their free time sleeping since the schedule is so grueling.  While this is a good choice for some boys and they’ll thrive there, ds is very clear that he doesn’t want this.

We thought we had a few more months until the application process begins, but just learned yesterday that the applications for next year are due in the next two weeks.  I don’t know if this includes arranging for his entrance interviews or if that is a later step in the application process.  We were told to start applying to Maarava now, but I don’t yet know if this is true of other similar schools; I’ll have to find out this week.

Fortunately, I’ve been looking into high school choices for over a year (remember, we skipped ds into eighth grade when we moved, and didn’t decide to leave him in that class for a second year until around December) so at least I feel I know what’s out there and I don’t have to rush to evaluate the different schools.  But we don’t have a lot of options.  There are about five or six schools in the entire country that fit what we’re looking for, Maarava being considered the best.  Unfortunately, all of them would mean that ds would have to dorm.  I really don’t want to send ds away for high school, even if almost everyone in the country considers this normal and even positive.  I consider it highly problematic.

There’s one new option, a yeshiva high school that will be opening this coming year in Karmiel just a few minutes from our home.  It’s the same kind of school as the others we’re considering, charedi but with a bagrut offered.  If he were to attend this school, ds would be be able to  live at home, which is a HUGE value to us.  I’m not majorly concerned if the academics are as high a level at Maarava, since I have confidence in one’s ability to supplement.  However, it’s almost impossible to know what kind of students will be attending since it’s a new school.  We and ds want for him to have a peer group of like-minded friends, and we can’t be assured of that upfront.  Ds isn’t interested in considering this, but dh and I are keeping our eyes open to it as a possibility.

Ds has an answer for all of this: in all seriousness, he told us that he wants to go back to America for high school, and already has a family who is willing to host him for the year.  We said no.


Visiting mother after surgery

A few hours after our bas mitzva was over, I commented to dd16 that it’s nice to have it over and done with.  She responded, “Yes, but there’s so much to do that it doesn’t even make a difference (in terms of feeling less busy)!”

This is so true!  In addition to my regular schedule this past week, I had three PTA meetings on Monday.  Directly from there, I traveled to Haifa to spend the night at the hospital with my mother, who had hip replacement surgery that evening.  My mom made aliyah six months ago, and doesn’t yet speak much Hebrew – it’s hard enough having major surgery without the added challenge of not being able to verbally communicate your needs to the staff.  It’s well-known that patients with someone to advocate for them get better care, and that’s what I was there for – to make sure she had her needs met.  I went back again on Thursday to spend the night, and stayed until early Friday afternoon; I got home about an hour before Shabbos.

This coming week I have appointments scheduled for every day, not including visiting my mother, who is supposed to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility in the next couple of days.  I’d love to visit every day – I know how much it means to her for me to be there – but being that the travel time is over two hours in each direction, two or three times a week is really the most I can manage.  I stayed overnight because in this way I could be there to help her during the night, and this time of day is the easiest for me since during the kids’ waking hours I’m pretty committed time-wise and this way my absence is the least noticed.  A bonus is that by staying overnight, I was able to spend many more hours with her than I could have if my visits were in the daytime, and to be there four days instead of just two.

There’s a Torah obligation to honor one’s parents, and I wish I was a better example of this to my children.  I’m fortunate that my mom is appreciative with whatever I can manage, and understands how full my life is, so she doesn’t pressure me in any way – she didn’t even ask me to be with her at the hospital at all because she knows what my life is like.  But I’ve sometimes felt badly that the reality of having a large family means that I’m not able to be as available for my mother as I would like.

Being able to be at the hospital with her was in large part thanks to the support of my family, since I missed dinner, bedtime, the early morning getting everyone ready for school, and on Friday, didn’t do anything at all towards Shabbos preparations.  So obviously other people had to step up to take care of that.  Also, since I’m sleeping sitting upright in a chair for about 4 hours a night when I’m at the hospital, waking up several times during that period, I need to get some additional rest in when I get home and they’ve been understanding about this, too.

This week is a much busier week than last week (last week was a ‘quiet’ week for me, with appointments only two days a week, not including the bas mitzva and three PTA meetings).   But I’m still hopeful that I can make it to Haifa to visit my mother on some evenings.


Factors for successful bas mitzva party

This evening I went to PTA conferences for three of the kids, and teacher after teacher was coming up to me to congratulate me on the bas mitzva. They said that it was the talk of the teacher’s room!  Two teachers and later a mother of one of dd’s classmates told me that the girls who attended were all talking about it as well, and unanimously agreed it was the best bas mitzva any of them have ever attended!

This was really nice to hear – dd12 is one of the youngest of her class, so there have been plenty of other bas mitzvas that the girls have been to.  We didn’t set out to make a party that would ‘wow’ anyone – not at all.  That’s not our style.  Our focus was that it would be meaningful and enjoyable for our family and dd’s friends, and I’m grateful we were able to achieve that.

I don’t feel I can take credit for how well it went because you can plan and do your best, but what happens really isn’t in your control.  However, I think there were some things we did that might be helpful for others, so I’ll share what I think were the factors that contributed to it being a success, as well as things we put effort into that didn’t really make a difference.

Firstly, the food.  We could have made a much simpler spread, eliminated all of the salads, put out only crackers and dips, and later three or four cakes and cookies and it would have been fine.  I’m not sorry we did what we did, because the adults who came appreciated it!  It definitely added visual appeal to have a full table of salads, but as far as the girls, the snack foods were what had the most interest.

Speeches – three of the four speeches were given by family members (me, dd17, dd16), and except for me, none of the speeches was more than a few minutes. (Dh wasn’t timing but when I asked, said I might have spoken for as long as ten minutes.)  Everyone focused on dd12 rather than abstract ideas, and I think that the personal and sincere sharing was appreciated – I saw dd’s teacher had tears in her eyes when one of the talks were over and she told me today how moving it was.   Long speeches are hard for young girls to sit through, and they seemed to be listening and paying attention to everyone who spoke.

Decor – we rented a youth center for the event, because having enough space for dancing was a critical factor in choosing a venue.  Though the colorful walls weren’t elegant and would have probably detracted from a more formal event, both teachers attending told me they felt it  added to the evening and made the girls feel like it was really an event geared towards them.

And the most important factor – dancing and music.  I felt having something for dd12 to do with her classmates in which she could participate equally with them without the pressure to speak in a language she doesn’t yet feel comfortable in would be very important in making the evening enjoyable for her.  Getting everyone involved in simple but fun dances was a great way for everyone to enjoy herself and was a bonding experience for them all.  The teacher led the dances and the girls were able to learn the moves as they went along, so everyone felt comfortable joining in, regardless of if they knew the steps previously or not.  The teacher told me the next day that the girls were commented on how nice it was to have dd participating fully with them – they were able to see a side of her that they don’t get to see in school.

As far as the music, we had very upbeat music with a nice beat for dancing, and the right kind of music keeps everyone going longer than they would with something less fun.  I’ve been to a couple of events when the music wasn’t loud enough to enhance the atmosphere; this was a large room with a high ceiling and I wanted the sound to fill it so we got speakers to amplify the music.  We also had a microphone, and though this wasn’t necessary, there’s something about a microphone that brings out something in people!  Towards the end of the evening, every girl took a turn (with the microphone), giving dd12 a birthday blessing.

None of these factors were expensive.  I don’t know how much the food cost since I didn’t keep track of the grocery receipts – the extra food costs were all absorbed by our regular monthly food budget; we prepared everything from scratch so that kept costs down.  I also didn’t track how much we spent on paper goods and drinks – I’ll estimate 150 shekels but that’s a high estimate.  The hall rental was 200 shekels.  We borrowed speakers, a microphone and music cds.  We planned to pay someone to lead the dancing, but the person who I asked (who ended up being sick and not being able to come) doesn’t do it in an official capacity and told me she didn’t want to accept money for it.

So that’s really it – we probably spent less than any of her classmates on their bas mitzvas, though it didn’t look cheap or skimpy.  As I’ve said before, spending more money doesn’t make for a better outcome in whatever the given area is, and was definitely true in this case!


Bas mitzva was great!

It’s not only because I’ve been so busy that I pushed off the bas mitzva celebration for my dd12 for over a month.  It’s also because thinking about planning it was stressing me.

You’d think that since I’ve made so many family events – bar mitzvas, bas mitzvas, brissim, shalom zachors, kiddushes, siyums – that making this bas mitzva really wouldn’t be a big deal for me.  In fact, dd12’s teacher said to me tonight that she can tell that I’ve done this before since it looks so easy for me.  It’s not that physically preparing is a big deal for me.  The shopping, baking, cooking, and set up definitely took a good bit of time and energy.  But that doesn’t really phase me.

What was bothering me was the idea of having to entertain a large group of Israeli girls.  We were inviting her entire class (34 girls), many of whom dd doesn’t have much of a relationship with, particularly since she doesn’t yet speak Hebrew.  It’s a different culture and I felt very pressured because I didn’t want to emcee an event like this in Hebrew.  What finally helped me reduce my low grade anxiety about this was my decision a few days ago to call in some outside support – a woman who would bring the music and lead the dancing.  This was a huge concern off of my shoulders, since the dances are different here from the US and the girls at this age need someone to actively demonstrate what to do in order to follow the moves.

It was a very busy day, made busier by needing to clean the entire facility that we were renting before using it.  It was a good price, but that wasn’t something I was expecting, and it set me back on schedule by a couple of hours.  So after setting up the tables with the kids, I went back home to get dressed and put together my talk.  No, this really wasn’t part of my plan – I wanted to have everything set up two hours in advance because as I’ve mentioned before, I try to avoid last minute pressures that lead to tension.  While I was at home, I finished prepping the last salad, then tried to reach the woman who was supposed to lead the dancing to make sure she was still on for the evening (our phone line was down since Thursday night so she wouldn’t have been able to get through to me), but her line was busy.  Finally I called a friend to ask her to bring a music cd just in case the first woman was delayed.

I managed to get dressed and spend a whopping three minutes thinking about what I wanted to say before I needed to leave, and got back just in time to welcome the first guests who arrived a few minutes early.  That was when dh told me the dance leader had called him and said she was sick and wouldn’t be coming.  But not to worry, she had asked dd’s teacher to fill in.  Remember, having this woman here was a big factor in me feeling like I wasn’t responsible for the entire evening, and now I had no music, no one to lead the dancing (which was a big part of the scheduled evening) – but obviously that’s how it was meant to be because that’s how it was, so there was no point in getting frustrated.

We decided against a full sit-down meal, and instead had a salad course and a desert course.  The salad course included: tomato olive salad, Moroccan carrot salad, cucumber salad, tabouli, German pasta salad, leafy pomegranate salad and hummous.  We also put out crackers and pretzels, as well as a drink table.  (Those are dried rose petals sprinkled on the table between the serving bowls in the picture below.)

We weren’t able to put together the slide show we wanted to do, but instead dd18 put together a photo montage of dd12 that was displayed for people to look at when they came in.

Photo montage of dd12

This was really nice, since as her classmates began to arrive, they felt a bit uncomfortable.  I suggested they sign the journal with a message for dd, and then they enjoyed looking at the photo montage.  A short time after this (though when you’re waiting for something and not knowing when/if you’re going to get it, it doesn’t seem like a short time!), someone arrived with the music cd that had been sent by the woman who wasn’t able to make it due to sickness.  Music really adds to the ambience, and we had borrowed speakers so we were good on that front.

We made the decision to limit the adults we invited, in order to keep the focus on dd and her friends.  For this reason, we also limited the age of girls attending to 9 and up, though dd is beloved by a number of younger girls in the school and they would have been happy to have come!  We invited about ten women, and six came.

After encouraging everyone to get something to eat, I spoke about the security situation we’re facing in our country and began with having everyone say a chapter of Psalms out loud together after me.  Then I talked about the spiritual inspiration people can feel at times when they feel their lives are threatened – for example, 9-11 was a country-wide wake up for Americans – but that inspiration doesn’t last long unless it’s acted upon.  I tied it into the inspiration of the High Holy days, that are behind us, and the upcoming holiday of Chanuka – the festival of lights.

I shared the quote “The candle of G-d is the soul of man”, and explained that the way we light candles within our souls is by taking action to become better people, to actualize the inspiration we’ve felt.  This is is a particularly important message for a girl becoming bat mitzva – because what we’re celebrating is that a young girl is now spiritually an adult and able to serve G-d with the corresponding increased awareness and responsibility.  I then shared about how dd had risen to the challenge of making aliyah at an age and stage when this is a very difficult thing to do, and the positive character traits that this showed.  Since I spoke in Hebrew, dd16 translated the key points for dd12 to be sure she followed everything.

After I spoke, dd16 spoke about dd12 (also in Hebrew).  Although afterward she was felt that she had forgotten to say many of the things she wanted to say, it was heartfelt and very nice – she spoke about how special dd is and how much she appreciates being her sister, and repeated some of her points in English for dd.

My husband and the boys (except for ds19) were there until this point.  In the middle of my talk, the teacher walked in, and we were able to begin the dancing right after dd16 finished speaking.  This was so, so nice – exactly what I had hoped for.  I really wanted something fun and enjoyable for the girls to do together, something that dd12 could do with them without needing to speak.  I wanted it to be an enjoyable evening for everyone, not just sitting around, eating, and then going home (not to imply there’s anything wrong with that – it’s just that it wasn’t right for dd).

They danced for a long time and then we brought out the desserts.  Dd16 was totally responsible for all of this: three different kinds of jelly roll (white with lemon filling and frosting, white with chocolate filling and frosting, and chocolate with chocolate filling and frosting), chocolate layer cake, Boston cream pie, nut bars, peanut butter diamonds, oatmeal bars, and layered jello and cream.   We also put out snack crackers.

While everyone sat down and had some dessert, dd12’s Hebrew tutor spoke. This is the person outside of our family who has spent the most time with dd and is able to see who she is (this is very different depending on if she’s with English speakers or not).   She started off by saying something like this: ‘Girls, if you don’t speak English you don’t know what you’re missing, because you can’t really know who (dd) is and that’s a big loss for you!  (Insert nice comments about how wonderful dd is here.)  So you have a choice, to learn English or to teach her Hebrew!’  She went on to share some lovely ideas that she tied into dd12’s positive character traits.

After this, dd17 spoke.  She hadn’t been sure she would speak until I called her up to the front, and decided to speak in English.  As a preface to this, I told the girls, “For the next few minutes you’re going to get to see what it’s like for dd12 – except this is what she goes through hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and month after month.  You can get a tiny sense of what it’s like to have to sit and listen to someone and have no idea what they’re saying.”  Then dd spoke, beginning with one of her first memories of dd12 and continuing by telling dd12 how special she is and how happy she is to have her as a sister.  (In case you’re wondering who was listening to her if dd’s classmates speak Hebrew, there were the adult women, the teachers, and about ten of the girls there come from English speaking homes.  As far as the Hebrew speaking classmates, they learn English in school, so there was some level of comprehension – though for some very minimal – of what was being said.  And most importantly was dd, since dd17 wanted her to fully understand what was being said about her.)

After this, we put on the dance music again.  Although the teacher leading the dancing had left, the girls were much more comfortable and they danced, and danced.  As someone said to me, these girls just don’t want to leave!  I was so glad that everyone was having such a nice time!

Family photo minus ds19

The party ended up lasting for 3.5 hours, instead of the projected 1.5 – 2.  We all had a really nice time, especially dd12.  This is the third bas mitzva that I’m sharing about here on my blog, and I am so happy and grateful that it went so well!


Emergency preparation information for those in Israel

Over 650 rockets having been shot at Israel since Wednesday – this number has been rising quickly so this is likely to be higher by the time you read this.  Residents in the Jerusalem area had an air missile warning sounded on Friday night (my ds19 called me tonight to tell me about this since he’s there), and this took many people by surprise since the center of the country wasn’t considered in target range.  Now that things are spreading from the south to the center of the country (this includes Tel Aviv and the suburbs), a lot more people need to know how to prepare for the current bombings so I thought it would be helpful to share some information on resources to learn about what’s going on, as well as how to react in the event that you hear a missile warning.

Firstly, for English speaking radio and television broadcasts, visit  This is good for people like me who have been too busy to pay much attention to the news, so you can get a quick sense of what’s going on.

Here’s a very short video showing you what to do to protect yourself during missile attacks:

Here are detailed written  instructions on what to do in case of rocket fire; this is more informational than the short video clip above.  There are different instructions for those who have Mamads/Residential secured space, and those (like me) who live in a home that was built before this feature became standard.   Depending in what part of the country you live, you have up to one minute at the very most to get to a secure shelter, so you must know what to do before you hear the siren.  Practice this before you need it so you will know what to do – in a moment of crisis is a lousy time to try to figure out what to do.

There are detailed instructions for a variety of situations as well as different aspects of emergency preparation on the Home Front Command website.  This site is in Hebrew; here is the English site.

Here is information about preparing a family plan.  I think this is really valuable information because as parents, we want to do what we can to minimize trauma and help kids be prepared in as positive a way as possible for a difficult situation.

Below are radio stations to tune in to hear what’s happening:

  • AM band ofn 954 kHz in the center and south, 1575 in the north
  • FM band – Jerusalem – 101.3 and 88.2; Tel Aviv – 101.2; Beer Sheva – 107.3; Haifa – 93.7; Upper Galilee – 94.4
  • English news can be heard on 88.2 FM in Jerusalem and some parts of central Israel.

The following organizations provide emotional support for those in need. Both have websites in English that can be helpful for you to know about with contact info and emergency numbers.

a) NATAL has been working to provide emotional support to those suffering from trauma and anxiety, their toll free 24/7 hotline is 1-800-363-363;·

b)Israel Center for Psycho Trauma

Please say a prayer or a chapter of Psalms (20, 83, 121, 130, and 142 are particularly appropriate in this situation) for the protection of our people, including those defending our country at this difficult time.

Let’s hope that the need for this information will be very short-lived!


Southern Israel under relentless rocket siege

My kids (ages 6 and up) all came home yesterday talking about the latest news – Israel is at war.

Southern Israel has been under rocket attack for months from terrorists located within Israel, and the government of Israel has finally moved definitively to protect its citizens.  Can you imagine what it’s like to live under constant fear, regularly hearing missile warning sirens, racing to bomb shelters, not knowing if it’s safe to walk to the local park or store?  That’s been the reality of Israelis in the south for a long time now, with all of the attendant stresses and trauma.

As of a couple of days ago, the terrorists have stepped up their attacks and over 200 missiles have fallen in the area in just two days.  Remember that Israel is a tiny country the size of the state of New Jersey.  This is a very concentrated attack on a small area, affecting a million people.    People are fleeing the south and homes across the country are being opened up to host them.

Here is a statement from the Prime Minister of Israel explaining very briefly about the launch of Operation Pillar of Defense.

Please keep the many families being affected by this in your thoughts and prayers.


Why do American black hat families choose to join the charedi community in Israel?

>>Avivah, perhaps you can explain something that I am always curious about. When American yeshivish families make Aliyah, they tend to try to join the Chareidi community. But, it seems from my point of view that American chareidi is actually much more similar to chardal, or what is called “dati torani” (basically the same as chardal but men wear knitted kipot and women wear kercheifs). These communities (chardal and dati torani) are makpid on mehudar hechsherim, on seperation of girls and boys, tznius, etc. Many boys in these communities go on to learn in a kollel, but children are given the educational choices to either continue learning or go on for a higher secular education. In addition, they tend to be more open and accepting of behaviors that are halachically in the norm while out of the chareidi norm (e.g., colored shirts for boys, sneakers for women, sports for boys, etc). Is this not more similar to the American yeshivish than the chareidi society?<<

Your description of the chardal and Torani communities is very accurate, and I agree that it seems many families who aren’t aligned philosophically with the charedi community are nonetheless choosing to affiliate as such.  I’ve thought a lot about this issue: why are families choosing a path that doesn’t match up with who they are and what they want in the long term?  And similarly, why are they not choosing to be part of communities that would seem to be a better match?

There are a few core issues that I see, and I’m going to risk seeming simplistic by sharing them here.

– People will choose a community not only by looking at how they match those in the community from the outside, but based on where their friends are affiliating.  So you have a perpetual cycle of Anglos joining the charedi community because their friends are in the charedi community, and then their friends who move to Israel look at them and think that that’s where they should also affiliate.  This ties in to the next point.

– There’s a tendency to think that those who look the most religious are the highest quality people.  It’s natural if you’re a person who sincerely values growth to want to affiliate with those who seem like they’re on a higher spiritual level.  And the people I see making aliyah very much want to grow spiritually.  This goes both ways – people will avoid options that look like religious compromises or something that isn’t up to their current standards.  When I asked my kids for feedback on this issue, one said, “Everyone who looks like us is charedi, and if we affiliated as Torani, everyone would look down on us and think our family went off the derech (became religiously wayward).”  This is very true – there is a lot of judgment based on externals, and as unfair and inaccurate as these judgments often are, that’s how it is.

– The torani/chardal communities are relatively small and therefore harder to find, so you have to be looking for them to find them.  The chardal communities seem to be mostly in Anglo areas.  Most yeshivish Americans know very little about the Torani community, if they even know that they exist at all.  (I’ve asked people their thoughts on the Torani community, and every single person has given me a blank look and said, “What/who is that?”)

– The schools in the relaxed black hat and yeshivish communities in the US feed into seminaries/yeshivas in Israel that are charedi; they have the same rabbis that they look to for guidance.  This tracking is very significant.

– The position regarding the State of Israel in the Torani community is politically different than those in the charedi community and this makes some people uncomfortable. (Edited to clarify: by this I’m specifically referring to the position on settling the land and army service – the Torani community is very supportive of the this and the charedi community is not.)

But what I really think it comes down to is, people look for what looks familiar to them.  When you look at a community, what you see are the externals, not philosophies.  ‘Black hat’ families come to Israel and see the charedi community looks like them, and that’s where they assume they will best fit in.  Though this may seem superficial and to a degree it is, the fact is that we identify with those who look like us.  And we make the natural assumption that they share our values.

In my experience, many people aren’t aware of the significant philosophical differences in the Israeli charedi community.  For example, I asked someone recently what school she would be sending her son to, and when she told me, I asked why. She said it matched their hashkafa/philosophical views.  From my knowledge of both the school and family, they don’t seem to be a good fit, so I asked in what way she felt the hashkafa was the same.  She responded that the men in the family wear black hats and white shirts during the week.  I’ve heard this same response a number of times from others.  That’s a dress code, not a philosophy, and it’s a mistake to think that because the outsides match, so do the inner values.

Even when Anglos are told about this discrepancy between world views, they usually minimize it or think that those issues won’t affect them, things will change by the time their children are old enough for it to be a concern, etc.  Many Anglos who are new to Israel understandably don’t realize how deep the differences go.  It can take quite a while to see how differently Americans think from their Israeli counterparts about a number of key issues, and once you’re part of a community, you don’t leave it so quickly.

Even if a family recognizes from the outset that the Israeli charedi community has some views that aren’t quite similar to their beliefs, they are faced with the reality that they need to send their kids to school somewhere and once they do, they’ll need to conform to the expectations of the school.   Someone looking for alternatives will quickly find how few choices there are within the charedi system.   The phrase, “If you can’t beat them, join them” has come to my mind many times when contemplating this topic.

The Torani community looks different externally, and what seems like a small difference like the color and material of a kippa has specific associations – for Americans, it’s reminiscent of the modern Orthodox community, though the MO are quite different from the Torani community.  In Israel, there’s not much mixing from community to community, and it makes it hard to get to know people outside of your religious framework so there’s a tendency to make judgments from a distance based on externals.  As superficial as it may sound, setting aside externals means setting aside all of your past associations, which isn’t easily done.  This is an intellectual approach, not emotional, and when you’re moving to a new country, you’re looking for what looks and feels familiar.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that Americans are never going to fit into any non-Anglo community here without adapting their beliefs and practices somewhat, or staying the way they are and accepting that they’re going to be different.  This is a different country and you have to be able to accept that there are differences.  I know that sounds obvious but it’s not!

If there are other points that I left out, please feel free to comment!  If you disagree with me, that’s fine – often I change positions and find myself disagreeing with things I previously believed!  – but please be respectful when you comment.