Monthly Archives: May 2013

Life after aliyah: What does it take to make it in Israel? – article

Here’s the text of an article from the Haaretz newspaper that I thought was interesting.  I’ve touched on a number of the points mentioned below when sharing about the aliyah process and I found the below article worth reading.


Life after aliyah: What does it take to make it in Israel? Trials,
tribulations and tips for immigrants to acclimate to a new life in Israel.
First thing to keep in mind: Don’t cry when a bureaucrat is mean to you.
By Judy Maltz
| May.28,
2013 | 5:17 PM | 2

Her father, Jill Ben-Dor recalls, once took note that her refrigerator
was always stocked with Israeli products, while her sister’s was
perpetually filled with American brands. It struck him as unusual since her
sister had been living in Israel longer.

Many years later, Ben-Dor wondered whether her father’s observation might
provide the key to explaining why she stuck it out, while all the other
members of her family, her sister included, eventually packed up and moved
back to the United States.

“My father and sisters had this tendency to think, no matter where they
were, that the grass was always greener somewhere else,” notes Ben-Dor, 53,
who heads the department of donor and associate affairs at Ben-Gurion
University and lives in Be’er Sheva’s affluent southern suburb of Meitar.

“I, on the other hand, made a conscious decision that this is where I am,
and this is home. If I’m going to be here, I’m going to be Israeli all the
way. I’m going to eat Israeli products, read books and newspapers in
Hebrew, watch the news on TV in Hebrew and live like an Israeli.”

Ben-Dor, married to a native-born Israeli and the mother of three grown
sons, will be marking her 30th anniversary in the country this October. Her
conscious effort to go local and resist the temptation among immigrants to
draw comparisons with the places they came from goes a long way, she
believes, toward explaining her successful integration into Israeli society.

Accurate figures on aliyah retention rates from English-speaking countries
are hard to come by since many immigrants who leave Israel do so quietly
without reporting their decision to the authorities.

Chaim Waxman, a retired professor of sociology and Jewish studies at
Rutgers University, has published extensively on aliyah from the United
States and even made the move himself, relocating to Jerusalem full time
seven years ago.

His and other research shows that retention rates were lower before the
1990s, rose dramatically that decade, and dropped off in the early 2000s.

“Until the 1990s, about 38 percent of Americans who came on aliyah went
back within three to five years,” says Waxman. “The main reasons at the
time were being away from family they missed and the Israeli bureaucracy.”

The rate dropped to 10 percent in the 1990s – “before there was even Nefesh
B’Nefesh,” notes Waxman, referring to the organization that handles
immigration from North America and Britain on behalf of the government.
“One of the factors was that by then many people already had family members
here and they were following brothers and sisters who had already come,”
Waxman says. “Also there was more cultural pluralism in Israel by then, and
you didn’t have to learn Hebrew right away or become Israeli right away, as
you did in the past.”

Another factor was a significant reduction in the bureaucracy encountered
by new immigrants, Waxman says. “My estimate is that about 20 percent go
back today,” he says.

The factors behind higher rates of return have also changed. “Based on my
impressions, the main reasons are the higher cost of housing, the
deterioration in the school systems here, religious friction among
different streams of Orthodoxy, and the fact that many of the immigrants
coming today, for example those who come after participating in Birthright,
are less ideologically motivated,” Waxman says. “They come more for
personal reasons.”

*It’s different for men and women*

The ability to maintain a sense of continuity after the move is often what
separates those who make it in Israel from those who don’t, notes Sophie
Walsh, a clinical psychologist and lecturer at Bar-Ilan University who has
studied immigration from English-speaking countries closely.

“When you make a move like this, you lose part of yourself,” she says. “It
often involves giving up careers, salary, status, family and friends. The
better you are able to hold on to a similar career, maintain a comparable
status and rebuild your social networks, the more you feel like you’re
staying yourself and the easier it is.”

According to the research, social and professional factors carry different
weight for women and men. “For women the ability to build close
relationships after the move is often the most critical thing, while for
men it’s generally about maintaining their professional status and
financial success,” Walsh says.

Like others who advise new immigrants, Neil Gillman says the character
trait that often distinguishes those who succeed is flexibility. “We’re
talking about knowing how to move on after that first unpleasant encounter
at the bank, about being able to embrace differences and accepting that it
is what it is,” says Gillman, who oversees immigration from
English-speaking countries at the Jewish Agency.

Resilience is also crucial, maintains Walsh. “The ability to get up after
you’ve fallen down is critical because there are so many blows along the
way,” she says.

Wendy Serlin, who 20 years ago moved to Israel with her family from Silver
Springs, Maryland, was among the first Americans to make Beit Shemesh their
home base. A social worker by training, she has also worked with
organizations over the years that support and counsel English-speaking

Based on her experiences, people who have a tougher time adjusting tend to
thrive on planning and order in their lives, she says.

“A lot of people come from America where they’re used to deciding a year
ahead what they’re going to be doing the following summer and what camps
their kids will be going to,” notes the mother of five. “It just doesn’t
work like that here. If you want to make a go of it in Israel, you have to
know how to flow.”

The other trait critical for success is thick skin, adds Serlin. “You have
to let some of the hardness of native Israelis roll off you and not burst
into tears every time they say something offensive,” she says.

Looking back at her own immigration experience, integrating into Israeli
society would probably have been smoother had she not ended up in an
English-speaking enclave, she says. “I would have liked to have had more
Israelis around, but if the choice is between being in an Anglo community
in Israel or being in New York, I think this is still better.”

*Skype helps, too*

A successful immigration experience, the experts maintain, often depends on
how old new immigrants are when they make the move. “The younger you are,
the easier it is,” says Dorron Kline, the deputy director of Telfed, the
Israeli arm of the South African Zionist Federation. “I always recommend
the sooner the better. Going to university here, the army experience –
those are all formative experiences that help in acclimatization.”

Coming as a single person or as a parent also makes a huge difference,
immigration counselors say. Families have built-in support systems that
single people do not; on the other hand, singles aren’t pressured by the
responsibility of providing for others. Since they have only themselves to
account for, singles also have an easier time leaving if things don’t work

A key factor behind the overall trend of higher aliyah retention rates is
that new immigrants today have much greater access to information, Gillman

“Being well-prepared and having realistic expectations are the key to a
successful aliyah experience, and the two go hand in hand,” he says.
“There’s a tremendous amount of information out there now on the Internet
and through Facebook groups. We even have people who set their kids up with
Israeli buddies on Skype before they make the move to make the transition

Strong religious convictions, notes Kline, can also be an asset during
difficult times. “Because of their strong ideological bent, religious
people often seem to stand up to the challenges of aliyah better,” he says.

Rivkah Lambert, who moved to Ma’aleh Adumim two years ago from Baltimore
with two grown children, finds it particularly challenging making the
adjustment as a middle-aged woman.

“Because my Hebrew skills are still weak, there’s this constant low-level
tension every time I need to communicate with Israelis,” she says. Lambert,
who writes a blog about her immigration experiences, says one of her most
popular entries was about the challenges of finding garbage bags suitable
for the size of Israeli trash bins.

But that, she notes, is the price she pays for the privilege of living in
Israel. “The more I live here, the more I see that the truest Torah life
can only be lived here, and the more I’m convinced that spiritually there’s
no better place for a Jewish person to live,” she says.

In many ways, immigrants from English-speaking countries face a new set of
challenges these days. Decades ago, the move to Israel almost inevitably
entailed a dramatic drop in a person or family’s standard of living. There
were months to wait before receiving a phone line, basic products were
sometimes unavailable at the supermarket, and don’t forget the notorious
Israeli bureaucracy. Much of that has changed as Israel has gained a
foothold in the global economy.

Making a living has also become somewhat easier, with online work and
telecommuting increasingly popular options for new immigrants today. “Gone
are the days when you used to have to resign from your job in order to move
to Israel,” notes Gillman. “People are now bringing their income with them.”

Defining success in aliyah can be tricky, says Josie Arbel, director of
absorption services and programming at the Association of Americans and
Canadians in Israel. For some, it means nothing more than scraping together
a living and putting food on the table, while for others, it means
effecting change in Israeli society. “It’s a lot about the goals you set
for yourself,” she says.

As Gillman notes, the distinction between success and failure isn’t so
clear cut anymore. “These days people have footholds in lots of place,” he
says. “They go to one place, have a great time and move on after two or
three years. Years ago that would have been considered a case of failure.
Today it no longer is.”

Based on his personal experience and extensive research, Waxman says the
following is a tried-and-true formula for successful aliyah:

Spending time in Israel before you decided when you want to come on aliyah.

Loving Jews.

Loving Jewish history.

Having family and friends in Israel.

Having a good sense of humor.

Making a commitment to stay once you’ve come on aliyah.

Having skills that are marketable and a source of income.

Speaking Hebrew helps.



So what do you think?  Do you agree with these points?  Do you have any based on your own experience to add?


Developmental daycare visit triggering self-doubt

Today I went to see the local daycare center for children under the age of three with developmental delays.  This is something that is repeatedly being strongly suggested to me for Yirmiyahu, so I decided to visit and see for myself what it was like.

In short – it was very nice.  Nonetheless, Yirmiyahu will continue staying home with me.

After my visit, I had a lot of thoughts running through my head.  I was trying to analyze what would be better for Yirmiyahu about being home, and as I mentally checked off the reasons I began feeling a lot of insecurity about my ability to give him what he needs.  My mind starting running the tape of, ‘I’m so busy, I have so many people depending on me and there’s so much more I want to do for him than what I do.  Maybe he’d be better off there.’

I have lots of reasons he wouldn’t be better off there – not just because he’s a very young baby who needs to be with his mother, but because I really do think he’ll get more at home with me, but this post isn’t about that.  I don’t want to write about what the daycare doesn’t have or compare and contrast.  What I want to share about is how extremely tired I felt when I got home from the daycare center.

At first I didn’t think much of this tiredness, but it was really overwhelming – I felt like I could hardly move.  I kept wondering why I was so tired – it’s true I only got five hours of sleep last night, but that’s not so unusual.  This tiredness was overwhelming and taking a step felt like lifting up a leg that was glued to the ground.  After about an hour I realized – it was my thoughts about my visit to the daycare center and all the feelings of not being enough that were exhausting me.

This made me think of a couple of recent emails from readers with questions that were seemingly quite different, but the underlying sentiment was the same, that of feeling inadequate about some aspect of child raising.  I may seem like I have all the answers from my platform on your computer screen, but I have these same doubts and fears sometimes.  A child psychologist told me that guilt is a feeling that is universal to parents, so that means we’re all in good company when we get into self-doubt.

So what can we do about it?  I was able to shift out of this within a couple of hours, once I took the first step.  For me, the first step is recognizing my thoughts for what they are.  Those thoughts are usually coming from a place of making unrealistic demands of myself, while simultaneously not validating what I do.  It’s so easy to slip from a healthy desire to be the best person you can be, to being a perfectionist who can’t see her accomplishments and nothing less than 100% is worth anything.  Not a good place to be.

Sure, there’s always more that I could do.  I could do things to be a better mother, wife, self.  I could be more disciplined, be more emotionally present, be more physically present, yadda yadda yadda.  But right now I’m doing the best I can with what I have.  Feeling guilty that I’m not more than I am isn’t going to make me a better person.  Actually, it does the opposite – these kind of thoughts drag you down and suck all your positive energy right out of you.  Today I had to consciously remind myself of what I do for Yirmiyahu, and to value it as being enough.  Interestingly but not surprisingly, the heavy feeling of tiredness shifted once I started thinking differently.

Parents, look at all the good things you do in the course of a week for your child.  Okay, sometimes you drop the ball, you yell or are impatient.  You’re exhausted and spent and you feel like you’re failing your child.  No, you’re not.  You’ve just lost sight of who you are and what you do, you’ve let the true beautiful you become obscured by stinking thinking!  We all do this.  It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to not do everything right all the time – in short, it’s okay to be human.


Opening communication pathways with child development doctor

Yesterday I had the first appointment with the child development doctor since Yirmiyahu was ten weeks old.  I wrote about that appointment at the time – it wasn’t a positive experience for me as I felt patronized.  I wanted this appointment to be different and consciously prepared mentally for it, to assume that those involved had our best interests in mind, etc.  I actively relaxed just prior to our meeting, to release any tension and negativity, picturing us communicating openly and with mutual respect, and with a positive conclusion to our meeting.

Despite bounding in with lots of good energy and openness, I very soon felt myself getting more and more guarded.  This began when I had to change Yirmiyahu’s diaper, and mentioned that I needed to go downstairs to get some cream since the skin on his bottom was bleeding.  When I came back she asked about this, and I told her that he’s sensitive to the corn syrup in his formula and his skin gets easily irritated as a result of this sensitivity.  She told me not to tell her medical reasons for why it happens, as that’s her job.  Then she asked a number of questions about the bleeding, how do I know it’s not internal, etc.  I’ve mentioned this to a number of doctors in the hospital, his regular pediatrician, his naturopath and his osteopath, and never had this reaction before.  Though I answered all of her following questions as accurately as I could, I was uncertain why what I said was a problem and decided to just answer what was asked without volunteering anything else.

She kept asking me questions and I was increasingly feeling like she was testing me and waiting to jump on a wrong answer.  When she asked about him eating solids, I told her about his difficulty in eating and my efforts in this area.  She asked me why I think he’s not eating so much.  I told her I have no idea, that’s just how it is – I was concerned that if I said anything, she’d tell me why I was wrong.  She asked me repeatedly and I told her, ‘I don’t know, what do you think?’  But she didn’t answer, she just asked me again what I attribute it to.  So finally I said, ‘I have no idea, maybe because he has a high palate?’  (I took Yirmiyahu to an osteopath last week for his first visit, and this was one of two possibilities that she raised for the feeding difficulties.)

The doctor told me his high palate isn’t relevant, and then went on to say it’s because of his gross motor development that he pushes the food out of his mouth.  I listened for a few more minutes, wondering why she couldn’t have just said this in the beginning without grilling me to tell her why it’s happening.  I had a sense of deja vu from the first visit, when she asked me why I thought his breathing was raspy – I told her I thought he was allergic to his formula and she told it wasn’t possible (though later testing showed I was right).  By this point I wasn’t feeling very open or positive at all.

I kept trying to shift my thinking and get into a better headspace and it just wasn’t working.  The next time she asked me a question like this, I finally said, “Why do you keep asking me what I think if when I tell you, you say that it’s not relevant?”  This unleashed a long response about how she’s a medical doctor and she doesn’t know where I get my information and can’t accept what I say at face value or she would be negligent and she can’t help it if I feel threatened by her.  I repeatedly tried to clarify my point and it was frustrating because I felt she kept misunderstanding my intention, despite my efforts to be clear and respectful.

At this point the physical therapist who was in attendance for this meeting finally said to the doctor, “Can I tell you what Avivah is trying to say?”  She rephrased what I said in a way that the doctor understood my concern.  The doctor apologized and then explained why she was asking so many questions; she said she wasn’t trying to be condescending or minimize me and her intention was to make me feel included in the discussion.  I reciprocated by sharing with her why I wasn’t volunteering more information.  This opened the conversation up to a much better level, as the doctor and I were honest with one another while being respectful of the other and the environment became very synergistic.

It wasn’t easy to have the courage to try to communicate with this doctor, especially when it seemed she was repeatedly not understanding my concern, but the fruits of this effort led to some very positive results that will benefit Yirmiyahu and me.  Namely, he will receive therapy locally twice a week, with a speech therapist and occupational therapist joining his physical therapist for these meetings (one extra person at each session).  (This is something I advocated very hard for in the beginning and was repeatedly told that it was unncessary.)  The doctor also suggested that there be extra focus on developing cognition rather than just gross motor skills, which is also what my priority is.  This means that I can stop traveling to Jerusalem for supplemental therapy every two weeks, which is physically exhausting and time consuming as well as expensive.  He’ll be getting basically the equivalent of all the services he’s currently getting, but it will all be within a five minute walk from my home and with the same therapists so the continuity of care will be improved.

Since Yirmiyahu was four months, I’ve taken him almost weekly for reflexology and massage, but with my travel to Jerusalem I had to schedule this less frequently.  He was getting massage at Shalva, but now we’ll be able to resume more regular visits to our naturopath.  Financially, it works out about the same since each trip to Jerusalem is approximately equivalent to one session at his naturopath, but he has more time and services with our naturopath.  So there’s actually a gain all around for me and Yirmiyahu.

I now feel very positively toward this doctor, and I think she feels the same way toward me, that we are partners in working together to help Yirmiyahu. This is how it should be but it’s a very different feeling than we began with.  In the end, my original hope for a productive meeting happened, despite it seeming totally impossible in the middle!


ABC word game for young children

I love using games as a learning tool for children.  Parents of young children too often get caught up in curriculum and formalized teaching, but you can do just as much and more by playing with them.  And fortunately, it’s so easy to find ways to turn learning activities into games!

Our experience for seven children so far is that they’ve all learned to read without being officially taught.  While I don’t sit down to teach them to read, that doesn’t mean that I don’t care about literacy.  I read with my kids regularly, and I also look for fun ways for them to play with letters and words.  Kids can pick up letters and sounds in this way pretty easily without much effort on your part – ds7 began reading English on his own when he was six, though his focus in school was on learning Hebrew (and his Hebrew reading is impressively fast and accurate).  Once kids know the sounds letters make, they can start to decode words on their own.  There are games on the market that can make this easy, but it’s not really that hard to do on your own if you look for ways to make it fun.

I started off using some flashcards for ds4 to match up but then saw that it was a little above his ability – it would be perfect for ds5, though.  (I used a basic flashcard set that I had but you can make your own cards for this.)  The idea was to match each letter with a card that has a word and picture that started with that letter.  I lined the cards facing up, and he had to put the letter on top of the picture.  The amount of cards you use depends on your child’s age.  You can also use the cards as a matching game, turning all the cards face down and then making a match with the letter and the word that starts with that letter.    Ds5 loves matching games and you can use the basic format for a lot of variations.

Back to ds4.  He was doing the cards with me but it didn’t seem fun for him and if it’s not fun, it’s missing the point!  Then I remembered about these plastic ABC letters with flashcards that someone gave me last year – I used to have the game in the US but never used it! I adapted the activity for something better suited for ds4 and he enjoyed himself a lot.

Basically, I lined up the plastic letters on the floor, then arranged the cards in three piles – one pile had words with four letters, one had three letter words and the last one had two letter words.

May 2013-doing abc

On the back of each card is a word with an illustration.  I showed him how the plastic letters could be matched up with the word and sat next to him while he did the first couple of cards.  I showed him the different kinds of cards and let him choose which ones he wanted to use – he chose the picture cards.  After he got the hang of it, I went into the kitchen to make some lunch while he continued playing on his own.

doing abc

When playing with kids, remember to keep it fun and keep it unpressured.  As soon as your child wants to stop, stop.  When they’re interested, they’re primed for learning. When they are ready to move on, there’s no academic gain in pushing them. This is one reason why kids in school learn so little relative to the time spent there – for much of their time, they aren’t motivated or engaged.  To adapt a well known saying: You can lead a child to the lesson but you can’t make them learn!

Fortunately, by using games instead of workbook style lessons, you can skyrocket the learning while getting around the resistance – this is particular valuable with kids who think learning is a chore.  This isn’t our issue – our kids routinely play learning games at their own initiative, even those that are overtly academic (eg Greek and Latin roots).  But part of that is how we present the games – as fun.  We aren’t trying to ‘sneak’ learning in.  We think learning is fun and games are fun, and there’s only a gain for everyone when children think of learning and fun as synonymous.


Seminary decisions for dd16

Several people have asked me what is happening with dd16’s academic plans for the coming year.  The answer is, we don’t yet know!

She has been accepted to the seminary she applied to in England (Gateshead).  However, we’ve all agreed that if we can find a suitable seminary in Israel, we’d prefer she stay closer to home.

Since Israel is filled with seminaries for Israelis and Americans, this should be a very simple thing, right?  No, not if you’re a new immigrant who moved here less than two years ago.  The reason is, dd is neither here nor there.  The American seminaries don’t want ‘Israeli’ girls and that’s how she’s classified since we’ve lived here twenty months.  Most of the Israeli seminaries that have the professional programs that she’s interested in have admittance criteria that she can’t meet since she hasn’t been here enough years – specifically, she needs to have either a bagrut (matriculation) certificate or a ‘chutzim’ (alternative to bagrut for charedi girls) certificate.  (If she went to a teaching seminary this wouldn’t be an issue.)  When we met with her school advisor, we learned that she won’t be able to get into the programs that she’s interested in since she doesn’t have either of these certificates.

This is a bit frustrating, particularly because dd is a very good student but there’s no way for her hard work to be recognized and this seems unfair.  She took two matriculation exams last year, and is doing all the twelfth grade testing for the bagrut examinations this year, in addition to simultaneously doing the eleventh grade math exams.  She’s doing them all in Hebrew without any help at all from the school (she studies with a classmate for her exams), and is doing very, very well.  One teacher recently announced to her class that dd got the second highest grade in her class on the pre-matriculation exams (madkonet) for Yahadut – this test involved seven pages of writing (in Hebrew) on complex ideas of Jewish thought and philosophy.

She’s in a class with girls who are academically motivated and study hard, and they can’t understand how she can be doing so well when these are tests that are challenging even for native Hebrew speakers.  The answer is that she is motivated and works hard.  But as hard as she’s working, she can’t make up three years of testing in one, particularly as she has to learn all the material for each test on her own in a foreign language.  By the end of this year she’ll have seventeen points toward her matriculation certificate and a full matriculation certificate is a minimum of 21 points.  So she’s close but not quite there.

This is quite an accomplishment for an English speaker who is new to the country.  But on the applications, there’s nowhere to write about how hard she works or how well she’s done, though her teachers and principal would happily sing her praises if asked.  The application forms are very black and white, and there’s nowhere to explain that there are gaps because she’s been here such a short time.  There are two Israeli seminaries we are currently considering, and I called the first to let them know about her status.  They told me to put a note on her application that she’s a new immigrant, which I did, and tonight when we got the application for the second seminary I did the same thing.

I’ll interrupt myself here to say this: if you’re considering making aliyah with a daughter in high school, pay attention!  Many girls, even those who have made aliyah at an earlier age than dd and completed all four years of high school find themselves in a difficult situation.  For many, the Hebrew is still a linguistic challenge and culturally they continue to feel more comfortable with Americans; as such an Israeli program isn’t suitable.  And most of the American programs won’t take them.  Even if they are accepted to an American seminary, the approximately $24,000 yearly price tag is extremely daunting for those living on significantly lower Israeli salaries.  Much of the financial aid available for girls living in the US that makes these programs financially feasible for them is unavailable for girls living in Israel.  Not so simple at all.  So if you’re thinking about moving here with a teenage daughter, consider yourselves warned!

Back to dd, who has gone through a lot since we moved here and keeps moving forward with a positive attitude while growing from the challenges.  She’s not letting herself get discouraged by the current seminary situation, either.  She’s looking for a seminary with a Jewish studies program that has a strong focus on personal growth and development, and has a secular studies program that will enable her to get an accreditation in a professional field of her choice.  She’s currently interested in architectural engineering, which we were told is the most difficult of the courses offered at these two seminaries.  We were warned that the Hebrew level of these classes might be too hard for her and that the classes are demanding even for native Hebrew speakers but dd and I both feel it’s doable since she’s willing to apply herself.

There’s one other Israeli seminary that was initially our first choice – Ofakim – but the professional training programs I was told they had weren’t of interest to dd (computers, special ed and early childhood ed) and we vetoed it.  Yesterday a friend told me that she’s positive that there are other tracks and we need to get more information before ruling that out.   If any readers have information or contact details for this seminary, please share it with us!

Last week she interviewed at seminary number one and came home adamant that she won’t attend that school – she said it felt cold and uncaring. She had an interviewer who was so emotionally detached that it was a big turn off, despite the interview afterward with the principal, who was very warm and was impressed with her.  Tonight she filled out the application for the next school, which is much smaller and sounds more like what she’s looking for – she’ll send it off in the morning and then we’ll wait to hear back from them regarding an interview.  I really want her to find a place where she can have a positive social/spiritual/academic experience, and hope that one of these options will be a good fit.

I’ll be sure to share with you once there’s closure on this decision!


Twenty-one month aliyah update – Mentally commit to your aliyah success

>>I would also like to encourage people to try out temporary residence before committing to aliyah. There are many positives to do so. Don’t do aliyah because you need the money from Misrad HaKlitah to live. Experience living for one, two or maximum three years under temporary residence, and if things don’t work out, you always can come back another time.<<

Recently I was speaking with someone in her first year of aliyah who is having a hard time adjusting to all the differences here.  I mentioned that I thought it was beneficial to give yourself enough time to live here to be successful, not to rush to make a geographic change when things are uncomfortable in the beginning.  I also said that I thought it was helpful to mentally commit yourself to living here when making aliyah, but a couple of other women disagreed with me, saying that knowing they could go back to the US if things didn’t work out here was very important for them.  We agreed that this might be a personality issue, but I wanted to flesh out my thoughts on this here.

Before we moved, upon hearing our plans to make aliyah with nine children ranging in age from 2 – 18, many people told us that we could always come back if it didn’t work out.  I told them that we planned to make Israel our long term home, and this was the attitude that we consistently conveyed to our children (and ourselves!).  Not because we closed all the doors behind us when we moved from the US – we didn’t – but I felt it would make it harder for all of us to fully transition if we were holding on to the idea that at the end of a year we would move back to the US  if everything wasn’t comfortable by everyone by then.

Of course if you’ve made your best effort in something and it’s really not working after an extended period of time, you need to reassess.  There’s no benefit to feeling trapped and desperate with a life you don’t want if you have a way to change that.

However, being mentally prepared is very important when making aliyah.  Aliyah is difficult. Really difficult.  It’s particularly difficult if you don’t really want to make the move to start but come because a spouse or parent pulls you along with the power of their desire, but it’s hard enough even if you have the best of thoughts and intentions.  One has to find a balance between finding a perspective that allows you to mentally put your best effort forth on a continual basis without feeling trapped and how to do this is very individual.  While I knew we could move back to the US if we wanted to, this wasn’t what I focused on.  I think our clarity in this area helped out kids because if we had been ambivalent about the tough times and wondered if we had made a mistake, they would have immediately picked up on it.

I think this was a really good idea because it pushed everyone to look forward into building a new life rather than looking back constantly to long for what we left behind.  We left a very nice life behind, with wonderful friends and a wonderful community.  We came to something totally different, we felt isolated and out of place in many ways and everything was a struggle.  If I had given us a year to adjust, we wouldn’t still be here.  At this point, at twenty-one months, the kids and I all agree that it feels like life is getting easier in every area.  After about nine or ten months here, I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel – though before our one year anniversary things happened that obscured that light for a number of months to come.

Earlier this year we seriously considered moving to a different community; when we decided to stay in Karmiel, we emailed the family who was going to host us for Shabbos to let them know of our change in plans.  They told us they were sorry we wouldn’t get to meet – we were members of the same synagogue in the US and have mutual friends but they moved to Israel before we joined the shul – but said they were happy we had found a way to make it work where we were.  They explained that they had seen many families who moved to their city because they were unhappy with the city they had initially moved to, and too many of these families were just as unhappy in the new place.  Sometimes moving to a new place makes all the difference, but since you take yourself with you wherever you go, often the problems that you hope to escape are recreated in a new setting.

Something I’ve said for years is, ‘Expect the best and be prepared for the worst’.  This sums up how I look at a lot of things.  Think positively and trust that things will be good, but at the same time, be ready to deal with life’s vagaries.  It’s predictable that aliyah will have many challenges.  It’s predictable that at times you may question what in the world made you think this would be a good idea!  Difficulties don’t last forever and aliyah related challenges fade with time.  Give yourself that time by trusting that you can handle the frustrations, look for the good, and believe that you will be successful in making the adjustment. Trust that if you keep your mindset positive and look for the good in everything around you, if  you keep putting one foot in front of the other and doing the next right thing, that you will be successful in making aliyah.


High school math programs we’ve used

It’s been interesting to have the kids in school and learn that they’re strong math students.  I don’t push my kids to be academic superstars by any means; I’m pretty relaxed in general in my approach.  My goal is that they have solid skills in a few key areas, one of which is math and we do this by systematically working through the program of our choice.

We’ve used Singapore math with great success through the elementary years, and they have this in Israel as well (as I was pleasantly surprised to learn when I saw it on the book list from a school ds7 interviewed at last year).  We had tried Saxon before then and it’s a good solid program, but it wasn’t what we needed for the elementary years.

For high school, we’ve used a number of things (to be more accurate, my oldest who was the guinea pig got to try a number of things).  When I’m evaluating math programs, I’m looking for something that can be used as a self-teaching text and will result in a student who has a strong grasp of the skills being covered (assuming the effort is put in by the student). I don’t want my older kids waiting around for me to be available to explain something to them, particularly since as they get higher up in math I need more time to figure things out myself before explaining it to them.  There are lots of great programs out there and everything we used was good; it’s just a question of finding what works for your family.

We started with New Elementary Math, Singapore’s program for post elementary students and that didn’t go well.  Then we went on to Teaching Textbooks, which initially I was happy with.  Then I got the sense that it wasn’t a very rigorous program – my impression was that it’s good for students who are weak mathematically.   We moved on to The Life of Fred.  Interesting but it didn’t seem thorough enough.  (Since it’s been a while, I don’t remember the specific details regarding each program, but I did a lot of research on each at the time.)

Then we moved on to Video Text, which I was very , very happy with.  The main downside of this program is that it’s very expensive; I bought it used so I paid about half price, $300 at the time.  The algebra program includes three years of math – prealgebra, algebra 1 and algebra 2 so it wasn’t nearly as expensive as it seems.   What I like about programs like this is that your child can watch a lesson with a very good math teacher explaining all of the points very clearly, and can rewatch it to repeat points that weren’t clear.  What I don’t like is that if the disc becomes damaged (which in my house is inevitable), you have to buy a new one.  I brought this along with us to Israel, bringing the unit ds12 was up to and packing away the rest to be sent with my mother’s lift that arrived ten months later.  The only problem was I brought the unit he had just finished, not the one he was about to start – not so helpful!

Since I brought along a few Saxon tests, ds was able to use Saxon Algebra 1/2 (though for the first year he had so much going on that there was no extra head space for doing math after school hours).  This also works as a self-teaching text, as ado re all of the Saxon texts from 54 and on.  Then I got a free four month trial of a program called; it was the duration of this past summer and I optimistically set up accounts for a few of the kids, but only ds13 used it.  I heard him recently speaking to a friend on the phone who needs some math help, telling him that this program was really good.  So when I saw that a free four month trial is being offered again, I signed up once more.  I also signed up for a free year’s trial of, to check out what it’s like.  (I took advantage of both of these free offers through; it’s free to sign up and then there are lots of discounts on curriculum purchased through the co-op.)

Another free resource that you don’t have to sign up for is Khan Academy, that has online videos of many topics broken down into short lessons.  Many lessons are being translated into different languages, one of which is Hebrew.  My kids didn’t use this much because they had math programs they were happy with, but it’s a great resource that I’ll probably use with someone at some time.

If you have math resources that you love, feel free to share about them with us!


Shavuos menu

Shavuos in Israel is just one day, though I had to remind myself of this since after so many years I’m used to having two days of Shavuos.

Dairy is traditionally served on Shavuos, but I’m not really set up to easily serve dairy (no dairy oven, tablecloth, serving dishes).  What we’re doing instead is to have fish meals and then having cheesecake for dessert.

Night meal:

  • challah, homemade
  • dips: hummous, techina, matbucha
  • creamy vegetable soup
  • baked pollock with tomato olive topping
  • roast potatoes
  • chickpea quinoa pilaf
  • cucumber salad
  • tomato olive salad
  • fresh salad
  • cheesecake

Day meal:

  • challah, homemade
  • gazpacho (I might end up leaving this out since we have so many salads)
  • baked baby cod in coconut milk
  • salmon loaf
  • potato knishes
  • pancakes
  • tabouli (cracked wheat salad)
  • cucumber salad
  • tomato olive salad
  • savory beet salad
  • corn salad
  • vegetable platter
  • cheesecake
  • chocolate chip cookies

We made a huge amount of cheesecake at my kids request – this is the only time of year I make cheesecake – we made four very large pans.  (Obviously it won’t all be eaten in one day!)  I’m hoping to make another batch today to give to friends, but we’ll see what time allows for.   Since I don’t have a dairy oven I was looking and looking for no-bake recipes but the US recipes don’t work because I don’t have the right ingredients, and I wanted to make something a little different than the typical Israeli no-bake cheesecake (with layered biscuits).  I did some adapting to make the filling that we made – we all tasted it and agreed it was yummy – but I don’t yet know how the final product will be.

We made a few versions, all with the same cheese filling – one version was crushed coconut cookies and butter as a crust, another was biscuits laid flat in the pan as a crust, another used several layers of biscuits alternated with filling, then folded into a triangle shape.  All of them are frozen and will be put in the fridge to thaw  an hour or two before dessert.


My surprising discovery about salmon fish heads

Last week someone offered me some free fish, which I readily accepted.  He said something about some heads, so I thought he meant the fish had heads or some heads were included.

Well, I got home and to my dismay (initially), the entire bag was salmon heads.  My first thought was that I had no time or inclination to deal with them, and to give them to the stray cats.  Then my frugal-try-something-new-and-see-how-it-goes instinct kicked in.  I did a quick internet search for what to do with fish heads, and was interested to learn that in some cultures the head of the fish is the favored part due to being the most nutritious.

I didn’t like the looks of any recipes that I found – too labor intensive. But I decided it would be a shame to feed the outdoor cats before seeing if any of the fish would benefit my family!  The fish heads were all from salmon, and were large.  We put about eight into a pot with some water, brought them to a boil, then let them simmer for a long time.

My plan was to debone them and use the salmon meat for some kind of fish dish.  My first thought on opening the pot was that the cooking liquid looked just like the liquid in canned salmon.  And my second thought when I began deboning the fish, was that minus the tip of the head, it looked exactly like the canned salmon I used to buy!  The same skin, bones, and the way the chunks of fish were – same physiology.  It makes economic sense that the filets are sold at a higher price, then the leftover heads are canned and sold for less.  Realizing this definitely shifted my perspective on using the salmon heads from viewing it as a less desirable leftover to a lucky find!

However, the taste is what the biggest ‘wow’ was.  It was tender, flavorful and delicious!  I made two 9×13 pans of salmon loaf using the meat from these heads and when we had them for lunch, my kids were like, “Yum, this is sooooo good!”  The flavor was much richer than canned salmon, really tasty.  And to think that at first I almost gave it to the stray cats!


What to pack when making aliyah

It’s the season of intense preparation and deliberations for those making aliyah (since most people move to Israel in the summer), and a common question is what to bring and what to buy here.

When we moved here, I shared about our decision not to make a lift  and also shared about what furniture we bought when we moved here and the prices we paid.  Reading these will give you my perspective on the advantages of not making a lift, and also give you an idea of what used prices for furniture can be.

It’s not easy to get rid of almost everything you own and move here with just the suitcases you can take with you, but it’s so liberating!  It forces you to think about what is important to you and what isn’t.  Once we bought furniture, we enjoyed having a home that was  more streamlined and easy to clean.  Our kids have commented a number of times about how much more quickly we can get things in order – they almost shudder thinking about what a disaster the basement used to quickly turn into with all of the toys, games and supplies we had down there.  It’s just so easy to accumulate things and moving is a wonderful chance to free yourself from things that weigh you down with their unnecessary presence.

I’m not going to try to convince you not to make a lift; sometimes it’s not only the most emotionally comfortable but also the smartest thing you can do!  If you’re bringing furniture, try to get the room dimensions of the home you’re moving to to be assured your furniture will not just fit but use the space well.  (Remember to also measure the doorways to be sure what you’re bringing can get through – one friend had to hire a crane to lift her US washing machine onto her open roof since it couldn’t fit through the door to her home).

Whether you make a lift or not, think about what you really want to have and leave it behind if it won’t serve you.  I’ve spoken to a number of olim who brought things they didn’t really want or need in the US, who put it into the lift rather than decide what to do with it.  Paying the money to have it shipped here and then having it take up precious space in the smaller constraints of an Israeli home made the unnecessary items even more of a burden.

I was lucky in that I didn’t know how much storage space I had when we came – there was more than I expected, but thinking I had very minimal space helped me to be ruthless in our paring down.  As it is, our storage space has filled up pretty quickly even with my initial and ongoing effort to declutter (mostly clothing and Pesach storage).

My mother made a small lift when she moved and I’m grateful that this allowed us to send some boxes of books; we had eight full bookcases and downsized to just one and a half.  Having these books wasn’t critical, but it was nice to have them again once they finally arrived.  (Unfortunately we discovered recently that some of the boxes that were put on the lift weren’t delivered and I doubt we’ll ever see these again.)

What each person finds of value is really personal and there’s no one list that everyone will benefit from.  What I found most valuable is a reflection of my priorities and lifestyle.  Having lived here twenty months now, I’ll share with you what I’m glad that we bought and what I would have brought if I could have:

Games -Toys and games are very expensive here.  When I’ve checked prices at the toy stores, it seems typical to pay about double what the item would cost retail in the US.  Most of our games were bought used, for less than $4 each.  One and a half of our boxes were used just for games; I knew we would be coming to a home with no furnishings and we wouldn’t know where to go and what to do for fun at first, and I wanted the kids to have something to do.  I was glad to have done this.  My kids used to rollerblade together almost daily so we brought their rollerblades, but this ended up being a waste of space since there aren’t many flat areas around and the brick sidewalks wear down the wheels very quickly.

Likewise, we brought three bikes – each was one piece of luggage.  I had visions of my kids exploring our new city together on bikes when we got here and bringing the bikes was my attempt to make the initial time here pleasant for them.  Though it was cheaper to bring bikes than buy here, this was a mistake.  First of all, packing them took extra time and effort; we had to look for bike boxes and with time as tight as it was close to our departure, this was a burden.  Due to the local hills and having to store the bikes down a flight of stairs versus in our garage where they were easily taken out, they rarely use their bikes.  After we got here I was informed that one of the bikes we brought wasn’t in good condition even though it looked really nice; if I had been aware of that I obviously wouldn’t have brought it.  Even for those that were in good condition, had I left them behind I could have packed three more boxes filled with items that would have been of more value that would have saved me significantly more than what I gained by bringing the bikes.  I’m not sorry they’re here because they’re nice to have but for a long time I really regretted bringing them, as I thought of all I left behind in order to bring them.

Again, be careful to only bring what you’ll use.  We used to have loads of games that mostly sat on the shelves ignored; we sifted through and brought those that would be enjoyed the most.  Almost all of the games we brought get regular use.  There were a couple of games we had that I would have liked to have brought but were missing pieces and I didn’t find them in the thrift store before we came – I was fortunate to find both (Stratego and Monopoly in the Hebrew versions) at a local second hand place for about ten shekels each.

We hardly brought any toys because our youngest was 2.5 at the time, but now we have a list of toys for Yirmiyahu’s development that his therapists told us will be important.  I’m hoping my husband can find some of these used in the US while he’s there (though he told me last week that shopping isn’t really his thing and it’s hard for him to make time for it).  Whatever you bring, make sure it’s good quality.  It’s not worth bringing knock off brands or low quality items – once you’re bringing it, bring solid quality that will last a long time.  Remember again about the space limitations you’re likely to face once you get here – you’re going to have to have a place to put everything.  Better to have fewer things that you’ll use a lot than a lot of things that you won’t use much.

Appliances – we got rid of all of our appliances except our dehydrator and grain grinder.  Both of these have gotten very little use here, for different reasons.  I’m not sorry I brought them because they’ll be invaluable when I need them, but they currently take up space and don’t provide much value.  If I could have, I would have have brought additional kitchen appliances, either those that ran on 110 voltage and used a transformer, or bought appliances (in the US) that would work on 220v.  Either way it would be a lot cheaper than buying here.  I have a manual vegetable slicer that was my salvation until it broke a couple of months ago but didn’t replace a food processor, which is the main appliance I miss having (but I’m not buying one for 1000 shekels and I don’t want a cheap one that will break soon after buying it).

Included in appliances are transformers.  We thought about bringing one with us but the weight would have taken almost half of one suitcase, and we didn’t order it in time to allow for the certainty of delivery before our departure.  In a lift weight won’t be an issue.  You can buy super high quality transformers in Jerusalem that will last for a lifetime, made by a man with over fifty years of experience.  I would have bought from him but I found a used one for 275 shekels that I got instead.

Tools – we brought a couple of basic hand tools and none of our power tools.  I really wish we had brought our hammer drill; not having this has been a huge inconvenience and delayed basic home maintenance issues for way too long.  I finally paid a handyman to put up light fixtures (apartments here come with bare bulb fixtures) and curtain rods a month ago – if we had our drill, this wouldn’t have taken over a year and a half to be done. Again, very expensive to buy here.  I have a big home improvement project that I’m seriously contemplating and having a drill will be invaluable.

Health care items – I brought my set of Bach flower remedies, my herbal collection and whatever vitamins and homeopathics we had on hand and whether something has gotten much use or not since coming, I’m happy to have brought it all.  One thing I specifically stocked up on was vitamin C powder in sodium ascorbate form – when you move here, your body will be faced with lots of new germs that it doesn’t have resistance to.  We used a lot of vitamin C in our first year, and it continues to be very valuable for us as it’s the first thing I use when someone isn’t feeling well.  Over the counter pain medications like aspirin or tylenol are really expensive here, so it’s worth it to throw in a couple of bottles even if you don’t use them much.  Homeopathics are unbelievably expensive here, so if there’s something you use a lot of (for us arnica is a big one), throw a few in.

To buy the vitamins we need locally, I use; it has great prices with quick and inexpensive shipping.  (You can use this link or use code  OBO992 for a $10 discount on a purchase of $40 and up, or $5 off of a smaller order if you’re a first time customer.)  Vitamins are a fortune here; I shake my head in disbelief whenever I’m in the health food store and see the prices.  I also brought from iherb to recently place a large order of vitamins for dh and dd18 in the US (free shipping and no weight limits in that case – so much easier!).  They also have other items like coconut oil that I’ve been able to buy from them.

If you use prescription medicine, get a supply that will last you at least a few months until you figure out what to buy here.  Also, bring your medical paperwork in your suitcase with you if you have health issues; this will significantly ease your through a new medical system and with a new doctor.  My mom said this made a huge positive difference in how she was treated by her doctors here.

Shoes – I have no idea how if shoes are all made in China, the ones in Israel can cost so much more.  The quality of the inexpensive shoes (100 shekels and down) is what I would call disposable.  Good shoes are very expensive.  We brought enough shoes to last everyone for the first year.  If I were making a lift, I would buy even further ahead (I have mostly boys and the basic styles don’t change much).  If you’re going to be in a charedi community, I’d recommend sticking to basic black sneakers and dress shoes; no colors or stripes on the sneakers.

Clothing –  we brought enough basic clothing for everyone for the first year so we wouldn’t need to go shopping.  This was very scaled down.  To give you a sense of what that means, I allotted one suitcase per child (this included a coat for each one).  What I felt was most important were good quality pants and nice polo shirts, inexpensively purchased at thrift stores in the US.  We’ve easily supplemented with second hand purchases since then.

We brought winter coats with us with the understanding that northern Israel would be very cold in the winter.  It’s not that cold, though.  I would have been better off bringing lined water resistant jackets or coats with additional layers underneath if necessary.  Generally it’s colder inside Israeli homes than in the US, and people wear more layers indoors so this isn’t a big deal.  Initially I regretted not bringing our flannel lined raincoats since the kids walk to school and it rained very often these past two winters, and a raincoat is more practical than an umbrella.  But since they don’t have these kind of raincoats here, they kids would have stood out and felt uncomfortable.  The two raincoats we have don’t get used at all since the kids they fit say they’ll look strange if they wear them.  I also brought boots for the younger kids, and though this was nice to have, it wasn’t worth the space they took and I wouldn’t bring them again.

Homeschooling supplies – even though we weren’t homeschooling at first, I was still glad to have these!  We pared down significantly but brought what I considered to be the most useful manipulatives (pattern blocks, cuisenaire rods, base ten blocks, tangrams, a geoboard, a hundred number chart and some other assorted items).  I also brought Singapore math, Videotext Algebra (which I should have sold before I left even though it’s a fantastic program), some Saxon math texts, some writing texts, some Critical Thinking Press workbooks, McGuffey readers – the basics.  Since there isn’t an official homeschooling market here, I’m really glad to have these.  Even before homeschooling, two of our kids in school already found some of our texts helpful – ds14 to learn algebra on his own, dd12 to figure out what they were learning in class (she didn’t understand it until she looked in the Singapore book, then told me she never realized how good they are until she had school texts to compare to).  I’d like to buy math texts for the upper grades since this is what I’m most lacking.

Storage containers – I’ve written about how we chose to pack in Rubbermaid storage containers, packed in moving boxes.  I’ve been very, very happy with this; the two pieces of luggage I brought back on my recent trip to the US were packed in this same way.  This has made it possible to keep clothes in storage neatly packed.  However, they don’t fit into standard Israeli closets (which are freestanding units, not an open space like the US) so if this will be as helpful for someone else as it was for me depends on his storage capacity.

I also brought along some square 4 gallon containers that I used for storing bulk food neatly and compactly.  I packed inside and around these within a larger box when bringing them, and they’ve been very useful for us.

Food – if I had made a lift and knew I had the space, I definitely would have brought some bulk foods that are either very expensive here or not available.  These would have included several 40 lb buckets of coconut oil, 50 lb bags of organic sucanat, nut flours  and other foods that I could cheaply buy that would store for a long period of time.  This wouldn’t have justified making the lift, but they would have been valuable fillers. Not having certain foods here has been something that I’ve found difficult, particularly not having good oil – I used to use coconut oil for everything.   In general, though, I recommend getting used to the foods sold here and using them.

Americans have a tendency to have homes that are much more cluttered than Israelis.  This probably is because we’ve been used to having the luxury of cheap shopping combined with larger homes but I think this is something to avoid if possible since it’s not pleasant to live in a home that is overly full.  So think twice and then again when deciding what to bring, so that what you have in your new home will really serve you!

What items did you bring that you are glad you brought, and what did you bring that wasn’t helpful?  Please share so others won’t make the same mistakes!