Monthly Archives: February 2014

Getting our home ready to show

clean houseI’ve spent so much time organizing and fixing things in my house in the last two days!  You know how this little thing breaks and that little thing and before you know it seems everywhere you look you have projects waiting for you and you have no desire to attend to any of it because it feels overwhelming?  That’s how I was feeling but two days ago I decided to tackle some of them.

When we changed all the bedrooms around at the end of July, dd13 inherited what used to be our master bedroom suite, with its own bathroom and walk-in closet. We had used the closet as a home office and had a freestanding closet in the room for storage, but decided to get rid of the home office and restore the space to a walk-in closet.  That project took some time but eventually was done, but the freestanding closet remained.  It was annoying dd because she couldn’t organize her space the way she wanted but taking it apart and finding a place to store it was something I just didn’t feel like dealing with.  A couple of days ago I decided to just do it.

It was a big project by this time because it meant organizing our attic storage area to accommodate the pieces of the closet, reorganizing the walk-in closet and of course moving around the furniture in that room.  It took hours but was so worth it!  The room is better organized and feels much more spacious and I’m really happy to have done this for dd13.

Then I worked with ds11 to clean up his room.  He shares his room with Yirmiyahu, who’s an easy person to share with since he makes no mess.  :)  He also shares with ds15 when he comes home for the weekends.  His bed has a second bed that pulls out that ds15 uses, but the problem is that ds15 always has to leave very early in the morning to catch his bus back to his school.  So he can’t put his bed back while his siblings are sleeping, and understandably, ds11 is resistant to having to clean up after ds15.  So things end up getting left out too long and getting messy, and then ds11 feels overwhelmed when I remind him to straighten his room up.  It can make a big difference to work with your kids when they feel like this – it really wasn’t so much work but having me work with him for a half hour shifted ds11’s feeling about it all and after a while he told me he didn’t need my help anymore, he could finish it all himself.  That room now looks great – not a thing anywhere in sight except blankets on the bed and in the crib.

This  morning I called a real estate agent to talk about selling our apartment.   She feels based on our timeline – we want to move by the beginning of September – that we need to move fast to get our home listed.  So she’s coming tomorrow to take pictures.   I wasn’t expecting this to happen so quickly.  Obviously it’s important that everything looks really neat and It was especially good that I had done so much work the day before or I would have been really stressed at all that I needed to do today to get things in order!

I still had plenty to do today!  I had started the playroom yesterday but of course there was still more to do because that’s how playrooms are :) and I finished it up today.  What I’ve been doing is more like Pesach cleaning and organizing for the move as I clean, not just straightening up so it’s quite a bit of work.  At this level there’s a lot of effort spent on things you don’t see.  Now that room is spotless, with just an easy chair and carpet in addition to the wall closet along the length of the room.  Ds7 commented in suprise that now it’s so empty that his voice echoes when he talks!  (It’s true!)

Then I moved onto the younger boys’ room. Though I clean it daily, since their bunk bed broke a couple of weeks ago it just never looks tidy.  They have their beds lined up three across now, and it doesn’t leave much space to get around.  They like it but I don’t; it makes it much harder to clean.  Dh was home today so I asked him to make fixing this a priority and he did.  It took a good chunk of time since the initial little thing that was broken became a big thing that was broken since we didn’t take care of it as soon as it broke.  That’s how it always is, you don’t gain time by pushing things off because in the end it takes so much longer than it would have taken if you had just done it right away .  Amazing what a huge difference fixing the bunkbed made!   I did the same cleaning I always do but now the room looks spacious and neat again.

I also did things like scrubbing walls, plastering holes and bleaching my bathtub.   In case you’re wondering why it was necessary to bleach the tub – which I’ve never had to do until today in over 20 years – a few days ago ds6 and ds7 were playing in the tub and wanted to scrub some items and used steel wool (which I didn’t see they were using – I didn’t think I had even had any left!).  They played for a really long time, leaving the tub filled with water all that day, which I didn’t mind.  But when I finally emptied the tub, the tiny shreds of steel wool had left tiny rust specks on the bottom of the tub.  

Of course after all of this work in different rooms, I didn’t put in the usual time in the living room and kitchen so it was a little discouraging to have worked so long all day and then those rooms still needed more attention to be camera ready.  But I’m hoping to get up early in the morning to get those things taken care of, and wake the kids up early for breakfast so I can clean up the morning mess before the agent comes.

Our agent said she wants to bring the other 15 – 20 agents in the city for a meeting to look at our home so they’re familiar with it – I asked her to wait until next week for that.  I really don’t like people coming into my personal space.  Obviously an inherent part of selling your home is that you have to do that, but it’s hard for me.  No matter how much cleaning and organization I do, my house doesn’t stay looking spotless more than about 25 seconds.  I have too many people doing too many things around the clock, so it can’t.   Sometimes I have to remind myself of that, and tell myself not to worry about what anyone else thinks.  Once I feel okay with myself, I don’t give so much power to what others think of me.  

I look forward to sharing with you that the sale process has gone quickly and smoothly!

Avivah

A morning in which all conversation was related to making aliyah

aliyahLast week I got a call from a writer for the Hebrew Mishpacha magazine.  She was planning a feature article and wanted to interview me.  I asked about the topic and it was unclear to me just what the specific angle was – it was related to making aliyah but obviously more specific than that.

I told her I wasn’t so sure I had something of value to share on this particular view, but she said someone had told her to contact me because I have a ‘powerful story’.  As I told my kids, whatever.  I agreed to speak to her for 20 minutes a few days later when I had time and yesterday morning we spoke.

We ended up speaking for 40 minutes.  I told her in the beginning that if she quoted me to please be sure everything was grammatically correct since I’m used to interviews in English, not Hebrew!   She later told me my Hebrew is fantastic which it isn’t but except for pausing to think of how to translate some non-literal English phrases into Hebrew it went fine.

She asked me to share about our aliyah experience, and I told her it would be most helpful to me if she would ask specific questions, but she said she didn’t know anything about me so she didn’t know what to ask.  I shared about our experience and told her that we’re all happy to be here and glad we came despite the challenges.  She told me how much she enjoyed speaking to me but wasn’t sure what she would use for this article, saying she might prefer to use it for something else in the future.

At this point she mentioned it was going to be a Pesach feature – if she had said this earlier on when I asked about the goal of the article I would have understood much sooner what she was looking for.  She wanted to speak to those who had celebrated Pesach outside of Israel and then to share what it was like to celebrate in Israel.

No, I definitely wasn’t the right person for this!  Did my experience of loving having 2 seders in the US, followed by our first seder here in our secular neighborhood fit the inspiration she wanted to share?  Our seder in which our neighbor buzzed our doorbell for a long few seconds, screamed at us for making too much noise singing, then called the police to complain?  The Muslim police who then came into our house, saw us sitting around our table singing and admonished us for making to much noise, warning us that if the neighbor called again and they had to come out we’d be fined several hundred shekels?  (And my teenage girls being creeped out by the younger policeman staring at them the entire time?)  Probably not.

Obviously she wouldn’t want to write about last year how I was so grateful that daylight savings time didn’t begin until after Pesach (usually it’s before), so that we could start and finish our seder an hour earlier than usual, nonetheless worrying the entire time about the police coming.  How I repeatedly told everyone to keep their voices down, after shutting every possible window so minimal sound could get out.  It’s our family tradition that we continue singing songs from the Hagada together for about an hour after the seder ends, something that each child looks forward to being old enough to participate in.  This has been less enjoyable for us all since moving here but hopefully when we move to a different community it will be very different!

She wanted stories of people whose holidays were enhanced by being in Israel.  One day I’m sure this will be the case but I haven’t yet had a holiday here that was spiritually more elevating than it was in Baltimore.  I love being in Israel but this aspect of my life isn’t something I can point to as an improvement on my previous life.

After this interview a couple visiting Israel stopped by Karmiel for a short visit with me.  The husband found my blog when doing aliyah research and asked if he and his wife could meet with me while they were in Israel.  We talked about the challenges for Americans finding their place socially and religiously here – this is the issue that every single person who has recently moved here or is considering moving here has spoken to me about.  We all have the same basic concerns about where we fit and what kind of community to look for. I’ve written about that before and it’s a significant concern for people thinking of making aliyah as well as for those living here trying to navigate the religiously polarized landscape.

Right after they left, my mother’s husband came by for some help in translating Hebrew documents.  He and my mother went to the US for a visit and he just returned – she’s coming back later this week.  They’ll be with us for both meals on Shabbos so we’ll hear more then, but they have both said that while it was nice to be in the US they’re so happy to be living here!

Avivah

Insisting young child walk

toddler walkingI was at the park last week and met a mother with her toddler son.  We chatted a bit and when she was ready to go, she told her son it was time to leave and he should come with her.

I watched her repeatedly over the course of a half hour try to coax him to come by saying they had a lot of errands to do so he needed to be able to walk there.  Finally I asked her why she didn’t just pick him up and leave.  She told me she was tired and didn’t want to hold him.  I asked her if a stroller would make things easier for her, and she said she it was inconvenient to bring it.  I carefully commented that for a tired toddler at the end of his day to walk the distance she had described to me was quite ambitious- my 4.5 year old would have a problem with it when he was tired!

She told me her husband doesn’t want her son to use the stroller anymore and insists that he walk wherever they need to go.  They won’t pick him up when he’s unwilling to walk because they’re concerned it will teach him that he can determine what they should do rather than the parents doing it, and they don’t want him to become demanding and manipulative.

It was at this point that I asked her how old her son was since he seemed quite young to me.  She said he started walking two months before and now at 16 months was a very good walker.

I try not to push my opinions on people and avoid giving advice unless its asked for or I sense it would be appreciated.   I mentioned to her that at this age he’s still a baby and he didn’t seem to be disobeying but looked tired after a long day (it was around 5 pm).  When I saw she was set on the idea that they can’t give in to him, I didn’t say anything else but smiled and wished her a nice evening when they finally left.

Does it seem to anyone else that the age our children are allowed to be children is shrinking?

This mother was afraid of her child being dependent and to counter her fear of his dependence she insisted he act independently.  But our children are supposed to be dependent on us!  They need to know we’re here for them, that we’re responsive to them and we can abundantly take care of them.  It’s critical that they know we want to take care of them and we’re here for them and that we have the resources to meet their needs.

This is something that is so topsy turvy in our world – there’s too much focus on kids becoming independent.  Kids need to be dependent, it’s an inherent part of their make-up and their dependence on their parents is healthy and important.  If they don’t attach to a parent they’ll attach to someone else (usually their peers) but you can’t bypass this dependence.

It’s easier to make the call of when to encourage dependence when we know what the difference is between a child’s wants and needs.  It gets confusing when we don’t know which is which, so we sometimes give them too much of what they don’t need and too little of what they do.  It’s a learning process that we all go through and it’s an ongoing effort to stay balanced since the factors are always changing.

Regardless of who we or they are, our kids need lots of warmth, love, support and encouragement.   We don’t have to be afraid that by providing them with their needs that they’ll morph into spoiled brats overnight.  They won’t.

Avivah

How I developed confidence to make alternative choices for our family

The below is from the mother of a daughter with Trisomy 21.

>>I think what impresses me most is your confidence applying information you’ve read in books internet or other research. I don’t have that confidence. Although I may see the logic in a particular therapy eg., I’m often suspect about the possible unpublished side effects long/short term). ANd I haven’t found any doctor that is well versed enough in both conventional and non-conventional worlds, without having an agenda to push, that I find reliable. Do you know what I’m getting at? I’d like to know with whom, in Israel, you have consulted that you feel comfortable with. Thanks.<<

This is an interesting question and basically it is, how do you make a decision without the approval of an authority figure?

There are many wonderful trained professionals out there, both conventionally and alternatively trained.  There are also plenty of professionals who are mediocre.  But no matter how good their training or how knowledgeable they are, they can’t know everything.  And no matter what, no one – NO ONE – cares more about my children than I do.  A parent has a level of motivation and concern that you can’t pay anyone to have.  

What helps me to be open to learning and applying new information is to look around and see who is getting the kind of results I want to have in my life – I don’t know if it’s ever been someone doing what everyone else around them is doing.  When someone has a high quality of life in any area of life, it’s because they’ve been willing to look to their inner compass and take steps outside of the mainstream despite their discomfort or fear.

Reading books or doing online research is only part of my decision making process for Yirmiyahu although that has been significant.  I began my online research specific to Trisomy 21 when Yirmiyahu was 2 days old and in the NICU.  During those first few days, I spent my time in the hospital pumping milk, spending time next to Yirmiyahu’s incubator with my hand on him (wasn’t allowed to hold him at first) and thirteen hours a day on research.  I was a research maniac, trying to cram huge amounts of material in a short time to become conversant with the important points.  Once he was out of the hospital my time spent daily on this dropped to about two – four hours for probably his first year.  I still read a good bit and the more you learn, the more you understand there is to learn but I don’t feel I have to spend as much time on it now as I did then since I’ve gotten a decent understanding of various issues involved.

For most decisions I’ve made, I’ve discussed my concerns with alternative and conventional physicians.  Sometimes they didn’t have an opinion because they weren’t familiar with what I was asking about.  You have to know who to ask about what – you can’t go to the hardware store to buy milk!  In addition to traditional doctors I also take Yirmiyahu to a naturopath and osteopath and I ask them both certain kinds of questions.  His osteopath can explain the specifics of facial bone structure and how it’s affected by manipulation whereas others who aren’t knowledgeable in this field would say this is impossible or unproven despite the long history of this work.

I’ve spoken to therapists about different approaches.  I’ve been in touch with those who aren’t certified but have become experts in different areas by studying every possible bit of information relating to their child’s area of challenge.  I’ve been in touch by with one such mother about T21 and another regarding thyroid issues.   I’ve been very fortunate to find two wonderful resource people in the US who have helped me interpret the results of Yirmiyahu’s bloodwork.  Everyone has different expertise and experience that they draw on.

There are consequences to taking action.  Hopefully they’re positive but of course there’s always the possibility that they won’t be.  At the same time, we too often get caught up in our desire for security and forget that not taking action also has consequences.

To illustrate this, I’ll share the following that is specific to Yirmiyahu, which I’ve written about before.  Yirmiyahu began having breathing problems when we introduced dairy formula that didn’t resolve until months later when I was finally able to convince the doctors he needed dairy-free formula.  When we introduced soy formula he began throwing up repeatedly after having just six ounces and had to be hospitalized.  But technically he has tested allergen-free on allergy tests and I was told by a pediatric allergist there’s no reason not to give him either of these things.  If I had chosen to be passive out of fear of doing something differently, he would still be having dairy formula and require regular steroids and nebulizer treatments twice a day to deal with the side effects.  

Knowing that Yirmiyahu was born with a weak digestive system that was further compromised by high doses of antibiotics in his early days, I chose to give him supplements that included probiotics early on (probiotics started at four days, vitamin supplements started at 8 weeks).  I also decided not to give Yirmiyahu gluten when he began eating solids.  He tested celiac free on every blood screen so it seemed I was being unnecessarily restrictive; more than one doctor told me Yirmiyahu has no issue with gluten and I could give it freely.  I didn’t believe it and continued to give him many other foods but not those containing gluten.   This decision wasn’t validated until recently when I sent his latest labwork to someone with alternative health training, who said the results clearly indicate an area of concern since he doesn’t eat gluten and yet his test results still are showing antibodies – that’s significant.  Two pairs of eyes looked at the same information and came to two opposing conclusions .

I’m giving these examples to show that just because you ask the professionals and you go along with their opinion doesn’t mean the results for your child will always be positive.  No  matter what, there will be different opinions about every single decision you need to make for your child.  No  matter who you listen to, you risk doing something wrong that could have consequences long term that you can’t anticipate.  So what do you do?

You strengthen your inner compass one decision at a time. You look into an issue as much as you can, you ask those who are knowledgeable for their opinions, you take it all into account, you ask God for help in doing the right thing for your child and then you make the best decision you can based on all of that.  We’re all doing the best we can with the information we have.  We have no guarantee that our efforts will bring us success, but we can be fairly assured that if we don’t make any efforts that success isn’t going to result.

My vision for Yirmiyahu’s future is one that medical and therapeutic professionals who are traditionally trained would probably say isn’t realistic.  Some of you would say I’m dreaming also.  That’s okay.  I’m not looking to anyone else to tell me what I want to do is reasonable or acceptable.  I’m looking to my inner compass.

Avivah

High school tuition expenses at charedi bagrut yeshivas

shekelsWith all the hoopla in the current government about the importance of charedi schools providing a core curriculum to their male high school students, something I haven’t seen mentioned is cost.

In dollars and cents(shekels and agurot?) it’s been ignored that It costs a lot of money to send a son to a charedi high school with a full bagrut curriculum.  A lot more than a typical charedi yeshiva and both yeshivas are more than the fully government funded public high schools.  The annual tuition for our ds15 is $8820.  Remember, this is an Israeli school and parents aren’t making American salaries.

Unlike in the US, there are no scholarships through the schools, not merit based nor need based.  However, I was told by someone who sends her son to the particular school that my son is at that there’s a private outside organization that financially assists families to some degree with tuition.  This was also mentioned in the form letter sent to everyone at the beginning of the year, so I asked the secretary about it.  She told me that it will take a couple of months until the scholarship process for the year begins and in the meantime you pay full tuition.  I told her that if someone needs a scholarship that would imply they don’t have the means to pay full tuition but she said that’s how it is.

So that’s what we did and for five months didn’t hear anything about this.  When asked how people afford this I really didn’t have a good answer.  Then a couple of weeks ago the secretary called and told us that ds15 and dh needed to be in Jerusalem for the interview and testing (3 hour test for ds) a day later.  It was changed to the following week (naturally we were notified the evening before the appointment – this ‘wait a long time and hurry up at the last minute’ seems to be a way things are commonly done here).

There are a number of factors that they take into account when determing how much of a grant to give towards each student’s education – family size, income, extentuating cirumstances and how well the student does on the testing.  The interviewer had already knew about ds15’s academic performance in school and when ds finished his testing, he thanked the proctor.  The proctor told him – in all seriousness – that if a person says ‘thank you’ he has 5 points automatically added to his final grade!  Who knew that teaching your child to be polite and appreciative would also be financially helpful? :)

If you’re granted a scholarship, you pay a reduced amount to the school and this private organization pays the balance to the school.  So the school is paid fully whether you get this grant or not.  We were offered a generous scholarship and that means that over the past five months we’ve already paid our annual tuition through the end of the year!  I’m so grateful that an organization like this is available – this tuition expense has been a big pressure for us and did I mention I’m so grateful? :)

Avivah

Rethinking my internet usage

internet-out-of-orderLast week my phone service went out.  This happens every six months or so, so we called the phone company and they told us a couple of days later the repair man would be there.

Two days later he came and fixed the problem (humidity inside the wall affecting the phone wires).  The next time I used the phone I noticed there was still a lot of static on the line but for all of Friday and then Saturday night the phone was working.

Sunday morning I woke up and there was once again no phone line.   This time the internet was also down.  I can live without a phone but take away my internet and now there’s a problem!  We called the repair man who said he would be there at the end of that day.  He wasn’t. The next day we called the phone company and they said it would be another two days before they could send someone. So we waited.

This period reminded me of the time my computer was broken for a couple of months and I would travel every 2 – 3 days to the public library in the US to post on my blog.  I was very focused on how I used my available online time since you get 30 – 45 minutes at the libraries I was at, so there wasn’t time to browse, look at interesting links, read about things that weren’t immediately relevant or important.  Since I couldn’t do the things online I would have wanted to do, I was able to relax and fully focus on the real life things in front of me instead.  Life felt simpler and more peaceful.

That’s how it was during our few days of no phone or internet service.  There was no pull to do online stuff since I knew I couldn’t.  I was more present for my kids and husband, I was more present for myself, my house was cleaner, I was more mentally focused and went to sleep earlier.

During this time I started thinking about nice it would be if I didn’t need the internet.  Our entire generation is involved in a huge social engineering project that I feel bodes poorly for all of humanity – we’re all so plugged in.  The internet is endless and there’s always more and more to pull you in.

The internet feels real.  So we ignore the people around us on line in the stores, sitting next to us in waiting rooms or buses, or even at our own dinner tables while we endlessly seek more stimulation and connection online.

I don’t have a smartphone.  I  try very hard not to be plugged in throughout the day on my home laptop.  I’ve made clear boundaries for myself regarding the sites I visit since I can get lost in time and have nothing to show for my time afterward.  But it’s not enough.  As much as I didn’t want to see it (because you recognize something isn’t serving you, you have to be willing to make a change), when I was offline for a few days it was patently clear to me that my time online is excessive and it’s lowering my quality of life.

As obvious as it was to me that I was benefiting by not having access, within ten minutes of my internet connection being restored and I suddenly felt a pull to go check my messages.  Even though I knew I didn’t need to and even though I didn’t do it, that inner push and pull was back.

I’m thinking about how I can live without internet.  Okay, that sounds ridiculous because of course you can live without it!  For me it doesn’t feel easy at all.  It’s a real dilemma because  I do need it but I’m thinking seriously about the feasibility of getting rid of my home internet connection.  In order to take concrete actions to move toward being less tied to my online connections, I unsubscribed to listserves that send me daily digests that are no longer relevant to my life, changed my settings to web-only to all other listsevers, deleted myself from a number of Facebook groups and changed the settings for all other groups so I won’t be notified of any activity unless I go onto Facebook.  I’ve unsubscribed from every kind of advertisement that comes into my inbox.  I got the unread messages in my inbox down from over 200 to under 20!

In the process of going through all of these inbox messages, it was striking to me how few of them actually mattered significantly to me; most were of casual interest.  And that horrible thing is that the emails that mattered most tend to not get responded to in a timely way since I’m so busy trying to manage all the incoming messages and then they get buried.  I responded to a number of people who had sent personal messages.  Several people wanted to know about meeting or speaking with me about different topics and this kind of thing is honestly challenging for me – my phone time is very limited and I reserve it for consultations and close friends.  Now with the time I’m freeing by cutting down online I was able to accommodate for these requests.

While my internet was down, I visited a friend who recently had a baby – I was able to do this without any guilt about leaving my family midday because I had been fully present for the kids and knew they felt satiated by my presence.   (In contrast to when your mind is wandering and your kids sense that you aren’t really with them even when you’re physically with them.)  Someone who I’m not close to called and I was able to provide a listening ear without feeling conflicted about everything I needed to do.  I had time to share memories of a friend who passed away with another friend, respond to a friend’s annual New Year’s letter.  I called a long time acquaintance to congratulate her on the wedding she just made (often I think of doing something like this and then push it off an embarrassingly long time and then say to myself there’s no longer any point in calling) and spent another hour catching up.  I was spending my time and emotional energy on real life connections that filled me up rather than left me feeling depleted.

I was able to for a short time not think about but actually be a person who does acts of kindness for others without reservation.  Often I feel like I’d like to but I’m maxxed out and I just can’t do more than I am.  And it’s true, if I continue to use my time the way I’ve been using it I won’t be able to be more than I am right now.

“The first step to getting what you want is having the courage to get rid of what you don’t.”

So where does all of this clarity leave me?  Frustrated.  Frustrated because I know that getting rid of internet in my house will dramatically improve the quality of my life in every area.  Frustrated because the internet is addictive and if I keep it I’m always going to be spending too much head space managing it.   Frustrated because I do need it to some degree and I don’t have local places (that I’m aware of) that are the equivalent of the US libraries, where I could log in and do what I need to do in a minimal way.

 How do you manage the internet in your life?

Avivah

Guest post – ‘My Battle with Post Aliya Depression’

DepressionToday I’m sharing with you the powerful story someone sent to me a couple of weeks ago.   The writer shares very openly and honestly about the blackness she experienced after making aliyah.

She says she used to think that things like this happened to people with dysfunctional childhoods – that’s how I used to think as well.  I thought my children were guaranteed to never go through difficulties of this magnitude by raising them in a home with two loving parents filled with warmth, time, love and acceptance and appreciation for each one as he is.  However, God has His plan for us and the potential to grow through hard times is always part of every person’s story.

Thank you Anonymous (she isn’t anonymous to me) for your courage in sharing your story to help others.  I’ve changed some identifying details to protect her privacy.

**************************************

My Battle with Post Aliyah Depression

Who could have asked for more a perfect childhood and adolescence? I was blessed with loving parents, educational achievement, exemplary conduct, friends, as well as a strong belief in Hashem and Torah. My family was always there for me, I never had a need unmet. I worked diligently in high school and was accepted into my first-choice college. Thereafter, I graduated with high academic honors, had a wonderful experience in Torah seminary, and began an exciting career in political advocacy.

Soon thereafter, I met my soul-mate. Hashem gave us three beautiful children, a strong marriage, financial stability, health, a supportive Jewish community – my life was fulfilled. Then, without any warning, my husband was bit by the “aliyah bug,” and things were never the same again in in our household. We had just bought a second car and our first home, and we had had our second child when I was informed that, in order to fulfill our destiny, we must move halfway across the world to Israel.

Initially, I fought it. I was so happy in our Jewish community, the kids were doing well socially and academically, my husband had a great job, and—perhaps most significantly—we had a huge student loan debt that we could never foresee paying off on an Israeli salary and a house to sell in a market that had recently collapsed. My husband was not deterred by these obstacles. However, I was at least able to convince him that—although, yes, miracles happen in Eretz Yisrael—we cannot rely on that. He reluctantly agreed that we needed to sell our home first and pay off our debt before we could make aliyah.

My husband found a higher-paying job, and we started chipping away at the loans and the mortgage.  After five years, and at a considerable loss, we were finally able to find a buyer for our house. Then, we found out about the possibility of receiving grant money from Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) upon making aliyah. If we were willing to move to the north of Israel, we could potentially get enough financial support from NBN to make aliyah a reality. The crux of the NBN Go North program was that participants were obligated to remain in north of the country for three years. After completing our pilot trip and some further research, we felt that northern Israel would likely match our needs and desires well. We loved the natural beauty, the weather, the topography, the slower pace of life, and the general culture of the Galilee and Golan. We also knew that my husband would be much more likely to find employment in the north in his profession and that the lower cost of living in this part of the country would allow us to hopefully buy a home there one day.

Despite personal reservations of mine about leaving all of our family, friends, culture, language, and everything familiar behind, I hopped aboard the aliyah train. I realized that my husband would never be content to remain the U.S., and I knew that living in Eretz HaKodesh would enable us to more fully follow the will of G-d and bring mitzvah observance to a whole new level. What I did not know was just how difficult making aliyah would be, especially to a part of the country which is somewhat isolated with few “Anglo-Saxons,” and therefore limited resources for English-speakers.

 On arrival to our new home in a city in the upper Galilee, I discovered that everything was a struggle. We had no family in Israel and, at the time, we did not have any friends living in that part of the country and, therefore, no support system.  We had not been able to afford a lift (shipment), so the initial stages of aliyah were about: sleeping on thin cots on the floor; managing without a refrigerator, washing machine and dryer; having no source of heat in the apartment; and managing without a car in one of the rainiest, coldest winters in Israel’s history. We had to leave the oven running with its door open 24 hours a day with its accompanying danger to our young kids in the home just to keep from freezing.  Before we had any handle on Hebrew, we muddled our way through banking, using the post office, going grocery shopping, and paying bills. Making do without a car, I found myself frequently pushing a stroller in the rain for the thirty-minute walk to my daughter’s daycare only to walk drenched another half-hour to ulpan (intensive Hebrew language classes). The daily journey was reversed in the afternoon.

Shopping was a major obstacle in our area. I remember my husband once had to go to four stores to find cheap-quality adhesive tape. I did not know what food was kosher enough for us and what to avoid, at which restaurants it was okay to eat, or which fruits and vegetables had ma’aser (tithes) taken. Unlike the place we had come from in the U.S. where we felt welcomed and wanted, our new home had no real sense of community and I felt very alone. For the first time in our lives, we were surrounded by Jews, but each person seemed part of their own social group, and synagogues were a place to daven (pray), not make friends. Most people considered Shabbat a time to spend with their (Israeli) family and not to invite over guests, especially not those that could not even speak the language. The community center was great for after-school activities but not for meeting new people.

Because I could not speak Hebrew, I was no longer able to go to shiurim (Torah lectures) or cultural events, or even feel a part of society. I knew that I needed to learn Hebrew to thrive, so I diligently made the trek to and from ulpan daily, did all the homework assignments, and tried my best, but somehow that was not enough. I got sick in the middle, took a leave of absence and rejoined another group a few months later. After completing Ulpan Aleph (beginners’ level) twice, I spoke Hebrew at about the level of a two- year-old. Somehow, I was able to master college-level physics, biology, chemistry, and calculus but Hebrew was something my brain could not grasp.

Compared with my pre-aliyah self-image as an educated, highly-functional adult, I now had become someone who was essentially deaf, mute, illiterate, and culturally incompetent. When I walked onto the street, I felt as though people looked at me as mentally-challenged. Every time someone would say to me in a well-meaning way, “why don’t you try going to ulpan to learn Hebrew?,” I would cringe and my self-esteem would drop another notch.

I felt like I needed at least a temporary break from my struggles in Israel, so with considerable effort, I was able to convince my husband to spend the summer back in the U.S. In addition, this would give him the opportunity to earn an American salary for a few weeks. Since we had been subsisting solely on sal klita (monthly stipend from the Israeli government to new olim) while we studied in ulpan, the extra income was badly needed. My husband worked at a very high-paying job in rural America, and the children and I stayed with family members in the US.

Unfortunately, this trip presented a new set of emotional trials. I felt that I was rejected by my family. In the midst of a disagreement, they told me I could not continue staying at their house, and that I had basic personality flaws. As evidence, they cited the fact that my grandfather, who had lived with us before aliya, and whom I had helped look after for the last five years of his life, died angry with me. I reacted to this rebuke with feelings of guilt, loneliness, and a further plunge in my already teetering self-esteem. For the first time in my life, I envied people who did not have family obligations or religious compunctions and could take their own life.

Upon returning to Israel, my husband and I decided that we should move to a yishuv, a small rural village with selective admission, which we hoped would bring us a sense of community that we so desperately wanted. We began to explore our options with many of the religious yishuvim in the north and found a common theme. There was no housing to be found, unless you were willing and able to build a home—which we were not. The other message we perceived during our exploration was that the resident Israelis were happy with their status quo and were not looking for newcomers who were culturally different and Hebrew incompetent, (i.e., “we don’t want our nice Israeli community to turn into another Little America.”) After an extensive application process filled with less-than-enthusiastic reception, we finally found a rental on a yishuv that was willing to accept us.

During our year on the yishuv, I found that when I asked people for help, most of my neighbors were willing to give of their time and effort happily and generously. However, very rarely did anyone reach out to us, invite our children to their house to play, or have us for a shabbat or yom tov meal. It was hard to find others who shared our religious hashkafa. We were called “too Beis Yaakov” for the dati leumi (National Religious) crowd, but we knew that we could not fit in with the Israeli Haredi segment of society. Our children were also suffering. They were not accepted by the other kids on the yishuv who had mostly grown up with each other. They routinely heard from their peers, “We don’t want you here, go back to America.” They were also getting physically bullied, sometimes by children much older than them, and I could not speak enough Hebrew to intervene with the kids or their parents. I felt completely unempowered and felt a total lack of control over my life.

To make matters worse, I was physically isolated and felt stranded on the yishuv without the ability to drive. Although I was now in my mid thirties and had been driving in the U.S,. since age 17 and had never been in an accident, I could not pass my drivers examination in Israel. I also could not find a job without the necessary Hebrew skills and reliable means of transportation. I began to hate my life, cry a lot, have difficulty eating, and sink into major depression. My husband was frustrated with me. He felt that I was not giving Israel a fair chance and that my negative attitude was ruining our chance to have a successful aliyah.

So, I felt like I had to keep everything inside. I was not comfortable to talk to my friends in the US about my problems, because when we spoke, they expressed awe at how fortunate had been to be able to make aliyah. I certainly did not feel like I could talk with our Israeli neighbors about my situation because I did not want to appear against their homeland. So I was living a lie, pretending to everyone to be happy in Israel, but in private, I longed to return to the U.S. every day.

Eventually, my husband realized that something was wrong with when he noticed that I had little appetite and was progressively losing weight. He found an American-Israeli CBT therapist that I could meet with on Skype. This became a bright spot in my life. She recommended that I find an English-speaking Torah learning partner, helped me find volunteer work in my field, and most importantly improved my poor self-confidence. I gradually got out of the dumps, and started to slowly make friends, develop realistic goals, and become more able to stand up for myself. She helped me communicate better with my husband and our marriage improved.

Then unfortunately, I relapsed. When I could not meet with her for one week due to internet malfunction, I completely panicked. I had had a difficult week and had expected she would be able to help me deal with my problems. When the help I was seeking that week did not materialize due to circumstances beyond my control, I panicked. It was then that I realized that I had become emotionally dependent on my therapist. Considering that I had never felt addicted to anything or anyone in my life, this dependency created a huge source of anxiety for me, especially knowing that our therapy was of a short-term nature.

I felt like I had failed therapy and went into a deep depression that even my therapist had difficulty helping me conquer. I became obsessed with death – wishing for it, davening for it, and wondering how I could accomplish it. I realize that for someone has never experienced depression, it is hard to understand how anyone can feel this way; but the emotional pain that I felt on a daily basis was worse than the most intense physical pain I had ever experienced (and I had gone through childbirth three times). Unlike regular sadness, where the sufferer expects that things will improve and that he can still determine his own destiny, I had a feeling of complete helplessness over my fate and hopelessness that the pain would ever go away. In my mind, my only way out was dying. I had never used alcohol or illegal drugs, but now I often wished I had access to these substances and I could take something – anything—to numb the awful pain.

Where was my emunah (faith) during this time? Before aliya, when I went through difficulties, I was comforted by my faith that Hashem controls the world and everything is bashert, meant to be. Depression is an insidious illness, warping the thoughts of its victims. I came to believe that the reason that I was suffering so deeply was that G-d was furious with me and, therefore, I must be a terrible person. I was burdened with the emotion of guilt, rather than feelings of bitachon (trust in G-d).

Through all of this pain, I confided in no one, completely embarrassed at how weak I was, ashamed about my bad feelings towards Israel, and worried that if my husband found out, our marriage would be permanently damaged. I had always been so careful to eat healthy, exercise daily, wear my seatbelt, and stay away from anything dangerous in order to maximize my chances of living a long, productive life. Now, I was preoccupied with death. My feelings intensified to the point where every time I’d pass by kitchen knives I would want to use them to harm myself, and every time I passed by our box of medicines, I would want to take enough of them to die.

I finally opened up to a couple of friends in the U.S., which helped, but it was not enough to get me to change my distorted thought patterns. I could not believe what was happening to me. I had gone from someone who disliked pain enough to never get her ears pierced to someone who was cutting herself with a knife on purpose, to reduce the emotional pain with which I was plagued with daily. Through all of this, the only thing keeping me going was the knowledge that I had a husband and three children who depended on me.  If not for that constant thought, I am sure that I would have taken my life.

The following summer, our family bought us five airline tickets to the US so we could visit them.  After my last summer in the US, I was very nervous about the upcoming trip and was having great difficulty sleeping. I discussed this with my family doctor. She diagnosed me with depression, and prescribed sleeping pills and an anti-depressant. I took the sleeping medication as needed, but I could not bring myself to take the anti-depressant; that would require that I admit that I had psychiatric illness, a fact that I was not ready to face.

The summer trip was an emotionally tumultuous experience, which further worsened my depression. One night in the US, while staying with relatives, I remember forcing myself to go to sleep on my hands so that I would not be able to take the entire box of sleeping pills next to my bed. On the one hand, I had a strong desire to fall asleep and never wake up, but at the same time I knew that my husband and children were counting on seeing me alive the next morning.

By the time we returned to Israel, which I had begun to see as my prison, I wished so much to die that I basically stopped eating, and I was so troubled by the conflict in my mind over whether or not to commit suicide, that I could not sleep at night. After a few days of almost no food or sleep, I knew I was in trouble. I could barely muster the strength to make my daughter a tuna sandwich for dinner. I knew that I could not go on like this, so I finally opened up to my husband. He seemed to take the news better than I expected he would.

He promptly took me to the local hospital ER for an immediate psychiatric assessment. I was given three prescriptions, told to continue therapy, and sent on my way. One medication gave me such bad tremors I could not continue it, but the other two had side-effects I could live with. The medications did help reduce my anxiety and dampened my suicidal impulses. At this point, we had started settling into our new community to which we had moved just prior to our U.S. trip.

Thank G-d our new home was a much more suitable place for us. I told people in the neighborhood that I was “sick,” and they really became a source of support for me.  It was warmly reminiscent of our old community that we had left in the U.S.  I opened up to a few more friends in the U.S. and Israel and was pleasantly surprised to see that these confidants continued to respect me and like me, despite my failings and weaknesses.  I was no longer the “perfect” spouse, mother, and friend, but I still had a devoted husband and friends who stuck by me.

With supportive people in my life to confide in, I did not feel so dependent on my therapist. Some of my friends and my husband began to daven and say tehillim for me regularly, and my husband donated money to a yeshiva that prayed for me daily at the Kotel. My husband further offered to take our family back to America irrespective of all financial consequences (i.e., we would owe NBN the grant back) if it was necessary for my mental health. Also, the fact that I did not have to hide so many things from my him reduced my anxiety level. I was starting the road to recovery.

The next few weeks were spent in fear – my husband forbid me to go to a gorge near our house because he was afraid I would jump off, medications (except the antidepressants I was taking) were stored at a neighbor’s house, and all sharp implements were hidden away. If I had a headache, I was out of luck, and if I needed to tighten a screw, cut vegetables, or remove a loose thread from my clothes, I had to wait for my husband to get home from work to bring out the tools from hiding, and then replace them. During this time, I was able to convince my therapist to increase me temporarily to twice a week. I also started meeting weekly with a life coach and with a social work student. Thank G-d with all of this support, I improved tremendously to the point where I began to once again love myself and my life and even enjoy being in Israel.

Now looking back on this experience, I wonder why this happened to me, what I can learn, and how I grow can from it.  First, my attitude towards mental health has changed. I used to think that people who had mental/ emotional illnesses such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, alcoholism and other addictions either had a “problematic” genetic history or had gone through abusive or traumatic childhoods. I never thought something like this could happen to me. I think I have become a better listener and more empathetic to people who are suffering.

I also realized that a person’s subjective state of mind is so much more important than their objective reality. If someone is battling physical illness but has a positive attitude about his life, that person is in a much better position than someone who is may appear to have an almost perfect life, but suffers from depression. I also used to be very much against use of antidepressants, thinking that people should address the root of their problems, rather than try to medicate them away. Now I realize that depression is largely a biochemically-based disease and, just as some diabetics need insulin to regulate their blood sugar, depression is a state of serotonin deficiency and may require pharmacological intervention.

I also have learned that I do not need to be perfect, and it is okay if, once in a while, my children watch a movie because I feel too exhausted to parent them or if we have plain pasta or take-out pizza for dinner every now and then because I do not have the stamina to cook anything more nutritious. I think I have also learned how to be able to be assertive in a country where aggression is more of the norm and how to make myself heard. I am still working on not giving weight to what other people think of me. For example, I know that I took good care of my grandfather and that we had a loving relationship even if my extended family thinks otherwise. I know that I excelled academically, even though when people hear me speak Hebrew it may appear otherwise.

I now see that the fact that I battled depression and still managed to be a pretty good wife and mother even on days where just getting out of bed and brushing my teeth in the morning felt like a Herculean effort means that I am not weak as I once thought. Rather, Hashem imbued me with inner strength even in the worst of times. My parenting style has also responded to the lessons I’ve learned from therapy – I no longer try to shield my children from all of the normal hardships of growing up. I do not want them to have false sense of comfort in life.  Instead, I appreciate that the challenges they face now can be used to bolster their resilience and reduce the likelihood that they will one day fall into to the grasp of depression.

I hope that as someone who has suffered from clinical depression, anxiety, and suicidal thinking that I will one day be able to help other people in that situation. Most of all, I now realize how fortunate we are if we wake up with vitality; how wonderful it is to look at our children and say to ourselves, “I hope to be alive to see them grow up, get married, and have their own children;” how magnificent it is to enjoy normally pleasurable experiences such as eating, spending time with loved ones, engaging in a hobby, or relaxing with a favorite novel or movie.

I used to pray that I should have a long, healthy life, shalom bayis (marital harmony), enough money for my family’s needs, and the ability to raise successful, Torah-observant, healthy children. Now I mainly daven that I should feel strong enough to be able to cope with life, regardless of what tests G-d brings my way. This is truly being alive.

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Last week I woke up thinking about what an ideal wish would be – I shared that with you in my post last week .  That morning I spent quite a bit of time thinking about it but  I was focused on what wish would give me the concrete results in my life I wanted – health, prosperity, etc.    Then later the same day I received this letter.  In her closing words, she hones in on what the ideal is – to be strong enough to cope with whatever comes our way.

Avivah