Nov 5 2014
I don’t know about you, but most of the time when my kids are talking to me, I am not fully listening. “Aha” and “Oh that’s great!” roll off of my lips as I glance in their general direction while I am cutting a cucumber, finding a lost shoe or wondering why there is still not a match for that pink sock. Sometimes my kids notice this lack of attention and scold me by saying, “eyes on mine,” to be sure that my limited attention will find its way to them. But with three kids, managing our home and my work, there’s a lot to keep me distracted.
Our recent move to Israel has helped me slow down and focus more because what they need me to focus on is becoming more pressing than “look at this cool Lego thing I built.” In their way, they are processing what it means to have left the place where they felt at ease, to join a new culture as an immigrant. “I just don’t know what’s going on,” my son laments, because his first grade teacher in Jerusalem doesn’t speak to him in English. And my 3-year-old pines, “when am I going to have a playdate with my friends from my old school?” The ninth of never, I don’t reply. “Everyone here has black eyes,” my daughter continues, talking about the mizrachi (Jews who are eastern or oriental in origin) children in her gan (nursery school), who are very different from the blue or green-eyed classmates in Sag Harbor. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 6 2014
For the past few weeks, at school drop off, I have tried to disengage from my red-faced, hysterically crying and clinging children. My kids have never been those happy-go-lucky kids who skip into school, but the intensity of our morning separations has hit a new extreme this year. There is a reasonable explanation for our tearful new reality–we recently moved across the world from familiar Cleveland, Ohio, to our new home in the ancient city of Jerusalem.
We are thrilled to be living in the city of our dreams, but my four kids’ transition from their cozy Jewish day school to a bustling Israeli public school system has been challenging. Moving to Israel with preschool and school-aged kids is not for the fainthearted. Since the start of the school year on September 1st, school-related crying, whining, complaining, and defiance have become as much a part of our daily routine as breakfast and brushing teeth.
I dread school drop off probably more than my kids do. It is torturous to leave them in an environment where, although they are safe and being cared for, they can hardly communicate in or comprehend the rapid-fire Hebrew being spoken around them. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 1 2014
When I made aliyah from Montreal, I never planned to teach English in an Israeli classroom. Aliyah was about leaving Montreal to become Israeli, rather than bringing a piece of Canada here with me. I soon discovered, however, that since everyone wants to speak English, teaching English is a much sought-after profession. As it turns out, it’s also a great day job for a writer.
I began the new school year by writing vocabulary words on the white board. The day’s assignment was to define and use certain phrases: “What is a relief map?” I ask them, quite certain they will be unfamiliar with the three dimensional map that portrays the ups and downs, mountains and valleys, of a geographical terrain. A hand goes up. A boy in the back. It’s always the boys in the back who give me butterflies in my stomach those first few weeks of school. We haven’t had our meetings with their homeroom teacher so I don’t know the family history of each student, which child might have lost someone close during this summer war in Gaza, which child might be struggling through their parents’ divorce, or who might be trying to hide socio-economic issues under fake designer labels.
There is still so much I have to learn before I can become an effective teacher. For now, each student before me is a tabula rasa. I have to ask their name when they raise their hands; I still have not matched the wire-framed glasses, the dimpled cheeks, or the intense hazel-green gaze to the names on my list. Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 5 2014
Exactly two weeks ago, we were at Ben Gurion Airport, freshly minted Israelis, exhausted and exhilarated after a sleepless night on our aliyah charter flight. We came in the middle of a war and, along with all the excitement of a dream come true, was the specter of the sirens: When would we hear our first one? What would it sound like? Would we know what to do? And most importantly: Would the kids be OK?
As we drove home from the airport, and many times since then, whether it was while enjoying the vibrant landscapes of our glorious homeland or munching on decadent dulce de leche waffles at a cafe or standing on line to open our first Israeli bank account, I would suddenly think: “What if it were now?” But those thoughts have been fleeting and instead we’ve gone about building our new Israeli lives–making friends, learning the way to the local park, buying choco at the makolet, meeting the school principal, and figuring out which Israeli cream cheese is the most like Philadelphia for my kids’ discerning American palates.
We had danced around the danger. Right after we left the airport two weeks ago there was a siren there (the one that lead to the cancelled flights). When we went to dinner in Jerusalem last week with new friends, it turns out we had just missed a siren there. While at dinner that night, we missed a siren back at our home in the Judean Hills. Calls and texts flooded my phone: Are you OK? Were you scared? Our new, extraordinarily warm and welcoming friends near our barely-lived-in-yet home were checking up on us newbies to make sure we weathered the siren well. We’re OK, we reassured them. We missed it. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 29 2014
My Israeli husband and I, along with our kids, made aliyah two months ago. Our new neighborhood, a sleepy suburb of Tel Aviv, has been disrupted several times a day by the sound of a long piercing siren. Our 3-year-old twins, born and raised in New York, refer to the sirens as “a big fire truck,” but this time was different.
I was caught outside alone with the twins and our 6-month-old baby on our way to the playground after school. We had stopped to feed the baby and they sat next to me on a city bench chatting away and undoing their sandals to busy themselves. Suddenly, my worst nightmare came true and the sirens started piercing.
I started visualizing horrors as I ran to the nearest building holding my baby, leaving everything behind including my purse and stroller. I called for the twins to come with me and walk up the stairs to a nearby apartment building, but they wouldn’t. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 28 2014
I moved to Israel last week with four kids, ages 5 to 12, right before they stopped most flights to Israel.
Over the last month, while Israel had fallen on tumultuous times, I had been running my own Operation Protective Edge to keep my younger children in the dark about what was happening there.
Shielding them in the Cone of Silence had been easier because we had been driving cross-country from our former home in San Diego to New York over the last four weeks to get to our flight to Israel. We experienced glorious national parks in Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, stood at the foothills of Mt. Rushmore, zoomed across the Badlands in South Dakota, and splashed on slides in the Wisconsin Dells, the water park capital of the world. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 24 2014
I have finally gotten around to reading Ari Shavit’s book “My Promised Land” about a month after moving our family from Sag Harbor NY to Jerusalem. At first it was too intense to read, isn’t there something a bit lighter–something on the New York Times‘ top 10 summer reading list–that I could pick up instead, especially at a time of war when things are so intense here?
But now, I find the media/internet/Facebook posting cycle so fast and dizzying that I need to slow it down–getting a little bit of historical perspective helps. Shavit’s book paints a picture of the triumphs, challenges, and tragedies associated with establishing the State of Israel.
But there’s one line that struck me so deeply. Describing the experience of an immigrant mother who had left Baghdad after the farhud (pogroms) there and immigrated to Israel in the 1950s, Shavit writes, “She pretended that all was well for the children’s sake, that this was some sort of sandy summer camp and not the end of the world.” Read the rest of this entry →
Apr 14 2014
My dream house just went on the market. It has chocolaty hardwood floors, quaint beaded board in the dining room, an oversized family room and even a custom kosher kitchen that looks like it just popped out of Pinterest. It’s located in a vibrant Jewish community in an idyllic seaside southern California town where it’s a short walk to sweeping ocean views. Perfection.
The thing is: My husband and I are the ones selling it. In July, we are undertaking our own personal exodus and realizing our dream of making aliyah (moving to Israel). And while we are lucky to have a lovely place waiting for us in Israel, I can tell you that it won’t have the pottery-barn-perfectness of my American one.
We have been blessed in this house. We have listened to and laughed with numerous friends and even strangers at our dining room Shabbat table. Our yard has been the backdrop for back-to-school brunches welcoming new families to our day school and it’s where we’ve fed hordes of kids butterfly cupcakes after they moon-bounced and piñata-ed at our daughters’ birthday parties. I can still hear the singing of the hundred-plus guests who helped welcome our youngest son home from the hospital for his shalom zachor. We have even had the privilege of hosting the wedding of dear friends, the chuppah gracing our grass as they began a new life together in our yard. Read the rest of this entry →
Jan 27 2014
My son was 2 years old and we were living in the West Village. I wasn’t sure the city was the right place to bring up this kid. Maybe another kid, my yet-to-be-born daughter, for instance. But not him. He was and has always been a physically active kid. The only running around he could do was at the playground.
My husband was born on a kibbutz in Israel. He had always described his childhood in idyllic terms, with loads of freedom and activities and nature. He was the person at the Central Park petting zoo who could coax the cow out of the shed. He knew which fruits and vegetables were in season, when. His parents still lived there along with his sister and her children. And while I was not Israeli, or for that matter, even Jewish, I longed for the community and family life he described.
We took the 11-hour plane trip and arrived on the kibbutz. Instantly, my son and I were in love. On the kibbutz I watched him run around excitedly from person to person. Kibbutznik men are generally a loving bunch and were a constant source of entertainment for my young social son. And I? I was relaxed. On that visit, for the first time since my son was born, I could let my guard down. On an Israeli kibbutz, just 15 miles from the Lebanese border, I found peace. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 20 2013
The other day my 8-year-old son burst into tears when I told him he had to wear his old pair of pajamas because the new ones, which he has been wearing every single night since his grandma brought them to Israel in December, were unfortunately still in the washing machine. I hadn’t had time to put them in the dryer. Mea culpa.
He told me he refused to wear his old pajamas because they are a size seven and he is a size eight. Because he is 8. I apologized for my oversight. No good. I told him I would make it up to him and read an extra chapter of Charlotte’s Web. He wasn’t going for that. He wanted to stay up until his pajamas were dry. I said fine and as expected, he said FINE and went to put on his old pair. I know this kid. Then he lay down next to me in bed sulking while I read. Read the rest of this entry →