Saturday, September 17, 2011

Coming Home to Oakland

I really hope the memories we've created through our travels and life in Israel remain strong in our hearts. In case we forget, we have our blogs which we are having printed into books, one for each of us.
On our last night in Jerusalem, Mark went to a wine festival.  Micah and Jonah and I enjoyed dinner on Emek Refaim and finished packing and went to bed.
We traveled home from Jerusalem through Warsaw and New York.  In a big rush, Mark decided to purchase a couple of bottles of Israeli wine from the duty free store in the Tel Aviv airport.  Well, we get to Warsaw and try to go through security check to get from our arrival gate to our departure gate and the agent there tells us we cannot take the wine through.  Duty free shop forgot to give us a special sealed bag so the liquid wasn't allowed.  We asked if there was ANYTHING we could do.  He said the only option would be to exit the sealed area and check them in one of our backpacks.  So, we got to go through customs, got our European stamp from Poland, and stood in line to check Jonah's backpack, now empty except for two wine bottles and some cushioning clothes and newspapers.  We then got back with plenty of time to spare because our flight was delayed more than 2 hours total.  It was a very frustrating wait.  Every half hour they announced that they would give us an update in a half hour, then a half hour later, the update said, "we'll give you an update in a half hour."  LOL  Luckily, there was a delicious coffee shop there where I had a special hot chocolate and Mark had a special coffee treat.  We finally boarded and flew to New York where we had a now VERY short layover.  We just got our luggage, went through customs, cut to the front of the luggage check-in line and checked in, then cut to the front of the security line, went through security, quick bathroom stop, and picked up some food, and walked right onto our plane boarding for San Francisco.
We got home late in the evening.  Mom and Dad Bloom met us at the airport and brought us home to their house.  We stayed overnight and drove ourselves home in the morning. They had been taking care of my car while we were away so we used my Volvo wagon to drive home from San Mateo to Oakland.
The renters left our house in very good shape.  A few minor things had to be fixed like a slow draining sink, some broken off tiles, etc. but we really didn't have much to do.
We immediately unpacked all our clothes from our suitcases and storage.  We only had one day to unpack and repack for our trip to LA for our cousin's Bat Mitzvah.
However, my college friend Lara was also in town for a short time with her daughter Sophie so we agreed to get together at my house that afternoon and go out to dinner together at our favorite burrito place in Oakland, Los Cantaros on Grand Avenue.
But I got one of the biggest surprises of my life when in the door walked my freshman year college roommate, Jode Gedansky!  It was so excited to see her and get to chat with her about the directions our lives have gone.  We still have lots in common and I was so so happy to reconnect.
The next day we got in the car and drove to Fresno where we met Mom and Dad, Jennifer and Zach for a night in Fresno.  We went to the Fresno Grizzlies game and stayed overnight in the Radisson Hotel there.  It was pretty fun but not as good as in years past.  We couldn't get in too early because there was some kind of season-ticket holders' special event going on before the game.  So no practice balls from the stands, no players hanging out stretching and giving autographs.  Oh well.
Near Fresno we stopped a the Sun Maid Raisin factory store and bought some snacks and a postcard for Rafi "I hope I get my raisins from Fresno." Swidler who is one of Micah and Jonah's friends from All Star Sports Camp in Jerusalem..
The next day we drove to Los Angeles.  It was a wonderful Bat Mitzvah weekend for Maddy starting with the amazing Friday night dinner hosted by the family friends, the Saturday afternoon service and party at the country club, and the Sunday morning brunch at Chris and Laurie's where the kids were swimming while we ate yummy food and chatted with family.
While we were there we got to each some yummy kosher food on Pico, a new meat Mexican place.  YUM!

The weekend rounded out our trip beautifully because we stopped in LA for a long layover on our way to Fiji in March and while we were there we went to Pico, ate Chinese and Japanese food at Shanghai Diamond Garden on Pico, and met Maddy, Laurie, and Samy there for a pre-Bat Mitzvah chat.  What perfect Harbert bookends!  :-)

On our Saturday morning of the Bat Mitzvah weekend, we extended our Israel experience just a bit by attending a Modern Orthodox shul called B'nai David.  We know a couple of families there from Camp Ramah and the service felt very similar to the ones we experienced at Yedidya, Yakar, Shira Chadasha, and Mizmor L'David with a side-by-side mechitzah and a Torah carry through the women's section.
After the Bat Mitzvah weekend, we drove home and life in Oakland began again.  We had three days to get Micah ready to start his new school, CCJDS, and two more days for Jonah to be ready to start at Joaquin Miller in third grade. 

Good news to share - they are both loving school after about a month so far.  Micah has made new friends and is doing well at his schoolwork as a middle schooler
Our first week back, I forgot to go to three things that week.  A TBA book club Monday night, a JM auction envelope stuffing meeting Wednesday night, right across the street from our house, and finally a haircut appointment for both Micah and Jonah on Friday.  Well, Micah's hair was SO long, I don't know how I could have forgotten!  But it made me realize that I needed to start using the calendar that I bought for 10 shekels in Jerusalem.  It's a reminder of our special time there that I am carrying with me this entire school year.
Since then, not so many missed appointments.  We're getting back into the swing of things. I helped with Lice Check and one lunch prep at CCJDS.  I'm helping in the office, library, and working with students at Joaquin Miller.  I'm learning things for my Hadassah Trainers trainings, attending Rosh Chodesh, Hadassah, and WTBA events, and went back to book clubs.  I'm back in yoga class at Barefoot Movement and will start up Core Flow and ballet next week at Shawl-Anderson.  Mark and Jonah both had their birthdays and we enjoyed a San Jose Giants game with cupcakes, a San Francisco Giants game, and a very special musical Havdallah birthday party at our house.  Life is good and full.  We are busy and happy to be home.
Though I will miss our life in Israel, I very much appreciate being back in my chosen community with my special friends and sleeping in my own bed.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

One More Day!

Yes, that's all we have left, one more day.  We have been enjoying our last week here very much - cramming in as much fun and new memories as possible while revisiting old favorites.

Stacy, Howard, Leorah, and Peri were here for Friday night Shabbat dinner. They brought us yummy Marzipan rugelach, and we enjoyed spending time together.  We tried a "Bratslav" type synagogue but it was hot and boring.  Why didn't they have the air conditioning on?  The women's section was particularly isolated with a very dense wood grate mechitza covering the balcony windows.  Ruchie, our friend from Ofra, told me that her rabbi said with a balcony you don't need any additional screening, but I haven't seen any open balconies here yet.  On Saturday we touched two places.  One in our neighborhood that our wine steward at Gabriel restaurant said was excellent (it wasn't for us) and the Ashkenazi one in Yemin Moshe.  It was a very familiar feeling service but the women's section off to the side had yet another very think mechitza and I couldn't see a thing.

Today we took one last trip to the Old City.  It was not as crowded as it has been in the past.  We stopped for chocolate at Max Brenner in the Mamilla Mall where I got a "chocolata italika.' It was delicious.  Micah and Jonah got their chocolate syringes.  :-)  We then walked through the Arab market down to the Jewish Quarter, picked up a few last minute gifts for people, and went to the Wall.  We had all written one last prayer for the Kotel. Unfortunately, the women's section was SO crowded that I couldn't even get close to the Wall.  The men's section had a lot of open space so I called Jonah over to the mechitza and gave him my note to put in the Kotel.  Another disappointing visit to Judaism's holiest site for me.  Guess it's just not my thing.

We have a few fast food meals left to enjoy down on Emek Refaim.  Today I finally had New Delhi for the first time but I was disappointed in the Philly Steak Sandwich that was way too peppery.  Tomorrow I'll have Re:Bar for lunch and possibly some sushi for dinner.  Or I may get some soup at Magic Carpet (Marvad Haksamim).  I haven't decided yet.  Tonight BG (Barbara Goldstein from Hadassah) is taking us out to Olive and Fish where we almost went with Deborah Reback but it was too crowded.  Should be yummy!

I was sad to finish out ulpan at the Conservative Yeshiva.  It was great learning every day.  Our teachers were very creative which I really enjoyed.  We learned through songs, stories, "thoughts of the day," and beginner newspaper articles.  We used our book a little bit as well.  It was a very nice atmosphere for me.

I am saddest of all to leave Jerusalem. I had to adjust quite a bit to living here in this urban lifestyle but I b'emet (really really) love it here and can't believe that our 4 months in Israel are ending so soon.  I've enjoyed so many aspects of living here and know that if we could, I wouldn't mind living here.  There will be a lot of tears shed over the next few days.  Much as I look forward to coming home, seeing friends, reconnecting with the TBA community, the JM community,and the local Hadassah community, getting to know the CCJDS community, and just starting regular life again, I will mamash (really really) miss living here.  It's wonderful to enjoy such an extended vacation in such a special place.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What a crazy week! Visa Adventures and finally, Hadassah!

So, with two weeks left, we are trying to squeeze in lots of things.  But first we had a big adventure with our visas.

Mark's brother Barry came to visit us right after the TBA Congregational Trip left.  He spent some time in Eilat then joined us in Jerusalem, staying at the Little House in the Colony which is about 4 blocks from us.  After a couple of nights there, Mark and Barry took a little trip to the North to do some wine tasting.  In order to travel up north, Mark rented a car.  When he went to the car rental place, they told him that his visa was expired.  You see, a automatic visitor visa is only for three months but we are staying here a total of four months and three days.  As soon as we found out, we got some advice from friends and Mark made an appointment at the Misrad HaPnim, Ministry of the Interior.  Our appointment was for Tuesday, August 2nd at 12 noon.

We arrived a bit early and luckily another customer told us that we would need to fill out some forms.  So I went up to the "Israeli" floor and picked up four visa extension forms and brought them back down to the "Immigrants" floor to fill them out.  Surprisingly, once we got called for our appointment, only about 10 or 15 minutes late, it just took about a half hour for Miri in window 9 to complete our visa extension at a cost of just 170 shekels (about $50) per person.  The interesting part about this was when she asked me my parents' names, and my mother's parents' names.  It ended up being a really easy process.  It seems if you want to visit here, you have a salary currently coming in, you don't want to work here, and you've rented an apartment already, it's easy to get a visa extension.  :-)

Another very special event this week was our trip to Hadassah Ein Kerem.  This was so exciting for me.  And probably our only adventure centered around only me for our whole sabbatical.  We were very lucky to be introduced to Barbara Goldstein, past Hadassah National President and current Executive Director of Hadassah in Israel.  We met her when were were traveling with TBA and our tour guide, Yishai, knows her and introduced us when we were at The Valley of the Communities at Yad Vashem.  I was so excited to meet her!  She gave me her card and told us to call her so we could have a private tour of the hospital.

I called her after the TBA tour ended but she was traveling in the United States for three weeks so I had to wait until the end of July to call her to schedule our visit.  Finally we connected and set up our tour for Thursday, August 4th.

We waiting for the boys to get home from camp before setting out for Ein Kerem, one of the Western suburbs of Jerusalem.  Unfortunately, they DID NOT want to go.  They both whined and fussed but especially Micah.  He threw a huge tantrum.  It was really awful.  Jonah recovered pretty quickly but Micah took a lot longer.  We finally got them calmed down and ventured out to find a taxi to take us to Ein Kerem.  We arrived at the Hospital complex after about a 20 minute drive, and the driver dropped us off at the entrance to the mall where we were to meet BG as she calls herself at the Aroma Cafe.  There she was sitting waiting for us drinking her coffee.  :-)

Our first walk was through the mall, then through the newest main entrance of the hospital, the entrance to both the Davidson Tower and the current main hospital.  Later in the tour, we got to see the construction in action at the Davidson Tower with cranes moving things around high above our heads!  It was so cool!

Because 30 - 35,000 people, plus 5,000 staff, walk through the complex each day, the mall is a convenience for both consumers and store owners.  Bet you didn't know that Hadassah was in the business real estate business!

Our first stop was at the Chagall windows inside the gorgeous chapel that he helped design.  The windows depict the 12 sons of Jacob and include lots of symbolism both Jewish and Chagall.  Since Barbara had met Marc Chagall many times and heard directly from him what each window included and meant, we got to hear from her exactly what he had told her.  Some important features to notice are: (1) a white spot in the middle of some purple to remember when some of the windows were blasted out during the 1967 war, (2) Marc Chagall's house in one of the windows just because, (3) the bimah is lower than the seats instead of higher, one of a handful of synagogues with this placement, because "out of the depths I call to you," (4) no use of human forms in any of the panels - the hands that are shown are all imperfect, missing thumbs or fingers.  Chagall and his assistants created the technique for these windows just for this project. He had never made any stained glass product before this.  When he was approached and asked to do these for Hadassah, his reply was that he was waiting for someone to ask him to serve the Jewish community. (!!!)  Amazing.

They are so gorgeous I will show you some photos Mark took to let the windows speak for themselves.

This week, ulpan continues to go well.  I've definitely learned a lot and hope to continue learning more and more Hebrew after I return home.  Micah and Jonah continue to love All Star Sports Camp and next week will get to have even more fun doing "extended day" schedule.  Our days this coming week are just jammed packed with friends, last visits to places, eating out, hosting, etc.  It's all great fun now, and I am very sad about it coming to an end.  As much as I look forward to coming home, it's going to be a very big adjustment.

Also this Friday we took a family trip to Bet Shemesh.  We all took the bus together in Jerusalem for the first time (for Jonah and me it was our second time) and then we took a sherut from Jerusalem to Bet Shemesh and from Bet Shemesh back to Jerusalem.  It was great to see Mark's friend Ze'ev and to meet his wife Monica and their two children, and to enjoy a delicious brunch that they prepared for us, and to spend time with Mark's friend's Brenda and Steve Ganot who took us to see the caves. Very fun and full day.  You can read more about it here on Mark's blog.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Approaching the End

Wow.  It's hard to believe our four months are almost over.  We have about two weeks left, and things are really starting to wind down.  We have a few things we'd like to do before we leave that we are trying to squeeze in.  I want to get a massage, take a ballet class, and see a movie.  Tonight we are going to the Lev Smadar to see Footnote which has gotten rave reviews from people we interact with here in Jerusalem.  So that will check one item off my list.
We want to visit Bet Shemesh (Mark has two childhood friends who made aliyah years and go and now live there with their families) but we're not sure we can swing it.  We want to have a playdate with the Schweigs of Oakland who are in the German Colony this summer like us.  We want to absorb everything we can about Jerusalem to keep this special spirit with us when we return to Oakland.  We want to eat as much kosher meat at kosher restaurants as possible.  We want to see the shuk one last time.  And of course in the Old City, we want to go to the Wall one last time.
Some items that we recently checked off our list:  (1) spending Shabbat at a friend's house in the West Bank (to read about this in Mark's blog you can click here), (2) attending extra talks at the Conservative Yeshiva (I learned all about the fast days especially the 17 of Tammuz), (3) reconnecting with friends from our first ulpan (I even got to do a lice check on one of them!), (4) trying Cafe Ben Ami when it isn't Passover (two thumbs up!), (5) trying some restaurants off of Emek Refaim (enjoyed both Darna and Gabriel), (6) letting Micah and Jonah go to the local playground/park by themselves, and I'm sure much more that I will think of at 3:30 in the morning when I can't sleep.  If I do, I'll come back and add them to the list.
These four months have been such an amazing experience with much to remember.  As much as I don't want it to end, I am also getting ready to go home. 

Adventure on the Egged Bus System in Jerusalem

So, if you've been following our family's blogs at all, you know that we have not EVER taken a bus here.  We have walked virtually everywhere we needed to go locally.  When our trip was too far to walk, we took a taxi, since for the 4 of us to take a bus, it costs almost as much as a taxi to the same location.  Three times we rented a car to travel outside of Jerusalem.  More on car rental later.
It's not that we are afraid to take a bus because of terror attacks.  We are afraid to take a bus because we don't speak the language and don't know the city outside of our local area (read: walking distance) very well or at all.  So... why the adventure then?
Well, in Ulpan for Olim, Jonah became very friendly with a wonderful little boy named Chaim.  Chaim's family has lived in Florida and Israel and they speak English in the home.  As a matter of fact, Chaim's mom, Nitzah is South African with a delightful South African accent.  They are Chabad Orthodox, Chaim wears payot, kippah, and tzitzit on his tallit katan.  So, Jonah and Chaim became fast best friends at ulpan and had playdates together at our apartment, their apartment, and even the park as often as they could.  Then, sadly, Chaim and his family moved to Ramat Eshkol; Chaim missed the last two or three weeks of ulpan.  Jonah missed him very much.
Nitzah invited us to come visit there for a playdate.  One week, Chaim came to visit us here near his old apartment.  The following week, Jonah and I were scheduled to visit Chaim in Ramat Eshkol.  Ramat Eshkol is a 30 minute bus ride from our home.  Luckily, the number 4 goes directly from Emek Refaim to Sderot Levi Eshkol where Chaim lives.  Checking schedules on the website, I thought that we would have to transfer for our busride home.  But luckily, the number 4 also goes directly back from Sderot Levi Eshkol to Emek Refaim.  Hooray!  That made it much simpler.
It costs NIS 6.40 (6 shekels and 40 agurot) to ride the bus each way.  I had to scrounge and save our change so that we would have exact change for our bus fares each way.  This could have created an issue with our needing change for laundry, but luckily it didn't; we have had enough for both by raiding Micah and Jonah's allowance money and giving them bills for their coins.  So, for 12.80 each way, a total of 25.60, about $7.50, Jonah and I were able to travel to Ramat Eshkol and back.
Since I have never been to Ramat Eshkol before, I asked an English speaker on the bus if she would help me and show me where to get off.  She was also going to Ramat Eshkol so it was perfect and she told us exactly where our stop was.  On the way home, we knew where to get off because we are very very familiar with Emek Refaim, and we knew we were going to meet some long-ago friends of ours at Falafel Doron on Rachel Imenu.  The bus got crowded in both directions but not unbearably so.  Based on this one experience, the buses seem to be very clean and well air-conditioned, a special treat for this hot weather.  We ran into friends from Oakland on the first bus as well - the Schweig family from OHDS.  That was really fun for me!  They are living here for a while too and we hope to play with them before we leave August 16th. They were on their way to Machane Yehuda (the shuk).
It was a fabulous playdate.  The boys hung out together at Chaim's gorgeous apartment (with air conditioning!) for an hour or two and played together and played computer.  Then we all went to the park right behind their apartment building for some soccer in the sun.  It was really hot so the boys had to take turns being goalie in the shade at the bottom of the hill while the other kicked the ball from the sunny spot at the top of the hill.  Since it was right before dinner, I didn't want Jonah to have an ice cream or popsicle so Chaim and his three sisters had to wait until we left to get their treats.
I enjoyed chatting with Nitzah the whole time the boys were playing.  We have a very nice connection as well.  I truly believe (and know in my heart) that Jonah and Chaim will be friends forever and keep in touch even though they have only known each other for a short time like in the movie Beaches.  :-)
It wasn't bad, taking the bus. I'd be willing to do it again, as long as I don't have to transfer in a strange neighborhood where I'm not sure where to get off, which bus to pick up to get back on, etc.  If I had someone to hold my hand the first time through it, I might be willing to try.  Maybe Aliza will teach me?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Adventures in Acquiring a Library Card in Israel

This is a popular story in our family and the punch line has become one of Jonah's favorite quotes.

Near Micah and Jonah's first ulpan, Ulpan for Teenage Olim, there is a community center with an English and Hebrew library.  We decided to visit and to try to get a card so that we could take out books since we don't want to buy books here.  Not only are they more expensive here, they are heavy and we don't want to carry them home.

The librarian asked me to go upstairs and talk to Svetlana in order to sign up for a library card.  Svetlana is a very nice woman from Russia who speaks Hebrew and Russian but only a little bit of English.  I am a woman from the US who speaks English and only a teeny bit of Hebrew.  It was frustrating for us trying to communicate about the process by which we were to get our library card.  She kept trying Hebrew and I wouldn't understand. Then she'd try English and didn't know how to explain.  Finally, she says, "sprechen sie deutsch?"  And I said "lo, habla espanol?"  And she said "lo."  So we just kept going on in her broken English and my even more pathetic Hebrew and finally I filled out the paperwork, brought back the blank check for security purposes, and several weeks later, we got our card.  :-) 

The library has been an important resource for us because we need books for Micah and Jonah to read during Shabbat services.  And of course, we got a great story out of it.

It is also fun to run into friends at the library. Micah and Jonah see friends from their ulpan, their first summer camp (Camp Shelanu), and I saw my ulpan teacher Caron with her daughter.  It is a nice place in the community.

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun

It is hard for me to believe that three weeks of Conservative Yeshiva ulpan have passed already.  It has been quite an experience.  I made some friends in my class:  teacher Ouzi, Alex/Yehuda, Samuel/Shmuel, Yohannes, Mary, Henri, Elliot, Miki/Michal, Bonnie, Corinna and outside of my class: Kate, Marjie, Abbey, teacher Edna, Kath, Sarah, Annie, Cornelia, and I'm sure others I have not remembered.  There were many young people studying there - two sisters, some recent college grads, some current college students.  I have learned quite a bit of Hebrew -   new vocabulary, some grammar, and more.  It is less scary to try to do things on my own.  I know what my friend Brad calls "restaurant" Hebrew.

The connections between people here in Jerusalem are just amazing.  The first day of ulpan I met a man named Mark Goodman who used to teach at JCHS and is now moving to Denver, whose wife is also a dancer.  The second day in my class I met a boy named Alex Howie from Cincinnati who just happens to be very good friends with Aliza's friend Jodi AND Aliza and Jodi stayed with Alex for two nights in his apartment near the Yeshiva. Alex knows Glen and Andrea Bochner also!  Such a small Jewish world.
Last Shabbat was pretty special.  Sarah Levine joined us for lunch.  Then Barry came over after his trip to the Israel Museum.  Later, Melissa Werthen stopped by.  And finally, 5 of the 6 Schackers plus Adi's aba David came over.  It was wonderful to see all of them and so special to spend time together here in Jerusalem.  The Schackers went on to Ben Yehuda Street to see Ellie Rosenthal.

The Conservative Yeshiva works hard to provide a sense of community.  There are all kinds of classes, evening lectures, lunch and learns, opening Shabbat dinners, closing lunches provided.  The people are warm and friendly.  We also had a song session to close out the first session of learning.  It was fun.  Some of the students played guitar and keyboard and Mary from my class joined in and played her flute.  Mary is a health food store owner from Virginia.  Shmuel is from Sweden.  Alex, as you saw earlier, is from Cincinnati.  Corinna has made aliyah and is from both Allentown, PA and Nashville.  Bonnie has made aliyah and works at the Conservative Yeshiva, both in NY and Jerusalem.  Yohannes is a Christian from Korea, has lived in Japan, and speaks Korean, Japanese, German, and English.  Hebrew is his fifth language.  Very smart.  Miki grew up in New Jersey (I think) and went to Rutgers.  Ouzi lives in Tel Aviv but commutes to Jerusalem to teach at this ulpan.  Elliot came to class two or three times to try it out and Henri joined us for the last three classes.  I didn't get to know Elliot at all but Henri is from Paris and like many of his generation has quite a story to tell.  Abbey is from Florida and is good friends with Rabbi Linda Joseph who Mark went to school with in Cincinnati.  Marjie is from New York and is a math teacher.  Kate is a Hebrew teacher.  Edna is a fourth generation Israeli.  Pretty amazing!  :-)

One of the really fun projects we did in ulpan was recipes.  For Aliza's birthday, I baked Dawn's banana bread recipe.  Well, Alex told the class about it, so I made some for our last day today.  Yum.  :-)  Everyone had to write a recipe in Hebrew, Ouzi corrected them and we rewrote them, then he copied them for all for each of us.  We also made techina together in Hebrew earlier this week.  That was fun.  We learned the words for put, bowl, stir, cut. 

Here's another funny story:  we were talking about what we eat for breakfast and I said "baboker, ani ochelet ofanayim" which means "in the morning, I eat bicycles."  LOL  Ouzi said "ofanayim?" and made the bicycle riding motion with his hands. I said "lo, lo, lo, ani ochelet melafafonim" which means "no, no, no, I eat cucumbers."  But here you just say "melafafon" for cucumber or cucumbers.

There is another story about me telling my ulpan class about Micah and Jonah.  You see, the word for "now" is "achshav," but it is spelled with a yud like "achshiv."  So the boys are always laughing and saying achshiv instead of achshav.  So, when Ouzi taught us the word and the class asked why there was a yud in it,I said to my ulpan class, "hayeladim sheli midabreem 'achshiv' He He He, 'achshiv He He He" which means "my children speak 'achshiv' He He He..." I should have said "omreem" which means they "say" instead of "midabreem" which means they "speak."  Oh well!  At least I'm learning and trying to get my thoughts to come out of my mouth in Hebrew.  :-)

We have quite a few family private jokes right now, other than "I eat bicycles for breakfast" and "achshiv."  Jonah goes around saying "sprechen sie deutsch?" "atah ohev chemah?" and "atah ohev gevinah chocolad?"  Micah has quotes from a Russian boy David "You play hookey? footbowl?  America footbowl? basebowl?"  "Ata hongary?  Ata pig?" and  "Ata meshugah?"

I am looking forward to another great session at Conservative Yeshiva ulpan.  Three more weeks of Hebrew - hooray!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Congregational Trip

Those of you following our family's blogs won't need me to list out day by day the activities we did with Temple Beth Abraham from June 21 through July 1.  You can read their day to day accounts here, here, and here.  You can sample some congregants' perspectives here and here.  Shout out to Keshet, our tour provider, for excellent planning and adaptation to our needs, as well as superb staff.

My unique additions to this discussion are few.  I can only offer my perspective on some special moments.  The first day, greeting everyone, I had such joy in my heart.  I loved giving and getting hugs from friends of all ages.  It was especially wonderful to see the Bessler/Baums from China, the Jurow/Klein three generations and the Bessler/Baum three generations.  Sad events like Larry Reback not being able to come due to ankle surgery, my sister-in-law Jennifer and her family not being able to come because of Mitch's back surgery, Deborah's luggage getting lost in Las Vegas, Jonah and I leaving his crocs on the bus at the Dead Sea, feeling the burn at the Dead Sea,

and other lowlights stand out in my mind.  However, there were also lots of highlights:

Jerusalem highlights: Walking from our apartment to the King Solomon Hotel. Wine, snacks, and schmoozing on our 11th floor balcony at the hotel.  Havdallah on the same balcony.

Tunnel tour at the wall, Hezekiah's tunnel with water.  Learning from our amazing guides Yishai and Merav at every stop.  Old City scavenger hunt finds like the door on the yeshiva.  Telling everyone about the amazing gooey chocolate rugelach at Marzipan (best in the world!).  Marved Haksamim (Magic Carpet) - possibly Casey's favorite restaurant in Jerusalem.  Trading Jonah to the Mendelsohns for Julia during out time at Machane Yehuda "the shuk."

Galilee Highlights:  Creating, tasting, drinking, and buying chocolate at de Karina in the Golan Heights.  Wine tasting at Dalton.  (The wines weren't so good but it was still fun!)  Watching the kids swim and play soccer at Kibbutz Gonen.  Meeting soldiers at Kibbutz Malkiya and an armored corps in the Golan.  Shopping for shoes at Neot.  Poker night organized by Barry Barnes and won by Hugo and Noam with Jason breaking even by taking third.

The three youth counselors, Ilana, Noam, and Tehilla.  The counselors yelling "all kids over here" so that the adults and kids were doing separate activities.  Each and every bus ride sitting and talking with friends like Denise, Barbara, Freya, etc.  The echo mountain at Masada "Never Again" in both Hebrew and English.  The bomb shelters, borders, soldiers with guns, checkpoints, fences, walls, and yet beautiful vistas at every turn.  Kids eating ice cream popsicles whenever they can. Jonah's favorite is the Magnum Gold.  Both Micah and Jonah also like the watermelon shaped and flavored popsicle.

Shopping at Old Yaffo.  If it were not so hot, this would have been even more enjoyable.  Since our last visit there as a family, I had regretted not purchasing a Shabbat skirt in the shuk.  I made up for it by purchasing two!  :-)  Micah got some jewelry both here and in Tzfat, and he also got a new T-shirt "Shabbat Just Do It" with the Nike logo.  Jonah ate hot dogs with Ben and Abe Barnes while I got the cheap and yummy falafel on the side street.  Merav gave us a splendid tour of parts of Yaffo and we walked along the waterfront.  Lovely.

Listening to Yishai tell the story of David and Saul in Ein Gedi under the waterfall.

We were SO hot on our very short hike to the two waterfalls. First a mini-waterfall, then further up a larger one.  The water was so cool and refreshing.  Lots of kids and adults were relaxing in the water, letting the strong waterfall pound on our bodies to cool us down, and simply having fun in nature.  A memory I will treasure.

Living here is a treat.  Sharing so many wonderful memories with wonderful friends is icing on the cake.  Our evaluation and closure session brought tears for both me and Mark - both happy and sad tears.  5 more weeks or so and we'll be home in Oakland.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July brings new ulpan and hotter weather...

Well, it appears I am behind the 8 ball in the realm of blog posts.  The end of June brought the TBA Congregational trip to Israel and we spent a fabulously busy 10 days touring the country with our friends from home.  Sadly, Mark's sister Jennifer and her family had to cancel at the last minute because our brother-in-law Mitch had to have back surgery.  Speedy recovery, Mitch!  We missed all of you Crenins a lot during the trip and wish you could have been here with us.  We are excited because the Crenins have recently moved back to California (living in Davis) from Pittsburgh, PA and now we will get to spend more time together.  Hooray!

I'll write a separate post about our 10 day trip with the congregation but here's an update on our summer life in Jerusalem:

I've started a new ulpan at the Conservative Yeshiva.  Using my 5 or 6 years of childhood Hebrew school knowledge plus all the great stuff I learned in the alef class at Ulpan L'Inyan, I placed into kitah bet at ulpan.  The first day was Sunday.  We had an orientation and then went off to our separate classes.  My teacher was Edna, and I really enjoyed the first part of class when we were all taking turns introducing ourselves in Hebrew and telling about where we are from, where we live here, etc.  She would ask us questions, and we would try to answer in Hebrew.  I was following MOST of what was going on during that time, but there was a small percentage of things I didn't understand.  Then we took out our books and started to read the very first essay/story.  Well, it was WAY over my head.  I couldn't even understand half of it.  At one point I got so overwhelmed that I started to cry.  Edna said she would explain every word, but I couldn't pull myself together enough to listen and understand.  It was very close to the end of class so we all dispersed, and I had a very good cry. Then I went to Rabbi Gail Diamond who was in charge that day and told her I might be in the wrong class.  She encouraged me to try to stay in kitah bet.  I took home both the alef and bet books and went over them.  It turns out that I could figure things out and get them right on the test but not really know them yet fully. Like the past tense - I know the singular conjugations but not the plural.  And I don't know most of the irregular verbs at all.  So, after looking through the alef and bet books and seeing the curriculum of each, I decided to try kitah alef plus.  It was a wise decision.  I am enjoying myself in the alef plus class and still learning a lot - filling in the gaps that I didn't even know I had.  My teacher's name is Ouzi and he is SO patient.  He explains things over and over and over again when people ask the same question over and over and over again (including me!).  He's really good at teaching us and getting us to speak and read and work together.  It's definitely the right place for me right now.  It would have been much too difficult for me if I had stayed in bet.  But maybe next time!  :-)

Before the congregational trip, when we were at Ulpan L'Inyan, we walked through the German Colony, Baka, and got to know Talpiot where AACI and the ulpan are located.  Now I have to go in the opposite direction to the Conservative Yeshiva, so I don't even really pass any stores on my way to or from ulpan.  :-(  I am halfway to Ben Yehuda Street, and Machane Yehuda is just a ways past that, but it isn't as convenient has having a mall and two supermarkets across the street and another mall and supermarket around the corner of AACI.  Oh well.

Today at ulpan I did a load of laundry!  There are 2 washers and 2 dryers in the guest house that are available for students to use.  A load costs 15 shekels to wash and 10 to dry for 60 minutes which took care of the clothes just fine.  So before class, I put the clothes in the washer.  I paid two shekels for soap but none came out, so I went across the street to the supermarket and bought detergent.  Then I got the washer going and went to ulpan.  During hafsaka (break), I changed the wet clothes to the dryer and got that going.  At the end of class, I went back and folded the clothes and put them in my backpack for the long walk home.  Luckily I had some company during the folding.  Corrina, a woman in my class, chatted with me the whole time, then we practiced some Hebrew together before she went to her afternoon class.  I did have a lot of schlepping to do to make this laundry thing work, but using Mark's backpack helped.

Micah and Jonah had a playdate at Nadav's house so I had some extra time.  Nadav is a friend they met at Camp Shelanu, which is a community day camp off Emek Refaim at the pool.  Only a handful of children speak English; they are mostly Israeli.  Nadav speaks English (his dad is from New York), Swedish (his mom is from Sweden), and Hebrew (he is growing up here).  Micah and Jonah are very impressed.

Recently I realized that I am going to run out of the B2 vitamins before we leave.  I take 200 mg twice a day to prevent migraines and it seems to really work.  I've shopped at two stores already and not found them.  Mark went to just one store tonight and found them!  So he bought me the one bottle that they had, but I still need another to cover me until the end of our time here.  Hopefully I'll be able to send them to my brother-in-law Barry via Amazon prime overnight shipping, and he'll bring them when he comes to visit next week.  We'll see.

Yesterday we had a lovely dinner at Caffit with Mark's friend Ilene Sandberg Sunderland and her mother Edie.  It was fun to meet them, and Ilene brought Micah and Jonah 4 cans of Spaghetti-Os and a game called Blink.  So sweet!!!

A few days ago, we had dinner with the Carey/Schoenblum family - Jonathan, Amy, Jordan, and Sasha.  We ate a Burgers Bar - yum.  It was really great to see them.  Then the next day, Jordan and Sasha came over for the afternoon so that Jonathan and Amy could go to Yad Vashem.  We had a fabulous playdate at our apartment, two parks, and of course the ice cream/juice stand around the corner.  :-)

At the park, we had a little adventure when some Arab boys and a girl took our soccer ball and claimed it was theirs.  It was very difficult to communicate with them because they spoke Arabic and not much Hebrew and no English and we were speaking English and not much Hebrew and no Arabic.  After much following and then chasing them around the park, their mothers finally intervened and told them to give the ball back.  ARGH!

At the kiosk around the corner from our apartment, the kids each got a popsicle, and I got a fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Then after they finished their popsicles, they all wanted juice too -- Micah got apple, Sasha got orange, and both Jonah and Jordan got the grapefruit, all three kinds were fresh squeezed of course!

My first week of ulpan at CY ends tomorrow, and it has been a very good week.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Snapshot of Daily Life

So, here's a look at a typical day for me right now:
Around 6 a.m. I wake up.  It's very bright and noisy here in the mornings and once I am awakened I have to get out of bed to "use the facilities." I don't want to wake Mark up, and I probably couldn't fall back to sleep anyway so I catch up on computer stuff - email and Facebook.  By 7 a.m. Mark and the boys are up, so I take a shower, and we all eat breakfast and get ready to go.  At 7:45, Jonah, Micah, and I start the walk to their ulpan.  By 8 a.m. we are usually there.  Micah likes to walk ahead of us so he gets their even earlier.  Jonah and I walk together to the Rakevet, and then he goes the last two or three blocks on his own.  Their school starts at 8:15 and ends at 12:45 for Jonah and sometimes 12:45, sometimes 1:30 for Micah.  Micah goes on Sundays but Jonah doesn't.  Most Sundays he comes with me to my ulpan instead.  Two of those weeks he had private lessons with Ami, and this week he stayed with Adam on Rusty Mike Radio (Rusty Mike) the whole time.  He got to record two mini commercials "You're listening to Adam in the Morning on Rusty Mike Radio" and "You're listening to ulpan teacher Ami on Rusty Mike Radio" which they play often.  He doesn't like it when we use this word but it is very cute.
Today was my last day of ulpan at Ulpan L'Inyan (Ulpan) which made me feel sad.  But no, Jonah, I didn't really cry. I'm sad because I really like my classmates Robyn from Cherry Hill, Chuck from Philadelphia, Lenny and Rodin from Arizona, and Ashira from England and other places, and I don't know that I'll see them again.  I also adore my teacher Caren.  She's such  a good teacher - very patient and friendly she lets us ask questions and explains things very clearly.  I'm not sure I could have a better ulpan teacher.  The Ulpan L'Inyan system is similar to the Pimsleur whose CDs I was listening to in preparation for our trip.  I learned a lot with this one-hour-per-day ulpan, and have promised Lisa Fernandez I would try to talk to her in Hebrew when we get back  I also want to create a Hebrew chug for friends who want to get together and practice our Hebrew when I get home.  I know that Lea and Jan are interested, and I hope Stacy and Sandy and Adi will come too.  But good luck finding a time when we can all get together!  Ha ha.
So, after ulpan I sometimes go about three blocks from AACI Association for Americans and Canadians in Israel) which houses Ulpan L'Inyan to the gym (Body and Soul Gym) for a class - I've enjoyed several different ones like Dynamic Sculpting which is step aerobics with hand weights, Health Fitness which was Pilates, CORE which is not aerobic but lots of different and interesting core strength exercises, Yoga (self explanatory), Strength and Stretch which was a lot like a combination of Core Flow and Daily Method, and Zumba which was a very fun way to do aerobics.  The Zumba teacher is an amazing dancer and he really gets our blood pumping.  I was able to join this gym for about $14 for the month due to a great GroopBuy GroopBuy) coupon.  Very cool!  I've definitely gotten my money's worth!  My gym membership expires next week which is ok since I won't be going that direction for ulpan anymore.
Some days after ulpan I do some shopping. I have several favorite stores that sell housewares and are cheap like outlets.  I also walk around the two malls that are right there in Talpiot.  I had to buy some new sneakers for example so I tried on shoes at at least four different stores in the two malls and bought the best ones for a reasonable price.  I really like to shop for hats here.  They make the kind that I really like and they are not very expensive. My favorite hat that Mark got me from Israel before was an Imaga hat and the Imaga factory and showroom is on the second floor of same building where AACI and ulpan are.  Some days I just get a chai tea or another treat.  Lots of days I go to the grocery store across the street (Supersol Deal) and get things we need for home.
Imaga Sign

Imaga Factory

Imaga Showroom

On the days that Micah has school until 1:30, Mark and I go out to lunch somewhere on Emek Refaim. We've almost completed our mission of trying every restaurant that interests us there.  All we have left are La Boca and Taiku.  Yesterday we went to Ryu and we have also been to Magic Carpet (Marvad Haksamim), Olive, Joy, Baba, Luciana, Caffit, Cafe Cafe, Falafel Adir which is currently under renovations, etc.  Micah and I went to Sushi Rehavia by ourselves and Mark went to Buffalo Steakhouse by himself.  We tried all the pizza places when Pesach ended - Pizza Sababa, Big Apple Pizza, and Pizza Italia.  We've had juices at Rebar, gelato at Aldo, and snacks at McDonald's. We've had chai and coffee at other Aroma Cafes so haven't been to the one on Emek Refaim.  Oh, wait, I think Mark went there with a friend or colleague.  So there are very few places on Emek Refaim that we have not tried. I've even gotten my haircut at two of them: David's and Yaniv Malka's.  We also frequent the Post Office and some places just off Emek like Marzipan and Falafel Doron.
So, after lunch we pick up Micah and Jonah from school. Sometime they have playdates with Benjamin and Alon, Chaim and Bat El, and one Saturday Micah had a playdate with Shemer and Adir.  Sometimes they come to our house and Alon and Benjamin have each slept over at our place as well.  In the afternoons, there is ulpan homework, math workbook time, reading time, going to the library, and once in a while going to a museum or other outing.  On Fridays there is no school so we usually go to the shuk and grocery store all together.  Or Mark goes alone and the boys and I stay home a veg out.
Usually dinner is at out own house - some kind of meat, some kind of vegetable and fruit for dessert.  In the evenings, Mark and I have gone out a couple of times leaving Micah and Jonah home alone.  We went to the Ballet as part of the Jerusalem Festival, we went out to dinner for our anniversary, etc.  Sometimes in the evening I go back to the gym for a class or go to Israeli dancing with Boaz Cohen.
Twice a week Mark was doing laundry at our friends' house but now he is taking it to a laundromat once a week.  We tried to go to a movie last week. It was such a hot day.  But the movie was only in Hebrew so we got ice cream and came home instead.  Big bummer!
As I think of more things, I may come add to this post.  But basically, this is what it is like for us living here.

Shavuot and Another Trip

Though Shavuot gets overlooked quite a bit at home in the U.S., here it is a very big deal.  We enjoyed being hosted by a family with four sons from Boston.  Their cousin Michal, fresh from the army, was another guest we enjoyed talking to.  Another family from Philadelphia was there as well and we all ate a yummy dairy dinner, featuring cheesecake for dessert of course, outside after evening services at Yedidya, starting the dinner at 8:30 p.m.  That night, all around Jerusalem, there were many places a person could go to participate in all night study.  Mark chose Pardes and really enjoyed it. I went home with Micah and Jonah and we all got a good night's sleep.  In the morning thousands of people walk from wherever they are studying to the Western Wall and pray there.  Mark did this and then came home and went to bed.
After Shavuot, we went on another family tiyul.  We rented a car again, but were unable to rent a GPS this time because the store did not have any that worked.  So we used our printed directions from google and followed our maps which would have been fine except for some major construction just north of Haifa.  There was a bridge closed and we crawled along on Route 2 for literally 3 extra hours.  It was very very frustrating and tiring.  The result of the delay was that we did not get to go to the winery we had planned to visit.  Luckily we found a different one near Tiberias and went the next day to that one.
Finally, we got to Rosh Hanikra at the very northwest tip of Israel.  It is a such a beautiful place where the ocean meets cliffs and we saw a movie about some of the stories that happened there.
Beautiful Rosh Hanikra caves
After Rosh Hanikra, we drove to Tiberias where we checked into an old hotel called the Berger.  It was really quite nice, with a double bed for us and two separate single beds for the kids, a large refrigerator and a table with four chairs.  We did a ton of walking around Tiberias.  The first day, Thursday, we went to dinner at Avi's restaurant which gave us a large amount of very delicious food and then enjoyed a sound and light show called Tiberium right on the lake.  On Friday morning we ventured out of town to the Tabor winery where we enjoyed a delicious tasting and purchased a bottle as well.  We then came back to Tiberias and found a place to swim in the Kinneret which was delightful.  It was such a hot day and the water felt so cool.  I remembered that the water felt like silk on my skin when I swam there in 1994, and it felt just as nice in 2011.  Pure delight.  The "beaches" are just rocky inlets, but the view is stunning wherever we go in Tiberias. I really love it there.
Tiberias, city on the Kinneret
For Kabbalat Shabbat, we drove to Tzfat, another city on a hill.  The trip there was easy but the roads in the city are very twisty and confusing.  We had a difficult time locating the synagogues Mark wanted to see but we did run into the Bratslav synagogue which was like a palace and finally found the Beirav synagogue where we wanted to and did attend services.  The place was very crowded in both the men's and women's sections and in the men's sections, there was so much dancing and singing and clapping and joy.  In the women's section, we sang and one or two of us clapped and one or two of us tried to dance but we just didn't have the spirit that the men did.  I tried, believe me, but noone would join me.  After the service, we returned to Tiberias.
For Saturday morning services, we looked into (literally) two different shuls before going to Chabad which was well air-conditioned, thank goodness, but very lacking in ruach.  We left after the Torah service.  We returned to the hotel and rested quite a bit before beginning our trek back to Jerusalem.
Oh, while in Tiberias we visited some famous graves, those of Maimonides and Rabbi Akiva.  Unfortunately, I wasn't dressed for Orthodox synagogue so I felt very uncomfortable at them.  At Rambam's grave, a very big woman was speaking to me in Hebrew, giving me a gift from the Rabbanit Leah Kook who it seems is currently ailing and staying in the Eden Hotel in Tiberias.  It took many many sentences and repetition for me to figure out that I was supposed to say healing prayers for her in exchange for this gift.  At first she gave me a bouncy ball with a toy inside but I said "ani lo tz'rica" so she took it away and gave me a Tehillim keychain which is now holding my keys.  I saw these keychains at a store today for 2 shekels, about 60 cents.
I enjoyed our trip immensely.  Tiberias is a wonderful place to visit.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Nearing Shavuot

Tomorrow night is Shavuot.  Our time here seems to be flying by.  After Shavuot, we have one "normal" week which encompasses mine and Mark's last day of ulpan.  The following week will be Micah and Jonah's last day of ulpan and the next day, the TBA congregational trip to Israel arrives.

These first two months have had so many special moments and lots of life.  Looking back, I see that it didn't really take that long to get used to walking everywhere, to get the know our neighborhood and the neighborhoods of our ulpans, to meet some new people, and to learn how to navigate the purchase and consumption of food and other items.

So, let me highlight two very special moments that I have not yet written about, our trip to the Negev and Tel Aviv, and our morning at Women at the Wall, and then recall a bit of the day to day.

We took a very interesting trip to Mamshit, Kibbutz Magal, and Tel Aviv.  Mark did a wonderful job as always of arranging all of the details, from rental car to rented GPS to accommodations to museum reservations.  I so appreciate being the assistant in this department and not having to worry about planning.

On the first morning of the trip, while I attended my ulpan class, Mark went to the rental car place and picked up our car and GPS.  It came with a carrying case that looked like a blue lunch box which we had to take with us at every stop.  It is not permitted to leave it in the car because they are so easy and popular to steal.  When I got home from ulpan, we left for Mamshit, the home of the camel ranch next to Dimona in the Negev.  On our way out of Jerusalem, we stopped at Latrun which houses a museum for the Armored Corps.  We had a hard time finding the movie that we thought would tell the history of the spot, but we finally found it but it ended up telling the story of the museum instead.  However, Micah and Jonah had a lot of fun climbing on the many tanks that they have there.  We also got to see some new recruits practicing for a ceremony of some kind.  The most powerful display there was the tower of tears which is a tall square room made of tank metal featuring some gunshot holes, and water drips down the sides and pools at the bottom, under the glass floor that you stand on.  It's very moving.

On the way from Latrun to Mamshit, we stopped in Beersheva simply because Mark had never been there before.  We drove around what looked like the main parts of the city and stopped for a yummy falafel and schwarma. 

At the Mamshit Camel Ranch, we were welcomed on our arrival and treated to some yummy sweet tea.  The boys got some ice cream instead.  :-)  In the afternoon, Mark and the boys went on a one hour camel ride while I stayed in the cabin and rested and read.  That was so relaxing.  After they returned, we had our shepherd's dinner featuring a stew of veggies, bread cooked on pebbles (pronounced peebles by our host), rice and lentils.  Everything was very fresh and yummy.  The desert air was great, and we got to enjoy a real Israeli medura or bonfire in the evening.  But then we tried to go to bed and the bugs were just AWFUL.  We didn't know we needed to bring our bug spray so we were basically up all night suffering.  Jonah got some sleep but Micah and Mark and I had a really tough time.  It was not fun.  Fortunately, the sun rose in the morning and we all enjoyed the shepherd's breakfast which had yogurt, pudding, eggs, more fresh veggies, and of course more tea.  I'd recommend others visit for the day but not overnight, but if you do go overnight, don't forget your insect repellent!

Next we left the ranch and visited the Aroma cafe in Dimona.  I enjoyed a delicious chai tea.  Then we drove from the south to the north along route 6 which hugs the border between the Palestinian territories and Israel.  For some of the drive, we were riding right along the security fence.  Very striking.  On our way north we stopped at Petach Tikvah to take a look around.  We ended up having lunch at a Cafe Cafe there but they did not have an English menu so it was very hard on Mark to have the burden of ordering everything for us.  Then we drove up to Kibbutz Magal which is where Adi Schacker grew up.  Her parents David and Bahira Yaron were so incredibly warm and welcoming.  It was like visiting paradise.  There is a two bedroom apartment upstairs that we got to stay in that included a full kitchen with a fully loaded and stocked refrigerator and pantry.  There were veggies, fruits, treats (chocolates, Bamba), cereals, bread, pita, cheese, yogurt, milk, etc. etc. etc.  Incredible!

We enjoyed a quiet Friday night Shabbat dinner with the Yarons and David took us for a walk around the kibbutz and gave us a tour of the factory there which manufactures irrigation pipeline.  Kibbutz Magal was the first to create drip irrigation for crops.  It was SO interesting to go inside a working factory and see the people and machines working together.

After the service and oneg, we went back to the kibbutz and enjoyed a large family lunch with the entire Yaron family.  There was an endless supply of food of many types again - soup, fish, chicken, noodles, various veggies, salads, etc.  Plus desserts and fruit.  It just kept coming and coming.  And all very yummy.

We rested in the afternoon then it was Lag B'Omer.  There was a humungous medura with a potluck dinner and activities for the kids.  Micah and Jonah made bows and arrows out of sticks and string.  Such a wonderful and Israeli experience.  It was tons of fun.  Jonah also got play some pickup soccer with some of the kibbutz boys.

The next morning we left early for Tel Aviv.  We had two museums to visit.  First in the morning we went to the IDF museum which showcased many tanks, guns, and military history.  Very interesting.

We took a walk from the IDF museum to the old town of Yafo (Jaffa).  It was really unique walking along the beach and ending up at an old fashioned town with shops and restaurants.  There was a large shuk area and we purchased some souvenirs.  We also had some yummy inexpensive falafel there.  Our desserts (a fancy chocolate cake, chocolates, gelato, ice cream) probably cost more than our lunch!  We walked back to our car and drove to our next stop, the Yitzchak Rabin Center where we went to the museum.

It was the most powerful stop of our trip.  The museum is very well designed with an inner circle tracing Rabin's life history and outer circles following Israel's history.  There are over a hundred movies and since you are wearing a device around your neck, the soundtrack begins when you step close to the display.  I learned a lot and cried a lot of tears here.  Micah and Jonah comforted me which was very sweet.

Our final stop in Tel Aviv was Dizengoff Avenue where we had dinner at Haronson while Jonah got some pizza across the street.  My salad with chicken was very yummy there.  Unfortunately, when we got back to the car, we had gotten a ticket.  That was not a fun way to end our trip.  But it was an excellent experience overall and isn't stopping us from taking another trip this Shabbat.

Immediately after Shavuot we are going to Sfat, Rosh Hanikra, and HaKinneret, and I will describe it all in another blog post.

Friday Mark and I attended a 7 a.m. service of Women of the Wall for Rosh Hodesh at the Western Wall or Wailing Wall.  The Old City is about a half hour walk from our apartment.  The main reason that this is such an interesting experience is because the Wall currently operates as an Orthodox synagogue and the Women would like to pray in a manner that is decidedly non-Orthodox.  This has resulted in quite a conflict that includes court involvement.  Suffice it to say that I feel torn between two feelings.  While I would NEVER go into an Orthodox synagogue and demand to read Torah, I feel the Wall should not be only for the Orthodox.  The Wall belongs to all of us.  And that is why I supported the Women by praying with them.  So, the Women begin their service at the back of the women's section of the Wall, protected by armed guards.  Then when it is time for the Torah service, we all march from the Wall to a nearby area called Robinson's Arch.  You see a different section of the Wall here, and there are fences and construction items around, but the second half of the service is very beautiful with Torah reading, aliyot, celebrating simchas, and men and women praying together. (Gasp!)  At this point, we didn't need guards anymore.  The most interesting moment for me happened when the guard approached one of the women who were praying with the group at the Wall and asked her to change how she was wearing her tallit.  He explained that the court decided that they could wear the tallit if it was worn like a scarf or shawl, but not with the flipped over shoulders that only are worn with tallits.  I'll show you with photos:
Tallit as permitted, draped like a scarf over the shoulders.

Tallit as not permitted, worn around the shoulders and then flipped up and over each shoulder.

Anyway, she pretended not to hear him at first, then she moved into the middle of all the women instead of changing how she was wearing her tallit.  So very interesting.

Mark and I were at the front of the group for the march from the Wall to Robinson's Arch so you can see our picture on the Women of the Wall website.  You can also find more information there if you want to know more about the women and their monthly services.

I have decided to end this long post now and will talk about our day to day life more in another post.  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Torah Yoga and a lovely Shabbat lunch

Last Wednesday I was very fortunate to be able to attend a Torah Yoga class with Diane Bloomfield (Torah Yoga) here in Jerusalem.  It was inspiring, strengthening, and a fabulous stretch as well.
Then on Shabbat she hosted our family for lunch after services at Mizmor L'David (see Mark's blog Rabbi Mark Bloom's Blog for more info on that). Diane and Jonathan were wonderful hosts, we enjoyed the company of another family with three children, and they had recently found a baby kitten that they were nursing which dominated our attention even more than the children!  :-)  There was delicious food, of course, plus some really engaging intellectual discussion among the adults.  Torah at the table. I can find no better word to describe it all than wonderful.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Just because it's been a while

Well, life continues on here at 8 Dor Dor V'Dorshav in Yerushalayim, near Emek Refaim in the German Colony.  Micah and Jonah made up a cute song to the tefilah tune "L'Dor VaDor" that explains where we live here.

We've completed two weeks of ulpan and continue to learn. I'm working hard on my studies and have learned a lot and keep trying to speak as much Hebrew as possible.  It's still pretty funny, though!

I don't know why but Jonah is doing this dance and song for me "antidisestablishmentarianism" over and over again ending with "word."  It's hilarious.

Today we cracked open the largest container of humus I've ever bought. I have a photo so share.

Also, here is the "milk in a bag, placed in the pitcher."  Yes, milk is sold in plastic bags here instead of bottles or cartons.  There are also bottles and cartons but you pay extra for the container.  :-)

Today Jonah had a private Hebrew lesson and got to be on the radio, (Rusty Mike Radio) the only English radio station in Israel, which is broadcast out of the AACI (AACI) offices where Mark and I are taking our ulpan classes with Ulpan L'Inyan (Ulpan).  So much fun!

After Ulpan we got a vanilla and chocolate danish from Cafe Hillel, went shopping at a discount housewares store where I got tissues and rubber gloves, and then went to two playgrounds with spinny things.  Jonah and Micah both love those spinny things.  We walked home and had lunch.  A little later Micah came home and throughout the afternoon we all did games and work on our computers, did some math workbooks, worked on Anim Zmirot (Micah is being bribed to learn it.), and had leftovers for dinner.  Tonight we Skyped with some friends - Micah got to talk to Charlie and Avshi, Jonah talked to Luka, and Mark and I got to talk to Abby and Stuart.  :-)  It was a lot of fun.

Monday, May 2, 2011

School and Ulpan and Life in Jerusalem

Well, I haven't updated in a while because there really wasn't much to say.  But now the boys have had a few days of school (they call it school-pan, a play on the word ulpan), and I've had two days of ulpan.  So here's the news on that front:
Micah is in a class of beginning Hebrew middle schoolers so his placement is just right.  He is learning to become fluent in reading and writing in Hebrew cursive and has already made great strides.  His Hebrew handwriting is MUCH neater than his English print and cursive. 
Jonah is in a class of second graders who have been in the ulpan since September so he really doesn't know much about what is going on in class.  Luckily, it is a very small class and the teacher gives him some private attention when she can.  He has learned the cursive Hebrew letters already (before English cursive!) and is also making progress on the reading and writing front.  Luckily, he has a friend, Benjamin Greyber, from Camp Ramah, in his class who translates for him regularly.
Unfortunately, neither Micah's nor Jonah's classes work on conversational Hebrew.  So their "ulpan" is more of a school transition HSL (Hebrew as a Second Language - I made this up, I would think their acronym has Hebrew letters instead of English ones!) class with limited conversation.  As opposed to Mark's and my classes at Ulpan L'Inyan.
You can see what we are learning at  The creator Ami, has made a fantastic program and if we practice we should learn a lot.  With having had only two days so far, I still feel like I can't do much, but I have learned some new words, can follow some really basic conversations (would you like something to eat or drink?), and can conjugate regular present tense verbs.  We do quite a bit of conversation, as well as a little reading at the end of class.  Our homework includes the writing.  I feel very grateful for the excellent Hebrew School education I received at Congregation M'kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ back in the 70s and 80s.  I am most grateful for one of my teachers, Cara Albom, who I had in 5th and 6th or 6th and 7th grades and who taught me a ton of Hebrew (reading, writing, and conversational) and presented Hebrew plays with her students.  We did Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and then Kazablan.  It was really fun.
I still find Spanish popping into my head first when I try to think of a word or phrase in Hebrew, but I'm trying to remember it and not replace it with Hebrew the way Spanish replaced my Hebrew when I was a teenager.  I know a lot of people who speak (or know) more than two languages, so why can't I?  :-)
Anyway, life here is complicated but we are getting used to things.  I keep saying "if we lived here" followed by how things would be different.  Here are some examples.
- we would have an oven whose broiler worked
- we would be able to throw away anything that smells like smoke
- we would have at least a washer if not both a washer and dryer
- I would hope we would have a dishwasher
- I would feel free to purchase clothes
- we would have nicer bedding and pillows and towels and other household items
- we would have doctors and dentists that we would go to
- we'd have a blender and a coffee maker (for company - you know I don't drink coffee)
- we'd have better kitchen supplies for meat
- we'd have better knives
...and the list goes on and on and on.
I have to really just appreciate what we DO have, try to live a bit more simply, and keep in mind that is' only for just over three more months really.  I am doing my best to enjoy myself, learn, study, connect with others, and appreciate that we have this long break from volunteer and paid work of any kind.  I have done a lot of sudoku, reading, crossword puzzles, etc.  The boys have played a lot of computer games.  LOL
One last thing:  Jonah dared me to finish reading War and Peace by the time we leave here. I started two days ago on my Kindle and I am 10% finished.  :-)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Shabbat, then Pesach, Shabbat again

I loved my first Shabbat in Jerusalem. It really is so beautiful to see the streets empty, people walking, and to hear singing and praying coming from every neighborhood.  I also finally felt a warm welcome from our friends the Greybers who invited us over to their home for Seudah Shlishit, or the third meal, basically Saturday dinner.  We were there from 4:30 pm until after Havdallah.  Jen Greyber, especially, has helped me so much by sharing her knowledge and experiences with me.  She even invited me to the supermarket with her and she helped me with different names of things and such.  It was really amazing.  It helps so much to have such a nice person so willing to go out of her way to help me.  It really made a huge difference.
Our Pesach was also wonderful.  Rabbi Gail Diamond from the Conservative Yeshiva connected us with Charlie and Alexis and their three children who hosted us.  Also in attendence were friends of theirs, Jodi and Yaakov and their two kids.  We had a wonderful child-friendly, but still lengthy, seder with delicious food and wonderful people who made us feel very welcome.
The next night we were invited to dinner at the home Tali and Yaron Lipshitz. Yaron's parents, Linda and Stanley, were also there.  They have a three year old son Yonatan who just ADORES Micah.  It's so cute.  And they have a younger son Daniel who is also adorable.  The dinner was amazing; Stanley is in the food/restaurant business and did a lot of the cooking, AND Yaron actuallhy told us his secret to creating the fluffiest matzah balls I've ever had.  :-)  Plus, Tali and Yaron offered us the use of their clothes washer and dryer, any time, for our whole four month stay!  What amazing generosity!! We are so lucky!  So, yesterday, we went there for several hours and washed and dried two loads of laundry.  And then today, we ran into Linda right on our main drag, Emek Refaim Street.  So fun to see people we "know" that we've met here!  :-)
The smell in the apartment is almost all better.  The boys room still smells a little but we continue to work on it with wood cleaners, diffusers, Glade air fresheners, dryer sheets, auto air fresheners, and baking soda.  My mom is going to send us some Febreeze which we cannot seem to find here.
I'm not enjoying how much cleaning we need to do. It is very dusty and dry here so the good news is that things air dry quickly. The bad news is I've been constantly wiping, sweeping, etc.
Now it is still Pesach and Shabbat is tonight.  We are lucky to be having guests, the Kafin family: Alicia, Peter, Toby, and Ben.  But I need to prepare by doing a bit more cleaning and getting started on the cooking.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Well, this is interesting.  Our travel days have ended and now we get to live here. Here are some pluses and minuses so far...

- I don't understand any Hebrew.  It was really frustrating yesterday shopping in Talpiot.  In our neighborhood, the German Colony, everyone speaks English, but elsewhere there are many who do not.

+ Our apartment is a large two bedroom with ample storage space in the kitchen.  The manager lives across the hall and was very helpful.  The location is great, we can walk everywhere we need to go, and we are very close to Emek Rafaim.

- Our apartment smells like smoke.  Most of the towels and linens do too.  We do not have in building laundry so it is not easy for us to clean them.  We are placing most of them in high cabinet storage in the boys' room, will take a few to the local laundry, and purchased some new ones yesterday.

- There was a ton of open food and dirty plates, flatware, and pots left in the kitchen.  The apartment has lots of stuff in it that we don't need or want, plus it doesn't have lots of things we do need and want, like paper, tape, hand soap, tissues, paper towels, napkins.  We purchased a lot of these items yesterday and will get more things from our list today.

+ This is Israel.  Jerusalem to be more specific.  Crowded and a bit hot.  But everyone and everything surrounding us is Jewish.  I love hearing Hebrew spoken and can't wait to learn more.  Shabbat and Pesach are coming up and then we'll really get into our daily routines including ulpan.  I am really looking forward to that.

+ We ran into some Americans walking down the street on our first night here and guess where they were visiting from?  San Francisco!  That was pretty cool.  And dinner at Burgers Bar ( ) was delicious.

Here we go, life in Israel.  Shabbat Shalom!!!  Tonight, services and dinner, just the four of us.  :-)

Friday, April 8, 2011


It's been a while since my last post because blogspot is blocked in China.  So are Facebook and Twitter, btw.  Mark and Micah have already posted about the week in China. I'll be helping Jonah post as soon as we can.
We are really enjoying some amazing hospitality in Dubai with Mark's friend Justin, his family, and their household staff.  Our laundry was washed, dried, ironed, and folded for us the first day.  So amazing!
Anyway, we really had some amazing experiences in China.  The first two days we were in Shanghai, then two days in Kaifeng, then three days in Beijing.  The Bessler Baum family were with us the whole way and Joni really took good care of us throughout China.  She set us up in a very wonderful boutique hotel just a block and a half from their home in Shanghai,  Then we were at a 5 star hotel in Kaifeng (who'd of thought?),  Finally, in Beijing, we were at a lovely courtyard style hotel very close to all the tourist attractions,  All wonderful.  The history, culture, traditions, etc. are so strong and beautiful in China.  And the people just adore our children.  And it is so safe.  No worries about crime.  But of course, no real true freedom either.  Judaism is not one of the five state-approved religions, so Jews meet at people's homes and are not really permitted to "practice" our religion.  However, the attitude is such a strong one of live and let live that if you are not breaking the law, you can basically do whatever you want.  So, services and such still happen and communities still form.
Our two days in Dubai have been pretty relaxing.  Yesterday, all we did was visit the Mall of the Emirates,, where we had some delicious snacks and played at the indoor arcade/amusement park called Magic Planet.  Today we went back there for a movie and some browsing at Borders.  Then we went to the heart of the city of Dubai where we took an abra across the "creek" and browsed in the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk.
I will add pictures another time.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island did not live up to expectations for only one reason. It rained for two days!

The first day we arrived, we knew the forecast, so we took a hike to a private beach.  It was a tough hike and there was some complaining from Micah, but in the end we were all proud of our accomplishment of having hiked up and down hills for almost 3 hours.

The food on the Island is quite expensive, even the groceries, so we did a combination of restaurant visits and cooking in our rather large one bedroom apartment with two sofa beds.

On our second day in the Whitsunday Islands, we took a day at Reef World to visit the Great Barrier Reef where the snorkeling was as amazing as we remembered from 13 years ago. Unfortunately, the trip to and from the reef included some very choppy waters and the entire boat of passengers got extremely seasick. Luckily, none of the Blooms threw up, but we were not feeling great!  Some ice chips helped Micah on the way there, and on the way home, three of us took seasickness medicines called travel calm that they were selling at the bar.  :-)  It helped me immensely, I didn't feel it at all on the way back.

On our third and final day, we swam in the rain.  Can't stop Micah from swimming!  It was warm enough, but not as much fun as I thought it would be.  We also let the boys play a bunch of video games.  Not your typical tropical island vacation!  :-)

This morning we returned our buggy (also known as a golf cart) that had been our method of transportation for the past few days.  We got wet walking the tarmac to our plane which was NOT fun, and now we are in Sydney catching up on email and internet since we were not connected for the past few days.

Our next stop is China.  See you back in the Northern Hemisphere!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Photo Diary of Fiji

Fiji Airport welcoming band

Cafe Sign

Playing iTouch in the Cafe
Jonah with the singers and dancers of Robinson Crusoe Island

 More iTouch

The view - our paradise

Photo Diary of Sydney

A Familiar Fish at Sydney Aquarium

A real live shark at Sydney Aquarium

One special sign

One of the wallabies that I petted at Featherdale Wildlife Park

One of the schoolwork projects the boys completed; history at Cockatoo Island

A sleepy koala

Close up to a kookaburra

Just like it says

Lots and lots and lots and lots of prawns

Protein for vegetarians - Micah chooses banana, Jonah chooses raspberry, Mark chooses coffee, and I choose chocolate, of course!

Boys with Abby, Jonah's newest penpal

Old friends picking up like we never left

Harbour Bridge

My favourite Aussie treat

The mini golf course that could use some attention

Just driving around town, looking at Sydney

Another yummy treat I like - chocolate covered honeycomb, Crunchie shown, I also love Violet Crumble

Great view of the Opera House from a ferry boat

Interesting view of the opera house

Our friend Cyndi