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?