Monday, August 8, 2016

Not Being "Other"

I was just reading Facebook posts about people putting in for leave from their jobs for the upcoming chagim - this year practically all of October is holiday as we all know, which probably requires the most possible vacation days one would need to request for the chagim.

I vividly recall putting in for vacation around holiday time - "Well, I'll need three Thursdays and Fridays....." or, in more difficult years, "I'll need three Mondays and Tuesdays and one Wednesday.....all within 3-4 weeks...."  And after time off for Pesach, etc., practically nothing was left.

And then, when those holidays were over, how relieved I was!  The absences were done with, I could get back to my regular work schedule.  No more weird questions - what holiday is THIS one?  You do WHAT?

My life of course revolved around some other society's calendar, schedules and holidays.  I was always happy for everyone as they looked forward to their respective holidays, and always had a blank stare on my face after Yom Kippur when they asked, "So, how was your holiday??"

Since I was a teenager, I had a sense of being "other."  In someone else's universe, where we danced to someone else's songs and spoke someone else's language.  No one really understood Jewish Orthodoxy - I mean I explained things and they listened politely but I always felt very much outside of their world.  My focus was on Torah, on keeping mitzvos, and I grew up learning about our people being persecuted time after time after time, with no end.  I just could not explain this state of mind, this frame of reference, and so I didn't. They would not have understood anyway, not really.

Then we moved to Israel.  I'm not going to go into the blah blah about how this is our country, our holidays, you have heard all of that from me. But everyone here has pretty much the same frame of reference - coming out of and still enduring persecution for being Jews, our life revolving around the holidays, our streets named for Jewish heroes, Biblical and otherwise. This is mine.  This is me, it is who I am, and who my people are. Every person around me totally gets it.

The longer I am here, the greater my sense of belonging.  It is so deep, so visceral, that I don't think I have the words to define it.

But for those of you shuddering thinking of how many vacation days you're losing during the holidays, maybe just take a second to think about belonging, and what that means.






Friday, January 8, 2016

Four Years...

This week we celebrated our fourth year as Israelis.

These are things that I've gotten used to saying over the past four years:

This:

  • I do not understand a word of what you just said
  • Oh, please pull in front of me without signalling, and while you're at it, honk at me. Several times. For no reason.
  • I love how you parked on the sidewalk, it's so cool.
  • Hi - the grocery has no eggs.  Or potatoes.
  • Oh, it is going to be yellow outside today.
  • Keep the trisim down, it is April.  We will open them again in November.
  • It is colder inside this apartment than it is outside.
  • No, I do not want the bargain you are offering at the checkout.
  • No, really I don't need after-shave.  Even two bottles.
  • All clothing here is at least twice as expensive as in the US. Whatever.
  • No, I don't know why more Americans don't move to Israel, yes it is their home too
  • Yes, I do understand why you cannot make aliyah at this time in your life
  • I still don't understand a word of what you just said
  • So I have to take this strep stick, go to the lab, wait in line, give it to them, then wait for the results to show up.  Huh. OK. 


But also this:

  • Wherever I go, my entire health portfolio is available on my phone
  • I can make appointments, change them, see test results and get perscriptions online
  • This country is strikingly, dramatically, beautiful beyond words.
And this:


  • I cannot believe we actually live here
  • It's so cool to be living here
  • We live here!
  • We are home!








Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"If You Go, You'll Never Come Back..."

When I was in high school, considering which college to apply to, my first choice was to go to Bar Ilan.  The thought of studying in Israel was beyond thrilling to me.  I promised my parents I'd only go for one year, then come back to a US college to complete my education.

"No, if you go, you'll never come back."

These were my mother's exact words. My father didn't say a word because I think he really wanted me to go but knew it would break my mother's heart. Because he knew, as well, that if I went I would not return to live in America. And I think he would have been okay with that, and incredibly proud.

So I didn't go.  I went to Barnard, then went to graduate school for my library degree, and in the meantime got married, yadda yadda yadda.

I ended up coming to Israel for the very first time in 1978, just after our fourth anniversary.  The country stole my heart from day one.

Well, a mere 44 years later here I am living in Israel.  MUCH better late than never, I say.

More importantly and more significantly, today is my mother's 25th yahrzeit.  She died on 15
Cheshvan/ November 3 1990.

How do you explain what it feels like to lose a mother?  Someone who is really the essence of your life, your teacher, your moral compass, your soul, your heart?  To know you'll never hear that voice or feel that hug, never be able to call and say, "Guess what the kids did today" or "What is a good recipe for..." or "Can you believe what she said???"

It hurts in a visceral way that can be understood only by those who have experienced it.

My husband lost his father one year after we married.  For 25 years I could not understand his pain, not really. When I lost my own mother, I was in awe at his having been able to function after losing his father at such a young age, just when our life was beginning, and knowing he'd never know our children.

I have to treasure the "at least's":

  • At least she saw my three children born
  • At least she had a relationship with them
  • At least she saw us be able to buy a nice home close to her (ironically one week before she was diagnosed with leukemia and one year to the date before she died)
  • At least I remember the "ketzeleh" song, as well as "Little Brown Jug" (totally inappropriate but funny) and sing it to my grandchildren.
  • At least I remember her most important lessons - "Whatever happens, keep going" and "Make the best of it"  - those two have literally gotten me through hellish times
So I guess now "if you go, you will never come back" has a sad double meaning in my heart.

To my mother, Mary Weintraub, z"l, a brilliant, funny, kind, loving woman who touched many lives. I know you'll never come back but you are inside me and I think of you every single day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How Do I Get To....?

See, now that is a question I am always asking other people, or actually I am always asking Waze.

Before I go anywhere new, I not only put the location in Waze, but I look at it on Google Maps, just to see the route beforehand, look at the "street view" so I know what to look for when I get there, and consider alternate routes.  I mean, I investigate thoroughly.

That is because I am MORTALLY TERRIFIED of being in the wrong location - um, with good reason.

Israel is not a country in which you have "fun" being lost.  It's not an adventure, it's just plain scary.

So here I was, driving along minding my own business and there's a young woman who is stopped in the middle of the street in my neighborhood.  While everyone else was honking and gesticulating around her for delaying their arrival at their destination for all of 20 seconds, I looked at her and she waved at me desperately.

So I pulled over and she asked me where a certain street was. In Hebrew.  She was Israeli.

Hahahaha!  SHE asked ME!  And she expected me to explain!  In Hebrew!  Hahahaha!

So I knew exactly where she wanted to go, but when I started explaining, after the [Hebrew] expression, "First, turn around," my words did that same funny trick they always do - they start doing acrobatics as they are about to come out of my mouth.

I literally could not speak.  So I decided, well that's not HER fault, and said, in English, "Follow me." She looked at me in shock, "Yesh lach zman?" [You have time?].  And instead of answering that taking ten minutes to show her is less embarrassing than trying to explain it with my acrobatic Hebrew, I nodded.

At one point, after about 5 minutes of driving, I gesticulated for her to pull up next to me and I asked her which direction on this road she was looking for.  Then I explained IN HEBREW what she should do.  She was very grateful and drove on.

On my way home, I repeated what I'd said to her about 100 times - was it correct?  Did I tell her to turn left when I should have told her to turn right?

What if she ends up in Ramallah???  What did I do???

I will never know if she found the place.

My only consolation is that, if you try to enter Ramallah, the army stops you and maybe a soldier will tell her how to get where she was going.

I should have just told her how to install Waze on her phone.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

I Can't Just Keep Quiet

So much is going on in Israel these days - so much violence, so many human beings injured in so many ways.

So much is going on around the world these days, so much that is so bad for the Jewish people.

I am not a Jewish leader, just a person who, for family reasons, found it a good time to make aliyah. But having made aliyah, I can't just sit back and enjoy my new life - I feel this deep desire to find a way to convince other Jews to do the same.

No, this is not "aliyah snobbery," a term I find extremely distasteful, and which to me reeks of "I don't want to hear what you have to say because you make me feel guilty."

This is coming from my deep, abiding love for my fellow Jews, something my parents taught me by example. I now know what this life is like. If you haven't lived here (as opposed to a year or two in seminary/yeshiva), you don't get it.  And I WANT you to get it.

Living here is authentic, and I can't find a better word.  For religious and non-religious alike, it is the place we are supposed to be. I can't tell you how many non-religious Jews, upon hearing that we made aliyah, have said, "Of course, you came home!  Why don't other Jews do that?  What's wrong with them?  How can they live as Jews anywhere else?"

So here is my plea - just think about it.  Yes, you will have to give up some things which you've gotten used to.  But this is what you get in return - the fullness of heart every time you look at the landscape, the deep satisfaction that you, yes little old you, are actually contributing to the future of our land, and that you have done what God told us to do - live in the land He gave us.

To parents of adult children who want to make aliyah, I ask you to encourage your children. Yes, it will be hard, and yes it's far away, but how can you deny them the chance to be part of this miracle?  I know that many people make their children feel guilty for wanting to make aliyah.  But what better sign is there that you've raised your children well than that they want to contribute to the future of the Jewish people in the Jewish land?

My husband and I recently entered into a long-standing debate about whether or not the State of Israel is the "beginning sign of the Redemption."  My husband has one opinion, I have another, and of course it is an ongoing discussion among religious and non-religious thinkers.

Personally, I have no doubt in my heart of hearts that the establishment of Medinat Yisrael is some kind of milestone for us as a people. This successful, living, growing country may have its problems, but the amount of knowledge that is generated in this tiny land mass, both secular and religious, is staggering.  The amount of medical research alone has probably saved thousands if not tens of thousands of lives worldwide.

As I sit in my modern apartment in my modern city, surrounded by Jews from all over the world who have come home, as I walk in the mall and hear about 15 different languages, as I see the Facebook posts from hundreds of new olim asking for advice, I feel so sure that the act of coming home to our land is deeply, innately rooted in each of us.

That's why I can't keep quiet.  I can't just live my new life and not let you know that it is a life like no other, in a place like no other, and with a people like no other.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

One of Those Life Moments....

There are many times in our lives when we stop and realize, "OK, this is significant, this is one of those times you'll always remember."

One of those moments happened in the spring of 2009 when our eldest grandchild, Ariella, sang and danced with about 40 other Israeli kids in a groundbreaking event for their neighborhood shul. Knowing that she was now part of normative Israeli life, and that she and all of the other kids singing and dancing, most pretty badly, were going to be the future of the country, was enough to choke me up big time.

Another moment, among many we've had since our daughters made aliyah in 2008 and we made
aliyah in 2012, came this past week when that same little girl graduated from 6th grade.

The graduation event took place at Migdal David in Jerusalem - a historic and dramatic setting for sure, but the site itself was kind of overshadowed by the meaning of the event itself.

All of the kids, and there sere several hundred I believe, were involved in the presentation, which took 2 hours (beware, pre-aliyah'ers - every single school event takes at least two hours, even gan graduations).  There were dances, songs, poems, and instrument playing.

At one point each kid had an Israeli flag in his/her hand and marched around the paths of Migdal David - waving and singing.

Just think about it - each and every child in this graduating class will some day finish high school and go on to the Army to protect our country and our people.  Just knowing that gave me shivers - each of them has such an important stake in my own personal future and in the future of the Jews.

Knowing what is ahead of them, I can't help but believe that these kids have a much different view of their future than their peers in other countries - they know what's coming, they have such a strong, deep sense of purpose - and this is something they grew up with.

Another end of year event was my grandson Amichai being "interviewed" for first grade - when the principal asked him what he wanted to be, he said, "B'ezrat Hashem, a chayal [soldier], then an engineer."

B'ezrat Hashem.

Monday, June 15, 2015

I Have No Idea What You Just Said, Pt. 2

So Hebrew continues to be my greatest struggle here, although I have had people tell me my Hebrew is pretty good.  I mean, I can navigate important websites like online supermarkets, the bank, and the Kupat Cholim, and it's all good when I work on the shul emails for my shul, which have to be in English and Hebrew.

But it's the conversations that do me in.  I. Can. Not. Speak. Hebrew. To. An. Israeli.

Take, for instance, the past few days:

1. Less humiliating:
We went to talk to a car dealer.  In Israel, car buying is actually pretty easy because there is no haggling (surprised, aren't you?).  Seriously, the price is the price. And the inventory is low (I mean it's a small country where would they store the cars, after all? ), so you get what you can get, and don't worry about this trim package and that trim package, etc. etc. At least that is our experience.

The car salesman did not speak English.  His Hebrew was pretty clear, though.  But here I am listening to him and wondering how much of what I THINK he said, he actually said.  And how much did I get wrong.  I usually end up asking this question:  What is it that I HAVE TO DO RIGHT NOW?" - that usually gets me a clear answer.

2. A bit more humiliating:
Went today to get our old car inspected before it is sold.  Inspector guy comes to get me and we sit down and he goes over the details of the inspection certificate.  I have no idea what he is saying, so I keep asking, "But is it OK to sell right now?"  I don't know what he said in response to that.  It could have been yes, it could have been no, it could have been maybe.  

Then the inspector guy keeps talking and he TEARS UP THE INSPECTION CERTIFICATE.  I'm totally horrified - oh my gosh, what did I just agree to???  I say, now what should I do, thinking I've just authorized him to make thousands of shekel in repairs without realizing it.  I figured he's going to say, "Well, sit yourself down,honey, 'cause we are going to do thousands of shekel in repairs on your car!  Hahahaha!!!!Sucka!"  

Instead he says, "Well, what do you WANT to do?"  By this time I'm getting a headache.  I say, "I want to go."  He says, "So go."  I still have no idea what happened but I walked out with a new certificate (at least that's what I think it is).

3. Extremely humiliating:
While I'm waiting for the car to be inspected, I get a call from the mailman.  Yes, the mailman himself.  He has a package for me, and wants to come between.....and, for the life of me I think he is saying between "1:30 and 1:00."  So I'm pretty sure I got that wrong, so I say, "well, I"m not home now."  He hesitated, probably thinking, what the heck do I care if she's home now or not?"  

He said, again, "I'll come between...." and again I'm sure it was between 1:30 and 1:00.  I give up and say OK. The worst that can happen is that I won't be home and he'll leave a note.

I get off the phone and all of the other people in the waiting room are kinda looking at me (maybe that was my imagination).  And slowly I realize that the time he gave me was between 11 and 1, not 1:30 and 1:00.  When he said "achad esrei" I kept thinking "achad v'chetzi."

BTW, the package was delivered.  I think the mailman was snickering when he dropped it off.