Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Open Letter to the President

My Open Letter to the President:

Dear Mr. President,

You may have recently “received” an open letter from a Jewish supporter of yours who lost her brother (In case you haven’t, here is the link: Like her, I am Jewish, supported your candidacy, and happen to have just lost my brother.  While she and I have all that in common, the message of my open letter will be quite different than hers.

Her letter appears on a blog that expresses her grief over the loss of her brother Alex and pays tribute to his memory.  I would imagine that anyone who reads her heartrending and poignant entries cannot help but be moved.  I know that I was.  Apparently her brother was an articulate, bright young man with a great sense of political awareness and social responsibility. I read with admiration of his energetic and idealistic activism in support of your campaign.  Alex’s sister (I could only find her brother’s name on the blog), seems to be no slouch herself.  She writes beautifully and intelligently; all the entries that I saw are worth reading.  Yet her most recent piece has gotten exponentially more exposure than the others – hundreds of tweets and 4,000 plus facebook shares.

After reading it, I felt I had to write to you too. You see, Alex’s sister expressed the disappointment that she and her brother felt over your positions and policies regarding Israel.  Your reiteration of Israel’s right to defend itself in the wake of the latest round of hostilities with Chamas was the last straw for her. She is hurt and ashamed. She suggests that you are betraying the growing pro-Palestinian Jewish constituency of your coalition that gave money and energy to your campaign. She thinks you are kowtowing to big business interests against those of the American people.

While Alex’s sister feels shame and disappointment, I feel a sense of relief. For me your statement was a validation of the vote I cast for you. Now you might not peg me as an obvious supporter.  I am an orthodox Jew living in Israel – not your strongest demographic.  Many of my friends claimed that your policies would be bad for Israel’s security.  I carefully read the links they posted on facebook and the arguments they made against you.  None of them were convincing to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I think you have made some mistakes, but overall I felt that you were a friend to Israel.  I cast my vote for you because I thought your presidency would be a better one than your opponent’s – better for the U.S., better for the world, and better for Israel.  

I took a lot of flack for my position. So when I returned to Israel this past week I became anxious about what your response would be to this latest round of hostilities.  I had been in the states with my family mourning the loss of my brother and had completely tuned out the news.  When I got caught up, my first thought was, how will President Obama respond. Having just won the election, will the president continue to express the support and understanding for Israel’s security needs that were part of his campaign?  Well, you quickly allayed my concerns.

Mr. President, I am not pleased with your response because I am a right-winger – I wouldn’t have voted for you if I was.  I consider myself sympathetic to both Palestinian suffering and national aspirations. I have travelled to Bethlehem to meet with Palestinian leaders and activists to hear their side of the story. Like you, I would like to see a Palestinian state thriving alongside a Jewish one. I just don’t think that sympathy for the Palestinian plight gives Hamas a right to indiscriminately bombard Israel with hundreds of rockets on a daily basis. You seem to agree.

Towards the end of her blog piece, Alex’s sister implores you to “prove your allegiance... to… the people who knocked doors for you, who made phone calls for you, who died getting you this 4 years more of opportunity.”  Mr. President, I didn’t knock on doors for you, I didn’t make phone calls for you, and I certainly didn’t die for you.  However, I did vote for you. That vote was based on my belief that when you said that Israel has a right to defend itself, you would stand behind it.  Thank you for coming through.  I hope you will continue to express these sentiments as Israel struggles to find the balance between self-preservation and co-existence.


                                                                                    Ross Singer
                                                                                    Kibbutz Maale Gilboa

Monday, May 28, 2012

Bounce, Bing and Boing

A pigeon decided to build a nest outside on our washing machine.  We named her Bounce.  I tried to discourage her at first (by dismantling the nest a couple of times), but by the Israeli law of "Homa and Migdal" (loosely translated/explained: if you have the permanent structures of a community built by morning you get to stay...), she completed the nest and laid eggs on it one night, and by morning it was hers.

Just so you don't think me cruel, the only reason I wanted to discourage her was because I didn't know how it would be for the little guys to be bounced around all day to the movements of our washer and dryer.  You could indeed see her eyes kinds of bouncing around in her head as she sat on them.  She also would get scared when I would switch loads, and often flew away, causing us concern that the eggs were not being sufficiently sat upon.

When the little miracles were born, they were so small and shrivelly looking that we feared the worst.  I contemplated calling in an expert, but I had heard that when people touch a nest, it makes the mom refuse to return, so we just waited and watched.  Meanwhile, we optimistically named them Bing and Boing.

And just like with Adin 6 years ago, those little scrawny helpless looking things have developed into strong, fine young citizens.  We expect them to fly off any day.  And we will miss them. 



Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bringing some of the "old country" into the new one

There was some back and forth on an Aliya listserve about how appropriate it is to complain about the challenges of Aliya.  Some felt that Olim need to give up their connections to their previous homes outside of ISrael and accept their new reality.  In response Emily wrote the following that resonated for many people who thanked her for writing it.


I made aliyah with my family a year and a half ago. My husband and I feel very blessed to have this amazing opportunity to settle in Eretz Yisrael. Our aliyah has been pretty smooth, and our kids are integrating beautifully, tfu tfu tfu. 

Still, the process has not been without its challenges. We left all of our family behind in America . I am reinventing my career from scratch, starting at the bottom and often feeling inept at work, where in America I was successful and respected. And despite their great acclimation here, our kids miss their friends and family, and all four of them would go back tomorrow if given the choice. So while we are so glad we came, it is not always easy.

My husband and I are considered (by people who know us) to be very low maintenance people. We are generally not the type to insist on having particular products, and we could live very well like native Israelis, purchasing only what is available in our local kibbutz makolet. Still, with all of the upheaval our family has been through, we have found ourselves swept up in the fever of trying to find (and sometimes import) American goods. There is something warm and familiar about our Friday ritual of Wacky Mac before Shabbat, and it is always exciting when someone brings us American Rice Krispies. And living in the North with few affordable English reading options, there is nothing like receiving our latest used books in the mail from Better World Books!

In preparation for my son's bar mitzvah a few weeks ago, I did things I never dreamed I would do. I agreed (even encouraged?) him to have a Baltimore Ravens theme party (I HATE football, and in America I would have considered a sports-themed bar mitzvah tacky -- though we are only talking about a few decorations here...). I went through hoops to order Ravens pennants and foil-wrapped chocolate sports balls. I had to order them to America , and have my only friend coming from North America drive to the States from Canada to pick them up and bring them. Another friend arranged to have us sent Sunkist candies for throwing after his Torah reading. This seemed ridiculous to me, but the kids were so excited about it. 

As the bar mitzvah approached, my son was disappointed that none of his American family or friends would be there. But on the actual day, he read his parasha beautifully and had an amazing time with his new friends and community. In shul, people loved the change from the usual candies (we live in a place with few anglos, so the Sunkist chews were a chavaya). At the party, the Ravens touch brought a little piece of his past (along with a video his friends back in Baltimore prepared for him), and his Bnei Akiva group even sang about his fondness for the Ravens in a song they performed for him. 

Did we need to bring things from America to make his bar mitzvah special? Of course not. But I have no regrets. There are always things we can do "better" in the world. We can give more charity. We can use less water and disposable dishes. We can smile more at strangers. But there are times when we are allowed to make choices for ourselves. When someone has made all the sacrifices they have in order to leave behind all they had before to come on aliyah, who are we to criticize someone for wanting a taste from the old country (like Rice Krispies) or something to make our lives a little easier (ziploc bags) or cheaper (American sneakers and Electronics) . 

I am grateful for this forum that has helped me find ways to make my aliyah a little easier, and it is a pleasure to share things I find that I think others will appreciate. 

If anyone is interested, I am attaching a link to an article about our kids' transition here that was published in a Vancouver newspaper. It is one of a 10-part series (7 published so far). The rest are easy to find if you are even further interested (or you can contact me for more links).

http://www.jewishin dependent. ca/Archives/ Nov11/archives11 Nov25-05. html

Emily Singer

Baltimore -- Maale Gilboa 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

An Introduction to the Education Profession in Israel

Hi guys!

I am going a little crazy here, preparing for Passover while simultaneously making arrangements for Shai's bar mitzvah which is a week later.  Eek!  So I have decided to take advantage of the free time and write to you all.

But seriously, I just have to share this before I forget....

So for those of you have been following my career path carefully, you will recall that I gave up on the idea of teaching after a less-than-successful stint of teaching English to inner-city classes of up to 40 middle schoolers, but then I reconsidered this year, when I was asked to do some small group lessons, and to teach at a home for girls at risk.  (I love this job!)

To be a teacher in Israel, I am supposed to complete 2 courses-- one for a teaching degree and the other I need to receive a teacher's license.  The second course is only for new immigrants. and it is a series of mini-courses on Jewish subjects -- History, Civics, Israeli Literature, Hebrew Language, Bible and Jewish Customs.  I happen to particularly enjoy these subjects -- having studied all of them in college and graduate school (except Civics).  I have two bachelors in Jewish History and Talmud, and a Masters in Judaic Studies.  The problem is that the course is designed for people who have little to no background in the subjects, and whose Hebrew is very weak.  I asked if it was possible to get an exemption from the subjects in which I have university degrees, but I was told no.

So I signed up for the course just over a month ago and I studied Civics for 5 weeks.  I actually found the course very interesting, though apparently this defines me as a big geek.  Everyone hears Civics and says oh no!  That is the most boring subject!  But I try to keep up with the news, and I found the class very helpful in understanding the political structure.  I also really enjoyed the teacher, who brought lots of real life fascinating examples to her lessons. I found it interesting, though the pace was excruciatingly slow, as much of the course was spent going very slowly over terms and vocabulary, and then going over the terms used to explain the terms and vocabulary, and then practicing writing sentences that could be memorized that would answer potential questions.  And this was all after spending 3 hours traveling on 3 buses to get there (and before another 3 hours and 3 buses back home...).

There was a lot of information to learn, and a lot of new terms, but the teacher bent over backwards driving them home in our first 4 lessons, and spent a last lesson going over everything yet again for those who were unclear on the information the 27th time around, and writing more practice answers for the questions that the teacher seemed to have a pretty good idea would be on the test.  So when it came time for the exam, I did have to study very hard, but I knew exactly what was going to be expected.  

When I show up for the day of the test, we are divided into 2 rooms.  Most students are adamantly refusing to be put in the second room (I missed the first course on History, which may explain why I didn't know the significance of the rooms...).  I went to the other room with a handful of people.  Our proctor was very meticulous about making sure that no one had any papers or anything anywhere near their workspace, and that we were very well separated.  Did she know that we are all adults and educators? (as it turns out, maybe that's why she was concerned....)

As the test starts, the proctor announces the answer to number 4 of the "American questions" (that means "multiple choice" here...), saying we hadn't covered the material.   The woman next to me asks me what she said.  I tell her very clearly.  She moves over right next to me to look at my paper, asking me again to clarify.  I tell her again, but she keeps trying to look (I have already completed the rest of the section).  Finally she says, "Well, what's the answer to number 3?"

I tell her the teacher didn't tell us that, but she persists, straining her eyes toward my paper, that I am actively curling out of her view, until she looks annoyed and goes back to her seat.  

Over the next little while, this woman periodically turns around and whispers to people asking them for answers.  The proctor seems not to notice (I don't know how, though she is reading a book).

Then one woman asks if she can go out of the room to go to the bathroom.  THe proctor says, "But you are in the middle of an exam."  

She answers, "Yeah, I know, but I'm almost done."  

I'm not sure why this is a reason to let her go right now, but anyway... the teacher says OK but she should leave her phone.  The student says "But I need to make a call."  She goes out with her phone, and is gone for literally more than 20 minutes.

The proctor decides she needs to go out and look for this woman.  Big mistake.  The second she leaves the room, papers are flying.  Someone has handed their exam to the woman next to me for her to copy, and others are scootching next to each other to confer.  Somehow, as if they were in a movie, they manage to all find their seats and resume their test-taking poses at the last moment, Risky Business style, just before the proctor returns.  

I finished early and left, but after the exam was over, I got a call from my friend Berta, who I know because she lives near me and we ride the bus together.  She is actually very honest and a good student, but she tells me about what went on in the other room.  She said that first of all, almost everyone had some sort of cheat sheet they kept under their table or slid inside their exam book.  Some of them had several pages.  But the prize goes to the guy who used his smart phone to look up answers on Wikipedia!!!!

These, my friends, are my children's future teachers.

After the last class I asked again if I could possibly get an exemption from the rest of the courses.  The head of the course (which is to say the proctor of the smart phone testing room) said it is worth a try.  They asked me to submit all degrees and transcripts with relevant courses highlighted.  I worked harder on the request then I did in the course (though it was less travel time...).  The application will take at least a month to process, so I will need to begin the next course in the meantime.  Israeli literature, here I come!  (This is actually the one I think could be the most interesting).  Wish me luck!!!

And have a happy, health Passover!!!!



Monday, March 12, 2012

Teaching a nuanced love for Israel or a simple trip to buy Tefilin ain't so simple

Tonight, Rivital, Shmuel, Abaye and I drove to Chispin in the Golan Heights to purchase Shmuel’s Tefilin.  He’ll start putting them on next week – one month before his Bar Mitzvah.  Friends of ours recommended the Sofer (scribe) we met with because he has a two-hour presentation about the meaning of Tefillin and a demonstration of how they are made.  He has samples of cow hides in their various stages going from simple pieces of leather to becoming the boxes in which the parshiot (Torah passages) of parchment eventually make their home.  It was really cool to see how they are made and sewn up.  We even got to place the parshiot of Shmuel’s Tefilin in the Batim (boxes) – well actually I did. Since Shmuel is not yet Bar Mitzvah, the sofer insisted that I put them in place – לשם קדושת תפילין. There is no doubt that being present as the scrolls were placed inside the Batim gave Shmuel and the rest of us a special connection to this Mitzvah and his particular set of Tefilin.

Besides this physical connection, the Sofer had an extended derash/shiur on the meaning of Tefilin.  His take on Tefilin is that there are essentially three themes in the portions of the Torah included in the Tefilin – The land of Israel, the People Israel and the Torah of Israel.  The first parashah (Exodus 13:1-10) which describes the exodus of Egypt into the promised land = Eretz Yisrael.  The second parashah (Exodus 13:11-16) which focuses on the first born = The People Israel (who are called God’s first born in Exodus 4:22).  The last two parshiot (Deut. 6:4-9 and Deut. 11:13-21) = the Torah of Israel.  So, in this Sofer’s understanding, laying Tefilin is an act of identification with trio of the land, people, and Torah of Israel.  (Here is a link to get a more elaborate explanation in Hebrew:

While perhaps a little to far from peshat (the straightforward meaning), I certainly appreciated the sentiment of searching out a deep significance for this new Mitzvah that Shmuel is on the cusp of taking on.  All in all it was worth the long drive + the extended presentation.

All that said, there was a piece of the presentation that I found disturbing.  Building on the explanation above, the sofer added another level to his drash on Tefilin.  There is a halakhah that the Parshiot of the Tefilin must written in the order they appear in the Torah (at least according to Rashi).  That means that in this Sofer’s scheme, first comes the parashah of the land of Israel, then the people Israel, and finally the Torah of Israel.  He suggested that this order indicates a hierarchy of values.  On the top is the land of Israel, followed by the people of Israel, and finally least important of the three is the Torah of Israel.  As he was sharing this approach, I immediately recalled Rabbi Yehuda Amital’s insistence that of these three pillars of Judaism, the people Israel is at the top followed by the Torah of Israel in the middle with the land of Israel being the least in significance of the three. It is R. Amital’s approach that I hold dear and try to live by (Here is a link to one of the articles where R. Amital lays out this position:

I was a bit ambivalent about this presentation of values that Shmuel had just been presented.  On the one hand, the placing the land of Israel on a pedestal above all else is a perversion of what I understand Judaism to teach. On the other hand, one of the struggles of our Aliya has been the kids' disappointment over leaving the states.  Of course they should be disappointed about leaving their friends and I need to accept that and to allow them that disappointment.  Yet, on the other hand I am not sure that they have a full appreciation for how significant Aliya is.  I don’t think they realize and share how important Emily and I feel the land and the state of Israel is.  On some level, I was pleased that Shmuel heard someone preaching the importance of the land of Israel, even if I had concerns that it was being overblown.

Related to this subject, Shmuel and I had an interesting interchange last week.  In school, Shmuel’s class had a presentation from one of the Gush Katif evacuees who told the story from his perspective.  Shmuel came home and shared with me what he had heard.  He told me that he couldn’t understand why we had left Gaza.  While I certainly appreciate those who opposed the hitnatkut (disengagement), I feel that the demographic problem of remaining in Gaza created at least as big a problem as the withdrawal did. I did my best to explain what the advantages were to the pull out, but he stood his ground.  I asked him how he would address the demographics and he said something like we should have moved a lot of Jews there to balance the population.  When I pointed out that that would mean Jews like us moving from the diaspora to Israel, he was caught a bit off guard.  Inadvertently, he had made an argument for the importance of his own Aliya.  I ended that conversation telling Shmuel that I was glad and proud that he had an opinion of his own different from mine and that he should continue to think for himself. I told myself, that I was glad that Shmuel had come to a realization of the importance of Jews living in Israel, even if I disagreed with him about exactly where in Israel they should live…

When one’s religious Zionism emphasizes the quality of the society built in the land of Israel (Am Yisrael) over the land itself – inculcating a love for the land can be complex.  I decided not to address what the Sofer had said at all tonight and just let Shmuel chew on it (after two hours of listening to the meaning of Tefilin he deserved a break no matter what he heard), however, I imagine at some point we’ll revisit this and I’ll share R. Amital’s position.  Maybe I’ll even recommend he read this post…

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Twice Insulted (and Emily work update)


I have been dying to write, but things have gotten VERY busy around here.  Still, a few of you have noticed, and anyway, there is SO much to do that it is the perfect time to procrastinate.

First of all, I just have to share a little story:

In the land that invented the cell phone and the defibrillator, that broadcasts up to date TV series from America and Europe, and that releases Harry Potter books and movies before they arrive in the US, one thing has not made it across the ocean to our borders -- the concept of political correctness.  

So I walk into the teacher's room at the school where I teach, and the teachers and principal are in a heated debate (this is saying it nicely...).  I don't totally get what's going on, though what I gleaned from afterwards is that they were discussing their tradition that for the Purim carnival every year, teachers go out and solicit prizes for their classes from local neighbors and businesses.  It seems that one woman didn't feel right about doing this, and she was suggesting that the different classes sell foods for the carnival, and then pool all the profits and get the same prizes for everyone in the school (or something like that).  This is all background.  The part where I walked in was when the principal screamed, "What are we-- kibbutzniks?!?!  WE ARE BETTER THAN KIBBUTZNIKS!!!!"

After the meeting, as I was sitting there trying to decide if I was insulted (OK, I was really just sitting there giggling...), I overheard another conversation where teachers were creating a test, and they were debating the pros and cons of using "American questions."  Raise your hand out there if you know what an "America question" is.  OK, I'll just tell you-- that is what they call here multiple choice questions.  Tell me-- did America really invent the multiple choice question?!?!?!  [(a) yes, (b) no, (c) who cares?] And is that supposed to say something about us?  [(a) yes; (b) no; (c) probably, but I don't know what].

And people just have no idea how what they are saying will be perceived by the people around them.  Or they don't care....

Now then, about being busy:

The year started relatively slowly, with me not working, hoping to take the year off to write.  Soon after the school year started, I got a call from a woman asking if I would teach for her.  She coordinates teachers in the area who pull small groups out of their English classes to work with them.  She wanted me to take 2 jobs, but I agreed to one, to leave time to write, and to make sure I like the work.

Shortly thereafter, I got a call from my kids' school asking if I would teach an advanced English class for a group of kids in this special accelerated program -- one afternoon a week.  no problem.  Fun, even.

Then I signed up for a writing course on line -- it's actually a manuscript workshop for a children's book I have been working on.  After I discovered the course on-line, my friend Tzippy from Toronto  actually recommended the course to me (not knowing I already knew about it and had contacted the teacher...).  And guess what-- Tzippy is in my class with me!  Very cool! 

Between the time when I signed up for the course and it started, I got another call asking me to teach English at a home for girls in distress.  They want me to prepare girls for the big high school English exams (the bagrut).  One of the girls actually has a really good shot at passing the highest level exam (which is very unusual there), but they haven't been about to find someone else to teach her.  I don't have any experience with these exams, which are a really big deal here, and I told them that, but they hired me anyway.  I had no idea what I was getting into-- just finding out what will be on the exam has been a full time research project.  I finally think I know what it will entail-- a few unseen texts with questions, a few compositions, a project that she must do ahead of time (and getting the task for the project was one of the hardest, as I finally discovered that the reason the information is not readily available is because the teacher usually picks the task, but I am not qualified, and she's not really in a school, but someone finally helped me out and gave me a project...).  After the project, she will need to pass an oral exam, which will be partly about the project.  By the time she does all this, I feel like they should give her a PhD!  

I work there also with 3 other girls who are amazingly delightful, and I just love it!!!  One girl was complaining about how studying English is always boring, and she doesn't want (but there's a limit to how interesting a teacher can make the work when the results-- the big exam at the end-- have to be very specific).  I made a deal with her that I would bring a pop song every week to share at the end of the lesson.  The girls all love this, and they also do great with the work.  The other girl in her class is highly motivated to pass her exam (which she won't be ready for for awhile, but she has amazing vision to stick with it anyway...), and she keeps the pace of the class going great.  Then the other girl I teach independently.  She is really starting form the very beginning, and it is hard to imagine that she will really get to a point where she is ready for the exam, but she is so sweet, and really fragile, and even remembering a word from one page and applying correctly on the next is a big deal, but she appreciates it.  I really love it there.  The director keeps telling me that the girls are doing great and they love the class, and that I have to come back next year.  But I have only been there a few weeks, so we'll see.  Like, we'll see how the first girl actually does on her bagrut....

So now that I have 3 different jobs that I basically really like, all of which require me to be an English teacher, I am rethinking my earlier decision not to pursue that route officially (which would entail a teacher's certificate course and a course in 6 basic Jewish disciplines for olim).  Both of these course were offered for free to olim (immigrants), and I didn't o them because they are far away and the hours are inconvenient.  But they don't know when they will offer them again.  BUT they told me that I could join one class late (the Jewish disciplines), starting NEXT SUNDAY.  I am DREADING the commute (it's in Haifa, where I always ALWAYS get horribly lost) , and it doesn't leave me much time for preparing for the other stuff and writing, but I think I gotta do it.  

And did I mention that Shai/Shmuel's bar mitzvah is exactly two months from today? [(a) yes; (b) no; (c) Eek!!]  Have I done anything to plan for it?  [(a) zip; (b) zilch; (c) nadda].  Ross and Shmuel have been working like crazy to get his readings down and everything, but it is time to get moving on that (with all my free time).  

So that's basically why I haven't been writing more, but I am realizing now that I owe y'all the story of my last adventure to Haifa to the Employment counseling center.  But I don't think I can write more now, and I can't imagine you want to read more now (It is 11:40 at night, for goodness sake!), but I will try to write it up soon, before I forget all the details, and have to make them up, like I did here.  Did I just say that out loud?  just kidding!