Thursday, December 2, 2010

Happy Chanukah!!!

Hey there,
I feel like it has been awhile since I have written, and it's time for an update.  Usually I get inspired by something I particularly want to report about that happened, but that hasn't happened for awhile, as things are settling into everyday life.  But I thought of you guys yesterday, when I was getting ready for Hanuka. 
The kids came home so excited for Hanuka.  We were having company for dinner, and there was going to be a big communal candlelighting at the shul.  I was trying to figure out how I could have everything ready in order to go with the kids.  Then I realized that I could just send them to meet Ross there, so I sent them off, and I had the house to myself for an hour.  I turned on the radio, and there was non-stop Hanuka music.  When we first moved here I was worried that I would miss Christmas time.   I really love the music and the holiday spirit of that time of year in America.  I used to love walking downtown in NY and seeing all the store windows and Christmas decorations.  Anyway, here I was listening to the radio,and it was even more amazing.  There were so many songs I didn't know-- first the pioneer songs that I LOVE (Ross makes fun of me, but I love all that early Israeli music), and then the Hassidic songs, and of course the children's songs, but they were all remixed for adult ears (I was listentening to Galei Tzahal, the army radio station, which is one of the only ones we get up here, and anyway I love it).  In between songs, lots of hoilday cheer.  They even apologized for interrupting with the news (like-- we have to take a short break from all this beautiful music to hear real quickly what's going on-- or something like that).  I got to make latkes without anyone in the way.  That's always fun until I remember that no one in my family really likes them so much, so now I have like 30 latkes in the fridge going begging, but oh well).  There are some potato, and some potato, sweet potato and zucchini.  Wanna come?  Adin tried one, but he didn't like it.  He asked if there are any without vegetables.  I gave him a plain potato one and he tore it apart, looking for the part with no vegetables.  It turns out he thinks potatoes are a vegetable.  I guess they are.  But a latke without potatoes or vegetables just somehow isn't the same....
After dinner, the kids got together and fought about what dreidel game to play until we had to take away the chocolate gelt.  Just like old times....
The weather is starting to get nippy in the mornings.  This morning I wore a sweatshirt to bring Adin to gan, and I kept my hands in the pockets the whole way there (7:45 AM).  Though by the time I was heading home (7:55?), it was already too hot for it, and we are back to short sleeves.  It is crazy!  It's December, right?  People here are worried about the rain.  A couple of weeks ago the kids came home from school informing us that the next day was a fast day.  We asked what they are talking about, and they said that a fast day has been declared to help bring rain.  (The Israeli Rabbinate can't solve the problem of agunot or deal with the current conversion crisis, but they can pull themselves together for this!  Ah-- my tax dollars at work...).  Sure enough, it says in the Mishna that if the rains don't start by a certain date, you are supposed to fast.  Ross was skeptical, and he asked Rav Gilead.  Rav Gilead said he hadn't heard about it, and that he thought it was premature.  He said that those fasts were meant for times of crisis and famine, and in today's world, lack of water doesn't create a famine.  It just makes things more expensive.  SO that was that.  Though what a great educational tool it was for the kids at school.  Anyway, I really don't have much of a sense of how serious the water shortage is here.  I mean, I know it's a problem in the long run, but I sure don't feel it in the day to day.  Though my skin is really dry.  Will rain help that?
So at the beginning of this week, still no rain.  The kibbutz decided to have a special prayer service for rain outside in the courtyard.  (We can handle the prayer service.  The fasts are much more incapacitating).  Ross went to the service (I stayed home with kvetchy kids).  One guy laughed, saying we are the opposite of Honi HaMeagel-- the guy who demanded rain from G-d by drawing a circle and saying he was going to stand in it until it rained.  He had no doubt that his prayer would be heard.  At the kibbutz thing, this guy pointed out, everyone arrived in sandals and T-shirts.  They prayed and went home.  Maybe if they would have brought umbrellas?  Then again, it is when I bring an umbrella that it doesn't rain.  So the sandals may have been the right way to go.  Apparently, right after the service, the sprinklers opened up and watering the grass everywhere.  Everyone was laughing about that at the parent meeting that night (see below)
The highlight of my week/month/three months since we have been here, has got to have been last Sunday night.  It was Rivital's first parent-teacher conferences.  Oh my gosh, do her teachers love her!!!!  She is doing so amazing in every possible way (except perhaps her handwriting, but I have just about given up on that one at this point.  I'm guessing it means she will be a doctor...).  Getting to the teachers was an ordeal with all the figuring out where to go and who everybody is (there was an enormous dining hall full of teachers at every table, and of course most people know the teachers by sight), but once I would find a teacher, they had so many amazing things to say about her-- Her Hebrew is so amazing; she is fitting in so well and so quickly; so smart and so humble; thoughtful and insightful; participates great; creative, etc etc.  Math and Talmud and Halacha are way too easy for her.  There is a thing where in each class they get a mark at the end if they have been outstanding during that class (participation and tha sort of thing).  She showed me that Rivital has over 30 of these.  Then she randomly flipped through others just to point out that most kids have fewer than half of this.   It was such a pleasure!!! 

While I was there I ran into Abaye's teacher (who has a kid in middle school), and she also told me amazing things about him.  He was having a hard time, but I really think things are turning around for him.  He was very excited to get his first A on a test back, and he took another one which he also thinks he aced, and was feeling great about.  He loves his Hebrew tutor (which they finally got for him), and he loves his special class for English speakers (which is him, Shai, and a few other kids).  He also loves his regular English class, where they let him sit and read.  He just reread Hugo Cabret for the billionth time (thanks Becky and Jacob!!), and now he has decided to reread it AGAIN for the billion and first time!!!  (BTW-- we were visiting friends, and they have it in Hebrew!!!  It is such a beautiful book!).  And then there is this guy who does gardening with kids, and Abaye goes out to him once or twice a week to work on the landscaping.  He seems to be really enoying things a lot more (phew phew phew...). 
Adin also seems to be enjoying much more.  This morning, his teacher told me that they were learning about bees, and he didn't ask to leave (which he often does when there is a lot of Hebrew talking), and he got so excited and had to tell everyone something and he jumped up and talked and talked and all the kids listened excitedly.  I asked what he said, and she said she has no idea.  She didn't want to interfere-- he was so excited!  I asked him what he said, but he doens't remember.
Shai seems well to, though I have nothing to report.  He's been pretty quiet about school and friends, though when asked he says school is great, and he has a couple of good friends there.  I met one when I went in for the special rain ceremony, and he seemed really sweet and was very excited to meet me.  He is from Ethiopia.  Mostly, Shai's life has been on hold as he is plowing through Harry Potter.  He is on the seventh book, and we have seen the first 5 movies (thanks Rav Elisha and Uriah!!).  I am hoping he won't finish it until the movie comes out in DVD (Rav Elisha and Uriah-- when do you think you'll have it for us to borrow?  : )   Going to movies here is expensive!!) 
 I feel like there is more I want to say about our Shabbatot in Modiin and Elezar, but they seem like such a long time ago, I can't remember what was so amazing about them (Other than seeing Debby and Joel and Alissa and Morey-- You guys look GREAT!  And of course the ole Richters!!!!!)  The Richters threw not one but two birthday celebrations!  One for Adin' (whose birthday it was), and one for Abaye because Tzvi had promised him a birthday celebration ever since he failed to get the NBN pilot to change the date of our Aliyah flight in order to coincide with his birthday (though he offered the pilot candy...).  Next week we are going camping in the Negev in a Bedoin tent with those guys!  I'll try to write about that after it happens and before I forget).

Oh, I know what I am forgetting -- Adin's birthday party!!!  His gan did SUCH a beautiful job!!!  Very Israeli-- low budget and adorable.  All the kids sat in a circle and sang songs played little games like where a kid hides his eyes and 5 kids hide under a blanket and the kid has to figure out who is under there (by process of elimination.  Not by stepping on them and trying to recognize their screams... though that's a good idea-- I wonder if anyone's tried that before!)  He had the special birthday crown for his head.  The only thing they didn't do that I love is that thing where everyone goes around and gives him a blessing.  But I don't know that so many 4-6 year olds could have sat still for that much longer.  Anyway, it was fabulous!!!  I brought an ice cream cake, which they served in little muffin cups-- like they had never seen ice cream cake before.  By the time we distributed 30 pieces, you can imagine the mess.  But it's not like they were so clean to start with.  The cake had a big pink Elmo.  I couldn't get food coloring, so I colored it with beet juice.  No one minded. 
A couple of nights ago we went to a meeting about an Ulpena (a religious school for girls) they are thinking of opening here.  It actually seemed pretty close to a done deal.  They said "we" have to make a decsion by right after Hanuka if we want to open it (the choices are that they open it as part of our school's campus or we don't and someone else will...).  After we decide, we will see what it will actually look like.  She mentioned something about the school wanting "Educational autonomy".  This is not a very American approach to consumerism (though it was actually VERY reminiscent to me of when they brought the Hafetz Haim yeshiva to Vancouver-- remember how they said it was so important for the community, which maybe it was, but it also split the already tiny population of religious kids in Vancouver, making the previous educational structure much weaker).  The woman presenting was quite adamant that we had to either do it or it would destroy our school.  Then all these parents and teachers spoke up about how they fear it will undermine the school as it is now.  It is one of the few Orthodox schools with mixed classes (though most of the learning is indeed separate, kid have some specials together and can socialize outside of the classroom).  The ulpena would probably mean separating the campuses.  Kibbutzniks are very proud of their more open, tolerant, mixed approach to education-- especially those that graduated the school.  It was a shame, because we were very excited about the school going into the meeting.  It is supposed to specialize in arts, which Rivital wants desperately.  We also thought that being more religious, it would be more educationally intensive.  But (correct me if I'm wrong, all you ulpena graduates and other Israelis in the know), as it turns out, the school has the same hours and the same instruction time.  NO extra Judaic studies.  AND girls would probably not be taught Talmud (though as I mentioned, details are to follow).  When we asked what is so great about the school, this one mom and teacher who went to one said it's the "Hoo wah!"  Apparently, they are a lot of fun, and encourage lots of excitement.  The woman who said this said she loved her ulpena and is not sorry she went, but that she really believes in the philosophy of the school as it is now, and that they also have their share of fun and great projects.  Another teacher (who is Rivital's Talmud teacher and wife of one of the yeshiva rabbis) is worried that they won't be encouraged to think critical.  She seemed pretty worried about the whole thing.  It will be tough, because after the meeting, Ross and I agreed we'd rather keep the school as it is, but if they open the ulpena, I fear that all the religious and more serious students may leave the school for it, and then we would probably send Tali as well (Which is probably what we would have done with our boys in Vancouver as well if we would have stayed).  Oh well.  We'll see.  I am really open to input from others who have thoughts --especially who know about these schools.  But it was all very interesting anyway. 
I must be forgetting other things, but this has gone on quite long already.  Hopefully I'll write again after our trip south....
PS I am trying to attach pictures.  I was going to have kids in the pictures, but they're not here now.  Maybe I'l throw in some separate pix of them too....

I know.  I know.  I was adding pix and I realized that most of you are not interested if there are no kids in them.  And anyway, when I show you the boys' furniture, there is a very special treat (and an opportunity for extra credit-- stay tuned...) but alas, all that will have to wait until they get home from school.  In the meantime, though, I have been promising Jodi pix of the couches (which I designed-- they separate and have extra pillows, to be used as benches at the dining room table when we have a lot of company).  I took the last picture with a dining room chair next to the couch so you can see that the chairs have been recoved to match them (and to be wipe-clean friendly...)  This may be only interesting to Jodi, but just in case any others are interested here they are.  I threw in some pix from Adin's birthday to keep your attention, though they didn't some out so great.  There is a video from that somewhere, but I don't know how to find it.  There is also a picture of the penisula in the kitchen (also designed by moi), and in the back corner you can see Kojak, the bald dishwasher (that's for you, Joann!).  You can sort of make out how it is covered by a big piece of cardboard, and then held down by several cookbooks so it doesn't tip over when we open the drawers.  It is also covered in food, which will go in the cabinet that will be installed above it when the guy comes, which, according to him, will definitely be by two weeks ago, so not to worry!
Hope you enjoy (or that you can easily find the delete button or your browser)!!

PPS.  Hi again!
Did you miss me?  After receiving a resonse from a friend here pointing out that the lack of rain is a VERY big deal, I wanted to just clarify my thoughts about that.  I am also hoping to protect the good name of one of our favorite rabbis, whom I may have misrepresented, but with that I have to add the caviat that I may still be misrepresenting him, so please don't judge him based on what I say he said.  I have a terrible memory for details.  Anyway, I just cut and pasted it from my response to my friend.  Hope you don't mind.  I've been emailing all morning, and am still hoping to see the light of a beautiful day....
Thanks so much for your thoughts.  As I read what you said about the water shortage being a REALLY BIG DEAL, I realized that I left something out that is important (in Rav Gilead's name I should really correct it-- I'll try to do that after), though it may not cause you to agree with him.  He made the point that there are other means available to us to deal with a water crisis (buying water, desalinating the Dead Sea, etc) that doesn't mean we have no water crisis, but not comparable to praying for our lives, as people were doing in the times of the Torah.  To get the difference, I am reminded of the unbelievably amazing book (in my opinion) about the African boy who created a wind mill and thus brought electricity to his village.  It's called, um...  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, I think.  It's a true story (autobigraphical) about a kid whose family could no longer afford to send him to school so in his spare time he found a really old physics book in a little local library and taught himself to make a windmill (it'a a little more complicated than that, but that's the idea).  When it didn't rain enough in his village, people didn't have enough food, and they suffered and died in large numbers as a result.  There was one year when they had just planted their crops and the rain came too hard and destroyed everything.  It was gruelling to read about the year that followed, when their was no food to be found anywhere.  I am trying to remember if prayer was a big thing for them.  I can't even remember.  but with his technology (eventually he was sent abroad and studied and was able to create something quite sophisticated), they were able to irrigate the fields from a river or something (I forget the details), but the point is they were able to add a whole second harvest season every year, and it virtually eliminated the phenomen of never knowing from year to year if they would have enough food to make it to another year, and being totally dependent on the weather for their fate.  I know rain is still really important, and it's not that we don't pray for it, as I am sure does Rav Gilead.  But you are totally right that it is a big problem, and especially right that some heshbon hanefesh is a great idea!  Definitely, as you mentioned, we can start with not calling  foreign workers parasites (like our interior minister did)!!  I'll stop if you think it will help : )  Your being good to strangers idea is good too.  Did you actually count how many times it says that in the Torah, or have you heard Israel Campbell's shtick about how we read so many subtleties into the Torah (like don't cook a kid in it's mother's milk surely means to keep separate dishes), but when we get to "Be kind to the stranger" we are baffled: "What could that mean?  There it is again.  It says it 48 (or however many) times, but what could that mean?  What are we supposed to actually do?"
Anyway, please don't misunderstant me, and most importantly-- please don't stop praying for rain!!!  (or please start....)  And a little heshbon hanefesh (s"oul searching?") would be great too. 

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