It's been an exciting few weeks, latov v'lara (for good and for bad). To hear our thoughts about all the events in Japan and Itamar, check out the article Ross posted on the yeshiva student blog entitled Japan, Itamar and Amalek Meet at a Check Point(ymgstudentjournal.blogspot.com). We didn't write it-- it was a blog posting from one of the American students at the yeshiva-- but it perfectly expresses our thoughts, and it is beautifully written. The Encounter program with Palestinians that he mentions in the article is the same one that Ross did last summer.
Our excitement started a few weeks ago on Shabbat, when we had a little security scare on the kibbutz. I hesitated for a long time to write about it, as I didn't want to upset anyone (like my mom and Ross' mom-- hi guys!), but looking back, I think the story attests to how relatively safe we are. And of course the recent events in Japan remind us how uncertain life is anywhere.
What happened was a Palestinian broke through the border fence, which is not too far from our kibbutz (though we are also situated way on top of a big mountain). The event was so rare that the kibbutz warning system was not really prepared for it. I was walking to synagogue, and my son's 8 year old friend came up to me and told me we are supposed to make sure all kids are indoors. I was skeptical, thinking I would have heard such a warning from a grown up or a siren or something. But to be safe, I went home and made sure everyone was inside. At some point it seemed obvious the "scare" was over, and life went back to normal. It turns out that the guy was caught before he got anywhere, because the fence has a whole alarm system, and we live 2 minutes from an army base. A couple of soldiers went and caught the guy right away. So that's reassuring. It turns out that one of the soldiers was eating Shabbat lunch with us the following week, so we got the whole story first hand. After Shabbat, there was a whole committee to analyze the kibbutz response, and we were assured that the next time anything like that happens, we can expect to hear a siren and instructions. There was also more coordination in terms of more people having phones on Shabbat to spread news faster.
We didn't have to worry for long about whether or not the system would be effective. The following week, it was tested by another scare (not on Shabbat). There was a loud siren, followed by instruction to go into our houses and lock the doors. This was more alarming (though much better coordinated). Fortunately, we were all at home, along with 2 friends of Adin. I locked the door, and started to set up a movie for the kids so they wouldn't be scared. By the time I was ready to start the movie, there was another siren with an announcement that everything was fine. This was followed by an SMS that they had thought someone got in, but it was just a Thai worker from the kibbutz going for a walk. Whew. When the moms of Adin's friends came to pick up their kids, I asked what I should do in case this happens again (like do we wait under tables or anything). They both told me that nothing like this had happened in all their time living here.
A few days later, there happened to be a national school bomb drill. This is apparently very routine-- each year they drill a different disaster: fire, earthquake, etc., and this year was bombs. They did it in every school in the country, including Adin's gan. It was routine, but the timing was not great in terms of the kids feeling safe here (though I tried to talk to them about it, and no one seemed worried). And of course, that was followed by Japan and Itamar, between which it is really say which is more frightening or horrific (clearly the scope of the Japan disaster way exceeded the Itamar one, but the Itamar massacre was so much more disturbing in its demonstration of the capacity of evil...).
So just as the kids must be wondering why the heck we brought them to this crazy place (and I begin to ask myself the same question), along comes Purim! I'm not saying a fun holiday justifies living in constant danger, but we're not really living in constant danger (at least not more than everybody else),and it definitely did help put things in perspective.
Purim was awesome!!! Even way better than anticipated! First of all, the time leading up to Purim here is slightly reminiscent of the time in America before Chrismas. Purim spirit is everywhere. The stores and sidewalks are lined with costumes and mishloach manot. All the kids are talking about what they will wear. Everyone is warning me that we have to do our costume shopping early or there won't be anything left. We were fine, though. There were two families that got together and did a mitzvah project to make money for a family that needs it by borrowing old costumes from everyone and then renting them out for 15 shekels. This is how Adin got his great Pikatchu costume. He loved it so much that he put it on when he got home, and we had to peel it off of him a week later when Purim was over.
Eek!!!!! Guilt attack!!!! I totally forgot to take pictures!!!! How did I do that?! Sorry Elaine! Sorry Grandma and Nana!!! Oy!!! I could dress them up again, but we are not doing the yellow face paint again. It took us hours of scrubbing to get it off! While soap no longer makes Adin gag, he still hates it and says that it smells "ichs." We may have to wait till next year.
Anyway, so before Purim, someone from the kibbutz asked me if I can chant megillah. I told him sure, and he asked if I would help him out and read with him for a secular kibbutz nearby, where he does programming for them sometimes. I said sure. I had never really read more than a chapter or two at a time (did I do 3 in Vancouver?), but it worked out great. Rivital volunteered to read some, so I read chapters 6 (which I have done for the past few years so I know it really well), 7 and 8, and Tali did 9 and 10. That took half the burden off the guy who asked me, though I don't think he needed the help. I think it's more like he thought it would be nicer for the people coming to have it split up, and also to have a woman sharing the reading. I did my "famous" reading with voice parts. I was busy reading and I couldn't tell the reactions, but Tali said that the kids loved it, and they were elbowing each other each time I started a new voice. Apparently the wife of the guy who asked me to read also liked it, because the next morning she suggested that the rabbi's wife ask me and Tali to read our parts at the woman's reading on our kibbutz. That also seemed to be a big hit. Rivital didn't do voices, but she read magnificently. It was a major kvelling moment-- both how beautifully she read, and her eagerness to participate!!
The rest of the family stayed back on our kibbutz for the megillah reading, which they said was amazing. After the readings, we regrouped at home, and there was a party for grownups at 9:30 PM. They have everything perfectly planned for everyone to enjoy everything. They had sent out an email offering for the youth to babysit so parents could go to the party. Unfortunately, I misunderstood and messed this part up, but I will know better for next year. When it said babysitting, I assumed they had a babysitting space somewhere else where we could bring them. I didn't want to shlep them out after their bedtime, so I didn't sign up. But it turns out that the offer was for them to send babysitters to our houses! Meanwhile, they assigned Tali to another family!!! I actually thought it would be OK to leave the boys at home together (we were literally a two minute walk from home with our cell phones, and I left them exhausted in front of a movie), but Abaye freaked out and called us, and I went home and stayed with them.
So I missed most of the party, but I heard it was unbelieveable. First of all, for the whole holiday, they asked each family to volunteer to help out with one thing, so for our part we baked one thing (spinach cheese bake, to be precise, which to give credit where credit is due, as I always like to, I got from LAURA SHAW FRANK... Does this make up for forgetting to give you credit in my cookbook, Laura?), and our Friends Morey and Alissa, who were visiting from out of town, baked another (exceedingly yummy onion quiche!!!!). There were also soups and salads, all homemade. That's the part I can report about. Unfortunately, the best part came after I left. I can tell you that they had a huge Purim shpiel that was apparently incredibly well organized and hilariously funny in the form of a mock news show that made fun of all kinds of things about the kibbutz. Actually, there is one part I was there for. In the invitation, we were told to bring small change. When we arrived, there were a few people walking around asking for donations. The kibbutz was (maybe still is?) undergoing a huge debate about whether to raise fees or cut programming from all kinds of areas, so they had people who were in charge of the different branches (the gardener, the education person, etc) dressed as poor street people asking for change for their underfunded programs. Then in the news show I missed, they apparently made fun of the whole dog debate (there was a huge back and forth on the email list about whether or not dogs need to be confined), and tons of other stuff, some of which Ross didn't get, but all of which was apparently hilarious. Then they had a trivia game where they asked things like how many times the kibbutz was founded (3!) and whose house numbers and phone numbers were the numbers they read (which is funny to me because no one ever uses house numbers here to help you find where they live, though they are painted in huge numbers on every house. In fact, someone once invited us for dinner and I asked what their number is and she didn't know!) People here are so creative, and they put so much work into these things!! For more info, maybe Ross can give you more details (or maybe even Morey and Alissa), but I think you get the idea....
The next morning, there was a women's reading at 7:20. I already told you a bit about that. Just tonight I was saying how amazing it is here that of course there is a women's megillah reading and a women's Torah reading on Simchat Torah and that women give divrei Torah from the bimah. A friend gave me an very animated expression and said that it wasn't always like that, in a way that made me really glad I wasn't here during that process. Been there and done that! But it is like that now!
Then there was a general megillah reading that was so much fun (I wasn't there...) that I think I'll go to both next time. Apparently there was a group of guys that instead of booing Haman's name every time, instead they broke out in song.
After that was a huge breakfast with carnival games for the kids. The place was modeled after an Israeli hotel breakfast. There were people making personal pancakes and omeletes for people. One of the yeshiva rabbis dressed up as Haman's wife and gave a "dvar Torah" from her perspective. It was brilliant!
After those festivities, we went with a small group to Beit Alpha, which is at the bottom of the mountain, and which houses an absorption center for new Ethiopian immigrants. We delivered big food packages to all of the families. People were so happy to see us. At one point, Abaye and Adin were wiped out, so we were sitting on a bench, and one immigrant sat down and talked with us. He said he has been here for half a year. He told us in his very limited Hebrew and English that he hates it here. He said that the land is good but all the people are very bad. He didn't have the language to really articulate why. I wondered if he had just gotten back from the post office. In the meantime, the boys were kvetching that they were thirsty, so I asked the guy where his room was, and if he might be able to give them some water. He got very excited and started to lead the way. The boys were falling apart, and suddenly he turned to me and said, you need cold water! (not that articulately, but...) and he insisted on us waiting at the bench while he biked to the market for some cold water. I didn't want to put him out and I didn't want him to spend his money on us, but I couldn't change his mind. So we sat and waited. He came back awhile later with 3 cold fresh bottles of water. He was so excited to give them to us, and the boys were so excited to get them.
When we got back to the kibbutz, I could have just gone to sleep (2:00) PM and woken up the next morning, but instead we put together mishloach manot, and went to, could you believe it-- a Purim party!!!
First of all, the mishloach manot. I was nervous, because when I had volunteered on kibbutz over 20 years ago, everyone gave to everybody. I remember my kibbutz family had their dining room table sprawled with unimaginable amounts of candy and all sorts of junk food. They were putting together packages from all the stuff on the table. People would bring to them, and they would dump the new booty on top of the rest, and start repackaging it for more people. You could easily receive your own goodies back several times over the course of the day. But here they are much smarter. They do a hagrala (the only way I can think to translate it is a "secret Santa") where you pick two names and you prepare only for them. Then each family receives two nice baskets of food instead of a million bags of junk. We sent samosentaschen (for those who have never been to us for Purim, that's samosas in the shape of hamantaschen), rice, curry (chickpea spinach, for those who care, like Jodi...), wine, chocolate, and a peanut butter banana bread. In return, we recieved a fresh cheesecake (which went into the freezer for Shabbat), fancy nuts, wine, pancakes rolled with sweet cheese, and some other really beautiful things (I can't quite remember because we did still receive from a few other people-- but it was nothing like the insanity we have received years past). Two of the kids also had "Secret Santas." (Shall we call them secret Hamans? Secret Mordechais? Secret Esthers? Secret Patshegens? Shall we take a vote?) So that worked out well. Shai and Abaye made their own for all their friends, but that was fine too. They loved it.
That just leaves the seudah. After we sent out all our mishloach manot, we were invited to friends for the customary Purim party (to keep the day from being boring...). We had intended to do our own and invite all our Vancouver friends who are in Israel (because we always had such great Purims there!!), but the Jerusalem folks couldn't come because they had to celebrate Shushan Purim (people in Jerusalem celebrate a day later-- long story...), and others couldn't make it. Only Morey and Alissa said yes, but then it turned out that Morey had to work Purim day, so they decided to come for Shabbat instead. I invited these friends of ours for Shabbat lunch who have had us over at their house a quadrillion times, partly because they always insist on taking care of us when Ross is away, and I wanted to have them to us for a change. She asked if I am sure I have time for that so close to Purim. I explained that I don't have to prepare for a seudah anymore because no one's coming, after which she insisted we come to theirs. I complained that if we did that, our having them on Shabbat wouldn't help even the score of hospitality. She told me that it doesn't matter because she is terrible at math. We agreed to go, because they are awesome and we love being with them. It turned out to be a good call, because we had so much fun. So that's about it. We came home and collapsed, and spent the next 24 hours cleaning. I am almost caught up on laundry.