Part III: School is back in session

It goes kind of like this for my kids: 4 years, 4 schools (including home school). For my 7 year old, she’s been in 5 schools in 6 years – not bad!

My eldest started school last Thursday. She applied and was accepted to two (private) schools near Rehovot, and we gave her the choice to make alone. She chose a school that is only girls, and is for middle-high school, so begins in 7th grade, and ends at 12th grade. In many ways the decision was smart, because all the 7th graders are new, not just her. Of course, many of the girls already knew other kids from their elementary schools, or from youth groups. My daughter had met one other girl before school started, another English speaker (though native Israeli), so she wasn’t completely alone. Her school is a 20 minute bus ride from Rehovot, and there is a “hasa’ah” (bus) that picks the girls up in the morning and drops them back in the afternoon. So far, she seems happy. She is slowly making friends with girls who are not English speakers, and she has met the teacher who will be helping her weekly with Hebrew, and homework.

Today, September 1st, the other two started school. Their school is the local public religious school, and it’s a mere 12 minute walk from our apartment. Within the next week (or few days if this heat doesn’t subside a little) they will be walking to and from school together.  This morning was a little overwhelming, with hundreds of kids and parents walking onto the campus all at the same time! The gate was decorated with a balloon arch, and the teachers and administrators were standing at the entrance to welcome the kids with baskets of candy.

We escorted the kids to their respective class rooms, where they found a seat and sat down. My 2nd grader was a bit wobbly initially, but she didn’t cry. She knows 2 other kids in her class, both of whom are English speakers. I spoke to her teacher and made sure that she knew we are very new to the country, and that her Hebrew is not so great. She immediately went over to my daughter and let her know that she speaks English. At that point it was time for us to leave, and there were no tears or tantrums. My 5th grader (can’t believe this boy is almost 11!) was perfectly happy, having met up with a buddy from synagogue as soon as he went into his classroom, and was found wandering the halls as the bell went off… let’s hope he spends most of his time doing what he’s told.

School was only for a few short hours today, and when we arrived to meet the kids we were greeted with smiles. They each had a good day, met new friends (the 2nd grader seems to have bonded with another girl in her class who speaks no English, but who managed to help her understand what was going on nonetheless). And she came home calling me “Ima” instead of Mommy…

This week is all short days, which, while hard for parents to get anything done, is definitely a bonus for my kids. Gives them a chance to get comfortable, meet other kids, and start getting the hang of Hebrew. Very soon they should be getting pulled out of class a few times a week to be taught Hebrew, and to get extra help with homework and stuff.

Definitely a huge hurdle to have passed, and I’m happy day one is out of the way for everyone. I anticipate some difficulties eventually, as it wouldn’t be normal for it to be all smooth all the time, but one day at a time, and I’ll take what I can get!

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Part II

The kids are now practically Israeli (just not the Hebrew speaking kind). They drink chocolate milks from bags, know where the nearest makolet (mini-mart) is, go alone to the park and know how to use the “rav kav” card thingamabob on the buses.

We’re definitely still on our “aliyah-moon” – even when I get annoyed about things, I manage to brush it off with “yiyeh b’seder” (it’ll be ok) and get on with things. The hardest thing we dealt with last week, was not our first siren (that came last Tuesday night) but hearing that our lift would not reach the port in Ashdod until September 8th, and therefore we won’t have our stuff until some time after that. I stewed over that for a few hours, because as pioneering as I am (those of you who know me well, are no doubt snorting liquid out from your nostrils right now at the thought of me being a pioneer at all….) spending another 3 weeks at least without a real cooking utensil, and more importantly, without my make up and nail polish, is really just a  bit much. I can sleep on a mattress on the floor. I can wash the same towels and sheets over and over. I can even manage to cook with the few things people have lent us, and hopefully we will get a real fridge soon which will enable me to shop for more than a day at a time.

But I really want my clothes. I’m tired of the few things I’ve been wearing non stop for 3 weeks. I want to do my nails. Everywhere we go people ask me what my work is here, and I tell them “I’m a certified nail professional”. They probably think I’m certifiable because my nails are unpolished and boring. Oh well. Yiyeh b’seder…

So, we had our first “azaka” (siren) last Tuesday night. It was about 10:45pm, all the kids were in bed, and Keith & I were working on stuff on laptops. The noise started, we glanced at each other for a split second, and both said “oh, that is definitely a siren”. In that split second, our 12 year old woke up, left her bedroom, went straight into the safe room (our 10 year old’s bedroom), opened the window and pulled shut the sealed shutters. Like a pro. Keith picked up our sleeping 7 year old, the dog followed us all, and into the room we went. Our 10 year old woke up only after the siren had stopped and said “what are you all doing in my room?” The 7 year old woke up briefly, and the dog farted, which really was enough to make everyone wish away those 10 minutes really, really fast… No one panicked, no one was scared, everyone went straight back to sleep, and that was that. It did prompt some interesting conversations the next day. Everywhere we went, the kids paid attention, and asked where we would go for cover if there was another siren. But not in any way that makes us  believe they were scared. They are just aware now. 90 seconds is a long time to get to safety, as long as you’re in a built up area. We are lucky, in the south, they only have 15 seconds.

We dealt with more bureaucracy during the week too, with a visit to the Absorption Ministry (how many countries have one of those, by the way? A ministry dedicated solely to helping immigrants?) We learned about the “sal klita” – the absorption basket – money that we will start to receive shortly, and Keith was given information about Ulpan (Hebrew classes). Ulpan, by the way, is 100% free, plus the Absorption Ministry reimburses you 90% of your travel expenses! What a country. 

We got everyone fully signed up for health care. For the first year it is completely free. Imagine that! When I moved to the US from the UK, it was next to impossible for me to get health insurance as an individual who was willing to pay for it, let alone get anything for free! After the first year, health insurance is covered by the Israeli equivalent of social security, but the cost is negligible compared to what you pay in the US. I’m not  going to argue with anyone over the quality of Israeli vs US healthcare, I’ll just say that I’ve lived in Ireland, Israel, the UK and the US, and the US has by far the absolute worst health care system, and Israel has by far the very best. Nothing is perfect.

We went to purchase textbooks for the kids for school. School is free, but the parents buy the books. I was completely overwhelmed when we walked into the store. So I asked if I could possibly leave the lists with them, and come pick up the books when they were ready. They told me yes. When I told someone this in synagogue on Shabbat she said “oh you’re already so Israeli!” – And there was me thinking it was a very Boca thing to do!

Our 12 year old starts school on Thursday. She has an orientation on Wednesday afternoon. Today we drove by her school to see where it is, as we had no idea. It’s a brand new  building, just completed this summer, and from the outside it looks very, very nice. A large building, on lots of campus grounds. She’s a little nervous, but also excited. She has met a number of girls that she will be in school with, and 7th grade is the entrance grade at the school, so it’s new to all of them. She has a late start this year, compared to last year – she’ll be picked up by the bus at 7:15 instead of 7, and the bus is picking her up outside our building. Score!

We have rented a car for the week, so we can explore a little further outside of Rehovot. I have a special birthday coming up on Wednesday. I really wanted a Nespresso coffeemaker for my birthday, but instead, it looks like I will be getting either a bed, a fridge, a washer, or if I’m very lucky indeed, a printer…

Yiyeh B’seder!


Aliyah: Our story in many parts: Part I

Yesterday, almost a full week post arrival in Israel, we got connected to the internet at our apartment. For a week, I have been writing and writing, and each time I wrote more, I realized that I couldn’t possible publish a single blog post about our actual aliyah experience last week. So, now that I am able to publish what I write, I will spend some time editing and writing more, and will post pieces of the story, a little at a time. Enough to keep you interested, to keep you coming back for more. I hope.

We woke early last Monday morning, around 6:15, and began to get ready for the trip of a lifetime. Once all the kids were up, our bags fully packed and ready to go, Keith picked up our dog, Guinness, from the doggie hotel where she had stayed since Friday. Boy was she happy to see us!

We had booked a car service to take us the short ride to JFK, and when we explained that we were 5 people, 1 dog, 9 cases and duffle bags, 5 carry ons and a dog crate, they sent us a 14 passenger van. It was still tight!

On arrival at the airport, we needed 3 luggage carts, all of which were overflowing. Somehow, we managed to get everything and everyone (and Guinness) into the airport, and find the Nefesh B’Nefesh crew working the floor. They pointed us to a Disneyesque line, that began in one place, curved around in a big U, and eventually led to a Nefesh B’Nefesh desk where we filled out final information before our check in. From there, it was straight to check in. The staff at El-Al were extremely courteous, even when Guinness decided to step on the luggage scale and say hello. We handed over our many passports, plus Guinness’ USDA papers and finally offloaded our luggage. Keith had put together the crate for Guinness while we were in line, and once we were checked in, it was time to convince her to get into it, and leave her with the other dogs (and a cat) making aliyah at the “Oversized Baggage” area. I guess that she’s figured out that no matter what, we are always coming back for her, because when we opened the crate, she walked straight in, rearranged her blanket and lay right down. That made all of us relax a bit, as she has never enjoyed being crated.

From check-in, we went straight to security. We bypassed the departure ceremony, mostly because it was already well past the time that started, and it was very crowded in that area with families tearfully saying goodbye.

Once at the gate area (I finally had coffee), we found our friends who were on our flight, and all the kids were happily joking around together. I have to say that my kids surprised me that morning. I expected tears, refusal to get on the plane, and hysterics, but instead I had smiling, excited, happy children. They admitted some nerves, but also excitement about a new life in Israel.

We didn’t rush to get on the plane, and once on board everyone settled down quickly. To be on a plane with almost 350 people, all of whom have the same purpose – to move to Israel and make it their home, was an experience unlike any other. I can’t explain the feeling, I can’t even try.
Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, cofounder of Nefesh B’Nefesh made a welcome announcement, the pilot thanked us all for making aliyah, and there were cheers when the plane took off from JFK.

The flight itself was smooth enough – I hate flying – and there was an atmosphere on board that cannot really be put into words. Ordinarily you may not speak to the stranger next to you on a flight, and if you do, the first thing you ask them is unlike to be “Where are you going?”. But on this flight, that was the only question asked – where to, how come, how long have you been planning, and so on, and so forth.

The arrival ceremony was beyond my wildest dreams. I was excited about it for so long, and sometimes you’re disappointed when expectations aren’t met. But not this time. Yes it’s long, and yes everyone is exhausted from a long flight, and jet lagged, and emotional, but it’s so great!
At the bottom of the steps to the plane stood the president of Israel, Ruvi Rivlin, and the chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky (truly exciting, as I remember all the demonstrations I went to as a kid for his freedom). There were over 100 new soldiers on our flight – young people, making aliyah and going straight into the army.

We were met by my cousins from Netanya, and one of Keith’s friends from Yokneam. They joined us for the ceremony, which was a bit long, but streamed live on the internet, so our families and friends were able to watch from the US and the UK and Ireland. There was also wifi in the hall, so I was able to see people commenting on Facebook and Twitter that they saw us disembark from the plane and during the ceremony.
Once that was over, there was some bureaucracy to take care of, and we freed Guinness from her crate. She was super happy to see us, very confused, and definitely jet lagged! She’s still jet lagged and super confused, but she likes Israel, because there are a lot of cats, and she gets to chase them out of our yard. I’ve heard it said that the only free ride you will ever get in Israel is the free taxi to your destination from the airport upon making aliya. In our case, we were allocated a mini-bus. Rehovot is only 20 minutes from Ben Gurion, so in no time at all, we were in our new home.

Our apartment is exactly as it looked in the photos. It’s very spacious (our lift isn’t due for another couple of weeks). The kids each have their own room, which is exciting for all of us. The wonderful members of our new community, and our landlord, made sure we had enough mattresses, pillows, sheets, chairs & a table, some basic kitchen stuff and a full fridge!
Our neighborhood is very nice, a number of buildings built around a park, including a dog park and a playground.
10583945_10152179596190870_4586744457979321767_n 10603805_10152179595895870_467940149441423506_n 10425078_10152179595585870_9034215147000383898_nThe photos show the kids trying “shoko  b’Sakit” (Chocolate milk in a bag) for the first time. They always said it sounds “disgusting”. Oddly enough, they no longer do…

The first couple of days were taken up trying to figure out phones, ordering internet service, figuring out the buses, getting our teudot zehut (id cards) and other tedious boring stuff (like finding our way around a city we had only visited once for 24 hours!). Everywhere we went, all we had to say was “I made aliyah yesterday” and everyone was at our service.

I learned that the only things I really, really need in life are a washing machine and a working phone.  I will have a working phone by the time this blog is published. We looked at washers on Friday, and I was ready to buy one Sunday to be installed ASAP. Meantime, our upstairs neighbor came down to introduce herself. A few minutes after she left, she came back, because she said, she just bought a new washer, and her old one is sitting in her entryway, waiting for her soldier son to take to Tel Aviv. “Take it,” she said, “Use it til you can get one. He’s not in a hurry to move it. It’s small, but it works, just leaks a bit at the bottom”. So five minutes later, thanks to Keith and her husband, I had a working washing machine in the apartment! For real. It’s tiny, but it works, and we have clean clothes for shabbat. I have to also mention that 3 different people offered to do our laundry for us from our new shul. One of them even took a load to do. Never underestimate how much you rely on having a washing machine!

New friends took us grocery shopping, did our grocery shopping, delivered us pizza, lent us a phone that works, gave us information on buying appliances, cars, offered us furniture and so much more.

We are all set for meals for Shabbat for the first couple of weeks, and we even have an invitation for Rosh Hashanah! We still have a lot of bureaucracy to deal with, but it seems that everyone is happy to help these days, and not so quick to say “not my department” like in the old days. Today we registered Elnadav & Shalhevet for the local religious public school – a very easy process (but we still have to get supplies and uniforms…). Tomorrow we go to Misrad HaKlita (the Absorption Minisitry) to finish up a few things, and then one more trip to the Municipality. We did manage to get to the Ayalon Institute Museum this afternoon with the kids. Right here in Rehovot, usually referred to as “The Bullet Factory”, it was a secret, underground ammunition factory used in the lead up to the war of Independence in 1948.
Everything is great, and I’m pretty sure that once we are done with all the basic stuff of getting set up, we are going to be even happier here. Once upon a time, if you were a new oleh in Israel, Israelis took advantage of you. While I’m sure some still try, today, it appears that if you’re a new oleh, everyone wants to help you, everyone wants to make sure you have a “klita kallah ve’neimah” – an easy and pleasant absorption. If this is how Israel has changed in the 16 years since I last lived here, I’m happy to be back!

And so here we are

It feels like we have been traveling for days, and we have. It feels like we are without a home, and we are. It feels like we are living in an alternate universe, and we are. It’s almost as if nothing that has happened since last week is real.

Last Tuesday was the 9th of Av, a day of great mourning for the Jewish people. I’ve written about it previously. This year, for me, personally, the 9th of Av was incredibly difficult. It felt like Tisha B’Av more than ever before – first because of our soldiers fighting in Gaza, and the ongoing war. But second because in spite of the prohibitions on greeting friends on that day, our house had a revolving door – people came and went all day long, from morning until very late at night to wish us farewell and bon voyage.

We left our door open, with a sign that said “Just Come In”. Friends, neighbors and some family came by, sat with us, talked to us, hugged us. The kids spent time with some of their friends, we tried to also get our last minute packing done, paperwork completed. It was a long day.

Frankly, I never imagined feeling so emotional. I knew I would be sad. I knew I would have a hard time saying goodbye to my friends. But I really didn’t expect to be at breaking point, to feel like there were no more tears, that I couldn’t possibly cry any more.

Don’t get me wrong, I am looking forward to moving to Rehovot. I believe strongly that this move is necessary for our family, and will be the best thing for our children. But you don’t live some place for 13 years and have no connections.

A couple of friends came by Wednesday morning right before we got in the car, and they will attest to the fact that I was barely functioning. I’m not embarrassed by this, I’m an emotional person, and while I don’t often do public displays of emotion quite as explosive as last week, I do cry frequently about all kinds of random things.

You guys will probably be relieved to know that I had stopped crying almost completely, by the time we reached Fort Pierce… The tears started again when I began receiving emails from the people in Rehovot asking what we need in our apartment when we arrive – from mattresses to food – and telling us where we will be for meals for our first few shabbatot. But they were tears of joy, because clearly we are moving from one incredible community to another.

I’m not going to call out names, but there’s a few people back in Boca who deserve a very special thanks. I am actually quite flabbergasted at how I left my house. I cleaned out the fridge and the pantry, and obviously our furniture shipped a couple of weeks ago. But there was still so much stuff. Junk that we simply didn’t have time to get rid of. Things that we weren’t able to rehouse. And our friends, our wonderful, selfless friends, went back to our house after we left and took care of all that stuff. We didn’t ask them to. They just did it. And there are no words to thank them for that, because I can’t invite them for Friday night or Shabbat, or bake them challah or cinnamon bun cake right now. But you should know, that you all have an extra special place in our hearts, and that we really hope to host you in Israel some time soon.

Tomorrow is the big day. The kids are all finally sleeping. I know it will be a tough one for them. They are excited and scared and nervous and all kinds of other emotions rolled into one. And that’s okay. It would worry me more if they were just excited. I pray that our flight will be smooth (I hate flying) and that everyone will sleep, at least a little bit. I pray that we will land in a quiet country, with a full welcoming committee, and no welcoming fireworks, so to speak. I pray that my children will quickly grow to love Eretz Yisrael like we did, so many years ago, and will understand why it is so important to live there.

I will continue to blog, and hopefully have time to write about our road trip to NYC. Not sure how fast we will have an internet connection, but rest assured that as soon as we do, I’ll be back.

For now, au revoir, or L’hitraot, as they say where we are going.
To watch our arrival live, as we get off the plane and begin our new lives, tune into the website below starting around midnight tomorrow (Monday) night – 7am Israel time on Tuesday.

Pomp and Circumstance

We have had our last Shabbat in Boca. Our lift left the other day, and is hopefully already on its way to Israel. Our house is mostly empty. Our hearts are filled with the outpouring of love from our friends locally – the meals, the coffee, the air mattresses, the ziploc bags, the pot to boil some eggs. Emotions are raging. One minute we are excitedly talking about the things we want to do next weekend in New York CIty, and the next our eyes fill with tears because we are leaving the place we have called home for so long.

And on top of all of our personal emotions and reality, there is the extra emotions of the current situation in Israel. It hasn’t ended. Too many of our beloved soldiers have been killed. And it is unclear how much longer it will go on for.

My older children have said they are not afraid of rockets. They know we will have a shelter in our apartment, and that if we are not home, we must always keep an eye open for where the nearest shelter is. They understand what Iron Dome does, and how it has protected the Israeli people from far more harm than has been inflicted. We haven’t shied away from conversations about what is happening, as it will be our reality very soon.

We will be on a charter flight with 340 people on board. 100 of them are new olim going straight into the army. No one has canceled, and no one will. Because Israel is our homeland. It is the only place in the world where Jews can truly be Jewish, and when you get to the point where you are ready to move to Israel, and to live your life there, you know that, and you understand that living elsewhere is no longer an option.

The anti-semitic demonstrations around the world in the last week should be enough to convince every Jew that little has changed since WWII. The big difference is that now we have a place to go. Now we have Israel, we will not be turned away. Now we have Tzahal, the IDF, the most moral army in the world, who will protect the citizens of Israel against whatever threatens them.

Yes, I wanted pomp and circumstance when I returned to Israel, but I wasn’t quite expecting this… I hope and pray that we see quieter, safer days soon, and that mashiach arrives right along with us on August 12.

For those of you who wish to stay up late on August 11 (or wake up early on August 12 in Europe), you can watch a live stream of the Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight arriving starting at midnight EST here:
Nefesh B’Nefesh Arrival Ceremony

A wise woman once said

to a friend “the day they come to pack up your house for an overseas move is the hardest day of the entire experience”

That was me, giving advice to my friend who is also moving to Israel, on the same flight as us.
I was speaking from memory of my experience when I moved from Israel to London, and from London to the US. But I didn’t really remember.

Our lift was due to be packed next Wednesday. So yesterday I said to myself “I have a week to pack the things I want to pack myself”. I’d already packed many boxes of books and photos, and other easy things, mostly just to save time on the day. At 5pm yesterday we had a call from the shipping company, asking if it was okay to send a couple of guys “tomorrow, just to pack the fragile stuff like china”. So Keith and I said “sure” – we’re not eating any shabbat meals in our house, we’re not using our china again on this side, makes perfect sense.
So this morning, 3 guys in a very large truck showed up at 10am, raring to go. Within an hour they had packed most of our breakables – china, crystal, stuff. But they wanted to do more. Now it’s almost 4pm. They’re still here, and the only rooms still intact are my bedroom and the girls’ bedroom. The dining and living rooms are wrapped in cardboard. The paintings are off the walls.


I guess it’s good they got so much done today. It means less time spent next week packing, and getting the container out of here earlier in the day. And tomorrow Keith & I are going on a date. R&R time just the two of us.

As for poor Guinness the dog, well, she is sleeping on the couch as usual…

My heart is heavy, my eyes are filled

Last night (this morning?) I stayed up well past my bedtime to watch the arrival of the first of this summer’s two Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flights. Last night’s flight had over 200 new immigrants on it from North America. The youngest was 3 months, the oldest 88 years old. On that flight were my friends, and neighbors of the last 3 years, the Pillichowski family – Uri & Aliza, and 5 of their children. I waited up to watch, not only because I wanted to see Uri & his Torah get off the plane and be interviewed (he was,  it was fun to see) but because I will be IN that next live broadcast of a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight arriving.

Our flight is scheduled for 3 weeks from yesterday. Right now, most major airlines have canceled flights to Israel from the US, and from some places in Europe. I understand the precaution. I also understand that people with plans to travel to Israel for vacation might think twice and cancel their trip. I understand parents whose children are leaving for the year to Israel, having second thoughts, and wondering if they should make other plans for the year. Of course I understand. I am in awe of those 230 men, women and children who got off the plane at 7am Israel time today, to start a new life in Israel, at a time when our enemies are doing the best they can to destroy us. I hope, and I pray, that this will end soon. I pray that God will guide the IDF to victory over the terrorists that make up Hamas, that they will be wiped out, that their arsenal will be destroyed. And I pray that it will be over before August 11.

The tears I cry today are not of sadness for leaving the US and my friends here. They are tears for the soldiers who have already lost their lives. They are for the sheer hatred that is being shown towards Israel by the rest of the world. The anger some may hear in my voice when I speak – that is for Hamas, who holds a population prisoner in Gaza. It is for the media, intent on making Israel look like the aggressor. It is for the UN ,who when weapons are found in the schools they run, say “how terrible” and then return them to Hamas. The fear I show when people ask “why are you still going?” – it is a fear for Jews around the world who don’t see why now is the perfect time to go! Look at Paris. Look at London. Look at CHICAGO! The anti-Israel demonstrations around the world, coupled with the torching of synagogues and Jewish businesses is a wake up call to all of you! There is no other place to call home if you are a Jew.

We have no plans to change our minds. You don’t make a decision this big without knowing what you are letting yourselves in for. Israel has always been under threat, and until Mashiach comes, will always be under threat. As long as the Nefesh B’Nefesh flight is leaving on August 11, we will be on it, with our children and our dog. Do we want to start our new life under threat of rocket attacks? No. But we do need to send a clear message to everyone – Jews and non-Jews – that Israel is our God given homeland, and we must all strive to live there.

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