Going home, back to the place where I belong

(Lyrics from Daughtry, “Home”)

These are the words that keep popping into my head for the past few days.

I’m surrounded by a sea of blue and white. During the Pesach holiday flags and streamers began appearing overnight, all over the neighbourhood. Even cars are waving flags. This is my favourite time of year in Israel. For 17 years I missed being in Israel for the two weeks immediately following Pesach. My last Yom HaAtzmaut here was celebrating Israel’s 50th year, this year we celebrate 67!

The week after Pesach is Yom HaShoah, which we marked last Thursday. At 10am a 2 minute siren sounds, and the country stops to remember the 6  million Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. To experience the siren cannot be described accurately. Even the dog understood that something important was going down, and she simply let out a low bark, before bowing her head, and laying down on the ground. The children all had special learning at school that day, and we spoke at length about the Shoah and the horrific impact that it had, not just on those who lived through it, but future generations. Something changed in my kids that day. There was suddenly something different about them. It’s almost as if they get it now. Why this is home. Why we brought them here. Why we can never let “them” win.

This week, on Tuesday night and again on Wednesday morning, we will have a siren again, this time to remember Israel’s fallen soldiers, and victims of terror. My younger two kids are having a ceremony at their school early Wednesday morning, and my son is taking part in Daglanut – if you recall, last year I posted videos of the Daglanut ceremony from Ben Gamla. He is also one of two flag holders who will escort soldiers to light a candle at the school’s memorial. I have no words to describe the pride I feel, and I haven’t even seen him do it yet! Oh  yes, there will be pictures, and hopefully video.

As Wednesday progresses towards evening, the cafes will slowly start to open again, the melancholy music on the radio will begin to sound a little more upbeat, and the streets will start to fill up. As we approach the festivities of this week, I’ve noticed my kids are starting to throw in more Hebrew words to their everyday vocabulary. I see the smiles on their faces as they point out all the flags on buildings. I hear them singing along to some of the Hebrew songs on the radio when they think I’m not listening. It’s as if they are suddenly Israeli. They still have a long way to go, but I have a feeling that Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut will be a turning point for them. Yom HaShoah was the starting point, when they started to “feel” it, that they are part of something bigger.

Last year I posted about the void I felt for the 16 years I wasn’t here to celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut. This year, that void is filled. I’m home, I’m back where I belong, with my family, in our country.

Chag Sameach.

The festival of freedom, in our promised land

Tomorrow night marks the start of Passover, Pesach, the holiday that recalls our exodus from Egypt. We celebrate Bnai Yisrael’s escape from slavery, and our 40 year journey towards the land promised to our ancestors by God. It’s a holiday symbolized by eating matza for 7 days, by holding a “seder” – a festive gathering, where we read the Haggadah, and are told to “live the exodus” for ourselves, every year. I love Pesach. It is my favorite holiday. In spite of all the cleaning preparations, turning over my kitchen, and still having time to cook & bake, I absolutely love Pesach. I refuse to allow the nitty gritty prep get in the way of my enjoyment. I come to the seder annually, feeling excited, with great anticipation. I love to hear what my children have learned in school, the songs they sing, how they read from the Haggadah in Hebrew. I love watching their faces as they taste the bitter maror (horseradish in our family), and their excitement when they finally get to eat a piece of matza. I love how people start to loosen up a little bit after the first or second cup of wine, and by the time we get to the meal, everyone is happy, not just me.

Last year on Pesach, I remember singing “LeShana haBa’ah beYerushalyim” (Next year in Jerusalem) with a very different feeling to usual. No, we are not in Jerusalem for Pesach, but we are in Israel. We are in that land which the Jewish people set out to reach, all those years ago. That was the beginning of Am Yisrael, the Nation of Israel. Those who left with Moses, they were the original pioneers. Not all the Jewish people in Egypt left, in fact, there is a common belief that a majority remained, while only a small percentage left. This year, we are part of that percentage. We are those Jews who live in our ancestral land. We may not be pioneers anymore (and that’s fine with me, I like my cities ready built thank you very much), but we are here, living a Jewish life, in our Jewish homeland.

I look around me in the supermarkets, and instead of prices skyrocketing as Pesach approaches, I see chicken & meat on sale. I see regular grocery items with special Pesach stamps on them priced the same as always. I see car washes pop up all over the place, offering to clean out my car for Pesach at a reasonable rate. Restaurants have signs up warning that they will be closed today (Thursday) in order to turn over and be ready for Pesach. There’s not an Easter Egg in sight in my part of town, but that’s ok, because that’s not my holiday, and as long as I have chocolate, I’ll survive! And speaking about Easter, the Christians living in Israel will freely celebrate their own holiday next week. This cannot be said for the Christians living elsewhere in the Middle East.

Yesterday Nefesh B’Nefesh announced the dates for Summer 2015 charter and group flights. A number of people that we know will be on one of those flights this summer. Two families we know also received their immigration visas yesterday. I know that this year at their seders, they too will sing “LeShana haBa’ah beYerushalayim” with an uplifted heart, just like we did last year. We can’t wait to have you all here, and hope that next Pesach, we truly will be in a rebuilt Jerusalem, the eternal capital of our Jewish homeland.
Chag Kasher veSameach.

Half a Year Down

We’ve been here 6 months now.

At 6 months in, it still takes over an hour to go grocery shopping. Even with a car.

At 6 months in, it still takes a long time and a lot of paper just to deposit a check.

At 6 months in, I still hate that there is school on Sundays AND Fridays. (Should be one or the other)

At 6 months in, I still hate how people park in 2 spots at the mall, so no one scratches their car.

At 6 months in, customer service is still non-existent in most places.

At 6 months in, I still pretend I can’t speak Hebrew, if I think it will help my cause.

But, we’ve been here 6 months now.

At 6 months in, I can tell you which supermarket is open super early, and which one doesn’t open until 9am.

At 6 months in, I know how to get to the front of the line at the bank, (but not at the supermarket).

At 6 months in, I’m no longer surprised when 2/3 of my kids are home before 2pm most days.

At 6 months in, I can drive around Rehovot, and get to Modi’in and Rishon, and back, without using Waze.

At 6 months in, I can confidently argue with customer service until I either get what I want or get angry.

At 6 months in, I feel like I belong.

End of an Era: This is for you, Mum & Dad

This weekend, the Dublin Jewish Community is holding a kiddush in honour of my parents, Howard & Hilary Gross. For years, about 60 for my Dad, and over 40 for Mum, my parents have given themselves selflessly to the Jewish Community in Ireland. They are quite literally, the last hold outs of our extended family in Dublin. Everyone else left years ago.

Growing up, it wasn’t unusual for both my parents to be out at a “meeting” on a weeknight. Whether it was the shul, the school, the Kashrut committee, the Chevra Kadisha, Board of Guardians, Scouts, Wizo, Soviet Jewry, Rep Council, there is very little in the world of Dublin Jewry that my parents have not been directly involved in. My parents have literally dedicated their adult lives to the good of this community, often a thankless task. As one of very few kosher and shomer shabbat homes, theirs was always open to visitors to the community, and occasionally they became a boarding house, not just a place for Shabbat meals. They even sort of adopted a French Jewish “boy” (now a married father of 4), who lived with them for a while. He still calls them every Friday before Shabbat.

I left Dublin over 20 years ago, and as I’ve mostly lived far away, my visits back have  been short and sporadic. This weekend, my 3 siblings, Barry, Laura & Jeff, along with my sister-in-law, brother-in-law and nephews and niece, are all in Dublin with Mum & Dad. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there too, but it just wasn’t possible. In spirit I’m there, and if I could, I’d keep FaceTime on all through Shabbat, to enjoy the sibling rivalry (that I’m sure happens even when I’m not present!), and to watch my folks kvell with pride over their grandchildren.

Moving country, leaving behind your house,  your friends, your community, is not easy. I know. I’ve done it a couple of times. It’s hard to explain the emotions, the overwhelming feelings of sadness & fear, mixed in with the excitement of going somewhere else. For Mum & Dad, the next step is London. This makes sense – three out of their four kids live in London. Seven out of 10 grandchildren are there. While only an hour away by plane, London is a different world to Dublin. I know you’ll be successful in this next part of your lives. Retirement means a whole world of new things are open to you Dad. You’ll get through the rest of the Gemarrah much faster for starters!

From London you’ll be one flight closer to us in Israel. We are looking forward to seeing you again in March. Mum, you’ll have easy access to all those cuts of meat that you can’t get in Dublin, and bakeries galore! (I know you like to bake your own bread, but imagine, you really won’t HAVE to anymore!) Dad you’ll find a committee or two to get involved in, show people how it’s really done. Chagim & shabbatot can be spent with your kids and grandkids, without needing to do lots of extra laundry!

Enjoy your Shabbat with everyone but us. Enjoy your kiddush. And Dad, Mazal Tov on another siyum. Regardless of what I may have yelled at you as a teenager, I am honoured and proud to have you as my parents.

I love you both very much, and I wish for you that this new chapter be the happiest, and most successful yet in your lives.

Almost 5 months later

It’s almost 5 months since we arrived in Israel. Some days it feels like 5 years, others, 5 days.
Today we had our first Kupat Cholim (Medical service) experience, and it was superb – seriously, of the 4 countries I’ve lived in as an adult, nowhere tops Israel for how the health service works. It’s not perfect, nowhere is, but it’s damn good.

Since Chanukah ended, I have witnessed all 3 of my children speak Hebrew, and each of them has taken a test in school where they were required to write some kind of explanation in Hebrew, and they’ve each done it, and pretty well too.
Keith has started ulpan in the mornings, and hopes to go to a business ulpan when he’s done with the regular one.

Purchasing a car has made a world of a difference to our lives, as we can now get the kids to and from where they need to be, regardless of the weather and the distance, and no longer need to rely on the kindness of others to do a family sized supermarket shop.
As I write, a severe winter storm is about to hit the whole country. Currently in Rehovot, the skies are grey, and the wind is kicking up, but the rain hasn’t yet begun. But it will come, and in other parts of the country there will be snow. Most people are hoping that this storm will not bring the disruption that was brought by the storm this time last year, when parts of the country were without power for up to a week, and roads were blocked. We have witnessed the preparations for the storm – trees have been cut back and pruned, and the Transportation Authority says they will close roads into Jerusalem, Gush Etzion and parts of the north before the snow actually hits, to avoid the chaos of last year.
I’m happy we will not have to deal with snow – but my kids are disappointed.
I’ve stocked up on food for the next few days, so that other than dropping the kids at school and picking them up, I don’t have to go out in the nasty rain, and can make wintery comfort foods to warm our souls, while the weather rages outside.
Someone in the supermarket today made a comment about it being “like a hurricane” and I just laughed, because really, it’s not even close to a hurricane, I’ve been through a couple of those. But Israelis take their weather seriously, so I didn’t argue.

Some day I’ll turn around and realize we have been here for 5 years. Will it feel like 15? Or forever? Who knows. But I do know we’re here, in Israel, and it’s pretty cool, even with the winter apocalypse bearing down.

By Chanukah your kids will speak Hebrew

That’s what “they” said. Everyone we spoke to before we came, told us that our kids would be speaking Hebrew by Chanukah.
They lied!
It’s the second night of Chanukah, and my kids do not speak Hebrew.
Neither does my husband. Although he starts ulpan right after Chanukah, because I told him that I absolutely refuse to be his personal translator for the rest of our lives… (And also because we now have a car, which makes getting to ulpan outside of Rehovot more feasible).

What is it about Chanukah in Israel? Well, there’s a lot to be said for celebrating a holiday in the place where the original holiday events happened. Imagine if we were able to celebrate Shavuot at Har Sinai? or Succot in the dessert? (Okay, maybe not…)

Chanukah happened, a twenty minute drive from where I live right now, just down the road from here! How awesome is that? Here we are, a couple thousand years later, in the same place, celebrating victory over the Greeks, and the miracle of the little jug of oil that lasted 8 days.

And then there’s the sufganiyot (doughnuts). Frequently, the word “sufganiya” is translated as “jelly doughnut”, but if you have ever spent Chanukah in Israel, you know that the jelly doughnuts are kind of on the bottom of the hierarchy of Chanukah doughnuts. Gourmet sufganiyot – with creme brulee, butterscotch, caramel, dulce de leche, Irish cream, all kinds of chocolate, pistachio, pretzel, banana, the list goes on and on and on. I have given myself the difficult task of hitting as many bakeries as possible over Chanukah, to sample as many varieties of sufganiyot as I can get my hands on. I have yet to meet one that I don’t like…

IMG_4283

Back to the kids. While they are not yet conversing in fluent Hebrew, each of the kids has come a long way. They have all taken tests in various subjects (math, science, Torah, Gemara, Mishnah) in Hebrew and scored incredibly well (a couple of 100% grades even!). They all manage to communicate with their peers in school, and with their teachers, who do not all speak English. The older two even manage to use WhatsApp in Hebrew, and the youngest has been heard singing in the shower in Hebrew. So perhaps it’s a long shot to say “by Chanukah your kids will speak Hebrew”, but without a doubt, by Chanukah your kids will understand a lot more Hebrew than when they first arrived. And they’re happy, they’re all so happy, because Israel is a country where kids can be kids, and kids can be independent, something that doesn’t exist in too many places anymore.

IMG_4261

Aliyah: The Lift

So, you’re making aliyah, and you’ve decided to send a lift. You pick a 20ft container or a 40ft container, and then you try to figure out how to fill it up. If you’re already paying for a whole container, fill it to the brim, no point leaving empty space.
I took an informal poll (read I posted in a number of Facebook groups for Olim) to find out what people from North America wished they had brought more of on their lift, and what items they wish they hadn’t bothered with.
Things got heated, as they do on Facebook. It’s a very personal thing. Once the threads deteriorated into bashing people who bring a lifetime’s supply of white tuna and toilet paper, I simply took the information that was relevant to me, and started writing this post.

I’m not going to discuss furniture. I think that’s a very individual thing. We brought some furniture because if we had sold it in the US, as we would never have made enough money to purchase anything of quality in Israel. We brought some antique chairs that we plan to sell (if you’re in Israel, and interested in genuine antique Syrian chairs, with mother-of-pearl and ivory inlay, please contact me. We have 4 and will sell in pairs).

I’m only going to briefly mention large appliances:
Unless you know for sure that a US sized washer/dryer/fridge/oven will fit in your Israeli home, and you are certain that you will be able to pay the running costs for these appliances, I wouldn’t bother. From the research that I did, I found that the majority of large appliances available as 220V to ship from the US, are not energy efficient, meaning they use a lot of electricity. Electricity is expensive in Israel, keep that in mind.
In addition, a US washer may require to be hooked up to a hot water faucet – most laundry rooms in Israel do not have that option, plus, most people do not have constant hot water here. So if you use your washer with hot water, you won’t have enough hot water to shower, or, if you choose to leave your dud (boiler) on all the time, you’ll run up a massive electric bill.
Also, these non-energy efficient washers are also not frugal with water usage, whereas the European models available here are – I can wash a single shirt in my 8kg European style washer, and it will fill with just the right amount of water for that shirt.
Similarly, most Israelis do not use a dryer regularly. Clothes will dry outside pretty fast. Our landlord has a dryer that we can use, but we only use it for about 20 minutes to fluff up towels, or on really wet days. It’s really expensive to run.
As for refrigerators, space is again an issue – you can get really nice sized fridges here, and you get the warranty to go along with it (this applies to laundry machines too obviously). If you bring a fridge from the US with a built in ice maker and water dispenser, there may not be a way to hook it up in your Israeli kitchen. A lot of the newer fridges on the market here have a semi-automatic ice maker. You fill the trays with water, and when they freeze twist a lever to pour the ice into the ice bucket in the freezer – so you can have constant ice.
I don’t want to discuss ovens at all, because I miss my Frigidaire Professional oven terribly, and really dislike the built in teeny tiny oven that is in our apartment. Sniff.

On to tachlas. The little things. How to fill up that container with the stuff that really matters.
The most common things people wish they had brought more of:
Ziploc bags (available in Israel in Ikea in various sizes, but not everyone has easy access to Ikea)

Trash bags (Very hard to find here that don’t fall apart. Kirkland brand are now available at Osher Ad, but very expensive, so why not ship a few boxes to get you started?)

Plastic containers in all sizes – from food storage size up to clothing storage size (larger bins are easier to find, but are expensive. Purchase in the US and use them to ship clothing and toys instead of boxes. Smaller containers, for food, are crazy expensive here, and not so easy to find in the sizes for kids’ lunches. Had I know, I’d have shipped a case of Gladware containers in various sizes!)

Paper Towels – seriously, Israeli paper towels are not at all absorbant. (Kirkland brand paper towels are available in Osher Ad, again expensive, plus you may not have one near you, so ship as many packages as you can on your lift)

Trash cans (!!) – Kitchen garbage cans are not cheap in the US, in Israel they are exorbitant. Small trash cans, for the bedrooms/bathrooms etc. that you can find for $5 at Target or Walmart, you won’t find for less than $15 in Israel.

Kitchen items – EVERYTHING! Pots, pans, silverware, dishes, sink mats, drainers, baking trays (not too big, or they won’t fit in the oven), Tupperware, EVERYTHING!!!
8×8 Aluminum pans! You can get aluminum pans in Israel, and they’re not expensive, but you cannot get this size. They simply don’t exist here. Ship a case! I wish I had.

Paper products: Plates, bowls, silverware, cups, napkins. It is seriously hard to find good quality paper goods here, and until you find the one store in your area that stocks them, it could take years. I did manage to find our local store in time for Succot (the only time other than Pesach I use paper goods) but I wish I had sent a Costco sized package of plates etc.

Cosmetics – makeup, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, toothbrushes, razors, shaving gel, wax strips, cleansers, hair products, contact lens solution (and contact lenses)

Medication – anything you take regularly for pain or allergies

Small Appliances: I shipped my Cuisinart and my KitchenAid (and my Pesach Cuisinart). I purchased a heavy duty step-up step down transformer, and they work fine. From what I could find out, better quality small appliances that are not used for long periods of time, will work on the correct transformer for many years. Smaller, cheaper appliances that work harder when they are running, will blow quickly, and are probably not worth bringing. Not recommended: Vacuum Cleaner, steam mop, toaster oven, plata, shabbat urn, hair dryer, immersion blender, hand mixer, coffee maker, iron. If you want to take the chance, go ahead, but in most cases, you should just sell that stuff in the US, and replace each thing one at a time in Israel for a lot more money…
(Irons are so expensive here, that I ordered one from Amazon UK and had my aunt bring it from England for me! Although I believe Amazon UK ships to Israel).

I think I’m going to discuss food items that people send on their lift in a separate post.

Other things mentioned: Clothing and shoes, especially sneakers for kids. (If you’re lucky enough to have kids whose feet fit easily into shoes, go ahead and purchase the next few sizes up in shoes and sneakers. Sadly for me, my kids have super narrow feet and it’s really hard to find shoes in general, I can’t buy ahead). The younger your kids are, the easier it is to buy clothes in bigger sizes. As your kids are older, it’s harder because they want to do their own shopping… Someone suggested school supplies, such as crayons, markers, pencils – but not binders, folders or lined paper, as they sizes are wrong for here.
If your family has sensitive skin, and you use fragrance free detergent – bring as much as you can! It’s impossible to find fragrance free anything here!
If you plan on getting a dryer anyway, ship dryer sheets. They are available here, but they’re expensive.

Obviously, you cannot ship a lifetime worth of anything, but as many of the commentators said on Facebook, if you can make the early stage of life in Israel easier, why not? If it means you don’t have to schlep around trying to figure out where to buy plastic containers for your kids’ school lunch, go for it! Little by little, we all find our way around, and the longer you live here, the shorter the shopping list gets when you visit the U.S. But there is no harm in a little bit of home comforts.

Pack that container til it’s ready to burst!

Previous Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 900 other followers

%d bloggers like this: