Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

My first thanksgiving in Israel was a success. I spent all day yesterday cooking, and most everything turned out well. I couldnt find all the spices or ingredients I needed, but I improvised and it all tasted like home. Our guests were mostly Israeli, and they were all excited to get a taste of America. They were wary of the sweet potato casserole and the pumpkin pie... and even though the two ended up tasting very similar, they all liked the casserole and didnt like the pie. There was no football game in the background, but there was a basketball game, so it was close.

Holidays can be tough, because I miss my family and I want to celebrate just as I did growing up. It was even hard doing the shopping for Thanksgiving because I felt so alone. No one around me was shopping for Thanksgiving, or even knew what it was. I guess I am starting a new tradition here, but it can be hard.

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. Since my mom is Jewish and my dad is not, it was always an issue with the grandparents around the holidays. They didnt celebrate the same holidays or have the same traditions. Thanksgiving was always the one time that my whole family could get together and really be relaxed. Its also near my grandmothers birthday, and Theresas. The very feeling of Thanksgiving to me is love- I have so many fond memories of our dinners and our time together. Watching the Thanksgiving day parade, cooking with my mom, making those last minute trips to the store to fight with all the other people trying to find that last piece of bread or can of cranberry sauce... I miss it. My thanksgiving wasnt the same, but it was a start and I am so thankful that my friends/family here gave me the chance to celebrate

As is traditional, I guess I should end with the things I am thankful for (B"H)
I am thankful for:
-A wonderful husband and amazing daughter
-My parents and my brother who miss me but still talk to me often (and who I will see soon!
-Friends/family who come to a thanksgiving dinner even when they have no idea what it is- just to support me
-that I can still keep some of the traditions I grew up with, and hopefully pass them on

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Quiet week

Last week was a quiet week. I have been preparing for thanksgiving, and every time I look our guest list grows. Since we have only one over and one burner (yes, a single burner), its a lesson in logistics and time management to get everything done. I am very excited about it though.

Friday, a nephew of one of Yehis sisters ex-boyfriends (long story, just go with it) had his fourth birthday. We went to support him and it gave me the chance to see what a pre-schoolwas like here in KG. All in all it was a really interesting experience. On each child's birthday (or on the Friday after) they have a celebration where they sing songs, give fake flowers, spell mazal tov, count to the age of the child, and eat cake. Every child wrote a blessing for the birthday boy on a piece of paper, and the adults got to give theirs during the party. I spoke in English, and the gannenet (teacher) asked the kids what language I was speaking in. One kid said I was speaking in English, because thats how his grandfather speaks to him.

The pre-school seemed similar to ones in the states- they had a calendar and the days of the week, marking which day of the week we were on, they had decorations for the unit, which of course was channukah. They also had a bomb shelter built in the back.

I am still trying to figure out the education system here. For pre-school there are three types of schools- not-religious (like the one we were at), religious and haredi (really religious). The first two follow a similar lesson plan, but the dati (religious) one begins with prayers and incorporates them throughout the day. Since the hebrew calendar is a matter of state, as are the Jewish holidays, they are taught in all schools. I would compare the lessons at a non-religious school here to the education at a Jewish Community Center pre-school in the states. We have a while before we have to deal with it, but it poses an interesting issue. There is no separation of church and state here, which I love in so many ways, but it also raises interesting concerns. If our religious level is somewhere between religious and not religious, where do we send? At least I have a couple years to think about it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Searching the Past

Doing the stay at home mom thing has been great, but there are definitely times that I feel the need to get out and have a change of scenery and some intellectual conversation. Yesterday we headed up the the Museum of the Diaspora at Tel Aviv University. My mom had asked me to do some family research, and I was hoping that the museum might have some leads. It didn't help much, we have a pretty thorough family tree already, but it was still interesting.

The museum is organized by "gates". The beginning talks about the history of Judaism, the basic tenets of the faith and daily life. If someone has no background in Judaism this would be interesting, but we pretty much walked right through it. The upper levels were better done. There were sections on every Jewish community around the world, with information on how they were created, different customs they followed, how they interacted with their non-Jewish neighbors and if they are still in existence today. Since Yehi and I come from such different backgrounds, it was interesting to see the countries that our grandparents came from compared to each other.

There was also a whole floor dedicated to replicas of famous synagogues from around the world. It really was fascinating to see how the local cultures effect the design of the building, but how the basic requirements are all the same. They have representations from all over Europe, north Africa, Asia and the state. Its also sobering to see the synagogues from the 1300's in comparison to the ones from the states, which are under 100 years old.

If one is curious about their heritage, this would be a good starting place, to learn about the different Jewish communities, their heritage and changes. There is also a section on the first wave of Aliyah, and the makeup of cultures in Israel in the 1930's, 40's and 50's. Worth a visit. For us it is back to looking for news ways to do family genealogy research.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

making friends

I have been in Israel for two and a half months now. So far it has been good, but it is hard not being able to have real conversations in English. My hebrew is improving, but I still have to stop and think before every sentence, and I am often at a loss for words. While I love my in-laws and other family here, its just not the same.

Last week Yehi and I were in a pizza place here in KG when we heard a family speaking English at a nearby table. This is VERY unusual here. The only English speakers are usually Yeshiva students, but this was a young family with an infant. Yehi tried to get me to go over and talk to them, but I was nervous... How does one approach a complete stranger without seeming strange? In the end their toddler broke the ice by babbling in our direction... I went over and we made short introductions.

In the end we exchanged numbers, and met again today. It was amazing to be able to speak English and have a real conversation again. While Yehi's cousins have kids and are in a similar situation I am in, they dont always understand my background or my beliefs... or when they do it gets lost in translation. Having someone to really discuss things with was priceless. Sometimes it pays off to be forward, and it seems to work here in Israel better than it would in the states. So for now I am thankful I got up the courage... and we had plenty of fun making fun of ourselves. Living in a foreign country is making me take charge of my daily life, and I am learning to start over again outside of my comfort zone.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Joining the ranks

Like most Israeli families, living here in Israel means having relatives in the army. My in-laws are unusual, in that every one of their children have served, and a majority of them have served in combat forces. I currently have two brother-in-laws and a sister-in-law in the army. It is very much a part of daily life here, since men and women are drafted into the army at 18. My sister-in-law chose to do national service at the beginning (religious women are allowed to forgo the army service in favor of national service- like working in a hospital), but now she works at an army base directing troops. My eldest brother-in-law (the second eldest boy in the family) is currently a high ranking army official in a special unit. He has seen far more action than I can ever imagine, and was even filmed during the last war. His goal is to get to the US as a representative of the Israeli army, and he may get to do that in the next year or two.

Tal, the youngest boy, is currently in the army. He served in Magav, the army police unit. Near the end of his service he decided to increase his time, and joined the officers course. He underwent basic training (again) and then started the first course on his way to becoming an officer. Today was his graduation. Every level in the Israeli army has a ceremony, so we headed down to the desert to watch him receive his stripe.

Army ceremonies always impress me. The majority of the soldiers were 20-22, and its so hard to compare them to Americans at the same age. These boys (the ceremony was only for boys this time) spend their days in drills, learning how to shoot guns, find their way through the desert without a map, defend themselves and lead others. They will come out of the course in a couple months as Officers, ready to lead others into battle (or at least behind battle lines). They are still teenagers in a lot of ways, but they understand that there is something bigger than themselves. Its impressive to watch. The ceremony always ends with HaTikvah, the national anthem... which is a post for another day. I am proud of my youngest brother-in-law, who today joined the ranks of the army officers, and made his own mark

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Its not such a big deal in Russia...

Nothing makes me shake my head like reading the news. Two major headlines today: First off, apparently now rockets from Gaza can reach Tel Aviv. None have yet, but that doesnt mean they arent coming. Add that to the fact that Lebanon is insisting that Israel fired the rockets that landed in Kiryat Shmona last week (on ourselves? Really?) and it could be an interesting winter. I am hoping there will be no more activity, but the rockets never really stop in the north/west. Here in KG things are quiet, as always.

Second piece of news relates to the brutal murder of a family (two kids, parents and two grandparents) that happened last month. They arrested a man who used to work for them as a waiter, and who was apparently upset that he had been fired. In revenge he murdered everyone. This, in and of itself, would be disturbing, but apparently when being questioned he asked the police why they were making such a big deal out of it. After all, he said, "This isn't such a big deal in Russia".

Really? Thats your defense for killing a baby, a three year old, their parents and grandparents? Its not such a big deal? I pray that this man is an anomaly, and not really what this world is coming to. Murder, in this style, is very rare in Israel, though there has been a sudden increase this year. The police are insisting that its not a trend, and just a fluke... I hope so. People here are so friendly because everyone bonds against the "common enemy" and not in attacking each other. While this is sad in many ways, it has created a society that allows its children to play without adult supervision after dark, allows families to leave their doors unlocked during the day and allows one to feel comfortable asking anyone for almost anything. I hope this doesnt begin to change- I like my almost small town feel. Here in KG we are still pretty far removed, so things are peaceful, may they stay that way

Monday, November 2, 2009

Winter has come

The joys of winter in the desert. It went from being REALLY hot to pouring rain on Friday, causing a lightening storm and a blackout. I love the rain, and was said that I was so sick and couldn't appreciate it. Turns out I had an infection in my lungs. (On the mend now, hopefully the last time Ill be sick for a while, B"H).

Today I got out of the house for the first time since Friday. I walked from my house to my in-laws house... and it was an experience. It is not very cold here, but the wind is harsh... and since we live in a desert, this wind tends to blow sand everywhere. When i was in Israel back in 2005, we had a real sandstorm, with dust so thick it was like walking through the split pea soup fog that I grew up with. I have to say though, when it comes down to it- sand is way worse than fog.

Sand manages to get into any open space, no matter how small- in your eyes, your mouth, your ears... and it makes you just want to hide behind anything you can. Unfortunately, sand seems to be pretty smart too, and manages to twist its way around poles and buildings and whatever else you might try to use to shield yourself. By the time I got to my in-laws I felt as if I had lost a fight... I collapsed on the couch with a welcome cup of tea and vowed to wait until Yehi was done with work to go home (with a car!). Now that I am inside its nice listening to the wind and feeling like its actually "winter" (fall? what is this season really?). Heres hoping for lots more rain to help our water shortage.