The Roller Coaster

People like to ask me how things are going. They want to know how we are dealing with our transitions and how we feel about our aliyah experience. The truth is, my answer depends on the moment. This aliyah experience is like a roller coaster ride. There are highs, lows and twists all along the way. Some moments are so wonderful. During those moments we are so happy that we made the leap and moved to Israel. Other moments are difficult and stressful. During those times, I question our decisions and feel worried that maybe we are in too deep.

For example, my husband likes to walk our older girls to their school and I take our youngest two to drop off our daughter at gan. We take the bus to her school since it is almost completely uphill and a difficult walk. Some days the bus is great and smooth sailing. We wait a few minutes, get on with plenty of space, have a rav kav card reader by our entrance, chat on the bus and get off a few minutes later without anr issue. Sometimes the bus takes a very long time to come, when it does come it is filled to capacity and we have to squeeze on. When this happens, we are pushed and shoved as people try to squeeze past our stroller to get on and off the bus. Sometimes the rav kav machines are only in the front of the bus. Then I need to leave my daughter with the stroller and make my way through the crowd to pay for our rides. When the second type of situation arises, the bus ride is stressful and worrisome. At those moments, I wonder how long I can handle such stressful mornings. I wonder if this is all worth it.

My daughter and I usually take a big breath when we get off the bus, and discuss all the craziness that just went on. We walk up the hill to her gan, I give her a hug and she rings the bell to let her ganenet know we are there. I like to walk back from her gan. Our son loves watching the scenery as I push him down the hills of Yerushalayim. We both enjoy the breathtaking views. When I used to picture our lives after aliyah, I pictured walks like this. Strolling through Ramot is one of those highs in the roller coaster.

Every so often we receive emails from the girls’ school with things we need to send in or do. This week, the school is providing vaccines for the second and third grade girls. Apparently in Israel, babies go to a special office called a Tipat Chalav for well visits and vaccines. After they reach two years of age, they graduate from the clinic. The next vaccines are given in school. This vaccine schedule and system is totally new to us. My kids like for me to be with them when they receive shots. Additionally, in America, the shot schedule seems to be different and they receive different vaccines at different times. The email requested that we send in the childrens’ pinkas which is a vaccine record booklet. Obviously, as new olim we did not have one. Yet another challenge to overcome. I am not yet comfortable sending my girls to school with the wrong documentation, and hoping they receive only the vaccines they actually need. This was a twist that we did not anticipate.

I emailed one of my daughter’s teachers who understands a bit of English and asked her to forward our records to the nurse. Since I did not hear back from her about whether or not our kids required vaccines this year, I called the nurse at the school this morning. I explained that we are unsure how to compare our records to the vaccine schedule they use here in Israel and that I would like to be present when the girls get their shots. We arranged that I bring the girls a little late to school and we will go over the records together in person. I will be with my girls when they receive their shots, and I will be more confident that they will only be getting the shots they actually need. Crisis averted again (hopefully).

Over shabbat we enjoyed a beautiful dessert picnic with some friends in the park. At one point a teenage boy started walking through the park yelling the word “tehilim”. All the children started to follow him. I turned to my friend and asked what was going on. Apparently, every week this young man runs a tehillim group in the park. All children are welcome to join as they recite tehillim line by line. When the kids are participating nicely, the leader gives them candy as a prize. What a beautiful program. This type of thing is why we moved here. Again, a high part of the roller coaster.

To finish off the analogy is the feeling when you get when you get off the roller coaster. The feeling of exhilaration and gladness that you faced your fear and went on the ride. We are not finished with this roller coaster ride yet. I hope that one day, we will look back on our journey and feel that shear happiness, that we went on this roller coaster!

Back To School

Wednesday morning was our first day back to school and real life. As I watched my girls walk down the large staircase to their school, the feeling of worry returned. Since we had a nice long break from school, I had not worried like this in a while. Each time I send them off into the school building, I throw them a kiss and hope that they don’t get too overwhelmed by the difficulty of the day. We are blessed that each of the girls has students in their classes that speak English and can help them navigate through the day, but everyone else speaks Hebrew. They sit through hours of class and do not understand the vast majority of what is said. They go to recess and are surrounded by unfamiliar games and faces. As I stand at the top of the stairs and watch them enter into the unknown, I am astounded that they have smiles on their faces when the go and come from school each day.

A few weeks ago we had a back to school night at their school. I had been warned that there is such a night and that it is important to go. But, since I do not get all the school emails and have difficulty understanding them when I do receive them, I missed the announcement for when back to school night was. Thanks to a Whatsapp message I received on one of the class chats, I figured out when back to school night was only hours before I had to be at school. I quickly texted my fellow olim and made sure everyone knew. Since I have a second and third grader, I had meetings at 5:30 and 6.

I got a ride with a friend, and we walked into the second grade meeting a few minutes late. We quickly took seats in the circle, and started to tune into the teacher. She spoke clearly and slowly and I was able to follow most of what she was saying. Relief swept through my body. I was going to make it through the night.

After the teacher had finished her shpeil, one of the parents started asking about continuing a program from last year. The teacher answered that they would. My friend’s husband raised his hand and asked what they were referring to. Obviously, as new olim, we were not familiar with last year’s programming. The teacher responded by saying she would explain it slowly and in English after the meeting. We were a little insulted. We had been listening to the whole half hour in Hebrew and had been doing fine. The teacher then went on to explain to all the other parents how there were new olim in the class that knew no Hebrew etc etc etc. I felt a bit uncomfortable as the parents all looked at us. I am sure this is only a tiny taste of what my children experience everyday. Eventually a father who had children in the school for years asked the same question we had just asked. He was also unfamiliar with the program from last year. The teacher happily explained, and we got our answer. I stuck around after the meeting for a chance to ask the teacher if she could switch my daughter’s seat. My daughter made a friend who was able to speak both languages and would not mind helping my daughter when necessary. My daughter had requested that her seat be switched to the one next to hers. The teacher agreed and I was finished with one meeting. I took a breath and was ready for the next one.

Third grade was a whole different story. Since second grade ended late, I was late for the next meeting as well. I opened the door and noticed everyone was sitting in their child’s seat. A friend pointed to my daughter’s seat and I slid in. Her teacher spoke three times as fast. I caught every other word, and missed some of the main ideas. All I could think about was how could my daughter possibly sit through this all day. I know a lot more Hebrew than her (at least I do for the next few months until she surpasses me), and I was having a hard time keeping up. A mother raised her hand to ask about math enrichment for her daughter. That would have been me in America. My daughter excelled in school and we were always asking about ways the teacher could challenge her. This year, was a whole new situation. I was just hoping she would be able to grasp the basics and not fall too far behind while she learns the new language. What a new reality we were living.

By the time I got home, I was home sick. I was ready to go back to our amazing chevra and school in Passaic. I was ready to sail into back to school night in my mini van, park in the parking lot, see my friends and make cute pictures to leave in my childrens’ desks. I was ready to be confident that my children were going to succeed in their education. I was ready to be able to ask a question without stumbling through the words. This was quite a different kind of night than I was used to.

A few days later I made an appointment to meet with the guidance counselor. The Yoetzet, as it is called here, is a very warm and friendly person. She even speaks some English which was a welcome surprise. She spent about a half hour with my husband and me. The Yoetzet suggested that homework and tests not count for the first six months of school. She advised us to focus on math and ulpan and not worry too much about the other subjects. The Yoetzet reassured us that we moved at a good time, and that our daughters will pick up the language quickly. She helped us figure out which books we still needed to buy and where to purchase them. We talked about ulpan and our concerns.

The Yoetzet had some interesting advice. She suggested we go around the dinner table and each share new words we learned that day. This will show our children that we are all learning the language together. She also told us about something she does in her house. She said that she likes to bring up one strange scenario that happened to her and ask her family to suggest how to handle it. She explained that with so much newness and uncertainty it is healthy for our children to understand that we can work through problems together by discussing them. Her example was to say: ‘I was waiting in line at the grocery store, and someone cut me off, what should I do?’

One piece of advice that I found surprising was to have one night a week for playdates. The Yoetzet differentiated between American culture of coming home after school completing homework, and getting ready for bed and Israeli culture where kids have playdates during the school week. She reiterated the importance of feeling social and making friends and suggested that we take up this norm as well. We resigned to make this part of our weekly routine after Sukkot. This morning, I spoke to my girls about trying to invite someone in the beginning of next week.

When my girls returned home from school on Wednesday, they were all smiles as usual. They were thrilled that they were able to go on the hassaah - transportation. They were excited for Thursday which is when their ulpan teacher comes. They were excited to be back at school.

Our First Sukkot

Although we are not working yet, sukkot was a welcomed vacation from settling in. We enjoyed spending the first day with my side of the family. Chol Hamoed was sprinkled with seeing different relatives and enjoying quiet time with just us. I loved having time to reconnect with our girls. We played a lot of board games, took walks and chatted about life.

It was especially meaningful to be able to visit the kotel over sukkot. As we rode the bus through the windy streets of Yerushalayim, we could not help but notice how many people were getting on with their lulav and etrog in hand. By the time we reached the kotel the bus was packed. I think every passenger got off at the kotel stop and joined the huge crowd trying to get though security. I just kept on thinking about how this was as close as we could get to doing the mitzvah of aliyah liregel. I explained the special opportunity to my children as we were pushed through the line. My daughter turned to me and said that she feels like we do more mitzvot now that we live in Israel. My smile was ear to ear. I was impressed that she felt that way. Walking up to the kotel with my three girls on sukkot, hearing hallel from multiple minyanim at the same time, seeing the tips of hundreds of lulavim from over the mechitza, this was one of those moments. Moments like this is why we made aliyah!

A stomach bug crept through our family on the next few days of chol hamoed. Due to our illnesses, we were not able to go on any tiyulim or big trips this year. We all felt better just in time to enjoy our first Simchat Torah in Ramot. The girls loved dancing in shul. They even started their own small circle with some of their friends on the women’s side of the dance floor. My oldest daughter mentioned later, that she really liked how she was able to participate in the dancing. We shared a special meal with friends that helped us realize how nice of a chevra we have surrounding us. Yuntif ended on a true high!

Shana Tova

Since our lift arrived, I have been buried in boxes with the goal of getting ourselves settled to enjoy yuntif at home. It has been three and a half months since we have had our belongings and I was ready to start off the new year with a set-up home. Getting through 200 boxes was not easy. It took many games of live tetris to maneuver our furniture into the proper places, unpack the boxes and then disassemble the empty boxes to walk them up 30 steps and down the block to the garbage dump. By Rosh Hashana we had about 5 boxes left to unpack. Quite an accomplishment.

As I entered into Rosh Hashana this year, I was in awe of the brachot that Hashem had bestowed upon our family this past year. The list is long, BH, but one of the main brachot was to allow our family to have the courage and strength to make aliyah this year. It occurred to me how far we have come since last Rosh Hashana. Only one year ago, I sat in shul and prayed for insight as to if we should uproot our family and move to Israel. Aliyah plans were at their inception at that point and we were still not sure if we would even go through with the dream.

Just one year later, I walked down the street in our new neighborhood saying Shana Tova to the people I passed on the way to shul. Even though we have been home for three shabbatot already, I actually had never been inside our new shul. Having young children means spending the shabbat mornings in the park behind the shul rather than inside davening. As I entered the building, I noticed that although we had reserved seats, my name was not on the seating chart. A small panic entered my mind, will there be enough room for me? The Rabbi was making an announcement about not speaking until the final shofar blast was heard. That meant that I would not be able to ask about my seat. I squeezed into the shul just as the chazan was reciting the brachot for tekiat shofar. I doubted that I would make it in time, but I did. I found an empty seat, hoped I was not taking anyone’s spot, and listened to the shofar.

I have a lot to daven for this year. Although we already took the leap and got on the aliyah flight, our work was just beginning. We all have to learn Hebrew, our kids need help transitioning into new schools, we need jobs, and so on. I prayed that Hashem would continue to hold our hands during this next stage of our aliyah, just as He had done for the previous ones. The davening was moving and I even recognized some of the tunes that were chosen. The shul was beautiful inside and the group of people was eclectic. Despite the array of headcoverings and styles, we all sang the songs of the davening together. After shul, my husband and kids met me at shul, we walked to lunch and we enjoyed wonderful meals with new friends. Our first chag at home was meaningful and enjoyable.

Yuntif ended, and were back to the regular grind of the week. The kids have school for a few days before the next yuntif. Even though the holiday seasons is spotted with days off, we are working on getting into a routine. We have two schools to get to each morning and afternoon. As of now, we still do not have a car, so my husband and I split up taking separate buses to the various schools in the morning. Honestly, when the buses come as scheduled, we are really happy with the commute. The bus that I take with our two older girls brings us to a large staircase down to their school. I stand at the top of the stairs, and wave to the girls as they enter the school with smiling faces. Then I cross the street and take the bus back home. My husband takes our younger daughter on a separate bus to her school. Each morning her transition into school is getting easier. In the afternoon, we do a similar routine if we are both available, otherwise there is a bus between the older girls school and our youngest’s that we can hop on. Overall the weather has been pleasant and we are getting used to our new reality.

May this year bring us the strength and flexibility to continue to ease ourselves into this new life we are building in Eretz Yisrael. May this year be a year full of bracha and the coming of mashiach so all of klal yisrael can join us in Yerushalayim. Shana Tova!

The Perfect Storm

Friday was the perfect storm. On top of it being the first day of school in a new country for our second and third graders, orientation for gan, and erev our second shabbat at home, our lift was scheduled to be delivered. It was impossible for us to do everything- my husband and I had to divide and conquer to make it through the day. 

Our schedule was as follows. Older girls drop off at 8 AM. Apparently they needed to be in their classrooms and sitting down by that time, not just arriving at school. Simultaneously, the lift was scheduled to arrive at 8 AM. Our younger daughter had orientation at her gan from 10-11. Pick up the older girls by 11:50 AM.

I could not have done this without the help of my wonderful friend. She also made aliyah this summer and has children in both the school and gan that our children are attending. We do not have a car, and the school and gan are not close enough to walk or use public transportation on such a busy day. My friend offered to drive us.

At 7:15 AM, our two older daughters and I were waiting to be picked up for phase one of the day. We found the school, parked and lugged the heavy school books into the school I had been to once before on my pilot trip. I noted the cheerful but simple decor.  As soon as we walked in, I recognized the welcoming smile of the menahel. He gave the girls taffy and pointed us in the direction of the office. As new olim, we had not completed all the paperwork, so my friend and I sat down, with girls in tow, to try to figure out the Hebrew school forms. The girls were getting antsy to get into their classrooms, so we decided to walk the girls up to the classrooms and return without children to complete the payment forms.

When we got up the stairs, we quickly spotted the girls classrooms. We walked into third grade first. I can only imagine how my daughter felt, because I felt like a deer in headlights. There were some women talking and children already seated at desks. There was no indication of who the teacher was, so I asked a woman if she was the teacher. All the women laughed as if my question was outrageous. I smiled, and helped the girls (my daughter and my friend's daughter) find seats. As more children strolled in, I noticed that people were loading their school books into cubbies in the back of the classroom. We followed suit. The two girls were situated in their seats and still smiling, so I was ready to bring my other daughter to her classroom.

Our second grader also knows a few nice girls in her class, but when we arrived at her door, we recognized no one. We both took a deep breath and entered. I suggested that she sit in an open table and wait until someone she knows comes. We saw other girls taking stickers with their names on them and choosing cubbies. I immediately went up to the teacher in a panic. We did not bring any stickers. As a new olah, I did not understand the list and probably missed a lot of items. The teacher smiled and pointed to a pile of stickers. She had one for my daughter. At that moment, a nice girl said 'Hi!' to my daughter. An English speaker! It turns out, my daughter already met this sweet girl at a birthday party earlier in the week. The girl quickly invited my daughter to move next to her and assisted her with finding a cubby. It was then that I realized my daughter was in good hands. This amazing friend appeared just in time.

I checked into the first classroom once more, and then we left. I was home by 8:30AM. The moving crew had arrived and were waiting for the container. My plan was eat a quick breakfast, pack up the baby and meet my friend back at the street by 9 AM for phase two of our day. Since we were new, we wanted to meet the gan teacher a little bit earlier than orientation. The teacher was warm and inviting while simultaneously confident and strict. I could immediately tell that this would be a great place for my daughter to start learning Hebrew and make some new friends. It was a bit tricky balancing watching my baby crawl around the gan and also get the information I needed from the orientation, but our house was a danger zone, so I had no choice but to keep him with me. My daughter really enjoyed coloring and listening to a story read by the teacher. Despite it being in Hebrew, she was able to pick up on some the key ideas of the story.

Phase three entailed dropping the younger kids off at home and picking up the older ones. We barely had enough time, but we made it. As we sat on a bench waiting to see our girls' faces as they ran down the stairs after their first day of school, we both sighed. It had already been an emotional and busy day and it was only just the beginning. My friend's daughter came down first with a big grin on her face. I took in her expression and hoped that my daughters' would look the same way. I had doubts about how they would feel sitting in a classroom of mostly Hebrew speakers. When each of my daughters made it down the stairs, I read the mixture of emotions on their faces. My older one admitted that everything was different and it was frustrating to not know what the teacher was asking. My younger one was more optimistic and told me about a new game she learned at recess and how she understood the chumash lesson. We had all made it through the first day! It was a huge accomplishment in and of itself.

The girls had so much they wanted to share about the first day, but when we arrived at our home we were instantly aware of the chaos surrounding us. The movers had been busy unloading our container while we were out. There was no room to walk. When the movers finally left around 2:30PM, we had  a lot to do. Just getting to the stove to warm up soup was a project. We were in disaster mode. Our goal was to get the house semi livable for shabbat. We needed clear access to bathrooms, a place to sit and eat and beds to sleep on. Other than that, it would have to wait until after shabbat. The kids were not allowed to be inside while the movers were here for safety reasons. They enjoyed opening boxes of toys and playing in the backyard with their long lost toys. They had not seen or thought about some of these toys since May, so they seemed new and exciting.

I am exhausted just thinking about how crazy Friday was. By the time we lit candles and accepted shabbat, I was wiped out. It had been an emotional rollercoaster full of ups and downs. It had been a logistical puzzle. How could we get everyone to and from where they needed to be and be home for the lift at the same time. And so, the perfect storm of a day came to a close. I am so appreciative to my friend who chauffeured us around all day, and my sister who brought over shabbat food. We could not have done this day without them!

 

 

Finally Home to Stay

It is getting to that point when we usually start packing up our things and move to the next temporary living situation. Since the end of May, our family has been moving from place to place, and living out of suitcases. We have gotten used to  keeping our toothbrushes in Ziplock bags and only buying the bare essential groceries to last us until we reach our next destination. Every few weeks, we packed up our suitcases and moved to the next place. This morning I realized that we are not going anywhere! This is our home! We can start hanging things in the closet and stocking up our cabinets with more than a weeks worth of food. Then, I looked out at our view, and thought about how amazing it is to be settling down in Yerushalayim of all places.

We spent our first shabbat at home this week. People were calling and wishing us a nice first shabbat, and checking in to make sure we had everything we needed. I turned to my husband and told him that it felt like we were newlyweds. This was our first shabbat in our real home. 

Shabbat started off with an awesome feeling. The siren sounded and I explained to my children that it signaled the beginning of shabbat. The girls ran down the stairs giggling in excitement to light the candles. After I lit candles on Friday night, I sat down and sang kabalat shabbat with my daughter. It had been a busy week and I was relieved to be able to sit and relax with the quiet of shabbat in our new home. 

Not too long after I had finished davening did I realize that we forgot to set our new fridge to shabbat mode. Rookie mistake, as we never had a fridge with shabbat mode before. My next thought was that we would never find a non-Jew in Yerushalyim. We don't know the community that well yet. I had resolved to eating the challah and small amount of food warming on our hot plate for dinner, but how could we make kiddush? And what about the rest of shabbat? No milk for breakfast for the kids in the morning and no access to any cold drinks all day long. The thought put a damper on my wonderful mood.

While anxiously awaiting my husbands return from shul, we sat outside our front door admiring the beautiful view. My middle daughter turned to me and said, 'Thank you for bringing us here, Mommy. It is so beautiful.' Despite our current predicament, hearing my daughter express her appreciation for moving put a huge smile on my face. I have been so worried about how my children will feel about leaving all their familiarity behind and moving to a foreign country. I pictured tears and sadness. I am so grateful that thus far, my children have been able to enjoy the new experiences and realize that we have been given a tremendous gift to be able to live in such a beautiful and special city.

As with the rest of our move thus far, Hashem was holding our hands. It turns out the we have a non-Jew living next door to us - and he speaks English. It really was so much easier than I had anticipated. He was able to help and within a few minutes, we were sitting down to a very special first Friday night dinner at home. We had not been home alone with just our insular family for a shabbat meal since May.  I really missed it!

I am starting to figure out my way around Ramot, which is really a big accomplishment for me. I am not known for my good sense of direction to say the least. So, I was super proud of myself when someone asked me for directions to a specific store in the mall and I knew the answer. It may or may not mean we are spending way too much time shopping at the mall. Either way, I was able to give directions and in Hebrew to boot!

We are settling in! Our lift gets to the port tomorrow, so hopefully that means our long wait for furniture is coming to an end. Our kids start school on Friday. We are so excited and nervous for the first day. We are stocked with toilet paper, paper towels, and groceries to last a while. We are finally home to stay!