Israelis for Yom Haatzmaut

I am filled with mixed emotions when I reflect on our past week. First and foremost, I have tremendous pride to say that we commemorated Yom Hazikaron and celebrated Yom Haatzmaut as Israeli citizens. No longer are we trying to explain the importance of the days to our children from afar. No longer are we trying to grasp onto pictures, memories and Israeli food to feel the power of the days. We were here, in Israel! The feelings of the days surrounded us.

Next on my list of emotions is thankfulness. We are so thankful to Hashem on many levels. We are thankful on a national level for giving the Jewish people an opportunity to have this country. For so many generations, people only dreamed of Israel. Now, Israel is a Jewish state and we are all free to come and live here. Israel is thriving in so many ways and has come so far. There is a lot to be thankful for. On a more personal level, I am thankful that we were given the specific gift of making aliyah and living here. On Yom Haatzmut, I woke up and opened my huge window to just admire our view of the hills of Yerushalayim. We are really here. We made it home and for that I can not express my gratitude. There were so many obstacles in our way, and so many times when we were not sure if we would ever make it, but here we are! And last but not least, I am thankful to all the soldiers who protect us and thankful to all those who lost their lives in defending our country and allowing us to live here. On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning when the sirens went off to commemorate all the lives lost for our country, it felt personal. Those lives were lost so I could stand here, in my comfortable home in Yershalayim and feel safe.

When going through my emotions, I can not help but mention my tinge of regret. We made a few rookie mistakes this year that I hope we can correct for future years. A simple example of our mistakes was not preparing enough white shirts for the kids. Saturday night I realized that each of our children needed four white shirts for the upcoming week. There would be two days of Rosh Chodesh, Yom Hazikaron and of course Yom Haatzmaut. I was not prepared. Another small regret was that we did not do activities that were specific to the days. I did not know what I should or could do for Yom Hazikaron with four young children with me. Activities at night seem very difficult because my children are early-bedtime-kids. On Yom Haaztmaut we wanted to make sure to see both sides of our family. We spent a wonderful day hosting everyone, but we did not get out to see the festivities. We missed the famous airplane flyover and did not go to any public celebrations.Although we loved being with our family and having special time with them, by the end of the day, I felt a little but sad that we missed it. Our first time in Israel for both of these special days, and we didn’t do much. We are hoping to change that for next year.

Now that these special days are behind us, we are moving forward with our year. I am so proud of how well my girls are doing in school. This week, one of my girls came home with an outstanding grade on a halacha test she took. She learned the material, studied and took the test completely in Hebrew and by herself. She was one of the first ones to complete the test and felt confident that she did well on it. Of course, there are still difficult times and we are all learning more each day. But, we are getting closer to feeling like living here is a "piece of cake”. Our cake party countdown is at 50 days!!!!

Doubting Myself

Thursday was the first day of Pessach vacation. Yes, I know, we still have over a week until Pessach actually begins, but here, in Israel, vacation starts very early. To fill the time, the school system creates mini camps called kaytanot. The truth is, my kids are always asking for more and more days off, so I assumed they would opt out of the mini camp and enjoy the special time off. As the whatsapp reminders kept rolling in over the weeks leading up to the vacation, I was having second thoughts. Maybe I should just sign them up and then they can have the option of attending. After all, the program is free. What do I have to lose?

I clicked on the link to sign up my school aged girls first. The completely Hebrew website was intimidating and the form needed to be filled out in Hebrew. I stumbled through the first few screens of the application, and then it froze. I tried this a few more times and was not able to get further in the process. I realized that signing up was going to be a bit more complicated that I had first thought. There was an option to call a phone number and have someone assist with the process. I called. The lady reluctantly took my information and said I would be getting an email confirmation. I was skeptical that we had actually signed up, but said thank you and hung up. I never received the email. I chalked it up to the possibility that she did not understand my email address or something of that nature.

The gan online form was a bit shorter and only took two attempts to sign up. I was smarter this time and wrote all the answers in English. Despite the English, the last screen said I had completed the forms. I was not convinced that she was actually signed up either. I figured if anyone actually wanted to go to the kaytanot we would confirm then.

I was shocked and impressed that all three of my girls were adamant that they wanted to try the kaytana on the first day. They excitedly packed their camp bags and happily walked to the bus. I still was not sure if they were signed up to go, but we decided to try. When we got to the older girls’ school, the teacher in charge said she did not recall seeing their names on the list, but that they can stay. She said she would sign them up from her end. I was grateful. I kissed my daughters, waved goodbye and walked out. As we walked back to catch our next bus, I had a bit of a nervous feeling. The conversation was all in Hebrew. Did I understand correctly? Were they really allowed to stay without being signed up? Can I bring them back the next time? I was not confident I understood what she said.

Next up was my daughter in gan. When I walked her in, I confirmed that she was signed up. The morah assured me that she was. Unlike the older children, her kaytana was a full day. I do not know why this had not dawned on me until we were walking into her gan, but I only packed her an aruchat eser. I have no idea why I assumed she would be provided a lunch like a regular school day. This was not a regular school day. I asked the morah about meals. She replied in her fast Hebrew that the program provides lunch, but we have to bring the ten oclock meal. I thanked her, kissed my daugther and was on my way.

That uncertain feeling returned to the pit of my stomach. ‘Wait, did she say they do or don’t give lunch?’ My daughter only had a sandwich and fruit. She will be so hungry if I misunderstood the teacher. My lack of confidence is odd, really. While standing in front of both women, I understood them. I was able to communicate my needs and receive answers to questions. After each conversation I felt relieved by their answers. While standing there, I was totally sure of myself and was confident that I understood what they were saying. I did not need them to repeat anything or get someone who spoke English to translate. I was satisfied with my Hebrew conversation. But, then a strange phenomenon kept happening. I realized that it actually happens all the time. After I leave a store and wonder if I understood the return policy. Or after I schedule a doctor’s appointment or ask a medical question. While I am there I understand. After I leave, the doubt creeps in. I wonder if I really understood. I wonder if my communication was clear. I just feel unsure. Does this happen to all new olim? Or is just me? Why do I have this worry? I really do not know. All I can say is that I hope that one day I do not get these feelings of doubt.

Six Months

Our six month mark passed without a notice. It is hard to believe we have been living in Israel for half a year. So much of our lives have become familiar and routine. We have grown so accustomed to our new reality, that it almost feels like we have been here for longer than six months. Then again it also feels like we just got here.

This week was an emotional one for me. Back in Passaic, our girls old school had their annual Mother Daughter Brunch. Obviously, we were not there. Our friends lovingly sent us videos of the performances. As I sat with my daughters as they poured over every second of the song and dance and fondly pointed out their friends and old classmates, tears came to my eyes. I missed our old home. I missed all my friends sitting in the audience watching their daughters perform that morning.I was sad to have not been there with them with camera in hand taking my own video. I was sad for my daughters that they were not up their on the stage with all their friends from America. I know how much they miss their old classmates and sweet friends. We have been able to keep in touch with a few of their friends, but it is impossible to do that with everyone we left behind. We missed them. We miss our old lives.

Monday night we had a special night of our own here in Ramot. Our new school made a special program just for the new olim families in the school. Instead of performing with thirty girls, there were just four. Our children prepared small speeches and danced to the song Yisrael Sheli. They wore blue and white and used big Israeli flags as props. It was an adorable show. The main purpose of the night was to give us, the new olim, a chance to communicate how our transition has been going thus far and what the school can continue to help us with. It was a really thoughtful and touching idea. So, after the performance was over, the children were escorted to another room to make a project and eat some dessert, while we were given the opportunity to meet with the principal, guidance counselor, and representatives from the city and department of education. They asked us what we liked about the school and what they can do better to assist us in making this aliyah as successful as possible. Just the mere fact that five people spent their evening sitting around a circle and genuinely listening to our concerns was so moving to me. I felt really cared for. I hope some of our suggestions will come to fruition. One thing was clear to me, we were surrounded by people that genuinely wanted to help us and our children. Despite all the challenges we spoke about that night, our new lives were looking pretty good.

Purim is right around the corner. To me, once Purim comes, it usually signals the end of the school year is approaching fast. In fact, we only have 117 days left until our cake party. I can not believe how fast the year is going. With all the hardships and obstacles of the first year of aliyah we are plowing ahead. It has been an amazing and challenging six months. I can not wait to see how we feel after the school year is over. 117 days is not a lot at all.. I guess it is almost time to start baking.

My Work Dilemma

Now that we have been in Israel for almost six months, I am feeling settled enough to start thinking about my career. Up until this point, I have been consumed by all the aliyah transitions and obstacles. There was no space left on my plate to deal with my job decisions. The truth is, I do not even know what I want to do.

The way I see it, I have two main options. First is go back to being an Occupational Therapist. This requires studying and passing an Israeli board exam before I can even look for work. Most jobs would require Hebrew so I would also need to take ulpan prior to working. The second option is to try to find some sort of work from home position doing something completely new. This could be an English speaking job, so language would be less of an issue.

The language issue really scares me. If I work as an occupational therapist, I want to be viewed as a professional by staff and parents. How could I do that while fumbling through a conversation? Yes, I can take ulpan, but I am not confident that I will be fluent enough to feel good about my written and verbal language skills as a professional. I know people say that the best way to learn the Hebrew is to immerse yourself and just start working, but I still feel nervous about it.

The next issue to consider is working outside the home. I started working just after my first child was born and have been working 30+ hours a week ever since. Somehow, despite the work and travel time, I was able to drop off and pick up my kids from school, do the cooking and housework and even have time to socialize once in a while. Laundry and errands were primarily done on Sundays. To sum it up, I managed while working outside the home. But, life is different now. Now that I have been a stay-at-home mom for these past 6 months, I have spent more quality time with my children. When they get home from school, I sit with them while they eat their happy home snack and talk about their day. I usually do not have to multi task dinner cooking, shower time and homework all at once. Since I am home while they are in school, the house is more organized, and the meals are ready for them when they come home. I am not sure I am ready to go back to the harried life of working outside the home. I dread rushing in with the kids for the first time all day, running to the kitchen to start dinner, while asking kids about their days and directing homework from the other room. Now I am able to sit and help translate homework assignments, and study for tests with review sheets in Hebrew. Having the extra time at home allows me to be more present. With all the extra stresses and difficulties of aliyah, I need to be more available. They need more undivided attention. Working as much as I did in America does not seem like a feasible option.

If I choose a work from home option, what would it be? I do not even know where to start. I am not even sure what type of work I would be looking for. My professional skills are mostly as an occupational therapist, but can I reinvent myself to be something else?

It is quite a dilemma for me. In fact, I do not know which choice I would rather. In America, I was a pediatric occupational therapist. I loved it. I always said that I loved my job and helping children live more independent lives. My husband used to complain that he felt that his jobs had little meaning. I was always proud to say that I did not feel the same way. Being in a helping profession means that doing my work feels like a chesed. When I see a student make progress toward their goals and really improve their quality of life, I feel so blessed to be part of that. I am not sure if I will be able to feel this passionate about a work from home position in a different field. Maybe I can find a creative outlet, or something that will help people, but will it be the same?

I am not sure which path to pursue. Should I go with my professional experience in the field I know and love? Should I try to make our lives work while I juggle my work outside the home? Or, should I look for something completely new and different? Should I try to find something that will allow me to be home and present more with my children? Is there a job that could be both? Could I help people while being home to take care of my children? Could I feel productive and proud of my work while doing it from home? This is my dilemma!

Playdate Success

Yesterday was a huge milestone day for us! We had our first all-Hebrew-speaking playdate and it was great! I have been davening that this day would come sooner rather than later. After all, one of our goals is that our children integrate into Israeli society which means making friends with Israeli children. As I watched the girls play some sort of Israeli version of Chinese Jump Rope, giggling and chatting in Hebrew, I realized that we are being successful! This was a huge milestone for us, and I could not help but smile.

When my daughter asked me to arrange this playdate, I was surprised by my reaction. Of course, I was supportive and excited for her, but I was also really nervous. I had arranged and facilitated countless playdates over the years, but never one in Hebrew. I realized that I had to move away from my comfort zone and call this woman who probably does not speak a word of English. I realized I had no idea who this girl was. Would she play nicely with our children? Would I need to step in and help them figure out which games they could play despite the language barrier? Would I be able to communicate with this girl if necessary?

I took a deep breath and gained the courage to dial the phone number on my daughter’s class list. Despite my own difficulties with the language, I attempted to arrange a playdate. The mother of this girl was very friendly. She spoke slowly and interspersed a word of English now and then when she could. She was very appreciative that we called to invite her daughter. We discussed the time of the playdate, how the girl was going to get to our house, and where we lived. After I hung up the phone, I told my daughter that I am fairly certain that the girl was coming at one o’clock, but was not totally sure if I understood the conversation. We decided to wait and see what happened the next day.

While on the phone with the mother, I heard her daughter shriek in excitement when asked if she wanted to have a playdate with mine. I was so relieved. When I heard the girl’s excitement, I heard the message that my daughter was making Hebrew speaking friends. We have been so blessed to have a nice group of English speakers in our community. I am so grateful that each of my girls have made many friends really quickly. So far, we have been sticking with the English speaking families. I can not even imagine how hard it must be for my children to go to school and make new friends. I have been supportive of their social success and have not been pushing them to branch out to the Israelis yet. Over the past five months, we have spoken to our children about how ideally they would, but only when they felt ready. This was the first time that I realized that they were actually doing this all on their own. This girl was friends with my daughter and was excited to come for a playdate.

Sure enough, one o’clock came and went. I could not help but feel disappointed for my daughter. I felt a little silly that I misunderstood the plan. At around two o’clock, the girl’s mother called and asked if she could still come. I agreed and felt a little more confident that I did in fact understand the conversation.

At two o’clock, a sweet nine year old girl walked into our house. She was a little shy and I was worried about how the next few hours were going to go. My daughter walked right over to her, motioned for her to put her coat and backpack on the chair by the door and off they ran up to her room. I could not believe how well the playdate went. The girls found many activities to do together. They spoke in Hebrew and had a blast. They did not need me to step in; they played wonderfully. At one point, my daughter was trying to say something but did not know the correct word, so she ran over to our handy dictionary and looked it up. The girl was patient and eventually figured out what my daughter was trying to say.

After the girl left, I hugged each of my daughters and told them this called for a celebration. They looked at me and asked what we were celebrating. I described what a huge milestone this was for our family. I told them how proud I was that they were able to converse in Hebrew and make friends with girls that did not speak any English. They smiled and said “let’s do it again!”