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!”

Missing Bus Card

I just have to share this story. Last Thursday, we had a very windy and rainy morning. Instead of our normal walk home from school drop offs, I decided we should take the bus. The wind was just too strong and it was quite chilly out. As we waited at the bus stop, an older man joined us. He picked up a bus card with a boy’s name and picture on it. He asked the other people at the stop if it belonged to them, and everyone said no. He concluded someone must have dropped it, and placed it on the bench in the bus stop. At this point, I thought nothing of the incident and went about my business. A few more girls joined us to wait for the bus. I noticed that the older man was now braving the wind and looking all around the bus stop. He was leaning over a railing that led to a steep hill behind us. Another man came over to check to see if this man was alright. He responded that the bus card he found was missing and it must have flown away. As the two men continued their search, one of the girls that was sitting on the bench pulled out a piece of her notebook paper and started writing a note. Apparently, the bus card was not missing, she had seen it, and immediately started to write an “hashavat aveida notice”. By this point, the girl sitting next to the one with the note realized what was going on and clarified to the man that the bus card did not fly over to the hill. He put in his two cents about what should be written on the notice. They asked a third person for some tape, and then our bus came.

I boarded the bus, a little wet and chilly, but I was smiling. We live in such an amazing place. I thought the man was being nice just to confirm that no one in the bus stop lost the card. But really he wanted to make sure the owner found it. He was actually worried that it flew away and was searching high and low to find it. And another stranger was also simultaneously working on returning the same lost item. Really incredible!

Another interesting thing of note this week was more of an olah lesson than anything else. My second grade daughter has been doing her math homework whenever we knew about it for the whole year. She has been doing well on the quizzes and I thought we were staying on top of the work. This week she came home with one of her math workbooks (they have four to complete this year). She had a list of about 50 pages that she needed to complete. She said that the teacher checked everyone’s book to make sure it was all done, and these are the pages she still needs to do. It was a ton of work. I called the teacher to confirm and she said that yes, my daughter did not complete the book because she misses math sometimes for ulpan and other times the teacher is not able to take the time to explain the directions to my daughter in a one on one manner. We had spoken about these two issues before, and I mentioned that I would fill in whatever math she misses in class. But, having it all at once seemed difficult especially since new math work was given out each day. The teacher agreed that we did not have to complete the whole book since my daughter understood the math concepts.

Now I know to check the whatsapp group each day for the math pages that were completed during class. We check the new workbook to make sure we are up to date. I guess I did not realize they do EVERY page in the books.. I also would have expected the teacher to check more regularly that my daughter was staying up to date with the assignments. I learned that it is really up to us to make sure we have the work completed. When the next workbook is checked, I hope we will be more prepared.

The rest of my week was spent researching daycare options for my son for next year.I visited four separate places. Each has it’s pros and cons. Location, cost, Hebrew or English speaking, size of the gan, play space and so on. Some are already filling up so we have a lot to think about.

Making Progress

The week began with my middle daughter coming home from school with a funny story. She told me that they were learning a story in class when all of a sudden her teacher called her name and said “dag zeh feesh.” She kept laughing as she explained that of course she knew that a dag was a fish in Hebrew. Why would the teacher even think otherwise? I smiled and explained that it is difficult for others to understand where she is in the process of learning a new language. I said that some people think she should and does know Hebrew fluently by now and others still think she is back where she was in September knowing very little. She answered, “But I know chetzi.”

Yup, that is where we are right now. She chose a Hebrew word to describe her level of Hebrew. People have told us by Chanuka our children will be fluent. We were skeptical of that prediction. I guess we were right, they are not fluent, but they are getting there. As I watch the girls pick up more words and practice their newfound vocabulary at home, I can see that they will be fluent eventually. The cake party is only 188 days away, and I can really see that by then things will be closer to a piece of cake.

This week, I accomplished another one of my new olah milestones. We celebrated my daughter’s birthday in school. I really did not know what to expect. I have done the school birthday thing in America many times, but I was not sure how it would compare to the one I was supposed to attend this week. My daughter explained that we need to bring a cake and a game. We wanted the game to be simple, with minimal language requirements and as few props as possible, as I was already planning to bring 36 cupcakes on a bus with my stroller and baby. We settled on musical chairs. I confirmed with a few Israelis that it was something Israeli kids would know how to play.

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On Monday morning, I went to school with cupcakes in hand. Although we scheduled the party for 12 o’clock, the girls were having recess. I got to be a fly on the wall and watch the girls run around, chat and eat snacks for about fifteen minutes. Recess looked pretty similar to the ones I remember in America. At 12:15, the teacher entered the room and the girls followed suit The teacher announced that they would be having a birthday party. The girls were instructed to move their desks to the sides of the room and make a large circle with their chairs. Once in a circle, they sang yom huledet, a second song that I did not know, and happy birthday in English in honor of the English speaking birthday girl. After the songs, the teacher asked my daughter to explain the game in English and the girls would try to understand her. She did, and to my surprise the girls were respectful and appeared to be listening. One girl translated for the kids that were still unclear of what game was being played. The game was a bit of a disaster as our music was too quiet and the girls did not know when to stop dancing and start finding seats. Instead, one girl would start screaming and head toward a chair which would cause the whole class to do the same. Although the game was not played as expected, the girls had fun.

It was time for the cupcakes. The girls rearranged the desks and sat down while my daughter passed out napkins and cupcakes. I held my breath. Would they like it? I had no idea what type of birthday cakes the other mothers brought in. We made chocolate cupcakes with chocolate icing and rainbow sprinkles. As soon as the girls tasted them I heard words of approval. I sighed a sigh of relief. We did it. We pulled off an Israeli birthday. I left the classroom feeling proud. Another first checked off our list.