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! 


Our Biggest Challenge To Date

With 8 days until our flight, things are really coming into place.  I am so grateful that our plans have been going smoothly until this point. There have been so many details that have come together in order for us to be here, but we found out last week that our lift was not put on the proper ship. We hit our first big obstacle with our move.

Our shipping container was left in storage for an extra week and not transferred onto the steamship as planned. It was put on the next boat. Additionally, the steamship company postponed the ship date and lengthened the trip so it's arrival will be two weeks later than we had originally planned. 

We had discussed having our lift arrive the day before we landed. We planned to rush to the port the day of our flight (if we had enough energy) and get the customs documents started. We figured we could have our belongings with us less than a week after our landing. That would have been perfect. 

Instead, it will be two weeks before the boat is to arrive in Ashdod. After that, we will have to go through customs and schedule a delivery. It will be that much longer on air mattresses and living out of suitcases. 

My sister and sister-in-law have been absolutely amazing. They arranged that we have a folding table and chairs, pack and play, and an extra mattress for when we arrive. I can not thank them enough for all their support! 

We are disappointed in the moving company and lift company for not putting our belonging onto the ship that we had planned. We know that this situation is all for the best and Hashem is orchestrating the whole situation. We will get our belongings if and when we are supposed to. We are trying to take this obstacle in stride and realize that even without our furniture, we are going to be home, with Hashem's help in 9 short nights! 

Aliyah Boot-Camp

We were relaxing in my in-law's apartment in Boca on shabbat afternoon when there was a knock on the door. Another resident and her granddaughter had come to visit. The granddaughter was seven years old, the same age as our middle daughter. Our oldest, always very socially proactive, jumped right up and started to pick out a game to play with the new friend. Our middle daughter, who is a little slower to warm up, remained quietly on the couch. 

My husband and I both turned to our middle daughter, and simultaneously whispered two words: Aliyah Boot-camp. She understood what we meant right away. I elaborated just to further encourage her and explained that this was a great opportunity for her to practice making new friends. When we move to Israel, we will be doing a lot of this and now is a great chance to practice our skills. 

It has become a family joke that I have been using the term aliyah boot-camp very often over the past few months. We have encountered many new or different experiences than what we are used to, and I like to point out that it is all helping us prepare for our biggest adventure yet, making aliyah. 

We lived on a 27th floor for three weeks, which is way higher than we expect to be in Israel, but it was good to get a feel for how life will be different without a mini van pulling up to a driveway to unload our car five feet from the door to our house. With only two steps to get into our front door, we have been spoiled by the accessibility of our home. Having a few weeks in a large building helped us realize that we can manage in a less convenient living situation. 

The parking spaces in Fort Lee were super tight and small with odd rules for alternate side parking and amount of time allowed in each space. I was changing our parking spot every two hours during the day and squeezing our van into some pretty tiny spaces. Again, all getting ready for the new parking experiences in Israel. On our pilot trip, we realized that Israel also has extremely tight spots and complicated parking rules to figure out.

We moved out of our house and into suitcases with minimal drawer space to unpack. We are definitely preparing for a much smaller home with less closets and storage than we had previously. Since we moved out, we have slept in eight different locations. We are all very used to learning new places and figuring out our sleeping and bathroom arrangements in each new place.  This is aliyah boot-camp for getting acclimated to our new home, and probably staying in various other homes until our lift arrives. 

Our roadtrip prepared us for long travels and figuring out how to stay occupied while seated for long periods of time. The kids were great, giving us the encouragement that we can survive the long airport waits and even the flight to Israel. 

The heat, living without all our normal comforts, getting used to new locations, and figuring out new stores, shuls and routines in each place is all part of our aliyah boot-camp. I hope that when August 14th finally comes (which is only 16 days away) we will be ready thanks to all our experiences over the past few months. I hope our aliyah boot-camp will assist us in our real adventure of making aliyah!

My Sister's Insights

Yesterday was primarily a driving day. We drove another 440 miles. The kids were incredible. They listened to music, played car games and kept themselves entertained. Originally, we planned on making a stop at Daytona Beach halfway to our destination, but by this point in the trip we were antsy to get to Boca. BH, without incident we made it to my in laws condo. We are excited to spend a few weeks of quality time with them before our big move.

With less than three weeks until our flight, I would like to share my sister, Shana's, perspective on our aliyah. Without her, I do not know if we could have really made this dream into a reality. Thanks Shana for paving the way for our own aliyah. 

As the countdown continues to wind down, the excitement for us keeps on growing. I replay that incredible night over and over when Becca shared the news. It was a regular Tuesday night, the night every week when I speak to Becca, when the phone rang. We began chatting about the past week and the kids, work, and our upcoming trip to visit in the summer. Then I heard Simcha in the background mumbling something and Becca says, we need to tell you something, we have big news. I knew she was expecting, and after having twins, my first thought was IS IT TWINS!? But, the answer was “no, I asked a million times and its one healthy baby BH”. Then what could it be? I asked anxiously. Becca proceeded to tell me that the trip they planned on taking in Summer 2018 to visit us in Israel would not just be a visit, they would be coming to stay and making Aliyah! My mouth dropped, I was speechless: the moment I had been waiting for for the past 11 years was finally happening. I literally could not believe my ears. All I could say was WHAT? Are you serious? This is the best news I have ever heard.

I made Aliyah right after High school alone, leaving everyone and everything I knew behind. I was the one who left, still carrying with me guilt of leaving my family and tearing us apart even 11 years later. Although I knew and still know it was the right decision for me, that does not make being so far away from my family any easier. Maintaining long distance relationships is hard to say the least and it takes effort and desire to keep it going. Being far away was not easy, all the missed family occasions, holidays, birthday parties, births, and trips would never be given back. After a few years of being without immediate family here in Israel, I married into the wonderful Rapps family. Over the years, all of my husbands’ brothers made Aliyah and 5 years ago, his parents and younger sister followed suit. I felt a sense of family and support. As I watched my husband strengthen his relationships with his siblings, I always felt blessed and completely jealous and sad at the same time. My family was always here in spirit and love, but our time together was reserved for short trips throughout the year.  

Endless emotion came forth that Tuesday night when Becca and Simcha told us of their plans.  I would have my sister here, my best friend in the world. We would share those birthdays, smachot, holidays, vacations, shabbatot and everything in between together. Our children would grow up together, knowing each other and forming those incredible “cousin memories”. We could speak during the day without a 7-hour time difference separating us. We would be together again. For days after I still couldn’t really comprehend. I would find myself saying “is this really happening?” over and over again. It was surreal and I was completely overwhelmed with joy.  

Although I know and believe that Becca and Simcha are making the right decision as did I, leaving is very hard. My parents and another sister are still in the states with 6000 miles separating us. We will not be complete until our whole family is together again, and we will never grow accustomed to being so far away. We miss our parents and sister miserably and we are hoping and praying for another of those life changing conversations when we will be told, “we are not coming to visit, we are coming to stay”.

As the days and months went on, I followed the Davidman Aliyah progress closely. I awaited those special conversations with Becca and Simcha to hear about their decisions and new developments. Like anyone else who is following their blog, I know they have begun such an incredible journey full of challenges but they keep pushing through with smiles and optimism. They are a true inspiration to us all. As the months from Aliyah date have now turned into just a few weeks, we could not be more excited to finally welcome the Davidman family home. We have our calendars marked and our welcome home signs for that special day in August already in the works.

Day Two- Seeing Savannah

This morning we packed up our belongings and headed to the car. Our goal was to make it to Savannah, Georgia with enough time to explore the city and take a swim in the hotel pool. The ride was less than four hours which seemed like a breeze compared to yesterday. We stopped once for gas and another for a restroom/ stretch break. 

While we drove, I called an appliance store in Israel and spoke with a nice salesman about all the appliances we are planning to purchase within the next month. I provided our measurements and what we were looking for, and he sent me a whatsapp with pictures of his recommended appliances. Although the salesman spoke English, it was still hard to understand through his accent. The conversation made me a little nervous about our forthcoming lives in a new country. 

After we checked into to a our new hotel and got settled in, we took a walk to the water front near our hotel. The area is filled with cute restaurants and souvenir shops. We enjoyed walking along the water, seeing the boats and experiencing a new city. It was very hot and humid, so we stopped for some ice cream on our way back to the hotel. 

A quick change into bathing suits, and we were off to the pool. The kids had fun swimming and cooling off, although it did start drizzling a few minutes into our swim. Dinner, showers and bed as usual. Tomorrow we plan to drive all the way to our final destination. 

Day One of Our Roadtrip- Still Smiling

Bli ayin hara we have four sleeping kids in our hotel room in Charlotte, North Carolina. Day one of our road trip was a real success.

We started off our day with a breakfast of champions- donuts for the kids and a iced latte for me. Then we hit the road. We listened to some music as the three weeks are finally over, played a fun car game called Scavenger Hunt, and listened to a book on CD. After about two hours, we were ready for a rest stop and some gas. We stretched our legs and treated the kids to a vending machine snack.

We hit some traffic on our next leg of the trip, but made it to Roanoke just as we finished listening to the first portion of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on CD. The kids were enjoying the book and my husband and I were having fun reminiscing about the classic story as well.

Roanoke, Virginia was a great stop! There was easy parking on the street right across the street from the Science Museum of Western Virginia. We are members of the Liberty Science Center, so we were able to obtain admission to this museum for free. The bathrooms were clean and the museum was a perfect size for our 1 1/2 hour break. It had two small floors and lots of fun exhibits like a touch tank, old school video arcade games, and some other cute activities for the girls. There was an area with gigantic legos and another area with large foam shapes that was a perfect spot for our baby to crawl and play.

After we all had fun, we hopped back in the car and headed to our final destination, Charlotte, North Carolina. We hit some heavy rain, and made an extra rest stop to feed the baby dinner, but we made it to the hotel. We all showered, and are now settling into bed. All in all a wonderful first day. Next Stop: Savannah, Georgia.