One Year Later

I can not believe it has been a whole year since I published my first blog post. So much has happened in one year. Our lives look drastically different now. It was eye opening for me to re-read my initial blog posts and reminisce about the beginning of our aliyah journey and our thoughts and emotions as we began to plan the biggest move of our lives.

One year ago, aliyah was just an idea. My husband and I were just starting to think about if we could really pull off making aliyah at this point in our lives. We were very settled in America and thriving there, but we realized that living in Israel would be a more ideal life to lead. We had so many questions and concerns about making aliyah. We knew that if we could figure out some solutions, then we would ideally love to move to Israel, but we did not know how we would do it or if it was really something we should do with our family at this stage in our lives.

This past year has been full of excitement and stress as we have unraveled the mystery. We took one step at a time and tried to figure out how we could or if we should make aliyah. Questions like which community would suit our family, how to pack up our belongings and send them to a new home across the ocean, and who to contact to network for jobs have all been answered. We have figured out so many things about ourselves and the aliyah process that we did not know one year ago.

As I looked back on my list of initial concerns about making aliyah, I noticed that some are still haunting me today. I still worry about my children making friends. We wait anxiously for Sunday afternoon to come each week. Sunday afternoon from 3:30 PM, when the girls get home from school until bedtime at around 7 PM is the only time during the week when both my girls and their American friends are home and awake to chat. I watch as they giggle and video chat with their best friends and feel the guilt that we pulled them away from the people they love. Connecting with my friends in America is also very challenging. Finding time when my friends and I are both awake, at home and without kids around is nearly impossible. We have been working on finding pockets of time when we can catch up, but it is inconsistent. I hope we can continue to remain close with our friends from America and make new close friends here in Israel, as well. Additionally, I am concerned about how they are doing academically. Although they are making progress in their Hebrew, I hope they are not falling too far behind in their other subjects during this period when their main focus is learning the language. And maybe most importantly, I am worried about the long term effects that aliyah may have on each of us as a family and individuals.

There are still so many parts of the klita that we are still working on. Just this morning, the new olim in our community met with a liaison for the city to discuss programs that could help our families with the transition. Ulpan and assistance in school was the big issue at hand. We also discussed a program that could help us learn the cultural nuances that we do not know inherently. For example, the foods we baked in America are very different from here. If we could learn some of the common foods Israelis make, we would be more prepared to send in treats with our children for school activities. We want to help our children feel like they fit in, and it will be less alienating to send foods familiar to their classmates.

One year ago aliyah was just a dream we were hoping for, and now it is a reality. Over this past year, we made the big move. We took the leap and brought our family home, to Israel. We have come so far in just 365 days. There are so many more obstacles to overcome and questions to be answered. We are still praying that this transition will go smoothly and we will all be successful in the long term. It has been an incredible year and journey of coming home.

Setting Small Goals

Now that we are settling into a regular routine, it has been easy to fill my time with housework and taking care of our family. It is almost easy to forget that we still have outstanding new olim tasks to take care of. For example, we just transferred our drivers licenses over to Israel this week. We hope to take care of our Israeli passports as soon as the three month wait time has passed. We are still working through a few kinks in our apartment and learning more about the medical system each day.

Last week my girls were scheduled to get their vaccines in school. As planned, I accompanied them to school. We sat in a small auditorium-type area for almost two hours while the records were sorted out. Just as I suspected, my girls received their vaccinations in the U.S. on a different schedule than the one followed here. The nurses were not sure if my children needed to receive the vaccines again (which I was not planning to allow without further medical consultation). So, we waited while the nurses contacted their superiors.

I got a chance to be a fly on the wall and observe the students and the school in action as they came to get their shots. The girls were nice for the most part, but more rowdy than I was used to seeing in a school environment. What really impressed me was how patient the principal was with the girls. They were clearly disturbing his office, and his reaction was to ask the girls to sing rather than scream. He was smiling the whole time, and very friendly. There was no yelling even when he had to return a few more times.

After two hours, the decision was made to only provide my girls with the flu shot. Our immunization records were translated into a pinkas and now, hopefully we will be better prepared for next years vaccine day.

After that day, two out of six of us received our flu shots. The rest of us still needed to go to the kupa to get ours. That proved to be a project on its own. When I went into the office two Fridays ago they told me the nurse’s hours and said to return then to get our flu shots. I brought my daughter and son with me on one of those days. When we got there I was told that they do not have the vaccines in that office. They said they might get them at the end of the week and I should call to confirm. I called three times and was not able to get in touch with them. I was advised by a few friends to try another office as they were more likely to have the shots.

This afternoon we were in the mall running some errands. We were actually significantly later than I had hoped to be. I decided to run into the kupa one more time to check if they have the flu shots in stock. Surprisingly, they did! And the nurse was planning to be there at 4 PM. It was already after 3, and we had not done our shopping yet. We had been warned that after school nurse hours can be very busy, so by 3:45PM we went to the waiting room to make sure to be first in line for the nurse. When the nurse came and set up her computer, we each went in and got our flu shots. Only three attempts and 45 minutes of waiting later, but we were all vaccinated. I think my baby might have to return for a second round in four weeks, but for now we can check this off our to do list.

Monday was our day to tackle the driver’s license conversion. We had planned to do as much of our driver’s license conversion as we could get done in one day, BH we were able to complete the whole process in a few hours! Since we have proof of being licensed in America for the past five years, we were able to take advantage of an expedited transfer process. Keep in mind expedited still means going to three different places. Our first stop was an optical store. We found one listed on the Nefesh BNefesh website that was supposed to provide something called a tofes yarok. The store opened at 9 AM, but the person who is able to provide these special green papers only comes at 9:30AM. So, we waited. By 9:30 there were about four other people in the store, but we were called in first. We gave the man our old teudot zehut. He asked us if we needed an eye exam, and we said that it was our understanding that since we were doing the expedited process we did not. He took our pictures, printed out a form and we were done with the first step.

We walked to the DMV which was only about a seven minute walk from the optical store. We took a ticket and waited while the few people before us took their turns. When our number was called, we handed in our tofes yarok and old licenses and the man processed our temporary license. Next we went to the post office, paid for our licenses and asked the man behind the counter if we were able to drive with our Israeli licenses now. He smiled and said: “Carefully. In this country, drive carefully.” I smiled back and thought about how amazing it is to live in a country where people feel responsibility for their fellow Jews.

Additionally, we noted that in each office, most of the workers wore kippas or covered their hair if they were married women. We even noticed a security guard stopping to say asher yatzar after his bathroom trip. What an amazing country we live in. Even the government offices are full of frum people.

For me, it is important to try to do a few tasks each week. Each new thing takes research and multiple attempts to get it right. There are some really frustrating moments when I feel like I just do not know how I am going to do anything in this new country. When I start to think about all the things we still have not figured out, I get overwhelmed and discouraged. The key for me is not trying to do too many new things at once. So, I set small goals for myself. This week was drivers licenses and flu shots. Since those were both successful, next week I can move onto other things on my list.

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!