Category Archives: Israel

Frozen

This last week has been crazy by any Jerusalemite’s standards. Everyone in the city (and in the periphery) has personal stories of what’s being called Jerusalem’s worst snow storm ever. All I can do is share mine.

It began last Wednesday when my husband woke me up amidst torrential downpour to let me know that the power was out. We checked the fuse box, and sure enough the main power switch was down. We flipped it back up, had power for a second, and then it flipped back down. Something was clearly shorting the circuit. Without any indication of what was causing it (since there was nothing out of the ordinary that we had left on overnight), we tested each individual fuse in the box. The problem switch was one that controlled the lights in the main room* and the courtyard, as well as the buzzer/intercom to the outside. [*The apartment consists of 3 rooms: a master bedroom, which actually has its own, separate set of fuses, a guest room, which is now the baby’s room/library, and the main room which serves as our kitchen, dining room and living room.] Ok, it’s annoying, but at least we managed to isolate the problem. We called our landlord (upstairs neighbor), who in turn called the electrician. The electrician said he was not in Jerusalem that day and would come the next day. In the meantime, we decided to let in some natural sunlight by opening the plastic-stacking-blinds. Without the electric switch (which was also connected to that same problematic fuse), we had to raise them with the hand crank. My husband had raised them maybe a few inches when there was suddenly some tension. All of a sudden, the cable snapped and they all fell down, stacking neatly into each other, preventing any sunlight from entering.

Good morning! What a way to start the day.

The day progressed in darkness, and was relatively uneventful. We borrowed emergency lights (which didn’t work, even when fully charged) and outlet lightbulb connectors from our landlord. With these less-than-ideal light sources, we managed to cook dinner and go about our business.

Mind you, this is all before the mother-of-all-storms started.

The snow began falling that night. I didn’t believe it would stick, and sure enough I woke up Thursday morning to a bunch of slush. I called my baby’s daycare who informed me that so long as the Jerusalem school system was still open (which is was, as of 8:00 am, when I called), she would still be running the daycare. So I got my baby ready and headed out. The snow by then was starting to stick, and the stroller kept on sliding. At 8:10, when I was already halfway to daycare, the daycare provider called me back to inform me that the municipality just announced that the schools would be closed. So I turned around and headed back to our lightless home to get ready for the first snow day of the season.

Staying in a house with no natural or electric lights in the main room is no fun. Being stuck with an almost 1 year old baby in said situation is worse. I had already accepted that I wasn’t going to get any work done that day with the baby at home, but what could we do to entertain ourselves? I couldn’t seat us next to the window and watch the snow falling because of the stupid blinds, and what fun could a 1 year old baby have in the snow?! Eventually I gave in and spent 20 minutes bundling us both up for the obligatory 5 minute photo-shoot of baby’s-first-snow-storm (although technically it was her second, seeing as she was born during the last one). Shortly thereafter the electrician came and disconnected the courtyard lights and buzzer/intercom from the main room lights’ fuse, so that at least we could use the lights in the main room. The rest would have to wait until everything outside dried up. Unfortunately, the fix-it-man for the blinds couldn’t make it into Jerusalem due to the state of the roads in and out of the city. [Some background info: Israel is incredibly ill-equipped for snow. I believe the country only owns about 3 snow ploughs (and they live in the north where it snows the most), and no one owns shovels, salt, or the scrapers for cleaning off cars from snow. When the flurries start sticking, the country shuts down.] My husband, smart as he is, came home from work early during a break in the storm, before the roads were shut down.

Thus ended Thursday: exhausted from entertaining a baby all day, unproductive due to taking care of a baby all day, missing the beautiful whiteness because of broken blinds, but with artificial light and a family safe and warm, all together, as the snow continued to fall outside.

Friday… Nothing could have been more perfect than curling up in front of a window with a cup of hot cocoa, watching the thick snow continue to pile up outside.

Friday was far from perfect.

The blinds were still broken, so we had no view, but even if we had, Friday was a Jewish fast day (Asara B’Tevet), so no hot cocoa either. At least we’d be able to be productive and get ready for Shabbat early, right? Wrong. At 10:30 am the power went out… All the power. I had planned my day around cooking and baking enough food for us and guests for Shabbat lunch. Well, with no access to my recipes online and no oven, I had some major rethinking to do. I managed to figure it all out and had almost completed all my cooking (in the dark) when our guests called us up to tell us that they (quite reasonably) decided that it wasn’t a good idea to leave the house in this snow and wouldn’t be joining us after all. Shortly thereafter, friends of ours who live about a 20 minute walk away invited us to spend Shabbat with them since they still had power. But walking 20 minutes with everything you’d need for 2 adults and 1 baby was too much for us, so we politely declined their invitation (an action we’d soon regret). At this point my husband’s phone was dead and mine was dying, so we had minimal contact with the outside world.

Back in our house we took advantage of a couple of sunny hours to take a lukewarm bath. (Ok, realistically, our solar-powered boiler didn’t heat the water up nearly enough for it to be pleasant – only mostly tolerable, but I brought up a big pot of boiling water on the gas stove, which got poured into the bath, just like in the olden days.) Meanwhile, outside, the sun was melting the snow in our courtyard, causing our courtyard to flood. [Some background info: Our apartment – courtyard included – is about 3 feet below ground level. As such, all of our drainage pipes lead to a pump which pumps everything up to the regular sewage lines. Since the power was out, the pump wasn’t working, hence the buildup of melted snow in the courtyard that couldn’t go down the backed-up drain.] The flooding was so bad that it began to seep under our doors and into our apartment. As if it wasn’t bad enough like that, we realized that we couldn’t risk flushing the toilet or we could end up flooding our courtyard and home with sewage! (This was the point where we regretted our decision to take our friends up on their invite to move in with them. Unfortunately, by the time we realized this is was so close to Shabbat that our friends had already turned off their phones.) Our landlord saved us by working tirelessly to empty our courtyard of water with a single bucket, dumping it all outside the property.

And so we brought it Shabbat: cold, in the dark, concerned about flooding, unable to flush the toilet, not sure if the food I prepared for lunch would keep in the fridge, and not sure what the status of the eiruv was. (An eiruv is a thin wire – much like a telephone wire, but thinner – set up around a city or neighborhood, allowing Jews to carry objects outside their private property, but within the boundaries set out, on Shabbat. If the eiruv is down, then you can’t carry anything – babies who can’t yet walk by themselves included – beyond your property.)

With nothing to eat for dinner at home, we went out to friends, as we had planned all along. It was rather ridiculous pushing a stroller through un-ploughed roads and sidewalks, but we made it to our friends’ apartment, where we ate a delightful Shabbat dinner in the dark. Just before dessert, lo and behold, the power came back! We returned to a bright and warm apartment (due to some clever advanced planning/wishful thinking that paid off) and tucked in for a restful night…

…That was interrupted at 4:00 am by the thunder-like crack and boom of our pergola, as it collapsed and shattered under the weight of the snow.

The rest of Shabbat played out more or less as planned. We had heat, light and good food – all in all a decent Shabbat day. An hour after Shabbat, however, our internet went down. The internet technician said he’d be unable to fix it before Tuesday. To pile on the bad news, we found out that schools would be closed again on Sunday, and we’d be stuck entertaining our baby all day.

Sunday turned out to be not too terrible. We managed to get a temporary slower internet connection until our problem could be fixed, at the very least enabling my husband to work from home (roads out of the city were still closed) while I entertained the baby.

Monday was more or less the same as Sunday (daycare still closed, roads still closed), except I was beginning to lose my sanity after spending 5 days in a row at home full-time with a baby. And then just as I was putting the baby down for the night, looking forward to some much-needed down-time, the power went out again. Still, I managed to make us a stove-top, candle-lit dinner, followed by a movie on my husband’s laptop, and then curled up in bed to read by candle-light before going to sleep.

The power came back Tuesday morning… sort of. It only came back at about 20% strength. It wasn’t strong enough to run the heater, the internet, or my phone charger, but we had light. I gave up on heating up a plate of pasta for lunch after it spent 25 minutes in the microwave on high and still only felt room temperature. By the end of the day the fridge felt like a cooler, and the freezer felt like a fridge. But I suppose I can’t complain too much… My baby was back in daycare! My husband also made it to work, leaving the house later so that the roads could defrost a bit (everyone was complaining about black ice). Without the internet to distract me, I was able to return our apartment to some semblance of order after all this madness. (It was beginning to look as if a tornado had struck. The collapsed pergola only added to the image.

Wednesday morning picked up where Tuesday had left off. And then at around 10:00 we lost the 20% of power that we still had. With nothing to do, I sat and read. (Oh, and as my phone had all but died and could not be recharged on the minimal power coming into the apartment, I brought it in with my daughter to daycare and left it charging there to be picked up at the end of the day.) About 3 hours later, the power came back on (100%) in a fit of glory, warming our house up, providing food and entertainment, and even some clean clothes. Or what would have been clean clothes had the power not diminished again an hour later. This time, I’m guessing it was down to about 10%. The washing machine stopped mid-load, the computer shut off – in fact, the only thing we had was light, and even that was dim. I decided to check the food in the freezer. The results were unhappy. The bags of pumped breast milk I had so painstakingly created had all thawed (and the rule is once thawed, they cannot be refrozen and have a 24 hour lifespan), and all the meat, chicken, fish, veggies and bread was either thawed or thawing. Rather than see all the food go to waste, I started giving it out to neighbors for dinner. A rather large loss of money, but, you know, first-world problems. At 4:30 pm, the power went out again. After bringing out the candles and making our apartment look like a cathedral, I sat down to read, only to have full power return at 5:10, go off at 5:11, and come back on at 5:13.

Today is Thursday. Over a week since this story began. We have power, internet, some clean clothes and a somewhat emptier fridge. More or less back where we started. And who knows? Maybe today we’ll finally get those blinds fixed!

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The Baby-Sitters Club

For those of you up to date with Israeli happenings, the country is presently hosting its 19th Maccabiah Games – a sort of mini-Olympics for Israelis and Jews worldwide. While I’d like to consider myself an Olympic nut, the truth is that there’s only one sport I’ve ever really cared about: gymnastics. Having dedicated my entire childhood to doing gymnastics, I was always (and still am) fascinated by watching the pros. Last year’s gymnastics Olympic games were particularly exciting for Jews worldwide, as Aly Raisman – a Jew – won gold medal for her floor routine, bronze for her beam routine, and was part of the gold medal winning Team USA. This year she was honored by being the athlete chosen to light the Maccabiah torch at the opening ceremony last Thursday.

Last Thursday… the first day of the 19th Maccabiah Games. I’d been looking forward to watching the gymnastics events ever since I first saw the Maccabiah advertised on the streets of Jerusalem. According to the Maccabiah website, there would be a week of gymnastics practices before the final competition. Not knowing whether or not I’d be able to go see the competition, I decided to make sure I at least got to see a practice. So that’s how I found myself last Thursday at Tel Aviv’s Hadar Yosef Olympic arena trying to watch the gymnastics practice. It was an almost-worthless trip. Apparently the schedule listed on the Maccabiah website was for competitors, and not spectators. When I arrived at the arena, I was greeted by a sign on the door that read, “Entrance for gymnasts only.” Well, nothing said I couldn’t stand in the doorway and watch. Unfortunately it meant I was blocking the doorway, and I couldn’t see much anyway. In the end, I didn’t stick around very long.

I did, however, stick around long enough for this to happen:

I had to use the ladies’ room. It was quite a nice ladies’ room, complete with toilet stalls, showers for sweaty athletes, and a long mirror with sinks. One thing they did not have though was a handicapped stall. I had my baby in her stroller, but the stroller couldn’t fit into a regular stall (at least, not with me at the same time). My options were limited. Fortunately, there were some other people hanging out in the bathroom – namely the USA women’s gymnastics delegation (I’m pretty sure, after researching names and pictures, that it was the Junior league). They had finished up their practice already, showered, and were getting dressed and ready in their red, white and blue “USA” tagged sweatsuits and baseball caps – the USA delegation’s uniforms for the opening ceremony that would be starting a few hours later. I asked these girls if they were going to be there for another couple of minutes, knowing full well that they would (after all, even elite gymnasts take a while to straighten their hair), and if they wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on my baby while I went about my business. Once they agreed and I turned to find a stall, it suddenly occurred to me that I was leaving my most prized possession with a bunch of strangers. Without missing a beat, I whipped back around and said in my most threatening voice, “My baby had better be here when I come out. If she’s not… I know what country you’re from!”

And that’s the story of how I both threatened the USA gymnastics delegation and got them to babysit my daughter for a few minutes. Who knows… any of these junior gymnasts could go on to be in the 2016 Olympics, and then I can tell my daughter when she’s older that an Olympic gymnast once babysat for her!

[Update, July 25, 2013]

Despite all odds, I made it, daughter in tow, to the gymnastics finals, exactly one week after the above story took place. Seating space was limited, and I was fortunate to be able to sit at all. I was walking around, baby strapped to me, trying to figure out which seats were being saved for late-comers and which seats were actually available, when a kind elderly couple asked if I was looking for a seat and motioned to the seat next to them. I thanked them profusely and took my seat, front and center in the spectators’ box. The elderly couple asked me if I was related to any of the competitors. I told them no, that I was simply a big fan of the sport, having done it myself for many years as a kid, and I was excited to expose my next-generation to it. Well, it turns out that they were the grandparents of a competitor. Not just any competitor, but one of the young ladies from the USA junior delegation who babysat for my daughter in the bathroom! Her parents were seated on the other side of the grandparents, and her teammate’s families were seated in the row behind me. I shared the babysitting story with them. They thought it was cute. And then we talked gymnastics, “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed at the routines, and chatted amicably about little things. They took pictures of me and my baby, picked up her pacifier when she threw it down, and gave her fingers to hold onto and chew. Seems like gymnastic folk are nice folk all around… at least when a baby is involved.


Homeward Bound

The story goes that one morning while my mom was trying to dress three-year-old me, I threw a tantrum and exclaimed, “Mommy! If you don’t let me dress myself, I won’t take you with me when I move to Israel!” That got my mom to stop. Mismatched clothing or not, there was no way she was going to risk me holding to my declaration. I don’t think I really knew what I was saying. My daycare was run by an Israeli, but I really knew nothing about Israel.

I went to Israel for the first time when I was nine years old for the occasion of my brother’s bar mitzvah. I was probably too young to really appreciate the significance of being in Israel, but the trip stood out in my mind as a fun and memorable vacation, during which time we toured the country top-to-bottom over a two-week period.

When I was ten years old, I spent my first summer in a religious Zionist sleep-away camp. I remember walking to my bunk one morning after an activity when all of a sudden I head a whispering voice from up above saying, “Make aliyah, make aliyah!” (“aliyah” being the Hebrew word for literally “going up,” or moving to Israel). I shrugged, thought to myself, “Ok, G-d,” and continued on my way. I didn’t find out until years later that I had been standing under a loudspeaker, and that some counselors in this camp got their kicks from “brainwashing” of that nature. Well, it worked for me. I didn’t know why I wanted to, but I was determined to move to Israel when I was older.

When I was fifteen, I was offered the opportunity to spend the summer living in Jerusalem with an Israeli friend of mine and her family. It was a unique experience – spending time with Israeli kids my age, doing whatever they do to pass the days of the hot, Israeli summer. It was my first exposure to really living in Israel, as opposed to just being a tourist there. That was the summer of the Sbarro pizzeria suicide bombing in Jerusalem. It was a ten minute bus ride from my friend’s house, and as most of her friends were home for the summer, we spent the entire afternoon calling friends, making sure that everyone we knew was ok.

The next summer would forever be the summer that changed my life. Up until then, I had visited Israel twice and openly declared my intentions to make aliyah some day, but I still didn’t have a reason why it was so important to me. When I was sixteen, I went on the five and a half week Bnei Akiva summer program known as Mach Hach Ba’Aretz. It was during those five and a half weeks that I developed an unquestionable love for the land, her people, her history and her existence. It was five and a half weeks of traveling around the country, going to museums, hiking through streams and deserts, interacting with Israelis, volunteering on an army base, learning Hebrew slang, eating Israeli food, and loving every second of my being here. Leaving Israel after those five and a half weeks was the hardest thing I’d ever faced up until that point in my life.

I didn’t return to Israel until I was eighteen. I graduated high school and decided to take a gap year in Israel to study in seminary before returning to America to continue with my college education. I had already applied and been accepted to my dream college, deferring for the one year. I had every intention of spending one year in Israel, returning to America to get my college degree, and only then making aliyah as soon as those four years were completed. As I stood in the airport with my mom before leaving for the year, I jokingly said to her, “If leaving Israel after five and a half weeks was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, I don’t know how I’m going to come back after spending a whole year there.” I said this jokingly, but there was a large-sized grain of truth in it. Sure enough, a few weeks in to the program, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to leave. I sent an email to my parents asking their permission to stay. They said no. I spent the next three months researching the aliyah process, learning about the benefits I’d receive from both private organizations and the Israeli government. I researched the higher education institutions in Israel. I formed a well-informed plan of action, all the time keeping my parents updated on my research. I was driven. And finally, on the fourth night of Chanukah, my parents gave me the ok.

Exactly one year later, on the fourth night of Chanukah, I boarded a plane to take me home. I made aliyah on a Nefesh B’Nefesh group flight, along with well over two hundred new immigrants.

My mom came to see me off at the airport. She came with me up to the point where non-passengers can go no further. We said our heartfelt goodbyes, knowing full well that I’d be back half a year later in the summer to visit, and then we parted. Ten seconds later my mom came running after me crying, “I was a good mom! I let you choose your own clothes! You said you’d take me with you!” That broke me. We cried and hugged, and I reassured her that a large part of her was indeed making aliyah with me that day, and that I’d be waiting in Israel with open arms when she does finally make the move herself.

Before take-off, Nefesh B’Nefesh hosted a good-bye ceremony. As nightfall had come by then, we had a group Chanukah candle lighting in the airport. Together we sang the songs, lit the candles and recited the blessings:

“.ברוך אתה ה’ אלוקינו מלך העולם שעשה ניסים לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה”

“Blessed are you, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time.”

And what a miracle being performed for me, in these days at this time – returning to my ancestral homeland, having an ancestral homeland to return to after two thousand years in exile.

And so, every year over Chanukah I have a little bit more to celebrate and a little bit more to be grateful for: To Hashem, for giving us a home to return to, and to my parents for letting me return to it.

Happy Chanukah!