Category Archives: Personal

Pinball Wizard

I mentioned in my last post that I used to do gymnastics as a kid. I did it for a long time, and the main reason nothing became of it (career-wise) was that I only dedicated 1 hour once a week for a bunch of years instead of the minimum 4 hours, 5 days a week for a bunch of years that the pros put in. (And anyone who has watched the show Make It or Break It knows that if you want to be the very best, you put in something like every waking hour of your life for a bunch of years.) I also found that as I grew older, my body became ill-suited for the trials and tribulations of gymnastics.

The uneven bars, a women’s gymnastics apparatus, is where my current story takes place. The uneven bars as we are familiar with today are quite different from the uneven bars in the 1950s. Today, the uneven bars are held together by cables and have an adjustable diagonal distance between the two bars varying between 4.3 – 5.9 feet (as depicted below).

Modern Uneven Bars

This allows for more fluid movements between the bars, and makes it highly difficult to be touching both bars simultaneously. Back in the 1950s, the uneven bars were very different. They more closely resembled the mens’ parallel bars, only at different heights. Practically speaking, the bars were much closer to each other (as depicted below).

1950s Uneven Bars

I grew up on the 1950s styled uneven bars, as that’s what they had in my gym. Many of the skills we’d do specifically involved contact with both bars simultaneously. But because of the ever-changing height of kids, we were always adjusting the height and distance between the bars to suit each gymnast.

At the time of this story, I was in my early teens and had been doing gymnastics for many years. As such, I knew my bars settings by heart. It was the first class of the year, having just come back from a summer break. I set the bars to my desired heights, and proceeded to do my routine from the end of the previous year. Unfortunately for me, I’d had a growth spurt over the summer and the bars should have been slightly farther apart than they were.

What should have happened: I was in a front support on the high bar facing out. I was supposed to swing my legs back, straddle the high bar with the soles of my feet on the bar, swinging around the bar in a circle. (Imagine a side view: the high bar is the point in the center of a circle, and over the course of the skill, my butt creates the outer circumference of the circle, with my arms and legs being the radius throughout.)

What actually happened: I was in a front support on the high bar facing out. I swung my legs back, separating my feet to rest my soles on the high bar in a straddle. So far so good. All I had to do was let gravity start me off by pushing my butt in a downward arc. And I did. Except due to my new height, the low bar interfered with my butt. The bars themselves were made out of a somewhat flexible wood, and so upon contact, the low bar thrust me upward, causing me to ram my head into the high bar. And so it continued for about a minute – bouncing between the two bars, hitting my butt on the low bar and my head on the high bar, until I eventually released my hold of the bar for an unceremonious dismount. I collapsed on the mat in a heap of pain. Don’t worry. I was fine. Not even a concussion – just a bit of bruising. Sure, I couldn’t sit for a couple of weeks, but most of the damage was psychological. The bars had won, and I was too scared to bother finding a new setting for my new height. Besides, I still had beam, vault and floor to get better at. Who needs uneven bars anyway? I decided it was not worth the risk of playing human pinball again.


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.

Birthday Girl

Another birthday, another year to reflect on everything I haven’t yet achieved.

When did birthdays become so depressing? As a kid, I loved birthdays: cake, presents, themed parties. Now? I somehow don’t think I could get away with a Peter Pan themed party, complete with throwing fairy dust (glitter) on the party attendees, crafting little Tinkerbells to hang above our beds, and eating cake shaped like Captain Hook’s hook. As a kid, I was so sure that I would never grow up. Unfortunately Never-Never Land never opened its doors to me.

So, how do you make the best of birthdays as an adult? Sure, you could have a party with some friends in a bar… if you like bars (or alcohol for that matter). Sometimes it’s just easier to do something small with your loved ones and be done with it. And sometimes your loved ones do something for you that actually makes your birthday worthwhile…

It started a couple of years ago when my husband awoke to a barrage of birthday wishes posted to his Facebook wall in honor of his birthday. Only they weren’t the usual wishes a person our age might expect to receive… “Happy birthday! I wish you a pink pony with sparkles,” “I hope you get a race car and a T-rex for your birthday,” etc. etc. This year for my birthday, he decided to involve our friends in a little pick-me-up challenge.

Early in the morning I received the following text message from a friend (random initials will be used):

FH: Did I ever tell you how strategically right your spot is in [synagogue]? Thought of it this morning. Well done Anna, you rock!

I thought it was a bit of a strange compliment to be receiving, but sure, why not? I responded:

Me: You should use it in good health!

My day continued normally until an hour later when I received another text message from a different friend:

FN: I’ve never told you this before, but you seem to walk very accurately and well. How do you do that? I’ve always meant to ask you.

I was a bit taken aback by yet another strange compliment, and my response echoed that:

Me: Um… weird compliment, but thank you. I have no idea.

Then I checked my email and saw a number of emails from friends entitled things along the lines of, “Random Thought” or “Why Anna is Great.” I knew something was up, and decided to have more fun with my responses…

NX: Just wanted to say you have a great smile and you made an amazing pregnant hobbit!

Me: You should see the smile on the little Hobbit I gave birth to! What a smush!

HJ: You’re very good at not falling off cliffs. You’re also very good at taking photos. You’re very good at taking photos while not falling off cliffs.

Me: I put it down to 10 years of gymnastics. Nothing like 10 years of gymnastics to establish good balance… and good photography skills…?

TD: I have never eaten a potato kugel as delicious as yours! You are quite a talented woman.

Me: Thank you, but it’s actually my mother-in-law’s recipe, and she ran a catering business for some time. Nevertheless, I am quite a talented woman!

More emails and text messages trickled in throughout the morning. Around noon, however, things picked up. For a solid 15 minutes or so, my phone was beeping every 10 seconds with another compliment. Some were serious, some were silly, and some were downright ridiculous. All in all it did wonders to cheer me up, and I want to thank everyone who responded to my husband’s secret request to send me compliments for my birthday. Those of you who wrote serious ones, you’ve done wonders to boost my self-esteem. And to those of you who wrote craziness, well, I had fun thinking of things to write back. You kept me on my toes. Thank you!

And now to reward your kindness, here are some of the compliments I received that deserve special mention:

TX: I’ve always been impressed with how well you tap dance during the amida (the silent prayer that is meant to be said standing with your feet together)!

Me: Are you implying that I don’t stand with my feet together? #complementfail

FT: …I’m grateful to have such a long-lasting friend like you who makes me seem so cool (Nerd Day will always be yesterday).

Me: Behind every cool person is an awesome nerd.

JN: Anna, every time you transform into a dinosaur, literally nothing can get in your way. I’m glad you’re on our side.

Me: Thank you, but I ate a friend last time I got hungry.

JN: Well, you do turn into a tyr-Anna-saurus. Sometimes that happens.

BC: Hi Anna, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your writing. That is all.

Me: Thanks! I enjoy writing! In fact, you just inspired me to write a blog post about this.

DI: If I was chieftain of a clan of bookish warriors, I would grant you a land charter and make you the laird.

Me: NICE! I always wanted to be laird over bookish warriors!

FS: It suddenly struck me how lovely your feet are. Good morning.

Me: Thank you! It means a lot to me. I have a hard time concealing my hooves.

MD: You are a great writer, and know all the lyrics to Hatikva! You also have a rhyming email address which makes you awesome! (Even if I don’t like banananas)

Me: Did you ever stop to think that maybe “banananas” don’t like you?

CA: Anna, I love how quirky you get when you start talking about Ewoks. 😀

Me: They’re living Teddy bears!!!

ES: Hi Anna! I just wanted to thank you for your smile! It is spectacular! And your nose. I like that too 🙂

Me: Thanks! My nose likes you too. In fact, it’s so big that it encompasses enough love for the whole world!

ES: Haha! You don’t have a big nose. Just a big heart.

Me: ::barf::

ES: Hey Anna, I was just thinking how nice and encouraging you are, especially getting your baby girl to like me and telling me I’m good with kids. You’re a good mom and a good friend.

Me: Aw! Thanks! So sweet! (But really it’s all you. She likes shiny things.)

ES: I am shiny! New pickup line!

BT: Dear Anna, I like how when I’m feeling like a kooky person, you just play along. I also like that, when I’m not feeling like a kooky person, you still act like a kooky person. Just to keep me on my toes. Happy Birfday!

Me: Thanks! But when are you ever not in a kooky mood?

SA: I really like your grumpy voice (sometimes accompanied by foot stomping). It always makes me laugh.

Me: I think you have me confused with one of your kids.

SA: Their grumpy faces make me laugh too.

NL (male)Hi Anna. Just wanted to let you know that you have amazing eyebrows. Slim, long, well colored… I wish we could all be as lucky as you! O, and happy birthday!!

Me: Aw, shucks, I’m blushing! (And don’t let my husband hear you talking like that!)

DM: You draw eyes really well.

Me: Dude, I suck at drawing. It’s like you don’t even know me

DM: Wait, this is Anna, right?

Me: Yep. 4 years of art school and I can’t draw.

DM: Che che che. Good one. Maybe you don’t think you can. But you can.

Me: Have you ever seen me draw eyes?

DM: Yes. I’ve been watching you… Drawing eyes… While you sleep…

Me: Creepy… but cool! I have a sleep talent!

ET (male)Hi Anna, I just had a totally random thought that I figured to share with you – I have to say that you make some really lovely jewelry. I still remember that amazingly gorgeous necklace you wore to [event]. Wow. seriously. someone around here has some serious skill, aaaaaaand I’m pretty sure it is you.

Me: Thanks! I know you’d love to have some pretty jewelry yourself so you can be a pretty pretty princess. Come here and maybe I’ll make you something!

ZT: Dearest Anna, I just thought you should know that you make mac n’ cheese / a.k.a. orgasmic fettuccine alfredo like a fiend. Oh and you make beautiful babies too.

Me: Thanks! Just imagine how delicious my baby would be covered in fettuccine alfredo!

NT: Your toes are like Hungarian dumplings and you love life!

Me: That sounds yummy! I’ll go stick my foot in my mouth. Thanks!

SQ: It is really nice to know someone who is a fantastically talented graphic designer and who can drink with her foot!

Me: Thanks! I am really talented!

SB: Your shirts always look very good on you. Pre, post and during pregnancy, you always look very put together.

Me: Honestly, that’s the first time anyone’s complimented my wardrobe.

Best in Show

It’s been a few months since I last posted. Shame on me.

I know, I know, I should be easy on myself. After all, I’m a new mother taking care of a 5 month old baby. If only that were my excuse for not writing. Well, to be entirely truthful, it is in a way. You see, I still have plenty of stories happening to me all the time that I’d love to share and write about. Unfortunately 100% of those stories are baby related, and I don’t want to turn this blog into a parenting blog. Oh, but you want to hear stories about her? Unfortunately 80% of those stories have to do with bodily functions, and I promised my husband I would refrain from sharing those stories with the world.

Yep, I’m not getting out much, and when I do get out, it’s usually for playdates and mommy-baby groups. Although every now and then we will hire a babysitter and get out sans baby, but none of those times are particularly story-worthy. They are, however, able to be tied in to other stories from long times past.

Let’s give it a shot…

A few weeks ago, BIAS (Bar Ilan Acting Society) went out of business. Although neither my husband nor myself attended Bar Ilan University, we both participated in this student-run acting group. My husband had a small role in one of their productions a number of years ago, before we met (long story, but it’s actually the first time I remember seeing him), and then last year we had the privilege of acting opposite each other as a married couple in another one of their productions. Just before they closed their doors, they hosted a gala event, something like their own Academy Award ceremony. It was nice hearing about the acts of kindness, heroism, and sheer madness that people did in order to make BIAS prosper, and that reminded me of a personal story… (Like how I did that?)

A few years before we played opposite each other as a burnt out married couple for BIAS, my husband and I played the roles of newlyweds, Paul and Corie Bratter, in a Jerusalem community theater’s production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park. Our present story takes place on the 4th night of performances (out of 7 nights). The entire play consists of 3 acts spanning about 2.5 hours. Of those 2.5 hours, there are only about 3-5 minutes in the 3rd act where Corie (played by me) is not on stage. In case you are new to the theater world, that’s a lot of on-stage time. Anyway, on the 4th night, I got off on the wrong foot (quite literally) at the start of act 2, scene 2. My character runs on stage, barefoot, quite drunk, and collapses in a fit of drunken giggles. Only when I ran on stage that night, I managed to run into the prop table, bending my little toe farther back than G-d ever intended it to go. When I fell to the floor giggling, it was more to mask the significant pain I was in than to play my character. To my credit, the only person to notice something was off in my performance was the director. I pushed my way through the rest of that scene like a real trooper.

Between acts 2 and 3 we had a very short intermission, during which time I allowed myself to look at my toe for the first time since I broke it (oh yes, it was broken). By that point, it had swollen to the size of a small knockwurst, was roughly the same color as a knockwurst, and was very, very painful. The stage manager gave me a frozen bottle of Coke to put on it for the remainder of the intermission, and then what could I do but go back on stage? As they say, “The show must go on.” So there I was, acting through extreme pain, trying to put as little weight on it as possible, trying to walk (limp?) as little as possible, and yet not break character. And I did it, because there truly are no people like show people.

Over the next few weeks my toe had to be wrapped and splinted, making walking incredibly awkward. I had to take the splint off for the remaining performances, however (you try walking normally with your two smallest toes taped to a popsicle stick!), and as a result, the ugly bruise that covered half my foot was visible from the audience (and as can be inferred from the play’s title, my character spends most of her time barefoot). The solution? The makeup artist made up my foot. I’d pop a couple of painkillers and really get into character, and that way the pain was barely noticeable.

All in all, I think I’m stronger for the experience. There is, however, one thing that I never want to hear again when I get on stage…

“Break a leg!”

Two (Wo)men and a Baby?

Due date is here. Baby is not. I’ve done EVERYTHING that friends and internet have advised I do before baby comes. I am waiting, and I am bored.

I’ve already regaled you with stories of my pregnancy – the good, the bad, and the good that can be found in the bad. So now what?

I’ve decided to take you back to a pre-pregnancy time a number of years ago. My husband and I were married for 3-4 months by then, and we decided to visit family and friends in America for a few weeks. As all my married friends know, the minute you get married, everyone thinks you’re pregnant. For instance, a month after I got married, I was sick for two weeks. The first week, everyone kept suggesting maybe I was pregnant. The second week, everyone was convinced I had contracted Swine Flu (this was around the time it became a big thing). Ladies and gentlemen, I was neither pregnant nor sick with the Swine Flu. I simply had a virus, an ordinary head cold. But anyway, the point is, people jump at any excuse to ask you if you’re pregnant from the moment you get married. (Single friends, just picture how annoying it is when people bombard you with questions about your dating life.) So anyway, there we were, in America, not pregnant, but knowing that everyone was dying to ask us, or make some comment that might force us to admit to something.

As every non-pregnant couple should do while visiting America, we decided one day to go to Six Flags amusement park. Nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of a good roller-coaster. Now most people who are going to feel sick after a ride will feel sick right away, as soon as they get off the ride. Thankfully, both my husband and I felt fine the entire day and thoroughly enjoyed the park. The next morning, however, my husband woke up feeling nauseous. After a number of hours, he finally vomited, and subsequently felt better. The next morning, however, the nausea returned. Thankfully, he didn’t have to vomit again, and after a few hours it went away on its own, but every morning for the rest of our vacation, my husband would wake up feeling sick. Finally, he went to a doctor. The doctor diagnosed him with morning sickness.

Now remember, through this whole ordeal I was feeling completely fine. But the minute people found out my husband was having morning sickness, they all reared their nasty little nosy heads in my direction and asked with sly grins, “Sympathy morning sickness?”

Ugh, people.

A Real Nail Biter

Everybody has some bad habit that they’ve been trying to break forever and just can’t manage to kick. For me, it’s been nail-biting.

I’ve been doing it ever since I was a kid, and I’ve actually tried everything to get myself to stop. Some things I even tried twice or more times throughout the years, but nothing stuck. Half the time I wasn’t even aware that I was biting my nails – it was just something I did subconsciously. Here’s a pretty comprehensive list of things I tried to get myself to stop:

  • Getting a manicure. Someone thought that if my nails looked so pretty, I wouldn’t bite them. Problem was that my nails didn’t look pretty. They were still ugly and short, only colored now.
  • Applying fake nails. Someone thought that if my fingers looked pretty, I wouldn’t bite them. Also, fake nails are made of plastic. Didn’t matter though. Half the time I wouldn’t look at my nails when I bit them. As for the plastic… well, that didn’t stop me either.
  • Keeping an emery board on hand always. It didn’t matter. Biting off a bit of nail was still more efficient that fishing around in my pocket for the file.
  • Wearing gloves 24/7. I actually bit a hole in the tip of one of my glove’s fingers trying to gain access to my fingernail.
  • Applying bitter-tasting nail polish to my nails. All it succeeded in doing was giving me a permanently nasty taste in my mouth.
  • Getting therapy on the grounds that maybe it was a nervous habit, and that if I solved all my problems, I’d have nothing to be nervous about. After two pointless sessions, I concluded that it wasn’t a nervous habit and no therapist was going to cure me of my nail-biting ways.
  • Asking my friends to point out when I’m biting my nails. It just got annoying to hear, and I’d bite my nails anyway.
  • Self-hypnosis. My teacher recommended that I talk to myself for five minutes every morning right after I wake up and for five minutes every night right before I go to sleep, repeating over and over again that I am in control, I am a strong woman, and that I will not bite my nails. I did this for about a week. Then I realized that I was talking to myself on a daily basis. Feeling like a crazy person, I stopped the hypnosis.
  • Chewing gum, the theory being if I had gum in my mouth, my fingers couldn’t be in there as well. Naturally, though, I couldn’t chew gum 24/7, so my fingers just waited until there was a vacancy in my mouth.
  • Flicking my wrists with rubber bands any time I caught myself biting my nails or thinking about biting my nails. This method actually worked for two weeks, at which point my wrists were so swollen, I just couldn’t bear continuing with the method.
  • Putting five cents in a jar every time I caught myself biting my nails or thinking about biting my nails – the money accumulated to later be donated to a cause which I oppose. Unfortunately, the only organization I could think of that would be enough of a deterrent for me to stop biting my nails was the PLO, and I wasn’t about to put the fate of the Jewish people in my nails.
  • Summoning enough will power to just stop. Needless to say I tried this method many a time. The closest it came to working was right before my wedding. I was determined to have beautiful nails for the close-up picture of my husband placing the ring on my finger. It actually worked for the most part – my nails grew more than they ever had. Of course I then had to go and bite just one fingernail, and of course it was the finger receiving the ring. I’ve got a nice blown up picture of that fiasco in my wedding album.

Bottom line: I tried it all. By this time last year I decided I needed a break from trying to stop – the whole thing was stressing me out too much.

Well, it’s amazing what a terrible first trimester of pregnancy can do for a woman. For three whole months I couldn’t put anything in my mouth. Usually this is just limited to food, drink and prenatal pills, but in my case it meant my nails too. By the time my second trimester started, my nails were stronger and more beautiful than they’d ever been in my life. Concerned that I might revert to my old ways once I could eat food again, I began applying the bitter nail polish that didn’t work for me many times before. Well, it’s been eight full months since I last bit my nails. I’ve never clipped or filed my nails so many times. I even got my first decent-looking professional manicure a couple of weeks ago for my sister-in-law’s wedding!

Who knew? Morning sickness was good for something after all!

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!