A Complete Set

About two weeks ago I wrote to say that I needed to have a photo of Prince Charming (aka my son, Max) sleeping in his bed here in Afula. That way I could look at it when I had to be at work or at school.

Zoe arrived this morning. And now I have a complete set, and an additional “joker.” It’s up to you to decide who the joker is.

 

The Prince.

The Prince.

The Princess.

The ?????

The ?????

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KG checking in (‘Cause Ellin’s Too Nervous to Type!)

Yup. I’m back. After a fabulous day exploring the Carmel area with Max and Mom. Zoe’s probably on the plane (she’s coming here tomorrow!!! Woooooof! Woooooof!)  as I paw this (I mean, er, “type” this), and so Ellin is busy cleaning, pacing, tidying, etc., etc. Man. What a waste of time. But hey, I’m a dog and do my own weird stuff . . .but we won’t get into that here. . .

Anyway, Ellin had a pretty busy day, beginning with voting in her first election as an Israeli. She brought me with her to vote, but they wouldn’t let me in, so I had to be tied up outside on the fence like a dog! Man! How humiliating. Anyway, this is what Ellin explained to me:

1.  You go to the school you’re assigned to vote in, just like in the U.S.

2. You show your ID just like in the U.S.

3. You are the only person voting in the room (not just like in the U.S.).

4. In the room there is a table with about 4 or 5 people, all checking Ellin’s identification number, and they hand her an envelope. Ellin said she walked past the ballot box, which was a big blue cardboard box on a table in the middle of the room. There was a plastic handle on the top and a slot on the top as well. What would the League of Women Voters think of that???

5. Ellin said she walked behind another cardboard board, this one folded in three (like what Max used to use for his science project presentations) and that was the “curtain” behind which Ellin voted (also NOT like in the U.S.). Behind the piece of cardboard was a table that had a low box on it and that box was then divided into about 20 different little boxes. Inside each one were small white, square pieces of paper, kind of like square, white Monopoly Money. Each pile had these Hebrew initials in it and those represented the party that you were voting for (not the name of the party, just it’s initials. So if you forgot, you were poop out of luck). You picked up just one piece of paper with the party you wanted (Ellin said if you put in more than one, it would void your vote). Then you sealed the envelope and walked out from behind the cardboard and put it through the slit in the blue cardboard box. Again, NOT like in the U.S. When she came out, she was laughing really hard and mumbled something like, “Take that, hanging chits!” For the dog’s life of me, I don’t know what she thought was so funny.

6. Ellin didn’t get one of those really cool “I voted” stickers like she used to get in America. She was a bit sad, but was still excited and proud to vote in the Israeli election so I guess she’ll just have to deal with not getting that stupid sticker.

A voter info card for the Labor party (Avodah).

A voter info card for the Labor party (Avodah).

Since today is considered a national holiday, Ellin didn’t have to work. What does that mean for Ellin? Well, I can tell you that back in the U.S. it meant that she had to clean the house or do some errands of something like that. But not here in Israel. Not working means getting in the car and taking off for an exploration. Yesterday was Nazareth and the steep streets that wind their way around the mountain (Ellin said she didn’t know her car could even DO that!). And today was the Druze town of Isfiya in the Carmel. She thought there would be an old part of the city where there were winding streets (at least that’s what the web site said) but she didn’t find them. Instead she found an antique store and we all had fun. I stayed outside with Jose (the owner) from Brazil, and Max and Ellin had fun inside. Then we drove down the mountain (what IS it with Ellin and mountains, anyway?) and we stopped at this really cool roadside place where the Druze women made pitas on the back of something that looked like a wok turned upside down, and they filled it with some labaneh and zatar and salad. Ellin said it was incredible. I didn’t get to eat any (drat!!!).  Next stop was a roadside stand that sold colored glass balls. Really weird, but of course, Ellin had to have one for her window just because it was weird. She’s into weird, I guess.

Finally, we went to Zichron Ya’akov. Man! I was in HEAVEN! I was the boss! The Man! The Dog! Everyone in Israel was there (’cause there was no work, remember?) and I was in my glory. Kelev! Kelev Gadol! Hey! They all knew my name! Incredible. I mean, I knew people loved me, but everyone in this town seemed to know me! People stopped and had their pictures taken with me. People asked if I bite (only tasty food is my snarky answer, but since they don’t speak Dog, the humor was lost on them). It was really great. I mean, I got a month’s worth of cuddles and scratches behind the ear. Really great. Slept the whole way home. Yup! Got up only when I had to pee and then back to sleep again!

Ooppps! Here comes Ellin again. Mopping the floor in the office (she just did the other rooms) and so I’d better skedaddle so she doesn’t see me!

Next post should have something about Zoe in it. I know that Ellin won’t be able to sleep tonight. She’s picking Zoe up at about 6:30 in the morning, so I have a feeling we’re going to have an early night and a really early morning!

And it’s time for my 9:00 walk, so from Afula, Israel,  so it’s KG signing out.

 

Where Have I Been?

I can’t believe where the time has gone. I promise myself every night that I’m going to sit down and write. And then I get a call or two. Or fall asleep. Or realize that I haven’t taken Rocco out. And then it’s too late. Time to sleep. Got to get up early and get ready for Ulpan. Gosh! What’s happened? Is it possible that this new life has already taken on a routine? Have I truly settled into my new life without even noticing it?

I believe so.

So here’s the quick recap: Huge,  torrential rains. Biblical style (of course). Winds like a nor’easter. Blew my chairs all over the terrace, plants flying, driving winds pushing the rain through the stone facing of my new apartment building and causing one wall to get all wet and drippy! Umbrellas turned inside out, littered all over the street. Street? You mean little streams. Three of Israel’s main highways were closed down.

No, this is not a new swimming pool at the Emunah Children's Centre. It's the results of 6 days of rain. Preety nice, eh?

No, this is not a new swimming pool at the Emunah Children’s Centre. It’s the results of 6 days of rain. Pretty nice, eh?

The Emunah Centre was flooded, including my office. And you know what? I didn’t hear one word of complaint. Everyone seemed to be in awe of the full week’s worth of wet. Accompanied, and then followed, by snow, hail, and a bone-chilling cold. The dampness in the apartments, not insulated for the short, Israeli winters, is really cold. I generally have at least 3 layers on, plus a shawl, plus a mug of tea to warm my hands. And then let’s not forget the hot water bottle that goes under the sheets a full 10 minutes before I do! There have been a few times when I’ve yelled, “Uncle,” and turned on the air conditioner/heater. I need that warm blast of air just to warm up enough to get changed and in bed. Can you believe this? I certainly can’t. Someone please catch me when the heating bill arrives.

So we’ve had rain, hail, snow. What other excitement could keep me from writing? Oh yes. My son. Max. He’s here, soon to be followed by Zoe. Am I in heaven? You bet. I have been trying not to miss them for so long. And then trying so hard to concentrate on work, knowing that they’d be here soon. And then, voilá! Max walks off the plane and into my arms. Incredible. I thought I’d never let him go. I didn’t care who was watching. Too bad. Let them miss their kids as much and then count the seconds until the plane actually touches ground, figure on the minutes until they go through customs and passport control. Try to look unobtrusively at the tags of the other people coming through the arrival gate doors to see if it’s from the same flight.

And you know the funny thing? After he was here for a day, it seemed as if we never had been apart. None of this seemed strange. My heart still beat faster when I saw him, but it just didn’t feel as weird as I thought it would. After all, there is no longer a “home” in Fairfield, CT. The home is here. He has a room here. When Zoe comes, it will be her home as well, and she and Max will share their own bathroom, just like old times. Max and I both speak about how odd this is, because we both admit that it’s odd that it doesn’t feel odd. What does that say? I’m not sure. But it really doesn’t matter. He’s here. He’s making friends, writing music, even playing at open-mike nights at the local bar! He and my upstairs neighbor have become pals and tonight they are out at a “gig.” Pretty cute, eh? And when he’s not being Mr. Music, he’s busy at the Emunah Centre, working with the kids. He will spend about 3 weeks here, and a great deal of time will be with him volunteering. Everyone here realized who he was when he first came on to the campus because I’d only told them all that my children were coming. And now the after-care kids go looking for Max. They love to shoot pool with him, play on the piano, or play on some video games. He’s made himself really comfortable and it’s all good. He even knows where to find the best falafal in town!

What do you do when you son arrives from overseas and you have to go to class? You take a picture of him sleeping and make frequent stops in your studies to look at it. Just to make sure it's real.

What do you do when you son arrives from overseas and you have to go to class? You take a picture of him sleeping and make frequent stops during your studies to look at it. Just to make sure he’s really here.

On Wednesday, Zoe will arrive. I’ll pick her up at about 7:30 am in Tel Aviv. I won’t even mind about getting up too early. It’s just too exciting for me.  I can’t even imagine what it will feel like to have both children with me. I guess I’ll have to wait and let you know.

Once the rain stopped (Max really spent the first week of his time here indoors) we headed up to the top of neighboring Mt. Gilboa. I had heard it was an incredible view, but I needed to see it myself. So we just got in the car, followed signs, and found ourselves up in the hills with the cows. Lots of cows. Cows in the middle of the street. You just have to creep up and honk a bit. They  move. And when they cross the street, they just hang there, moo, look at you like, “Hey! What are you doing on my turf?”

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Yup. Fifteen minutes from my house and this is what you can look out to.

Yup. Fifteen minutes from my house and this is what you can look out to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday was another outdoor opportunity. We were invited to join some lovely people (friends of my Ulpan teacher, Osanti) for a walk in the forests up near the Kinneret. I really can no longer think of the words to describe the beauty of this country. It boggles my little mind.

This is a hill worth walking up. From there you see the Jordan River Valley rift, incredible geological formations, and a window back into the history of this area.

This is a hill worth walking up. From there you see the Jordan River Valley rift, incredible geological formations, and a window back into the history of this area.

A walk in the forests near the Kinneret. The mountings in the distance? Jordan.

A walk in the forests near the Kinneret. The mountings in the distance? Jordan.

And after all of this, I can add a triumphal note of “Yippie!!!!” I walked into my Ulpan class and took my Oral final (didn’t even realize it was that day!). And you know what? I passed. Incredible. I can actually put sentences together. Not without mistakes, and not without searching for words, but the difference between last month and this is like day and night. I have one long haul ahead of me, but at least I don’t feel as if I’m two years old, trying to ask where the bathroom is. Now I’m more like eight or ten.

But hey, it’s progress.

And that’s why I have been out of contact for a few weeks. Apologies if you were worried. I guess I was just having a hell of a good time.

 

The Sixth-Month Mark. Still Loving It.

Today is officially six months that I am an Israeli citizen. It doesn’t seem possible that it is already one-half a year. I think I’ve lived more in these past few months than I have in the past few years. And yes, for those who are really curious, I’m still loving it.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I came here with no preconceptions. I left my ego and expectations at the airport. Perhaps it’s because I really had no idea what lay before me except that it was surely better than what I would encounter were I to stay in the U.S.  Sometime, stepping into the void is preferable than sitting in the dark. At least, that’s the way it was for me.

My life has acquired its own routine, one that is relatively enjoyable. I still have Ulpan in the morning, but since I am now studying on my own in a separate classroom with a few other students rather than in with the majority of my classmates, I feel less pressured and can learn quicker. And also, what I learn seems to stay rather than evaporate, only to be replaced by the next major grammatical challenge. So slower is better, at least for me. After leaving class, I make my way home, pick up Rocco, and off to the Centre (note the spelling. It’s a British organization, hence I must write it in British English). Rocco gets settled into his warm mat, I lock him in the office, make my way over to the hadar ochel (dining hall), eat with the kids or  madrichim and then come back to my office, with three slices of rye bread in hand. Rocco knows that will be the first thing he sees when the door opens and he’s ecstatic to get his special treat of the day. Rye bread. Good thing he’s a Jewish dog.

I am making a new community of friends here (that by no means replaces those of you back in the States). I have found many like-minded people who are artsy, willing to give their time and energy to those not as fortunate as themselves, and those who  love to share and laugh. My calendar gets  filled up pretty quickly, and I have love to take friends up on all last-minute invitations to Shabbas dinner, an impromptu pot-luck dinner, or meeting for a cup of coffee. Things are much-less planned here than they are in the States. The Israeli’s love to poke fun at the Americans: “Let’s have dinner sometime, shall we?” “Oh yes. That would be lovely. Perhaps in June, maybe on the 24th, 2013 at about 8:00 pm. I believe I’m free then. I’ll pencil you in.” Israeli’s say that this is how an American makes a dinner plan. Here it’s more like, “Knock knock. Hey, are you home? Just wanted to come and say hello! What’s cooking? Smells good! Sure, I’d love to stay for dinner!”

Taking Rocco for a walk now takes longer because I know more people. They stop and coo over Rocco and his large Poodle stature. They ask how I’m doing. How is my Hebrew going? And that includes my daily conversation with the elderly Ethiopian street sweeper. Always a smile on his face, always something nice to start my morning. Really now, is that such an awful way to begin your day?

And this is representative of the best of the best: The other night, the different groups of kids within the Centre had their version of American Idol or a Battle of the Houses. There were nine groups of kids who had been practicing their singing and dance routines. Together, we crammed about 500 people into the local music auditorium, while each of the groups took their turn lip-synching their routines (they had pre-recorded their singing earlier), while behind them a screen filled with shapes and colors formed the background to their routine. Some had props and cute home-made costumes.

I don't think I've ever seen this child smile as much.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this child smile as much.

Dancers from Battle of the Houses.

Dancers from Battle of the Houses.

Let's Dance! American Idol comes to Afula!

Let’s Dance! American Idol comes to Afula!

All the kids were in the “zone.” They were smiling, active, engaged, positive, and performing their hearts out. My favorite was the group of the little boys who wore silver bowler hats and had silver ties on. They did a routine that included the tipping of the hats (a la “All That Jazz”), a bit of hand jive, some cool street-wise moves (all kosher, of course), and each of the kids were featured with a mike to step up and sing their few lines. I wish you all could have seen it (we did film it). It was incredible. Each of these kids comes with a story that would make you cringe. But you’d never know they ever had a bad day in their lives if you saw them up on the stage. This evening wasn’t about entertaining us. It was about their self-image. About reassuring them they were entitled to be applauded, to be appreciated, to receive whistles and hoots of approval from their friends and family in the audience. It was about validation.

For some reason, I was chosen as one of the judges. Look out, Paula Abdul! I had to rate them on different scales. When I was called up to the stage to be introduced, Emmanuel, the co-director here who loves to call me “EEEEEeeeeeiiiiiilllllleeeeeene” added “Rebatzin” to my name. Could have fooled me! So there I was. Standing on stage in Afula (yes! I have finally made it to the big time!!!!!!), helping hand out the awards to the kids. Jumping, screaming, and even a chanting of “Ellin! Ellin! Ellin!” from the kids in the auditorium. Yup. It was grand. Can I tell you how proud I was and am to be part of the staff of this amazing place?

So here’s the roundup: A year ago, I didn’t know I’d be here. Israel wasn’t even a blip in my mind. Nine months ago I stood staring at the massive train  hurtling toward me at a sickening speed. I knew I had to jump off the tracks and do what was ultimately (the pivotal word here) best for my children, but to which side? One side was to continue the hope that things would work out. Stay put. Sell the house, live with friends, be a sponge. The other side was dropping into the complete unknown. Sell the house and all your unused jewelry. Store things the kids would use one day at Fran’s house, go somewhere that offered you a job, medical benefits, unspeakable and unknowable challenges, but a future. A future. Not a wall. Not a feeling of being obsolete, unnecessary, unusable. Editors? Who uses editors anymore, especially ones with 25+ years of experience. Higher education? Not good. Makes you too expensive. Willing to take anything? No one  believes you. “You’ll leave as soon as you find something better.” And they were right, I would have. Except something better never came along. Take anything just for medial insurance and hope against hope that something would come through? Is that a way to live at 55? With two children to feed and who were college age? What was the point?

I might have mentioned this before, but I’m not really a religious woman. Spiritual perhaps, but not religious. But I did pray a great deal last year. And with great depth and sincerity—Please give me clarity. Patience. The ability to see a future or an “out” when it presented itself to me, even if it was cloaked in unrecognizable trappings. Just let me take care of my children.

And then it happened. The most off-base, unexpected, extreme possibility. And I grabbed it before it disappeared. Partially because it wasn’t a complete “plan.” Grabbed it because there were so many un-knowables to it, which translated to me as possibilities, adventures, even. Another language to learn. OK. I’ll get it, eventually. Another culture to become immersed in. Great. Time to leave Connecticut and move on to more exotic roads. The timing wasn’t perfect (Zoe was still a senior in High School) but you don’t get to dictate a gift. And so the process propelled me almost as much as the  desire to carve out a bit o hope for myself and my family. It was something to become invested in. Something to help me take control. To give me guidelines. Forms and interviews with the Jewish Agency. Decisions about what to keep, sell, give away. Divest. Divest. Cull. Vet. Detach. Re-evaluate, re-prioritize. Forget “publish or perish.” This was dancing on a knife’s point.

And I’m still loving it. I always miss my children, my brother, my friends. But I no longer feel as if my life’s future has been crossed out. I have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow. And in a way, I really don’t mind it. It keeps me guessing and enjoying the dawn of each new day. I certainly hope that feeling continues. But at least I know that what I have now is good. Purpose is good. Hugs from little children who haven’t known someone safe is good. Working with the people at Emunah who are devoted to their purpose is a gift. And it’s good.

Literally changing the future, one child at a time.

Unexpected, true. But wonderful? I do think so.